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Burma

Executive Summary

Burma has a quasi-parliamentary system of government in which the national parliament selects the president and constitutional provisions grant one-quarter of parliamentary seats to active duty military appointees. The military also has the authority to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs, and border affairs and one of two vice presidents, as well as to assume power over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. In 2015 the country held nationwide parliamentary elections that the public widely accepted as a credible reflection of the will of the people. In 2016 parliament selected National League for Democracy (NLD) member Htin Kyaw as president and created the position of State Counsellor for NLD party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, formalizing her position as the civilian government’s de facto leader.

Under the constitution, civilian authorities have no authority over the security forces; armed forces Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing maintained effective control over the security forces.

Ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State occurred during the year. In early August some security forces deployed throughout northern Rakhine State, committing enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests and displacing villagers, the majority of whom were Rohingya. On August 25, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for coordinated attacks against 30 security outposts in northern Rakhine State, killing 12 security personnel. Augmented security forces, as well as local vigilante groups acting independently or in concert with security forces, then reportedly committed widespread atrocities against Rohingya villagers, including extrajudicial killings, disappearances, rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, and burning of tens of thousands of homes and some religious structures and other buildings. This displaced more than 655,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh as of December, as well as an unknown number within Rakhine State, and more than 20,000 villagers from other ethnic groups, many of whom were evacuated by the security forces.

In addition to the atrocities in Rakhine State, the most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings; politically motivated arrests; authorities’ human rights violations against civilians in other ethnic minority areas and conflict zones, particularly in Kachin State and Shan State; continued harsh conditions in prisons and labor camps; restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and association, including intimidation and arrest of journalists; restrictions on freedom of religion; continued statelessness for some populations and severe restrictions on freedom of movement; criminalization of same-sex sexual activities, although the law was rarely enforced; and trafficking in persons, including forced labor of adults and children.

Although the government took some limited actions to prosecute or punish officials responsible for abuses, the vast majority of such abuses continued with impunity.

Some nonstate groups committed human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor of adults and children, and failure to protect civilians in conflict zones.

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 many reports security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see also section 1.g.).

Security forces used excessive and sometimes lethal force against civilians. On May 17, police at a jade mine operated by military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited in Hkamti Township, Sagaing Division, reportedly opened fire without warning on a group of miners who had illegally entered the property, resulting in the deaths of four miners and injuries to additional miners.

In January, Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer, advocate for constitutional reform, and adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, was shot and killed outside Yangon International Airport by an assassin identified as Kyi Lin. Kyi Lin also killed a taxi driver who tried to intervene. Authorities opened an investigation into the killings, which resulted in the arrest of four persons including a retired military officer, although the alleged prime conspirator, former military officer Win Khaing, reportedly remained at large. Civil society groups claimed police, who ultimately report to the military, intentionally underinvestigated the case. Civil society groups and religious groups noted Ko Ni’s death had a chilling effect on lawyers working for constitutional reform and accountability for military abuses, as well as on Muslims fighting for improved treatment.

In Rakhine State, following the August 25 coordinated attacks by ARSA, security forces, aided in some cases by vigilantes, reportedly committed arbitrary and unlawful killings against Rohingya villagers throughout northern Rakhine State. On August 30, in Tula Toli Village (also known as Min Gyi), security forces assigned to the army’s Western Command reportedly committed a massacre. One report indicated that all male Rohingya villagers who had not fled ahead of the military’s arrival, as well as some women and children, were unlawfully executed. The military and some government officials denied such abuses occurred and took no steps to seek accountability for the perpetrators.

The United Nations, media, human rights groups, and Bangladesh border authorities reported security forces planted land mines along the border of Bangladesh in northern Rakhine State in September, with some suggesting the mines were planted to prevent Rohingya refugees from returning. Sources alleged at least nine internally displaced persons (IDPs) died from wounds characteristic of landmine injuries while fleeing northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh.

The trial against the soldier who admitted to accidentally killing Gum Seng Aung in June 2016 in Myitkyina, Kachin State, continued to experience delays. There were no substantive updates during the year.

During the year there were multiple reports of alleged ARSA members killing civilians in northern Rakhine State for collaborating with the government; however, it appeared two of these reports were not credible. On August 1, the government reported “extremists” killed six ethnic Mro villagers in northern Rakhine State. Civil society organizations reported ARSA was not likely active in that village and suspected the deaths were related to methamphetamine trafficking. In September the government organized a trip for journalists to see the alleged mass graves of 45 Hindus whom the government said ARSA killed in northern Maungdaw Township on August 25, but civil society organizations and some local villagers were unable to corroborate the claim of the government, and other local villagers suggested instead they were killed by security forces or vigilante groups that were not associated with Rohingya.

Arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflict also occurred (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were many reports of disappearances by security forces.

In the weeks prior to the August 25 attacks, there were reports police arrested Rohingya men from 15 to 40 years old without charges or warrants due to purported links to ARSA, and several of those detained reportedly were not heard from since. Family members who went to police stations to inquire about their disappeared relatives’ whereabouts were not provided with any relevant information. On August 21, military soldiers and police officers reportedly arrested 10 persons from Tha Man Thar Village in Maungdaw Township. The military later released four and told family members of the other six that police knew nothing about their whereabouts. After August 25, the pace of enforced disappearances reportedly increased. The military and some government officials denied such abuses occurred and took no steps to seek accountability for the perpetrators.

Disappearances related to internal conflict also occurred (see section 1.g.).

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

The law prohibits torture; however, members of security forces reportedly tortured, raped, beat, and otherwise abused prisoners, detainees, and other citizens and stateless persons in incidents not related to armed conflict. Such incidents occurred, for example, in Rakhine and Kachin States.

Security forces reportedly subjected detainees to harsh interrogation techniques designed to intimidate and disorient, including severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep. Human rights groups continued to report incidents of torture in ethnic minority areas. Authorities generally took no action to investigate incidents or punish alleged perpetrators.

There were widespread reports of torture of Rohingya villagers, including children, in northern Rakhine State, including beatings, rape, and killings in front of family members. Rifle butts were allegedly used to hit Rohingya villagers’ stomachs and heads, and refugee testimonials referred to the military, sometimes jointly with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, breaking legs, arms, and ribs of fleeing Rohingya villagers.

In January a mobile phone video taken by a member of the security forces during clearance operations in northern Rakhine State in November 2016 and posted on YouTube showed police beating civilian Rohingya. The government launched an investigation into police misconduct. Police reportedly prosecuted four persons and demoted one officer for the abuses recorded in the video, but details regarding the results of any investigation were not made public.

There were widespread reports of rapes of Rohingya women, children, and at least one man in northern Rakhine State by military forces and Border Guard Police. Most documented rapes were gang rapes, and many were mass rapes. The UN special representative on sexual violence assessed sexual violence was used as a calculated tool of terror aimed at the extermination and removal of the Rohingya as a group. One woman from Chut Pyin Village (also known as Shoppara) reported five soldiers raped her on August 26, the day before her village was burned by security forces. She reported soldiers stabbed her in the side with a knife during the rape while threatening to shoot her. Authorities failed to conduct a credible investigation into these allegations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and labor camps continued to be harsh due to overcrowding, degrading treatment, and inadequate access to medical care and basic needs, including food, shelter, and hygiene.

Physical Conditions: The Correctional Department operated an estimated 43 prisons and approximately 48 labor camps, officially called “agriculture and livestock breeding career training centers” and “manufacturing centers,” according to the government. More than 20,000 inmates were serving their sentences in these labor camps across the country, where prisoners could opt to serve a shortened period of their sentence in “hard labor,” which was considered by many as more desirable.

A human rights group and prominent international nongovernmental organization (NGO) estimated there were 60,000 prisoners–50,000 men and 10,000 women–held in separate facilities in prisons and labor camps. Juvenile detainees were estimated to be a few hundred. Overcrowding was reportedly a problem in many prisons and labor camps. Some prisons held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. Authorities held some political prisoners separately from common criminals, but political prisoners who authorities arrested for problems related to land rights were generally held together with common criminals.

Medical supplies and bedding were often inadequate. Bedding sometimes consisted of a single mat, wooden platform, or laminated plastic sheet on a concrete floor. Prisoners did not always have access to potable water. In many cases family members had to supplement prisoners’ official rations with medicine and basic necessities. Inmates reportedly paid wardens for necessities, including clean water, prison uniforms, plates, cups, and utensils.

Detainees were unable to access adequate and timely medical care. Prisoners suffered from health problems, including malaria, heart disease, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, skin diseases, and stomach problems, resulting from unhygienic conditions and spoiled food. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections in prisons reportedly remained high. Former prisoners also complained of poorly maintained physical structures that provided no protection from the elements and had rodent, snake, and mold infestation.

There were reports of custodial deaths due to health problems associated with prison conditions and lack of adequate and timely medical care.

Prison conditions in Rakhine State were reportedly among the worst, with hundreds of Rohingya, including, according to one media report, children as young as 10 years arbitrarily detained in prison and nonprison facilities, denied due process, and subjected to torture and abuse by Rakhine State prison and security officials.

Administration: Some prisons prevented full adherence to religious codes for prisoners, ostensibly due to space restrictions and security concerns. For example, imprisoned monks reported authorities denied them permission to observe Buddhist holy days, wear robes, shave their heads, or eat on a schedule compatible with the monastic code. Citing security considerations, authorities denied permission for Muslim prisoners to pray together as a group, as is the practice for Friday prayers and Ramadan. Prisoners and detainees could sometimes submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or negative repercussions. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) followed up with relevant authorities on allegations of inappropriate conditions.

Independent Monitoring: Although the ICRC had unfettered access to prisons, prisoners, and labor camps, it did not have access to military or nonprison detention sites. The ICRC reported its findings through a strictly confidential bilateral dialogue with prison authorities. These reports were neither public nor shared with any other party.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law does not specifically prohibit arbitrary arrest but requires permission of a court for detention of more than 24 hours. The government continued to use the Unlawful Associations Act to arrest persons, often in ethnic and religious minority areas, on an arbitrary basis.

The law allows authorities to extend sentences after prisoners complete their original sentence. The law allows authorities to order detention without charge or trial of anyone they believe is performing or might perform any act that endangers the sovereignty and security of the state or public peace and tranquility. The civilian government and the military continued to interpret these laws broadly and used them to detain activists, student leaders, farmers, journalists, political staff, and human rights defenders.

The government generally did not allow detainees to challenge the legal basis of their detention in court prior to the two-week pretrial detention period.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Home Affairs, led by an active-duty military general who is nominated by the armed forces commander-in-chief in accordance with the constitution, oversees the Myanmar Police Force (MPF), which is largely responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order, although the Defense Services Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs also plays a significant role in the maintenance of law and order, particularly in conflict areas. As such, lines of authority for internal security may be blurred. For example, during the operations in Rakhine State beginning in August, military commanders assumed primary control over all security arrangements and appeared to wield considerable operational influence over the Border Guard Police, which are also overseen by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Starting in August the Border Guard Police reportedly committed atrocities against Rohingya villagers in northern Rakhine State, either as independent measures or in concert with military forces. Regional police were either unable or unwilling to protect Rohingya victims, although they reportedly offered protection to other ethnic groups and their property.

In conflict and some cease-fire areas, security forces continued to intimidate civilians through physical abuse and threats to livelihoods. Public information was unavailable about the results of any military investigations into such abuses, and security forces generally acted with impunity. Legal mechanisms exist to investigate abuses by security forces but were seldom used and generally perceived to be ineffective.

Outside of conflict and cease-fire areas, the MPF is the primary institution charged with internal security. While the MPF continued to make some progress in developing civilian policing capacity, a severe lack of resources and its close relationship with the military presented substantial challenges to effective policing. The MPF’s investigative capacity was generally rudimentary, although some MPF commanders recognized the benefits of leveraging assistance from the international community to improve specialized units’ ability to investigate serious crimes such as narcotics, trafficking in persons, and financial crimes. Some organizations noted a significant decrease under the new government of the pervasive and threatening influence security forces previously exerted on the lives of inhabitants, while others noted an increase in police surveillance and monitoring during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

While the law generally requires warrants for searches and arrests, personnel from the Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs and police reportedly conducted searches and made arrests at will.

Except in capital cases, the law does not grant detainees the right to consult an attorney or, if indigent, to have one provided by the state. The government amended the legal aid law in May to provide the public access to fair and equal legal aid based on international standards and to ensure legal aid workers could operate independently and with legal protection.

There is a functioning bail system, but bribery was a common substitute for bail. Bail is commonly offered in criminal cases, but defendants were often required to attend numerous pretrial hearings before bail was granted. In some cases the government held detainees incommunicado and refused detainees the right to consult a lawyer promptly.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests. In December 2016 the military detained two affiliates of the Kachin Baptist Convention, Dumdaw Nawng Lat and Langjaw Gam Seng, in Mong Ko, Shan State; however, the military did not admit to holding the men until the end of January. The military detained the two men after they assisted a group of journalists in visiting a church in Mong Ko allegedly bombed by the military. After holding the men incommunicado for one month, the military accused them of supporting the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and charged both men under Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Associations Act, which has historically been used to arrest arbitrarily members of ethnic minority groups. In March the military announced an additional charge of defamation based on an interview the men gave to an international media outlet alleging the military bombed civilians during the conflict. On October 27, authorities sentenced Dumdaw Nawng Lat to four years and three months’ imprisonment and Langjaw Gam Seng to two years and three months’ imprisonment.

In August authorities arrested former child soldier Aung Ko Htway for defaming the military following an August 10 interview he gave to an international media outlet detailing his experience as a former child soldier. He was detained in Insein Prison and denied bail on October 2. His trial continued at the end of the year.

In October, U Khaing Myo Htun, the Arakan Liberation Party deputy information officer who in 2016 published a statement accusing the military of forced labor and using human shields in Rakhine State, was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in prison, leaving three months remaining from the 15 months he had already spent in detention.

Pretrial Detention: By law suspects may be held in pretrial detention for two weeks (with a possible two-week extension) without bringing them before a judge or informing them of the charges against them. Lawyers noted police regularly detained suspects for the legally mandated period, failed to lodge a charge, then detained them for a series of two-week periods with trips to the judge in between. Judges and police sometimes colluded to extend detentions. According to lawyers, arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detentions resulted from lengthy legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, widespread corruption, and staff shortages. Periods of detention prior to and during trials sometimes equaled or exceeded the sentence that would result from a guilty conviction.

Amnesty: On May 24, President Htin Kyaw pardoned and the government released 259 prisoners, including 64 whom the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma considered political prisoners. Among those released were Muslim interfaith activists Zaw Zaw Latt and Pwint Phyu Latt; Hla Phone, who criticized the military on Facebook; and eight of the 12 men arrested in 2014 under the now repealed Emergency Provisions Act for being members of the apparently nonexistent Myanmar Muslim Army.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law calls for an independent judiciary, although there are also legal provisions that allow the government to manipulate the courts for political ends, and these provisions were sometimes used to deprive citizens of due process and the right to a fair trial, particularly with regards to the freedom of expression. Institutional corruption in the judicial system was a problem, and it sometimes appeared the judiciary was under the de facto control of the military or government. According to studies by civil society organizations, officials at all levels received extralegal payments at all stages in the legal process for purposes ranging from routine matters, such as access to a detainee in police custody to fixing the outcome of a case. The Office of the Supreme Court of the Union published a 2016 annual report on disciplinary actions taken against judges and court staff. Although no legal action was taken against judges for corruption, warnings were issued against 25 township court judges and 23 district court judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but it also grants broad exceptions, effectively allowing the government to violate these rights at will. In ordinary criminal cases, the court generally respected some basic due process rights such as the right to an independent judiciary, public access to the courts, and the right to a defense and an appeal. Defendants do not enjoy the rights to presumption of innocence; to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them; to be present at their trial; to free interpretation; or, except in capital cases, to consult an attorney of their choice or have one provided at government expense. There is no right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, but defense attorneys in criminal cases generally had 15 days to prepare for trial. Defendants have the right to appeal judgments, but in most appellate hearings, the original verdicts were upheld. No legal provision allows for the compelled testimony or confessions of guilt by defendants to be used in court; nonetheless, authorities reportedly engaged in both. There were reports of coercion to plead guilty with promises of reduced sentences to defendants who did so.

Ordinary criminal cases were open to the public, but in practice members of the public with no direct involvement in a case were denied entry to courts. There is no right to confront witnesses and present evidence, although defense attorneys could sometimes call witnesses and conduct cross-examinations. Prodemocracy activists generally appeared able to retain counsel, but defendants’ access to counsel was often inadequate. There were reports of authorities not informing family members of the arrests of persons in a timely manner, not telling them of their whereabouts, and often denying them the right to see prisoners in a timely manner. Local civil society groups noted the public was largely unaware of its legal rights, and there were insufficient lawyers to meet public needs.

The government retained the ability to extend prison sentences under the law. The minister of home affairs has the authority to extend a prison sentence unilaterally by two months on six separate occasions, for a total extension of one year.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government continued to detain and arrest journalists, activists, and critics of the government and the military during the year. According to civil society groups who use a definition of political prisoners that includes those that may have engaged in acts of violence and excludes some charges related to freedom of expression and religion, there were 45 convicted political prisoners, 49 political prisoners in pretrial detention or detained with trials in process, and 127 individuals released on bail while facing trial for political charges as of October. These numbers did not include detainees and prisoners in Rakhine State, estimated to be in the hundreds, many of whom likely meet the definition of political prisoner.

Many released political prisoners experienced significant surveillance and restrictions following their release, including an inability to resume studies undertaken prior to incarceration, secure travel documents, or obtain other documents related to identity or ownership of land. Under the code of criminal procedure, released political prisoners faced the prospect of serving the remainder of their sentences if rearrested for any reason.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

No specific mechanisms or laws provide for civil remedies for human rights violations; however, complainants may use provisions of the penal code and laws of civil procedure to seek civil remedies. Individuals and organizations may not appeal an adverse decision to regional human rights bodies.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Under the constitution the state owns all land; however, the law allows for registration and sale of private land ownership rights. Authorities and private-sector organizations perpetrated land grabs during the year, and restitution for past land grabs was very limited.

The 2016 land use policy emphasizes the recognition, protection, and registration of legitimate land tenure rights of smallholders, communities, ethnic nationalities, women, and other vulnerable groups. It also includes the recognition, protection, and ultimate registration of customary tenure rights, which previously were not legally recognized. The law allows the government to declare land unused and assign it to foreign investors or designate it for other uses. There is no provision for judicial review of land ownership or confiscation decisions under either law; administrative bodies subject to political control by the national government make final decisions on land use and registration. Civil society groups raised concerns the laws do not recognize rights in traditional collective land ownership and shifting cultivation systems, which are particularly prevalent in areas inhabited by ethnic minority groups. Acquisition of privately owned land by the government remained governed by the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, which provides for compensation when the government acquires land for a public purpose. Civil society groups criticized the lack of safeguards in the law to provide payment of fair market compensation.

Researchers had concerns that land laws, including the Farmland Law and the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Law, facilitate land confiscation without providing adequate procedural protections. Parallel legal frameworks and traditional forms of land tenure in areas controlled by ethnic groups in Kachin, Mon, Kayin, and Shan States may not have formal legal recognition under the land laws.

Parliament’s Land Acquisition Investigation Commission did not have legal authority to implement and enforce recommendations in its 2013 report to return thousands of acres of confiscated but unused land or provide compensation to farmers from whom the government took the land, and media sources reported little progress in returning confiscated lands. The law requires land be returned if not used productively within four years, but civil society groups reported land taken by the military was left unused for much longer periods.

The General Administrative Department under the Ministry of Home Affairs, one of the ministries whose minister is appointed by the military, oversees land return. During the year there were at least four cases of previously confiscated land being returned to farmers. Adequate compensation was not provided to the many farmers and rural communities whose land was confiscated without due process during the former military regime, including by the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, the Myanmar Ports Authority, and the military.

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

The law protects the privacy and security of the home and property, but observers said these protections were poorly enforced.

The law does not protect the privacy of correspondence or other communications of citizens, and activists reported authorities had expanded surveillance of civil society organizations’ operations. Beginning on March 31, the government enforced registration requirements for all SIM cards and consequently blocked six million unregistered SIM cards. Mobile subscribers must provide their name, a copy of their identification, date of birth, address, gender, and nationality in order to register their SIM card.

Some activists reported the government systematically monitored the travel of citizens and closely monitored the activities of politically active persons, while others reported they did not experience any such invasions of privacy. The government reportedly conducted surveillance in some circumstances by using the Special Branch police, official intelligence networks, and other administrative procedures (see section 2.d.).

A 1998 Supreme Court directive prohibits legal officials from accepting petitions for marriages and from officiating at marriages between Burmese women and foreign men. The directive was sporadically enforced.

In Rakhine State local authorities prohibited Rohingya families from having more than two children, although this prohibition was inconsistently enforced. Also in Rakhine State, local authorities required members of the Rohingya minority to obtain a permit to marry officially, a step not required of other ethnicities. Waiting times for the permit could exceed one year, and bribes usually were required. According to human rights organizations, in April 2016 Border Guard Police in Buthidaung Township issued new instructions to village administrators outlining additional requirements for members of the Rohingya community to obtain a permit to marry. The new required documents included: a letter from the district immigration authorities verifying the couple were of legal age to marry; a letter from a station commander showing the couple was free of criminal offenses; a letter from a health assistant assuring the couple was free of communicable diseases; and a letter from village administrators confirming the individuals were single, unmarried, and that any previous marriage was dissolved at least three years prior. Unauthorized marriages could result in prosecution of Rohingya men under the penal code, which prohibits a man from “deceitfully” marrying a woman, and could result in a prison sentence or fine.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Human rights abuses in Rakhine State outside the scope of armed conflict are noted in other sections throughout this report.

Incidents involving use of excessive force and other abuses in conjunction with long-running internal armed conflicts occurred across the country but varied widely. In Chin State and most of the southeast, widespread and systematic violent abuses of civilian populations in ethnic minority areas continued to decline, largely due to a number of bilateral cease-fire agreements reached with ethnic armed groups. These areas also broadly fall under the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signed by eight ethnic armed groups in 2015. In Kachin State and parts of Shan State, clashes among NCA signatory, nonsignatory groups, and the military continued, with credible allegations of abuse of civilian populations by both the military and ethnic armed groups. The majority of such clashes occurred in northern Shan and Kachin States. In central and southern Rakhine State and southern Chin State, sporadic clashes between the Arakan Army and the military continued, and in early August, the Arakan Army clashed with the Arakan Liberation Party. In Shan State the military clashed with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), even though the latter is an NCA signatory. Fighting between the RCSS and TNLA also continued. Both of these groups, and the military, were alleged to have abducted, tortured, and killed suspected combatants as well as burned villages.

In Kachin and Shan States, continuing armed clashes between the military and ethnic armed groups displaced thousands of persons, compounding long-term displacement of conflict-affected communities in these areas. The military blocked humanitarian access to ethnic armed group-controlled areas, where many of the displaced resided, and NGOs reported the military at times fired into IDP camps.

In mid-December the military launched air strikes against several KIA outposts in Kachin State, including around the KIA headquarters of Laiza. At least one civilian was reportedly killed in the fighting, and many IDPs were forced to flee. On December 24, the military launched heavy artillery near Laiza that landed on nearby IDP camps and injured one woman.

The military continued to station forces in most ethnic armed groups’ areas of influence and controlled most cities, towns, and highways. Reports continued of widespread abuses by government soldiers and some ethnic armed groups, including killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and the use of child soldiers. The military was also accused of rapes of members of ethnic minority groups in Shan, Kachin, and Rakhine States. Impunity for these abuses and crimes continued.

Killings: Military officials reportedly killed, tortured, and otherwise seriously abused civilians in conflict areas without public inquiry or accountability. Following ethnic armed groups’ attacks on the military, the military reportedly exercised a harsh form of collective punishment against civilians. The military’s use of indiscriminate force, including during aerial bombing, also resulted in civilian deaths. Some ethnic armed groups, most notably the RCSS and TNLA, allegedly killed civilians suspected of being members of rival armed groups. Clashes between government forces and ethnic armed groups broke out periodically in northern and southern Shan State during the year.

On May 25, soldiers from Battalion 319 shot and killed Nhkum Gam Awng, Maran Brang Seng, and Labya Naw Hkum, from Mai Hkawng Roman Catholic IDP camp in Mansi Township, Kachin State. According to camp officials, soldiers arrested the men while they were collecting firewood. NGOs reported villagers found the buried bodies on May 28. On September 15, the military invited villagers to observe court proceedings for six soldiers involved in the killings. Five soldiers reportedly pled guilty, while the battalion commander reportedly pled not guilty. The verdict and sentencing remained pending at year’s end.

On August 9, photographs of the dismembered bodies of Hpaukap Naw Lat and Labang Naw Bawk near a military outpost near Namti, Kachin State, circulated on social media. The men’s families contacted local military personnel, who said the men died while attempting to plant a land mine. The military accused the men of being members of the KIA. Local villagers reported, however, the men picked up the land mine to use while fishing. Several villagers reported witnessing military personnel detain the two men near Namti on the evening of August 8. Witnesses heard explosions in the morning of August 9. Authorities allegedly refused to allow family members to see the bodies before the military buried them. The police did not open an investigation.

Abductions: There were reports government soldiers abducted villagers in conflict areas. In Shan State human rights organizations alleged the military detained seven villagers, including a seven-year-old boy, on July 18, in retaliation against a village following a military confrontation with the RCSS.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: NGO reports documented the military’s torture and beating of civilians alleged to be working with or perceived to be sympathetic to ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Shan States. There were also continued reports of forced labor and forced recruitment by the KIA.

Prominent civil society groups reported the military committed numerous crimes of sexual violence against ethnic women and girls in ethnic states.

The military continued to take steps to cease forcing civilians to serve as military porters, yet unconfirmed reports continued that the military forced civilians to carry supplies or serve in other support roles in areas with outbreaks of conflict, such as northern Shan, Rakhine, and Kachin States.

Civilians, armed actors, and NGOs operating inside the country and along the border reported continued landmine use by the military and armed groups. Although the government and ethnic armed groups continued to discuss joint demining action, the discussions did not result in any joint landmine activities. The military unilaterally undertook limited landmine clearance operations in the southeast and in northern Shan State where it cleared small numbers of improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance when identified.

The Department of Social Welfare (DSW) and UNICEF continued to cochair the one national and four state-level Mine Risk Working Groups (MRWG) in Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, and Shan States. In Kayin State the MRWG included representatives from the DSW, national MRWG, military, and ethnic armed groups, including the Karen National Union (KNU), Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, and Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council. In March the DSW facilitated a meeting between the Directorate of Military Engineers and six demining NGOs to discuss support for demining activities from the international community.

The MRWG coordinated mine risk education, victim assistance, information management systems, and advocacy. MRWG members monitored and documented incidents and casualties from land mines and unexploded remnants of war. As of September, UNICEF reported 124 casualties, including 38 children. Many incidents were not reported due to continuing conflicts in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine States.

Child Soldiers: There was limited progress in implementing the 2012 joint plan of action between the government and the United Nations to end recruitment of child soldiers and to demobilize and rehabilitate those serving in the armed forces. The United Nations reported that progress on implementation had stalled since May, and there were reports that the military and its middlemen continued to recruit child soldiers from large cities such as Rangoon and Mandalay. The UN Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR)–the official mechanism for monitoring and reporting grave violations against children–continued its work with the government, as required by the memorandum of understanding between the United Nations and the government. The CFTMR met quarterly and submitted quarterly reports to the Security Council. Its last meeting was on December 15. During the year it received 15 complaints of child soldier recruitment. Normal verification procedures could take up to six months to confirm, and none of the 15 cases had yet completed verification. CFTMR monitoring was limited in part because of limitations on UN access to conflict-affected areas. During the year the government released 49 child soldiers identified within the military’s ranks. The military continued identifying suspected cases in addition to those reported by the CTFMR to the military. The CTFMR received these reports through its hotline, the forced-labor complaint mechanism, and community-based networks. Children who fled military service or received demobilization from civil society organizations rather than through the official CTFMR process continued to face arrest and imprisonment on charges of desertion while the military investigated their cases. Some children who previously were demobilized through the official CTFMR process had been re-recruited by the military once they were of legal age.

The Ministry of Defense undertook efforts to investigate and punish military personnel for recruitment of child soldiers. During the year the military punished 19 officers for previous recruitment of child soldiers. UN experts noted only low-level soldiers were held accountable, despite involvement by higher-level personnel.

The military continued enforcing its ban of all recruitment at the battalion level and continued to sanction military officers and noncommissioned personnel for complicity in child soldier recruitment and use. Former child soldiers generally did not receive meaningful reintegration support, although the military began working with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the country’s national chamber of commerce, to help develop the reintegration program for child soldiers to include private-sector opportunities. The military also provided information to the CTFMR that linked specific accountability measures to the respective case(s) of child recruitment or use, allowing for verification of the military’s accountability measures. The military did not make these reports available to the public.

The United Nations reported the government continued upholding its commitment under the action plan to allow UN monitors to inspect for compliance with agreed-upon procedures, to cease recruitment of children, and to implement processes for identification and demobilization of those serving in armed conflict. Nonetheless, UN monitors complained of insufficient access, noting that travel authorizations were often not granted until three or more months after an application was submitted, which complicated the United Nation’s ability to investigate claims effectively. They also noted that access to conflict areas was generally denied.

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement (MSWRR), UNICEF, and other partners provided social assistance and reintegration support to discharged children.

Military officials, in cooperation with the CTFMR, continued training military officers, including recruitment officers and officers up to the rank of captain, on international humanitarian law. UNICEF trained personnel assigned to the country’s four recruitment hubs and reported increased numbers of prospective child soldiers rejected at this stage.

Ethnic armed groups reportedly continued to use forced recruitment and child soldiers and sometimes demanded ransom to release child soldiers. Human rights groups reported ethnic armed groups known to recruit and use child soldiers included the KIA, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, Karen National Liberation Army, Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council, Karenni Army, Shan State Army South, and the United Wa State Army. The government continued to prevent ethnic armed groups from signing joint plans of action with the United Nations to end recruitment of child soldiers and to demobilize and rehabilitate those already serving.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: The government restricted the passage of relief supplies and access by international humanitarian organizations to conflict-affected areas of Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States. The government regularly denied access to the United Nations and international NGOs, arguing the military could not assure the NGO workers’ security or claimed humanitarian assistance would benefit ethnic armed group forces. In some cases the military allowed gradual access only as government forces regained control over contested areas. Although locally based organizations generally had more access to the 46,000 IDPs in areas outside government control, primarily in northern Kachin State, the military also increasingly restricted access for local organizations as military presence and control in these areas increased. At year’s end the government had not granted UN or international organizations humanitarian access to areas in Kachin State outside of military control. More than 98,000 persons remained displaced by conflict in Kachin and Shan States. In some cases villagers driven from their homes fled into the forest, frequently in heavily mined areas, without adequate food, security, or basic medical care (see section 2.d.).

On June 5, the military dropped leaflets over Tanai Township in Kachin State announcing “clearance operations” to begin on June 15. The leaflet warned the military would assume residents who did not leave by June 15 were cooperating with the KIA and would be treated as combatants. More than 1,000 villagers fled the area to shelter in churches and monasteries near neighboring villages. Local NGOs reported restrictions on humanitarian access to these IDPs.

On August 11, the military launched a raid and fired artillery into Kasung Village, Kachin State. Two churches were reportedly damaged and more than 1,000 residents fled to nearby Namti Village. Artillery caused heavy damage to a Roman Catholic church and moderately damaged a Baptist church and several houses, and there were reports military personnel looted the Roman Catholic church. On August 17, local NGOs reported the military blocked a delivery of humanitarian assistance. On August 23, the military and the KIA withdrew and all villagers were able to return to their homes.

Three journalists–Aye Naing and Pyae Phone Aung of DVB and Lawi Weng of Irrawaddy–were arrested on June 26 after covering a public ceremony organized by the TNLA and charged under the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act of Section 17(1). Bail was repeatedly denied. On September 1, the military withdrew cases against six local journalists it detained under Sections 17(1) and 66(d), including Aye Naing, Pyae Phone Aung, and Lawi Weng.

There were some reports of the use of civilians to shield combatants.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal but remained a significant problem, and the government did not enforce the law effectively. Spousal rape is not a crime unless the wife is younger than 13 years. Police generally investigated reported cases of rape, but there were reports police investigations were not sensitive to victims. Civil society groups continued to report police in some cases verbally abused women who reported rape, and women could be sued for impugning the dignity of the perpetrator.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious problem. Abuse within families was prevalent and considered socially acceptable. Spousal abuse or domestic violence was difficult to measure because the government did not maintain statistics and victims typically did not report it. Laws prohibit committing bodily harm against another person, but there are no laws specifically against domestic violence or spousal abuse unless the wife is younger than 14. Punishment for violating the law includes sentences ranging from one year to life in prison, in addition to possible fines. Overlapping and at times contradictory legal provisions complicated implementation of these limited protections.

The United Nations, media, and NGOs reported continued allegations of rape by military and security officials in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine States. The military rejected all allegations rape was an institutionalized practice in the military but admitted in 2014 its soldiers had committed 40 known rapes of civilian women since 2011.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code prohibits sexual harassment and imposes fines or a maximum of one-year’s imprisonment for verbal harassment and a maximum of two years’ imprisonment for physical contact. There was no information on the prevalence of the problem because these crimes were largely unreported. Local civil society organizations reported police investigators were not sensitive to victims and rarely followed through with investigations or prosecutions.

Coercion in Population Control: Coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization did not occur. In 2015, however, the government enacted the Population Control and Health Care Law, which contains provisions that, if enforced, could undermine protections for reproductive and women’s rights, including imposing birth-spacing requirements. Under the law the president or the national government may designate “special regions” for health care following consideration of factors such as population, natural resources, birth rates, and food availability. Once a special region is declared, the government allows the creation of special health-care organizations to perform various tasks, including establishing regulations related to family planning methods. The government has not designated any such special regions since the law’s enactment.

A two-child local order issued by the government of Rakhine State pertaining to the Rohingya population in two northern townships remained in effect, but the government and NGOs reported it was not consistently enforced (see section 1.f.).

Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: By law women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, including property and inheritance rights and religious and personal status, but it was not clear if the government enforced the law. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but it was not clear if the formal sector respected this requirement. NGOs reported sectors such as the garment industry did not comply. Poverty affected women disproportionately. The law governing hiring of civil service personnel states nothing shall prevent the appointment of men to “positions that are suitable for men only,” with no further definition of what constitutes positions “suitable for men only.”

Customary law was widely used to address issues of marriage, property, and inheritance, and it differs from the provisions under statutory law.

Children

Birth Registration: The 1982 Citizenship Law automatically confers full citizenship status to 135 recognized national ethnic groups as well as to persons who met citizenship requirements under previous citizenship legislation. Moreover, the government confers full citizenship to second-generation children of both parents with any citizenship, as long as at least one parent has full citizenship. Third-generation children of associate or naturalized citizens can acquire full citizenship. Residents derive full citizenship through parents, both of whom must be one of the 135 officially recognized “national races.” Under the law the government does not officially recognize Rohingya as an ethnic group.

A prominent international NGO noted significant rural-urban disparities in birth registration. In major cities (for example, Rangoon and Mandalay), births were registered immediately. In larger cities parents must register births to qualify for basic public services and obtain national identification cards. In smaller towns and villages, however, birth registration often was informal or nonexistent. For the Rohingya community, birth registration was a significant problem (see section 2.d.). The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State noted in its interim report nearly half of all residents in Rakhine State lacked birth documentation and recommended the government introduce a comprehensive birth registration campaign.

A birth certificate provided important protections for children, particularly against child labor, early marriage, and recruitment into the armed forces and armed groups. Sometimes a lack of birth registration, but more often a lack of availability, complicated access to public services in remote communities.

Education: By law education is compulsory, free, and universal through the fourth grade. The government continued to allocate minimal resources to public education, and schools charged informal fees. Many child rights activists in Rangoon noted such fees were decreasing and were less often mandatory.

Education access for internally displaced and stateless children remained limited.

Child Abuse: Laws prohibit child abuse, but they were neither adequate nor enforced. NGOs reported corporal punishment was widely used against children as a means of discipline. The punishment for violations is a maximum of two years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of 10,000 kyats ($7.50). There was anecdotal evidence of violence against children occurring within families, schools, in situations of child labor and exploitation, and in armed conflict. The MSWRR expanded its child protection pilot programs. In Rakhine State continued violence left many families and children displaced or with restrictions on their movement, which in turn exposed them to an environment of violence and exploitation. Armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States had a similar adverse effect on children in those areas.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates different minimum ages for marriage based on religion and gender: the minimum age for Buddhists is 18 years, and the minimum age for Christian boys is 16 and 15 for girls, but child marriage still occurred. According to the 2014 census, more than 13 percent of women married between ages 15 and 19. There were no reliable statistics on forced marriage. A review conducted by a UN organization in February found child marriage remained an important and underaddressed problem in rural areas.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Children were subjected to sex trafficking in the country, and a small number of foreign child sex tourists exploited children. The law does not explicitly prohibit child sex tourism, but it prohibits pimping and prostitution, and the penal code prohibits sex with a minor younger than 14 years. The penalty for the purchase and sale of commercial sex acts from a child younger than 18 is 10 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits pornography and specifies a penalty of two years’ minimum imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 kyats ($7.50). If a victim is younger than 14, the law considers the sexual act statutory rape. The maximum sentence for statutory rape is two years’ imprisonment when the victim is between 12 and 14, and 10 years’ to life imprisonment when the victim is younger than 12.

Displaced Children: The mortality rate of internally displaced children in conflict areas was significantly higher than in the rest of the country (see section 2.d.).

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

Anti-Semitism

There was one synagogue in Rangoon serving a small Jewish congregation. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, hearing, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in air travel and other forms of transportation, but directs the government to assure that persons with disabilities have easy access to public transportation. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

The Ministry of Health is responsible for medical rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, and the MSWRR is responsible for vocational training, education, and social protection strategies. The government recognized the Myanmar Federation of Persons with Disabilities to serve as an umbrella group for organizations that serve persons with disabilities. The National Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disability is the ministerial committee formed to monitor the implementation of the law; for the second consecutive year, it did not convene.

Civil society groups reported that often children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other persons, and many never attended school due to stigma and lack of any accommodation for their needs.

According to the Myanmar Physical Handicap Association, a significant number of military personnel, armed group members, and civilians had a disability because of conflict, including because of torture and landmine incidents. There were approximately 12,000 amputees in the country–two-thirds believed to be landmine survivors–supported by five physical rehabilitation centers throughout the country. Persons with disabilities reported stigma, discrimination, and abuse from civilian and government officials. Students with disabilities cited barriers to inclusive education as a significant disadvantage.

Military veterans with disabilities received official benefits on a priority basis, usually a civil service job at equivalent pay, but both military and ethnic-minority survivors in rural areas typically did not have access to livelihood opportunities or affordable medical treatment. Official assistance to nonmilitary persons with disabilities in principle included two-thirds of pay for a maximum of one year for a temporary disability and a tax-free stipend for permanent disability. While the law provides job protection for workers who become disabled, authorities did not implement it.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities constituted 30 to 40 percent of the population. The seven ethnic minority states composed approximately 60 percent of the national territory, and significant numbers of minorities also resided within the country’s other regions. Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against minorities persisted, including in areas such as education, housing, employment, and access to health services. International observers noted significant wage discrepancies based on religious and ethnic backgrounds were common.

Burmese generally remained the mandatory language of instruction in government schools. Civil society organizations expressed disappointment the government’s National Education Strategic Plan, which was released in April, did not cover issues related to mother tongue instruction and was not adequately informed by consultations with ethnic stakeholders. In schools controlled by ethnic groups, students sometimes had no access to the national curriculum. There were very few domestic publications in indigenous-minority languages.

Tension between the military and ethnic minority populations, while somewhat diminished in areas with cease-fire agreements, remained high, and the military stationed forces in some ethnic groups’ areas of influence and controlled certain cities, towns, and highways. Ethnic armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organization and the KNU, pointed to the increased presence of army troops as a major source of tension and insecurity. Reported abuses included killings, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, and rapes of members of ethnic groups by government soldiers. Some groups also committed abuses (see section 1.g.).

The Rohingya in Rakhine State faced severe discrimination based on their ethnicity. Most Rohingya faced severe restrictions on their ability to travel, avail themselves of health-care services, engage in economic activity (see section 7.d.), obtain an education, and register births, deaths, and marriages (see section 2.d.). Most of those displaced in 2012 remained confined to semipermanent camps with severely limited access to education, health care, and livelihoods.

In early August the military deployed in parts of northern Rakhine State reportedly committed serious human rights violations and abuses, including enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests. On August 25, ARSA claimed responsibility for coordinated attacks against 30 security outposts in northern Rakhine State. The security forces, as well as vigilante groups acting in concert with security forces, then reportedly committed widespread atrocities against Rohingya villagers, including extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, and burning of hundreds of villages, religious structures, and other buildings. These atrocities and associated events forced more than 655,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh as of December and constituted ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.

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

Political reforms in recent years made it easier for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community to hold public events and openly participate in society, yet discrimination, stigma and a lack of acceptance among the general population persisted. Consensual same-sex sexual activity remains illegal under the penal code, which contains a provision against “unnatural offenses” with a penalty of a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine or “transportation for life.” Laws against “unnatural offenses” apply equally to both men and women; these laws were rarely enforced. LGBTI persons reported police used the threat of prosecution to extort bribes. While the penal code is used more for coercion or bribery, LGBTI persons, particularly transgender women, were most frequently charged under so-called shadow and disguise laws. These laws use the justification that a person dressed or acting in a way that is perceived as not being in line with their biological gender is in “disguise.” According to a report by a local NGO, transgender women reported higher levels of police abuse and discrimination than other members of the LGBTI community.

There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. LGBTI persons reported facing discrimination from medical-care providers.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The constitution provides for the individual’s right to health care in accordance with national health policy, prohibits discrimination by the government on the grounds of “status,” and requires equal opportunity in employment and equality before the law. Persons with HIV/AIDS could theoretically submit a complaint to the government if a breach of their constitutional rights or denial of access to essential medicines occurred, such as antiretroviral therapy, but there were no reports of individuals submitting complaints on these grounds. There are no HIV-specific protective laws or laws that specifically address the human rights aspects of HIV.

There were continued reports of societal violence and discrimination, including employment discrimination, against persons with HIV/AIDS. Negative incidents such as exclusion from social gatherings and activities; verbal insults, harassment, and threats; and physical assaults continued to occur. Laws that criminalize behaviors linked to an increased risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS remain in place, directly fueling stigma and discrimination against persons engaged in these behaviors and impeding their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.

Law enforcement practices contributed to high levels of stigma and discrimination against female sex workers and transgender women that in turn hindered their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and social protection services. Police harassment of sex workers deterred the workers from carrying condoms.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were reports of other cases of societal violence, and anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination persisted. Members of Bamar Buddhist nationalist groups, including members of Ma Ba Tha, continued to denigrate Islam and called for a boycott of Muslim businesses.

Muslim communities complained about unequal treatment by police, pressures to practice Islam in private, difficulty in obtaining citizenship cards, close monitoring of their travel by local government, and restrictions to education opportunities. Religious groups noted the January assassination of Ko Ni had a chilling effect on Muslims fighting for improved treatment under the law (see section 1.a.).

In April, 12 nationalist monks and dozens of local residents in Rangoon forced two madrassahs to be chained shut. The group alleged the structures were illegal and demanded local officials close them. Muslim leaders noted the madrassahs had been used for prayers for many years and told local media they believed nationalists bullied them because of their religion.

In May nationalist monks claimed Rohingya were hiding illegally in Mingala Taungnyunt Township in Rangoon. Media reports indicated the monks informed local police about their suspicions, and when local police investigated and found no one to be living illegally in the neighborhood, the monks and Buddhist laypersons instigated violence against the Muslim community in the neighborhood. Media also reported two Muslim residents were injured before police intervened by firing warning shots into the air. Police arrested eight persons for their involvement in the violence.

On October 30, Buddhist leader Sitagu Sayadaw gave a sermon to soldiers, live-streamed on Facebook to more than 250,000 persons, at a military training school in Kayin State, where he quoted a parable in which a Buddhist king is told by his advisors that the killing of millions of Hindu Tamils only added up to one and a half real human beings. In his sermon the Sitagu Sayadaw also noted the need for Buddhist leaders and the military to work together for national unity. The remarks were generally interpreted as condoning the military’s abuses against members of religious minority groups and suggesting that in the course of battle, it is less of a sin for soldiers to kill non-Buddhists than to kill Buddhists.

Multiple sources noted that restrictions against Muslims and Christians impeded their ability to pursue higher education opportunities and assume high-level government positions and that Muslims were unable to invest and trade freely.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Executive Summary

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is an authoritarian state led by the Kim family for more than 60 years. Shortly after Kim Jong Il’s death in late 2011, his son Kim Jong Un was named marshal of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, the late Kim Il Sung, remains “eternal president.” The most recent national elections, held in 2014, were neither free nor fair.

Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The people of North Korea faced egregious human rights violations by the government in nearly all reporting categories including: extrajudicial killings; disappearances; arbitrary arrests and detentions; torture; political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh, life threatening, and included forced and compulsory labor; unfair trials; rigid controls over many aspects of citizen’s lives, including arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; denial of the ability to choose their government; coerced abortion; trafficking in persons; severe restrictions on worker rights, including denial of the right to organize independent unions and domestic forced labor through mass mobilizations and as a part of the re-education system. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) noted DPRK foreign contract workers also faced conditions of forced labor.

The government made no known attempts to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity continued to be a widespread problem.

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

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

There were numerous reports the government committed arbitrary and unlawful killings.

Defector reports noted instances in which the government executed political prisoners, opponents of the government, forcibly returned asylum seekers, government officials, and others accused of crimes. The law prescribes the death penalty for the most “serious” or “grave” cases of “antistate” or “antination” crimes, which include: participation in a coup or plotting to overthrow the state; acts of terrorism for an antistate purpose; treason, which includes defection or handing over of state secrets, broadly interpreted to include providing information about economic, social, and political developments routinely published elsewhere; suppression of the people’s movement for national liberation; and “treacherous destruction.” Additionally, the law allows for capital punishment in less serious crimes such as theft, destruction of military facilities and national assets, fraud, kidnapping, distribution of pornography, and trafficking in persons. The government reportedly executed individuals for sleeping during patriotic events. Defectors also reported that the government carried out infanticide in cases of political prisoners, persons with disabilities, and where the mother was repatriated from China.

NGOs and press reports indicated that border guards had orders to shoot to kill individuals leaving the country without permission, and prison guards were under orders to shoot to kill those attempting to escape from political prison camps.

In February the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) press reported that DPRK authorities executed five Ministry of State Security officials in a political purge.

It was widely reported that, on February 13, two women, working on behalf of the government, assassinated Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport using VX nerve agent, a chemical weapon banned under the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention.

The state also subjected private citizens to public executions. According to the Institute for National Security Strategy, the state held 340 public executions from 2012 to 2016, including executions of 140 government officials between 2013 and 2016. A 2016 survey found that 64 percent of defectors had witnessed public executions.

During the year a defector reported being pulled from school to witness the public execution of 11 musicians accused of making a pornographic video. The defector described a brutal process including antiaircraft artillery, used to kill the prisoners, and tanks, which were used to run over the bodies postmortem.

b. Disappearance

NGO, think tank, and press reports indicated the government was responsible for disappearances.

During the year there was no progress in the investigation into the whereabouts of 12 Japanese citizens believed to have been abducted by the DPRK. The DPRK suspended bilateral negotiations on the abductions issue in 2015, citing Japan’s move to raise the issue in a UN Human Rights Council resolution.

ROK government and media reports noted the DPRK also kidnapped other foreign nationals from locations abroad in the 1970s and 1980s. The DPRK continued to deny its involvement in the kidnappings. The ROK Ministry of Unification reported that an estimated 517 of its civilians, abducted or detained by DPRK authorities since the end of the Korean War, remained in the DPRK. South Korean NGOs estimated that during the Korean War the DPRK abducted 20,000 civilians who remained in the North or who had died.

According to The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), the state closed Hoeryong kwanliso (Camp 22) in late 2012 and demolished the Sirmchon/Kumchon-ri zone with Yodok kwanliso (Camp 15) in late 2014. The whereabouts of the former prisoners of these facilities remained unknown. During the year South Korean media reported that DPRK Ministry of State Security agents were dispatched to cities near the DPRK border in China to kidnap and forcibly return refugees. According to international press reports, North Korea may have also kidnapped defectors who relocated to South Korea and then were on travel in China. In some cases North Korea reportedly forced these defectors’ family members to encourage the defectors to return to China in order to capture them.

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

The penal code prohibits torture or inhuman treatment, but many sources reported these practices continued. Numerous defector accounts and NGO reports described the use of torture by authorities in several detention facilities. Methods of torture and other abuse reportedly included severe beatings; electric shock; prolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such as public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small “punishment cells” in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down; being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods; being hung by the wrists; water torture; and being forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse, including “pumps,” or being forced to repeatedly squat and stand with the person’s hands behind their back. Mothers were in some cases reportedly forced to watch the infanticide of their newborn infants. Defectors continued to report many prisoners died from torture, disease, starvation, exposure to the elements, or a combination of these causes.

The White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, published by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), a South Korean government-affiliated think tank, and the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report stated that officials had in some cases prohibited live births in prison and ordered forced abortions as recently as 2013. Detainees in re-education through labor camps reported the state forced them to perform difficult physical labor under harsh conditions (see section 7.b.).

The KINU white paper found that, in some cases of live birth, the prison guards killed the infant or left the baby to die, and it reported cases of guards sexually abusing or exploiting female prisoners.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

NGO, defector, and press reports noted there were several types of prisons, detention centers, and camps, including forced labor camps and separate camps for political prisoners. NGO reports documented six types of detention facilities: kwanliso (political penal-labor camps), kyohwaso (correctional or re-education centers), kyoyangso (labor-reform centers), jipkyulso (collection centers for low-level criminals), rodong danryeondae (labor-training centers), and kuryujang or kamok (interrogation facilities or jails). According to the 2017 KINU white paper, the Ministry of State Security administered kwanliso camps and either it or the Ministry of People’s Security administered the other detention centers.

There were reportedly between 5,000 and 50,000 prisoners per kwanliso. Defectors claimed the kwanliso camps contained unmarked graves, barracks, worksites, and other prison facilities. NGOs reported the existence of five kwanliso facilities, including Gaecheon (Camp 14), Hwaseong/Myeonggan (Camp 16), Pukchang (Camp 18), and Cheongjin (Camp 25). During the year reports continued to indicate that areas of Yodok (Camp 15) in South Hamkyung Province were closed or operating at a reduced capacity.

Kwanliso camps consist of total control zones, where incarceration is for life, and “rerevolutionizing zones,” from which prisoners may be released. Reports indicated the state typically sent those sentenced to prison for nonpolitical crimes to re-education prisons where authorities subjected prisoners to intense forced labor. Those the state considered hostile to the government or who committed political crimes reportedly received indefinite sentencing terms in political prison camps. In many cases the state also detained all family members if one member was accused or arrested. The government continued to deny the existence of political prison camps.

Reports indicated conditions in the prison camp and detention system were harsh and life threatening and that systematic and severe human rights abuse occurred. Defectors noted they did not expect many prisoners in political prison camps and the detention system to survive. Detainees and prisoners consistently reported violence and torture. Defectors described witnessing public executions in political prison camps. According to defectors, prisoners received little to no food or medical care in some places of detention. Sanitation was poor, and former labor camp inmates reported they had no changes of clothing during their incarceration and were rarely able to bathe or wash their clothing. The South Korean and international press reported that the kyohwaso held populations of up to thousands of political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals.

Both the kyohwaso re-education camps and kwanliso prison camps host extremely brutal conditions, according to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Kyohwaso No. 12, Jongori. The report noted, “The brutality affects both those convicted of actual offenses and those sentenced for essentially political offenses.”

According to the Hidden Gulag IV report, since late 2008 Jongori (formerly referred to as Camp 12) in North Hamkyung Province was expanded to include a women’s annex, which held approximately 1,000 women, most of whom the state imprisoned after forcibly returning them from China. Satellite imagery and defector testimony corroborated the existence of this women’s annex. Defector testimony also cited food rations below subsistence levels, forced labor, and high rates of death due to starvation at Jongori.

According to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Flooding at Kyohwaso No. 12, Jongori, the kyohwaso or re-education center No. 12, Jongori is located approximately 300 miles northeast of Pyongyang and 15 miles south of Hoeryong City. The report estimated the prison population at kyohwaso No. 12 had ranged from 1,300 in the late 1990s to approximately 5,000 in recent years.

Physical Conditions: Estimates of the total number of prisoners and detainees in the prison and detention system ranged between 80,000 and 120,000. Physical abuse by prison guards was systematic. Anecdotal reports from the NGO Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the 2014 COI report stated that in some prisons authorities held women in separate units from men and often subjected the women to sexual abuse. The COI report added, “Cases of rape are a direct consequence of the impunity and unchecked power that prison guards and other officials enjoy.”

There were no statistics available regarding deaths in custody, but defectors reported deaths were commonplace as the result of summary executions, torture, lack of adequate medical care, and starvation. The COI report cited “extremely high rate of deaths in custody,” due to starvation and neglect, arduous forced labor, disease, and executions.

Defectors also reported that in Camp 14, prisoners worked 12 hours a day during the summer and 10 hours a day during the winter, with one day off a month. The camps observed New Year’s Day and the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Children age 12 or older worked, and guards gave light duty to prisoners over 65 years of age. According to HRNK report Gulag, Inc., three political prison camps and four re-education camps contained mines where prisoners worked long hours with frequent deadly accidents. One prisoner reported suffering an open foot fracture and being forced to return to the mine the same day. Prisoners provided supervision over other prisoners and worked even when they were sick. Prisoners who failed to meet work quotas reportedly faced reduced meals and violence. Those caught stealing faced arbitrary and serious violence.

NGO and press reports estimated there were between 182 and 490 detention facilities in the country.

By law the state dismisses criminal cases against a person under age 14. The state applies public education in case of a crime committed by a person above age 14 and under age 17, but little information was available regarding how the law was actually applied. Authorities often detained juveniles along with their families and reportedly subjected them to torture and abuse in detention facilities.

Administration: There was little evidence to suggest prisoners and detainees had reasonable access to visitors. In past years refugees reported authorities subjected Christian inmates to harsher punishment if the prisoners made their faith public, but no information was available regarding religious observance. No information was available on whether authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of abuse.

Independent Monitoring: There was no publicly available information on whether the government investigated or monitored prison and detention conditions. The 2015 HRNK Imagery Analysis of Camp 15 noted officials, especially those within the Korean People’s Army and the internal security organizations, clearly understand the importance of implementing camouflage, concealment, and deception procedures to mask their operations and intentions. The government did not allow the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK into the country to assess prison conditions. The government did not permit other human rights monitors to inspect prisons and detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but reports pointed out that the government did not observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The internal security apparatus includes the Ministries of People’s Security, State Security, and the Military Security Command. Impunity was pervasive. The security forces did not investigate possible security force abuses. The government did not take action to reform the security forces. In February the ROK Ministry of Unification announced that DPRK Minister of State Security Kim Won Hong was removed from his position after reports of human rights abuses in his ministry, but it remained unclear whether his dismissal was for that reason or merely part of a reorganization of leadership. These organizations all played a role in the surveillance of citizens, maintaining arresting power, and conducting special purpose nonmilitary investigations. A systematic and intentional overlap of powers and responsibilities existed between these organizations. Kim Jong Un continued to enforce this overlap to prevent any potential subordinate consolidation of power and assure that each unit provides a check and balance on the other.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Revisions to the criminal code and the criminal procedure code in 2004, 2005, and 2009 added shortened periods of detention during prosecution and trial, arrest by warrant, and prohibition of collecting evidence by forced confessions. Confirmation that the state applied these changes has not been verified.

Members of the security forces arrested and reportedly transported citizens suspected of committing political crimes to prison camps without trial. According to a South Korean NGO, beginning in 2008, the Ministry of People’s Security received authorization to handle criminal cases directly without the approval of prosecutors. Prosecutorial corruption reportedly necessitated the change. An NGO reported that investigators could detain an individual for the purpose of investigation for up to two months. No functioning bail system or other alternatives for considering release pending trial exists.

There were no restrictions on the government’s ability to detain and imprison persons at will or to hold them incommunicado. Family members and other concerned persons reportedly found it virtually impossible to obtain information on charges against detained persons or the lengths of their sentences. Judicial review or appeals of detentions did not exist in law or practice. According to an opinion adopted in 2015 by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, family members have no recourse to petition for the release of detainees accused of political crimes, as the state may deem any such advocacy for political prisoners an act of treason against the state. No known information on a bail system and no information on detainees receiving a lawyer was available.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests reportedly occurred.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to defectors there was no mechanism for persons to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution states courts are independent and that courts will carry out judicial proceedings in strict accordance with the law; however, an independent judiciary does not exist. According to the 2017 KINU white paper, there were many reports of bribery and corruption in the investigations or preliminary examination process and in detention facilities, as well as by judges and prosecutors in the trial stage.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Little information was available on formal criminal justice procedures and practices, and outside access to the legal system was limited to trials for traffic violations and other minor offenses.

The constitution contains elaborate procedural protections, providing that cases should be public, except under circumstances stipulated by law. The constitution also states that the accused has the right to a defense, and when the government held trials, they reportedly assigned lawyers. Some reports noted a distinction between those accused of political, as opposed to nonpolitical, crimes and claimed that the government offered trials and lawyers only to the latter. The Ministry of State Security (MSS) conducted “pretrials” or preliminary examinations in all political cases, but the court system conducted the trial. Some defectors testified that the MSS also conducted trials. There was no indication that independent, nongovernmental defense lawyers existed. According to the 2013 Hidden Gulag report, most inmates were sent to prison camps without trial, without knowing the charges against them and without having legal counsel. There were no indications authorities respected the presumption of innocence. According to the UN COI report, “the vast majority of inmates are victims of arbitrary detention, since they are imprisoned without trial or on the basis of a trial that fails to respect the due process and fair trial guarantees set out in international law.”

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While the total number of political prisoners and detainees remained unknown, the 2017 KINU white paper reported the state detained between 80,000 and 120,000 in the kwanliso. Guards held political prisoners separately from other detainees. NGOs and media reported political prisoners were subject to harsher punishments and fewer protections than other prisoners and detainees. The government considered critics of the regime to be political criminals. The government did not permit access to persons by international humanitarian organizations or religious organizations resident in China. Reports from past years described political offenses as including attempting to defect to South Korea, sitting on newspapers bearing Kim Il Sung’s or Kim Jong Il’s picture, mentioning Kim Il Sung’s limited formal education, or defacing photographs of the Kims. The UN COI report noted that many “ordinary” prisoners are, in fact, political prisoners, “detained without a substantive reason compatible with international law.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

According to the constitution, “citizens are entitled to submit complaints and petitions. The state shall fairly investigate and deal with complaints and petitions as fixed by law.” Under the Law on Complaint and Petition, citizens are entitled to submit complaints to stop encroachment upon their rights and interests or seek compensation for the encroached rights and interests. Reports noted government officials did not respect these rights. Individuals and organizations do not have the ability to appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution provides for the inviolability of person and residence and the privacy of correspondence; however, the government did not respect these provisions. The regime subjected its citizens to rigid controls. The regime reportedly relied upon a massive, multilevel system of informants to identify those it sees as critics. Authorities sometimes subjected entire communities to security checks, entering homes without judicial authorization.

The government appeared to monitor correspondence, telephone conversations, emails, text messages, and other digital communications. Private telephone lines operated on a system that precluded making or receiving international calls; international telephone lines were available only under restricted circumstances.

A 2015 survey conducted by InterMedia found that 28 percent of respondents (recent defectors and North Korean businesspersons in China) had owned a domestic cell phone in North Korea. Citizens must go through a lengthy bureaucratic process to obtain a mobile phone legally, and authorities strictly monitored mobile phone use. Additionally, 14 percent of defectors reported owning a Chinese mobile phone. DPRK authorities frequently jammed cellular phone signals along the China-DPRK border to block the use of the Chinese cell network to make international phone calls. The Ministry of State Security reportedly engaged in real-time surveillance of mobile phone communications. Authorities arrested those caught using such cell phones with Chinese SIM cards and required violators to pay a fine or face charges of espionage or other crimes with harsh punishments, including lengthy prison terms. Testimonies recorded by NGOs indicated prisoners could avoid punishment through bribery of DPRK officials.

The government divided citizens into strict loyalty-based classes known as “songbun,” which determined access to employment, higher education, place of residence, medical facilities, certain stores, marriage prospects, and food rations.

Numerous reports noted authorities practiced collective punishment. The state imprisoned entire families, including children, when one member of the family was accused of a crime. Collective punishment reportedly can extend to three generations.

NGOs reported the eviction of families from their places of residence without due process.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The government appeared to criminalize rape, but no information was available on details of the law or how it was enforced. The UN COI report found the subjugation of inmates and a general climate of impunity created an environment in which guards and other prisoners in privileged positions raped female inmates. When cases of rape came to light, the perpetrator often escaped with mere dismissal or no punishment. According to the 2017 KINU white paper, the Law for the Protection of Women’s Rights includes a provision prohibiting domestic violence but no legal provisions stipulating penalties for domestic violence. Defectors reported violence against women was a systematic problem both inside and outside the home. According to the 2015 KINU survey of defectors conducted from 2011-15, 81 percent of respondents believed domestic violence was “common.”

Sexual Harassment: Despite the 1946 Law on Equality of the Sexes, defectors reported the populace generally accepted sexual harassment of women due to patriarchal traditions, and reported there was little recourse for women who had been harassed.

Coercion in Population Control: Defectors reported that the state security officials subjected women to forced abortions although it was done for political purposes and not population control. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The constitution states, “women hold equal social status and rights with men”; however, few women reached high levels of the party or the government and defectors said gender equality was nonexistent. KINU reported that discrimination against women emerged in the form of differentiated pay scales, promotions, and types of work assigned to women. The foreign press and think tanks reported that, while women were less likely than men to be assigned full-time jobs, they had more opportunity to work outside the socialist economy.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from one’s parents and, in some cases, birth within the country’s territory.

Education: The law provides for 12 years of free compulsory education for all children. Reports indicated that authorities denied some children educational opportunities and subjected them to punishments and disadvantages as a result of the loyalty classification system and the principle of “collective retribution” for the transgressions of family members. NGO reports also noted some children were unable to attend school regularly because of hidden fees or insufficient food. NGOs reported that children in the total control zones of political prisons did not receive the same curriculum or quality of education.

Foreign visitors and academic sources reported that from the fifth grade, schools subjected children to several hours a week of mandatory military training and that all children received political indoctrination.

Medical Care: There was no verifiable information available on whether boys and girls had equal access to state-provided medical care. Access to health care largely depended on loyalty to the government.

Child Abuse: Information about societal or familial abuse of children remained unavailable. The law states that a man who has sexual intercourse with a girl under age 15 shall be “punished gravely.” There was no reporting on whether the government upheld this law.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that the minimum age for marriage is 18 years old for men and 17 years old for women.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: As many girls and young women attempt to flee repressive and malnourished conditions for their own survival or the betterment of their family, the 2014 Commission of Inquiry noted they often become subjected to sexual exploitation by traffickers. Traffickers promised these young girls jobs in other parts of the country or in China but then sold them into forced marriages, domestic servitude, or made them work in prostitution after being smuggled out of the country.

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

Displaced Children: According to NGO reports, there were numerous street children, many of them orphans, who had inconsistent access to education.

Institutionalized Children: There were reports of children born into kwanliso political prison camps as a result of “reward marriages” between inmates. Guards subjected children living in prison camps to torture if they or a family member violated the prison rules. Reports noted authorities subjected children to forced labor for up to 12 hours per day and did not allow them to leave the camps. Prisons offered them limited access to education.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

In 2013 the country announced that it modified its Person with Disability Protection Law to meet the international standards of rights for persons with disabilities. However, in a 2016 National Human Rights Commission of Korea survey, 89 percent of defectors said there was no consideration for persons with disabilities.

While a 2003 law mandates equal access to public services for persons with disabilities, the state has not enacted the implementing legislation. Traditional social norms condone discrimination against persons with disabilities, including in the workplace (also see section 7.d.). While the state treated veterans with disabilities well, they reportedly sent other persons with physical and mental disabilities from Pyongyang to internal exile, quarantined within camps, and forcibly sterilized. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in accessing public life.

The UN special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, visited the DPRK for the first time in May and noted most infrastructure, including new buildings, was not accessible to persons with physical disabilities. She also said more efforts were needed on information and communication access for blind people.

State media reported in July 2016 that the government launched a website for the protection of persons with disabilities, and they improved educational content in schools for children with disabilities to provide professional skills training. Independent observers were unable to verify the report.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child repeatedly expressed concern about de facto discrimination against children with disabilities and insufficient measures taken by the state to ensure these children had effective access to health, education, and social services.

The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights 2013 report on the Status of Women’s Rights in the Context of Socio-Economic Changes in the DPRKfound that the birth of a baby with disabilities–regardless of circumstances–was considered a “curse,” and doctors lacked training to diagnose and treat such persons. The report stated there were no welfare centers with specialized protection systems for those born with disabilities. Citizens’ Alliance also cited reports that the country maintained a center (Hospital 8.3) for abandoned individuals with disabilities, where officials subjected residents to chemical and biological testing.

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

There are no laws against consensual same-sex activity, but little information was available on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2014 the Korean Central News Agency, the state news agency, denied the existence of consensual same-sex activity in the country and reported, “The practice can never be found in the DPRK boasting of sound mentality and good morals.”

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

Ethiopia is a federal republic. The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four ethnically based parties, controls the government. In the 2015 general elections the EPRDF and affiliated parties won all 547 House of People’s Representatives (parliament) seats to remain in power for a fifth consecutive five-year term. In 2015 parliament elected Hailemariam Desalegn to his first full mandate as prime minister. Hailemariam assumed that office in 2012 after the death of his predecessor. Government restrictions severely limited independent observation of the general election vote. A mission from the African Union, the sole international institution or organization permitted to observe the voting, called the elections “calm, peaceful, and credible.” Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported an environment conducive to a free and fair election was not in place prior to the election. There were reports of unfair government tactics, including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters, and violence before and after the election that resulted in at least six deaths.

It was widely reported that civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over security forces. Local police in rural areas and local militias sometimes acted independently.

In October 2016 parliament imposed a State of Emergency (SOE) and extended it in March. According to the SOE, an executive body called the Command Post managed security policy under the leadership of the minister of defense. During the SOE the Command Post held broad powers, including the ability to detain individuals, restrict speech, and restrict movement. On August 4, parliament voted to end the SOE, which took effect immediately.

The most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary deprivation of life, disappearances, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by security forces; denial of a fair public trial; infringement of privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, internet, assembly, association, and movement; lack of accountability in cases involving rape and violence against women; and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct.

The government generally did not take steps to prosecute or otherwise punish officials who committed human rights abuses other than corruption. Impunity was a problem; there was an extremely limited number of prosecutions of security force members or officials for human rights abuses during the year.

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government and its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Security forces used excessive force against civilians. A May 28 report from the independent NGO Human Rights Council (HRCO) that conducted field investigations covering 32 districts in 16 zones from Oromia, Amhara, and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), as well as Addis Ababa city, stated government security forces killed 19 citizens between the start of the SOE in October 2016 and May. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in April reported to parliament that 669 persons died and more than a thousand persons were injured in the 2016 protests in Oromia, Amhara, and SNNPR. Other NGO reports stated a higher number of casualties. In late February and March, weeks-long raids by armed militiamen from the Somali region reportedly resulted in the deaths of more than 100 civilians in bordering East Hararge, West Hararge, Bale, and Guji zones of Oromia region. Oromia region’s Communications Office confirmed the raids and subsequent deaths but did not give figures.

b. Disappearance

Individuals, including children, arrested by security forces during the SOE temporarily were held incommunicado. The government announced plans to disclose names of SOE detainees in November 2016, but this effort was not comprehensive. According to a May HRCO report, authorities used local government offices, colleges, training centers, and military training camps throughout the country as temporary detention centers.

Due to poor prison administration, family members reported individuals missing who were in custody of prison officials, but whom the families could not locate.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there were reports that security officials tortured and otherwise abused detainees.

In its May report HRCO reported that victims testified authorities hung SOE detainees by their feet and tortured them during interrogations. Detainees in Finote Selam Prison in Amhara region told HRCO investigators that prison officials beat and tortured detainees and immersed some in latrine pits full of human feces. The report stated maltreatment of members of the Oromo and Amhara ethnicities, and some religious minorities, occurred.

The HRCO reported authorities kept several SOE detainees in overcrowded detention centers without sufficient food, water, medical care, toilets, and other facilities. Authorities did not permit these detainees to have visitors. It also found that detainees in several detention centers experienced inhuman treatment including beatings/whippings, forced physical exercises, and denial of food. Authorities forced detainees in Awash Arba to walk barefoot and sit exposed to the sun for three consecutive days.

Multiple sources reported general mistreatment of detainees at official detention centers, unofficial detention centers, police stations, and in Kilinto federal prison. Interrogators administered beatings and electric shocks to extract information and confessions from detainees. Police investigators used physical and psychological abuse to extract confessions in Maekelawi, the federal crime investigation center in Addis Ababa that often held high-profile political prisoners. Authorities restricted access by diplomats and NGOs to Maekelawi; some NGOs reported limited access.

As of October 23, the United Nations reported that it had received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against Ethiopian peacekeepers during the year. The allegation of transactional sex, made against one member of the military contingent serving with the UN Mission in South Sudan, was alleged to have taken place at an unspecified time in 2016. As of October 23, the investigation was pending identification of the personnel involved.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. There were reports that authorities physically abused prisoners in detention centers, military facilities, and police stations. Problems included gross overcrowding and inadequate food, water, sanitation, and medical care. There also were many unofficial detention centers throughout the country, including in Dedessa, Bir Sheleko, Tolay, Hormat, Blate, Tatek, Jijiga, Holeta, and Senkele. Observers were denied access to these facilities. Activists detained in some of these centers during the SOE reported overcrowding, inadequate food and water, and poor medical care. Pretrial detention often occurred in police station detention facilities, where conditions varied widely and where reports stated there was poor hygiene and police abuse of detainees. Detention center officials in Tolay and Awash Arba made more than one hundred detainees use a single open-pit toilet.

During the SOE, the government operated detention centers in Awash, Ziway, and Dilla, and detained suspects at various police stations in Addis Ababa. The government also held detainees in military facilities, local administration offices, and other temporary sites. Although conditions varied, problems of gross overcrowding and inadequate food, water, sanitation, and medical care were common at sites holding SOE detainees.

Physical Conditions: Severe overcrowding was common, especially in prison sleeping quarters. For example, one prison in Asella with capacity for 400 held 3,000 inmates. Authorities sometimes incarcerated juveniles with adults. Prison officials generally separated male and female prisoners, although mixing occurred at some facilities. There were reports that authorities physically abused prisoners in detention centers, military facilities, and police stations. Medical attention following physical abuse was insufficient in some cases.

For example, Ayele Beyene, an inmate of Killinto Prison, died in July while in prison custody. Prison officials reported Ayele’s death to the court on July 24. In a court hearing on July 25, Ayele’s codefendants told the court that they were subject to severe beating in Maekelawi detention center prior to being moved to Killinto Prison. Codefendants also stated they reported Ayele’s condition to the prison authorities repeatedly, but authorities ignored them. Authorities detained Ayele in September 2016 and kept him at the Maekelawi detention center until May 10 when they charged him and seven codefendants with terrorism.

The government budgeted approximately nine birr ($0.40) per prisoner per day for food, water, and health care, although this amount varied across the country. According to the World Bank, the per capita GDP was $1.62 per day. Many prisoners supplemented this amount with daily food deliveries from family members or by purchasing food from local vendors. Reports noted officials prevented some prisoners from receiving food from their families, and some families did not know of their relatives’ locations. Medical care was unreliable in federal prisons and almost nonexistent in regional ones. Prisoners had only limited access to potable water. Water shortages caused unhygienic conditions, and most prisons lacked appropriate sanitary facilities. Many prisoners had serious health problems but received little or no treatment. There were reports prison officials denied some prisoners access to needed medical care.

HRCO investigators who visited two prisons in Amhara region reported in May that detainees in Debre Tabor Prison faced serious water shortages and overcrowding leading to illness. Detainees in Finote Selam Prison did not get medical services during weekends and emergency cases were not transported to a hospital.

The governmental Institution of the Ombudsman presented its annual report to parliament in June. The report described underpayment of a limited number of prisoners for their labor in Dangla and Debre Markos prisons in the Amhara Region. This prison labor system operates separately from the federal per capita budget for prisoners. Prisoners faced problems accessing food, water, medical treatment, and education. Prison officials made policy changes following recommendations from the Institution of the Ombudsman, which later verified improvements for some criticisms in its report.

Visitors to political prisoners and other sources reported political prisoners often faced significantly different treatment compared with other prisoners. Allegations included lack of access to proper medication or medical treatment, lack of access to books or television, and denial of exercise time.

Administration: There were reports that prisoners mistreated by prison guards did not have access to prison administrators or ombudspersons to register their complaints. Some legal aid clinics existed in some prisons. At the regional level, these clinics had good working relations with judicial, prison, and other government officials. Some prison officials allowed detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship. Courts sometimes declined to hear such complaints.

The law generally provides visitor access for prisoners. Authorities, however, denied some indicted defendants visits with their lawyers or with representatives of the political parties to which they belonged. In some cases police did not allow pretrial detainees access to visitors, including family members and legal counsel. Prison regulations stipulate that lawyers representing persons charged with terrorism offenses may visit only one client per day, and only on Wednesdays and Fridays. Authorities denied family members access to persons charged with terrorist activity.

Officials permitted religious observance by prisoners, but this varied by prison and even by section within a prison. There were allegations authorities denied detainees adequate locations in which to pray.

Independent Monitoring: The International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons throughout the country during the year as part of its normal activities. The government did not permit access to prisons by other international human rights organizations.

Regional authorities allowed government and NGO representatives to meet with prisoners without third parties present. The EHRC monitored federal and regional detention centers and interviewed prison officials and prisoners in response to allegations of widespread human rights abuses. In 2000 the parliament created the EHRC and defined its mandate and powers. Parliament funds and oversees the EHRC. The NGO Justice for All-Prison Fellowship Ethiopia (JPA-PFE) had access to various prison and detention facilities around the country.

Improvements: The Federal Prisons Administration Commission (FPAC) completed construction of a prison complex in Addis Ababa during the year. The prison has a 6,000-inmate capacity. FPAC also completed construction of additional prisons in Shoa Robit, Ziway, and Dire Dawa. JPA-PFE worked with the above prisons to improve conditions so they met international minimum standards.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, SOE regulations allowed law enforcement officers to arrest and detain individuals without a court warrant. There were reports of thousands of arbitrary arrests and detentions related to the SOE targeting protesters, professors, university students, musicians, businesspersons, health workers, journalists, children, and others. The HRCO in its May report stated authorities detained more than 22,000 citizens in two rounds of arrests under the SOE. It stated the Command Post established to implement the SOE detained 15,370 persons between October 9 and December 20, 2016 in Oromia, Amhara, SNNPR, and Addis Ababa city. The Command Post, however, reported it detained 12,249, of whom 9,800 were released on December 20 after receiving “training.” Authorities filed charges against the remaining 2,449 detainees. They reported 12,500 persons detained from December 22, 2016 to February 3, when they released 11,352; remaining detainees faced charges. The opposition disputed these figures, stating that the government detained more individuals than it acknowledged.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Federal Police report to the Office of the Prime Minister and are subject to parliamentary oversight. That oversight was limited. Each of the nine regions has a state or special police force that reports to regional civilian authorities. Local militias operated across the country in loose and varying coordination with regional and Federal Police and the military. In some cases these militias functioned as extensions of the ruling party. Local militias are members of a community who handle standard security matters within their communities in rural areas. Local government authorities select militia members, who take basic training. Militia members serve as a bridge between the community and local police by providing information and enforcing rules. The military played an expanded role with respect to internal security during the SOE.

Impunity remained a serious problem, including impunity for killings and other violence against protesters. An internal investigation process existed, although officials acknowledged that it was inadequate. There were no public reports whether internal investigations of the federal police for possible abuses during the SOE occurred. In a report presented in April to the parliament, the EHRC reported 669 persons, including 66 security personnel, killed in the 2016 protests, and 939 individuals, including 100 security personnel, injured in Oromia, Amhara, and SNNPR. The report stated security forces used excessive force in some localities in Oromia and Amhara regions. The commission blamed local government officials, a local opposition political party, and police for the deaths of 34 individuals in Gedeo Zone of SNNPR. The commission did not publicly release its report. The government rarely publicly disclosed the results of investigations into abuses by local security forces, such as arbitrary detention and beatings of civilians. In August a local media report stated that government forces commandeered an NGO or Ministry of Health vehicle to transport security forces in Oromia.

The government supported human rights training for police and army personnel. It accepted assistance from NGOs and the EHRC to improve and professionalize its human rights training and curriculum by including more material on the constitution and international human rights treaties and conventions. Additionally, the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) routinely conducts training on human rights, protection of civilians, gender-based violence, and other courses at the Peace Support Training Center in Addis Ababa.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law require that detainees be brought to court and charged within 48 hours of arrest or as soon thereafter as local circumstances and communications permit. Travel time to the court is not included in this 48-hour period. With a warrant, authorities may detain persons suspected of serious offenses for 14 days without charge and for additional and renewable 14-day periods if an investigation continues. The courts allowed security officials to continue investigations for more than 14 days without bringing formal charges against suspects.

Under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP), police may request to detain persons without charge for 28-day periods, up to a maximum of four months, during an investigation. In some cases during the SOE defendants spent more than the maximum four months detained during an investigation. The law permits warrantless arrests for various offenses including “flagrant offenses.” These include suspects apprehended while committing an offense, attempting to commit an offense, or having just completed an offense.

The law prohibits detention in any facility other than an official detention center; however, local militias and other formal and informal law enforcement entities operated an unknown number of unofficial local detention centers. Under the SOE, authorities detained persons in military training camps, colleges, schools, and other facilities built for other purposes.

A functioning bail system was in place. Bail was not available for persons charged with terrorism, murder, treason, and corruption. In other cases the courts set bail between 500 and 10,000 birr ($22 and $444), which most citizens could not afford. The government provided public defenders for detainees unable to afford private legal counsel, but defendants only received these services when their cases went to court and not during the critical pretrial phases. In some cases a single defense counsel represented multiple defendants. There were reports that while some detainees were in pretrial detention, authorities allowed them little or no contact with legal counsel, did not provide full information on their health status, and did not allow family visits. There were reports officials sequestered prisoners for weeks at a time and placed civilians under house arrest for undisclosed periods.

The constitution requires authorities under an SOE to announce the names of detainees within one month of their arrest. Authorities generally published the names of those detained under the SOE but not always within the 30-day period. Civilians were not always able to locate the rosters of names of those imprisoned.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities regularly detained persons arbitrarily, including protesters, journalists, and opposition party members. There were thousands of reports of arbitrary arrest by security forces. The May HRCO report stated authorities illegally detained 22,525 persons during the SOE.

For example, authorities temporarily detained Blue Party chairman Yeshiwas Assefa on July 26 in the city of Bahir Dar, Amhara Region. Three officers who detained Yeshiwas for three hours also threatened to kill him if he returned to the city.

The government arbitrarily arrested journalists and those who expressed views that opposed the government (see section 2.a.). For example, in November 2016 security officers detained journalists Elias Gebru and Ananya Sorri as well as opposition politician Daniel Shibeshi in Addis Ababa. On March 13, they released journalist Ananya. On May 28, authorities filed criminal charges against Elias and Daniel on allegations they violated the law under the SOE. On July 17, an appeals court ruled them each eligible for bail. Authorities released Elias on August 2 and Daniel on August 4, each on bail of 50,000 birr ($2,200).

In 2015 police arrested and detained former Blue Party spokesperson Yonatan Tesfaye. On May 4, the federal attorney general charged Yonatan with incitement of terrorism through posts under a pseudonym on Facebook, citing article 4 of the ATP, covering preparation, conspiracy, incitement, and attempt of terrorist acts. At the subsequent court hearing, the attorney general’s office changed the charge to encouragement of terrorism (article six in the ATP) that carries a lesser sentence. On May 25, the Federal High Court convicted Yonatan and sentenced him to six years and six months in prison after finding him guilty of encouraging terrorism through his Facebook posts.

Pretrial Detention: Some detainees reported indefinite detention for several years without charge or trial. The percentage of the inmate population in pretrial detention and average length of time held was not available. Lengthy legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, and staffing shortages contributed to frequent trial delays, in some cases years. SOE regulations allowed authorities to detain a person without a court order until the end of the SOE. At the conclusion of the SOE, several thousand individuals remained remanded and awaiting trial.

Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for detainees to be informed of the nature of their arrest. It also provides persons accused of or charged with a crime the ability to appeal. During the year no cases were brought to the courts by individuals claiming unlawful detention. There were reports of thousands of arbitrary arrests and detentions related to the SOE. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained protesters, professors, university students, musicians, businesspersons, health workers, journalists, children, and others. The criminal law does not provide compensation for persons found to have been unlawfully detained.

Amnesty: In September, in keeping with a long-standing tradition of issuing pardons at the Ethiopian New Year, the federal and regional governments released 13,389 persons. In January Oromia regional government released 10,000 prisoners on pardon. Prisoners who had served a third of their sentences, women prisoners with babies, the elderly, and those with serious health problems benefitted from the pardon. Prisoners sentenced to death and those convicted of corruption, kidnapping, or rape did not qualify for pardons.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, criminal courts remained weak and overburdened and subject to political influence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Under the constitution, accused persons have the right to “a fair public trial without undue delay, a presumption of innocence, legal counsel of their choice, appeal, the right not to self-incriminate, the right to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, and cross-examine prosecution witnesses.” The law requires translation services be provided in a language defendants understand. The federal courts have staff working as interpreters for the major local languages, and are required to hire interpreters for defendants that speak other languages.

Detainees did not, however, always enjoy all these rights, and as a result defense attorneys were sometimes unprepared to provide an adequate defense. The courts did not always presume a defendant’s innocence, allow defendants to communicate with an attorney of their choice, provide timely public defense, or provide access to government-held evidence. Defendants were often unaware of the specific charges against them until the commencement of their trials. There were reports of authorities subjecting detainees to torture and other abuse while in detention to obtain information or confessions.

The federal Public Defender’s Office provided legal counsel to indigent defendants, but the scope and quality of service were inadequate due to a shortage of attorneys. A public defender may handle more than 100 cases and may represent multiple defendants in a single case. Numerous free legal aid clinics, based primarily at universities, provided legal services. In certain areas of the country, the law allows volunteers, such as law students and professors, to represent clients in court on a pro bono basis. There was no bar association or other standardized criminal defense representation.

The constitution recognizes both religious and traditional courts. Many citizens residing in rural areas had little access to formal judicial systems and relied on traditional mechanisms for resolving conflict. By law all parties to a dispute must agree to use a traditional or religious court before such a court may hear a case, and either party may appeal to a regular court at any time. Sharia (Islamic law) courts may hear religious and family cases involving Muslims if both parties agree to use the sharia court before the formal legal process begins. Sharia courts received some funding from the government. These sharia courts adjudicated a majority of cases in the Somali and Afar regions, which are predominantly Muslim. Other traditional systems of justice, such as councils of elders, functioned predominantly in rural areas. Some women felt they lacked access to free and fair hearings in the traditional court system because local custom excluded them from participation in councils of elders and due to persistent gender discrimination.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were an unknown number of political prisoners and detainees at year’s end. Throughout the year the government detained journalists, activists, and political opposition members, although not explicitly on political grounds. The most common charges against journalists, activists, or opposition politicians were terrorism via ATP, participation in a proscribed terrorist group, incitement, and outrage against the constitution or the constitutional order.

Police arrested Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), and 21 others in late 2015. On July 13, the High Court downgraded charges against Bekele from committing terrorist acts to carrying out criminal acts. The court acquitted five defendants and amended the charges against the remaining 16 from planning and preparation of terrorist acts to participation in a terrorist organization, which carries a lesser sentence.

Police arrested other leaders and members of political parties, including OFC leader Merera Gudina, in November 2016 (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation). On March 3, the attorney general brought multiple criminal charges against Merera and four others, including Ginbot 7 leader Berhanu Nega and diaspora-based Oromo activist Jawar Mohammed. The authorities charged all the defendants, save Merera, in absentia. The charges against Merera included outrage against the constitutional order and violation of the SOE measures prohibiting communication with proscribed terrorist groups. The trial continued at year’s end.

The High Court acquitted opposition politicians Abraha Desta and Daniel Shibeshi of terrorism crimes on July 28. The court started hearing the terrorism trial involving the two opposition politicians in 2015, following the Supreme Court’s reversal of an earlier lower court acquittal.

Authorities detained Shibeshi for a separate case in November 2016 and charged him with violating SOE rules; he was released on bail November 8 for the second case.

On April 6, the 1st Criminal Appellate Bench of the Federal Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s acquittal of Zone 9 bloggers Soliyana Shimeles (in absentia) and Abel Wabella and downgraded the charges against bloggers Natnael Feleke and Atnaf Berhane from terrorism to criminal provocation of the public. The High Court did not set a court date to hear the trial of Natnael and Atnaf. The court downgraded charges against Befekadu Hailu, another member of the blogging collective, from terrorism to criminal. Hailu was released on bail pending the continuation of his trial.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides citizens the right to appeal in civil court, including in cases with human rights violations. For rights violations where a government agency is the accused perpetrator, the victim initiates the process by filing a complaint at the EHRC. The EHRC investigates and makes recommendations to the government agency. Citizens did not file any human rights violations under this system primarily due to a lack of evidence and a lack of faith in their ability to secure an impartial verdict in these types of cases.

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

The law generally requires authorities to obtain court-issued search warrants prior to searching private property. Under the SOE court approval for searches was suspended. In an amendment to the initial SOE provisions, security officials had to provide a reason to the individual or household subject to the search, an official identification card, and have a community member accompany them before conducting a search. Separate from the SOE, the law also recognizes exceptions for “hot pursuit” cases in which a suspect enters a premises or disposes of items that are the subject of an offense committed on the premises. This legal carve-out also applies when police have reasonable suspicion that evidence of a crime punishable if convicted by more than three years’ imprisonment is concealed on or in the property and that a delay in obtaining a search warrant would allow the evidence to be removed. Moreover, the antiterrorism law permits warrantless searches of a person or vehicle when authorized by the director general of the Federal Police, his designee, or a police officer who has reasonable suspicion that a terrorist act may be committed and deems a sudden search necessary.

Opposition political party leaders and journalists reported suspicions of telephone tapping, other electronic eavesdropping, and surveillance, and they stated government agents attempted to lure them into illegal acts by calling and pretending to be representatives of officially designated terrorist groups.

The government used a widespread system of paid informants to report on the activities of individuals. Opposition members, journalists, and athletes reported ruling party operatives and militia members made intimidating and unwelcome visits to their homes and offices. These unwelcome contacts included entry and searches of homes without a warrant. Security forces continued to detain and intimidate family members of persons sought for questioning by the government.

There were reports that authorities dismissed opposition members from their jobs and that those not affiliated with the EPRDF sometimes had trouble receiving the “support letters” from their kebeles (neighborhoods or wards) necessary to get employment (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation).

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and conviction provides for a penalty of five to 20 years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of the case. The law does not expressly address spousal rape. The government did not fully enforce the law.

Domestic violence is illegal, but government enforcement of laws in this sphere was inconsistent. Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, was a pervasive social problem. A 2013 government report stated 50-60 percent of all women had experienced domestic violence. Depending on the severity of injury inflicted, penalties for conviction range from small fines to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, but the government did not actively enforce this prohibition. It was less common in urban areas. The penal code criminalizes the practice of clitoridectomy and provides for three months or a fine of at least 500 birr ($22) for convicted perpetrators. Conviction of infibulation of the genitals (the most extreme and dangerous form of FGM/C) is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. According to government sources, there has never been a criminal charge regarding FGM/C, but media reported limited application of the law. For more information, see data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/ .

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Marriage by abduction is illegal, although it continued in some regions despite the government’s attempts to combat the practice. Forced sexual relationships accompanied most marriages by abduction, and women often experienced physical abuse during the abduction. Abductions led to conflicts among families, communities, and ethnic groups. In cases of abduction, the perpetrator did not face punishment if the victim agreed to marry the perpetrator.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was widespread. The penal code prescribes penalties for conviction of 18 to 24 months’ imprisonment, but authorities generally did not enforce harassment laws.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Discrimination against women was a problem. It was most acute in rural areas, where an estimated 80 percent of the population lived. The law contains discriminatory regulations, such as the recognition of the husband as the legal head of the family and the sole guardian of children more than five years old. Courts generally did not consider domestic violence by itself a justification for granting a divorce. Irrespective of the number of years married, the number of children raised, and joint property, the law entitled women to only three months’ financial support if a relationship ended. There was limited legal recognition of common-law marriage. A common-law husband had no obligation to provide financial assistance to his family, and consequently women and children sometimes faced abandonment. Traditional courts continued to apply customary law in economic and social relationships.

All federal and regional land laws empower women to access government land. Inheritance laws also enable widows to inherit joint property acquired during marriage.

Women’s access to gainful employment, credit, and the opportunity to own or manage a business was limited by their lower levels of educational attainment and by traditional attitudes. There were a number of initiatives in progress aimed at increasing women’s access to these critical economic empowerment tools.

Children

Birth Registration: A child’s citizenship derives from its parents. The law requires all children to be registered at birth. Children born in hospitals were registered; most of those born outside of hospitals were not. The overwhelming majority of children, particularly in rural areas, were born at home. During the year the government initiated a campaign to increase birth registrations by advising that failure to register would result in denial of public services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The law does not make education compulsory. As a policy primary education was universal and tuition free; however, there were not enough schools to accommodate the country’s youth, particularly in rural areas. The cost of school supplies was prohibitive for many families. The most recent data showed the net primary school enrollment rate was 90 percent of boys and 84 percent of girls.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Uvula cutting, tonsil scraping, and milk tooth extraction were amongst the most prevalent harmful traditional practices. The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013, published by the African Child Policy Forum, found the government had increased punishment for sexual violence against children. “Child friendly” benches heard cases involving violence against children and women. There was a commissioner for women and children’s affairs in the EHRC.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age of marriage for girls and boys at 18; however, authorities did not enforce this law uniformly, and rural families sometimes were unaware of this provision. The government strategy to address underage marriage focused on education and mediation rather than punishment of offenders. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 18, but authorities did not enforce this law. The law provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for conviction of sexual intercourse with a minor. The law provides for one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 birr ($444) for conviction of trafficking in indecent material displaying sexual intercourse by minors. Traffickers recruited girls as young as age 11 to work in brothels. Young girls were trafficked from rural to urban areas and exploited as prostitutes in hotels, bars, resort towns, and rural truck stops.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Ritual and superstition-based infanticide, including of infants with disabilities, continued in remote tribal areas, particularly in South Omo. Local governments worked to educate communities against the practice.

Displaced Children: According to a 2010 report of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, approximately 150,000 children lived on the streets; 60,000 of them were in the capital. The ministry’s report stated the inability of families to support children due to parental illness or insufficient household income exacerbated the problem. Research in 2014 by the ministry noted rapid urbanization, illegal employment brokers, high expectations of better life in cities, and rural-urban migration were adding to the problem. These children begged, sometimes as part of a gang, or worked in the informal sector. A large number of unaccompanied minors from Eritrea continued to arrive in the country (see section 2.d.).

Institutionalized Children: There were an estimated 4.5 million orphans in the country in 2012, 4.9 percent of the population, according to statistics published by UNICEF. The vast majority lived with extended family members. Government and privately run orphanages were overcrowded, and conditions often unsanitary. Institutionalized children did not receive adequate health care.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 2,000 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution does not mandate equal rights for persons with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment and mandates access to buildings but does not explicitly mention intellectual or sensory disabilities. It is illegal for deaf persons to drive.

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on disability. It also makes employers responsible for providing appropriate working or training conditions and materials to persons with disabilities. The law specifically recognizes the additional burden on women with disabilities. The government took limited measures to enforce these laws; for example, by assigning interpreters for deaf and hard-of-hearing civil service employees (see section 7.d.). The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Public Servants Administration Commission are responsible for the implementation of employment laws for individuals with disabilities.

The law mandates building accessibility and accessible toilet facilities for persons with physical disabilities, although without specific regulations that define accessibility standards. Buildings and toilet facilities were usually not disability accessible. Property owners are required to give persons with disabilities preference for ground-floor apartments, and generally did so.

Women with disabilities faced more disadvantages in education and employment. According to the 2010 Population Council Young Adult Survey, 23 percent of girls with disabilities were in school, compared with 48 percent of girls and 55 percent of boys without disabilities. Girls with disabilities also were much more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse than were girls without disabilities.

Nationally there were several schools for persons with hearing and vision disabilities and several training centers for children and young persons with intellectual disabilities. There was a network of prosthetic and orthopedic centers in five of the nine regional states.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs worked on disability-related problems. The CSO law hindered several domestic NGOs active in supporting persons with disabilities, particularly those focused on accessibility and vocational training.

The law does not restrict the right of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, although continued accessibility challenges could make participation difficult. Most polling stations were accessible to persons with disabilities and these individuals as well as the elderly, pregnant women, and nursing mothers received priority.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country has more than 80 ethnic groups, of which the Oromo, at approximately 35 percent of the population, is the largest. The federal system drew boundaries approximately along major ethnic group lines. Most political parties remained primarily ethnically based, although the ruling party and one of the largest opposition parties are coalitions of several ethnically based parties.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and conviction is punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment. No law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were some reports of violence against LGBTI individuals; reporting was limited due to fear of retribution, discrimination, or stigmatization. There are no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation of abuses against LGBTI individuals. Individuals did not identify themselves as LGBTI persons due to severe societal stigma and the illegality of consensual same-sex sexual activity. Activists in the LGBTI community reported surveillance and at times feared for their safety. There were no reports of persons incarcerated for engaging in same-sex sexual activities.

The AIDS Resource Center in Addis Ababa reported the majority of self-identified gay and lesbian callers, most of whom were men, requested assistance in changing their behavior to avoid discrimination. Many gay men reported anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal stigma and discrimination against persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS continued in education, employment, and community integration. Persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS reported difficulty accessing various services. There were no statistics on the scale of the problem.

Iraq

Executive Summary

Iraq is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The outcome of the 2014 parliamentary elections generally met international standards of free and fair elections and led to the peaceful transition of power from former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Civilian authorities were not always able to exercise control of all security forces, particularly certain units of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) that were aligned with Iran.

Violence continued throughout the year, largely fueled by the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Government forces successfully fought to liberate territory taken earlier by ISIS, including Mosul, while ISIS sought to demonstrate its viability through targeted attacks. Armed clashes between ISIS and government forces caused civilian deaths and hardship. By year’s end Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) had liberated all territory from ISIS, drastically reducing ISIS’s ability to commit abuses and atrocities.

The most significant human rights issues included allegations of unlawful killings by some members of the ISF, particularly some elements of the PMF; disappearance and extortion by PMF elements; torture; harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention and prison facilities; arbitrary arrest and detention; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminalization of libel and other limits on freedom of expression, including press freedoms; violence against journalists; widespread official corruption; greatly reduced penalties for so-called “honor killings”; coerced or forced abortions imposed by ISIS on its victims; legal restrictions on freedom of movement of women; and trafficking in persons. Militant groups killed LGBTI persons. There were also limitations on worker rights, including restrictions on formation of independent unions.

The government, including by the Office of the Prime Minister, investigated allegations of abuses and atrocities perpetrated by the ISF; by year’s end the results of some of these investigations were made public. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports reviewed charges of Peshmerga abuse, largely against IDPs, and exculpated them in public reports and commentaries. Impunity effectively existed for government officials and security force personnel, including the Peshmerga and PMF.

ISIS committed the majority of serious abuses and atrocities. ISIS members committed acts of violence on a mass scale, including killings through suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IEDs); executions including shootings and public beheadings; use of civilians as human shields; as well as use of chemical weapons. They also engaged in kidnapping, rape, enslavement, forced marriage, and sexual violence, committing such acts against civilians from a wide variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds, including Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, Yezidis, and members of other religious and ethnic groups. Reports of ISIS perpetrating gender-based violence, recruiting child soldiers, trafficking in persons, and destroying civilian infrastructure and cultural heritage sites were credible and common. On August 15, Secretary Tillerson stated that, “ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled. ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.”

The government investigated allegations of ISIS abuses and atrocities, and in some instances, publicly noted the conviction of suspected ISIS members under the 2005 counterterrorism law.

The government’s reassertion of federal authority in disputed areas bordering the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), after the Kurdistan Region’s September 25 independence referendum, resulted in reports of abuses and atrocities by the security forces, including those affiliated with the PMF.

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 ISIS and other terrorist groups, as well as some government forces, including the PMF, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.). During the year the security situation remained unstable due to widespread fighting between the ISF and ISIS; periodic clashes between the ISF, including the PMF, and Peshmerga; and the presence of militias in many liberated areas, as well as sectarian, ethnic, and financially motivated violence. From January 1 to June 30, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported at least 2,429 civilians killed and 3,277 injured in the country.

Some government security forces allegedly committed extrajudicial killings; the government rarely made public its identification and prosecution of specific perpetrators of abuses and atrocities. Human rights organizations reported that both Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense personnel tortured detainees to death. Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that the Iraqi Army’s 16th division summarily executed suspected ISIS members it had detained.

During the year frequent unlawful killings by unidentified gunmen occurred throughout the country. For example, in May local police reported the killing of a member of a Sunni tribal militia operating under the umbrella of the PMF, and another injured, in an attack carried out by unknown gunmen in Baghdad. In August local police reported unknown gunmen killed a police officer stationed northwest of Kirkuk.

Terrorist and politically motivated violence continued throughout the year, including ISIS attacks on cities. Baghdad was particularly affected. UNAMI reported that from January to October Baghdad experienced IED attacks on a nearly daily basis. According to UNAMI, some attacks targeted government buildings or checkpoints staffed by security forces, while many others targeted civilians. ISIS carried out attacks against Baghdad’s civilian population, including car bomb and suicide bomber attacks on May 30 that killed at least 20 civilians; two IED attacks in the Muqdadiya District on July 27, killing two and injuring three; and an August 28 IED attack on a Sadr City market that reportedly killed 12 and injured 30.

During the year authorities discovered numerous mass graves, including in Anbar, Babil, and Ninewa Governorates. On February 9, the ISF uncovered two mass graves in Rutba, Anbar Governorate, reportedly containing the remains of as many as 25 ISF soldiers and civilians killed by ISIS in 2014. On February 15, Shlomo Organization for Documentation reported the discovery of a mass grave west of Mosul containing 150 remains, possibly of Christian civilians from the area. On August 25, the Iraqi Army announced it found two mass gravesites at Badoush prison and formed an investigative committee to exhume and investigate the remains; but the continuing strike of the forensic investigators of the Martyr’s Foundation, the government’s unit to investigate mass graves, prevented further action by year’s end.

Ethnic and sectarian-based fighting escalated in mixed governorates after liberation operations. For example, Arab residents reported that Shia Turkomen PMF units arrested, kidnapped, or killed Sunni Turkomen Arabs in Tal Afar after the ISF liberated the city from ISIS rule in August. None of those responsible within PMF units were brought to justice by year’s end. Additionally, media reported allegations that unknown groups kidnapped or threatened Arabs in Kirkuk, particularly in the weeks prior to the September 25 Kurdish independence referendum. For example, unknown gunmen reportedly abducted and killed two relatives of a Hawija-based ISIS leader in Daquq, south of Kirkuk August 23. On September 12, unidentified gunmen reportedly killed three persons from a family associated with an ISIS member in Mosul.

In June the Prime Minister’s Office established an investigative committee to review allegations the ISF committed abuses and atrocities. Regarding May 2016 torture allegations against the Ministry of Interior’s Emergency Response Division (ERD), on August 17, the Prime Minister’s Office stated, “The committee has concluded…that clear abuses and violations were committed by members of the ERD,” adding that the perpetrators of the abuses would face prosecution. At year’s end the investigative committee continued its work but had not yet publicly released its findings.

There were also reports of killings or other sectarian violence in the IKR. Minority groups reported threats and attacks targeting their communities in non-IKR areas that the KRG effectively controlled.

b. Disappearance

There was no publicly available comprehensive account of the extent of the problem of disappeared persons.

Although officially under the command of the prime minister, some PMF units operated with limited government oversight or accountability. According to multiple nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the 643 men and boys whom PMF units intercepted at ad hoc security screening sites following the liberation of Fallujah in June 2016 remained missing and feared dead at year’s end.

ISIS carried out most abductions that targeted members of various ethnic and religious communities. ISIS frequently abducted members of the security or police forces, members of ethnic and religious minorities, and other non-Sunni communities in areas under its control.

According to the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, authorities rescued more than 3,100 kidnapped Yezidi men, women, and children from ISIS; however, authorities believed another 3,293 Yezidis, mainly women and children, remained in ISIS captivity. IKR-based civil society organizations (CSOs) reported some ISIS-kidnapped Yezidi children had been trafficked into Turkey. Authorities located four such children in Turkey by year’s end, but efforts to establish their identity and repatriate them moved slowly through Turkish courts. According to the Turkmen Women’s Association, ISIS militants kidnapped an estimated 500 Turkmen Shia women and children from Ninewa Governorate in 2014, and 495 remained in captivity at year’s end.

Individuals, militias, and organized criminal groups carried out abductions and kidnappings for personal gain or for political or sectarian reasons. For example, in September security forces rescued four Christian youths, kidnapped for several days as they traveled from Baghdad to Basrah for a national soccer team match. The kidnappers reportedly planned to extort ransom from the families of the kidnapped.

HRW reported that in June Yezidi fighters from the Ezidkhan Brigades, associated with the PMF, disappeared 52 civilians (22 men, 20 women, and 10 children) from the Sunni Imteywit tribe. Yezidi officials alleged that Imteywit and Jahaysh tribal members participated in ISIS atrocities against Yezidis in 2014, allegations that the tribal members denied.

Journalist and political activist Afrah Shawqi al-Qaisi, who was abducted by gunmen in Baghdad in December 2016, was released in January. Members of a Qatari hunting party, abducted in Muthanna in 2015, were released in April.

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

Although the constitution expressly prohibits torture in all its forms and under all circumstances, including cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, government officials, as well as local and international human rights organizations, documented instances of government agents committing torture and other abuses. There were reports police sometimes used abusive methods and coerced confessions for investigations, and courts accepted forced confessions as evidence. ISIS, however, committed most of such abuses.

As in previous years, there were credible reports that government security forces, to include militia units associated with the PMF, abused and tortured individuals during arrest, pretrial detention, and after conviction. International human rights organizations documented cases of torture and abuse in Ministry of Interior-run facilities and to a lesser extent in Ministry of Defense-run detention facilities, as well as in facilities under KRG control. In particular human rights organizations alleged torture or other abuse of detainees by Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense forces during the final stages of liberating Mosul and other areas from ISIS rule.

Former prisoners, detainees, and human rights groups reported a wide range of torture and abuse.

Abusive interrogation, under certain conditions, reportedly occurred in some detention facilities of the KRG’s internal security unit, the Asayish, and the intelligence services of the major political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) Parastin and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) Zanyari. During monitoring visits to KRG prisons and places of detention between January 2015 and June 2016, UNAMI reported 70 detainees raised allegations of torture or other mistreatment during interrogation.

On January 29, HRW reported that KRG authorities tortured boys between ages 11 and 17, who authorities had arrested because of alleged links to ISIS, and prevented them from accessing counsel. According to the KRG Independent Human Rights Commission there were 215 boys held by the KRG in an Erbil juvenile detention facility on ISIS-related accusations. The commission interviewed 165 boys. Most of the juveniles alleged both PMF and KRG security forces subjected them to various forms of abuse, including beatings. Lawyers provided by an international NGO were reportedly granted access and provided representation to any juvenile without a court-appointed attorney.

Torture and abuse by terrorist groups was widespread. CSOs, humanitarian organizations, and former ISIS captives reported numerous cases of torture, rape, forced labor, forced marriage, forced religious conversion, material deprivation, and battery by ISIS members. There were numerous reports of ISIS torturing and killing civilians for attempting to flee areas under ISIS control. For example, on August 28, local media reported that ISIS burned alive eight civilians, including an infant, who had tried to flee ISIS-held Hawija.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions at some prison and detention facilities remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate access to sanitation facilities and medical care.

The Ministry of Justice reported that there were no accommodations for inmates with disabilities, and a previously announced ministry initiative to establish facilities for such detainees had not been fully implemented by year’s end.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in government-run prisons was a systemic problem exacerbated by an increase in the number of alleged ISIS members detained during the year. Physical conditions in government-run detention facilities and prisons were often poor, according to international observers. Three of the 24 correctional facilities managed by the Iraqi Corrections Service, the government entity with legal authority to hold persons after conviction, were not operational due to the security situation.

For example the sole prison in Muthanna governorate was designed to hold no more than 50 prisoners in each cell; however, observers reported more than 120 persons in one cell. Basrah Central Prison, with a capacity of 1,900, held more than 3,000 inmates; Ma’aqal Prison in Basrah, with a capacity of 250, held 500 prisoners. Overcrowding exacerbated corruption among some police officers and prison administrators in southern governorates, who reportedly took bribes to reduce or drop charges, cut sentences, or release prisoners early.

Inmates in government-run detention and prison facilities sometimes lacked adequate food and water. Access to medical care was inconsistent. Some detention facilities did not have an onsite pharmacy or infirmary, and authorities reported that even when they existed, pharmacies were often undersupplied. Women’s prisons often lacked adequate child-care facilities for inmates’ children, whom the law permits to remain with their mothers until age four. Limited and aging infrastructure worsened sanitation, limited access to potable water, and led to preparation of poor-quality food in many prison facilities.

Authorities separated detainees from convicts in most cases. Prisoners facing terrorism charges were isolated from the general detainee population and were more likely to remain in Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Defense detention for longer periods.

Although the government held most juvenile pretrial detainees and convicts in facilities operated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, there were reports that Ministry of Justice-administered prisons, Ministry of Interior police stations, and other Ministry of Interior detention facilities held some juveniles.

In March the Iraqi Army and the PMF took control of Badoush Prison, the site where ISIS formerly held hundreds of women in captivity, near Mosul.

According to UNAMI, the KRG’s newer detention facilities in major cities were well maintained, although conditions remained poor in many smaller detention centers operated by the KRG Ministry of Interior. In some KRG Asayish detention centers and police-run jails, KRG authorities occasionally held juveniles in the same cells as adults. A Kurdistan Independent Human Rights Commission report stated that authorities housed 37 minors in Erbil prisons with their convicted mothers as of the middle of the year.

Administration: The central government reported it took credible steps to address allegations of mistreatment in central government facilities; however, the extent of these steps was not fully known. According to the Higher Judicial Council, the judicial system dealt promptly with abuse allegations, and authorities sentenced to one- to three-years’ imprisonment at least five Ministry of Interior officials for committing abuses in Ministry of Interior facilities. The KRG had no uniform policy for addressing allegations of abuse by the KRG Ministry of Interior or the Asayish.

Human rights organizations reported that prison guards or arresting officers released detainees only after the detainees paid a bribe. International and local human rights groups reported that authorities in numerous instances denied family visits to detainees and convicts. Guards allegedly often demanded bribes when detainees asked to call their relatives or legal counsel.

Independent Monitoring: Iraqi Corrections Service prisons allowed regular visits by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported the Ministries of Justice, Interior, Defense, and Labor and Social Affairs largely permitted them access to prisons and detention facilities. Authorities also granted UNAMI access to Ministry of Justice prisons and detention facilities in Baghdad. There were reports of some institutional interference in prison visits, and in some cases institutions required advance notification to wardens and prison officials for outside monitor visits.

The KRG generally allowed international human rights NGOs and intergovernmental organizations to visit convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees, but occasionally authorities delayed or denied access to some individuals, usually in cases involving terrorism. The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross had regular access to IKR prisons and detention facilities. In July the Kurdistan Independent Human Rights Commission reported the commission often faced obstacles accessing Asayish facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution provides legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention. During the year, however, there were numerous reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions.

A 2014 prime ministerial executive order prohibits the arrest or remand of individuals, except by order of a competent judge or court or as established by the code of criminal procedures. The executive order requires authorities within 24 hours of the detention to register the detainee’s name, place of detention, reason for detention, and legal basis for detention. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for updating and managing these registers. The order requires the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Security Service to establish guidelines for commanders in battlefield situations to register detainees’ details in this central register. The executive order also prohibits any entity, other than legally competent authorities, to detain any person.

In 2016 the Council of Representatives (COR) passed an amended amnesty law that provides for retrials of detainees convicted based on forced confessions or evidence provided by secret informants. The Ministry of Justice reported authorities released nearly 4,500 detainees from government custody between the law’s enactment in 2016 and May 31.

There were numerous reports of arrests and temporary detention by government forces, including the PMF and Peshmerga, of predominantly Sunni Arab IDPs throughout the year. On June 3, HRW reported that KRG authorities detained incommunicado three men and two boys from IDP camps for suspicion of ISIS affiliation.

Prison authorities sometimes delayed the release of exonerated inmates or extorted bribes from prisoners to vacate detention facilities at the end of their sentence terms. According to NGO contacts, inmates whom the judiciary ordered released sometimes faced delays from the Ministry of Interior or other ministries to clear their record of other pending charges.

There were some reports of PMF forces detaining Sunnis following the liberation of ISIS-dominated areas; as well as Kurds and Turkmen in Kirkuk; and Christians in the Ninewa Plains. In a May 22 article, HRW reported that PMF fighters arbitrarily detained men who had fled fighting in their Mosul-area village in April. PMF fighters interrogated the detainees regarding their ISIS affiliation and in some cases beat and tortured them before releasing them.

ISIS also detained individuals for a wide variety of reasons, including silencing critics, punishing those accused of insurrection, or preventing residents from fleeing ISIS-held territory. For example, on August 24, ISIS reportedly abducted five families fleeing ISIS-held al-Qa’im, Anbar Governorate.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over some of the security forces.

Numerous domestic security forces operate throughout the country. The regular armed forces and domestic law enforcement bodies maintain order within the country. The Peshmerga, including militias of the KDP and PUK, maintain order in the IKR. The PMF, a state-sponsored umbrella military organization composed of approximately 60 groups, operates throughout the country. The plurality of PMF units were Shia, reflecting the demographics of the country, while Sunni, Yezidi, Christian, and other minority PMF units also operate within their home regions. A law and prime ministerial decree in 2016 established prime ministerial authority over the PMF. While limited by law to operations in Iraq, in some cases units reportedly supported the Assad regime in Syria independently of the Iraqi government’s authority. The Iraqi government does not recognize these fighters as PMF even if their organizations are part of the PMF. All PMF units officially report to the National Security Advisor, but several units in practice are also responsive to Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). At year’s end the prime minister and the ISF did not demonstrate consistent command and control over all of the PMF’s activities, particularly those units aligned with Iran. The government’s efforts to formalize the PMF as a governmental security entity continued at year’s end, but portions of the PMF remained Iranian-aligned. Actions of these disparate units at times exacerbated security challenges, especially but not only in ethnically and religiously diverse areas of the country.

The ISF consists of security forces administratively organized within the Ministries of Interior and Defense, the PMF, and the Counterterrorism Service. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for domestic law enforcement and maintenance of order; it oversees the Federal Police, Provincial Police, Facilities Protection Service, Civil Defense, and Department of Border Enforcement. Energy police, under the Ministry of Oil, are responsible for providing infrastructure protection. Conventional military forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for the defense of the country but also carry out counterterrorism and internal security operations in conjunction with the Ministry of Interior. The Counterterrorism Service reports directly to the prime minister and oversees the Counterterrorism Command, an organization that includes three brigades of special operations forces.

Impunity was a problem. There were reports of torture and abuse throughout the country in facilities used by the Ministries of Interior and Defense. According to international human rights organizations, abuse took place primarily during detainee interrogations while in pretrial detention.

Problems persisted, including corruption, within the country’s provincial police forces. The army and federal police recruited and deployed soldiers and police officers on a nationwide basis. This practice led to complaints from local communities that members of the army and police were abusive because of ethnosectarian differences.

Security forces made limited efforts to prevent or respond to societal violence. Although 16 family protection units, located in separate buildings at police stations around the country, operated under police authority to respond to claims of domestic violence made by women and children, they lacked sufficient capacity. The most recent report detailing the units’ work is from 2014.

Additionally, some tribal leaders in the south reportedly banned their members from seeking redress through these police units, claiming domestic abuse was a family matter in which police should not become involved.

The two main Kurdish political parties, the KDP and the PUK, had their own security apparatuses. Under the federal constitution, the KRG has the right to maintain internal security forces, supported financially by the federal government but under the KRG’s operational control. Accordingly, the KRG’s Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs oversees 14 infantry brigades and two support brigades, but the PUK and KDP controlled tens of thousands of additional military personnel, including militia forces generally referred to as the Peshmerga 70s and 80s brigades.

The KDP and PUK maintained separate security and intelligence services, the KDP’s Asayish and Parastin, and the PUK’s Asayish and Zanyari, respectively. The KRG Independent Human Rights Commission routinely notified the Kurdistan Ministry of Interior when it received credible reports of police human rights violations.

KRG security services detained suspects in areas the regional government controlled. The poorly defined administrative boundaries between these areas and the rest of the country resulted in continuing confusion regarding the jurisdiction of security forces and the courts, an issue exacerbated by ISIS control of parts of these areas.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution prohibits unlawful detention and mandates that authorities submit preliminary documents to a competent judge within 24 hours of arrest, a period that may extend in most cases to a maximum of 72 hours. For offenses punishable by death, authorities may legally detain the defendant as long as necessary to complete the judicial process. According to local media and rights groups, authorities arrested suspects in security sweeps without warrants, particularly under the antiterrorism law, and held some detainees for prolonged periods without charge.

The government arbitrarily detained individuals and often did not inform them promptly of the nature of the charges against them. The government periodically released detainees, usually after concluding that it lacked sufficient evidence for the courts to convict them. Many others remained in detention pending review of other outstanding charges. The law allows release on bond for criminal (but not security) detainees. Authorities rarely released detainees on bail. KRG internal security units held some suspects incommunicado without an arrest warrant and transported detainees to undisclosed detention facilities.

The law provides for judges to appoint paid counsel for the indigent. Attorneys appointed to represent detainees frequently complained that insufficient access to their clients hampered adequate attorney-client consultation. In many cases detainees were not able to meet their attorneys until their scheduled trial date. There were reports that defendants did not have access to legal representation during the investigation phase, appointed lawyers lacked sufficient time to prepare a defense, and courts failed to investigate claims of torture while in detention.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police and military personnel sometimes arrested and detained individuals without judicial approval, although there were no reliable statistics available regarding the number of such acts or the length of detentions. Authorities often failed to notify family members of the arrest or location of detention, resulting in incommunicado detention.

There were reports that central government security forces, including the PMF and Peshmerga, detained and arrested individuals, including IDPs, following the liberation of areas from ISIS rule. For example, in September the Ninewa Provincial Council reportedly filed a complaint to the central government and the United Nations stating the PMF routinely detained local Sunni men under suspicion of supporting ISIS. Humanitarian organizations also reported that in many instances central government security forces did not inform detainees of the reason for their detention or the charges filed against them. Humanitarian agencies similarly reported central government security forces detained IDPs suspected of ISIS membership or support.

HRW accused KRG forces of arresting 2,000 men and boys in IDP camps in February. On February 28, the KRG’s High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports confirmed the majority of the detainees were suspected ISIS members. The committee claimed it informed detainees’ families of their detention and that authorities released suspects within 24 hours thereafter unless they were found to have terrorist affiliation.

KRG police and internal security service officers arrested and detained protesters and activists critical of the KRG, according to NGO contacts and local press reporting. On March 18, HRW accused KRG security authorities of detaining 32 unarmed protesters in Erbil on March 4 and allegedly using threats of retaliation to discourage future protests.

Pretrial Detention: The Ministries of Justice, Defense, Interior, and Labor and Social Affairs are legally authorized to hold pretrial detainees. Lengthy detentions without due process and without judicial action were a systemic problem, particularly during and immediately after ISF campaigns to liberate areas from ISIS. The lack of judicial review resulted from several factors, including a large number of detainees, undocumented detentions, slow processing of criminal investigations, an insufficient number of judges and trained judicial personnel, authorities’ inability or reluctance to use bail or other conditions of release, lack of information sharing, bribery, and corruption. Overcrowding of pretrial detainees remained a problem in many detention facilities.

Lengthy pretrial detentions were particularly common in areas liberated from ISIS. For example, the Ministry of Interior reportedly placed detainees in homes rented from local residents in Ninewa, rather than in proper detention facilities, because the fight against ISIS had mostly destroyed the latter. Use of makeshift facilities led to significant overcrowding and inadequate services. There were allegations of detention beyond judicial release dates as well as of unlawful releases.

There were no independently verified statistics concerning the number of pretrial detainees in central government facilities.

In August the ISF detained more than 1,400 non-Iraqi women and children who fled military operations in Tal Afar. The group included nationals primarily from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia, and China. Security forces held the group at a transit facility for two weeks before moving them to a detention facility north of Mosul and later to a facility near Baghdad. Authorities provided residents’ basic needs, but the facility lacked sufficient medical care or shower facilities. Authorities noted that the seclusion of this population protected the group from revenge attacks expected due to their alleged affiliation with ISIS. As of November nearly the entire group remained in central government custody, with some having been repatriated to their countries of origin. Several hundred faced possible charges of violating the counterterrorism law, while the remainder allegedly awaited repatriation.

According to some observers, authorities held some detainees without trial for months or years after arrest, particularly those detained under the antiterrorism law. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado, without access to defense counsel or without formal charge before a judge within the legally mandated period. Authorities at times detained spouses and other family members of fugitives–mostly Sunnis wanted on terrorism charges–to compel their surrender.

KRG authorities also reportedly held detainees for extensive periods in pretrial detention. According to local NGOs and the IKR Independent Human Rights Commission, prisoners held in regional government-administered Asayish prisons sometimes remained in detention for more than six months without trial. According to IKR judicial officials, IKR law permits extension of pretrial detention of up to six months under court supervision. As of September there were an estimated 1,700 pretrial detainees, including 71 women, in various KRG facilities, according to the KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution grants detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination on the legality of their detention and the right to prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. In practice individuals faced lengthy detentions without the possibility of prompt release, regardless of guilt. Despite the 2016 reform law concerning rights of detainees, NGOs widely reported that detainees had limited ability to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court, and a bribe was often necessary to gain release. While a constitutional right, the law does not allow for compensation for a person found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, although certain articles of law restricted judicial independence and impartiality. The country’s security situation and political history left the judiciary weak and dependent on other parts of the government. One individual heads both the Federal Supreme Court that rules on issues related to federalism and constitutionality and the Higher Judicial Council that manages and supervises the court system, including disciplinary matters. Local and international media claimed this arrangement was politically motivated and undermined judicial independence.

Corruption or intimidation reportedly influenced some judges in criminal cases at the trial level and on appeal at the Court of Cassation. The Commission of Integrity routinely investigated judges on corruption charges, but some investigations were reportedly politically motivated.

Numerous threats and killings by sectarian, tribal, extremist, and criminal elements impaired judicial independence. Judges, lawyers, and their family members frequently faced death threats and attacks. Lawyers participated in protests demanding better protection from the government against threats and violence. Judges were also vulnerable to intimidation and violence. For example, in June gunmen attempted to kill a judge hearing terrorism-related cases in Basrah.

The Kurdistan Judicial Council is legally, financially, and administratively independent from the KRG Ministry of Justice, but the KRG executive influenced politically sensitive cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides all citizens the right to a fair and public trial.

By law accused persons are innocent until proven guilty. The law requires detainees to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and the right to a fair, timely, and public trial. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, the right to a privately retained or court-appointed counsel, at public expense if needed, and the right to an interpreter without a fee. Nonetheless, officials routinely failed to inform defendants promptly or in detail of charges against them. Judges assemble evidence and adjudicate guilt or innocence. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Nevertheless, in numerous cases, forced confessions served as the primary source of evidence without the corroboration of forensic evidence or independent witness testimony. The law provides the right to appeal, although there is a statute of limitations for referral; the Court of Cassation reviews criminal cases on appeal.

Observers, including some government officials, the United Nations, and NGOs, reported trial proceedings fell short of international standards. Although investigative, trial, and appellate judges generally sought to enforce the right to a fair trial, defendants’ insufficient access to defense attorneys was a serious defect in proceedings. Many defendants met their lawyers for the first time during the initial hearing and had limited access to legal counsel during pretrial detention. This was particularly true in counterterrorism courts, where judicial staff reportedly sought to complete convictions and sentencing for thousands of suspected ISIS members in short periods of time. Trials were public, except in some national security cases, but some faced undue delays.

KRG officials noted that prosecutors and defense attorneys frequently encountered obstacles in carrying out their work and that prisoners’ trials were unnecessarily delayed for administrative reasons. According to the IKR’s Independent Human Rights Commission, detainees have remained in KRG internal security service facilities for extended periods even after court orders for their release.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government did not consider any incarcerated persons to be political prisoners or detainees and stated that all individuals in prison had been either convicted or charged under criminal law or were detained and awaiting trial while under investigation.

It was difficult to assess claims that there were no political prisoners or detainees due to the lack of government transparency, prevalence of corruption in arrest procedures, slow case processing, and inaccessibility to detainees, especially those held in counterterrorism, intelligence, and military facilities. Political opponents of the government asserted the government imprisoned or sought to imprison persons for political activities or beliefs under the pretense of criminal charges ranging from corruption to terrorism and murder.

Niaz Aziz Saleh, convicted in 2012 of leaking KDP party information related to electoral fraud, remained in a KRG prison, despite the completion of his sentence in 2014.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies also exist, although due to the overwhelming security focus of the executive branch, coupled with an understaffed judiciary dependent on the executive, the government did not effectively implement civil or administrative remedies for human rights violations.

KRG law provides for compensation to persons subject to unlawful arrest or detention. The KRG’s Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs handles compensation for unlawful arrests or detentions, and its Human Rights Commission reported that while approximately 5,000 cases (including many historical cases) received approval for compensation of a piece of land, 10 years’ salary, and college tuition for one family member, the government could not pay compensation due to budget constraints. The ministry stated there were 13,000 unlawful arrests pending compensation decisions.

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

The constitution mandates that authorities may not enter or search homes except with a judicial order. The constitution also prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, but security forces often entered homes without search warrants.

Some government forces and militia groups forced alleged ISIS sympathizers from their homes in several governorates. For example, there were reports that PMF militia group Kata’ib Hizballah kidnapped and intimidated local Arab Sunni residents in Diyala and Babil Governorates and prevented Arab Sunni IDPs from returning to their places of origin. There were credible reports that local authorities punished family members of suspected ISIS members. In some instances local community leaders threatened to evict these family members from their homes forcibly; bulldoze the homes; and/or injure or kill these relatives.

IDPs returning to towns and areas in the Ninewa Plains reported ISIS had destroyed temples, houses of worship, cemeteries, and schools. A Catholic social organization conducted a survey of several historically Christian towns and found 1,233 houses destroyed, 3,520 houses burned, and 8,217 partially damaged. The same organization reported that as of September 3, only 200 Christian families from a pre-ISIS population of 19,000 families had returned to the Ninewa Plains; Christian IDPs in several Ninewa Plains villages under PMF control reported the PMF imposed arbitrary checkpoints and detained civilians without legal authority to do so.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Killings: From January 1 to June 30, UNAMI reported a minimum of 5,700 civilian casualties, including at least 2,429 persons killed and 3,277 injured. It was not clear how many civilians were intentionally targeted.

According to international human rights organizations, some Shia militias, including some under the PMF umbrella, committed abuses and atrocities. The groups participated in operations against ISIS as part of the PMF and were implicated in several attacks on Sunni civilians, reportedly avenging ISIS crimes against the Shia community. For example, in September HRW reported that Shia PMF fighters affiliated with the Badr Organization detained and beat at least 100 male villagers and allegedly shot and killed four who self-identified as ISIS-affiliated during counter-ISIS operations outside Hawija.

ISIS was the major perpetrator of abuses and atrocities in the country, responsible for deaths of many innocent civilians. The United Nations, international human rights groups, and media reported that ISIS executed hundreds of noncombatants, including civilians living under, or trying to flee from, its rule. From May 26-29, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ISIS killed more than 200 civilians as they attempted to flee fighting in western Mosul.

These abuses were particularly evident in and around Mosul, as well as western Anbar, where ISIS reportedly killed numerous civilians who attempted to flee ISIS rule or refused to fight the ISF. There were also numerous reports of ISIS killing civilians in al-Qa’im, Anbar Governorate, in August and September for allegedly cooperating with ISF or attempting to flee to liberated territory.

Throughout the year ISIS detonated vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and suicide bombs in public markets, security checkpoints, and predominantly Shia neighborhoods. For example, ISIS claimed responsibility for September 14 attacks on a checkpoint and restaurant in Dhi Qar that killed 94 civilians.

ISIS also reportedly killed individuals, including minors, who did not conform to ISIS dictates. For example, on August 3, ISIS reportedly killed a 12-year-old boy publicly in al-Qa’im, Anbar Governorate, for verbally insulting ISIS members.

Abductions: Militias, criminal armed groups, ISIS, and other unknown actors kidnapped many persons during the year. While in some cases individuals were kidnapped due to their ethnic or sectarian identity, other individuals were taken for financial motives. ISIS reportedly detained children in schools, prisons, and airports, and separated girls from their families to sell them in ISIS-controlled areas for sexual slavery.

According to Yezidi NGO contacts, since 2014 ISIS caused more than 360,000 Yezidis to flee to areas under KRG control. The KRG Office of Yezidi Rescues reported ISIS kidnapped 6,417 Yezidis (3,547 women and 2,870 men); of that number, the office facilitated the rescue of 1,108 women, 335 men, and 1,635 children. The office reported there were 3,319 Yezidis still missing as of September.

In May, COR member Vian Dakhil reported the KRG had paid more than 5.8 billion Iraqi dinars ($5.0 million) in ransom to secure the release of 3,004 Yezidis from ISIS, and more than 69.9 million Iraqi dinars ($60,000) to middlemen to arrange safe passage to IKR-controlled areas.

Kidnappings also were a tactic used in tribal conflicts throughout the country. For example, Basrah police reported four tribal dispute-linked kidnappings during the year.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Reports from international human rights groups stated that government forces and PMF abused prisoners and detainees, particularly Sunnis (see section 1.a.).

According to international human rights organizations, ISIS used torture to punish individuals connected to the security services and government, as well as those they considered apostates, such as Yezidis. Thousands of women, particularly those from ethnic and religious communities that ISIS considered as not conforming to their doctrine of Islam, were raped, sexually enslaved, murdered, and endured other forms of physical and sexual violence.

ISIS forces killed civilians who cooperated with the government and anyone who refused to recognize ISIS and its caliphate or tried to escape ISIS-controlled territory. For example, in September ISIS reportedly killed 10 civilians in Hawija for allegedly cooperating with the ISF. ISIS also punished minors in areas under its control.

ISIS attempted to attack both ISF units and civilian-populated areas with chemical substances, including chlorine and sulfur mustard gas. For example, in March humanitarian agencies reported ISIS used chemicals containing blistering agents during the ISF’s battle to liberate Mosul.

Child Soldiers: There were no reports that the central government’s Ministries of Interior or Defense conscripted or recruited children to serve in the security services. Some armed militia groups, however, under the banner of the PMF, provided weapons training and military-style physical fitness conditioning to children under age 18. The government and Shia religious leaders expressly forbid children under age 18 from serving in combat; even so, there was evidence on social media of children serving in combat positions. For example, local media reported at least one PMF-linked Shia militia managed a military readiness training camp for teenagers below age 18 in the Taza area south of Kirkuk during the summer months.

KRG and independent sources stated the Yezidi Resistance Forces and Yezidi Women’s Protection Units’ militias employed Yezidi minors in paramilitary roles in Sinjar. Kurdish media reported that the Kurdistan Worker’s Party recruited children from Sulaimaniyah and Halabja Governorates and had armed and transferred more than 250 Yezidi youth from the town of Sinjar to bases in Qandil. Media reported the party also recruited children from Makhmour. Turkish air strikes in April killed one child soldier in Khanasour District of Sinjar.

ISIS forced children to serve as informants, checkpoint staff, and suicide bombers in areas under its control. The NGO Yazda claimed ISIS continued to force Yezidi children into combat roles, including sending young boys to conduct suicide attacks against the ISF in Mosul.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Conflict disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of persons throughout the country, particularly in Baghdad, Anbar, and Ninewa Governorates.

The government, the PMF, and ISIS established roadblocks that impeded the flow of humanitarian assistance to communities in need. Local officials reported PMF-affiliated militias looted Kurdish homes and threatened Kurdish residents in Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu in October and November. The KRG, specifically KDP-run checkpoints, also restricted the transport of food, medicines, and medical supplies, and other goods into some areas. In September, Yazda accused the KDP of using checkpoints to prevent Yezidi IDP returns to southern Sinjar. Local sources reported that Asayish required clearance letters for anyone to cross the main bridge from Dahuk to Ninewa.

Reports of ISIS’s targeted destruction of civilian infrastructure were common, including attacks on roads, religious sites, and hospitals.

ISIS attacked cultural and religious heritage sites in areas under its control. On June 21, ISIS destroyed the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, famed for its leaning minaret.

ISIS increasingly used civilians as human shields in combat and targeted civilian areas with mortars. Amnesty International reported that ISIS used hundreds of Mosul residents as human shields during the ISF’s campaign to retake the city from ISIS control.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape (but not spousal rape) and permits a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if the victim dies. The law allows authorities to drop a rape case if the perpetrator marries the victim. There were no reliable estimates of the incidence of rape or information on the effectiveness of government enforcement of the law.

Humanitarian protection experts assessed that conditions in IDP camps were highly conducive to sexual exploitation and abuse.

Domestic violence remained a pervasive problem, and there was no law prohibiting it. Harassment of legal personnel who sought to pursue domestic violence cases under laws criminalizing assault, as well as a lack of trained police and judicial personnel, further hampered efforts to prosecute perpetrators.

The government signed a joint agreement with UNAMI on the Prevention and Response to Conflict-related Sexual Violence in 2016. The government committed to working with the Office of the Special Representative and the UN system to develop and implement an action plan to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence. On August 22, however, UNAMI reported that while the government and KRG had taken some positive steps to further women’s rights, including working to address the needs of ISIS victims, the criminal justice system was often unable to provide adequate protection for women.

The government and KRG also struggled to address the physical and mental trauma endured by women who lived under ISIS rule. Additionally, the government and KRG worked to reconcile the legal status of children born to women living in ISIS-held territory, as the children lacked government-issued birth certificates and other legal documentation.

Due to continuing ISIS-perpetrated violence, women’s status suffered severe setbacks (see also section 1.g.). During the year ISIS kidnapped women and girls to sell, rent, or gift them as forced “brides” (a euphemism for forced marriage or sexual slavery) to ISIS fighters and commanders, and exploited the promise of sexual access in propaganda materials as part of its recruitment strategy.

While the government does not have a law that explicitly prohibits NGO-run shelters for victims of gender based crimes, the law allows the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to determine if a shelter may remain open. NGOs reported that communities often viewed the shelters as brothels and asked the government to close them. In order to appease community concerns, the ministry regularly closed shelters, only to allow them to reopen in another location later.

The Ministry of Interior maintained 16 family protection units around the country, designed to resolve domestic disputes and establish safe refuges for victims of sexual or gender-based violence. These units tended to prioritize family reconciliation over victim protection and lacked the capacity to support victims. Hotline calls typically went to the male commanders of the units who did not follow a regular referral system to provide victims with services, such as legal aid or safe shelter. Victims of domestic violence in Basrah told UNAMI they feared approaching the family protection units, because they suspected that police would immediately inform their families of their testimony. The family protection units in most locations did not operate shelters. Safe houses, which the government and NGOs operated, were often targets for violence.

NGOs reported that the government made minimal progress in implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security despite an implementation plan launched in 2016.

KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse, threats of violence, and spousal rape. The government implemented the provisions of the law, creating a special police force to investigate cases of gender-based violence and establish a family reconciliation committee within the judicial system, but local NGOs reported that these programs were not effective at combating gender-based violence.

In the IKR one privately operated shelter and four KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs-operated shelters provided some protection and assistance for female victims of gender-based violence and human trafficking. Space was limited, and service delivery was poor. NGOs played a key role in providing services, including legal aid, to victims of domestic violence, who often received no assistance from the government. Instead of using legal remedies, authorities frequently mediated between women and their families so that the women could return to their homes. Other than marrying or returning to their families, which often resulted in further victimization by the family or community, there were few options for women accommodated at shelters.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The IKR’s Family Violence Law bans FGM/C, but NGOs reported the practice persisted, particularly in rural areas.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permitted honor as a lawful defense in violence against women, and honor killings remained a serious problem throughout the country. Some families arranged honor killings to appear as suicides. A provision of the law limits a sentence for conviction of murder to a maximum of three years in prison if a man is on trial for killing his wife or a female dependent due to suspicion that the victim was committing adultery. UNAMI reported that several hundred women died each year from honor killings. Asuda for Combatting Violence against Women in Iraqi Kurdistan reported that, according to official government data, 24 cases of honor killings occurred in the IKR during the year.

Several women reportedly refused to leave Basrah prisons after their sentences had concluded due to fear their families would harm them, or confine them to life-long home detention, because their actions had “dishonored” the family.

Women and girls were at times sexually exploited through so-called temporary marriages, under which a man gives the family of the girl or woman dowry money in exchange for permission to “marry” her for a specified period. Government officials and international and local NGOs also reported that the traditional practice of “fasliya”–whereby family members, including women and children, are traded to settle tribal disputes–remained a problem, particularly in southern governorates.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual relations outside marriage, including sexual harassment that is considered sexual solicitation. Penalties if convicted include fines and imprisonment. The law provides relief from penalties if unmarried participants marry. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement. The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. In most areas there were few or no publicly provided women’s shelters, information, support hotlines, and little or no sensitivity training for police.

In the absence of shelters, authorities often detained or imprisoned sexual harassment victims for their own protection. Some women, without alternatives, became homeless.

Coercion in Population Control: There were reports that ISIS forced Yezidi women whom they had impregnated to have abortions. There were no reports of involuntary sterilization. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Although the constitution forbids discrimination based on gender, conservative societal standards impeded women’s ability to enjoy the same legal status and rights as men in all aspects of the judicial system. ISIS imposed severe restrictions on women’s movement and dress in areas it controlled.

In 2016 UNAMI reported that women constituted 51 percent of the country’s IDPs. The UN representative for women’s affairs in Iraq said the abolition of the Ministry for Women’s Affairs posed an additional challenge in addressing issues of conflict and displacement, especially since the majority of those displaced were women.

Law and custom generally do not respect freedom of movement for women. For example, the law prevents a woman from applying for a passport without the consent of her male guardian or a legal representative. Women could not obtain the Civil Status Identification Document–required for access to public services, food assistance, health care, employment, education, and housing–without the consent of a male relative. This restriction affected women in conflict, according to local NGOs. In ISIS-controlled areas, ISIS forces reportedly forbade women from leaving their homes unless male relatives escorted them. ISIS also prevented professional women from returning to work, with the exception of medical workers and teachers. The Council of Ministers’ Iraqi Women Empowerment Directorate is the lead government body on women’s issues.

Children

Birth Registration: The constitution states that anyone born to at least one citizen parent is a citizen. Failure to register births resulted in the denial of public services such as education, food, and health care. Single women and widows often had problems registering their children. Although in most cases authorities provided birth certificates after registration of the birth through the Ministries of Health and Interior, this was reportedly a lengthy and at times complicated process. The government was generally committed to children’s rights and welfare, although it denied benefits to noncitizen children. Humanitarian agencies reported a widespread problem of children born in ISIS-held territory failing to receive a government-issued birth certificate.

Education: Primary education is compulsory for citizen children for the first six years of schooling and until age 15 in the IKR; it is provided without cost to citizens. Equal access to education for girls remained a challenge, particularly in rural and unsecure areas.

In August, according to UNICEF reporting, children comprised almost one-half of the three million Iraqis displaced by the conflict, severely limiting their access to education; at least 70 percent of displaced children missed a year of school.

Child Abuse: Violence against children remained a significant problem. According to a UN-supported study in 2011 (the last year for which reliable statistics were reported), 46 percent of girls between ages 10 and 14 were exposed to family violence. The law provides protections for children who were victims of domestic violence or were in shelters, state houses, and orphanages.

The KRG’s Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs, Education, and Culture and Youth operated a toll-free hotline to report violations against, or seek advice regarding, children’s rights.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 15 with parental permission and 18 without. The government reportedly made few efforts to enforce the law. Traditional forced marriages of girls occurred throughout the country. According to UNICEF in 2016, approximately 975,000 women and girls had been married before age 15, twice as many as in 1990. Early and forced marriages, as well as abusive temporary marriages, occurred in rural and urban areas.

According to the KRG High Council of Women’s Affairs, refugees and IDPs in the IKR contributed to increased child marriages and polygamy.

Local and international NGOs reported that the practice of husbands or their families threatening to divorce wives they married when the girls were very young (ages 12 to 16) to pressure the girl’s family to provide additional money to the girl’s husband and his family also occurred, particularly in the south. Victims of these forced divorces were compelled to leave their husbands and their husbands’ families, and social customs regarding family honor often prevented victims from returning to their own families, leaving some adolescent girls abandoned.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial exploitation of children, and pornography of any kind, including child pornography. During the year ISIS members forced girls into marriage with ISIS fighters (see section 1.g.). Child prostitution was a problem. Because the age of legal criminal responsibility is nine in the central region and 11 in the IKR, authorities often treated sexually exploited children as criminals instead of victims. Penalties for conviction of commercial exploitation of children range from fines and imprisonment to the death penalty. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement.

ISIS’s sexual exploitation of Yezidi children was widespread throughout the year in areas under the group’s control; this abuse included rape and sexual slavery.

Displaced Children: Insecurity and active conflict between government forces and ISIS caused the displacement of large numbers of children. Due to the conflict in Syria, numerous children and single mothers from Syria took refuge in the IKR (see section 2.d.).

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

Anti-Semitism

A very small number of Jewish citizens lived in Baghdad. According to unofficial statistics from the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, there were approximately 430 Jewish families in the IKR. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts in the country during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Although the constitution states the government, through law and regulations, should care for and rehabilitate persons with disabilities in order to integrate them into society, no laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. There were reports that persons with disabilities experienced discrimination due to social stigma. Although the Council of Ministers issued a 2016 decree ordering access for persons with disabilities to buildings and to educational and work settings, incomplete implementation limited access. Local NGOs reported many children with disabilities dropped out of public school due to insufficient physical access to school buildings, a lack of appropriate learning materials in schools, and a shortage of teachers qualified to work with children with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

The minister of labor and social affairs leads the Independent Commission for the Care of People with Disabilities that became operational in late 2016. Any Iraqi citizen applying to receive disability-related government services must first receive a commission evaluation. The KRG deputy minister of labor and social affairs leads a similar commission, administered by a special director within the ministry.

There is a 5 percent public-sector employment quota for persons with disabilities, but employment discrimination persisted, and observers projected that the quota was not likely met at year’s end (see also section 7.d.). Mental health support for prisoners with mental disabilities did not exist.

The Ministry of Health provided medical care, benefits, and rehabilitation, when available, for persons with disabilities, who could also receive benefits from other agencies, including the Prime Minister’s Office. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs operated several institutions for children and young adults with disabilities. The ministry maintained loans programs for persons with disabilities for vocational training.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country’s population included Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Shabaks, as well as ethnic and religious minorities, including Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenian Orthodox, Yezidis, Sabean-Mandean, Bahai, Kaka’i, and a very small number of Jews. The country also had a small Romani community, as well as an estimated 500 thousand citizens of African descent, who reside primarily in Basrah and adjoining governorates.

The National Identity Card Law automatically registers minor children as Muslims if they are born to at least one Muslim parent or if either parent converts from another religion to Islam. The law did not permit some religious groups, including Bahai, to register their religions on national identifications card. The law also disallowed Muslims who converted to other religions to reflect these conversions on their identity cards.

In areas under its control, ISIS committed numerous serious abuses against Yezidis, Shabaks, Christians, and other minorities. Other illegal armed groups also targeted ethnic and religious minorities (see section 1.g.).

Many of the estimated 500,000 persons of African descent lived in extreme poverty with high rates of illiteracy and unemployment. They were not represented in politics, nor did they hold any high-level government positions. Furthermore, they stated that discrimination kept them from obtaining government employment. Members of the community also struggled to obtain restitution for lands seized from them during the Iran-Iraq war. Although they have won several court cases, they have yet to receive compensation.

There were reports of KRG authorities discriminating against minorities, including Turkmen, Arabs, Yezidis, Shabaks, and Christians, in the disputed territories. For example, courts rarely upheld Christians’ legal complaints against Kurds regarding land and property disputes.

Although Arabs are the majority in most of the country, they are a minority in Kirkuk, and Arab residents of the city often charged that KRG security forces targeted Arabs with intimidation, attacks, and kidnapping.

Kirkuk citizens, particularly Sunni Arabs, faced pressure to leave Kirkuk, particularly in the months leading up to the September 25 Kurdish independence referendum. For example, in September there were reports that Kurdish authorities in Kirkuk confiscated non-Kurdish residents’ identity documents, in an effort to displace them.

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

Despite repeated threats and violence targeting LGBTI individuals, the government failed to identify, arrest, or prosecute attackers or to protect targeted individuals.

Authorities relied on public indecency or prostitution charges to prosecute same-sex sexual activity. Authorities used the same charges to arrest heterosexual persons involved in sexual relations with anyone other than their spouse.

Societal discrimination in employment, occupation, and housing based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and unconventional appearance was common.

LGBTI persons often faced abuse and violence from family and nongovernmental actors. In addition to targeted violence, LGBTI persons remained at risk for honor crimes. For example, on March 1, a close family member killed a man purported to be one of two men shown in a gay-sex video circulated online.

Local contacts reported that militia groups drafted LGBTI “kill lists” and executed men perceived as gay, bisexual, or transgender. On July 4, media reported that Karar Nushi, an actor, model, and student, was stabbed to death in Baghdad because of his perceived sexuality.

ISIS continued to publish videos depicting executions of persons accused of homosexual activity that included stoning and being thrown from buildings. Some armed groups also started a campaign against homosexual persons in Baghdad.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Media reported criminal networks and some militia groups seized Christian properties in Baghdad–as well as areas of Anbar, Babil, Basrah, Diyala, and Wasit–with relative impunity, despite pledges by the Prime Minister’s Office to open investigations into the seizures.

Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: ISRAEL AND THE GOLAN HEIGHTS (BELOW) | WEST BANK AND GAZA


Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Although it has no constitution, the parliament, the unicameral 120-member Knesset, has enacted a series of “Basic Laws” that enumerate fundamental rights. Certain fundamental laws, orders, and regulations legally depend on the existence of a “state of emergency,” which has been in effect since 1948. Under the Basic Laws, the Knesset has the power to dissolve the government and mandate elections. The nationwide Knesset elections in 2015, which were considered free and fair, resulted in a coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security services.

The most significant human rights issues included terrorist attacks targeting civilians and politically and religiously motivated killings by nonstate groups and individuals; administrative detention of Palestinians, often extraterritorially in Israel; and legal requirements and official rhetoric that adversely affected the operating environment for human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses within Israel regardless of rank or seniority.

This section includes Israel, the Golan Heights, and problems primarily related to Israeli residents of Jerusalem. Problems primarily related to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are covered in the “West Bank and Gaza” section. On December 6, 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.

As stated in Appendix A, this report contains data drawn from foreign government officials; victims of alleged human rights violations and abuses; academic and congressional studies; and reports from the press, international organizations, and NGOs concerned with human rights. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some of those sources have been accused of harboring political motivations. The Department of State assesses external reporting carefully but does not conduct independent investigations in all cases.

We have sought and received input from the government of Israel with regard to allegations of human rights abuses, and we have noted any responses where applicable. Because of timing constraints, the Israeli government was not able to provide a detailed response to every alleged incident, but it did maintain generally that all incidents were thoroughly investigated and parties held accountable, as appropriate, according to due process of law.

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

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

There was a report the government or its agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing. On January 18, during a police action to demolish homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev region of southern Israel, police shot local resident Yaqub Musa Abu al-Qian. Abu al-Qian’s car subsequently struck and killed one police officer. Abu al-Qian died of his injuries shortly thereafter. NGOs alleged, based on an autopsy report leaked to Israel Channel 10, that he bled to death after authorities denied him immediate medical treatment. Police also fired sponge-tipped bullets at protesters, injuring Joint List Chairman Member of Knesset (MK) Ayman Odeh. The Department for Investigations of Police Officers had not completed its investigation into the incident as of October 15.

According to the government and media reports, during the year terrorist attacks killed seven persons and injured 23 others. The locations of attacks included Jerusalem, Yavne, Petah Tikva, Tel Aviv, and Arad. Most of the attackers were Palestinians from the West Bank, and two were Arab citizens of Israel.

In April authorities indicted Koren Elkayam and Tamir Bartal on charges of terrorism targeting Arab citizens of Israel in a series of attacks, including a stabbing, in Be’er Sheva that began in December 2016. According to the indictment, on several occasions, the defendants assaulted men who they thought were Arab to deter them from dating Jewish women.

On October 4, police discovered the body of Reuven Schmerling, a 70-year-old Israeli man, who had been stabbed to death. Authorities arrested West Bank residents Yusef Khaled Mustafa Kamil and Muhammad Ziad Abu al-Roub for the killing and on October 29 indicted them for premeditated murder and entering Israel illegally, according to media reports.

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 does not refer to a specific crime of torture but prohibits assault and pressure by a public official. In 1999 the Supreme Court ruled that, although torture and the application of physical or psychological pain were illegal, Israeli Security Agency (ISA) interrogators may be exempt from criminal prosecution if they used “exceptional methods” in extraordinary cases determined to involve an imminent threat, such as the “ticking bomb” scenario, as long as such methods did not amount to torture. Human rights organizations such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), Defense for Children International-Palestine, and Military Court Watch reported that “physical interrogation methods” permitted by the law and used by security personnel could amount to torture. Methods documented by the organizations included beatings, forcing an individual to hold certain stress positions for long periods, sleep deprivation, threatening an illegal act against the detainee or a family member, and painful pressure from shackles or restraints. The government stated that ISA rules, procedures, and methods of interrogation are confidential for security reasons, but they are subject to governmental supervision from within and outside of the ISA.

Authorities continued to state the ISA held detainees in isolation only in extreme cases and when there was no alternative option, and that the ISA did not use isolation as a means of augmenting interrogation, forcing a confession, or punishment. An independent Inspector for Complaints Against ISA Interrogators in the Ministry of Justice handled complaints of misconduct and abuse in interrogations. The decision to open an investigation against an ISA employee is at the discretion of the attorney general.

The government established the Turkel Commission to implement the findings of the 2010 report of the Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident, which concerned the interception and capture by the Israeli Navy of ships carrying humanitarian aid bound for Gaza. This led to the 2015 “Ciechanover Report,” which deferred a decision to impose responsibility on military commanders and civilian superiors for offenses committed by their subordinates. The report instead recommended that: “[T]he question of the explicit anchoring of the responsibility of military commanders and civilian superiors in Israeli law would continue to be examined by the relevant parties before being decided.” The report also recommended increasing and clarifying civilian oversight (via the attorney general) of the military justice system. In July 2016 the security cabinet adopted the report’s recommendations. In the context of the Ciechanover report, and in response to more than 60 complaints of violent acts by soldiers that the military closed without response since 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in September 2016 that complaints should be examined within 14 weeks. The government did not publish the number of complaints it examined during the year.

In criminal cases investigated by police involving crimes with a maximum imprisonment of 10 years or more, regulations require recording interrogations; however, an extended temporary law exempts the General Security Services from audio and video recording of interrogations of suspects related to “security offenses.” In December 2016 the Knesset passed an amendment to the Criminal Procedure (Interrogation of Suspects) Law whereby the questioning of a suspect in relation to a security offense is subject to random inspections by a supervising authority, which may supervise any interrogation of such suspects, at any time, without advance notice and without the interrogator’s awareness.

The Ciechanover report recommended installing closed-circuit cameras in all ISA interrogation rooms that broadcast to a control room in real time. The government’s implementation team recommended that this control room be located in an ISA facility in which interrogations are not conducted and that it be accessible and available to a supervising entity from the Ministry of Justice at any time. According to the recommendation, the supervising entity would prepare a concise memorandum on what the observer saw, but no other record would be kept. In the event that the supervising entity believes that interrogators used illegal means during the interrogation, the observer would be required to report the matter to the Office of the Inspector for Complaints against ISA Interrogators in the Ministry of Justice. The government had not finished preparations to implement this mechanism as of September. Human rights NGOs criticized this mechanism as insufficient to prevent and identify torture, arguing there is no recording of interrogations for later accountability and judicial review. NGOs submitted a petition to the Supreme Court opposing the recommendation in 2015. The court rejected the petition on January 17 on the grounds that it was outdated, following significant legal changes.

According to PCATI, as of October the government had never opened a criminal investigation nor indicted an ISA interrogator for torture during an investigation–despite more than 1,100 complaints of torture by detainees in the country since 2001, in some of which cases the government acknowledged that “exceptional measures” were used. The government stated none of these complaints led to a criminal investigation due to insufficient evidence. Nonetheless, some preliminary examinations led to disciplinary measures, changes in procedures, and changes in methods of interrogation. The government noted 139 open cases as of June, of which one-half were received between 2013 and 2015. PCATI reported the preliminary examinations of complaints averaged 28 months, and all but one complaint the organization submitted regarding incidents in 2014 remained unanswered as of September. PCATI submitted 48 new cases of alleged torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment for the year as of October 24.

In its May 2016 review of the country’s compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture, the UN Committee Against Torture recommended (among 50 other recommendations) that the government provide for independent medical examinations for all detainees. In a September 2017 response, the government listed the services available to detainees by the medical staff of the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and stated that requests from prisoners for independent examination at the prisoner’s expense are reviewed by an IPS medical team. PCATI added that professional training for medical personnel to identify, document, and report all allegations and evidence of torture had not been implemented as of October.

PCATI stated the government’s system for investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees was complex and fragmented. For example, allegations against police and the ISA are investigated by two separate departments of the Police Investigation Department in the State Attorney’s Office of the Ministry of Justice, each with different procedures. The National Prison Wardens Investigation Unit is responsible for investigating allegations against members of the IPS. PCATI reported this fragmentation created a disorganized system characterized by widely varying response times and professional standards. PCATI noted victims often did not know the institutional affiliations of the perpetrators and that complaints were often passed from one organization to another for months or years with each authority denying jurisdiction in the case.

In May 2016 plainclothes Border Police officers beat an Arab citizen, Maysam Abu Alqian, outside the supermarket in which he was working in central Tel Aviv. After requesting to see his identification, the officers beat Alqian severely. The officers alleged Alqian attacked them, but the Tel Aviv District Court ordered him released the day after his arrest. Authorities dropped the criminal charges against the police officers during the year. On March 30, the Department for Investigations of Police Officers (DIPO) in the Ministry of Justice ordered disciplinary actions against one officer, Ben Edri, for “unreasonable use of force and improper behavior.”

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The law provides prisoners and detainees the right to conditions that do not harm their health or dignity. Conditions in permanent detention facilities run by the IPS generally met international standards, according to the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC). For information about the Holot detention facility for irregular migrants, see section 2.d.

Physical Conditions: As of October 19, according to the government, there were 9,279 Israeli citizens held in IPS facilities (5,432 Jewish and 3,847 non-Jewish, the latter predominantly Arab citizens). IPS facilities also held 3,494 prisoners who were legal residents of Israel (including Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem), and 6,552 Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank or Gaza. The prison population included 157 minors who were citizens or residents of Israel–most of them Palestinians from East Jerusalem–and 282 Palestinian minors from the West Bank or Gaza. Of the total prisoner population, 5,821 were characterized as “security prisoners” (those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence). These prisoners often faced harsher conditions than those for prisoners characterized as criminals, including increased incidence of administrative detention, restricted family visits, ineligibility for temporary furloughs, and solitary confinement.

The vast majority of the security prisoners held in Israel were Palestinian residents of the West Bank; there were a small number of Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents of Gaza. Extraterritorial detention of Palestinians in Israel imposed heavy logistical burdens on family members who wished to visit them. Additionally, because the two Israeli military courts that try Palestinian suspects were both located in the West Bank, detention of Palestinians in Israel led to extensive delays for Palestinian prisoners due to transportation to and from each hearing.

A June report on 62 prisons by the Public Defender’s Office described physical neglect and harsh living conditions. The report also cited a shortage of treatment and rehabilitation groups for non-Hebrew-speaking prisoners, lack of social workers in some prisons, excessive shaking of detainees during transportation, and extended stays in court detention facilities beyond the duration of legal proceedings.

The percentage of minors of Ethiopian origin in prison was significantly higher than their proportion of the population, comprising 14 percent of the inmates in Ofek Prison for juveniles as of October. Data from the Public Defender’s Office reported by the newspaperHa’aretz in September 2016 revealed that the proportion of Ethiopian-Israeli minors convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison instead of treatment was nearly 90 percent, three times the percentage for non-Ethiopian-Jewish minors and almost double that of minors who are Arab citizens of Israel.

On June 13, following a petition by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Academic Center for Law and Business in Ramat Gan, the Supreme Court ruled that within 18 months, prisons must allocate a living space of 48 square feet to each prisoner, including toilet and shower, or 43 square feet, not including toilet and shower. According to ACRI each prisoner is currently allocated 33 square feet, including toilet and shower, and approximately 40 percent of the prisoners were imprisoned in an area that amounted to less than 32 square feet per person.

In 2015 the Knesset passed a law authorizing force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners under specific conditions; however, the Israel Medical Association declared the legislation unethical and urged doctors to refuse to implement it. The government had not applied this law as of October. Approximately 1,500 Palestinian prisoners participated in all or part of a hunger strike between April 17 and May 27. The prisoners’ principal demands were reinstatement of a second monthly family visit and an end to administrative detention (detention without charge).

In February the IPS installed heaters in the cells of Palestinian security prisoners at Gilboa prison, following a letter from the Arab legal rights NGO Adalah alleging that excessively cold temperatures in prisoners’ cells during the winter months constituted inhuman treatment.

During the year, according to the government, 17 prisoners died in IPS custody, including seven in prisons and 10 in hospitals.

Administration: While authorities usually allowed visits from lawyers and stated that every inmate who requested to meet with an attorney was able to do so, this was not always the case. NGOs alleged authorities did not allow Palestinian detainees, including minors, access to a lawyer during their initial arrest. Travel restrictions on entry into Israel from the West Bank and Gaza affected the access of lawyers and family visitors to some Palestinian prisoners held extraterritorially in Israel. The government granted permits to family members from the West Bank on a limited basis and restricted those entering from Gaza more severely.

After MK Basel Ghattas smuggled items to security prisoners, the Knesset House Committee decided in December 2016 to ban MKs from visiting security prisoners, with limited exceptions for parliamentary oversight of prison conditions. As of August 31, the government authorized two MKs from the coalition and two from the opposition to visit security prisoners. The Public Defender’s Report published in June 2016 cited difficulties in holding meetings between detainees and their lawyers in detention facilities in Jerusalem, Tiberias, Nazareth, Petah Tikva, and Be’er Sheva.

On April 25, Adalah complained that the IPS prevented seven lawyers from meeting Palestinian prisoners regarding their hunger strike. On May 3, following a petition to the Supreme Court, the IPS, and Adalah reached an agreement allowing the prisoners to meet their lawyers under restricted conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The ICRC monitored all facilities in accordance with its standard modalities, except for urgent or isolated cases that the ICRC raised bilaterally with the concerned authorities (that is, relating to the composition of the visiting team and the conditions for interviews without witnesses). PCATI and other organizations continued to press for structural reforms, including mandatory audio-video recordings of interrogations. The Public Defender’s Office is officially responsible for monitoring and reporting on prison conditions, which it does every two years (see above).

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/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Authorities subjected non-Israeli residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the same laws as Israeli citizens. Noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction as applied by Israel to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, even if detained inside Israel (see “West Bank and Gaza” section).

With regard to irregular migrants, the most recent amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law allows the government to detain migrants and asylum seekers who arrived after December 2014 for three months in the Saharonim Prison facility “for the purpose of identification and to explore options for relocation of the individual.” The law also states authorities must bring irregular migrants taken into detention to a hearing within five days and inform them of their rights, including the right to legal counsel. After three months in Saharonim, the government may then hold them for 12 months in Holot, a remote, semiopen facility run by the IPS (see section 2.d.). The law also allows authorities to send those who fail to renew their visas on time to Holot for up to 120 days. It prohibits, however, detention in Holot based on certain factors including age, health, gender, or other protected status. Authorities can send those who violated rules at Holot to Saharonim Prison and reportedly transferred two or three detainees per day, on average. A policy dating to 2014 authorizes the government to detain without trial and for an indefinite period irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings.” The NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants noted this policy enabled indefinite detention even in cases in which there is insufficient evidence to try a suspect, including for relatively minor crimes, as well as cases of migrants who completed a sentence following conviction. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated this policy is “at variance with international human rights and refugee law,” and called for migrants suspected of crimes to be treated equally under Israel’s existing criminal laws. On January 4, the Supreme Court ruled that the legality of this policy requires additional review. It had not issued any new guidance as of October 27.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Under the authority of the prime minister, the ISA combats terrorism and espionage in Israel and the West Bank. The national police, including the border police and the immigration police, are under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have no jurisdiction over Israeli citizens. ISA forces operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem fall under the IDF for operations and operational debriefing. The Ciechanover report (see section 1.c.) clarified that the Ministry of Justice and its investigators and the IDF and its investigators would divide investigative and prosecutorial responsibilities in incidents in which police operated under the authority of the military.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the ISA and police forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The government took steps to investigate allegations of the use of excessive force by police and military.

PCATI continued to criticize the extremely low number of indictments issued relative to the number of investigations opened, the reliance on internal disciplinary measures instead of criminal charges, and the high percentage of cases closed due to investigation failures by military police.

DIPO is responsible for investigating complaints against ISA bodies, including incidents involving police and the border police that do not involve the use of a weapon. On April 5, the state comptroller published a report criticizing DIPO for investigating complaints narrowly on criteria of individual criminal or disciplinary violations rather than broadly on criteria of systemic or organizational problems. According to its annual report DIPO published in February, after reviewing 2,945 cases in 2016, DIPO filed criminal indictments in 110 cases (4 percent), ordered disciplinary proceedings in 128 cases (4 percent), closed 974 cases without further investigation (33 percent), and closed 843 cases following a preliminary examination (29 percent). In 2016 courts in Israel ruled on 86 cases brought by DIPO and issued 67 convictions.

Investigative responsibility for alleged abuses by the IDF, including incidents involving a weapon in which police units were operating under IDF authority in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, remains with the Military Police Criminal Investigations Department of the Ministry of Defense.

Human rights NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), continued to allege that accountability mechanisms precluded serious internal investigations by the military and were marred by severe structural flaws.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police must have warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official to arrest a suspect. The following applies to detainees, excluding those in administrative detention: Authorities generally informed such persons promptly of charges against them; the law allows authorities to detain suspects without charge for 24 hours prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing for up to 48 hours; authorities generally respected these rights for persons arrested in the country; there was a functioning bail system, and detainees could appeal decisions denying bail; and authorities allowed detainees to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, including one provided by the government for the indigent and to contact family members promptly. (Further information on arrest procedures under military law can be found in the West Bank and Gaza section.)

Authorities detained most Palestinian prisoners within Israel. The government stated that the establishment of new prisons in the West Bank could adversely affect detainees’ living conditions. Authorities prosecuted Palestinian noncitizens held in Israel under Israeli military law, a practice Israel has applied since the 1967 occupation. According to the circumstances of each case, such as the severity of the alleged offense, status as a minor, risk of escape, or other factors, authorities either granted or denied bail to noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained for security violations.

Authorities may prosecute persons detained on security grounds criminally or hold them as administrative detainees or illegal combatants, according to one of three legal regimes. First, under a temporary law on criminal procedures, repeatedly renewed since 2006, the IPS may hold persons suspected of a security offense for 48 hours prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing the IPS to detain a suspect for up to 96 hours prior to bringing the suspect before the senior judge of a district court. In security-related cases, authorities may hold a person for up to 35 days without an indictment (versus 30 days for nonsecurity cases), and the law allows the court to extend detentions on security grounds for an initial period of up to 20 days for interrogation without an indictment (versus 15 days for other than security-related cases). Authorities may deny security detainees access to an attorney for up to 60 days under military regulations or 21 days under Israeli civilian procedures.

Second, the Emergency Powers Law allows the Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely. As of May 31, according to data provided to the NGO B’Tselem by the IPS, 475 Palestinians including two minors were in administrative detention.

Third, the Illegal Combatant Law permits authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention subject to twice-yearly district court reviews and appeals to the Supreme Court. As of May 31, according to B’Tselem based on IPS data, no Palestinian prisoners were held under this law.

While international law allows the use of administrative detention in rare “ticking time bomb” scenarios, civil society organizations and some MKs continued to criticize the government for using it excessively, adding that the practice was undemocratic since there was no due process. In its September submission regarding compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture, the government claimed it issued administrative detention orders “as a preventive measure where there is a reasonable basis to believe that the detention is absolutely necessary for clear security purposes. Administrative detention is not employed where the security risk can be addressed by other legal alternatives, especially criminal prosecution.” The government further emphasized the role of military judges in reviewing administration detention orders and noted that 395 such orders were appealed to the Supreme Court as of September 10.

Arbitrary Arrest: The annual report of the Office of the Public Defender in 2016 highlighted indictments on problems of trivial importance or against persons who break the law to obtain basic needs such as food, electricity, water, or housing. Allegations continued of arbitrary arrests of Arab citizens during protests, as well as of Ethiopian-Israelis. The NGO Human Rights Defenders Fund reported police detained nine lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) participants in a July 20 protest (see section 6) and strip-searched seven of them at the police station. In response to a complaint, the Tel Aviv District Police legal advisor wrote that the search was not in accordance with regulations and that the officers involved would face disciplinary action.

Pretrial Detention: Administrative detention continued to result in lengthy pretrial detention for security detainees (see above).

Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained on criminal or other grounds are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and any delay in obtaining judicial rulings. If the court finds persons to have been detained unlawfully, they are entitled to prompt release, compensation, or both. An administrative detainee has the right to appeal any decision to lengthen detention to a military court of appeals and then to the Supreme Court. All categories of detainees routinely did so, including citizens, legal residents, and Palestinian noncitizens. Military courts may rely on classified evidence denied to detainees and their lawyers when determining whether to prolong administrative detention. There is no system whereby authorities may clear a defense team member to view classified information used to justify holding an administrative detainee.

For information on procedures related to the detention of irregular migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, see section 2.d.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally 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. Exceptions to the right for a public trial include national security concerns, protection of the interest of a minor or an individual requiring special protection, and safeguarding the identity of an accuser or defendant in a sex-offense case.

Defendants enjoy the rights to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and to be present at their trial. They may consult with an attorney or, if indigent, have one provided at public expense. They have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants who cannot understand or speak the language used in court have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may appeal to the Supreme Court.

The prosecution is under a general obligation following an indictment to provide all evidence to the defense. The government may on security grounds withhold from defense lawyers evidence it has gathered but will not use in its case against the accused. The Supreme Court (with regard to civilian courts) and the Court of Appeals (with regard to military courts) can scrutinize the decision to withhold such evidence. The rules of evidence in espionage cases tried in criminal court do not differ from the normal rules of evidence, and no use of secret evidence is permissible.

In August 2016, in response to a wave of attacks, many perpetrated by minors, that began in September 2015, the Knesset passed a “Youth Law” legalizing imprisonment of children as young as 12 years old if convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter. The government reported no child had been imprisoned under this law as of October.

Military court trials are open to the public, but, since authorities conduct them in a military camp, members of the public require an entry permit from the military. Authorities conducted certain trials in a closed setting, not open to the public, for reasons of security or for the protection of the identity of a minor.

The evidentiary rules governing military trials of noncitizen Palestinians, all of whom are subject to military law, are the same as evidentiary rules in criminal cases. According to the Ministry of Justice, the law does not permit convictions based solely on confessions. Counsel may assist the accused in such trials, and a judge may assign counsel to defendants. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials, but almost all detainees had counsel, even in minor cases. Court indictments were read in Hebrew and, unless the defendant waived this right, in Arabic. Authorities translated all military court indictments into Arabic. At least one interpreter was present for simultaneous interpretation in every military court hearing, unless the defendant waived that right. Various human rights organizations claimed the availability and quality of Arabic interpretation was insufficient; most interpreters were bilingual Israelis performing mandatory military service. Defendants may appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court. (Further information on military court proceedings against Palestinians and others can be found in the West Bank and Gaza section, Political Prisoners and Detainees.)

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Some human rights organizations claimed that Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel should be considered political prisoners. The government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence.

ACRI petitioned the Supreme Court in 2013 regarding a practice by the ISA of calling in Israeli political activists suspected of “subversive” activity unrelated to terror or espionage for questioning under caution, meaning they might be charged with a crime. In response the government confirmed a classified secret procedure regulates Israel National Police assisting the ISA in the summoning process. In February the Supreme Court imposed the following restrictions on this process: Summoning will be carried out only after consultation with the legal advisor of the ISA; police and the ISA will clarify that questioning is voluntary and the person summoned is not required to appear; and the ISA will clarify during questioning that the suspect’s statements cannot be used in court for other proceedings.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

An independent and impartial judiciary adjudicates lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders usually were enforced. By law noncitizen Palestinians may file suit in civilian courts to obtain compensation through civil suits in some cases, even when a criminal suit is unsuccessful and the actions against them considered legal.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev inhabited by approximately 70,000 persons, the government viewed all buildings as illegal and subject to demolition. The government maintained a program to encourage Bedouins to relocate from unrecognized villages, which lacked basic infrastructure, to established towns by providing low-cost land. It offered compensation for demolition of illegal structures for those willing to move to designated permanent locations. Bedouins often refused to participate because they asserted they owned the land or that the government had given them prior permission to settle in their current locations.

According to a 2016 report from the state comptroller, from 2008-14 the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development resolved only 3 percent of ownership claims through settlement agreements and legal proceedings. In cases of demolitions with no agreement from the residents to relocate, the government levied fines against residents to cover expenses incurred in the course of demolitions. On August 16, the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court ruled that six residents of al-Araqib (see below) must pay 262,000 shekels ($73,400) for the costs of demolitions of their village from July to December 2010 and 100,000 shekels ($27,800) for the expenses of the state’s lawyer. On December 24, following a trial that lasted four years, a Be’er Sheva court sentenced the head of al-Araqib, Sheikh Sayyah al-Turi, to 10 months in prison and a fine of 36,000 shekels ($10,000) for charges relating to residence in the village, including trespassing and entering public space against the law. Many Bedouins whose residences or structures were subject to demolition orders elected to demolish them themselves to avoid fines.

According to the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), Jewish citizens reside in 126 out of 144 communities in the Negev, in addition to approximately 60 family farms, alongside 18 government-approved communities for Bedouin citizens. According to the NCF, 115 of the 126 Jewish communities maintained admission committees to screen new residents, effectively excluding non-Jewish residents. Authorities approved plans for new Jewish communities called Hiran (see below), Daya, and Neve Gurion to replace existing Bedouin villages. Authorities planned Daya to replace the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Qatamat, and Neve Gurion was to replace some houses in the recognized village of Bir Haddaj. In June the government completed registration of 44,500 acres of land in the Negev, effectively nullifying approximately 600 land claims filed by Bedouin citizens in the 1970s. As of October it was unclear whether the Bedouin plaintiffs would accept monetary compensation the government offered as restitution. The NCF noted the Negev was sparsely populated, with only 8 percent of the country’s population living on 60 percent of the land, so there was ample room to establish new communities without razing existing ones.

Authorities halted efforts to demolish homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in preparation for replacing it with a Jewish community called Hiran, after protests and a fatal police shooting in January (see section 1.a.). Construction in the area surrounding Umm al-Hiran stopped after this incident, then resumed in July, but the government had not conducted any further demolitions in the village as of October 24. In January 2016 the Supreme Court ruled that eviction orders issued against the residents of Umm al-Hiran, where the Israeli government had moved them in 1956, were valid. The government offered plots of land and cash compensation to villagers willing to accept resettlement to the nearby Bedouin town of Hura, three miles away. Village leaders had rejected this option because, according to the Hura local council, there was insufficient space for natural growth in the town, and due to fears it would force the villagers to abandon a traditional rural lifestyle for an urban one. Village leaders expressed openness to almost any option that would allow them to remain in place, including living side by side with Jewish neighbors in an expanded community. On August 7, Adalah wrote a letter to the National Planning and Building Council objecting to bylaws drafted by the Hiran cooperative association that would allow only Orthodox Jews to live in Hiran. A group of 35 Jewish families sponsored by the OR Movement (an organization dedicated to expanding the Jewish population of the Negev region) who planned to move to Hiran remained in the forest outside Umm al-Hiran living in mobile homes donated by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), while waiting to obtain the land.

The NCF recorded 1,158 demolitions in 2016, the highest number since they began tracking in 2013. Demolitions by Israeli authorities increased to 412 in 2016 from 365 in 2015, while Bedouins demolished the remaining structures to avoid fines. In May 2016 a report from the state comptroller stated: “The ongoing circle of construction for housing and demolition of these structures deepens the alienation of the Bedouin residents of the Negev towards the state and does not contribute to the regulation of their settlement.” The report recommended the government act to settle land claims as early as possible, plan resettlement of Bedouin citizens in cooperation with the Bedouin community, develop infrastructure in recognized Bedouin communities, and formulate an enforcement policy regarding illegal construction.

One week before the January demolitions in Umm al-Hiran, the government demolished 11 homes in the Arab city of Qalansawe, which Prime Minister Netanyahu applauded in a Facebook posting. The demolitions in Qalansawe and Umm al-Hiran, as well as planned demolitions in the northern Druze town of Maghar, led thousands of Arab and Druze citizens to protest in multiple locations from January 21 to 24. (For details about housing construction and demolitions, see section 6.)

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected those prohibitions.

Separate religious court systems adjudicate matters such as marriage and divorce for the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities. The country lacks a civil marriage law. In order to be considered legal, civil marriages, marriages of some non-Orthodox Jews, marriages in non-Orthodox ceremonies, same-sex marriages, marriages of a Jew to a non-Jew, or marriages of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim must take place outside the country to be considered legal, because religious courts refuse to conduct these marriages. Approximately 11 percent of marriages registered with the Ministry of the Interior in 2015 occurred abroad, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The majority of Jewish citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox control over aspects of their personal lives, including marriage and “kashrut “(Jewish dietary laws), according to a survey of 800 Jewish Israelis published in September by the NGO Hiddush. The Orthodox Rabbinate did not consider to be Jewish approximately 337,000 Israeli citizens who considered themselves Jewish and who immigrated either as Jews or as family members of Jews; therefore, these citizens could not be married or buried in Jewish cemeteries. The Orthodox Rabbinate had the authority to handle divorces of any Jewish couple regardless of how they were married. The government stated that 24 cemeteries in the country served immigrants not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate. Authorities did not fully implement a law requiring the government to establish civil cemeteries.

The 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, which is renewed annually, prohibits non-Jewish Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, from obtaining resident status in Jerusalem or Israel unless the Ministry of the Interior makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. AI and other human rights organizations repeatedly called on the government to repeal this law and resume processing of family unification applications. The law allows the entry of spouses of Israelis on a “staying permit” if the male spouse is age 35 or older and the female spouse is age 25 or older. The NGO Mossawa reported this law impacts approximately 30,000 Arab families in Israel.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a felony punishable by 16 years in prison, or up to 20 years’ imprisonment for rape under aggravated circumstances or if the perpetrator rapes or commits a sexual offense against a relative. The government effectively enforced rape laws.

Arab and Jewish women’s rights groups protested against perceived police inaction and societal indifference to or support for actions to combat domestic violence. The government stated police had developed procedures and trained special investigators to deal with domestic violence, sex offenses, and the violation of protective orders in diverse communities, including the Arab community.

Women from certain Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Bedouin, and Druze communities faced significant social pressure not to report rape or domestic abuse. The government stated that awareness and the perceived legitimacy of reporting and investigating rape and domestic violence were especially difficult in these communities.

The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services operated 14 shelters for survivors of domestic abuse, including two for the Arab community, two mixed Jewish-Arab shelters, two for the ultra-Orthodox community, and eight for non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. The labor ministry also operated a hotline for reporting abuse. The labor ministry assisted women involved in prostitution, including providing emergency shelters, daytime centers, and therapeutic hostels.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal but remained widespread. Penalties for sexual harassment depend on the severity of the act and whether the harassment involved blackmail. Police notified all known victims of their right to receive assistance from the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. The law provides that victims may follow the progress on their cases through a computerized system and information call center.

In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men. The local municipality of Beit Shemesh failed to comply with court orders from 2015 and January 2016 to remove the signs, leading the Jerusalem District Court to rule on June 7 that the municipality would face a fine of 10,000 shekels ($2,800) per day if the signs remained posted after July 6. The municipality appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which upheld the contempt of court finding. At least two “modesty signs” remained up as of October 19, and the next hearing was scheduled for March 2018.

On September 3, media reported that Major General Roni Rittman, head of police anticorruption unit Lahav 433 that is investigating Prime Minister Netanyahu for corruption (see section 4), will resign at the end of the year due to accusations of sexual harassment of a subordinate in 2010. Then attorney general Yehuda Weinstein closed the investigation against Rittman in 2015, but in August the Supreme Court ordered Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich to explain why he allowed Rittman to continue working despite the sexual harassment complaint.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. In the criminal and civil courts, women and men enjoyed the same rights, but in some matters religious courts–responsible for adjudication of family law, including divorce–limited the rights of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze women.

On August 15, following three years of hearings on a petition by women’s rights organizations to appoint a female director general to the rabbinical courts, the Supreme Court ruled that since the position is inherently administrative, not religious, it must be open to anyone licensed as a rabbinic pleader, including women. In June the Rabbinical Courts Administration named a female deputy director general for the first time. Although women currently serve as judges in nonreligious courts, they remain barred from serving as judges in rabbinical courts.

On April 25, the government appointed Hana Khatib as the first female judge in the sharia (Islamic) courts in Israel.

The law allows a Jewish woman or man to initiate divorce proceedings, and both the husband and wife must give consent to make the divorce final. Sometimes a husband makes divorce contingent on his wife conceding to demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody. As a result, according to the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar Ilan University, thousands of Jewish women could not remarry or give birth to legitimate children. In rare cases Jewish women refused to grant men divorces, but this has lesser effect on a husband under Jewish law. Rabbinical courts sometimes sanctioned a husband who refused to give his wife a divorce, while also declining to grant the divorce without his consent.

A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the sharia courts without her husband’s consent under certain conditions. A marriage contract may provide for other circumstances in which she may obtain a divorce without his consent. A Muslim man may divorce his wife without her consent and without petitioning the court. Through ecclesiastical courts, Christians may seek official separations or divorces, depending on their denomination. Druze divorces are performed by an oral declaration of the husband alone and then registered through the Druze religious courts, placing a disproportionate burden on the woman to leave the home with her children immediately. A civil family court or a religious court settles child custody, alimony, and property matters after the divorce, which gives preference to the father unless it can be demonstrated that a child especially “needs” the mother.

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender in employment and wages and provides for class action antidiscrimination suits, a wage gap between men and women persisted. The government subsidizes daycare and after-school programs to encourage labor participation by mothers and offers professional training to single parents.

The Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office works to mainstream women’s participation in the government and private sector and to combat sexual harassment and domestic violence. The authority requires every city, local council, and government ministry to have an advisor working to advance women’s rights.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship at birth within or outside of the country if at least one parent is a citizen. Births are supposed to be registered within 10 days of the delivery. According to the law, births are registered in the country only if the parents are citizens or permanent residents. Any child born in an Israeli hospital receives an official document from the hospital that affirms the birth.

A child’s status derives from a parent’s status; if one of the parents is an Israeli citizen and the other is not, the child may be registered as Israeli as long as he or she lives with the parent who is an Israeli citizen or permanent resident.

According to UNHCR, the Ministry of the Interior issues a confirmation of birth document, which is not a birth certificate, for children without legal residency status in the country.

Education: Primary and secondary education is free and universal through age 17 and compulsory through grade 12.

The government did not enforce compulsory education in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. Bedouin children, particularly girls, continued to have the highest illiteracy rate in the country. The government did not grant construction permits in unrecognized villages, including for schools. In April the Ministry of Education of Education began providing transportation to preschool for 21 Bedouin children. NGOs stated that bussing for preschoolers in unrecognized villages, rather than building schools near their villages, was discriminatory. In response to a petition on this topic, on October 15, the Be’er Sheva District Court instructed the government to submit a detailed plan for expedited construction of safe bus stops.

The government operated separate public schools for Jewish children, in which classes were conducted in Hebrew, and for Arab children, with classes conducted in Arabic. For Jewish children separate public schools were available for religious and secular families. Individual families could choose a public school system for their children to attend regardless of ethnicity or religious observance.

The government offered to fund fully Christian schools if they become part of the public (state) school system, but the churches rejected this option. The government pledged to transfer an additional 50 million shekels ($14 million). Church leaders noted this transfer did not resolve their annual deficits nor did it close the financial disparity with two politically affiliated ultra-Orthodox Jewish school systems.

The Tel Aviv municipality opened 46 new preschools and kindergartens and 10 first grade classes in 2016, primarily for the children of migrant workers and refugees, raising concerns of segregation. Segregation by place of origin is illegal.

In recent years an influx of Arab residents to the primarily Jewish town of Nazareth Illit led to a population of some 2,600 Arab students with no option for education in Arabic. As a result most such students attended schools in Arab-majority Nazareth and nearby villages. In June 2016 ACRI submitted a petition demanding establishment of a school for Arabic-speaking students, and the case continued at year’s end.

Medical Care: The government provides preventive health services to minors younger than age six without legal status. For noncitizens under age 18, it also provides services similar to those provided for citizens, regardless of their legal status in country. This arrangement does not include minors whose guardian is a resident of the Palestinian Authority.

Child Abuse: The law requires mandatory reporting of any suspicion of child abuse. It also requires social service employees, medical and education professionals, and other officials to report indications that minors were victims of, engaged in, or coerced into prostitution, sexual offenses, abandonment, neglect, assault, abuse, or human trafficking. The Ministry of Education operated a special unit for sexuality and for prevention of abuse of children and youth that assisted the education system in prevention and appropriate intervention in cases of suspected abuse of minors.

The National Council for the Child received a number of complaints during the year of abuses related to physical and sexual abuse, child pornography, and poor educational environments. NGOs expressed concern regarding police negligence in child abuse and domestic violence cases reported in minority communities.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years, with some exceptions for younger children due to pregnancy and for couples older than 16 years old if the court permitted it due to unique circumstances. The government stated that no marriages of children under 15 were registered with the Population Registry in 2016, but there may have been some such marriages that were not registered. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor and sets a penalty of seven to 20 years in prison for violators, depending on the circumstances. The law prohibits the possession of child pornography (by downloading) and accessing such material (by streaming). Authorities enforced the law.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years old. Consensual sexual relations with a minor between the ages of 14 and 16 constitute statutory rape punishable by five years’ imprisonment.

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 report Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

Jews constituted approximately 80 percent of the population. The government often defined crimes targeting Jews as nationalistic crimes relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than as resulting from anti-Semitism.

On August 31, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar described non-Orthodox Jews as “accursed evil people,” according to press reports. Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned Amar’s remarks. In September media reported that opposition MK Haneen Zoabi stated that Israel’s “fascist laws” make it “suitable to compare, logical to compare, Israel… with Germany in the [19]30s.”

Regarding claims for the return of, or restitution for, Holocaust-era assets, the government has laws and mechanisms in place, and the government made some progress on resolution of such claims. Relevant Israeli laws refer to assets imported during World War II whose owners did not survive the war. Unclaimed assets were held in trust and not transferred to legal inheritors, who in most cases were not aware that their late relatives had property in Israel. The government stated that in recent years it initiated a program to contact potential claimants.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The Basic Laws provide a legal framework for prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities in the provision of government services. Legislation mandates access to buildings, information, communication, transportation, and physical accommodations and services in the workplace, as well as access to mental health services as part of government-subsidized health insurance, and the government generally enforced these laws.

The 2005 Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law mandates that local governments implement all necessary changes to public buildings and locations to make them accessible. The deadline for implementation in nongovernmental buildings was November 1; in government-owned buildings it is November 1, 2018, but the Ministry of Justice extended the deadline to November 1, 2021, for buildings and places owned by local authorities.

Societal discrimination and lack of accessibility persisted in employment, housing, and education.

Shortages of funding for Arab municipalities adversely affected Arabs with disabilities.

Access to community-based independent living facilities for persons with disabilities remained limited.

The law prioritizes access by persons with disabilities to public services, such as eliminating waiting in line.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Arab citizens, many of whom self-identify as Palestinian, faced institutional and societal discrimination. There were multiple instances of security services’ or other citizens’ racially profiling Arab citizens. A May report from the state comptroller criticized the Ministry of Justice for failing to collect systematically complaints regarding discrimination and inequality.

There were “price tag” attacks, which refer to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against non-Jewish individuals and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. The government classifies price tag attacks as terrorism. The most common offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands.

In 2015 arsonists burned a large section of the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha and scrawled on the building’s stone walls sections of the Jewish prayer book that, in this context, denigrated Christians. In July a court convicted one person of charges including arson and defacing real estate with a hostile motive and acquitted a second suspect. In January the government paid 1.5 million shekels ($420,000) for the restoration of the church. On February 12, President Rivlin attended an interfaith ceremony to mark the completion of the restoration.

In September vandals desecrated a church at the Beit Jamal Monastery, smashing a statue, shattering stained glass windows, and damaging furniture. This was the third time this church was attacked in recent years. According to the Custody of the Holy Land, a priory of the Franciscan order, no arrests were made after any of the attacks as of the end of the year.

In 2015, following negotiations with the Arab community, the cabinet approved a five-year plan for development of the Arab sector in the fields of education, transportation, commerce and trade, employment, and policing. On October 26, the government reported it transferred approximately three billion shekels ($840 million) under this resolution in 2016 and projected transfers of more than two billion shekels ($560 million) during the year. But Mossawa reported in October that most of the budgetary allocations, which must be approved retroactively and individually by the Knesset Finance Committee, had not yet been approved.

The government employed affirmative action policies for non-Jewish minorities in the civil service. In August the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services announced an investment of 15 million shekels ($4.2 million) over the next five years to integrate Arab employees into the high-tech sector.

Separate school systems within the public and semipublic domains produced a large variance in education quality. Arab, Druze, and ultra-Orthodox students passed the matriculation exam at lower rates than their non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish counterparts. The government continued operating educational and scholarship programs to benefit Arab students. In 2015 the Council for Higher Education invited proposals for the establishment and operation of a state-funded college in an Arab locality in northern Israel, but there was no tangible progress towards opening this institution as of October.

In November 2016 the Ministry of Transport, National Infrastructure, and Road Safety removed automated audio announcements in Arabic from urban buses in Be’er Sheva after receiving complaints from the mayor and residents. Buses continued to display electronic announcements in Arabic and Hebrew. In response to a lawsuit by Arab residents, the ministry reinstated the Arabic announcements by June 7.

Approximately 93 percent of land in Israel is in the public domain. This includes approximately 12.5 percent owned by the JNF, whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews. Human rights organizations withdrew a 2004 petition in January 2016 after the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) and JNF made an arrangement in which Arab citizens will be allowed to participate in all bids for JNF land, but the ILA will grant the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab citizen of Israel wins a bid. In August 2016 human rights organizations petitioned the Supreme Court against the requirement that six of 14 members of the Israel Land Authority Council be JNF representatives, claiming the JNF’s mission to benefit only Jewish citizens may make the council discriminatory against non-Jews. The case continued as of the end of the year. On March 28, the Knesset passed an amendment to the 1960 Israel Land Authority Law requiring representation of an Arab, Druze, or Circassian member in the ILA Executive Council.

New construction remained illegal in towns that did not have an authorized outline plan for development, which is the legal responsibility of local authorities. The government stated that as of 2015, 131 of 133 Arab localities had approved outline plans for development, 84 of which the National Planning Administration furthered. NGOs serving the Arab population, however, alleged discrimination in planning and zoning rights, noting regional planning and zoning approval committees did not have Arab representation. NGOs stated planning for Arab areas was much slower than for Jewish municipalities, leading frustrated Arab citizens to build or expand their homes without legal authorization, risking a government-issued demolition order. A plan for the Bedouin village of al-Fura’a was not yet completed as of October, despite government recognition of the village in 2006. As a result, the village lacked basic electricity and water infrastructure, and NGOs reported house demolitions occurred regularly.

According to a 2015 report from the Knesset Research and Information Center, 338 out of 350 administrative demolition orders from 2012-14 were against structures in Arab communities. In April the Knesset passed an amendment to the 1965 Planning and Building Law, which increased the government’s power to demolish unpermitted structures. Arab MKs and human rights organizations condemned the law for increasing enforcement and demolitions without addressing the systemic housing shortages in Arab communities that led to unpermitted construction. According to Mossawa, approximately 50,000 Arab families live in unpermitted houses.

A May report from the state comptroller criticized the segregation of Jewish and Arab women in hospital maternity wards. The report noted that separation of patients for nonmedical reasons was incompatible with the principle of equality, even if such separation was requested by the patient or for “cultural considerations.”

Arab communities in the country generally faced economic difficulties, including discrepancies in access to healthcare.

The Bedouin segment of the Arab population continued to be the most disadvantaged. More than one-half of the estimated 230,000 Bedouin population lived in seven government-planned communities. Approximately 70,000 Bedouins lived in 35 unrecognized tent or shack villages that did not have water and electricity or educational, health, and welfare services. A three-billion-shekel ($840 million) multi-year plan the government approved in February to promote economic and social development in Bedouin communities excluded the unrecognized villages.

In nine of 11 recognized villages, all residences remained unconnected to the electricity grid or to the water infrastructure system, and only seven had high schools, according to the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality.

(See section 1.e. for issues of demolition and restitution for Bedouin property.)

The law bars family reunification when a citizen’s spouse is a non-Jewish citizen of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, or Syria. Citizens may apply for temporary visit permits for Palestinian male spouses age 35 or older or Palestinian female spouses age 25 or older, but they may not receive residency based on their marriage and have no path to citizenship.

The government generally prohibited Druze citizens and residents from visiting Syria. Prior to 2013 the government allowed Druze residents of the Golan Heights to attend university studies and religious meetings in Syria. This ended after insurgent groups seized control of the Syrian side of the border crossing. Subsequently, the government facilitated the return of resident Druze students from Syria. The government has prevented family visitations to Syria for noncitizen Druze since 1982. Since 2013 the government facilitated the entry of several thousand Syrian nationals, including Druze, to Israel to receive medical treatment.

An estimated population of 144,100 Ethiopian Jews faced persistent societal discrimination, although officials and citizens quickly and publicly criticized discriminatory acts against them. In July 2016 Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly received the recommendations of an interministerial team established to address racism against Israelis of Ethiopian origin. There was one Ethiopian-Israeli member of the Knesset. The government maintained several programs to address social, educational, and economic disparities between Ethiopian-Israelis and the general population.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the government generally enforced these laws, although discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity persisted in some parts of society.

Despite a 2014 directive from the Ministry of Health that government-subsidized health services include sex-reassignment surgery, patients received conflicting information from health-care providers.

There were reports of discrimination in the workplace against LGBTI persons, despite laws prohibiting such discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although discrimination against persons living with HIV is illegal, the Israel AIDS Task Force reported instances of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, including cases related to employment, military service, burial services, and prisons.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Individuals and militant or terrorist groups attacked civilians, including 10 stabbing, shooting, Molotov cocktail, or ramming attacks characterized by authorities as terror attacks (see section 1.a.). (For issues relating to violence or discrimination against asylum seekers, see section 2.d.)

Human rights NGOs criticized the government for failing to invest sufficient resources to combat organized crime and gang violence, and to seize illegal weapons in Arab communities. Mossawa reported that more than 1,200 Arab citizens of Israel died as a result of organized crime and gang violence since 2000.

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

On August 29, following a Supreme Court ruling restricting the government’s options on irregular migrants, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked stated, “Zionism should not continue…to bow its head to a system of individual rights that is interpreted in a universalist fashion….” In response, according to media reports, opposition MK Tzipi Livni stated maintaining human rights “is a part of Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza – West Bank and Gaza

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: ISRAEL AND THE GOLAN HEIGHTS | WEST BANK AND GAZA (BELOW)


The Palestinian Authority (PA), according to PA basic law, has an elected president and legislative council. The PA exercised varying degrees of authority in the West Bank and no authority over Jerusalem. The PA maintains civil and security control in Area A of the West Bank. In Area B, it has civil control and joint security control with Israel. The PA has no authority over either Israeli or Palestinian residents in Area C of the West Bank (in which Israel retains both security and civil control).

Although PA laws apply in the Gaza Strip, the PA did not have authority there. While the PA deployed personnel at Gaza’s border crossings in November, Hamas continued to exercise de facto control of security and other matters.

The PA head of government is Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. President Mahmoud Abbas, in office since he was elected to a four-year term in 2005, is also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and general commander of Fatah. The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has not functioned since 2007. In 2007 Hamas staged a violent takeover of PA government installations in the Gaza Strip and has since maintained a de facto government in the territory.

Both PA and Israeli civilian authorities maintained effective control over their security forces. Hamas maintained control of security forces in Gaza.

The most significant human rights issues included Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which killed 13 Israelis. Israeli forces killed 68 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, four of whom nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media reported did not pose a lethal threat to Israeli Security Forces (ISF) or civilians at the time they were killed. Other significant human rights issues included allegations that interrogation techniques used by Israeli security forces constituted torture; allegations that security detention procedures constituted arbitrary arrest; demolition and confiscation of Palestinian property; limitations on freedom of expression, assembly, and association; severe restrictions on Palestinians’ internal and external freedom of movement pursuant to military law; and concerns that Palestinian children were vulnerable to Israeli violations of the law regarding arrest, physical restraint, night interrogations, treatment during interrogations, and holding conditions. The government of Israel asserted these events took place in a context of Palestinian incitement to violence against Israel.

The most significant human rights issues in the parts of the West Bank under PA control included allegations of torture; political prisoners; increased restrictions on freedom of speech and press, including detention of journalists and blocking access to critical websites; and limitations on freedom of association, including government preapproval of NGO programs and limits on independent labor unions. The Palestinian Authority has not held national elections since 2006, significantly limiting political participation. The government did not effectively prosecute allegations of rape and domestic violence; same-sex sexual activity was criminalized, although the law was not enforced; there were reports of forced labor and child labor.

Terrorist organizations and militant factions in Gaza launched rocket and mortar attacks against civilian targets in Israel, and they did so at or near civilian locations in Gaza. The most significant human rights abuses under Hamas de facto rule included unlawful and arbitrary killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; severe infringements on privacy rights; severe restrictions on freedoms of speech and press, including violence against journalists; interference with academic freedom and cultural events; violent interference in the freedom of assembly; severe restrictions on freedom of association, including arbitrary interference with NGO operations and opposition political parties; negation of the right to participate in the political process; widespread and arbitrary enforcement of “morality codes” against women by authorities; official harassment and arbitrary detention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; restrictions on independent labor unions, and reports of forced labor and child labor.

The PA and Israeli authorities took steps to address impunity or reduce abuses, but there were criticisms both did not adequately pursue investigations and disciplinary actions related to violations. Impunity was a major problem under Hamas.

This section includes areas subject to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority and issues primarily related to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Issues primarily related to Israeli residents of Jerusalem are covered in the “Israel and the Golan Heights” section. On December 6, 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.

As stated in Appendix A, this report contains data drawn from foreign government officials; victims of alleged human rights violations and abuses; academic and congressional studies; and reports from the press, international organizations, and NGOs concerned with human rights. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some of those sources have been accused of harboring political motivations. The Department of State assesses external reporting carefully but does not conduct independent investigations in all cases.

We have sought and received input from the government of Israel (and, where relevant, the Palestinian Authority) with regard to allegations of human rights abuses, and we have noted any responses where applicable. Because of timing constraints, the Israeli government was not able to provide a detailed response to every alleged incident, but it did maintain generally that all incidents were thoroughly investigated and parties held accountable, as appropriate, according to due process of law.

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

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

In the West Bank, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Some detainees registered complaints with the PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) that their arrests were arbitrary. In Gaza, Hamas security operatives carried out extrajudicial detentions based on political affiliation. Information concerning the whereabouts and welfare of those detained was not consistently or reliably available. Hamas denied due process or access to family and legal counsel to many of those detained. There was no new information on the disappearances in 2014 and 2015 of two Israeli citizens who crossed into Gaza and whom Hamas reportedly apprehended and held incommunicado.

b. Disappearance

In the West Bank, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Some detainees registered complaints with the PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) that their arrests were arbitrary. In Gaza, Hamas security operatives carried out extrajudicial detentions based on political affiliation. Information concerning the whereabouts and welfare of those detained was not consistently or reliably available. Hamas denied due process or access to family and legal counsel to many of those detained. There was no new information on the disappearances in 2014 and 2015 of two Israeli citizens who crossed into Gaza and whom Hamas reportedly apprehended and held incommunicado.

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

The PA basic law prohibits torture or use of force against detainees; however, international and local human rights groups reported that torture and abuse remained a problem.

Palestinian detainees held by PASF registered complaints of abuse and torture with the ICHR. Reported abuses by PA authorities in the West Bank included forcing prisoners, including those accused of affiliation with Hamas, to sit in a painful position for long periods, beating, punching, flogging, intimidation, and psychological pressure. Independent observers assessed abuse was not systematic or routinely practiced in PA prisons, although some prisoners experienced abuse during arrest or interrogation. The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons but reported no cases of inmate abuse by its staff.

Detainees held by Hamas filed claims of torture and abuse with the ICHR. Other human rights organizations reported that Hamas internal security tortured detainees. According to a media report, Hamas security officials tortured Mohammad Sufian al-Qassas, a 30-year-old Palestinian living in Gaza, after his arrest on September 18. Al-Qassas was arrested following complaints that some of his internet cafe clients were “insulting God.” On September 19, 19-year-old Khalil Abu Harb from Gaza died after falling from a window in an interrogation room in the district prosecutor’s office, after authorities arrested him on charges of theft. Hamas claimed Abu Harb committed suicide. The incident prompted local human rights groups to call for an end to torture in Gazan prisons.

Human rights organizations such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) reported that “special interrogation methods” used by Israeli security personnel against Palestinian security detainees in the West Bank and East Jerusalem could amount to torture. The methods reportedly included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, and painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms. According to a Haaretz media report based on a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice, as of January the Ministry of Justice unit that handles complaints about interrogations against Shin Bet officers had in no case opened a criminal investigation against or indicted any of its personnel implicated by such allegations, despite the fact that more than 1,100 complaints had been submitted since 2001. The Ministry of Justice did not accept any appeal against the closure of such an investigation since the appeals process was established in 2013. PCATI further noted that preliminary examinations into complaints continue to take an average of 28 months. As of November 21, all except one complaint filed since 2014 awaited initial responses from the Ministry of Justice.

Israeli officials stated they did not use techniques that could amount to torture. Israeli and Palestinian NGOs continued to criticize Israeli detention practices they termed abusive, including isolation and prolonged solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, lack of food, exposure to the elements, and psychological abuse, including threats to interrogate spouses, siblings, or elderly parents, or to demolish family homes.

Israeli authorities reportedly used similar tactics on Palestinian minors. Military Court Watch (MCW), Hamoked, and other human rights NGOs claimed Israeli security services continued to employ abuse, and in some cases torture, to coerce confessions from minors arrested on suspicion of stone throwing or others acts of violence. In May the MCW released a briefing note that reported 93 percent of Palestinian children arrested by the ISF during the year were hand-tied, 80 percent blindfolded, 58 percent subjected to physical abuse, and 90 percent denied access to a lawyer prior to questioning. According to the latest Israeli Prison Service data, the ISF as of May held in detention 331 Palestinian children between ages 12 and 17, an 82-percent increase from the monthly average for 2015.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical conditions in prisons and detention centers in the West Bank were reportedly poor. The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons but reported no cases of inmate abuse by its staff.

The basic conditions of prisons in Gaza were reportedly poor and prison cells were overcrowded.

ISF detention centers for security detainees were less likely than Israeli civilian prisons to meet international standards, according to PCATI and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). Authorities detained extraterritorially in Israel most Palestinian prisoners who had been arrested by the ISF in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the MCW, as of November 21, Israeli government authorities transferred and held 5,986 Palestinians detainees, or an average of 82 percent of all prisoners from the West Bank, in prisons inside (the 1949 Armistice line) Israel.

According to PCATI and Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, Israeli medics and doctors routinely ignored bruises and injuries resulting from violent arrests and interrogations. On one occasion prison health professionals were called to an interrogation room after a Palestinian detainee fainted during the interrogation, but they allowed the interrogation to continue unchecked. Although the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) directives provided for private doctor visitations for external medical second opinions, the IPS regularly denied access of external doctors to evaluate Palestinian prisoners.

NGOs reported PA, Israeli, and Gazan prisons lacked adequate facilities and specialized medical care for detainees and prisoners with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: Some PA prisons continued to be crowded and lacked ventilation, heating, cooling, and lighting systems conforming to international standards. Authorities at times held male juveniles with adult male prisoners. Security services used separate detention facilities. Conditions for women were virtually identical to those for men.

Most Israeli government facilities provided insufficient cell space. NGOs, including PCATI and the MCW, stated that authorities appeared to use poor conditions or exposure to weather as an interrogation or intimidation method. Prisoners also continued to claim inadequate medical care. PCATI, Hamoked, B’Tselem, and the MCW noted that most reports of abuse or poor conditions occurred during arrest and interrogation, generally within the first 48 hours following arrest.

Female prisoners and detainees reported harassment and abuse during arrest and in detention by the ISF. According to PCATI there was no investigation into these complaints.

Administration: By PA law any person sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not more than three months may petition the PA public prosecutor to be put to work outside the prison instead of imprisonment, unless the judgment deprives him of that option. Although the law allows for this option, the legal system did not have the capacity to implement such a process. The PA investigated allegations of mistreatment.

Little information was available about Hamas prison administration in the Gaza Strip.

NGOs, including the MCW and Hamoked, alleged Israeli authorities did not allow Palestinian detainees, including minors, access to a lawyer during their initial arrest. Human rights groups such as the PCHR reported families of imprisoned Palestinians, particularly Gazans, had only limited ability to visit prisoners due to their detention inside Israel and the lack of entry permits to Israel for most Palestinians.

PCATI claimed there was a systematic failure to investigate abuse claims made by Palestinians held in various Israeli interrogation and detention facilities. PCATI reported no torture complaint resulted in a criminal investigation, prosecution, or conviction. PCATI claimed the government regularly dismissed complaints of abuse following a preliminary examination by an Israeli Security Agency (ISA) employee. Authorities exempted ISA facilities from regular independent inspections. NGOs reported investigations of abuse at ISF and Israeli police facilities were slow and ineffective and rarely led to prosecutions. Of more than 200 complaints filed by PCATI between 2007 and 2017 regarding ISF violence against detainees in the West Bank, three complaints resulted in an indictment against an Israeli soldier on assault charges.

Independent Monitoring: In the West Bank, the PA permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions in accordance with the ICRC’s standard modalities. Human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and lawyers indicated that, as in previous years, there were some difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees held by the PA depending on which PA security organization managed the facility.

In Gaza the ICRC was given access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions in accordance with the ICRC’s standard modalities. Human rights organizations conducted monitoring visits to some prisoners in Gaza, but Hamas authorities denied representatives permission to visit high-profile detainees and prisoners.

The Israeli government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. The government permitted the ICRC to monitor treatment and prison conditions, including at detention centers, in accordance with the ICRC’s standard modalities. NGOs sent representatives to meet with Palestinian prisoners–including those on hunger strikes–and inspect conditions in Israeli prisons, detention centers, and some ISF facilities. Security prisoners held by the ISA remained inaccessible to independent monitors. Palestinian families and human rights groups reported delays and difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees from Israeli authorities. They also reported transfers of detainees without notice and claimed Israeli authorities at times used transfer practices punitively against prisoners engaging in hunger strikes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

PA law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and PA prosecutors generally charged suspects prior to detaining them. Nonetheless, the PA criminal justice system often did not provide a prompt and speedy trial. There were instances of PA detention without charge or trial for selected security detainees in PASF custody.

Hamas reportedly practiced widespread arbitrary detention in Gaza, particularly of Fatah members, civil society activists, journalists, and those accused of publicly criticizing Hamas. Fatah officials claimed Hamas arrested several Fatah members for their participation in January demonstrations against electricity shortages in Gaza.

Since the 1967 occupation, Israel has prosecuted Palestinian residents of the West Bank under military law, based on orders from the Israeli military commander. Since 1967 the Israeli Knesset has since extended criminal and civil law protections to Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Israel applies Israeli civil law to all residents of Jerusalem, both Israeli and Palestinian.

Under Israeli military law, the IPS may hold adults suspected of a security offense for four days prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions that allow the IPS to detain a suspect for up to eight days prior to bringing the suspect before the senior judge of a district court. For minors, Israeli military law differentiates by age among those suspected of a security offense. Suspects between ages 12-14 can be held up to one day, with a possible one-day extension. Those age 14-16 can be held up to two days, with a possible two-day extension. Those age 16-18 can be held up to four days, with a possible four-day extension.

Under military law, in security-related cases, Israeli authorities may hold adults for 20 days prior to an indictment, with the possibility of additional 15-day extensions up to 75 days. An Israeli military appeals court can then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time. Prior to an indictment in security-related cases, authorities may hold minors for 15 days, with the possibility of 10-day extensions up to 40 days. An Israeli military appeals court can then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time.

The Emergency Powers Law allows the Israeli Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely. According to IPS statistics, as of November 30 there were 425 Palestinians in administrative detention, including two Palestinian minors over the age of 14.

The Illegal Combatant Law permits Israeli authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention subject to twice-yearly district court reviews and appeals to Israel’s Supreme Court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Area A, as defined by the Oslo-era agreements. In Area A, which contains 55 percent of the Palestinian population on approximately 18 percent of West Bank land, the PA has formal responsibility for security and civil control. Nevertheless, since the Second Intifada in 2002, Israeli security forces have regularly conducted security operations in Area A, often without coordinating with the PASF. These incursions, which increased at the outbreak of violence beginning in 2015, continued throughout the year. PA officials claimed Israeli incursions in Area A increased to approximately 50 per week in September. The PA has civil control, and the PA and Israel maintain joint security control of Area B territory in the West Bank, which contains 41 percent of the population on approximately 21 percent of the land. Israel retains full civil and security control of Area C, which comprises approximately 4 percent of the Palestinian population and 61 percent of the land of the West Bank. Approximately 400,000 Israelis live in Area C Israeli settlements.

Six PA security forces operate in the West Bank. Several are under the PA Ministry of Interior’s operational control and follow the prime minister’s guidance. The Palestinian Civil Police have primary responsibility for civil and community policing. The National Security Force conducts gendarmerie-style security operations in circumstances that exceed the capabilities of the civil police. The Military Intelligence Agency handles intelligence and criminal matters involving PASF personnel, including accusations of abuse and corruption; it can refer cases to court. The General Intelligence Service is responsible for external intelligence gathering and operations. The Preventive Security Organization is responsible for internal intelligence gathering and investigations related to internal security cases (for example, antiterrorism, weapons violations, and money laundering). The Presidential Guard protects facilities and provides dignitary protection. The ICHR continued to report accusations of abuse and torture at the hands of the PASF.

The PA maintained effective control over its security forces and has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas forces exercised de facto control. Press and NGO reports suggested Hamas enforced strict control across all sectors of society. Impunity remained a problem. There were numerous instances when Hamas forces failed to prevent or deter violence, such as rocket attacks into Israel by rival Salafist groups.

Israeli authorities maintained a West Bank security presence through the ISF, the ISA, the INP, and Border Guard. According to organizations such as Yesh Din, PCATI, and B’Tselem, Israeli authorities took some steps to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but there were reports of failure to take disciplinary action in cases of abuse (see section 1.a.). The ISF stated it continued to open investigations automatically into claims of abuse of Palestinians in Israeli military police custody. Yesh Din claimed the automatic opening of investigations applied only to some Israeli military activity in the West Bank, but not to Palestinians reporting abuse in custody. NGOs such as Yesh Din, PCATI, and B’Tselem reported that impunity among Israeli security forces remained a problem, in part because mechanisms for investigating allegations were not effective. Reports of abuse go to the Israeli Attorney General’s Office; PCATI reported Israeli authorities systematically disregarded abuse allegations. In May 2016 B’Tselem announced it would no longer refer Palestinian complaints of abuse or injury by the ISF to Israeli military investigators and the MAG, citing a desire to avoid contributing to what the NGO called the pretense of an Israeli military law enforcement system in the West Bank.

NGOs such as Yesh Din and Rabbis for Human Rights also criticized Israeli efforts and accountability in investigating reports of Israeli security forces killing Palestinian civilians, noting that only one case since 2011 has resulted in an indictment. Israeli law restricts the ability of Palestinians to seek compensation in Israeli courts for harm by Israeli security forces. In January 2016 the State Attorney’s Office filed an indictment on charges of reckless and negligent use of a firearm against two soldiers who shot and killed a 16-year-old in the village of Budrus who was reportedly trying to flee a restricted area. The State Attorney’s Office proposed (inter alia) that the soldiers pay damages to the families, but the soldiers’ attorney rejected the offer. As of October the case remained pending.

According to Israeli and Palestinian NGO and press reports, the ISF did not respond sufficiently to violence perpetrated against Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The number of Israeli settler attacks perpetrated against Palestinians increased for the first time in three years, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). As of August, UNOCHA had identified 89 incidents of Israeli settler violence that resulted in Palestinian fatalities, injuries, or property damage, an 88-percent increase in the monthly average compared with 2016. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din, citing Israeli security forces and MAG figures, reported that Israeli authorities closed 75 percent of investigative files into alleged Israeli settler violence due to police investigators’ failure to locate suspects or find sufficient evidence to enable an indictment. Yesh Din claimed that failures in Israeli law enforcement procedure and management led to the limited results in terms of indictment and conviction of offenders.

In January the Israel Central District Attorney’s Office indicted two Israeli suspects on charges connected with a July 2015 “price tag” arson attack on a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Douma, which killed a toddler and his parents, and severely injured his four-year-old brother. A perpetrator also spray-painted “Revenge!” and a Star of David on the wall of the home. One Israeli was charged with murder and another was charged with conspiring to commit a crime. The trial continued throughout the year without reaching a verdict. In May relatives of the Palestinian family killed in the attack filed a lawsuit against the Israeli government seeking admission of responsibility and damages.

ACRI and other NGOs stated Israeli security and justice officials operating in predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem–such as Issawiya, Silwan, Ras Alamud, At-Tur, Sheikh Jarrah, and the Old City–used excessive force or displayed bias against Palestinian residents in investigating incidents involving Palestinian and Israeli actors.

According to ACRI, during various security raids in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem, the ISF fired sponge bullets at the head and upper torso of Palestinians (including minors) at close range, in violation of Israeli police rules of engagement. There were multiple reports of blinding and serious injury from synthetic black sponge bullets. On July 12, Israeli border guards shot and injured 13-year-old Nour al-Din Mustafa while he was sitting outside his home in East Jerusalem’s Issawiya neighborhood. Israeli security forces had reportedly entered the area due to a conflict between two Palestinian families and used crowd control weapons after local Palestinian residents threw stones. Israeli police said they were investigating this and other incidents. Palestinians claimed Israeli authorities closed most investigations of injury from sponge bullets for lack of evidence. Relaxed rules of engagement adopted in June 2016 also enabled the INP and Border Guard forces, which constitute the primary security forces operating in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of Jerusalem, to use live fire as a first resort against suspects engaged in throwing Molotov cocktails, shooting fireworks, or using slingshots.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

PA law generally requires a warrant for arrest and provides for prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. These provisions were largely–but not uniformly–observed in areas of the West Bank under PA control. There are exceptions that allow for PA arrest without a warrant. PA law allows police to hold detainees for 24 hours if there is sufficient evidence to charge a suspect, and for up to 45 days with court approval. PA authorities held some prisoners detained by order of Palestinian governors in lengthy pretrial detention, according to complaints received by the ICHR. PA law requires that a trial start within six months, or authorities must release the detainee. While some PA security forces reportedly detained Palestinians outside appropriate legal procedures, including without warrants and without bringing them before judicial authorities within the required time, there were no known PA detentions extending beyond the time limit without trial. PA authorities generally informed detainees of the charges against them, albeit sometimes not until interrogation. Bail and conditional release were available at the discretion of judicial authorities. PA authorities granted detainees access to a lawyer. PA courts consistently afforded the right to counsel to indigents charged with felony offenses. Indigent defendants charged with misdemeanors often did not receive counsel, although NGO efforts to represent indigent juveniles and adults in misdemeanor cases were at times successful. The Palestinian Bar Association (PBA) regulates the professional conduct of lawyers in the West Bank. In May the PBA adopted a policy that restricted lawyers’ ability to represent indigents free of charge. An NGO challenged this ruling in court, and in October the PBA rescinded this policy. AI reported that the PASF failed to provide prompt access to legal counsel to some detainees, effectively holding them incommunicado during interrogation.

The PA Military Intelligence Organization (PMI) operated de facto, without a service-specific mandate, to investigate and arrest PA security force personnel and civilians suspected of “security offenses,” such as terrorism. The PMI conducted these activities in a manner consistent with the other PA security services. Hamas continued to charge that the PA detained individuals during the year solely due to their Hamas affiliation. The PA stated it charged many of these individuals with criminal offenses under PA civil or military codes.

In Gaza, Hamas reportedly detained a large number of persons during the year without recourse to legal counsel, judicial review, or bail. There also were instances in which de facto Hamas authorities retroactively issued arrest warrants and used military warrants to arrest Gaza residents.

Israeli military law applied to Palestinians in the West Bank, while Israeli civil law was applied to Israelis living in the West Bank. Under Israeli military law as applied to Palestinians in the West Bank, Israeli authorities can hold detainees for up to 60 days without access to a lawyer. According to the most recent official data, Israeli military courts had a conviction rate of more than 95 percent for Palestinians. Israeli authorities informed Palestinian detainees of the charges against them during detention, but did not always inform minors and their families of the reasons for arrest at the time of arrest, according to the MCW. Israeli authorities stated their policy was to post notification of arrests within 48 hours, but senior officers could delay notification for up to 12 days, effectively holding detainees incommunicado during the interrogation process. An Israeli military commander may request that a judge extend this period. In accordance with law, Israeli authorities generally provided Palestinians held in Israeli military custody inside Israel access to a lawyer of their choice (and provided lawyers for the indigent). Nonetheless, Palestinian detainees often obtained lawyers only after initial interrogations, and 76 percent of minors did not see a lawyer prior to interrogation. Impediments to movement on West Bank roads or at Israeli-operated crossings often made legal consultation difficult and delayed trials and hearings. According to the MCW, most Palestinian detainees saw their lawyer for the first time when they appeared before an Israeli military court. Israeli military courts denied bail to Palestinians in most cases, including for minors. Israeli authorities delayed or deprived some Palestinian detainees of visits by their families or lawyers.

NGOs such as the MCW and Hamoked claimed Israeli authorities in the West Bank frequently failed to inform Palestinian parents why their children had been detained or where they had been taken. Israeli authorities stated their policy was to provide written notification about the arrest to parents when they arrested a child at home; however, this occurred only in 19 percent of cases. Legally, minors who are 16 and 17 years old can be held for 96 hours before seeing a judge, the same period applied to adults. In 2013 an Israeli military order reduced the time that authorities can detain Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 15 before appearing before a military court judge, although there was no change for minors ages 16 and 17. In 2014 Israeli authorities amended the law to mandate audiovisual recording of all interrogations of minors in the West Bank but limited this requirement to nonsecurity-related offenses. That excluded approximately 95 percent of cases involving Palestinian minors in Israeli military courts. The ISF entered Palestinian homes at night to arrest or to take pictures of minors. Human rights organizations alleged this treatment could amount to torture in some cases. Israeli officials denied these allegations. Israeli military authorities began providing translations into Arabic of some recent changes to military laws affecting Palestinian minors.

As of November 30, there was a drop in Israeli detention rates of Palestinian minors, compared with an all-time high in 2016, but the rate remained significantly higher than 2011-2015 levels. From October 2015 through March 2016, there was a marked increase in Palestinian attacks and attempted attacks against the ISF and Israeli civilians. As of November 30, Israel detained 310 Palestinian minors. NGOs anecdotally reported a high number of arrests of Palestinian minors in December, but official statistics were not yet available. On December 15, the ISF arrested 16-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi and charged her with assault after she was filmed slapping an Israeli soldier in the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh. NGOs criticized the nighttime arrest and charges, arguing that Tamimi did not pose a true threat. Tamimi remained in custody at the end of the year.

Israeli legislation approved in August 2016 effectively lowered the minimum age in Israel for criminal responsibility for serious crimes, such as attempted murder, from 14 to 12. In Jerusalem, where Palestinian residents are subject to Israeli civil law, NGOs reported that increased sentences and mandatory minimum sentences introduced in late 2015 for rock throwing led to increased use of pretrial detention and longer sentences for Palestinian minors. NGOs submitted a petition in 2016 challenging an Israeli civil law that revokes social welfare benefits for the parents of Palestinian minors convicted of security offenses. On January 28, Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) issued a temporary injunction on the new law and required the government to prove the law was not discriminatory. As of November 21, there was no formal response from the Israeli government, but Jerusalem-based families of Palestinian children currently in prison continued to receive social welfare benefits.

Nighttime arrest raids by Israeli authorities in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods such as Issawiya and Silwan, including those resulting in detention of Palestinian minors, were routine in the West Bank and Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The MCW reported little substantive improvement since the publication of a 2013 report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that stated, “Mistreatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic, and institutionalized.” The MCW said data from more than 400 MCW detainee testimonials collected between 2013-17 confirmed UNICEF’s conclusion that mistreatment by Israeli authorities of Palestinian child detainees in the West Bank was widespread.

The ISA continued its practice of incommunicado detention of Palestinians, including isolation from outside monitors, legal counsel, and family throughout the duration of interrogation. NGOs including the MCW, Hamoked, and B’Tselem reported Israeli authorities used isolation to punish or silence politically prominent Palestinian detainees. According to the Israeli government, the IPS did not hold Palestinian detainees in separate detention punitively or to induce confessions. The Israeli government stated it uses separate detention only when a detainee threatens himself or others, and authorities have exhausted other options–or in some cases during interrogation, to prevent disclosure of information. In such cases, Israeli authorities maintained the detainee had the right to meet with ICRC representatives, IPS personnel, and medical personnel, if necessary.

Arbitrary Arrest: In the West Bank, the ICHR reported that the PA continued to perform arbitrary detentions, in which Palestinian detainees were held without formal charges or proper procedures, particularly in arrests based on political affiliation with Hamas. There were numerous reports the PASF improperly detained Palestinian journalists, as well as reports PA security officials arrested and physically abused Palestinians who posted criticism of the PA online.

The ICHR received complaints of arbitrary arrests by Hamas in Gaza. Many of these arrests and detentions by de facto Hamas authorities appeared to be politically motivated, targeting political opponents and those suspected of ties to Israel.

According to human rights NGOs, including the MCW, B’Tselem, and Hamoked, throughout the year there were reports Israeli security forces in both Jerusalem and the West Bank arbitrarily arrested and detained Palestinian protesters and activists, particularly those participating in demonstrations against the security barrier or against killings of Palestinians.

Pretrial Detention: PA law allows police to hold detainees for 24 hours if there is sufficient evidence to charge a suspect, and for up to 45 days with court approval. It requires a trial to start within six months, or authorities must release the detainee.

It was unclear how long detainees in Hamas custody stayed in pretrial detention or what legal means, if any, Hamas used to detain individuals.

Israeli authorities continued to detain Palestinians administratively (hold indefinitely without presenting charges or going to trial). As of November, Israeli authorities held 425 Palestinians on security grounds (including two minors) for renewable six-month sentences. Security offenses included alleged incitement to violence on social media. Many NGOs, including HRW, AI, and various Palestinian and Israeli NGOs called for an immediate end to Israeli administrative detention. An Israeli military court must approve an administrative detention order. Palestinian detainees may appeal the ruling to the Israeli Military Appeals Court and the Israeli HCJ. The HCJ did not free any Palestinians under administrative detention during this period.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Palestinian detainees held by Israel and the PA faced barriers to their ability to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, and to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. Palestinians held by Israeli authorities in administrative detention have no right to trial and can only challenge their detention before a military court judge in a closed setting. In cases in which the evidence substantiating the charges against a detainee is classified, the detainee has no means of examining the evidence (and, in some cases, to examine the charges) in order to challenge his or her detention. Detainees held in PA custody faced delays in the enforcement of court rulings regarding their detention, especially regarding the PA’s obligation to release suspects who have met bail.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The PA basic law provides for an independent judiciary. The PA generally respected the judicial independence and impartiality of the High Judicial Council and maintained authority over most court operations in the West Bank. PA-affiliated prosecutors and judges stated that ISF prohibitions on movement in the West Bank, including Israeli restrictions on the PA’s ability to transport detainees and collect witnesses, hampered their ability to dispense justice.

Since 2011 the PA has mandated that Palestinian civilians appear before civilian courts. PA security services continued to pressure PA military justice court personnel to detain West Bank civilians charged with state security violations.

The PA civil, magistrate, and religious courts handle civil suits in the West Bank and provide an independent and impartial judiciary in most matters. There were unconfirmed reports of various Palestinian political factions’ attempting to influence PA judicial decisions. Palestinians have the right to file suits against the PA but rarely did so. Seldom-used administrative remedies are available in addition to judicial remedies. PA authorities did not always execute court orders.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas-appointed prosecutors and judges operated de facto courts which the PA considered illegal.

Gaza residents can file civil suits. Unofficial, anecdotal reports claimed some Gaza courts operated independently of the Hamas government and were at times impartial. HRW reported Hamas internal security regularly tried civil cases in military courts.

Israeli law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected Israeli civil courts’ independence and impartiality. The ISF tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses (ranging from rock throwing to membership in a terrorist organization to incitement) in Israeli military courts, which some NGOs claimed were inadequate and unfair. Israeli law defines security offenses to include any offense committed under circumstances that might raise a suspicion of harm to Israel’s security and which the ISF believes may link to terrorist activity.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

PA law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right in the West Bank. Trials are public, except when the court determines PA security, foreign relations, a party’s or witness’ right to privacy, protection of a victim of a sexual offense, or an “honor crime” requires privacy. If a court orders a session closed, the decision may be appealed to a higher PA court. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to prompt and detailed information regarding the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. AI reported that PA political and judicial authorities sometimes failed to adhere to basic due process rights, including promptly charging suspects. PA law provides for legal representation, at public expense if necessary, in felony cases during the trial phase. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner during the trial, although during the investigation phase, the defendant only has the right to observe. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Suspects and defendants in the PA justice system have a right to remain silent when interrogated by the prosecutor according to the law. Defendants also have a legal right to counsel during interrogation and trial. They have the right to appeal. PA authorities generally observed these rights.

To address case backlogs, the PA piloted new processing techniques in public prosecutors’ offices (PPOs) in six of 11 governorates in the West Bank. From January 2016, when the PA began collecting statistics, until August, PA case backlogs (that is, misdemeanor case processing over three months, or felony processing over six months) declined by an average of 49.5 percent in the PPOs in the Ramallah, Jericho, Salfit, Bethlehem, Tulkarem, and Nablus Governorates.

Hamas authorities in Gaza followed the same criminal procedure law as the PA in the West Bank but implemented the procedures inconsistently.

Israeli authorities tried Israelis living in West Bank settlements under Israeli civil law in the nearest Israeli district court. Israeli military trials were provided for Palestinians in the West Bank. In Jerusalem both Israeli and Palestinian residents were subject to civil law proceedings. The same evidentiary rules used in Israeli criminal cases apply in both Israeli military and civilian proceedings; for example, Israeli authorities cannot base convictions solely on confessions. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials, but almost all detainees had counsel, in part because NGOs, such the Human Rights Defenders Fund funded their representation. Israeli military courts use Hebrew, but Palestinian defendants have the right to simultaneous interpretation at every hearing. Various human rights organizations claimed the availability and quality of Arabic interpretation was insufficient; most interpreters were bilingual Israelis performing mandatory military service. Defendants can appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and petition Israel’s HCJ. Israeli military courts rarely acquitted Palestinians charged with security offenses, although they occasionally reduced sentences on appeal.

Several NGOs, including ACRI and the MCW, claimed Israeli military courts were not equipped to adjudicate cases properly. NGOs and lawyers reported many Palestinian defendants elected to plead guilty and receive a reduced sentence rather than maintain innocence and go through a military trial that could last months, if not more than a year. Human rights lawyers also reported the structure of military trials–which take place in Israeli military facilities with Israeli military officers as judges, prosecutors, and court officials, and with tight security restrictions–limited Palestinian defendants’ rights to public trial and access to counsel.

The MCW reported that Israeli authorities continued to use confessions signed by Palestinian minors and written in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian minors could not read, as evidence against them in military courts. The MCW reported that 76 percent of Palestinian minors were shown or made to sign documentation written in Hebrew at the conclusion of their interrogation. PCATI reported that authorities coerced confessions during interrogations. Israeli authorities disputed these findings, asserting that interrogations of Palestinians took place only in Arabic and that authorities submitted no indictments based solely on a confession written in Hebrew.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

NGOs reported arrests of Palestinians on political grounds occurred in both the West Bank and Gaza. There was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners the PA held in the West Bank during the year.

In Gaza, Hamas allegedly detained several hundred persons because of political affiliation, public criticism of Hamas, or suspected collaboration with Israel and held them for varying periods. Observers associated numerous allegations of denial of due process with these detentions. The ICRC and NGOs had limited access to these prisoners.

The Palestinian NGO Addameer reported that Israel continued to hold PLC members in administrative detention without charges, most of whom had some affiliation with Hamas.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

A Palestinian resident of the West Bank can file suit against the PA, including on matters related to alleged abuses of human rights, but this was uncommon.

A Palestinian resident of Gaza can file suit against de facto Hamas authorities, including on matters related to alleged abuses of human rights, but this was also uncommon.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The Israeli government conducted multiple demolitions of Palestinian property in East Jerusalem and the West Bank on the basis of lack of permits, use of the property by the ISF, or as punishment. Israeli authorities pursued efforts through Israeli courts to demolish homes built by Palestinian Bedouin tribes in the West Bank villages of Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, among several others (see section 1.f.).

Israeli authorities sometimes charged demolition fees for demolishing a home; this at times prompted Palestinians to destroy their own homes to avoid the higher costs associated with Israeli demolition. Palestinians had difficulty verifying land ownership in Israeli courts, according to Israeli requirements for proof of land ownership.

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

The PA penal procedure code generally requires the PA attorney general to issue warrants for entry and searches of private property; however, PA judicial officers may enter Palestinian houses without a warrant in case of emergency. There were no specific reports the PA harassed family members for alleged offenses committed by an individual, although NGOs reported this tactic was common.

Hamas de facto authorities in Gaza frequently interfered arbitrarily with personal privacy, family, and home, according to reporting from local media and NGO sources. Hamas authorities reportedly searched homes and seized property without warrants. They targeted Palestinian journalists, Fatah loyalists, civil society members, youth activists, and those whom Hamas security forces accused of criminal activity. Hamas forces monitored private communications systems, including telephones, email, and social media sites. They demanded passwords and access to personal information and seized personal electronic equipment of detainees. While Hamas membership did not appear to be a prerequisite for obtaining housing, education, or government services in Gaza, authorities commonly reserved employment in some government positions, such as those in the security services, for Hamas members. In several instances Hamas detained individuals for interrogation and harassment, particularly prodemocracy youth activists, based on the purported actions of their family members.

The ISF frequently raided Palestinian homes, including in areas designated as areas under PA security control by Oslo-era accords, according to media and PA officials. These raids often took place at night, which the ISF stated was due to operational necessity. Under Israeli occupation orders, only ISF officers of lieutenant colonel rank and above can authorize entry into Palestinian private homes and institutions in the West Bank without a warrant, based upon military necessity.

In the West Bank and Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem like Beit Hanina, Silwan, Shuafat, Wadi al-Joz, Sheikh Jarrah, Issawiya, Jabal al-Mukabber, and Sur Bahir, the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense; the Jerusalem municipality; and the Ministry of Interior continued to demolish homes, cisterns, and other buildings and property constructed by Palestinians in areas under Israeli civil control on the basis that these buildings lacked Israeli planning licenses. Properties close to the security barrier, ISF military installations, or firing ranges also remained subject to a heightened threat of demolition or confiscation. Demolition operations by the Israeli authorities focused on three major regions: the South Hebron Hills, the Ma’ale Adumim area, and the Jordan Valley. According to UNOCHA, as of October, the number of demolitions and seizures in Area C had declined compared with the record highs in 2016, but demolitions in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem continued at nearly the same rates recorded in 2016, which were the highest since 2000.

Organizations such as UNOCHA, Ir Amim, and Peace Now expressed concern at the high rate of demolitions of Palestinian structures in Jerusalem. As of September 30, the ICA destroyed 39 structures in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of Jerusalem, displacing 126 Palestinians and affecting many more. In both Jerusalem and the West Bank, the ICA targeted commercial structures and infrastructure in addition to residences. In August the ICA seized six caravans used as classrooms in the Palestinian community of Jubbet ad Dhib, in the Bethlehem governorate. The ICA also seized two solar panel systems in the Palestinian communities of Jabal al-Baba and Abu Nuwar, in the Jerusalem governorate. In a majority of demolitions in Area C, the ICA claimed that structures lacked Israeli building permits or were illegally located in a closed military zone (large parts of Area C were declared closed military zones after 1967).

The ISF continued punitive demolitions of the homes of the families of Palestinians implicated in attacks against Israelis. As of October 8, Israeli authorities partially or fully demolished five family homes of Palestinians who had carried out attacks on Israelis since 2014. These actions often also rendered other dwellings near the demolished homes uninhabitable. Punitive demolitions displaced 36 Palestinians, including 19 children, according to the United Nations. NGOs such as AI, HRW, and several Palestinian and Israeli NGOs widely criticized punitive demolitions as collective punishment. The Israeli government asserted such demolitions have a deterrent effect on would-be assailants.

On August 10, Israeli authorities demolished three homes in the Palestinian community of Deir Abu Mashaal, near Ramallah. The homes belonged to the families of the Palestinians who killed an Israeli border police officer in an attack near the Old City’s Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on June 16.

The Israeli government advanced efforts to demolish Palestinian homes in the West Bank Area C villages of Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, both located near Israeli settlements. Khan al-Ahmar is a 145-person Bedouin community in E-1, an area that territorially connects Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. On March 5, the ICA changed 42 stop-work orders issued against 42 Khan al-Ahmar structures to demolition orders. These 42 structures comprised the entire village. All were built without ICA building permits (residents are not able to receive permits, as the Israeli government has not approved a master plan for the area). On September 13, ICA representatives entered Khan al-Ahmar and proposed the community evacuate and relocate to an ICA-built Jabal West transfer site about five miles away. In documents provided to the Israeli High Court, the ICA said it planned to move the Khan al-Ahmar residents and demolish the village in April 2018. The case continued at year’s end. Separately, the ICA proposed in 2016 that Palestinian residents of the Area C village of Susiya move to an area bordering PA-controlled Area A. Israeli residents of a nearby settlement continued to advocate that the ICA carry out demolition orders in Susiya. In August 2016 the Israeli High Court ordered the Israeli government to submit its position on the evacuation of the village and the government’s proposed demolition of 30 Palestinian houses. On November 22, the Israeli government submitted its position to the HCJ, stating its intent to demolish 20 structures–approximately 20 percent of the community. The case continued at year’s end.

Palestinians and human rights NGOs such as Yesh Din reported the ISF were largely unresponsive to Israeli settlers’ actions against Palestinians in the West Bank, including destruction of Palestinian property and agriculture (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal under PA law, but the legal definition does not address spousal rape. Punishment for rape is five to 15 years in prison. PA law (which applies both in the West Bank and in Gaza) relieves rapists who marry their victim of criminal responsibility. PA and de facto Hamas authorities generally did not enforce laws pertaining to rape effectively in the West Bank or Gaza. In previous years there were reports police treated rape as a social and not a criminal matter, and that authorities released some accused rapists after they apologized to their victims.

PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, but assault and battery are crimes. PA and de facto Hamas authorities did not enforce the law effectively in domestic violence cases in the West Bank and Gaza. NGOs reported Palestinian women were frequently unwilling to report cases of violence or abuse to PA or Hamas de facto authorities due to fear of retribution. HRW in previous years reported that PA authorities prosecuted few domestic violence cases successfully. According to the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics, domestic violence, especially psychological violence, was common in the West Bank and Gaza.

The mandate of the PA Ministry of Women’s Affairs is to promote women’s rights. The ministry worked in the West Bank to highlight the challenges Palestinian women faced in coordination with public institutions, NGOs, and the private sector, as well as international and regional organizations.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law precludes “family honor” as protection for perpetrators in “honor killing” crimes, although some NGOs argued the law was not sufficiently enforced. NGOs reported 28 documented reports of honor killings in 2015 in the West Bank and Gaza but expressed concern about underreporting, based on how PA police documented allegations in the West Bank, and due to lack of information on the situation in Gaza.

Sexual Harassment: No PA law specifically relates to sexual harassment, which was a significant and widespread problem in the West Bank and Gaza. Some women claimed that when they reported harassment, authorities held them responsible for provoking men’s harassing behavior. Authorities in Gaza harassed women for “un-Islamic” behavior, including being in public after dark and walking with an unrelated man.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: While PA law provides for equality of the sexes, it discriminates against women. Women can inherit, but not as much as men. Men may marry more than one wife. Women may add conditions to marriage contracts to protect their interests in the event of divorce and child custody disputes, but rarely did so. Local officials sometimes advised such women to leave their communities to avoid harassment.

Hamas enforced a conservative interpretation of Islam in Gaza that discriminated against women. Authorities generally prohibited public mixing of the sexes. Plainclothes officers routinely stopped, separated, and questioned couples to determine if they were married. In Gaza premarital sex was considered a crime punishable by imprisonment. Hamas’s “morality police” punished women for behavior they deemed inappropriate such as riding motorcycles, smoking cigarettes or water pipes, leaving their hair uncovered, and dressing “inappropriately” in Western-style or close-fitting clothing such as jeans or T-shirts. Women in refugee camps in Gaza stated they felt unsafe using public bathing and latrine facilities.

PA labor law states that work is the right of every capable citizen; however, it regulates the work of women, preventing them from employment in dangerous occupations.

According to press and NGO reports, in some instances teachers in Hamas-run schools in Gaza sent girls home for not wearing conservative attire, although enforcement was not systematic.

Children

Birth Registration: The PA registers Palestinians born in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Israel requires the PA to transmit this information to the ICA. The PA cannot determine citizenship. Children of Palestinian parents can receive a Palestinian identity card issued by the ICA, if they are born in the West Bank or Gaza to a parent who holds a Palestinian identity card. The PA Ministry of Interior and the ICA both play a role in determining a person’s eligibility for that card.

Israel registers the births of Palestinians born in Jerusalem, although Palestinian residents of Jerusalem sometimes reported years-long delays in that process.

Education: Education in PA-controlled areas of the West Bank is compulsory from age six through the ninth grade (approximately 16 years old). Education is available to all West Bank Palestinians without cost through high school.

In Gaza primary education is not universal. UNRWA, de facto Hamas authorities, religious institutions, and private foundations all provided instruction. In addition to the PA curriculum, UNRWA provided specialized classes on human rights, conflict resolution, and tolerance. There were reports Hamas offered courses on military training in its schools during youth summer camps, to which school-age children could apply for admission.

Some Jerusalem school administrators said ISF activities on campuses adversely affected students and faculty. On October 23, the Parents’ Committee of schools in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Issawiyeh suspended school attendance in response to the presence of Israeli Border Police adjacent to school grounds. In the West Bank, Palestinian government officials and Palestinian university officials accused the ISF of disrupting university campuses, especially in areas close to Israeli settlements. Officials from the al-Quds University’s Abu Dis campus in the West Bank continued to accuse Israeli soldiers of harassing Palestinian university students on campus and attempting to provoke students. There were occasional low-level skirmishes near the entrance to al-Quds University between the IDF and youths unaffiliated with the university.

Israeli restrictions on construction in Area C of the West Bank affected Palestinian students’ access to education. In August and September, three primary schools or kindergartens were demolished or had their equipment confiscated, affecting 132 Palestinian children, according to UN reports. At least 56 Palestinian schools in Area C of the West Bank were subject to pending demolition or stop-work orders.

The Israeli High Court ordered the Jerusalem Municipality in 2011 to correct the deficit of school classrooms in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of Jerusalem by the 2016-17 school year. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Palestinian classroom deficit in Jerusalem has grown since 2011: The annual construction rate in schools serving Jerusalem’s Palestinian children was 37 classrooms per year, while the growth rate of the Palestinian student population required an additional 70 classrooms per year. The Jerusalem Municipality announced a plan for the 2017-18 school year that included an increase of 105 first grade classrooms within five years and 20 classrooms per year in secondary schools.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was reportedly widespread. PA law prohibits violence against children; however, PA authorities and de facto authorities in Gaza rarely punished perpetrators of family violence.

Israeli security forces reportedly committed violence against Palestinian children in military custody and during arrest (see section 1.c.) in the West Bank and near the Gaza Strip buffer zone, according to MCW, Hamoked, and UN reports.

Doctors Without Borders reported the number of Palestinian children with posttraumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders, including depression, increased in recent years. The organization attributed a majority of the cases to trauma experienced during Israeli military incursions or to settler violence.

Early and Forced Marriage: PA law defines the minimum age for marriage as 18; however, Islamic law allows persons as young as 15 years old to marry. Child marriage did not appear to be widespread in the West Bank and Gaza, according to NGOs including the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The PA considers statutory rape a felony, based on the Jordanian penal code. Punishment for rape of a victim less than age 15 includes a minimum sentence of seven years. In Gaza, under the rule of de facto Hamas authorities, suspects convicted of rape of a victim less than age 14 are eligible for the death penalty. There were reports that societal norms led to underreporting to the de facto authorities in Gaza of sexual exploitation of children.

Child Soldiers: There were reports Hamas trained children as combatants.

Displaced Children: Conflict and demolition orders (see section 2.d.) displaced Palestinian children in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem.

Anti-Semitism

Israeli settlements in the West Bank had approximately 400,000 Jewish residents. The Jewish population in Gaza, aside from foreign nationals, was nonexistent. Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem had an estimated 207,000 Jewish residents.

Some Palestinians and Muslim religious leaders used anti-Semitic rhetoric and engaged in Holocaust denial. Anti-Israel sentiment was widespread in public discourse and sometimes crossed the line into anti-Semitism, including expressions of longing for a world without Israel and glorification of terror attacks on Israelis. During times of heightened tensions between Israeli authorities and Palestinians, Palestinian press and social media sometimes circulated cartoons encouraging such attacks.

At times the PA failed to condemn incidents of anti-Semitic expression in official PA media outlets.

In Gaza and the West Bank, there were instances in which media outlets, particularly outlets controlled by Hamas, published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content, sometimes amounting to incitement to violence.

Trafficking in Persons

No PA law specifically prohibits trafficking in persons, and small numbers of Palestinian children and adults reportedly experienced forced labor in both the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in Jerusalem, where Israeli law applies.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination due to a permanent or partial disability in physical, psychological, or mental capabilities. It does not mandate access to buildings, information, or communications. The ICHR reported a lack of accessible transportation in Palestinian areas across the West Bank. UNRWA’s policy is to provide accessibility in all new structures in refugee camps. The disability rights NGO Bizchut reported a lack of accessible transportation services in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

Palestinians with disabilities continued to receive inconsistent and poor-quality services and care. The PA in the West Bank and de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza partially depended on UN agencies and NGOs to care for persons with physical disabilities, and both offered substandard care for persons with mental disabilities. Palestinians in Gaza reported little to no infrastructure accommodations for persons with mobility disabilities, as well as difficulty in importing wheelchairs and other mobility aids due to Israeli authorities’ control of goods transiting border crossings into Gaza.

There were reports that Palestinian detainees deemed mentally disabled or a threat to themselves or others were placed in isolation without a full medical evaluation by Israeli authorities. According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Israeli isolation of Palestinian prisoners with mental disabilities was common.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to UNOCHA, an estimated 27,500 Palestinian Bedouin lived in Area C of the West Bank. Many were UNRWA-registered refugees. Bedouins were often resident in areas designated by Israel as closed military zones or planned for settlement expansion. Demolition and forced displacement by the Israeli government of Bedouin and herding communities continued in Area C. Many of these communities lacked access to water, health care, education, and other basic services.

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

PA law, based on the 1960 Jordanian penal code, prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity. The PA did not prosecute individuals suspected of such activity. Societal discrimination based on cultural and religious traditions was commonplace, making the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem challenging environments for Palestinian lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. In February the Palestinian attorney general confiscated a book that allegedly contained references of a homosexual nature. Some Palestinians claimed PA security officers and neighbors harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested LGBTI individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported Hamas also harassed and detained persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While the PA Ministry of Health provided treatment and privacy protections for patients with HIV/AIDS, societal discrimination against affected individuals in the West Bank was common. Anecdotal evidence suggested societal discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients was also very common in Gaza.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

UNOCHA, Yesh Din, and other NGOs reported numerous attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians and their property in the West Bank, undermining the livelihoods and physical security of Palestinians. The attacks included Israeli settler violence against Palestinian residents and NGO workers. Some Israeli settlers reportedly used violence against Palestinians to keep them away from land settlers sought to acquire. The number of settler attacks perpetrated against Palestinians increased for the first time in three years, according to UNOCHA. As of August, UNOCHA identified 89 incidents of settler violence since January that resulted in Palestinian fatalities, injuries, or property damage, representing an 88-percent increase in the monthly average compared with 2016.

Various human rights groups, including Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, and B’Tselem, continued to claim Israeli authorities insufficiently investigated and rarely prosecuted settler violence. Some groups attributed this circumstance in part to the ICA’s neglect of Palestinian complaints. Palestinian residents were reportedly reluctant to report incidents due to fears of settler retaliation and were discouraged by a lack of accountability in most cases. Yesh Din stated that of 1,200 investigations into settler violence since 2005, only 3 percent resulted in convictions.

According to Israeli media reports, Israeli middle school students hiking near the West Bank Area C Palestinian village of Qusra on November 30 were approached by a group of Palestinians who harassed the child hikers and their adult chaperones, threw rocks at them, and assaulted them. The timing and route of the hike had been previously cleared with the IDF. The adults split up, one going for help and the other guiding the children to a cave for protection. According to multiple media reports, one Israeli chaperone fired a weapon in self-defense, killing a Palestinian resident of Qusra who was farming his land nearby, 48-year-old Mahmoud Za’al Odeh. The IDF arrived and escorted the children and chaperones to safety.

Palestinian residents of the West Bank claimed settlers perpetrated hit-and-run attacks against Palestinian pedestrians, although in most cases the circumstances were unclear. On August 26, an Israeli settler vehicle struck and killed an eight-year-old Palestinian girl. PA medical sources said the vehicle struck the girl near the Furush Beit Dajan village in Nablus, but Israeli police contended the vehicle hit her on Route 90 in the Jordan Valley. On April 20, an Israeli settler vehicle injured a Palestinian teenager on a road in Teqoua east of Bethlehem and then fled; the teenager suffered moderate injuries.

Many incidents involved Israeli settlers trespassing onto Palestinian-owned land and damaging land and crops. In January, six settler youths from the Geulat Tzion outpost near Shilo entered Palestinian-owned olive groves in Turmus Ayya, threw stones at the farmers who were plowing their fields, and sprayed graffiti with the word “revenge.” Israeli settler attacks on olive trees, on which many rural Palestinians rely for their livelihoods, remained common. During the annual olive harvest in the West Bank in October-November, NGO Rabbis for Human Rights documented 19 cases of settler intimidation and violence or damage to harvests. On October 22, settlers from Adei Ad stole olives from 200 trees of the grove of Jamil Nassan in the Palestinian village of al-Mughayyer, northeast of Ramallah. His harvest has been stolen annually for several years.

“Price tag” attacks (property crimes and violent acts by extremist Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians) continued.

In May the Israeli Central District Attorney’s Office indicted three Israeli suspects for vandalizing several Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and cars in the Arab village of Naura, located near the Israeli city of Nazareth. The trial continued throughout the year without reaching a verdict.

Harassment and attacks against Palestinians in Jerusalem by extremist Jewish groups reportedly increased. The Jewish organization Lehava continued to protest social relationships between Jews and Palestinians, made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements, and reportedly assaulted Palestinians in West Jerusalem. On October 22, authorities remanded Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein to house arrest following allegations he made threats against Arabs romantically involved with Jewish women. The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court sentenced Gopstein to five days’ house arrest. Media reported that of the 14 other members of the antiassimilation group arrested at the same time, two had their remand extended by two days, and authorities allowed the others to return home.

Access to social and commercial services in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including housing, education, and health care, was available only to Israelis. Israeli officials discriminated against Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem regarding access to employment and legal housing by denying Palestinians access to registration paperwork. In both the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israeli authorities often placed insurmountable obstacles against Palestinian applicants for construction permits, including the requirement that they document land ownership despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, the imposition of high application fees, and requirements that new housing be connected to often-unavailable municipal works.

According to B’Tselem, in 2000 Israel began curtailing the Palestinian population registry by denying paperwork to Palestinians and effectively declaring some Palestinians illegal residents. Some Palestinians defined as illegal residents faced harassment, arrest, or deportation to Gaza.

The World Bank reported that Palestinians in the West Bank suffered water shortages and purchased approximately one-half of their domestic water supply from Israel. Oslo-era agreements limited the amount of water Palestinians can draw from West Bank aquifers. According to AI, Palestinians received an average of eight gallons less than the World Health Organization’s prescribed minimum daily water supply to maintain basic hygiene standards and food security. Political and fiscal constraints limited the PA’s ability to improve water network management and efficiency, including the requirement for Israeli approval to implement water-related projects and the PA’s lack of authority to prevent theft from the network in Area C, as well as the PA’s own management problems.

The Israeli military continued to destroy Palestinian water cisterns, some of which donor countries had funded for humanitarian purposes. The Israeli military also destroyed unlicensed Palestinian agricultural wells, particularly in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank, claiming they depleted aquifer resources.

Palestinians living within the boundaries of the Jerusalem Municipality, but cut off from the rest of the city by the security barrier, reported that the municipality failed to provide basic services, including water, policing, and infrastructure.

Organizations such as UNOCHA, Bimkom, and Ir Amim alleged that Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies aimed at decreasing the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Israeli government-sponsored construction of new housing units in East Jerusalem’s Israeli settlements continued, while building permits were difficult to obtain for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Authorities demolished homes built by Palestinian residents without the legal permits they were unable to obtain, or for which they did not apply due to the high costs, extensive wait period, and minimal chance of obtaining the permit in the end. The Israeli NGOs Bimkom and Ir Amim stated that Palestinians in East Jerusalem continued to face barriers to purchasing property or obtaining building permits. Israeli authorities generally zoned land owned or populated by Palestinians for low residential growth. Authorities designated approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli settlements. Palestinians were able in some cases to rent Israeli-owned property, but they were generally unable to purchase property in an Israeli neighborhood. Israeli NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli settlements, Israeli government property and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for Palestinian construction.

The Israeli government and Jewish organizations in Jerusalem made efforts to increase Israeli property ownership or emphasize Jewish history in predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Jewish landowners and their descendants, or land trusts representing the families, were entitled to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949, but Palestinians who abandoned property in West Jerusalem during fighting in the same period had no reciprocal right to stake their legal claim to the property. Private Jewish organizations in Jerusalem acquired legal ownership of reclaimed Jewish property in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City, and sought to evict Palestinian families living there through protracted judicial action. According to UNOCHA, as of August, at least 260 Palestinians living in 24 residential buildings in East Jerusalem were under threat of eviction.

Although Israeli law entitles Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to full and equal services provided by the municipality and other Israeli authorities, the Jerusalem Municipality failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem. According to ACRI, 76 percent of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents and 83 percent of Palestinian children in East Jerusalem lived in poverty–an increase from 2016. There was a chronic shortage of classrooms in the official school system serving Palestinian children, despite commitments made by Israeli authorities and a high court ruling that the Jerusalem municipality must close the gap of missing classrooms for Palestinian students by year’s end. Authorities largely segregated bus services in Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians. Light-rail service completed in 2010 served both Palestinian and Israeli populations, and of the 24 stops on the light rail, five were in or near Palestinian neighborhoods. The Jerusalem municipality continued not to operate the light-rail stop in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shu’fat. Palestinian youth periodically threw rocks at trains in Shu’fat and caused minor damage.

Nigeria

Executive Summary

Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). In 2015 citizens elected President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party to a four-year term in the first successful democratic transfer of power from a sitting president in the country’s history.

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 (ISIS-WA) continued. The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets that resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of approximately 1.8 million persons, and external displacement of an estimated 205,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries, principally Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial and arbitrary killings; disappearances and arbitrary detentions; torture, particularly in detention facilities, including sexual exploitation and abuse; use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting and sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; early and forced marriages; criminalization of status and same-sex sexual conduct based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and forced and bonded labor.

The government took steps to investigate alleged abuses but fewer steps to prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. The government did not adequately investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.

The Borno State government provided financial and in-kind resources to some members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a self-defense group that coordinated and at times aligned with the military to prevent attacks against civilian populations by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. Human rights organizations and press reporting charged the CJTF with committing human rights violations. The government took limited steps to investigate and punish CJTF members who committed human rights abuses. There were no reports of criminal investigation into members of the military or armed groups who were previously alleged to have used children in support roles or who continued to do so.

Boko Haram’s numerous attacks often targeted civilians. The group, which recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers, carried out scores of suicide bombings–many by young women and girls forced into doing so–and other attacks on population centers in the Northeast and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Abductions by Boko Haram continued. The group subjected many abducted women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages and rape. The government investigated attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA and took some steps to prosecute their members, although the majority of suspected insurgent group supporters were held in military custody without charge.

In its response to Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacks, and at times in response to crime and insecurity in general, security service personnel perpetrated extrajudicial killings and engaged in torture, sexual exploitation and abuse, arbitrary detention, mistreatment of detainees, use of children by some security elements, looting, and destruction of property. The country also suffered from ethnic, regional, and religious violence.

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 the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. The national police, army, and other security services used lethal and excessive force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects and committed other extrajudicial killings. Authorities generally did not hold police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths generally did not make their findings public. In August the acting president convened a civilian-led presidential investigative panel to review compliance of the armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement. As of November the panel had not issued a report.

In September the military reportedly clashed with supporters of the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, a secessionist group, in Abia State during military exercises. These clashes allegedly resulted in injuries to some protestors and the death of at least one police officer. Human rights groups expressed concern regarding the response and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) urged the military to respect its rules of engagement and stated it would investigate allegations of human rights abuses.

As of November the government had not adequately investigated or held police or military personnel accountable for extrajudicial killings of supporters of IPOB movement in 2016. Amnesty International (AI) reported that security forces killed at least 150 IPOB members or supporters and arbitrarily arrested hundreds from August 2015 to August 2016. The Nigerian Army (NA) reportedly investigated the incidents as part of a broader Board of Inquiry (BOI), but its full report was not made public. There have been no reports of discipline or prosecution of police or military personnel.

As of November there were no reports of the federal government further investigating or holding individuals accountable for the 2015 killing and subsequent mass burial of members of the Shia group Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and other civilians by NA forces in Zaria, Kaduna State. The federal government had indicated it would wait for the results of a Kaduna State judicial commission of inquiry before taking further action to investigate or hold those responsible to account. In July 2016 the government of Kaduna made public the commission’s nonbinding report, which found the NA used “excessive and disproportionate” force during the 2015 altercations in which 348 IMN members and one soldier died. The commission recommended the federal government conduct an independent investigation and prosecute anyone found to have acted unlawfully. It also called for the proscription of the IMN and the monitoring of its members and their activities. In December 2016 the government of Kaduna State published a white paper that included acceptance of the commission’s recommendation to investigate and prosecute allegations of excessive and disproportionate use of force by the NA. As of November, however, there was no indication that authorities had held any members of the NA accountable for the events in Zaria. It also accepted the recommendation to hold IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky responsible for all illegal acts committed by IMN members during the altercations and in the preceding 30 years. In December 2016 a federal court declared the continued detention without charge of Zakzaky and his wife illegal and unconstitutional. The court ordered their immediate and unconditional release but gave authorities 45 days to carry it out, reasoning that the government needed that time to provide the couple with a dwelling to replace the one destroyed following the 2015 Zaria incidents. As of November the federal government had not complied with this order and Zakzaky and his spouse remained in detention. As of November more than 200 imprisoned IMN members awaited trial on charges of conspiracy and culpable homicide.

In January the air force mistakenly bombed an informal Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) settlement in Rann, Borno State, which resulted in the killing and injuring of more than 100 civilians and humanitarian workers. Army personnel were also injured. The government and military leaders publicly assumed responsibility for the strike and launched an investigation. The air force conducted its own internal investigation, but as of November the government had not made public its findings. No air force or army personnel were known to be held accountable for their role in the event.

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

b. Disappearance

In August, AI issued a report on the International Day of the Disappeared, calling on the government to investigate several unexplained disappearances, including the reported disappearances of more than 600 members of the IMN, more than 200 pro-Biafra protesters in the Southeast, and an unknown number of individuals in the Northeast where Boko Haram had been active.

According to AI, in August 2016 armed men in a sport utility vehicle bearing government license plates abducted pro-Biafra activist Sunday Chucks Obasi outside his home in Amuko Nnewi, Anambra State. In response to inquiries by his family, police in Anambra stated Obasi was not in their custody. In April, AI reported Obasi had been held incommunicado by the Department of State Services (DSS) and stated he was tortured during interrogation concerning the IPOB movement. In December 2016 he was released and charged with obstructing DSS officials. His trial was pending at year’s end.

Criminal groups abducted civilians in the Niger Delta and the Southeast, often to collect ransom payments. There was also an increase in maritime kidnappings as militants turned to piracy and related crimes to support themselves. On February 8, for example, pirates boarded a cargo ship off the coast of Bayelsa State, kidnapping seven Russians and one Ukrainian on board. The pirates reportedly released the sailors after the parent company paid a ransom.

Other parts of the country experienced a significant number of abductions. Prominent and wealthy figures were often targets of abduction. For example, in May a member of the House of Representatives from Kano State, Garba Durbunde, was kidnapped on the Abuja-Kaduna highway. According to press reports, he was released after paying a ransom.

Boko Haram conducted large-scale abductions in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe 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. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), passed in 2015, 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 ACJA for the legislation to apply beyond the FCT and federal agencies. As of November only the states of Anambra, Cross Rivers, Ekiti, Enugu, Lagos, Ondo, and Oyo had adopted ACJA-compliant legislation. In July both houses of the National Assembly passed an antitorture bill, which was waiting for the president’s signature.

The Ministry of Justice previously established a National Committee against Torture (NCAT). Lack of legal and operational independence and lack of funding, however, prevented NCAT from carrying out its work effectively.

The law prohibits the introduction into trials of evidence and confessions obtained through torture. Authorities did not respect this prohibition, however, and police often used torture to extract confessions later used to try suspects. Police also repeatedly mistreated civilians to extort money.

In September 2016 AI reported police officers in the Special Antirobbery Squad (SARS) regularly tortured detainees in custody as a means of extracting confessions and bribes. For example, SARS officers in Enugu State reportedly beat one victim with machetes and heavy sticks, releasing him only after payment of 25,500 naira ($81). In response to AI’s findings, the inspector general of police reportedly admonished SARS commanders and announced broad reforms to correct SARS units’ failures to follow due process and their use of excessive force Allegations of widespread abuse by SARS officers, however, continued throughout the year. In response to videos showing apparent abuse of civilians by SARS officers, a social media campaign developed and demanded SARS units be disbanded. In December the inspector general of police responded by announcing plans to reorganize–but not to disband–SARS units. At year’s end it was unclear what form the purported reorganization would take.

Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international human rights groups accused the security services of illegal detention, inhuman treatment, and torture of demonstrators, criminal suspects, militants, detainees, and prisoners. Military and police reportedly used a wide range of torture methods, including beatings, shootings, nail and tooth extractions, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. According to reports, security services committed rape and other forms of violence against women and girls, often with impunity. As of September the government apparently had not held any responsible officials to account for reported incidents of torture in detention facilities in the Northeast, including Giwa Barracks.

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 often taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees.

The sharia courts in 12 northern states may prescribe punishments such as caning, amputation, 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. Authorities, however, often did not carry out caning, amputation, and stoning sentences passed by sharia courts because defendants frequently appealed, a process that could be 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 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.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Prisoners and detainees reportedly were subjected to torture, gross overcrowding, inadequate medical care, food and water shortages, and other abuses; some of these conditions resulted in deaths. The government often 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 June they held 68,259 prisoners. Approximately 68 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention or remanded. As of January there were 1,225 female inmates. Authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. In 2013 the Nigerian Prison Service (NPS) reported there were 847 juvenile inmates in juvenile detention centers, but prison authorities often held juvenile suspects with adults.

Prisoners and detainees were reportedly subjected to extrajudicial execution, torture, gross overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, deliberate and incidental exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to wholly inadequate sanitary conditions that could result in death. Guards and prison officials 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.

Most of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old and lacked basic facilities. Lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, and severe overcrowding resulted in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Disease remained pervasive in cramped, poorly ventilated prison facilities, which had chronic shortages of medical supplies. Inadequate medical treatment caused many prisoners to die from treatable illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. In April the Lagos State Controller of Prisons stated that 32 inmates died in 2016 in a single Lagos prison due to lack of access to medical care. The House of Representatives confirmed that more than 900 inmates died in prisons across the country in 2016 due to severe lack of drugs and health care. 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.

Only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food. Prison officials routinely stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates often relied on handouts from others to survive. Prison officials, police, and other security force personnel often denied inmates food and medical treatment to punish them or extort money.

In general, prisons had no facilities to care for pregnant women or nursing mothers. Although the law prohibits the imprisonment of children, minors–many of whom were born in prison–lived in the prisons. The NGO Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE)-Nigeria reported children in some cases remained with their inmate mothers up to at least age six. While the total number of children living in prison with their mothers was unknown, CURE-Nigeria’s April survey of 198 of the country’s approximately 1,225 women inmates found more than 30 women with children in just three prisons. Approximately 10 percent of survey respondents reported they were pregnant. Results of surveys of women and children in prisons conducted by CURE-Nigeria revealed many children in custody did not receive routine immunizations, and authorities made few provisions to accommodate their physical needs, to include hygiene items, proper bedding, proper food, and recreation areas. According to its March 2016 report, female inmates largely relied on charitable organizations to obtain hygiene items.

Generally prisons made few efforts to provide mental health services or other accommodations to prisoners with mental disabilities (see section 6).

Several unofficial military prisons reported by domestic and international human rights groups–including the Giwa Barracks facility in Maiduguri, Borno State–operated (see section 1.g.). In May 2016 AI reported that at least 149 individuals, including 12 children and babies, had died since January 2016 at Giwa Barracks. According to the report, overcrowding coupled with disease and inadequate access to food and water were the most likely causes of the increase in mortality at the installation. The military reportedly detained many of those at Giwa Barracks during arbitrary mass arrests based on random profiling rather than reasonable suspicion of supporting Boko Haram. The military publicly denied the findings of the report but worked with UNICEF, and by October 2016 had released 876 children from the facility. Subsequently in April, 484 persons were released from Giwa to a rehabilitation center run by the Borno State government. In October, 752 persons were released from Giwa, the total reportedly comprising 626 women and girls, 69 boys, and 57 elderly men. It was unclear following the releases how many other children or adults remained in detention at Giwa Barracks or other unofficial detention facilities. In addition, according to press and NGO reporting, the military arrested and remanded to military detention facilities persons suspected of associations with Boko Haram or ISIS-WA.

In 2014 AI reported the mass extrajudicial executions of more than 600 recaptured prisoners at Giwa Barracks following an escape attempt. In 2013 AI had revealed the existence of previously unknown military detention facilities in the Northeast–including Giwa Barracks, and the Sector Alpha (also called “Guantanamo”) and Presidential Lodge (also called “the Guardroom”) facilities in Damaturu, Yobe State. According to AI the military subjected detainees to inhuman and degrading treatment; hundreds allegedly died due to extrajudicial killings, beatings, torture, or starvation. According to army statements to the press, its internal BOI investigated these allegations. As of September the full BOI report had not been made public and no one had been held accountable.

Administration: While prison authorities allowed visitors within a scheduled timeframe, few visits occurred, largely due to lack of family resources and travel distances.

The ACJA 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.

The NHRC conducts prison audits. Despite an expressed willingness and ability to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions, however, the NHRC has not publicly released an audit report since 2012. Through its Legal Aid Council, the Ministry of Justice reportedly provided some monitoring of prisons through the Federal Government Prison Decongestion Program.

Independent Monitoring: There was limited monitoring of prisons by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross had access to police detention and NPS facilities. Both the committee and UNICEF were also able to visit some military detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, police and security services employed these practices. According to numerous reports, since 2013 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 often failed to follow due process and arrested suspects without appropriate arrest and search warrants.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police Force (NPF) is the country’s largest law enforcement agency. An inspector general of police, appointed by and reporting directly to the president, commands the NPF. In addition to traditional police responsibilities of maintaining law and order in communities in each of the states and the FCT, the inspector general oversees law enforcement operations throughout the country involving border security, marine (navigation) matters, and counterterrorism. A state commissioner of police, nominated by the inspector general and approved by the state governor, commands NPF forces in each of the states and the FCT. Although administratively controlled by the inspector general, operationally the state commissioner reports to the governor. In the event of societal violence or emergencies, such as endemic terrorist activity or national disasters requiring deployment of law enforcement resources, the governor may also assume operational control of these forces.

The DSS is responsible for internal security and reports to the president through the national security adviser. Several other federal organizations have law enforcement components, such as the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, and federal courts.

Due to the inability of law enforcement agencies to control societal violence, the government increasingly turned to the armed forces to address internal security concerns. 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 in the Niger Delta, Middle Belt, and Northwest.

The police, DSS, and military reported to civilian authorities but periodically acted outside civilian control. The government lacked effective mechanisms and sufficient political will to investigate and punish security force abuse and corruption. Police and the military remained susceptible to corruption, committed human rights abuses, and operated with widespread impunity in the apprehension, illegal detention, torture, and extrajudicial execution of suspects. The NPF Public Complaint and Rapid Response Unit reported dismissals of low-level police officers following public complaints of extortion. 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 according to the Armed Forces Act. In March 2016 the army announced the creation of a human rights desk to investigate complaints of human rights violations brought by civilians, although as of November few investigations had formally commenced and reportedly none led to accountability.

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 often 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 many instances government and security officials did not adhere to this regulation without being bribed. 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 frequently 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. Police routinely 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 often set exceedingly stringent bail conditions. In many areas with no functioning bail system, suspects remained incarcerated indefinitely in investigative detention. 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 often demanded additional payment.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arbitrarily arrested numerous persons during the year, although the number remained unknown. In the Northeast the military and members of vigilante groups, such as the CJTF, rounded up individuals during mass arrests, often without evidence.

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 NPS figures released in March, 69 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. In many cases multiple adjournments resulted in years-long delays. Many detainees had their cases adjourned because the NPF and the NPS did not have vehicles to transport them to court. Some persons remained in detention because authorities lost their case files.

Detainee’s 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, underfunding, inefficiency, and corruption prevented the judiciary from functioning adequately. Judges frequently failed to appear for trials. In addition the salaries of court officials ware low, and they 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. Citizens encountered long delays and received 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 constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for “civil proceedings,” but they do not have the authority to compel participation by non-Muslims. Non-Muslims have the option to have their cases tried in the sharia courts if involved in civil disputes with Muslims.

The constitution is silent on the use of sharia courts for criminal cases. 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 November 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 law experts often advise them.

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 and resources. 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 absented himself or herself 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 denied terror suspects detained by the military their rights to legal representation, due process, and to be heard by a judicial authority. In October the government announced it had begun hearings in front of civilian judges at the Kainji military facility for approximately 1,670 detained persons and intended to do so for 651 held at Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri. Human rights groups generally welcomed the initiative as a step towards delivering justice for victims of Boko Haram, but raised serious concerns regarding potential due process violations of the accused. Groups expressed concerns regarding access to counsel, lack of supporting evidence, protections for witnesses and defendants, and the lack of transparency in the process. The proceedings were held behind closed doors, and it was unclear if the NHRC or any other group was allowed to monitor the hearings, raising serious questions concerning the fairness of the trials. According to a government statement, of the 575 suspects arraigned in the initial proceedings, 45 pled guilty to various charges and were sentenced to between three and 31 years in prison; 468 persons were ordered to undergo a deradicalization and rehabilitation program before being released; 34 cases were dismissed; and 28 cases were remanded for trial in civilian courts elsewhere in the country.

By common law 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 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, however, provided women some benefits, including increased access to divorce, child custody, and alimony.

Military courts tried only military personnel, but their judgments could be appealed to civilian courts. Members of the military are subject to the Armed Forces Act regarding civil and criminal matters. 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 a four-member 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

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees. Persons arrested in previous years for alleged treason remained in detention at year’s end.

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, exerted influence and pressure in civil cases. Official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process. 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 violation, but the decisions of civil courts were difficult to enforce.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference, but authorities infringed on this right during the year, and police entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. There were reports of warrantless arrests of young men in the Niger Delta region on suspicion of having links with militant groups. In their pursuit of corruption cases, law enforcement agencies reportedly carried out searches and arrests without warrants.

State and local governments forcibly evicted thousands of residents and demolish their homes, generally without sufficient notice or alternative compensation, and sometimes in violation of court orders. In March and April, for example, the Lagos State Government demolished houses in Otodo Gbame, a fishing village along the Lagos lagoon, despite a Lagos State High Court order forbidding the demolition and ordering the parties to explore an out-of-court settlement. According to press reports, the demolitions left 4,700 homeless and at least two dead while freeing up the land for commercial development. According to Justice & Empowerment Initiatives, approximately 30,000 Otodo Gbame residents were rendered homeless during the state’s first attempt to demolish the settlement in November 2016. In June a Lagos State High Court found that the evictions were a violation of the residents’ constitutional rights and ordered the government to consult with residents to plan for resettlement.

Press reporting indicated that the army was responsible for burning villages in areas where Boko Haram was suspected to have been operational and possibly supported by the local population. These actions reportedly contributed to the high number of internally displaced persons in the Northeast.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: There is no comprehensive law for combatting violence against women. As a result victims and survivors had little or no recourse to justice. While some, mostly southern, states enacted laws prohibiting some forms of gender violence or sought to safeguard certain rights, a majority of states did not have such legislation.

The Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act addresses sexual violence, physical violence, psychological violence, harmful traditional practices, and socioeconomic violence. The VAPP 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 to comprehensive medical, psychological, social, and legal assistance by accredited service providers and government agencies, with their identities protected during court cases. Until adoption by the states, however, the provisions of the VAPP Act are only applicable to the FCT.

The law criminalizes rape, but it remained widespread. Sentences for persons convicted of rape and sexual assault were inconsistent and often minor. The VAPP 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, reintegrative) provided by the VAPP. The act also includes provisions to protect the identity of rape victims and a provision empowering courts to award appropriate compensation to victims of rape.

Rape remained widespread. According to a study, almost 20 percent of college students surveyed reported at least one incident of rape committed against them. In 2013 Positive Action for Treatment Access, an NGO focused on HIV treatment, released a countrywide survey of 1,000 preadolescents and adolescents (ages 10 to 19), which noted three in 10 girls reported their first sexual encounter was rape.

No laws of nationwide applicability criminalize gender-based violence. The VAPP provides for up to three years’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of 200,000 naira ($635), 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. Notwithstanding these federal provisions, only the states of Cross River, Ebonyi, Jigawa, and Lagos had enacted domestic violence laws.

Domestic violence remained widespread, and many considered it socially acceptable. The National Crime Victimization and Safety Survey for 2013 of the CLEEN Foundation–formerly known as Center for Law Enforcement Education–reported 30 percent of male and female respondents countrywide claimed to have been victims of domestic violence.

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 the federal government took no legal action to curb the practice. While 12 states banned FGM/C, once a state legislature criminalizes FGM/C, NGOs found they had to convince local authorities that state laws apply in their districts.

The VAPP penalizes a person convicted of performing female circumcision or genital mutilation with a maximum of four years in prison, a fine of 200,000 naira ($635), or both. It punishes anyone convicted of aiding or abetting such a person with a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, a fine of 100,000 naira ($317), or both.

For more information, see: data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/ .

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to the VAPP, any person convicted of subjecting another person to harmful traditional practices may be punished with up to four years’ imprisonment, a fine not exceeding 500,000 naira ($1,590), or both. Anyone convicted of subjecting a widow to harmful traditional practices is subject to two years’ imprisonment, a fine not exceeding 500,000 naira ($1,590), or both. For purposes of the VAPP, 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 or circumcision, 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 VAPP criminalizes stalking, but it does not explicitly criminalize sexual harassment. The act 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. Women’s rights groups reported the Abuja Environmental Protection Board took women into custody under the pretext of removing commercial sex workers from the streets of the capital. According to activists, the board then forced women to buy their freedom or confess to prostitution and undergo rehabilitation.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, 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 her husband’s property, and many widows became destitute when their in-laws took virtually all the deceased husband’s property.

In the 12 states that adopted sharia 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. In 2013 the Kano State government issued a statement declaring men and women must remain separate while using public transportation.

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 2013 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, the most recent data available, found that only 30 percent of births of children under age five were registered. Lack of documents did not result in denial of education, health care, or other public services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

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. Available estimates for public investment in education ranged from 1 percent to more than 7 percent of GDP. Increased enrollment rates created challenges in ensuring quality education. According to UNICEF in some instances there were 100 pupils for one teacher.

Of the approximately 30 million primary school-age children, an estimated one-third were not enrolled in formally recognized schools. 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.

In many regions social and economic factors resulted in discrimination against girls in access to education. In the face of economic hardship, many families favored boys in deciding which children to enroll in elementary and secondary schools. According to the 2015 Nigeria Education Data Survey, attendance rates in primary schools increased to 68 percent nationwide, with school-age boys continuing to be somewhat more likely than girls to attend primary school. According to the survey, primary enrollment was 91 percent for boys and 78 percent for girls; secondary enrollment was 88 percent for boys and 77 percent for girls. Several states in the North, including Niger and Bauchi, had enacted laws prohibiting the withdrawal of girls from school for marriage, but these laws were generally not enforced.

The Northeast had the lowest primary school attendance rate. The most pronounced reason was the Boko Haram insurgency, which prevented thousands of children from continuing their education in the states of Borno and Yobe (due to destruction of schools, community displacement, and mass movement of families from those crisis states to safer areas). According to Human Rights Watch, between 2009 and 2015, attacks in the Northeast destroyed more than 910 schools and forced at least 1,500 others to close.

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 under 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. 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 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–often held against their will and raped. The persons running the factories sold the children for various purposes, including adoption, child labor, child sex trafficking, or sacrificial rituals, with the boys’ fetching higher prices. For example, in February the army’s Special Task Force in Plateau State arrested 12 suspects for allegedly running a baby trafficking ring in Jos.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets a minimum age of 18 for marriage for both boys and girls. The prevalence of child marriage varied widely among regions, with figures ranging from 76 percent in the Northwest to 10 percent in the Southeast. Only 24 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 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. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The 2003 Child Rights Act prohibits child prostitution 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 adopted the act.

The VAPP criminalizes incest and provides prison sentences for conviction of up to 10 years. The Cybercrimes Act of 2015 criminalizes the production, procurement, distribution, and possession of child pornography with prison terms if convicted of 10 years, a fine of 20 million naira ($63,500), or both.

Sexual exploitation of children remained a significant problem. Children were trafficked for sex, both within the country and to other countries.

Displaced Children: In July the IOM reported there were approximately 1.8 million persons displaced in the states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe. Children under age 18 constituted 56 percent of the IDP population, with 48 percent of them under age five. Many children were homeless and lived on the streets.

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

Anti-Semitism

An estimated 700 to 900 members of the Jewish community, who were foreign employees of international firms, resided in Abuja. Although not recognized as Jews by mainstream Jewish communities, between 2,000 and 30,000 ethnic Igbos claimed Jewish descent and practiced some form of Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

No federal laws prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, but the constitution (as amended) does prohibit discrimination based on the “circumstances of one’s birth.”

Some national-level polices such as the National Health Policy of 2016 provide for health-care access for persons with disabilities. Plateau and Lagos states have laws and agencies that protect the rights of persons with disabilities, while Akwa-Ibom, Ekiti, Jigawa, Kwara, Ogun, Osun, and Oyo States took steps to develop such laws. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development has responsibility for persons with disabilities. Some government agencies, such as the NHRC and the Ministry of Labor and Productivity, designated an employee to work on issues related to disabilities.

Mental health-care services were almost nonexistent. Officials at a small number of prisons used private donations to provide separate mental health facilities for prisoners with mental disabilities. All prisoners with disabilities stayed with the general inmate population and received no specialized services or accommodations.

Persons with disabilities faced social stigma, exploitation, and discrimination, and relatives often regarded them as a source of shame. Many indigent persons with disabilities begged on the streets. The government operated vocational training centers in Abuja and Lagos to train indigent persons with disabilities. Individual states also provided facilities to help persons with physical disabilities become self-supporting. The Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities served as the umbrella organization for a range of disability groups.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The ethnically diverse population consisted of more than 250 groups. Many were concentrated geographically and spoke distinct primary languages. Three major groups–the Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba–together constituted approximately half the population. Members of all ethnic groups practiced ethnic discrimination, particularly in private sector hiring patterns and the segregation of urban neighborhoods. A long history of tension existed among some ethnic groups. The government’s efforts to address tensions among ethnic groups typically involved heavily concentrated security actions, incorporating police, military, and other security services, often in the form of a joint task force.

The law prohibits ethnic discrimination by the government, but most ethnic groups claimed marginalization in terms of government revenue allocation, political representation, or both.

The constitution requires the government to have a “federal character,” meaning that cabinet and other high-level positions must be distributed to persons representing each of the 36 states or each of the six geopolitical regions. President Buhari’s cabinet appointments conformed to this policy. Traditional relationships were used to pressure government officials to favor particular ethnic groups in the distribution of important positions and other patronage.

All citizens have the right to live in any part of the country, but state and local governments frequently discriminated against ethnic groups not indigenous to their areas, occasionally compelling individuals to return to a region where their ethnic group originated but where they no longer had ties. State and local governments sometimes compelled nonindigenous persons to move by threats, discrimination in hiring and employment, or destruction of their homes. Those who chose to stay sometimes experienced further discrimination, including denial of scholarships and exclusion from employment in the civil service, police, and military. For example, in Plateau State the predominantly Muslim and nonindigenous Hausa and Fulani faced significant discrimination from the local government in land ownership, jobs, access to education, scholarships, and government representation.

Land disputes, ethnic differences, settler-indigene tensions, and religious affiliation contributed to clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers throughout the Middle Belt (the central part of the country). “Silent killings,” in which individuals disappeared and later were found dead, occurred throughout the year.

In June the northern Arewa Youths Consultative Forum issued a so-called “quit notice” demanding ethnic Igbos leave 19 northern states by October 1 or face forced eviction. Federal actors, including the acting president, quickly denounced the quit notice and condemned divisive rhetoric and hate speech. State-level actors also condemned the quit notice and opened criminal investigations against its purveyors. In August the group withdrew the quit notice.

Conflicts concerning land rights continued among members of the Tiv, Kwalla, Jukun, Fulani, and Azara ethnic groups living near the convergence of Nassarawa, Benue, and Taraba States.

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

The 2014 Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) effectively renders illegal all forms of activity supporting or promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights. According to the SSMPA, anyone convicted of entering into a same-sex marriage or civil union may be sentenced to up to 14 years’ imprisonment. During the year the government brought formal charges under the SSMPA for the first time. As of November a hotel owner and two staff were awaiting trial on charges of aiding and abetting homosexual activities in violation of Section 5(2) of the SSMPA. The offense carries a 10-year sentence if convicted.

Following passage of the SSMPA, LGBTI persons reported increased harassment and threats against them based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. News reports and LGBTI advocates reported numerous arrests, but detainees were in all cases released without formal charges after paying a bond, which was oftentimes nothing more than a bribe. In a report published in October, HRW found no evidence of any SSMPA-based prosecutions. According to HRW, however, the law had become a tool used by police and members of the public to legitimize human rights violations against LGBTI persons such as torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, extortion, and violations of due process rights.

In the 12 northern states that adopted sharia, adults convicted of engaging in same-sex sexual activity may be subject to execution by stoning. Sharia courts did not impose such sentences during the year. In previous years individuals convicted of same-sex sexual activity were sentenced to lashing.

In July police in Lagos arrested approximately 70 individuals, including 13 minors, at a hotel party where police stated homosexual activities took place. As of November, 27 adults and 13 minors were still awaiting trial on lesser charges under the Lagos State Penal Code. The hotel owner and two staff members, however, were charged with aiding and abetting homosexual activities in violation of Section 5(2) of the SSMPA. The offense carries a 10-year sentence if convicted. It was the first time formal SSMPA-based charges had been brought.

Several NGOs provided LGBTI groups with legal advice and training in advocacy, media responsibility, and HIV/AIDS awareness, as well as providing safe havens for LGBTI individuals. The government and its agents did not impede the work of these groups during the year.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The public considered HIV to be a disease and a result of immoral behavior and a punishment for same-sex sexual activity. Persons with HIV/AIDS often lost their jobs or were denied health-care services. Authorities and NGOs sought to reduce the stigma and change perceptions through public education campaigns.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Various reports indicated street mobs killed suspected criminals during the year. In most cases these mob actions resulted in no arrests.

Ritualists who believed certain body parts confer mystical powers kidnapped and killed persons to harvest body parts for rituals and ceremonies. For example, in April police in Ogun State discovered a shrine containing the body of a man allegedly killed for ritual purposes.

Persons born with albinism faced discrimination, were considered bad luck, and were sometimes abandoned at birth or killed for witchcraft purposes.`

Philippines

Executive Summary

The Philippines is a multiparty, constitutional republic with a bicameral legislature. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, elected in May 2016, began his constitutionally limited six-year term in June 2016. The presidential and 2013 midterm national elections were generally free and fair. The 2016 local elections were twice postponed until May 2018. Proponents of delaying the elections cited several reasons, among them the continued influence of drug money on local elections.

Civilian control over the Philippine National Police (PNP) improved but was not fully effective. The government confirmed a civilian head of the Internal Affairs Service in December 2016, after an eight-year hiatus.

In May members of the terrorist Maute Group and supporters of other extremist organizations attacked Marawi City, on the southern island of Mindanao. In response President Duterte declared martial law in all of Mindanao. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) restored government control of the city on October 23. Approximately 360,000 persons were displaced as a result of the crisis.

Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the antidrug campaign in 2016, they continued in 2017. From January to the end of September, media reports chronicled more than 900 fatalities in police operations suspected to be connected with the government’s antidrug campaign. Police claimed to have begun investigations of all reports of extrajudicial killings. As of August, police claimed to have resolved 1,889 cases, and 4,373 remained under investigation.

The most significant human rights issues included: killings by security forces, vigilantes and others allegedly connected to the government, and by insurgents; torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees by security forces; often harsh and life threatening prison conditions; warrantless arrests by security forces and cases of apparent government disregard for legal rights and due process; political prisoners; killings of and threats against journalists; official corruption and abuse of power; threats of violence against human rights activists; violence against women; and forced labor.

The government investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its own forces, paramilitaries, and insurgent and terrorist groups. Concerns about police impunity increased significantly following the sharp increase in police killings. President Duterte publicly rejected criticism of police killings, but he said authorities would investigate any actions taken outside the rule of law. Significant concerns persisted about impunity of civilian national and local government officials and powerful business and commercial figures.

Conflicts continued between the government and Muslim separatist, communist insurgent, and terrorist groups, displacing communities and resulting in deaths of security force members and civilians. Terrorist organizations engaged in kidnappings for ransom, bombings of civilian targets, beheadings, and the use of child soldiers in combat or auxiliary roles, and the organizations operated shadow governments in areas they controlled. The government called off negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political arm of the New People’s Army, early in the year after clashes between the armed forces and New People’s Army guerilla fighters in violation of a 2016 ceasefire. The government resumed peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

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 government security agencies and their informal allies committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with the government-directed campaign against illegal drugs. Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by antigovernment insurgents and unknown assailants also continued.

From July 2016 through October 25, 2017, law enforcement agencies reported that 3,967 “drug personalities” died in connection with antidrug operations. In one case, on June 30, police killed Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, his wife, and 10 others in a series of predawn antidrug raids. The operation drew condemnation from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as well as some legislators, but the Senate did not launch an inquiry on the grounds that the mayor was not detained in a government facility.

In killings attributed to vigilantes, many victims were found adorned with cardboard signs, plastic wrap, garbage bags, or other markers designating them as drug dealers.

The reported number of alleged extrajudicial killings varied widely, as government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) used different definitions. The CHR, an independent government agency responsible for investigating alleged human rights violations, investigated 139 new complaints of alleged extrajudicial or politically motivated killings involving 174 victims as of August. The rising death toll from the government’s antidrug campaign compelled the CHR to separate politically motivated killings from drug-related cases in its reporting. From January to June, the CHR investigated 44 cases of drug-related extrajudicial killings involving 56 victims. The CHR suspected PNP or Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) involvement in 112 of these new complaints and AFP or paramilitary personnel in one case. The CHR attributed many of the remaining cases to insurgent/terrorist forces.

The PNP’s Task Force Usig, responsible for investigating and monitoring killings of media members, labor activists, and foreigners, reported no new cases from January to August. Police also changed the language they used with respect to deaths outside official police actions, to refer to them uniformly to as “homicide cases.” Previously, the police had used the term “deaths under investigation” to refer to deaths outside police operations but which appeared connected to the antidrug campaign. Beginning in May, government data on the antidrug campaign were provided through #RealNumbersPH, operated by the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs.

As of June 30, the NGO Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) documented four cases of state-perpetrated, politically motivated killings carried out by unspecified security forces. The TFDP noted that these cases were separate from killings in the antidrug campaign. The increase in cases of alleged drug-related extrajudicial killings resulted in the expansion of TFDP documentation, which began to include drug-related killings. As of June 30, the TFDP had documented 55 drug-related killings involving 67 victims.

President Duterte continued his anticrime campaign, specifically targeting the widespread trafficking and abuse of illegal narcotics. President Duterte made numerous public statements suggesting that killing suspected drug traffickers and users was necessary to meet his goal of wiping out drug-related crime. On October 10, the president issued a memorandum designating the PDEA as the sole agency for conducting operations in the government’s war on drugs, sidelining the police in antidrug operations and prompting a drop in reported extrajudicial killings. President Duterte publicly challenged the CHR’s authority to investigate allegations of police abuse without his approval. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service reported that manpower and resource limitations hampered the legally required investigations into deaths resulting from police operations, but it asserted that 100 percent of the deaths in police shootings resulted from legitimate, lawful police actions. In specific cases, President Duterte commented that if police were found guilty, they should go to jail. Some civil society organizations accused police of planting evidence, tampering with crime scenes, unlawfully disposing of the bodies of drug suspects, and other actions to cover up extrajudicial killings.

President Duterte stated publicly, for example in an August 16 speech on the anniversary of the founding of “Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption,” that he continued to maintain lists of suspected drug criminals, including government, police, and military officials and members of the judiciary. The government did not reveal the source of this information, leading some to question its accuracy and the legitimacy of the lists.

b. Disappearance

As reported by the AFP Human Rights Office, there was one report of a forced disappearance by or on behalf of government authorities (see section 1.g.).

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

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

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

As of August the CHR investigated 25 cases of alleged torture involving 58 victims; it suspected the police in a majority of the cases. The CHR investigated four cases of torture and mistreatment by prison guards. Some of these cases involved two or more categories of accused perpetrators. In the same period, the TFDP documented two cases of torture involving 11 victims. There were reports that AFP soldiers detained and interrogated children and in one instance tortured a child suspected of associating with armed groups.

There were no convictions during the year, but a few cases continued under the antitorture law.

According to NGOs and press reports, mental abuse, including shaming–illegal under the Anti-Torture Act–reportedly occurred, especially in drug cases. In March local media published photographs of hundreds of prisoners at the Cebu provincial jail sitting naked while being searched for contraband. In a predawn operation dubbed “Operation Greyhound,” prisoners were awakened and forced to remove their clothes while officials searched their jail cells. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the search, conducted in the open and publicized, was inhumane and violated the prisoners’ right to privacy.

As part of the antidrug campaign, authorities called on drug criminals to turn themselves in to police to avoid more severe consequences. As of July the government social media campaign #RealNumbersPH reported 1,308,078 surrenders facilitated, although civil society actors questioned the official figures. Civil society and other observers claimed a climate of fear led many persons associated with drugs to surrender due to fear for their lives.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were often harsh and potentially life threatening and, in some cases, included gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, food shortages, and physical abuse.

NGOs reported that abuses by prison guards and other inmates were common, but they stated that prisoners, fearing retaliation, declined to lodge formal complaints.

Physical Conditions: The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), under the Department of Justice, administered seven prisons and penal farms nationwide for individuals sentenced to prison terms exceeding three years. During the year BuCor facilities operated at approximately 2.5 times the official capacity of 16,010, holding 41,244 prisoners.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), under the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the PNP, controlled 926 city, district, municipal, and provincial jails that held pretrial detainees, persons awaiting final judgment, and convicts serving sentences of three years or less. The BJMP reported its jails operated at an average of more than four times their designated capacity. The Quezon City Jail, for example, had an official capacity of 261 inmates, yet as of July held 2,916 prisoners, approximately 70 percent of whom were detained on drug charges, according to international media sources. Several NGOs observed that overcrowding was more severe in smaller cities, a condition that reportedly triggered violence among inmates and promoted gang rivalries. The prison population increased by 22 percent between July 2016 and September 2017.

At the Manila Police District in Tondo in April, the CHR discovered 12 individuals detained in a secret cell hidden behind a bookshelf. The cell had inadequate lighting, sanitation, food, and water. According to media reports, several detainees said they were tortured and beaten while detained, and some were subjected to extortion in exchange for release. A May 26 CHR visit found the cell vacant. As of September 13, nine of the detainees were released on bail; the remaining three were transferred to the Manila City Jail Male and Female Dormitory.

Approximately 98 percent of prisoners in BJMP and PNP jails were pretrial detainees; the balance were convicted criminals serving less than three-year sentences.

Juveniles under the age of 18 were typically released by court order or following a petition by the Public Attorney’s Office, the inmate’s private lawyer, or through NGO-led appeals. As of July, juveniles made up less than 1 percent of the prison population.

Prison authorities did not uniformly enforce BJMP and BuCor regulations that require holding male and female inmates in separate facilities, and in national prisons overseeing them with guards of the same sex. In some facilities, authorities did not fully segregate juveniles from adults. The BJMP and BuCor reported insufficient custodial and escort personnel, especially in large jails, with 60 to 70 prisoners to each custodial staff member.

Reports indicated that poor sanitation, inadequate ventilation, poor access to natural lighting, and a lack of potable water were chronic problems in correctional facilities and contributed to health problems. From January to July, BuCor and the BJMP reported 804 inmate deaths, a death rate of 0.42 percent. Most deaths were the result of illness. Authorities provided BuCor inmates with medical care; however, some medical services and treatments were not available. In such cases, authorities referred inmates to an outside hospital. Inmates received a medicine allowance of 10 Philippine pesos ($0.20) per day.

Opportunities for prisoner recreation, learning, and self-improvement remained scarce.

Administration: The BJMP helped expedite court cases to promote speedy disposition of inmates’ cases. Through this program, authorities released 27,396 inmates from BJMP jails as of July.

Prisoners, their families, and lawyers may submit complaints to constitutionally established independent government agencies, and the CHR referred complaints it received to the appropriate agency.

Authorities generally allowed prisoners and detainees to receive visitors, but local NGOs reported that authorities periodically restricted family visits for some political detainees. Prison officials noted that security concerns and space limitations at times also restricted prisoner access to visitors.

Muslim officials reported that, while Muslim detainees were allowed to observe their religion, Roman Catholic mass was often broadcast by loudspeaker to prison populations of both Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic prisoners and detainees. BuCor has a rehabilitation program that focuses on inmates’ moral and spiritual concerns.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted international monitoring groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, free and timely access to jails and prisons. The constitution grants the CHR authority to visit jails, prisons, or detention facilities to monitor the government’s compliance with international treaty obligations. The Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center denied prompt access to a team from the CHR in March and required the commission to write a letter to provincial authorities before the visit could proceed. The CHR Region VII team visited the facility to investigate the forced stripping incident during the antidrug-focused Operation Greyhound.

Improvements: The BJMP launched the Revised Time Allowance Manual for Persons Deprived of Liberty. This entitles inmates to reductions in their sentences based on good conduct. More than 18,300 inmates benefited from this program. BuCor had a tie-in project with the Department of Justice to digitize inmates’ records for ease of access and preservation.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. As of July, the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting charges of public abuse and impropriety, reported 75 arbitrary detention violations committed by law enforcement agencies or the AFP. Investigations into 74 of these cases were pending, while the remaining case was dismissed. One case involved a high-ranking official.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNP is charged with maintaining internal security in most of the country and reports to the Department of the Interior and Local Government. The AFP, which reports to the Department of National Defense, is responsible for external security but also carries out domestic security functions in regions with a high incidence of conflict, particularly in areas of Mindanao. The two agencies share responsibility for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. The PNP Special Action Force is responsible, in particular, for urban counterterrorism operations. President Duterte’s May declaration of martial law for the entire region of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago remained in effect as of October, giving the military expanded powers. Human rights groups expressed concern about the potential for human rights abuses, recalling the period of martial law for the entire country during the Marcos regime.

Governors, mayors, and other local officials have considerable influence over local police units, including appointment of top departmental and municipal police officers and the provision of resources, an arrangement that often resulted in graft and corruption.

The 176,000-member PNP’s institutional deficiencies and the public perception that corruption was endemic within the force continued. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service, mandated to ensure police operate within the law, remained largely ineffective.

Despite criticism from domestic and international human rights groups for its role in the antidrug campaign, as of October no criminal complaints had been filed by the Public Attorney’s Office or the National Bureau of Investigation against PNP officers accused of unlawful killings.

Government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the security forces remained largely ineffective. President Duterte publicly condemned corruption in government and security forces, but oversight mechanisms were poorly resourced, and there was little effort to target corrupt security officials. From January to August, the Office of the Ombudsman received 133 complaints concerning 229 cases of alleged military and law enforcement involvement in human rights abuses, including killings, injuries, unlawful arrest, and torture. A majority (97 percent) of the cases were against low-ranking officials. As of September all cases remained open pending additional investigation. There were no convictions recorded against high-ranking police or military officials.

From January to June, the PNP recorded a total of 2,112 administrative cases involving 3,704 officers, including both uniformed and nonuniformed personnel. Of these, 778 were resolved with various penalties. From January to July, the PNP recorded 203 criminal cases involving 212 PNP personnel, of which 67 were filed in court, 126 were referred to the Prosecutor’s Office, and five remained under investigation.

In a prominent example of police abuse and misconduct, on September 15, National Capital Region Police Chief Oscar Albayalde ordered the reassignment or retraining of more than 1,200 police officers following rising concerns about corruption within the Caloocan police force. This included unsanctioned drug raids, evidence mismanagement, and the August 18 killing of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos at the hands of plainclothes police officers in Caloocan City. The Caloocan City police received additional scrutiny on September 14 when a closed-circuit video of 13 Caloocan police officers robbing a house during a September 7 drug raid became public.

The AFP Human Rights Office monitored and reviewed alleged human rights abuses involving members of the military. From January through August, the office identified and investigated four reported incidents, including an indiscriminate discharge of a weapon, two murders, and a forced disappearance. As of August, the AFP had settled the indiscriminate weapon case when the suspect was found guilty. The three other cases remained pending.

Efforts continued to reform and professionalize the PNP through improved training, expanded community outreach, and salary increases. Human rights-based modules were included in all PNP career courses, and the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office conducted routine training nationwide on human rights responsibilities in policing.

The military also routinely provided human rights training to its members, augmented by training from the CHR. The AFP used its revised Graduated Curricula on Human Rights/International Humanitarian Law for the Military to provide a uniform standard of training across service branches. The AFP adhered to a 2005 Presidential Memorandum requiring the incorporation of human rights and international humanitarian law into all AFP education and training courses. Successful completion of these courses is required to finish basic training and for induction, promotion, reassignment, and selection for foreign schooling opportunities. From January to August, various AFP service units conducted a total of 55 human rights-related training programs, seminars, or workshops.

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

Human rights groups noted little progress in implementing and enforcing reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations. Potential witnesses often were unable to obtain protection through the witness protection program managed by the Department of Justice due to inadequate funding or procedural delays or failure to step forward because of doubts about the program’s effectiveness. The CHR operated a smaller witness protection program that was overburdened by witnesses to killings in the antidrug campaign. The loss of family income due to the relocation of a family member was also, in some cases, a barrier to witnesses’ testimony. The Office of the Ombudsman also reported that witnesses often failed to come forward, or failed to cooperate, in police abuse or corruption cases. This problem sometimes followed pressure on witnesses and their families or arose from an expectation of compensation for their cooperation.

The government continued to support and arm civilian militias. The AFP controlled Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGUs), while Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs) fell under PNP command. These paramilitary units often received minimal training and were poorly monitored and regulated. Some political families and clan leaders, particularly in Mindanao, maintained private armies and, at times, recruited CVO and CAFGU members into those armies.

Human rights NGOs linked state-backed militias and private armies to numerous human rights abuses. The trial of 105 suspects in the 2009 massacre of 58 civilians in Maguindanao Province continued. As of July, three of the remaining suspects were acquitted of 58 counts of murder for lack of evidence. The chief suspect, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., died in 2015.

Such delays reinforced the perception of impunity for national, provincial, and local government actors accused of human rights abuses.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official are required for an arrest unless the suspect is observed in the act of committing an offense, there is probable cause that the suspect had just committed an offense, or the suspect is an escaped prisoner. Authorities are required to file charges within 12 to 36 hours for arrests made without warrants, depending on the seriousness of the crime. In terrorism cases, the law permits warrantless arrests and detention without charges for up to three days.

Detainees have the right to bail, except when held for offenses punishable by a life sentence. The bail system largely functioned as intended, and suspects are allowed to appeal a judge’s decision to deny bail. The law provides an accused or detained person the right to choose a lawyer and, if indigent, to have the state provide one. Due to an underresourced Public Attorney’s Office, however, indigent persons had limited access to public defenders.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued to detain individuals, including juveniles, arbitrarily and without warrants on charges other than terrorism, especially in areas of armed conflict.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem due largely to the slow and ineffectual justice system. The average pretrial detention time was 18 months. Large jails employed paralegals to monitor inmates’ cases, prevent detention beyond the maximum sentence, and assist with decongestion efforts.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to a judicial review of the legality of their detention. The constitution contains severe financial penalties for law enforcement officers found to have unlawfully detained individuals. Some human rights observers linked these penalties to extrajudicial killings, asserting that law enforcement officers often viewed killing a suspect as less risky than detaining him/her.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial. An independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although not in a timely manner. Corruption through nepotism, personal connections, and sometimes bribery continued to result in relative impunity for wealthy or influential offenders. Insufficient personnel, inefficient processes, and long procedural delays continued to hinder the judicial system. These factors contributed to widespread skepticism that the criminal justice system delivered due process and equal justice.

Trials took place as a series of separate hearings, often months apart, as witnesses and court time became available, contributing to lengthy delays. There was a widely recognized need for more prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms. Judgeship vacancy rates were approximately 30 percent. Courts in Mindanao and poorer provinces had higher vacancy rates than the national average. Sharia (Islamic law) court positions continued to be particularly difficult to fill because of the requirement that applicants be members of both the Sharia Bar and the Integrated Bar. Sharia courts do not have criminal jurisdiction. Although the Prosecutor General was given authority to hire hundreds of new prosecutors for sharia courts, training for them was short and considered inadequate.

The Supreme Court continued efforts to provide speedier trials, reduce judicial malfeasance, increase judicial branch efficiency, and raise public confidence in the judiciary. It continued to implement guidelines to accelerate the resolution of cases in which the maximum penalty would not exceed six years in prison. In 2016 the judiciary instituted new court rules and procedures for case processing that limit the postponement of hearings and made other procedural changes to expedite case processing. The most significant part of the reform, Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases in Pilot Courts, was approved in May for nationwide rollout as part of the Supreme Court’s efforts to decongest court dockets. Implementation began in September.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law requires that all persons accused of crimes be informed of the charges against them and grants rights to counsel, adequate time to prepare a defense, and a speedy and public trial before a judge. No criminal proceeding goes forward against a defendant without the presence of a lawyer. The law presumes defendants are innocent. They have the right to confront witnesses against them, be present at their trial, present evidence in their favor, appeal convictions, and not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The court may appoint an interpreter if necessary. If the court’s interpreter makes serious mistakes, a party can challenge the interpretation. The government generally implemented these requirements, except for the right to a speedy trial.

Although the law provides that cases should be resolved within three months to two years, depending on the court, trials effectively had no time limits. Government officials estimated it took an average of five to six years to obtain a decision.

Authorities respected a defendant’s right to representation by a lawyer, but poverty often inhibited access to effective legal counsel. The Public Attorney’s Office, which reports to the Department of Justice, did not have the necessary resources to fulfill its constitutional mandate and used its limited resources to represent indigent defendants at trial rather than during arraignments or pretrial hearings. During pretrial hearings courts may appoint any lawyer present in the courtroom to provide on-the-spot counsel to the accused.

Sentencing decisions were not always consistent with legal guidelines, and judicial decisions sometimes appeared arbitrary.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Under law enacted in 1945, the government defines political prisoners as those who may be accused of any crime against national security. Using this definition, BuCor reported 162 political prisoners in its facilities as of August. The BJMP does not track political prisoners and defines prisoners based only on security risk.

Various human rights NGOs maintained lists of incarcerated persons they considered political prisoners. The TFDP was tracking 337 political detainees as of June. The majority of those tracked were pretrial detainees, 14 of whom were arrested from January to June. The TFDP noted that, in the majority of cases, authorities mixed political prisoners with the general inmate population, except in the National Bilibid Prison, where they held the majority of political prisoners in maximum-security facilities.

The government used NGO lists as one source of information in the conduct of its pardon, parole, and amnesty programs. The TFDP reported that 14 political prisoners had been released from prisons or detention centers as of July. None of these releases resulted from executive action (pardons or amnesties).

The government permitted regular access to political prisoners by international humanitarian organizations.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Most analysts regard the judiciary as independent and impartial in civil matters. Complainants have access to local trial courts to seek civil damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for civil complaints, although overburdened local courts often dismissed these cases. There were no regional human rights tribunals that could hear an appeal from the country.

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

The government generally respected the privacy of its citizens, although leaders of communist and leftist organizations and rural-based NGOs alleged routine surveillance and harassment. Authorities routinely relied on informant systems to obtain information on terrorist suspects and for the antidrug campaign. Although the government generally respected restrictions on search and seizure within private homes, searches without warrants continued to occur. Judges generally declared evidence obtained illegally to be inadmissible.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, with penalties ranging from 12 to 40 years’ imprisonment with pardon or parole possible only after 30 years’ imprisonment. Conviction can also result in a lifetime ban from political office. Penalties for forcible sexual assault range from six to 12 years’ imprisonment, but difficulty in obtaining convictions remained a challenge for effective enforcement. The Department of Social Welfare and Development provided shelter, counseling, and health services to female survivors of rape. There continued to be reports of rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious and widespread problem. The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological harm or abuse to women and children committed by their spouses, partners, or parents. Penalties depend on the severity of the crime and may include imprisonment or fines. From January to June, the Department of Social Welfare assisted 199,218 women categorized as “women in especially difficult circumstances.” Of these, the great majority of cases involved physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, and the number included 1,434 female victims of trafficking in persons. The department also assisted many women with disabilities and female victims of other abuses, including emotional and economic battery. As of June the PNP reported 15,742 cases of domestic violence against women and children. Statistics were unavailable on prosecutions, convictions, and punishments for cases filed by the PNP. The PNP-Directorate for Police Community Relations conducted three orientation seminars in March and July entitled “Men Opposed to Violence Against Women Everywhere” with 100 participants from different police units.

NGOs noted that, in smaller localities, perpetrators of abuse sometimes used personal relationships with local authorities to avoid prosecution.

The PNP and the Department of Social Welfare both maintained help desks to assist survivors of violence against women and encourage reporting. With the assistance of NGOs, the CHR, and the Philippine Commission on Women, law enforcement officers continued to receive gender sensitivity training to deal with victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence. The PNP maintained a women and children’s unit with 1,918 desks throughout the country to deal with abuse cases. The PNP increased the number of personnel assigned to these Women and Children Protection Desks because of their increased responsibilities for handling trafficking cases; 4,576 officers were assigned to the desks nationwide, almost 98 percent of them women.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations are punishable by imprisonment of not less than one month and not more than six months, and/or a fine of not less than 10,000 pesos ($200) and not more than 20,000 pesos ($400). But sexual harassment remained widespread and underreported, including in the workplace, due to victims’ fear of losing their jobs.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: In law but not always in practice, women have most of the rights and protections accorded to men, and the law seeks to eliminate discrimination against women. The law accords women the same property rights as men. In Muslim and indigenous communities, however, property ownership law or tradition grant men more property rights than women.

In March the CHR denied a motion for reconsideration submitted by President Duterte related to its 2016 finding that the words and actions of then president-elect Duterte violated the law. The CHR found that Duterte’s joke during the presidential campaign about the rape and murder of an Australian citizen was in violation of the law because it amounted to violence against women. In accordance with the law, the CHR called on the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Interior and Local Government to recommend appropriate sanctions.

No law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring, although the law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex. Nonetheless, women continued to face discrimination on the job as well as in hiring (see section 7.d.).

The law does not provide for divorce. Legal annulments and separation are possible, and courts generally recognized foreign divorces if one of the parties is a foreigner. These options, however, are costly, complex, and not readily available to the poor. The Office of the Solicitor General is required to oppose requests for annulment under the constitution. Informal separation is common, but brings with it potential legal and financial problems. Muslims have the right to divorce under Muslim family law.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from birth to a citizen parent and, in certain circumstances, from birth within the country’s territory to alien parents. The government promoted birth registration, and authorities immediately registered births in health facilities. Births outside of facilities were less likely to be registered promptly, if at all. NGOs previously estimated that more than 2.5 million children were unregistered, primarily among Muslim and indigenous groups. The Department of Social Welfare continued working closely with local governments to improve registration; the Philippines Statistics Authority operated mobile birth registration units to reach rural areas.

Education: Kindergarten, elementary, and secondary education is free and compulsory through age 18, but the quality of education was often poor, and access difficult, especially in rural areas where substandard infrastructure makes traveling to school challenging.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a problem. From January to June, Department of Welfare offices served 2,396 victims of child abuse, 69 percent of whom were girls. Several cities ran crisis centers for abused women and children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both sexes is 18; anyone below 21 must have parental consent. Under Muslim personal law, Muslim boys may marry at 15 and girls may marry when they reach puberty.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial exploitation of children and child pornography and defines purchasing commercial sex acts from a child as a trafficking offense. Authorities endeavored to enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 12. The statutory rape law criminalizes sex with minors under 12 and sex with a child under 18 involving force, threat, or intimidation. The maximum penalty for child rape is 40 years in prison plus a lifetime ban from political office. The production, possession, and distribution of child pornography are illegal, and penalties range from one month to life in prison, plus fines from 50,000 to five million pesos ($1,000 to $100,000), depending on the gravity of the offense.

Despite these penalties, law enforcement agencies and NGOs reported that criminals and family members continued to use minors unlawfully in the production of pornography and in cybersex activities. The country is the top global internet source of online child pornography.

Child prostitution continued to be a serious problem, and the country remained a destination for child sex tourism by domestic and foreign clients. The government continued to prosecute accused pedophiles and deport those who were foreigners. Additionally, the live internet broadcast of young Filipino girls, boys, and sibling groups performing sex acts for paying foreigners continued. The National Bureau of Investigation and the PNP worked closely with the Labor Department to target and close facilities suspected of prostituting minors.

Displaced Children: The most recent UNICEF data, from 2012, estimated there were approximately 250,000 street children. From January to June, the Department of Social Welfare provided residential and community-based services to 1,018 street children nationwide, of whom 528 were served in residential facilities and 490 were served under the Comprehensive Program for Street Children, Street Families, and Indigenous Peoples. This program included activity centers, education and livelihood aid, and community service programs.

Under the juvenile justice law, children 15 years old and younger who commit a crime are exempt from criminal liability. Police stations had youth relations officers to ensure that authorities treated minor suspects appropriately, but in some cases they ignored procedural safeguards and facilities were not child friendly. The law mandates that the Department of Social Welfare provide shelter, treatment, and rehabilitation services to these children. As of June, the department assisted 1,862 children in conflict with the law (that is, alleged as, accused of, or judged as having committed an offense) in 16 rehabilitation centers nationwide. Additionally, several local governments established and managed youth centers that provided protection, care, training, and rehabilitation for these children and other at-risk youth.

The PNP’s Women and Children’s Protection Center reported in late 2016 that approximately 38,000 minors surrendered to authorities in response to the antidrug campaign. As the legal status of those voluntarily surrendering remained ambiguous, it was not clear that these minors were being treated as required by law.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/english/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

An estimated 500 to 5,000 persons of Jewish heritage, mostly foreign nationals, lived in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Laws, such as the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons, provide for equal access for persons with both physical and mental disabilities to all public buildings and establishments, but many barriers remained.

The National Council for Disability Affairs formulated policies and coordinated the activities of government agencies for the rehabilitation, self-development, and self-reliance of persons with disabilities and their integration into the mainstream of society.

Persons with disabilities continued to face discrimination and other challenges in finding employment (see section 7.d.).

From January to June, the Department of Social Welfare provided services to 517 persons with disabilities in assisted-living centers and community-based vocational centers nationwide, significantly fewer than reported in the previous year.

Advocates for persons with disabilities contended that equal access laws were ineffective due to weak implementing regulations, insufficient funding, and inadequately focused integrative government programs. The great majority of public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities. Many schools had architectural barriers that made attendance difficult for persons with disabilities.

Some children with disabilities attended schools in mainstream or inclusive educational settings. The Department of Education’s 448 special education centers were inaccessible and the government lacked a clear system for informing parents of children with disabilities of their educational rights and did not have a well defined procedure for reporting discrimination in education.

Government efforts to improve access to transportation for persons with disabilities were limited.

The constitution provides for the right of persons with physical disabilities to vote. The Commission on Elections determines the capacity of persons with mental disabilities to vote during the registration process, and citizens may appeal exclusions and inclusions in court. A federal act authorizes the commission to establish accessible voting centers exclusively for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.

Indigenous People

Although no specific laws discriminate against indigenous people, the geographical remoteness of the areas that many inhabit and cultural bias prevented their full integration into society. Indigenous children often suffered from lack of health care, education, and other basic services. Government officials indicated that approximately 80 percent of the country’s government units complied with the long-standing legal requirement that indigenous peoples be represented in policy-making bodies and local legislative councils.

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, a government agency staffed by tribal members, was responsible for implementing constitutional provisions to protect indigenous peoples. It has authority to award certificates identifying “ancestral domain lands” based on communal ownership, thereby stopping tribal leaders from selling the land. Additionally, the commission studies “ancestral sea” claims, since some indigenous groups, such as the Sama-Bajau, who customarily lived in western Mindanao, traditionally practiced migratory fishing. Approvals of “ancestral sea” claims were limited, and the lack of access to traditional fishing grounds contributed to the displacement of many Sama-Bajau.

Armed groups frequently recruited from indigenous populations. Indigenous peoples’ lands were also often the site of armed encounters related to resource extraction or intertribal disputes, which sometimes resulted in displacement.

Forces from the indigenous Lumad group with alleged ties to the AFP reportedly closed or occupied schools for alleged ties to the NPA, thereby hampering access to education for indigenous children.

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

National laws neither criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct nor prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Twenty-four cities or municipalities have a version of an antidiscrimination ordinance that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender–but not intersex–rights.

Officials prohibit transgender individuals from self-reporting their gender on passport applications. Authorities print the sex assigned at birth, as reported on the certificate of birth, in the individual’s passport, which posed difficulty for transgender persons seeking to travel, including instances of transgender individuals forced from planes.

NGOs reported incidents of discrimination and abuse against LGBTI persons, including in employment (see section 7.d.), education, health care, housing, and social services.

Human Rights Watch reported that LGBTI students continued to face many forms of bullying in schools, such as physical, verbal, sexual, and cyber.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, including in access to basic health and social services. Nevertheless, there was anecdotal evidence of discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients in the government’s provision of health care, housing, employment, and insurance services (see section 7.d.). In August the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the Health Department’s research facility, declared the HIV epidemic a national emergency, and the department declared the epidemic a health priority.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center reported in January that 31 minors were killed in either police operations or vigilante-style killings as part of the antidrug campaign.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

South Sudan is a republic operating under the terms of a peace agreement signed in August 2015. President Salva Kiir Mayardit, whose authority derives from his 2010 election as president of what was then the semiautonomous region of Southern Sudan within the Republic of Sudan, is chief of state and head of government. International observers considered the 2011 referendum on South Sudanese self-determination, in which 98 percent of voters chose to separate from Sudan, to be free and fair. President Kiir was a founding member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) political party, the political wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Of the 30 ministers in the government, 16 were appointed by Kiir, 10 by the SPLM in Opposition (SPLM-IO), two by a political faction known as the Former Detainees, and two by the group known as “other political parties” as provided for in the peace agreement. The bicameral legislature consists of a Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA) with 400 seats (68 were added in accordance with the peace agreement), and a Council of States with 50 seats. SPLM representatives controlled the vast majority of seats in the legislature. Through presidential decrees, Kiir appointed most new governors. The constitution states that a gubernatorial election must be held within 60 days if an elected governor is relieved by presidential decree. As of year’s end, this had not happened.

Civilian authorities routinely failed to maintain effective control over the security forces.

In 2013 a power struggle within the ruling SPLM party erupted into armed conflict. President Salva Kiir accused then first vice president Riek Machar of plotting a coup. The two leaders appealed to their respective ethnic communities, and the conflict spread primarily to the northwest of the country. The parties signed several ceasefire agreements, culminating in the 2015 peace agreement. A ceasefire generally held from 2015 to July 2016, when fighting broke out between government and opposition forces in Juba leading to four days of intense conflict, during which government forces drove out Machar, who fled the country. A rump section of the SPLM-IO, led by current First Vice President Taban Deng Gai, remained in Juba as part of a transitional government that claimed to be committed to implementing the 2015 agreement. Following the 2016 violence, however, the government and the opposition resumed and expanded the geographic scope and scale of the conflict, which by year’s end had spread to all parts of the country.

The most significant human rights issues included conflict-related, ethnically based targeted killings of civilians; extrajudicial killings, abuse, and mass forced displacement of approximately four million civilians, displaced internally and as refugees; and intimidation and inhuman treatment of civilians such as arbitrary arrest and detention, abductions and kidnapping, recruitment and use of an estimated 17,000 child soldiers; and widespread sexual violence. Attacks on military and civilian targets often resulted in rape, destruction of villages, theft, looting, and revenge attacks on civilians. Human rights abuses also included torture, intimidation, and unlawful detention of civilians; harassment, intimidation, and violence against journalists, civil society organizations, and human rights defenders; government restriction of freedoms of privacy, speech, press, and association; and abductions related to intercommunal and interethnic conflict. Officials reportedly arrested, detained, and mistreated several ‎persons affiliated with the LGBTI community.

Security force abuses occurred throughout the country. Impunity was widespread and remained a major problem.

While government offensives during the year were responsible for the majority of the atrocities, resulting displacement, and consequent food insecurity, opposition forces also perpetrated serious 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

The United Nations, human rights organizations, and media reported the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and ethnically based groups were also responsible for extrajudicial killings in conflict zones (see section 1.g.).

There were numerous reported unlawful killings similar to the following example: On March 25, unidentified armed actors attacked a humanitarian aid convoy traveling from Juba to Pibor town, Jonglei State, resulting in the deaths of seven aid workers.

b. Disappearance

Security and opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government or the opposition, and ethnically based groups abducted an unknown number of persons, including women and children (see section 1.g.).

There were numerous reported disappearances similar to the following: In late January human rights activist Samuel Dong Luak and opposition official Aggrey Idris Ezbon were abducted and disappeared in Nairobi. Human rights groups alleged Luak and Idris were illegally extradited to South Sudan and held in detention at National Security Service (NSS) headquarters in Juba without charge. In February, Information Minister Michael Makuei denied the government had custody of the two men.

Civilian reports of missing family members were also common. For example, Amnesty International documented the arrest of nine civilians by government forces in May; at year’s end they remained missing.

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

The transitional constitution prohibits such practices, but security forces tortured, beat, and harassed political opponents, journalists, and human rights workers (see sections 2.a. and 5). Government and opposition forces, armed militia groups affiliated with both, and warring ethnic groups committed torture and abuses in conflict zones (see section 1.g.).

There were numerous reported abuses including sexual and gender-based violence, beating and torture of detainees, and harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and humanitarian workers. According to Amnesty International, thousands of women and girls were victims of sexual violence, including “rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation, torture, castration, or forced nudity” throughout the year.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) received three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against military and civilian personnel during the year, including two allegations of rape. One investigation of rape was pending, and the other was found to be unsubstantiated (the complaint was redacted). One allegation of transactional sex made against an Ethiopian military officer, during an unspecified time in 2016, was pending investigation as of October.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening. Overcrowding and inadequate medical care at times resulted in illness and death. While some prisons employed doctors, medical care was rudimentary, and prison physicians often had inadequate training and supplies. There were reports of abuse by prison guards.

Physical Conditions: Men and women were generally, but not always, held in separate areas, but male and female inmates often mixed freely during the day due to space constraints. Due to overcrowding, authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults and rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. Children, especially infants, often lived with their mothers in prison.

Nonviolent offenders were kept with violent offenders because of resource and spatial constraints. There were a reported 201 juveniles in detention. In 2016 the National Prison Service (NPS) reported holding 162 inmates with mental disabilities determined by a judge to be sufficiently dangerous (and “mentally ill”) after referral by family or the community, incarcerating, medicating, and keeping them in detention until a medical evaluation revealed they were no longer ill and could depart.

Health care and sanitation were inadequate, and basic medical supplies and equipment were lacking. According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), prisoners received one meal per day and relied on family or friends for additional food. Potable water was limited. In some locations prisoners slept in overcrowded open hallways and buildings lined with bunk beds. Ventilation and lighting were inadequate.

Malnutrition and lack of medical care contributed to inmate deaths, although no statistics were available.

Detention centers were under the control of local tribal or state authorities, and conditions were uniformly harsh and life threatening. Many facilities in rural areas consisted of uncovered spaces where authorities chained detainees to a wall, fence, or tree, often unsheltered from the sun. As with state-run prisons, sanitary and medical facilities were poor or nonexistent, and potable water was limited. Detainees sometimes spent days outdoors but slept inside in areas that lacked adequate ventilation and lighting.

Conditions in SPLA-run detention facilities were similar, and in some cases worse, with many detainees held outdoors with poor access to sanitary or medical facilities.

UNMISS maintained facilities at Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites in Juba, Malakal, Bentiu, and Bor to hold internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were criminal suspects. Authorities did not intend the holding facilities to house IDPs for more than 72 hours, but they sometimes held IDP suspects longer due to delays in determining how to treat individual cases and the inability to reintroduce offenders into PoC sites because the threat victims posed against them or the threat offenders posed to the larger community. UNMISS observed prisoners daily and offered medical treatment for serious complications. Prisoners received food twice a day.

The NSS operated a detention facility in Juba that held civilian prisoners (see section 1.d.).

Administration: The NPS continued weekly reporting of prisoner totals from all state prisons to its Juba headquarters, including statistics on juveniles and persons with mental disabilities (see section 1.d.). There were no prison ombudsmen.

The NPS allowed prisoner’s access to visitors and permitted them to take part in religious observances, but NSS and SPLA authorities were less likely to do so. The NPS allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of allegations of inhuman conditions. Prison authorities sometimes investigated such allegations, although they seldom took action.

Independent Monitoring: The NPS permitted visits by independent human rights observers, including UNMISS human rights officers, nongovernmental observers, international organizations, and journalists. Although authorities sometimes permitted monitors to visit detention facilities operated by the SPLA, they rarely, if ever, permitted monitors to visit facilities operated by the NSS, which held both military prisoners and civilians without legal authority.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The transitional constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention without charge. The government, however, arrested and detained individuals arbitrarily. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention, but there were no known cases where an appellant successfully sought compensation for wrongful detention.

Since the start of the crisis in 2013, there were regular reports that security forces conducted arbitrary arrests, including of journalists, civil society actors, and supposed political opponents (see sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.g.). While not legally vested with the power to arrest or detain civilians, the SPLA often did so. The NSS also routinely detained civilians. Security services rarely reported such arrests to police, other civilian authorities, or, in the case of foreigners arrested, diplomatic missions. Police also routinely arrested civilians based on little or no evidence prior to conducting investigations and often held them for weeks or months without charge or trial.

There were numerous reported arbitrary arrests or detentions similar to the following examples: On February 23, human rights activist Alison Mogga died after months in detention at NSS headquarters in Juba. The government arrested Mogga in July 2016 allegedly for supporting rebel forces in Kajo-Keji County. On March 14, the government released former Wau state governor Elias Waya Nyipuoch without charge after detaining him since June 2016.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The South Sudan National Police Service, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. Consisting largely of former SPLA soldiers, it was poorly trained, corrupt, and widely distrusted. Authorities often based detentions on accusations rather than investigations. They rarely investigated complaints of police abuse. Police often went months without pay; they solicited bribes or sought compensation, often in the form of food or fuel, for services rendered to civilians.

The SPLA is responsible for providing security throughout the country and ostensibly operates under the Ministry of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs; current and former military personnel staffed the ministry. The SPLA does not have law enforcement authority, unless acting at the request of civil authorities. Nevertheless, the SPLA regularly exercised police functions, in part due to the limited presence and general ineffectiveness of law enforcement in many areas. It routinely detained persons, including in SPLA-run detention facilities to which monitors generally had little or no access. The SPLA’s approach to internal security and civilian disarmament was often unsystematic and disproportionate, contributing to conflict within and between communities while undermining the government’s legitimacy in conflict areas. The law requires cases of SPLA abuse of civilians to be heard in civilian courts, but there were no reports of cases being referred. For example, following the July 2016 attack on civilians at the Terrain Hotel compound in Juba, the government pursued a high-profile case against 12 SPLA soldiers in a court-martial. The law, however, requires crimes committed against civilians be tried in the civilian courts.

The NSS, which has arrest and detention authority only in matters relating to national security, often detained civil society activists, businesspersons, NGO personnel, journalists, and others to intimidate them, particularly if the NSS believed they supported opposition figures. Authorities rarely investigated complaints of arbitrary detention, harassment, excessive force, and torture.

Impunity of the security services was a serious problem. Although some internal investigations within the army and police were reportedly launched, no cases of security-sector abuse were referred to civilian courts. According to media reports, the SPLA court-martialed at least 60 soldiers accused of looting and other human right abuses in July in Juba. Undue command influence over the military justice system was a persistent problem.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

While the law requires police to bring arrested persons before a public prosecutor, magistrate, or court within 24 hours, there were no public prosecutors or magistrates available below the county level in most areas. Court dockets often were overwhelmed, and cases faced long delays before coming before a judge. Police may detain individuals for 24 hours without charge. A public prosecutor may authorize an extension of up to one week, and a magistrate may authorize extensions of up to two weeks. Authorities did not always inform detainees of charges against them and regularly held them past the statutory limit without explanation. Police sometimes ignored court orders to bring arrested persons before the court. Police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges were often unaware of the statutory requirement that detainees appear before a judge as quickly as possible. Police commonly conducted arrests without warrants, and warrants were often irregular, handwritten documents. Warrants were commonly drafted in the absence of investigation or evidence.

The code of criminal procedure allows bail, but this provision was widely unknown or ignored by justice-sector authorities, and they rarely informed detainees of this possibility. Because pretrial appearances before judges often were delayed far past statutory limits, authorities rarely had the opportunity to adjudicate bail requests before trial. Those arrested had a right to an attorney, but the country had few lawyers, and detainees were rarely informed of this right. The transitional constitution mandates access to legal representation without charge for the indigent, but defendants rarely received legal assistance if they did not pay for it. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested opposition leaders, civil society activists, businesspersons, journalists, and other civilians due to ethnicity or possible affiliation with opposition forces. The SPLA and NSS often abused political opponents and others whom they detained without charge. Ignorance of the law and proper procedures also led to many arbitrary detentions. Many justice-sector actors, including police and judges, operated under a victim-centric approach that prioritized restitution and satisfaction for victims of crime, rather than following legal procedure. This approach led to many arbitrary arrests of citizens who were simply in the vicinity when crimes occurred, were of a certain ethnicity, or were relatives of suspects. For example, there were numerous reports women were detained when their husbands, accused of having unpaid debts, could not be located. In April, NSS officers arrested and detained National Public Broadcasters journalist Eyder Peralta, a foreign citizen, for four days in a detention facility in Juba. No charges were brought against him.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, due largely to the lack of lawyers and judges; the difficulty of locating witnesses; misunderstanding of constitutional and legal requirements by police, prosecutors, and judges; and the absence of a strong mechanism to compel witness attendance in court. A five-month strike by judges also created a significant backlog of cases and increased pretrial detentions. The length of pretrial detention commonly equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Estimates of the number of pretrial detainees ranged from one-third to two-thirds of the prison population. The chronic lack of access to law enforcement officers and judicial systems became even more severe as armed conflict displaced officials (see section 1.g.).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The transitional constitution provides for an independent judiciary and recognizes customary law. While the law requires the government to maintain courts at federal, state, and county levels, lack of infrastructure and trained personnel made this impossible, and few statutory courts existed below the state level.

In the majority of communities, customary courts remained the principal providers of justice services. Customary courts maintained primary authority to adjudicate most crimes other than murder. Customary courts can deal with certain aspects of murder cases if judges remit the cases to them to process under traditional procedures and determine compensation according to the customs of the persons concerned. If this happens, the judge can sentence the individual who commits a killing to no more than 10 years. Government courts also heard cases of violent crime and acted as appeals courts for verdicts issued by customary bodies. Legal systems employed by customary courts varied, with most emphasizing restorative dispute resolution and some borrowing elements of sharia (Islamic law). Government sources estimated customary courts handled 80 percent of all cases due to the capacity limitations of statutory courts.

Political pressure, corruption, discrimination toward women, and the lack of a competent investigative police service undermined both statutory and customary courts. Patronage priorities or political allegiances of traditional elders or chiefs commonly influenced verdicts in customary courts. Despite numerous pressures, some judges appeared to operate independently.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Under the transitional constitution defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary), be tried fairly and publicly without undue delay, be present at any criminal trial against them, confront witnesses against them, present witnesses and evidence, not be compelled to incriminate themselves, and to legal counsel.

Despite these protections, law enforcement officers and statutory and customary court authorities commonly presumed suspects to be guilty, and suspects faced serious infringements of their rights. Free interpretation was rarely, if ever, offered. Most detainees were not informed promptly of the charges against them. Prolonged detentions often occurred, and defendants generally did not have adequate access to facilities to prepare a defense. While court dates were set without regard for providing adequate time to prepare a defense, long remands often meant detainees with access to a lawyer had sufficient time to prepare. Magistrates often compelled defendants to testify, and the absence of lawyers at many judicial proceedings often left defendants without recourse.

Public trials were the norm both in customary courts, which usually took place outdoors, and in statutory courts. Some high-level court officials opposed media access to courts and asserted media should not comment on pending cases. The right to be present at trial and to confront witnesses was sometimes respected, but in statutory courts, the difficulty of summoning witnesses often precluded exercise of these rights. No government legal aid structure existed.

Defendants did not necessarily have access to counsel or the right of appeal, and discrimination against women was common. Some customary courts, particularly those in urban areas, had fairly sophisticated procedures, and verdicts were consistent. Some customary court judges in Juba kept records that were equal to or better than those kept in government courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners and detainees, which civil society groups estimated to number in the dozens at any given time. Authorities typically held them from a few hours to a few days or weeks prior to release, usually without charge, reportedly in an effort to intimidate or stifle opposition.

For example, James Gatdet Dak, the official spokesperson for SPLA-IO leader Riek Machar, was kidnapped in Nairobi and illegally deported to South Sudan in November 2016. According to human rights groups, Gatdet allegedly remained in an NSS detention facility throughout the year. Local media claimed a local court charged Gatdet in early September with insulting the president. The trial was not open to the public, and there was little information about charges and due process.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Statutory and customary courts provided the only options for those seeking to bring claims to address human rights violations, and these claims were subject to the same limitations that affected the justice sector in general.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government rarely provided proportionate and timely restitution for the government’s confiscation of property.

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

The transitional constitution prohibits interference with private life, family, home, and correspondence. Authorities, however, reportedly violated these prohibitions.

To induce suspects to surrender, officials at times held family members in detention centers.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Since the conflict between the government and opposition forces began in 2013, security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and civilians committed conflict-related abuses and violations around the country. Despite an August 2015 peace agreement, patterns of abuse intensified after renewed fighting broke out in July 2016 and continued throughout the year. While both sides of the conflict committed abuses, the United Nations and international NGOs reported government forces were responsible for an increasing number of conflict-related abuses against civilians. As conflict spread to the central and east Equatorias region (which prior to 2016 had been mostly spared from violence), government soldiers reportedly engaged in acts of collective punishment and revenge killings against civilians assumed to be opposition supporters, often based on their ethnicity. The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, established by the Human Rights Council, reported on a pattern of ethnic cleansing and population engineering.

Atrocities included unlawful killings, rape and gang rape employed as a weapon of war, arbitrary detention and torture, enforced disappearances, explosive remnants of war, forced displacement, the mass destruction of homes and personal property, widespread looting, and use of child soldiers.

Casualty totals were difficult to estimate because the belligerents typically did not maintain accurate records. The number of IDPs and refugees increased to approximately four million at year’s end. Humanitarian aid workers were increasingly targeted, harassed, and killed.

Killings: Government forces and armed militias affiliated with the government, often prompted by opposition ambushes of government soldiers, engaged in a pattern of collective punishment of civilians perceived to be opposition supporters, often based on ethnicity. There were many instances of such killings similar to the following: NGOs reported government forces and armed militias affiliated with the government on April 10 went house to house in ethnic Fertit and Luo neighborhoods of Wau town, killing 16 civilians and injuring at least 10 others. Some Wau residents stated armed militias affiliated with the government blocked fleeing civilians from accessing the PoC sites during the April 10 fighting, according to international media. International observers noted the attack on civilians likely occurred in response to opposition forces killing two high-ranking SPLA soldiers.

In Mondikolok, a small town near the Ugandan border, government soldiers killed six persons on January 22 when they indiscriminately shot at civilians in a marketplace. According to a Human Rights Watch investigation, in January government soldiers allegedly shot and killed a man and his two children, ages five and 10, in their home in Romogi. Amnesty International reported government soldiers also allegedly killed six men in the village of Kudupi by locking them in a house and setting it on fire, shooting anyone attempting to escape. The United Nations reported government forces shot and killed an 18-year-old woman and wounded five other civilians when two soldiers began indiscriminately shooting at a funeral in Yei in early January. In Yei alone, the UNMISS Human Rights Division documented 114 cases from July 2016 to January 2017 where government forces and allied militias killed civilians perceived to be opposition supporters. The number of victims was presumed to be much larger, given limitations of access for human rights documenters.

Opposition forces also reportedly engaged in unlawful killings of civilians. On April 19, three civilians were injured after opposition forces attacked Raja, the capital of Lol state. On June 4, Human Rights Watch reported opposition soldiers near Nimule attacked a convoy of civilian cars and buses that were being escorted by SPLA vehicles.

Scorched earth tactics typical of the way all the armed forces conducted operations included: killing and raping civilians; looting cattle and goods; destroying property to prevent the return of those who managed to flee, followed by repeated incursions into an area to ensure those who fled did not return; and frequently obstructing humanitarian assistance. These actions multiplied the number of displaced civilians, who often were forced to travel great distances in dangerous circumstances to reach the shelter, food, and safety of UN-run PoC camps or to hide in marshes where they risked drowning or starvation. In January the United Nations documented evidence, including evidence gathered by satellite imagery, of more than 18,000 structures burned by government forces in Central Equatoria, causing thousands of civilians to flee across the border into Uganda. UN agencies and international NGOs that interviewed victims reported widespread killings and sexual violence, largely committed by government forces.

Remnants of war also led to the killing and maiming of civilians. According to the United Nations, children were killed or maimed in 12 incidents involving unexploded remnants of war from January to March. Remnants of war were often left behind in schools used by government and opposition forces, and armed actors affiliated with both. The United Nations reported in November an estimated six million citizens lived in areas of land mines and other explosive remnants of war.

Abductions: Abductions, particularly of women and children, took place in both conflict and nonconflict zones, as government and opposition forces and affiliated armed militia groups recruited children and women against their will. The United Nations and international NGOs reported multiple accounts of government soldiers or other security service members arbitrarily detaining or arresting civilians, sometimes leading to unlawful killings. For example, on May 21, government soldiers allegedly abducted nine civilians outside of Yei town. Police located all nine bodies in June and reported the victims were likely hacked to death by machetes.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Government, opposition forces, and armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition tortured, raped, and otherwise abused civilians in conflict areas. UNMISS reported finding six corpses, allegedly ethnic Zande, blindfolded and with hands tied alongside the road near Tambio town in Western Equatoria.

Sexual and gender-based violence and conflict-related sexual violence were widespread. Rape was used widely as a weapon of war. According to Amnesty International, some rapists also mutilated victims or raped them with foreign objects. Following the April 3 attack by SPLA soldiers in Pajok, during which 14 civilians were killed, the UNMISS Human Rights Division reported three incidents of sexual violence. For example, in April opposition soldiers abducted a young woman in Eastern Equatoria twice and allegedly repeatedly raped and beat her. Human rights groups noted most cases of sexual- and gender-based violence went unreported.

UN officials who interviewed survivors reported gang rape was common. Men were also victims of sexual violence, but on a far reduced scale. Amnesty International reported male survivors of sexual violence described rape, castration, and forms of torture. NGOs noted sexual violence against men was used to humiliate and terrorize victims.

Child Soldiers: Following the outbreak of conflict in 2013, forced conscription by government forces, as well as recruitment and use of child soldiers by both government and antigovernment forces, increased. During the year there were widespread reports government forces were recruiting child soldiers. Opposition forces and affiliated armed militias also recruited child soldiers. Girls were recruited to wash, cook, and clean for government and opposition forces.

International organization experts estimated 17,000 child soldiers had been recruited in the country since the conflict began in 2013 and blamed government, opposition, and militia forces.

The August 2015 peace agreement mandated specialized international agencies work with all warring parties to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers from the SPLA, the SPLA-IO, the Nuer White Army, and other groups, usually those involved in community defense. UNICEF warned renewed fighting undermined the progress it had made in demobilizing and reintegrating child soldiers, and it acknowledged some of the children had been rerecruited.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Throughout the year the environment for humanitarian operations grew increasingly difficult and dangerous as the geographic scope of humanitarian need expanded. Armed actors, including government and opposition forces, continued to restrict the ability of the United Nations and other international and nongovernmental organizations to safely and effectively deliver humanitarian assistance to populations in need. Access was impeded by direct denials, bureaucratic barriers, and renewed fighting in areas of the country where humanitarian needs were highest. Despite repeated safety assurances, armed elements harassed and killed relief workers, looted and destroyed humanitarian assets and facilities, and imposed bureaucratic impediments on relief organizations. On multiple occasions fighting between armed forces put the safety and security of humanitarian workers at risk, prevented travel, forced the evacuation of relief workers, and jeopardized humanitarian operations, including forcing organizations to suspend operations entirely in areas of active conflict. During the year relief organizations reported more than 683 humanitarian access incidents, including 101 in August. Delayed flight safety assurances, insecurity, and movement restrictions often prevented relief workers from traveling to conflict and nonconflict areas. Humanitarian personnel, independently or through a UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) access working group, negotiated with government and opposition forces and other armed groups to address access problems; however, these negotiations were often protracted and caused significant delays in the delivery of assistance.

The humanitarian operating environment became more volatile, increasingly jeopardizing the safety of humanitarian workers throughout the country. The most common forms of violence against humanitarian workers included robbery and looting, harassment, armed attacks, commandeering of vehicles, and physical detention. Since the start of the conflict in December 2013, the United Nations reported at least 85 humanitarian staff members had been killed in the country, 18 of them during the year. For example, unidentified armed actors on March 25 attacked a humanitarian convoy traveling from Juba to Pibor town, Jonglei, resulting in the deaths of seven aid workers–four South Sudanese and three Kenyans. The attack represented the single deadliest incident for aid workers since the conflict began. The aid workers were employees of a local NGO, the Grassroots Empowerment and Development Organization.

On April 10, unidentified armed actors killed three local World Food Program (WFP) workers in Wau, Western Bahr el Gazal State. The WFP reported two of the workers were hacked to death with machetes and one was shot and killed. As a result, the WFP temporarily suspended humanitarian operations in Wau, with the exception of relief activities in and near the PoC site.

Looting of humanitarian compounds and other assets was also common. During the week of July 17, unidentified armed actors looted a WFP warehouse in Tonj East that contained 245 metric tons of food commodities. The UN agency notified local authorities, who declined to take action to stop the attackers.

Restrictions on humanitarian operations took other forms as well. In early September staff from at least six NGOs and donor representatives with diplomatic passports reported NSS authorities operating at Juba International Airport denied them travel permission because they did not yet have work permits. Work permits often take up to six months to be issued, and previously NGOs had been permitted to travel with the receipt as evidence of a work permit in process. Diplomats were denied travel permission supposedly for lack of permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, although there was no requirement for diplomats to obtain permission to travel in the country. The South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) released a circular on September 5 requiring NGO staff whose work permits had not yet been issued as well as short-term visitors, such as consultants, to obtain a signed travel approval from the RRC 72 hours in advance of the planned travel. Relief actors reported the RRC released the circular without notice or consultation with NGOs, prompting confusion regarding the required travel procedures.

In addition to physical security challenges, bureaucratic access constraints seriously affected humanitarian workers’ ability to deliver timely aid to populations in need. The government raised annual international NGO registration fees in May from approximately 61,000 South Sudanese pounds (SSP) ($500) to 427,000 SSP ($3,500) due to the increasing demand of humanitarian needs in the country. Humanitarian organizations expressed concern that the registration fee increase extorted money from NGO workers and could hinder the response efforts of smaller relief organizations.

Humanitarian organizations also experienced delays in and denials of tax exemptions and were forced to purchase relief supplies on the local market, raising quality concerns. Government authorities began requesting international NGO staff pay income tax and threatened national staff into paying income tax at the state level.

Continuing conflict and access denial to humanitarian actors was the leading contributor to households facing famine conditions. It was difficult to accurately gather information and assess areas due to insecurity. For example, in August SPLA-IO forces detained two WFP-contracted volunteers conducting a food security and nutrition monitoring survey in Yei County’s Minyori town. The SPLA-IO detained the volunteers for more than a week on alleged charges of espionage and tortured them while in custody.

NGOs reported that government obstruction of impartial humanitarian assistance was greater in opposition-held areas, which, consequently, experienced a greater level of food insecurity. During the year, Amnesty International alleged the government was using food as a weapon of war.

Abyei is a disputed region between Sudan and South Sudan that, according to agreements between the two governments, is to be jointly administered until a referendum on the final status of the area is held. After South Sudanese independence, the United Nations established the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). The security situation in Abyei was calm but unpredictable throughout the year. UNISFA reported some progress in communities returning property/livestock or receiving compensation for stolen property/livestock. The mission also noted a peaceful reverse migration of Misseriya communities. Crime remained a problem, but there was a decrease in thefts and break-ins at UN and UNISFA compounds.

UNISFA and NGOs continued to provide humanitarian assistance to more than 130,000 vulnerable persons in Abyei. The conflict in South Sudan undercut the provision of aid, including by forcing the temporary relocation of international staff to Juba; looting of supplies procured in South Sudan and subsequent cost increases for those supplies; and delays in NGO activities. An estimated 1,000 displaced South Sudanese transited Abyei toward Sudan.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment and a fine. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and rape was believed to be widespread. The law defines sexual intercourse within marriage as “not rape.” No information was available on the number of persons prosecuted, convicted, or punished for rape, and convictions of rape seldom were publicized. According to observers, sentences for persons convicted of rape were often less than the maximum. Since the conflict began in 2013, conflict-related sexual violence was widespread. The targeting of girls and women reached epidemic proportions following skirmishes and attacks on towns in conflict zones (see section 1.g.). Women and girls also faced the threat of rape while living in PoC sites and when leaving PoC sites to conduct daily activities.

The law does not prohibit domestic violence. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, was common, although there were no reliable statistics on its prevalence. According to NGOs, some women reported police tried to charge them SSP 20 ($0.16) or more when they attempted to file the criminal complaints of rape or abuse. While not mandatory, police often told women they needed to complete an official report prior to receiving medical treatment. Families of rape victims encouraged marriage to the rapist to avoid public shaming.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is a criminal offense under the penal code, but little data existed to determine its prevalence. The law prohibits subjecting children to negative and harmful practices that affect their health, welfare, and dignity. Although not a common practice, FGM/C occurred in some regions, particularly along the northern border regions in Muslim communities. Several NGOs worked to end FGM/C, and the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Welfare raised awareness of the dangers of FGM/C through local radio broadcasts.

For more information, see data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/ .

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The practice of girl compensation–compensating the family of a crime victim with a girl from the perpetrator’s family–occurred. Victims were generally between ages 11 and 15, did not attend school, and often were physically and sexually abused and used as servants by their captors. Local officials complained the absence of security and rule of law in many areas impeded efforts to curb the practice. Dowry practices were also common. NGOs reported fathers often forced daughters, generally minors, to marry older men in exchange for cattle or money.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. The government rarely enforced the law, and NGOs reported most women were unaware it was a punishable offense. Observers noted sexual harassment, particularly by military and police, was a serious problem throughout the country.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: While the transitional constitution provides for gender equality and equal rights for women, deep cultural prejudices resulted in widespread discrimination against women. High illiteracy rates also impeded women’s ability to understand and defend their rights. Communities often followed customary laws and traditional practices that discriminated against women. For example, authorities arrested and detained women for adultery.

Despite statutory law to the contrary, under customary law a divorce is not final until the wife and her family return the full dowry to the husband’s family. As a result, families often dissuaded women from divorce. Traditional courts usually ruled in favor of the husband’s family in most cases of child custody, unless children were between three and seven years of age.

Women also experienced discrimination in employment, pay, credit, education, inheritance, housing, and ownership and management of businesses or land. Although women have the right to own property and land under the transitional constitution, community elders often sought to prevent women from exercising these rights because they contradicted customary practice.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through birth if a person has any South Sudanese parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent on either the mother’s or the father’s side, or if a person is a member of one of the country’s indigenous ethnic communities. Individuals may also derive citizenship through naturalization. Birth in the country is not sufficient to claim citizenship. The government did not register all births immediately. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The transitional constitution and the 2012 Education Act provide for tuition-free, compulsory basic education through grade eight. Armed conflict and violence, however, were key factors preventing children from attending school throughout the year. UNICEF estimated nearly three-quarters of the country’s children were not attending school. The expansion of conflict also resulted in the displacement of many households and widespread forced recruitment of children, particularly boys, by armed groups, as reported by international NGOs, making it difficult for children to attend school and for schools to remain in operation. NGOs reported government and opposition forces, and militias associated with both, looted numerous schools in conflict zones. In addition, the government did not give priority to investments in education, particularly basic education, and schools continued to lack trained teachers, educational materials, and other resources. Girls often did not have equal access to education. Many girls did not attend school or dropped out of school due to early marriage, domestic duties, and fear of gender-based violence at school. According to the 2015 Education for All national review, girls constituted only 39 percent of primary school students and 32 percent of secondary school students, although this figure may be even lower due to continuing violence and displacement as a result of the conflict.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children included physical violence, abduction, and harmful traditional practices such as “girl compensation” (see Other Harmful Traditional Practices). Child abuse, including sexual abuse, was reportedly widespread. Child rape occurred frequently in the context of child marriage and within the commercial sex industry in urban centers, and armed groups perpetrated it. Authorities seldom prosecuted child rape due to fear among victims and their families of stigmatization and retaliation. Child abduction also was a problem. Rural communities often abducted women and children during cattle raids (see section 1.g.).

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that every child has the right to protection from early marriage but does not explicitly prohibit marriage before age 18. Child marriage was common. According to the Ministry of Gender, Child, and Social Welfare, nearly half of all girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 19 were married, and some brides were as young as 12. Early marriage sometimes reflected efforts by men to avoid rape charges, which a married woman cannot bring against her husband. In other cases families of rape victims encouraged marriage to the rapist to avoid public shaming. Many abducted girls, often repeatedly subjected to rape (see section 1.g.), were forced into marriage. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law designates a minimum age of 18 years for consensual sex, although commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred. Perpetrators of child prostitution and child trafficking may be punished by up to 14 years’ imprisonment, although authorities rarely enforced these laws. Child prostitution and child trafficking both occurred, particularly in urban areas.

Child Soldiers: The law prohibits recruitment and use of children for military or paramilitary activities and prescribes punishments of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Opposition and government forces and affiliated armed militia groups recruited and used child soldiers throughout the year (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: During the year conflict displaced numerous children. Few had access to government services, such as education (see section 1.g.).

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

Anti-Semitism

There were no statistics concerning the number of Jews in the country. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. NGOs reported community and family routinely subjected persons with disabilities to discrimination. The government did not enact or implement programs to provide access to buildings, information, or communications public services. The Transitional Constitution and the 2012 Education Act stipulate primary education be provided to children with disabilities without discrimination. Very few teachers, however, were trained to address the needs of children with disabilities, and very few schools were able to provide a safe, accessible learning environment for children with disabilities. There were no legal restrictions on the right of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, although lack of physical accessibility constituted a barrier to effective participation. There were no mental health hospitals or institutions, and persons with mental disabilities were often held in prisons. Limited mental health services were available at Juba Teaching Hospital.

Persons with disabilities also faced disproportional hardship during famine conditions and continuing violence throughout the year. Human Rights Watch reported persons with disabilities were often victimized by both government and opposition forces. Persons with disabilities faced difficulty fleeing areas under attack and accessing humanitarian assistance in displacement camps. Since 2013 the conflict itself disabled an unknown number of civilians, who experienced maiming, amputation, sight and hearing impairment, and trauma. The World Health Organization estimated 250,000 persons with disabilities were living in displacement camps, while the total disabilities population at risk in the country could be more than one million.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Interethnic fighting and violence by government, opposition forces, and armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition targeting specific ethnic groups resulted in human rights abuses throughout the year (see section 1.g.). The country has at least 60 ethnic groups and a long history of interethnic conflict. Ethnic groups were broadly categorized into the Nilotic (Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk ethnic groups), Nilo-Hamitic, and Southwestern Sudanic groups. For some ethnic groups, cattle represented wealth and status. Competition for resources to maintain large cattle herds often resulted in conflict. Longstanding grievances over perceived or actual inequitable treatment and distribution of resources and political exclusion contributed to conflict.

Interethnic clashes occurred throughout the year. Insecurity, inflammatory rhetoric–including hate speech–and discriminatory government policies led to a heightened sense of tribal identity, exacerbating interethnic differences.

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

The law does not prohibit same-sex sexual acts, but it prohibits “unnatural offenses,” defined as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” which are punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment if committed with consent and up to 14 years if without consent. There were no reports authorities enforced the law.

There were some reports of incidents of discrimination and abuse. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons reported security forces routinely harassed and sometimes arrested, detained, tortured, and beat them. In September Labor, Public Service, and Human Resource Development Minister Gathoth Gatkuoth Hothnyang stated the government would order security forces to arrest LGBTI persons and detain them until they procreate. There were no reports of such arrests by year’s end.

In December, NSS agents reportedly arrested, detained, and mistreated several ‎persons affiliated with the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While there were no known reports filed regarding discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, discrimination was widely believed to be both pervasive and socially acceptable. Key groups especially vulnerable to stigma and discrimination included commercial sex workers and LGBTI persons. This stigma often presented a barrier to seeking and receiving services for the prevention, diagnosis, care, and treatment of HIV.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Throughout the year disputes between Dinka herders and agrarian youths over cattle grazing in the Equatorias at times deteriorated into violent and retaliatory events, leaving numerous dead and injured and forcing thousands to flee their homes.

Civilian casualties and forced displacements occurred in many parts of the country when raiders stole cattle, which define power and wealth in many traditional communities. Land disputes, often erupting when stolen cattle were moved into other areas, also caused civilian casualties and displacement. SPLA and police sometimes engaged in the revenge killings both between and within ethnic groups.

Sudan

Executive Summary

Sudan is a republic with power concentrated in the hands of authoritarian President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his inner circle. The National Congress Party (NCP) continued 28 years of nearly absolute political authority. The country last held national elections (presidential and National Assembly) in April 2015. Key opposition parties boycotted the elections when the government failed to meet their preconditions, including a cessation of hostilities, holding of an inclusive “national dialogue,” and fostering of a favorable environment for discussions between the government and opposition on needed reforms and the peace process. In the period prior to the elections, security forces arrested many supporters, members, and leaders of boycotting parties and confiscated numerous newspapers, conditions that observers said created a repressive environment not conducive to free and fair elections. Only 46 percent of eligible voters participated in the elections, according to the government-controlled National Electoral Commission (NEC), but others believed the turnout to have been much lower. The NEC declared al-Bashir winner of the presidential election with 94 percent of votes.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Some armed elements did not openly identify with a particular security entity, making it difficult to determine under whose control they operated.

In June 2016 President Bashir declared a four-month unilateral cessation of hostilities (COH) in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states (the “Two Areas”) and an end to offensive military actions in Darfur. The government repeatedly extended the COH, and as of year’s end, no offensive military actions had resumed, except for infrequent skirmishes between armed groups and government forces. Authorities used excessive force against protesters in Kalma Camp near Nyala, South Darfur, in September, killing nine internally displaced persons (IDPs). Nevertheless, the continued COH allowed for increased stability and an overall improvement in the human rights situation in Darfur and the Two Areas, as the government ceased its aerial bombardments and scorched-earth tactics in conflict zones. In Darfur weak rule of law persisted, however. Banditry, criminality, and intercommunal violence were main causes of insecurity in Darfur.

The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial killings; torture, beatings, rape, and other cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment of detainees and prisoners; arbitrary detention by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; restrictions on the freedoms of expression, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; intimidation and closure of human rights and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); the use of child soldiers; trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex conduct with severe penalty; denial of workers’ rights to associate with independent trade unions; and child labor.

Government authorities did not investigate human rights violations by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), the military, or any other branch of the security services, with limited exceptions relating to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). The government failed to adequately compensate families of victims of shootings during the September 2013 protests, make its investigation results public, or hold security officials accountable. Impunity remained a problem in all branches of the security forces and government institutions.

In the internal conflict areas of Darfur and the Two Areas, security forces, paramilitary forces, and rebel groups continued to commit killings, rape, and torture of civilians. Local militias maintained substantial influence due to widespread impunity. There were reports of both progovernment and antigovernment militias looting, raping, and killing civilians. Intercommunal violence spawned from land tenure and resource scarcity resulted in high death tolls, particularly in East, South, and North Darfur. Between January and October, there were 34 reports of intercommunal clashes, up from 24 in 2016. Abduction was also seen as a lucrative business by both militias and various tribes in Darfur. In Abyei tribal conflict between Ngok Dinka and Misseriya was at the root of most human rights abuses. Reports were difficult to verify due to restricted access. In October the government launched a disarmament campaign beginning with a voluntary disarmament phase and then a forced disarmament phase. There were no known investigations of or prosecutions related to 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 numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Security forces used fatal excessive force against civilians, demonstrators, and detainees, including in the conflict zones (see section 1.g.). A large number of IDPs gathered at Kalma Camp in South Darfur on September 22 to protest the visit of President Bashir to the camp scheduled for the same day. A clash ensued between the IDPs and security forces. Six IDPs were initially shot and killed and 25 other IDPs and two security force personnel were injured. More IDPs died of injuries days later, raising the number of deaths to nine.

In September, NCP-aligned students killed three Darfuri students on the campus of Omdurman Islamic University in Khartoum. The authorities did not make public any investigation into the killings. Credible reports stated that throughout the country, some groups of NCP-aligned students were heavily armed and kept weapons, including Kalashnikovs and machetes, in mosques on campuses. There were credible reports of routine verbal and physical harassment by NCP-aligned students of Darfuri students.

As of September the government had not released results from an investigation into the death of Darfuri student Salah Gamar Ibrahim, detained by NISS agents in January 2016 following a political forum held by a student political organization affiliated with the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdel Wahid (SLA/AW).

As of September the government had not released any public report on the April 2016 killing by NISS of Kordofan University student Abu Baker Hashim during student elections in El Obeid, North Kordofan, nor on the April 2016 killing of al-Ahlia Omdurman University student Mohammed al-Sadig in clashes between progovernment and opposition students on campus.

As of September the government had not released a report on the killings of 200 persons during protests in 2013 against the lifting of subsidies, nor had any perpetrators been prosecuted, according to lawyers representing the victims’ families. The government claimed it had paid compensations to victims’ families, while individual family members and representatives refuted such claims. While independent sources estimated 200 deaths resulted from the protests, the government reported there had been 85 deaths.

During the year President Bashir continued to have two outstanding warrants for arrest against him based on International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments in 2009 and 2010 for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Nonetheless, President Bashir still traveled by invitation to several countries, including Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Rwanda, Russia, and Uganda. ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda presented her 25th report on the situation in Darfur to the Security Council on June 9, stating, “The pervading toxic culture of impunity must be tackled in order for justice to prevail in Darfur.”

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. As in prior years, this included disappearances in both nonconflict and conflict areas. Security forces detained political opponents incommunicado and without charge. NISS held some political detainees in isolation cells in regular prisons, and many were held without access to family or medical treatment and reportedly suffered physical abuse. Human rights activists asserted NISS ran “ghost houses” where it detained opposition and human rights figures without acknowledging they were being held. Such detentions were prolonged at times.

According to the government, NISS maintained public information offices to receive inquiries about missing or detained family members. Families of missing or detained persons often reported such inquiries went unanswered.

In December 2016 security force members kidnapped freelance journalists Phil Cox and Daoud Hari in Darfur and detained them for 40 days (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.).

Peaceful protesters were regularly detained and held incommunicado. Civil disobedience demonstrations in November and December 2016 led to the arrest and detention of more than 150 opposition and nonpartisan protesters, with some reportedly remaining in detention without access to legal counsel.

Government forces, armed opposition groups, and armed criminal elements were responsible for the disappearance of civilians, humanitarian workers, and UN and other international personnel in conflict areas (see section 1.g.).

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

The 2005 Interim National Constitution prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, but security forces reportedly continued to torture, beat, and harass suspected political opponents, rebel supporters, and others.

In accordance with the government’s interpretation of sharia (Islamic law), the penal code provides for physical punishments, including flogging, amputation, stoning, and the public display of a body after execution, despite the constitution’s prohibitions. Courts routinely imposed flogging, especially as punishment for indecent dress and the production or consumption of alcohol.

The law requires police and the attorney general to investigate deaths on police premises, regardless of suspected cause. Reports of suspicious deaths in police custody were sometimes investigated but not prosecuted. On August 23, Usama Mohammed Abdulsalam died at the Diem Mayo Public Order police station in Port Sudan. He was arrested on August 21 on the charge of possession of alcohol, Article 78 of the 1991 criminal code. The next day he collapsed in his cell and was taken to a hospital for treatment. Police then took him back to the jail to await trial. A medical report revealed that Abdulsalam died after being subject to overcrowding, poor ventilation, and heat. This was not the first time detainees died in police custody at Diem Mayo jail. It was unclear whether changes were made to the detention facilities after Abdulsalam’s death.

Government security forces (including police, NISS, and SAF Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) personnel) beat and tortured physically and psychologically persons in detention, including members of the political opposition, civil society, and journalists, according to civil society activists in Khartoum, former detainees, and NGOs. Reports of torture and other forms of mistreatment included prolonged isolation, exposure to extreme temperature variations, electric shock, and use of stress positions.

There were numerous examples similar to the following: Freelance journalists Phil Cox and Daoud Hari were kidnapped by security force members in Darfur in December 2016 after entering illegally through Chad to film hostilities in Darfur. Both were specifically investigating allegations by Amnesty International of government use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra. They were transported to Khartoum and detained for 40 days in Kober Prison. Following pressure from several embassies and media, the two were released and allowed to depart the country. Cox published essays and made documentaries after his release, in which he reported that during interrogations, government officers accused him of being a spy for the United Kingdom and the United States. He also reported that authorities beat, tortured, and choked him, as well as administered electric shocks to him with a cow prod and forced him to sit in stress positions. He also claimed that a prison guard injected him with an unknown substance without his consent.

Human rights groups alleged that NISS regularly harassed and sexually assaulted many of its female detainees. NISS arrested award-winning journalist and women’s rights activist Amal Habani in July on charges of indecent dress in violation of the Public Order Act. She stated publicly that she was physically assaulted while in police custody.

Government authorities detained members of the Darfur Students Association during the year. Upon release numerous students showed visible signs of severe physical abuse and reported they had been tortured. Government forces reportedly used live bullets to disperse crowds of protesting Darfuri students on multiple occasions, including at the University of Kordofan in Obeid in April and at Khartoum University and al-Zaeem al-Azhari University in May. Darfuri students also reported being attacked by NCP student-wing members during protests. There were no known repercussions for the NCP youth that participated in violence against Darfuri students. There were numerous reports of violence against student activists’ family members.

Journalists were beaten, threatened, and intimidated (see section 2.a.).

The law prohibits indecent dress and punishes it with a maximum of 40 lashes, a fine, or both. The law does not specify what it deems to be indecent dress. Officials acknowledged authorities applied these laws more frequently against women than men and applied them to both Muslims and non-Muslims. Most women were released following payment of fines.

In October women’s rights activists reported that 45,000 complaints were issued against women under the Public Order Act in 2016. Of these, 15,000 women received the punishment of lashings. These numbers could not be independently verified.

Security forces, rebel groups, and armed individuals perpetrated sexual violence against women and girls; the abuse was especially prevalent in the conflict areas (see section 1.g.).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The Ministry of Interior generally does not release information on the physical conditions of prisons. Information about the number of juvenile and female prisoners was unavailable.

Physical Conditions: Prison conditions throughout the country remained harsh, overcrowded, and life threatening. The Prisons and Reform Directorate, a branch of the national police that reports to the Ministry of Interior, oversees prisons. According to human rights activists and released detainees, DMI officials also detained civilians on military installations, especially in conflict areas.

Overall conditions, including food, sanitary and living conditions, were reportedly better in women’s detention facilities and prisons, such as the Federal Prison for Women in Omdurman, than at equivalent facilities for men, such as Kober or Omdurman Prisons. In Khartoum juveniles were not held in adult prisons or jails, but they were reportedly held with adults elsewhere.

Prison health care, heating, ventilation, and lighting were often inadequate. Some prisoners did not have access to medications or physical examinations. Authorities generally provided food, water, and sanitation to prisoners, although the quality of all three was basic. Whereas prisoners previously relied on family or friends for food, families were not allowed to provide food or other items to family members. Most prisoners did not have beds. Former detainees reported needing to purchase foam mattresses. Ventilation and lighting conditions differed among prisons. Overcrowding was a major problem.

There were reports of deaths due to negligence in prisons and pretrial detention centers, but comprehensive figures were not available. Local press reported deaths resulting from suspected torture by police (see section 1.a.). Human rights advocates reported that additional deaths resulted from harsh conditions at military detention facilities, such as extreme heat and lack of water.

Authorities regularly denied prisoners held in NISS facilities visits from family and lawyers and, in the case of foreign prisoners, from foreign government representatives. Some former detainees reported security forces held them incommunicado; beat them; deprived them of food, water, and toilets; and forced them to sleep on cold floors.

Political prisoners were held in special sections of prisons. The main prison in Khartoum, Kober Prison, contained separate sections for political prisoners, those convicted of financial crimes, and others. NISS holding cells in Omdurman prisons were known to local activists as “the fridges” due to the extremely cold-controlled temperatures and the lack of windows and sunlight.

The number of deaths in prison was unknown.

Detainees reported physical violence by guards. Political detainees reported facing harsher treatment. One former detainee recounted being forced to beat a fellow detainee while both were blindfolded. He stated he did not know who he was beating until the other detainee screamed in pain. Other former detainees recounted hours-long beating sessions during which NISS agents reportedly rounded up multiple prisoners, moved them to a large room, beat them with closed fists, and struck them with weapons.

Rebel groups in Darfur and the Two Areas reportedly detained persons in isolated locations in prison-like detention centers.

Administration: It was difficult to confirm prison administrative records were complete and accurate, as the government considered such information confidential and did not release it. Prison administrators reportedly did not always know how many inmates NISS held within prisons.

Police reportedly allowed some visitors, including lawyers and family members, while prisoners were in custody and during judicial hearings. Political detainees and other prisoners held in NISS custody seldom were allowed visits from lawyers or family members, despite repeated requests for access. Visitors generally were not allowed access to prisoners held in NISS custody, however.

Christian clergy held services in prisons, but access was irregular and varied across prisons. Sunni imams were granted access to facilitate Friday prayers. Shia are prohibited from leading prayers. As a result, no Shia imams were allowed to enter prisons to conduct prayers. Detained Shia Muslims were permitted to join prayers led by Sunni imams.

There was no ombudsman or inspector general specifically designated for prisons. The police inspector general, the minister of justice, and the judiciary are authorized to inspect prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit unrestricted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC was not allowed to visit prisons during the year.

The government denied unrestricted access to diplomatic missions for consular visits. Diplomatic missions rarely were notified when citizens from their countries were arrested. When embassies were notified of arrests, representatives were allowed to speak to detainees’ families and lawyers but never allowed to visit inmates. There was no access to NISS or DMI detention facilities.

In October the National Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration Commission, in cooperation with the UN Development Program and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led a trip to Zalingei Central Prison in Central Darfur for members of the international diplomatic community.

The Ministry of Justice occasionally granted the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) access to government prisons in Darfur, but with restrictions. The government in most cases denied access to specific files, records, and prisoners. As such, UNAMID was unable to verify inmates who reportedly were held illegally as political prisoners brought in by NISS, after having undergone no judicial process. The human rights section had unfettered physical access to general prisons (with the exception of NISS and DMI detention centers) in South, North, East, and West Darfur, but in Central Darfur (where most of the conflict occurred during the year) UNAMID had no access to any prison or detention center.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The Interim National Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and requires that individuals be notified of the charges against them when they are arrested. Arbitrary arrests and detentions, however, remained common under the law, which allows for arrest without warrants and detention up to four and one-half months. Authorities often released detainees when their initial detention periods expired but took them into custody the next day for an additional period. Authorities, especially NISS, arbitrarily detained political opponents and those believed to sympathize with the opposition (see section 1.e.). The law does not provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Several government entities have responsibility for internal security, including the Ministries of Interior and Defense and NISS. The government attempted to respond to some interethnic fighting and, in a few instances, was effective in mediating peaceful solutions. The government had a poor record, however, in preventing societal violence. Numerous residents in Darfur, for example, routinely complained of a lack of governing presence or authority that could prevent or deter violent crime.

While the law provides NISS officials with legal protection for acts committed in their official capacity, the government reported NISS maintained an internal court system to address internal discipline and investigate and prosecute violations of the National Security Act, including abuse of power under the act. Penalties included up to 10 years in prison, a fine, or both for NISS officers found in violation. During the year, however, the government refused access to information regarding how many cases it had closed. A key national dialogue recommendation was to rescind unilateral additions to the constitution that exempt NISS from the national jurisprudence system. Despite promises to implement all national dialogue recommendations, the government did not include NISS reforms as part of the national dialogue package of laws it presented to the National Assembly.

NISS is responsible for internal security and all intelligence matters. It functions independent of any ministry. Constitutional amendments passed in 2015 expanded NISS’s mandate to include authorities traditionally reserved for the military and judiciary. Under the amendments, NISS may establish courts and is allowed greater latitude for making arrests; its officers are shielded from normal prosecution. The Ministry of Interior oversees the national police, including security police, Special Forces police, traffic police, and the combat-trained Central Reserve police. There was a police presence throughout the country. The Ministry of Defense oversees all elements of the SAF, including the Border Guards (BGs) and DMI units.

In 2013 the government created the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) as an element of the security apparatus, which as of June 2016 fell under SAF–no longer under NISS–but reported directly to the president. The RSF continued to play a significant role in the government’s campaigns against rebel movements and was implicated in the majority of reports of human rights violations against civilians. The government tightly controlled information about the RSF, and public comment critical of the RSF often resulted in arrest or detention (see section 2.a.).

NGOs reported that clashes between protesters and government forces in 2013 caused more than 185 deaths (see section 1.a.). In May the government submitted to the UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan a report on the status of implementation of the recommendations made by him to the government in his previous reports. In his report to the UN Human Rights Council, the independent expert noted with concern that the report of the government did not include information on the issue of the victims and families of the fuel subsidy demonstrations of 2013. The independent expert called for updates on the compensation process for the victims and families of victims, for an independent judicial inquiry to be conducted into the killings and other violations committed during these incidents, for bringing those responsible to justice.

Corruption among police and other security forces continued to be a problem. Security forces including police harassed suspected government opponents.

Impunity remained a serious problem throughout the security forces, although crimes involving child victims were prosecuted more regularly. Aside from the inconsistent use of NISS’ special courts (see above), the government infrequently lifted police immunity or pressed charges against SAF officers. The government also generally failed to investigate violations committed by any branch of the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Under the National Security Act, warrants are not required for an arrest. The law permits authorities to detain individuals for three days for the purpose of inquiry. The magistrate can renew detention without charge for up to two weeks. The superior magistrate may renew detentions weekly during investigation for up to six months for a person who is charged.

The law allows detentions for up to 45 days before individuals are charged. The NISS director may refer certain cases to the Security Council and request an extension of up to three months, allowing detentions of up to four and one-half months without charge. Authorities often released detainees when their detentions expired and rearrested them soon after for a new detention period, so that detainees were held for several months without charge.

The constitution and law provide for an individual to be informed in detail of charges at the time of arrest, with interpretation as needed, and for judicial determination without undue delay, but these provisions were rarely followed. Individuals accused of threatening national security routinely were charged under the national security law, rather than the criminal code, and frequently detained without charge.

The law allows for bail, except for those accused of crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment. There was a functioning bail system; however, the cases of persons released on bail often awaited action indefinitely.

The law provides for access to legal representation, but security forces often held persons incommunicado for long periods in unknown locations. By law any person may request legal assistance and must be informed of the right to counsel in cases potentially involving the death penalty, imprisonment lasting longer than 10 years, or amputation. The government was not always able to provide legal assistance, and legal aid organizations and lawyers partially filled the gap.

Arbitrary Arrest: NISS, police, and the DMI arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Authorities often detained persons for a few days before releasing them without charge, but many persons were held much longer. The government often targeted political opponents and suspected rebel supporters (see section 1.e.).

NISS officials frequently denied holding individuals in their custody or refused to confirm their place of detention. In lieu of formal detention, NISS increasingly called individuals to report to NISS offices for long hours on a daily basis without a stated purpose. Many human rights observers considered this a tactic to harass, intimidate, and disrupt the lives of opposition members and activists, prevent the carrying out of “opposition” activities, and prevent the recording of formal detentions.

Authorities also arbitrarily arrested and detained foreign citizens without charge. In some cases authorities used intimidation and financial pressure to force foreigners to leave the country.

The government sometimes sought to get Sudanese citizens living abroad who actively criticized the government online deported from their countries of residence. During the year three citizen activists residing legally in Saudi Arabia were deported to Sudan on a December 2016 request of the Sudanese government. The three individuals, Aladdin al-Difeina, al-Gasim Saydahmed, and al-Waleed Imam, were associated with online news outlets deemed critical of the Sudanese government. They were deported in July. Two were released in August, and the third was released in October.

The four individuals, including one Czech citizen, arrested in 2015 in connection with an international Christian charity organization, were all released during the year. In January, after more than one year in custody, the court dropped all charges against the Sudan Church of Christ head of evangelical activities, pastor Kwa Shamal. The same month former Sudan Church of Christ secretary general pastor Hassan Abdelrahim and Darfuri activist Abdelmoneim Abdelmaula were convicted on charges of eight crimes, including espionage and warring against the state, and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The president pardoned both individuals following sustained pressure from the international community. Despite being initially denied permission to leave the country, Abdelrahim and Abdelmaula left in September. In February, Czech religious worker Peter Jasek was released and deported back to the Czech Republic after a court convicted him of espionage and sentenced him to life in prison.

There were reports of individuals detained due to their actual or assumed support of antigovernment forces, such as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) and Darfur rebel movements. Unlike in prior years, no local NGOs reported that women were detained because of their association with men suspected of being SPLM-N supporters (see section 1.g.).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was common. The large number of detainees and judicial inefficiency resulted in trial delays. In cases involving political defendants accused of subverting national security, the accused may be held for as long as four and one-half months, with the possibility of further extended detention periods, before being formally charged. In his 2016 report to the Human Rights Council, the UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan expressed concern about several reports received of prolonged detentions and persons held without access to legal aid.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, were not entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and, therefore, were not able to obtain prompt release or compensation if unlawfully detained.

Amnesty: In August, President Bashir issued a decree pardoning human rights champion Mudawi Ibrahim Adam and five other activists associated with his case. Mudawi had been arrested in December 2016 and faced espionage charges, which carry the death penalty.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and relevant laws provide for an independent judiciary, courts were largely subordinate to government officials and the security forces, particularly in cases of alleged crimes against the state. On occasion courts displayed a degree of independence. Political interference with the courts, however, was commonplace, and some high-ranking members of the judiciary held positions in the Ministry of Interior or other ministries in the executive branch.

The judiciary was inefficient and subject to corruption. In Darfur and other remote areas, judges were often absent from their posts, delaying trials.

The government separated the posts of attorney general and minister of justice. It was unclear how the new attorney general was selected. The first public action of the latter was to order that Mudawi Ibrahim Adam remain in custody and be tried for engaging in espionage (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).

A state of emergency in Darfur, Blue Nile, and Southern Kordofan allowed for arrest and detention without trial. A state of emergency was extended to North Kordofan, West Kordofan, and Kassala to facilitate national arms-collection campaigns.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for a fair and public trial as well as a presumption of innocence; however, this provision was rarely respected. Trials are open to the public at the discretion of the judge. In cases of national security and offenses against the state, trials are usually closed. The law stipulates that the government is obligated to provide a lawyer for indigents in cases in which punishment might exceed 10 years’ imprisonment or include execution. Accused persons may also request assistance through the legal aid department at the Ministry of Justice or the Sudanese Bar Association.

By law criminal defendants must be informed promptly of the charges against them at the time of their arrest and charged in detail and with interpretation as needed. Individuals arrested by NISS often were not informed of the reasons for their arrest.

Defendants generally have the right to present evidence and witnesses, be present in court, confront accusers, and have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Some defendants reportedly did not receive legal counsel, and counsel in some cases could only advise the defendant and not address the court. Persons in remote areas and in areas of conflict generally did not have access to legal counsel. The government sometimes did not allow defense witnesses to testify.

Defendants have the right to appeal, except in military trials, where there is no appeal. Defendants were sometimes permitted time and facilities to prepare their defense, although in more political cases, charges could be disclosed with little warning and could change as the trial proceeded. Defendants in common criminal cases, such as theft, as well as in political trials were often compelled to confess guilt while in police custody through physical abuse and police intimidation of family members.

Lawyers wishing to practice are required to maintain membership in the government-controlled Sudanese Bar Association. The government continued to arrest and harass lawyers whom it considered political opponents.

Military trials, which sometimes were secret and brief, lacked procedural safeguards. A 2013 amendment to the 2007 Sudanese Armed Forces Act subjects any civilians in SAF-controlled areas believed to be rebels or members of a paramilitary group to military trials. NISS and military intelligence officers applied this amendment to detainees in the conflict areas.

Three-person security courts deal with violations of constitutional decrees, emergency regulations, and some sections of the penal code, including drug and currency offenses. Special courts composed primarily of civilian judges handled most security-related cases. Defendants had limited opportunities to meet with counsel and were not always allowed to present witnesses during trial.

Due to long distances between court facilities and police stations in conflict areas, local mediation was often the first resort to try to resolve disputes. In some instances tribal courts operating outside the official legal system decided cases. Such courts did not provide the same protections as regular courts.

Sharia strongly influenced the law, and sharia in some cases was applied to Christians against their wishes in civil domestic cases such as those concerning marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other family matters. On May 8, 23-year-old social media activist Mohamed Salih Aldisogi was arrested on charges of apostasy and public nuisance after he attempted to change his religion from Muslim to “nonreligious” on his government-issued identification card. A state-appointed psychiatrist then examined him without his consent. Aldisogi was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial and released the same day.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government continued to hold political prisoners and detainees, including protesters. Due to lack of access, the numbers of political prisoners and detainees could not be confirmed. Human rights monitors reported political prisoners as being in the hundreds; the government claimed it did not have political prisoners.

The government severely restricted international humanitarian organizations’ and human rights monitors’ access to political detainees. The government allowed UNAMID extremely limited access to Darfuri political detainees in Khartoum and Darfur.

On December 6, NISS officials arrested Rudwan Dawod, a human rights activist, reportedly after he visited a neighborhood in Khartoum to show solidarity with local community protests against government land expropriations. Security officials had arrested and detained Dawod on multiple occasions in prior years following his participation in peaceful protests. At year’s end NISS officials continued to hold him in detention in an unknown location, without charging him and without allowing him access to a lawyer or his family.

On December 10, police arrested Wini Nawal Omer, a human rights defender, while she was walking home from work and charged her with “indecent dress” under Article 152 of the 1991 criminal code. On December 12, police arrested fellow human rights activist Montiser Ibrahim, on four charges related to obstruction of justice after he visited Omer while she was being held in detention. On December 21, a Public Order Court judge acquitted Omer, noting that the clothing she had worn was no different than clothing worn by other Sudanese women on a daily basis. The judge highlighted the need for Article 152 to be amended to prevent what he deemed discriminatory enforcement of a vague law. A judge acquitted Ibrahim on December 19. Omer and Ibrahim filed a joint legal case against the police officer responsible for their arrests. By year’s end there were no additional details available on their case against the police officer.

Tasmeen Taha, a lawyer and human rights defender, was arrested in Darfur in late 2016 and forcibly transferred to Khartoum, where she was detained by NISS. She was released in March and subsequently fled the country. The independent expert highlighted this case in the report covering the period of October 2016 to June 2017.

On August 29, the government released human rights champion Mudawi Ibrahim Adam and five of his associates.

On September 24, despite weak evidence, Asim Omer was sentenced to death for killing a police officer during 2016 protests at Khartoum University. His trial had continued for more than a year following his arrest in April 2016. He was held incommunicado until his trial began. The final verdict sparked protests throughout Khartoum and in other states. As of year’s end, his case remained under appeal.

Government authorities detained Darfuri students and political opponents throughout the year, often reportedly subjecting them to torture (see section 1.c.).

The government continued to arrest or temporarily detain opposition members. All of the political opposition leaders arrested in late 2016 in connection with fuel subsidy protests were released during the year.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Persons seeking damages for human rights violations had access to domestic and international courts. The domestic judiciary, however, was not independent. There were problems enforcing domestic and international court orders (see section 5). According to the law, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Individuals, however, reported they feared reprisal (see section 2.d.).

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

The Interim National Constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government routinely violated these rights. Emergency laws in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile States legalize interference in privacy, family, home, and correspondence for purposes of maintaining national security.

Security forces frequently conducted searches without warrants and targeted persons suspected of political crimes. NISS often confiscated private property, especially electronic equipment. Security forces conducted multiple raids on Darfuri students’ housing throughout the year, including at Bakht al-Rida and al-Azhari Universities in May and Omdurman Islamic University in August. During the raids NISS confiscated the students’ belongings, such as their laptops, school supplies, and backpacks. As of year’s end, the students’ belongings had not been returned.

The government monitored private communication and movement of individuals and organizations without due legal process. A wide network of government informants conducted surveillance in schools, universities, markets, workplaces, and neighborhoods.

Under Islamic law a Muslim man may marry a Jewish or Christian woman. A Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim man. This prohibition was not universally enforced. Non-Muslims may adopt only non-Muslim children; a comparable restriction does not apply to Muslim parents.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The government maintained a COH in conflict areas by refraining from military offensives during the year. This restraint stood in contrast to its behavior in prior years, in which the SAF regularly initiated offensives, especially during the dry season. During the year there was no confirmed evidence the government, including the security forces under its command or control, initiated offensive operations. There were also no confirmed reports of aerial bombardments–a trademark of government offenses in previous years.

Killings: During the year military personnel and paramilitary forces committed killings in Darfur and the Two Areas. Most reports were difficult to verify due to continued prohibited access to conflict areas, particularly Jebel Marra in Darfur and SPLM-N-controlled areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States.

Only one major clash between rebels and the government was reported, although there were other smaller skirmishes. In May a joint force of the two Darfur armed movements of Sudan Liberation Movement/Minni Minnawi and Transitional Council (SLM/TC) clashed with government forces, including the RSF, while entering from South Sudan and Libya. The clashes resulted in numerous unconfirmed deaths on both sides. A joint statement released by the groups on May 22 confirmed the killing of SLM/TC general Mohamed Abdul al-Salam, in addition to the arrest of its chairman, Nimir Abdel Rahman, and several others. While there were no reports of RSF violations following clashes in East Darfur, there were reports of attacks and looting by progovernment militias on villages in the Ain Siro area in North Darfur.

In September security forces used fatal excessive force against demonstrators in Kalma IDP camp in South Darfur (see section 1.a.).

On November 25-26, fighting in North Darfur State between the RSF and tribal members loyal to Musa Hilal, a Rizigat tribal leader and former Janjaweed militia commander, resulted in several deaths, including some RSF soldiers. A report from a credible source that government forces killed 193 persons, including 34 women and 39 children, during the clashes could not be verified by year’s end, as the government impeded UNAMID’s access to the location following the clashes. The deadly clashes reportedly resulted from a government-run weapons collection campaign in the area, which Hilal opposed.

On May 31, an attack on UNAMID peacekeepers in South Darfur’s capital by an unknown group killed one military peacekeeper. By year’s end the government had not apprehended the perpetrators, but authorities announced they were investigating the incident.

In August, Vice President Hassabo Mohammed Abdelrahman, accompanied by the High Committee for Arms Collection on a visit to Darfur, announced a six-month nationwide campaign for the collection of arms with a focus on the conflict areas of Darfur and Kordofan. The announcement followed official government directives to collect arms. According to the government, arms would be collected from forces including the RSF, BGs, and Central Reserve Police, in addition to tribes and individuals. The campaign began in mid-September with a month-long “voluntary disarmament” phase, followed by forced disarmament. The government trained and deployed additional RSF militias to support the campaign. Vice President Hassabo stated the campaign was a follow-up to the recommendations of the National Dialogue and was key to the stability of the region with regard to both the security and economy. Both West and East Darfur announced they had already begun receiving weapons from BGs and Native Administration. Meanwhile South Darfur had established committees mandated to tour the state to raise awareness and sensitize communities of the campaign. Vice President Hassabo stated no compensation would be offered for weapons, saying, “We do not want the campaign to turn into a business,” giving the security forces full power and force to disarm individuals. Since the August campaign announcement, the government reported a visible decline in civilians carrying weapons.

In the disputed territory of Abyei, the security situation remained unpredictable but generally calm. Most human rights abuses were due to criminal activity and tribal conflict between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya, with several major security incidents occurring in and around common marketplaces. On July 7, five armed persons hijacked a vehicle outside the Amiet market. On July 8, an unverified number of armed persons shot two civilians, killing one and injuring the other. On July 9, four Misseriya opened fire on another vehicle along the road to Amiet market. The attack killed two Dinka individuals and injured three others. Security forces temporarily closed Amiet market on July 10 as a result of the string of deadly attacks and immediately launched investigations into the incidents.

Abductions: International organizations were unable independently to verify reports of disappearances due to lack of access to conflict areas.

There were numerous abuses similar to the following: In May an elder of Gallab village was kidnapped along with others riding in the car with him. They were stopped by militiamen in a Land Cruiser west of El Fasher and were beaten; their money and mobile phones were looted, and they were taken at gunpoint to a nearby village. The kidnappers contacted the village elder’s relatives and demanded ransom to release them. Reportedly, they sent money 1,000 Sudanese pounds (SDG) ($125) per person and the kidnappers released them two days later. Reportedly, the kidnappers were Arab armed groups in Land Cruisers with machine guns, “roaming in the area, doing whatever they want,” which could accurately describe BGs, the RSF, or merely armed bandits.

UNAMID reported that abduction remained a lucrative coercive method adopted by various tribes in Darfur to obtain the payment of diya (“blood money” ransom) claimed from other communities.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Human rights organizations accused government forces of perpetrating torture and other human rights violations and abuses. Government forces abused persons detained in connection with armed conflict as well as IDPs suspected of having links to rebel groups. There were continuing reports that government security forces, progovernment and antigovernment militias, and other armed persons raped women and children.

The extent to which rebel groups committed new human rights abuses could not be accurately estimated, largely due to limited access to conflict areas. The state of detention facilities administered by the SLM/AW and SPLM-N in their respective rebel-controlled areas could not be verified due to lack of access.

Human rights groups continued to report that government forces and militias raped, detained, tortured, and arbitrarily killed civilians in the five states of Darfur and government-controlled areas of Blue Nile.

From December 2016 to November, UNAMID documented 115 cases involving 152 adult female victims of conflict-related sexual violence and 68 minors. In 2016 UNAMID documented 100 cases with 222 victims. UNAMID received the cases from all five Darfur states. Gross underreporting remained prevalent.

The government rejected UNAMID figures on the basis the cases had not been reported to state authorities, but observers concurred that the government needed capacity building in how to track cases.

Unexploded ordnances killed and injured innocent civilians in the conflict zones. There were numerous examples similar to the following: On November 5, three schoolboys in Nyala, South Darfur, found an unexploded ordnance and played with it. The ordnance exploded and injured the three boys and two nearby men. The incident was reported to the police, and the injured individuals were taken to the Sudan-Turkish Hospital for treatment.

Child Soldiers: The law prohibits the recruitment of children and provides criminal penalties for perpetrators. Allegations persisted, however, that armed movements, government forces, and government-aligned militias had child soldiers within their ranks. Allegations also persisted that antigovernment rebel groups used children.

Unlike in prior years, the government reportedly stopped its support to the South Sudan opposition group, Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition, which was widely reported to recruit and use child soldiers. The United Nations verified the government worked closely with UNICEF to implement its action plan to prevent the recruitment and use of children by government security forces.

Many children lacked documents verifying their age. Children’s rights organizations believed armed groups exploited this lack of documentation to recruit or retain children. Due to problems of access, particularly in conflict zones, reports of child soldiers were limited and often difficult to verify. Sources confirmed the capture of multiple children by the government during an armed offensive of the SLM-Minni Minawi faction in Darfur in May.

UNAMID reported that concerted efforts to curb the recruitment of child soldiers in Darfur had led to significant progress, but the potential use of children in ethnic clashes remained a major concern.

Representatives of armed groups reported they did not actively recruit child soldiers. They did not, however, prevent children who volunteered from joining their movements. The armed groups stated the children were stationed primarily in training camps and were not used in combat.

There were reports of the use of child soldiers by the SPLM-N, but numbers could not be verified, in part due to lack of access to SPLM-N-controlled territories.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Humanitarian access improved for UN and NGO staff considerably during the year, particularly access to East Darfur. There were still incidents of restrictions on UN and NGO travel to North Darfur and East Jebel Marra, primarily due to insecurity. In late December 2016, the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) issued new guidelines to ease restrictions on movement of humanitarian workers; however, the guidelines were not consistently implemented during the year.

The government continued periodically to use bureaucratic impediments to restrict the actions of humanitarian organizations. Despite the substantial improvements in access during the year, authorities delayed the release of food and necessary equipment to UNAMID for prolonged periods. For example, the government continued to delay the release of food-ration containers in Port Sudan, although to a lesser extent than in the prior year. The resulting shortages hampered the ability of UNAMID troops to communicate, conduct robust patrols, and protect civilians; they incurred demurrage charges and additional costs for troop- and police-contributing countries and the United Nations.

Darfur reportedly hosted an estimated three million persons in need of humanitarian assistance, of whom 1.6 million were in 60 IDP camps, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Nonetheless, the government continued to push for a reduced role for the international humanitarian community. Certain parts of Darfur, including rebel-held areas in Jebel Marra, largely remained cut off from humanitarian access. During the year UNAMID also substantially reduced its presence in Darfur due to budgetary constraints and government requests. UNAMID’s mandate, however, remained largely unchanged, with a continued emphasis on the protection of civilians, facilitation of humanitarian assistance, and conflict mediation. Between August and October, UNAMID closed 11 of 34 sites in Darfur, including sites in every Darfuri state except for Central Darfur. UNAMID staff reported the reduction would severely restrict UNAMID’s ability to carry out missions, such as verifying reports of human rights violations. Despite the downsizing, UNAMID intended to open a new temporary operating site in Golo to service Jebel Marra, in accordance with the UN Security Council’s renewal of UNAMID’s mandate in late June. At year’s end this site’s planning was under way, but the government had not allowed the establishment of the base.

Government forces at times harassed NGOs that received international assistance. Although humanitarian access improved generally, the government sometimes restricted or denied permission for humanitarian assessments, refused to approve technical agreements, changed operational procedures, copied NGO files, confiscated NGO property, questioned humanitarian workers at length and monitored their personal correspondence, restricted travel, and publicly accused humanitarian workers of aiding rebel groups. Unidentified armed groups also targeted humanitarian workers for kidnapping and ransom.

Armed persons attacked, killed, injured, and kidnapped peacekeepers and aid workers. On October 7, rebels kidnapped 70-year-old Swiss humanitarian worker Margaret Schenkel from her residence in El Fasher, North Darfur. Schenkel is a long-time resident of Darfur and well respected by the community for her work serving women and malnourished children. In mid-November, Schenkel was freed by security forces.

On May 31, an attack on UNAMID peacekeepers in South Darfur’s capital by an unknown group killed one military peacekeeper. In a statement released the next day, UNAMID noted the incident had been reported to the relevant Sudanese authorities and called on the government to swiftly apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

All states in Darfur were under varying states of emergency. Between January 1 and November 10, UNAMID police received 1,737 reports of criminality and banditry, which included 1,029 persons killed. This represented an 8.1-percent decrease in crime from 2016. Police confirmed 1,146 of these cases and made 179 related arrests. North Darfur had the highest crime rate, while South Darfur had the only crime rate that increased from 2016. The attacks included rape, armed robbery, abduction, ambush, livestock theft, assault/harassment, arson, and burglary and were allegedly carried out primarily by Arab militias, but government forces, unknown assailants, and rebel elements also carried out attacks.

The UN secretary-general stated that the number of attacks against UN agencies and humanitarian organizations continued to decline.

Conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence, especially in Central Darfur, continued to be taboo. Humanitarian actors in Darfur continued to report that victims of sexual and gender-based violence faced obstructions in attempts to report crimes and access health care.

Largely unregulated artisanal gold-mining activities continued in all of the Darfur states, although it was a lesser source of tension between communities than in previous years. Claims to land rights continued to be mostly ethnic and tribal in nature. Clashes sometimes resulted from conflicts over land rights, mineral ownership, and use of gold-mining areas, particularly in the Jebel Amer area in North Darfur. Observers believed those clashes resulted in deaths and displacement.

On July 21, clashes renewed between Maaliya and Rezeigat tribesmen, reportedly over livestock theft in East Darfur in the three localities of Yassin, Shaeria, and Abukarinka. The clashes resulted in approximately 290 deaths and numerous others injured, according to local sources. More clashes continued in the following days in the three localities, and armed tribesmen suspected to be Rezeigat were sighted in different locations in East Darfur’s capital El Daein mobilizing to join the clashes. Armed tribesmen in El Daein and environs reportedly “commandeered small cars, Land Cruisers, and trucks by force” to transport them to the area. Fighting subsided by July 26, with government authorities deploying troops. The number of armed tribesmen reportedly subsequently decreased in El Daein.

Although the government made public statements encouraging the return of IDPs to their homes and the closure of camps in Darfur since “peace” had come to Darfur, IDPs expressed reluctance to return due to lack of security and justice in their areas of origin or elsewhere.

Restrictions imposed by the government in Abyei on NGOs limited the implementation capacity of humanitarian and development actors, especially in the northern parts of Abyei. Additional problems included inadequate funds, high implementation costs owing to security and logistical constraints, delays in the issuance of travel permits, and government restrictions on the movement of personnel and supplies.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: In February 2015, an amendment to Artice 149 of the Criminal Code changed the definition of rape and added Article 151 (3) to criminalize the offense of sexual harassment. Under the new definition of rape, rape victim could no longer be prosecuted for adultery.

There were no reliable statistics on the prevalence of rape and domestic violence. The international expert on the human rights situation in Sudan and UNAMID’s human rights section reported that they received regular reports of incidents of rape and sexual and gender-based violence (see section 1.g.). Human rights organizations cited substantial barriers, including cultural norms, police reluctance to investigate, and the widespread impunity of perpetrators, to reporting sexual and gender-based violence, including a substantial gap between the law and its implementation.

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Women, and Child Affairs is responsible for matters pertaining to women. The Violence against Women Unit is responsible for implementation of the National Action Plan for Combating Violence against Women. It had offices in 14 of the 18 states.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C remained a problem throughout the country. No national law prohibits FGM/C, and the procedure continued to be used on women and girls throughout the country. The government launched a national campaign in 2008 to eradicate FGM/C by 2018, and since 2008, five states had passed laws prohibiting FGM/C: South Kordofan, Gedaref, Red Sea, South Darfur, and West Darfur. The government, with the support of the first lady, continued to prioritize the “saleema” (uncut) campaign, which raised public awareness about FGM/C. The government continued to work with UNICEF, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) to end FGM/C.

According to UNICEF and UNFPA, the national prevalence rate of FGM/C among girls and women between 15 and 49 years old was 87 percent. Prevalence varied geographically and depended on the local ethnic group.

For more information, see data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/ .

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The Interim National Constitution obligates states to combat harmful customs and traditions that undermine the dignity and status of women.

Sexual Harassment: There were frequent reports of sexual harassment by police. The government did not provide any information on the number of sexual harassment reports made. NGOs, not the government, made most efforts to curb sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law, including many traditional legal practices and certain provisions of Islamic jurisprudence as interpreted and applied by the government, discriminates against women. In accordance with Islamic judicial interpretation, a Muslim widow inherits one-eighth of her husband’s estate; of the remaining seven-eighths, two-thirds goes to the sons and one-third to the daughters. In certain probate trials, the testimony of women is not considered equivalent to that of men; the testimony of two women is required. In other civil trials, the testimony of a woman equals that of a man. A Muslim woman cannot legally marry a non-Muslim man.

Various government institutions required women to dress according to Islamic or cultural standards, including wearing a head covering. In Khartoum, Public Order Police occasionally brought women before judges for allegedly violating Islamic standards. One women’s advocacy group estimated that in Khartoum, Public Order Police arrested an average of 40 women per day.

Islamic standards for dress generally were not enforced for non-Muslims.

Children

Birth Registration: The Interim National Constitution states persons born to a Sudanese mother or father have the right to citizenship. The law grants citizenship only to children born to a father who is a Sudanese citizen by descent.

Most newborns received birth certificates, but some in remote areas did not. Registered midwives, dispensaries, clinics, and hospitals could issue certificates. A birth certificate does not automatically qualify a child for citizenship. Failure to present a valid birth certificate precludes enrollment in school. Access to health care was similarly dependent on possession of a valid birth certificate, but many doctors accepted a patient’s verbal assurance that he or she had one.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The law provides for tuition-free basic education up to grade eight, but students often had to pay school, uniform, and examination fees to attend. Primary education is neither compulsory nor universal.

Child Abuse: The government tried to enforce laws criminalizing child abuse and was more likely to prosecute cases involving child abuse and sexual exploitation of children than cases involving adults. Some police stations included “child friendly” family and child protection units and provided legal, medical, and psychosocial support for children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage was 10 years for girls and 15 years or puberty for boys. The government and the president’s wife continued to work to end child marriage. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for offenses related to the sexual exploitation of children vary and can include imprisonment, fines, or both. The government tried to enforce laws criminalizing sexual exploitation of children. Some police stations included “child friendly” protection units and provided legal, medical, and psychosocial support for children.

There is no minimum age for consensual sex or statutory rape law. Pornography, including child pornography, is illegal. Statutes prescribe a fine and period of imprisonment not to exceed 15 years for offenses involving child pornography.

Displaced Children: Internally displaced children often lacked access to government services such as health and education due to both security concerns and an inability to pay related fees. In October 2016 UNICEF reported approximately 70 percent of IDPs were children.

Institutionalized Children: Police typically sent homeless children who had committed crimes to government camps for indefinite periods. Health care, schooling, and living conditions were generally very basic. All children in the camps, including non-Muslims, had to study the Quran.

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

Anti-Semitism

A very small Jewish community remained in the country, predominantly in the Khartoum area. Societal attitudes were generally not tolerant of Jewish persons, although anti-Semitic acts were rare.

During a February 17 recorded sermon in Khartoum, Imam Mohamed Abdul-Kareem condemned Sheikh Yousuf al-Koda’s call to normalize relations with Israel. Abdul-Kareem described Jews as “slayers of prophets,” “brothers of pigs and apes,” and “people of deception and corruption.” He also claimed, “Jewish tourists spread AIDS, corruption, and drugs” and “tamper with state security.”

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Although the law, including the Interim National Constitution, provides protection for persons with disabilities, social stigma and a lack of resources hindered the government’s enforcement of disability laws. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Social stigma and lack of resources often prevented government and private entities from accommodating persons with disabilities in education and employment. Appropriate supports were especially rare in rural areas.

The government had not enacted laws or implemented effective programs to provide for access to buildings, information, and communication for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The population includes more than 500 ethnic groups, speaking numerous languages and dialects. Some of these ethnic groups self-identify as Arab, referring to their language and other cultural attributes. Northern Muslims traditionally dominated the government. Discrimination against Darfuri students on college campuses was a pervasive problem. There were multiple cases such as the following example: Nasr Aldin Mukhtar, former chairman of the Darfuri Student Union at Quran al-Kareem University, was arrested in 2015 and rearrested on August 22, while leaving the university as police used live ammunition during a raid on the campus. As of November he remained in detention suffering from various health problems as a result of reported mistreatment during detention. Family members were allowed one visit, after substantial pressure from civil society groups.

In May security services violently dispersed student protests against corruption at Bakht Alrida University in El Duaweim, White Nile, and conducted a raid on housing inhabited by Darfuri students. Security forces arrested nine students and, as of December, continued to hold them in prison without charges. Security forces stopped buses of Darfuri student protesters against the action in a village outside Khartoum. Military and police units surrounded the village and caused a day-long standoff between security and students. After the involvement of local leaders and substantial pressure from the international community, the government took no violent action against the students but did stop the delivery of food supplies. The Darfuri Members Caucus within parliament attempted unsuccessfully to report the marginalization of Darfuri students to the minister of education.

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

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons are not considered a protected class under antidiscrimination laws. The law does not specifically prohibit homosexuality but criminalizes sodomy, which is punishable by death. Antigay sentiment was pervasive in society. LGBTI organizations increasingly felt pressured to suspend or alter their activities due to threat of harm. Several LGBTI persons felt compelled to leave the country due to fear of persecution, intimidation, or harassment.

In September, Public Order Police arrested journalist-blogger Marwa Altijani and released her the same day after filing apostasy charges against her for publishing an article online in which she asserted, “Nothing is wrong with being a lesbian.”

On October 24, a man was arrested at a social event for wearing “indecent” female clothes and makeup. A Public Order Court sentenced him to 40 lashes and a fine of 5,000 SDG ($625). The punishment was reportedly carried out the same day.

There were no reports of official action to investigate or punish those complicit in LGBTI-related discrimination or abuses.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

The government, government-supported militias, and rebel groups reportedly promoted hatred and discrimination, using standard propaganda techniques. The government often used religiously charged language to refer to suspected antigovernment supporters.

The government did not take measures to counter hate speech.

Syria

Executive Summary

President Bashar Assad has ruled the Syrian Arab Republic since 2000. The constitution mandates the primacy of Baath Party leaders in state institutions and society, and Assad and Baath party leaders dominate all three branches of government. An uprising against the government that began in 2011 continued throughout the year. The 2014 presidential election and the April 2016 parliamentary elections resulted in the election of Assad and 200 People’s Council (Syrian parliament) seats for the Baath Party-led National Progressive Front, respectively. Both elections took place in an environment of widespread government coercion, and many Syrians residing in opposition-held territory did not participate in the elections. Observers did not consider the elections free or fair.

The government maintained control over its uniformed military, police, and state security forces, but it did not maintain effective control over foreign and domestic military or paramilitary organizations. These included Russian armed forces; Hizballah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; nonuniformed progovernment militias, such as the National Defense Forces; and the Bustan Charitable Association, or “shabiha.”

The most significant human rights abuses included unlawful and arbitrary killings by the government and its allies resulting from atrocities they committed during the conflict, including the repeated use of chemical weapons, including sarin and chlorine, against civilians, widespread “barrel bombing” of civilians and residential areas, systematic attacks on civilian infrastructure, attacks on medical facilities, extrajudicial executions, rape, including of children, as a weapon of war; massacres, starvation and displacement of local civilian populations; mass forced disappearances; thousands of cases of torture, including sexual violence; harsh and life threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers, including deliberate denial of medical care; widespread arbitrary arrest and detention; tens of thousands of political prisoners; pervasive interference with privacy; recruitment and use of child soldiers; severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, including internet access, assembly, association, and movement; denial of humanitarian access to civilians, including displaced persons; rampant corruption; criminalization of same sex sexual activity and violence against LGBTI persons by government and extremist forces; and severe restrictions on workers’ rights.

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

Government-linked paramilitary groups reportedly engaged in frequent violations and abuses, including massacres, indiscriminate killings, kidnapping of civilians, arbitrary detentions, and rape as a war tactic. Government-affiliated militias, including the terrorist organization Lebanese Hizballah, supported by Iran, repeatedly targeted civilians. Armed terrorist groups, such as the al-Qa’ida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), also committed a wide range of human rights abuses, including massacres, bombings, and kidnappings; unlawful detention; torture; unlawful killings; and forced evacuations from homes based on sectarian identity. While the government and its allies were responsible for most of the killings, the Islamic State extremist group ISIS committed massive abuses in territories it controlled in the Raqqa and Deir al-Zour Governorates. Human trafficking and the forcible recruitment and use of children in the conflict increased. There were reports of systematic rape and forced marriages of women and girls for sexual slavery among ISIS fighters. On August 15, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that “ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled. ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.”

There also were reports of Kurdish forces displacing Arab residents after liberating areas from ISIS. During the year reports from local media and Syrian human rights groups indicated that Kurdish authorities arrested local civil council leaders, journalists, and other civilians. There were reports alleging that some members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other minorities that included members of the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG), engaged in forced conscription, to include limited conscription of children, as well as reports alleging isolated incidents of torture and at least one incident of extrajudicial killing of persons suspected of ISIS affiliation by those who appeared to belong to the SDF based on their statements or their uniforms.

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

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

There were numerous reports the government and its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in relation to the conflict (see section 1.g.).

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), as of March the conflict had killed at least 207,000 civilians. The government continued its use of helicopters and airplanes to conduct aerial bombardment and shelling. The SNHR reported that government helicopters dropped at least 5,318 barrel bombs from January through October, resulting in the deaths of at least 110 civilians. Amnesty International (AI) reported that authorities killed between five thousand and 13,000 persons at the Sednaya military prison between September 2011 and December 2015, with no indication that the killing had ceased. In May a foreign government announced that it assessed the Syrian government had probably installed a crematorium within the Sednaya compound to permit its forces to dispose of prisoners’ bodies with little evidence. On October 26, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism issued its seventh report, which concluded that the Assad regime used the chemical weapon sarin in the April 4 attack that killed scores of persons in Khan Shaykhun. The report also determined that ISIS was responsible for using ‎the chemical weapon sulfur mustard in September 2016 in Um-Housh.

Government and progovernment forces reportedly attacked civilians in hospitals, residential areas, schools, and settlements for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugee camps; these attacks included bombardment with improvised explosive devices, commonly referred to as “barrel bombs.” The government continued the use of torture and rape, including of children. It used the massacre of civilians, as well as their forced displacement, rape, starvation, and protracted sieges that occasionally forced local surrenders, as military tactics.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) reported the number of forced disappearances remained high. The majority of disappearances reported by activists, human rights observers, and international NGOs appeared to be politically motivated. In August 2016 the SNHR attributed 96 percent of the estimated 75,000 forced disappearances to the government. The government reportedly targeted critics, specifically journalists, medical personnel, antigovernment protesters, their families, and associates.

In 2012, for example, the government arrested activist Bassel Khartabil, who was widely recognized for assisting citizens to evade the government’s surveillance and online censorship. Bassel’s health and whereabouts remained unknown until August, when his family received confirmation from an undisclosed source in Damascus that the government executed Bassel in October 2015.

The COI 2016 report stated that government forces continued to engage in mass arrests of injured persons attempting to leave besieged areas at checkpoints and in areas that fell under their control. Following the surrender of towns such as Darayaa and Moadimiyah after years of siege and starvation tactics, the government gave civilians the choice of relocating nearby but required opposition fighters to take personal weapons and relocate to Idlib Governorate. The government reportedly arrested men of fighting age, especially Sunni, perceived to be associated with opposition groups. The COI noted that the families of disappeared persons often feared to approach authorities to inquire about the locations of their relatives; those who did so had to pay large bribes to learn the locations of relatives or faced systematic refusal by authorities to disclose information about the fate of disappeared individuals.

As the government took control over eastern Aleppo in late December 2016, reports surfaced of military-age men being forcibly disappeared. There were also reports of the government forcibly conscripting military-age men.

AI reported the government provided no further information on the thousands of individuals who had disappeared since the start of the conflict or the 17,000 persons who disappeared since the 1970s. Human rights groups’ estimates of the total number of disappearances since 2011 varied widely, but all estimates pointed to disappearances as a pervasive and common practice. AI estimated that authorities had forcibly abducted more than 65,000 persons since the start of the conflict, including 58,000 civilians and seven thousand members of armed groups. A number of prominent political prisoners remained missing (see section 1.e.). The SNHR reported that government forces and progovernment militias were responsible for 5,228 cases of arbitrary arrest of men, women, and children from January through November.

Terrorist groups conducted kidnappings, particularly in the northern and eastern areas, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected government affiliates, journalists, and activists. According to the COI, reports of enforced disappearances in territory held by ISIS also increased.

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and provides up to three years’ imprisonment for violations. Activists, the COI, and local NGOs reported thousands of credible cases of government authorities engaging in frequent torture to punish perceived opponents, including during interrogations. Observers reported most cases of torture or mistreatment occurred in detention centers operated by each of the government’s security service branches. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the COI reported regular use of detention and torture of government opponents at checkpoints and facilities run by the air force, Political Security Division, General Security Directorate, and Military Intelligence Directorate. They identified specific detention facilities where torture occurred, including the Mezzeh airport detention facility, Military Security Branches 215, 227, 235, 248, and 291, Adra and Sednaya prisons, the Harasta Air Force Intelligence Branch, Harasta Military Hospital, Mezzeh Military Hospital 601, and Tishreen Military Hospital. The COI also reported the Counterterrorism Court (CTC) and field military courts’ reliance on forced confessions and information acquired through torture to obtain convictions. A large number of torture victims reportedly died in custody; the SNHR reported that 12,679 individuals died due to torture between early 2011 and June 2016; 99 percent of these cases occurred in government facilities (see section 1.a.).

Activists cited thousands of credible cases of security forces abusing and torturing prisoners and detainees and maintained that many instances of abuse went unreported. Some declined to allow reporting of their names or details of their cases due to fear of government reprisal.

The COI noted that torture methods remained consistent. These included beatings on the head, bodies, and soles of feet (“falaqua”) with wooden and metal sticks, hoses, cables, belts, whips, and wires. Authorities also reportedly sexually assaulted detainees; administered electric shocks, including to their genitals; burned detainees with cigarettes; and placed them in stress positions for prolonged periods of time. A substantial number of male detainees reported being handcuffed and then suspended from the ceiling or a wall by their wrists for hours.

Other reported methods of severe physical torture included removing nails and hair, stabbings, and cutting off body parts, including ears and genitals. Numerous human rights organizations reported other forms of torture, including forcing objects into the rectum and vagina, hyperextending the spine, and putting the victim onto the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts. Additionally, officers reportedly continued the practice of “shabeh,” in which they stripped detainees naked, hung them for prolonged periods from the ceiling, and administered electrical shocks. In August 2016 AI and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group published a detailed account of 12,270 documented killings and extensive use of torture in Sednaya Prison.

The use of psychological torture by the government also reportedly increased. One commonly reported practice was detention of victims overnight in cells with corpses of previous victims. The SNHR reported that psychological torture methods included forcing prisoners to witness the rape of other prisoners, threatening the rape of family members (in particular female family members), forcing prisoners to undress, and insulting prisoners’ beliefs.

Various NGOs, including HRW, AI, and the SNHR, continued to report widespread instances of rape and sexual abuse, including of minors. The COI reported receiving reports of interrogators raping and sexually abusing male detainees held in Branch 285 of the General Directorate of Intelligence in Damascus. The COI also reported that government personnel raped and used other forms of sexual violence against women in detention facilities as well as at checkpoints. A COI report noted that authorities subjected prisoners to threats of sexual violence against their female relatives while in custody. A July report from the NGO Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights noted that the government arbitrarily detained and tortured women in government detention centers in a “systematic and widespread pattern” that amounted to crimes against humanity. The report detailed the stories of eight women. One woman described prison guards molesting her during a strip search and then being tied to a bed before being “gang-raped by five men.” During 15 days at the al-Mezzeh Military Airport, she reported being raped and sexually assaulted on at least three other occasions. During one interrogation government security personnel stripped her naked and raped her, while filming the ordeal.

Reports from multiple UN and NGO sources documented the prevalent use of rape and sexual violence, particularly but not exclusively against women, throughout the conflict. According to the COI, the government and affiliated militias systematically perpetrated rape and other inhuman attacks against civilian populations in Deir al-Zour, Dara’a, Hama, Damascus, and Tartus Governorates. Detention centers were the most common location for abuse.

There were widespread reports that government security forces engaged in abuse and inhuman treatment of prisoners. According to the COI, most were civilians initially held at checkpoints or taken prisoner during military incursions. While the majority of accounts concerned male detainees, there were increased reports of female detainees suffering abuse in government custody. The frequency, duration, and severity of the reported abuse suggested victims’ sustained long-term psychological and physical damage.

The COI reported that, beginning in 2011 and continuing throughout the conflict, security forces subjected detainees to mistreatment in military hospitals, often obstructing medical care or exacerbating existing injuries as a technique in abuse and interrogation. There were multiple reports of deaths in custody at the Mezzeh airport detention facility, Military Security Branches 215 and 235, and Sednaya Prison. Authorities consistently directed families of detainees seeking information to the Qaboun Military Police and Tishreen Military Hospital. In most cases authorities reportedly did not return the bodies of deceased detainees to their families. In January 2016 authorities confirmed the death of a paramedic, Amer Safaf, in Sednaya Prison with his body showing signs of torture after government forces arrested him in 2012.

AI’s “Human Slaughter House” report documented that the government denied inmates adequate food, which led to malnutrition and starvation and left them vulnerable to contracting serious illnesses such as tuberculosis. AI’s report included the testimonies of three detainees who reported losing at least half of their body weight during their detention in Sednaya.

There continued to be a significant number of reports of exceptionally brutal cases of abuse of children by the government. The COI noted regular reports of detention and torture of children under the age of 13, in some cases as young as 11, in government detention facilities. Officials reportedly targeted and tortured children because of their familial relations, or assumed relationships, with political dissidents, members of the armed opposition, and activist groups. The UN special representative for children and armed conflict reported that child detainees, largely boys, including those as young as 14, suffered similar or identical methods of torture practiced on adults. According to reliable witnesses, authorities continued to hold a number of children to compel parents and other relatives associated with opposition fighters to surrender to authorities.

Although authorities held fewer women and girls in detention than men, the SNHR estimated the number of female detainees in government prisons between the beginning of the uprising in 2011 and April 2016 to be more than seven thousand. The SNHR estimated that 2,850 women remained in prison.

In 2015 the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom reported that authorities often detained women for use in bargaining with their male family members. Authorities exchanged them for weapons of armed opposition groups. Security officers also subjected women to sexual exploitation while searching for their detained family members.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and in many instances were life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical and psychological abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The government prohibited independent monitoring of prison or detention center conditions. Reports of mistreatment and abuse of prisoners were common. The COI reported that observers most often cited detention centers and prisons as locations for sexual violence and that authorities used the threat of rape as a tool to coerce confessions.

Physical Conditions: The SNHR reported that as of November it possessed a list of no fewer than 117,000 Syrians who remained imprisoned. Moreover, the SNHR estimated that, over the course of the conflict, more than 215,000 persons had been detained; the NGO attributed 99 percent of the detentions to the government. According to HRW, released detainees consistently reported abuse and torture in detention facilities and prison conditions that often led to deaths in custody. According to the COI, government detention facilities lacked food, water, space, hygiene, and medical care. Poor conditions were so consistent that the COI concluded they reflected state policy.

According to local and international NGOs, the government held prisoners and detainees in severely cramped quarters with little or no access to toilets, hygiene, medical supplies, or adequate food. In August 2016 the COI reported that conditions in detention facilities, and specifically those run by intelligence agencies, remained abysmal. Former detainees reported lice infestations, untreated injuries, and a general lack of necessities such as food, water, space, hygiene, and medical care.

Reports from multiple international NGO sources suggested there were also many informal detention sites and that authorities held thousands of prisoners in converted military bases and in civilian infrastructure, such as schools and stadiums, and in unknown locations. Activists asserted the government also housed arrested protesters in factories and vacant warehouses that were overcrowded and lacked adequate sanitary facilities.

Prior to the 2011 protests, the government usually held pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners. During the year authorities commonly held juveniles, adults, pretrial detainees, and convicted prisoners together in inadequate spaces. The COI reported that authorities held children as young as eight in prison with adults.

In some cases authorities transferred detainees from unofficial holding areas to intelligence services facilities. Detention conditions at security and intelligence service facilities continued to be the harshest, especially for political or national security prisoners. Facilities lacked proper ventilation, lighting, access to potable water or adequate food, medical staff and equipment, and sufficient sleeping quarters. According to the COI, most former detainees reported inadequate food, with some losing half their body weight while detained.

Inside prisons and detention centers, the prevalence of death from disease remained high due to unsanitary conditions and the withholding of medical care and medication. Local NGOs and medical professionals reported that authorities denied medical care to prisoners with pre-existing health needs, such as diabetes, asthma, and breast cancer, and denied pregnant women any medical care. Authorities retaliated against prisoners who requested attention for the sick. Released prisoners commonly reported sickness and injury resulting from such conditions. Information on conditions and care for prisoners with disabilities was unavailable.

According to the COI, conditions in detention centers run by nonstate actors such as ISIS violated international law. Detainees in Raqqa Governorate reported that ISIS held them in crowded, insect-infested cells with neither light nor bedding. ISIS reportedly denied prisoners access to adequate food or legal counsel and prevented communication outside the facility.

Conditions in detention centers operated by various opposition groups were not well known, but the COI and local NGOs reported accounts of arbitrary detention, torture, inhuman treatment, and abuse.

Administration: There were no credible mechanisms or avenues for prisoners to complain or submit grievances, and authorities routinely failed to investigate allegations or document complaints or grievances. Activists reported there was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. The law provides for prompt access to family members, but NGOs and families reported inconsistent application of the law, with some families waiting as long as one year to see relatives. The government continued to detain thousands of prisoners without charge and incommunicado in unknown locations.

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

Independent Monitoring: The government prohibited independent monitoring of prison or detention center conditions, and diplomatic and consular officials had no greater access than in previous years. AI, for example, attempted to engage Syrian authorities on human rights concerns, including torture and other mistreatment, enforced disappearances, and deaths in custody, through various means since 2011. In January, AI sent a letter to authorities requesting clarifications regarding the allegations documented in “Human Slaughter House.” As of October, AI had not received a response to its January letter or to other requests for information.

Some opposition forces invited the COI to visit facilities they administered and allowed some international human rights groups, including HRW, to visit. The International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent continued to negotiate with all parties, except ISIS, to gain access to detention centers across the country but was unable to gain access to any government-controlled facilities during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, although a 2011 decree allows the government to detain suspects for up to 60 days without charge if suspected of “terrorism” and other related offenses. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not observe this requirement. Arbitrary arrests increased according to local news sources, and several human rights organizations reported detentions in the tens of thousands. In September the SNHR documented more than 85,000 persons forcibly disappeared since March 2011, reporting that the government disappeared 90 percent of them. In February 2016 the COI published a report entitled, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic.” The report stated that “since March 2011, a countrywide pattern emerged in which civilians, mainly males above the age of 15, were arbitrarily arrested and detained by the Syrian security and armed forces or by militia acting on behalf of the government during mass arrests, house searches, at checkpoints, and in hospitals. Arrests targeted civilians perceived to be either supporting the opposition or insufficiently loyal to the government.”

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

National security forces failed to respond to or protect large regions of the country from violence. AI reported that armed groups detained suspected government supporters, local activists, foreign journalists, aid workers, and others. The COI’s 2016 report also noted that nonstate armed groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and the HTS, took hostages, especially women and children, to force prisoner exchanges with the government or other armed groups or for ransom (see section 1.g.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The government’s multiple security branches traditionally operated autonomously with no defined boundaries between their areas of jurisdiction. Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence reported to the Ministry of Defense, the Political Security Directorate reported to the Ministry of Interior, and the General Intelligence Directorate reported directly to the Office of the President. The Interior Ministry controlled the four separate divisions of police: emergency police, traffic police, neighborhood police, and riot police.

Government-affiliated shabiha forces reorganized and in 2013 rebranded themselves as the National Defense Forces (NDF). These groups engaged in armed conflict and arrested, detained, and tortured those suspected of supporting the opposition. The NDF integrated with government-affiliated forces. There also were other progovernment militias in addition to the NDF.

Impunity continued to be a widespread problem. The General Command of the Army and Armed Forces may issue arrest warrants for crimes committed by military officers, members of the internal security forces, or customs police during their normal duties; military courts must try such cases. Security forces operated independently and generally outside the control of the legal system. There were no known prosecutions or convictions of police and security force personnel for abuse or corruption and no reported government actions to reform the security forces or police.

Opposition forces established irregularly constituted courts and detention facilities in areas under their control, which varied greatly in organization and adherence to judicial norms. Some groups upheld the country’s law, others followed a 1996 draft Arab League Unified Penal Code based on sharia (Islamic law), while others implemented a mix of customary law and sharia. The experience, expertise, and credentialing of opposition judges and religious scholars also varied widely, and dominant armed militias in the area often subjected them to their orders.

ISIS claimed that it based administration of justice in the territory it controlled on religious law. ISIS purportedly authorized its police forces, known as “hisbah,” to administer summary punishment for violations of ISIS’s morality code.

Local media sources and human rights groups such as Syrians for Truth and Justice reported that, in areas under its control, the YPG, considered to be the military wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), arrested journalists, human rights activists, opposition party members, and persons who refused to join Kurdish armed forces groups. In some instances the location of the detainees remained unknown.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law generally requires a warrant for arrest in criminal cases, but police often cited emergency or national security justifications for acting without a warrant, permitted under the law. Police usually brought arrested individuals to a police station for processing and detention until a trial date was set. The law stipulates that the length of time authorities may hold a person without charge is limited to 60 days, but according to various NGOs, activists, and former detainees, police held many individuals for longer periods or indefinitely. Civil and criminal defendants have the right to bail hearings and possible release from detention on their own recognizance. The legal system inconsistently applied this right, particularly with pretrial detainees. At the initial court hearing, which can be months or years after the arrest, the accused may retain an attorney at personal expense or the court may appoint an attorney, although authorities did not assure lawyers access to their clients before trial. According to local human rights organizations, denial of access to a lawyer was common.

In cases involving political or national security offenses, authorities reportedly often made arrests in secret with cases assigned in an apparently arbitrary manner to military, security, or criminal courts. The government reportedly detained suspects incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge or trial and denied them the right to a judicial determination of their pretrial detention. In most cases authorities reportedly did not inform detainees of charges against them until their arraignment, often months after their arrest. Security detainees did not have access to lawyers before or during questioning or throughout preparation and presentation of their defense. The number of suspects accused of political and national security offenses reportedly increased compared with previous years.

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

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued their previous practices and reportedly increased arbitrary arrests, but detainees had no legal redress. Reports continued of security services arresting relatives of wanted persons to pressure individuals to surrender. Police rarely issued or presented warrants or court orders before an arrest. According to reports the security branches secretly ordered many arrests and detentions. Activists and international humanitarian organizations stated that government forces continued to conduct security raids in response to antigovernment protests throughout urban areas. In areas under government control, security forces engaged in arbitrary arrests. The COI reported that authorities arbitrarily arrested men and boys over age 12 at some checkpoints. Often authorities cited no reason for arresting civilians.

Checkpoints operated by the government were a commonly reported location for arbitrary arrests, sometimes resulting in transfer to a long-term detention facility or disappearance. Government military and security forces reportedly arrested men at checkpoints solely for being of military age. According to the COI, there continued to be frequent accounts of enforced disappearances following arrest at checkpoints.

Multiple reports from local and international NGOs stated that the government prevented the majority of those detained from contacting their relatives or obtaining a lawyer. When authorities occasionally released detainees, it was often without any formal judicial procedures. Hundreds of detainees interviewed by human rights groups stated that they had been arrested, detained, questioned, and released after months of detention without seeing a judge or being sentenced.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Authorities reportedly held many detainees incommunicado for years before bringing them to trial. A shortage of available courts and lack of legal provisions for speedy trial or plea bargaining also contributed to lengthy pretrial detentions. There were numerous reported instances when the length of detention exceeded the sentence for the crime. Percentages for prison/detainee population held in pretrial detention and the length of time held were not available during the year.

Syrian human rights groups continued to highlight the plight of detainees and advocate for their release.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and any delay in obtaining judicial process. If the court finds persons to have been detained unlawfully, they are entitled to prompt release and/or compensation. Not all detainees, however, had the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or obtain prompt release and compensation even if found to have been unlawfully detained.

Amnesty: The March 2016 Cessation of Hostilities statement called for the United Nations to form a committee to monitor the release of detainees periodically; however, there was no progress made on release of detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities regularly subjected courts to political influence, and outcomes of cases with political context appeared predetermined.

Government authorities detained without access to fair trial tens of thousands of individuals, including those associated with NGOs, human rights activists, journalists, relief workers, religious figures, and medical providers. Government authorities rigorously denied citizens the right to a fair public trial and the ability to exercise civil liberties and freedoms of expression, movement, peaceful assembly, and association.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but the government did not respect judicial independence.

The law presumes defendants innocent. Defendants have the right to prompt, detailed notification of the charges against them with interpretation as necessary, although authorities did not verifiably enforce this right, and a number of detainees’ families mentioned that the accused were unaware of the charges facing them. Trials are public, except for those involving juveniles or sexual offenses. The law entitles defendants before civil and criminal courts to representation of their choice; the courts appoint lawyers for indigents. It was unknown if attorneys had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Human rights lawyers noted, however, that in some politically charged cases, the government provided prosecution case files to defense lawyers that did not include any evidence. Defendants may present evidence and confront their accusers. Defendants may not legally be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but family members and NGOs reported that torture or intimidation from judges and prosecutors sometimes elicited false confessions. Convicted persons may appeal verdicts to a provincial appeals court and ultimately to the Court of Cassation.

Not all citizens enjoyed these rights equally, in part because interpretations of religious law provide the basis for elements of family and criminal law and discriminate against women. Some personal status laws applied sharia law regardless of the religion of those involved. Additionally, news media and NGO reports suggested the government denied some, and in certain cases all, of these protections to those accused of political crimes or violence against the government. Sentences for persons accused of antigovernment activity tended to be harsh, with violent offenders and nonviolent offenders receiving similar punishments. The Violations Documentation Center reported that the number of cases referred to the CTC exceeded 80,000 by April 2016, two and one-half years after it began accepting cases. According to the SNHR, the majority of those tried received five- to 20-year prison sentences. The government did not permit defendants before the CTC to have legal representation, although activists reported individuals charged under the counterterrorism law could retain attorneys to move their trial date.

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

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

In July the HTS cemented its power in Idlib by defeating Ahrar al-Sham forces and monopolizing key assets in the province, including many of the local sharia courts. Following its military gain in Idlib, the HTS carried out arbitrary arrests of media activists and relief workers who had criticized the HTS’s policy on social media, according to the SNHR. The HTS also subsequently arrested protesters and members of rebel groups at odds with the HTS, and as of December, their status was unknown. The HTS also targeted humanitarian organizations, claiming these organizations were affiliated with rebel groups at odds with the HTS. According to the SNHR, the HTS arrested dozens of their staff and interrogated them before eventually releasing them. The HTS denied those arrested the opportunity to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. The HTS also dissolved local councils in Idlib that were not supporting its objectives.

In the territory it controlled, ISIS purported to establish courts to preside over its interpretation of religious law headed by judges with unknown credentials based on an unknown selection process.

In the territories it controlled (the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria), the Kurdish authorities created a legal code based on the “Social Charter.” Reports described the Social Charter as a mix of Syrian criminal and civil law with laws concerning divorce, marriage, weapons ownership, and tax evasion drawn from EU law. The justice system consisted of courts, legal committees, and investigative bodies. There were reports that the system was robust, well funded, and supported by police in the region. There were also reports that it lacked experienced staff, was too closely aligned with the PYD, and was biased in favor of Kurds.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Under the Assad government, and specifically since the advent of the conflict, the government’s violations against detainees increased dramatically. AI reported the systematic arrest of tens of thousands of citizens since 2011. At greatest risk were those perceived to oppose the government, including peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, and political dissidents. The four intelligence agencies–Air Force Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Political Security, and General Intelligence–largely conducted the arrests.

AI reported that the total number of political prisoners and detainees was difficult to determine in view of the lack of government information and absence of government transparency. Authorities continued to refuse to divulge information regarding numbers or names of persons detained on political or security-related charges. As of September the Violations Documentation Center listed more than 65,000 political prisoners arrested since 2011. AI reported that authorities held them generally without charge or trial and did not inform their families.

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

Many prominent civilian activists and journalists detained or forcibly disappeared following the 2011 protests reportedly remained in detention. There were no known developments in the majority of cases of reported disappearances from prior years, including the following persons believed forcibly disappeared by government forces: Abdel Aziz Kamal al-Rihawi; Alawite opposition figure Abdel Aziz al-Khair; Kurdish activist Berazani Karro; Yassin Ziadeh, brother of dissident Radwan Ziadeh; human rights lawyer Khalil Ma’touq and his assistant, Mohamed Zaza; human rights activist Adel Barazi; and peace activist and theater director Zaki Kordillo and his son, Mihyar Kordillo. (See section 1.b. for information on Bassel Khartabil.)

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

HRW reported that courts continued to detain activists under the counterterrorism law implemented following the lifting of the Emergency Law in 2011. The government established the CTC under the Ministry of Justice to apply the law. Authorities held some detainees under this law at Adra central prison in Damascus pending trial. The amnesties enacted in 2014 and 2015 included some detainees held under counterterrorism charges, but NGOs and activists reported the government released very few such individuals under the amnesties. Authorities later rearrested many of those released.

Local NGOs reported ISIS detained and harassed domestic human rights activists, humanitarian aid workers, and religious figures. The COI reported that in Raqqa Governorate ISIS detained hundreds of persons, including women and community activists, who opposed its rule.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

In the Kurdish-administered parts of northeastern Syria, civilian peace and reconciliation committees reportedly resolved civil disputes before elevating them to a court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Security forces routinely seized detainees’ property and personal items. With the onset of civil unrest, authorities increased confiscation of personal telephones, computers, and electronics. Security forces did not catalog these items in accordance with the law, and although detained individuals had the right to retrieve their confiscated belongings after release, authorities often did not return the property. According to media reports and activists, government forces also seized property left by refugees or internally displaced persons.

The COI reported that the government implemented legislative measures to dispossess of their property persons who opposed the government, including by impeding displaced persons from registering or retaining private property. For example, recent presidential decrees require in-person registration and contestation of land titles, making it all but impossible for the displaced to retain their property.

According to humanitarian aid workers, ISIS seized property from international and local aid workers at checkpoints that ISIS controlled throughout the country.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but they occurred routinely. Police frequently bypassed search warrant requirements in criminal cases by citing security reasons or emergency grounds for entry into private property. Random home raids occurred in large cities and towns of most governorates where the government maintained a presence, usually following large antigovernment protests or opposition attacks against government targets.

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

The government continued to bar membership in some political organizations, including Islamist parties, and often arrested their members (see section 3).

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The government, opposition groups, the SDF, and ISIS continued to participate in armed combat throughout the year. The most egregious human rights violations and abuses stemmed from the state’s widespread disregard for the safety and well-being of its citizens. This manifested itself in a complete denial of citizens’ ability to choose their government peacefully, a breakdown in the ability of law enforcement authorities to protect the majority of citizens from state and nonstate violence, and the use of violence against civilians and civilian institutions. Reports indicated that the government arbitrarily and unlawfully killed, tortured, and detained persons on a wide scale. Attacks against schools, hospitals, mosques, churches, water stations, bakeries, markets, civil defense force centers, and houses were common throughout the country.

As of October there were more than 5.2 million Syrian refugees registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in neighboring countries and 6.3 million IDPs. The government frequently blocked access for humanitarian assistance and removed items such as medical supplies from convoys headed to civilian areas, particularly areas held by opposition groups.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that more than 250,000 persons had died since the start of protests in 2011, but the office stopped recording this statistic in 2014. Media sources and human rights groups estimated up to 470,000 persons had been killed since the beginning of the conflict, with estimates of more than 200,000 civilians killed.

In January media outlets widely reported that the government used “surrender or starve” tactics in hard-to-reach and besieged areas of the country. Soldiers surrounding besieged areas set up checkpoints to profit from the limited supply of goods, prices for which rose multiple times in besieged areas. The COI stated that the use of siege warfare “has affected civilians more tragically than any other tactic employed by warring parties in the conflict.” In November in a report called, “We Leave or We Die: Forced Displacement Under Syria’s ‘Reconciliation’ Agreements,” AI reported that the government and its allies offered “reconciliation” agreements to communities “after prolonged sieges and bombardment” that led to “the mass displacement of civilians.” AI claimed some of the sieges amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report stated that some armed opposition groups also besieged populations, which in many cases amounted to war crimes. According to the United Nations, as of the end of September, nearly 420,000 Syrian men, women, and children countrywide remain trapped in besieged locations, with the government responsible for besieging approximately 95 percent.

Government forces, ISIS, and opposition forces reportedly attacked civilian institutions, including schools, hospitals (although the opposition attacked these less frequently), religious establishments, and bakeries.

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

Government killings and the use of lethal tactics reportedly increased in the beginning of the year but declined subsequently due to de-escalation agreements. The SNHR reported 8,802 civilian deaths from January through October. Government forces killed the plurality of civilians.

Reports from NGOs, including reports cited by the United Nations, indicated that summary killings of civilians took place in the city of Aleppo in December 2016 as government forces retook opposition-held areas. The COI reported that daily Syrian and Russian air strikes “claimed hundreds of lives and destroyed vital civilian infrastructure.” Reports also indicated that government and allied forces targeted members of first-responder groups and that men between the ages of 30 and 50 were either detained by the government or immediately conscripted into the army. Reports cited by the United Nations also indicated that armed rebel groups prevented some civilians from escaping.

Progovernment militias reportedly continued to carry out mass killings. According to the SNHR, government-affiliated sectarian militias perpetrated massacres in the cities of Homs and Aleppo.

The COI reported that in February the armed group Liwa al-Aqsa shot and killed or beheaded at least 128 armed group fighters it had detained near Khazanat Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib. Later that month civilians in the area discovered two mass graves containing corpses of armed group fighters, including at least two of which had been minors.

Extremist and terrorist groups also reportedly committed a large number of abuses and violations. Multiple media outlets reported that ISIS shelled the al-Qusour neighborhood of Deir al-Zour in October, killing at least nine civilians, including five children. The COI reported that in January a fuel truck blast in Azaz believed to be carried out by ISIS killed at least 48 persons and injured another 60. The COI reported ISIS’s continued executions of those perceived to violate its strict religious rules, including the death penalty applied to women accused of adultery and men accused of sodomy. There were isolated allegations that the SDF tortured and in one case killed persons accused of affiliation with ISIS. A video available at the website of the SNHR shows three individuals shooting and apparently killing a handcuffed man. According to the SNHR, one of the shooters speaks to the camera and says this is the fate of anyone who stands in the way of the YPG or sides with ISIS. An SDF statement in July said the SDF would investigate the allegations and hold accountable those found responsible. There were reports suggesting that the SDF generally adheres to its responsibilities under the Law of Armed Conflict.

Abductions: The government was reportedly responsible for the majority of disappearances during the year. Armed extremist groups not affiliated with the government also reportedly kidnapped individuals, particularly in the northern areas, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected government affiliates, journalists, and activists. In September the SNHR documented more than 85,000 persons still forcibly disappeared since March 2011, reporting that the government disappeared 90 percent of them.

According to reliable NGO reports, government forces as well as ISIS routinely kidnapped and detained aid providers and severely restricted humanitarian access to territories under their respective control. Activists reported aid workers in ISIS-controlled territory were at high risk of abduction or violence.

In 2014 ISIS abducted thousands of Yezidi women from Iraq, as well as several Christians, and brought them to Syria for sale as sex slaves in markets or as rewards for ISIS fighters. Fighters held the women as slaves and subjected them and other captured women and girls to repeated sexual violence, systematic rape, forced marriages, and coerced abortions. In interviews with the COI, the women described multiple rapes by several men, including incidents of gang rape. Numerous NGOs and activists also reported that ISIS fighters raped women in ISIS-held areas or forced them to marry ISIS fighters. Thousands of abducted girls and women, however, remained missing.

In June 2016 the COI issued a report called, “They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis” that concluded, “ISIS has committed the crime of genocide as well as multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Yezidis, thousands of whom are held captive in the Syrian Arab Republic where they are subjected to almost unimaginable horrors.”

The location and status of Khalil Arfu and Sukfan Amin Hamza from Derek, al-Hasakah Governorate, and members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party remained unknown. Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi, kidnapped in 2013, remained unaccounted for at year’s end.

The COI reported that a dramatic rise in hostage taking, which was often sectarian in nature, triggered reprisals and fueled intercommunal tension. Opposition armed groups abducted civilians and members of government forces to enable prisoner exchanges and for ransom money to purchase weapons.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to reliable NGO reports, the government and its affiliated militias consistently engaged in physical abuse, punishment, and torture of both opposition fighters and civilians. Government agents allegedly targeted individuals with previous ties to foreign governments that favored the opposition; it also targeted family members and associates of such individuals. Government officials reportedly abused prisoners and detainees, as well as injured and sick persons, and raped women and men as a tactic of war. Activists reported that government detention centers did not provide medical care to women during pregnancy or birth. Additionally, according to the COI, the “Caesar photographs” smuggled out of the country in 2014 by a former government photographer documented the torture and severe malnourishment of more than 11,000 deceased detainees between 2011 and 2013.

AI’s research into the Sednaya military prison determined that the government executed thousands of detainees, mostly Sunni, held in Sednaya. The organization’s report stated that the government tried and sentenced Sednaya prisoners in one of two military field courts in the al-Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus. Prison staff transported detainees to and from court in trucks, where their trials lasted between one and three minutes. AI reported that judges used forced confessions obtained by subjecting prisoners to torture. Prisoners sentenced to death were subsequently transported to an execution room, where they were met by an execution panel that included the director of Sednaya, the military prosecutor of the Military Field Court, and a representative from the intelligence agencies.

According to the report, guards subsequently led blindfolded detainees onto platforms, where prison staff placed nooses around their necks and immediately hanged them. Prison staff left the executed detainees to hang for approximately 15 minutes. Then, AI reported, a doctor determined if any of the detainees exhibited signs of life. Prison assistants pulled downward those believed to be alive to break the necks of the detainees.

According to multiple sources, the government killed as many as 50 detainees per day at Sednaya. In May a foreign government released information indicating that the government probably installed a crematorium within the Sednaya military prison complex to provide the ability to dispose of prisoners with little evidence.

The SNHR, and Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights reported that authorities forced prisoners to witness the rape of other prisoners, threatened them with the rape of family members (in particular female family members), forced them to undress, and insulted their beliefs. According to the COI, the government and affiliated militias systematically perpetrated rape and other attacks on civilian populations in Deir al-Zour, Dara’a, Hama, Damascus, and Tartus Governorates. Detention centers were the most common location for reported abuse, but attacks also occurred during military raids and at checkpoints. Reports included instances in which multiple attackers, usually soldiers and shabiha, gang-raped women in their homes, sometimes in front of family members. Observers believed sexual violence was widespread and underreported. The SNHR noted an increased use by authorities of sexual violence against women before granting permission to depart besieged areas or to return with medical supplies and food.

There were widespread reports that ISIS also engaged in abuses and brutality. According to the COI, ISIS increased brutal treatment of those it captured in Raqqa, Deir al-Zour, and Aleppo Governorates. ISIS frequently punished victims publicly and forced residents, including children, to watch unlawful killings and amputations. Activists, NGOs, and media reported numerous accounts of women in ISIS-held territory facing arbitrary and severe punishments, including execution by stoning. ISIS also committed abuses systematically against captured Free Syrian Army (FSA) and YPG fighters. ISIS fighters reportedly beat captives (including with cables) during interrogations and killed those held in its detention centers in Raqqa and Aleppo Governorates. ISIS also beat persons because of their dress; several sources reported ISIS members beat women for not covering their faces. ISIS justified its use of corporal punishment, including amputations and lashings, under religious law.

The COI also reported in previous years that armed groups, under the banner of the FSA, tortured and executed suspected government agents, members of the shabiha, and collaborators. The COI noted that some opposition groups subjected detainees suspected of being members of progovernment militias to severe physical or mental pain and suffering to obtain information or confessions, or as punishment or coercion. The report also noted instances in which the HTS and ISIS arbitrarily detained and tortured individuals passing through checkpoints along the country’s northern border.

Child Soldiers: Several sources documented the continued recruitment and use of children in combat. The COI reported that progovernment militias enlisted children as young as 13. The COI reported the government sometimes paid children between the ages of six and 13 to be informants, exposing them to danger. In the earlier years of the conflict, most of the children recruited by armed forces and groups were boys between 15 and 17 years old and served primarily in support roles away from the front lines.

HRW reported opposition forces used children under the age of 18 as fighters. According to HRW and the COI, numerous groups and factions failed to prevent the enlistment of minors, while ISIS and the HTS actively recruited children as fighters. The COI reported that armed groups “recruited, trained, and used children in active combat roles.” In Raqqa Governorate, according to the COI, ISIS recruited and enlisted children as young as 10 years old. In March the COI received a report that a 14-year-old boy approached an SDF recruitment center in Tal Abyad voluntarily, was accepted by authorities, and was killed in combat in the Raqqa countryside in early June. Several humanitarian organizations and NGOs working in areas recently liberated from ISIS by the SDF, as well as media organizations including Reuters, alleged that elements of the SDF and the YPG were engaged in forced conscription. There were reports that, in some areas, the SDF worked with tribes and local councils to negotiate approval of and voluntary compliance with local conscription laws in support of the fight against ISIS.

In September the international NGO Geneva Call reported it had conducted training for more than 100 SDF commanders, which included the law of armed conflict and the topic of children in armed conflict. The COI reported in 2014 that the YPG had demobilized child soldiers from its ranks and began monitoring adherence to its commitments to eliminate children from fighting. In March the COI reported that the YPG continued to conscript men and boys forcibly.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuses: The September COI report documented 25 incidents of chemical weapons use between 2013 and March, of which government forces perpetrated 20 primarily against civilians. The COI reported that during the year government forces further used chemical weapons against civilians in the towns of al-Latamneh and Khan Shaykhun and in eastern Ghouta.

The COI investigated the April 4 attack by government forces on Khan Shaykhun, which the COI determined involved the use of sarin gas or a sarin-like substance, that killed dozens of civilians and injured hundreds more. In addition to its own fact-finding mission, the COI took into account the findings of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The COI reported that Russian and Syrian officials denied Syrian forces used chemical weapons in this incident, claiming that air strikes conducted by Syrian forces struck a terrorist chemical weapons depot.

The COI report stated that a Sukhoi 22 (Su-22) aircraft conducted four air strikes in Khan Shaykhun at approximately 6:45 a.m. Only Syrian forces operated such aircraft. The commission identified three conventional bombs and one chemical bomb. The COI documented that the chemical bomb killed at least 83 persons, including 28 children and 23 women, and injured another 293 persons, including 103 children. The extensive information independently collected by the commission on symptoms suffered by victims was consistent with sarin exposure. Based on the evidence and testimonies collected, the COI found reasonable grounds to believe that Syrian forces committed the war crimes of using chemical weapons and indiscriminate attacks in a civilian inhabited area.

In its August 2016 report, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (established to attribute responsibility for already confirmed chemical warfare incidents) determined responsibility at a “sufficient” level for three of the nine attacks it reviewed. These attacks were a mustard gas attack by ISIS in Marea, Aleppo Governorate (August 2015), and two instances of chlorine used as a weapon by the government, specifically the Syrian Arab Air Force, in Talmenes, Idlib Governorate (April 2014), and Sarmin, Idlib Governorate (March 2015). A report from the Joint Investigative Mechanism in October 2016 found that the government also used weaponized chlorine in 2015 in Qmenas.

Both the government and opposition forces reportedly impeded the flow of humanitarian assistance. According to the UN Office for Humanitarian Assistance, by August approximately 3.47 million persons were living in hard-to-reach and besieged locations.

The COI stated that government forces, opposition forces, and ISIS employed sieges, deliberately restricting the passage of relief supplies and access by humanitarian agencies. According to reports, government forces were responsible for the majority of such activity. According to the United Nations, as of the end of September, nearly 420,000 men, women, and children countrywide remain trapped in besieged locations, with the government responsible for besieging approximately 95 percent. Acute restrictions on food and medicine reportedly caused malnutrition-related deaths, as well as outbreaks of hepatitis, cutaneous leishmaniosis, typhoid, and dysentery.

De-escalation zone agreements reached under the auspices of Iran, Russia, and Turkey called for improved humanitarian access; however, an October report from a humanitarian organization operating on the ground concluded that Astana de-escalation areas had not yet translated into increased cross-line humanitarian access. To the contrary the report recorded a slight reduction in cross-line assistance in northern rural Homs.

In Eastern Ghouta the report noted an increase in interagency cross-line humanitarian convoys, including four convoys successfully reaching previously besieged areas. The four convoys, however, were directed toward areas held by Jaish al-Islam, the opposition group that agreed to the original ceasefire agreement with the government. The convoys did not deliver aid to areas held by Faylaq Ar-Rahman, which at the time was not a signatory to the agreement. The government, with the support of its partners, continued to besiege Faylaq Ar-Rahman-held areas until the opposition group agreed to join the ceasefire agreement on August 18. The report concluded that the government’s refusal to allow for the delivery of aid to Faylaq Ar-Rahman-held territory until it agreed to cease all hostilities against the government was evidence that the government continued to use the denial of humanitarian aid as a weapon of war.

The COI found that the government detained many Red Crescent volunteers and medical staff on the pretext of “having supported terrorists.” According to reliable NGO reports, the government’s continued bombardment, which they characterized as indiscriminate, destroyed and damaged health-care facilities in opposition-held areas, such as the Hama Governorate and Aleppo City. In September 2016 aircraft bombed a UN convoy escorted by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) traveling to Orem al-Kubra in rural Aleppo, killing more than 20 civilians and aid workers. A UN investigative panel concluded in December 2016 that it was highly likely the Syrian air force perpetrated the attack.

Observers and international aid organizations reported that the government specifically targeted health-care workers, medical facilities, ambulances, and patients and restricted access to medical facilities and services to civilians and prisoners, particularly in the Syrian and Russian assault on Aleppo City in 2016. Physicians for Human Rights reported that, from 2011 to July, combatants attacked 478 medical facilities, killing 830 medical personnel throughout the country. The COI also reported that government sniper fire and military assaults on medical facilities intentionally targeted sick and injured persons, including pregnant women and persons with disabilities. According to credible NGO and COI reports, the government deliberately obstructed the efforts of sick and injured persons to obtain help, and many such individuals elected not to seek medical assistance in hospitals due to fear of arrest, detention, torture, or death.

In October 2016 Russian forces in support of the government reportedly dropped cluster bombs on M10, the largest opposition-supported hospital in eastern Aleppo City. It had already suffered heavy bombardment three days earlier, in an assault that former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon denounced as a war crime.

The frequency and location of Russian and Syrian airstrikes on the same hospitals raised questions regarding the intended targets of the attacks and Russian claims that they were not deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure. Between November 2016 and April, for example, observers recorded repeated airstrikes on the Kafr Zeita Specialty Hospital in northern Homs. The hospital was eventually destroyed on April 29 after being targeted in three separate incidents by Russian and Syrian strikes within a 24-hour timespan. The attacks injured one staff member.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that infrastructure damage reduced the number of facilities and health personnel able to provide pregnant women with antenatal and postnatal care and skilled attendance at delivery.

Female victims subjected to sexual violence lacked access to health care. Violence throughout the country made accessing medical care both costly and dangerous, and the COI reported that the government and armed extremists sometimes denied pregnant women passage through checkpoints, forcing them to give birth in unsterile and often dangerous conditions, without pain medication or adequate medical treatment. In January 2016 UNFPA estimated that approximately 540,000 women in the country and in nearby refugee camps were pregnant and needed care. It also estimated that 70,000 would likely experience complications related to pregnancy or delivery. According to numerous sources, government forces deliberately denied medical care to persons in areas controlled by the opposition.

The COI noted mass displacements of communities under ISIS control, where ISIS officials warned residents to conform to ISIS standards or leave. Communities experienced discriminatory sanctions, including specialized religious taxes (“jizya”), forced religious conversions, destruction of religious sites, and expulsion of minority communities. In January 2016 the SNHR reported that YPG forces forcibly displaced tens of thousands of Arab residents in areas liberated by Kurdish forces. When the SDF, which included members of the YPG, began moving to liberate areas from ISIS in August 2016, human rights groups, humanitarian actors, and other observers expressed concern that the forces established local governing bodies not representative of or credible with local communities and hindered the work of independent civil society and humanitarian organizations. SDF-influenced areas were relatively stable and secure in 2017.

The United Nations reported in October that nearly 270,000 persons fled Raqqa due to the SDF’s campaign to defeat ISIS. Earlier, in September the United Nations reported that some humanitarian organizations operating in Raqqa continued to assert concerns about IDP screening procedures carried out by the SDF. According to the allegations, SDF screening procedures in some areas prevented freedom of movement for IDPs, in some instances requiring IDPs to obtain ‘sponsorship’ in order to move further into areas controlled by the Kurdish Autonomous Administration. There were allegations that the SDF used checkpoints to forcibly conscript males into service. Some analyses suggested that SDF measures to restrict movement were most likely due to the continued presence of ISIS, the high threat from IEDs, and the need to direct civilian evacuees away from combat zones.

International media reported widely on government and nongovernment forces attacking and destroying religious as well as UNESCO-listed world heritage sites. The American Academy for the Advancement of Science noted many instances of visible damage to cultural heritage sites. In Aleppo the academy found massive destruction throughout the city, especially within the World Heritage site of the ancient city. Government forces also pillaged and destroyed property, including homes, farms, and businesses of defectors and opposition figures.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a felony, subject to punishment by at least 15 years in prison, but the government did not enforce the law. The law further stipulates that if the rapist marries the victim, the rapist receives no punishment. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape. There are no laws against spousal rape. Observers of the refugee crisis reported women, men, and community leaders consistently identified sexual violence as a primary reason their families fled the country. The COI reported rape was widespread, and government and progovernment forces used rape to terrorize and punish women, men, and children perceived as associated with the opposition (see section 1.g. for additional information, including on abuses committed by extremist groups). The COI concluded that underreporting and delayed reporting of sexual violence was endemic, rendering an assessment of its magnitude difficult. Reports by the SNHR, HRW, and other NGOs included interviews with female former prisoners, who reported that rape by guards and security forces was common in detention facilities.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, and violence against women was extensive and generally went unpunished. Victims did not report the vast majority of domestic violence and sexual assault cases. Security forces consistently treated violence against women as a social rather than a criminal matter. Observers reported that when some abused women tried to file a police report, police did not investigate their reports thoroughly, if at all, and that in other cases police officers responded by abusing the women, including by sexual harassment, verbal abuse, hair pulling, and slapping.

In previous years several domestic violence centers operated in Damascus, and the government licensed and affiliated them with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. Local NGOs reported, however, that many centers no longer operated due to the conflict. There were no known government-run services for women outside Damascus. According to local human rights organizations, local coordination committees and other opposition-related groups offered programming specifically for protection of women; NGOs did not integrate these programs throughout the country, and none reported reliable funding.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permits judges to reduce legal penalties for murder and assault if the defendant asserts an “honor” defense, which often occurred. The government kept no official statistics on use of this defense in murder and assault cases. There were no officially reported honor killings during the year, but local human rights groups asserted the practice continued, reportedly at previous levels, despite or even because of the continuing violence. NGOs working with refugees reported families killed some rape victims inside the country, including those raped by government forces, for reasons of honor. NGOs also reported the conflict led to a significant rise in honor killings due to the pervasive use of rape by government forces and sexual slavery and exploitation by ISIS.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender but does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were reports that ISIS transferred some Yezidi women captives from Iraq to Syria (see section 1.g.). There was limited information available regarding their treatment in 2017; however, previous reports from Iraq found that ISIS forced Yezidi women whom they had impregnated to have abortions. There were no reports of involuntary sterilization. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women and the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. Moreover, a number of sections of family and criminal law do not treat men and women equally. Before the conflict began, 16 percent of women participated in the formal labor force, compared with 72 percent of men. Female employment participation decreased as violence and insecurity increased.

The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered.

Personal status, retirement, citizenship, and social security laws discriminate against women. By law if a man and a woman separately commit the same criminal act of adultery, the woman’s punishment is double that of the man’s. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses. For Muslims personal status law treats men and women differently. Some personal status laws mirror Islamic law regardless of the religion of those involved in the case. The law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony in some cases, such as if she gave up her right to alimony to persuade her husband to agree to the divorce. Additionally, under the law a divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they reach age 13 and of her daughters at age 15, when guardianship transfers to the paternal side of the family.

The government’s interpretation of Islamic law is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except Christians. Accordingly, courts usually granted Muslim women half of the inheritance share of male heirs. In all communities male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they do not, women have the right to sue.

Women participated in public life and in most professions, including the armed forces, although violence in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Women and men have equal legal rights in owning or managing land or other property, although cultural and religious norms impeded women’s rights, especially in rural areas. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.

Some opposition groups and extremist elements reportedly banned women from teaching and girls from attending school, particularly in ISIS-controlled areas of Deir al-Zour Governorate. According to activists from Raqqa Governorate, ISIS segregated classrooms and removed women from the local councils in territories it controlled.

According to several groups, including HRW, extremist armed groups placed discriminatory restrictions on women and girls in Aleppo, al-Hasakah, Idlib, and Raqqa Governorates.

In areas under its control, ISIS published a “Civilization Document” with 16 points that a woman must follow or face the death penalty. They included staying at home and not leaving it without an immediate male relative (mahram); wearing a wide cloak, full face veil, and headscarf; closing hair salons; not sitting on chairs in public; and not seeing male doctors. ISIS established the “al-Khanssaa” brigade, an all-female police force in the city of Raqqa, composed mostly of noncitizen women who enforced these regulations, sometimes violently, among women.

According to media reports, the SDF trained 210 women to participate in the battle against ISIS in Raqqa. This was in addition to the 8,000-strong Women’s Protection Units, widely reported on in the media, and originally formed with the aim of defending the Kurdish population from regime oppression, but eventually transitioning to broader anti-ISIS efforts. Volunteers joined this force from Syria and also from Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and other points of origin.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship solely from their father. In large areas of the country where civil registries were not functioning, authorities did not register births. The government did not register the births of Kurdish noncitizen residents, including stateless Kurds (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). Failure to register resulted in deprivation of services, such as diplomas for high school-level studies, access to universities, access to formal employment, and civil documentation and protection.

Education: The government provided free public education to citizen children from primary school through university. Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and 12. Noncitizen children could also attend public schools at no cost but required permission from the Ministry of Education.

The conflict increasingly hampered the ability of children to attend school.

According to several reports, ISIS segregated classrooms (including teachers) by gender, dismissed students for dress code violations, imposed its curriculum on teachers, and closed private schools and educational centers. According to local sources, ISIS forces prevented young women in Raqqa Governorate from traveling to complete their university exams. ISIS also banned several basic education subjects, such as chemistry.

While Palestinians and other noncitizens, including stateless Kurds, could generally send their children to school and universities, stateless Kurds were ineligible to receive a degree documenting their academic achievement.

Child Abuse: The country lacked a formal law protecting children from abuse. There were reports of government forces sexually assaulting, torturing, detaining, and killing children (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., and 1.g.). HRW reported that government teachers and principals interrogated and, in some cases, beat students who expressed antigovernment sentiments. Additionally, the United Nations, HRW, and local news sources reported that government forces used children as human shields.

ISIS subjected children to extremely harsh punishment, including execution (see section 1.g.).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women. A boy as young as 15 or a girl as young as 13 may marry if a judge deems both parties willing and “physically mature,” and if the fathers or grandfathers of both parties consent.

ISIS systematically abducted and sexually exploited Yezidi girls in Iraq and transported them to Syria for systematic rape and forced marriage (see section 1.g. and section 6, Women).

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates penalties for those found guilty of certain forms of child abuse associated with trafficking crimes, including kidnapping and forced prostitution, both of which carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. The law considers child pornography a trafficking crime, but the punishment for child pornography was set at the local level with “appropriate penalties.” It was also unclear if there had been any prosecutions for child pornography or if authorities enforced the law.

The age of sexual consent by law is 15. Premarital sex is illegal, but observers reported authorities did not enforce the law. Rape of a child under the age of 15 is punishable by up to 21 years in prison. There were no reports of government prosecution of child rape cases.

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

Anti-Semitism

NGOs estimated fewer than 20 Jews remained in the country. According to media and the Syrian American Council, in 2014 government forces destroyed the Eliyahu Hanabi synagogue, the country’s oldest, in an artillery attack on Jobar, a rebel-held neighborhood in Damascus. Government and opposition forces accused each other of burning and looting the Jobar synagogue.

The national school curriculum did not include materials on tolerance education or the Holocaust.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and seeks to integrate them into the public-sector workforce, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The law protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in education, access to health care, and provision of other state services, and it reserves 4 percent of government-sector jobs and 2 percent of private-sector jobs for persons with disabilities. Private businesses are eligible for tax exemptions after hiring persons with disabilities.

Authorities did not fully document the number of persons with disabilities, but the conflict negatively affected persons with disabilities and increased their numbers through injuries.

The government did not effectively work to provide access for persons with disabilities to buildings, communication, or information.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for assisting persons with disabilities and worked through dedicated charities and organizations to provide assistance.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

As in previous years, the government actively restricted national and ethnic minorities from conducting traditional, religious, and cultural activities. The Kurdish population, citizens and noncitizens, faced official and societal discrimination and repression as well as government-sponsored violence. Government forces arrested, detained, and reportedly tortured numerous Kurdish activists during the year.

The government continued to limit the use and teaching of the Kurdish language. It also restricted publication of books and other materials in Kurdish, Kurdish cultural expression, and at times the celebration of Kurdish festivals. Authorities continued enforcement of a 2009 government rule requiring that at least 60 percent of the words on signs in shops and restaurants be in Arabic (see section 2.a.).

The Alawite community, to which Bashar Assad belongs, enjoyed privileged status throughout the government and dominated the state security apparatus and military leadership. Nevertheless, the government reportedly also targeted Alawite opposition activists for arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, and killing. Extremist opposition groups targeted Alawite communities on several occasions for their perceived progovernment stance.

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

The law prohibits homosexual relations, defined as “carnal relations against the order of nature,” and provides for at least three years’ imprisonment for violations. The law specifically criminalizes any sexual act that is “contrary to nature.” In previous years police used this charge to prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were no reports of prosecutions under the law during the year, although NGO reports indicated the government arrested dozens of gay men and lesbians over the past several years on charges such as abusing social values; selling, buying, or consuming illegal drugs; and organizing and promoting “obscene” parties.

Although there were no known domestic NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, there were several online networking communities, including an online LGBTI-oriented magazine. Human rights activists reported there was overt societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of society. There were also reports of extremist groups threatening LGBTI activists.

Local media reported numerous instances in which security forces used accusations of homosexuality as a pretext to detain, arrest, and torture civilians. The frequency of such instances was difficult to determine, since police rarely reported their rationale for arrests. According to Outright International, in May 2016 ISIS’s media office issued a “photo report about the imposition of sharia punishment” on those suspected of belonging to the LGBTI community. The photographs included images of a boy pushed from the top of a building.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but human rights activists believed such cases were widely underreported. The government, World Bank, and World Health Organization did not maintain data on the number of persons infected with HIV/AIDS living in the country. Observers expected the HIV/AIDS rate of infection to rise with increased sexual violence in the country.