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Brazil

Executive Summary

Brazil is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In 2014 voters re-elected Dilma Rousseff as president in elections widely considered free and fair. In August 2016 Rousseff was impeached, and the vice president, Michel Temer, assumed the presidency as required by the constitution.

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

The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary deprivation of life and other unlawful killings; poor and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; violence against and harassment of journalists and other communicators; official corruption at the highest levels of government; societal violence against indigenous populations; societal violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; killings of human rights defenders; and forced labor.

The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem, and an inefficient judicial process delayed justice for perpetrators as well as victims.

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

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

There were no reports the federal government or its agents committed politically motivated killings, but unlawful killings by state police were reported. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The extent of the problem was difficult to determine, since comprehensive, reliable statistics on unlawful police killings were not available. Official statistics showed police killed numerous civilians but did not specify which cases may have been unlawful. For instance, the Rio de Janeiro Public Security Institute, a state government entity, reported that from January to June, police killed 581 civilians in “acts of resistance” (similar to resisting arrest) in Rio de Janeiro State. Most of the deaths occurred while police were conducting operations against narcotics trafficking gangs in the city of Rio de Janeiro’s approximately 760 favelas (poor neighborhoods or shantytowns), where an estimated 1.4 million persons lived. A disproportionate number of the victims were Afro-Brazilians under age 25. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all of the victims actually resisted arrest, contending police employed repressive methods.

On March 30, two military police officers were shown on a cell phone video summarily executing two suspects after a clash between police and armed criminals in Acari, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, despite the alleged criminals being wounded. The two officers–Fabio de Barros Dias and David Gomes Centeio of the 41st Military Police Battalion of Iraja–were released from preventive detention in April because the judge deemed that they had been cooperating with investigators and did not pose a public threat. They were awaiting trial.

According to the Sao Paulo State Secretariat of Public Security, on- and off-duty military and civil police officers were responsible for 459 deaths in the state in the first half of the year, which was the highest number in the last 14 years. The 2016 total was 856 deaths and was the third consecutive year in which police killings increased over the previous year. The state secretariat recorded the deaths as “reactions or opposition to police intervention.” Of the 856 extrajudicial killings, military police were responsible for the vast majority (95.6 percent). According to civil society organizations, the victims of police violence in Sao Paulo State were overwhelmingly black youth.

On May 12, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found Brazil responsible for failing to guarantee justice for the victims of the “Nova Brasilia massacres,” which included the deaths of 26 citizens between October 1994 and May 1995 in raids carried out by Rio de Janeiro’s police forces. The court ordered authorities to reopen an investigation into the killings, publish an annual report containing statistics on the number of deaths as a result of police intervention throughout the country, and develop and implement policies for reducing police killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such treatment and provides severe legal penalties for conviction of its use. On May 23, 900 state-level police officers raided a Sao Paulo neighborhood known as “Cracolandia,” arresting 38 alleged drug traffickers and demolishing several houses associated with trafficking. Human rights groups accused the state government of excessive use of force against residents and called for the government to treat drug addicts as victims instead of criminals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening, mainly due to overcrowding. Abuse by prison guards, including sexual abuse, continued at many facilities, and poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.

Physical Conditions: Endemic overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship, as of November 2016, the prison population was 711,463 prisoners (including house arrests); the official capacity of the prison system was 393,953 prisoners at the beginning of the year. According to Human Rights Watch, women were often held in women’s wings of men’s prisons, and women’s prisons sometimes employed male guards. Female inmates complained of verbal and sexual harassment by male guards as well as lack of access to medical care, particularly prenatal and postnatal care.

Prisoners convicted of petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required placing convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. In many prisons, including those in the Federal District, officials attempted to separate violent offenders from other inmates and keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were jailed with adults in poor and crowded conditions. In many juvenile detention centers, the number of inmates greatly exceeded capacity.

Violence was rampant in several prison facilities in the Northeast. In addition to overcrowding, poor administration of the prison system, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence within the penitentiary system. On January 1, in the privately run Anisio Jobim Penitentiary complex in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas State, conflict between the Amazonas-based Familia do Norte and Sao Paulo’s Primeiro Comando Capital criminal organizations ended with 56 prisoners killed by decapitation and burning.

Prisons suffered from insufficient staffing and lack of control over the prison population. Some prisons had a ratio of one guard on duty for every 200-300 prisoners, making it impossible to exercise control in the prisons. During a January riot at Alcacuz Prison in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, officials waited until daylight to enter the prison. In the meantime inmates climbed on to the prison’s roof bearing flags alluding to criminal factions and armed with sticks, stones, and knives.

According to data from the Ministry of Health, prisoners were 28 times more likely to contract tuberculosis, compared with the general public. A study of 58 prisons in the Rio de Janeiro penitentiary system conducted by the leading domestic web content company Universo Online found that, from January 2015 to August 2017, 14 times more deaths occurred as the result of treatable illnesses than from killings. During this period 517 prisoners died from treatable illnesses such as tuberculosis, leprosy, and skin infections, compared with 37 prisoner homicides.

During the year the Ministry of Justice’s National Mechanism for Preventing and Combatting Torture published the results of visits made in 2016 to 23 prisons in six states. The report noted the “shocking” growth of the size of the prison population with no resultant increase in the capacity of the prison system, lack of potable water for drinking and bathing, inadequate nutrition, rat and cockroach infestations, damp and dark cells, and beatings of inmates.

Administration: State-level ombudsman offices and the federal Secretariat of Human Rights monitored prison and detention center conditions and investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations, and Organization of American States as well as local organizations, such as Mechanism for Torture Prevention and Global Justice. In July the president of the Supreme Court visited the Curado prison in Pernambuco State as part of a new nationwide initiative to investigate and improve the use of federal funds allocated for prison reform.

Improvements: In June officials reported a drop in the homicide rate at the Pedrinhas complex in the state of Maranhao from 17 deaths in 2014 to three in the first six months of year, attributing this to the implementation of reforms such as incarcerating rival gang leaders in separate facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits arrests to those caught in the act of committing a crime or called for by order of a judicial authority; however, police at times did not respect this prohibition. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police force, operating under the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship, is a small, primarily investigative entity and plays a minor role in routine law enforcement. Most police forces are under the control of the states. There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, which is charged with maintaining law and order. Despite its name, the military police does not report to the Ministry of Defense. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Police often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers, although independent investigations increased. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem. According to the Ombudsman’s Office of the Sao Paulo Military Police, of the approximately 10,000 police abuse complaints under consideration, the investigations of just 2 percent had been concluded.

In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, so-called militia groups composed of off-duty and former law enforcement officers reportedly often took policing into their own hands. Many militia groups intimidated residents and conducted illegal activities such as extorting protection money and providing pirated utility services.

According to the Rio de Janeiro State Secretariat for Public Security, human rights courses were a mandatory component of training for entry-level military police officers. Officers for the state’s favela pacification program received additional human rights training.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Officials must advise persons of their rights at the time of arrest or before taking them into custody for interrogation. The law prohibits use of force during an arrest unless the suspect attempts to escape or resists arrest. According to human rights observers, some detainees complained of physical abuse while being taken into police custody.

Authorities generally respected the constitutional right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. Detainees were informed promptly of the charges against them. The law permits provisional detention for up to five days under specified conditions during an investigation, but a judge may extend this period. A judge may also order temporary detention for an additional five days for processing. Preventive detention for an initial period of 15 days is permitted if police suspect a detainee may flee the area. The law does not provide for a maximum period for pretrial detention, which is decided on a case-by-case basis. If detainees are convicted, time in detention before trial is subtracted from their sentences. Defendants arrested in the act of committing a crime must be charged within 30 days of arrest. Other defendants must be charged within 45 days, although this period may be extended. Often the period for charging defendants had to be extended because of court backlogs. Bail was available for most crimes, and defendants facing charges for all but the most serious crimes have the right to a bail hearing. Prison authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer. Indigent detainees have the right to a lawyer provided by the state. Detainees also had prompt access to family members.

Pretrial Detention: As of February prisons held 221,054 persons in preventive detention and awaiting trial, representing one-third of all prison inmates, according to the National Council of Justice. In a press conference with Amazonas state authorities early in the year, former minister of justice Alexandre de Moraes noted that 44 percent of the country’s prison population was in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Local NGOs, however, cited that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, remained a concern.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although NGOs reported that in some rural regions–especially in cases involving land rights activists–police, prosecutors, and the judiciary were perceived to be more susceptible to external influences, including fear of reprisals. Investigations, prosecutions, and trials in these cases often were delayed.

After an arrest a judge reviews the case, determines whether it should proceed, and assigns the case to a state prosecutor, who decides whether to issue an indictment. Juries hear cases involving capital crimes; judges try those accused of lesser crimes. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be present at their trial, to be promptly informed of charges, not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, to confront and question adverse witnesses, to present their own witnesses and evidence, and to appeal verdicts. Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but did not have the right to free assistance of an interpreter.

Although the law requires trials be held within a set time, there were millions of backlogged cases at state, federal, and appellate courts, and cases often took many years to be concluded. To reduce the backlog, state and federal courts frequently dismissed old cases without a hearing. While the law provides for the right to counsel, the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship stated many prisoners could not afford an attorney. The court must furnish a public defender or private attorney at public expense in such cases, but staffing deficits persisted in all states.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may submit lawsuits before the courts for human rights violations. While the justice system provides for an independent civil judiciary, courts were burdened with backlogs and sometimes subject to corruption, political influence, and indirect intimidation. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

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

Although the law and constitution prohibit such actions, NGOs reported police occasionally conducted searches without warrants. Human rights groups, other NGOs, and media reported incidents of excessive police searches in poor neighborhoods. During these operations police stopped and questioned persons and searched cars and residences without warrants.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with minimal restriction, but nongovernmental criminal elements subjected journalists to violence because of their professional activities. Despite national laws prohibiting politically motivated judicial censorship, some local-level courts engaged in judicial censorship. In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during massive demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subject to harassment and physical attacks as a result of their reporting. The Brazilian Association of Radio and Television recorded 174 acts of violence against journalists in 2016, compared with 116 cases in 2015. Law enforcement personnel perpetrated the majority of the attacks during protests related to the 2016 impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff. According to a report by the international NGO Article 19 on violations of freedom of expression published in May, in 2016 there were 31 “serious violations against communicators,” which included four killings, five homicide attempts, and 22 death threats. Communicators encompassed journalists, bloggers, radio broadcasters, and owners of media outlets. Sao Paulo was the state that registered the most violations (16 percent), while the Northeast was the region with the most violations (45 percent). Public authorities such as politicians and law enforcement officials perpetrated 77 percent of the violations, and police did not open investigations in 39 percent of the cases.

In September, Roseli Ferreira Pimentel, the mayor of Santa Luzia–part of metropolitan Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais State–was arrested for ordering the killing of Mauricio Campos Rosa, owner of the newspaper O Grito, in August 2016. According to a local radio station, the motive was likely related to Rosa’s journalistic investigations into corruption involving city councilors and a cooperative responsible for garbage collection. Police arrested Pimentel after discovering that she had diverted 20,000 reais ($6,190) from public funds to pay the perpetrators.

Although there were no reported deaths of journalists in the first half of the year, journalists and bloggers continued to be the victims of serious threats. On March 3, the car of journalist Rodrigo Lima was set on fire outside the offices of the newspaper Diario da Regiao, in Sao Jose do Rio Preto, Sao Paulo State. On March 24, police searched the home of blogger Carlos Eduardo Cairo Guimaraes and seized his laptop, his cell phone, and his wife’s cell phone in an effort to identify the sources of a February story in which he wrote that police would question former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as part of a corruption investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: President Temer and his wife Marcela were accused of censorship when Marcela Temer’s lawyers filed an injunction ordering the national daily newspapers O Globo and Folha de Sao Paulo to remove articles about a person found guilty in October 2016 of blackmailing Marcela Temer following the hacking of her cell phone. Her lawyers argued the articles violated her privacy. On February 13, a judge in Brasilia granted a judicial order that required removal of the articles and prohibited any further publication of material about the case. The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism, National Association of Magazine Editors, Brazilian Association of Radio and Television, National Association of Newspapers, and Brazilian Press Association called the ruling censorship. Both newspapers appealed the decision; on February 15, an appeals court overturned the injunction against Folha de Sao Paulo. In June Marcela Temer’s lawyers dropped the legal case against both newspapers.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The 2014 landmark Marco Civil law–considered an internet “bill of rights”–enshrines net neutrality and freedom of expression online and provides for the inviolability and secrecy of user communications online, permitting exceptions only by court order. Nevertheless, several legal and judicial rulings citing Marco Civil had the potential to threaten freedom of expression on the internet. Anonymous speech is explicitly excluded from constitutional protection, which left little privacy protection for those who used the internet anonymously through a pseudonym. Police and prosecutors may obtain data pursuant to three main statutes: the Wiretapping Act, Secrecy of Financial Data Act, and Money Laundering Act.

Private individuals and official bodies took legal action against internet service providers and providers of online social media platforms, such as Google and Facebook, holding them accountable for content posted to or provided by users of the platform. In June WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton participated in a two-day hearing held by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of judicial suspensions in 2016 of WhatsApp and the possibility of retrieving encrypted data related to criminal investigations. As of October no date had been set for trials related to these matters.

The electoral law regulates political campaign activity on the internet. The law prohibits paid political advertising online and in traditional media. During the three months prior to an election, the law also prohibits online and traditional media from promoting candidates and distributing content that ridicules or could offend a candidate.

According to CGI.br, the country’s internet management committee, 60 percent of households had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected the right of freedom of peaceful assembly, but police occasionally intervened in citizen protests that turned violent. In May approximately 35,000 antigovernment protesters marched in Brasilia, starting a fire inside the Ministry of Agriculture and damaging other ministerial buildings. Protesters clashed with police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets, resulting in injuries to approximately 50 protesters. On May 24, President Temer, citing the police’s inability to contain the demonstrations, deployed federal troops to restore order in the capital. Temer revoked the deployment the next day.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The National Committee for Refugees cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. By law refugees are provided official documentation, access to legal protection, and access to public services. In May President Temer signed a new migration law, replacing the Foreigner Statue of 1980; the new law was to go into effect in November. Conditions for granting and maintaining asylum under the new law are to be delineated through the regulation process, which was scheduled to be completed by November.

In 2016 a significantly increasing number of Venezuelan economic migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees began arriving in Roraima State in the north. As of August the government had registered 14,400 official requests for asylum from Venezuelans, and 100-150 new applicants were appearing daily.

Temporary Protection: In March the National Immigration Council issued a decree allowing Venezuelans who enter the country via a land border to apply for a two-year residency permit. According to the Federal Police, as of the beginning of November, 2,700 Venezuelans had submitted requests for temporary residence status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In national elections held in 2014, Dilma Rousseff won a second four-year term as president. Observers considered the elections free and fair. In August 2016 congress impeached Rousseff for violating budget laws, and Vice President Michel Temer assumed the presidency as required by the constitution. In October 2016 voters participated in nationwide municipal elections widely considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials and stipulates civil penalties for corruption committed by Brazilians or Brazilian entities overseas, but the government did not always implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption, and delays in judicial proceedings against persons accused of corruption often resulted in de facto impunity for those responsible. In response to a series of high-profile corruption investigations, millions of citizens participated in anticorruption street protests throughout the country.

Corruption: The investigation of the Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal (Operation Carwash, or “Lava Jato”), which began in 2014, continued and led to arrests and convictions of money launderers and major construction contractors, and also to the investigation, indictment, and conviction of politicians across the political class. Information gained through collaboration and plea bargains with suspects launched a widening net of new investigations. In September federal investigators executed more than 100 search warrants and froze 8.75 billion reais ($2.7 billion) in four of the largest state-run pension funds. As of July courts had handed down 116 convictions, including the first-instance conviction of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who appealed and was free while awaiting a hearing.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and officials generally complied with these provisions. Asset declarations are not made public, but federal employees’ salaries and payment information are posted online and can be searched by name.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for freedom of association for all workers (except members of the military, uniformed police, and firefighters), the right with some restrictions to bargain collectively, and the right to strike. The law limits organizing at the enterprise level. By law the armed forces, military police, or firefighters may not strike. In April the Supreme Court ruled against the right of civil police to strike, stating that all public security organs are prohibited from striking, including civil police, military police, federal police, fire brigades, railway police, and highway police. Civil police filed a grievance with the International Labor Organization. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, including the dismissal of employees who are candidates for, or holders of, union leadership positions, and it requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activity.

New unions must register with the Ministry of Labor, which accepts the registration unless objections are filed by other unions. The law stipulates certain restrictions, such as “unicidade” (in essence one union per occupational category per city), which limits freedom of association by prohibiting multiple, competing unions of the same professional category in a single geographical area. Unions that represent workers in the same geographical area and professional category may contest registration.

The law stipulates a strike may be ruled “disruptive” by the labor court, and the union may be subjected to legal penalties if the strike violates certain conditions, such as if the union fails to maintain essential services during a strike, notify employers at least 48 hours before the beginning of a walkout, or end a strike after a labor court decision. Employers may not hire substitute workers during a legal strike or fire workers for strike-related activity, provided the strike is not ruled abusive.

The law obliges a union to negotiate on behalf of all registered workers in the professional category and geographical area it represents, regardless of whether an employee pays voluntary membership dues. The law permits the government to reject clauses of collective bargaining agreements that conflict with government policy. Labor Law 13.467 of July includes collective bargaining changes, such as the ability to negotiate remuneration for the commute to and from work, working remotely, and a flexible hours schedule.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Collective bargaining was widespread in establishments in the private sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits “slave labor,” defined as “reducing someone to a condition analogous to slavery,” including subjecting someone to forced labor, debt bondage, exhausting work hours, and labor performed in degrading working conditions. On October 13, Minister of Labor Ronaldo Nogueira issued a decree that would narrow the definition of slave labor, set new conditions for labor inspections, and modify rules regarding publication of the “Dirty List.” On October 24, Supreme Court Justice Rosa Weber issued a preliminary stay blocking implementation pending a formal hearing. The decree would greatly tighten the definition of slave labor, no longer considering severely degrading work conditions and excessive work hours as slave labor as long as workers are technically allowed the freedom to leave their job site. The new decree would also politicize and weaken the Dirty List of companies that use slave labor, which was reinstated in March after a three-year legal battle. The Ministry of Labor released an updated Dirty List on October 27 and was working with the attorney general to amend the decree to assure it is in compliance with all federal laws and regulations.

While not all individuals in slave labor, as defined by the country’s law, were victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation, many were. The government took a number of actions to enforce the law, although forced labor occurred in a number of states. Violations of forced labor laws are punishable by up to eight years in prison, but this was often not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides penalties for various crimes related to forced labor, such as illegal recruiting or transporting workers or imposing onerous debt burdens as a condition of employment.

The National Commission to Eradicate Slave Labor coordinated government efforts to combat forced and exploitative labor and provide a forum for input from civil society actors. The commission’s members included representatives from 10 government agencies or ministries–including Human Rights, Justice, Federal Police, Agriculture, Labor, and Environment–and 20 civil society groups. The International Labor Organization was also a member.

The Ministry of Labor’s Mobile Inspection Unit teams conducted impromptu inspections of properties on which forced labor was suspected or reported, using teams composed of labor inspectors, labor prosecutors from the Federal Labor Prosecutor’s Office, and federal police officers. Mobile teams levied fines on landowners who used forced labor and required employers to provide back pay and benefits to workers before returning the workers to their municipalities of origin. Labor inspectors and prosecutors, however, could apply only civil penalties; consequently, many cases were not criminally prosecuted. Workers removed by mobile units were entitled to three months’ salary at the minimum wage.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred in many states in jobs such as clearing forests to provide cattle pastureland, logging, producing charcoal, raising livestock, and other agricultural activities. Forced labor often involved young men drawn from the less-developed northeastern states–Maranhao, Piaui, Tocantins, and Ceara–and the central state of Goias to work in the northern and central-western regions of the country. In addition there were reports of forced labor in the construction industry, also involving young men mainly from the Northeast. News outlets reported cases of forced labor in production of canauba wax in this region. Cases of forced labor were also reported in the garment industry in the city of Sao Paulo; the victims were often from neighboring countries, particularly Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay, while others came from Haiti, South Korea, and China.

In April civil police and the Public Ministry of Labor rescued 31 workers on the premises of the Chinese multinational company Cofco Agri, the largest rescue of forced laborers in Mato Grosso State since 2009. The ministry fined the company, which manufactures agricultural products, two million reais ($619,000) for failing to provide potable water and subjecting laborers to unhealthy, overcrowded accommodation. Of the 31 rescued laborers, four were from Maranhao State and the remaining 27 from Mato Grosso.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, natural origin or citizenship, age, language, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination against individuals who are HIV positive or suffer from other communicable diseases is also prohibited. The government generally enforced the laws and regulations, although discrimination in employment occurred with respect to Afro-Brazilians, women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and transgender individuals. The Ministry of Labor implemented rules to integrate promotion of racial equality in its programs, including requiring that race be included in data for programs financed by the ministry, including unemployment insurance.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In January the national minimum wage increased to 937 reais ($290) per month. According to 2016 IBGE data, the per capita income of approximately 40 percent of workers was below the minimum wage. IBGE data also revealed 6.8 percent of workers (12.9 million) were considered “extremely poor” or earning less than 70 reais ($22) per month.

The law limits the workweek to 44 hours and specifies a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours, preferably on Sundays. The law also provides for paid annual vacation, prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to two hours per workday, and stipulates that hours worked above the monthly limit must be compensated with at least time-and-a-half pay; these provisions generally were enforced for all groups of workers in the formal sector. The constitution also provides for the right of domestic workers to an eight-hour workday, a maximum of 44 hours’ work per week, a minimum wage, a lunch break, social security, and severance pay. According to the IBGE, 33.3 million persons were employed in the formal sector as of May. The IBGE also reported that between July and September, there were 22.9 million persons working in the informal economy, an increase of 5 percent, compared with the same period in 2016.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational, health, and safety standards that are consistent with internationally recognized norms, although unsafe working conditions were prevalent throughout the country, especially in construction. The law requires employers to establish internal committees for accident prevention in workplaces. It also provides for the protection of employees from being fired for their committee activities. Workers could generally remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although those in forced labor situations without access to transportation were particularly vulnerable to situations that endangered their health and safety.

In August the Sao Paulo Federal Court took criminal action against the clothing store Gregory for subjecting Bolivian employees to workdays of 14-17 hours and paying three reais ($0.93) per clothing item produced.

The Ministry of Labor addressed problems related to acceptable conditions of work such as long workdays and unsafe or unhygienic work conditions. Penalties for violations include fines that varied widely depending on the nature of the violation; the fines were generally enforced and were sometimes sufficient to deter violations. The National Labor Inspection School held various training sessions for labor inspectors throughout the year. The Ministry of Labor reported the number of labor inspectors (2,500) in the country was insufficient to enforce full compliance nationwide. Inspections continued to take place despite reduced funding, leading to fewer inspectors and inspections.

The Digital Observatory of Healthy and Labor Safety reported that in the period 2012-16, almost 45,000 laborers suffered a workplace injury.

Colombia

Executive Summary

Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In 2014 voters elected Juan Manuel Santos president in elections that observers considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial and unlawful killings; reports of torture and arbitrary detention; corruption; rape and abuse of women and children by illegal armed groups; forced abortion carried out by illegal armed groups; and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons. Violence against and forced displacement of Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons persisted, as did illegal child labor and killings and other violence against trade unionists.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, including judges, mayors, and other local authorities.

The government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), formerly the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, continued to implement the November 2016 peace accord. The agreement provides for the creation of a Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition, including the establishment of a Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP, or JEP in Spanish) designed to investigate and ensure accountability for serious conflict-related crimes. The FARC completed its disarmament on August 15, and former members reincorporated as a political party on September 1. The government and a smaller guerrilla force, the National Liberation Army (ELN), announced on September 4 a temporary, bilateral ceasefire (the first-ever such agreement during the 50-year conflict with the ELN), which began on October 1 while peace talks continued. There were reports the ELN violated the agreement during the year. The ELN perpetrated armed attacks across the country for much of the year, mostly prior to the temporary ceasefire. In September the government received an offer from the Gulf Clan (formerly known as Clan Usuga or Los Urabenos), the country’s largest criminal organization, to demobilize through a surrender (“sometimiento”) process, or submission to justice. Illegal armed groups and drug trafficking gangs continued to operate, with approximately 2,900 members nationwide. Illegal armed groups, as well as narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of human rights abuses and violent crimes and committed acts of extrajudicial and unlawful killings, political killings, extortion, kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, bombings and use of landmines, restriction on freedom of movement, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders.

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, and related investigations and prosecutions proceeded slowly (see section 1.g.).

For example, on October 5, at least seven persons, including two members of the Awa indigenous people, were killed and another 20 injured in the southwestern municipality of Tumaco, Narino Department, during a protest against government coca eradication operations, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Some eyewitnesses alleged that members of the antinarcotics police force fired their weapons into the crowd, while others alleged FARC dissidents first attacked the protesters and authorities, and that the security forces acted in self-defense. On October 10, the Minister of Defense announced the government would transfer 102 police officers out of Tumaco in an effort to restore public trust. Media reported the government suspended four police officers. The president ordered a prompt and thorough investigation. The vice president traveled to the region to oversee the investigation and the government response to community concerns. The IACHR urged authorities to investigate the events thoroughly and “to ensure the safety and integrity of the campesino, indigenous, and Afro-descendant communities.”

Nongovernmental monitors reported a decrease in extrajudicial killings and an overall reduction in violence. According to the National Police, between January 1 and October 25, there were 9,380 homicides and 69 terrorist attacks, compared with 9,850 homicides and 138 terrorist attacks over the same period in 2016, a decrease they attributed to the implementation of the peace accord between the government and the FARC (see section 1.g.).

From January 1 through July, the Attorney General’s Office registered three new cases of alleged aggravated homicides by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally accused 19 members of the security forces and arrested three for aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian, 16 of them for crimes that occurred prior to 2016. The Attorney General’s Office registered the arrest of eight members of the security forces in connection with homicides.

There were developments in efforts to hold officials accountable in false positive extrajudicial killings, in which thousands of civilians were killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants in the late 1990s to late 2000s. As of March 15, the Attorney General’s Office reported 455 open investigations, 836 cases in the prosecution phase, and 238 cases in the sentencing phase related to false positive killings. The Attorney General’s Office reported that from 2008 through 2016, it had reached convictions in 1,414 false positive cases, with defendants ranging up to the rank of colonel.

On April 3, Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Rincon Amado and 20 soldiers under his command were convicted for their role in “false positive” killings in Soacha in 2008 and received sentences ranging from 38 to 52 years in prison.

The Attorney General’s Office reported that as of June, there were open investigations against 18 retired and active duty generals related to false positive killings, although no new investigations were opened in 2016 or 2017. The Attorney General’s Office reported investigations against two other generals were closed in 2016 and 2017.

The Attorney General’s Office reported that the case against retired general William Henry Torres Escalante involving false positive killings was transferred to the special investigations unit in 2016, after a court upheld his indictment. Torres Escalante was granted conditional liberty on August 4 under the transitional justice mechanism of the peace accord. According to media reports, in December the Superior Court of Yopal revoked Torres Escalante’s conditional liberty and ordered that he be rearrested. The court held that conditional liberty could only be granted once the Special Jurisdiction for Peace was operational. Media reported that retired general Mario Montoya Uribe was scheduled to appear before a judge to face charges related to false positive killings in 2016, but the hearing was postponed. The Attorney General’s Office reported the investigation of Montoya Uribe was in the preliminary investigation and inquiry phase as of June.

On November 14, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a public statement alleging five army officers recommended for promotion were “credibly linked” to false positive killings. HRW stated two of the five officers in question–Brigadier General Francisco Javier Cruz Ricci, the then commander of the army’s Sixth Division, and Colonel Miguel Eduardo David Bastidas–were under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office for alleged involvement in false positive cases. According to HRW, General Cruz Ricci was under investigation for the killing of two civilians in July 2004, when he commanded the Ninth Special Energy and Roads Plans Battalion of the 27th Brigade. HRW’s statement further alleged that Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, former commander of the armed forces, was under investigation for false positive extrajudicial killings allegedly committed under his command.

Subsequently, media reported David Bastidas’ name was removed from the promotion list after prosecutors sought his arrest in connection with the false positive extrajudicial killings of Uber Esneider Giraldo, Disney Villegas, and 30 other persons, as well as other crimes allegedly committed when he was second-in-command of the Fourth Artillery Battalion “Jorge Eduardo Sanchez.” The Senate voted to approve the remaining promotions on December 5.

On September 13, an International Criminal Court (ICC) delegation, including Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, visited Bogota in the context of the ICC’s preliminary examination of the situation in Colombia. According to a public statement, the delegation sought to obtain information concerning the status of national proceedings related to false positive killings, as well as information about aspects of the future SJP, sexual and gender-based crimes, and forced displacement.

On April 18, the then commander of the army General Alberto Jose Mejia Ferrero honored Sergeant Carlos Mora, a whistleblower in the false positives scandal. Mejia urged the army’s leaders to hold themselves and their units to the highest standards of transparency and to respect human rights and international humanitarian law. In December the president elevated General Mejia to serve as armed forces commander, replacing Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, who retired.

Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized criminal gangs, which included some former paramilitary members.

Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly. The Attorney General’s Office reported that through July, it obtained three new convictions of security force members in cases involving homicide of a “protected person” (i.e., civilians and others accorded such status under international humanitarian law), four new convictions in cases involving aggravated homicide, and 11 new convictions in cases involving “simple homicide” committed by security force members. Of these sentences, 15 corresponded to cases that took place before 2017.

Illegal armed groups, including the ELN and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported 73 social leaders were killed between January and December 20. For example, on June 7, Bernardo Cuero Bravo, a prominent human rights activist and Afro-Colombian community leader, was shot and killed in his home in Villa Esperanza, Atlantico. Bravo worked as an attorney for the National Association of Displaced Afrodescendants (AFRODES). The president addressed the attacks on social leaders at the one-year anniversary of the peace accord saying, “Every murder, every attack, every threat hurts us,” and pledging to “protect [social] leaders and to capture those responsible.”

The IACHR held a public hearing at the request of the government on “Investigation of Attacks on Human Rights Defenders in Colombia” during its 161st Period of Sessions in March. Civil society organizations that participated urged the government to investigate and address the root causes of violence against social and ethnic leaders. The deputy attorney general provided updates on progress in cases of human rights defenders killed in 2016 and 2017, stating that, of 74 individuals that had been linked to the killings, 58 persons had been arrested, four had been sentenced, and six were on trial. According to the Attorney General’s Office, of 118 cases in 2016 and 2017, 59 showed procedural advances. The Attorney General’s Office Special Investigation Unit provided for in the peace accord was established. The focus of the unit was on investigating and prosecuting criminal organizations and their support networks.

On November 30, the Minister of Defense attributed the delay in investigating and prosecuting killings of social leaders to difficulty in determining motive and delays in reaching the remote crime scenes. He announced a rapid response mechanism that he stated would ensure a combined security force/Attorney General’s Office response within two hours to any attack on a social leader, anywhere in the country.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. From January 1 through the end of July, however, a total of 3,957 persons were registered as missing, including 79 persons believed to be victims of forced disappearances. The National Institute of Forensic Medicine and Forensic Science reported that from 1938 to 2016, a total of 120,104 cases of disappearances were registered, including 25,102 cases of forced disappearances. The government did not provide information on the number of victims of forced disappearances who were located nor a disaggregation of the number found alive or dead.

The Attorney General’s Office indicated that between January 1 and July 31, there were no new convictions of members of the security forces involved in forced disappearances cases.

As part of a peace process confidence-building measure, the FARC agreed in 2015 to search for those missing in the conflict. The government agreed to accelerate the identification of anonymous victims killed in security operations and extrajudicial killings and to turn over their remains to family members. The parties also agreed to create a new search unit for the missing, which was established in April by presidential decree 589 and would receive technical support from the international community.

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, under articles 137 and 178 of the criminal code, there were reports government officials committed abuses. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP) reported that through June 30, security forces were allegedly involved in 17 cases of torture, four committed by the National Prison Institute (INPEC) and 13 by the National Police. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts.

Between January 1 and July 31, the Attorney General’s Office charged five members of the police force with torture; all the cases occurred prior to 2017. During the same period, the Attorney General’s Office reported four convictions of members of the security forces and one conviction of a member of an illegal armed group in a case of torture.

CINEP reported criminal bands were responsible for five documented cases of torture through June 30. In 11 other documented cases, CINEP was not able to identify the party responsible for the abuses.

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

With the exception of new facilities, prisons and detention centers were overcrowded, lacked adequate sanitation, and provided poor health care and other basic services. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.

Physical Conditions: INPEC, which operated the national prisons and oversaw the jails, estimated there were 115,950 persons incarcerated in 136 prisons across the country, of whom 19,167 were in pretrial detention. Overcrowding existed in men’s as well as in women’s prisons. INPEC cited several prisons in Cali, Santa Marta, Valledupar, Itagui, and Apartado that were more than 200 percent overcrowded. INPEC reported 48 percent of federal prisons were overcrowded.

The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although this sometimes occurred. The Superior Judiciary Council stated the maximum time that a person may remain in judicial detention facilities is three days. The same rules apply to jails located inside police stations. These regulations were often violated.

The practice of preventive detention, in combination with inefficiencies in the judicial system, continued to exacerbate overcrowding. In July the government began to implement new procedures that provide for the immediate release of some pretrial detainees, including many accused of serious crimes such as aggravated robbery and sexual assault.

The Inspector General’s Office continued to investigate allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. No further information was available at year’s end regarding the status of the 54 investigations opened in 2016.

Many prisoners continued to face difficulties receiving adequate medical care. Nutrition and water quality were deficient and contributed to the overall poor health of many inmates. Inmates claimed authorities routinely rationed water in many facilities.

INPEC’s physical structures were in generally poor repair. The Inspector General’s Office noted some facilities had poor ventilation and overtaxed sanitary systems. Prisoners in some high-altitude facilities complained of inadequate blankets and clothing, while prisoners in tropical facilities complained that overcrowding and insufficient ventilation contributed to high temperatures in prison cells. Some prisoners slept on floors without mattresses, while others shared cots in overcrowded cells.

Administration: Prisoners generally could submit complaints to judicial authorities, request investigations of inhuman conditions, and request that third parties from local NGOs or government entities, such as the Ombudsman’s Office, represent them in legal matters and aid them in seeking an investigation of prison conditions. Authorities investigated prisoner complaints of inhuman conditions, including complaints of prison guards soliciting bribes from inmates, but some prisoners asserted the investigations were slow and the results were not accessible to the public.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups. INPEC required a three-day notice before granting consular access. Some NGOs complained that authorities, without adequate explanation, denied them access to visit prisoners.

Improvements: During the year the Attorney General’s Office assigned 27 additional prosecutors to units aimed at preventing noncriminal cases from entering the criminal justice system, including prisons, thereby freeing up both prosecutors and judges to focus on genuine criminal cases.

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; however, there were allegations that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. CINEP reported 45 cases of arbitrary detention committed by state security forces through June 30.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Colombian National Police (CNP) is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The Migration Directorate, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the immigration authority. The CNP shares law enforcement investigatory duties with the Technical Investigation Body. In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. The government continued to expand education and training of the armed forces in human rights and international humanitarian law.

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

The military functions under both the old inquisitorial and a newer accusatory system. The military had not trained its criminal justice actors to operate under the accusatory system, which they were to begin to implement during the year. The military also had not developed an interinstitutional strategy for recruiting, hiring, or training investigators, crime scene technicians, or forensic specialists, which is required under the accusatory system. As such the military justice system did not exercise criminal investigative authority; all new criminal investigations duties are conducted by judicial police investigators from the CNP and Corps of Technical Investigators.

The Attorney General’s Office reported open investigations into 18 retired and active duty generals for alleged involvement in false positive extrajudicial killings (see section 1.a.).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities must bring detained persons before a judge within 36 hours to determine the validity of the detention, bring formal charges within 30 days, and start a trial within 90 days of the initial detention. Public defenders contracted by the Office of the Ombudsman assisted indigent defendants. Detainees received prompt access to legal counsel and family members as provided for by law. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, this requirement was not always respected. NGOs characterized some arrests as arbitrary detention: arrests allegedly based on tips from informants about persons linked to guerrilla activities, detentions by members of the security forces without a judicial order, detentions based on administrative authority, detentions during military operations or at roadblocks, large-scale detentions, and detentions of persons while they were “exercising their fundamental rights.”

Pretrial Detention: The judicial process moved slowly, and the civilian judicial system suffered from a significant backlog of cases, which led to large numbers of pretrial detainees. The failure of many local military commanders and jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made accounting for all detainees difficult. INPEC estimated that 19,167 prisoners, or 17 percent of the country’s prison inmates, were being held in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees were released without a trial because they had already served more than one-third of the maximum sentence for their charges.

Civil society groups complained that authorities subjected some community leaders to extended pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

The government continued efforts to investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of abuses, including public officials and members of the security services. Despite governmental improvements, the system struggled to close out cases quickly and efficiently.

The Inspector General’s Office conducts disciplinary investigations into allegations of misconduct by public employees, including members of government security forces. In addition to conducting its own investigations, the Inspector General’s Office referred all cases of human rights violations it received to the attorney general’s Human Rights Unit for separate criminal proceedings. No further information was available at year’s end regarding the status of disciplinary processes against members of the armed forces and police for alleged offenses.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. While the government began implementing an accusatory system of justice in 2008, the use of delay tactics by defense lawyers to slow or impede proceedings, prosecutors’ heavy caseloads, and other factors diminished the anticipated increased efficiencies and other benefits of adopting the adversarial model. Under the existing criminal procedure code, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and have the right to confront the trial evidence and witnesses against them, present their own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense). Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal their proceedings. Although defendants have the right to an interpreter, the court system lacked interpreters for less commonly encountered languages. Crimes committed before 2008 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor is a magistrate who investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. In those cases the trial consists of the presentation of evidence and finding of guilt or innocence to a judge for ratification or rejection.

In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most fact finding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at courts-martial.

Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatory systems. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government declared that it did not hold political prisoners; nevertheless, authorities held some members of human rights advocacy groups on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as government harassment against human rights advocates. According to INPEC, the government held a total of 427 pretrial and 545 convicted detainees on charges of rebellion or of aiding and promoting insurgency. The government provided the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regular access to these prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may sue a government agent or entity in the Administrative Court of Litigation for damages resulting from a human rights violation. Although critics complained of delays in the process, the court generally was considered impartial and effective. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the IACHR, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) continued to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to persons, including victims of government abuses, but the government admitted that the pace of restitution was slow. The Administrative Department for Social Prosperity (DPS) handles problems related to victims, poverty, consolidation, historical memory, and protection of children and adolescents. Through July 31, a total of 8,504,127 victims registered with the Victims’ Unit of the DPS. Of these, 7,243,838 were victims of forced displacement, with 360,325 registered during 2016, the latest date for which information was available. The government did not provide information on the number of those registered who received some form of assistance. Both individual and collective reparations are mandated by the Victims’ Law; however, the original budget for implementation of the law contemplated only 4.5 million victims. The Land Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict.

The Land Restitution Unit reported that it reviewed 148 requests for collective restitution of ethnic territories and 106,833 individual restitution claims, of which 8,551 were awaiting final judicial decision. The claims encompassed more than 12 million acres benefitting 52,017 families. Of the 106,833 individual cases received through July 3, a total of 3,285 belonged to individuals who self-identified as Afro-Colombian, 1,992 belonged to individuals who self-identified as indigenous, and 654 belonged to individuals who self-identified as belonging to other ethnic groups.

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

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

On September 11, Jorge Aurelio Noguera, the former director of the dismantled Administrative Department of Security (DAS), was sentenced to seven years in prison for engaging in illegal monitoring activities against human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society organizations during former president Uribe’s administration.

As of July the Attorney General’s Office initiated one new criminal investigation of government agents for illegal monitoring activities.

The Inspector General’s investigation continued into journalist Vicky Davila’s accusations that police had been monitoring her communications, including trailing and wiretapping her and her reporting team, since 2014.

An investigation continued into abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit, known by its code name “Andromeda.” In 2016 Semana magazine alleged the unit illegally wiretapped personal telephones of peace negotiators belonging to both the government and FARC negotiating teams. General Mauricio Forero, former head of the military’s intelligence center, left the army in 2016 due to alleged connections to Andromeda. As of 2016 he had not been charged or arrested in connection with these allegations.

There were no developments regarding the case of Martha Ines Leal, former DAS director of operations; Jorge Lagos, former DAS intelligence director; and Fernando Tabares, former DAS counterintelligence director, who submitted to the IACHR allegations that the Attorney General’s Office placed undue pressure on them in order to coerce them into testifying in the DAS illegal surveillance case. DAS allegedly engaged in illegal surveillance of high-court magistrates, journalists, human rights organizations and activists, opposition leaders, and the vice presidency.

In its annual report published in March, the OHCHR registered 72 complaints of illegal surveillance and robbery of information of human rights defenders and social activists in 2016. While statistics for 2017 were unavailable as of year’s end, NGOs continued to accuse domestic intelligence or security entities of spying on lawyers and human rights defenders, threatening them, and breaking into their homes or offices to steal information.

The government continued to use voluntary civilian informants to identify terrorists, report terrorist activities, and gather information on criminal gangs. Some national and international human rights groups criticized this practice as subject to abuse and a threat to privacy and other civil liberties. The government maintained that the practice was in accordance with the “principle of solidarity” outlined in the constitution and that the Comptroller General’s Office strictly regulated payments to such informants.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Violence and harassment, as well as the criminalization of libel, inhibited freedom of the press, and the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), through December 11, there were 302 incidents of violence and harassment against journalists, including the killing of one journalist, although FLIP noted many other incidents might have gone unreported in the most dangerous areas of the country. During the same period, FLIP reported 128 threats, some aimed simultaneously at more than one journalist. FLIP also reported six journalists were illegally detained, 43 journalists were physically attacked, and 14 were stigmatized or harassed due to their work. According to FLIP, the justice sector brought to trial eight persons involved in four cases of violence against journalists, although investigations continued.

As of July the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 46 active cases of crimes against journalists. Eight cases were in the trial stage, and one person was convicted for such crimes.

On September 8, in the case of journalist Flor Alba Nunez Vargas, Juan Camilo Ortiz was sentenced to 47 years in prison, while Ortiz’s alleged accomplice, Jaumeth Albeiro Florez, known by the alias “Chori,” remained at large. The intellectual authors of the crime were unknown.

As of June 30, the National Protection Unit (NPU) provided protection services to 15 journalists. The NPU’s Protocol for Attention to Cases of Journalists and/or Social Communicators, issued in September 2016, aimed to provide more robust risk studies and meet the particular needs of this group. Some NGOs raised concerns about perceived shortcomings in the NPU, such as delays in protection being granted and in the appropriateness of measures to specific threats.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: FLIP alleged that some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being physically attacked, mostly by nongovernment actors. FLIP argued that the high degree of impunity for those who committed aggressions against journalists was also a factor.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. There is no specific law against slandering public officials, and the government did not use prosecution to prevent media from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, publicly threatened to sue journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported no new cases were filed against journalists for libel or slander as of August 18, although 27 prosecutions of journalists for libel or slander continued from 2013.

Nongovernmental Impact: Members of illegal armed groups sought to inhibit freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Due to the general climate of violence and impunity, self-censorship occurred both online and offline, particularly within communities at risk in rural areas.

The 2016 investigation continued into past abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit known as “Andromeda” (see section 1.f.).

The International Telecommunication Union estimated 58 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Some NGOs alleged that riot police used excessive force to break up demonstrations. During a three-week strike in Buenaventura that began May 16 and concluded with the signing of an accord with the government on June 6, local social and human rights organizations accused the armed forces and National Police Anti-Riot Squad of using excessive force and alleged that at least 1,300 demonstrators were injured.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Freedom of association was limited by threats and acts of violence committed by illegal armed groups against NGOs, indigenous groups, and labor unions.

Although the government does not prohibit membership in most political organizations, membership in organizations that engaged in rebellion against the government, espoused violence, or carried out acts of violence, such as FARC dissidents, the ELN, and other illegal armed groups, was against the law.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although there were exceptions. Military operations and armed conflict in certain rural areas restricted freedom of movement.

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

In-country Movement: There were no government restrictions on movement within the country. Organized criminal gangs, ELN guerrillas, and other illegal armed groups continued to establish illegal checkpoints on rural roads.

International organizations also reported that illegal armed groups confined rural communities through roadblocks, curfews, car bombs at egress routes, and IEDs in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between January and October, more than 105,000 persons faced mobility restrictions that limited their access to essential goods and services due to armed incidents and geographical factors. This reflected a 54 percent increase compared with 2016. Additionally, OCHA identified 25 events where humanitarian actors faced restrictions in access to communities by armed groups.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The armed conflict, especially in remote areas, was the major cause of internal displacement. The government, international organizations, and civil society identified various factors driving displacement, including threats, extortion, and physical, psychological, and sexual violence by illegal armed groups against civilian populations, particularly women and girls. Competition and armed confrontation between and within illegal armed groups for resources and territorial control and confrontations between security forces, guerrillas, and organized criminal gangs, in addition to forced recruitment of children or threats of forced recruitment, were also drivers of displacement. Some NGOs asserted that counternarcotics efforts, illegal mining, and large-scale commercial ventures in rural areas also contributed to displacement.

The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) reported 12,346 persons displaced from January through July 31. The NGO indicated the departments with the highest numbers of IDPs from mass displacements in the year were Choco (22 displacements), Antioquia (12 displacements), Norte de Santander (10 displacements), and Narino (11 displacements). CODHES also reported six land-rights leaders were killed and five land-rights claimants were killed from January 1 through July 30.

As of July the NPU was providing protection services to 344 land-restitution leaders.

As of November 1, the government reported the Victims’ Unit listed 8,250,270 displaced in the Single Victims Registry, with registrants dating back to 1985. Victims’ Unit statistics showed new displacements occurred primarily in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted, especially where guerrilla groups and organized criminal gangs were present.

The Victims’ Unit maintained the Single Victims Registry as mandated by law. Despite improvements in the government registration system, IDPs experienced delays in receiving responses to their displacement claims because of a large backlog of claims built up during several months. Government policy provides for an appeals process in the case of refusals.

The ELN and organized criminal gangs continued to use force, intimidation, and disinformation to discourage IDPs from registering with the government. Guerrilla agents sometimes forced local leaders and community members to demonstrate against government efforts to eradicate illicit crops and forced communities to displace as a form of coerced protest against eradication. International organizations and civil society expressed concern over urban displacement caused by violence stemming from territorial disputes between criminal gangs, some of which had links to larger criminal and narcotics trafficking groups.

The Victims’ Unit cited extortion, recruitment by illegal armed groups, homicides, and physical and sexual violence as the primary causes of intra-urban displacement. UNHCR reported that in some departments displacement disproportionately affected indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups.

The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia estimated the number of displaced indigenous persons to be much higher than indicated by government reports, since many indigenous persons did not have adequate access to registration locations due to geographic remoteness, language barriers, or unfamiliarity with the national registration system.

The NGO AFRODES stated that threats and violence against Afro-Colombian leaders and communities continued to cause high levels of forced displacement, especially in the Pacific Coast region. AFRODES and other local NGOs repeatedly expressed concern that large-scale economic projects, such as agriculture and mining, contributed to displacement in their communities.

Fifty-two government agencies are responsible by law for assisting registered IDPs. International organizations and NGOs maintained that the quality of programs providing emergency assistance, shelter, and income generation needed strengthening. Emergency response capacity at the local level was weak, and IDPs continued to experience prolonged periods of vulnerability while waiting for assistance.

A specialized unit of the Attorney General’s Office–established through an agreement with the government’s former social agency, Social Action (which the DPS replaced), the Attorney General’s Office, and the CNP–investigated cases of forced displacement and disappearances.

Dozens of international organizations, international NGOs, and domestic nonprofit groups, including UNHCR, International Organization for Migration, World Food Program, ICRC, and Colombian Red Cross, coordinated with the government to provide emergency relief and long-term assistance to displaced populations.

The Victim’s Unit was unable to provide humanitarian assistance for recent displacements until August due to contracting delays. International organizations and NGOs remained concerned about the slow and insufficient institutional response to displacement. As a result, NGOs took responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to recently displaced individuals. International organizations and civil society reported that a continuing lack of local capacity to accept registrations in high-displacement areas often delayed by several weeks or months assistance to persons displaced individually or in smaller groups. Humanitarian organizations attributed the delays to a variety of factors, including the lack of personnel, funding, declaration forms, and training. Insecurity in communities affected by the conflict, including areas in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Choco, and Narino, sometimes delayed national and international aid organizations from reaching newly displaced populations.

Despite several government initiatives to enhance IDP access to services and awareness of their rights, in many parts of the country, municipalities did not have the resources or capacity to respond to new displacements and provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Many IDPs continued to live in poverty in unhygienic conditions and with limited access to health care, education, and employment.

Displaced persons also sought protection across international borders. UNHCR stated that Colombia was the country of origin for 360,000 refugees and persons in a refugee-like situation, the majority in Ecuador, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Panama. UNHCR estimated that between 400 and 500 Colombians crossed into Ecuador every month. The governments of Colombia and Ecuador continued to meet throughout the year regarding the situation of Colombian refugees in Ecuador, and the Colombian government offered a program to assist Colombian refugees in Ecuador who returned to Colombia.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to the government, it had approved 50 applications for refugee status since 2009. Between January 1 and October 2, the government reported it received 400 new applications for refugee status, none of which was approved during the year. Venezuelans represented 85 to 90 percent of applications during the year. Authorities stated that the asylum process took at least one year, during which solicitants were given a permit to stay in the country but were not allowed to work.

Responding to increased migration flows, the government introduced in February registration for border mobility cards that allow Venezuelans the right to enter Colombia temporarily for family or business purposes. The cards do not afford bearers the right to travel beyond border areas, to work, or to reside in Colombia. As of October 31, more than 1.2 million border cards had been issued to Venezuelans. In addition, the government established a “Special Residency Permit” (PEP) to allow Venezuelans who had legally entered Colombia before July 28 to regularize their status and receive work authorization. As of October 31, the last day to register for the PEP, approximately 79,000 PEPs had been issued.

The government reported a continuing rise in the smuggling of migrants from outside the region through Colombia en route to the United States and Canada. According to INTERPOL, as many as 34,000 migrants were detected in the country during the year. INTERPOL and migration officials reported most of the undocumented migrants were Haitians (20,366) and Cubans (8,167), followed by Africans and Asians, and that most entered through Ecuador, Venezuela, and Brazil. While the government generally provided access to the asylum process for persons who requested international protection, many abandoned their applications and continued on the migration route.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal suffrage. Active-duty members of the armed forces and police may neither vote nor participate in the political process. Civilian public employees are eligible to vote, although they may participate in partisan politics only during the four months immediately preceding a national election.

As part of the peace accord, the government and the FARC agreed to take steps to register a political party comprised of former FARC members. The accord, which requires implementing legislation, guaranteed 10 seats for FARC representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives in the 2018 and 2022 elections. It also provided for security guarantees for the new political party, state financing for the new party’s 2018 and 2022 Senate and presidential campaigns, and access to media under the same conditions as other parties. On September 1, the FARC officially relaunched as a political party under the name People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Comun), maintaining the same acronym.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 the country held departmental and local elections, involving 110,000 candidates running to be one of the country’s 32 governors, 1,100 mayors, and more than 12,000 local council members. According to the NGO Foundation of Peace and Reconciliation, during the election period, seven candidates were killed, four were attacked, and 28 were threatened. The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE), an independent electoral monitoring NGO, reported that in the first seven months of the year, 49 public officials and political and social leaders were killed, 21 were victims of attacks, two were kidnapped, and 57 received death threats, for a total of 129 incidents of “political and social violence.”

According to the MOE, electoral fraud remained a serious concern. The NGO Foundation of Peace and Reconciliation reported that in 2015 parties paid voters to register and vote in municipalities in which they were not resident. In advance of the 2018 elections, the MOE estimated that the areas with the highest proportion of irregular voters were Meta, Vichada, and Vaupes. The government continued the use of a new finance tool to provide transparency of campaign funds, disqualified candidates with pending criminal investigations, and canceled the national identification cards of voters who could not demonstrate residence or employment in the municipality where they were registered to vote.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Organized criminal gangs and the ELN threatened and killed government officials (see section 1.g.). As of August 22, the NPU, under the Ministry of Interior, provided protection to 1,891 persons, including members of departmental assemblies, council members, judges, municipal human rights officers, and other officials related to national human rights policies. By decree the CNP’s protection program and the NPU assume shared responsibility for protecting municipal and district mayors.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices without punishment. The World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators reflected that government corruption was a serious problem. Revenues from transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, exacerbated corruption.

Corruption: In June the top anticorruption official, Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivero, was arrested for alleged corruption. According to media reports, Moreno allegedly accepted a bribe from former Cordoba governor Alejandro Lyons, who was also facing charges related to alleged embezzlement of public funds during his time as governor. Related reporting linked Moreno to bribery cases involving members of the Supreme Court, including former court president Leonidas Bustos. On September 19, Francisco Ricaurte, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Justice, was arrested for his alleged role in corruption. Investigations in the cases continued at year’s end.

A special investigative unit of the Supreme Court of Justice, charged with investigating members of congress and senior government officials, reported that since January 1, the unit opened 56 investigations against former governors and 38 against sitting governors, and it reported one conviction in these cases.

The Attorney General’s Office reported that for the year through July 31, it had investigated 17 inspectors, six comptrollers, and 593 other senior government officials. In addition, as of July 31, the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 922 cases of corruption against 735 public servants, of which seven were in the preliminary investigation phase and two had been brought to trial.

Financial Disclosure: By law public officials must file annual financial disclosure forms with the tax authority. The information is not made public. The law states that persons who intend to hold public office or work as contractors for the government for more than three months shall submit a statement of assets and income, as well as information on their private economic activity. The Administrative Department of Public Service is in charge of preparing the required forms, and the human resources chief in each entity is responsible for verifying the information submitted. Congress maintained a website on which members could voluntarily post their financial information.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and it prohibits antiunion discrimination. Members of associated workers’ cooperatives are not allowed to form unions, since the law recognizes members of a cooperative as owners. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police from forming or joining unions. The law provides for automatic recognition of unions that obtain 25 signatures from potential members and that comply with a registration process. Public-sector employees legally have the right to bargain collectively. The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining in practice. Workers faced some obstacles to exercising those rights, and the government faced numerous challenges effectively enforcing applicable laws governing those two rights.

The law permits associated workers’ cooperatives (CTAs), collective pacts, and union contracts. Under collective pacts employers may negotiate accords on pay and labor conditions with workers in workplaces where no union is present or where a union represents less than one-third of employees. Law and regulations prohibit the use of CTAs and collective pacts to undermine the right to organize and bargain collectively, including by extending better conditions to nonunion workers through such pacts. Through a union contract, a company may contract a union, at times formed explicitly for this purpose, for a specific job or work; the union then in essence serves as an employer for its members. Workers who belong to a union that has a union contract with a company do not have a direct employment relationship with either the company or the union. Labor disputes for workers under a union contract may be decided through an arbitration panel versus labor courts if both parties agree.

The law does not permit members of the armed forces, police, and persons performing “essential public services” to strike. Before conducting a strike, unions must follow prescribed legal procedures, including entering into a conversation period with the employer, presenting a list of demands, and gaining majority approval in the union for a strike. The law limits strikes to periods of contract negotiations or collective bargaining and allows employers to fire trade unionists who participate in strikes or work stoppages ruled illegal by the courts.

The government has the authority to fine labor-rights violators. The government sought to enforce most applicable labor laws, but a lack of an inspection strategy, as well as an overburdened judicial system, inhibited speedy and consistent application. The maximum penalty for violations of law, including those that prohibit the misuse of CTAs, is 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage, or COP 3.4 billion ($1.13 million). The law also stipulates that offenders repeatedly misusing CTAs or other labor relationships shall receive the maximum penalty and may be subject to losing their legal status to operate. Employers who engage in antiunion practices may also be imprisoned for up to five years, although government officials admitted a fine was more likely than imprisonment. Prohibited practices include impeding workers’ right to strike, meet, or otherwise associate, and extending better conditions to members of collective pacts than to union members. Through March the government reported fines on certain subcontracting entities for abusive forms of subcontracting at a value of COP 2.283 billion ($761,000).

The Ministry of Labor’s Special Investigations Unit continued to exercise its power to investigate and impose sanctions in any jurisdiction. The vice minister for labor relations decides on a case-by-case basis whether to assign the Special Investigations Unit or the regional inspectors to investigate certain sites. The unit was reportedly overburdened with cases, resulting in denials of recent union requests for review by the unit.

The Ministry of Labor leads a tripartite Inter-Institutional Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Workers, with participation by the government, organized labor groups, and business community. The commission met in August.

As part of its commitments under the 2011 Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights (Labor Action Plan), the government continued to take steps to protect internationally recognized labor rights. Labor inspections by the Ministry of Labor for abusive subcontracting in the five priority sectors of palm oil, sugar, ports, mines, and cut flowers remained infrequent, however. Critics claimed inspections lacked necessary rigor, assessed fines were not collected, and abusive subcontracting continued. The government continued to engage in regular meetings with unions and civil society groups.

The Ministry of Labor, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO), continued a virtual training program to prepare labor inspectors to identify antiunion conduct. It also implemented methods, including contract and process maps, as strategic planning tools to prioritize interventions. The ministry continued to employ a telephone- and internet-based complaint mechanism to report alleged labor violations. Union members complained that existing systems did not allow citizens to register anonymous complaints and noted that complaints registered through the telephone and internet systems do not result in action.

Judicial police, the Technical Investigation Body, and prosecutors investigating criminal cases of threats and killings are required to determine during the initial phase of an investigation whether a victim is an active or retired union member or is actively engaged in union formation and organization, but it was unclear whether they did so. It could take several months to transfer cases from regional field offices of the Attorney General’s Office to the Attorney General’s Human Rights Directorate, and cases are transferred only with the approval of the attorney general in response to direct requests, instead of automatically.

The government continued to include in its protection program for labor activists persons engaged in efforts to form a union, as well as former unionists under threat because of their past activities. Through July the NPU provided protection to 440 trade union leaders or members (others protected included journalists, human rights advocates, and land restitution claimants). Approximately 12 percent of the NPU’s budget was dedicated to unionist protection. Between January 1 and September 30, the NPU processed 171 risk assessments of union leaders or members; 96 of those cases were assessed as posing an “extraordinary threat,” and the NPU provided them protection measures. The NPU reported that through June, the average time needed to implement protection measures upon completion of a risk analysis was 50 days in regular cases or five days for emergency cases. NGOs, however, complained about slow processing times.

The protection and relocation of teachers falls under the Ministry of National Education and the departmental education secretaries, but the NPU retains some responsibilities for the risk analysis and protection of family members. Through July 31, the NPU evaluated 99 threat cases against teachers and found 62 to be of extraordinary risk.

In cases of unionist killings from previous years, the pace of investigations and convictions remained slow, and high rates of impunity continued. Labor groups stated more needed to be done to address impunity for perpetrators of violence against trade unionists and the large number of threat cases. The Attorney General’s Office indicated it prioritized cases in order of severity and had a backlog of lower-priority cases. As of July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported 753 sentences against 620 persons in cases of violence against unionists since 2006 that were filed in the Human Rights Directorate. Between January 1 and July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported 78 sentences in cases of violence against union leaders.

Violence, threats, harassment, and other practices against trade unionists continued to affect the exercise of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. According to the Attorney General’s Office, through July 31, 166 teachers were registered as victims in cases of homicide.

The National Union School (ENS), a labor rights NGO and think tank, reported 14 trade unionists were killed through August. ENS and other labor groups stated that focusing on killings alone masked the true nature and scope of the violence against labor activists. Labor groups noted that in some regions nonlethal violations continued to increase. ENS reported during the same period 94 death threats, four nonlethal attacks, nine arbitrary detentions and 16 cases of harassment, and one case of an illegal raid.

For example, in June unidentified gunmen killed Mauricio Velez Lopez, national vice president of the National Public University Workers Union (Sintraunal).

Unions cited multiple instances in which companies fired employees who formed or sought to form new unions. Some employers continued to use temporary contracts, service agencies, and other forms of subcontracting to limit worker rights and protections. Fines assessed by the government did little to dissuade violators because fines were often not collected. In the first eight months of the year, the government reported 1,211 workers benefited from 14 formalization agreements that the Ministry of Labor reached with employers in Bogota and the departments of Amazonas, Barrancabermeja, Caqueta, Casanare, Valle del Cauca, Cesar, Choco, Huila, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Quindio, and Uraba.

Labor confederations and NGOs reported that business owners in several sectors used “simplified stock corporations” (SAS), union contracts, foundations, or temporary service agencies in attempts to circumvent legal restrictions on cooperatives. While in theory SAS workers may exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively with SAS management, it appeared that in some cases the SAS had little or no control over the conditions of employment. The Ministry of Labor stated that an SAS, like any corporate structure, may be fined for labor violations if they occurred.

According to ENS, Indupalma, a large employer in the palm sector located in the municipality of San Alberto, Cesar Department, employed more than 1,500 workers through illegal cooperatives. This reportedly was the only company in the region that continued using labor intermediation with illegal cooperatives with no sanctions or corrective measures by the Ministry of Labor.

Metal and mineworkers’ union SINTRAIME reported that inspections for abusive subcontracting carried out by the Ministry of Labor at the Drummond coalmines were ineffective in safeguarding the freedom of workers to organize.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases, and there continued to be reports that such practices occurred. The law prescribes punishments of 13 to 23 years’ imprisonment plus fines for forced labor violations.

There were reports ELN guerrillas and organized criminal gangs used forced labor, including forced child labor, in coca cultivation and illegal mining in areas outside government control as well as forced labor for criminal activity, such as extortion, in urban areas. The ICBF noted it was difficult to produce exact statistics on the number of children who participated in illegal armed groups due to the groups’ clandestine nature. In February 2016 the FARC announced it would stop recruiting children under the age of 18. The FARC reached an agreement with the government in May 2016 on how to release minors already in the ranks and facilitate their reintegration. As of June 14, the FARC released 88 children, according to UNICEF. As part of a temporary bilateral ceasefire between the government and the ELN scheduled from October 1 to January 12, 2018, the ELN committed to stop the recruitment of minors.

Forced labor in other sectors, including organized begging, mining, agriculture, forced recruitment by illegal armed actors, and domestic service, also remained a serious problem. Afro-Colombians, indigenous Colombians, and inhabitants of marginalized urban areas were at the highest risk of forced labor, domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced recruitment.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, sex, religion, political preference, national origin or citizenship, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or infection with other communicable diseases, or social status. Complaints of quid pro quo sexual harassment are filed not with the Ministry of Labor but with the criminal courts. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases.

Unemployment disproportionately affected women. They faced hiring discrimination and received salaries that generally were not commensurate with their education and experience. According to DANE, 43.1 percent of working-age women were engaged in economic activity, compared with 56.9 percent of men. Sisma Mujer reported on average women were paid 28 percent less than men. In a previous year, a senior government official estimated that 85 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum monthly wage as decreed by the government was COP 689,454 ($230) for all sectors. According to DANE, as of December 2016, 28 percent of the national population lived in poverty: 24.9 percent of the urban population and 38.6 percent of the rural population lived below the poverty line. The share of the national population living in extreme poverty was 8.5 percent.

The law provides for a regular workweek of 48 hours and a minimum rest period of eight hours within the week. Exceptions to this may be granted by the Ministry of Labor and were frequently granted in the mining sector. The law provides for paid annual civil and religious holidays for all workers. Employees who work at least one full year are entitled to at least 15 days of paid vacation. The law stipulates that workers receive premium compensation for nighttime work, hours worked in excess of 48 per week, and work performed on Sundays. The law permits compulsory overtime only in exceptional cases where the work is considered essential for the company’s functioning.

The law provides for workers’ occupational safety and health in the formal sector. The legal standards were generally up to date and appropriate for the country’s main formal industries. The law does not cover informal-sector workers, including many mining and agricultural workers. In general the law protects workers’ rights to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although some violations of this right were reported during the year. In cases of formal grievances, authorities generally protected employees in this situation.

The Ministry of Labor is required to enforce labor laws in the formal sector, including occupational safety and health regulations, through periodic inspections by labor inspectors. The government reported that as of June 30, the ministry employed 859 inspectors countrywide, although not all conducted worksite inspections and most had little training in occupational safety and health issues. Individual labor violations can bring fines of up to 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage, but infractions for occupational safety and health can trigger fines of only up to 1,000 times the minimum monthly wage. Unionists stated that more fines needed to be collected to impact occupational safety and health issues.

While the government’s labor inspectors undertook administrative actions to enforce the minimum wage in the formal sector, the government did not conduct any action to do so in the informal sector.

To encourage the formalization of labor, the Ministry of Labor continued to promote formal employment generation. As of the first quarter of the year, the proportion of informal workers was 47.3 percent in cities and metropolitan cities, according to DANE. Formalization agreements in firms with illegal subcontracting increased during the year; however, some labor rights groups expressed concern that the formalization agreements were not sufficiently monitored by the Ministry of Labor. The government continued to support complementary social security programs to increase the employability of extremely poor individuals, displaced persons, and the elderly.

Nonunion workers, particularly those in the agricultural and port sectors, reportedly worked under hazardous conditions because they feared losing their jobs through subcontracting mechanisms or informal arrangements if they criticized abuses. Some unionized workers who alleged they suffered on-the-job injuries complained that companies illegally fired them in retaliation for filing workers compensation claims. Only the courts may order reinstatement, and workers complained the courts were backlogged, slow, and corrupt. The Ministry of Labor may sanction a company found to have broken the law in this way, but it may offer no other guarantees to workers.

Security forces reported that illegal armed actors, including FARC dissidents, the ELN, and organized criminal groups, engaged in illegal mining of gold, coal, coltan, nickel, copper, and other minerals. Illegal mines were particularly common in the departments of Antioquia, Bolivar, Cauca, Cordoba, Choco, Narino, and Tolima.

According to the National Mining Agency, through July 31, there were 43 mine accidents reported, causing 51 miners’ deaths. The majority of both accidents and deaths were due to cave-ins. There were no reports of nonmining major industrial accidents through October.

Costa Rica

Executive Summary

Costa Rica is a constitutional republic governed by a president and a unicameral legislative assembly directly elected in multiparty elections every four years. In 2014 voters elected Luis Guillermo Solis of the Citizen Action Party (PAC) during a second round of elections. In simultaneous legislative elections in 2014, the PAC, Broad Front, and Social Christian Unity Party gained seats and formed a coalition that gave them control of the legislature. The National Liberation Party (PLN) gained the largest number of seats but did not achieve a majority. In 2015 the PLN and other opposition parties formed a bloc that gave them control of the legislature. All elections were generally considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

The government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices. The Ombudsman’s Office received 132 complaints of police abuse, arbitrary detention, torture, and other inhuman or degrading treatment during the first six months of the year. Abuse by prison police was a recurring complaint, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, but very few of the accusers followed through and registered their complaints with the authorities. The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished police responsible for confirmed cases of abuse.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, difficulties obtaining medical care, and violence among prisoners.

Physical Conditions: The prison population exceeded the designed capacity of prisons by 30 percent, according to official statistics dated June. Prison overcrowding made security and control difficult and contributed to health problems. Poor conditions included inadequate space for resting, deteriorated mattresses on the floor, and inadequate access to health services. Illegal narcotics were readily available in the prisons and drug abuse was common. The Ombudsman’s Office recorded 61 complaints of deficient conditions in prisons, including the migrant detention centers, during the first six months of the year. The Ministry of Justice was responsible for the prison system, while the Immigration Office ran the facility holding illegal migrants until they were deported or regularized their immigration status.

The San Sebastian, Gerardo Rodriguez, La Reforma, San Rafael, San Carlos, Limon, Pococi, Puntarenas, Liberia, Perez Zeledon, and Centro Adulto Joven (at La Reforma) prisons remained overcrowded, with the population in pretrial detention experiencing the most overcrowding. Authorities held male pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners on occasion. In San Sebastian, where most of these prisoners in pretrial detention were held, 705 prisoners lived in unsanitary conditions in a facility with a planned capacity of 556.

The detention center for undocumented migrants in Hatillo, a suburb of San Jose, was poorly ventilated, at times overcrowded, and it had no recreation area. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government ombudsman monitored detention conditions, with UNHCR visiting monthly and the ombudsman preparing annual reports.

Security and administrative staffing were insufficient to care for the needs of prisoners, including ensuring their personal safety. The Ministry of Justice’s Social Adaptation Division reported 21 deaths in closed regime centers from January to August. Three of these deaths were homicides and four were suicides; the remainder were from natural causes.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. If complaints were not processed, prisoners could submit them to the Ombudsman’s Office, which investigated all complaints at an administrative level. The Ombudsman’s Office, through the national prevention mechanism against torture, periodically inspected all detention centers.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by international and local human rights observers, including representatives from the Ombudsman’s Office. Human rights observers could speak to prisoners and prison employees in confidence and without the presence of prison staff or other third parties.

Improvements: In February prison authorities began providing some convicted prisoners with electronic ankle-monitoring devices. In June the Ministry of Justice inaugurated two new prison modules in San Rafael and Perez Zeledon, adding capacity for 640 and 256 inmates, respectively, which allow inmates to take part in activities including studying, working, and social rehabilitation. During the year the Ministry of Justice implemented some remodeling and other measures to reduce overcrowding at the San Sebastian prison, after a judge issued a resolution in 2016 ordering authorities to close the prison over a period of 18 months unless improvements were made.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country has no military forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the 13 agencies that have law enforcement components, including the judicial branch’s Judicial Investigative Organization. The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for the uniformed police force, drug control police, border police, air wing, and coast guard. The Immigration Office of the Ministry of Interior is responsible for the immigration police. The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation supervises the traffic police, the Ministry of Environment supervises park police, and the Ministry of Justice manages the penitentiary police. Several municipalities manage municipal police forces. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. The number of licensed private security services was significantly greater than the number of police (28,321 agents compared to 14,035 uniformed police officers). There were no reports of impunity involving the private security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires issuance of judicial warrants before making arrests, except where probable cause is evident to the arresting officer. The law entitles a detainee to a judicial determination of the legality of detention during arraignment before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. The law provides for the right to post bail and prompt access to an attorney and family members. Authorities generally observed these rights. Indigent persons have access to a public attorney at government expense. Those without sufficient personal funds are also able to use the services of a public defender. With judicial authorization, authorities may hold a suspect incommunicado for 48 hours after arrest or, under special circumstances, for up to 10 days. Special circumstances include cases in which pretrial detention previously was ordered and there is reason to believe a suspect may reach an agreement with accomplices or may obstruct the investigation. Suspects were allowed access to attorneys immediately before submitting statements before a judge. Authorities promptly informed suspects of any offenses under investigation. Habeas corpus provides legal protection for citizens against threats from police; it also requires judges to give a clear explanation of the legal basis for detention of and evidence against a suspect.

Pretrial Detention: A criminal court may hold suspects in pretrial detention for up to one year, and the court of appeals may extend this period to two years in especially complex cases. The law requires a court review every three months of cases of suspects in pretrial detention to determine the appropriateness of continued detention. If a judge declares a case is related to organized crime, special procedural rules require that the period of pretrial detention not exceed 24 months (although the court of appeals may grant one extension not to exceed an additional 12 months). Authorities frequently used pretrial detention. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of June 30, persons in pretrial detention constituted approximately 16 percent of the prison population. In some cases delays were due to pending criminal investigations and lengthy legal procedures. In other cases the delays were a result of court backlogs.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The legal system faced many challenges, including significant delays in the adjudication of criminal cases and civil disputes and a growing workload.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

All defendants have the right to the presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, and to trial without undue delay. All trials, except those that include juvenile defendants, are public. Trials that involve victims or witnesses who are minors are closed during the portion of the trial in which the minor is called to testify. Defendants have the right to be present during trial and communicate with an attorney of choice in a timely manner, or to have one provided at public expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants, if convicted, have the right to appeal. Fast-track courts, which prosecute cases when suspects are arrested on the spot for alleged transgressions, provide the same protections and rights as other courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

An independent and impartial judiciary presides over lawsuits in civil matters, including human rights violations. Administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs are available to the public. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private communications without appropriate legal authority. The International Telecommunication Union reported that in 2016, 66 percent of individuals used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The law requires authorities to process the claims within three months of receipt, but decisions took an average of 10 months.

The number of persons seeking asylum increased significantly in recent years. The refugee unit received 3,156 asylum applications from January to June, mainly from Venezuela, El Salvador, and Colombia, compared with 4,470 in all of 2016.

The Appeals Tribunal, which adjudicates all migration appeals, as of July had a backlog of 1,056 asylum cases. UNHCR provided support to the Refugee Unit and the Appeals Tribunal to hire additional legal and administrative personnel to assist with reduction of the backlog.

Employment: Refugee regulations provide asylum seekers an opportunity to obtain work permits if they have to wait beyond the three months the law allows for a decision on their asylum claim. Few asylum seekers took advantage of this right, largely because they were unaware of their eligibility. The refugee unit failed to educate employers effectively about this right.

Access to Basic Services: By law asylum seekers and refugees have access to public services and social welfare programs, but access was often hampered by lack of knowledge about their status in the country and feelings of xenophobia among some service providers. For example, asylum seekers without employers (who constituted the majority of asylum seekers) faced restrictions when enrolling voluntarily as independent workers in the public health system.

Asylum seekers received provisional refugee status documents legalizing their status after appearing for an interview with the General Directorate of Immigration, for which the estimated wait time was approximately two months. Provisional refugee ID cards do not resemble other Costa Rican identity documents, so while government authorities generally accepted them, many Costa Rican citizens did not. Upon receiving refugee status, which typically took another nine months, refugees could obtain an identity document similar to those used by nationals at a cost of 37,400 colones ($66), renewable every two years.

Durable Solutions: During the year the government continued to implement a “Protection Transfer Arrangement” in coordination with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration for refugee resettlement in third countries. The government was committed to local integration of refugees both legally and socially and to facilitating their naturalization process.

Temporary Protection: There were no programs for temporary protection beyond refugee status. Due to low recognition rates (approximately 13 percent of applicants received asylum during the first six months of the year), UNHCR had to consider a number of rejected asylum seekers as persons in need of international protection. UNHCR provided support and access to integration programs to individuals still pursuing adjudication and appeals. The individuals requesting refugee status were mainly from Venezuela, El Salvador, and Colombia; the majority were male adults and extended families.

STATELESS PERSONS

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs cooperated with UNHCR efforts on statelessness with indigenous populations and reported no cases of the recognition of a person’s status as stateless during the first six months of the year. There were no reports of stateless persons who were also refugees. There continued to be problems of statelessness of indigenous children and children of seasonal workers in the border areas with Panama and Nicaragua derived from the difficulties linked to birth registrations. Members of the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous group from Panama often worked on Costa Rican farms and occasionally gave birth there. In these cases parents did not register Ngobe-Bugle children as Costa Rican citizens at birth because they did not think it necessary, although the children lacked registration in Panama as well. Approximately 1,200 children were affected. Government authorities worked together with UNHCR on a program of birth registration and provision of identification documents to stateless persons known as “Chiriticos.” Mobile teams went to remote coffee-growing areas for case identification and registration. UNHCR and the National Civil Registry started a project along the northern border for individuals of Nicaraguan origin to facilitate procedures for late birth registration.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 voters elected PAC’s Luis Guillermo Solis president during a second round of elections, after no candidate achieved 40 percent of the first-round vote. Presidential and legislative elections are simultaneous. In legislative elections the National Liberation Party gained the most seats, but three parties–the PAC, Broad Front, and Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC)–gained enough seats in the 57-member legislative assembly to form a coalition that gave them control of the legislature in 2014. In 2015 the PLN and other opposition parties formed a bloc that gave them control of the legislature. In municipal elections in 2016, the PLN and PUSC gained control of 62 of 81 municipalities. Observers considered the elections generally free and fair. The Organization of American States team that observed the elections noted that for the first time the election process included citizens voting from abroad.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women and persons of African descent were represented in government, but indigenous people were not. In May 2016 the Supreme Elections Tribunal imposed strict gender quotas for political parties, reaffirming existing regulations that all political parties must guarantee gender parity across their electoral slates and confirming that gender parity must extend vertically. The electoral code requires that a minimum of 50 percent of candidates for elective office be women, with their names placed alternately with men on the ballots by party slate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In July officials began looking into possible corruption and influence peddling related to loans and policies benefiting a cement importer, Juan Carlos Bolanos. The National Assembly, the central bank’s financial system regulator, and the judicial sector began investigating why a state-owned bank provided large loans without the usual collateral and whether prominent politicians were engaged in influence peddling. No specific charges had been brought as of October.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws that require senior officials to submit sworn declarations of income, assets, and liabilities. The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials. The content of the declarations is not made available to the public. The law stipulates administrative sanctions for noncompliance and identifies which assets, liabilities, and interests public officials must declare. Officials are required to file a declaration annually and upon entering and leaving office.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and the government respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Restrictions on the minimum number of employees (12) needed to form a union may have hampered freedom of association in small enterprises. The law permits foreign workers to join unions but prohibits them from holding positions of authority within the unions, except for foreign workers who are married to citizens of the country and have legally resided in the country for at least five years. Unions must register, and the law provides a deadline of 15 days for authorities to reply to a registration request.

A new procedural labor code entered into effect on July 25 and lowered legal requirements to exercise the right to strike, moving the required minimum percentage of votes in favor of a strike in an enterprise from 60 percent to 50 percent. The law restricts the right to strike of workers in services designated as essential by the government, including in sectors such as oil refineries and ports that are not recognized as essential services under international standards. On July 25, a new labor procedural code (Law No. 9343) entered into force that is intended to streamline labor procedures in the courts, including those related to antiunion discrimination, and to reform provisions regarding freedom of association and trade union freedom in the courts.

The law requires employers to initiate the bargaining process with a trade union if more than one-third of the total workforce, including union and nonunion members, requests collective bargaining, but the law also permits direct bargaining agreements with nonunionized workers. The law also permits two other types of worker organizations unique to the country: “solidarity associations,” legal entities recognized by the constitution that have both management and employee membership and serve primarily to administer funds for severance payments, and “permanent committees,” enterprise-level bodies made up of three workers elected to negotiate “direct agreements” with employers. Both entities may coexist and share membership with labor unions. The law prohibits solidarity associations from representing workers in collective bargaining negotiations or in any other way that assumes the functions or inhibits the formation of trade unions. The law also requires that permanent committee members be elected freely by secret ballot without intervention of the employer.

Although public-sector employees are permitted to bargain collectively, the Supreme Court held that some fringe benefits received by certain public employees were disproportionate and unreasonable, and it repealed sections of collective bargaining agreements between public-sector unions and government agencies, thus restricting this right in practice.

The government generally enforced applicable laws, although procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. While the law does establish sanctions (fines and fees) for infractions, only the judiciary has the authority to apply such sanctions. Cases reach the judiciary both through labor inspections and through legal complaints filed by workers. The law requires labor inspectors to initiate legal cases with the judiciary after exhausting the administrative process, which involves an initial inspection, a notification to the employer of the infraction, a period to correct the infraction, a reinspection, and (if the infraction persists) a final report finding the infraction. The amount of fines and fees is determined by the severity of the infraction and is based on the minimum wage. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, in light of the lengthy process to resolve cases. To reduce delays, the new procedural labor code replaces written procedures with oral hearings, requires labor claims to be processed within two years, and sets up a special summary procedure for discrimination claims. The new labor code also strengthens protections for labor union members, including protections against discrimination for labor affiliation and special protections via special expedited proceedings.

Freedom of association and collective bargaining were generally respected. Labor unions asserted that solidarity associations set up and controlled permanent committees at many workplaces, which in turn conducted negotiations and established direct agreements. Labor unions also asserted that employers sometimes required membership in a solidarity association as a condition for employment. To the extent that solidarity associations and permanent committees displaced trade unions, they affected the independence of workers’ organizations from employers’ influence and infringed on the right to organize and bargain collectively. In recent years the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported an expansion of direct agreements between employers and nonunionized workers and noted its concern that the number of collective bargaining agreements in the private sector continued to be low when compared with a high number of direct agreements with nonunionized workers. The Labor Ministry conducted seven working/mediation sessions to discuss complaints related to persecution against labor union activists during the first six months of the year.

There were some instances of employers firing employees who attempted to unionize. The Ministry of Labor reported seven complaints of antiunion discrimination from January to July. There were reports some employers also preferred to use “flexible,” or short-term, contracts, making it difficult for workers to organize and collectively bargain. Migrant workers in agriculture frequently were hired on short-term contracts (five months) through intermediaries, faced antiunion discrimination and challenges in organizing, and were often more vulnerable to labor exploitation.

The ILO noted there were no trade unions operating in the country’s export-processing zones and identified the zones as a hostile environment for organizing. Labor unions asserted that efforts by workers in export-processing zones to organize were met with illegal employment termination, threats, and intimidation and that some employers maintained blacklists of workers identified as activists.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor in cases that involve movement of the victim. The law establishes criminal penalties for trafficking in persons crimes, including forced labor–when they involve movement–with sentences of between six and 10 years in prison. The penalty is increased to between eight and 16 years if the crime involves aggravating circumstances. The Trafficking in Persons Prosecutor’s Unit reported four investigations of trafficking in persons during the first six months of the year, including two persons forced into domestic service. Two cases from previous years were still open; the third case, which involved two minor victims, was ready for indictment; and the fourth case, which involved five victims, one a minor, was still under investigation. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases status. The new labor code prohibits discrimination based on age, ethnicity, gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, civil status, political opinion, nationality, social status, affiliation, disability, labor union membership, or economic situation. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Ministry reported 20 cases of discrimination from July 2016 to June 2017. The ministry began incorporating a gender-equality perspective into labor inspections to identify areas of vulnerability. The Labor Ministry reported conducting 171 inspections on gender equality as part of its Decent Work program during the first six months of the year.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities and the LGBTI population. Discrimination against migrant workers occurred, and there were reports of instances of employers using threats of deportation to withhold their wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The wage council of the Ministry of Labor sets the minimum wage scale for the public and private sectors twice a year. Monthly minimum wages for the private sector ranged from 178,703 colones ($316) for domestic workers to 629,395 colones ($1,114) for university graduates since January 1. According to INEC, in 2016 the poverty line was 105,937 colones ($188) in urban areas and 81,685 colones ($145) in rural areas. The national minimum wage applied to both Costa Rican and migrant workers. The law sets workday hours, overtime remuneration, days of rest, and annual vacation rights. Workers generally may work a maximum of eight hours a day or 48 hours weekly. Workers are entitled to one day of rest after six consecutive days of work, except in the agricultural sector, and annual paid vacations. The law provides that workers be paid for overtime work at a rate 50 percent above their stipulated wage or salary. Although there is no statutory prohibition against compulsory overtime, the labor code stipulates the workday may not exceed 12 hours, except in the agricultural sector when there is “imminent risk of harm…to the harvest” when work cannot be suspended and workers cannot be substituted.

The government maintains a dedicated authority to enforce occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. The Labor Ministry’s National Council of Occupational Health and Safety is a tripartite OSH regulatory authority with government, employer, and employee representation. According to labor organizations, the government did not enforce these standards effectively in either the formal or the informal sectors.

Workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. According to the Labor Ministry, this is a responsibility shared by the employer and employee. The law assigns responsibility to the employer, including granting OSH officers access to workplaces, but it also authorizes workers to seek assistance from appropriate authorities (OSH or labor inspectors) for noncompliance with OSH workplace standards, including risks at work.

The Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Directorate (DNI) is responsible for labor inspection, in collaboration with the Social Security Agency and the National Insurance Institute. The DNI employed labor inspectors who investigated all types of labor violations, but the number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. According to the Ministry of Labor, inspections occurred both in response to complaints and at the initiative of inspectors. The DNI stated it could visit any employer, formal or informal, and inspections are always unannounced.

The Labor Ministry generally addressed complaints by sending inspection teams to investigate and coordinate with each other on follow-up actions. As with other labor laws, inspectors cannot fine or sanction employers who do not comply with laws on acceptable conditions of work; rather, they investigate and refer noncompliance results to labor courts. The process of fining companies or compelling employers to pay back wages or overtime has traditionally been subject to lengthy delays, a problem the new procedural labor code seeks to address.

The Ministry of Labor generally enforced minimum wages effectively in the San Jose area but was not as effective in enforcing the minimum wage laws in rural areas, particularly where large numbers of migrants were employed, and in the large informal sector, which comprises 43 percent of employment. The ministry publicly recognized that many workers, including in the formal sector, received less than the minimum wage. During the first six months of the year, the ministry conducted 4,973 visits to priority cantons with low levels of development in an attempt to assess and address their situation through DNI intervention.

According to INEC, 44 percent of the economically active population in the nonagricultural sector was in the informal economy. The Ministry of Labor, through the National Program in Support of the Microenterprise, provided technical assistance and access to credit for informal microentrepreneurs to improve productive and labor conditions in the informal economy.

Observers expressed concern about exploitative working conditions in fisheries, small businesses, and agricultural activities. Unions also reported systematic violations of labor rights and provisions concerning working conditions, overtime, and wages in the export-processing zones. Labor unions reported overtime pay violations, such as nonpayment of wages and mandatory overtime, were common in the private sector and particularly in export-processing zones and agriculture. There were reports agricultural workers, particularly migrant laborers in the pineapple industry, worked in unsafe conditions, including exposure to hazardous chemicals without proper training. The national insurance company reported 63,608 cases of workplace-related illnesses and injuries and 68 workplace fatalities from January to June.

Ecuador

Executive Summary

Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. On April 2, voters elected President Lenin Moreno from the ruling party Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland) and chose members of the National Assembly in elections that were generally free and fair, marking a successful democratic transfer of power after the two-term presidency of Rafael Correa.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included instances of arbitrary arrest or detention; corruption and progovernment bias on the part of judges that affected the right to fair public trial; unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence; restrictions on freedom of expression, including for the press; censorship and the use of criminal libel against media companies and journalists, although the situation improved during the second half of the year; limits on freedom of association; official corruption at high levels of government; and children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, sometimes as a result of human trafficking.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, although in cases of public interest, political interference often resulted in impunity.

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

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

There were reports that police committed arbitrary or unlawful killings typically involving excessive use of force during routine law enforcement activities. A human rights nonprofit organization reported that on June 15 in Las Lajas, two police officers shot and killed Daniel Elias Jumbo Quizhpe while conducting an antismuggling operation. The two officers are under criminal investigation.

b. Disappearance

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

On March 17, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances called on the government to treat all pending cases of disappearances as forced disappearances. On June 14, a court held a hearing on the 2003 case known as “Las Dolores” in which 11 police officers were accused of the forced disappearance and extrajudicial killing of eight individuals, including Johnny Gomez Balda and Cesar Mata. The decision to move to trial came after a 14-year investigation; however, the judge decided to prosecute the defendants for the crime of kidnapping, which carries a punishment of five to seven years, instead of treating the crime as forced disappearance, which carries a punishment of 22 to 26 years.

In 2016 the Office of the Attorney General determined that law enforcement officers committed arbitrary detention in all 18 of the forced disappearance cases from 1984-2005 that were reported by the 2008-10 Truth Commission. On October 16, President Moreno signed compensation agreements for 24 of the remaining 119 victims of human rights abuses with pending cases documented by the Truth Commission.

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

While the constitution and law prohibit torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment, there were a few reports that police officers and prison guards reportedly tortured and abused suspects and prisoners. The Ombudsman’s Office conducted random inspections of sites where freedom of movement was restricted, including prisons, mental health facilities, and treatment clinics, among others, and investigated alleged cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and punishment.

On September 4, local media and human rights organizations reported new allegations of torture involving prisoners in the Turi prison center. Prisoners claimed they were tortured and subjected to other forms of degrading treatment including arbitrary beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures, and electroshock. According to daily newspaper La Hora, in August a doctor stated that an examination of a prisoner confirmed the prisoner’s claims of torture and other forms of degrading treatment. On August 15, Judge Alfredo Serrano acquitted 15 law enforcement officers and dismissed charges against another 32 officers who were under criminal investigation for cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners after conducting a raid in Turi prison center in Cuenca in May 2016. Both the Ombudsman’s Office and the public defender, David Ayala, criticized the judge’s decision. Local human rights organizations, including the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU) and the Regional Human Rights Advisory Foundation, called the prosecutor’s decision unjustified due to the extent of the injuries suffered by the prisoners.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to food shortages, overcrowding, harassment by security guards against prisoners and visitors, physical and sexual abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: The April 2016 earthquake, which damaged the penitentiary facility in the town of Portoviejo, exacerbated overcrowding in some prisons, causing relocation of prisoners to other facilities that were already over capacity. On June 29, the UN Latin American Institute for Crime Prevention and the Treatment of Offenders reported that the prison population was 73.5 percent above the designed capacity. In a July 10 article in the newspaper El Comercio, Minister of Justice, Human Rights, and Worship Rosana Alvarado reported that the country had 10,000 inmates beyond capacity in 37 prisons.

Prisoners and human rights activists complained of a lack of resources for inmates. Relatives of the inmates reported that public officials expected prisoners to buy provisions from the prison centers on a monthly basis and that prison officials did not allow families of inmates to provide basic supplies purchased outside of the prison, including clothing and toiletries.

In some facilities, health measures were sufficient only for emergency care. Prisoners reported that medicines often were not available and they had no access to dental care. Prisoners also complained of harsh living conditions, including sanitary problems, a lack of food, poor nutritional quality of the food, and lack of heating and hot water.

Protecting the health and safety of prisoners remained a problem. Human rights organizations remained concerned about the mixing of prisoners from various criminal gangs in prison units. On January 4 and October 4, local media reported fights between rival groups of prisoners resulted in serious injury to 10 inmates in each instance. CEDHU reported that as of August 25, it had received information concerning the killing of eight prisoners in their cells in the cities of Guayaquil, Santo Domingo, Tulcan, and Latacunga. On October 11, police raided a prison in Guayas as part of a law enforcement investigation called “Fortaleza 145.” During the raid, police arrested 22 prisoners for involvement in ordered killings and drug dealing.

On March 8, police detained 51 individuals in connection with the extortion of 67 inmates. The then minister of interior, Diego Fuentes, stated a criminal network extorted relatives of inmates by demanding payments between $200 and $800 (country’s official currency is U.S. dollar) in exchange for the inmates’ physical safety. According to local human rights organizations, prison authorities threatened family members of prisoners who died or suffered serious injuries to prevent them from making public complaints. On July 10, Minister Alvarado noted that searches and raids in prisons were necessary because “mafias” continued to operate in prison centers.

On September 20, a member of the National Assembly’s Justice Committee, Lourdes Cuesta, reported that she had received information of rape cases, the transmission of HIV, and beatings of prisoners in detention centers.

Administration: Public defenders assisted inmates in filing complaints and other motions. Some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and corruption. It was extremely difficult to obtain a firm release date from prison authorities, and the onus was often on inmates to schedule their own review boards.

Independent Monitoring: Independent nongovernmental monitors complained that their access to prisoners was limited. According to the human rights nonprofit Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDH), prison authorities placed strict limits on who could visit prisoners and monitor prison conditions, which led to a “progressive isolation of prisoners.” Independent observers must submit in writing their reasons for visiting a prison, specifying general and specific objectives of the visit, as well as other information required by an administrative order. The CDH reported that many requests never received a response, which effectively prevented independent monitors from accessing prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and other laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but there were reports that national, provincial, and local authorities in some cases did not observe these provisions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police maintain internal security and law enforcement. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities, including combating organized crime. Both police and military are in charge of border enforcement. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Interior. The National Police are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, and the military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense. The National Police’s internal affairs unit investigates killings by police and examines whether they were justified. The unit can refer cases to the courts. An intelligence branch within the military has a role similar to the police internal affairs unit. The law states that the State Prosecutor’s Office must be involved in all investigations concerning human rights abuses, including unlawful killings and forced disappearance.

Insufficient training, poor supervision, and a lack of resources continued to impair the effectiveness of the National Police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and the armed forces. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, although not all cases were fully investigated.

Police receive required human rights instruction in basic training and in training academies for specialized units. In the police academy, human rights training is integrated throughout a cadet’s four-year instruction. Additionally, there is a mandatory human rights training regimen concerning preservation of life and human rights, along with a human rights handbook. Authorities offered other human rights training intermittently.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires authorities to issue specific written arrest orders prior to detention and a judge must charge a suspect with a specific criminal offense within 24 hours of arrest. Authorities generally observed this time limit, although in some provinces initial detention was often considerably longer. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them. By law if the initial investigation report is incriminating, the judge, upon the prosecutor’s request, may order pretrial detention.

Detainees have a constitutional right to an attorney. Those without financial means to pay for an attorney have the right to request a court-appointed attorney from the independent Public Defenders’ Office. Although the number of available court-appointed defenders was higher than in previous years, the high number of cases and limited time they had to prepare for the defense of the detainees continued to represent a disadvantage during trials.

Although the law entitles detainees prompt access to lawyers and family members, human rights organizations continued to report delays depending on the circumstances and officials’ willingness to enforce the law.

Arbitrary Arrest: On April 27, public officials released indigenous leader Jimpikit Agustin Wachapa after four months of arbitrary detention. In December 2016 police officers and military officials entered Wachapa’s house without a judicial order and transferred him to a maximum-security prison in the town of Latacunga. The Office of the Public Prosecutor later charged Wachapa with “instigation of discord,” and then deputy interior minister Diego Fuentes reported that the leader was seeking to incite public discord through a message posted on Facebook.

Pretrial Detention: Corruption and general judicial inefficiency caused trial delays. The country also lacked resources to train police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges. On September 20, Justice and Human Rights Minister Alvarado reported to the National Assembly’s Justice Committee that 36 percent of inmates had not yet been sentenced.

Amnesty: On June 14, President Moreno pardoned environmentalist Patricio Marcelo Meza, who was arrested on June 6 and sentenced to six months in prison for assault and resistance during the 2015 indigenous demonstrations.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, outside pressure and corruption impaired the judicial process. Legal experts, bar associations, and human rights organizations reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. Some judges reached decisions based on media influence or political and economic pressures in cases where the government expressed interest. Delays often occurred in cases brought against the government, whereas cases brought by the government moved quickly through the courts. There were credible reports that the outcome of many trials appeared predetermined. According to human rights lawyers, the government also ordered judges to deny all “protective measures,” i.e., legal motions that argued the government had violated an individual’s constitutional rights to free movement, due process, and equal treatment before the law. Lawyers and human rights activists stated the government initiated disciplinary action based on “inexcusable error” against judges who allowed protective measures against the government. On August 21, 40 judges filed a complaint against their removal from office as ordered by the Judicial Council, the governmental oversight entity for the judicial branch. The Judicial Council declared the dismissals were based on charges leveled by private parties. The affected former judges claimed they were removed from office for unjust cause. On August 22, private defense attorney Hernan Ulloa representing the affected judges alleged that the Judicial Council committed “crimes of influence peddling, illicit enrichment, and organized crime, following interference in the independence of the judicial branch.” The former judges demanded the resignation of the Judicial Council’s president Gustavo Jalkh, through the National Committee of Judges against Corruption. On August 28, Jalkh told media outlets the initiative was an attempt to destabilize the judicial branch before the partial renewal of the National Court of Justice.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, although delays occurred frequently. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges in detail. The accused have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided and to appeal. Defendants have the right to free assistance from an interpreter, but some defendants complained about the lack of an interpreter at court hearings. They have the right to adequate time and resources to prepare their defense, although in practice this was not always the case, and delays in providing translation services made this difficult for some foreign defendants. They also have the right to be present at their trial. The accused may also present evidence and call witnesses, invoke the right against self-incrimination, and confront and cross-examine witnesses.

Judges reportedly rendered decisions more quickly or more slowly due to political pressure or, in some cases, the payment of bribes. There were reported delays of up to one year in scheduling some trials.

Criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing congested dockets in criminal cases produced “simplified” proceedings in pretrial stages, resulting in summary proceedings against defendants with few, if any, due process protections.

The regular court system tried most defendants, although some indigenous groups judged members independently under their own community rules for violations that occurred in indigenous territory. On September 12, members of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and officials from the Judicial Council discussed the application of indigenous justice and expressed willingness to work together in strengthening the administration of justice in all spheres.

On July 13, media outlets reported that 121 Cuban citizens deported from Ecuador in June and July 2016 suffered mistreatment, illegal detention, and rushed deportation proceedings, allegations the government denied.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil courts and the Administrative Conflicts Tribunal, generally considered independent and impartial, handle lawsuits seeking damages for, or immediate ending of, human rights violations. Civil lawsuits seeking damages for alleged wrongdoings by the government rarely were filed, since such suits were difficult to prosecute and time-consuming, with some judges taking up to a decade to rule on the merits of a case.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Human rights groups denounced forced evictions by government authorities without due process or timely relocation to other housing. The evictions mostly affected Afro-Ecuadorian families in urban areas or indigenous families living near natural resource extraction projects. The government claimed that many of those evicted either were squatters or had purchased their land illegally. On October 12, local media reported that a joint operation by police and the Technical Secretariat for the Prevention of Irregular Human Settlements could result in the eviction of up to 200 families from their homes in southern Guayaquil within 48 hours if they could not produce proof of ownership. On July 7, indigenous organizations appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to report human rights violations that led to forced displacement of their communities in 2016. According to human rights organizations, in some cases the government failed to provide timely restitution or compensation to evicted families.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Human rights, environmental, and labor activists and opposition politicians reported physical surveillance by authorities, including monitoring of their private movements and homes. According to some human rights activists, the physical surveillance was an act of intimidation intended to silence any potential criticism of the government. In the two weeks before the April presidential elections, representatives of a Catholic church reported detecting surveillance of their facility and religious services and receiving threatening telephone messages from unidentified callers warning the parish priest there would be consequences if he continued to politicize his sermons. In September, local media sources reported they obtained documents dating from 2010-14 detailing efforts by the National Intelligence Secretariat to spy on opposition parties, businesspersons, journalists, social movements, ecological groups, and indigenous organizations. The media sources claimed that public funds were used to record persons of interest and hack into personal email accounts in direct contravention of the penal code.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government restricted this right. The government continued to use the communications law to limit the independence of the press.

Freedom of Expression: Generally, individuals could discuss matters of general public interest publicly or privately without reprisal, although various civil society groups, journalists, and academics argued that the law limited their freedom of expression and restricted independent media. Under the 2013 communication law, media outlets are also legally responsible for the opinions of their contributors. Independent of this law, the 2014 criminal code prohibits citizens from threatening or insulting the president or executive branch, and penalties for violators range from six months to two years’ imprisonment or a fine from $16 to $77.

Article 176 of the criminal code establishes a prison sentence of up to three years for those who “disseminate, practice, or incite any distinction, restriction, or preference on grounds of nationality, ethnicity, place of birth, age, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation, cultural identity, marital status, language, religion, ideology, socioeconomic status, immigration status, disability, or health status with the aim of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise of equal rights.” According to some legal experts, the article could restrict freedom of speech.

Press and Media Freedom: Freedom House continued to rate the country’s press status as “not free.” Regulatory bodies created under the communication law monitored and disciplined the media through a combination of legal and administrative sanctions. The domestic freedom of expression watchdog group Fundamedios reported 210 “attacks on freedom of expression” through June 30, including sanctions of media outlets under the communications law, cases of restrictions on digital rights, and the “abusive use of State power,” including the withdrawal of official publicity, forced correction, cancellation of frequencies and programs, and arbitrary dismissals of employees. Fundamedios noted that the number of attacks were unusually high during the first semester of the year, especially during the presidential campaign season (between January and April), compared with 2016. Fundamedios also reported that during the first three months of Moreno’s presidency, attacks on the media decreased and the government-aligned public media outlets became more objective and balanced both in their news reporting and in editorial pages. President Moreno encouraged dialogue with the media and specifically called on journalists to report on corruption. Although the communication law remains in place, media outlets reported a reduction in government attacks on the media.

Independent media remained active and expressed a wide variety of views, including those critical of the government, although many analysts and journalists noted the 2013 law had led to self-censorship in private media, pointing to a decrease in investigative reporting under the Correa administration.

The law limits the ability of media to provide election coverage during the official campaign period. A constitutional court ruling in 2012 affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but it left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

The law includes the offense of inciting “financial panic” with a penalty of imprisonment for five to seven years for any person who divulges false information that causes alarm in the population and provokes massive withdrawals of deposits from a financial institution that places at risk the institution’s stability. Some analysts viewed this as a warning to the media in their reporting on the country’s financial problems. Media outlets reported privately that they refrained from some financial reporting due to concern over possible legal consequences.

The government administered an estimated 30 media outlets and used its extensive advertising budget to influence public debate. The law mandates the broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet free of charge. During the Correa administration, the government increasingly required media stations to broadcast statements by the president and other leaders, thereby reducing the stations’ private paid programming. President Moreno reduced the amount of time required for presidential broadcasts to one 15-minute broadcast weekly. President Moreno replaced the general editor of the state-owned newspaper, El Telegrafo, which traditionally strongly advocated for the government and its policies, with former journalist Fernando Larenas.

The law calls for the redistribution of broadcast frequencies to divide media ownership between private media (33 percent), public media (33 percent), and community media (34 percent). Observers claimed this redistribution of frequencies would reduce the private media by almost 50 percent. Government officials asserted in public statements that the redistribution of frequencies guaranteed a more inclusive and diverse media environment. In the previous year, the Agency for Regulation and Control of Telecommunications and the Council for Regulation and Development of Information and Communication (known by its Spanish acronym CORDICOM) initiated a process to adjudicate 1,472 radio and television frequencies. In January well established, private radio outlets Radio Democracia and Radio Vision, among others, were told that they were at risk of losing their frequencies to government-associated community media outlets due to the government adjudication process. Opposition groups protested the government-run tendering process of airwaves for its lack of transparency and for taking place during an election year. As of August 26, the redistribution of frequencies was suspended.

Violence and Harassment: On February 16, media outlets reported that authorities found explosive devices targeting two female journalists, Janeth Hinostroza of Teleamazonas television station and Estefani Espin of Ecuavisa, three days prior to the 2017 general elections. Former president Correa and other high-level government officials criticized journalists and media outlets. In his last national televised address on May 21, Correa tore up a copy of the newspaper La Hora, labeled the media as his “greatest opponent” in his 10-year administration, and asked his followers to promote awareness in citizens to avoid being cheated by the “mercantilist press.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists working at private media companies reported instances of indirect censorship. On May 25, the Superintendence of Information and Communication (Supercom) fined a radio station $3,750 for insulting former president Correa. The director of the radio station, Luis Almeida, asserted that no infractions were committed, as analyst Jaime Verduga was exercising his freedom of thought and expression. Almeida also noted that Verduga repeated Correa’s own words, which were published by the government-owned digital media outlet El Ciudadano.

The law requires the media to “cover and broadcast facts of public interest” and defines the failure to do so as a form of prior censorship. Supercom decides prior censorship cases and can impose fines. Many private media complained that the government could decide what is of “public interest” and thus unduly influence their independent reporting. On April 27, three media outlets received a warning in writing from Supercom for transmitting results of exit polls that projected the opposition candidate as winner of the 2017 national elections on April 2. On April 21, Supercom fined seven outlets $3,750 for “prior censorship” due to their decision not to publish a series of articles by Argentine newspaper Pagina 12, alleging that opposition presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso had dozens of offshore accounts. Representatives of the affected media outlets argued that the original story was poorly reported and that the publishing of unverified allegations would have violated the law. The ruling remained in effect as of September 15. On August 24, a district administrative court nullified a $90,000 fine originally levied in 2014 against political cartoonist Bonil (Xavier Bonilla) of the daily newspaper El Universo. The court ruled that “opinions are not meant to inform” and that the constitution guarantees freedom of expression. The head of Supercom, Carlos Ochoa, announced that Supercom would contest the ruling.

The law also imposes local content quotas on the media, including a requirement that a minimum of 60 percent of content on television and 50 percent of radio content be produced domestically. Additionally, the law requires that advertising be produced domestically and prohibits any advertising deemed to be sexist, racist, or discriminatory in nature. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Health must approve all advertising for food or health products.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel laws against media companies, journalists, and private individuals. Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. The law includes a prohibition of “media lynching,” described as the “coordinated and repetitive dissemination of information, directly or by third parties through the media, intended to discredit a person or company or reduce its public credibility.” The exact terms of this provision remained vaguely defined but threatened to limit the media’s ability to conduct investigative reporting. Supercom has the authority to determine if a media outlet is guilty of media lynching and to apply administrative sanctions. On June 5, former president Correa filed a complaint against journalist Martin Pallares for an article he published on April 21, alleging that Pallares uttered expressions in disrepute or dishonor against him, a crime punishable by 15 to 30 days’ imprisonment. On July 3, Judge Fabricio Carrasco found Pallares innocent of the charges of discrediting the president. On July 19, Judge Maximo Ortega de Ferrer accepted Correa’s appeal to review the July 3 ruling.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for the Media: On inauguration day President Moreno announced that his government would end former president Correa’s practice of holding multihour, mandatory press events on Saturdays (often used by Correa to attack his opponents, particularly the media). Moreno subsequently highlighted the important role the press plays in the fight against corruption. Moreno invited civil society representatives and government agencies to address differences in opinion regarding the 2013 communication law through a national dialogue. Supercom officials participated in roundtable discussions on communication law reforms. Fundamedios noted in September that reported attacks against freedom of expression dropped more than 50 percent in the first three months of the Moreno administration, compared with the final three months of the Correa administration, adding, “The drastic drop in the number of attacks on freedom of expression reflects a new reality that could translate into an improvement in the exercise of this fundamental right in Ecuador.” Supercom issued fewer sanctions during the first three months of the Moreno administration.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but there were credible reports that the government censored online content and monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. A government regulation requires that internet service providers comply with all information requests from the superintendent of telecommunications, allowing access to client addresses and information without a judicial order. Freedom House evaluated the internet as partly free. The International Telecommunication Union reported a 54 percent internet usage rate in 2016.

While individuals and groups could generally engage in the expression of views via the internet, the government increasingly monitored Twitter and other social media accounts for perceived threats or alleged insults against the president and government officials. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media outlets reported cyberattacks by unknown perpetrators that appeared politically motivated since they occurred during coverage of the 2017 general elections and when content was perceived as critical of the government. On August 25, Fundamedios reported attacks on its digital portal for two consecutive weeks. On May 22, Usuarios Digitales, an internet watchdog organization, reported 160 internet attacks on social networks and digital platforms between April 2016 and March 2017. The website of the national private media group El Comercio was hacked on a regular basis. The organization had a team of digital experts tracking internet attacks on a daily basis.

The law holds a media outlet responsible for online comments from readers if the outlet has not established mechanisms for commenters to register their personal data (including national identification number) or created a system to delete offensive comments. The law also prohibits the media from using information obtained from social media unless they can verify the author of the information. On April 17, the Ministry of Interior’s legal office filed a case against Luis Eduardo Vivanco, former editor in chief of La Horanewspaper, based on his tweets that “attempt to disparage the actions carried out by the government in its permanent fight against corruption.” On May 18, Vivanco appeared before the Office of the Public Prosecutor to render his testimony.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

While there were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, academics reported that concerns over the process of awarding government contracts intimidated academics into practicing self-censorship. In December 2016 the National Assembly passed legislation eliminating public funding for research at universities that operate under international agreements. According to human rights organization Freedom House, “The legislation has the potential to undermine the sustainability of two graduate universities, Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar and Universidad Latinoamericana de Posgrado Lider en Ciencias Sociales (commonly referred to as FLACSO Ecuador.)”

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited freedom of association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Public rallies require prior government permits that usually are granted. The government often deployed a large security presence at demonstrations, and security forces generally respected the rights of participants.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, but the government took steps to limit this right. On October 23, President Moreno issued decree 193 to replace executive decrees 16 and 739 that regulated freedom of association. Human rights organizations claimed former president Correa used decrees 16 and 739, which required all social organizations, including NGOs, to reregister in a new online registration system within one year of the decree or face dissolution, to stymie opposition and limit foreign influence.

Decree 193 simplified the application process to obtain and maintain legal status for NGOs and social groups by relaxing and eliminating some bureaucratic hurdles. The decree closed loopholes that Correa exploited to infiltrate and divide NGOs, including the elimination of a clause forcing groups to provide membership to any person, even against the will of the other members. The government also ended the requirement that a state entity collect information through the country’s diplomatic missions abroad on the “legality, solvency, and seriousness” of foreign NGOs before they are allowed to work in the country. Civil society representatives said that the new decree was a step in the right direction but lamented that it leaves in place some Correa-era policies, including the right of the government to dissolve organizations for ill defined reasons.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. On January 28, then president Correa signed the Human Mobility Law, which codifies the legal protections guaranteed to migrants in the constitution, advances the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and establishes provisions such as equal treatment before the law for migrants, nonrefoulement, and noncriminalization of irregular migration. The law entered into force on February 6. Large numbers of refugee seekers and the country’s economic slowdown strained the government’s immigration and social services, and it worked closely with local, international, and civil society organizations to cover assistance gaps when necessary.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees, especially women and children, experienced sexual and gender-based violence. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and local NGOs reported that refugee women and children remained susceptible to violence, human trafficking, labor exploitation in sex trafficking, and forced labor. They also reported the forced recruitment of adolescents into criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, on the northern border, particularly by organized criminal gangs that also operated in Colombia.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Following an earthquake on April 16 that struck the Pacific coast, the government declared a state of emergency in the provinces of Esmeraldas, Guayas, Los Rios, Manabi, Santo Domingo, and Santa Elena. According to the final status report from the Secretariat of Risk Management on May 18, the earthquake claimed 663 lives and injured 6,274 persons. More than 40,000 persons were internally displaced following the earthquake, and approximately 29,000 were sheltered in public spaces, including sports stadiums. According to the International Organization for Migration, as of October 21, at least 12,000 persons remained in official and informal shelters.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law’s implementing regulation establishes a two-step procedure for asylum seekers to apply for refugee status with a right to appeal rejections in the second stage of the process. The government limits applications for asylum to persons who enter the country within the previous 90 days. While an improvement over the previous 15-day time limit, experts noted that the admissibility procedure and a lack of qualified staff still hampered the granting of protection to deserving cases and remained the main challenges to refugee protection in the country.

The Human Mobility Law establishes a maximum of 120 days for the application process. During this process an applicant receives a humanitarian visa until the refugee status is adjudicated and all appeals are exhausted. Once the government grants refugee status to an individual, that person becomes a temporary resident. An individual with refugee status may apply for a visa renovation within two years or apply for permanent residence. An international NGO reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was in the process of implementing the new legal provisions, including the issuance of humanitarian visas. An international organization stated that a significant number of Venezuelan migrants were arriving in the country. The government noted an increase in the entry and exit of Venezuelans across the border. On August 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Ecuador hosted 60,560 refugees, 98 percent of whom were Colombian and that an average of 418 persons entered the country each month seeking asylum.

Access to Basic Services: Forty percent of refugees and asylum seekers resided in isolated regions with limited basic services, primarily along the northern border, or in poor urban areas of major cities such as Quito and Guayaquil. According to UNHCR and NGOs providing social services to refugees, refugees continued to encounter discrimination in employment and housing. In September 2016 UNHCR and the Civil Registry signed an agreement that would enable recognized refugees to receive national identification cards that facilitate their access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. As of October, however, the Civil Registry had not started to issue national identification cards to recognized refugees. UNHCR reported that technical issues with the software and system to produce these cards led to delays.

Durable Solutions: The main durable solution was local integration, although there were many obstacles to achieve sustainable local integration. Discrimination; difficulty in obtaining adequate documentation; and limited access to formal employment, services, and housing with basic services affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population. Few refugees were able to naturalize as citizens or gain permanent resident status, due to the expensive and lengthy legal process required.

Temporary Protection: While there is no legal provision for temporary protection, the government and NGOs provided humanitarian aid and additional services, such as legal, health, education, and psychological assistance, to refugees recorded as having crossed the border during the year. Most government assistance ended after denial of official refugee status.

As an associate member of Mercosur (Southern Common Market), Ecuador issues temporary visas to citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, and the government waived the visa application fee for Colombian and Paraguayan citizens. Foreigners in an irregular migratory status in the country were eligible to apply for the visa. While the Mercosur visa does not provide any safeguard against forced repatriation, UNHCR noted that many persons opted for the visa, since it was faster than the refugee process and carried less social stigma. Visa recipients are able to work and study for two years. The visa is renewable, but the requisites for such renewal were unclear to refugee advocates.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In 2015 the National Assembly approved a constitutional amendment to eliminate term limits for all elected positions, including the president, starting after the 2017 national elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 19, the government held general elections for national offices, including the presidency and the National Assembly. On April 2, the government held a presidential runoff election between the top two tickets, Alianza PAIS (AP) and Creating Opportunities-United Society Movement More Action (CREO-SUMA) alliance. The Organization of American States (OAS), Union of South American Nations, Association of World Election Bodies, Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms, and domestic observers deemed both election rounds as open, free, and well organized, despite limited local irregularities. Although the international and domestic observation teams reported no fraud, some reports of premarked ballots and of counting and vote-tabulation irregularities resulted in challenges filed with the National Electoral Council (CNE) and the Electoral Contentious Court (TCE), the appeals body for electoral matters. Political organizations challenged the legitimacy of 11.2 percent of total votes, with CREO requesting a total vote recount. The request was denied because the law does not allow for a recount of 100 percent of the votes. The OAS reported that in the precampaign period, “representatives of opposition parties and civil society organizations objected to unequal access to the media.” Furthermore, during the campaign period, there was unequal coverage of parties and candidates in news reports, depending on the ownership of the media. According to media monitoring by the local NGO Participacion Ciudadana, private and public media outlets gave opposition and government party presidential candidates more equitable access to media than in the 2013 election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Electoral laws require political parties to register with the CNE. To receive authorization to participate in elections, parties and movements need to show the support of at least 1.5 percent of the electoral rolls by collecting voters’ signatures. The law requires registered parties to obtain minimum levels of voter support to maintain registration. Voters are restricted to registering with only one political group.

The OAS reported an active presence of then president Correa in the precampaign and campaign periods, stating that “…political organizations complained of the lack of sanctions against the then-president of the republic for promoting the ticket of the official party during the government-funded Enlaces Ciudadanos,” a weekly program broadcast nationwide during the Correa administration. During the postelection period, citizens gathered outside the CNE to protest alleged fraud in the election results. On April 2, Ecuavisa TV channel reported the polling company Cedatos’ exit poll results, which identified the opposition presidential candidate as the winner. Participacion Ciudadana conducted a quick count and announced on national television a “statistical tie” between the two presidential candidates. Shortly thereafter their results were leaked on social media. On April 7, police raided the offices of Cedatos. The OAS considered that “the raid was excessive and deepened existing tensions following the elections.” On April 8, then president Correa accused Participacion Ciudadana, TV channel Ecuavisa, and Cedatos of attempting to manipulate the outcome of the runoff election to favor opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso.

On March 29, the Attorney General’s Office opened a preliminary investigation against Cedatos for falsifying data and using false documents, after the then vice president of the National Assembly, Rosana Alvarado, filed a complaint against Cedatos on March 22.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The Correa administration took some steps to address official corruption. It continued a process to increase the efficiency of judicial services, which improved the judiciary’s ability to remove corrupt or ineffective judges. Many civil society activists noted, however, that judges on the higher courts appeared more closely aligned with the former administration, and many questioned the independence of those courts, especially in politicized cases. Media reports alleged police corruption and corruption in public contracts and procurement, including in state-owned companies. Labor leaders and business owners reported corruption among labor inspectors.

Corruption: On February 16, the Attorney General’s Office sentenced Carlos Pareja Yannuzzelli, former minister of hydrocarbons, in absentia, and Alex Bravo, former manager of the public oil company Petroecuador, to five years in prison for committing bribery. Pareja Yannuzzelli returned to the country in September and was under investigation for embezzlement, money laundering, organized crime, and illicit enrichment. The Attorney General’s Office sentenced 14 other individuals to prison for committing bribery in relation to the Petroecuador corruption case. On August 17, El Universo reported that more than 140 persons were under investigation in the Petroecuador corruption case. As of September the Petroecuador cases continued.

In December 2016 unnamed officials were cited among those taking bribes from the Brazilian construction and engineering company Odebrecht. Odebrecht admitted to making more than $33.5 million in corrupt payments to government officials in Ecuador between 2007 and 2016. On April 21, police arrested Alecksey Mosquera, former minister of electricity, for allegedly accepting $924,000 in bribes from Odebrecht for the construction of the Toachi-Pilaton hydroelectric dam in 2007. On April 21, police placed under house arrest Mosquera’s uncle-in-law Marcelo Endara for allegedly accepting $80,000 in bribes from Odebrecht. On June 2, police arrested six suspects, including Ricardo Rivera, Vice President Glas’ uncle, for allegedly having committed illicit association. On July 3, the National Assembly censured Carlos Polit, former comptroller general, for breaching his official duties and having ties to the Odebrecht corruption scheme. On August 25, the National Assembly voted unanimously to authorize the judicial hearing of Vice President Glas for illicit association. On August 29, the National Court of Justice officially included Vice President Glas and 10 other suspects within the illicit association investigation in relation to the Odebrecht corruption case. On October 2, the National Court of Justice ordered the preventive imprisonment of Vice President Glas and on November 14 ruled that Vice President Glas will stand trial (with 12 other suspects). Vice President Glas will remain in prison until the conclusion of his trial and could face up to five years in prison if convicted.

Financial Disclosure: Government officials are required to declare their financial holdings upon taking office and if requested during an investigation. All agencies must disclose salary information annually. The constitution requires civil servants to present a sworn statement regarding their net worth at the beginning and end of their term of office, including their assets and liabilities, as well as an authorization to lift the confidentiality of their bank accounts. All declarations are filed in the offices of public notaries and are entered as a public document. The comptroller general’s website contains a section where the public can conduct a search on officials to see if the officials complied with the income and asset disclosure requirement. There are no criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance, except for the inability to assume office. Public officials are not required to submit periodic reports, even when changes occur in their holdings.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, with some exceptions, provides for the rights of workers to form and join trade unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits the dismissal of union members from the moment a union notifies the labor inspector of its general assembly until the formation of its first executive board, the first legal steps in forming a union. Employers are not required to reinstate workers fired for union activity but are required to pay compensation and fines to such workers. According to the Ministry of Labor, 2,969 labor unions represented 879,000 workers. The Center for Labor Policy Studies estimated that labor organizations represented 4 percent of all public and private workers.

Companies that dismiss employees attempting to form a union or that dismiss union members exercising their rights face a fine of one year’s annual salary for each individual wrongfully let go. The process to register a union often took weeks or longer and was complicated, inhibiting union registration. Individual workers still employed may take complaints against employers to the Labor Inspection Office. Individuals no longer employed may take their complaints to courts charged with protecting labor rights. Unions may also take complaints to a tripartite arbitration board established to hear these complaints. These procedures often were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

All private employers with a union are required to negotiate collectively when the union so requests. The law requires a minimum of 30 workers for the creation of an association, work committee, or labor union, and it does not allow foreign citizens to serve as trade union officers. The law prohibits employers from using domestic outsourcing, including subcontracting, third party, and hourly contracts, to avoid providing employees the right to form a union and to receive employee benefits.

The law provides for the right of private-sector employees to strike on their own behalf and conduct three-day solidarity strikes or boycotts on the behalf of other industries. The law also establishes, however, that all collective labor disputes be referred to courts of conciliation and arbitration. In 2014 the International Labor Organization (ILO) called on the government to amend this provision by limiting such compulsory arbitration to cases where both parties agree to arbitration and the strike involves the public servants who exercise authority in the name of the state or who perform essential services. As of August 17, the government had not taken any action.

In most industries the law requires a 10-day “cooling-off” period from the time a strike is declared before it can take effect. In the case of the agriculture and hospitality industries, where workers are needed for “permanent care,” the law requires a 20-day “cooling-off” period from the day the strike is called, and workers cannot take possession of a workplace. During this time workers and employers must agree on how many workers are needed to ensure a minimum level of service, and at least 20 percent of the workforce must continue to work in order to provide essential services. The law provides that “the employer may contract substitute personnel” only when striking workers refuse to send the number of workers required to provide the minimum necessary services.

The law prohibits formation of unions and restricts the right to collective bargaining and striking of public-sector workers in “strategic sectors.” Such sectors include workers in the health, environmental sanitation, education, justice, firefighting, social security, electrical energy, drinking water and sewage, hydrocarbon production, fuel processing, transport and distribution, public transportation, and post and telecommunications sectors. Some of the sectors defined as strategic exceed the ILO standard for essential services. Workers in these sectors attempting to strike may face charges with penalties of between two and five years’ imprisonment. All unions in the public sector fall under the Confederation of Public Servants. Although the vast majority of public-sector workers also maintained membership in labor sector associations, the law does not allow such associations to bargain collectively or strike. In 2015 the National Assembly amended the constitution to specify that only the private sector could engage in collective bargaining.

Government efforts to enforce legal protections of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining often were inadequate and inconsistent. Employers did not always respect freedom of association and collective bargaining. Although independent, unions often had strong ties to political movements.

During the year labor organization reported several cases of labor abuse and illegal dismissal of workers. There were no reports of workers being fired for union activities. On August 25, bus owners and drivers voted to suspend all municipal transit service in Quito, following negotiations with the municipal council to raise fares. Quito Mayor Mauricio Rodas announced legal action against the Pichincha Chamber of Transport, the union representing bus owners, based on a law prohibiting strikes of providers of public transportation services. The daylong strike resulted in 10 persons detained and four injured. On August 26, leaders from Quito’s municipal transportation service announced an end to the strike following meetings with municipal officials to seek agreement on a resolution. On September 6, Mayor Rodas said that municipal transportation employees had 30 days to demonstrate improved service in order to secure a five-cent fare increase. During this period the Metropolitan Transit Agency conducted random inspections and recorded 495 sanctions and 14 major infractions committed by transportation employees. They also received close to 800 complaints for poor service. Mayor Rodas said that all of the data collected during the 30-day period would be taken into account when evaluating a possible fare increase.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law does not require the means of force, fraud, or coercion for cases of forced labor and includes all forms of labor exploitation, child labor, illegal adoption, servile marriage, and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. Penalties under this article range from 13 to 16 years’ imprisonment. The law penalizes forced labor and other forms of exploitative labor, including all labor of children younger than age 15. Penalties for forced or exploitative labor are 10 to 13 years’ imprisonment.

Limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, and inadequate victim services hampered the effectiveness of police and prosecutors. As of October human rights organizations and media outlets continued to report that children were being subjected to forced criminality, particularly drug trafficking. The government identified and assisted 75 potential child trafficking victims, at least 11 of whom were victims of forced labor. A report issued during the year stated that the antitrafficking and human smuggling police unit arrested 56 suspected traffickers and conducted 52 antitrafficking operations in 2016.

Reports of forced labor of children (see section 7.c.) and women persisted. Observers most frequently reported women as victims of sex trafficking or of working in private homes under conditions that may amount to human trafficking. On April 12, El Telegrafonewspaper reported a 25-year prison sentence against a man who forced a 12 year-old female into prostitution. Forensic tests revealed that the perpetrator drugged the minor. Indigenous Afro-Ecuadorians, as well as Colombian refugees and migrants (see section 7.d.), were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Traffickers often recruited children from impoverished families under false promises of employment; these children were then forced to beg or to work as domestic servants, in sweatshops, or as street and commercial vendors within the country or in other South American countries. Women and children were exploited in forced labor and sex trafficking abroad, including in other South American countries, the United States, and Europe. The country is a destination for Colombian, Peruvian, Paraguayan, and Cuban women and girls exploited in sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced begging.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The law prohibits employers from using discriminatory criteria in hiring, discriminating against unions, and retaliating against striking workers and their leaders. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations.

Employment discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. On October 4, El Telegrafo reported that the Ministry of Labor received 347 complaints from employees about workplace harassment between 2015 and 2017. On August 24, the National Assembly approved a series of labor reforms for employees in the public and private sectors to prevent workplace harassment.

On May 7, El Comercio newspaper reported the average income of women was 27 percent lower than that of men. In December 2016 Los Andes online media outlet cited a study by the Ipsos Ibid Consultancy noting that only “one in 10 general managerial positions was occupied by a woman in Ecuador, while in positions such as vice presidencies the percentage was 20 percent.” On March 1, INEC published the results of an ENEMDU survey that reported nationally 5.5 percent of women in the economically active population were unemployed, while among men, unemployment was 3.6 percent. On June 20, El Telegrafo reported that Afro-Ecuadorians continued to demand more opportunities in the workforce and complained that employers often would profile them based on their job application photographs. Indigenous and LGBTI individuals also experienced employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum monthly wage was $375. Additional benefits mandated by law correspond to 40 percent of this salary. The official poverty level was $85.58 per month, and official extreme poverty level was $48.23 per month. According to official statistics published in June, 23.7 percent of the population lived at or below the poverty level, and 8.6 percent lived at or below the extreme poverty level.

The law limits the standard work period to 40 hours a week, eight hours a day, with two consecutive days of rest per week. Miners are limited to six hours a day and may only work one additional hour a day with premium pay. Premium pay is 1.5 times the basic salary for work done from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Work done from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. receives twice the basic salary, although workers whose standard shift is at night receive a premium of 25 percent instead. Premium pay also applies to work on weekends and holidays. Overtime is limited to no more than four hours a day and a total of 12 hours a week. Mandatory overtime is prohibited. Workers are entitled to a continuous 15-day annual vacation, including weekends, plus one extra day per year after five years of service. Different regulations regarding schedule and vacations apply to live-in domestic workers. The law mandates prison terms for employers who do not comply with the requirement of registering domestic workers with the Social Security Administration. The law provides for the health and safety of workers and outlines health and safety standards, which were current and appropriate for the country’s main industries. These regulations and standards were not applied in the informal sector, which employed more than 53 percent of the population.

The 2016 Organic Law for the Promotion of Youth Work, Exceptional Regulation to the Working Day, Severance, and Unemployment Insurance provides that Social Security contributors who lose their job may opt for withdrawing their individual severance funds. Alternatively, the law provides the option of using the government’s unemployment insurance, which includes a monthly payment for five months’ equivalent to between 50 and 70 percent of the contributor’s monthly average salary over the 12 months prior to the contributor’s dismissal.

Enforcement of labor laws is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labor and the Social Security Administration. The government’s 134 inspectors enforced all labor laws, including those for child labor.

Authorities may conduct labor inspections by appointment or after a worker complaint. If a worker requests an inspection and a Ministry of Labor inspector confirms a workplace hazard, the inspector then may close the workplace. Labor inspections generally occurred because of complaints, not as a preventive measure, and inspectors could not make unannounced visits. In some cases violations were remedied, but other cases were subjected to legal challenges that delayed changes for months. Penalties were limited to monetary fines between $950 and $6,360; they were not sufficient to deter violations and were often not enforced.

The Ministry of Labor continued its labor rights enforcement reforms by increasing labor inspections and increasing the number of workers protected by contracts, minimum wage standards, and registration for social security benefits.

Most workers worked in the large informal sector and in rural areas. They were not subject to the minimum wage laws or legally mandated benefits. Occupational health and safety problems were more prevalent in the large informal sector. The law singles out the health and safety of miners, but the government did not enforce safety rules in informal small-scale mines, which made up the vast majority of enterprises in the mining sector. Migrants and refugees were particularly vulnerable to hazardous and exploitative working conditions.

Workers in the formal sector could generally remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Workers in the informal sector received far fewer labor protections, and they were less likely to be able to remove themselves from dangerous health or safety situations without jeopardy to their employment.

Guatemala

Executive Summary

Guatemala is a multiparty constitutional republic. In January 2016 Jimmy Morales of the National Convergence Front party was sworn into office for a four-year term as president. International observers considered the presidential election held in 2015 as generally free and fair.

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

The most significant human rights issues included: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; corruption and intimidation of judges; threats against journalists, including by criminal organizations and corrupt public officials, resulting in significant self-censorship; widespread government corruption; violence against persons with disabilities in public care; cases of killing of women because of their gender, which authorities were prosecuting; police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; trafficking in persons; children engaged in the worst forms of child labor; and violence and threats against trade unionists and labor activists.

Corruption and inadequate investigation made prosecution difficult, and impunity continued to be widespread. Parts of the government collaborated with the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to strengthen the rule of law and prosecute officials who committed abuses. On August 27, however, President Jimmy Morales declared CICIG commissioner Ivan Velasquez persona non grata, negatively affecting domestic and international confidence in the administration’s commitment to anti-impunity and anticorruption efforts. The Constitutional Court blocked the expulsion order, and Commissioner Velasquez remained in his position.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. As of August 31, the National Civil Police (PNC) and its Office of Professional Responsibility (ORP), the mechanism for investigating security force abuses, reported no complaints of homicide.

On August 16, Mara Salvatrucha criminal gang members entered one of the largest public hospitals and killed five civilian bystanders and two prison guards. The assailants freed a fellow gang member who was being treated at the hospital. The PNC arrested five suspects and the Public Ministry linked four to the case, which was under investigation at year’s end.

The case regarding the 2015 killing of Hector Donaldo Contreras Sanchez was in the intermediary pretrial phase at year’s end. In 2016 authorities arrested 13 members of the San Juan Sacatepequez military brigade for the alleged extrajudicial killing.

In January 2016 the Public Ministry arrested 14 high-ranking former military officers on charges of human rights violations for hundreds of extrajudicial killings during the 1960-96 internal armed conflict. The charges were based on the discovery of mass graves in Coban, Alta Verapa, at the Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations (CREOMPAZ), formerly the Military Zone 2 base during the conflict. Known as the CREOMPAZ case, it was assigned to a special high-risk court created in 2009 with competence to hear cases that posed a serious risk to the security of judges, the prosecutor, the defense, or any other individual involved in the case. In 2016 the court found sufficient evidence to send eight individuals to trial, but the Public Ministry appealed the exclusion of a number of charges in the proceedings. At year’s end the trial was pending resolution of the various appeals by the Public Ministry, joint complainants in the case, and defense lawyers. In March the Supreme Court ruled to remove the immunity of Congressman Edgar Ovalle, one of the suspects in the case. Ovalle disappeared before authorities were able to arrest him and remained a fugitive at year’s end.

On October 13, two separate trials began against former head of state Efrain Rios Montt and former intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez in the case of genocide involving the Maya Ixil community. In 2013 Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity during his presidency (1982-83) and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The Constitutional Court later overturned the conviction on procedural grounds and returned the case to be retried. In 2015 a high-risk court determined Rios Montt was mentally unfit for public trial but ordered the trial be held behind closed doors and with a guardian present. It also ruled any verdict could be used only to determine reparations to the victims and that Rios Montt could not be sentenced to prison. In May the Center for Human Rights Legal Action filed a complaint against former constitutional court magistrates for breach of legal duty after obtaining videos of their deliberations during the decision to annul Rios Montt’s genocide sentence. At year’s end the Public Ministry had not moved the case forward for an initial hearing.

In 2016 a high-risk court dismissed a motion in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre case by the defense team to suspend criminal prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity. The defense argued that Rios Montt was mentally unfit to stand trial. The case remained in the intermediary pretrial phase, and a date for the next hearing had not been set by year’s end.

As of August the government had paid approximately 23.9 million quetzales ($3.26 million) in individual reparations to families affected by the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. The government also appropriated 121.3 million quetzales ($16.5 million) for collective reparations, which government authorities believed could be delayed until early 2018 due to the fact the proposed community projects were undergoing feasibility studies. During the dam’s construction from 1975 to 1985, more than 400 individuals died and thousands were displaced. As part of a 2014 reparations agreement, the government agreed to pay 1.15 billion quetzales ($156 million) over 15 years in individual and community reparations.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports during the year of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government took actions to investigate and prosecute cases of forced disappearances from the internal armed conflict period. In 2016, four high-ranking retired army officers were arrested for the 1981 forced disappearance of minor Marco Antonio Molina Theissen. The Attorney General’s Office presented additional charges against retired army general Benedicto Lucas Garcia, who was also charged in the CREOMPAZ mass graves case. In July the final phase of the preliminary hearings concluded. The trial date for the case was set for March 2018.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, there were credible reports of abuse and other mistreatment by PNC members.

On September 18, trial proceedings began for PNC agents Carlos Baten Perez, Rogelio Perez Hernandez, Nancy Evelia Rodriguez Alai, and Cesar Augusto Funes Morales for the torture and illegal detention of four suspects in 2015 in the Villa Nueva suburb of Guatemala City.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening, with multiple instances of inmates killing other inmates. Sexual assault, inadequate sanitation and medical care, and gross overcrowding placed prisoners at significant risk.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding was a problem. As of August 25, according to the prison system registry, there were 22,660 inmates, including 2,240 women, held in facilities designed to hold 6,800 persons. Physical conditions including sanitation and bathing facilities, dental and medical care, ventilation, temperature control, and lighting were wholly inadequate. Prisoners had difficulty obtaining potable water, complained of inadequate food, and often had to pay for additional sustenance. Illegal drug sales and use was widespread. Prison officials reported safety and control problems, including escape attempts, gang fights, inability to control the flow of contraband goods into prisons, and the fabrication of weapons. Prisoners conducted criminal activity both inside and outside of prisons. From January through August 25, at least 13 inmates died of unnatural causes while in prison.

Media reported that transnational criminal gangs and drug trafficking groups controlled major prison centers. In 2016 prisoner Byron Lima Oliva, a former army captain charged with the murder of human rights defender Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, was killed along with 13 others in the Pavon prison. On August 2, the PNC arrested six suspects. On November 23, a judge indicted 17 individuals arrested in the case. At year’s end the Public Ministry, with CICIG support, moved the case forward to preliminary hearings.

Conditions for male and female prisoners were generally comparable throughout the country. Media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported female and juvenile inmates faced continuing physical and sexual abuse. Female inmates reported unnecessary body searches and verbal abuse by prison guards. Children under age four could live in prison with their mothers, although the penitentiary system provided inadequate food for young children and many suffered from illness. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights groups stated that other prisoners often sexually assaulted LGBTI individuals and that there were insufficient facilities to protect LGBTI individuals in custody. The Ministry of Government approved initial admittance procedures for LGBTI prisoners in 2015. NGOs claimed, however, the protocols were not being implemented and noted particular concern regarding admittance procedures for transgender individuals. Frequent leadership turnover in the prison system exacerbated these problems. Occasionally authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and male with female detainees.

Media reported similar conditions of abuse and overcrowding at the four juvenile detention centers administered separately by the Secretariat of Social Welfare. Crowding led to nonviolent juvenile offenders being held with violent adult offenders. On July 3 and July 24, riots occurred at the Las Gaviotas juvenile detention facility, resulting in injuries to dozens of prisoners. The riots were sparked by the killing of two inmates. The facility received citations in 2016 for housing 460 inmates in a facility designed for 250 and for dangerous and inhuman conditions.

Administration: The government’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the National Office for the Prevention of Torture (NOPT), both independent entities, are responsible for prisoner rights, receiving complaints, and conducting oversight of the prison system. The PDH and NOPT may submit recommendations to the prison system based on complaints. No independent agency or unit, however, has a mandate to change or implement policy or to act on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Congress delayed the election of NOPT rapporteurs by more than six months, while the PDH and civil society reported former rapporteurs were inactive and ineffective in their oversight mandate.

While the law requires authorities to permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities failed to investigate most allegations of inhuman conditions and treatment or to document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by local and international human rights groups, the Organization of American States, public defenders, and religious groups. The PDH and the NOPT also periodically visited prison facilities. The PDH reported it was sometimes difficult to gain access to the juvenile detention centers administered by the Secretariat of Social Welfare.

Improvements: During the year authorities implemented a correctional model to address corruption and overcrowding as well as the lack of personnel, equipment, and infrastructure in the penitentiary system. The model provided opportunities for the rehabilitation, education, and social reintegration of inmates and improved recruitment, selection, and training of staff. In March the first model correction center opened; it housed 63 female inmates by year’s end.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but there were credible reports of extrajudicial arrests, illegal detentions, and denial of timely access to a magistrate and hearing as required by law. Suspects are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. If successful, their release usually took several days. There was no compensation for those ruled unlawfully detained.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNC, which is overseen by the Ministry of Government and headed by a director general appointed by the ministry, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country. The Ministry of National Defense oversees the military, which focuses primarily on operations in defense of the country, but the government also used the army in internal security and policing as permitted by the constitution.

Civilian authorities in some instances failed to maintain effective control over the PNC, and the government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. At times the PNC struggled to deploy its resources effectively across the country.

There were reports of impunity involving security forces. In cases involving police forces, the ORP is responsible for internal investigations and the Public Ministry is responsible for external investigations. Authorities arrested approximately 210 police officials from January through September, compared with 376 in all of 2016. A police reform commission, established by a previous administration, has a legal mandate to make necessary changes to reform police forces. The commission’s infrastructure unit provided design support for the establishment of model police precincts throughout the country.

The ORP reported that from January through August, there were 17 complaints of police extortion and 290 for abuse of authority, compared with 747 and 206, respectively, in all of 2016, according to the Public Ministry’s Strategic Planning Office. The PNC routinely transferred officers suspected of wrongdoing rather than investigating them.

Critics accused police of indiscriminate and illegal detentions when conducting antigang operations in some high-crime neighborhoods. For example, security officials allegedly arrested and imprisoned suspected gang members without warrants or on fabricated drug charges. The local press also reported police involvement in kidnappings for ransom.

In September, Guilber Josue Barrios, a soldier who allegedly drugged and raped a 14-year-old student at a civil military institute administered by the Ministry of Defense in March 2016, was captured in Mexico. On October 9, he was indicted.

The ORP conducted internal investigations of misconduct by police officers. During the first eight months of the year, the ORP reported receiving 1,222 complaints alleging misconduct by police.

All new PNC and soldiers receive some training in human rights and professional ethics. During the year the Ministry of Defense increased its Human Rights Directorate personnel from eight to 13 staff members and incorporated a gender integration unit.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires presentation of a court-issued warrant to a suspect prior to arrest unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. Police may not detain a suspect for more than six hours without bringing the case before a judge. Authorities did not regularly respect this right and did not promptly inform some detainees of the charges against them. After arraigning suspects, the prosecutor generally has three months to complete the investigation if the defendant is in pre-trial detentions, and six months to complete the investigation if the defendant is granted house arrest. The law prohibits the execution of search warrants between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless the government has declared a state of siege. Judges may order house arrest for some suspects. The law provides for access to lawyers and bail for most crimes. The government provides legal representation for indigent detainees, and detainees have access to family members. A judge has the discretion to determine whether bail is permissible for pretrial detainees.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were no reliable data on the number of arbitrary detentions. Most accounts, however, indicated that police ignored writs of habeas corpus in cases of illegal detention, particularly during neighborhood antigang operations.

Pretrial Detention: As of August 25, prison system records indicated 50.6 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention. The law establishes a one-year maximum for pretrial detention, regardless of the stage of the criminal proceeding, but the court has the legal authority to extend pre-trial detention without limits as necessary. Authorities regularly held detainees past their legal trial or release dates. Lengthy investigations and frequent procedural motions by both defense and prosecution often led to lengthy pretrial detentions, delaying trials for months or years. Authorities did not release some prisoners after completing their full sentences due to the failure of judges to issue the necessary court order or other bureaucratic delays.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and the law provide for an independent judiciary. The judicial system failed to provide fair or timely trials due to inefficiency, corruption, insufficient personnel, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses.

Judges, prosecutors, plaintiffs, and witnesses continued to report threats, intimidation, and surveillance, most often from drug trafficking organizations. By the end of August, the special prosecutor for crimes against judicial workers received 129 complaints of threats or aggression against workers in the judicial branch, compared with 192 through September 2016.

The CICIG assisted the Ministry of Government and Public Ministry with the investigation of cases including allegations of extrajudicial executions, extortion, trafficking in persons, improper adoptions, corruption, and drug trafficking.

The Supreme Court continued to pursue the suspension of judges and conduct criminal investigations of improprieties or irregularities in cases under its jurisdiction. From January through October 6, the Judicial Disciplinary Board investigated 573 complaints against judges of wrongdoing, held hearings on 105 complaints, and applied sanctions in 20 cases. During the same period, the Judicial Disciplinary Unit investigated 1,167 complaints of wrongdoing against technicians and judiciary administrative staff, held hearings on 519 complaints, and applied sanctions in 360 cases, including disciplinary suspension without pay (277 cases) and recommending dismissal (34 cases).

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, the presumption of innocence, the defendant’s right to be present at trial, and the right to legal counsel in a timely manner. The law requires the government to provide attorneys for defendants facing criminal charges if the defendant cannot find or afford an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys may confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for plea bargaining and the right of appeal. Three-judge panels render verdicts. The law provides for oral trials and mandates free language interpretation for those needing it; however, interpreters were not always available. Officials conduct trials in Spanish, the official language, although many citizens only speak one of the 23 officially recognized indigenous languages.

The Public Ministry, acting semi-independently of the executive branch, may initiate criminal proceedings on its own or in response to a complaint. Private parties may participate in the prosecution of criminal cases as plaintiffs.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations have access to administrative and judicial remedies to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation or other alleged wrongs. While the judiciary was generally impartial and independent in civil matters, it suffered from inefficiencies, excessive workload, and a legal system that often permits time-consuming but spurious complaints.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In September 2016 President Jimmy Morales dismissed Jorge Lopez, the secretary of administrative and security matters of the president, and his deputy, Cesar Sagastume, for alleged illegal surveillance. At year’s end the case was under investigation by the Public Ministry. Media sources reported that former presidential advisor and member of congress Herbert Melgar’s name also appeared in the criminal complaint filed with the Public Ministry. Melgar was not charged, however, and continued to serve in congress.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including of the press, and the government generally respected these rights. The intimidation of journalists resulted in significant self-censorship, however.

Press and Media Freedom: There were no legal restrictions on the editorial independence of the media. Reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

Violence and Harassment: Members of the press continued to report violence and impunity impaired the practice of free and open journalism. Members of the press reported numerous threats by public officials, and criminal organizations increased journalists’ sense of vulnerability.

According to the Public Ministry, 40 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists, and three journalists were killed from January through the middle of September, compared with 87 complaints and eight killings in all of 2016.

The investigation remained open at year’s end regarding the 2016 killing of radio journalist Alvaro Alfredo Aceituno Lopez.

On November 7, the Supreme Court lifted the parliamentary immunity of congressman Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez based on allegations from the Public Ministry and CICIG that he ordered the killing of journalist Danilo Efrain Zapon Lopez in 2015 in Mazatenango, Suchitepequez. Journalist Federico Benjamin Salazar Geronimo was also killed in the attack and reporter Marvin Tunches was injured. On October 12, Sergio Waldemar Cardona Reyes and German Morataya were convicted and sentenced to 30 and two years in prison, respectively, for their involvement in the Lopez killing.

The Public Ministry employed a unit dedicated to the investigation of threats and attacks against journalists. The NGO Center for Reporting in Guatemala noted that the unit had few resources.

Civil society organizations reported that sexual harassment of female journalists was widespread but rarely reported.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from various public officials regarding the content of their reporting. Some owners and members of media also accused the government of following a discriminatory advertising policy that penalized or rewarded print and broadcast media based on whether the government perceived the news or commentary as supportive or critical.

The online newsmagazine Nomada reported threats against individual reporters and magazine leadership. Editors used armored vehicles due to fear of attack. After reporting on undisclosed bonuses given by the Ministry of Defense to President Morales, Nomada’s website was targeted in a denial-of-service attack for several days. Nomada published the story on its Facebook account until service was restored. Nomada had experienced similar attacks previously.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized crime exerted influence over media outlets and reporters, frequently threatening individuals for reporting on criminal activities.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 35 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were reports, however, of significant barriers to organizing in the labor sector (see section 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. An immigration law passed in September 2016 overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The preparation of regulations to implement the law, including on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end.

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The country does not have laws in place to protect internally displaced persons in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern regarding violence against IDPs and strengthened its efforts to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change. In June the government evicted an estimated 400 farmers for illegally settling within the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) characterized the evictees as IDPs. Media and civil society reported that the evictees did not receive government assistance in a timely manner.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country approved 39 refugee applications from January through September. The number of asylum applications from El Salvador increased between 2016 and 2017. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked awareness of the rules for establishing refugee status.

UNHCR reported that access to education for refugees was challenging due to the country’s sometimes onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal and equal suffrage for those ages 18 and older. Members of the armed forces, police, and incarcerated individuals are not eligible to vote.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 Jimmy Morales of the National Convergence Front (FCN) party defeated National Unity of Hope candidate Sandra Torres in a second round of voting and was sworn in as president in January 2016. An Organization of American States international election observation mission characterized the elections as generally free and fair. The Attorney General’s Office continued to investigate allegations of illicit campaign financing in the 2015 elections and petitioned for immunity reviews against three parties’ secretaries general, including Morales. In July the Supreme Electoral Tribunal imposed a fine of 441,000 quetzales ($60,000) on the FCN for campaign finance irregularities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Traditional and cultural practices, in addition to discrimination and institutional bias, however, limited the political participation of women and members of indigenous groups.

While the indigenous population constituted 44 percent of the population, according to the latest 2002 government census, indigenous representation in national government was minimal. There was one indigenous female member of the cabinet, one on the Constitutional Court, and one on the Supreme Court. There were approximately 20 indigenous members of Congress. Indigenous individuals comprised a larger share of elected local government officials, filling 113 of the 333 mayoral seats elected in 2015.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, many of which the Public Ministry and CICIG investigated and prosecuted on charges including money laundering, illegal political party financing, and bribery.

Corruption: On July 17, the CICIG and Public Ministry brought charges against Julio Ligorria, former ambassador to the United States, and Alejandro Sinibaldi, former communications minister, in connection with a wide-reaching corruption investigation of jailed former president Otto Perez Molina. According to the investigators, Ligorria and Sinibaldi organized a network of construction companies to funnel two million dollars from a telecommunications company to support the election campaigns of Perez Molina’s Patriotic Party. Sinibaldi was linked with several additional cases of bribery and influence trafficking during the Perez Molina administration. Spanish authorities arrested Ligorria in Madrid in September. Sinibaldi remained a fugitive.

On February 2, at the request of the Public Ministry and CICIG, congress revoked the immunity of Supreme Court Justice Blanca Aida Stalling Davila. On February 8, she was arrested on influence peddling charges for pressuring the judge overseeing a criminal case against her son. Since May 2016, three Supreme Court justices were removed from office to face criminal charges.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials who earn more than 8,000 quetzales ($1,090) per month or who manage public funds are subject to financial disclosure laws overseen and enforced by the Comptroller General’s Office. The financial disclosures were available to the public upon request. Administrative and criminal sanctions apply for inadequate or falsified disclosures of assets.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of security force members, to form and join trade unions of their choice, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law, however, places some restrictions on these rights. For example, legal recognition of an industrywide union requires the membership constitute a majority of the workers in an industry and restricts union leadership to citizens. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union activities and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for organizing union activities. A strike must have the support of the majority of a company’s workforce.

The president and cabinet may suspend any strike deemed “gravely prejudicial to the country’s essential activities and public services.” The government defined “essential services” more broadly than international standards, thus denying the right to strike to a large number of public workers, such as those working in education, postal services, transport, and the production, transportation, and distribution of energy. Public employees may address grievances by means of conciliation for collective disputes and arbitration directly through the labor courts. For sectors considered essential, arbitration is compulsory if there is no agreement after 30 days of conciliation.

The law prohibits employer retaliation against workers engaged in legal strikes. If authorities do not recognize a strike as legal, employers may suspend or terminate workers for absence without leave. A factory or business owner is not obligated to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement unless at least 25 percent of workers in the factory or business are union members and request negotiations.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Government institutions, such as the Ministry of Labor and the labor courts, did not effectively investigate, prosecute, or punish employers who violated freedom of association and collective bargaining laws or reinstate workers illegally dismissed for engaging in union activities. In addition the Public Ministry was ineffective in responding to labor court referrals for criminal prosecution in cases where employers refused to comply with labor court orders. Inspectors often lacked vehicles or fuel to carry out inspections, and in some cases they failed to take effective action to gain access to worksites in response to employers’ refusal to permit labor inspectors access to facilities, including failing to seek police assistance as required. Penalties for labor law violations range from two to 18 minimum monthly salaries ($665 to $6,000), but the penalties were inadequate and rarely enforced.

The Labor Ministry lacked the capability to impose fines or otherwise sanction employers for labor law violations discovered during inspections until June, when sanction authority was restored via the passage of law 07-2017. Until that point, the Labor Ministry had to refer the cases to the labor court. Employers frequently refused to respect court decisions favorable to workers and were rarely sanctioned for doing so. Reinstatement proceedings were frequently prolonged due to appeals and employers’ widespread use of tactics such as reincorporation as a different entity. For example, courts faced difficulties in providing notification of their orders when employers listed incorrect addresses or refused access to the court official delivering notification. The length of time to process cases for the reinstatement of workers and other labor law violations was excessive, often taking two to four years and sometimes longer.

The Special Prosecutor’s Unit for Crimes against Unionists within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights in the Public Ministry was responsible for investigating attacks and threats against union members as well as for noncompliance with judicial orders in labor cases. Staffing for the unit increased from 12 in 2016 to 19. According to Public Ministry statistics, the unit won two convictions in cases involving violence against union members. The CICIG highlighted several factors that negatively affected investigations, including a lack of methodological planning and continuity among prosecutors, delays in conducting the criminal investigation, and witnesses’ fear of making declarations. In cases of noncompliance with labor court orders, the government reported that, of 2,312 cases referred (including a backlog from previous years), only four resulted in convictions, with the vast majority of cases still under investigation.

The Ministry of Government operated a personal protection program that included some trade unionists. The ministry reported two union members received personal security protection measures during the year, and 28 received perimeter security measures. In October 2016 the ministry revised a 2014 Protocol for the Implementation of Immediate and Preventive Security Measures for Human Rights Activists, with input from the trade unions, but union confederations indicated the protocol had not been applied, and there was minimal progress toward ensuring the protection of threatened trade union officials and members. The unions and the ILO called for increased personal security for union leaders and members, ensuring the beneficiaries of such protection did not have to bear any costs related to their protection. Local unions and the ILO urged authorities to more effectively investigate the killings of 87 trade unionists since 2004, including consideration of antiunion motives. This included more effective application of General Instruction No. 1-2015, adopted in 2015 to improve the effectiveness of such investigations.

In 2013 the government and the unions signed a Memorandum of Understanding and developed a roadmap to implement it. An ILO special representative monitored the roadmap, which includes indicators on increased compliance with reinstatement orders, increased prosecution of perpetrators of violence against trade unionists, reforms to national legislation to conform to Convention 87, and unimpeded registration of trade unions. The instruments were developed for each indicator to avoid the establishment of an ILO Commission of Inquiry based on a complaint filed in 2012 that stated the government had not complied with ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association. In 2015, in part due to the lack of progress in implementing the roadmap, there was tripartite agreement between the government, unions, and employers to develop a set of key indicators to measure progress on the roadmap. During the year the government took some steps to implement the roadmap. In November the government submitted two legislative proposals related to the ILO roadmap to Congress (i.e., legislation to restore sanction authority to the Ministry of Labor and legislation to address long-standing ILO recommendations related to freedom of association and the right to strike). The Public Ministry increased the personnel for the Special Prosecutor’s Unit for Crimes against Unionists, and the Ministry of Government convened the Interagency Committee to Analyze Attacks Against Human Rights Defenders (INSTANCIA), including trade unionists on a regular basis.

Despite these efforts, the country did not demonstrate measurable progress in the effective enforcement of its labor laws, particularly those related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The ILO noted the need for additional urgent action in several areas related to the roadmap, including investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of trade union violence; the adoption of protection measures for union officials; passage of legislative reforms to remove obstacles to freedom of association and the right to strike; and raising awareness of the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, particularly in the apparel and textile industries. The ILO also called for greater compliance with reinstatement orders in cases of antiunion dismissals. During its most recent session in November, based in large part on the submission of the above-referenced legislative initiatives, the ILO Governing Body deferred a decision on establishing a commission of inquiry until March 2018.

Violence and threats against trade unionists and labor activists remained serious problems, with three killings of trade unionists and two violent attacks with a firearm reported in 2016. Authorities did not thoroughly investigate most acts of violence and threats, and by often discarding trade union activity as a motive from the outset of the investigation, allowed these acts to go unprosecuted. Several labor leaders reported death threats and other acts of intimidation.

Procedural hurdles, union formation restrictions, and impunity for employers refusing to receive or ignoring court orders limited freedom of association and collective bargaining. Government statistics on attempted union registrations indicated most registrations were initially rejected, and when they were issued, it was done outside the legally established timeframes. In addition credentials of union leaders were regularly rejected and delayed. As a result union members were left without additional protections against antiunion retaliation.

Employers routinely resisted union formation attempts, delayed or only partially complied with agreements resulting from direct negotiations, and ignored judicial rulings requiring the employer to negotiate with recognized unions. There were credible reports of retaliation by employers against workers who tried to exercise their rights, including numerous complaints filed with the Ministry of Labor and the Public Ministry alleging employer retaliation for union activity. Common practices included termination and harassment of workers who attempted to form unions, creation of illegal company-supported unions to counter legally established unions, blacklisting of union organizers, and threats of factory closures. If workers joined a union or refused to disaffiliate, employers threatened not to renew their contracts or offer subcontracted workers permanent employment.

There were reports that management or its agents harassed and threatened workers who did not accept employer dismissals or refused to forfeit their right to reinstatement. According to government statistics, employers failed to comply with 62 percent of labor courts’ reinstatement orders issued in 2014-16, and in 18 percent of cases, the labor court could not carry out the reinstatement, at times due to incorrect addresses. In some cases employers did not reinstate workers to their prior positions and often failed to pay the back wages owed to them, as well as court-ordered fines. Local unions reported businesses used fraudulent bankruptcies, ownership substitution, and reincorporation of companies to circumvent legal obligations to recognize newly formed or established unions, despite legal restrictions on such practices.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government failed to enforce the law effectively in some cases. Reports persisted of men and women subjected to forced labor in agriculture and domestic service. Penalties ranging from two to 18 minimum monthly salaries ($665 to $6,000) were inadequate and rarely enforced. Criminal penalties for forced labor range from eight to 18 years’ imprisonment. The government lacked sufficient resources (e.g., labor inspectors, vehicles, equipment) to conduct effective and regular inspection or to pursue remediation for forced labor cases. The government had specialized police and prosecutors handle cases of human trafficking, including forced labor, although local experts reported some prosecutors lacked adequate training. In July the Public Ministry arrested two sisters who forced six children to beg in the streets for money. The case remained pending at year’s end. There were also other reports of forced child labor (see section 7.c.).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, age, and disability. The government did not effectively enforce the law and related regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred. Anecdotally, wage discrimination based on race and sex occurred often in rural areas.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets national minimum wages for agricultural and nonagricultural work and for work in garment factories. The minimum wage for agricultural and nonagricultural work and for work in export-sector-regime factories did not meet the minimum food budget for a family of five. Minimum wage earners are due a mandatory monthly bonus of 250 quetzales ($34), and salaried workers receive two mandatory yearly bonuses (a Christmas bonus and a “14th month” bonus), each equivalent to one month’s salary.

The legal workweek is 48 hours with at least one paid 24-hour rest period. Workers are not to work more than 12 hours a day. The law provides for 12 paid annual holidays and paid vacation of 15 days after one year’s work. Daily and weekly maximum hours limits do not apply to domestic workers. Workers in the formal sector receive the standard pay for a day’s work for official annual holidays. Time-and-a-half pay is required for overtime work, and the law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards that were inadequate, not current for all industries, and poorly enforced. The law does not provide for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections to monitor compliance with minimum wage law provisions but often lacked the necessary vehicles or fuel to enable inspectors to enforce the law, especially in the agricultural and informal sectors. The ministry employed a sufficient number of labor inspectors to deter violations, although many of them performed conciliation or administrative duties rather than clearly defined inspection duties.

Labor inspectors reported uncovering numerous instances of overtime abuses, but effective enforcement was undermined due to inadequate fines and labor courts’ reluctance to use compulsory measures, such as increased fines and referrals to the criminal courts, to obtain compliance. Other factors contributing to the lack of effective enforcement included labor court inefficiencies, employer refusal to permit labor inspectors to enter facilities or provide access to payroll records and other documentation, and inspectors’ lack of follow-up inspections in the face of such refusals. Labor inspectors were not authorized to sanction employers but had to refer alleged violations to the labor courts. Due to inefficient and lengthy court proceedings, the resolution of cases was often delayed, in many instances for several years. Employers failing to provide a safe workplace were rarely sanctioned, and legislation requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide onsite medical facilities for their workers was not enforced.

Trade union leaders and human rights groups reported employers required workers to work overtime without legally mandated premium pay. Management often manipulated employer-provided transportation to worksites to force employees to work overtime, especially in export processing zones located in isolated areas with limited transportation alternatives. Noncompliance with minimum wage provisions in the agricultural and informal sectors was widespread. Advocacy groups estimated the vast majority of workers in rural areas who engaged in daylong employment did not receive the wages, benefits, or social security allocations required by law. Many employers in the agricultural sector reportedly conditioned payment of the minimum daily wage on excessive production quotas that workers generally were unable to meet. In order to meet the quota, workers felt compelled to work extra hours, sometimes bringing family members, including children, to help with the work. Because of having to work beyond the maximum allowed hours per day, workers received less than the minimum wage for the day and did not receive the required overtime pay. According to ILO statistics, 74 percent of the workforce worked in the informal sector and outside the basic protections afforded by law.

Local unions highlighted and protested violations by employers who failed to pay employer and employee contributions to the national social security system despite employee contribution deductions from workers’ paychecks. These violations, particularly common in export and agricultural industries, resulted in limiting or denying employees’ access to the public health system and reducing or underpaying workers’ pension benefits during their retirement years.

Honduras

Executive Summary

Honduras is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country held national and local elections in November. Voters elected Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party as president for a four-year term to begin in January 2018. International observers generally recognized the elections to be free, but disputed the fairness and transparency of the results.

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

The most significant human rights issues included alleged arbitrary and unlawful killings; a complaint of torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; unlawful interference with privacy; killings of and threats to media members by criminal elements and criminalization of libel; widespread government corruption, including in the judiciary; threats and violence against indigenous and Afro-descendent communities; and societal violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons..

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses. Impunity existed in many cases, however, as evidenced by lengthy judicial processes, few convictions of perpetrators, and failures to prosecute intellectual authors of crimes. Perpetrators in emblematic cases dating back many years, such as the 2009 killing of the antidrug czar Julian Aristides Gonzalez, continued to enjoy impunity.

Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of murder, extortion, kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence directed against human rights defenders, judicial authorities, lawyers, the business community, journalists, bloggers, and women and other members of vulnerable populations.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In general the killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to other criminal activity by government agents. Civilian authorities investigated and arrested members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings. The Violence Observatory of the Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) reported 11 deaths involving security forces during the first six months of the year. These included nine deaths involving the Honduran National Police (HNP) and two involving the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP). Following the November 26 elections, protests, looting, and clashes between protesters and security forces occurred through the end of the year. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claimed security forces used excessive force to break up protests and killed between 16 and 22 individuals. Additional deaths were reported not at the hands of security forces but possibly related to postelectoral violence. An improvised explosive device killed at least one police officer during the violence. Authorities publicly stated they would investigate alleged human rights abuses and hold accountable members of the security forces who committed such abuses. They were also investigating individuals not part of the security forces for acts of violence and other criminal activity.

On February 20, authorities arrested Lelis Wilfredo Aguilar Fernandez, an HNP officer assigned to the Police Intelligence Unit, for the February 20 killing of Josue Matias Deras. Witnesses claimed that Aguilar shot Matias in the back at close range during a search operation and then planted a weapon at the crime scene in an attempt to claim the killing occurred in self-defense. On February 24, a judge ordered Aguilar held in custody pending trial.

The government continued to investigate the March 2016 killing of environmental and indigenous activist Berta Caceres. On January 12, a seventh suspect was arrested in Mexico in a joint operation between Honduran and Mexican officials and returned to Honduras. On February 8, Honduran authorities arrested an eighth suspect. On June 13, a judge found sufficient evidence against the first four suspects, arrested in May 2016, to retain them in custody and continue to criminal trial. This included a suspect who was an active-duty military officer at the time of the killing. On November 20, authorities arrested one current and one former Honduran National Police officer for tampering with evidence in the case.

On February 28, a court convicted military intelligence officers Elmer Eliazar Mejia Aguilar and Jose Luis Melgar Deras, members of the Office of the Director General for Military Intelligence (C-2), of the 2014 premediated killings of siblings Ramon Eduardo Diaz Rodriguez and Zenia Maritza Diaz Rodriguez. A judge ordered two other suspects on trial released.

On February 13, prosecutors and investigators from the Public Ministry and its Technical Criminal Investigation Agency arrested Wilmer Samuel Alvarez Pagoada as a suspect in the 2013 killing of chief money-laundering prosecutor Orlan Arturo Chavez. Authorities also issued an arrest warrant for former police commissioner Mario Guillermo Mejia Vargas on suspicion of organizing the killing. In 2013 two men on motorcycles fatally shot Chavez. Alvarez, a lawyer and computer expert, and Luis Alejandro Castro Nunez, formerly chief of security monitoring for the Supreme Court and a member of the military, were the suspected shooters. Castro was already in prison on other charges. The Police Purge Commission removed Mejia from the police in 2016. He surrendered to foreign authorities in 2016 for drug trafficking and was on trial in a foreign country. A judge ordered Castro and Alvarez detained in a maximum-security prison pending trial.

On September 8, a court sentenced Marvin Noe Andino Mascareno to 17 years’ imprisonment for the attempted murder of Hilda Emperatriz Caldera, widow of murdered antidrug official Alfredo Landaverde. Andino was sentenced in January 2016 to 22 years in prison for Landaverde’s murder. Caldera was wounded in that attack, which occurred in 2011, but attempted murder charges against Andino were dismissed by the trial court. The Public Ministry appealed the dismissal, which the Supreme Court overturned, and the attempted murder case was returned to the lower court.

There continued to be reports of violence related to land conflicts and criminal activity in the Bajo Aguan region, but the overall level of violence in the area was far below its 2012 peak. Beginning on August 27, several agricultural worker groups occupied at least seven African palm plantations in the Bajo Aguan region. During the occupations one worker was reportedly shot and injured by a plantation security guard. Following the eviction on August 28 of a worker group from a plantation owned by the Dinant Corporation, two Dinant security guards were found dead. An agricultural worker was found killed on September 20. Two security guards were detained for possible involvement in the killing but were released following forensic tests. Authorities carried out several peaceful evictions of agricultural workers in August and September. As of September 25, authorities continued to investigate the new killings. Denis Ramon Mejia Castillo was arrested in September for the killings of Manuel Milla Ruiz and Allan Reynery Perez in 2016. No members of the security forces were reported to have been responsible for deaths related to the land conflict.

Organized criminal elements, including drug traffickers and local and transnational gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, committed killings, extortion, kidnappings, human trafficking, and intimidation of police, prosecutors, journalists, women, and human rights defenders. Major urban centers and drug trafficking routes experienced disproportionate rates of violence. The UNAH Violence Observatory reported that as of September, 84 individuals working in the transportation sector had been killed during the year, often for failing to make extortion payments. This represented a 52 percent reduction from 2016.

According to the UNAH Violence Observatory, as of September there was a significant reduction in the overall annual homicide rate compared with 2016, dropping from approximately 60 per 100,000 to an estimated 46.5 per 100,000. Reports linked many of these homicides to organized crime and gangs.

As of November the Public Ministry’s Bajo Aguan Task Force (created in 2014 to investigate cold homicide cases related to land conflicts), had obtained five convictions and four new arrest warrants, made five arrests, and referred six new cases for prosecution. The task force performed 20 exhumations. Since its inception, the task force obtained 44 arrest warrants, made 23 arrests for homicides related to the land conflict, and secured 11 homicide convictions.

b. Disappearance

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

The government continued to make significant advances in combatting kidnappings by criminals. On September 23, authorities rescued journalist and opposition Liberal Party political candidate Victor Manuel Pineda, whose family reported him kidnapped on September 4. The HNP reported 22 kidnappings in 2016, a 45-percent decrease from 2015 and 76-percent decrease from 2013. The HNP reported that in 2016 it rescued 18 victims of the 22 kidnapped. Three more were freed through negotiations, and one was killed while a hostage. The HNP estimated that it prevented more than 56 million lempiras ($2.37 million) in ransom payments to kidnappers in 2016.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, government officials received complaints and investigated alleged abuse by members of the security forces on the streets and in detention centers. As of September the NGO Center for the Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Families (CPTRT) reported one complaint against security forces for torture.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to pervasive gang-related violence and the government’s failure to control criminal activity within the prisons. Prisoners suffered from overcrowding, insufficient access to food and water, violence, and abuse by prison officials.

Physical Conditions: Prisoners suffered from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of adequate sanitation and medical care, and, in some prisons, lack of adequate ventilation and lighting. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that, as of August 21, the total prison population was 18,950 in 27 prisons, a 10-percent increase over August 2016. According to the ministry, the system had designed capacity for approximately 10,600 inmates. This included two prisons that were opened in late 2016 with capacity for 1,600 inmates. In October and November, the government closed the San Pedro Sula prison and the Santa Barbara prison, two of the most overcrowded facilities and both located in city centers, and transferred the inmates to other facilities. Family members and NGOs complained that transfer to prisons farther away increased cost of visits and made it more difficult for prisoners to maintain family relationships. Local authorities were concerned about additional overcrowding and limited rehabilitation resources.

The National Prison Institute (INP) reported that as of August 28, 23 male inmates had died in prison, 16 from natural causes, and seven from violence. The INP reported no deaths involving prison officials. In contrast, the quasi-governmental National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CONAPREV) reported that 19 prisoners died in altercations between inmates, three committed suicide, and four died from illness. In August and September, authorities discovered clandestine graveyards in the Tamara prison in areas controlled by MS-13 gang members following the transfer of gang leaders to a new high-security prison. Forensic authorities reported that some of the bodies had been buried more than four years.

As of August the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that the country’s four pretrial detention centers held 49 individuals. Three of these centers were on military installations, and the other was located at the HNP’s Special Operations Command (known as COBRAS). The government used pretrial detention centers to hold high-profile suspects and those in need of additional security. The military provided some support services to the three detention centers located on military bases, but neither administered them nor provided guards for the facilities. Instead, the INP oversaw them, as it did other prisons.

Due to overcrowding and lack of adequate training for prison staff, prisoners were subjected to serious abuse. Prisons lacked trained personnel to safeguard the psychological and physical well-being of inmates, and some prisons lacked sufficient security personnel.

There was pervasive gang-related violence, and the government failed to control criminal activity within the prisons. Many prisoners had access to weapons and other contraband, inmates attacked other inmates with impunity, escapes were frequent, and inmates and their associates outside prison threatened prison officials and their families. These conditions contributed to an unstable, dangerous environment in the penitentiary system. Media reported multiple prison riots and violent confrontations between gang members in prisons throughout the year.

The government took steps to control violence by transferring the highest-security detainees–primarily gang members and violent convicts–to two newer maximum-security prisons. High-security detainees complained that authorities confined them to their cells for long periods and restricted their access to family members and legal representation.

The government held approximately one-half of its estimated 355 female prisoners at a facility for mothers with young children and pregnant women. Others were housed in separate areas of men’s prisons. In the San Pedro Sula prison, for instance, approximately 70 women resided in their own wing of the prison but shared communal space with upwards of 2,900 men. Children up to age three could stay with their mothers in prison.

Authorities did not segregate those with tuberculosis or other infectious diseases from the general prison population; there was only limited support for persons with mental illnesses or disabilities. On September 21, officials reported that 201 prisoners were being treated for tuberculosis, including three inmates with drug-resistant tuberculosis under treatment at the national cardio-pulmonology institute. The officials also stated that tuberculosis-positive inmates received a monthly stipend to pay for special food. CONAPREV reported that every prison had a functioning health clinic with at least one medical professional, except for the National Penitentiary in Francisco Morazan Department. Basic medical supplies and medicines, particularly antibiotics, were in short supply throughout the prison system. In most prisons only inmates who purchased bottled water or had water filters in their cells had access to potable water.

As of August the NGO Casa Alianza reported there were 574 minors (506 boys and 68 girls) in five juvenile detention centers, segregated by gender. This represented a 16-percent increase from 2016. NGOs expressed their concern that 45 minors, all of whom were gang members, were housed in the HNP COBRAS pretrial detention center. Casa Alianza reported 259 youths benefited from alternative sentencing outside the juvenile detention system (see section 6, Institutionalized Children). On June 1, one youth died due to injuries from a fire following a riot on May 23. On July 3, a 23-year-old prisoner was killed by fellow inmates after passing himself off as a minor. Civil society reported difficulty accessing some youth detention centers due to confrontations between inmates and authorities.

Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and could submit requests for the investigation of inhuman conditions to the director of the prison in which they were incarcerated. Directors could then transfer the complaints to the INP director. Prisoners also could file complaints with the INP’s Human Rights Protection Unit, the Public Ministry’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, and the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization. The National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH) also accepted complaints and conducted investigations. The results of investigations by NGOs and government officials were available to the public. As of August the INP reported receiving no formal complaints for mistreatment of detainees. The Public Ministry reported receiving 22 complaints of excessive force, two for mistreatment, and four for torture by prison officials. The ministry conducted 36 investigations in 2016 and 16 as of September. CONAPREV reported there were three complaints of torture and mistreatment in detention centers as of September. NGOs reported that some prisoners were reluctant to file official complaints because they did not trust the authorities and there was no effective system for witness protection (see also section 1.c.).

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent local and international human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. CONAPREV made more than a dozen visits to juvenile detention facilities as of the end of August. The judicial system was legally responsible for monitoring prison conditions and guaranteeing the rights of prisoners.

Improvements: In January the congress passed legal reforms to the INP in an effort to professionalize the prison guard system. On September 27, the congress passed a law to allow some nonviolent pretrial detainees to use electronic monitoring systems to reduce the overcrowding of prisons. The government reported refurbishing six existing penal facilities, including maintenance and improvements to kitchens, libraries, workshops, and administrative facilities.

During the year the government improved health services for prisoners. As of August the government had 18 general practitioners, seven specialists, 49 nurses, and a budget of 54 million lempiras ($2.29 million) to provide health services in prisons. In addition CONAPREV reported an increase in technical personnel, including public defenders, psychologists, and social workers, available to assist prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court. Human rights NGOs reported that authorities at times failed to enforce these requirements effectively and used a policy of arbitrary detentions or arrests to inhibit protest. CONADEH reported 12 cases of arbitrary arrest as of September. The Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras reported 23 illegal or arbitrary arrests: five by the PMOP, 13 by the HNP, and five by municipal police.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The HNP maintains internal security and reports to the Secretariat of Security. The Technical Agency for Criminal Investigations at the Public Ministry (Attorney General’s Office) has legal authority to investigate 21 types of crimes and make arrests. The armed forces, which report to the Secretariat of Defense, are responsible for external security but also exercise some domestic security responsibilities. Some larger cities have independent police forces that supplement the HNP and report to municipal authorities. The PMOP reports to military authorities but conducts operations sanctioned by civilian security officials as well as by military leaders. As of August the PMOP had approximately 4,000 personnel organized into eight of 10 planned battalions and was present in all 18 departments. The National Interinstitutional Security Force (FUSINA) coordinates the overlapping responsibilities of the HNP, PMOP, National Intelligence Directorate, Public Ministry, and national court system. FUSINA reports to the National Security and Defense Council. The president chairs the council, which includes representatives of the Supreme Court, National Congress, Public Ministry, and Secretariats of Security and Defense.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. The government took steps to investigate and punish abuses, but corruption and inefficiency resulted in impunity in many cases. The armed forces surrendered members accused of human rights violations to civilian authorities. The armed forces sometimes dishonorably discharged such individuals, even before a criminal trial. The Public Ministry, primarily through the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life, is responsible for investigating cases in which a government agent is allegedly responsible for killing a civilian. Prosecutors try such cases in civilian courts. Prosecutors and judges attached to FUSINA prosecute and hear cases related to FUSINA operations. A unit within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life manages some cases of homicides committed by members of the security forces and government officials. The human rights office of the joint staff of the armed forces investigated allegations of human rights abuses by members of the armed forces.

The human rights office of the joint staff of the armed forces reported that in 2016 more than 7,000 members of the armed forces, including army, navy, air force, PMOP, and others, received training on human rights and use of force. More than 3,000 received gender training. The armed forces and various NGOs provided the training. As of August the Vice Ministry of Human Rights and Justice had trained more than 3,500 members of the armed forces on human rights.

Corruption and impunity remained serious problems within the security forces. Some members of the HNP committed crimes, including crimes linked to local and international criminal organizations. As of August the CPTRT reported 55 cases of corruption linked to members of the security forces, including 33 prison officials.

As of November 30, the Police Purge Commission reported that, since its creation in April 2016, it had reviewed the conduct of approximately 14,000 HNP officers and removed 4,445.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law provides that police may make arrests only with a warrant, unless they make the arrest during the commission of a crime, there is strong suspicion that a person has committed a crime and might otherwise evade criminal prosecution, they catch a person in possession of evidence related to a crime, or a prosecutor has ordered the arrest. The law requires police to inform persons of the grounds for their arrest and bring detainees before a competent judicial authority within 24 hours. It stipulates that a prosecutor then has 24 additional hours to decide if there is probable cause for indictment, whereupon a judge has 24 more hours to decide whether to issue a temporary detention order. Such an order may be effective for up to six days, after which the judge must hold a pretrial hearing to examine whether there is probable cause to continue pretrial detention. The law allows persons charged with some felonies to avail themselves of bail and gives prisoners a right of prompt access to family members. The law allows the release of other suspects pending formal charges, on the condition that they periodically report to authorities. The government generally respected these provisions. Persons suspected of any of 22 specific felonies must remain in custody, pending the conclusion of judicial proceedings against them. Some judges, however, ruled that such suspects may be released on the condition that they continue to report periodically to authorities. The law grants prisoners the right to prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to government-provided counsel, although authorities did not always abide by these requirements.

Arbitrary Arrest: The Public Ministry reported 35 cases of illegal detention or arbitrary arrest as of October.

Pretrial Detention: Judicial inefficiency, corruption, and insufficient resources delayed proceedings in the criminal justice system, and lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem. According to the UNAH’s Violence Observatory, as of July, 55 percent of the prison population had not been convicted. For crimes with minimum sentences if convicted of six years’ imprisonment, the law authorizes pretrial detention of up to two years. The prosecution may request an additional six-month extension, but many detainees remained in pretrial detention much longer, including for more time than the maximum period of incarceration for their alleged crime. Pretrial detainees were often held with convicted prisoners. The law does not authorize pretrial detention for crimes with a maximum sentence of five years or less. The law mandates that authorities release detainees whose cases have not yet come to trial and whose time in pretrial detention already exceeds the maximum prison sentence for their alleged crime. Even so, many prisoners remained in custody after completing their full sentences, and sometimes even after an acquittal, because officials failed to process their releases expeditiously.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the justice system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and subject to intimidation, corruption, politicization, and patronage. Low salaries and a lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery. Powerful special interests, including organized criminal groups, exercised influence on the outcomes of some court proceedings. The Supreme Court approved a National Plan to Eradicate Judicial Delay, aimed at reducing wait times for court cases. As part of that plan, the court established three new mobile justices of the peace in July and inaugurated new courts: one in July, two in August, and two in October.

On June 30, Teodoro Bonilla, former vice president of the Judicial Council, was found guilty of influence peddling for using his position in the judiciary to obtain dismissal of charges against two relatives facing criminal prosecution for engaging in organized criminal activities. On September 11, Bonilla was sentenced to serve six years in prison and to pay a fine of 200,000 lempiras ($8,470), the first ever conviction for influence peddling by a government official. The Public Ministry had requested the maximum sentence of nine years’ imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 lempiras ($12,700).

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not always enforce this right.

The law presumes an accused person is innocent. The accused has the right to an initial hearing before a judge, to ask for bail, consult with legal counsel in a timely manner, have a lawyer provided by the state if necessary, and request an appeal. Defendants can receive free assistance of an interpreter, and the Supreme Court created a new public registry of interpreters in November to ensure that defendants had access to free interpretation. The law permits defendants to confront witnesses against them and offer witnesses and evidence in their defense. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Credible observers noted problems in trial procedures such as a lack of admissible evidence, judicial corruption, widespread public distrust of the legal system, witness intimidation, and an ineffective witness protection program.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law establishes an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to seek damages for human rights violations. Litigants may sue a criminal defendant for damages if authorized by a criminal court. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Inter-American Human Rights system.

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

Although the constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, a legal exception allows government authorities to enter a private residence to prevent a crime or in case of other emergency. There were credible complaints that police occasionally failed to obtain the required authorization before entering private homes. As of June the judicial system reported three convictions in 10 alleged cases of illegal entry by government officials. The CPTRT reported five cases of illegal entry into homes by members of the security forces as of August. There were also complaints that security forces entered private homes without the required authorization during a 10-day state of emergency and curfew imposed in December.

Ethnic minority rights leaders and farmworker organizations continued to claim that the government failed to redress actions taken by the security forces, government agencies, and private individuals and businesses to dislodge farmers and indigenous peoples from lands over which they claimed ownership based on land reform laws or ancestral land titles (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and laws provide for freedom expression, including for the press, with some restrictions, and the government generally respected this right. A small number of powerful business magnates with intersecting commercial, political, and family ties owned most of the major news media.

Freedom of Expression: The penal code includes a provision to punish persons who directly, or through public media, incite discrimination, hate, contempt, repression, or violence against a person, group, or organization for reasons of gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity.

Media associations and NGOs expressed concerns about revisions to the penal code in January that criminalize certain speech, including on social media, regarding terrorism.

Violence and Harassment: There were continued reports of harassment and threats against journalists and social communicators (including social and political commentators, talk-show hosts, and bloggers). Reports linked most of these instances of harassment and threats to organized criminal elements and gangs.

Government officials at all levels publicly denounced violence and threats of violence against members of the media and social communicators. UNAH’s Violence Observatory reported two killings of journalists and social communicators during the first six months of the year. For example, on January 17, journalist Igor Abisai Padilla Chavez was shot and killed. There were also many reports of intimidation and threats against members of the media and their families, including from members of the security forces and from organized crime. It was usually unclear whether violence and threats against journalists were linked to their work or were products of generalized violence.

Human rights defenders, including indigenous and environmental rights activists, political activists, labor activists, and representatives of civil society working to combat corruption, reported threats and acts of violence. Civil society organizations, including students, agricultural workers groups, and indigenous rights groups, criticized the government and its officials for allegedly criminalizing and stigmatizing social protest (see section 2.b.). Several senior state officials made public comments that local and international civil society organizations interpreted as threatening towards their members. This included the minister of environment, who in January suggested police should arrest members of international NGOs reporting on corrupt activities, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court at the midterm review of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, who stated domestic and international civil society acted in their own interests and presented false information that indirectly incited violence. Members of the Police Purge Commission, National Anti-Corruption Council, and Organization of American States’ Mission against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) reported receiving threats. Among others, Olivia and Berta Zuniga, the daughters of killed activist Berta Caceres, reported being targets of multiple threatening incidents. The AFL-CIO’s International Solidarity Center reported threats against several labor leaders, including public sector union leaders (also see section 7.a.). On April 13, melon-sector union leader Moises Sanchez Gomez reported being attacked by several individuals who warned him to cease his union activities. His brother Hermes Misael Sanchez Gomez was injured by a machete in the attack.

The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization continued to strengthen implementation of the 2015 Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Justice Operators. A key part of this law was the creation of a national mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders and others protected by law. Some NGOs continued to express concern about weak implementation of the law and limited resources available for the protection of human rights defenders. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the government’s failure to investigate threats against activists and journalists adequately.

The government allocated a budget of 10 million lempiras ($424,000) in 2016, and 15.2 million lempiras ($644,000) in 2017–10 million lempiras ($424,000) from the National Budget for the operation of the mechanism, and an additional 5 million lempiras ($212,000) for protective measures from the Security Tax for the protection mechanism. By June 30, it had 27 permanent and contract staff. As of June 30, the mechanism had received 81 new requests for protection, of which 62 met the requirements of the law and were accepted. This increased the total requests for protection since the law’s approval in 2015 to 168. Of these, it had accepted 118, and from these, 14 cases were closed because the beneficiaries had left the country or had rejected the protection measures. The remaining 104 cases included 73 human rights defenders, 19 journalists, three social communicators, and nine justice-sector workers. Of these requests, 17 were from persons who were already beneficiaries of protection measures mandated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that the Human Rights Office of the Ministry of Security continued to implement. As of June 30, the Ministry of Security had transferred eight cases to the protection mechanism of 66 outstanding IACHR orders for protection in the country.

The HNP’s Violent Crimes Task Force (VCTF) investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including judges, journalists, human rights activists, and members of the LGBTI community. As of October 2, the VCTF had remitted 25 cases to the Public Ministry, carried out 34 raids with judicial orders, executed 12 warrants for capture, detained 26 persons involved in crimes, and obtained six judicial sentences.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of media and NGOs said the press self-censored due to fear of retaliation from organized crime or corrupt government officials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Citizens, including public officials, can initiate criminal proceedings for libel and slander. On September 7, indigenous Garifuna community activist Miriam Miranda issued an alert that police were attempting to arrest her following charges of slander brought by international businessmen over land disputes between the businessmen and Garifuna communities.

A health ministry official charged a union activist with slander after the activist filed charges with the Public Ministry that the official had paid to have him killed following his public statements about corrupt activities in a regional hospital. The Public Ministry conducted an investigation and brought charges against the official, but a judge found insufficient evidence to continue to trial. The official subsequently brought charges of slander against the union leader. A judge dismissed a request by the union leader to dismiss the charges and ordered the case to proceed to trial.

National Security: Reporters without Borders and other civil society organizations continued to express concerns about potential abuse of the law for the Classification of Public Documents Related to Defense and National Security. Beginning in the third quarter of 2015, the government made available to the public some information about activities that the security tax and other trust funds support, and it incorporated trust fund numbers into the current budget. In June MACCIH issued a report detailing the necessity of changing the law to effectively combat corruption.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some journalists and other members of civil society reported threats from members of organized crime. It was unclear how many of these threats were related to the victims’ professions or activism. Several anonymous social media sites, possibly linked to political parties, criticized activists, civil society organizations, and journalists who were critical of the government or opposition party policies.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2016 approximately 30 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law requires a judge to issue an eviction order for individuals occupying public and private property if security forces had not evicted the individuals within a specified period of the occupation. Some local and international civil society organizations, including students, agricultural workers groups, political parties, and indigenous rights groups, alleged that members of the security forces used excessive force to break up peaceful demonstrations. As results were delayed in the close presidential election, protests related to perceived fraud and manipulation of results broke out in late November and early December. Human rights organizations alleged that members of the security forces used excessive force in postelection violence and killed between 16 and 22 individuals. Some protesters were violent, attacking security forces and members of the media with weapons such as rocks and Molotov cocktails, killing at least one member of the security forces in December, damaging public and private property, and limiting access to public and private facilities. On several occasions police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse violent protesters. Authorities temporarily detained protesters wielding rocks, machetes, and other dangerous items and would sometimes press charges.

On August 15, during a protest over a hydroelectric project in the community of Pajuiles, police used tear gas to disperse the protesters and arrested five individuals for instigating violence. Protesters claimed they became violent only after police arrested the peaceful protest leaders and allegedly assaulted a pregnant woman in the process.

Many civil society leaders and organizations condemned a decision by UNAH leaders authorizing police to evict protesters on September 8 from the Tegucigalpa UNAH campus. During the eviction civil society organizations criticized police for excessive use of force against a group of students and human rights activists. The students claimed university security personnel locked them in a campus building when police ordered everyone to leave the campus. Police attempted to detain the students after they escaped from the locked building, at which point they locked themselves in a vehicle with human rights defenders who claimed they had arrived to monitor the situation. A video surfaced showing police pepper-spraying the group as they left the vehicle. Several of the individuals required medical attention, and police reportedly failed to provide it. The police claimed they used appropriate force and only acted following aggressive actions by some of the students. The Police Purge Commission called for the police officers involved to be suspended and the launch of a formal investigation. On September 26, a judge upheld charges of trespassing against the students and charges of attacking state security for three human rights activists.

Law enforcement evictions of protesters, land rights activists, and others were generally conducted peacefully, although injuries were occasionally reported. As with the UNAH students, the government charged some individuals with trespassing after they occupied disputed land or public buildings and required them to present themselves to judicial authorities periodically while legal proceedings against them were pending. Civil society organizations claimed that by doing so, the government was criminalizing social protest and favoring powerful business and political elites that had acquired resources through corruption and other criminal activity.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The penal code prohibits illicit association, defined as gatherings by persons bearing arms, explosive devices, or dangerous objects with the purpose of committing a crime, and prescribes prison terms of two to four years and a fine of 30,000 to 60,000 lempiras ($1,270 to $2,540) for anyone who convokes or directs an illicit meeting or demonstration. There were no reports of such cases during the year, although authorities charged some protesters with sedition. Public sector unions expressed concern over some officials refusing to honor existing bargaining agreements and firing union leaders. The law prohibits police from unionizing (see section 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Transiting migrants were vulnerable to abuse by criminal organizations.

In-country Movement: In practical terms there were areas where authorities could not assure freedom of movement because of criminal activity and a lack of significant government presence.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

In 2016 UNHCR estimated there were approximately 174,000 IDPs in the country. In 2016 CONADEH identified 87 new cases of forced displacement and 370 cases of individuals at risk of forced displacement. The CPTRT reported 166 new cases of forced displacement as of September. Internal displacement was generally caused by violence, national and transnational gang activity, human trafficking, and migrant smuggling. Official data on forced internal displacement was limited in part because gangs controlled many of the neighborhoods that were sources of internal displacement (see section 6, Displaced Children).

The government maintained an interinstitutional commission to address the problem of persons displaced by violence, which focused on policy development to address IDPs. In 2016 the commission presented a draft law to the cabinet for the prevention of internal displacement and protection of internally displaced persons that would clarify the role and presence of the commission and the types of government assistance provided to IDPs. In 2016 CONADEH also created a Forced Internal Displacement Unit (UDFI), in cooperation with UNHCR. The UDFI responded to claims of forced displacement with a focus on humanitarian assistance to victims and documentation of incidents and trends. Observers criticized the government for focusing on IDPs from a security standpoint, and not protection, and noted the commission and government response were hampered by limited budgetary resources, which prevented the law’s passage or the development or implementation of a holistic government response to internal displacement. On September 12, the government authorized the creation of an independent Secretariat for Human Rights effective January 1, 2018. The secretariat is to have a directorate to address IDP rights. The government hosted the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework conference in October and volunteered to be part of a UNHCR pilot program to respond to displacement.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law allows for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system to provide protection to refugees, but at times there were significant delays in processing provisional permits for asylum applicants. As of April authorities had received 14 applications for asylum, of which they approved three and continued to process the remainder.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the right to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal and equal suffrage. The law does not permit active members of the military or the civilian security forces to vote. The constitution prohibits practicing clergy from running for office or participating in political campaigns.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In December, Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party was declared the winner in the November 26 elections. International observers generally agreed the elections were free but disputed the fairness and transparency of the results. The Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union (EU) both fielded observer teams for the November 26 elections, and agreed that the margin of victory separating incumbent President Hernandez from challenger Salvador Nasralla was extremely close. The OAS mission found that this small margin, combined with numerous irregularities in vote processing, left it unable to say with certainty who won the presidential election. The EU electoral observation mission agreed that there were serious irregularities in the process, but concluded that the safeguards built into the system, including posting of voting results forms on a public website, helped ensure transparency. NGOs reported irregularities, including problems with voter rolls, the buying and selling of electoral workers’ credentials, and lack of transparency in campaign financing.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Civil society and opposition parties accused officials of using government resources to attract voters. A new law passed in January aims to help address this issue (see section 4, Financial Disclosure).

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women, however, suffered political violence, which ranged from harassment for voting against party lines to receiving death threats for their political participation.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but authorities did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The government took steps to address corruption at high levels in government agencies, including arresting and charging members of congress, judges, prosecutors, current and former senior officials, mayors and other local authorities, and police officers. The quasi-governmental National Anticorruption Council had an investigative unit of 15 persons. The council receives government funding, which obliges it to disclose the names of its investigators, making them vulnerable to reprisals. Council staff reported credible personal threats and attempts at intimidation. NGOs said that some individuals who reported public corruption also received threats.

The MACCIH began operations in the country in April 2016 with a mandate to prevent and combat corruption, reform the criminal justice system, reform aspects of the political and elections legal framework, and improve public security.

Corruption: Prosecutions of public-sector corruption predominantly targeted low-level officials and focused on charges of abuse of authority and misconduct in public office, which were easier to prove but carried lower penalties than illicit enrichment, fraud, and money laundering. There were reports that the government’s anticorruption institutions did not take sufficient steps to contain high-level corruption and were unwilling or lacked the professional capacity and resources to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those involved. On September 11, new anticorruption courts staffed with 11 judges and magistrates began operating in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. In May 2016 the Supreme Court ordered the creation of these special courts in order to investigate crimes including corruption, bribery, misuse of public office, misappropriation of public funds, and falsification of documents. Funded by the security tax, the courts were initially provided an approximately 6.5 million lempira ($275,000) budget, and in January judges were selected by a commission that included representatives from the NGO Association for a Better Society and the MACCIH.

On June 19, a tribunal of judges returned guilty verdicts against five former public officials for using shell companies to divert more than 290 million lempiras ($12.3 million) from the Social Security Institute. The tribunal also found defendant Mario Zelaya Rojas, the former director of the institute, guilty on charges of abuse of authority and fraud, and defendants Jose Ramon Bertetty and Vivian Melissa Juarez Fiallos guilty of violation of duties of public officials and fraud. This was the fourth conviction obtained by the Public Ministry against Zelaya and brought total convictions obtained in the case to 15. One of the convictions against Zelaya resulted in a sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment, the longest on corruption charges for a former public official in the history of the country.

On July 13, the MACCIH announced the start of an investigation into the private energy company Desarrollos Energeticos, SA (DESA), partially owned by the Atala family. Civil society long maintained that DESA, parent company of the controversial Agua Zarca hydroelectric plant, had ties to the killing of environmental activist Berta Caceres and that government corruption contributed to the climate of impunity surrounding her death. One DESA employee and one former DESA employee were among eight suspects being prosecuted for her killing.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws but did not always comply. The law mandates that the Supreme Auditing Tribunal monitor and verify disclosures. The tribunal published its reports on its website and published the names of public officials who did not comply with disclosure laws. In January the congress passed a Campaign Finance Law that created a Financing, Transparency, and Accountability Unit to improve political campaign fiscal transparency. On May 30, the congress elected and swore in three magistrates to oversee the unit, which falls under the purview of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. The new law and unit require political candidates and parties to open bank accounts and report all expenditures in an effort to increase transparency for elected government officials.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law grants workers the right to form and join unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and strike. It prohibits employer retribution against employees for engaging in trade union activities. The law places a number of restrictions on these rights, such as requiring that a recognized trade union represent at least 30 workers, prohibiting foreign nationals from holding union offices, and requiring that union officials work in the same substantive area of the business as the workers they represent. In 2016 the STSS administratively ruled that seasonal workers could not hold leadership positions in a union. Labor unions criticized this decision, saying it violated labor rights and international standards. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police, as well as certain other public employees, from forming labor unions.

The law requires an employer to begin collective bargaining once workers establish a union, and it specifies that if more than one union exists at a company the employer must negotiate with the largest.

The law allows only local unions to call strikes, prohibits labor federations and confederations from calling strikes, and requires that a two-thirds majority of both union and nonunion employees at an enterprise approve a strike. The law prohibits workers from legally striking until after they have attempted and failed to come to agreement with their employer, and it requires workers and employers to participate in a mediation and conciliation process. Additionally, the law prohibits strikes in a wide range of economic activities that the government has designated as essential services or that it considers would affect the rights of individuals in the larger community to security, health, education, and economic and social well-being.

The law prohibits certain public service employees from striking. The law permits workers in public health care, social security, staple food production, and public utilities (municipal sanitation, water, electricity, and telecommunications) to strike as long as they continue to provide basic services. The law also requires that public-sector workers involved in the refining, transportation, and distribution of petroleum products submit their grievances to the STSS before striking. The International Labor Organization (ILO) expressed concerns that restricting strikes in so many sectors was excessive. The law permits strikes by workers in export processing zones and free zones for companies that provide services to industrial parks, but it requires that strikes not impede the operations of other factories in such parks.

The STSS has the power to declare a work stoppage illegal, and employers may discipline employees consistent with their internal regulations, including firing strikers, if the STSS rules that a work stoppage is illegal. The ILO expressed concerns about the government’s authority to end disputes in several sectors, including oil production and transport, because such authority is vulnerable to abuse.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. A new law passed during the year substantially increases fines for labor law violations and updates the authorities of Ministry of Labor inspectors. Under the new law, the STSS can fine companies that violate the right to freedom of association. The law permits a fine of 300,000 lempiras ($12,700) per violation. If a company unlawfully dismisses founding union members or union leaders, the law stipulates that employers must also pay a fine equivalent to six months of the dismissed leaders’ salaries to the union itself. As of October 13, every fine imposed under the new law was under appeal, and no case had been resolved. The new law streamlines the process so that when the STSS imposes fines, inspectors no longer have to clear them through the Central Office of the Inspector General, a requirement that added a year or more to the time between an inspection and a fine. Both the STSS and the courts may order a company to reinstate workers, but the STSS lacked the means to ensure compliance. The reinstatement process in the courts was unduly long, lasting from six months to more than five years.

Workers had difficulty exercising the rights to form and join unions and to engage in collective bargaining, and the government failed to enforce applicable laws effectively. Public-sector trade unionists raised concerns about government interference in trade union activities, including its suspension or ignoring of collective agreements and its dismissals of union members and leaders.

Although there is no legal requirement that they do so, STSS inspectors generally accompanied workers when they notified their employer of their intent to form a union. In some cases STSS inspectors, rather than workers, directly notified employers of workers’ intent to organize. Workers reported that the presence and participation of the STSS reduced the risk that employers would dismiss the union’s founders and later claim they were unaware of efforts to unionize.

Civil servants frequently engaged in illegal work stoppages without experiencing reprisals. Medical professionals and others continued to hold strikes throughout the year to protest arrears in salary and overtime.

Some employers either refused to engage in collective bargaining or made it very difficult to do so. Some companies also delayed appointing or failed to appoint representatives for required STSS-led mediation, a practice that prolonged the mediation process and impeded the right to strike. There were allegations that companies used collective pacts, which are collective contracts with nonunionized workers, to prevent unionization and collective bargaining because only one collective contract can exist in each workplace. Unions also raised concerns about the use of temporary contracts and part-time employment, suggesting that employers used these mechanisms to prevent unionization and avoid providing full benefits. A Supreme Court ruling requires that both unions and employers notify the STSS of new collective agreements before they go into effect. There were some complaints that employers delayed making such notifications.

Antiunion discrimination continued to be a serious problem. The three major union federations and several civil society groups noted that many companies paid the fines that government authorities imposed but continued to violate the law. Some failed to remedy violations despite multiple visits by STSS inspectors. Employers often threatened to close unionized factories and harassed or dismissed workers seeking to unionize. Local unions, the AFL-CIO’s International Solidarity Center, and other organizations reported that some employers dismissed union leaders in attempts to undermine union operations. Civil society organizations regularly raised concerns about practices by agricultural companies, particularly in the south. As of August the Solidarity Center reported that it was aware of 25 cases of individuals fired for union activism. In 2015 the STSS levied 650,000 lempiras ($27,500) in fines on 134 companies for labor rights violations. As part of a bilateral Monitoring and Action Plan signed by the minister of labor in 2015, in March the government increased fines for violations of labor laws through the new labor inspection law.

Employers often failed to comply with STSS orders requiring them to reinstate workers fired for engaging in union activities. The International Solidarity Center reported threats against several labor leaders, including public-sector labor union leaders. Civil society groups reported three labor activists or union leaders had been violently attacked as of August. As of September NGOs documented eight cases of threats or violence against union leaders during the year, including leaders in the agricultural and public sectors.

There was credible evidence that some employers in the manufacturing industry continued to blacklist employees who sought to form unions. Labor activists highlighted one export factory, Petralex, that allegedly closed operations in response to unionization and reopened under a new name, blacklisting former union members. Some companies in other sectors, including the banana industry, established employer-controlled unions that prevented the formation of independent unions because of legal restrictions on the number of unions and collective bargaining agreements allowed per company.

Several companies in export processing zones had solidarity associations that functioned similarly to company unions for the purposes of setting wages and negotiating working conditions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced labor, but the government did not effectively implement or enforce these laws. Administrative penalties of up to 100,000 lempiras ($4,240) were insufficient to deter violations and were rarely enforced. Penalties for forced labor under antitrafficking laws range from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment, but authorities often did not enforce them. The government investigated several cases of labor trafficking, including forced begging and domestic service.

Forced labor occurred in street vending, domestic service, the transport of drugs and other illicit goods, and other criminal activity. Victims were primarily impoverished men, women, and children in both rural and urban areas (also see section 7.c.). The 2015 prison labor law requiring prisoners to work at least five hours a day, six days a week, took effect in January 2016. Regulations for implementing the law were still under development as of September. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization said it was taking every precaution to protect prisoners’ rights and assure that the work provided opportunities for prisoners to develop skills they could use in legal economic activities after their release.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity. Penalties include prison sentences of up to five years and monetary fines. The law prohibits employers from requiring pregnancy tests as a prerequisite for employment; violators are subject to a 5,000 lempira ($212) fine. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations.

Many employers discriminated against women. According to a 2013 study by the National Institute for Women, employers paid women an average of 16 percent less than they paid men for comparable work. Female workers in some export-oriented industries and the agricultural sector continued to report being required to take pregnancy tests as a condition of employment. Persons with disabilities, indigenous and Afro-Honduran persons, LGBTI persons, and persons with HIV/AIDS also faced discrimination in employment and occupation (also see section 6, Children). As of August the STSS reported that it had received no formal complaints of work discrimination. The International Solidarity Center reported that the STSS had received 12 complaints of discrimination based on disability.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There are 42 categories of monthly minimum wages, based on the industry and the size of a company’s workforce; the minimums range from 5,869 lempiras ($250) to 10,168 lempiras ($430). The law does not cover domestic workers.

The law applies equally to citizens and foreigners, regardless of gender, and prescribes a maximum eight-hour shift per day for most workers, a 44-hour workweek, and at least one 24-hour rest period for every six days of work. It also provides for paid national holidays and annual leave. The law requires overtime pay, bans excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to four hours a day for a maximum workday of 12 hours, and prohibits the practice of requiring workers to complete work quotas before leaving their place of employment. The law does not protect domestic workers effectively.

In 2015 the government approved a new social security law. As part of the new law, employers must deposit at least 50 percent of the severance pay to which an employee is entitled into a bank account in the employee’s name. This provision, however, remained suspended as of September, pending the resolution of several court cases and further clarification of how the law will be implemented.

Occupational safety and health standards were current but not enforced. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing continued employment. Under the new inspection law, the STSS has the authority temporarily to shut down workplaces where there is an imminent danger of fatalities.

The STSS is responsible for enforcing the national minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety laws, but it did so inconsistently and ineffectively. An inspection law (see 7.a., Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining) was passed by the congress, and was in force, but at year’s end the implementing regulations had not been finalized. The new law permits fines of up to 25 percent of the economic damage suffered by workers, 1,000 lempiras ($42) for failing to pay the minimum wage or other economic violations, and 100,000 lempiras ($4,240) for violating occupational safety or health regulations and other labor code violations. As part of the Monitoring and Action Plan, the government nearly doubled the budget for inspectors, from 31.1 million lempiras ($1.32 million) to 59.5 million lempiras ($2.52 million). As of August inspectors had conducted 11,494 inspections, including 3,163 at work sites and 8,331 at STSS offices. As of December the STSS had 148 labor inspectors.

Because labor inspectors continued to be concentrated in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, full labor inspections and follow-up visits to confirm compliance were far less frequent in other parts of the country. Many inspectors asked workers to provide them with transportation so that they could conduct inspections, since the STSS did not have sufficient resources to pay for travel to worksites. Credible allegations of corruption among labor inspectors continued. Inspectors reportedly failed to respond to requests for inspections to address alleged violations of labor laws, conduct adequate investigations, impose or collect fines when they discovered violations, or otherwise abide by legal requirements.

Authorities did not effectively enforce worker safety standards, particularly in the construction, garment assembly, and agricultural sectors, as well as in the informal economy. The STSS conducted 31 reinspections of companies identified as labor rights violators under a Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement complaint filed in 2012 by labor unions. Employers rarely paid the minimum wage in the agricultural sector and paid it inconsistently in other sectors. Employers frequently penalized agricultural workers for taking legally authorized days off.

There were reports of violations of overtime limits, with agricultural workers allegedly working seven days a week for many months. There were credible allegations of compulsory overtime at apparel assembly factories–particularly for women, who made up approximately 65 percent of the sector’s workforce–as well as in the private security sector and among domestic workers. Employers frequently denied workers mandatory benefits, including vacation pay and 13th- and 14th-month bonuses. As of August the STSS had recovered 26.9 million lempiras ($1.14 million) in unpaid severance from four companies and was working with an additional three companies to complete collection of outstanding severance payments from them. There were reports that both public- and private-sector employers failed to pay into the social security system.

Human rights organizations continued to report that workers in the private security and domestic sectors were typically obliged to work more than 60 hours a week, but were paid for only 44. Domestic workers often lacked contracts and received salaries below a living wage. Since many lived in on-site quarters, their work hours varied largely based on the will of individual employers. Private security guards also often worked for salaries below the minimum wage. Many guards worked every two days on 24-hour shifts, in violation of the law. Civil society organizations also reported that employers often forced workers in cleaning services and the fast food industry to work shifts of 12 hours or more, violating the legal limit. The STSS regularly received complaints of failure to pay agreed overtime, especially in the security and cleaning service sectors. As of August the STSS had received 85 formal complaints of failure to pay overtime and fined 57 companies for not doing so. The STSS estimated that more than 60 percent of workers were employed in the informal economy.

There continued to be reports of violations of occupational health and safety laws affecting the approximately 3,000 persons who made a living by diving for seafood such as lobster, conch, and sea cucumber, most from the Miskito indigenous community and other ethnic minority groups in Gracias a Dios Department. These violations included lack of access to appropriate safety equipment. In 2014 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised similar concerns, calling the working conditions “deplorable.” Civil society groups reported that most dive boats held more than twice the craft’s capacity for divers and that many boat captains sold their divers marijuana and crack cocaine to help them complete an average of 12 dives a day, to depths of more than 100 feet. In 2014 the government banned compressed air diving for sea cucumbers because of deaths in the dive fisheries. The STSS inspected 45 fishing boats at the opening of the season. As of September 20, the Honduran Miskito Association of Crippled Divers (AMHBLI) reported five deaths and 15 injuries. AMHBLI reported the deaths of 455 divers and the crippling of 1,750 others since 1988.

Mexico

Executive Summary

Mexico, which has 32 states, is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. In 2012 President Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party won election to a single six-year term in elections observers considered free and fair. Citizens elected members of the Senate in 2012 and members of the Chamber of Deputies in 2015. Observers considered the June 2016 gubernatorial elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included involvement by police, military, and other state officials, sometimes in coordination with criminal organizations, in unlawful killings, disappearances, and torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions in some prisons; arbitrary arrests and detentions; intimidation and corruption of judges; violence against journalists by government and organized criminal groups; violence against migrants by government officers and organized criminal groups; corruption; lethal violence and sexual assault against institutionalized persons with disabilities; lethal violence against members of the indigenous population and against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; and lethal violence against priests by criminal organizations.

Impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem, with extremely low rates of prosecution for all forms of crimes.

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. Organized criminal groups also were implicated in numerous killings, acting with impunity and at times in league with corrupt federal, state, local, and security officials. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported 24 complaints of “deprivation of life” between January and December 15.

In May the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) arrested and immediately transferred to civilian authorities a military police officer accused of the May 3 unlawful killing of a man during a confrontation in Puebla between soldiers and a gang of fuel thieves. No trial date had been set at year’s end.

The civilian trial that started in 2016 continued for the commander of the 97th Army Infantry Battalion and three other military officers who were charged in 2016 for the illegal detention and extrajudicial killing in 2015 of seven suspected members of an organized criminal group in Calera, Zacatecas.

A federal investigation continued at year’s end in the 2015 Tanhuato, Michoacan, shooting in which federal police were accused of executing 22 persons after a gunfight and of tampering with evidence. An August 2016 CNDH recommendation stated excessive use of force resulted in the execution of at least 22 individuals. The CNDH also reported that two persons had been tortured, police gave false reports regarding the event, and the crime scene had been altered. Security Commissioner Renato Sales claimed the use of force by police at Tanhuato was justified and proportional to the threat they faced and denied the killings were arbitrary executions. The CNDH called for an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, expanded human rights training for police, and monetary compensation for the families of the 22 victims. No federal police agents were charged.

Authorities made no additional arrests in connection with the 2015 killing of 10 individuals and illegal detentions and injury to a number of citizens in Apatzingan, Michoacan.

On August 1, a judge ordered federal authorities to investigate whether army commanders played a role in the 2014 killings of 22 suspected criminals in Tlatlaya, Mexico State. In his ruling the judge noted that the federal Attorney General’s Office had failed to investigate a purported military order issued before the incident in which soldiers were urged to “take down criminals under cover of darkness.” In January a civilian court convicted four Mexico State attorney general’s office investigators on charges of torture, also pertaining to the Tlatlaya case. In 2016 a civilian federal court acquitted seven military members of murder charges, citing insufficient evidence. In 2015 the Sixth Military Court convicted one soldier and acquitted six others on charges of military disobedience pertaining to the same incident. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concerns regarding the lack of convictions in the case and the perceived failure to investigate the chain of command.

On October 17, the Federal Police developed a use of force protocol. The protocol instructs federal police to use force in a “rational, proportional manner, with full respect for human rights.”

Criminal organizations carried out human rights abuses and widespread killings throughout the country, sometimes in coordination with state agents.

As of November 20, according to media reports, families of disappeared persons and authorities had discovered more than 1,588 clandestine mass graves in 23 states. For example, in March, 252 human skulls were found in a mass grave in Colinas de Santa Fe, Veracruz. From January 2006 through September 2016, the CNDH reported that more than 850 mass graves were identified throughout the country. Civil society groups noted that there were few forensic anthropology efforts underway to identify remains.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of forced disappearances–the secret abduction or imprisonment of a person–by security forces and of many forced disappearances related to organized criminal groups, sometimes with allegations of state collusion. In its data collection, the government often merged statistics on forcibly disappeared persons with missing persons not suspected of being victims of forced disappearance, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.

Federal law prohibits forced disappearances, but laws relating to forced disappearances vary widely across the 32 states, and not all classify “forced disappearance” as distinct from kidnapping.

Investigation, prosecution, and sentencing for the crime of forced disappearance were rare. The CNDH registered 19 cases of alleged forced disappearances through December 15.

There were credible reports of police involvement in kidnappings for ransom, and federal officials or members of the national defense forces were sometimes accused of perpetrating this crime. The government’s statistics agency (INEGI) estimated that 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated and that underreporting of kidnapping may have been even higher.

In January, five sailors were charged by civilian prosecutors for illegal detention of a man in Mexico State. No trial date had been set at year’s end. In July the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR) arrested and transferred to civilian authorities seven sailors for their alleged involvement in a series of kidnappings.

On November 16, the president signed into law the General Law on Forced Disappearances after three years of congressional debate. The law establishes criminal penalties for persons convicted, stipulating 40 to 90 years’ imprisonment for those found guilty of the crime of forced disappearance, and provides for the creation of a National System for the Search of Missing Persons, a National Forensic Data Bank, an Amber Alert System, and a National Search Commission.

The CNDH registered 19 cases of alleged forced disappearances through December 15. In an April report on disappearances, the CNDH reported 32,236 registered cases of disappeared persons through September 2016. According to the CNDH, 83 percent of cases were concentrated in the following states: Tamaulipas, Mexico State, Sinaloa, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sonora, Guerrero, Puebla, and Michoacan.

As of April 30, according to the National Registry of Missing Persons, 31,053 individuals were recorded as missing or disappeared. Tamaulipas was the state with the most missing or disappeared persons at 5,657, followed by Mexico State at 3,754 and Jalisco with 2,754. Men represented 74 percent of those disappeared, according to the database.

As of August the deputy attorney general for human rights was investigating 943 cases of disappeared persons. The federal Specialized Prosecutor’s Office for the Search of Missing Persons had opened cases for 747 victims; the Unit for the Investigation of Crimes against Migrants had opened cases for 143 victims; the Iguala Case Investigation Office had opened cases for 43 victims; and the special prosecutor for violence against women and trafficking in persons had opened cases for 10 victims.

At the state level, in March, Jalisco state authorities announced the creation of the specialized attorney general’s office for disappeared persons. As of May 31, the Jalisco Amber Alert system for missing minors had been used 964 times (since its inception in 2013). As of May 31, a separate Jalisco Alba Alert system to report the disappearance of a woman or girl had been employed more than 1,200 times since its inception in April 2016.

In June the state government of Chihuahua announced the creation of a specialized attorney general’s office for grave human rights violations, including enforced disappearances. According to a local NGO, the Center for Women’s Human Rights (CEDEHM), Chihuahua was one of the states with the highest numbers of enforced disappearances, with more than 1,870 victims as of May 2016. During the year the state also signed a memorandum of understanding with a group of independent forensics experts from Argentina to analyze human remains found in the municipalities of Cuauhtemoc, Carichi, and Cusihuiriachi and to gather DNA.

The Coahuila governor’s office and state attorney general’s office formed a joint working group early in the year to improve the state’s unit for disappearances, collaborating with the local NGO Fray Juan de Larios to build the first registry of disappeared persons in Coahuila. The governor met monthly with families of the disappeared. Coahuila state prosecutors continued to investigate forced disappearances between 2009 and 2012 by the Zetas transnational criminal organization. These disappearances, carried out in collusion with some state officials and municipal police, occurred in the border towns of Piedras Negras, Allende, and Nava. State prosecutors executed 18 arrest warrants in the Allende massacre, including 10 for former police officials. Separately, they issued 19 arrest warrants for officials from the Piedras Negras state prison accused of allowing a transnational criminal organization to use the prison as a base to kill and incinerate victims.

Local human rights NGOs criticized the state’s response, saying most of those arrested were set free by courts after the state erred by filing kidnapping charges against the accused rather than charges of forced disappearance. A coalition of Coahuila-based human rights NGOs, many of them backed by the Roman Catholic diocese of Saltillo, filed a communique with the International Criminal Court in the Hague stating that state-level government collusion with transnational criminal organizations had resulted in massive loss of civilian life between 2009 and 2012, during the administration of then governor Humberto Moreira. They further stated that between 2012 and 2016, during the administration of then governor Ruben Moreira (brother of Humberto), state security authorities committed crimes against humanity in their fight against the Zetas, including unjust detention and torture. In July the state government disputed these findings and produced evidence of its investigations into these matters.

In a study of forced disappearances in Nuevo Leon released in June, researchers from the Latin American Faculty of Social Science’s Observatory on Disappearance and Impunity, the University of Minnesota, and Oxford University found that the 548 documented forced disappearances in the state between 2005 and 2015 were almost equally divided between those ordered by state agents (47 percent) and those ordered by criminal organizations (46 percent). Of the state agents alleged to be behind these disappearances, 35 were federal or military officials, 30 were state-level officials, and 65 were municipal officials. The study relied primarily on interviews with incarcerated gang members and family members of disappeared persons.

In May the Veracruz state government established an online database of disappearances, documenting 2,500 victims, and began a campaign to gather samples for a DNA database to assist in identification.

In 2016 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) launched the follow-up mechanism agreed to by the government, the IACHR, and the families of the 43 students who disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. The government provided funding for the mechanism to continue the work of the group of independent experts (GIEI) that supported the investigation of the disappearances and assisted the families of the victims during their 2015-16 term. At the end of the GIEI mandate in April 2016, the experts released a final report critical of the government’s handling of the case. The federal government reported it had complied with 923 of the experts’ 973 recommendations. In December the government extended the GIEI mandate for an additional year.

According to information provided by the Attorney General’s Office in August, authorities had indicted 168 individuals and arrested 128, including 73 police officers from the towns of Cocula and Iguala, and 55 alleged members of the Guerrero-based drug trafficking organization Guerreros Unidos connected to the Iguala case. Authorities held many of those arrested on charges related to organized crime rather than on charges related to the disappearance of the students, according to the GIEI. In 2016 authorities arrested the former police chief of Iguala, Felipe Flores, who had been in hiding since the 2014 disappearances. A 2016 CNDH report implicated federal and local police officers from nearby Huitzuco in the killings. Representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, Foreign Ministry, and Interior Ministry met regularly with the families of the victims to update them on progress being made in the case. Both federal and state authorities reported they continued to investigate the case, including the whereabouts of the missing students or their remains.

In April the Follow-Up Mechanism expressed its “concern about the slow pace in the search activities and in the effective clarification of the various lines of investigation indicated by the GIEI.” The commission also noted, “Not a single person has been prosecuted in this case for the crime of forced disappearance, and no new charges have been filed since December 2015.” The commission noted progress in “the administrative steps taken to contract the Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) surveying technology to be used in the search for the students, the progress made in the investigation of telephone communications, and the establishment of a timeline for taking statements from those arrested and other individuals. It also values the progress made in the investigations into possible involvement of police officers from Huitzuco.” In July the IACHR Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expressed concern regarding alleged spying that targeted “at least one member of the GIEI” along with human rights defenders and journalists.

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 confessions obtained through illicit means are not admissible as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports of torture and other illegal punishments.

As of November 30, the CNDH registered 85 complaints of torture. NGOs stated that in some cases the CNDH misclassified torture as inhuman or degrading treatment.

Fewer than 1 percent of federal torture investigations resulted in prosecution and conviction, according to government data. The Attorney General’s Office conducted 13,850 torture investigations between 2006 and 2016, and authorities reported 31 federal convictions for torture during that period. Congress approved and the president signed the General Law to Prevent, Investigate, and Punish Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment that entered into force on June 26. Human rights groups and the OHCHR commended the law, which establishes an “absolute prohibition” on the use of torture “in any circumstance,” assigns command responsibility, sets a sentence of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for convicted government officials and of up to 12 years’ imprisonment for convicted nonofficials, stipulates measures to prevent obstruction of internal investigations, and envisions a national mechanism to prevent torture and a national registry maintained by the Office of the Attorney General.

The law also eliminates the requirement that formal criminal charges be filed before a complaint of torture may be entered in the national registry, adds higher penalties for conviction of torturing “vulnerable” classes of victims (women and persons with disabilities), permits federal investigation of state cases of torture when an international body has ruled on the case or if the victim so requests, and eliminates requirements that previously prevented judges from ordering investigations into torture.

In 2015 the Attorney General’s Office created the Detainee Consultation System website to allow the public to track the status of detainees in the federal penitentiary system, including their physical location, in real time. The office collaborated with all 32 states on implementation of the system at the state and federal level, and the site was visited on average 476 times a day. The states that were farthest along in implementing the system were Campeche, Mexico City, Coahuila, Mexico State, Jalisco, Nuevo Leon, Michoacan, Puebla, Queretaro, and Tlaxcala.

On March 30, the Quintana Roo attorney general’s office apologized to Hector Casique, who was tortured and wrongly convicted of multiple counts of homicide in 2013 during a previous state administration. In September 2016 Casique was released from prison. On June 9, he was killed by unknown assailants.

On August 22, a state judge acquitted and ordered the release of Maria del Sol Vazquez Reyes after nearly five years of imprisonment for conviction of crimes that the court found she was forced to confess under torture by the former investigation agency of the Veracruz state police. The officers who tortured her had not been charged by year’s end.

In May in Chihuahua, prosecutor Miguel Angel Luna Lopez was suspended after a video from 2012 became public that showed him interrogating two suspects with bandaged faces. Luna was reinstated as a police agent while the investigation continued. Also in Chihuahua, in January a former municipal police officer, Erick Hernandez Mendoza, was formally charged with torturing a housekeeper who was suspected of stealing from her employer. Two other police officers who allegedly took part in her torture were not charged.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers could be harsh and life threatening due to corruption; overcrowding; abuse; inmate violence; alcohol and drug addiction; inadequate health care, sanitation, and food; comingling of pretrial and convicted persons; and lack of security and control.

Physical Conditions: According to a CNDH report, state detention centers suffered from “uncontrolled self-government in aspects such as security and access to basic services, violence among inmates, lack of medical attention, a lack of opportunities for social reintegration, a lack of differentiated attention for groups of special concern, abuse by prison staff, and a lack of effective grievance mechanisms.” Some of the most overcrowded prisons were plagued by riots, revenge killings, and jailbreaks. Criminal gangs often held de facto control inside prisons.

Health and sanitary conditions were often poor, and most prisons did not offer psychiatric care. Some prisons were staffed with poorly trained, underpaid, and corrupt correctional officers, and authorities occasionally placed prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely. Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted criminals. The CNDH noted the lack of access to adequate health care was a significant problem. Food quality and quantity, heating, ventilation, and lighting varied by facility, with internationally accredited prisons generally having the highest standards.

A CNDH report in June noted many of the prisons, particularly state-run correctional facilities, were unsafe, overcrowded, and understaffed. It surveyed conditions at more than 190 state, local, and federal facilities and found inmates often controlled some areas of prisons or had contraband inside. The report cited insufficient staff, unsafe procedures, and poor medical care at many facilities. Inmates staged mass escapes, battled each other, and engaged in shootouts using guns that police and guards smuggled into prison. A report released in March by the National Security Commission stated that 150 federal and state prisons were overcrowded and exceeded capacity by 17,575 prisoners.

On July 31, INEGI released its first National Survey on Population Deprived of Freedom 2016, based on a survey of 211,000 inmates in the country’s 338 state and federal penitentiaries. The survey revealed that 87 percent of prison inmates reported bribing guards for items such as food, making telephone calls, or obtaining a blanket or mattress. Another survey of 64,000 prisoners revealed that 36 percent reported paying bribes to other inmates, who often controlled parts of penitentiaries. Fifty percent of prisoners said they paid bribes to be allowed to have appliances in their cells, and 26 percent said they paid bribes to be allowed to have electronic communications devices, including cell phones, which were banned in many prisons.

The CNDH reported conditions for female prisoners were inferior to those for men, due to a lack of appropriate living facilities and specialized medical care. The CNDH found several reports of sexual abuse of inmates in the State of Mexico’s Nezahualcoyotl Bordo de Xochiaca Detention Center. Cases of sexual exploitation of inmates were also reported in Mexico City and the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Guerrero, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.

The CNDH reported 86 homicides and 26 suicides in state and district prisons in 2016. Fourteen states did not report information regarding homicides and suicides to the CNDH. The CNDH noted in its 2016 report on prisons that in general prisons were not prepared to prevent or address violent situations such as suicides, homicides, fights, injuries, riots, and jailbreaks.

The state government in Tamaulipas struggled to regain control of its prisons after decades of ceding authority to prison gangs, according to media and NGO reports. Criminal organizations constantly battled for control of prisons, and numerous riots claimed more than a dozen prisoners’ lives, including three foreign prisoners in the past year (two in Nuevo Laredo, one in Ciudad Victoria). On April 18, an inspection at the prison in Ciudad Victoria uncovered four handguns, two AK-47s, one hand grenade, and 108 knives. On June 6, a riot at the same facility claimed the lives of three state police officers and four inmates. On July 31, the official in charge of the prisons in Tamaulipas, Felipe Javier Tellez Ramirez, was killed in Ciudad Victoria reportedly in retaliation for challenging the criminal gangs in the state’s prison system.

Prisoner outbreaks or escape attempts also plagued Tamaulipas’ prisons. On March 22, 29 prisoners escaped through a tunnel from a prison in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. On June 19, eight inmates escaped from the youth detention center in Guemez. On August 10, nine inmates were killed and 11 injured in an inmate fight at a prison in Reynosa where a tunnel had previously been discovered. Guards fired live ammunition to control the situation, which occurred during family visiting hours.

In June, 28 inmates were killed by their rivals at a prison in Acapulco. Three prison guards were arrested for having allowed the attackers to exit their cells to kill their rivals.

On October 9, a riot at Nuevo Leon’s Cadereyta state prison was initially contained but flared up again the next day as inmates set fires. Press reports indicated one prisoner died in the fires. After three prison guards were taken hostage, state police were sent into the prison to control the situation. Official sources reported that at least 16 inmates died during the riot, some because of police action to reclaim control of the prison. This was the fifth lethal riot at a Nuevo Leon prison since 2016.

Civil society groups reported abuses of migrants in some migrant detention centers. Human rights groups reported many times asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle of Central America held in detention and migrant transitory centers were subject to abuse when comingled with other migrants such as MS-13 gang members from the region. In addition migration officials reportedly discouraged persons potentially needing international assistance from applying for asylum, claiming their applications were unlikely to be approved. These conditions resulted in many potential asylum seekers and persons in need of international protection abandoning their claims (see also section 2.d.).

Administration: While prisoners and detainees could file complaints regarding human rights violations, access to justice was inconsistent, and authorities generally did not release the results of investigations to the public.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the CNDH, and state human rights commissions. Independent monitors were generally limited to making recommendations to authorities to improve conditions of confinement.

Improvements: State facilities continued to seek international accreditation from the American Correctional Association, which requires demonstrated compliance with a variety of international standards. As of August 20, an additional 12 correctional facilities achieved accreditation, raising the total number of state and federal accredited facilities to 70.

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, but the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police, as well as state and municipal police, have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order. The federal police are under the authority of the interior secretary and the National Security Commission, state police are under the authority of the state governors, and municipal police are under the authority of local mayors. SEDENA and SEMAR also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combatting organized criminal groups. Article 89 of the constitution grants the president the authority to use the armed forces for the protection of internal and national security, and the courts have upheld the legality of the armed forces’ role in undertaking these activities in support of civilian authorities. The National Migration Institute (INM), under the authority of the Interior Ministry, is responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants.

On December 21, the president signed the Law on Internal Security, which provides a more explicit legal framework for the role the military had been playing for many years in public security. The law authorizes the president to deploy the military to the states at the request of civilian authorities to assist in policing. The law subordinates civilian law enforcement operations to military authority in some instances and allows the president to extend deployments indefinitely in cases of “grave danger.” Upon signing the law, President Pena Nieto publicly affirmed he would not seek to implement it until the Supreme Court had the opportunity the review any constitutional challenges to the new law. At years end, no challenges had been submitted to the Supreme Court. The law passed despite the objections of the CNDH, the Catholic archdiocese, some civil society organizations, the IACHR, and various UN bodies and officials, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who argued that it could further militarize citizen security and exacerbate human rights abuses. The government argued the law would in fact serve to limit the military’s role in law enforcement by establishing command structures and criteria for deployments. Military officials had long sought to strengthen the legal framework for the domestic operations they have been ordered by civilian authorities to undertake. Proponents of the law also argued that since many civilian police organizations were unable to cope with public security challenges unaided, the law merely clarified and strengthened the legal framework for what was a practical necessity. Many commentators on both sides of the argument regarding the law contended that the country still had not built civilian law enforcement institutions capable of ensuring citizen security.

The law requires military institutions to transfer all cases involving civilian victims, including human rights cases, to civilian prosecutors to pursue in civilian courts. There are exceptions, as when both the victim and perpetrator are members of the military, in which case the matter is dealt with by the military justice system. SEDENA, SEMAR, the federal police, and the Attorney General’s Office have security protocols for the transfer of detainees, chain of custody, and use of force. The protocols, designed to reduce the time arrestees remain in military custody, outline specific procedures for handling detainees.

As of August the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 138 cases involving SEDENA or SEMAR officials suspected of abuse of authority, torture, homicide, and arbitrary detention. Military tribunals have no jurisdiction over cases with civilian victims, which are the exclusive jurisdiction of civilian courts.

Although civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces and police, impunity, especially for human rights abuses, remained a serious problem. The frequency of prosecution for human rights abuse was extremely low.

Military officials withheld evidence from civilian authorities in some cases. Parallel investigations by military and civilian officials of human rights violations complicated prosecutions due to loopholes in a 2014 law that granted civilian authorities jurisdiction to investigate violations committed by security forces. Of 505 criminal proceedings conducted between 2012 and 2016, the Attorney General’s Office won only 16 convictions, according to a November report by the Washington Office on Latin America citing official figures, which also indicated that human rights violations had increased in tandem with the militarization of internal security. The Ministry of Foreign Relations acknowledged the report, stated that the problems stemmed from the conflict with drug-trafficking organizations, as well as the proliferation of illegal weapons, and emphasized that the military’s role in internal security was only a temporary measure.

On November 16, women of the Atenco case testified before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and called for the court to conduct an investigation into the case. The 2006 San Salvador Atenco confrontation between local vendors and state and federal police agents in Mexico State resulted in two individuals being killed and more than 47 women taken into custody, with many allegedly sexually tortured by police officials. In 2009 an appeals court reversed the sole conviction of a defendant in the case.

SEDENA’s General Directorate for Human Rights investigates military personnel for violations of human rights identified by the CNDH and is responsible for promoting a culture of respect for human rights within the institution. The directorate, however, has no power to prosecute allegations of rights violations or to take independent judicial action.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution allows any person to arrest another if the crime is committed in his or her presence. A warrant for arrest is not required if an official has direct evidence regarding a person’s involvement in a crime, such as having witnessed the commission of a crime. This arrest authority, however, is only applicable in cases involving serious crimes in which there is risk of flight. Bail is available for most crimes, except for those involving organized crime and a limited number of other offenses. In most cases the law provides for detainees to appear before a judge for a custody hearing within 48 hours of arrest during which authorities must produce sufficient evidence to justify continued detention, but this requirement was not followed in all cases, particularly in remote areas of the country. In cases involving organized crime, the law allows authorities to hold suspects for up to 96 hours before they must seek judicial review.

The procedure known in Spanish as “arraigo” (a constitutionally permitted form of detention, employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established) allows, with a judge’s approval, for certain suspects to be detained for up to 80 days prior to the filing of formal charges. Under the new accusatory system, arraigo has largely been abandoned.

Some detainees complained of a lack of access to family members and to counsel after police held persons incommunicado for several days and made arrests arbitrarily without a warrant. Police occasionally failed to provide impoverished detainees access to counsel during arrest and investigation as provided for by law, although the right to public defense during trial was generally respected. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The IACHR, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for arbitrary detention to lead to other human rights abuses.

A July report by Amnesty International reported widespread use of arbitrary detention by security forces.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, although NGOs such as the Institute for Economics and Peace credited the transition to the accusatory justice system (completed in 2016) with reducing its prevalence. A 2015 IACHR report showed that 42 percent of individuals detained were in pretrial detention. The law provides time limits on pretrial detention, but authorities sometimes failed to comply with them, since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system. Violations of time limits on pretrial detention were also endemic in state judicial systems.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons who are arrested or detained, whether on criminal or other grounds, may challenge their detention through a writ of habeas corpus. The defense may argue, among other things, that the accused did not receive proper due process, suffered a human rights abuse, or had his or her basic constitutional rights violated. By law individuals should be promptly released and compensated if their detention is found to be unlawful, but authorities did not always promptly release those unlawfully detained. In addition, under the criminal justice system, defendants apprehended during the commission of the crime may challenge the lawfulness of their detention during their court hearing.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

In 2016 all civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatory trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. In some states alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.

Under the accusatory system, all hearings and trials are conducted by a judge and follow the principles of public access and cross-examination. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to attend the hearings and to challenge the evidence or testimony presented. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law also provides for the rights of appeal and of bail in many categories of crimes. The law provides defendants with the right to an attorney of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings. By law attorneys are required to meet professional qualifications to represent a defendant. Not all public defenders were qualified, however, and often the state public defender system was understaffed and underfunded. Administration of public defender services was the responsibility of either the judicial or executive branch, depending on the jurisdiction. According to the Center for Economic Research and Economic Teaching, most criminal suspects did not receive representation until after their first custody hearing, thus making individuals vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements prior to appearing before a judge.

Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter if needed, although interpretation and translation services into indigenous languages at all stages of the criminal process were not always available. Indigenous defendants who did not speak Spanish sometimes were unaware of the status of their cases and were convicted without fully understanding the documents they were instructed to sign.

The lack of federal rules of evidence caused confusion and led to disparate judicial rulings.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to an independent judiciary in civil matters to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. For a plaintiff to secure damages against a defendant, authorities first must find the defendant guilty in a criminal case, a significant barrier in view of the relatively low number of convictions for civil rights offenses.

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

The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television, and radio stations had private ownership. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained the main source of advertising revenue, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, could constrain freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subject to physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) due to their reporting. This created a chilling effect that limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. During the year more journalists were killed because of their reporting than in any previous year. The OHCHR recorded 15 killings of reporters, and Reporters Without Borders identified evidence that the killing of at least 11 reporters was directly tied to their work.

Perpetrators of violence against journalists acted with impunity, which fueled further attacks. According to Article 19, a press freedom NGO, the impunity rate for crimes against journalists was 99.7 percent. The 276 attacks against journalists in the first six months of the year represented a 23 percent increase from the same period in 2016. Since its creation in 2010, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Journalists (FEADLE), a unit of the Attorney General’s Office, won only two convictions in more than 800 cases it pursued. During the year there was only one conviction for the murder of a journalist at the local level. In February a court in Oaxaca convicted and sentenced a former police officer to 30 years’ imprisonment for the 2016 murder of journalist Marcos Hernandez Bautista. The OHCHR office in Mexico publicly condemned the failure to prosecute crimes against journalists.

Government officials believed organized crime to be behind most of these attacks, but NGOs asserted there were instances when local government authorities participated in or condoned the acts. An April report by Article 19 noted 53 percent of cases of aggression against journalists in 2016 originated with public officials. Although 75 percent of those came from state or local officials, federal officials and members of the armed forces were also suspected of being behind attacks.

In April the government of Quintana Roo offered a public apology to journalist Pedro Canche, who was falsely accused by state authorities of sabotage and detained for nine months in prison.

According to Article 19, 11 journalists were killed between January 1 and October 15. For example, on March 23, Miroslava Breach, correspondent for the daily newspapers La Jornada and El Norte de Chihuahua, was shot eight times and killed as she was preparing to take her son to school in Chihuahua City. Many of her publications focused on political corruption, human rights abuses, attacks against indigenous communities, and organized crime. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), she was the only national correspondent to cover the troubled Sierra Tarahumara indigenous region. On December 25, federal police made an arrest in the case of an individual linked to a branch of the Sinaloa cartel who they stated was the mastermind of the crime. Breach’s family told La Jornada newspaper they did not believe the suspect in custody was behind the killing, which they attributed to local politicians who had previously threatened the reporter.

On May 15, Javier Valdez, founder of Riodoce newspaper in Sinaloa, winner of a 2011 CPJ prize for heroic journalism and outspoken defender of press freedom, was shot and killed near his office in Culiacan, Sinaloa.

During the first six months of the year, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received 214 requests for protection, an increase of 143 percent from 2016. Since its creation in 2012 through July, the mechanism accepted 589 requests for protection. On August 22, a journalist under the protection of the mechanism, Candido Rios, was shot and killed in the state of Veracruz. Following the wave of killings in early May, the president replaced the special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression at the Attorney General’s Office and held a televised meeting with state governors and attorneys general to call for action in cases of violence against journalists. NGOs welcomed the move but expressed concern regarding shortcomings, including the lack of an official protocol to handle journalist killings despite the appointment of the special prosecutor. NGOs maintained that the special prosecutor had not used his office’s authorities to take charge of cases in which state prosecutors had not produced results.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported state and local governments in some parts of the country worked to censor the media and threaten journalists. In June the New York Times newspaper reported 10 Mexican journalists and human rights defenders were targets of an attempt to infiltrate their smartphones through an Israeli spyware program called Pegasus that was sold only to governments, citing a forensic investigation by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. Officials at the Attorney General’s Office acknowledged purchasing Pegasus but claimed to have used it only to monitor criminals.

Journalists reported altering their coverage in response to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of the media and newsrooms, false charges of “publishing undesirable news,” and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship because of threats from criminal groups and of government officials seeking to influence or pressure the press, especially in the states of Tamaulipas and Sinaloa.

Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal laws against defamation, libel, or slander, but local laws remain in eight states. Five states have laws that restrict the use of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave and increasing influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted regarding the use of physical violence by organized criminal groups in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence faced by traditional journalists.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. Freedom House’s 2016 Freedom on the Net report categorized the country’s internet as partly free, noting an increase in government requests to social media companies to remove content.

Some civil society organizations alleged that various state and federal agencies sought to monitor private online communications. NGOs alleged that provisions in secondary laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing authorities to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. Furthermore, the law does not fully define the “appropriate authority” to carry out such actions. Despite civil society pressure to nullify the government’s data retention requirements and real-time geolocation provisions passed in 2014, the Supreme Court upheld those mechanisms. The court, however, noted the need for authorities to obtain a judicial warrant to access users’ metadata.

In June the government stated it was opening a criminal investigation to determine whether prominent journalists, human rights defenders, and anticorruption activists were subjected to illegal surveillance via sophisticated surveillance malware.

INEGI estimated 59 percent of citizens over age five had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. There were some reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators. Twelve states have laws that restrict public demonstrations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

The government and press reports noted a marked increase in refugee and asylum applications during the previous year. UNHCR projected the National Refugee Commission (COMAR) would receive 20,000 asylum claims by the end of the year, compared with 8,788 in 2016. COMAR projected lower numbers, noting that as of June 30, it had received 6,816 petitions.

At the Iztapalapa detention center near Mexico City, the Twenty-First Century detention center in Chiapas, and other detention facilities, men were kept separate from women and children, and there were special living quarters for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. Migrants had access to medical, psychological, and dental services, and the Iztapalapa center had agreements with local hospitals to care for any urgent cases free of charge. Individuals from countries with consular representation also had access to consular services. COMAR and CNDH representatives visited daily, and other established civil society groups were able to visit the detention facilities on specific days and hours. Victims of trafficking and other crimes were housed in specially designated shelters. Human rights pamphlets were available in many different languages. In addition approximately 35 centers cooperated with UNHCR and allowed it to put up posters and provide other information on how to access asylum for those in need of international protection.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police and immigration officers and customs officials. Government and civil society sources reported Central American gang presence spread farther into the country and threatened migrants who had fled the same gangs in their home countries. An August report by the independent INM Citizens’ Council found incidents in which immigration agents had been known to threaten and abuse migrants to force them to accept voluntary deportation and discourage them from seeking asylum. The council team visited 17 detention centers across the country and reported threats, violence, and excessive force against undocumented migrants. The INM responded to these allegations by asserting it treated all migrants with “absolute respect.”

There were media reports that criminal groups kidnapped undocumented migrants to extort money from migrants’ relatives or force them into committing criminal acts on their behalf.

In March the federal government began operating the Crimes Investigation Unit for Migrants and the Foreign Support Mechanism of Search and Investigation. The International Organization for Migration collaborated with municipal governments to establish offices along the border with Guatemala to track and assist migrants.

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by kidnappings and homicides.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that as of 2016, there were at least 311,000 IDPs who had fled their homes and communities in response to criminal, political, and religiously motivated violence as well as natural disasters. In 2016 the CNDH released a report stating 35,433 IDPs were displaced due to drug trafficking violence, interreligious conflicts, and land disputes. At approximately 20,000, Tamaulipas reportedly had the highest number of IDPs followed by 2,165 in Guerrero and 2,008 in Chihuahua. NGOs estimated hundreds of thousands of citizens, many fleeing areas of armed conflict among organized criminal groups, or between the government and organized criminal groups, became internally displaced. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, made efforts to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status and complementary protection, and the government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protection to refugees. As of August COMAR had received 8,703 petitions, of which 1,007 had been accepted for review, 1,433 were marked as abandoned, 1,084 were not accepted as meeting the criteria, and 385 were accepted for protection. According to NGOs, only one–third of applicants was approved and the remaining two-thirds classified as economic migrants not meeting the legal requirements for asylum; applicants abandoned some petitions. NGOs reported bribes sometimes influenced the adjudication of asylum petitions and requests for transit visas.

The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to asylum and the asylum procedure, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, and integration (access to school and work) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status. UNHCR also doubled the capacity of COMAR by funding an additional 36 staff positions.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the June gubernatorial races in three states; local races in six states; and the 2016 gubernatorial, 2015 legislative, and 2012 presidential elections to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides for the right of indigenous persons to elect representatives to local office according to “uses and customs” law rather than federal and state electoral law.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption at the most basic level involved paying bribes for routine services or in lieu of fines to administrative officials or security forces. More sophisticated and less apparent forms of corruption included funneling funds to elected officials and political parties by overpaying for goods and services.

Although by law elected officials enjoy immunity from prosecution while holding public office, state and federal legislatures have the authority to waive an official’s immunity. As of August more than one-half of the 32 states followed this legal procedure to strip immunity, and almost all other states were taking similar steps.

By law all applicants for federal law enforcement jobs (and other sensitive positions) must pass an initial vetting process and be recleared every two years. According to the Interior Ministry and the National Center of Certification and Accreditation, most active police officers at the national, state, and municipal levels underwent at least initial vetting. The press and NGOs reported that some police officers who failed vetting remained on duty. The CNDH reported that some police officers, particularly at the state and local level, were involved in kidnapping, extortion, and providing protection for, or acting directly on behalf of, organized crime and drug traffickers.

On July 19, the National Anticorruption System, signed into law by the president in 2016, entered into force. The law gives autonomy to federal administrative courts to investigate and sanction administrative acts of corruption, establishes harsher penalties for government officials convicted of corruption, provides the Superior Audit Office (ASF) with real-time auditing authority, and establishes an oversight commission with civil society participation. Observers hailed the legislation as a major achievement in the fight against corruption but criticized a provision that allows public servants an option not to declare their assets. A key feature of the system is the creation of an independent anticorruption prosecutor and court. The Senate had yet to appoint the special prosecutor at year’s end.

Corruption: In July the Attorney General’s Office took custody of former governor of Veracruz Javier Duarte, who had gone into hiding in Guatemala and was facing corruption charges. The government was also seeking the extradition from Panama of former governor of Quintana Roo Roberto Borge and issued an arrest warrant for former governor of Chihuahua Cesar Duarte. The ASF filed criminal charges with the Attorney General’s Office against 14 state governments for misappropriating billions of dollars in federal funds. The ASF was also investigating several state governors, including former governors of Sonora (Guillermo Padres) and Nuevo Leon (Rodrigo Medina), both of whom faced criminal charges for corruption. The Attorney General’s Office also opened an investigation against Nayarit Governor Sandoval for illicit enrichment as a result of charges brought against him by a citizens group, which also included some opposing political parties.

The NGO Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity and media outlet Animal Politico published a report accusing Attorney General Raul Cervantes of involvement in fraud, revealing that he had registered a Ferrari vehicle valued at more than $200,000 to an unoccupied house in an apparent effort to avoid taxes. Cervantes’ attorney attributed improper registration to administrative error. On October 16, Cervantes resigned, stating the reason for his resignation was to preserve the political independence of the new prosecutor’s office that was to replace the current Attorney General’s Office as part of a constitutional reform.

Financial Disclosure: In 2016 the Congress passed a law requiring all federal and state-level appointed or elected officials to provide income and asset disclosure, statements of any potential conflicts of interests, and tax returns, but the law includes a provision that allows officials an option to withhold the information from the public. The Ministry of Public Administration monitors disclosures with support from each agency. Regulations require disclosures at the beginning and end of employment, as well as annual updates. The law requires declarations be made publicly available unless an official petitions for a waiver to keep his or her file private. Criminal or administrative sanctions apply for abuses. In June the Supreme Court declined a petition by opposition political parties to overturn the provision for a privacy waiver.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, to bargain collectively, and to strike in both the public and private sectors; however, conflicting law, regulations, and practice restricted these rights.

The law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive official recognition from the government, unions must file for registration with the appropriate conciliation and arbitration board (CAB) or the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. For the union to be able to perform its legally determined functions, its leadership must also register with the appropriate CAB or the ministry. CABs operated under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives. Outside observers raised concerns that the boards did not adequately provide for inclusive worker representation and often perpetuated a bias against independent unions, in part due to intrinsic conflicts of interest within the structure of the boards exacerbated by the prevalence of representatives from “protection” (unrepresentative, corporatist) unions.

By law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own bylaws. Before a strike may be considered legal, however, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate CAB, which may find that the strike is “nonexistent” or, in other words, it may not proceed legally. The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for reinstatement of workers if the CAB finds the employer fired the worker unfairly and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also provides for broad exemptions for employers from such reinstatement, including employees of confidence or workers who have been in the job for less than a year.

Although the law authorizes the coexistence of several unions in one worksite, it limits collective bargaining to the union that has “ownership” of a collective bargaining agreement. When there is only one union present, it automatically has the exclusive right to bargain with the employer. Once a collective bargaining agreement is in place at a company, another union seeking to bargain with the employer must compete for bargaining rights through a recuento (bargaining-rights election) administered by the CAB. The union with the largest number of votes goes on to “win” the collective bargaining rights. It is not mandatory for a union to consult with workers or have worker support to sign a collective bargaining agreement with an employer. The law establishes that internal union leadership votes may be held via secret ballot, either directly or indirectly.

The government, including the CABs, did not consistently protect worker rights. The government’s common failure to enforce labor and other laws left workers with little recourse regarding violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor problems. The CABs’ frequent failure to impartially and transparently administer and oversee procedures related to union activity, such as union elections and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise freely their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

On February 24, labor justice revisions to the constitution were enacted into law. The constitutional reforms replace the CABs with independent judicial bodies, which are intended to streamline the labor justice process. Observers contended that additional changes to the labor law were necessary to provide for the following: workers are able to freely and independently elect union representatives, there is an expedited recount process, unions demonstrate union representativeness prior to filing a collective bargaining agreement, and workers to be covered by the agreement receive a copy prior to registration–thus eliminating unrepresentative unions and “protection” contracts.

By law penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws range from 16,160 pesos ($960) to 161,600 pesos ($9,640). Such penalties were rarely applied and were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and/or judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Workers exercised their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining with difficulty. The process for registration of unions was politicized, and according to union organizers, the government, including the CABs, frequently used the process to reward political allies or punish political opponents. For example, it rejected registration applications for locals of independent unions, and for unions, based on technicalities.

The country’s independent unions and their legal counsel, as well as global and North American trade unions, continued to encourage the government to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 98 on collective bargaining, which it delayed doing despite removal of the main obstacle to compliance in the 2012 labor law reform, the exclusion clause for dismissal. By ratifying the convention, the government would subject itself to the convention’s oversight and reporting procedures. Ratification would also contribute, according to the independent unions, to ensuring that the institutions that are established as a result of the labor justice reform are, in law and practice, independent, transparent, objective, and impartial, with workers having recourse to the ILO’s oversight bodies to complain of any failure.

Companies and protection unions (unrepresentative, corporatist bodies) took advantage of complex divisions and a lack of coordination between federal and state jurisdictions to manipulate the labor conciliation and arbitration processes. For example, a company might register a collective bargaining agreement at both the federal and the local level and later alternate the jurisdictions when individuals filed and appealed complaints to gain favorable outcomes. Additionally, union organizers from several sectors raised concerns regarding the overt and usually hostile involvement of the CABs when organizers attempted to create independent unions.

Protection unions and “protection contracts”–collective bargaining agreements signed by employers and these unions to circumvent meaningful negotiations and preclude labor disputes–was a problem in all sectors. The prevalence of protection contracts was due, in part, to the lack of a requirement for workers to demonstrate support for collective bargaining agreements before they took effect. Protection contracts often were developed before the company hired any workers and without direct input from or knowledge of the covered workers.

Independent unions, a few multinational corporations, and some labor lawyers and academics pressed for complementary legislation, including revisions to the labor code that would prohibit registration of collective bargaining agreements where the union could not demonstrate support by a majority of workers or where workers had not ratified the content of the agreements. Many observers noted working conditions of a majority of workers were under the control of these contracts and the unrepresentative unions that negotiated them, and that the protection unions and contracts often prevented workers from fully exercising their labor rights as defined by law. These same groups advocated for workers to receive hard copies of existing collective bargaining agreements when they are hired.

According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced procedural obstacles, violence, and intimidation around bargaining-rights elections perpetrated by protection union leaders and employers supporting them, as well as other workers, union leaders, and vigilantes hired by a company to enforce a preference for a particular union. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of pseudo employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union.

Other intimidating and manipulative practices were common, including dismissal of workers for labor activism. For example, there were reports that a garment factory in Morelos failed to halt workplace sexual harassment and sexual violence and instead fired the whistleblowers that reported the problem to management.

Independent labor activists reported the requirement that the CABs approve strikes in advance gave boards power to show favoritism by determining which companies to protect from strikes. Few formal strikes occurred, but protests and informal work stoppages were common.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for conviction of forced labor violations range from five to 30 years’ imprisonment and observers generally considered them sufficient to deter violations.

Forced labor persisted in the agricultural and industrial sectors, as well as in the informal sector. Women and children were subject to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor. In November authorities freed 81 workers from a situation of forced labor on a commercial farm in Coahuila. In June federal authorities filed charges against the owner of an onion and chili pepper farm in Chihuahua for forced labor and labor exploitation of 80 indigenous workers. The victims, who disappeared following the initial complaint to state authorities, lived in unhealthy conditions and allegedly earned one-quarter of the minimum wage.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation regarding “race, nationality age, religion, sex, political opinion, social status, handicap (or challenged capacity), economic status, health, pregnancy, language, sexual preference, or marital status.”

The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties for violations of the law included administrative remedies, such as reinstatement, payment of back wages, and fines (often calculated based on the employee’s wages), and were not generally considered sufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred against women, indigenous groups, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and migrant workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

On November 21, the single general minimum wage rose from 80.04 pesos per day ($4.76) to 88.36 pesos per day ($5.26), short of the official poverty line of 95.24 pesos per day ($5.67). Most formal-sector workers received between one and three times the minimum wage. The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission, whose labor representatives largely represented protection unions and their interests, is responsible for establishing minimum salaries but continued to block increases that kept pace with inflation.

The law sets six eight-hour days and 48 hours per week as the legal workweek. Any work over eight hours in a day is considered overtime, for which a worker is to receive double pay. After accumulating nine hours of overtime in a week, a worker earns triple the hourly wage. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for eight paid public holidays and one week of paid annual leave after completing one year of work. The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations, issued jointly by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Institute for Social Security. Legally mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for overseeing workplace standards in plants and offices. Individual employees or unions may complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws and conducting inspections at workplaces. In 2015, the most recent year for which data were available, there were 946 inspectors nationwide. This was sufficient to enforce compliance, and the ministry carried out inspections of workplaces throughout the year, using a questionnaire and other means to identify victims of labor exploitation. Penalties for violations of wage, hours of work, or occupational safety and health laws range from 17,330 pesos ($1,030) to 335,940 pesos ($20,020) but generally were not sufficient to deter violations. Through its DECLARALAB self-evaluation tool, the ministry provided technical assistance to almost 4,000 registered workplaces to help them meet occupational safety and health regulations.

According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach–requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting hours when it is light–to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This was a common practice in the maquila sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and obliged them to work in peak seasons, including the Christmas holiday period, without the corresponding triple pay mandated by law for voluntary overtime on national holidays. Additionally, many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers informally or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. In 2013, the latest year for which such data are available, INEGI estimated 59 percent of the workforce was engaged in the informal economy.

Observers from grassroots labor rights groups, international NGOs, and multinational apparel brands reported that employers throughout export-oriented supply chains were increasingly using methods of hiring that deepened the precariousness of work for employees. The most common practice reported was that of manufacturers hiring workers on one- to three-month contracts, and then waiting for a period of days before rehiring them on another short-term contract, to avoid paying severance and prevent workers from accruing seniority, while maintaining the exact number of workers needed for fluctuating levels of production. This practice violates Federal Labor Law and significantly impacted workers’ social and economic rights, including elimination of social benefits and protections, restrictions on worker’s rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and minimal ability for workers, especially women, to manage their family responsibilities. Observers noted it also increased the likelihood of work-related illness and injury. Combined with outsourcing practices that made it difficult for workers to identify their legally registered employer, workers were also more likely to be denied access to justice.

Private recruitment agencies and individual recruiters violated the rights of temporary migrant workers recruited in the country to work abroad, primarily in the United States. Although the law requires these agencies to be registered, they often were unregistered. The Labor Ministry’s registry was outdated and limited in scope. Although a few large recruitment firms were registered, the registry included many defunct and nonexistent midsized firms, and few if any of the many small, independent recruiters. Although the government did not actively monitor or control the recruitment process, it reportedly was responsive in addressing complaints. There were also reports that registered agencies defrauded workers with impunity. Some temporary migrant workers were regularly charged illegal recruitment fees. According to a 2013 study conducted by the Migrant Worker Rights Center, 58 percent of 220 applicants interviewed had paid recruitment fees; one-half did not receive a job contract and took out loans to cover recruitment costs; and 10 percent paid fees for nonexistent jobs. The recruitment agents placed those who demanded their rights on blacklists and barred them from future employment opportunities.

News reports indicated there were poor working conditions in some maquiladoras. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, the lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and the lack of freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse. Most maquilas hired employees through outsourcing with few social benefits.

Nicaragua

Executive Summary

Nicaragua is a multiparty constitutional republic, but actions by the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party resulted in the de facto concentration of power in a single party, with an authoritarian executive branch exercising significant control over the legislative, judicial, and electoral functions. President Daniel Ortega Saavedra of the FSLN was inaugurated to a third term in office in January following an electoral process regarded as deeply flawed by domestic organizations and the international community. The 2016 elections also expanded the ruling party’s supermajority in the National Assembly, which previously allowed for changes in the constitution that extended the reach of executive branch power and the elimination of restrictions on re-election for executive branch officials and mayors. Observers have noted serious flaws in municipal, regional, and national elections since 2008. Civil society groups, international electoral experts, business leaders, and religious leaders identified persistent flaws in the 2017 municipal elections and noted the need for comprehensive electoral reform.

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

The most significant human rights issues included reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings; torture during detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention of suspects; almost complete lack of judicial independence; reports of holding at least one political prisoner; unlawful interference with privacy; multiple obstacles to freedom of speech and the press, including government intimidation, and harassment of and threats against journalists and independent media; and partisan restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly. The government restricted citizens’ right to vote and employed biased policies to realize single-party dominance. There was widespread corruption, including in the police, Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), and other government organs. The government restricted the ability of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations to receive funding. There was lethal and increasing societal violence against women; violent attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, to which police failed to respond; trafficking in persons; discrimination against ethnic minorities and indigenous persons and communities; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities; and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

The government rarely took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government. Impunity remained 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 several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including during confrontations with armed groups (both criminal organizations and possibly antigovernment groups), in the north-central and Caribbean regions of the country. Human rights organizations and independent media alleged some killings were politically motivated, an allegation that was difficult to confirm in view of the absence of official investigations. In some cases the individuals killed by military or police personnel were members of groups, or relatives of members of groups, that have identified themselves on social media as politically motivated and taking up arms against the government. Organizations reported that common attributes in the killings of such group members included police accusations against the victims of possession of drugs in small quantities after the killings, lack of judicial proceedings, and unwillingness on behalf of police authorities to register investigation requests.

On September 18, the “Ecological Battalion,” a military unit created to guarantee citizen security in rural areas and protect agricultural producers, killed three individuals in Siuna, a community in the Northern Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACN). In its only statement on the case, the military reported the deceased individuals belonged to a group of “delinquents” found in possession of weapons and an unknown quantity of marijuana. A self-proclaimed politically motivated armed group reported that two of the three individuals killed belonged to their movement and called the incident an extrajudicial killing. There was no indication the government investigated those claims, and military personnel did not offer additional statements on the accusations. On November 12 an army unit shot and killed six individuals, including a known opposition figure, his brother, and two minors, after tracking them for nine days in the municipality of La Cruz de Rio Grande in the Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACS).

Reports of killings were increasingly common in the north-central regions and the RACN. These killings were widely believed to be related to the army’s pursuit of what many referred to as armed antigovernment groups in the north-central region, although the army admitted only the presence of criminals and/or delinquents.

There were no investigations or other developments in the 2016 killing of Andres Cerrato or the 2015 killing of Modesto Duarte Altamirano (see also section 1.d., Role of the Police and Security Apparatus).

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, numerous reports alleged police abused suspects during arrest, used excessive force, and engaged in degrading treatment. In the first six months of 2016, the period for which the most recent data were available, the NGO Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) received 610 complaints against the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP) for excessive force, arbitrary detention, and cruel or degrading treatment, including in prisons. CENIDH was able to confirm abuse in 391 of those complaints.

There were numerous claims of torture by agents of the Directorate of Judicial Assistance (DAJ), a special police investigations unit, in its jail commonly referred to as “El Chipote,” especially during arrests related to organized crime.

There were allegations that the bodies of individuals or groups of individuals killed in clashes with the Nicaraguan army showed signs of torture, including two of three persons killed in Siuna on September 18 and six killed in La Cruz de Rio Grande, RACS, on November 22.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem. In September the government reported holding 17,196 prisoners in facilities with a capacity of 9,008. Due to overcrowding, pretrial detainees often shared cells with convicted prisoners and juveniles shared cells with adults.

Prison conditions continued to deteriorate due to antiquated infrastructure and increasing inmate populations. Many prisoners suffered mistreatment from prison officials and other inmates. Inmates also suffered from parasites, inadequate medical attention, frequent food shortages, contaminated water, and inadequate sanitation. Released prisoners and family members of prisoners reported poor ventilation and lighting in the DAJ jail located in Managua. In March spouses of prisoners held a protest at the entrance of La Modelo prison to complain about poor living conditions and lack of access to health care. They also claimed the prison had cut off service for the internet, cell phones, and landline telephones.

Conditions for female inmates were generally better than those for men but were nevertheless unsafe and unhygienic.

Conditions in jails and temporary holding cells were also harsh. Most facilities were physically decrepit and infested with vermin; had inadequate ventilation, electricity, or sewage systems; and lacked potable water. The government estimated approximately 26 percent of detainees in preventive holding cells should be in formal prisons.

Administration: Although prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities often ignored or did not process complaints. The extent to which the government investigated allegations of poor prison conditions was unknown. The government ombudsman could serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees to consider such matters as informal alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, although this generally did not occur. In certain instances the government restricted prisoners’ access to visitors, attorneys, and physicians. Staff members of human rights organizations were not allowed access to the prison system or to prisoners in custody.

Independent Monitoring: The government denied prison visits by local human rights groups as well as media. The government denied requests from human rights organizations to access all prison facilities when they attempted to investigate reports of hazardous conditions. NGOs generally received complaints through family members of inmates and often were unable to follow up on cases until after the release of the prisoner due to lack of access.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government and its agents did not always comply with or enforce the law. Human rights NGOs noted several cases of arbitrary arrests by the NNP and army. These cases included irregular arrests and detentions while the NNP and army investigated armed opposition groups or other violent crimes in the north-central regions of the country. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but the government generally did not observe this requirement.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The constitution establishes the NNP as an apolitical, nonpartisan institution protecting all citizens equally under the law, but the government did not treat it as a nonpartisan institution. The NNP Office of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating complaints and abuses regarding police officers or internal police activities. The NNP responds directly to the president as commander in chief, as established by the constitutional changes in 2014. Human rights organizations alleged the NNP, and particularly the DAJ, served the interest of the Ortega family and its associates and thus operated under a chain of authority that did not follow the standard procedures of a police force. The Ministry of Interior and the NNP each have law enforcement and internal security responsibilities throughout the country. The Ministry of Interior oversees the General Directorate for Migration and Foreigner Services, which works together with police to oversee topics of migration and border security.

The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic responsibilities, including countering illicit trafficking in narcotics and human trafficking and providing for the transportation of election-related materials, including ballots. The army was also involved in detaining irregular migrants and supported efforts to hold and transport them to the last point of entry. Many informed observers in civil society and the independent press regarded the army as a functionally autonomous force responding directly to the president pursuant to constitutional and military code reforms enacted in 2014. The Office of the Inspectorate General is responsible for investigating abuses and corruption in the army, but limited public information was available on its activities.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the NNP and the military. There continued to be numerous reports of impunity involving the NNP, and there were instances in which the government failed to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The government reported that between January 2016 and August 2017, it received 1,864 reports of police misconduct or of human rights violations by police officers. Although the government reported having investigated all of the reports and dishonorably discharging 587 officers, among other administrative disciplinary actions, as a result of the investigations, observers reported the government did not investigate all instances of abuse and corruption.

The NNP Office of Internal Affairs, and to a lesser extent the Office of the Inspector General, are responsible for investigating police abuse; however, corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency of the justice system contributed to a public perception of police impunity. In June approximately 40 police officers were detained and investigated for petty corruption. According to independent observers, this investigation was undertaken not to exert the rule of law, but to give a public image of fighting internal corruption, to purge political opposition within the force, and to reduce the amount of severance pay provided to the officers by dishonorably discharging them. There was no official information on the outcome of the detentions or whether the officers under investigation were discharged. Due to limited information on the activities of the Office of Internal Affairs and a general lack of access to government information, human rights organizations and security experts found it difficult to assess how the NNP investigated allegations of abuses and human rights violations by its members.

Observers noted the politicization of the NNP, exemplified by the continued tenure of the national chief of police, making her the longest standing police chief since 1990. The last extension was legal under changes to the constitution in 2014, but the president had previously extended her term through a 2011 executive decree that allegedly violated term limits prescribed in law at the time. The NNP continued to use symbols associated with the FSLN party, including an emblem with party figurehead Sandino’s silhouette as part of the officer’s uniform, and the ubiquitous use of the FSLN party flag at police facilities and celebrations. NGOs and the press alleged the NNP continued to provide preferential treatment for progovernment and FSLN rallies.

Human rights organizations and civil society activists continued to express strong concern regarding the 2015 Sovereign Security Law, which significantly broadened the definition of state sovereignty and security and established a National Committee of Sovereign Security, an executive-level committee with the enforcement backing of the military. The law includes “any other factor that creates danger to the security of the people, life, family, and community, as well as the supreme interests of the Nicaraguan nation” when it outlines potential risks and threats to the country’s sovereign security. Human rights NGOs argued that while the Sovereign Security Law was not cited in cases including the obstruction or prevention of political opposition or civil society rallies, this law was implicitly used.

Impunity remained a problem, and the government took no action nor provided training to increase respect for human rights by security forces. There was no indication the government investigated claims that three members of a self-proclaimed politically motivated armed group in Siuna, RACN, had been tortured and killed extrajudicially, and military personnel did not offer additional statements on these accusations. Likewise, as of December no investigation had begun of the army unit involved in the November 12 killing of six individuals in the municipality of La Cruz de Rio Grande in the RACS.

There were also no developments in the 2012 death of former Contra Santos Guadalupe Joyas Borge (“Pablo Negro”) or in the 2012 case of community leaders Pedro Ramon Castro and Miguel Angel Oliva, allegedly killed by four NNP members in the municipality of Pantasma.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judicial authority prior to detaining a suspect and to notify family members of the detainee’s whereabouts within 24 hours. While the law also stipulates a prosecutor accompany police making an arrest, human rights organizations claimed irregularities in arrest procedures led to arbitrary arrest and detention.

Police may hold a suspect legally for 48 hours before arraignment, when they must bring the person before a judge. A judge then must order the suspect released or transferred to jail for pretrial detention. The suspect is permitted family member visits after the initial 48 hours. The detainee has the right to bail unless a judge deems there is a flight risk. A change to the criminal code during the year expanded a list of crimes that may be tried by a judge without a jury and that would not qualify for bail or house arrest during the duration of the trial. In most instances detainees were informed of charges against them, although there were instances when this did not occur, and at other times there were delays. Detainees have the right to an attorney immediately following their arrest, and the state provides indigent detainees with a public defender. There were numerous reports detainees did not have immediate access to an attorney or legal counsel and were not afforded one during their 48-hour detention. In several instances authorities denied having detainees under custody in a specific jail, even to their family members or legal counsel. This occurred particularly in the DAJ jail.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to NGOs and other human rights groups, arbitrary arrests occurred regularly. Numerous reports claimed authorities used DAJ jail cells for arbitrary arrests beyond the prescribed 48 hours of detention legally allowed. Additionally, the number of detainees from other localities brought to the DAJ jail for periods longer than the prescribed 48 hours of detention increased. Many arrests were allegedly made without warrants and without informing family members or legal counsel. Human rights organizations indicated delays in the release of prisoners after finishing prison terms led to many cases of arbitrary continuation of a state of arrest.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem, especially in the RACN and the RACS. Observers attributed delays to limited facilities, an overburdened judicial system, judicial inaction, and high crime rates. No information was available on the percentage of the prison population in pretrial detention or the national average length of pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: While the law provides detainees the ability to challenge the legality of their detention before a court, procedural information for doing so was not publicly available. There were reports on the obstacles legal counsels faced when they attempted to invoke constitutional protections for detainees, including habeas corpus, and courts frequently ignored their requests.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judicial system did not function independently. The law requires vetting of new judicial appointments by the CSJ, a process unduly affected by nepotism, personal influence, and political affiliation. Once appointed, many judges submitted to political pressure and economic inducements for themselves or family members that compromised their independence. NGOs complained of delayed justice caused by judicial inaction and widespread impunity, especially regarding family and domestic violence and sexual abuse. In many cases trial start times were changed with no information provided to one or both sides of the trial, according to human rights organizations. Authorities occasionally failed to respect court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not always enforce this right. According to the constitution, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty; however, observers claimed changes to the criminal and procedural codes enacted in June potentially restrict this right. Under the changes to the law, jury trials would be denied in a wider range of cases, judges could deny bail or house arrest based on unclear rules, and judges could arbitrarily move a case from other judicial districts to Managua, to the disadvantage of defendants, their families, or their counsel. Defendants have the right to be fully and promptly informed of the charges against them and the right to a fair trial. While the law establishes specific time periods for cases to come to trial, most cases encountered undue delay. Trials are public, but in some cases involving minors or at the victim’s request, they may be private. The law requires defendants must be present at their trial, although this was not always respected.

Defendants have the right to legal counsel, and the state provides public defenders for indigent persons. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Although the constitution recognizes indigenous languages, defendants were not always granted court interpreters or translators. Defendants may confront and question witnesses and have the right to appeal a conviction. Defendants may present their own witnesses and evidence in their defense; however, some judges refused to admit evidence on behalf of the defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

Women’s rights organizations perceived that the court system continued to operate under unofficial orders to forego jail time or pretrial detention in domestic violence cases. This order reportedly applied only to domestic violence cases considered mild.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Human rights NGOs characterized Marvin Vargas as a political prisoner. Vargas is a former Sandinista fighter from the 1980’s civil war who in 2011 led protests against the Sandinista administration for allegedly not fulfilling promises established in post-civil war peace accords to aid former Sandinista fighters. Shortly after these protests, Vargas was convicted of fraud, allegedly without due process. Vargas claimed he was beaten, kept under maximum security, and held in solitary confinement during most of his prison term. Vargas was not afforded alternatives to incarceration or early release on account of good behavior, both established in law for the type of crime for which he was convicted. He finished his full term in 2016 but remained imprisoned, reportedly under solitary confinement and maximum security. In June he was convicted of smuggling drugs into the prison and sentenced to an additional 12-year term. Human rights NGOs claimed that again due process was not followed and that there was no further investigation into prison authorities or of the methods Vargas could have used to smuggle drugs into and within the prison.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

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

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

While the government resolved some property claims during the year, it regularly failed to enforce court orders with respect to seizure, restitution, or compensation of private property. Enforcement of court orders was frequently subject to nonjudicial considerations. Members of the judiciary, including those at senior levels, were widely believed to be corrupt or subject to political pressure. The government failed to evict those who illegally took possession of private property.

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

While the law prohibits such actions, several domestic NGOs, Roman Catholic Church representatives, journalists, and opposition members alleged the government monitored their email and telephone conversations. In April, shortly after presidential adviser Eden Pastora made a public appeal to identify specific political opposition and civil society members as traitors, a government-affiliated internet site published personal profiles of more than 20 opposition party members, human rights defenders, and civil society members containing car license plate numbers, home addresses and telephone numbers, names of known family members and associates, and pictures of their houses. Civil society members alleged the personally identifiable information was provided by government offices.

Inhabitants in northern towns, particularly in the departments of Nueva Segovia, Jinotega, and Madriz, as well as the RACS and the RACN, alleged repeated government interrogations and searches without cause or warrant, related to supposed support for armed groups, while government officials claimed they were confronting common criminals.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government used administrative, judicial, and financial means to limit the exercise of this right. Although the law provides that the right to information may not be subjected to censorship, it also establishes retroactive liability, including criminal penalties for libel and slander.

Freedom of Expression: Some individuals suffered reprisals for expressing opinions in public on matters of special importance to the ruling party. There were a number of incidents throughout the year in which public officials, including at the ministerial, congressional, and local government levels, were reportedly ousted for expressing their opinions through the independent media or on social media.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media faced official and unofficial restrictions, reprisals, and harassment but were generally allowed to express a variety of views. The government restricted media freedom through harassment, censorship, and use of arbitrary justifications. Private individuals sympathetic to the government also harassed the media for criticizing the government.

In April the radio show Onda Local was taken off the air by radio station La Primerisima, which was owned by FSLN members. The Onda Local director publicly accused the station owners of acting at the behest of the vice president. The radio show was known for investigative journalism on social topics like women’s issues and protests over worker’s rights, mining corporations, and construction of a proposed interoceanic canal. The station owners did not comment on or provide a justification for the decision to cancel the show.

The government continued to use direct and indirect means to pressure and seek to close independent media outlets, allegedly for political reasons. Independent media owners continued to express concern that incidents of vandalism, seizure of broadcast equipment, and fear of criminal defamation charges created a climate of self-censorship, which the government could exploit to limit press freedom. An independent television station was fined an amount the owner believed was disproportionate due to administrative procedures. The station owner repeatedly expressed concern due to pressure from government officials because of the station’s independent stance. Other media harassment came through continued financial audits performed by the Directorate General of Revenue, which resulted in cases being brought to the consideration of the Customs and Administrative Tax Court. Independent news outlets reported they were generally not permitted to attend official government events, were denied interviews by government officials, and received restricted or no direct access to government information. Official media, however, were not similarly restricted.

Since 2008 the General Law (Law 200) on Telecommunications has been in review in the National Assembly. Until the reforms are approved or denied, media outlets are unable to apply for new broadcasting licenses. Nevertheless, the government granted licenses in a discretionary manner and extended the validity of existing licenses indefinitely. Human rights groups and independent media continued to criticize the legal insecurity created by the lack of telecommunications legislation, since Law 200 regulates routine administrative processes, such as the purchase and import of goods related to broadcasting and license adjudication. Furthermore, independent radio owners continued to defer long-term investments due to the lack of updated licenses.

The Communications Research Center of Nicaragua reported that control over television media by the FSLN and President Ortega continued throughout the year. National television continued to be largely controlled either by business associates of the president or directly owned and administered by his family members. Eight of the 10 basic channels available were under direct FSLN influence or owned and controlled by persons with close ties to the government.

Generally, media stations owned by the presidential family limited news programming and served as outlets for progovernment or FSLN propaganda and campaign advertisements. Press and human rights organizations claimed the use of state funds for official media, as well as biased distribution of government advertising dollars, placed independent outlets at an unfair disadvantage. Independent media asserted the moratorium on granting new government broadcasting licenses, combined with the uncertainties of the National Assembly’s protracted telecommunications review, contributed to legal insecurity and shrinking opportunities for private investment. Some independent media owners also alleged the government exerted pressure on private firms to limit their advertising in the independent media, although other observers believed the lack of advertising was the result of self-censorship by private companies or a business decision based on circulation numbers.

Violence and Harassment: One of the largest daily newspapers, opposition-leaning La Prensa, claimed government officials and supporters regularly intimidated its journalists, actively hindered investigations, and failed to respond to questions on a variety of problems, particularly those involving the constitution, rule of law, and corruption. There were several reported cases of threats against the press.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Many journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing economic and physical repercussions for investigative reporting on crime or official corruption. Additionally, media outlet owners exercised self-censorship by choosing not to publish news that affected public perceptions of the government or the FSLN.

The government continued to enforce inequitably the controversial Law 528, or “Ley Arce,” which established high tariffs and bureaucratic delays on the importation of ink, paper, machinery, and other printing necessities, despite constitutional provisions protecting the right to freedom from tariffs for media. Although the law applies to all print media, print media owners and international NGOs claimed the government specifically applied it to La Prensa, which operated one of the few printing operations not controlled by the government. Journalist organizations expressed concern regarding the lack of government support for the media sector and their organizations.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although during the year the government did not use libel laws or cite national security to suppress publications, independent media reported engaging in self-censorship due to the government’s previous use of libel laws. Slander and libel are both punishable under the law with fines ranging from 120 to 300 times the minimum daily wage.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; despite this, several NGOs claimed the government monitored their email and online activity without appropriate legal authority. Additionally, paid government supporters used social media and website commentary spaces to harass prominent members of civil society, human rights defenders, and a well-known journalist.

The International Telecommunication Union reported approximately 25 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some government restrictions on academic freedom, and many academics and researchers reported pressure to censor themselves. There were no government restrictions on cultural events.

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law recognizes the right to public assembly, demonstration, and mobilization but requires demonstrators to obtain permission for a rally or march by registering its planned size and location with police. CENIDH and the Permanent Commission for Human Rights reported police generally protected or otherwise gave preferential treatment to progovernment FSLN demonstrations while disrupting or denying registration for opposition groups. In many cases police did not protect opposition protesters when progovernment supporters harassed or attacked them.

On April 22 groups opposing the planned construction of an interoceanic canal organized a nationwide protest centered in Juigalpa. Police arbitrarily stopped protesters and prevented their participation using tactics that included heavily deploying antiriot police at key rural intersections leading to the city, using heavy machinery to block bridges and roads near communities where protesters lived, and threatening to revoke licenses or seize buses and trucks from companies transporting demonstrators. The government announced a countermarch to mark Earth Day, on the same date, time, and place. The NNP provided protection to that gathering and opened traffic for buses arriving for the government-sponsored march while continuing to block the independent march.

The NNP interfered with a November 25 rally organized by women’s rights groups to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The NNP and other government officials claimed the groups did not have the appropriate permission to hold the rally, closed streets surrounding the rallying point, and stopped buses carrying additional participants en route from Masaya, Chinandega, and the northern areas of Ocotal, Jinotega, and Matagalpa.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, including the right to organize or affiliate with political parties; nevertheless, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) and National Assembly used their accreditation powers for political purposes. National Assembly accreditation is mandatory for NGOs to receive donations. Domestic NGOs complained the Ortega administration’s control of access to funding from foreign donors reduced their ability to operate.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation for citizens, and the government generally respected these rights. The government strictly controlled the entry of persons affiliated with some groups, specifically humanitarian and faith-based organizations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Only the executive branch or the country’s embassies abroad may grant asylum for political persecution. The Nicaraguan National Commission for Refugees had not met since 2015. Data from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees between January 2015 and September 2017 suggested more than 300 registered asylum applications from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Data showed asylum claims had been lodged but not yet addressed.

Freedom of Movement: The government enforced strict controls for northbound migrants seeking to cross the country from Costa Rica.

Durable Solutions: The government recognized 61 persons for refugee status in 2015, the most recent year for which information was available.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot; however, the government restricted the exercise of this ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The November 5 municipal elections were marred by allegations of institutional fraud. The Organization of American States electoral observation mission issued recommendations to strengthen balance within the political party system, improve the selection of election councils at all levels, establish an adequate legal framework for civil society, and promote broad and inclusive domestic electoral observation. Opposition party members reported government officials transported supporters of the ruling party to voting centers. Opposition party members and observers claimed the ruling party used its control over the CSE to commit fraud. There were reports of public-sector employees being pressured to vote and show proof the next day at work that they had voted. National observers and opposition representatives claimed opposition poll watchers were denied accreditation, FSLN-affiliated poll watchers posed as opposition poll workers, and votes were not counted in accordance with the law.

Several isolated and violent postelection clashes between supporters of competing political parties, and with Nicaraguan security forces, left at least six dead on November 5 and 6. A larger, sustained confrontation between supporters of the indigenous party YATAMA and the ruling FSLN left several buildings ransacked or torched, at least one dead, and dozens injured. The NNP arrested approximately 55 opposition party members to face trial on charges associated with the postelectoral violence.

Civil society groups stated concerns over the lack of a transparent and fair electoral process leading up to the November elections for mayors and municipal council seats. Electoral experts, business leaders, representatives of the Catholic Church, and civil society organizations reported that a lack of accredited domestic observation, the ruling party’s control over an overwhelming majority of the official electoral structures, and the ruling party’s control over all branches of government impeded a free and fair election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The FSLN used state resources for political activities to enhance its electoral advantage in recent elections. Independent media, human rights groups, and opposition parties reported President Ortega’s administration used public funds to provide subsidized food, housing, vaccinations, access to clinics, and other benefits directly through either the FSLN-led “family cabinets” (community-based bodies that administer social government programs) or the party-controlled Sandinista leadership committee (CLS) system, which reportedly often coerced citizens into FSLN membership and denied services to opposition members. The FSLN also made party membership mandatory for an increasing number of public sector employees. Observers noted government employees continued to be pressured into affiliating with the FSLN and to participate in party activities.

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

Starting on August 20, members of the FSLN party protested in up to 13 municipalities when candidates for local government positions reflected central party preferences instead of local choices. FSLN leadership carried out surveys to select their candidates, but protesters claimed the surveys were manipulated to favor candidates selected by the president or vice president. Among their complaints, protesters accused presumed candidates of fraud and ineffective governance.

In September the government passed an electoral reform bill that allowed unregistered voters to vote in any polling center matching the address on their voter identity card. While the reform allowed more persons to vote, observers expressed concern it could also lead to double voting and manipulation of the voter lists. Observers also noted the reform responded mainly to concerns of low FSLN voter turnout in the November 2016 election due to discontent within the party.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate, although observers noted most women in elected positions at the municipal or national level held limited power or influence within their respective bodies.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Executive branch officials continued to disburse economic and developmental assistance funds lent by the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which averaged more than $550 million (denominated in dollars) per year from 2010 to 2013 but decreased to $21 million in the first half of 2017, outside the normal budgetary process controlled by the legislature. Media reported ALBA-funded contracts were awarded to companies with ties to the Ortega family and noted the funds from Venezuela served as a separate budget tightly controlled by the FSLN, with little public oversight. Cases of mismanagement of these funds by public officials were reportedly handled personally by members of the ruling party, rather than by the government entities in charge of oversight of public funds.

Corruption: Companies reported that bribery of public officials, unlawful seizures, and arbitrary assessments by customs and tax authorities were common.

The Supreme Court (CSJ) and lower-level courts remained particularly susceptible to bribes, manipulation, and political influence, especially by the FSLN. In April La Prensa published a document summarizing a discussion among three CSJ magistrates regarding an offer from President Ortega for the state to pay damages on behalf of the losing party. The CSJ stated through a press release that the document was not a court document and could not be held as fact. In September Sergio Umana Lopez, a Salvadoran man accused of being a gang member, stated Judge Victoria Lopez and her son had helped him obtain a Nicaraguan identity card. One of Umana’s associates accused the same judge of requesting a bribe to keep his case in the lower courts, thus not allowing it to reach the CSJ. While the CSJ suspended the accused judge and began an investigation, President Ortega stated, on September 12, “Since the criminal said so, and his lawyer repeated it, the media has turned this accusation into truth, and they have created huge falsehoods against the judicial branch.” In October the CSJ announced its investigation had ended but provided no public details of the investigation or further actions in favor of or against the judge. Private-sector representatives additionally reported an increase in judicial corruption for extorting money.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials were subject to financial disclosure laws. The law requires these declarations be made public and provides for sanctions in cases of noncompliance. Few public officials made these declarations public, and there was no public record of sanctions for noncompliance. The Office of the Comptroller is responsible for combating corruption within government agencies and offices. Observers, however, questioned the impartiality of the comptroller, especially concerning the lack of oversight of ALBA funds provided directly to the government. In its report for 2016, the most recent report available, the comptroller general stated 100 percent of public officers had turned in their financial disclosures, although they were not made public. The comptroller general also reported corruption committed by 44 public officials in 2016 resulted in economic losses to the government of 3,047,583 cordobas ($101,600). Observers noted this amount was unreasonably low.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of all workers in the public and private sectors, with the exception of those in the military and police, to form and join independent unions of their choice without prior authorization and to bargain collectively. The constitution recognizes the right to strike, although it places some restrictions on this right. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Burdensome and lengthy conciliation procedures impeded workers’ ability to call strikes. Additionally, if a strike continues for 30 days without resolution, the Ministry of Labor may suspend the strike and submit the matter to arbitration.

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

With some exceptions, the government effectively enforced applicable laws and often sought to foster resolution of labor conflicts through informal negotiations rather than formal administrative or judicial processes. The law does not establish specific fines, and observers claimed penalties were generally insufficient to deter violations. Although the law establishes a labor court arbitration process, it was subject to long wait times and lengthy and complicated procedures, and many labor disputes were resolved out of court. The government claimed 93 percent of labor disputes were resolved favorably to workers, but labor and human rights organizations continued to allege rulings were often unfavorable to workers.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected, but, as in other cases involving independent groups, the government often intervened for political reasons. Most labor unions were allied with political parties, and in recent years the government reportedly illegally dissolved unions and fired workers not associated with the ruling FSLN. in January, 12 unions complained that the Ministry of Labor did not extend them their certification, even after they obtained court orders. Former ministry employees and human rights and labor organizations alleged pro-FSLN public-sector unions used intimidation and coercion to recruit new members, often pressuring workers to leave non-FSLN unions.

Politically motivated firings of workers continued to be a problem. Observers noted the firings were carried out for reasons such as refusal of the worker to join the FSLN or participate in FSLN demonstrations. In some cases there were reports of persons being fired for speaking with the independent press. Moreover, party affiliation or a letter of recommendation from party secretaries, family cabinet coordinators, or other party officials was allegedly required from applicants seeking a public-sector job. Several sources argued similar instances of public-sector employees being fired without receiving severance pay continued to occur.

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations were generally insufficient to deter violations. There was no information available regarding government enforcement of these laws. Despite reported political will to combat human trafficking, including labor trafficking, during the year the government prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers than in the previous year and provided only limited information about its law enforcement efforts.

Observers noted reports of forced labor, including of men, women, and children in agriculture, construction, mining, and domestic servitude.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce the law and regulations.

Discrimination in employment took many forms. Although women generally had equal access to employment, few women had senior positions in business; in the public sector or in elected positions, women’s independence and influence were limited. Additionally, women’s wages were generally lower when compared with male counterparts, even for the same position and work performed. Workplace challenges for persons with disabilities included inadequate infrastructure, lack of educational opportunities, and a generally low rate of public services positions despite a legal requirement that a certain percentage be available to them. LGBTI organizations complained sexual orientation and gender identity continue to be a basis for discriminatory behavior.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes a statutory minimum wage for 10 economic sectors. According to the Ministry of Labor, the average legal minimum wage covers only 35 percent of the cost of basic goods.

In general the minimum wage was enforced only in the formal sector, estimated to be approximately 20 percent of the economy. The Ministry of Labor is the primary enforcement agency, but the government did not allocate adequate staff or resources to enable the Office of Hygiene and Occupational Safety to enforce occupational safety and health (OSH) provisions. Established penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

The standard legal workweek is a maximum of 48 hours, with one day of rest. The law dictates an obligatory year-end bonus equivalent to one month’s pay, proportional to the number of months worked. The law mandates premium pay for overtime, prohibits compulsory overtime, and sets a maximum of three hours of overtime per day not to exceed nine hours per week. The law establishes OSH standards, but they were not up-to-date or appropriate for the main production activities in the country.

The National Council of Labor Hygiene and Safety, including its departmental committees, is responsible for implementing worker safety legislation and collaborating with other government agencies and civil society organizations in developing assistance programs and promoting training and prevention activities. OSH standards are appropriate for the main industries in the country’s formal sector, but the regulations do not deter violations because they are infrequently enforced. The government reported 4,930 labor accidents in the first semester of the year, resulting in 14 labor-related deaths.

OSH standards were not widely enforced in the large informal sector, which represented 77 percent of employment and 88 percent of businesses, according to 2016 reports from the Consultants for Business Development and the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development. The informal sector included the bulk of workers in street sales, agriculture and ranching, transportation, domestic labor, fishing, and minor construction. Legal limitations on hours worked often were ignored by employers, who claimed workers readily volunteered for extra hours for additional pay. Violations of wage and hour regulations in the informal sector were common and generally not investigated, particularly in street sales, domestic work, and agriculture. Compulsory overtime was reported in the private security sector, where guards often were required to work excessive shifts without relief.

By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. It was unclear if authorities effectively protected employees in all such cases.

Panama

Executive Summary

Panama is a multiparty constitutional democracy. In May 2014 voters chose Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez as president in national elections that international and domestic observers considered generally free and fair. Varela assumed the presidency in July 2014.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included an instance of excessive use of force by prison officials; widespread corruption, including in the judiciary; and lethal violence against women.

The Varela administration and the Public Ministry continued investigations into allegations of corruption against public officials.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices. In July media reported the government was investigating the possible use of excessive force after 14 civilian correctional officers used batons and tear gas to control inmates who refused to be transported. The Ombudsman’s Office described the event as torture and said it was an uncommon use of force from correctional officers.

In August, four members of the UN Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) visited for the first time after the country’s 2011 ratification of the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. After the visit SPT members publicly exhorted the government to implement the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture according to international standards. In response the government opened the application process to hire the first National Mechanism director, who was to be embedded in the Ombudsman’s Office with an independent budget and staff.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh, due primarily to overcrowding, a shortage of prison guards, a lack of adequate medical services, and inadequate sanitary conditions. There were no private detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: As of August the prison system, with an intended capacity of 14,167 inmates, held 16,114 prisoners, down from approximately 17,000 prisoners in 2016. Pretrial detainees shared cells with convicted prisoners due to space constraints. Prison conditions for women were generally better than for men, but conditions for both populations remained poor, with overcrowded facilities, poor inmate security, poor medical care, and a lack of basic supplies for personal hygiene. Older facilities located in the provinces of Cocle and Veraguas lacked potable water and adequate ventilation and lighting. Women inmates had access to more rehabilitation programs than male inmates.

In adult prisons inmates complained of limited time outside cells and limited access for family members. Authorities acknowledged that staff shortages limited exercise time for inmates on certain days. Juvenile pretrial and custodial detention centers also suffered from a lack of prison officials.

One prison, Punta Coco, falls under the control of the Ministry of Public Security rather than the Ministry of Government’s National Directorate of the Penitentiary System (DGSP). In March the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reiterated its request to close Punta Coco due to the lack of appropriate medical attention for inmates. Lawyers and relatives of the inmates had to travel 66 miles by boat to reach the island. In August authorities transferred 12 inmates temporarily from the Punta Coco facility to a Panama City prison while they upgraded it to international prison standards. The government did not have plans to close down the facility permanently.

During the year the Ministry of Health conducted vaccination campaigns in most prisons. Inmates received vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria, influenza, measles, rubella, and chickenpox. Hypertension, diabetes, dermatitis, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and respiratory illnesses continued to be the most common diseases among the prison population.

Prison medical care overall was inadequate due to the lack of personnel, transportation, and medical resources. As of August there were only 55 medical staff (including physicians, dentists, nurses, and technical staff) assigned to all prisons nationwide. Sixty percent of complaints received by the Ombudsman’s Office from January through August related to the lack of access to medical attention and medications. Officials complained that juvenile detention centers lacked medicines even after the Ministry of Government disbursed large sums to the Ministry of Health for their procurement. Authorities permitted relatives of inmates to bring medicine, although some relatives paid bribes to prison personnel, including Panama National Police (PNP) members, to bypass the required clearances. Authorities transferred patients with serious illnesses to public clinics, but there were difficulties arranging inmate transportation. Because the DGSP did not have ambulances, inmates were transported in police vehicles or in emergency services ambulances when available.

As of August, 10 male inmates had died in custody: four of heart attacks, two of HIV, one from cancer, one from tuberculosis, and one from a stroke. One inmate died in prison because of inmate-on-inmate violence. No information about medical care in these cases was available.

Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but authorities did not make the results of such investigations public. The Ombudsman’s Office negotiated and petitioned on behalf of prisoners and received complaints about prison conditions. The Ombudsman’s Office continued to conduct weekly prison visits to prisons in Panama City and Colon and twice a year to prisons elsewhere in the country. The government generally did not monitor its meetings with prisoners.

There were 1,264 prison guards nationwide, including 207 new guards hired during the year. DGSP officials estimated, however, the system required 1,400 guards to staff the prisons adequately. In April all monthly salaries for correctional officers increased from $460 and $690 to $800 (one Panamanian balboa is equal in value to one U.S. dollar).

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The Roman Catholic nongovernmental organization (NGO) Justice and Peace visited a prison once between January and July. The NGO reported overcrowding and corrupt behavior by prison officials, which included smuggled weapons, cigarettes, and cell phones for the inmates. Human rights NGOs wanting access to prisons during visiting hours must send a written request to the DGSP 15 days in advance.

Improvements: After the September 2016 implementation of the new accusatorial penal system and sentencing reduction arrangements, the adult penitentiary population decreased during the year from 17,000 to approximately 16,000 prisoners. As of August, 247 inmates were granted reduced sentences and 41 were granted conditional releases. For largely similar reasons, the juvenile prison population decreased by almost 50 percent, compared with the previous year.

In September the DGSP began implementing Law 42, which provides a career path for civilian prison officials, technicians, and administrative personnel. The DGSP also opened a new Administrative Career Directorate and inaugurated new facilities for its academy for correctional officers in the central province of Cocle. The La Joyita prison’s 60-bed clinic was remodeled and better equipped, but it operated with limited hours.

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 prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Panama has no military forces. The PNP is principally responsible for internal law enforcement and public order. Civilian authorities in the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of the Presidency maintained effective control over all police, investigative, border, air, maritime, and migration services in the country. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but information on the process and results of investigations were rarely made public. Due to the lack of prison guards, the PNP was sometimes responsible for security both outside and inside of the prisons. Its leadership expressed concern over insufficient training and equipment.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires arresting officers to inform detainees immediately of the reasons for arrest or detention and of the right to immediate legal counsel. Detainees gained prompt access to legal counsel and family members, and the government provided indigent defendants with a lawyer.

The country completed its transition to an accusatory justice system in 2016, but cases opened prior to September 2, 2016, continued to be processed under the previous inquisitorial system, known for its inefficiencies and bureaucratic hurdles.

Under the accusatorial system, bail exists but is rarely granted. Under the inquisitorial system, a functioning bail procedure existed for a limited number of crimes but was largely unused. Most bail proceedings were at the discretion of the Prosecutor’s Office and could not be independently initiated by detainees or their legal counsel.

The law prohibits police from detaining adult suspects for more than 48 hours but allows authorities to detain minor suspects for 72 hours. In the accusatorial system, arrests and detention decisions were made on a probable cause basis.

Pretrial Detention: Under the inquisitorial system, the government regularly imprisoned inmates for more than a year before a pretrial hearing, and in some cases pretrial detention exceeded the minimum sentence for the alleged crime. According to the director of the DGSP, 54 percent of inmates were pretrial detainees as of September, compared with 66 percent in 2016. Some criticized the judiciary for applying unequal pretrial restrictive measures for individuals facing substantially similar charges. Prosecutors also reported internal pressure from the Public Ministry to prevent release of those accused of crimes pending trial. In an attempt to clear the backlog of thousands of inquisitorial system cases, in June the Supreme Court announced a decision allowing active inquisitorial system cases that had not started investigation by January 1, 2018, to be processed under the accusatory system.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was inefficient and susceptible to corruption as well as internal and outside influence, and it faced allegations of manipulation by the executive branch.

Courts proceedings for cases in process under the inquisitorial system were not publicly available, while accusatory system cases were. As a result nonparties to the inquisitorial case proceedings did not have access to these proceedings until a verdict was reached. Under the inquisitorial system, judges could decide to hold private hearings and did so in high-profile cases. Consequently the judiciary sometimes faced accusations, particularly in high-profile cases, of procedural irregularities. Since most of these cases had not reached conclusion, however, the records remained under seal. Interested parties generally did not face gag orders, but because of this mechanism, it was difficult to verify facts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides that all citizens charged with crimes enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary for non-Spanish speaking inmates), to a trial without undue delay, to have counsel of their choice, to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to refrain from incriminating themselves or close relatives, and to be tried only once for a given offense. The accused may be present with counsel during the investigative phase of proceedings.

During the year all new criminal cases were tried under the accusatory system. Under the accusatory system, trials were open to the public. Judges may order the presence of pretrial detainees for providing or expanding upon statements or for confronting witnesses. Trials are conducted based on evidence presented by the public prosecutor. Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants may confront or question adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants have a right of appeal. The judiciary generally enforced these rights.

The judiciary complained that many hearings were canceled due to inmates’ failure to appear, especially those involving inmates processed under the old inquisitorial system. This was usually for administrative shortcomings, such as a dearth of PNP agents to transfer the inmates to the courts. Authorities were also aware that available correctional officers and PNP agents focused more on inmates tried under the new accusatory system because the law fines police and correctional officers 100 balboas for failing to deliver an inmate to a hearing.

The judiciary continued to promote videoconference hearings. Judges were increasingly receptive to using this tool, and during the year the government continued to add video conference and hearing rooms to prison facilities.

Judicial response times generally decreased under the new accusatory system. As of June, 104,626 cases were tried under the accusatorial system. During the same period, judicial response time nationwide decreased from an average of 296 days under the inquisitorial system to 42 days under the accusatory system.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees. Some individuals detained under corruption charges claimed their charges were politically motivated because they had served in former president Ricardo Martinelli’s administration.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to the courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations, although most do not pursue such lawsuits due to the length of the process. There are administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs, and authorities often granted them to citizens who followed through with the process. The court can order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured. Individuals or organizations may initiate cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights by submitting petitions to the IACHR.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. The law also sets forth requirements for conducting wiretap surveillance. It denies prosecutors authority to order wiretaps on their own and requires judicial oversight.

The investigation of the 2015 illegal wiretapping case against former president Martinelli, as well as against Alejandro Garuz and Gustavo Perez, two former intelligence directors in his administration, continued during the year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. Some journalists complained of harassment, intimidation, and threats when covering stories of impropriety, corruption, or other crimes involving members of the Ministry of Public Security or members of the public security forces.

Press and Media Freedom: During the year media outlets owned by political and business leaders facing legal proceedings claimed those proceedings limited their freedoms of expression. Media outlets continued to publish and broadcast freely throughout the year. There were anecdotal reports of the government discouraging journalists from publishing stories critical of the administration.

Television channels owners and radio directors linked to opposition parties claimed to be victims of government retaliation for their political views through the opening of corruption investigation against them. In 2016 police arrested NexTV president and former president of the board of directors of the government-run national savings bank Caja de Ahorros, Riccardo Francolini, and former Caja de Ahorros board member and current NexTV anchor and news director Fernando Correa on embezzlement charges unrelated to their media activities.

Violence and Harassment: In 2016 the Ministry of Government submitted a bill that would fine media outlets that published material promoting violence against women. Several journalist unions condemned the bill as an attempt to censor and regulate media content. Pressure from civil society stalled the National Assembly’s approval of the bill. In March the National Assembly approved a revised version of the bill, which transfers responsibility for the fines from the Ministry of Government to the judicial branch.

In April the National Assembly passed a law regulating sexual content in classified advertisements of newspapers, forbidding the publication of sex-work advertisements, in an effort to prevent sex trafficking. Some critics viewed it as a form of censorship.

New media journalists often faced challenges similar to their traditional media counterparts. For example, ClaraMente (a platform launched from Facebook, with a widespread audience) reporters Mauricio Valenzuela and Hugo German reportedly received death threats over the telephone regarding their publications critical of anti-immigration right-wing groups and religious organizations.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The government provided free, wireless internet in public spaces that, when working, reached 86 percent of the population. According to government statistics, two million persons had fixed internet access, representing 50 percent of the population.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The government provided permits for organized groups to conduct peaceful marches. Nevertheless, police at times used force to disperse demonstrators, especially when highways or streets were blocked. The law provides for six to 24 months’ imprisonment for anyone who, through use of violence, impedes the transit of vehicles on public roads or causes damage to public or private property.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, persons under temporary humanitarian protection, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The process of obtaining refugee status generally took three to four years, during which asylum seekers did not have the right to work and could not access basic services.

As of July the National Office for the Attention of Refugees (ONPAR) received 2,613 refugee applications, compared with 2,619 in 2016. In 2016 ONPAR reviewed 784 cases for admission and admitted 10 into the asylum process. Approximately 77 percent of the applicants were from Venezuela, and the remaining 23 percent were Colombians, Salvadorans, and Nicaraguans.

In August, following a separate process not involving ONPAR, the country granted asylum to three Venezuelan judges and a consul of the Venezuelan embassy. In September the government approved the asylum request of a Venezuelan Supreme Court alternate justice.

As of September the National Border Protection Force had apprehended 4,833 irregular migrants in the Darien region. Apprehensions were down from 17,306 in 2016 and 31,749 in 2015. Cuban nationals accounted for 716 of the migrants, compared with 5,083 in 2016. In March the government announced it would deport hundreds of Cuban migrants, and in August the government stated that 76 Cuban migrants accepted the offer and would receive 1,600 balboas and a Panamanian tourist visa once back in Cuba. In September authorities began arranging repatriation flights for Cuban migrants. The government continued to manage camps in the Darien region to provide food, shelter, and medical assistance to the migrants. The government reported continued migrations of persons from South Asia and Africa.

According to UNHCR and its NGO implementing partners, thousands of persons living in the country might be in need of international protection. These included persons in the refugee process, persons denied refugee status, and persons who did not apply for refugee status due to lack of knowledge or fear of deportation.

Employment: Refugees recognized by authorities have the right to work, but recognized refugees complained that they faced discriminatory hiring practices. In an effort to prevent this discriminatory practice, ONPAR removed the word “refugee” from recognized refugees’ identification cards.

All foreigners seeking a work contract must initiate the process through a lawyer and pay a government fee of 700 balboas to obtain a work permit that expires upon termination of the labor contract or after one year, whichever comes first.

Access to Basic Services: Education authorities sometimes denied refugees access to education, while refusing to issue diplomas to others if they could not present school records from their country of origin. The Ministry of Education continued to enforce the government’s 2015 decree requiring schools to accept students in the asylum process at the grade level commensurate with the applicants’ prior studies.

Durable Solutions: The law allows persons legally recognized as refugees or with asylum status who have lived in the country for more than three years to seek permanent residency.

STATELESS PERSONS

The government worked with Colombia to recognize approximately 200 stateless persons on the border. In July the governments of Panama and Costa Rica, with the cooperation of UNHCR, set up a mobile registry office on the border with Costa Rica to register indigenous Ngabe and Bugle seasonal workers who travel between Costa Rica and Panama and who had never registered their births in either country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot based on universal and equal suffrage. Naturalized citizens may not hold specified categories of elective office, such as the presidency.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 voters chose Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez as president in national elections independent observers considered generally free and fair. Elected at the same time were 71 national legislators, 77 mayors, 648 local representatives, and seven council members.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires new political parties to meet strict membership and organizational standards to gain official recognition and participate in national campaigns. Electoral reforms passed in May, however, require that political parties obtain the equivalent of 2 percent of the total votes cast to maintain legal standing, a 2 percent reduction from previous requirements. The Revolutionary Democratic Party, Panamenista Party, Democratic Change Party, and Popular Party all complied with the requirement. During the year new political groups registered with the Electoral Tribunal, including the Broad Front for Democracy, the Alliance Party, the Independent Social Alternative Party and Creemos. The Electoral Tribunal provided oversight of internal party elections. On October 15, the Democratic Change Party held internal elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. Corruption remained a problem in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches as well as in the security forces. During the year, however, the government took steps to address corrupt practices among government employees and security forces. Anticorruption mechanisms such as asset forfeiture, whistleblower and witness protection, plea bargaining, and professional conflict-of-interest rules exist.

Corruption: During the year there were several credible allegations of corruption against current or former members of the government. More than a dozen high-ranking officials under the previous administration faced charges of corruption.

Investigations under the inquisitorial system continued of Panama Canal Authority board member Lourdes Castillo and her business partners for alleged payment of bribes in 2014 in exchange for a contract with the Panama Maritime Authority. The administration filed a complaint for alleged overpayment of 12 million balboas made to Castillo and her partners’ corporations.

Corruption and a lack of accountability among police continued to be a problem, although the government took steps to address violations. Agents were dismissed on corruption grounds and were under investigation by the Public Ministry. In January officials dismantled a human trafficking organization and arrested two National Migration Service inspectors suspected of receiving bribes.

In September, Eudocio “Pany” Perez, mayor of La Villa de Los Santos, was arrested on charges of corruption and money laundering for drug trafficking organizations. His assistant, a PNP major, a PNP agent, and seven other individuals were also detained in an operation in which 2.1 tons of illicit substances, 30 cars, and approximately one million balboas were seized.

In 2016 the former Agriculture Institute director general under the current administration, Edwin Cardenas, was detained under charges of mismanagement of more than six million balboas of public funds. The fourth anticorruption prosecutor charged Cardenas for wrongdoings from July 2014 through April 2015. Cardenas was released on bail in February. The case continued under the inquisitorial system.

In August the Second Superior Court ordered the separation from office of the mayor of Chagres in Colon Province on charges of embezzlement and document forgery. The 2012 case was under the inquisitorial system.

Former minister of the presidency Demetrio “Jimmy” Papadimitriu and former minister of public works Jaime Ford, both in the Martinelli administration, were detained in September for alleged links to bribes paid by Brazilian multinational construction company Odebrecht. Both faced money-laundering charges. The cases were under the inquisitorial system.

After two years in a private hospital undergoing medical treatment for an undisclosed illness, former internal revenue director under the Martinelli administration, Luis Cucalon, was taken to prison. Cucalon faced embezzlement charges for favoring a company with a direct contract for tax collection. The case was being processed under the inquisitorial system and saw several delays. Cucalon claimed medical problems and changed lawyers several times to keep moving hearing dates. After four postponements, the judge called for a closed-door hearing in October. Only prosecutors and defense lawyers, in addition to Cucalon, were able to attend. The hearing was closed to media since judges have discretion on whether to allow media presence or not under the inquisitorial system.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain executive and judiciary officials to submit a financial disclosure statement to the Comptroller General’s Office. The information is not made public unless the official grants permission for access to the public.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join unions of their choice subject to the union’s registration with the government. Public servants may not form unions but may form associations that can bargain collectively on behalf of members. In August the Ministry of Labor submitted to the National Assembly a draft law to allow public servants to form unions and bargain collectively.

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to strike. The Administrative Career Law grants public-sector employees the same right when the strike has been deemed legal and when a minimum percentage of workers cover essential positions, as set out in the law. The right to strike does not apply in areas deemed vital to public welfare and security, including police. The law provides all private-sector and public-sector workers the right to bargain collectively, prohibits employer antiunion discrimination, and protects workers engaged in union activities from loss of employment or discriminatory transfers. It requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity.

The law places several restrictions on these rights, including requiring Panamanian citizenship to serve on a trade union’s executive board, requiring a minimum of 40 persons to form a private-sector union (either by company across trades or by trade across companies), and permitting only one trade union per business establishment. The International Labor Organization continued to criticize the 40-person minimum as too large for workers wanting to form a union within a company; domestic unions, as well as the government and private sector, reiterated their support for keeping the figure at 40 individuals.

Forty public servants are required to form a worker’s association. Member associations represent public-sector workers such as doctors, nurses, firefighters, and administrative staff in government ministries. The law stipulates there may not be more than one association in a public-sector institution and permits no more than one chapter per province.

In the private sector, the labor code provides that if the government does not respond to a registration application within 15 days, the union automatically gains legal recognition. In the public sector, unions gain legal recognition automatically if the General Directorate for Administrative Public Sector Careers does not respond to registration applications within 30 days.

A majority of employees must support a strike, which must be related to the improvement of working conditions, a collective bargaining agreement, or in support of another strike of workers on the same project (solidarity strike). In the event of a strike, at least 20 to 30 percent of the workforce must continue to provide minimum services, particularly public services as defined by the law, such as transportation, sanitation, mail delivery, hospital care, telecommunications, and public availability of essential foodstuffs.

Strikes in essential transportation services are limited to those involving public passenger services. The law prohibits strikes for the Panama Canal Authority’s employees but allows unions to organize and bargain collectively on such issues as schedules and safety. It also provides for arbitration to resolve disputes. By law the National Federation of Public Servants (FENASEP), an umbrella federation of 21 public-sector worker associations, is not permitted to call strikes or negotiate collective bargaining agreements. Individual associations under FENASEP may negotiate on behalf of their members. FENASEP leaders noted that collective bargaining claims were heard and recognized, but they reported a lack of changes afterwards, particularly regarding firings without cause. FENASEP discussed structural changes with President Varela to promote equity and provide adequate treatment of the public sector as a sector with established rights like that of unionized groups. During the year FENASEP focused on the lack of job stability, the lack of a policy for salary beyond the minimum wage, salary gap and equal pay for men and women, and the lack of indemnity pay for unjustified firings.

Supreme Court decisions recognize that collective agreements negotiated between employers and unorganized workers have legal status equivalent to collective bargaining agreements negotiated by unions. Executive decrees provide that an employer may not enter into collective negotiations with nonunionized workers when a union exists and that a preexisting agreement with nonunionized workers cannot be used to refuse negotiations with unionized workers. The labor ministry’s Manual of Labor Rights and Obligationsprovides that unorganized workers may petition the ministry regarding labor rights violations and may exercise the right to strike.

An executive decree protects employees from employer interference in labor rights, specifically including “employer-directed unions,” and mandates that workers be able to choose unions freely, without penalty.

Since the beginning of the Varela administration in 2014, the government approved more than 20 applications it received for union formations and denied two based on evidence of company owners’ influence.

In addition to the court system, the Conciliation Board of the labor ministry has the authority to resolve certain labor disagreements, such as internal union disputes, enforcement of the minimum wage, and some dismissal issues. The law allows arbitration by mutual consent, at the request of the employee or the ministry in the case of a collective dispute in a public-service company. It allows either party to appeal if arbitration is mandated during a collective dispute in a public-service company. The separate Labor Foundation’s Tripartite Conciliation Board has sole competency for disputes related to domestic employees, some dismissal issues, and claims of less than 1,500 balboas.

For public-sector workers, the Board of Appeal and Conciliation in the Ministry of the Presidency hears and resolves complaints. The board refers complaints it cannot resolve to an arbitral tribunal, which consists of representatives from the employer, the workers’ association, and a third member chosen by the first two. Tribunal decisions are final.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining; however, the inspections and notifications departments lacked funding and inspectors to enforce labor laws adequately. Employers often hired employees under short-term contracts to avoid paying benefits that accrue to long-term employees. Employers in the maritime sector also commonly hired workers continuously on short-term contracts but did not convert them to permanent employees as required by law. The law states that employers have the right to dismiss any employee without justifiable cause before the two-year tenure term. As a result employers frequently hired workers for one year and 11 months and subsequently laid them off to circumvent laws that make firing employees more difficult after two years of employment. This practice is illegal if the same employee is rehired as a temporary worker after being laid off, although employees rarely reported the practice.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced labor of adults or children. The law establishes penalties of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for forced labor involving movement (either cross-border or within the country) and six to 10 years’ imprisonment for forced labor not involving movement.

While prostitution is legal, according to media reports, forced labor continued to be a problem in the commercial sex industry, often due to disputes between women and their employers over wage amounts agreed in oral contracts.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, gender, religion, political opinion, citizenship, disability, social status, HIV status and other communicable diseases, but they do not do so on the basis of sexual orientation, and/or gender identity. In October the Ministry of Labor announced the adoption of the UN Development Program’s Gender Equality certification program in the public and private sectors to promote gender equality in the workplace.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, sex, gender, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and HIV-positive status (see section 6). Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum hourly wage for private-sector employees does meet the monthly poverty line. Public servants’ monthly minimum wage does meet the monthly poverty line. Food and the use of housing facilities were considered part of the salary for some workers, such as domestic and agricultural workers. Minimum monthly salaries for domestic workers ranged from 225 balboas to 250 balboas. The agricultural sector and the marine and aviation sectors received the lowest and highest minimum wages, respectively.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 48 hours, provides for at least one 24-hour rest period weekly, limits the number of hours worked per week, provides for premium pay for overtime, and prohibits compulsory overtime. There is no annual limit on the total number of overtime hours allowed. If employees work more than three hours of overtime in one day or more than nine overtime hours in a week, excess overtime hours must be paid at an additional 75 percent above the normal wage. Workers have the right to 30 days’ paid vacation for every 11 months of continuous work, including those who do not work full time. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting health and safety standards. Standards set were generally current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The labor code requires employers to provide a safe workplace environment, including the provision of protective clothing and equipment for workers.

The Ministry of Labor generally enforced these standards in the formal sector. The inspection office comprises two groups: the Panama City-based headquarters group and the regional group. As of November within the headquarters there were 34 inspectors reported, including nine general labor inspectors, four child labor inspectors, and 12 safety inspectors in the construction industry. The construction industry paid the salaries of construction industry inspectors, although the inspectors remained ministry employees. The regional branches had 55 inspectors. As of September the Ministry of Labor had conducted labor inspections nationwide. Allowable fines for violations were low and generally insufficient to deter violations. During the year, however, the government levied fines according to the number of workers affected, resulting in larger overall fines. The ministry issued fines for migration violations, for safety and security violations, for general labor issues violations, and for violations related to child labor.

Reports of violations relating to hours of work existed, especially in the maritime sector, where unions reported shifts of 14 to 24 hours. These long shifts reportedly resulted in fatigue-based occupational safety and health risks. Reports also indicated that neither the Maritime Authority nor the labor ministry conducted inspections regarding working conditions in the maritime sector. Canal Zone unions and workers experienced difficulties accessing the justice system to adjudicate complaints due to delays and other deficiencies of the Labor Relations Board, which is the court of first instance on labor matters in the Canal Zone. Reports also indicated violations relating to hours of work for coffee harvest workers, who often lacked formal contracts and were vulnerable to coercion from the employer.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and the occupational health section of the Social Security Administration reported conducting periodic inspections of hazardous employment sites. The law requires the resident engineer and a ministry construction industry inspector to remain on construction sites, establish fines for noncompliance, and identify a tripartite group composed of the Chamber of Construction, SUNTRACS (the largest union of construction workers in the country), and the ministry to regulate adherence.

Most workers formally employed in urban areas earned the minimum wage or more. Approximately 40 percent of the working population worked in the informal sector, and many earned well below the minimum wage. In most rural areas, unskilled laborers, including street vendors and those involved in forestry, fishing, and handicraft production, earned three to six balboas per day without benefits. The Ministry of Labor was less likely to enforce labor laws in most rural areas (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Some construction workers and their employers were occasionally lax about basic safety measures, frequently due to their perception that it reduced productivity. Equipment was often outdated, broken, or lacking safety devices, due in large part to a fear that the replacement cost would be prohibitive.

Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect workers in this situation.

Peru

Executive Summary

Peru is a constitutional, multiparty republic. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, leader of the Peruanos Por el Kambio (Peruvians for Change) party, won the June 2016 national elections in a vote widely considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included allegations of torture by some members of the police; allegations of improper influence and corruption of the judiciary; criminalization of libel, although no such charges were filed this year; government corruption at all levels; violence against women and children; and forced labor at illegal mining sites.

The government took steps to investigate and in some cases prosecute or otherwise punish public officials accused of abuses. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

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

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

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

After taking office in July 2016, the Kuczynski administration launched an investigation into allegations that members of the Peruvian National Police (PNP) committed the extrajudicial killings of more than 27 criminal suspects from 2012 to 2015 as part of a scheme to receive awards and promotions. According to the press, Ministry of Interior, and Public Ministry, an “irregular” group of approximately nine PNP officers and subofficers allegedly paid informants to entrap individuals and provide regular police units with false intelligence, setting the stage for deadly confrontations. In May and July, a court in the Piura Region granted the lead prosecutor’s request for preventive detention of 14 PNP officials. Eight received 20 months’ preventive detention, and six were placed under house arrest.

On August 18, the National Criminal Court sentenced retired army colonels Edgard Paz Avedano and Humberto Obregoso Talavera to 23 and 30 years in prison, respectively, for torturing and murdering 53 persons at the Los Cabitos military base in the Ayacucho Region in 1983. The court ruled the government held partial responsibility and must pay reparations, since the former officers acted on orders to “disappear” suspected Shining Path members. Paz and Obregoso failed to appear in court, and the government issued warrants for their arrest. The court cleared a third former military officer for lack of evidence and issued suspended sentences for two others because they suffered from dementia.

In a similar case, in December 2016 the National Criminal Court sentenced retired army colonel Donald Vilchez Velez to 18 years in prison for the disappearance of six persons detained at the Julcamarca military base in the Huancavelica Region in 1990. Vilchez appealed the court’s decision.

The Shining Path conducted several terrorist acts during the year that caused the death of eight security force members, including an April 9 attack on army officers carrying electoral materials the day before the first round of national elections.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government continued to address disappearances that occurred during the internal conflict of 1980-2000. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated more than 15,000 persons disappeared during this period.

A 2016 law that requires the Ministry of Justice to oversee the recovery, identification, and return of the “disappeared” human remains from the internal conflict continued in the early implementation stage. The Justice Ministry established a Directorate for Disappeared Persons, which developed an action plan but had not begun the process of recovering, identifying, and returning human remains.

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

The law prohibits such practices. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), however, continued to report that torture was a problem, primarily within the police force, and stated the government did not effectively prevent and punish those who committed such abuses.

According to the local NGO Human Rights Commission, many victims did not file formal complaints about their alleged torture, and those who did so purportedly had difficulty obtaining judicial redress and adequate compensation. Transgender women reported to NGOs that municipal police in metropolitan Lima committed acts of extortion, violence, and degrading treatment against them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh for most of the country’s inmates, due to overcrowding, poor sanitation, inadequate nutrition and health care, and corruption among guards, which included guards smuggling weapons and drugs into the prisons. Guards received little to no training or supervision.

Physical Conditions: As of June the National Penitentiary Institute reported the national penitentiary system had 84,741 prisoners in 69 facilities designed for 36,956 prisoners. Examples of particularly overcrowded prisons included San Juan de Lurigancho men’s prison, which held 9,646 prisoners in a facility designed for 3,204, and the Santa Monica women’s prison in Chorrillos, which held 740 prisoners in a facility designed for 450.

Prison guards and fellow inmates reportedly abused prisoners, and inmates killed fellow inmates during the year. Inmates had intermittent access to potable water, bathing facilities were inadequate, kitchen facilities were unhygienic, and prisoners often slept in hallways and common areas for lack of cell space. Prisoners with money had access to cell phones, illegal drugs, and better meals prepared outside the prison; prisoners who lacked funds experienced much more difficult conditions.

Most prisons provided access to basic medical care, but there was a shortage of doctors, and inmates complained of having to pay for medical attention. In February 2016 a foreign citizen prisoner died due to lack of medical treatment. Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS reportedly remained at near-epidemic levels. The Ombudsman’s Office reported insufficient accessibility and inadequate facilities for prisoners with disabilities. Prisons lacked specialized medical equipment needed for prisoners with disabilities, such as wheelchairs and transfer beds. Limited access to adequate psychological care for prisoners with mental disabilities was also reported.

Administration: Independent and government authorities investigated allegations of mistreatment in prisons and made the results of their investigations public.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights and international humanitarian law observers. International Committee of the Red Cross officials made unannounced visits to inmates in 15 different prisons and detention centers. During the year Ombudsman’s Office representatives made 49 visits to Lima and provincial prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these prohibitions. The government constitutionally suspended the right to freedom from arrest without warrant in designated emergency zones.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNP is responsible for all areas of law enforcement and internal security, including migration and border security. The PNP functions under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. The armed forces are responsible for external security under the authority of the Ministry of Defense. The armed forces have limited domestic security responsibilities, particularly in the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) emergency zone.

Corruption and a high rate of acquittals in civilian courts for military personnel accused of crimes remained serious problems. The Public Ministry conducted investigations, although access to evidence held by the Ministry of Defense was not always forthcoming. The Ombudsman’s Office can also investigate cases and submit conclusions to the Public Ministry for follow-up. The Ministries of Interior and Defense employed internal mechanisms to investigate allegations of security force abuse. The Ministry of Interior’s Office of Inspector General reported that it disciplined approximately 33,400 police officers from January to September, compared with 7,400 in the first eight months of 2016. Analysts attributed the increase in disciplinary actions to ministry reforms in the police force.

Police continued operating under a use-of-force doctrine adopted in 2015. When a police action causes death or injury, the law requires an administrative investigation and notification to the appropriate oversight authorities. The law is applicable to all police force members and defines the principles, rules, situations, and limitations for police use of force and firearms.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires a written judicial warrant based on sufficient evidence for an arrest, unless authorities apprehend the alleged perpetrator of a crime in the act. Only judges may authorize detentions. Authorities are required to arraign arrested persons within 24 hours, except in cases of suspected terrorism, drug trafficking, or espionage, for which arraignment must take place within 15 days. In remote areas arraignment must take place as soon as practicable. Military authorities must turn over persons they detain to police within 24 hours. Police must file a report with the Public Ministry within 24 hours after an arrest. The Public Ministry, in turn, must issue its own assessment of the legality of the police action in the arrest, and authorities respected this requirement.

The law permits detainees access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. Police may detain suspected terrorists incommunicado for 10 days.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. As of June authorities had sentenced only 49,014 of the 84,741 detainees held in detention facilities and prisons. Delays were due mainly to judicial inefficiency, corruption, and staff shortages. The law requires the release of prisoners held more than nine months whom the justice system has not tried and sentenced; the period is 18 months for complex cases.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. NGOs and other advocates alleged the judiciary often did not operate independently, was not consistently impartial, and was subject to political influence and corruption. Authorities generally respected court orders from the judiciary.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right, although reports of corruption in the judicial system were common. The government continued the implementation, begun in 2006, of a criminal procedure code designed to streamline the penal process. As of October the government had introduced the code in 28 of the 31 judicial districts, although implementation in the largest judicial districts–Lima and Callao–remained pending.

The law presumes all defendants are innocent. The government must promptly inform defendants in detail of the charges against them and provide defendants a trial without undue delay. Defendants also have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense. State-provided attorneys, however, often had poor training. Although the law grants citizens the right to trial in their own language, interpreting and translation services for non-Spanish speakers were sometimes unavailable. This deficiency primarily affected indigenous persons living in the highlands and Amazon regions. In a case from 2015, however, a court in Puno issued its decision in the Aymara indigenous language, which is prevalent in the region. As of October the decision was on appeal to a court in Lima, and any additional court findings would use Aymara.

The law gives all defendants the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare for their defense. Defendants have the right to confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The government cannot compel defendants to testify or confess to a crime. Defendants may appeal verdicts to a superior court and ultimately to the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Tribunal may rule on cases involving issues such as habeas corpus or the constitutionality of laws.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, but court cases often take years to resolve. Press reports, NGOs, and other sources continued to allege that persons outside the judiciary frequently corrupted or influenced judges.

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

There were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. The government’s declaration of an emergency zone in the Valley of Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers, due to drug trafficking and criminal activity, suspended the right to home inviolability.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government mainly respected this right. Generally, an independent press and a functioning democratic political system promoted freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Numerous journalists alleged police, protesters, and company personnel assaulted and threatened them while covering various protests and incidents of social unrest. The Press and Society Institute reported the most common type of threat was made against local radio and television broadcast journalists who investigated local government authorities for corruption. The institute alleged the aggressors were often local and regional government officials, such as mayors and regional governors.

Police continued to investigate the 2016 killing of radio journalist Hernan Choquepata Ordonez in the coastal province of Camana, Arequipa Region. Reports suggested Choquepata was killed after he criticized mayors of the municipalities of Camana and Mariscal Caceres.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some media, most notably in the provinces outside of Lima, continued to practice self-censorship due to fear of local government reprisal.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel. In contrast with 2016, there were no reports that officials intimidated reporters with possible libel charges.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some media reported that narcotics traffickers and persons engaged in illegal mining activities threatened press freedom by intimidating journalists who reported information that undermined their operations.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the National Statistics and Information Institute, 62 percent of the population used the internet (including cell phone users). The International Telecommunication Union reported that 45 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law does not require a permit for public demonstrations, but organizers must report the type of demonstration planned and coordinate its intended location to the appropriate regional representative. The government suspended freedom of assembly in the VRAEM emergency zone, where armed elements of the Shining Path and drug traffickers operated, as well as in regions suffering from crime and public health crises.

The government may restrict or prohibit demonstrations in specific times and places to assure public safety or health. Police used tear gas and occasional force to disperse protesters in various demonstrations, such as the nationwide teacher strike in August. Although most protests were peaceful, protests in some areas turned violent, resulting in two deaths and 82 injuries from January to September (see section 6, Other Societal Violence and Discrimination).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The government maintained an emergency zone in the VRAEM and parts of four regions, where it restricted freedom of movement in an effort to maintain public peace and restore internal order.

Narcotics traffickers and Shining Path members at times interrupted the free movement of persons by establishing roadblocks in sections of the VRAEM emergency zone. Individuals protesting against extractive industry projects also occasionally established roadblocks throughout the country.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

The situation of former IDPs was difficult to assess. According to UNHCR, the number of IDPs was unknown, since officials registered relatively few.

The governmental Reparations Council continued to assist victims of the 1980-2000 internal conflict with the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement terrorist groups. The Quechua and other Andean indigenous populations were disproportionately represented among IDPs, since the conflict took place primarily within the Andean region. The council continued to compile a registry of victims and identify communities eligible for reparations. Some victims and family members lacking proper identity documents experienced difficulties registering for reparations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government and civil society organizations estimated there were between 20,000 and 100,000 foreigners residing under irregular circumstances. The number of Venezuelans entering the country continued to increase. The government created permanent residence permits for these persons, enabling them to reside and work in the country legally. The government granted residence permits to approximately 12,000 Venezuelans who entered Peru prior to February. It approved a second phase of permits for those who entered between February and July. Local representatives with the International Organization for Migration reported 78,000 Venezuelans entered Peru from Ecuador between January and September. Of these Venezuelan entrants, 65 percent declared their final destination was Peru, 29 percent Chile, and 5 percent Argentina.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government cooperated with UNHCR and recognized the Catholic Migration Commission as the official provider of technical assistance to refugees. The commission also advised citizens who feared persecution and sought asylum abroad. The government provided protection to refugees on a renewable, year-to-year basis, in accordance with commission recommendations. Asylum requests continued to grow, from approximately 400 cases in 2015, to 2,000 in 2016, to 10,000 as of October. Approximately 95 percent of the asylum requests during the year came from Venezuelan citizens. There were 32 Syrian refugees as of September.

Durable Solutions: The government does not have a resettlement program, but it received persons recognized as refugees in other nations and provided some administrative support toward their integration. UNHCR provided such refugees humanitarian and emergency aid, legal assistance, documentation, and, in exceptional cases, voluntary return and family reunification.

Temporary Protection: As of October the government provided temporary protection to more than 1,000 individuals awaiting a decision on their refugee status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Pedro Pablo Kuczynski assumed the presidency in July 2016 after a second round of presidential elections. Domestic and international observers declared the nationwide elections–held in April (for president, the National Congress, and the Andean Parliament) and in June (a second round for the presidential race only)–to be fair and transparent, despite controversy over the exclusion of two presidential candidates for administrative violations of election-related laws.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction or outside interference, although many remained weak institutions dominated by individual personalities. By law groups that advocate the violent overthrow of the government and express ideologies incompatible with democracy cannot register as political parties.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for officials engaged in corruption; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of corruption by government officials during the year. Citizens continued to view corruption as a pervasive problem in all branches of national, regional, and local governments.

Corruption: Several high-profile political figures were under investigation for corruption. Former president Ollanta Humala and first lady Nadine Heredia were in pretrial detention while under investigation on money-laundering and corruption charges. The government requested the provisional arrest of former president Toledo from the United States for allegedly accepting bribes during his administration.

There were allegations of widespread corruption in the judicial system. Although the new criminal procedure code was not fully implemented in Lima and Callao, the government applied it to corruption cases in these two judicial districts. In 2014 authorities arrested former regional governor Cesar Alvarez for homicide and corruption-related crimes and well-connected businessman Rodolfo Orellana for fraud and money laundering. Both were accused of bribing vast networks of police officers, judges, prosecutors, and other public officials to protect themselves from prosecution. In 2015 authorities dismissed then attorney general Carlos Ramos Heredia for impeding investigations into corruption networks orchestrated by Alvarez and Orellana. As of October the government’s cases against Alvarez and Orellana were pending. A special congressional investigative commission, the Public Ministry, and the National Magistrates Council continued investigations into the networks.

Members of Congress enjoy congressional immunity from prosecution for any acts committed during their time in the legislature. In the case of flagrant crimes, the judicial branch may request that Congress lift immunity and allow the arrest of a member. By law congressional immunity does not apply to crimes committed before the member was sworn in, but in practice it impeded most prosecutions.

Corruption in prisons remained a serious problem. Observers cited numerous cases of guards cooperating with criminal bosses who oversaw the smuggling of guns and drugs into prisons. In addition there were several reports of military corruption, impunity, and resistance in providing evidence on military personnel under investigation for human rights abuses committed during the country’s internal conflict.

Financial Disclosure: By law most public officials must submit personal financial information to the Office of the Comptroller General prior to taking office and periodically thereafter. The Comptroller General’s Office monitors and verifies disclosures, but the law was not strongly enforced. Administrative sanctions for noncompliance range from 30-day to one-year suspensions, include bans on signing government contracts, and culminate with a ban from holding government office. The comptroller makes disclosures available to the public. A 2016 law enables the Superintendency of Banks’ Financial Intelligence Unit to access individual or corporate tax records and bank accounts for public officials under investigation for money laundering and other crimes.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

With certain limitations, labor laws and regulations provide freedom of association, the right to strike, and collective bargaining. The law prohibits employer intimidation and other forms of antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, unless they opt to receive compensation instead. Regulations allow workers to form unions without seeking prior authorization. The minimum membership required by law to form a union is 20 employees for a workplace-level union and 50 employees for a sector-wide union, which some labor activists viewed as prohibitively high in some instances, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises. Union organization in some nontraditional export sectors, such as textiles and apparel, was difficult due to the use of short-term contracts.

The law specifies that public- and private-sector workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike, but it stipulates that the right to strike must be “in harmony with broader social objectives.” The law prohibits judges, prosecutors, police officers, and military members from forming or joining unions. New unions must register in the Ministry of Labor and Employment Protection’s Sub-directorate of Conflict Prevention under a process that takes up to four days, during which time employers may dismiss unionized workers and leaders.

Two nationwide strikes by public school teachers and medical doctors demanding increased salaries and benefits occurred during the year. The high-profile strikes caused social and political disruptions but were largely peaceful.

The law allows unions to declare a strike in accordance with their governing documents. Private- and public-sector union workers must give advance notice of a strike to the employer and the Ministry of Labor. Private-sector workers must give advance notice of at least five working days, and public-sector workers must give at least 10 days’ notice. The law also allows nonunion workers to declare a strike with a majority vote as long as the written voting record is notarized and announced at least five working days prior to a strike. Unions in essential services are permitted to call a strike but must provide 15 working days’ notice, receive the approval of the ministry, obtain approval of a simple majority of workers, and provide a sufficient number of workers during a strike to maintain operations. Private enterprises and the public institutions cannot fire workers who strike legally. The private sector may, however, fire illegally striking workers on the fourth day of their unapproved absence. The public sector can fire illegal striking employees sector through an administrative procedure.

Unless there is a pre-existing labor contract covering an occupation or industry as a whole, unions must negotiate with companies individually. The law establishes processes for direct negotiations and conciliation. If these mechanisms fail, workers may declare a strike or request arbitration. The law outlines the process that authorizes the use of arbitration to end collective labor disputes. The law gives a party the ability to compel the other party to submit to arbitration (whether worker- or employer-initiated) whenever either of the parties cannot reach an agreement in the first collective bargaining negotiation, or a party does not engage in good faith during collective bargaining by delaying, hindering, or avoiding an agreement. If the parties disagree over whether a prerequisite for binding arbitration was met, the law also allows a party to submit the matter to independent, nongovernmental arbitrators for an initial decision.

The law requires businesses to monitor their contractors with respect to labor rights and imposes liability on businesses for the actions of their contractors. The law governing the general private-sector labor regime sets out nine different categories of short-term employment contracts that companies may use to hire workers based on particular circumstances. The law sets time limits for each of the categories and contains a five-year overall limit on the consecutive use of short-term employment contracts when contracts from different categories are used together. A sector-specific law covering the nontraditional export sectors (e.g., fishing, wood and paper, nonmetallic minerals, jewelry, textiles and apparel, and the agriculture industry) exempts employers from this five-year limit and allows employers in those sectors to hire workers on a series of short-term contracts indefinitely, without requiring a conversion to the permanent workforce.

The government did not effectively enforce freedom of association and collective bargaining laws. Resources remained inadequate, including for the Ministry of Labor and its National Superintendency of Labor Inspection (SUNAFIL), although the government increased SUNAFIL’s budget during the year and opened a new regional office in Cusco. Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining range from 7,400 to 74,000 soles ($2,280 to $22,800). Such penalties were insufficient to deter violations and, according to labor experts and union representatives, were rarely enforced. Workers continued to face prolonged judicial processes and lack of enforcement following dismissals resulting from trade union activity. For example, NGOs reported that emblematic cases of labor arbitration dating from 2012 remained suspended due to delays in the judicial appeals processes. NGOs also reported instances of noncompliance with arbitrators’ decisions.

Significant delays in the collective bargaining process remained a common obstacle to compliance with worker rights to bargain collectively. Employers often showed a lack of interest in concluding agreements. Workers employed under laws to promote the textile, apparel, and agriculture industries faced obstacles, such as allegations of delayed negotiations and legal threats, to exercise the right to collective bargaining.

NGOs reported some employers used subcontracting to avoid creating direct employment relationships. Such subcontracting also limited the size of a company’s permanent workforce, making it more difficult to reach the 20-employee threshold necessary to form a union.

NGOs continued to report management interference in labor-management health and safety committees. Management sometimes interfered in the election of worker representatives, held committee sessions without full worker representation, and failed to notify elected worker representatives when labor inspectors conducted workplace inspections.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate for effective enforcement of the law. The law prescribes penalties of eight to 25 years’ imprisonment for labor trafficking, although the government did not report statistics on convictions and sentences for forced labor during the year. Financial penalties for violations range from 7,400 to 74,000 soles ($2,280 to $22,800) but were insufficient to deter violations.

SUNAFIL officials conducted inspections to identify forced labor. The Ministry of Labor and SUNAFIL provided training sessions to SUNAFIL and regional labor inspectors around the country to raise awareness of forced labor and the applicable law. The government continued to implement the 2013-17 national plan to combat forced labor. Labor experts repeated their criticisms of the plan for not containing a dedicated national budget, which made implementation difficult.

Thousands of persons remained subject to conditions of forced labor, mainly in mining, forestry, agriculture, brick making, and domestic service. There were reports that men and boys were subjected to bonded labor in mining (including gold mining), forestry, and brick making, while women were most often found working under conditions of domestic servitude. Both men and women reportedly worked in bonded labor in agriculture.

In June a warehouse fire in downtown Lima exposed an informal counterfeit lightbulb workshop allegedly engaged in human trafficking for labor exploitation. Two workers locked inside the rooftop shipping container-based workshop died in the fire. The incident brought national attention to the hazards of unregulated counterfeit operations as facilitators of dangerous labor practices. In July the court sentenced the husband and wife who operated the workshop to nine months’ detention to await trial. The husband was being held in jail, and his wife was under house arrest. According to the testimony of three former workers, including a minor, the owners locked workers in the shipping container for 12-hour shifts and paid 10 soles ($3.10) per day. The Attorney General’s Office assigned two prosecutors from the criminal and human trafficking divisions to oversee the case.

Police rescued 63 women human trafficking victims, including one minor and 29 foreigners, from sexual and labor exploitation during July and September raids conducted in the regions of Madre de Dios and Piura.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, disability, age, language, or social status. The law does not specifically identify discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The law prohibits discrimination against domestic workers and any requirement by employers for their domestic workers to wear uniforms in public places. The law establishes the following employment quotas for persons with disabilities: 3 percent for private businesses with more than 50 employees and 5 percent for public-sector organizations. The National Council for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities oversees compliance with employment quotas for persons with disabilities.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment, but they were not sufficient to deter violations. NGOs and labor rights advocates noted that discrimination cases often went unreported to authorities, in part due to a lack of confidence in the legal system to address the case.

Numerous violations of provisions prohibiting discrimination against domestic workers, particularly a clause that prohibits employers from requiring their workers to wear uniforms in public places. The Ministry of Labor, local NGOs, and several unions continued campaigns to inform domestic workers about their rights and employment benefits.

Societal prejudice and discrimination led to disproportionate poverty and unemployment rates for women. Women were more likely to work in the informal sector or in less secure occupations, such as domestic service, factory work, or as street vendors, and they were more likely to be illiterate due to lack of formal education.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The statutory monthly minimum wage for formal workers was 850 soles ($260) per month. INEI estimated the poverty line to be 315 soles ($97) a month per person, although it varied by region. The average monthly income, set in September 2016, was 1,640 to 1,867 soles ($505-$575) for men and 1,352 soles ($415) for women.

The law provides for a 48-hour workweek for formal workers and one day of rest, and it requires premium pay for overtime. There is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, nor does the law limit the amount of overtime that a worker may work. The law stipulates certain rights and benefits to which adult domestic workers are entitled, such as an eight-hour workday, no work on public holidays, 15 days of paid annual vacation, and salary bonuses in July and December. The law grants administrative service contract workers who meet minimum service requirements 30 days of vacation, June and December bonuses, and up to three months of severance pay in the case of unjustified dismissal.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards appropriate for the main industries in the country, but sector experts reported that government resources and expertise were not sufficient to maintain appropriate health and safety standards. The law allows workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The law also enables employers to outsource the management of health and safety to third-party service providers and restrict democratically elected worker representatives from obtaining leave to attend to their safety and health duties, including training.

The government often did not devote sufficient personnel and financial resources to enforce occupational safety and health regulations and other labor laws. As of November SUNAFIL reported having 376 labor inspectors. In July SUNAFIL opened a new office in Cusco and had additional offices in Lima, Huanuco, La Libertad, Loreto, Cajamarca, Ica, Moquegua, Tumbes, Ancash, and Arequipa. The Ministry of Labor and regional governments had an additional 90 labor inspectors that coordinate with SUNAFIL.

Fines for labor violations were last increased in April 2014. Noncompliance with the law is punishable by fines of 7,400 to 74,000 soles ($2,280 to $22,800). In July 2014, however, the government enacted a three-year decree that reduced fines on employers for labor violations to no more than 35 percent of the maximum fine established by law. The reduction was limited to fines for occupational safety and health violations that did not result in death or permanent injury of the worker and violations of laws related to freedom of association and workplace discrimination determined not to be “very serious.” The reduction did not apply to violations that “very seriously affect” freedom of association, union formation, and workplace discrimination; violations related to child labor or forced labor; violations of occupational and safety norms that result in death or permanent disability of the worker; actions that impede labor inspections; and recidivist conduct, defined as repeat violations within a six-month period from the time a final decision on the first infraction was issued. The reductions, however, did not apply to violations of fundamental labor rights. Many fines went uncollected, in part because the government lacked an efficient tracking system and at times due to a lack of political will, according to a local labor NGO.

The law provides for fines and criminal sanctions for occupational safety and health violations. In cases of infractions, injury, or deaths of workers or subcontractors, the penalty is one to four years’ imprisonment. Criminal penalties are limited to those cases where employers “deliberately” violated safety and health laws and where labor authorities had previously notified employers who chose not to adopt measures in response to a repeated infraction. The law requires that a worker prove an employer’s culpability to obtain compensation for work-related injuries.

Representatives of labor, business, and the government reported that the majority of companies in the formal sector generally complied with the law. Many workers in the informal economy, approximately 70 percent of the total labor force, received less than the minimum wage, although most were self-employed.

Employers frequently required long hours from domestic workers and paid low wages. NGOs and union officials continued to report allegations of abuse of subcontracted workers in the areas of wage and hour violations and associational rights. In 2015 a group of 34 outsourced workers at the Aceros Arequipa steel plant in Pisco, who had previously filed a labor inspection complaint, were told their contracts were not compliant, and they were all dismissed. As of October the union was seeking their reinstatement.

Union members and labor-sector experts reported that regional and national statistical registers did not reflect the number of severe and fatal injuries from workplace accidents that occurred in the mining, electrical, and construction sectors. Workplace labor, health, and safety committees continued to develop across the country. Labor experts and NGOs expressed concern about what they considered an unreasonably high threshold for holding employers accountable for workplace injuries and for not maintaining health and safety standards.