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Guinea

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Offices tasked with investigating security force killings include civilian and military security services, civil and military courts, and inspectors general within the Ministry of Security and Civilian Protection. According to the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) opposition political party, security forces killed 99 individuals from the October 18 presidential election through December. The government rejected this figure but did not provide its own estimate of security force killings during this period.

There were multiple reports of killings by security forces in the capital city of Conakry and other major towns related to the March legislative election and constitutional referendum and the October presidential election. The minister of security reported six persons killed, four of whom were shot by security forces. Civil society leaders in the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC), a broad opposition coalition protesting the constitutional referendum and presidential election, reported 10 persons killed in Conakry and four in N’Zerekore. The FNDC accused military units of involvement in the killings. There were no reports of investigations into these incidents.

In April the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Collective of Organizations for the Protection of Human Rights in the Forested Guinea Region reported on the March election violence in the region, noting security forces did not intervene and instead were involved in some of the killings and other abuses exacerbated by longstanding intercommunal and ethnic tensions. The NGO reported 36 persons killed, 129 wounded, 127 arrested, and 83 buildings destroyed. Several local media and other sources, however, reported that the death toll could have been as high as 60, and that local authorities buried the victims in a mass grave. There were no reports of investigations into these incidents.

Since October 2019 the Guinean Organization for the Defense of Human and Citizen’s Rights (OGDH) identified at least 60 killings during FNDC protests, the January Teachers’ Union strike, the March legislative elections and constitutional referendum, and the October presidential election and subsequent violence. The families of 10 victims testified that most of the victims were outside the perimeters of the protests when they were shot and killed by security forces. There were no reports of investigations into these incidents.

Impunity persisted for abuses perpetrated by state actors in past years, including the 2009 Conakry stadium massacre by security forces of the previous military regime. At least 150 opposition demonstrators were killed, and more than 100 women and girls were raped. Since 2011 the judiciary confirmed indictments against 13 individuals. Two of the alleged ringleaders of the massacre, Colonel Claude Pivi and Colonel Moussa Tiegboro Camara, remained in high-level government posts. General Mathurin Bangoura, a person of interest whose indictment was dismissed following a judicial review, remained governor of Conakry.

The steering committee established in 2018 to organize the trial of the accused in the 2009 stadium massacre continued its work. The body did not meet regularly. In January the minister of justice announced that the trial would start in June; however, this was delayed.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, human rights observers reported that government officials continued to employ such practices with impunity.

Abuse of inmates in government detention centers continued. Security officials designated as “judicial police officers” abused detainees to coerce confessions. Human rights activists noted the most egregious abuses occurred during arrests or at detention centers. Human rights associations stated that complainants often presented evidence of abuse, and wardens did not investigate these complaints. These NGOs also alleged that guards abused detainees, including children, and coerced some women into exchanging sex for better treatment.

According to the OGDH, following killings by security forces, some relatives who came to assist victims were subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, violence, and humiliation by individuals wearing security force uniforms.

In January a victim reported security officers beat him and other protesters with batons at a detention center in Conakry following their arrest during a political protest. He reported security forces also demanded 1,100,000 Guinean francs ($115) from the prisoners to avoid transfer to Conakry Central Prison (CCP).

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one allegation submitted in July of sexual exploitation and abuse by Guinean peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult. As of September the United Nations was investigating the allegation.

According to a December 15 Amnesty International report, authorities arrested an elderly person on October 24 for “criminal participation in a gathering with violence” following an attack on a freight train that killed four security officials and a civilian. The person died on November 17 while in custody. Immediately following his death, the government announced that the individual had tested positive for COVID-19 and departed the detention center, then added later that the individual had complained about diabetes complications and died at a hospital. Multiple persons who viewed his body, including medical staff, reported seeing burns, cuts, and other marks on his body, indicating he had been abused while in custody.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly in the gendarmes, police, and military forces. Factors contributing to impunity included corruption, lack of training, politicization of forces, and a lack of transparency in investigations. Offices tasked with investigating abuses included civil and military courts and government inspectors general within the Ministry of Security and Civilian Protection.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in civilian prisons, which are under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice, remained abusive, with poor sanitation, malnutrition, disease, and lack of medical attention pervasive throughout the prison system. Conditions were allegedly worse in gendarme and police detention facilities designed for short-term detention.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem. According to the NGO World Prison Brief, in 2019 authorities held 3,782 detainees in facilities designed for 2,412 persons. Government-funded rehabilitation programs were underfunded and ineffective, leading some NGOs to try filling the void.

Authorities held minors in separate sections at prisons and detention facilities, where they slept on iron bunk beds with no mattresses, or on the floor because it was too hot on the upper bunks below the building’s metal roof. Prison officials did not separate pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. There were reports the government had trouble tracking the location of pretrial detainees in the justice system.

Although the Ministry of Justice administered civilian prisons, prisoners allegedly controlled cell assignments and provided better conditions at some detention centers to prisoners who were able to pay. In addition prison administrators at detention centers reported receiving directives from their prison service superiors that directly conflicted with orders from the Ministry of Justice. Rumors persisted that guards ignored court orders to free prisoners until bribes were paid.

In July a prisoner was decapitated and mutilated in a gendarmerie detention center. According to authorities, his cellmate killed him, but the victim’s mother suspected the gendarmes, who reportedly threatened her son during arrest. Authorities charged the cellmate with murder, while charging several gendarmes with endangering the lives of others because of their inattention to duty. Since the gendarmerie is under the jurisdiction of the military services, authorities transferred the case to the military courts. As of December the gendarmes awaited trial.

A lack of health-care personnel, medicine, and medical supplies in prisons, combined with malnutrition and dehydration, sometimes made infection or illness life threatening; cases of beriberi were recorded, and of the several reported deaths of prisoners, none were investigated. Only two of the 31 detention centers had a full-time doctor and medical staff. Reports of overcrowding in medical wards at detention centers were common, including at the CCP. Prisoners relied on family members, charities, or NGOs to bring medication, but visitors often had to pay bribes to provide the medicine to prisoners.

Authorities recorded COVID-19 cases in prisons across the country, with 155 positive cases as of September. In May media reported two COVID-19 deaths at the CCP. Since the victims did not receive COVID-19 tests, the National Health Security Agency did not include them in its COVID-19 statistics.

Mismanagement and neglect were prevalent. Toilets reportedly did not function, and prisoners often slept and ate in the same space used for sanitation purposes. Access to drinking and bathing water was inadequate. Many prisons were former warehouses with little ventilation and little access to electricity for air conditioning or other cooling techniques.

NGOs as well as the National Institution for Human Rights reported endemic malnutrition throughout the prison system. Authorities provided food at the CCP, but most prison directors relied on charities and NGOs to provide food for inmates. The CCP claimed it provided two meals a day; however, NGOs reported prisoners in Conakry and elsewhere received only one meal per day and that many relied on food from their families or other outside sources. Guards often demanded bribes for delivering food to prisoners, which they then frequently confiscated.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and NGOs noted that conditions at gendarmerie detention centers, intended to hold detainees for not more than two days while they awaited court processing, were much worse than in prisons. Such “temporary” detention could last from a few days to more than two years, and facilities had no established systems to provide meals or medical treatment. As in the case of prisons, gendarmerie facilities were dank and unsanitary.

An NGO reported that during March election violence the majority of arrestees transited the Fourth Military District’s camp before detention at the N’Zerekore gendarmerie headquarters. Prisoners stated that more than 50 persons were crammed into small cells and were not provided food, water, or other basic necessities for at least two days.

In April the Collective of Organizations for the Protection of Human Rights in the Forested Guinea Region noted that authorities held several persons arrested during the March and October election violence in a military facility in substandard living conditions before being transferred to gendarmerie facilities.

Administration: Prison authorities did not investigate credible allegations of abuse or inhuman prison conditions. Prisoners and detainees have the right to submit complaints but seldom did due to possible reprisals from prison guards. Prisoners must use a lawyer to file a complaint, but lawyers were scarce and expensive. The local NGO Equal Rights for All (MDT) stated religious practice was restricted at prisons other than the CCP. Prisoners complained that they were regularly denied access to visitors, including family members. Visitors were often required to pay bribes to access prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: Local NGOs such as MDT and the Association for the Support of Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Detainees received regular and unimpeded access to the CCP; authorities rarely granted access to other facilities to monitor conditions.

Military prison conditions, managed by the Ministry of Defense, could not be monitored since the government denied access to prison advocacy groups and international organizations. Although military authorities claimed they did not hold civilians at military prisons, previously reported cases contradicted this assertion. Reports indicated a prison continued to exist at a military camp on Kassa Island, and that political prisoners were at times held at a military camp near Kankan.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but few detainees chose this option due to the difficulties they might face and fear of retribution.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Although the law requires arrest warrants, police did not always follow this protocol. The law also provides that detainees be charged within 48 hours, renewable once if authorized by a judge. In cases involving national security, the law allows the original length of detention to be increased to 96 hours, renewable once. Many detainees were held for much longer periods before being charged. Authorities held most detainees in the three main prisons indefinitely and without trial.

The law precludes the arrest of persons in their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., but arrests between those times occurred. After being charged the accused may be held until the conclusion of the case, including a period of appeal. Authorities routinely ignored the legal provision entitling defendants to an attorney and did not provide indigent defendants with an attorney at government expense.

Release on bail is at the discretion of the magistrate under whose jurisdiction the case falls. The law allows detainees prompt access to family members, but access was sometimes denied or restricted until families paid bribes to the guards at detention facilities.

Arbitrary Arrest: Many arrests took place without warrants and in violation of other due process protections provided in the law, such as the prohibition on arrests at night. Authorities arrested family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives.

In February authorities arrested without charge more than 30 persons in various Conakry neighborhoods and held them for more than a month at the Soronkoni camp in Kankan, Upper Guinea. The detainees reported they were arrested by police and other security service units, were isolated, and had no contact with family. Some believed they had been held to prevent their protesting a third term for President Conde. Following postelectoral violence in N’Zerekore in March, local sources reported that at least 40 persons were transferred to the same Soronkoni camp. In late September authorities conditionally released 35 individuals.

On September 10, authorities arrested UFDG communications chief and youth activist Roger Bamba on unknown charges and placed him in pretrial detention. Bamba became critically ill on December 16 and was transported to a hospital for emergency treatment where he succumbed to an unknown illness on December 17.

Pretrial Detention: According to an NGO working on prisoners’ rights, a 2016 reform of the justice sector decreased the length of pretrial detention by 65 percent. In September 2019 pretrial detainees constituted 67 percent of the CPP population; 2017 figures cited by World Prison Brief estimated 60 percent of detainees overall were pretrial detainees. Figures were not available for the average length of detentions, or whether detentions exceeded the maximum possible sentence.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was plagued by corruption. The judicial process often lacked independence and impartiality. Political and social status often influenced decisions. A shortage of qualified lawyers and magistrates, outdated and restrictive laws, nepotism, and ethnic bias limited the judiciary’s effectiveness. Domestic court orders were often not enforced. For example, some prisoners ordered to be freed by courts remained in detention because they failed to pay “exit fees” to guards. On the other hand, politically connected criminals often evaded prosecution.

Many citizens, wary of judicial corruption or with no other choice, relied on traditional systems of justice at the village or urban neighborhood level. Litigants presented their civil cases before a village chief, neighborhood leader, or a council of “wise men.” The dividing line between the formal and informal justice systems was vague, and authorities sometimes referred a case from the formal to the traditional system to assure compliance by all parties. Similarly, a case not resolved to the satisfaction of all parties in the traditional system could be referred to the formal system for adjudication. In the traditional system, evidence given by women carried less weight (see section 6, Women).

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary, although burdened by corruption and limited effectiveness, generally strived to enforce this right.

Trials are public and defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Trials must be timely. The prosecution prepares a case file, including testimony and other evidence, and provides a copy for the defense. Defendants have the right to confront and question prosecution witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law provides for the presumption of innocence of accused persons, the independence of judges, the equality of citizens before the law, the right of the accused to counsel (but only for major crimes), and the right to appeal a judicial decision, but these rights were not consistently observed.

Authorities must inform defendants promptly of charges. Defendants are entitled to free assistance from an interpreter, if necessary. Defendants generally had adequate time but lacked resources, such as access to a lawyer, to prepare a defense. Most cases never came to trial.

Although the government was responsible for funding legal defense costs in serious criminal cases, it rarely disbursed funds for this purpose. The attorney for the defense frequently received no payment. Authorities allowed detainees’ attorneys access to their clients, but often on condition that prison guards or gendarmes be present. The law provides that defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but torture or other harsh treatment and conditions in detention centers undermined this protection.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government arrested or summoned individuals without cause. Civil society described the actions as “political intimidation.” Local sources estimated the number of such arrestees or summoned individuals to be more than 300. The government permitted access to such persons on a regular basis by the International Committee of the Red Cross or other human rights or humanitarian organizations.

Police arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition members. In April authorities arrested and charged a civil society activist member of the FNDC for “communicating and spreading false information” and for “violence and death threats.” During an interview on a local popular radio show, he had denounced the March 22 postelectoral violence in N’Zerekore and the arbitrary arrest of FNDC members. Authorities released him in August after a court found him not guilty of all charges. In May authorities arrested and charged another FNDC member for “violence, threats, assault and public insults.” As of September, despite two court orders for his release, he remained in detention.

According to Human Rights Watch, in October authorities arrested approximately 325 persons after postelection violence. Amnesty International reported “400 arbitrary arrests targeting opponents and members of civil society after the presidential election.” Lawyers for the detainees reported that authorities made many of the arrests during house-to-house searches at night in neighborhoods considered opposition strongholds. Authorities also reportedly used excessive force in the arrests. The government announced that these individuals were arrested for participating in postelection violence.

In November police arrested and detained five senior-level opposition figures, including members of the UFDG. Authorities charged them with possession and use of military firearms, threats, violating fundamental interests of the nation, and criminal association. Authorities sought two other leading opposition figures on the same charges but they remained at large. Another opposition leader turned himself in after the state prosecutor announced arrest warrants against him. Opposition parties, including the FNDC, and civil society groups believed that the seven individuals were wanted due to their opposition status.

Also in November the government reported that it detained or completed judicial proceedings against more than 137 individuals in Conakry for participating in illegal demonstrations, using weapons, inciting violence, and other crimes during the postelectoral period. Authorities announced they were still looking for “activists” who threatened public security.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for a judicial procedure in civil matters, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights abuses. There were few lawsuits seeking damages for human rights abuses, in part due to public fear of suing security force members and lack of confidence in the competence and impartiality of the judiciary. NGOs that filed cases for civilians in 2012, 2013, and 2014–ranging from complaints of torture to indefinite detention–claimed their cases had yet to be heard. NGOs subsequently opted to lodge complaints with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice.

Property Restitution

Between February and May 2019, the government forcibly evicted persons from four neighborhoods in Conakry. The government alleged the inhabitants were squatters on land long planned as the relocation site of multiple ministries. Authorities demolished an estimated 2,500 buildings, resulting in 20,000 persons evicted, some of whom allegedly had legal ownership of their land. The victims formed a collective and appealed to the ECOWAS Court of Justice for compensation. The hearing, scheduled for November 8, was postponed at the request of the victims’ lawyer, who asked the court to conduct a site visit. The government made no efforts to protect, assist, resettle, or integrate these displaced persons in other areas.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but police reportedly ignored legal procedures in the pursuit of criminal suspects, including when it served their personal interests. Authorities sometimes removed persons from their homes without legal authorization, stole their personal belongings, and demanded payment for the release of the belongings.

The government continued to punish family members for alleged offenses committed by relatives.

Guyana

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killing. In July police shot and killed Cecil Sampat, an unarmed civilian. According to police, Sampat was one of three passengers in a car who opened fire on the police. No gun was found in Sampat’s vehicle, however, nor was there gunshot residue on Sampat or the other passengers. In August the government charged the police officers who allegedly shot and killed Sampat.

The Guyana Police Force’s Office of Professional Responsibility investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and recommends prosecutions where appropriate.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices. There were allegations, nonetheless, that prison officials mistreated inmates.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. The Guyana Police Force’s Office of Professional Responsibility investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and recommends prosecutions. The government conducted human rights training for the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and jail conditions, particularly in police holding cells, were reportedly harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: In October the Guyana Prison Service reported there were 1,761 prisoners in seven facilities with a combined design capacity of 1,505. Overcrowding was in large part due to a backlog of pretrial detainees, who constituted approximately 30 percent of the total prison population.

In 2018 the government released the findings of a 2017 independent study funded by the Inter-American Development Bank that found prison officers physically abused prisoners. In 2018 the government reported the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent found that prison conditions at Lusignan Prison were appalling and cells were unfit for human habitation. Prisoners reported unsanitary conditions and a lack of potable water, and they also complained of lengthy confinement in their cells with limited opportunities for sunlight.

The adult prison population contained individuals 16 years of age and older. In most cases, however, offenders younger than 16 were held in a juvenile correctional center that offered primary education, vocational training, and basic medical care.

Administration: Authorities stated they investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions monthly, and committees prepared reports after each visit. Prisoners often circumvented procedures for submitting complaints of inhuman conditions or mistreatment by passing letters addressed to government officials through family members.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted outside groups to monitor prison conditions independently.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

An arrest requires a warrant issued by a court official unless an officer who witnesses a crime believes there is good cause to suspect a crime or a breach of the peace has been or will be committed. The law stipulates that a person arrested cannot be held for more than 72 hours unless brought before a court to be charged. Authorities generally observed this requirement. Bail was generally available except in cases of capital offenses and narcotics trafficking.

Although the law provides criminal detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and to family members, authorities occasionally did not fully respect this right.

The state provides legal counsel for indigent persons only when such persons are charged with a capital offense. The Legal Aid Clinic, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), provides legal counsel at a reduced fee in certain circumstances, as determined by the clinic. Police routinely required permission from the senior investigating officer, who was seldom on the premises, before permitting counsel access to a client.

Arbitrary Arrest: In August police arrested Christopher Jones, a senior member of the opposition, and searched his home, although Jones had a court-issued injunction preventing the search.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, due primarily to judicial inefficiency, staff shortages, and cumbersome legal procedures. The average length of pretrial detention was three years for those awaiting trial at a magistrates’ court or in the High Court. This often exceeded the maximum possible sentence for the crime for which they were charged.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Delays and inefficiencies undermined judicial due process. Shortages of trained court personnel, postponements at the request of the defense or prosecution, occasional allegations of bribery, poor tracking of cases, and police slowness in preparing cases for trial caused delays.

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. Cases in magistrates’ courts are tried without jury, while cases involving more serious crimes are tried by jury in the High Court. The constitution provides that a person shall be informed in detail of the nature of the offense charged as soon as reasonably practicable. Defendants have the right to a timely trial and free assistance of an interpreter. The constitution also provides for persons charged with a criminal offense to be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of a defense. Authorities routinely granted trial postponements to both the defense and prosecution. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and confront adverse witnesses, and they may present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal.

While the law recognizes the right to legal counsel, it was limited to those who could afford to pay, except in cases involving capital crimes. Although there is no formal public defender system, a defendant in a murder case that reaches the High Court may receive a court-appointed attorney. The Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic, with government and private support, provided advice to persons who could not afford a lawyer, particularly victims of domestic violence and violence against women.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and the government generally respected this provision. Individuals can access the court system to initiate lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The magistrates’ courts deal with both criminal and civil matters. Delays, inefficiencies, and alleged corruption in the magistrates’ court system affected citizens’ ability to seek timely remedies in civil matters, and there was a large backlog of civil cases. Citizens have the right to appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Caribbean Court of Justice.

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

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

Paraguay

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Attorney General’s Office is charged with investigating whether security force killings are justifiable; it pursued some prosecutions. The Special Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office investigated cases of human rights abuses by security forces.

Two 11-year-old girls were found dead in the department of Concepcion after a combined police-military Joint Task Force (FTC) operation against the Paraguayan People’s Army, a criminal group, on September 2. Political activists alleged the FTC killed two civilian girls; however, the government asserted the girls were child soldiers in the Paraguayan People’s Army. Military officials provided photographs of the deceased girls in combat fatigues with firearms and ammunition. As of October 16, the government was investigating the incident.

b. Disappearance

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

On September 9, a group claiming to be the Paraguayan People’s Army abducted former vice president Oscar Denis and his employee Adelio Mendoza in the department of Concepcion, approximately 250 miles northeast of Asuncion. The captors released Mendoza on September 14, but as of December 15, Denis’s welfare and whereabouts were unknown. The Paraguayan People’s Army allegedly held two other captives: police officer Edelio Morinigo, missing since 2014; and farmer Felix Urbieta, missing since 2016.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions, but there were credible reports that some government officials employed such practices. The Attorney General Office’s Special Human Rights Unit opened seven torture investigation cases, but there were no convictions, and all investigations were pending as of October 1. Unlike other criminal cases, torture charges do not have a statute of limitations or a defined period within which charges, an investigation, or the oral trial must be completed. The Special Human Rights Unit was investigating 102 open cases as of October 1, the majority of them from the 1954-89 Stroessner dictatorship. A representative of the unit stated it was unusual for a case to move to prosecution and sentencing within one year due to mandatory procedural steps and a lack of investigative resources.

The Attorney General’s Office obtained convictions of three police officers charged in 2017 with human rights violations, specifically bodily injury perpetrated by security forces. The charges against police officers Benito Sanabria, Jorge Ramirez Bogarin, and Fernando Aguero Benitez stemmed from police response to 2017 antigovernment protests in Asuncion. The convictions resulted in sentences ranging from two and one-half years to nine years in prison.

The semi-independent National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (NMPT) alleged that unidentified Coast Guard sailors committed torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of 35 civilians in Ciudad del Este on the night of July 15. The sailors allegedly committed physical and psychological abuses, including threats of death, in responding to the killing of a fellow sailor by narcotics traffickers earlier that evening. The alleged torture took place both in the San Miguel neighborhood of Ciudad del Este and at the Ciudad del Este East Naval Area Base, where the Coast Guard unit was stationed. The NMPT concluded torture likely occurred and recommended a national-level investigation. As of October 16, the Attorney General’s Office had not charged or prosecuted any Coast Guard units or individuals. Although the navy removed base commander Captain Walter Diaz after the incident, it had not removed the Coast Guard unit commander, Captain Luis Torres, who was in charge of the unit during the incident, nor had it punished any sailor involved.

Several civil society groups publicly criticized the FTC and called for its disbandment due to alleged human rights abuses and corruption by the FTC in the country’s northeastern region. The FTC’s principal goal was eliminating the Paraguayan People’s Army. The FTC included personnel from the armed forces, National Police, and National Anti-Narcotics Secretariat.

Impunity was a problem in the security forces, specifically the FTC. Corruption and politicization allegedly contributed to impunity. The Special Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office and NMPT both investigated alleged human rights abuses by security forces. Prosecutions and charges, when they occurred, often took years of investigation and judicial processing.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and at times life threatening due to inmate violence, mistreatment, overcrowding, poorly trained staff, poor infrastructure, and unsanitary living conditions.

Physical Conditions: According to the NMPT, prisons were overcrowded, with inmates at some facilities forced to share bunks, sleep on floors, and sleep in shifts. The NMPT found that as of August 31, the average occupancy rate was 98 percent above the NMPT’s occupational index, an improvement from the 200 percent occupancy rate reported in 2019, based on a standard of at least 75 square feet for each inmate. Penitentiaries did not have adequate accommodations for inmates with physical disabilities.

Prisons and juvenile facilities generally lacked adequate temperature control systems, of particular concern during hot summer months. Some prisons had cells with inadequate lighting. At times prisoners were confined for long periods without an opportunity for exercise. Some prisons lacked basic medical care. Adherence to fire prevention norms was lacking.

Overcrowding and limited resources to control the prisons abetted criminal organizations and generated violent confrontations. Government authorities in the northeastern region of the country on the border with Brazil reported inmate recruitment within the prisons by members of Brazilian gangs, including Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) and Comando Vermelho. The government attributed a significant jailbreak at Pedro Juan Caballero Prison in January by more than 70 PCC members in part to corruption and complicity among prison officials.

On July 6, inmates at Tacumbu Prison rioted in an effort to regain visitation rights that were limited or eliminated as a COVID-19 precautionary measure. Visitation rights at Tacumbu Prison were restored later.

Administration: Authorities conducted some investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment, but the NMPT reported authorities often failed to conduct adequate investigations, particularly into prison directors accused of mistreatment. There were reports that visitors, including lawyers, frequently needed to offer bribes to visit prisoners, hindering effective representation of inmates by public defenders. Although married and unmarried heterosexual inmates were permitted conjugal visits, the ministry prohibited such visits for homosexual inmates.

Independent Monitoring: With prior coordination the government granted access to prisons for media, independent civil society groups, and diplomatic representatives. Officials sometimes barred access to investigative journalists.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements. In some cases police ignored requirements for a warrant by citing obsolete provisions that allow detention if individuals are unable to present personal identification upon demand. Police also allegedly enforced COVID-19 quarantine restrictions unevenly, including arbitrarily using supposed violations of quarantine as an excuse to solicit bribes or otherwise intimidate civilians.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police may arrest individuals with a warrant or with reasonable cause, although police allegedly made arrests without judicial authorization or reasonable cause in some cases. The law provides that after making an arrest, police have up to six hours to notify the Attorney General’s Office, after which that office has up to 24 hours to notify a judge if it intends to prosecute. The law allows judges to use measures such as house arrest and bail in felony cases. According to civil society representatives and legal experts, in misdemeanor cases judges frequently set bail too high for many poor defendants to post bond, while politically connected or wealthy defendants paid minimal or no bail or received other concessions, including house arrest.

The law grants defendants the right to hire counsel, and the government provides public defenders for those who cannot afford counsel. Detainees had access to family members, but COVID-19 prevention measures reduced the permitted frequency and length of visits.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. As of September 30, the Special Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office reported 82 complaints of “deprivation of freedom,” a category that includes arbitrary arrest and detention. Media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also reported several cases of arbitrary arrest and detention.

Pretrial Detention: The law permits detention without trial for a period equivalent to the minimum sentence associated with the alleged crime, a period that could range from six months to five years. Some detainees were held in pretrial detention beyond the maximum allowed time. According to the NMPT, as of August 31, 71 percent of male prisoners and 61 percent of female prisoners were awaiting trial or sentencing.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, courts were inefficient and subject to corruption and outside influence. Authorities generally respected court orders.

NGOs and government officials alleged some judges and prosecutors solicited or received bribes to drop or modify charges against defendants. In addition undue external influence often compromised the judiciary’s independence. Interested parties, including politicians, routinely attempted to influence investigations and pressure judges and prosecutors. Judicial selection and disciplinary review board processes were often politicized. The law requires that specific seats on the board be allocated to congressional representatives, who were reportedly the greatest source of corrupt pressure and influence.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, which the judiciary nominally provided. Defense attorneys, however, regularly manipulated the judicial process to reach the statute of limitations before trials concluded. Defense tactics to remove or suspend judges and prosecutors exacerbated the lengthy trial process. Impunity was common due to politicization of and corruption within the judiciary.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to receive promptly information on the charges they face, but some defendants received notification only when they faced arrest warrants or seizure of their property. Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay, although trials were often protracted. They have the right to be present at the trial. Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or one provided at public expense. Defendants have the right to a reasonable amount of time to prepare their defense and to access their legal files. Defendants have the right to free interpretation services as necessary, including translation to Guarani, the country’s second official language. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Both defendants and prosecutors may present written testimony from witnesses and other evidence. Defendants may confront adverse witnesses, except in cases involving domestic or international trafficking in persons, in which case victims may testify remotely or in the presence of the defendant’s lawyers, in lieu of the defendant. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and may choose to remain silent. Defendants have the right of appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens have access to the courts to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. There are administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs, and authorities generally granted these remedies to citizens. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the injured party; however, the government experienced problems enforcing court orders in such cases. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

Property Restitution

The government generally enforced court orders with respect to seizure, restitution, or compensation for taking private property. Systemic inadequacies within the land registry system, however, prevented the government from compiling a reliable inventory of its landholdings. Registered land far exceeded the size of the country, and there were reports of forced evictions and allegations of corruption within local government and the National Institute for Rural Development and Land (INDERT), which is the government agency charged with implementing land reform. In May, INDERT credit director Mirna Alaye and international and interinstitutional coordination director Liz Florentin resigned due to rumors that they requested bribes in exchange for desired land management outcomes.

According to the Special Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office, between January and July, reports of land invasions increased approximately 25 percent from 2019. Police may evict unauthorized tenants upon request from a judge, whereas until September 2019 they needed to follow the requirements specified in the 2012 protocol to provide a site survey, inform human rights units from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and police, or notify the Ombudsman’s Office.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. The Special Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office did not receive reports of new cases of unlawful interference with private correspondence during the year, but it continued to investigate cases from previous years.

Suriname

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.

The trial of 18 prison officials accused of using excessive force that led to the death of prisoner Dion Griffith in March 2019 at the Hazard Penitentiary Facility in Nickerie continued. COVID-19 precautionary measures forced the postponement of the trial on several occasions during the year.

Former military dictator and former president Desire Bouterse personally appeared in court as part of the appeals process in the so-called December Murders Trial on November 30 for the first time in the 13-year history of the trial. Bouterse read a statement detailing his reasons why he claims the right to object to his conviction and sentencing. The court-martial president set the next hearing and demanded that Bouterse attend. The appeals process officially commenced on January 22, when Bouterse appeared before a court-martial to file an objection to his 2019 conviction and 20-year prison sentence. The process was subsequently postponed several times due to COVID-19 precautionary measures. Bouterse and six others were found guilty in November 2019 of the extrajudicial killing of 15 political opponents in 1982.

There was no progress made on establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as mandated by the amnesty law.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. In April persons allegedly acting on the order of the Directorate of National Security (DNV) were responsible for attacking and attempting to kidnap a candidate for the National Assembly from his home, but the attempt was unsuccessful; investigation of the incident continued at year’s end.

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

While the law prohibits such practices, human rights groups, defense attorneys, and media continued to report instances of mistreatment by police, including unnecessary use of force during arrests and beatings while in detention.

In late March and early April, multiple reports and videos appeared on social media showing the unnecessary use of force and degrading treatment of individuals who had violated the government’s curfew orders that were put in place beginning in March in response to the COVID-19 virus. One video appeared to show police officers beating an unarmed man walking in the street, while another appeared to show police officers ordering a group of teenagers to crawl across a sidewalk.

In August a lawyer informed the press that two of her clients were severely beaten by police when detained. The two suffered injuries that required medical treatment. One was treated by a doctor, while the other was allegedly denied medical treatment. The lawyer stated that filing a complaint was useless because the police officer involved denied the allegation while also receiving protection from colleagues.

Impunity was not a widespread problem within the police force. The Personnel Investigation Department investigated allegations citizens reported against officers and took appropriate disciplinary action. The Internal Affairs Unit conducted its own investigations involving various forms of misconduct. Penalties varied from reprimands to the dismissal of officers as well as prison sentences.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met minimum international standards, but there were numerous problems in the country’s 21 detention centers.

Physical Conditions: There were no significant reports regarding prison center conditions that raised human rights concerns. Nonetheless, prisons were understaffed, with high prisoner-to-guard ratios. Facilities lacked adequate emergency exits. Cells were closed with individual padlocks. There were no emergency evacuation drills.

Overcrowding was a problem in the detention centers connected to police stations and operated by police. Older buildings lacked adequate lighting and ventilation, with limited functioning sanitation facilities. Hygienic conditions were poor. Bad drainage led to flooding problems in some facilities. Police had no standard operating procedures for management of detention facilities. Police officers were assigned to detention facilities without any specialized training. Facilities lacked adequate guards, relying instead on regular duty police officers when additional assistance was necessary. Officers did not have adequate personal protective equipment to handle detainees in need of medical attention. There were reported cases of communicable diseases in detention facilities.

Lawyers noted the need for adequate COVID-19 measures for detention facilities, since social distancing in the already overcrowded detention facilities was impossible. Cells were small and held more than five detainees, which exceeded the maximum number of persons allowed in a space as mandated by law. At several detention facilities and prisons, both police officers and detainees tested positive.

Outside vendors were responsible for providing food. Throughout the year vendors threatened to suspend services due to lack of payment by the government.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. Government officials continued regular monitoring of prison and detention center conditions.

As part of COVID-19 precautionary measures, authorities limited visitation for those in detention facilities and prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police apprehended individuals openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and brought them before an independent judiciary. The law provides that detainees be brought before a judge within seven days to determine the legality of their arrest, and courts generally met the seven-day deadline. An assistant district attorney or a police inspector may authorize incommunicado detention. If additional time is needed to investigate the charge, a judge may extend the detention period in 30-day increments up to a total of 150 days. There is no bail system. Release pending trial is dependent on the type of crime committed and the judge handling the case. Detainees receive prompt access to counsel of their choosing, but the prosecutor may prohibit access if the prosecutor believes access could harm the investigation. Legal counsel is provided at no charge for indigent detainees. Detainees are allowed weekly visits from family members.

Pretrial Detention: The Court of Justice made significant progress in the processing of new criminal cases, which resulted in detainees spending less time in pretrial detention. Nonetheless, there was still a backlog, which the court was working to reduce.

In August police launched an internal investigation into the release of photographs showing minors who were detained for allegedly committing murder. Police authorities acknowledged the release of the pictures was in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires additional protection of the identity of minors who are detained.

In keeping with COVID-19 precautionary measures, the Court of Justice put in place an alternative system that allows judges to question detainees via telephone with their lawyers present in order to meet required deadlines. In multiple cases defense attorneys were able to plead for their clients to be released pending trial, citing the threat of COVID-19 infection. Potential release also considered the type of crime committed.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitutional Court was installed in May, allowing laws to be tested on their constitutionality and compliance with agreements with other powers and international conventions, as well as assessing the compatibility of decisions of public bodies with the fundamental rights listed in the constitution. Within days after the court’s installation, the 2012 amendment to the amnesty law was forwarded to the Constitutional Court for its review. In August the court reported it could not provide a timely review of the amnesty law due to COVID-19 precautionary measures as well as a lack of adequate technical support.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The dependence of the courts on the Ministry of Justice and Police and the Ministry of Finance, both executive agencies, for funding continued to be a threat to judicial independence. Some progress was reportedly made towards financial independence of the Court of Justice when the two aforementioned ministries agreed to allow the court to manage a budget of its own for smaller expenditures.

There were 26 judges in the country, well short of the estimated 40 needed for proper functioning of the judicial system. The Court of Justice was unable to work efficiently, primarily due to capacity shortages as well as other restraints and a cumbersome bureaucratic process to access funding. The COVID-19 virus forced the court to take a more digital approach to its operations. Although this alleviated some of the problems, cases both in criminal and civil courts were suspended repeatedly, adding significantly to the backlog.

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants have a right to be informed promptly of the charges against them. Defendants have the right to trial without undue delay and the right to counsel. There were court-assigned attorneys for both the civil and penal systems. All trials are public except for indecency offenses and offenses involving children. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to appeal. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants’ attorneys may question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on the defendant’s behalf. The courts assign private-sector lawyers to defend indigent detainees. If necessary, free interpretation is also provided. The law protects the names of the accused, and authorities do not release those names to the public or media prior to conviction.

Legal assistance to indigent detainees continued to come under pressure as lawyers threatened to cease legal assistance due to lack of payment by the government. Cases concerning non-Dutch-speaking detainees continued to experience delays on numerous occasions, as interpreters suspended their services to the court due to a backlog in payments by the government. Cases requiring psychological or psychiatric evaluations were also repeatedly postponed as this group of experts also ceased court services during the year due to the government’s failure to pay them. There was no notable progress during the year to alleviate these problems.

There are parallel military and civilian court systems, and military personnel generally are not subject to civilian criminal law. The military courts follow the same rules of procedure as the civil courts. There is no appeal from the military to the civil system.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations in local courts. Individuals and organizations have the right to appeal decisions to regional human rights bodies; most cases are brought to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled against the country in several cases, but the government only sporadically enforced court rulings or took no action (see section 6, Indigenous People).

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

While the law prohibits such actions, on April 16, security personnel allegedly acting on the orders of the DNV director, Lieutenant Colonel Danielle Veira, raided the home of Rodney Cairo, a candidate for the National Assembly, after a post on his Facebook page criticized the then minister of defense. Police officers responding to a report of a potential armed robbery thwarted an attempt to kidnap Cairo. Police Chief Robert Prade ordered the officers not to take any further action, and Veira later allegedly stated the case concerned national security and therefore was secret and under internal investigation. The attorney general immediately denounced the attack, stating the DNV was not a law enforcement entity and lacked any authority to conduct raids or detain persons. One individual was detained and charged with theft and violation of the firearms code. Officials believed the suspect provided assistance in the attack on Cairo. While the officials did not believe the suspect was directly involved, materials stolen during the attack were found in his possession afterwards. The prosecutor recommended a sentence of one year in prison, of which eight months were suspended and subtracted due to time in detention. The suspect was released pending trial. On October 29, the Court of Justice ordered both the prosecutor and Cairo to appear before a special chamber on December 15 to review the state of the investigation of the case Cairo filed against Veira. On December 15, the Prosecutors’ Office told the Court that the investigation continued and that Veira was identified as suspect. Once it finalized the investigation, the Prosecutors’ Office intended to re-interview Cairo and Veira before taking the case to the Court Martial for a potential trial.

Uruguay

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. The Office of the Prosecutor investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and pursues prosecutions.

On July 10, President Lacalle Pou signed into law an omnibus reform bill that introduces an expansion of the right to self-defense. Previous legislation restricted legitimate defense as a legal defense to attacks within the household, while the new law extends it to gardens, garages, and sheds or similar facilities close to the household. The new law introduces the presumption of legitimacy and lawfulness of the use of force by police and the military. The National Human Rights Institution (INDDHH), independent but overseen by the legislative branch, expressed concern that the reforms put property rights above the right to life. The institution also said the extension of these regulations to law enforcement officials increases police discretionary powers and reduces guarantees of civil liberties.

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Impunity for security forces was not a significant problem.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were poor and inhuman in several facilities due to overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, inadequate medical care, inadequate socioeducational programming, and high levels of violence among inmates.

Physical Conditions: On November 20, the prison population was 13,021, reaching 128 percent of designed capacity. The situation in each of the 27 prisons varied greatly, with 13 prisons above 100 percent capacity, and five prisons above 120 percent designed capacity. Parliament’s special rapporteur on the prison system (special rapporteur) and the National Torture Preventive Mechanism (NPM) under the INDDHH each reported that overcrowding also affected specific sections of prisons with an average population below their full capacity. For example, inmates slept on the floor and had fewer social and educational activities. The special rapporteur stated 26 percent of inmates suffered from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and that 47 percent of inmates were improperly prepared for social integration after their release. According to the special rapporteur and the NPM, the worst prison conditions were in units with high overpopulation rates and the largest prisons.

Certain prisons lacked hygiene, sufficient access to water, sufficient or satisfactory food, and adequate socioeducational and labor activities. Prisoners sometimes spent 23 hours of the day in their cell, and several inmates remained in their cells for weeks or even months. Inmates were sometimes exposed to electrical, sanitary, and other risks due to poor infrastructure. In July a fire in a prison cell left six inmates injured, but the cause of the fire was unknown. As of November prison authorities had not identified the cause of the fire.

In their annual reports, the special rapporteur and the NPM reported a lack of, or difficulties accessing, medical care in prisons. Medical services did not always include preventive care and routine medical care. The lack of prison personnel limited the ability of inmates to have outside medical appointments. Inmates were transferred to new prisons without their medical records and medication prescriptions. Mental health services were not adequately available to tend to the population that required attention, monitoring, and treatment. Administrative delays sometimes affected the issuance of medications.

The NPM and the special rapporteur reported high levels of institutional and interpersonal violence in many prisons, particularly the larger facilities. As of September there were 20 homicides as a result of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, in addition to nine suicides. The homicide rate in prisons was 18 times higher than outside prison walls, while the suicide rate in prisons was four times higher. Shortages in personnel and basic elements of control, such as security cameras, made prevention, control, and the clarification of facts in security incidents difficult. Shortages of prison staff to securely transport and accompany inmates affected prisoners’ ability to participate in workshops, classes, sports, and labor-related activities.

The situation varied for female inmates, who made up 5 percent of the prison population. In mixed-gender prisons, prison authorities assigned women to some of the worst parts of prisons, leading to difficulties in access to food, private spaces, and visits with family members. In a purported effort to prevent conflicts among men, guards prevented women from using the prison yard, excluded them from a number of activities, and did not allow them to wear clothes they considered revealing during visits. There was no regular access to routine sexual and reproductive health services. Mothers in prison with their children lived in poorly designed facilities with security problems due to a lack of prisoner classification, health and environmental concerns, a lack of specialized services and facilities, and undefined and unclear policies for special-needs inmates. Research conducted by the Universidad de la Republica concluded that children detained with their mothers did not have access to proper nutrition.

The special rapporteur filed a number of corrective habeas corpus actions for different violations of prisoner rights ranging from the lack of access to education or health care to inhuman conditions of detention in specific prison modules. In May 2019 the rapporteur filed a habeas corpus action requesting the closure of two sections of a prison, in view of the inhuman detention conditions presented therein. On May 15, a judge ordered the closure of these sections as well as the implementation of a plan to reorganize the prison. The Ministry of Interior challenged the decision, but in August an appeals court ratified the lower court’s ruling.

Some juvenile offenders were imprisoned at age 17 and remained in prison for up to five years. The NPM reported the situation in juvenile detention centers varied greatly from center to center, reflecting a lack of consistent standards across the system. Prisons increased educational services, but they remained insufficient, providing only three to four hours per week for inmates. Security constraints at prison facilities often interfered with or altogether eliminated educational, recreational, and social activities for juvenile inmates. In some cases socioeducational programs were scarce, fragile, or nonexistent.

Physical conditions were deficient in juvenile facilities, including sites with crumbling infrastructure that was not designed for or conducive to rehabilitation activities. High turnover of staff and leadership in the juvenile prison system, as well as a lack of trained and specialized staff, were causes for concern.

In July 2019 the National Institute for Adolescent Social Inclusion reported there were 196 suicide attempts in juvenile detention facilities, although none were successful.

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities established specific sanitary protocols in prisons, including restricting visits, temperature controls for anyone entering facilities, suspension of education activities, use of facemasks, distribution of cleaning products and sanitizing gel, and reserved sectors for potential quarantine needs. As of November only one case of COVID-19 was reported among inmates in adult prisons, and no cases in juvenile prisons.

An omnibus reform bill passed in July introduced security reforms including stronger sentencing for juvenile and adult offenders and restrictions on parole, early release and sentence-reduction mechanisms as well as changes to criminal procedure. The special rapporteur and the INDDHH expressed their concerns that measures adopted could contribute to further increase the already oversized prison population, affecting overcrowding and possibilities for rehabilitation. This law also makes work mandatory for convicted inmates.

Administration: Independent authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, local human rights groups, media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and international bodies. The special rapporteur and the NPM were also allowed to monitor prisons.

Improvements: The Prisons Administration began restructuring one of the biggest and most violent prisons containing more than 3,000 inmates, subdividing it into five smaller subunits to provide more personalized service than before and improve rehabilitation conditions.

In an effort to improve sexual and reproductive rights of women in prison, authorities signed and implemented an agreement with a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) to conduct routine exams, such as pap smear tests, colposcopies, and mammograms, among others, on 100 percent of the female prison population within seven months. Authorities took further steps to strengthen programs for women imprisoned with children.

Inmates with psychiatric conditions were transferred to a module with better conditions than their previous accommodation.

The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Social Development opened an office of the Ministry of Social Development inside one of the most populated prisons in the country to work with inmates and their families six months before their release, strengthening their support network and preparing them for reentry to society.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police apprehend suspects with warrants issued by a duly authorized official and bring them before an independent judiciary. Arrests may be made without a judge’s order when persons are caught in the commission of a crime. The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention and requires the detaining authority to explain the legal grounds for detention. For a detainee who cannot afford a defense attorney, the court appoints a public defender at no cost. Apprehended suspects must be brought before a judge within 24 hours. If no charges are brought, the case is closed, but the investigation may continue and the case reopened if new evidence emerges.

The possibility of bail exists, but it was undeveloped and rarely used. Most persons facing lesser charges were not jailed. Officials allowed detainees prompt access to family members. Confessions obtained by police prior to a detainee’s appearance before a judge and without an attorney present are not valid. A prosecutor leads the investigation of a detainee’s claim of mistreatment.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention is limited to cases of recidivism, risk of flight, grave crimes, or of an individual posing a risk to society, all subject to a judge’s determination. In July the government passed an omnibus reform bill that makes pretrial detention mandatory due to presumed flight risk for persons charged with rape, sexual abuse, robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and aggravated homicide.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges brought against them. In addition, they have the right to a trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to have one provided at public expense if they are unable to afford one; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to receive free assistance of an interpreter; to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses; to present their own witnesses and evidence; and to appeal a conviction. There is no use of juries, as judges decide all cases.

Under the 2017 shift to the accusatory system, the Prosecutor General’s Office went from prosecuting approximately 400 cases per month in November 2017 to prosecuting a monthly average of 1,639 cases during the first half of the year.

An omnibus reform bill passed in July introduced further changes to the criminal procedure code, including restrictions to the use of plea bargaining and the introduction of a new simplified legal procedure, referred to as the “simplified process,” consisting of a middle ground solution between plea bargaining and oral trial. These changes had not yet been used extensively.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts or through administrative mechanisms established by law. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions filed by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies including fair compensation to the individual injured.

Property Restitution:

The country endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration, which called on countries to provide for the restitution of property wrongfully seized during the Holocaust, provide access to archives, and advance Holocaust education and commemoration. There were no known claims for movable or immovable property and the country has no restitution laws. NGOs noted that there did not appear to be anyone conducting provenance research on 1,670 books it received from the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Organization. The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released on July 29, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

Venezuela

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

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

There were numerous reports that the illegitimate Maduro regime committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Although the regime did not release statistics on extrajudicial killings, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that national, state, and municipal police entities, as well as the armed forces and regime-supported colectivos, carried out thousands of such killings during the year.

The Public Ministry is responsible for initiating judicial investigations of security force abuses. The Office for Protection of Human Rights in the Public Ministry is responsible for investigating cases involving crimes committed by public officials, particularly security officials. There was also no official information available on the number of public officials prosecuted, convicted, or sentenced to prison for involvement in extrajudicial killings, which, in the case of killings committed by police, were often classified as “resistance to authority.”

On August 20, FAES officers shot and killed journalists Andres Nieves Zacarias and Victor Torres during a raid at the headquarters of Guacamaya TV in Zulia State. Torres’ father, the director of the television station, stated FAES officers then seized all of the station’s audiovisual equipment and planted weapons on the victims’ bodies to simulate an alleged confrontation. Illegitimate regime attorney general Tarek William Saab called the homicides extrajudicial killings, and four FAES officers were arrested in connection with the killings.

The illegitimate regime attorney general reported that from 2017 to July, one officer was convicted of homicide for killings in the context of security operations. The regime did not release details on the officer’s conviction or other investigations of security officers involved in killings. The OHCHR found that investigations of human rights violations committed by regime security forces were hampered by its refusal to cooperate, tampering with evidence, judicial delays, and harassment of relatives of victims. According to NGOs, prosecutors occasionally brought cases against perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, but prosecutions often resulted in light sentences, and convictions were often overturned on appeal. In many cases the regime appeared to be scapegoating low-level functionaries while allowing high-level officials who issued the illegal orders to continue in their positions.

A UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Venezuela report released in September stated that extrajudicial killings were committed by officers belonging to the military, police, and intelligence services, including in more recent years by FAES and the National Scientific Criminal and Investigative Corps (CICPC) officers. The FFM asserted that some high-level authorities had knowledge of and contributed to the crimes, while others who knew or should have known of the crimes did not take measures to prevent or stop them. Victims were typically young men, targeted due to alleged criminal activity, revenge, or mistaken identity, who were shot and killed in their homes or neighborhoods. Media and NGOs reported security forces attempted to cover up extrajudicial killings by planting evidence or altering crime scenes to suggest an altercation or attempted escape by the victim. The FFM concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe that authorities and security forces planned and executed serious human rights violations, including killings, some of which amounted to crimes against humanity, since 2014. The FFM report also stated there were reasonable grounds to believe that Maduro and other regime officials either ordered, contributed to, or were involved in the commission of the crimes and human rights abuses documented in the FFM report.

b. Disappearance

The NGOs Foro Penal and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights documented 753 enforced disappearances of political detainees between 2018 and June 2020. An OHCHR investigation found that almost all individuals detained by the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) were subjected to enforced disappearances for periods of seven to 40 days after their arrest, raising their risk of also becoming victims of torture and abuse. The illegitimate Maduro regime continued to deny requests by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to visit the country to conduct an investigation.

On March 10, FAES officers detained National Assembly (AN) deputy Renzo Prieto and two assistants, without a warrant for their arrest, after the three participated in a protest in support of interim president Guaido. The illegitimate Maduro regime authorities did not disclose Prieto’s location, nor did they allow any form of communication between Prieto and his family or lawyers during his detention. Prieto’s family expressed significant concern for his state of health, due to an injury that required urgent surgical care and risk of contracting COVID-19. While in regime custody, Prieto stated he was forced to sleep on the floor in a frigid, windowless, four-by-eight-foot cell with five other detainees. On August 31, Prieto was released. Prieto previously had been in regime detention from 2014 to 2018, also after participating in a protest, in what the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded was an arbitrary arrest.

The illegitimate Maduro regime arrested AN deputy Gilber Caro in December 2019, his third detention since 2017, and did not reveal his location or permit contact with his lawyer until January 21. On August 31, he was released.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports that Maduro-aligned security forces tortured and abused detainees. According to the illegitimate Maduro regime, as of May, 26 individuals had been convicted of torturing or abusing detainees.

The regime-aligned Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman did not publish statistics regarding allegations of torture by police during the year. Several NGOs detailed cases of widespread torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Human rights groups reported the regime continued to influence the attorney general and public defenders to conduct investigations selectively and subjectively. No official data were available on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in cases of alleged torture. The NGO Foro Penal maintained that hundreds of cases were not reported to government institutions because victims feared reprisal. The OHCHR found that in some cases doctors issued false or inaccurate medical reports not disclosing signs of torture.

Press and NGOs reported that beatings and humiliating treatment of suspects during arrests were common and involved various law enforcement agencies and the military controlled by the illegitimate Maduro regime. Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners were also reported during the year. Regime-aligned authorities reportedly subjected detainees to asphyxiation, electric shock, broken bones, being hung by their limbs, and being forced to spend hours on their knees. Detainees were also subjected to cold temperatures, sensory deprivation, and sleep deprivation; remained handcuffed for extended periods of time; and received death threats to themselves and their relatives. Detainees reported regime-aligned security forces moved them from detention centers to houses and other clandestine locations where abuse took place. Cruel treatment frequently involved illegitimate regime authorities denying prisoners medical care and holding them for long periods in solitary confinement. The latter practice was most prevalent with political prisoners. NGOs detailed reports from detainees who were victims of sexual and gender-based violence by regime-aligned authorities. The FFM found that regime-aligned security forces, specifically the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and DGCIM, subjected detainees to torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and that high-level regime officials committed, ordered, or contributed to the abuses or were aware of their activities and failed to prevent or stop them.

Foro Penal reported multiple instances of political prisoners denied adequate medical treatment while in regime custody. Foro Penal noted instances in which regime authorities transferred detainees to a medical facility, where instead of receiving treatment, they were interrogated by security officials. PROVEA identified 574 cases of torture by regime-aligned security forces in 2019, resulting in the deaths of at least 23 individuals. NGOs reported that members of the military represented a growing number of victims of torture, such as retired naval captain Rafael Acosta Arevalo, who died of injuries sustained from torture while in regime custody in June 2019.

Political activist Vasco Da Costa, who had been detained in the Ramo Verde military prison despite being a civilian, was released in August 2019 after more than two years in regime custody. Da Costa described extended periods of torture at the hands of the DGCIM, including use of electric shocks, simulated drownings, and beatings to the feet and stomach to the point that he lost control of his bowels. According to Da Costa, prison guards systematically beat and mutilated detainees according to the detainees’ occupations, targeting the legs of soldiers, the hands of a surgeon who was arrested because he was the spouse of a soldier wanted by the regime, and in the case of Da Costa, his eyes due to his role as an academic.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Despite continued reports of police abuse and involvement in crime, particularly in the activities of illegally armed groups, including illegal and arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and the excessive use of force, the illegitimate Maduro regime took no effective action to investigate officials who committed human rights abuses. Corruption, inadequate police training and equipment, and insufficient central government funding, particularly for police forces in states and municipalities governed by opposition officials, reduced the effectiveness of the security forces. NGOs noted that many victims did not report violent crimes to police or other regime authorities due to fear of retribution or lack of confidence in police. The regime, backed by Cuban security force members embedded in Maduro’s security and intelligence services, refused to cede power, preventing the interim government from taking action.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Most prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, systemic violence, and poor infrastructure.

Physical Conditions: According to the NGO A Window to Liberty (UVL), prison capacity was approximately 19,000 inmates for penitentiaries and 5,000 for police station jails. Conditions were most acute in pretrial detention facilities such as police station jails. Overcrowding was 172 percent for penitentiaries and 415 percent for police station jails on average, although the NGO Venezuelan Observatory for Prisons (OVP) noted that in some jails the overcrowding ranged from 800 to 1,200 percent. Overcrowding and generally unsanitary conditions placed prisoners at increased risk of contracting respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis and COVID-19.

There were two women’s prisons, one each in the states of Miranda and Zulia. The law stipulates women in mixed prisons must be held in annexes or separate women’s blocks. A local NGO reported that male and female prisoners intermingled. Illegitimate Maduro regime security forces and law enforcement authorities often held minors together with adults, although separate facilities existed. Because institutions were filled beyond capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions were confined in juvenile detention centers, where they were reportedly crowded into small, unsanitary cells.

The CICPC detention facility, police station jails, and detention centers also were overcrowded, causing many police station offices to be converted into makeshift prison cells. Long delays in court proceedings and prison transfers created a parallel system that held prisoners in police station jails, in some cases for years, although these facilities were designed to hold individuals only for 48 hours. Prisoners reportedly took turns sleeping on floors and in office chairs, and sanitation facilities were inadequate or nonexistent. A UVL study of 248 facilities holding pretrial detainees revealed 315 percent overcrowding. The UVL also found that 5 percent of facilities provided medical services, more than 90 percent did not have potable water, 50 percent did not have regular trash collection or proper restrooms, and 35 percent lacked electricity.

The National Guard (GNB) and the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace have responsibility for prisons’ exterior and interior security, respectively. The illegitimate Maduro regime failed to provide adequate prison security. The OVP estimated a staffing gap of 90 percent for prison security personnel, with one guard for every 100 inmates, instead of one for every 10 as recommended by international standards. Armed gangs, known as pranes, exercised de facto control within some prisons.

According to the UVL and OVP, between March and August, 287 prisoners died in prisons and jails, more than double the number compared with the same period in 2018. Some deaths resulted from prison and detention center riots. For example, on May 1, GNB officers opened fire on prisoners during a riot at the Los Llanos penitentiary in Portuguesa State, leaving 47 prisoners killed and 67 injured. Illegitimate regime Minister of Prisons Iris Varela claimed the riot began as an attempted prison escape, an account disputed by inmates and their family members, who stated the prisoners were protesting malnutrition. Media reported the prison, which was designed for 750 prisoners, held at least 2,500 inmates. AN members called the violence a massacre, and human rights NGOs and the OHCHR called for an investigation. The illegitimate Maduro regime charged 10 persons for their involvement in the violence.

The OVP reported inmate deaths due to generally unsanitary and unsafe conditions prevalent in prisons, with 73 percent the result of tuberculosis and malnutrition. The OVP reported that due to inadequate nutrition and lack of potable water, stomach illnesses were common among inmates. The UVL reported that in more than 90 percent of detention facilities, prisoners depended upon family visits to supply them with food, water, and medicine. Media reported prison guards regularly stole food families purchased for inmates. Prisoners were unable to meet their basic needs when illegitimate Maduro regime authorities suspended family visits to prisons and detention centers on April 2 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A study by the NGO Solidarity Action found prison rules resulted in the isolation of those with HIV/AIDS in “inadequate spaces without food and medical attention.” The OVP reported a generalized lack of medical care, drugs, equipment, and physicians for prisoners. Inmates often received the same pills regardless of their symptoms, and pregnant women lacked adequate facilities for medical attention.

Administration: The illegitimate regime’s Ministry of Penitentiary Services did not respond to requests from the OVP, UVL, other human rights organizations, inmates, or families regarding inmates or investigations of the harsh conditions that led to hunger strikes, violent uprisings, and massacres.

Prisoners and detainees generally had access to visitors, including some with overnight privileges, until authorities suspended family visits in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases prison officials harassed or abused visitors. For political prisoners, prison officials imposed significant restrictions on visits by family and legal representation. When allowed access, visitors were at times subjected to strip searches.

Independent Monitoring: Human rights observers experienced lengthy delays and restrictions in gaining access to prisons and detention centers. More than 300 lay members from the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference of the Roman Catholic Church volunteered in 40 prisons. Although prohibited from formally entering prisons, Catholic laity visited prisoners on family visitation days. As of September the OHCHR had conducted 15 visits of 13 detention centers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits the arrest or detention of an individual without a judicial order and provides for the accused to remain free while being tried, but judges and prosecutors often disregarded these provisions. The law provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but the illegitimate Maduro regime generally did not observe this requirement. While NGOs such as Foro Penal, the Committee for the Families of Victims of February-March 1989, the Institute for Press and Society, Espacio Publico, and PROVEA noted at least 2,000 open cases of arbitrary detentions, illegitimate Maduro regime authorities rarely granted them formal means to present their petitions. Regime authorities arbitrarily detained individuals, including foreign citizens, for extended periods without criminal charges.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

While a warrant is required for an arrest, detention is permitted without an arrest warrant when an individual is apprehended in the act of committing a crime or to secure a suspect or witness during an investigation. Police often detained individuals and raided their homes without a warrant. The OHCHR found that in several cases the illegitimate Maduro regime issued warrants retroactively or forged the warrant’s date of issuance. The law mandates that detainees be brought before a prosecutor within 12 hours and before a judge within 48 hours to determine the legality of the detention; the law also requires that detainees be informed promptly of the charges against them. The regime routinely ignored these requirements.

Although the law provides for bail, release on bail is not afforded to persons charged with certain crimes. Bail also may be denied if a person is apprehended in the act of committing a crime or if a judge determines the accused may flee or impede the investigation. The law allows detainees access to counsel and family members, but that requirement was often not met, particularly for political prisoners. The constitution also provides any detained individual the right to immediate communication with family members and lawyers who, in turn, have the right to know a detainee’s whereabouts. A person accused of a crime may not be detained for longer than the possible minimum sentence for that crime or for longer than two years, whichever is shorter, except in certain circumstances, such as when the defendant is responsible for the delay in the proceedings. The regime routinely ignored these requirements.

Arbitrary Arrest: Foro Penal reported 281 cases of arbitrary detention between January 1 and July 31.

On May 9, illegitimate regime security forces arrested Junior Pantoja, a former city councilman and soup-kitchen manager, during a violent police confrontation with armed gangs in a Caracas neighborhood. Pantoja’s relatives and neighbors, as well as AN, called the arrest arbitrary and politically motivated due to his role as a community leader. Pantoja’s lawyer claimed security forces planted five bullets on Pantoja in order to arrest him for gang-related activity and arms trafficking. On June 24, he was released and on August 23, he died of a respiratory infection after his health deteriorated while in regime custody.

On October 4, the illegitimate Maduro regime, without providing explanation, prevented interim president Juan Guaido’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, from boarding a flight to Spain. Marrero had been released from regime custody on August 31, following his March 2019 arrest and months of arbitrary judicial delays. Media reported contradictory and conflicting evidence submitted by prosecutors–including allegations that rifles and a grenade were planted at Marrero’s residence on the day of his arrest. Marrero was charged with conspiracy, treason, and weapons smuggling. Many international entities, including the Lima Group and the EU, condemned Marrero’s 2019 arrest as politically motivated.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention remained an egregious problem. According to the UVL, approximately 70 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. The NGO Citizen Observatory of the Penal Justice System attributed trial delays to the shortage of prosecutors and penal judges.

Despite constitutional protections that provide for timely trials, judges reportedly scheduled initial hearings months after the events that led to the detention. Proceedings were often deferred or suspended when an officer of the court, such as the prosecutor, public defender, or judge, failed to attend. Prisoners reported to NGOs that a lack of transportation and disorganization in the prison system reduced their access to the courts and contributed to trial delays.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary lacked independence and generally judged in favor of the illegitimate regime at all levels. There were credible allegations of corruption and political influence throughout the judiciary. According to reports from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), more than 75 percent of all judges had provisional appointments and were subject to removal at will by the Supreme Court (TSJ) Judicial Committee. Provisional and temporary judges, who legally have the same rights and authorities as permanent judges, allegedly were subjected to political influence to make proregime determinations. The OHCHR reported that lower courts received instructions from the TSJ on cases, especially those of a political nature, and observed that TSJ decisions related to the AN were inconsistent and raised concerns regarding politicization. Low salaries for judges at all levels increased the risk of corruption.

There was a general lack of transparency and stability in the assignments of district attorneys to cases and a lack of technical criteria for assigning district attorneys to criminal investigations. These deficiencies hindered the possibility of bringing offenders to justice and resulted in a 90 percent rate of impunity for common crimes and a higher percentage of impunity for cases of alleged human rights abuses.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with oral proceedings for all individuals. By law defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty. The law requires that detainees be informed promptly of the charges against them, but the requirement was often ignored and, even when respected, involved dubious allegations, according to human rights organizations. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney. According to the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, there were approximately 1,300 public defenders, but indigent defendants’ right to free counsel was often not respected because of attorney shortages. Free interpretation was often not available to defendants. Some NGOs provided pro bono counsel to defendants.

Defendants may request no fewer than 30 days and no more than 45 days to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to question adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses. By law defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and plaintiffs have the right of appeal. The OHCHR documented cases in which the illegitimate Maduro regime prevented lawyers from meeting with defendants and denied them confidentiality or access to case files.

Trial delays were common. Trials in absentia are permitted in certain circumstances, although opponents of the procedure claimed the constitution prohibits such trials. The law also states that, in the absence of the defense attorney, a trial may proceed with a public defender whom the court designates. The law gives judges the discretion to hold trials behind closed doors if a public trial could “disturb the normal development of the trial.”

On November 8, the TSJ convicted judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni of “spiritual corruption,” an offense that does not exist under criminal law, and sentenced her to five years’ imprisonment. Human rights NGOs and lawyers called the charges fabricated and an attempt to coerce other judges to take action against opposition politicians. In 2009 authorities arrested Afiuni on charges of corruption and abuse of authority for her decision to release a businessman who had been held in pretrial detention beyond the maximum time prescribed by law. Following her release to house arrest in 2011, regime-aligned authorities limited her movements and ability to speak to the press before granting her an unconditional release in July 2019.

The law mandates that municipal courts handle “less serious” crimes, i.e., those carrying maximum penalties of imprisonment of fewer than eight years. Municipal courts may levy penalties that include three to eight months of community service. Besides diverting some “less serious” crimes to the municipal courts, this diversion also permits individuals accused of “lesser crimes” to ask the courts to suspend their trials conditionally in exchange for their admission of responsibility, commitment to provide restitution “in a material or symbolic form,” community service, or any other condition imposed by the court.

The law provides that trials for military personnel charged with human rights abuses after 1999 be held in civilian rather than military courts. In addition, under the Organic Code of Military Justice, an individual may be tried in the military justice system for “insulting, offending, or disparaging the national armed forces or any related entities.” NGOs and the IACHR expressed concern with the regime’s practice of trying civilians under the military justice system for protests and other actions not under military jurisdiction. According to Foro Penal, since 2014 military courts had processed 870 civilians.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The illegitimate Maduro regime used the judiciary to intimidate and prosecute individuals critical of regime policies or actions. Foro Penal reported 351 political prisoners in regime custody as of December 28, compared with 388 political prisoners at the end of 2019. The regime routinely held political prisoners in SEBIN installations or the Ramo Verde military prison without an explanation of why they were not being held in civilian detention facilities.

On August 31, the illegitimate Maduro regime announced the “pardon” of 110 political prisoners. These pardons were conditional, with regime officials threatening to rescind the benefit if any individuals “return to any act of terrorism, violence, or coup mongering,” as arbitrarily determined by the regime. According to Foro Penal, however, only 50 of those named were in regime custody at the time. Of the prisoners, 23 had already been released, and the remaining 37 were AN deputies either in exile, in foreign embassy asylum in Caracas, or facing prosecution. Media and NGOs noted that since most on the list were not duly convicted or even charged with any crime, the move was a dismissal rather than a pardon. The list did not include any members of the military, although they represented 20 percent of political prisoners, according to Foro Penal. On September 7, regime attorney general Tarek William Saab encouraged the released detainees to participate in the December 6 parliamentary elections, but he warned they would be rearrested if found to have committed additional “crimes.”

On March 15, SEBIN officers arrested AN deputy Tony Geara. Geara was charged with financing terrorism and weapons trafficking after he posted comments on social media noting that a local hospital did not have running water. Media reported in August that Geara tested positive for COVID-19 while in SEBIN custody in Bolivar State. On August 31, Geara was released.

On August 28, AN deputy Juan Requesens was released to house arrest after being detained for more than two years for his alleged involvement in an attempted assassination of Maduro. International observers criticized irregularities in Requesens’ trial, which was marred by lengthy judicial delays as well as a lack of transparency and legal due process.

On October 14, opposition party leader Leopoldo Lopez fled to Spain after more than one year inside the Spanish embassy in Caracas. He previously escaped house arrest during mass demonstrations in April 2019, and in May 2019 the illegitimate Maduro regime issued a warrant for his arrest. Lopez was notably not included in the August 31 “pardon” of political prisoners.

In 2017 the head of state-owned oil company PDVSA summoned six executives of U.S.-based subsidiary CITGO to Venezuela for an emergency budget meeting: U.S. citizens Tomeu Vadell, Gustavo Cardenas, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Jose Zambrano, and Jose Luis Zambrano and U.S. Legal Permanent Resident Jose Angel Pereira (collectively known as the CITGO-6). Upon their arrival in Caracas, they were detained by masked security agents; charged with embezzlement, money laundering, and criminal association for an alleged deal they signed to restructure CITGO bonds; and confined in one of the country’s most dangerous prisons. After their initial appearance before a judge was cancelled dozens of times during three years, the trial of the six began in August. On November 21, they were convicted and sentenced as soon as closing arguments concluded to terms of eight to 13 years in prison. Their cases were marred by a lack of legal due process and based on politically motivated charges. The illegitimate regime denied media and human rights groups access to the trial.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were credible reports that the illegitimate Maduro regime attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country. On October 22, the TSJ issued an extradition request for Ivan Simonovis, former political prisoner and sitting interim government commissioner for security. The regime charged Simonovis with the attempted murder of Maduro, treason, terrorism, and weapons trafficking. Simonovis escaped from house arrest in May 2019 and fled the country.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

While there are separate civil courts that permit citizens to file lawsuits seeking damages, there are no procedures for individuals or organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses.

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

The constitution provides for the inviolability of the home and personal privacy, but the illegitimate regime generally failed to respect these prohibitions. In many cases, particularly regarding the political opposition, regime-aligned authorities searched homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization, seized property without due process, or interfered in personal communications. FAES and other security forces regularly conducted both politically motivated and indiscriminate household raids. Throughout the year media reports documented raids by security forces on the homes of opposition party politicians and their relatives.

State surveillance remained rampant, including through the assistance of telecom regulator the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) and state-run telecommunications provider CANTV. In February 2019 the interim government created a website for volunteers to participate in the delivery of international humanitarian aid. CANTV manipulated the Domain Name System to redirect visitors to a fake website registered to CONATEL that was designed to phish visitors’ personal information. Further, telecommunications companies reportedly assisted the government in monitoring communications of political opponents. Technical attacks against media outlets appeared to be linked to the armed forces.

China, through its telecommunications corporation ZTE (Zhongxing Telecommunication Equipment Corporation), provided the government with the technology to monitor citizens’ social, political, and economic behavior through an identity card called carnet de la patria (homeland card). To force citizens to comply, the Maduro regime made it obligatory to present the card to obtain social services, including pensions, medicine, food baskets, and subsidized fuel. Citizens essentially had no choice but to obtain and use the card despite the known tracking methods. Chinese companies such as Huawei and the China National Electronics Import-Export Company were also supporting financially and technologically these surveillance methods.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future