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Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic (CAR) is a presidential republic. Voters elected Faustin-Archange Touadera president in a February 2016 run-off. Despite reports of irregularities, international observers reported the February 2016 presidential and legislative elections were free and fair. The 2016 constitution established a bicameral parliament, with a directly elected National Assembly and an indirectly elected Senate. The National Assembly convened in May 2016. Elections for the Senate had not taken place by year’s end.

Civilian authorities’ control over the security forces continued to improve, but remained weak. State authority beyond the capital improved over the last year with the deployment of prefects and security services, in particular, in the western part of the country; armed groups, however, still controlled significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing institutions, taxing local populations, providing security services, and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings, forced disappearance, and sexual violence, including rape by ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups;[1] arbitrary detention; delays in holding criminal sessions in the judicial system, resulting in prolonged pretrial detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, particularly in cities not controlled by the government and in illegal detention facilities not operated by the government; seizure and destruction of property and use of excessive and indiscriminate force in internal armed conflict by armed groups; restrictions on freedom of movement; widespread corruption; lack of prosecution and accountability in cases of violence against women and children, including sexual violence and rape; criminalization of same-sex conduct; forced labor, including forced child labor; and use of child soldiers by armed groups.

The government started to take steps to investigate and prosecute officials in the security forces and in the government for alleged human rights violations. A climate of impunity, however, and a lack of access to legal services remained. There were allegations that United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) peacekeepers sexually abused children and sexually exploited adults. The United Nations investigated alleged perpetrators and the number of reported incidents decreased over previous years (see section 1.c.).

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups escalated during the year. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during the internal conflicts. Both ex-Seleka and the Anti-balaka committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.

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 during the year. There were, however, several reports that armed groups committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in which government agents were implicated, according to reports by MINUSCA.

Armed rebel groups, particularly members of the various factions of ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, killed civilians, especially persons suspected of being members or sympathizers of opposing parties in the conflict (see section 1.g.). The killings, often reprisals in nature, included summary executions and deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

In May members of an armed group killed 26 persons and wounded more than 200 others in an attack on the Notre Dame Church of Fatima in the sixth district of Bangui. Separate confrontations on May 14 and 15 between the Union for Peace (UPC) and Anti-balaka elements in Bambari resulted in 32 dead and 23 wounded civilians and armed group members. Clashes among rival groups in Bangui’s PK5 neighborhood on May 23 resulted in deaths of 12 civilians.

There were numerous killings of civilians by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that operated in eastern regions of the country, and other armed groups including the Anti-balaka, Reclamation, Return, and Rehabilitation (3R), Revolution and Justice (RJ), the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC), UPC, the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC), and the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) (see section 1.g.).

According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Invisible Children, the LRA perpetrated at least 22 attacks on civilians in the Mbomou Uele border region in January. Five civilians were killed and 26 abducted. In February the LRA reportedly committed 30 attacks, killing at least 15 civilians and abducting 25 others.

The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Anti-balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were reports that forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups were responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Those abducted included police and civilians (see section 1.g.).

There were many reports of disappearances committed by the LRA for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).

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

Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from NGOs that soldiers of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture.

In February the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) in Damala assaulted a 40-year-old woman after she came to plead for the release of her son who had been arrested following the theft of a motorcycle. A medical report documented the woman’s injuries.

There were reports of impunity for inhuman treatment, including torture, according to credible NGO sources, and abuse and rape of civilians, that resulted in deaths by forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, LRA, and other armed groups (see section 1.g.).

The United Nations reported that it received eight allegations between January and August of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers that were deployed to MINUSCA. These allegations involved peacekeepers from Cameroon, Morocco, Niger, and Burundi. Of the eight allegations, seven involved minors and all were pending investigations by the United Nations or the troop contributing country.

According to the United Nations, three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against MINUSCA peacekeepers from Mauritania reported in 2017 were pending. Two cases alleged sexual abuse (sexual assault or rape), involving minors. In both cases the United Nations repatriated the peacekeepers in question. The other case alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship). Investigations by the Mauritanian government were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) independent expert and international NGOs, detention conditions in prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.

MINUSCA detained and transferred to government custody several medium and high-level armed group members.

Physical Conditions: The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and the Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons. Six prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bouar, Berberati, Bimbo, Bossangoa, Bambari, and Mbaiki. In other locations including Bossembele and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Conditions were life threatening and substantially below international standards. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.

Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender. Smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa segregated male from female prisoners, but conditions were substantially below international standards. Female prisoners were placed in facilities without ventilation or electricity. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.

There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders. The Ngaragba Prison reported 32 juveniles held there. The accusations ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes. Police and gendarmes held individuals beyond the statutory limits for detention before imposing formal charges.

Administration: MINUSCA is extensively involved in the administration of prisons. MINUSCA personnel staffed the prisons in Bangui, Boura, and Bambari. Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.

Prisons were consistently underfunded with insufficient operating resources for the care of prisoners. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Additionally, prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors unofficial fees.

Independent Monitoring: In January, February, and July, the government permitted monitoring by UNHCR independent experts and international donors. The government also permitted monitoring by the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council Independent Expert on Human Rights in the CAR.

Improvements: In April the government and agencies of the United Nations launched a nationwide recruitment of 300 new prison officers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

The judicial system had gradually expanded its presence beyond Bangui to other cities, notably Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, and Mbaiki. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Ongoing challenges included a lack of affordable legal representation and an unresponsive judiciary system.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police and gendarmes have responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order. Prior to the conflict, police and gendarmes maintained limited or no presence in many areas. During the violence that commenced in 2013, police and gendarmes were targeted by Seleka forces, prompting their withdrawal from the interior. Since 2014 the police and gendarmerie have gradually increased their presence in several previously vacated towns. Deployed officers, however, remained poorly trained, under resourced and supplied with poorly functioning arms and insufficient ammunition for their tasks. Local commanding officers purchased necessities and office supplies with their own funds.

Impunity remained persistent throughout the country. Contributing factors included poorly trained officials, inadequate staffing, and insufficient resources. Additionally, claims of corruption among top government officials, delayed receipt of salaries for law enforcement and judiciary employees, and threats from local armed groups if officials arrested or investigated members persisted.

MINUSCA’s uniformed force of 11,846 military personnel, police officers, and military observers were tasked to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA’s 1,896 police officers were authorized to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.

In March the CAR internal security forces launched their first training program since 2009 for new police and gendarme recruits. The program had 250 police recruits, 60 of whom were women, and 250 gendarmes, 56 of whom were women.

The Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Repression of Sexual Violence against Women and Children (UMIRR) arrested three police officers from the OCRB for torturing a woman (see section 1.c.).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law, however, stipulates that authorities must inform detainees of their charges and present them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. The only exceptions are suspects involving national security. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and insufficient number of judges.

Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Many detainees could not afford a lawyer. Although the law provides that a lawyer be provided for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed, lawyers are not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8.85) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. Led by the CAR bar association, defense lawyers protested and went on strike for higher remuneration, and the government negotiated an increased rate. For individuals detained by ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka and placed in illegal detention centers, legal procedures were not followed and access to lawyers was not provided.

Prosecution of persons subject to sanctions by the UN Sanctions Committee seldom occurred.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and some ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem; specific reliable data was not available.

Although recordkeeping of arrests and detentions was poor, the slow investigation and processing of a case was the primary cause of pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained, understaffed, and had few resources, resulting in poorly processed cases with little physical evidence. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. The judges resisted holding sessions out of security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, in practice, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of affordable legal services and an unresponsive justice system.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence between the judiciary and political actors. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. In March 2017 the president issued a decree that appointed eight members to the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. The courts in Bangui and some other major cities, notably Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, Mbaiki, Boda, and Bimbo, resumed operation, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was limited. Many judges were unwilling to leave Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office spaces and housing.

Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, shortages of trained personnel, salary arrears, and lack of resources. Authorities, particularly those of high rank, did not always respect court orders.

In May the National Assembly adopted the rules of procedure and evidence for the Special Criminal Court (SCC); the SCC officially launched investigations in October. The SCC was established by law in 2015 in the domestic judicial system, which operates with both domestic and international participation and support. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Operations of the Courts of Appeals for criminal courts in two of the country’s three judicial districts, Western district based in Bouar and Central district based in Bangui, held criminal sessions during the year. The Bouar criminal session adjudicated 65 cases involving 108 individuals, with 20 accused appearing in court and 88 convicted in absentia. In December 2017 the criminal session in Bangui adjudicated 27 criminal cases, and the July-August session adjudicated 26 cases. Fifteen cases went to trial and 11 were retained for the next criminal session.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The penal code presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and consult a public defender. Criminal trials use juries. The law obliges the government to provide counsel for indigent defendants; this process delayed trial proceedings due to the state’s limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and file appeals. The government sometimes complied with these requirements. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary) from the moment charged through all appeals, to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities however, seldom respected these rights.

With the assistance of MINUSCA and international donors, the government began the process of establishing the SCC, which is tasked to investigate and prosecute serious human rights violations. It has a focus on conflict-related and gender-based crimes. The internationally nominated chief prosecutor for the court took office in May 2017. More than a dozen international and national positions within the court, including judges, prosecutors, and clerks, were filled.

Criminal hearings resumed in Bouar and in Kaga-Bandoro.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in order to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. In 2015 the civil courts resumed operations with regular sessions. There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no guarantee of their safety and a credible judicial process.

In January the Criminal Court of Bangui found former Anti-balaka leader Rodrigue Ngaibona, also known as “Andilo,” guilty of five counts of criminal acts including assassinations, aggravated theft, criminal conspiracy, illegal possession of weapons, and theft. He was sentenced to life in prison with forced labor.

The court found another armed group leader, Ahmad Tidjani, and 10 members of the former Seleka guilty of criminal conspiracy, possession of weapons of war, undermining the internal security of the State and rebellion.

Several civil courts were operational in Bangui and other prefectures in the western region.

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

The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, including the right to participate in political protests. The government, however, denied most requests to protest that were submitted by civil society groups, citing insecurity in Bangui.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

A law prohibiting nonpolitical organizations from uniting for political purposes remained in place. In May the government briefly detained opposition leader Joseph Bendounga following a march in Bangui. The attorney general reiterated that the detention was justified because the march was not authorized.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: After several postponements, the country held a constitutional referendum in December 2015 followed by the first round of presidential and legislative elections. None of the 30 presidential candidates obtained more than the 50 percent of the votes required to avoid a second round, which was held in February 2016. In January 2016 the Transitional Constitutional Court annulled the December 2015 legislative elections due to widespread irregularities and voter intimidation and fraud and ordered new elections. The rescheduled first-round legislative elections also took place in February 2016, with a second round held in March 2016. The National Assembly convened in May 2016; elections for the Senate were not held, and no date for them has been announced. Central African refugees and members of the diaspora in some neighboring states were able to participate in the elections.

The 2015 constitutional referendum led to the adoption of a new constitution with 93 percent of the votes cast in favor; voter turnout was 38 percent.

The first round of presidential and legislative elections took place in December 2015 with a turnout of 62 percent. Refugees located in Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, and Chad were able to vote. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, did not allow the estimated 112,000 Central African refugees in its territory to vote.

A total of 415 appeals were lodged contesting the results of the legislative elections, leading the Transitional Constitutional Court to invalidate the ballot and require a new first round of elections. The appeals were based primarily on allegations of irregularities and fraud, corruption, and intimidation of voters and candidates. The second round of the presidential election and the new first round of the legislative elections took place in February 2016. Observers noted a marked improvement in the conduct of the ballot, as the majority of polling stations opened on time and were properly equipped. The Transitional Constitutional Court announced the final results of the presidential election on March 1, 2016, confirming the victory of independent candidate Faustin-Archange Touadera with 62.7 percent of the vote over Anicet-George Dologuele, who had 37.3 percent of the vote. The turnout was 58.9 percent. Dologuele quickly conceded defeat and called upon his supporters to accept the results of the vote. The inauguration of President Touadera took place in March 2016.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Five of the 34 cabinet members were women, as was the senior presidential advisor for national reconciliation. There were 12 women among the 140 members of parliament. Some observers believed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited the ability of women to participate in political life on the same basis as men.

In 2016 the National Assembly passed a gender equality law. The law outlaws gender discrimination and establishes quotas for women’s representation in elective offices, and public and private institutions. It also establishes an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance.

There were seven Muslim members, including one Fulani member of the cabinet. Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons prevented them from working to see their interests represented in the political sphere.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. In March 2017 President Touadera issued a decree appointing members of the High Authority for Good Governance, an independent body mandated by the constitution. It is charged with protecting the rights of minorities and the handicapped, and with ensuring the equitable distribution of natural resource revenues, among other roles.

Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government, and addressing public-sector corruption was difficult given limited government capacity.

Corruption: Few cases of corruption were brought to trial or exposed with strong evidence in the media; there were, however, widespread rumors and anecdotal stories of pervasive corruption. A report by the NGO Collaborative for Development Action Collaborative Learning Projects utilizing firsthand testimony highlighted the extensive nature of corruption in the criminal justice system, where “extortion/bribery, sexual favors, favoritism, and political interference distort every aspect of the criminal justice system.”

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires senior members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the beginning of their terms to declare publicly their personal assets and income for scrutiny by the constitutional court. The constitution specifies that the law determine sanctions for noncompliance. Declarations are public. The constitution requires ministers to declare their assets upon departing government but is not explicit on what constitutes assets or income.

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

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

In August the national Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation Consultative Committee (CC) launched a pilot disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration project in Bangui. The goal was to disarm 560 armed group members. Thirteen of the 14 recognized armed groups represented on the committee participated in the pilot program. According to the CC, in September 240 armed group members disarmed and enlisted in the FACA. An additional 198 members were disarmed and in training to reintegrate into their communities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In April 2017 President Touadera signed into law an act establishing an independent National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties. The commission expected to have the authority to investigate complaints, including the power to call witnesses and subpoena documents.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Domestic violence against women was common, although there are laws and instrument prohibiting violence against women. The government took no known action to punish perpetrators.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls, which is punishable by two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($176 to $1,760), depending on the severity of the case.

Nearly one quarter of girls and women have been subjected to FGM/C in the country, with variations according to ethnicity and region. Approximately half of girls were cut between the ages of 10 and 14. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice declined sharply over time.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government did not effectively enforce the law in the areas controlled by armed groups, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The formal law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but a number of discriminatory customary laws often prevailed. Women’s statutory inheritance rights often were not respected, particularly in rural areas. Women experienced economic and social discrimination. Customary law does not consider single, divorced, or widowed women, including those with children, to be heads of households. By law men and women are entitled to family subsidies from the government, but several women’s groups complained about lack of access to these payments for women.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration could be difficult and less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately. Unregistered children faced restrictions on access to education and other social services. The courts issued more than 7,000 birth certificates. They were not delivered, however, because court clerks demanded payment for printing the certificates. The lack of routine birth registration also posed long-term problems.

Education: Education is compulsory from six to 15 years of age. Tuition is free, but students have to pay for items such as books and supplies and for transportation. Human Rights Watch documented the continued occupation of schools for military purposes, such as for barracks or bases. Further, it documented that abuses by fighters in and around schools threatened the safety of students and teachers, and impeded children’s ability to learn. In 2015 according to UNICEF, 38 percent of schools were attacked or looted during the crisis, and one-third of school-age children did not go to school. Girls did not have equal access to primary or secondary education. Few Ba’aka, the earliest known inhabitants of the forests in the south, attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to increase Ba’aka enrollment.

According to an NGO nationwide survey during the year, between 78 and 88 percent of schools were open. According to the United Nations, an estimated 10,000 children were prevented from attending school during the year, mostly due to schools being occupied by armed groups.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children younger than age 15. Nevertheless, child abuse and neglect were widespread, although rarely acknowledged. The government did not take steps to address child abuse.

In March a Central African military colonel imprisoned and brutally abused his nine-year-old daughter for two years. The colonel remained free despite criminal charges being filed against him.

Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual slavery of women and girls by armed groups threatened their security, and sexual violence was increasingly used as a deliberate tool of warfare. Attackers enjoyed broad impunity. Constitutional guarantees of women’s rights were rarely enforced, especially in rural areas. Sexual abuses by UN peacekeeping forces had been documented, but many instances had not been investigated or prosecuted.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. The practice of early marriage was more common in the Muslim community. There were reports during the year of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka members. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no statutory rape or child pornography laws to protect minors. The family code prescribes penalties for the commercial exploitation of children, including imprisonment and financial penalties. The minimum age of sexual consent is 18, but it was rarely observed. A legal aid center in Bimbo for sexual and gender-based crimes reported cases involving minor victims.

For example, a man raped his four-year-old niece. The child was under medical treatment. UMIRR was investigating the case while the uncle remained in jail.

Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see sections 1.g. and 2.d.).

For example, during the year, NGOs reported the LRA continued to target and abduct children. Abducted girls often were kept as sex slaves.

Child Soldiers: Child soldiering was a problem (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: Armed conflict resulted in forced displacement, with the number of persons fleeing in search of protection fluctuating based on local conditions.

The country’s instability had a disproportionate effect on children, who accounted for 60 percent of IDPs. Access to government services was limited for all children, but displacement reduced it further. Nevertheless, according to a humanitarian NGO, an estimated 140,000 displaced and vulnerable children participated in psychosocial activities, armed groups released 3,000 children, and approximately 3,500 survivors of sexual violence received comprehensive support.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities but does not specify other forms of disabilities. It requires that in any company employing 25 or more persons, at least 5 percent of staff must consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities, if they are available. The law states that at least 10 percent of newly recruited civil service personnel should be persons with disabilities. There are no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities.

The government did not enact programs to ensure access to buildings, information, and communications. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection’s Labor Inspectorate has responsibility for protecting children with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Violence by unidentified persons, bandits, and other armed groups against the Mbororo, primarily nomadic pastoralists, was a problem. Their cattle wealth made them attractive targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the North. Additionally, since many citizens viewed them as inherently foreign due to their transnational migratory patterns, the Mbororo faced occasional discrimination with regard to government services and protections. In recent years the Mbororo have begun arming themselves against attacks from farmers who objected to the presence of the Mbororo’s grazing cattle. Several of the ensuing altercations resulted in deaths.

Social networks were increasingly used to incite hatred against persons of other ethnicities. The High Commission on Communications initiated a campaign to combat hate speech on social networks.

Indigenous People

Discrimination continued against the nomadic pastoralist Mbororo minority, as well as the forest-dwelling Ba’aka. The independent High Authority for Good Governance, whose members were appointed in March 2017, is tasked with protecting the rights of minorities and the handicapped, although its efficacy has yet to be proven.

Discrimination against the Ba’aka, who constituted 1 to 2 percent of the population, remained a problem. The Ba’aka continued to have little influence in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of natural resources. Forest-dwelling Ba’aka, in particular, experienced social and economic discrimination and exploitation, which the government did little to prevent.

The Ba’aka, including children, were often coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were considered slaves by members of other local ethnic groups, and even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far below those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups.

Refugees International reported the Ba’aka were effectively “second-class citizens,” perceived as barbaric and subhuman and excluded from mainstream society.

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

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity. The penalty for “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years or a fine of between 150,000 and 600,000 CFA francs ($265 and $1,060). When one of the participants is a child, the adult could be sentenced to two to five years’ imprisonment or a fine of 100,000 to 800,000 CFA francs ($176 and $1,413); there were no reports police arrested or detained persons under these provisions.

While official discrimination based on sexual orientation occurred, there were no reports the government targeted LGBTI persons. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was entrenched due to a high degree of cultural stigmatization. There were no reports of LGBTI persons targeted for acts of violence, although the absence of reports could reflect cultural biases and stigma attached to being an LGBTI individual. There were no known organizations advocating for or working on behalf of LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS were subjected to discrimination and stigma, and many individuals with HIV/AIDS did not disclose their status due to social stigma.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Violent conflict and instability in the country had a religious cast. Many, but not all, members of the ex-Seleka and its factions were Muslim, having originated in neighboring countries or in the remote Muslim north, a region former governments often neglected.

During the worst of the crisis, some Christian communities formed anti-Seleka militias that targeted Muslim communities, presumably for their association with the Seleka. The Catholic archbishop of Bangui, local priests, and an imam continued working with communities to defuse tensions by making radio broadcasts urging members of their religious communities to call for tolerance and restraint. Local leaders, including the bishop of Bossangoa, and internationally based academics warned against casting the conflict in religious terms and thus fueling its escalation along religious lines.

Ethnic killings often related to transhumance movements occurred. The major groups playing a role in the transhumance movements were social groups centering on ethnic identity. These included Muslim Fulani/Peuhl herders, Muslim farming communities, and Christian/animist farming communities. These ethnic groups committed preemptive and reactionary killings in protection of perceived or real threats to their property (cattle herds or farms). Initial killings generated reprisal killings and counter killings.

According to the UNHCR independent expert, there were numerous credible reports that “persons accused of witchcraft were detained, tortured, or killed by individuals or members of armed groups, particularly in the west of the country.”

The law outlawed the practice of witchcraft. According to the UNHCR independent expert, there were numerous credible reports that “persons accused of witchcraft were detained, tortured, or killed by individuals or members of armed groups, particularly in the west of the country.”

In April civil society members organized a conference bringing together anthropologists and legal experts to discuss witchcraft. Participants highlighted the misuse of this law by accusers, notably against women. Nevertheless, in May three persons accused of witchcraft were killed in Ndolobo, near Mbaïki.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers–except for senior-level state employees, all security force members, and foreign workers in residence for less than two years–to form or join independent unions without prior authorization. The labor code provides for the right of workers to organize and administer trade unions without employer interference and grants trade unions full legal status. The law requires union officials be full-time, wage-earning employees in their occupation and allows them to conduct union business during working hours if the employer is informed 48 hours in advance and provides authorization. Substantial restrictions, including reciprocity, hampered noncitizens from holding leadership positions in a union, despite amendments to the labor code.

The labor code provides that unions may bargain collectively in the public and private sectors.

Workers have the right to strike in both the public and private sectors, but the law prohibits security forces, including the armed forces and gendarmes, from striking. Requirements for conducting a legal strike are lengthy and cumbersome. For a strike to be legal, the union must first present its demands, the employer must respond to these demands, labor and management must attend a conciliation meeting, and an arbitration council must find that the union and the employer failed to reach agreement on valid demands. The union must provide eight days’ advance written notification of a planned strike. The law states that if employers initiate a lockout that is not in accordance with the code, the employer is required to pay workers for all days of the lockout. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection has the authority to establish a list of enterprises that are required by law to maintain a “compulsory minimum service” in the event of a strike. The government has the power of requisition or the authority to end strikes by invoking the public interest. The code makes no other provisions regarding sanctions on employers for acting against strikers.

The law expressly forbids antiunion discrimination. Employees may have their cases heard in labor court. The law does not state whether employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities, although the law requires employers found guilty of such discrimination to pay damages, including back pay and lost wages.

The government generally enforced applicable laws and respected laws concerning labor actions. Workers exercised some of these rights, but only a relatively small part of the workforce, primarily civil servants, exercised the right to join a union. While worker organizations are officially outside government or political parties, the government exerted some influence over the leadership of some organizations.

Labor unions did not report any underlying patterns of discrimination or abuse. The president of the labor court stated the court did not hear any cases involving antiunion discrimination during the year.

Collective bargaining occurred in the private sector during the year, although the total number of collective agreements concluded was unknown. The government was not generally involved if the two parties were able to reach an agreement. Information was unavailable on the effectiveness of collective bargaining in the private sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor code specifically prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor and prescribes a penalty of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for violations. The labor code’s prohibition of forced or compulsory labor also applies to children, although the code does not mention them specifically. The government did not enforce the prohibition effectively, however, and there were reports such practices occurred, especially in armed conflict zones. The failure of government enforcement was due to a lack of resources, a dysfunctional judicial system, and an inadequate inspection cadre. Employers subjected men, women, and children to forced domestic labor, agricultural work, mining, market or street vending, and restaurant labor, as well as sexual exploitation. Criminal courts sentenced convicted persons to imprisonment and forced labor, and prisoners often worked on public projects without compensation. In Bangui and other large urban areas, however, this practice was rare, partly because of the presence of human rights NGOs or lawyers and because day labor was inexpensive. Ba’aka, including children, often were coerced into labor as day laborers, farm hands, or other unskilled labor and often treated as slaves (see section 6). No known victims were removed from forced labor during the year.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code forbids the employment of children younger than 14 without specific authorization from the Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection, but the law also provides that the minimum age for employment can be as young as 12 for some types of light work in traditional agricultural activities or home services. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing hazardous work or working at night. Although the law defines hazardous work as any employment that endangers children’s physical and mental health, it does not define the worst forms of child labor. The mining code specifically prohibits child or underage labor.

The government did not enforce child labor laws. The government trained police, military, and civilians on child rights and protection, but trainees lacked resources to conduct investigations. The government announced numerous policies related to child labor, including those to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, but there was no evidence of programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including its worst forms. Five labor inspectors were specifically trained to investigate child labor. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas. Children continued to perform hazardous work and labored as child soldiers. No known victims were removed from the worst forms of child labor during the year.

Local and displaced children as young as seven years old frequently performed agricultural work, including harvesting peanuts and cassava and helping gather items subsequently sold at markets such as mushrooms, hay, firewood, and caterpillars. In Bangui many of the city’s street children worked as street vendors. Children often worked as domestic workers, fishermen, and in mines, often in dangerous conditions. Children also worked in diamond fields alongside adult relatives, transporting and washing gravel as well as mining gold, digging holes, and carrying heavy loads. Despite the law’s prohibition on child labor in mining, observers saw many children working in and around diamond mining fields.

There were reports of ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka recruiting child soldiers during the year (see section 1.g.).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

It is illegal to discriminate in hiring or place of employment based on race, national or social origin, gender, opinions, or beliefs. The government did not effectively enforce the law, however. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on disability, age, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases.

Discrimination against women in employment and occupation occurred in all sectors of the economy and in rural areas, where traditional practices that favor men remained widespread.

Migrant workers experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code states the minister of labor, employment, and social protection must set minimum wages in the public sector by decree. The government, the country’s largest employer, set wages after consultation, but not negotiation, with government employee trade unions. The minimum wages in the private sector are established based on sector-specific collective conventions resulting from negotiations between employers and workers’ representatives in each sector.

The minimum wage in the private sector varied by sector and type of work. While the average monthly minimum wage remained 28,000 CFA francs ($49), it was 26,000 CFA francs ($46) for government workers and 8,500 CFA francs ($15) for agricultural workers.

The minimum wage applies only to the formal sector, leaving most of the economy unregulated in terms of wages. The law applies to foreign and migrant workers as well. Most labor was performed outside the wage and social security system in the extensive informal sector, especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector.

The law sets a standard workweek of 40 hours for government employees and most private-sector employees. Household employees may work up to 52 hours per week. The law also requires a minimum rest period of 48 hours per week for citizen, foreign, and migrant workers. Overtime policy varied according to the workplace. Violations of overtime policy may be referred to the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Protection, although it was unknown whether this occurred during the year. There is no legal prohibition on excessive or compulsory overtime. The labor code, however, states that employers must provide for the health and security of employees who are engaged in overtime work.

There are general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but the Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection did not precisely define them. The labor code states that a labor inspector may force an employer to correct unsafe or unhealthy work conditions.

If information exists about dangerous working conditions, the law provides that workers may remove themselves without jeopardy to their employment. In such instances, the labor inspector notifies the employer and requires that conditions be addressed within four working days. The high unemployment and poverty rates deterred workers from exercising this right.

The government did not enforce labor standards, and violations were common in all sectors of the economy. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection has primary responsibility for managing labor standards, while enforcement falls under the Ministry of Interior and Public Safety and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The government did not have an adequate number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance with all labor laws. Penalties were seldom enforced and were insufficient to deter violations. Employers commonly violated labor standards in agriculture and mining. Salary and pension arrears were problems for armed forces personnel and the country’s approximately 24,000 civil servants.

Diamond mines, which employed an estimated 400,000 persons, are subject to standards imposed by the mining code and inspection by the Miners’ Brigade. Nevertheless, monitoring efforts were underfunded and insufficient. Despite the law requiring those working in mines to be at least 18 years old, observers frequently saw underage diggers. Diggers often worked in open pits susceptible to collapse and generally earned a daily wage of 2,000 CFA francs ($3.50), often working seven days a week during the peak season. Diggers were employed by larger mine operators, worked in dangerous conditions at the bottom of open pits, and lacked safety equipment.

Miners, by contrast, had a share in ownership and participated in the proceeds of diamond sales. On average, they earned 186,000 CFA francs ($328) per year via legal sales, but this figure varied considerably based on the scale of the mine. Often miners supplemented these earnings by either illegal diamond sales or wages from other sectors of the economy.

No credible information was available regarding workplace injuries and deaths.


[1] Note: This report refers to the “ex-Seleka” for all abuses attributed to the armed factions associated with Seleka, including the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC), the Union for Peace (UPC), and the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC), which occurred after the Seleka was dissolved in 2013.

Libya

Executive Summary

Libya is a parliamentary democracy with a temporary Constitutional Declaration that allows for the exercise of a full range of political, civil, and judicial rights. Citizens elected the interim legislature, the House of Representatives (HoR), in free and fair elections in 2014. The Libyan Political Agreement, which members of the UN-facilitated Libyan political dialogue signed in 2015, created the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Political mediation efforts led by the United Nations aim to support passing a constitution and holding new elections to replace interim bodies that have governed Libya since the 2011 revolution with permanent state institutions.

The government had limited effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings, including of politicians and members of civil society, by extralegal armed groups, ISIS, criminal gangs, and militias, including those affiliated with the government; forced disappearances; torture perpetrated by armed groups on all sides; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities, some of which were outside government control; political prisoners held by nonstate actors; unlawful interference with privacy, often by nonstate actors; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence against journalists and criminalization of political expression ; widespread corruption; trafficking in persons; criminalization of sexual orientation; and use of forced labor.

Impunity from prosecution was a severe and pervasive problem. Divisions between political and security apparatuses in the west and east, a security vacuum in the south, and the presence of terrorist groups in some areas of the country severely inhibited the government’s ability to investigate or prosecute abuses. The government took limited steps to investigate abuses; however, constraints on the government’s reach and resources, as well as political considerations, reduced its ability or willingness to prosecute and punish those who committed such abuses. Although bodies such as the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General issued arrest warrants, levied indictments, and opened prosecutions of abuses, limited policing capacity and fears of retribution prevented orders from being carried out.

Conflict continued during the year in the west between GNA-aligned armed groups and various nonstate actors. The Libyan National Army (LNA), under its commander Khalifa Haftar, is not under the authority of the internationally recognized GNA. Haftar controlled territory in the east and parts of south. Extralegal armed groups filled security vacuums across the country, although several in the west aligned with the GNA as a means of accessing state resources. The GNA formally integrated some of the armed groups into the Ministry of Interior during the year. ISIS maintained a limited presence, primarily in the central desert region, areas south of Sirte and in Bani Walid, and in urban areas along the western coast. Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups also operated in the country, particularly in and around Derna and in the southwest.

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 GNA-aligned armed groups, nonstate actors, LNA units, Chadian and Sudanese rebel groups, tribal groups, ISIS fighters, and other terrorist groups committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.). Alliances, sometimes temporary, among elements of the government, non-state actors, and former or active officers in the armed forces participating in extralegal campaigns made it difficult to ascertain the role of the government in attacks by armed groups.

Reports indicated terrorist organizations, criminal gangs, and militias played a prominent role in targeted killings and suicide bombings perpetrated against both government officials and civilians. Criminal groups or armed elements affiliated with both the government and its opponents may have carried out other such attacks. Shelling, gunfire, airstrikes, and unexploded ordinances killed scores of persons during the year, including in the capital, Tripoli. In the absence of an effective judicial and security apparatus, perpetrators remained unidentified, and most of these crimes remained unpunished.

Between January and October, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documented the deaths of more than 177 civilians. Shelling injured or killed the largest number of victims.

b. Disappearance

GNA-aligned forces and armed groups acting outside GNA control committed an unknown number of forced disappearances (see section 1.g.). The GNA made few effective efforts to prevent, investigate, or penalize forced disappearances.

Kidnappings were common throughout the year, typically carried out by criminal gangs or trafficking groups that exploited the country’s ungoverned spaces and ransomed victims for money.

On April 20, Salem Mohamed Beitelmal, a professor at the University of Tripoli, was driving to work when local militias abducted him on the outskirts of western Tripoli. On June 6, his captors released him.

Many disappearances that occurred during the Qadhafi regime, the 2011 revolution, and the post-revolutionary period remained unresolved. Due to the continuing conflict, weak judicial system, legal ambiguity regarding amnesty for revolutionary forces, and the slow progress of the National Fact-finding and Reconciliation Commission, law enforcement authorities and the judiciary made no appreciable progress in resolving high-profile cases.

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

While the Constitutional Declaration and post-revolutionary legislation prohibit such practices, credible sources indicated personnel operating both government and extralegal detention centers tortured prisoners (see section 1.g.). While judicial police controlled many facilities, the GNA continued to rely primarily on armed groups to manage prisons and detention facilities. Furthermore, armed groups, not police, initiated arrests in most instances. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), armed groups held detainees at their discretion prior to placing them in official detention facilities. Treatment varied from facility to facility and typically was worst at the time of arrest. National Committee for Human Rights in Libya (NCHRL) reported abuses included beatings with belts, sticks, hoses, and rifles; administration of electric shocks; burns inflicted by boiling water, heated metal, or cigarettes; mock executions; suspension from metal bars; and rape.

On November 14, Director of the Patrol Department of the Public Security Service under the Qadhafi regime, Brigadier General Nuri al-Jalawawi, died after being tortured in Al-Hadhba prison in Tripoli, according to human rights activists and press reports. Nuri was arrested after the 2011 revolution and held in Al-Hadhba prison, which is under the control of the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigades (TRB). In 2015 the Tripoli Appellate Court suspended the case against him and ordered his transfer to Al-Razi Psychiatric Hospital in Gargaresh; however, he was never transferred or released.

According to the testimony of former detainees held in Mitiga Prison, Special Deterrence Force (SDF) prison administrators subjected detainees to torture. Former Mitiga detainees reported suspension from their shoulders for many hours leading to dislocations; beatings that lasted up to five hours; beatings with PPV tubes; beatings of their feet in a torture device called the “al-Falqa” cage; and broken noses and teeth. SDF leaders Khalid al-Hishri Abuti, Moadh Eshabat, Hamza al-Bouti Edhaoui, Ziad Najim, Nazih Ahmed Tabtaba, as well as SDF head Abdulrauf Kara and prison directors Usama Najim and Mahmoud Hamza supervised the prison according to a former detainee in the facility.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons and detention facilities are often overcrowded, harsh, and life threatening, falling well short of international standards. Many prisons and detention centers were outside government control see section 1.g.).

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), migrant detention centers, operated by the GNA Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Irregular Migration, also suffered from massive overcrowding, extremely poor sanitation conditions, lack of access to medical care, and significant disregard for the protection of the detainees. According to press reports, detainees experienced discrimination on the basis of their religion. IOM did not, however, receive complaints during the year about migrants prevented from engaging in religious observances while detained.

Physical Conditions: In the absence of an effective judicial system or release of prisoners, overcrowding and limited access to health care reportedly continued during the year. Many prison facilities need infrastructural repairs. Accurate numbers of those incarcerated, including a breakdown by holding agency, were not available.

Detention conditions were sometimes substantially different for types of detainees; according to reports by the NCHRL, ISIS detainees and other terrorist suspects were detained in less crowded conditions due to security concerns.

A large number of detainees were foreigners, mostly migrants. Facilities that held irregular migrants generally were of poorer quality than other facilities. The Libyan Young Lawyer’s Association (LYLA) reported poor conditions at the government detention center in Zawiya. According to UNHCR, as of September, there were between 8,000 and 9,000 migrants and refugees housed in the 20 active official detention center’s run by the GNA’s Department for Combatting Irregular Migration (Ministry of Interior), down from 20,000 in late 2017. A large number of additional migrant detainees were reportedly held in nongovernment centers, although numbers were unknown. Officials, local militias, and criminal gangs moved migrants through a network of detention centers with little monitoring by the government or international organizations.

There were reportedly no functioning juvenile facilities in the country, and authorities held juveniles in adult prisons, although sometimes in separate sections. There were separate facilities for men and women.

There were reports of killings and deaths in detention centers. Due to security conditions that limited monitoring, the exact number of those killed in prisons, jails, pretrial detention, or other detention centers was unknown.

Makeshift detention facilities existed throughout the country. Conditions at these facilities varied widely, but reports indicated the conditions in most were below international standards. Consistent problems included overcrowding, poor ventilation, and the lack of basic necessities.

Administration: The Judicial Police Authority, tasked by the GNA Ministry of Justice to run the prison system, operates from its headquarters in Tripoli. It remained administratively split, however, with a second headquarters in al-Bayda that reports to a separate, rival, eastern Ministry of Justice that provides oversight to prisons in eastern Libya and Zintan. During the year the ratio of detainees and prisoners to guards varied significantly. Monitoring and training of prison staff by international organizations remained largely suspended, although training of judicial police continued during the year.

Independent Monitoring: The GNA permitted some independent monitoring and permitted IOM and UNHCR increased access to transit facilities. Nevertheless, the lack of clarity regarding who ran each facility and the sheer number of facilities made it impossible to gain a comprehensive view of the system.

Reports also questioned the capability and professionalism of local human rights organizations charged with overseeing prisons and detention centers.

Due to the volatile security situation, few international organizations were present in the country monitoring human rights. UNSMIL monitored the situation through local human rights defenders, members of the judiciary, and judicial police. The absence of a sustained international presence on the ground made oversight problematic; however, UNSMIL relocated most of its staff to Tripoli by the end of the year to engage in more effective monitoring of Libyan human rights developments. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) did undertake efforts to monitor conditions of detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Nonstate actors detained and held persons arbitrarily in authorized and unauthorized facilities, including unknown locations, for extended periods and without legal charges or legal authority.

The prerevolutionary criminal code remains in effect. It establishes procedures for pretrial detention and prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but these procedures were often not enforced. Throughout the year the government had weak control over police and GNA-aligned armed groups providing internal security, and some armed groups carried out illegal and arbitrary detentions unimpeded. The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of arbitrary detainees.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Government agencies had limited control over the national police and other elements of the security apparatus. The national police force, which reports to the GNA Ministry of Interior, has official responsibility for internal security. The military under the GNA Ministry of Defense, led by Prime Minister al-Sarraj in an acting capacity since July, has as its primary mission the defense of the country from external threats, but it also supported Ministry of Interior forces on internal security matters. The situation varied widely from municipality to municipality contingent upon whether police organizational structures from Qadhafi-era Libya remained intact. In some areas, such as Tobruk, police functioned, but in others, such as Sebha, they existed in name only. Civilian authorities had only nominal control of police and the security apparatus, and security-related police work generally fell to disparate armed groups, which received salaries from the Libyan government and exercised law enforcement functions without formal training or supervision and with varying degrees of accountability.

Impunity was a serious problem. The government’s lack of control led to impunity for armed groups on all sides of the conflict. There were no known mechanisms to investigate effectively and punish abuses of authority, abuses of human rights, and corruption by police and security forces. Unclear chains of command led to confusion regarding responsibility for the actions of armed groups, including those nominally under GNA control. In these circumstances police and other security forces were usually ineffective in preventing or responding to violence perpetrated by armed groups.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates an arrest warrant is required, but authorities may detain persons without charge for as long as six days and may renew detention for up to three months, provided there is “reasonable evidence.” The law also specifies authorities must inform detainees of the charges against them and have a detainee appear before a judicial authority every 30 days to renew a detention order. The law gives the government power to detain persons for up to two months if considered a “threat to public security or stability” based on their “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

Although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right to counsel, the vast majority of detainees did not have access to bail or a lawyer. Government authorities and armed groups held detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods in official and unofficial detention centers.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities frequently ignored or were unable to enforce the provisions of the criminal code prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention. Various armed groups arbitrarily arrested and detained persons throughout the year. According to HRW and local human rights organizations, including the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR), prison authorities and militias held thousands of detainees without charges or due process.

Pretrial Detention: While authorities must order detention for a specific period not exceeding 90 days, the law in practice results in extended pretrial detention. An ambiguity in the language of the law allows judges to renew the detention period if the suspect is of “interest to the investigation.” Additionally, limited resources and court capacity resulted in a severe backlog of cases. According to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), there were numerous inmates held in GNA-controlled prisons in pretrial detention for periods longer than the sentences for the minor crimes they allegedly committed; however, the GNA Ministry of Justice is working to improve practices by training the judicial police on international standards for pretrial detention. Some individuals detained during the 2011 revolution remained in custody, mostly in facilities in the west.

Armed groups held most of their detainees without charge and outside the government’s authority. With control of the security environment diffused among various armed groups and a largely nonfunctioning judiciary, circumstances prevented most detainees from accessing a review process. According to AOHR and NCHRL, individuals affiliated with armed groups were routinely able to avoid detention or judicial penalty.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows a detained suspect to challenge pretrial detention before the prosecutor and a magistrate judge. If the prosecutor does not order release, the detained person may appeal to the magistrate judge. If the magistrate judge orders continued detention following review of the prosecutor’s request, and despite the detainee’s challenge, there is no further right to appeal the assigned detention order. A breakdown in the court system and difficulties securely transporting prisoners to the courts limited detainee access to the courts.

Amnesty: The GNA did not clarify whether it believed there was a blanket legal amnesty for revolutionaries’ actions performed to promote or protect the 2011 revolution.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitutional Declaration provides for an independent judiciary and stipulates every person has a right of recourse to the judicial system. Nonetheless, thousands of detainees lacked access to lawyers and information concerning the charges against them. Judges and prosecutors contended with threats, intimidation, violence, and under-resourced courts and thus struggled to deal with complex cases. Judges and prosecutors in various parts of the country cited concerns regarding the overall lack of security in and around the courts, further hindering the rule of law. Some courts, including in Tripoli and in the east, continued to operate during the year. Throughout the rest of the country, however, courts operated sporadically depending on local security conditions.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The Constitutional Declaration provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent. During the year GNA-affiliated and nonstate actors did not respect these standards, according to LYLA. There were multiple reports of individuals denied fair and public trials, choice of attorney, language interpretation, the ability to confront plaintiff witnesses, protection against forced testimony or confessions, and the right to appeal.

According to reports from international and local NGOs, arbitrary detention and torture by armed groups, including those operating nominally under government oversight, contributed to a climate of lawlessness that made fair trials elusive. Armed groups and families of the victims or the accused regularly threatened lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.

Amid threats, intimidation, and violence against the judiciary, the GNA did not take steps to screen detainees systematically for prosecution or release; however, the GNA made efforts during the year to release individuals convicted of petty crimes due to lack of prison capacity. In September the GNA announced the release of 83 nonsecurity inmates from the over-crowded Mitiga prison facility in Tripoli. The courts were more prone to process civil cases, which were less likely to invite retaliation, although capacity was limited due to a lack of judges and administrators.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Armed groups, some of which were nominally under GNA authority, held persons on political grounds, particularly former Qadhafi regime officials and others accused of subverting the 2011 revolution, in a variety of temporary facilities.

The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The Constitutional Declaration provides for the right of citizens to have recourse to the judiciary. The judicial system did not have the capacity to provide citizens with access to civil remedies for human rights violations. The Law of Transitional Justice provided for fact-finding, accountability, and reparations for victims, but the judicial system has not implemented it in practice. Courts did process civil, administrative, family, commercial, and land and property law matters. Lack of security, intimidation of armed groups, and intimidation from outside sources challenged the ability of authorities to enforce judgements.

Impunity for the state and for armed groups also exists in law. Even if a court acquits a person detained by an armed group, that person has no right to initiate a criminal or civil complaint against the state or the armed group unless “fabricated or mendacious” allegations caused the detention.

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

The Constitutional Declaration considers correspondence, telephone conversations, and other forms of communication inviolable unless authorized by a court order. Reports in the news and on social media indicated armed groups, terrorist groups, and GNA-affiliated actors violated these prohibitions by entering homes without judicial authorization, monitoring communications and private movements, and using informants.

Invasion of privacy left citizens vulnerable to targeted attacks based on political affiliation, ideology, and identity. Extrajudicial punishment extended to targets’ family members and tribes. Armed groups arbitrarily entered, seized, or destroyed private property with impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly, and the GNA generally respected this right. The law on guidelines for peaceful demonstrations, however, fails to include relevant assurances and severely restricts the exercise of the right of assembly. The law mandates protesters must inform the government of any planned protest at least 48 hours in advance and provides that the government may notify the organizers that a protest is banned as little as 12 hours before the event.

Throughout the year the Libyan Movement for the Voice of the People, led by Mohammed al-Boa, held several protests in Tripoli opposing the role militia groups played in the capital (see section 1.g.). Police authorities generally cooperated with the group’s requests, coordinating with the group to issue permits and provide security at protest sites.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The Constitutional Declaration includes freedom of association for political and civil society groups. The government lacked capacity, however, to protect freedom of association, and targeted attacks on journalists, activists, and religious figures severely undermined freedom of association. Civil society organizations also complained about a lack of a legal framework for organizing and implementing their activities. The FMD (see FMDs section 2.a.) and the Ministry of Culture Civil Society Commission took steps to regulate the activity of civil society organizations. Other organizations, including the NCHRL and the AOHRL, were able to register and to interact freely with GNA officials.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The Constitutional Declaration recognizes freedom of movement, including foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although the government has the ability to restrict freedom of movement. The law provides the government with the power to restrict a person’s movement if it views that person as a “threat to public security or stability,” based on the person’s “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR migrants were subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, including in nongovernmental detention centers (see section 1.d.), torture, sexual exploitation, and other abuses. Conditions in detention included severe overcrowding, insufficient access to toilets and washing facilities, malnourishment, and lack of potable water.

Women migrants faced especially difficult conditions, and international organizations received consistent reports of rape and other sexual violence.

Instability in the country and lack of government oversight made human trafficking profitable. Armed groups, criminal gangs, and terrorist organizations were involved in human smuggling activities.

Numerous media reports during the year suggested that traffickers had caused the death of migrants. In July Al-Jazeera reported that eight migrants, including six children, were found dead after suffocating from gas exhaust while packed into a truck container on the western coast near Zuwara. Another 90 migrants were injured and taken to a hospital for treatment.

Migrants were also exploited for forced labor and suffered extortion at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, and the personnel of GNA institutions and GNA-aligned armed groups running GNA facilities. International organizations reported many cases of migrants’ disappearance due in part to the practice of selling migrants to human traffickers.

In November 2017 the government set up an ad hoc investigative committee, under the auspices of the Anti-Illegal Immigration Authority, to investigate reports of migrants sold into slavery; however, as of year’s end, the committee had made no indictments.

In June the UN Security Council and a western government imposed international and domestic sanctions against six persons, four Libyans and two Eritreans; Fitiwi Abdelrazak, Ahmad Oumar al-Dabbashi, Ermias Ghermay, Mohammed Kachlaf, Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, and Mus’ab Abu Qarin, for involvement in the trafficking and smuggling of migrants in Libya. The GNA was supportive of the sanctions and took independent action in response to the levying of these sanctions during the year, including public statements of condemnation against the trafficking and smuggling of migrants and in support of human rights.

In January the GNA launched an investigation into trafficking in persons and the abuse of migrants and refugees and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. During the year the GNA authorized UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies to open offices in the country, assist refugees and migrants, repatriate those who wished to return to their home countries, and access detention centers in areas controlled by the GNA. These international organizations encouraged the GNA to adopt a system for registering the arrivals of migrants in Libya; of the hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants in Libya, only a few thousand have been registered.

There were approximately 20 official detention centers operational during the year. At year’s end 6-8,000 refugees and migrants were housed in centers under the auspices of the GNA Ministry of Interior’s Department for Combatting Irregular Migration.

According to IOM the number of migrants who arrived in Europe via Libya during the first half of the year decreased significantly from the equivalent period in 2017, from approximately 85,000 to 16,700 individuals. Over 1,000 migrants died attempting to make the crossing via the central Mediterranean route during this period. Conditions on vessels departing for Europe were poor, and human smugglers abandoned many migrants in international waters with insufficient food and water. Boats were heavily over-loaded, and there was a high risk of sinking. The number of migrants rescued or intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, while still in the country’s territorial waters, greatly increased during the year. There were reports of physical abuse of refugees by the Coast Guard, including beatings with whips and chains.

In-country Movement: The GNA did not exercise control over internal movement in western Libya, although GNA-aligned armed groups set up some checkpoints. The LNA established checkpoints around Benghazi and Derna and in the south to intercept members of extremist organizations. These checkpoints were occasional targets of attacks by terrorist organizations. There were reports that armed groups controlling airports within the country conducted checks on citizens wanting to travel to other areas within the country or abroad since Libya lacked a unified customs and immigration system.

Armed groups controlled movement within their territories through checkpoints. These checkpoints and those imposed by ISIS, AQIM, and other terrorist organizations impeded internal movement and, in some areas, prohibited women from moving freely without a male escort.

There were multiple reports of women who could not depart from the country’s western airports controlled by GNA-aligned militias because they did not have “male guardians,” which is not a legal requirement in the country.

Citizenship: The Qadhafi regime revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including many Tebu and some Tuareg minorities, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip to Chad. As a result many nomadic and settled stateless persons lived in the country. Additionally, due to a lack of state control of the southern borders, a large number of irregular migrants of Tebu background entered the country, some of whom reportedly applied for and obtained documents attesting to nationality, including national identification numbers.

The Nationality Law states that citizens may lose citizenship if they obtain a foreign citizenship without receiving permission beforehand from authorities. Authorities have not established processes for obtaining permission, however. Authorities may revoke citizenship if obtained based on false information, forged documents, and withheld relevant information concerning one’s nationality. The state lacked the capacity, however, to investigate the authenticity of citizenship applications.

If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. The law does not specify if only minor children are susceptible to losing their nationality in this way or if loss of nationality would apply to adult children as well.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Limited access for local and international assistance organizations into areas affected by fighting between rival armed groups and to official and unofficial detention centers within the country hampered efforts to account for and assist the displaced.

In September IOM and UNHCR estimated there were 192,000 IDPs in the country. Most of the citizens displaced were from Sirte or Benghazi; however, due to tribal violence in the south, displacement in Sabha and neighboring southern towns increased during the year. More than 30,000 members of the Tawerghan community remained displaced, the largest single IDP population; however, in August the GNA provided support that allowed several hundred Tawerghan families to return to their hometown. These efforts followed a reconciliation agreement between representatives of Tawergha and the city of Misrata that aimed to end ongoing violence between the two communities dating to 2011; however, delays in implementation of the agreement, which provided for safe return for all Tawerghan IDPs to the town of Tawergha, have prevented some members of the community from returning.

IOM identified more than 19,000 persons who were internally displaced during clashes in Tripoli in late August and early September.

IDPs were vulnerable to abuses. The government struggled to facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their place of origin. Due to the lack of adequate laws, policies, or government programs, international organizations and NGOs assisted IDPs to the extent possible in the form of cash payments and provision of health services to IDPs, including to those with disabilities.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol, although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The GNA did not establish a system for protecting refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities could detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request asylum. UNHCR, IOM, and other international agencies operated within the country and were allowed to assist refugees and immigrants and repatriate those who wish to return to their countries. UNHCR monitored and publicly reported on the situation of refugees and migrants in the country, including those detained in GNA detention centers. On December 4, UNHCR, in coordination with Libyan authorities, evacuated 133 refugees from Libya to Niger. The GNA allowed only seven nationalities to register as refugees with UNHCR: Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Somalis, Sudanese (Darfuris), Ethiopians (Oromo), Eritreans, Yemenis, and South Sudanese. The GNA did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits. The GNA cooperated with the refugee task force formed by the African Union, EU, and the United Nations.

In July 2017 Libyan authorities proposed that UNHCR rehabilitate an abandoned facility in the Tarek Al Sika area in Tripoli to accommodate persons of concern temporarily. UNHCR completed rehabilitation on July 19, and the center has a capacity of 1,000 persons. Although UNHCR planned to begin receiving refugees at this Gathering and Departure Facility in August, armed clashes in Tripoli postponed its opening until December.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: IOM estimated that the overall number of migrants in Libya grew 70 percent from an estimated 400,000 in August 2017 to approximately 680,000 by September. The majority of migrants came from Niger, Egypt, Chad, Ghana, and Sudan. UNHCR has registered approximately 55,600 refugees and asylum seekers in the country since 2011.

During the year UNHCR, ICRC, and IOM provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers. Despite security challenges humanitarian organizations enjoyed relatively good access, with the exception of the coastal city of Derna and the Fezzan region in the south.

Sub-Saharan Africans reportedly entered the country illegally through unguarded southern borders. Treatment of detained migrants depended upon their country of origin and the offense for which authorities held them. Migrants and refugees faced abduction, extortion, violent crime, and other abuses, exacerbated by entrenched racism and xenophobia. GNA-aligned and nonstate armed groups held refugees and asylum seekers in detention centers alongside criminals or in separate detention centers under conditions that did not meet international standards.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees registered with UNHCR may access basic protection and assistance from UNHCR and its partners; however, during the year the GNA did not provide refugees universal access to healthcare, education, or other services given the limitations of its health and education infrastructure.

STATELESS PERSONS

By law children derive citizenship only from a citizen father. Children born to a citizen father and a noncitizen mother are automatically considered citizens even if they were born abroad. Citizen mothers alone were unable to transmit citizenship to their children, but there are naturalization provisions for noncitizens. The law permits female nationals to confer nationality to their children in certain circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish paternity. In instances where the father is a noncitizen, the children produced from that union are effectively stateless and banned from travel abroad and certain educational opportunities. Without citizenship stateless persons are unable to obtain legal employment.

Due to the lack of international monitoring and governmental capacity, there was no credible data on the number of stateless persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Constitutional Declaration provides citizens the ability to change their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot to provide for the free expression of the will of the people, and citizens exercised that ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 the High National Electoral Commission (HNEC) successfully administered the election of members to the HoR, an interim parliament that replaced the General National Congress, whose mandate expired that year. An estimated 42 percent of registered voters went to the polls to choose 200 members from among 1,714 candidates. International and domestic observers, representatives of media, and accredited guests mostly commended the performance of the electoral authorities. The Libyan Association for Democracy, the largest national observation umbrella group, cited minor technical problems and inconsistencies, but stated polling was generally well organized. Violence and widespread threats to candidates, voters, and electoral officials on election day affected 24 polling centers, most notably in Sabha, Zawiya, Awbari, Sirte, Benghazi, and Derna. Eleven seats remained vacant due to a boycott of candidate registration and voting by the Amazigh community, and violence at a number of polling centers that precluded a final vote. The term of the HoR has expired; however, the legislative body was recognized by the Libyan Political Agreement signed in 2015.

On December 6, HNEC Chairman Emad Sayegh announced his agency would begin voter registration for a constitutional referendum, the date of which has not yet been fixed. On May 2, two ISIS militants carried out a suicide bombing attack against the HNEC headquarters in Tripoli, killing 11.

In May the Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections announced the results of the municipal elections in Zawiya, in northwestern Libya in which 63 percent of the individuals who were registered to vote participated. Municipal elections also took place in Bani Walid and Darj in September, despite an arson attack against an elections headquarters in Bani Walid by individuals protesting the initial results and an armed attack on one of the polling stations in Darj.

The LNA appointed military figures as municipal mayors in many areas it controlled.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties proliferated following the revolution, although political infighting among party leaders impeded the government’s progress on legislative and electoral priorities. Amid rising insecurity public ire fell on political parties perceived to contribute to instability. The Political Isolation Law (PIL) prohibits those who held certain positions under Qadhafi between 1969 and 2011 from holding government office. Observers widely criticized the law for its overly broad scope and the wide discretion given to the PIL Committee to determine who to exclude from office.

The HoR voted to suspend the PIL in 2015, and individuals who served in political and military positions during the Qadhafi era are no longer categorically ineligible from serving in governmental office.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The Constitutional Declaration allows for full participation of women and minorities in elections and the political process, but significant social and cultural barriers–in addition to security challenges–prevented their proportionate political participation.

The election law provides for representation of women within the HoR; of the 200 seats in parliament, the law reserves 32 for women. There were 21 women in the HoR during the year. The disparity was due to resignations and parliamentary deputies who refused to take their seats in the HoR.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year but, as in 2017, no significant investigations or prosecutions occurred. In October the GNA endorsed a UN initiative to conduct a fiscal transparency review of public finances.

The Constitutional Declaration states that the government shall provide for the fair distribution of national wealth among citizens, cities, and regions. The government struggled to decentralize distribution of oil wealth and delivery of services through regional and local governance structures. There were many reports and accusations of government corruption due to lack of transparency in the GNA’s management of security forces, oil revenues, and the national economy. There were allegations that officials in the GNA submitted fraudulent letters of credit to gain access to government funds.

Corruption: Slow progress in implementing decentralization legislation, particularly with regard to management of natural resources and distribution of government funds, led to accusations of corruption and calls for greater transparency. There were no reports of meetings of or actions taken by the Oil Corruption Committee, formed in 2014 to investigate both financial and administrative means of corruption in the oil industry.

The Central Bank of Libya failed to cooperate with an investigation during the year by the Libyan Audit Bureau, which alleged that state funds had been used to finance fraudulent letters of credit for goods imported on behalf of the GNA. According to the report issued by the Audit Bureau, between 2012-17, 277 billion Libyan dinars ($200,550,000) were laundered in violation of the law. NCHRL and AOHR alleged that militia groups extorted many of these funds from sovereign state institutions, including the Central Bank.

According to press reports, the Nawasi Brigade, a GNA-aligned Salafist armed group that operates in the Souq al-Jumaa area of Tripoli, intimidated governmental employees of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) during the year, threatening members of the administration and demanding that the LIA recruit Nawasi Brigade members into the government agency. As a result of these threats, intimidation, and violations of the physical security of the LIA’s headquarters in Tripoli Tower, in August the LIA moved its headquarters to another location in Tripoli.

The UN Libya Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts, a committee established pursuant to UNSC Resolution 1970 (2011), continued to make recommendations on Libya, including on corruption and human rights issues. The Panel of Experts issued statements during the year implicating Libyan militia members in corruption. On September 5, the Panel of Experts named Imad Trabelsi, the commander of the Zintan Special Operations Force whom the GNA appointed President of the General Security Directorate on July 7, as a recipient of unlawfully obtained funds. According to the Panel of Experts report, Trabelsi received 5,000 Libyan dinars ($3,600) for every fuel tanker containing petroleum products smuggled through checkpoints under his control in northwest Libya, before the products were smuggled into Tunisia.

Financial Disclosure: No financial disclosure laws, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials.

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

The GNA and affiliated militia groups used legal and nonlegal means to restrict some human rights organizations from operating, particularly organizations with an international affiliation. Presidency Council member Ahmed Hamza circulated a directive to GNA government ministries and executive agencies authorities warning them against registering any NGOs and directing government ministries to forward the files of organizations and their membership to intelligence agencies. The GNA was unable to protect organizations from violence that often specifically targeted activists, and human rights organizations struggled to operate.

The GNA publicly condemned human rights abuses, including allegations of the abuse of migrants and human trafficking (see section 2.d.).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies:

The GNA was unable to assure the safety of UN officials to allow them to travel in some areas of the country not under GNA control, but generally cooperated with UN representatives in arranging visits within the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights, the UN-recognized national human rights institution, was not able to operate in the country due to security concerns. The council maintained limited international activity with other human rights organizations in Tunis and the UN Human Rights Council. It had a minimal presence in Tripoli. Its ability to advocate for human rights and investigate alleged abuses during the reporting period was unclear. During the year the GNA Ministry of Justice announced the appointment of a new undersecretary for human rights; however, domestic human rights organizations criticized the body for inactivity.

The former government passed the Transitional Justice Law in 2013 (see section 1.e.), establishing a legal framework to promote civil peace, implement justice, compensate victims, and facilitate national reconciliation. The law further establishes a Fact-finding and Reconciliation Commission charged with investigating and reporting on alleged human rights abuses, whether suffered during the Qadhafi regime or during the revolution. There was no known activity by the commission during the year. International organizations including the UN Development Program have established transitional justice programs throughout the country at the national and subnational levels.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not address spousal rape. The Constitutional Declaration prohibits domestic violence, but it did not contain reference to penalties for those convicted of violence against women.

By law a convicted rapist may avoid a 25-year prison sentence by marrying the survivor, regardless of her wishes, provided her family consents. According to UNSMIL the forced marriage of rape survivors to their perpetrators as a way to avoid criminal proceedings remained rare. Rape survivors who could not meet high evidentiary standards could face charges of adultery.

There were no reliable statistics on the extent of domestic violence during the year. Social and cultural barriers–including police and judicial reluctance to act and family reluctance to publicize an assault–contributed to lack of effective government enforcement.

International organizations received consistent reports of rape and other sexual violence towards women migrants (see section 2.d. Protection of Refugees).

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There was no available information about legislation on FGM/C. FGM/C was not a socially acceptable practice among Libyans; however, some of the migrant populations came from sub-Saharan countries where it was a practice.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, but there were no reports on how or whether it was enforced. According to civil society organizations, there was widespread harassment and intimidation of women by armed groups and terrorists, including harassment based on accusations of “un-Islamic” behavior.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The Constitutional Declaration states citizens are equal by law with equal civil and political rights and the same opportunities in all areas without distinction on the grounds of gender. Absent implementing legislation, and operating with limited capacity, the GNA did not effectively enforce these declarations.

Women faced social forms of discrimination that affected their ability to access employment, their workplaces, and their mobility and personal freedom. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender, there was widespread cultural, economic, and societal discrimination against women. Sharia governs family matters, including inheritance, divorce, and the right to own property. While civil law mandates equal rights in inheritance, women often received less due to interpretations of sharia that favor men.

Children

Birth Registration: By law children derive citizenship only from a citizen father (see section 1.d. Citizens). Citizen women alone were unable to transmit citizenship to offspring. The country’s nationality laws do not allow female nationals married to foreign nationals to transmit their nationality to their children. The law, however, permits female nationals to transmit their nationality to their children in certain circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish paternity. There are also naturalization provisions for noncitizens.

Education: The conflict, teacher strikes, and a lack of security disrupted the school year for thousands of students across the country; many schools remained empty due to lack of materials, damage, or security concerns.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women, although judges may provide permission for those under age 18 to marry. In November a study was published that documented an increase in cases of child marriage, according to sources in the Tripoli judiciary. Legal authorities quoted in the study indicated that legal fraud exists in rural and Bedouin areas to register marriages of underage girls in a fraudulent manner by changing the girl’s birthdate. A judge can make a ruling authorizing a marriage if the girl displays features of puberty. A controversy occurred during the year when a copy of a health certificate of a 13-year-old girl in the area of Sorman west of Tripoli was published on social media. The leaked document, accompanied by an image of the girl, aimed to substantiate her marriageability on the basis of the emergence of physical characteristics related to the onset of puberty. Human rights activists voiced concern that governmental and health bodies were engaged in the issuance of documentation aiming to justify child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There was no information available on laws prohibiting or penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of children or prohibiting child pornography. Nor was there any information regarding laws regulating the minimum age of consensual sex.

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

Anti-Semitism

Most of the Jewish population left the country between 1948-67. Some Jewish families reportedly remained, but no estimate of the population was available. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The Constitutional Declaration addresses the rights of persons with disabilities by providing for monetary and other types of social assistance for the “protection” of persons with “special needs” with respect to employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other government services, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Arabic-speaking Muslims of Arab, Amazigh, or mixed Arab-Amazigh ancestry constitute 97 percent of the citizenry. The principal linguistic-based minorities are the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Tebu. These minority groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim but identified with their respective cultural and linguistic heritages over Arab traditions.

The government officially recognizes the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Tebu languages and provides for their teaching in schools. Language remained a point of contention, however, and the extent to which the government enforced official recognition was unclear.

Ethnic minorities faced instances of societal discrimination and violence. Racial discrimination existed against dark-skinned citizens, including those of sub-Saharan African heritage. Government officials and journalists often distinguished between “loyal” and “foreign” populations of Tebu and Tuareg in the south and advocated expulsion of minority groups affiliated with political rivals on the basis they were not truly “Libyan.” Some representatives of minority groups, including representatives of Tebu and Tuareg communities, rejected the 2017 draft constitution on the basis of a perceived lack of recognition of the status of these communities, although the document explicitly protects the legal rights of minority groups. A number of Tebu and Tuareg communities received substandard or no services from municipalities, lacked national identity numbers (and thus access to employment), and faced widespread social discrimination.

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

Societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons persisted and official discrimination was codified in local interpretations of sharia. Convictions of same-sex sexual activity carry sentences of three to five years’ imprisonment. The law provides for punishment of both parties.

There was little information on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care. Observers noted that the threat of possible violence or abuse could intimidate persons who reported such discrimination.

There were reports of physical violence, harassment, and blackmail based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Armed groups often policed communities to enforce compliance with their commanders’ understanding of “Islamic” behavior, harassing and threatening with impunity individuals believed to have LGBTI orientations and their families.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was no available information on societal violence toward persons with HIV/AIDS. There were reports the government denied persons with HIV/AIDS permission to marry. There were reports the GNA segregated detainees suspected of having HIV/AIDS from the rest of the detainee population, often in over-crowded spaces, and that they were the last to receive medical treatment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. It provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires the reinstatement of workers for union activity. By law workers in the formal sector are automatically members of the General Trade Union Federation of Workers, although they may elect to withdraw from the union. Only citizens may be union members, and regulations do not permit foreign workers to organize.

The limitations of the GNA restricted its ability to enforce applicable labor laws. The requirement that all collective agreements conform to the “national economic interest” restricted collective bargaining. Workers may call strikes only after exhausting all conciliation and arbitration procedures. The government or one of the parties may demand compulsory arbitration, thus severely restricting strikes. The government has the right to set and cut salaries without consulting workers. State penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Employees organized spontaneous strikes, boycotts, and sit-ins in a number of workplaces. No GNA action prevented or hindered labor strikes, and GNA payments to leaders of the strike actions customarily ended these actions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The GNA, however, did not fully enforce the applicable laws due to its limited capacity. The resources, inspections, and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violators. While many foreign workers fled the country due to the continuing conflict, there were reports of foreign workers, especially foreign migrants passing through the country to reach Europe, subjected to forced labor. According to the IOM, armed groups subjected migrants to forced labor in IDP camps and transit centers that they controlled (see section 2.d. Protection of Refugees).

Private employers sometimes used detained migrants from prisons and detention centers as forced labor on farms or construction sites; when the work was completed or the employers no longer required the migrants’ labor, employers returned them to detention facilities.

Armed groups prevented foreign health-care workers from departing conflict areas such as Benghazi and compelled these workers to perform unpaid work in dangerous conditions.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than age 18 from employment, except in a form of apprenticeship. The law does prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The government lacked the capacity to enforce the law. No information was available concerning whether the law limits working hours or sets occupational health and safety restrictions for children.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Constitutional Declaration provides for a right to work for every citizen and prohibits any form of discrimination based on religion, race, political opinion, language, wealth, kinship, social status, and tribal, regional, or familial loyalty. The law does not prohibit discrimination on age, gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of an individual’s employment or occupation.

The limitations of the central government restricted its ability to enforce applicable laws. Discrimination in all the above categories likely occurred.

Women faced discrimination in the workplace. Observers reported that authorities precluded hiring women for positions in the civil service and in specific professions that they occupied previously, such as school administration. They reported social pressure on women to leave the workplace, especially in high-profile professions such as journalism and law enforcement. In rural areas societal discrimination restricted women’s freedom of movement, including to local destinations, and impaired their ability to play an active role in the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law stipulates a workweek of 40 hours, standard working hours, night shift regulations, dismissal procedures, and training requirements. The law does not specifically prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. The national minimum wage was 450 dinars per month ($330). There is not an official poverty income level.

The law provides occupational health and safety standards, and the law grants workers the right to court hearings regarding violations of these standards. The limitations of the GNA restricted its ability to enforce wage laws and health and safety standards. Legal penalties were not sufficient to deter violations of the law.

Certain industries, such as the petroleum sector, attempted to maintain standards set by foreign companies. There was no information available on whether inspections continued during the year. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for occupational safety and health concerns; however, no information was available on enforcement and compliance.

No accurate data on foreign workers were available. Many foreign workers, especially in the health sector, departed the country due to continuing instability and security concerns.

Mali

Executive Summary

Mali is a constitutional democracy. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won reelection to a second five-year term on August 12 in national elections deemed to have met minimum acceptable standards by international observers despite some irregularities and limited violence. Parliamentary elections originally scheduled for October were delayed until at least June 2019 ostensibly to allow time to enact electoral reforms.

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

Unlike in previous years the government, the Platform of Northern Militias (Platform), and the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) respected the ceasefire agreed to in the 2015 Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation. Two terrorist organizations: al-Qaida coalition Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wa Muslimin (Support to Islam and Muslims, JNIM), and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) are not parties to the peace process. JNIM carried out attacks on security forces, armed groups, UN peacekeepers, international forces, humanitarian actors, and civilian targets throughout northern and central Mali. ISGS carried out attacks on civilians, security forces, and CMA and Platform elements along and near Mali’s border with Niger and Burkina Faso.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearance by government forces; torture by government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by government forces; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nongovernmental armed groups, some of which received support from the government; criminal libel; interference with the right of peaceful assembly; violence against women and children which was rarely investigated; and trafficking in persons. Authorities and employers often disregarded workers’ rights, and exploitative labor, including child labor, was common.

The government made little or no effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a problem. The 2012 coup leader Amadou Sanogo, first arrested in 2013, remained under arrest awaiting trial. Sanogo’s trial began in Sikasso in 2016, but the presiding judge accepted a defense motion to delay the trial until 2017. At year’s end, the case was pending at the Court of Appeals, awaiting results of a DNA analysis. Impunity for serious crimes committed in the North and Center of the country continued. A magistrate strike, which began on July 25 and ended on November 5, severely slowed prosecutions and extended the length of pretrial detentions.

Despite the 2015 peace accord, elements within the Platform–including the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-defense Group (GATIA), the Arab Movement for Azawad-Platform (MAA-PF), and the Coordination of Patriotic Resistance Forces and Movements (CMFPR)–and elements in the CMA–including the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA)–committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Extremist groups, including affiliates of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahel and al-Qaeda conglomerate JNIM kidnapped and killed civilians and military force members, including peacekeepers. The government, in collaboration with French military forces, conducted counterterrorism operations in northern and central Mali leading to the detention of extremists and armed group elements accused of committing crimes. Reports of abuses rarely led to investigations or prosecutions.

Accusations against Chadian peacekeepers from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), who were accused of numerous human rights abuses in the Kidal Region, including killings, abductions, and arbitrary arrests in 2016, remained unresolved.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that on April 5, 14 Fulani men suspected of terrorism were killed by the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA). The FAMA issued a statement saying that 14 men had died while attempting to escape; however, witnesses believed that these men were executed by the FAMA. On May 19, a Malian battalion assigned to the G5 Sahel Joint Force summarily and arbitrarily executed 12 civilians at the Boulikessi livestock market in an act of retaliation, according to a MINUSMA investigation.

Signatory armed groups and violent extremist groups committed numerous arbitrary killings related to internal conflict. Clashes between ISGS and a government and French Barkhane-supported MSA-GATIA coalition killed numerous civilians in the Menaka and Kidal regions. On July 15, 12 civilians were killed during clashes in Injagalane in the Menaka Region. The MSA-GATIA coalition reportedly received equipment and logistical support from the government and French Barkhane forces during this period.

Terrorist elements, including JNIM affiliates, launched frequent attacks, killing civilians as well as national and international security force members. For example, on June 29, a suicide bomber attacked the G5 Joint Force headquarters in Sevare, killing two Malian soldiers and one civilian. In the attack 11 soldiers from Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger were wounded. Four suspects were arrested. The suspects remained in custody awaiting trial at year’s end. JNIM claimed responsibility for the attack.

Attacks by bandits and Islamist extremist groups increasingly expanded from the traditional conflict zone in the North to the Mopti and Segou regions in the central part of the country. These attacks targeted government and international security force members.

There was limited progress in the prosecution of suspects, including coup leader Sanogo, in the 2012 disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets, including former junta member Colonel Youssouf Traore. The case was initially brought to trial in 2016. Following a defense objection to the admissibility of DNA evidence, however, the trial remained suspended pending new DNA analysis.

b. Disappearance

There were several reports of disappearances. For example, the MINUSMA Human Rights and Protection Division reported the forced disappearance of one man in the village of Dia, Tenenkou Circle, by security forces on April 28.

On June 15, three common graves believed to contain the remains of at least 25 men executed after their detention by soldiers were discovered in Nantaka and Kombaga in the Mopti Region. The Ministry of Defense and Veterans Affairs released a statement recognizing the existence of the graves and the involvement of military personnel in the events. Foreign governments and several human rights organizations, including the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) and the Malian Association for Human Rights (AMDH), called for impartial and independent investigations. As of November investigations were ongoing.

Since February 2018 HRW has documented the alleged summary execution in the central region of at least 66 suspected members of Islamist armed groups, a dozen cases of enforced disappearances, and numerous cases of ill treatment and torture in which the detainees were last seen in the custody of security forces. The Ministry of Defense publicly announced plans to investigate these incidents and instructed the Mopti military prosecutor to investigate the Boulikessi, Nantaka, and Kombaga cases. As of November investigations were ongoing.

Human rights observers were unable to verify the whereabouts of dozens of prisoners purportedly detained in connection with the northern conflict due to possible unreported deaths in custody, alleged surreptitious releases, and suspected clandestine transfer of prisoners to the government’s intelligence service, the General Directorate of State Security (DGSE). Human rights organizations estimated the DGSE held 60 unacknowledged detainees.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were reports that soldiers employed them against individuals with suspected links to extremist groups including Ansar al-Dine, al-Murabitoun, and the Macina Liberation Front (see section 1.g.). There were reports that Islamist groups perpetrated sexual violence.

According to HRW, on March 8 and 12, armed forces members tortured five men they suspected of supporting Islamist armed groups. The detainees were allegedly hogtied, beaten, lashed with belts, burned, and repeatedly threatened with death. Physical wounds were present on the detainees’ bodies.

Also according to HRW, on March 12, FAMA arrested two men ages 57 and 42, whom they accused of supporting armed Islamists. The captors allegedly threatened to kill the elders, severely beat them, and threatened to behead them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The government took steps to improve staff training. By year’s end a nine billion CFA ($16.5 million) construction project for a new prison in Kenioroba, 30 miles south of Bamako was ongoing. The prison was designed to hold 2,500 inmates and to meet international standards for detainees’ human rights.

Physical Conditions: As of July the Bamako Central Prison held 2,217 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 400. Detainees were separated by gender. Detention conditions were better in women’s prisons than in those for men. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Authorities detained 155 persons arrested on charges related to terrorism in the high-security division of Bamako Central Prison and in Koulikoro. The magistrate strike, which began July 25 and ended on November 5, made prison conditions worse by increasing the numbers of pretrial detainees and preventing the release of prisoners who completed their sentences. Gendarmerie and police detention centers were at maximum capacity at year’s end. Authorities may hold arrested individuals for up to 72 hours in police stations, where there was no separate holding area for men, women, or children.

As of July, 11 prisoners and detainees had died in custody. The CNDH, an independent entity within the Ministry of Justice, attributed the deaths to unhealthy prison conditions. Three died from heart attacks; the remainder died from malaria, HIV/AIDS, and dehydration. Inadequate security mechanisms and a general lack of resources limited the ability of authorities to maintain control of prisons.

Prison food, when provided, was insufficient in both quality and quantity, and medical facilities were inadequate. Lack of sanitation continued to pose the most significant threat to prisoners’ health. Buckets served as toilets. Not all prisons had access to potable water. Ventilation, lighting, and temperature were comparable with many poor urban homes.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen. Authorities, however, permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints, either directly or through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic, to judicial authorities without censorship to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Although prisoners made verbal complaints during prison inspections by the CNDH, prisoners filed no formal complaints due to illiteracy, lack of knowledge regarding complaint mechanisms, skepticism regarding the utility of making such complaints, and fear of retaliation. The CNDH, charged with visiting prisons and ensuring humane conditions, visited prisoners in Bamako Central Prison within one week of request. The CNDH did not regularly visit prisons outside of Bamako, and its last visit to a military detention center occurred in 2012. The government’s Directorate for National Penitentiary Administration investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Detainees had reasonable access to visitors and could observe their religious practices.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by human rights monitors, and human rights organizations conducted visits during the year. The government required nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other monitors to submit a request to the prison director, who then forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice. The Malian Association for Human Rights visited prisons in Kati, Bamako, and other locations outside the North. Human rights observers with MINUSMA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly visited the centers holding CMA and Platform members. ICRC officials also visited prisons in Bamako, Kayes, Sikasso, Koulikoro, Gao, and Timbuktu.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and statutory law generally prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Nevertheless, government security forces, Platform, CMA forces, and terrorist armed groups detained and arrested numerous individuals in connection with the ongoing conflict in the North and the Center, particularly in the wake of clashes between CMA, GATIA, and ISGS in Menaka and terrorist attacks in the Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou regions. Security forces also arbitrarily arrested those suspected of supporting Islamist armed groups, primarily in the center of the country (see section 1.g.).

The law allows detainees to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention in court. Individuals are generally released promptly if they win the challenge, but the law does not provide for compensation or recourse against the government.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces include the National Police, the FAMA, the National Gendarmerie, National Guard, and the DGSE. FAMA, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard are administratively under the Ministry of Defense, although operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared with the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection. Police officers have responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order in urban areas, while gendarmes have that responsibility in rural areas. The army occasionally performed domestic security operations in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The National Guard has specialized border security units, which were largely ineffective. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The DGSE has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general. It usually did so only in terrorism and national security cases.

The National Police lacked resources and training. Corruption was a problem, and traffic police officers frequently arrested and released drivers in exchange for bribes.

MINUSMA’s mandate includes ensuring security, protecting civilians, assisting the reestablishment of government authority, and the rebuilding of the security sector. The mission worked to expand its presence, including through longer-range patrols, in northern regions beyond key population centers, notably in areas where civilians were at risk. MINUSMA’s mandate also includes providing specific protection for women and children affected by armed conflict and addressing the needs of victims of sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict. MINUSMA’s role extended to anticipating, preventing, mitigating, and resolving issues related to the northern conflict by monitoring violence, assisting in investigations, and reporting to the UN Security Council on abuses or violations of human rights or international humanitarian law committed in the country.

The French military counterterrorism operation Barkhane continued. The operation had a regional focus, undertaking counterterrorism activities in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. Approximately 2,500 soldiers conducted counterterrorism operations in collaboration with FAMA in northern Mali.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces. Particularly in the Center, there were many reports of impunity involving security forces. Mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption by security forces generally were not effective.

A commission of inquiry established in 2014 by the Ministry of Defense investigated security force killings to determine whether they constituted violations of the military code of justice or of criminal law. The commission referred cases involving human rights abuse to the prosecutor general for criminal trial. By year’s end, however, the commission had completed no investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by soldiers redeployed to the north.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires judicial warrants for arrest. The law requires police officers to charge suspects or release them within 48 hours. While police usually secured warrants based on sufficient evidence, and a duly authorized official issued the warrant, this did not always occur. The law provides for the transfer of detainees from police stations to the prosecutor’s office within 72 hours of arrest, but authorities sometimes held detainees longer in police stations. Authorities may grant detainees, who have limited rights of bail, conditional liberty, particularly for minor crimes and civil matters. Authorities occasionally released defendants on their own recognizance.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer of their choice or a state-provided lawyer if indigent. Nevertheless, a shortage of lawyers–particularly outside Bamako and Mopti–often prevented access to legal representation.

Arbitrary Arrest: On April 5, security forces arrested 14 Fulani men in Dioura by before shooting and killing them. The government described the incident as an alleged escape attempt, but a number of civil society and human rights groups, most notably Tabital Pulaaku, called the incident a summary execution. The detainees were held because security forces suspected them of supporting Islamist armed groups.

Following the August presidential election, the DGSE arrested two campaign workers for opposition candidate Soumaila Cisse, Paul Ismael Boro and Moussa Kimbiri. Both remained detained for well over the constitutionally mandated 72-hour limit before appearing before a prosecutor. After protest from the Cisse campaign and human rights groups, both were transferred to Gendarmerie Camp 1 in Bamako, where they remained for several days before being released.

Human rights organizations reported widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention. In many cases gendarmes detained suspects on DGSE orders and then transferred them for questioning to the DGSE, which generally held suspects for hours or days. The transfer process itself, however, sometimes took more than a week, during which time security services did not inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities did not provide released detainees transport back to the location of their arrest, a trip that often required several days of travel. These detentions often occurred in the wake of attacks by bandits or terrorists and targeted members of the ethnic group suspected of carrying out the raids.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for trial for charged detainees within three months for misdemeanors and within one year for felonies, but lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Judicial inefficiency, the large number of detainees, corruption, and staff shortages contributed to the problem. Individuals sometimes remained in prison for several years before their cases came to trial. Approximately 80 percent of inmates awaited trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the executive branch continued to exert influence over the judicial system. Corruption and limited resources affected the fairness of trials. Bribery and influence peddling were widespread in the courts, according to domestic human rights groups.

There were problems enforcing court orders. Sometimes judges were absent from their assigned areas for months at a time. Village chiefs and justices of the peace appointed by the government decided the majority of disputes in rural areas. Justices of the peace had investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial functions. These traditional systems did not provide the same rights as civil and criminal courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. Nevertheless, proceedings often were delayed, and some defendants waited years for their trials to begin. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Except in the case of minors and sensitive family cases, trials generally were public.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or to have one provided at public expense in felony cases and those involving minors). When a court declares a defendant indigent, it provides an attorney at public expense and the court waives all fees. Administrative backlogs and an insufficient number of lawyers, particularly in rural areas, often prevented prompt access. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, access government-held evidence, confront witnesses, and present one’s own witnesses and evidence. The government generally respected these rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt and may appeal decisions to the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees.

According to the National Directorate for Penitentiary Administration, as of July authorities had detained 155 persons in connection with the conflict in the northern and central parts of the country. Some of those detained were believed to be political prisoners. The government typically detained conflict-related prisoners in higher-security facilities within prisons and provided them the same protection as other prisoners. International human rights and humanitarian organizations had access to most of these centers, but not to detainees held in facilities operated by the DGSE.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. They may appeal their cases to the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In cases of traditional slavery, there were reports that civil court orders were sometimes difficult to enforce.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this. Security forces used tear gas to break up a June 2 march led by leading opposition politicians and activists. The governor of Bamako used State of Emergency powers, in effect since 2015, to deny the organizers’ formal request to hold the march. March organizers held the march despite this denial. More than 30 protesters, including presidential candidates, were injured during the violence. A reported 16 protesters were admitted to Hospital Gabriel Toure, with unconfirmed reports of two critically injured, of whom one died from his wounds on June 3. The government claimed three security force members also suffered injuries. The government denied that live ammunition was used and defended the actions of the security forces. The political opposition condemned the violence and called for another march on June 8, which the government permitted without restrictions. The June 8 march occurred peacefully.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association except for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) won the presidential election, deemed to have met minimum acceptable standards by international observers despite some irregularities and limited violence. One woman was among the 24 candidates who participated in the first round of elections, which were followed by a run-off election between the top two candidates.

The electoral campaign was strongly affected by security conditions in the central and northern regions. Restricted freedom of movement, logistical challenges, and financial limitations prevented many opposition candidates from campaigning in much of the Center and North, while government officials continued to travel to and administer programs in those areas.

Public media coverage of all candidates was generally equal and met standards outlined by the National Committee for Equal Access to State Media. The state media, however, favored the incumbent IBK by covering his actions as a candidate, as president, and of the government, and did not cover opposition candidates.

Security incidents and inaccessibility (mostly due to roads washed out after heavy rains) affected 490 polling stations, 2.1 percent of the total, during the runoff vote, according to an August 12 statement from Minister of Security and Civil Protection General Salif Traore. This was down from 869 polling stations or 3.77 percent of all stations that were affected in the first round of voting July 29. Of the 490 closed polling stations nationwide, 440 were in Mopti Region, according to Traore. He reported that 100 of the 440 closed stations in Mopti were unable to open due to lack of accessibility. Voter turnout was 43 percent for the first round of elections, and 34.5 percent for round two.

Legislative elections, originally scheduled to be held in October, were delayed until at least June 2019. A six-month extension of the current deputies mandate was instituted by the government.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation in formal and informal roles. A law passed in November 2015 requires that at least 30 percent of the slots on party election lists be reserved for female candidates and that 30 percent of high-level government appointees be women. The law was fully implemented in President Keita’s first cabinet of his second term, in which 11 of 32 ministers were women. There were only 13 women in the 147-member National Assembly. There were four women on the 33-member Supreme Court and two women on the nine-member Constitutional Court, including the head of the court.

The National Assembly had at least 16 members from historically marginalized pastoralist and nomadic ethnic minorities representing the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. The prime minister’s cabinet included pastoral and nomadic ethnic minority members.

Four members of the National Assembly were members of northern armed groups, including two Tuaregs from Kidal associated with the HCUA, one Tuareg from Kidal associated with GATIA, and one member from Gao associated with the MAA. National Assembly members previously allied with Ansar al-Dine ended their association with the group following the French intervention in 2013.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption in all sectors of the administration was widespread. Authorities did not hold police accountable for corruption. Officials, police, and gendarmes frequently extorted bribes. There were reports of uniformed police or individuals dressed as police directing stopped motorists to drive to dark and isolated locations where they robbed the victims.

In April the general auditor of Mali released its 2016 and 2017 reports on government waste, fraud, and abuse. The prime minister’s financial directorate, the national treasury, and the Mopti and Segou regional budget agencies were among the agencies reported to have lost 23.28 billion CFA (more than 40 million dollars) in Malian taxpayers’ money in 2016 and 2017.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president, prime minister, and other cabinet members to submit annually a financial statement and written declaration of their net worth to the Supreme Court. The Court of Accounts, a section within the Supreme Court, is responsible for monitoring and verifying financial disclosures. There are no sanctions for noncompliance. The Court of Accounts requires officials to identify all their assets and liabilities when they start and complete their terms and provide yearly updates throughout their tenure. Officials are not required to submit disclosures for their spouses or children. The agency responsible for receiving financial disclosures was not operational by year’s end, and few officials had filed. In September President Keita submitted his annual financial statement and written declaration of net worth to the Supreme Court. Although the constitution calls for financial filings to be made public, this did not occur.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is an independent institution funded by the Ministry of Justice. The government continued to provide the commission with a headquarters and small staff. Other human rights organizations criticized the CNDH as ineffective and lacking autonomy. They stated the Ministry of Justice had too much control over the CNDH budget and the commission’s large membership, which included several state representatives, impaired its ability to produce honest critiques of the government.

The commission of inquiry established by the National Assembly in 2014 to investigate violence between the government and armed groups in Kidal had not released a report on its findings by year’s end.

The Ministry of Defense established at least three commissions of inquiry in 2014 to investigate forced disappearances perpetrated by the military in 2012. None of the commissions had released any public reports by year’s end.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, created in 2015 to accept evidence, hold hearings, and recommend transitional justice measures for crimes and human rights violations stemming from the 2012 crisis, had not initiated any investigations by year’s end.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides a penalty of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenders, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape was a widespread problem. Authorities prosecuted only a small percentage of rape cases since victims seldom reported rapes due to societal pressure, particularly because attackers were frequently close relatives, and fear of retaliation. No law specifically prohibits spousal rape, but law enforcement officials stated criminal laws against rape apply to spousal rape. Police and judicial authorities were willing to pursue rape cases but stopped if parties reached an agreement prior to trial.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, was prevalent. Most cases went unreported. On December 28, Fanta Sekou Fofana was beaten and killed by her fiance. By year’s end, investigations were ongoing in the case, and the fiance remained in custody. Spousal abuse is a crime, but the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. Assault is punishable by prison terms of one to five years and fines of up to 500,000 CFA francs ($919) or, if premeditated, up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Police were reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Many women were reluctant to file complaints against their husbands because they feared husbands would interpret such allegations as grounds for divorce, were unable to support themselves financially, sought to avoid social stigma, or feared retaliation or further ostracism. The governmental Planning and Statistics Unit, established to track prosecutions, did not produce reliable statistics.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is legal in the country and, except in certain northern areas, all religious and ethnic groups practiced it widely, particularly in rural areas. Although FGM/C is legal, authorities prohibited the practice in government-funded health centers.

Parents generally had FGM/C performed on girls between the ages of six months and nine years. The most recent comprehensive FGM/C survey, conducted by UNICEF in 2010, indicated 89 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 were excised, and 74 percent of girls and women in the same age group had at least one daughter who was excised. Government information campaigns regarding the dangers of FGM/C reached citizens throughout the country where security allowed, and human rights organizations reported decreased incidence of FGM/C among children of educated parents.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which routinely occurred, including in schools, without any government efforts to prevent it. In June a group of three to five aggressors harassed and raped a girl in the Cercle (county equivalent) of Kati. The case was under investigation by year’s end. Some of the assailants remained in custody, while others fled and were not yet recaptured.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law does not provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, particularly concerning divorce and inheritance. Women are legally obligated to obey their husbands and are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Women had very limited access to legal services due to their lack of education and information as well as the prohibitive cost. The government effectively enforced the law.

While the law provides for equal property rights, traditional practices and ignorance of the law prevented women from taking full advantage of their rights. The marriage contract must specify if the couple wishes to share estate rights. If marriage certificates of Muslim couples do not specify the type of marriage, judges presume the marriage to be polygynous.

Women experienced economic discrimination due to social norms that favored men, and their access to education and employment was limited.

The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, the Family, and Children is responsible for ensuring the legal rights of women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from either parent or by birth within the country, and the law requires registration within 30 days of birth. Girls were less likely to be registered.

The government did not register all births immediately, particularly in rural areas. According to UNICEF, the government registered 81 percent of births in 2014. The government conducted an administrative census in 2014 to collect biometric data and assign a unique identifying number to every citizen. The process allowed the registration of children not registered at birth, although the number of new birth certificates assigned was unknown. Several local NGOs worked with foreign partners during the year to register children at birth and to educate parents about the benefits of registration. In 2015 the government approved the issuance of birth certificates for 7,807 children born in the country to Afro-Mauritanian refugees as part of the government’s commitment to facilitate their local integration.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free universal education, and the law provides for compulsory schooling from ages six through 15. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included distance to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers and instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, cultural preference to educate boys, early marriage of girls, and sexual harassment of girls.

The conflict resulted in the closure of schools in the regions of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou, and many schools were damaged or destroyed because rebels sometimes used them as bases of operations. Jihadist groups threatened teachers and communities causing, as of March, the closure of 657 schools during the 2017-18 school year, up from 507 schools in the same period in 2016-17, according to UN independent observer Alioune Tine.

Child Abuse: Comprehensive government statistics on child abuse did not exist, but the problem was widespread. Citizens typically did not report child abuse, according to UNICEF. Police and the social services department in the Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action investigated and intervened in some reported cases of child abuse or neglect, but the government provided few services for such children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age to marry without parental consent is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. A 16-year-old girl may marry with parental consent if a civil judge approves. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in rural areas, and underage marriage was a problem throughout the country. According to 2017 data from the UN Population Fund, 52 percent of women were married by age 18 and 17 percent before 15.

In some regions of the country, especially Kayes and Koulikoro, girls married as young as 10. It was common practice for a 14-year-old girl to marry a man twice her age. According to local human rights organizations, judicial officials frequently accepted false birth certificates or other documents claiming girls younger than age 15 were old enough to marry. NGOs implemented awareness campaigns aimed at abating child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation. Penalties for the sexual exploitation of both adults and children are six months to three years in prison and a fine of between 20,000 and one million CFA francs ($37 and $1,838). Penalties for convicted child traffickers are five to 20 years in prison. Penalties for indecent assault, including child pornography, range from five to 20 years in prison. The country has a statutory rape law that defines 18 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The law, which was inconsistent with the legal minimum marriage age of 15 for girls, was not enforced. Sexual exploitation of children occurred. The Division for Protection of Children and Morals of the National Police conducted sweeps of brothels to assure that individuals in prostitution were of legal age and arrested brothel owners found to be holding underage girls.

Child Soldiers: From April 2017 to October 2018, the National Directorate for the Promotion of Children and the Family registered 53 children associated with armed groups. In 2017, 29 were identified and 24 during the year. They were all assisted by the government and national and international NGOs. As of October, three children remained at the shelter centers in Bamako and Gao while all others were reunited with their families. Six of the children identified during the year were associated with jihadist groups operating in the Mopti Region. Two were identified in Kidal and four in Timbuktu.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Some prostitutes and domestic workers practiced infanticide, mainly due to lack of access to and knowledge about contraception. Authorities prosecuted at least two infanticide cases during the year.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were fewer than 50 Jews, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law do not specifically protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or in the provision of other state services. There is no law mandating accessibility to public buildings. While persons with disabilities have access to basic health care, the government did not place a priority on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and few resources were available. Many such individuals relied on begging.

Persons with mental disabilities faced social stigmatization and confinement in public institutions. For cases in which an investigative judge believed a criminal suspect had mental disabilities, the judge referred the individual to a doctor for mental evaluation. Based on the recommendation of the doctor, who sometimes lacked training in psychology, the court then either sent the suspect to a mental institution in Bamako or proceeded with a trial.

The Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ministry sponsored activities to promote income-earning opportunities for persons with disabilities and worked with NGOs, such as the Malian Federation of Associations for Handicapped Persons, which provided basic services. Although the government was responsible for eight schools countrywide for deaf persons, it provided almost no resources or other support.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Societal discrimination continued against black Tuaregs, often referred to as “Bellah.” Some Tuareg groups deprived black Tuaregs of basic civil liberties due to traditional slavery-like practices and hereditary servitude relationships.

There were continued reports of slave masters kidnapping the children of their Bellah slaves, who had no legal recourse. Slaveholders considered slaves and their children as property and reportedly took slave children to raise them elsewhere without permission from their parents. The antislavery organization Temedt organized workshops throughout the country to convince communities to abandon the practice of keeping slaves. The government took no action to establish punishment for practicing slavery.

Intercommunal violence led to frequent clashes between members of the Fulani ethnic group and, separately, members of the Bambara and Dogon communities. Self-defense groups representing these communities were reportedly involved in attacks.

For example, on September 7, in Koro, Mopti Region, attacks by Donzo hunters against Fulani village, Koumboko, resulted in 12 deaths. In early September clashes between Dogon hunters and Fulani herders in Djenne resulted in at least 22 deaths.

According to MINUSMA, intercommunal conflict in Koro, Bandiagara, and Bankass Circles resulted in the forced displacement of at least 22,572 individuals as of July.

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

The law prohibits association “for an immoral purpose.” There are no laws specifically prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

NGOs reported LGBTI individuals experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence, which society viewed as “corrective” punishment. Family members, neighbors, and groups of strangers in public places committed the majority of violent acts, and police frequently refused to intervene. Most LGBTI individuals isolated themselves and kept their sexual orientation or gender identity hidden. An NGO reported that LGBTI individuals frequently dropped out of school, left their places of employment, and did not seek medical treatment to hide their sexual identity and avoid social stigmatization.

There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country, although some NGOs had medical and support programs focusing specifically on men having sex with men.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS occurred. The government implemented campaigns to increase awareness of the condition and reduce discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Mob violence remains a problem. For example, in June a mob destroyed the town of Fana’s gendarmerie headquarters during a protest against the lack of security and the killing of a nine-year-old girl with albinism by a member of the community.

Discrimination continued against persons with albinism. Some traditional religious leaders perpetuated the widespread belief that such persons possessed special powers that others could extract by bringing a traditional spiritual leader the blood or head of one. In June a nine-year-old girl with albinism was kidnapped and beheaded in the town of Fana. As of November the assailant was in custody. The rights of persons with albinism organization run by prominent Malian singer Salif Keita noted that men often divorced their wives for giving birth to a child with albinism. Lack of understanding of the condition contributed to such persons’ lack of access to sunblock, without which they were highly susceptible to skin cancer.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Under the new labor law that came into force in June 2017, workers, except members of the armed forces, have the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. There are restrictions imposed on the exercise of these rights. The law provides that workers must be employed in the same profession before they may form a union. A worker may remain a member of a trade union only for a year after leaving the relevant function or profession. Members responsible for the administration or management of a union must reside in the country and be free of any convictions that could suspend their right to vote in national elections. The process was cumbersome and time-consuming, and the government may deny trade union registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds.

The minister of labor and public service has the sole authority to decide which union is representative for sectorial collective bargaining and to approve sectorial collective agreements. Employers have the discretionary right to refuse to bargain with representatives of trade unions. The law allows all types of strikes and prohibits retribution against strikers. For strike action to be lawful, the parties to a dispute must exhaust the mandatory conciliation and arbitration procedures set out in the labor code. Regulations require civil servants and workers in state-owned enterprises to give two weeks’ notice of a planned strike and to enter into mediation and negotiations with the employer and a third party, usually the Ministry of Labor and Public Service. The law does not allow workers in “essential services” sectors to strike, and the minister of labor can order compulsory arbitration for such workers. The law defines “essential services” as being services whose interruption would endanger the lives, personal safety, or health of persons, affect the normal operation of the national economy, or affect a vital industrial sector. For example, the law requires striking police to maintain a minimum presence in headquarters and on the street. The government, however, has not identified a list of essential services. Participation in an illegal strike is punishable by harsh penalties, including dismissal and loss of other rights except wages and leave. Civil servants exercised the right to strike during the year.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The government did not effectively enforce relevant laws. Penalties for violating antiunion discrimination provisions were not sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not have adequate resources to conduct inspections or perform mediation. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities did not consistently respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, although workers generally exercised these rights. The government did not always respect unions’ right to conduct their activities without interference. Although unions and worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties, they were closely aligned with various political parties or coalitions. The Ministry of Mines intervened to facilitate negotiations between labor and management over the closure of the Loulo gold mine. Officials have not renegotiated some collective agreements since 1956.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor; however, the practice of slavery is not criminalized. Forced labor occurred. The law prohibits the contractual use of persons without their consent, and penalties include fines and imprisonment with compulsory hard labor. Penalties can double if a person younger than age 15 is involved. Penalties were seldom enforced and therefore were not sufficient to deter violations. According to NGOs, the judiciary was reluctant to act in forced labor cases. The government made little effort during the year to prevent or eliminate forced labor, although it did allocate initial funding to its antitrafficking action plan. Following a 2014 national conference on the artisanal mining sector, the government established a commission that met twice monthly to develop measures to more effectively combat violations in the sector, including forced labor. The commission has conducted an inventory of mercury in artisanal gold mines, mapped artisanal gold mines in the auriferous regions of Kayes, Koulikoro, and Sikasso, and created a professional identification card for artisanal gold miners.

Most adult forced labor occurred in the agricultural sector, especially rice production, and in gold mining, domestic services, and in other sectors of the informal economy. Forced child labor occurred in the same sectors. Corrupt religious teachers forced boys into begging and other types of forced labor or service (see section 7.c.).

The salt mines of Taoudeni in the North subjected men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, to a longstanding practice of debt bondage. Employers subjected many black Tuaregs to forced labor and hereditary servitude, particularly in the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal (see section 6).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code was amended in 2017 to set the minimum employment age at 15. No child may work more than eight hours per day under any circumstance. The government’s Hazardous Occupations List prohibits certain activities by children younger than age 18. Girls between ages 16 and 18 may not work more than six hours per day. The law applies to all children, including those who work in the informal economy and those who are self-employed.

Responsibility for enforcing child labor laws is shared between the Ministry for the Promotion of Children and Women through the National Committee to Monitor the Fight against Child Labor, the Ministry of Justice through different courts, the Ministry of Security through the Morals and Children’s Brigade of the National Police, the National Social Security Institute through its health service, and the Ministry of Labor and Public Service through the Labor Inspectorate. Interagency coordinating mechanisms were ineffective, inefficient, and cumbersome. Authorities often ignored child labor laws or did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate, and the penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations.

Child labor, particularly in its worst forms, was a serious problem. Child labor was concentrated in the agricultural sector, especially rice and cotton production, domestic services, gold mining, forced begging organized by Quranic schools, and other sectors of the informal economy.

Approximately 25 percent of children between ages five and 14 were economically active, and employers subjected more than 40 percent of economically active children to the worst forms of child labor. Many were engaged in hazardous activities in agriculture. Armed groups used child soldiers in the North and the Center (see section 1.g). Child trafficking occurred. Employers used children, especially girls, for forced domestic labor. Employers forced Black Tuareg children to work as domestic and agricultural laborers.

Child labor in artisanal gold mining was a serious problem. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, at least 20,000 children worked under extremely harsh and hazardous conditions in artisanal gold mines. Many children also worked with mercury, a toxic substance used in separating gold from its ore. Following a summit on artisanal mining in 2014, the government launched a commission that met twice a month to develop measures to improve conditions in the sector and to mitigate violations, such as child labor.

An unknown number of primary school-age boys throughout the country, mostly younger than age 10, attended part-time Quranic schools funded by students and their parents. Some Quranic teachers (marabouts) often forced their students, known as “garibouts” or “talibes,” to beg for money on the streets or work as laborers in the agricultural sector; any money earned was usually returned to their teachers.

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service conducted few surprise or complaint-based inspections. Insufficient personnel, low salaries, and lack of other resources hampered enforcement in the informal sector. Prosecutors in Bamako had several pending investigations of potential abuse charges against marabouts who used children solely for economic purposes.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, disability, social status, HIV-positive status, and color. The government’s Labor Inspection Agency is responsible for investigating and preventing discrimination based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, or ethnicity, but the law was not effectively enforced. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and ethnicity (see section 6). The government was the major formal sector employer and ostensibly paid women the same as men for similar work, but differences in job descriptions permitted pay inequality. There were cases where employers from southern ethnic groups discriminated against individuals from northern ethnic groups.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage is 40,000 CFA francs ($71) per month, greater than the World Bank’s international poverty level of $1.90 per day. It did not apply to workers in the informal and subsistence sectors, which included the majority of workers. The government supplemented the minimum wage with a required package of benefits, including social security and health care. In January the government increased the salaries of public sector workers after coming to a collective bargaining agreement with the largest national workers’ union, National Workers’ Union of Mali. In August banks and insurance companies also increased their employees’ salaries.

The legal workweek is 40 hours, except for the agricultural sector, where the legal workweek ranges from 42 to 48 hours, depending on the season. The law requires a weekly 24-hour rest period, and employers must pay workers overtime for additional hours. The law limits overtime to eight hours per week. The law applies to all workers, including migrants and domestics, but it was routinely ignored in the informal sector, which included an estimated 87 percent of workers.

The law provides for a broad range of occupational safety and health standards in the workplace. Workers have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment and to request an investigation by the Social Security Department, which is responsible for recommending remedial action where deemed necessary. Authorities, however, did not effectively protect employees in these situations. With high unemployment, workers often were reluctant to report violations of occupational safety regulations.

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not effectively enforce these standards, and the few inspectors it employed lacked the resources to conduct field investigations. Many employers did not comply with regulations regarding wages, hours, and social security benefits. The ministry conducted few inspections in the three northern regions where the government has suspended services since the 2012 occupation of those regions by armed groups and other organizations. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations, and no government agencies provided information on violations or penalties. Labor inspectors made unannounced visits and inspections to work sites only after labor unions filed complaints.

Working conditions varied, but the worst conditions were in the private sector. In small, family-based agricultural endeavors, children worked for little or no remuneration. Employers paid some domestic workers as little as 7,500 CFA francs ($14) per month. Violations of overtime laws were common for children working in cities and those working in artisanal gold mines or rice and cotton fields. Labor organizations reported employers used cyanide and mercury in gold mines, posing a public health risk to workers exposed to them. Inspectors lacked the resources to assemble credible data on dangerous workplaces.

Syria

Executive Summary

President Bashar Assad has ruled the Syrian Arab Republic since 2000. The constitution mandates the primacy of Baath Party leaders in state institutions and society, and Assad and Baath party leaders dominate all three branches of government as an authoritarian regime. An uprising against the government that began in 2011 continued throughout the year. The 2014 presidential election and the 2016 parliamentary elections resulted in the election of Assad and 200 People’s Council (Syrian parliament) seats for the Baath Party-led National Progressive Front, respectively. Both elections took place in an environment of widespread government coercion, and many Syrians residing in opposition-held territory did not participate in the elections. Observers did not consider the elections free or fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the uniformed military, police, and state security forces but did not maintain effective control over foreign and domestic military or paramilitary organizations. These progovernment forces included Russian armed forces, Hizballah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and nonuniformed progovernment militias, such as the National Defense Forces.

Government and progovernment forces launched a massive assault on the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta, culminating in the government’s recapture in April of an area it had besieged since 2013. The assault by the government and progovernment forces involved use of heavy weapons, likely use of chemical weapons, and deliberate denial of humanitarian aid. Government and progovernment forces launched an assault on opposition-controlled areas of Daraa Province, considered the cradle of the revolution that began in 2011, and reasserted government control in July. The assault killed hundreds of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government, including those involving the repeated use of chemical weapons, including chlorine and other substances; enforced disappearances; torture, including torture involving sexual violence; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; prisoners of conscience; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; undue restrictions on free expression, including restrictions on the press and access to the internet, including censorship and site blocking; substantial suppression of the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe suppression of religious freedom; undue restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; high-level and widespread corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by the government and other armed actors; trafficking in persons; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; violence and severe discrimination targeting LGBTI persons; and severe restrictions on workers’ rights.

The government took no steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights violations or abuses. Impunity was pervasive and deeply embedded in the security forces and elsewhere in the government.

Government-linked paramilitary groups reportedly engaged in frequent violations and abuses, including massacres, indiscriminate killings, kidnapping civilians, arbitrary detentions, and rape as a war tactic. Government-affiliated militias, including the terrorist organization Lebanese Hizballah, supported by Iran, repeatedly targeted civilians.

There were reports that armed opposition groups carried out what were characterized as indiscriminate attacks in the battle in eastern Ghouta and that they arbitrarily arrested and tortured civilians in Douma. Syrian opposition groups supported by the Turkish government reportedly looted and confiscated homes belonging to Kurdish residents in Afrin.

Some Kurdish forces reportedly unlawfully restricted the movement of persons in liberated areas and arbitrarily arrested some local civil council leaders, teachers, and other civilians. Elements affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other minorities that included members of the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG), reportedly engaged in forced conscription, to include limited conscription of children. In September the SDF issued a military order banning the recruitment of anyone younger than age 18 and ordering their military records office to verify the ages of those currently enlisted.

Armed terrorist groups, such as the al-Qa’ida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), also committed a wide range of abuses, including massacres, unlawful killings, bombings, and kidnappings; unlawful detention; torture; and forced evacuations from homes based on sectarian identity. ISIS lost the majority of territory it once controlled, limiting its ability to subject large populations to human rights violations. Although severely weakened, ISIS attacked members of religious minority groups and subjected women and girls to routine rape, forced marriages, sexual slavery, human trafficking, and murder.

Russian forces were reportedly implicated in the deaths of civilians resulting from air strikes characterized as indiscriminate, particularly during support of the government’s military campaigns in the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta, including Douma.

Foreign forces fighting ISIS were implicated in civilian casualties reportedly in Afrin and Raqqa.

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

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

There were numerous reports the government and its agents, as well as other armed actors, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in relation to the conflict (see section 1.g.).

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), the conflict had killed at least 222,000 civilians from 2011 until September, including almost 6,400 civilians from January through October. The government continued its use of helicopters and airplanes to conduct aerial bombardment and shelling. The government continued to torture and kill persons in detention facilities. The UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) reported that the government assault on eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, killed hundreds of persons, with the SNHR reporting that more than 2,600 civilians died in eastern Ghouta in February and March. In June government and progovernment forces attacked the southwest Daraa governorate, with multiple sources reporting more than 230 civilian deaths.

Government and progovernment forces reportedly attacked civilians in hospitals, residential areas, schools, and settlements for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugee camps; these attacks included bombardment with improvised explosive devices, commonly referred to as “barrel bombs,” in addition to the use of chemical weapons. It used the massacre of civilians, as well as their forced displacement, rape, starvation, and protracted sieges that occasionally forced local surrenders, as military tactics.

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

On November 23, unidentified gunmen assassinated activists and journalists, Raed Faris and Hamud Junaid, in Idlib Province. Faris and Junaid were prominent civilian leaders of the peaceful revolution that began in 2011. They spoke out against the abuses of the government and of the extremist elements of the opposition. As of late November, no group had taken responsibility for the assassinations, although media reports suggested an extremist group was responsible.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The UN COI reported the number of forced disappearances remained high. Human rights groups’ estimates of the number of disappearances since 2011 varied widely, but all estimates pointed to disappearances as a common practice. In August the SNHR attributed 86 percent of the estimated 95,000 forced disappearances from 2011 until August to the government. The government reportedly targeted critics, specifically journalists, medical personnel, antigovernment protesters, their families, and associates. The majority of disappearances reported by activists, human rights observers, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) appeared to be politically motivated, and a number of prominent political prisoners remained missing (see section 1.e.).

In July the government began publishing notifications of thousands of deaths of detainees in government detention facilities. The SNHR reported the number of detainees certified as dead was unknown but estimated it to be in the thousands. The government did not announce publication of notifications on updated state registers. According to media reports, many families were unaware of the status of their detained family members and discovered relatives they believed to be alive had died months or years earlier.

For example, in 2011 the Air Force Security Branch detained Yahya Shurbaji, an activist known for his promotion of nonviolent protest. Shurbaji’s health and whereabouts remained unknown until July when his family received confirmation that he died at Sednaya Prison in 2013. The government claimed Shurbaji died of natural causes, but he shared the same date of death with at least three other detainees at Sednaya Prison, the subject of numerous reports of torture and extrajudicial killings since 2011.

The COI reported that fears of arbitrary arrests and detention prevented IDPs from returning to their homes in areas retaken by government forces. The COI noted that the families of disappeared persons often feared to approach authorities to inquire about the locations of their relatives; those who did so had to pay large bribes to learn the locations of relatives or faced systematic refusal by authorities to disclose information about the fate of disappeared individuals.

Armed groups not affiliated with the government also reportedly abducted individuals, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected government affiliates, journalists, and activists (see section 1.g.).

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

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and provides up to three years’ imprisonment for violations. Human rights activists, the COI, and local NGOs, however, reported thousands of credible cases of government authorities engaging in frequent torture and abuse to punish perceived opponents, including during interrogations. Observers reported most cases of torture or mistreatment occurred in detention centers operated by each of the government’s security service branches. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the COI reported regular use of torture against perceived government opponents at checkpoints and government facilities run by the Air Force, Political Security Division, General Security Directorate, and Military Intelligence Directorate. They identified specific detention facilities where torture occurred, including: the Mezzeh airport detention facility; Military Security Branches 215, 227, 235, 248, and 291; Adra and Sednaya Prisons; the Harasta Air Force Intelligence Branch; Harasta Military Hospital; Mezzeh Military Hospital 601; and Tishreen Military Hospital.

The COI also reported that the Counterterrorism Court (CTC) and courts-martial relied on forced confessions and information acquired through torture to obtain convictions. A large number of torture victims reportedly died in custody. The SNHR reported that more than 14,000 individuals died due to torture between 2011 and September and attributed approximately 99 percent of these cases to government forces (see section 1.a.). The SNHR attributed to the government more than 930 deaths due to torture in the first nine months of the year. Activists maintained that many instances of abuse went unreported. Some declined to allow reporting of their names or details of their cases due to fear of government reprisal.

The COI noted torture methods remained consistent. These included beatings on the head, bodies, and soles of feet (falaqua) with wooden and metal sticks, hoses, cables, belts, whips, and wires. Authorities also reportedly sexually assaulted detainees; administered electric shocks, including to their genitals; burned detainees with cigarettes; and placed them in stress positions for prolonged periods of time. A substantial number of detainees reported being handcuffed and then suspended from the ceiling or a wall by their wrists for hours.

Other reported methods of physical torture included removing nails and hair, stabbings, and cutting off body parts, including ears and genitals. Numerous human rights organizations reported other forms of torture, including forcing objects into the rectum and vagina, hyperextending the spine, and putting the victim onto the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts. Additionally, officers reportedly continued the practice of shabeh, in which they stripped detainees naked, hung them for prolonged periods from the ceiling, and administered electrical shocks. In August Deutsche Welle reported the experiences of Mizyed Khalid Tahad, a regime prisoner who detailed his torture during detention at Sednaya during 2012-13, including electric shock, shabeh, beatings, lashings with a pipe, being squeezed into a tire, and malnourishment. During the year NGOs, including (Amnesty International) AI, Urnammu for Justice and Human Rights (Urnammu), and Save the Rest continued to report that large numbers of detainees at Sednaya Military Prison died after repeated torture and deprivation of food, water, ventilation, medicine, and medical care.

There is no indication government use of psychological torture decreased. One commonly reported practice was detention of victims overnight in cells with corpses of previous victims. The SNHR reported psychological torture methods included forcing prisoners to witness the rape of other prisoners, threatening the rape of family members (in particular female family members), forcing prisoners to undress, and insulting prisoners’ beliefs. For example, in March the COI reported a 2014 incident in which a government officer in Damascus took two girls, held their faces down on the desk, and raped them in turn. The girls reportedly tried to resist. The officer then reportedly told a male detainee, “You see what I am doing to them? I will do this to your wife and daughter.”

The COI and various NGOs, including HRW, AI, and the SNHR, continued to report widespread instances of rape and sexual abuse, including of minors. In March the COI reported government forces and affiliated militias raped and sexually abused women and girls, as well as men occasionally, during ground operations, house raids, and at checkpoints. One such example in the March COI report is that of a survivor of the al-Houla (Homs) massacre in 2012, who described how government forces entered her home and raped her daughter in front of her and her husband before shooting both her daughter and husband. Two soldiers then reportedly raped the mother.

The COI stated that government authorities subjected women and girls in detention to rape and gang rape in 20 government political and military institutions, while authorities raped men and boys and sometimes mutilated their genitals in 15 such branches. The March COI report detailed how in one such case at Branch 215 in 2012, an 18-year-old man from Daraa was severely beaten, threatened with the rape of his sisters, and then gang raped by five officers. One of the officers reportedly raped the detainee five more times over a month before authorities transferred the detainee to another detention facility. In another case the March COI report detailed how, over 10 consecutive days at the Hama State Security Branch in 2012, two officers, one of whom was a lieutenant colonel, raped two female detainees next to one another. On one occasion the same two officers reportedly raped the women in front of two naked male detainees whose hands and feet were tied in the shabeh position. In March the COI reported cases in 2012 in which perpetrators exploited blood relations by forcing male relatives to have intercourse with one another at the Damascus Political Intelligence Branch.

There were widespread reports that government security forces engaged in abuse and inhuman treatment of prisoners. According to the COI, most were civilians initially held at checkpoints or taken prisoner during military incursions. While the majority of accounts concerned male detainees, there were increased reports of female detainees suffering abuse in government custody. The COI assessed in March that the frequency, duration, and severity of the reported abuse suggested victims’ sustained long-term psychological and physical damage.

The COI reported that, beginning in 2011 and continuing throughout the conflict, security forces subjected detainees to mistreatment in military hospitals, often obstructing medical care or exacerbating existing injuries as a technique in abuse and interrogation. There were numerous reports of deaths in custody at the Mezzeh airport detention facility, Military Security Branches 215 and 235, and Sednaya Prison. Authorities consistently directed families of detainees seeking information to the Qaboun Military Police and Tishreen Military Hospital. In most cases authorities reportedly did not return the bodies of deceased detainees to their families. In July the government confirmed the death of activist Islam Dabbas in 2013 in Sednaya Prison, but they did not return his body.

There continued to be a significant number of reports of abuse of children by the government. The COI noted regular reports of detention and torture of children younger than age 13, in some cases as young as 11, in government detention facilities. Officials reportedly targeted and tortured children because of their familial relations, or assumed relationships, with political dissidents, members of the armed opposition, and activist groups. In March the UN Human Rights Council held a high-level panel discussion on human rights violations against children in Syria at which NGOs presented evidence of such abuses. The UN special representative for children and armed conflict reported that child detainees, largely boys, suffered similar or identical methods of torture practiced on adults. A May report from Urnammu, a NGO that focuses on the Syrian conflict, on abuses against children described usage of a torture wheel, shabeh, lynchings, beatings, rape, and forced sexual acts among children, among other abuses. For example, a May report from Urnammu detailed the experiences of Hamed, who was 15 years old when detained in 2014 in the Political Security branch in Latakia. Hamed described being tied to a torture wheel and being forced to confess to hiding weapons and tunneling, then being transferred to the Criminal Security branch where he reportedly was beaten and threatened with being shot. According to reliable witnesses, authorities continued to hold a number of children to compel parents and other relatives associated with opposition fighters to surrender to authorities.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and in many instances were life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical and psychological abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Prison facilities were grossly overcrowded. Authorities commonly held juveniles, adults, pretrial detainees, and convicted prisoners together in inadequate spaces. The COI reported in March that authorities continued to hold children in prison with adults. In a report released in May, Urnammu documented the detention of more than 2,400 children, while the SNHR reported the regime detained more than 7,000 children from the start of the conflict in 2011 until March and more than 200 children during the first half of the year.

According to the COI, government detention facilities lacked food, water, space, hygiene, and medical care. Poor conditions were so consistent that the COI concluded they reflected state policy.

According to local and international NGOs, the government held prisoners and detainees in severely cramped quarters with little or no access to toilets, hygiene, medical supplies, or adequate food. In March the COI reported detainees in government detention facilities subsisted in severely inhuman conditions. A February COI report stated that authorities kept detainees in government facilities in overcrowded cells, lacking adequate sanitation, and suffering from lice infestations. In August CNN reported that malnourishment and denial of medical treatment continued to lead to the deaths of detainees.

Reports from multiple international NGO sources continued to suggest there were also many informal detention sites and that authorities held thousands of prisoners in converted military bases and in civilian infrastructure, such as schools and stadiums, and in unknown locations. Activists asserted the government also housed arrested protesters in factories and vacant warehouses that were overcrowded and lacked adequate sanitary facilities.

In some cases authorities transferred detainees from unofficial holding areas to intelligence services facilities. Detention conditions at security and intelligence service facilities continued to be the harshest, especially for political or national security prisoners. Facilities lacked proper ventilation, lighting, access to potable water or adequate food, medical staff and equipment, and sufficient sleeping quarters.

Inside prisons and detention centers, the prevalence of death from disease remained high due to unsanitary conditions and the withholding of food, medical care, and medication. Local NGOs and medical professionals reported authorities denied medical care to prisoners with pre-existing health needs, such as diabetes, asthma, and breast cancer, and denied pregnant women any medical care. Authorities retaliated against prisoners who requested attention for the sick. Released prisoners commonly reported sickness and injury resulting from such conditions. The May report from Urnammu included the example of Ali, a 14-year-old from Aleppo, who was arrested in 2014 and held incommunicado for 10 months. Ali described the abuse of a fellow child detainee, “B.K.” from Kafer Yabos, who authorities tortured until he could no longer control his bodily functions. Ali said B.K.’s entire body was infected and that the other young detainees cared for him, fed him, and cleaned him and his wounds until he died.

Information on conditions and care for prisoners with disabilities was unavailable.

Conditions in detention centers operated by various opposition groups were not well known, but the COI and local NGOs reported accounts of arbitrary detention, torture, inhuman treatment, and abuse. According to the COI, conditions in detention center run by nonstate actors such as HTS and ISIS violated international law (see section 1.g.).

Administration: There were no credible mechanisms or avenues for prisoners to complain or submit grievances, and authorities routinely failed to investigate allegations or document complaints or grievances. Activists reported there was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. The law provides for prompt access to family members, but NGOs and families reported inconsistent application of the law, with some families waiting years to see relatives. The government continued to detain thousands of prisoners without charge and incommunicado in unknown locations.

In areas where government control was weak or nonexistent, localized corrections structures emerged. Reports of control and oversight varied, and both civilian and religious leaders were in charge of facility administration. Former police forces or members of armed opposition groups operated facilities in areas under the control of opposition forces. Nonstate actors often did not understand due process and lacked sufficient training to run facilities.

Independent Monitoring: The government prohibited independent monitoring of prison or detention center conditions, and diplomatic and consular officials had no greater access than in previous years. AI, for example, has attempted with little success to engage Syrian authorities on human rights concerns, including torture and other mistreatment, enforced disappearances, and deaths in custody, through various means since 2011. For example, in January 2017 AI sent a letter to authorities requesting clarifications regarding the numerous allegations documented in their report “Human Slaughter House,” and in February 2017 the government denied the claims.

Some opposition forces invited the COI to visit facilities they administered and allowed some international human rights groups, including HRW, to visit. The International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent continued to negotiate with all parties, except ISIS, to gain access to detention centers across the country but was unable to gain access to any government-controlled facilities during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but a 2011 decree allows the government to detain suspects for up to 60 days without charge if suspected of “terrorism” and related offenses. The law 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 observe this requirement.

Arbitrary arrests continued according to local news sources, and several human rights organizations reported arbitrary detentions in the tens of thousands. The SNHR reported government forces and progovernment militias were responsible for more than 3,200 cases of arbitrary arrest in the first half of the year. Between the start of the conflict in 2011 and March, the SNHR reported almost 119,000 arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances; it attributed almost 90 percent of such cases to the government. A March COI report stated that government forces and affiliated militias continued to detain tens of thousands of persons arbitrarily or unlawfully in official and makeshift detention facilities. Government authorities held the vast majority without due process or access to legal representation or to their families. Victims endured brutal torture, and many died in detention or authorities summarily executed them. The COI report also concluded, “acts amounted to the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, and imprisonment in the context of its widespread and systematic detentions. They have also amounted to the war crimes of murder, cruel treatment, torture, rape, sexual violence, and outrages upon personal dignity.”

HRW reported the government continued to use counterterrorism law to arrest and convict nonviolent activists on charges of aiding terrorists in trials that violated basic due process rights. Although authorities reportedly brought charges under the guise of countering violent militancy, allegations included peaceful acts such as distributing humanitarian aid, participating in protests, and documenting human rights abuses.

Government security forces failed to respond to or protect large regions of the country from violence. In February the COI reported some armed opposition groups maintained makeshift detention sites to hold civilians. The COI reported the SDF claimed to have detained nearly 1,400 terrorist fighters, the majority of whom were ISIS members but also included women and children associated with ISIS (see section 1.g.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The government’s multiple security branches traditionally operated autonomously with no defined boundaries between their areas of jurisdiction. Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence reported to the Ministry of Defense, the Political Security Directorate reported to the Ministry of Interior, and the General Intelligence Directorate reported directly to the Office of the President. The Interior Ministry controlled the four separate divisions of police: emergency police, traffic police, neighborhood police, and riot police. Government-affiliated militia, such as the National Defense Forces (NDF), integrated with other government-affiliated forces and performed similar roles without defined jurisdiction.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the uniformed military, police, and state security forces, but did not maintain effective control over foreign and domestic military or paramilitary organizations. These included Russian armed forces, Hizballah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and nonuniformed progovernment militias, such as the NDF. Impunity continued to be a widespread problem. The General Command of the Army and Armed Forces may issue arrest warrants for crimes committed by military officers, members of the internal security forces, or customs police during their normal duties; military courts must try such cases. Nevertheless, security forces operated independently and generally outside the control of the legal system. There were no known prosecutions or convictions of security force personnel for abuse or corruption and no reported government actions to increase respect for human rights by the security forces.

Opposition forces established irregularly constituted courts and detention facilities in areas under their control, which varied greatly in organization and adherence to the rule of law. Some groups upheld the country’s law, while others followed a 1996 draft Arab League Unified Penal Code based on sharia or implemented a mix of customary law and sharia. The experience, expertise, and credentialing of opposition judges and religious scholars also varied widely, and dominant armed militias in the area often subjected them to their orders.

ISIS claimed that it based administration of justice in the territory it controlled on sharia. As detailed by the New York Times, ISIS reportedly authorized its police forces, known as “Hisbah,” to administer summary punishment for violations of ISIS’ morality code.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law generally requires a warrant for arrest in criminal cases, but police often cited emergency or national security justifications for acting without a warrant, which was permitted under the law. Police usually brought arrested individuals to a police station for processing and detention until a trial date was set. The law limits the length of time authorities may hold a person without charge to 60 days, but according to various NGOs, activists, and former detainees, police held many individuals for longer periods or indefinitely. Civil and criminal defendants have the right to bail hearings and possible release from pretrial detention on their own recognizance, but the government applied the law inconsistently. At the initial court hearing, which can be months or years after the arrest, the accused may retain an attorney at personal expense or the court may appoint an attorney, although authorities did not assure lawyers access to their clients before trial. According to local human rights organizations, denial of access to a lawyer was common.

In cases involving political or national security offenses, authorities reportedly often made arrests in secret, with cases assigned in an apparently arbitrary manner to the CTC, courts-martial, or criminal courts. The government reportedly detained suspects incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge or trial and denied them the right to a judicial determination of their pretrial detention. In most cases authorities reportedly did not inform detainees of charges against them until their arraignment, often months or years after their arrest. Security detainees did not have access to lawyers before or during questioning, or throughout preparation and presentation of their defense.

The government often reportedly failed to notify foreign governments when it arrested, detained, released, or deported their citizens, especially when the case involved political or national security charges. The government also failed to provide consular access to foreign citizens known to be in its prisons and, on numerous occasions, claimed these individuals were not in its custody or even in the country.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued previous practices of arbitrary arrests, and detainees had inconsistent legal redress. Reports continued of security services arresting relatives of wanted persons to pressure individuals to surrender. Police rarely issued or presented warrants or court orders before an arrest. According to reports, the security branches secretly ordered many arrests and detentions. Activists and international humanitarian organizations stated that government forces continued to conduct security raids in response to antigovernment protests. In areas under government control, security forces engaged in arbitrary arrests. For example, the SNHR reported that on June 21, government forces raided a residence in the Jaloub al Mal’ab neighborhood of Hama, arrested 11 civilians, including two women and three children, and took them to an undisclosed location. The COI reported in March that authorities continued to arrest men and boys arbitrarily at some checkpoints. Often authorities cited no reason for arresting civilians.

Checkpoints operated by the government were a commonly reported location for arbitrary arrests, sometimes resulting in transfer to a long-term detention facility or disappearance. Government military and security forces reportedly arrested men at checkpoints solely for being of military age. According to the COI, there continued to be frequent accounts of enforced disappearances following arrest at checkpoints.

Multiple reports from local and international NGOs stated that the government prevented the majority of those detained from contacting their relatives or obtaining a lawyer. When authorities occasionally released detainees, it was often without any formal judicial procedures. Hundreds of detainees interviewed by human rights groups stated they had been arrested, detained, questioned, often tortured, and released after months or years of detention without seeing a judge or being sentenced.

There also were instances of nonstate armed groups reportedly engaging in arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention (see section 1.g.).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Authorities reportedly held thousands of detainees incommunicado for months or years before releasing them without charge or bringing them to trial. A shortage of available courts and lack of legal provisions for speedy trial or plea bargaining contributed to lengthy pretrial detentions. In previous years there were numerous reported instances when the length of detention exceeded the sentence for the crime. Percentages for prison/detainee population held in pretrial detention and the length of time held were not available during the year. Syrian human rights groups continued to highlight the plight of detainees and advocate for their release.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and any delay in obtaining judicial process. If the court finds that authorities detained persons unlawfully, they are entitled to prompt release or compensation or both. Few detainees, however, had the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or obtain prompt release and compensation for unlawful detention.

Amnesty: In October the government granted amnesty to army deserters and civilians who avoided military duty, provided they reported for duty within four months if inside Syria and within six months if outside the country. The amnesty does not cover fighting against the government or joining the opposition, regarded by the government as terrorists. Media reported that refugees were skeptical, fearing forced conscription and imprisonment. Limited releases of detainees occurred within the framework of localized settlement agreements with the government. During the year there were increasing reports of government forces violating prior amnesty agreements by conducting raids and arrest campaigns concentrated against civilians and former affiliates of armed opposition factions in areas that previously signed settlement agreements with the government. For example, the SNHR reported that on August 14, government forces arrested 80 civilians in the al Lajat suburbs of Daraa.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities regularly subjected courts to political influence and prosecutors and defense attorneys to intimidation and abuse. Outcomes of cases with political context appeared predetermined, and defendants could sometimes bribe judicial officials and prosecutors. Government authorities detained without access to fair public trial tens of thousands of individuals, including those associated with NGOs, human rights activists, journalists, relief workers, religious figures, and medical providers.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial but not necessarily a public trial. The judiciary generally did not enforce this right, and the government did not respect judicial independence.

The constitution presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty, but numerous reports indicated that the CTC or courts-martial did not respect this right. Defendants have the right to prompt, detailed notification of the charges against them with interpretation as necessary, although authorities did not verifiably enforce this right, and a number of detainees and their families reported that the accused were unaware of the charges against them. Trials involving juveniles or sexual offenses, or those referred to the CTC or courts-martial, are held in camera. The law entitles defendants representation of their choice, but it does not permit legal representation for defendants accused of spying; the courts appoint lawyers for indigents. Defense attorneys often lacked adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, as the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) and other NGOs reported authorities arbitrarily assigned defense attorneys to many defendants at the courthouse on the day of trial. Human rights lawyers reported that in some politically charged cases, the government provided prosecution case files to defense lawyers that did not include any evidence, if they provided anything at all. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence and confront the prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, but authorities often did not respect this right. Defendants may not legally be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but family members and NGOs routinely reported that judges accepted confessions of guilt elicited through torture or intimidation, as described in a March report by the COI and a May report by Urnammu. Convicted persons may appeal verdicts to a provincial appeals court and ultimately to the Court of Cassation.

The COI, AI, ILAC, and others have reported the lack of due process in the CTC and courts-martial. In trials reportedly lasting between one and three minutes, judges reportedly used coerced confessions obtained through torture as often the only evidence to sentence prisoners to summary execution. Multiple sources alleged the government killed as many as 50 detainees per day at Sednaya Prison, since 2011. AI reported in 2017 that at Sednaya Prison an execution panel including the director of Sednaya, the military prosecutor of the court-martial, and a representative from the intelligence agencies met prisoners sentenced to death by one of two courts-martial in the al-Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus, and then prison guards immediately hanged the prisoners. Although the government denied using a crematorium to dispose of prisoners, the government failed to return the bodies of thousands of deceased prisoners after releasing death notices during the year.

Not all citizens enjoyed these rights equally, in part because interpretations of religious law provide the basis for elements of family and criminal law and discriminate against women. Some personal status laws apply sharia regardless of the religion of those involved. Additionally, media and NGO reports suggested the government denied some, and in certain cases all, of these protections to those accused of political crimes, violence against the government, or providing humanitarian assistance to civilians in opposition-held areas. Sentences for persons accused of antigovernment activity tended to be harsh, if they reached trial, with violent and nonviolent offenders receiving similar punishments. For example, the government arrested internet activist Bassel Khartabil in March 2012. He was held for nine months of incommunicado detention, then subsequently moved to Adra Prison in Damascus, where his family was allowed to visit him. In October 2015 authorities moved Bassel to an unknown destination where he was later sentenced to death. According to the SNHR, the majority of those tried received five- to 20-year prison sentences. The government did not permit defendants before the CTC to have effective legal representation. Although activists reported individuals charged under the counterterrorism law could retain attorneys to move their trial date, according to the ILAC, authorities did not allow them to speak during proceedings or retain copies of documents on the court’s file.

In opposition-controlled areas, legal or trial procedures varied by locale and the armed group in control. Local human rights organizations reported that local governing structures assumed these responsibilities. HRW reported that civilians administered these processes employing customary sharia laws in some cases and national laws in others. Sentencing by opposition sharia councils sometimes resulted in public executions, without an appeals process or visits by family members.

According to local NGOs, opposition-run sharia councils continued to discriminate against women, not allowing them to serve as judges or lawyers or to visit detainees.

In the territories they controlled, Kurdish authorities created a legal code based on the “Social Charter.” Reports described the Social Charter as a mix of Syrian criminal and civil law with laws concerning divorce, marriage, weapons ownership, and tax evasion drawn from EU law, but without certain fair trial standards–such as the prohibition on arbitrary detention, the right to judicial review, and the right to appoint a lawyer–that are customary in western judicial systems. The justice system consisted of courts, legal committees, and investigative bodies. In May Urnammu reported arbitrary arrests increased and that some opponents of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and their families were forcibly disappeared (see section 1.g.).

In March and August, the COI reported that HTS reportedly denied those arrested the opportunity to challenge in its sharia courts the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, permitted confessions obtained through torture, and executed or forcibly disappeared perceived opponents and their families.

In the decreasing amount of territory it controlled, ISIS reportedly established courts to preside over its interpretation of sharia headed by judges with varied credentials. In February the COI reported that ISIS detained civilians in areas under its control accused of violating its rules or suspected of cooperating with enemy forces, members of minority religious groups, journalists, and activists accused of reporting on violations by the group, and frequently conducted public executions without proper judicial proceedings.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees.

AI and other NGOs reported the systematic arrest of tens of thousands of citizens since 2011. At greatest risk were those perceived to oppose the government, including peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, and political dissidents and their families. The four government intelligence agencies–Air Force Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Political Security, and General Intelligence–were responsible for most such arrests and detentions.

AI reported that the total number of political prisoners and detainees was difficult to determine in view of the lack of government information and absence of government transparency. Authorities continued to refuse to divulge information regarding numbers or names of persons detained on political or security-related charges, but they did release thousands of death notices of detainees during the year.

According to the Washington Post, lawyers familiar with the process said the Defense Ministry sent the names of detainees to civil registry offices across the country throughout the year and instructed that these prisoners be registered as dead. The deaths were registered across the provinces of Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Latakia.

The civil registry offices issued notices that were essentially executive summaries, reportedly listing few details about the deceased. Military hospitals issued other death notices, formal certificates, and medical reports. These routinely listed the cause of death as heart attack or stroke.

In March the SNHR reported that more than 104,000 persons remained in detention for reasons related to the conflict, including women and children, as well as doctors, humanitarian aid providers, human rights defenders, and journalists.

Prison conditions for political or national security prisoners, especially accused opposition members, reportedly continued to be much worse than those for common criminals. According to local NGOs, authorities deliberately placed political prisoners in crowded cells with convicted and alleged felons and subjected them to verbal and physical threats and abuse. Political prisoners also reported they often slept on the ground due to lack of beds and faced frequent searches. According to reports from families, particularly the Families for Freedom collective, authorities refused many political prisoners access to family and counsel. Some former detainees and human rights observers reported the government denied political prisoners access to reading materials, including the Quran, and prohibited them from praying in their cells.

Many prominent civilian activists and journalists detained or forcibly disappeared following the 2011 protests reportedly remained in detention. While the government released thousands of detainee death notices during the year, there were no known developments in the majority of cases of reported disappearances from prior years, including the following persons believed forcibly disappeared by government forces: nonviolent protester Abdel Aziz Kamal al-Rihawi; Alawite opposition figure Abdel Aziz al-Khair; Kurdish activist Berazani Karro; Yassin Ziadeh, brother of dissident Radwan Ziadeh; human rights lawyer Khalil Ma’touq and his assistant, Mohamed Zaza; human rights activist Adel Barazi; and peace activist and theater director Zaki Kordillo and his son, Mihyar Kordillo.

HRW reported that courts continued to detain activists under the counterterrorism law, referring detainees arbitrarily to the CTC, courts-martial, or criminal courts, if at all. Authorities continued to re-arrest many of those released under earlier amnesties and those who previously signed settlement agreements with the government.

There were few updates in the kidnappings of many persons believed abducted by ISIS, armed opposition, or unidentified armed groups. As of March 2017, the SNHR attributed several thousand arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances to armed opposition groups (see section 1.g.).

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Government civil remedies for human rights violations were functionally nonexistent. In areas under their control, opposition groups did not organize consistent civil judicial procedures. ISIS and other extremist groups had no known civil judicial mechanisms in the territories they controlled.

In the Kurdish-administered parts of northeastern Syria, civilian peace and reconciliation committees reportedly resolved civil disputes before elevating them to a court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Government security forces routinely seized detainees’ property, personal items, and electronics. The law also provides for the confiscation of movable and immovable property of persons convicted of terrorism, a common charge for political opponents and other detainees since 2012. Security forces did not catalog these items in accordance with the law and, although detained individuals had the right to retrieve their confiscated belongings after release, authorities often did not return the property. According to media reports and activists, government forces also seized property left by refugees and IDPs. The CTC can try to convict cases in the absence of the defendant, thus providing legal cover for confiscation of such property left by refugees and IDPs. The situation was further complicated due to the destruction of court records and property registries in opposition-held areas in the years following the 2011 uprising.

Law No. 10, passed on April 2, allows the government to create “redevelopment zones” to be slated for reconstruction. Property owners are notified to provide documentary proof of property ownership or risk losing ownership to the state. If an individual does not claim ownership successfully during the one-year period, as amended by Law No. 42, the property reverts to the local government. An individual can prove ownership in person or through designated proxies.

In May HRW reported that the government’s adoption of Law No. 10 will lead to confiscation of property without due process or compensation and will create a major obstacle for refugees and IDPs to return home. HRW said that it will be nearly impossible for thousands of refugees and IDPs to claim their property and that the procedural requirement of the law, coupled with the political context, created significant potential for abuse and discrimination, particularly toward the Sunni population. Subsequently, in an October report, HRW detailed how the government began preventing displaced residents from former antigovernment-held areas in Darayya and Qaboun from returning to their properties, including by demolishing their properties with no warning and without providing alternative housing or compensation. The government amended the law on November 7 to add an appeals process, but NGOs continued to express serious concern the law would be implemented in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner.

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

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

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

As described in the February and March COI reports and the May Urnammu report, the government employed informer systems against political opponents and perceived national security threats.

The government continued to bar membership in some political organizations, including Islamist parties and often arrested their members (see section 3).

The government reportedly punished large numbers of family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives, as indicated in the March COI report. In May a report by Urnammu included the example of a fighter from Idlib; government forces arrested his mother (Bahia) in 2012, as well as his sister (Misa) and 15-year-old nephew (Salim) in 2015, to pressure him to surrender; the three family members remained in detention as of May.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, but the law grants the government broad powers to restrict this freedom.

The Ministry of Interior requires permission for demonstrations or any public gathering of more than three persons. As a rule, the ministry authorized only demonstrations by the government, affiliated groups, or the Baath Party, orchestrating them on numerous occasions.

According to allegations by Kurdish activists and press reporting, the PYD and the YPG sometimes suppressed freedom of assembly in areas under their control. During the year, however, hundreds of Christians and Assyrians peacefully protested against PYD policy to close private religious schools that teach the Syrian regime’s curriculum. Kurdish security forces fired weapons into the air but reportedly did not otherwise engage the protesters. Similar protests in Hasaka against forcible recruitment also appear to have occurred without serious incident.

During the year multiple media outlets reported that HTS loosened restrictions on civil society activity, including protests, due to popular pressure for engagement to oppose an expected assault by government and progovernment forces on the Idlib Governorate. This approach was manifested in September, when substantial numbers protested against President Assad and the government in opposition- and HTS-held areas of Idlib and Hama.

The COI reported that residents who previously resided in ISIS-controlled Raqqa noted severe restrictions on assembly while under ISIS rule, but ISIS territories contracted considerably during the year.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the freedom of association, but the law grants the government latitude to restrict this freedom. The government required prior registration and approval for private associations and restricted the activities of associations and their members. The executive boards of professional associations were not independent of the government.

The government often denied requests for registration or failed to act on them, reportedly on political grounds. None of the local human rights organizations operated with a license but many functioned under organizations that had requisite government registration. The government continued to block the multiyear effort by journalists to register a countrywide media association. Despite government efforts, journalists in exile founded the Syrian Journalist Association as an independent democratic professional association in 2012 to empower the role of freedom of the press and expression in Syria.

The government selectively enforced the 2011 decree allowing the establishment of independent political parties, permitting only progovernment groups to form official parties (see section 3). According to local human rights groups, opposition activists declined to organize parties, fearing the government would use party lists to target opposition members.

Under laws that criminalize membership and activity in illegal organizations as determined by the government, security forces detained hundreds of persons linked to local human rights groups and prodemocracy student groups. The thousands of death notices released by the government during the year shed light on this practice. For example, the Atlantic described the fates of many of the young protest organizers, civil society leaders, and local coordination committee members forcibly disappeared by the government in 2011. These included Yahya and Ma’an Shurbaji; both had been missing since 2011 and were now listed as having died in government detention in 2013. The government also searched these individuals’ personal and social media contacts for further potential targets.

HTS restricted the activities of organizations it deemed incompatible with its interpretation of Islam. For example, in its March report, the COI describes how in 2015 the HTS predecessor Jabhat al-Nusra group burned a women’s organization in Idlib, stole the organizer’s car, and detained the organizer for a short period. In 2017 the March COI report noted that HTS prevented NGOs in Idlib from conducting meetings with mixed participants so a number of NGOs began holding meetings via remote presence.

According to previous media reports and reports from former residents of ISIS-controlled areas, ISIS did not permit the existence of associations that opposed the structures or policies of the “caliphate.”

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws,” but the government, ISIS, and other armed groups restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Government sieges in Homs, Damascus, rural Damascus, Deir al-Zour, and Idlib Governorates restricted the freedom of movement and resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition, while forced evacuations following sieges resulted in mass displacement and additional breakdowns in service provision and humanitarian assistance (see section 1.g.).

The government inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The government provided some cooperation to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Both government and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.

In-country Movement: In government-besieged cities throughout the country, government forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women.

The government expanded security checkpoints into civilian areas to monitor and limit movement. Government forces reportedly used snipers to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and, in some cases, prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. The government also barred foreign diplomats from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.

In areas they still controlled, armed opposition groups and terrorist groups such as HTS and ISIS also restricted movement, including with checkpoints (see section 1.g.). According to the COI, long desert detour routes exposed drivers and passengers to arbitrary arrest, unlawful search and seizure of property, demands for bribes, and detention and execution at checkpoints administered by ISIS, the government, and other armed actors.

While the SDC and SDF generally supported IDP communities in northeast Syria, in July HRW claimed that the SDC and members of the Kurdish Autonomous Administration operating in Deir al-Zour and Raqqa confiscated the identification cards of IDPs in camps and prevented their freedom of movement. According to UN and HRW allegations, the SDF in some instances required IDPs to obtain “sponsorship” to move to traditionally Kurdish areas controlled by the Kurdish Autonomous Administration in Qamishli, Hasakeh, and Kobani.

In the remaining areas under its control, ISIS restricted the movement of government supporters or assumed supporters, especially the Alawite and Shia populations, as well as Yezidi, Christian, and other captives. ISIS reportedly did not permit female passengers to traverse territory it controlled unless accompanied by a close male relative.

Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the government denied passports and other vital documents based on the applicant’s political views, association with opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. The government also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. For example, local media reported that every man between the ages of 17 and 42 must obtain approval from the conscription office before leaving the country. Additionally, the government often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities prevented them from departing the country. The government reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons. The government comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks at airports and border crossings.

The government also often refused to allow citizens to return. According to numerous media outlets, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon’s General Security directorate, stated that in coordinating the return of Syrian refugees from Lebanon, the Syrian government reviews a list of names and “on average” rejects 10 percent of them.

Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. The government allowed Syrians living outside of the country, whose passports expired, to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the government against which they may have protested or feared the government could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.

Women older than age 18 have the legal right to travel without the permission of male relatives, but a husband may file a request with the Interior Ministry to prohibit his wife from departing the country.

There were reports ISIS destroyed Syrian passports and legal records and produced its own passports, not recognized by any country or entity. These policies disproportionately affected children, because many left the country before obtaining a passport or identification card. ISIS explicitly prohibited women from foreign travel.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

During the year violence continued to be the primary reason for displacement, much of it attributed to government and Russian aerial attacks. Government and progovernment evacuations of besieged areas, often overseen by Russian forces, forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of persons. Years of conflict and evacuations repeatedly displaced persons, and each displacement depleted family assets. In September the United Nations estimated there were more than 6.2 million IDPs in the country, including 1.5 million new IDPs since the start of the year. The United Nations estimated that 750,000 IDPs returned to their places of origin during the first half of the year. Up to 1.2 million persons lived in UN-designated hard-to-reach areas. UN humanitarian officials reported that most IDPs sought shelter with host communities or in collective centers, abandoned buildings, or informal camps. The humanitarian response to the country was coordinated through a complex bureaucratic structure. The crisis inside the country continued to meet the UN criteria for a level 3 response–the global humanitarian system’s classification for response to the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises.

The government generally did not provide sustainable access to services for IDPs, did not offer IDPs assistance or protection, did not facilitate humanitarian assistance for IDPs, and provided inconsistent protection. The government forcibly displaced populations from besieged areas and restricted movement of IDPs. The government did not promote the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs and, in many cases, refused to allow IDPs to return home. Seven Syrians who had attempted to return to their homes in Darayya and Qaboun, or whose immediate relatives attempted to return in May and July, told HRW that they or their relatives were unable to access their residential or commercial properties. According to HRW, the government was imposing town-wide restrictions on access to Darayya and in Qaboun the government either had restricted access to their neighborhoods or had demolished the property of the Syrians attempting to return. The government routinely disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid, including medical assistance, to areas under siege as well as to newly recaptured areas (see section 1.g.).

The SARC functioned as the main partner for international humanitarian organizations working inside the country to provide humanitarian assistance in government and some opposition-controlled areas. NGOs operating from Damascus faced government bureaucratic obstruction in attempting to provide humanitarian assistance. UN agencies and NGOs sought to increase the flow of assistance to opposition-held areas subject to government offensives to meet growing humanitarian needs, but the government increasingly restricted cross-line operations originating from Damascus. Cross-border operations from Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq, provided humanitarian assistance, but these halted from Jordan in June when the government retook territory in the southwest up to the Syria-Jordan border. While humanitarian aid was provided cross-border from Turkey to northwest Syria (Idlib and Aleppo) via two border crossings, Turkey prohibited the provision of humanitarian and stabilization aid to areas of northeast Syria from Turkey.

Assistance reached some hard-to-reach locations, but the government continued to hinder UN and NGO access, and the government secured control over many of these areas during the year. For example, humanitarian organizations reported throughout the summer that the government did not permit UN agencies the sustained access required to conduct detailed needs assessments for vulnerable populations in Quneitra. The United Nations reported that as of November only seven humanitarian assistance convoys had accessed hard-to-reach areas during the year, providing assistance to approximately 220,000 persons.

In early November the United Nations and SARC delivered humanitarian assistance to approximately 50,000 persons in need at Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Jordanian border. Additionally, the convoy provided an emergency vaccination campaign to protect some 5,000 children against measles, polio, and other diseases. The overall humanitarian situation in Rukban camp had reached a dire state, with reported shortages of basic commodities, protection concerns, increasing violence, and the death of several children who reportedly were unable to obtain the further medical treatment they needed, according to the United Nations. Prior to the delivery of humanitarian goods, the last UN delivery of assistance to Rukban was in January, delivered through Jordan. Prior to the November delivery, the government refused to authorize a convoy to travel from Damascus to Rukban.

Armed opposition groups, and terrorist groups such as HTS and ISIS, also impeded humanitarian assistance to IDPs. For example, in March the United Nations criticized the Turkish-backed armed opposition groups, including the FSA, for providing inconsistent, restricted access to IDPs in Afrin. In October the United Kingdom temporarily suspended the delivery of aid to Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province due to HTS taxes on aid trucks. The United Kingdom subsequently resumed aid delivery and, as of November, was still delivering aid to Idlib Province. The SDF and SDC generally facilitated the safe and voluntary return of IDPs during the year, particularly to Raqqa.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: UNHCR maintained that conditions for refugee return to Syria in safety and dignity were not yet in place and did not promote, nor facilitate, the return of refugees to Syria during the year. In July, however, the government and Russia began a diplomatic campaign to encourage the return of refugees to Syria. While Russia reportedly was eager to use the return of Syrian refugees as a means to secure international donations for Syria reconstruction efforts, the Syrian government adopted a more cautious approach on promoting the return of refugees, reportedly due to the government’s suspicion that many Syrian refugees supported the opposition.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR and UNRWA were able to maintain limited protection areas for refugees and asylum seekers, although violence hampered access to vulnerable populations. In coordination with both local and international NGOs, the United Nations continued to provide such individuals essential services and assistance.

Employment: The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the government rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, street vendors, and in other manual jobs.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The government also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to those refugees who entered the country legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation, and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 48,000 non-Palestinian refugees and asylum seekers in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement. UNHCR reported a rise in sexual- and gender-based violence and child-protection concerns among refugees, including child labor, school dropouts, and early marriages.

STATELESS PERSONS

Following the 1962 census, approximately 150,000 Kurds lost their citizenship. A legislative decree had ordained the single-day census in 1962, and the government executed it unannounced with regard to the inhabitants of al-Hasakah Governorate. Anyone not registered for any reason or without all required paperwork became “foreign” from that day onward. The government at the time argued it based its decision on a 1945 wave of alleged illegal immigration of Kurds from neighboring states, including Turkey, to Hasakah, where they allegedly “fraudulently” registered as Syrian citizens. In a similar fashion, authorities recorded anyone who refused to participate as “undocumented.” Because of this loss of citizenship, these Kurds and their descendants lacked identity cards and could not access government services, including health care and education. They also faced social and economic discrimination. Stateless Kurds do not have the right to inherit or bequeath assets, and their lack of citizenship or identity documents restricted their travel to and from the country.

In 2011 President Assad decreed that stateless Kurds in al-Hasakah Governorate who were registered as “foreigners” could apply for citizenship. It was unclear how many Kurds benefited from the decree. UNHCR reported that approximately 40,000 of these Kurds remained unable to obtain citizenship. Likewise, the decree did not extend to the approximately 160,000 “unregistered” stateless Kurds. The change from 150,000 to 160,000 reflected an approximate increase in population since the 1962 census.

Children derive citizenship solely from their father. Because women cannot confer nationality on their children, an unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Mothers could not pass citizenship to children born outside the country, including in neighboring countries operating refugee camps. Children who left the country during the conflict also experienced difficulties obtaining identification necessary to prove citizenship and obtain services.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, citizens were not able to exercise that ability. Outcomes reflected underlying circumstances of elections that impeded and coerced the will of the electorate.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Municipal elections were held on September 16 with approximately 40,000 candidates vying for more than 18,000 council seats in areas controlled by the government. According to media outlets, opposition figures claimed a low turnout because most Syrians considered the elections to be of limited value. Opposition sources, according to Al-Monitor, alleged the government forced civil servants to cast their votes. Multiple reports indicated the government denied access to ballot boxes to Syrians residing in Daraa Province, which the government brought under its control earlier this year following a military offensive. According to observers the results were rigged in favor of the ruling Baath Party. Most of the candidates were either from the Baath Party or associated with it.

In 2016 the country held geographically limited parliamentary elections, the results of which citizens living outside government control rejected. The 2014 presidential election, in which Bashar Assad ostensibly received 88.7 percent of the vote, was neither free nor fair by international standards. Voters faced intimidation by government security forces, and the government forcibly transported state employees in Damascus to polling centers, according to observers and media. Media reports described low overall voter turnout, even among those living in relatively stable areas with access to polling stations. Authorities allowed only persons in government-controlled territory, certain refugee areas, and refugees who left the country after obtaining official permission to vote.

In September 2017 Kurdish authorities held elections for leaders of local “communes” in an effort to establish new governing institutions to augment regional autonomy. The Syrian regime does not recognize the Kurdish enclave or the elections. The Kurdish National Council (KNC, a rival to the PYD) called for a boycott, terming the elections “a flagrant violation of the will of the Kurdish people.” Media outlets reported that the election was monitored by a small group of foreign experts, including a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which runs the Kurdish Regional Government in neighboring Iraq.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides that the Baath Party is the ruling party and assures that it has a majority in all government and popular associations, such as workers’ and women’s groups. The Baath Party and nine smaller satellite political parties constituted the coalition National Progressive Front. The Baath-led National Progressive Front dominated the 250-member People’s Council, holding 200 of the 250 parliament seats following the 2016 election. A 2011 decree allows for the establishment of additional political parties but forbids those based on religion, tribal affiliation, or regional interests.

Membership in the Baath Party or close familial relationships with a prominent party member or powerful government official assisted in economic, social, and educational advancement. Party or government connections made it easier to gain admission to better schools, access lucrative employment, and achieve greater advancement and power within the government, military, and security services. The government reserved certain prominent positions, such as provincial governorships, solely for Baath Party members.

The government showed little tolerance for other political parties, including those allied with the Baath Party in the National Progressive Front. The government harassed parties such as the Communist Union Movement, Communist Action Party, and Arab Social Union. Police arrested members of banned Islamist parties, including Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria. Reliable data on illegal political parties was unavailable.

The PYD generally controlled the political and governance landscape in northeast Syria while allowing for Arab representation in local governance councils. The PYD, however, maintained overall control of critical decisions made by local councils. PYD-affiliated internal security forces at times reportedly detained and forcibly disappeared perceived opponents, and Assyrian and Chaldean protesters accused it of incorporating political indoctrination in the public school curriculum. In June the Washington Institute reported that these forces arrested KNC leaders, burned KNC offices, and prevented KNC members from holding meetings and conferences. The arrests follow a long-standing dispute between the KNC and the PYD, in which the latter accuses the former of working with Turkey and the Syrian opposition to undermine the PYD’s governance apparatus in northeast Syria.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Although there were no formal restrictions, cultural and social barriers largely excluded women from decision-making positions. The government formed after the 2014 election included three female members: Vice President Najah al-Attar, Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Nazira Serkis, and Minister of Social Affairs Rima al-Qadiri. In 2016, 13 percent of members of parliament were women. There were Christian, Druze, and Kurdish members in parliament. In 2017 Hammouda Sabbagh became the first Orthodox Christian elected speaker of parliament. Alawites, the ruling religious minority, held greater political power in the cabinet than other minorities as well as more authority than the majority Sunni sect did.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption continued to be a pervasive problem in police forces, security services, migration management agencies, and throughout the government.

Corruption: Due to the lack of free press and opposition access to instruments of government and media, there was almost no detailed information about corruption, except petty corruption. Freedom House reported that to secure its support base the government regularly distributed patronage in the form of public resources and implemented policies to benefit favored industries and companies. Authorities reportedly awarded government contracts and trade deals to allies like Iran and Russia, possibly as compensation for political and military aid. Basic state services and humanitarian aid reportedly were extended or withheld based on a community’s demonstrated political loyalty to the government, providing additional leverage for bribe-seeking officials.

For example, President Bashar Assad’s cousin, Rami Makhlouf, reportedly was known as “Mr. 5 Percent” or “Mr. 10 Percent,” depending on the size of the deal. As late as 2011, Makhlouf reportedly controlled 60 percent of the country’s economy. The Panama Papers, Swissleaks, and most recently the Paradise Papers chronicled his money laundering and sanctions busting activities. In April the Anticorruption Digest reported that Makhlouf stands to benefit from the presidential decree addressing confiscation of unregistered properties (see section 1.e.).

Human rights lawyers and family members of detainees stated that government officials in courts and prisons solicited bribes for favorable decisions and provision of basic services. For example, the New York Times reported in February that artist Najah al-Bukai won his release from detention at Branch 227 after his wife bribed officials with more than 10 million Syrian pounds ($20,000).

Financial Disclosure: There are no public financial disclosure laws for public officials.

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

The government restricted attempts to investigate alleged human rights violations, criminalized their publication, and refused to cooperate with any independent attempts to investigate alleged violations. The government did not grant permission for the formation of any domestic human rights organizations. Nevertheless, hundreds of such groups operated illegally in the country.

The government was highly suspicious of international human rights NGOs and did not allow them into the country. The government normally responded to queries from human rights organizations and foreign embassies regarding specific cases by denying the facts of the case or by reporting that the case was still under investigation, the prisoner in question had violated national security laws, or, if the case was in criminal court, the executive branch could not interfere with the judiciary. The government denied organizations access to locations where government agents launched assaults on antigovernment protesters or allegedly held prisoners detained on political grounds. The United Nations reported that the government also actively restricted the activities of humanitarian aid organizations, especially along supply routes and access points near opposition-controlled areas (see section 1.g.).

There were numerous reports the government harassed domestic human rights activists by subjecting them to regular surveillance and travel bans, property seizure, detention, torture, forcible disappearance, and extrajudicial killings. For example, human rights lawyer Khalil Ma’touq and his assistant, Mohamed Zaza, reportedly disappeared from a government checkpoint near Damascus in 2012. HRW reported the government moved the two men among various detention facilities in Damascus, including the Palestine Branch, a detention center run by Military Intelligence. In October the SOHR again called on the government for information on the welfare and whereabouts of Ma’touq and Zaza.

Terrorist groups, including ISIS, violently attacked organizations and individuals seeking to investigate human rights abuses or advocate for improved practices. The SDF and other opposition groups occasionally imposed restrictions on human rights organizations or harassed individual activists.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government continued to deny access for the COI, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to document and report on human rights violations and abuses in the country. It did not cooperate fully with numerous UN bodies, resulting in restrictions on access for humanitarian organizations, especially to opposition-controlled areas.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape is punishable by imprisonment and hard labor of at least 15 years (at least nine years in mitigating circumstances), which is aggravated if the perpetrator is a government official, religious official, or has legitimate or actual authority over the victim; male rape is punishable by imprisonment up to three years. The law specifically excludes spousal rape, and it reduces or suspends punishment if the rapist marries the victim. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and other UN agencies, NGOs, and media characterized rape and sexual violence as endemic, underreported, and uncontrolled in the country. Humanitarian organizations reported that women, men, and community leaders consistently identified sexual violence as a primary reason their families fled the country. In March the COI reported that government and progovernment forces regularly used rape and sexual violence to terrorize and punish women, men, and children perceived as associated with the opposition, as did terrorist groups such as HTS and ISIS. There were instances, comparatively far fewer, of armed opposition groups reportedly raping women and children. HTS and ISIS also reportedly forced women and girls into sexual slavery (see sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.g.).

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, but it stipulates that men may discipline their female relatives in a form permitted by general custom. According to a November 2017 UNFPA report, violence against women and children was pervasive and increasing due to conflict and the lack of economic opportunity for men. Victims did not report the vast majority of cases. Security forces consistently treated violence against women as a social rather than a criminal matter. Observers reported that when some abused women tried to file a police report, police did not investigate their reports thoroughly, if at all, and that in other cases police officers responded by abusing the women.

In previous years several domestic violence centers operated in Damascus; the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor licensed them. Local NGOs reported, however, that many centers no longer operated due to the conflict. There were no known government-run services for women outside Damascus. According to local human rights organizations, local coordination committees and other opposition-related groups offered programming specifically for protection of women; NGOs did not integrate these programs throughout the country, and none reported reliable funding.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permits judges to reduce penalties for murder and assault if the defendant asserts an “honor” defense, which often occurred. The government kept no official statistics on use of this defense in murder and assault cases and reportedly rarely pursued prosecution of so-called honor crimes. There were no officially reported honor killings during the year, but UNFPA reported in November 2017 that honor killings increased since the onset of the crisis in 2011 due to increased sexual violence and lawlessness. For example, UNFPA cited an adolescent girl in Mare, Aleppo, whose friend reportedly was killed by her father when she returned after being kidnapped. To protect their daughters, UNFPA reported that many families arranged for them to marry earlier, leading to an increase in early and forced marriage. NGOs working with refugees reported families killed some rape victims inside the country, including those raped by government forces, for reasons of honor.

The terrorist groups ISIS and HTS permitted and committed so-called honor killings in territories under their control (see section 1.g.).

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender but does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Sexual harassment was pervasive, uncontrolled, and increasing, according to a November 2017 report by UNFPA. For example, UNFPA cited an adolescent girl from Saraqab, Idlib, who said she formerly returned from university in Aleppo at night without any problems but that harassment of girls has spread, even in the daytime; her parents became worried and prevented her from leaving home.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization by the government, but previous reports from Iraq and NGOs such as Yazda and the Free Yezidi Foundation found that ISIS forced Yezidi women whom they had impregnated to have abortions. There were reports that ISIS transferred some Yezidi women captives from Iraq to Syria, and the COI reported in March that some ISIS fighters were seen fleeing Raqqa and Deir al-Zour in 2017 with women believed to be Yezidi captives (see section 1.g.).

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, nationality, inheritance, retirement, and social security laws discriminate against women.

For example, if a man and a woman separately commit the same criminal act of adultery, then by law the woman’s punishment is double that of the man’s. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, but the law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony in some cases. Under the law a divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they reach age 13 and of her daughters at age 15, when guardianship transfers to the paternal side of the family. For Muslims in particular, personal status law discriminates against women. Church law governs personal status issues for Christians, in some cases barring divorce. Some personal status laws mirror sharia regardless of the religion of those involved in the case. While the constitution provides the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. Women cannot pass citizenship to their children. The government’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except Christians. Accordingly, courts usually granted Muslim women half of the inheritance share of male heirs. In all communities, male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they do not, women have the right to sue.

The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.

Before the conflict began, 13 percent of women participated in the formal labor force, compared with 73 percent of men. Both male and female employment participation decreased as violence and insecurity increased, (The International Labor Organization estimated female employment fell by slightly more than 1 percent while male employment fell by almost 3 percent from 2011 to 2017). UNFPA reported local female employment participation increased in Damascus, Raqqa, Daraa, and elsewhere since the need to support the family forced women to work because many men could no longer do so.

The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered.

Women participated in public life and in most professions, including the armed forces, although UNFPA reported that violence and lawlessness in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.

The terrorist groups ISIS and HTS reportedly placed similar discriminatory restrictions on women and girls in the territories they controlled. For example, in March the COI reported that HTS or ISIS or both: forced women and girls into marriage; imposed a dress code on women and girls; banned women and girls from wearing makeup; required that women and girls must be accompanied by a “mahram” or male member of their immediate family; forbade women from speaking with unrelated men or hosting men who were not their husband; forbade widows from living alone; banned women’s centers; banned meetings with mixed male and female participation; and segregated classrooms. Both ISIS and HTS maintained all-female police units to support the Hisbah in enforcing these regulations, sometimes violently, among women. Summary punishments for infractions ranged from corporal punishment such as lashing to execution.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship solely from their father. In large areas of the country where civil registries were not functioning, authorities did not register births. The government did not register the births of Kurdish noncitizen residents, including stateless Kurds (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). Failure to register resulted in deprivation of services, such as diplomas for high school-level studies, access to universities, access to formal employment, and civil documentation and protection.

Education: The government provided free public education to citizen children from primary school through university. Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and 12. Enrollment, attendance, and completion rates for boys and girls generally were comparable. Noncitizen children could also attend public schools at no cost but required permission from the Ministry of Education. While Palestinians and other noncitizens, including stateless Kurds, could generally send their children to school and universities, stateless Kurds were ineligible to receive a degree documenting their academic achievement.

The conflict and widespread destruction continued to hamper the ability of children to attend school. In June the Assistance Coordination Unit, a local NGO, reported that only 9 percent of the assessed functional schools provided upper secondary education, 36 percent offered lower secondary education, 56 percent offered primary education, and almost one-third of the assessed schools did not separate the various teaching levels.

The terrorist groups, ISIS and HTS, reportedly imposed their interpretation of sharia on schools and discriminated against girls in the territories they controlled. For example, in March the COI reported that HTS and ISIS: segregated classrooms by gender, dismissed students for dress code violations, imposed their curriculum on teachers, and closed private schools and educational centers. ISIS also banned several basic education subjects, such as chemistry and philosophy.

Child Abuse: The law does not specifically prohibit child abuse, but it stipulates that parents may discipline their children in a form permitted by general custom. According to a November 2017 UNFPA report, violence against children, especially girls, was pervasive and increasing due to conflict and the lack of economic opportunity for men.

There were reports of government and progovernment forces, as well as the terrorist groups HTS and ISIS, sexually assaulting, torturing, detaining, killing, and otherwise abusing children (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., and 1.g.). In July Urnammu reported extensively on such abuses.

The terrorist groups HTS and ISIS subjected children to extremely harsh punishment, including execution, in the territories they controlled (see section 1.g.).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women. A boy as young as 15 or a girl as young as 13 may marry if a judge deems both parties willing and “physically mature” and if the fathers or grandfathers of both parties consent. Early and forced marriages were increasingly common, as were abusive temporary marriages.

In November 2017 UNFPA reported early marriage had evolved from a cultural practice to an increasingly used coping mechanism during the war. Many families reportedly arranged marriages for girls, including at younger ages than pre-2011, believing that it would protect them and ease the financial burden on the family.

There were instances of early and forced marriage of girls to members of government, progovernment, and armed opposition forces.

In previous years ISIS abducted and sexually exploited Yezidi girls in Iraq and transported them to Syria for rape and forced marriage; many of those Yezidi women and girls remained captive during the year (see section 1.g. and section 6, Women). In March the COI reported that ISIS perceived unmarried women and girls older than the age of puberty as a threat to social order. As a result, from 2014 onwards, ISIS began to marry forcibly Sunni (also minority) girls and women living in territories under its control. Some of those forced to marry ISIS members were adults, including widows, but the vast majority of cases the COI documented revealed that girls between 12 and 16 years old were victims of forced marriage. Many women and girls reportedly were passed among multiple ISIS fighters, some as many as six or seven times within two years. HTS also reportedly forced Druze and other minority women and girls into marriage, as well as Sunni women and girls.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates penalties for those found guilty of certain forms of child abuse associated with trafficking crimes, including kidnapping and forced prostitution, both of which carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. The law considers child pornography a trafficking crime, but the punishment for child pornography was set at the local level with “appropriate penalties.” It was also unclear if there had been any prosecutions for child pornography or if authorities enforced the law.

The age of sexual consent by law is 15 with no close-in-age exemption. Premarital sex is illegal, but observers reported authorities did not enforce the law. Rape of a child under the age of 15 is punishable by not less than 21 years’ imprisonment and hard labor. There were no reports of government prosecution of child rape cases.

Child Soldiers: Several sources documented the continued unlawful recruitment and use of children in combat (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: There was a large population of IDP children and some refugee children as well. These children reportedly experienced increased vulnerability to abuses, including by armed forces (see sections 1.c., 1.g., and 2.d.).

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

Anti-Semitism

In 2016 NGOs estimated fewer than 20–perhaps fewer than 10–Jews remained in the country. The national school curriculum did not include materials on tolerance education or the Holocaust. There is no designation of religion on passports or national identity cards, except for Jews.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, and other state services, but the government did not enforce these provisions effectively. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and seeks to integrate them into the workforce, reserving 4 percent of government jobs and 2 percent of private-sector jobs for persons with disabilities. Private-sector businesses are eligible for tax exemptions after hiring persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for assisting persons with disabilities, and it worked through dedicated charities and organizations to provide assistance. Authorities did not fully document the number of persons with disabilities, but the NGO Humanity and Inclusion (HI, formerly Handicap International) reported in April that 30,000 new conflict-related trauma cases per month were leading to thousands of permanent disabilities. According to the local NGO Syria Relief, persons with disabilities remained among the most hidden, neglected, and socially excluded of all displaced persons in the country. They reportedly were not often recognized or calculated in record-keeping and data-collection exercises, contributing to neglect.

The destruction of schools and hospitals, most often by government and progovernment forces, limited access to education and health services for persons with disabilities, but government and nongovernment social care institutes reportedly existed for blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, and physical and intellectual disabilities. The government did not effectively work to provide access for persons with disabilities to information, communications, building, or transportation. In its November 2017 report, UNFPA detailed how educational institutions, early childcare centers, Quranic schools, and women’s centers often were easily accessible to community members with the exception of the elderly and persons with disabilities. UNFPA further stated that persons with disability were sometimes denied aid, as they could not access it, and some distribution centers required presence in person.

According to a 2017 report by the Syria Reliance Consortium of HI and other international NGOs, 50 percent of households surveyed, who counted a member with a disability, suffered from poor food consumption, compared with 34 percent for households without persons with a disability. In April HI reported that women and girls with disabilities were three times more likely to experience gender-based violence compared with nondisabled women. For example, in a November 2017 report, UNFPA cited the case of a young man in Sweida who lured and raped a disabled girl playing in the street by offering her candy. There was no indication that the government effectively investigated or punished those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The government actively restricted national and ethnic minorities from conducting traditional, religious, and cultural activities. The Kurdish population–citizens and noncitizens–faced official and societal discrimination and repression as well as government-sponsored violence. Government and progovernment forces, as well as ISIS and armed opposition forces such as the Turkish-backed FSA, reportedly arrested, detained, tortured, killed, and otherwise abused numerous Kurdish activists and individuals, as well as members of the SDF, during the year (see section 1.g.).

The government continued to limit the use and teaching of the Kurdish language. It also restricted publication in Kurdish of books and other materials, Kurdish cultural expression, and at times the celebration of Kurdish festivals.

The Alawite community, to which Bashar Assad belongs, enjoyed privileged status throughout the government and dominated the state security apparatus and military leadership. Nevertheless, the government reportedly also targeted Alawite opposition activists for arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, and killing. Extremist opposition groups targeted Alawite communities on several occasions for their perceived progovernment stance.

In March the COI reported that armed opposition groups detained hundreds of women and girls belonging to minority groups, particularly Alawites, and used them as bargaining chips for initiating prisoner swaps with government and progovernment forces.

The terrorist groups ISIS and HTS violently oppressed and discriminated against all non-Sunni Arab ethnic minorities in the territories they controlled (see section 1.g.).

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, defined as “carnal relations against the order of nature,” and punishable by imprisonment up to three years.

In previous years police used this charge to prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were no reports of prosecutions under the law during the year, but NGO reports indicated the government arrested dozens of LGBTI persons since 2011 on charges such as abusing social values; selling, buying, or consuming illegal drugs; and organizing and promoting “obscene” parties. Local media and NGOs reported instances in which government and progovernment forces used accusations of homosexuality as a pretext to detain, arrest, torture, and kill civilians. The frequency of such instances was difficult to determine, since police rarely reported their rationale for arrests.

Although there were no known domestic NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, there were several online networking communities, including an online LGBTI-oriented magazine. Human rights activists reported there was overt societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of society.

The terrorist groups ISIS and HTS regularly detained, tortured, and killed LGBTI individuals in the territories they controlled (see section 1.g.). For example, in its March report, the COI described how in 2016 HTS predecessor Jabhat al-Nusra accused two men of being homosexuals, tied their hands behind their backs, announced the accusations of homosexuality over loudspeakers, and threw the two men from the third floor of a building in Sheikhoun, Idlib. Similarly, the COI reported that ISIS executed males, including boys raped by older men, on charges of sodomy and widely circulated videos of the executions to terrorize populations under their control. For example, in its March report, the COI reported that Hisbah belonging to ISIS arrested a teenage boy in Raqqa, charged him with sodomy, and threw him off a building.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but human rights activists believed such cases were underreported and the UN Development Program (UNDP) noted that stigma affected access to health care. The Ministry of Health claimed in December 2017 there were 35 known cases of HIV/AIDS in the country, while UNDP estimated there were 450 persons with HIV/AIDS. The UNDP and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria assessed that the incapability of the health-care sector to identify newly infected persons or offer medical support in a hostile environment posed a major problem and added to the risk of further spread of the disease among the general population.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Yezidis, Druze, Christians, and other religious minorities were subject to violence and discrimination by ISIS (see section 1.g.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

While the law provides for the right to form and join unions, conduct legal labor strikes, and bargain collectively, there were excessive restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but also allows employers to fire workers at will.

The law requires all unions to belong to the government-affiliated General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). The law prohibits strikes involving more than 20 workers in certain sectors, including transportation and telecommunications, or strike actions resembling public demonstrations. Restrictions on freedom of association also included fines and prison sentences for illegal strikes.

The law requires that government representatives be part of the bargaining process in the public sector, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor could object to, and refuse to register, any agreements concluded. The law and relevant labor protections do not apply to workers covered under civil service provisions, under which employees neither have nor considered to need collective bargaining rights. The law does not apply to foreign domestic servants, agricultural workers, NGO employees, or informal-sector workers. There are no legal protections for self-employed workers, although they constituted a significant proportion of the total workforce. Foreign workers may join the syndicate representing their profession but may not run for elected positions, with the exception of Palestinians, who may serve as elected officials in unions.

The government did not enforce applicable laws effectively or make any serious attempt to do so during the year. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The Baath Party dominated the GFTU, and Baath Party doctrine stipulates that its quasi-official constituent unions protect worker rights. The GFTU president was a senior member of the Baath Party, and he and his deputy could attend cabinet meetings on economic affairs. In previous years the GFTU controlled most aspects of union activity, including which sectors or industries could have unions. It also had the power to disband union governing bodies. Union elections were generally free of direct GFTU interference, but successful campaigns usually required membership in the Baath Party. Because of the GFTU’s close ties to the government, the right to bargain collectively did not exist in practical terms. Although the law provides for collective bargaining in the private sector, past government repression dissuaded most workers from exercising this right.

There was little information available on employer practices with regard to antiunion discrimination. Unrest and economic decline during the year caused many workers to lose their private-sector jobs, giving employers the stronger hand in disputes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and such practices existed. The Syrian Penal Code does not define forced labor. The code states, “Those sentenced to forced labor will be strictly required to do work with difficulty on par with their sex, age, and may be inside or outside of the prison.” The Penal Code allows for forced labor as a mandatory or optional sentence for numerous crimes, such as treason. Authorities may sentence convicted prisoners to hard labor, although according to the International Labor Organization, authorities seldom enforced such a sentence. There was little information available on government efforts to enforce relevant laws during the year or on the effectiveness of penalties to deter violations.

Terrorist groups, including ISIS and HTS, reportedly forced, coerced, or fraudulently recruited some foreigners, including migrants from Central Asia, children, and western women to join them. Thousands of Yezidi women and girl captives of ISIS remained missing and were presumed to have served as sex slaves and in domestic servitude (see section 1.g.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibits the worst forms of child labor. There was little publicly available information on enforcement of child labor law. The government generally did not make significant efforts to enforce laws that prevent or eliminate child labor. Independent information and audits regarding government enforcement were not available. The minimum age for most types of nonagricultural labor is 15 or the completion of elementary schooling, whichever occurs first, and the minimum age for employment in industries with heavy work is 17. Parental permission is required for children younger than age 16 to work. Children younger than age 18 may work no more than six hours a day and may not work overtime or during night shifts, weekends, or on official holidays. The law specifies that authorities should apply “appropriate penalties” to violators. Restrictions on child labor do not apply to those who work in family businesses and do not receive a salary.

Child labor occurred in the country in both informal sectors, such as begging, domestic work, and agriculture, as well as in positions related to the conflict, such as lookouts, spies, and informants. Conflict-related work subjected children to significant dangers of retaliation and violence.

Various forces, particularly terrorist groups and government-aligned groups, continued to recruit and use child soldiers (see section 1.g.).

Organized begging rings continued to subject children displaced within the country to forced labor. In October UNICEF reported that 5.3 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance. As of October UNICEF also reported that fighting destroyed, damaged, or occupied one in every three schools; 1.75 million children were out of school (more than 2.6 million Syrian children, including refugees and others in the diaspora); another 1.35 million were at risk for leaving school.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Since the law criminalizes homosexuality, many persons faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation. Discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred in hiring and access to worksites. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to certain minority groups (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law divides the public-sector monthly minimum wage into five levels based on job type or level of education, almost all of which fell below the World Bank’s poverty indicator of almost 1,000 Syrian pounds ($1.90) per day. Benefits included compensation for meals, uniforms, and transportation. Most public-sector employees relied on bribery to supplement their income. Private-sector companies usually paid much higher wages, with lower-end wage rates semi-officially set by the government and employer organizations. Many workers in the public and private sectors took additional manual jobs or relied on their extended families to support them.

The public-sector workweek was 35 hours, and the standard private-sector workweek was 40 hours, excluding meals and rest breaks. Hours of work could increase or decrease based on the industry and associated health hazards. The law provides for at least one meal or rest break totaling no less than one hour per day. Employers must schedule hours of work and rest such that workers do not work more than five consecutive hours or 10 hours per day in total. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime work.

The government set occupational safety and health standards. The law includes provisions mandating that employers take appropriate precautions to protect workers from hazards inherent to the nature of work. The law does not protect workers who chose to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety from losing their employment.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and other regulations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work. The Ministries of Health and of Social Affairs and Labor designated officials to inspect worksites for compliance with health and safety standards. Workers could lodge complaints about health and safety conditions with special committees established to adjudicate such cases. Wage and hour regulations as well as occupational health and safety rules do not apply to migrant workers, rendering them more vulnerable to abuse.

There was little information on government enforcement of labor law or working conditions during the year. There were no health and safety inspections reported, and even previous routine inspections of tourist facilities such as hotels and major restaurants no longer occurred. The enforcement of labor law was lax in both rural and urban areas, since many inspector positions were vacant due to the violence, and their number was insufficient to cover more than 10,000 workplaces. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Foreign workers, especially domestic workers, remained vulnerable to exploitative conditions. For example, the law does not legally entitle foreign female domestic workers to the same wages as Syrian domestic workers. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is in charge of regulating employment agencies responsible for providing safe working conditions for migrant domestic workers, but the scope of oversight was unknown. The continued unrest resulted in the large-scale voluntary departure of foreign workers as demand for services significantly declined, but violence and lawlessness impeded some foreign workers from leaving the country.

Ukraine

Executive Summary

IN THIS SECTION: Ukraine (BELOW) | Crimea

Note: Except where otherwise noted, references in this report do not include areas controlled by Russia-led forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine or Russian-occupied Crimea. At the end of this report is a section listing abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Ukraine is a republic with a semi-presidential political system composed of three branches of government: a unicameral legislature (Verkhovna Rada); an executive led by a directly elected president who is head of state and commander in chief, and a prime minister who is chosen through a legislative majority and as head of government leads the Cabinet of Ministers; and a judiciary. The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2014; international and domestic observers considered both elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces in the territory controlled by the government.

Following the Russian Federation’s November 25 attack on and seizure of Ukrainian ships and crewmembers in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait, the country instituted martial law for a period of 30 days in 10 oblasts bordering areas in which Russian forces are located. Martial law expired December 27 with no reports of rights having been restricted during the time.

Human rights issues included: civilian casualties, enforced disappearances, torture, and other abuses committed in the context of the Russia-induced and -fueled conflict in the Donbas region; abuse of detainees by law enforcement; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention; censorship; blocking of websites; refoulement; the government’s increasing failure to hold accountable perpetrators of violence against activists, journalists, ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; widespread government corruption; and worst forms of child labor.

The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. Human rights groups and the United Nations noted significant deficiencies in investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by government security forces, in particular into allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other abuses reportedly committed by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The perpetrators of the 2014 Euromaidan shootings in Kyiv had not been held to account.

Russia-led forces in the Donbas region engaged in: enforced disappearances, torture, and unlawful detention; committed gender-based violence; interfered with freedom of expression, including of the press, peaceful assembly, and association; restricted movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; and unduly restricted humanitarian aid.

Human rights issues in Russian-occupied Crimea included: politically motivated disappearances; torture and abuse of detainees to extract confessions and punish persons resisting the occupation; politically motivated imprisonment; and interference with the freedoms of expression, including of the press, and assembly and association. Crimea occupation authorities intensified violence and harassment of Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists in response to peaceful opposition to Russian occupation (see Crimea sub-report).

Investigations into alleged human rights abuses related to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the continuing aggression in the Donbas region remained incomplete due to lack of government control in those territories and the refusal of Russia and Russia-led forces to investigate abuse allegations.

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

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

There was at least one report that the government or its agents committed possible arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Human rights organizations and media outlets reported deaths in prisons or detention centers due to torture or negligence by police or prison officers (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions). For example on September 2, a detainee who was being held alone in a cell was found dead in Lukyanivske pretrial facility in Kyiv. According to the forensic examination, the cause of death was damage to the internal organs. Police opened a murder investigation.

There were civilian casualties in connection with the conflict in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts between government and Russia-led forces (see section 1.g.).

There were reports of politically motivated killings by nongovernment actors, and in one case with the alleged involvement of a parliamentary aide. For example, on July 31, an unknown person poured concentrated sulfuric acid on public activist and advisor to the Kherson city mayor, Kateryna Handzyuk, resulting in serious chemical burns to over a third of her body. Handzyuk died of her injuries on November 4. Police at first opened a criminal investigation for “hooliganism.” They later requalified the attack as “causing severe bodily harm,” and then changed it to “attempted murder.” In August authorities arrested five suspects. In November authorities arrested a sixth individual, Ihor Pavlovsky, who at the time of the attack was an assistant to Mykola Palamarchuk, member of parliament for Bloc Petro Poroshenko. Human rights groups believed that the men arrested were credibly connected to the attack but criticized authorities for not identifying the individuals who ordered the attack. On November 6, parliament formed an interim parliamentary commission to investigate the murder of Handzyuk and attacks on other activists. Activists and media questioned the committee’s ability to impartially and effectively investigate or resolve the attacks because of the alleged political connections of some committee members.

On January 2, the body of lawyer Iryna Nozdrovska was found in a river in Kyiv Oblast with stab wounds and other signs of a violent death. Nozdrovska had criticized law enforcement and court authorities while pursuing justice for her sister, who had been hit and killed in 2015 by a car driven by an intoxicated driver, Dmytro Rossoshanskiy, who was the nephew of a powerful local judge. On January 8, authorities arrested Yuriy Rossoshanskiy, the father of Dmytro, and charged him with murdering Nozdrovska. Yuriy and Dmytro Rossoshanskiy were reported to have previously threatened Nozdrovska and her mother in retaliation for their support of the case against Dmytro. Authorities referred the case for trial on August 15. Media and civil society widely criticized a lack of transparency in the investigation and noted that many questions remain unanswered about the case, including the possibility that there were other assailants involved in the killing.

Authorities made no arrests during the year in connection with the 2016 killing of prominent Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet. On August 2, Sheremet’s widow filed a lawsuit against the prosecutor general, alleging inaction by his office on the case. Human rights and press freedom watchdog groups expressed concern about the lack of progress in the government’s investigation, suggesting high-level obstruction or investigatory incompetence as potential reasons. Independent journalistic investigations of the killing released in May 2017 uncovered significant evidence that investigators had apparently overlooked. President Poroshenko expressed dissatisfaction with the progress of the investigation in February during a press conference.

Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) noted some progress in the investigation of the killings of protesters. Human rights groups criticized the low number of convictions despite the existence of considerable evidence. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, as of late November, 279 persons had been indicted and 52 had been found guilty.

The HRMMU noted there was limited progress in the investigation and legal proceedings connected to a 2014 trade union building fire in Odesa that stemmed from violent clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian unity demonstrators. During the clashes and fire, 48 persons died, including six prounity and 42 pro-Russia individuals. On May 30, an indictment against the former heads of the Odesa city police and the city public security department for “abuse of authority or office” was submitted to the Prymorsky district court in Odesa. The trial against the head of the Odesa Oblast police on charges of abuse of authority, forgery, and dereliction of duty in protecting people from danger continued. Observers noted that appeal proceedings challenging the September 2017 acquittal by the Chornomorsk court in Odesa Oblast of 19 defendants in the 2014 trade union building fire case due to lack of evidence appeared to be stalled.

b. Disappearance

There were multiple reports of politically motivated disappearances in connection with the conflict between the government and Russia-led forces in the Donbas region (see section 1.g.).

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel and unusual punishment, there were reports that law enforcement authorities engaged in such abuse. While courts cannot legally use as evidence in court proceedings confessions and statements made under duress to police by persons in custody, there were reports that police and other law enforcement officials abused and, at times, tortured persons in custody to obtain confessions.

In the Donbas region, there were reports that government and progovernment forces at times committed abuses, including torture, against individuals detained on national security grounds. There were reports that Russia-led forces in the so-called “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk systematically committed numerous abuses, including torture, to maintain control or for personal financial gain. According to international organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), abuses included beatings, forced labor, psychological and physical torture, public humiliation, and sexual violence (see section 1.g.).

Abuse of prisoners and detainees by police remained a widespread problem. In its report on the seventh periodic visit to the country, published on September 6, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) expressed concern over a considerable number of recent and credible allegations from detained persons regarding excessive use of force by police and physical abuse aimed at obtaining additional information or extracting a confession.

In a report released on June 8 on his visit to the country, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (UN SRT) stated that, according to victims he had interviewed, during interrogations “police forces reportedly resorted to kicking and beating, used suffocation techniques, most notably by placing plastic bags over the head, suspension and prolonged stress position. Numerous inmates also reported having been electrocuted and, in some cases, subjected to mock executions. Several detainees showed signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and some still displayed visible marks of mistreatment and torture. Others reported having been subjected to techniques of torture specifically designed to leave no marks.” On February 26, in Odesa Oblast, two patrol police detained and allegedly beat motorist Serhiy Grazhdan, claiming that he was driving drunk. According to press reports, police threw Grazhdan to the ground, handcuffed him, and beat him until he lost consciousness. When Grazhdan’s wife attempted to intervene, police threatened her with a gun. Grazhdan was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Police opened two investigations–one into the actions of the police officers and another into allegations that Grazhdan insulted and inflicted minor injuries on one of the arresting officers.

There were reports of sexual violence being committed in the context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine (see section 1.g.).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, did not meet international standards, and at times posed a serious threat to the life and health of prisoners. Physical abuse, lack of proper medical care and nutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate light were persistent problems.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem in some pretrial detention facilities. While authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, there were reports that juveniles and adults were often not separated in some pretrial detention facilities, a concern emphasized in the June 8 UN SRT report.

Physical abuse by guards was a problem. For example on June 8, staff of the Chernivtsi pretrial facility brutally beat detainees, one of whom was hospitalized in the intensive care unit of the local hospital as a result. According to the detainees’ relatives, staff allegedly beat detainees while they were handcuffed, and humiliated them by making them squat and crawl. The administration of the remand facility claimed they were attempting to put down a riot. The local prosecutor’s office conducted an investigation of the incident, which concluded that prison staff had not exceeded their authority.

There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. The CPT noted that inter-prisoner violence was a problem in all but one of the establishments it visited. For example, on August 18, staff of the Lukyanivske penitentiary facility found a 34-year-old inmate who had been beaten to death by his cellmate.

Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and pretrial detention facilities were harsher than in low- and medium-security prisons. Temporary detention facilities often had insect and rodent infestations and lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities. The CPT expressed concern that prisoners in pretrial detention were generally not offered any out-of-cell activities other than outdoor exercise for an hour per day in small yards.

The quality of food in prisons was generally poor. According to the June report of the UN SRT, inmates received three meals a day, although in most places the food was described as “inedible,” leading inmates to rely on supplementary food they received through parcels from family. According to CPT, in some pretrial detention centers, detainees did not have consistent access to food and water. According to UN SRT, most hygienic products including toilet paper, soap, and feminine hygiene products were not provided and detainees relied on supplies provided by family or donated by humanitarian organizations. In some facilities, cells had limited access to daylight and were not properly heated or ventilated.

UN and other international monitors documented systemic problems with the provision of medical care. The CPT observed a lack of medical confidentiality, poor recording of injuries, and deficient access to specialists, including gynecological and psychiatric care. There was a shortage of all kinds of medications with an over-reliance on prisoners and their families to provide most of the medicines. Conditions in prison healthcare facilities were poor and unhygienic. Bureaucratic and financial impediments prevented the prompt transfer of inmates to city hospitals, resulting in their prolonged suffering, and delayed diagnoses and treatment.

As of February more than 9,000 detainees were in Russia-controlled territory. On February 7, under the auspices of the Ombudsman’s Office, 20 prisoners incarcerated in Russia-controlled territory were transferred to penal facilities on government-controlled territory. Since 2015 a total of 198 inmates had been transferred to the penitentiary facilities in government-controlled areas.

The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in Russia-controlled areas continued to deteriorate. According to the Justice for Peace coalition, there was an extensive network of unofficial places of detention in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts located in basements, sewage wells, garages, and industrial enterprises. In most cases, these places were not suitable for even short-term detention. There were reports of severe shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care. The HRMMU was denied access to detainees in the Russia-controlled territory of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)” and “Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).” The lack of access to detainees raised concerns about the conditions of detention and treatment. The UN SPT was granted access to places of detention in the “DPR” and “LPR,” but this was limited to preselected sites and he was unable to conduct confidential interviews with detainees. The UN SPT indicated that these restrictions did not allow him to fulfill his mandate in this part of Ukraine. Based upon his limited observations of official detention facilities in the “DPR,” he reported that healthcare appeared to be restricted, the quality of the food was reported to be unacceptable, and ventilation and sanitation appeared very poor. The East Human Rights Group continued to report systemic abuses against prisoners in the “LPR,” such as torture, starvation, denial of medical care, and solitary confinement as well as the extensive use of prisoners as slave labor to produce goods that, when sold, provided personal income to the leaders of the Russia-led forces.

Administration: Although prisoners and detainees may file complaints about conditions in custody with the human rights ombudsman, human rights organizations noted prison officials continued to censor or discourage complaints and penalized and abused inmates who filed them. Human rights groups reported that legal norms did not always provide for confidentiality of complaints. According to representatives of the national preventive mechanism, an organization that conducted monitoring visits of places of detention, authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of complaints.

While officials generally allowed prisoners, except those in disciplinary cells, to receive visitors, prisoner rights groups noted some families had to pay bribes to obtain permission for prison visits to which they were entitled by law.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups, including the CPT, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the UN SRT. During its May-June visit, the UN SRT also had access to a very restricted set of facilities in the “DPR” and the “LPR.”

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit 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.

The HRMMU and other monitoring groups reported numerous arbitrary detentions in connection with the conflict in eastern Ukraine (see section 1.g.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for maintaining internal security and order. The ministry oversees police and other law enforcement personnel. The SBU is responsible for state security broadly defined, nonmilitary intelligence, and counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reports to the Cabinet of Ministers, and the SBU reports directly to the president. The State Fiscal Service exercises law enforcement powers through the tax police and reports to the Cabinet of Ministers. The State Migration Service under the Ministry of Internal Affairs implements state policy regarding border security, migration, citizenship, and registration of refugees and other migrants.

Security forces generally prevented or responded to societal violence. At times, however, they used excessive force to disperse protests or, in some cases, failed to protect victims from harassment or violence. For example, on June 8, a group of violent nationalists from the National Druzhina organization–established with support from the National Corps–attacked and destroyed a Romani camp in Kyiv after its residents failed to respond to their ultimatum to leave the area within 24 hours. Police were present but made no arrests, and in a video of the attack posted on social media, police could be seen making casual conversation with the nationalists following the attack.

Civilian authorities generally had control over law enforcement agencies but rarely took action to punish abuses committed by security forces. Impunity for abuses by law enforcement agencies remained a significant problem that was frequently highlighted by the HRMMU in its reports as well as by other human rights groups. The HRMMU noted authorities were unwilling to investigate allegations of torture and other abuses, particularly when the victims had been detained on grounds related to national security or were seen as pro-Russian.

While authorities sometimes brought charges against members of the security services, cases often remained under investigation without being brought to trial while authorities allowed alleged perpetrators to continue their work. According to an April report by the Expert Center for Human Rights, only 3 percent of criminal cases against law enforcement authorities for physical abuse of detainees were transferred to court. In addition, human rights groups criticized the lack of progress in investigations of alleged crimes in areas retaken by the government from Russia-led forces, resulting in continuing impunity for these crimes. In particular, investigations of alleged crimes committed by Russia-led forces in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk in 2014 appeared stalled. Human rights groups believed that many local law enforcement personnel collaborated with Russia-led forces when they controlled the cities.

Under the law, members of the parliament have authority to conduct investigations and public hearings into law enforcement problems. The human rights ombudsman may also initiate investigations into abuses by security forces.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated it provides 80 hours of compulsory human rights training to security forces, focusing on the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Law enforcement training institutions also include courses on human rights, rule of law, constitutional rights, tolerance and nondiscrimination, prevention of domestic violence, and freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law, authorities may detain a suspect for three days without a warrant, after which a judge must issue a warrant authorizing continued detention. Authorities in some cases detained persons for longer than three days without a warrant.

Prosecutors must bring detainees before a judge within 72 hours, and pretrial detention should not exceed six months for minor crimes and 12 months for serious ones. Persons have the right to consult a lawyer upon their detention. According to the law, prosecutors may detain suspects accused of terrorist activities for up to 30 days without charges or a bench warrant. Under the law, citizens have the right to be informed of the charges brought against them. Authorities must promptly inform detainees of their rights and immediately notify family members of an arrest. Police often did not follow these procedures. Police at times failed to keep records or register detained suspects, and courts often extended detention to allow police more time to obtain confessions. In its September report, the CPT expressed concern about a widespread practice of unrecorded detention, in particular, the unrecorded presence in police stations of persons “invited” for “informal talks” with police, and noted that they encountered several allegations of physical mistreatment that took place during a period of unrecorded detention. Authorities occasionally held suspects incommunicado, in some cases for several weeks.

According to the Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement, detainees were not always allowed prompt access to an attorney of their choice. Under the law the government must provide attorneys for indigent defendants. Compliance was inconsistent because of a shortage of defense attorneys or because attorneys, citing low government compensation, refused to defend indigent clients.

The law provides for bail, but many defendants could not pay the required amounts. Courts sometimes imposed travel restrictions as an alternative to pretrial confinement.

Arbitrary Arrest: The HRMMU and other human rights monitors reported a continued pattern of arbitrary detention by authorities. For example, according to the HRMMU, on March 12, the SBU searched the apartment of an opposition journalist in Kharkiv. SBU staff presented a search warrant but did not allow the suspect to contact a lawyer. After the SBU seized a plastic bottle with ammunition rounds which they claimed they found in the journalist’s apartment, they took him to the regional SBU department, interrogated him for 12 hours, and pressured him to cooperate with SBU. They released him later without pressing official charges.

There were multiple reports of arbitrary detention in connection with the conflict in eastern Ukraine. As of mid-August the HRMMU documented 28 cases in which government military or SBU personnel detained presumed members of armed groups and held them in unofficial detention facilities before their arrests were properly registered. According to the HRMMU, on June 16, armed men wearing military uniforms and masks stormed a house where a Russian citizen was staying. They blindfolded him and brought him to an unofficial detention facility located in Pokrovsk at a transportation company facility where he allegedly spent two days handcuffed to an iron bed. On June 18, SBU officers offered him two options, either to be placed in custody or “to disappear.” He was brought to a court hearing and then sent to pretrial detention.

There were reports that members of nationalist hate groups, such as C14 and National Corps, at times committed arbitrary detentions with the apparent acquiescence of law enforcement. For example according to the HRMMU, on March 14, members of C14 unlawfully detained a man in Kyiv Oblast who was suspected of being a member of an armed group in the “LPR.” After interrogating him while he was face down and handcuffed, C14 handed him over to the SBU.

Arbitrary arrest was reportedly widespread in both the “DPR” and the “LPR.” The HRMMU raised particular concern over the concept of “preventive arrest” introduced in February by Russia-led forces in the “LPR.” Under a preventive arrest, individuals may be detained for up to 30 days, with the possibility of extending detention to 60 days, based on allegations that a person was involved in crimes against the security of the “LPR.” During preventive arrests, detainees were held incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and relatives.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, courts were inefficient and remained vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.

Despite efforts to reform the judiciary and the Prosecutor General’s Office, corruption among judges and prosecutors remained endemic. Civil society groups continued to complain about weak separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. Some judges claimed that high-ranking politicians pressured them to decide cases in their favor, regardless of the merits. Some judges and prosecutors reportedly took bribes in exchange for legal determinations. Other factors impeded the right to a fair trial, such as lengthy court proceedings, particularly in administrative courts, inadequate funding, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings.

The National Bar Association reported numerous cases of intimidation and attacks against lawyers, especially those representing defendants considered “pro-Russian” or “pro-Russia-led forces.” For example on July 27, representatives of nationalist hate group C14 attacked lawyer Valentyn Rybin, who was representing a citizen charged with separatism at the Kyiv City Appeals Court. Police opened an investigation into the incident.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

A single judge decides most cases, although two judges and three public assessors who have some legal training hear trials on charges carrying the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The law provides for cross-examination of witnesses by both prosecutors and defense attorneys and for plea bargaining.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and they cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess, although high conviction rates called into question the legal presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with interpretation as needed; to a public trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial, to communicate privately with an attorney of their choice (or one provided at public expense); and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also allows defendants to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and the right to appeal.

Trials are open to the public, but some judges prohibited media from observing proceedings. While trials must start no later than three weeks after charges are filed, prosecutors seldom met this requirement. Human rights groups reported officials occasionally monitored meetings between defense attorneys and their clients.

Russia-led forces terminated Ukrainian court system functions on territories under their control in 2014. The so-called “DPR” and “LPR” did not have an independent judiciary, and the right to a fair trial was systematically restricted. The HRMMU reported that in many cases individuals were not provided with any judicial review of their detention, and were detained indefinitely without any charges or trial. In cases of suspected espionage or when individuals were suspected of having links to the Ukrainian government, closed-door trials by military tribunals were held. There were nearly no opportunities to appeal the verdicts of these tribunals. According to the HRMMU, “accounts by conflict-related detainees suggest that their degree of culpability in the imputed ‘crime’ was already considered established at the time of their ‘arrest,’ amounting to a presumption of guilt. Subsequent ‘investigations’ and ‘trials’ seemed to serve merely to create a veneer of legality to the ‘prosecution’ of individuals believed to be associated with Ukrainian military or security forces.” The HRMMU reported that de facto authorities generally impede private lawyers from accessing clients and that court-appointed defense lawyers generally made no efforts to provide an effective defense, and participated in efforts to coerce guilty pleas.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of a small number of individuals that some human rights groups considered to be political prisoners.

As of October the trial of Zhytomyr journalist Vasyl Muravytsky, was ongoing. Muravytsky was charged with state treason, infringement of territorial integrity, incitement of hatred, and support for terrorist organizations based on statements deemed pro-Russian. He could face up to 15 years of prison. Some domestic and international journalist unions called for his release, claiming the charges were politically motivated.

On February 20, the Dolyna court returned an indictment against Ruslan Kotsaba, a blogger from Ivano-Frankivsk, to the prosecutor’s office for lack of evidence that a crime had been committed. Kotsaba was not incarcerated at the time and had been released in 2016 following his 2015 arrest on charges of impeding the work of the armed forces by calling on Ukrainians to ignore the draft. During the period of his arrest, human rights groups had deemed him a political prisoner.

According to the SBU, Russia-led forces kept an estimated 113 hostages in Donbas.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for the right to seek redress for any decisions, actions, or omissions of national and local government officials that violate citizens’ human rights. An inefficient and corrupt judicial system limited the right of redress. Individuals may also file a collective legal challenge to legislation they believe may violate basic rights and freedoms. Individuals may appeal to the human rights ombudsman at any time and to the ECHR after exhausting domestic legal remedies.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The country endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration but has not passed any laws dealing with the restitution of private or communal property, although the latter has been dealt with partly through regulations and decrees. In recent years most successful cases of restitution have taken place as a result of tacit and behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of the Jewish groups.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports authorities generally did not respect the prohibitions.

By law, the SBU may not conduct surveillance or searches without a court-issued warrant. The SBU and law enforcement agencies, however, sometimes conducted searches without a proper warrant. In an emergency authorities may initiate a search without prior court approval, but they must seek court approval immediately after the investigation begins. Citizens have the right to examine any dossier in the possession of the SBU that concerns them; they have the right to recover losses resulting from an investigation. There was no implementing legislation, and authorities generally did not respect these rights, and many citizens were not aware of their rights or that authorities had violated their privacy.

There were some reports that the government had accessed private communications and monitored private movements without appropriate legal authority. For example on April 26, a judge of the Uzhhorod city court complained of illegal surveillance. Representatives of the National Guard who were entrusted with guarding the court premises had allegedly installed a listening device in his office. Police opened an investigation into the complaint.

There were reports that the government improperly sought access to information about journalists’ sources and investigations (see section 2.a.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There are no laws, however, regulating the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for the right, and authorities have wide discretion under a Soviet-era directive to grant or refuse permission for assemblies on grounds of protecting public order and safety. Organizers are required to inform authorities in advance of plans for protests or demonstrations.

During the year citizens generally exercised the right to assemble peacefully without restriction in areas of the country under government control. There were reports, however, that police at times used excessive force when dispersing protests. For example, on March 3, police destroyed a protest tent camp that had been set up near the parliament in October 2017. Police allegedly beat protesters and used tear gas against journalists. Nineteen persons sustained injuries (10 had head injuries and nine other types of physical injuries), including journalists from Radio Liberty, Hromadske TV, and the Insider news outlet. The journalists reported deliberate attacks by police despite the fact that they had clearly identified themselves as members of the press. According to the chief of the Kyiv police, investigators and police were lawfully investigating criminal acts in connection with protester attempts to seize the International Center for Culture and Arts in Kyiv in December 2017 and clashes at the parliament on February 27. Police initiated two criminal investigations on possible use of excessive force by officers and interference by police in the work of journalists who were attempting to record the event. The investigation continued as of December.

While the main 2018 Pride March in Kyiv was protected by thousands of police, police at times did not adequately protect smaller demonstrations, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. Events organized by women’s rights activists or the LGBTI community were regularly disrupted by members of nationalist hate groups. On March 8, members of right-wing groups attacked participants in public events in Uzhhorod, Lviv, and Kyiv aimed at raising awareness of women’s rights and gender-based and domestic violence. Police launched investigations of the incidents. Police briefly detained attackers but no charges were filed.

In Russia-controlled territory, the HRMMU noted an absence of demonstrations because “people are concerned that they may be ‘arrested’ if they organize protests or assemblies against the policies” of Russia-led forces. The HRMMU also noted the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local “authorities,” often apparently organized by Russia-led forces, with forced public participation.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.

Human rights groups and international organizations continued to criticize sharply a law signed by the president in March 2017 that introduced vague and burdensome asset-reporting requirements for civil society organizations and journalists working on anticorruption matters. The law was widely seen as an intimidation and a revenge measure against the country’s anticorruption watchdogs, which had successfully pushed for increased financial transparency for government officials. Heads and members of the boards of anticorruption NGOs had to submit their asset declarations by April 1. Observers continued to express concern that these asset declarations have the potential to endanger the staff of NGOs working on human rights and anticorruption, particularly if they work on issues related to Russian-occupied Crimea or areas of the Donbas controlled by Russia-led forces.

Human rights organizations reported a growing number of unsolved attacks on members of civil society organizations, which they believed created a climate of impunity. A September 26 joint statement by several dozen Ukrainian civic organizations stated that there had been more than 50 such attacks in the previous 12 months and accused the government of failing to investigate these crimes properly.

There were reports of incidents in which observers alleged that the government targeted activists for prosecution in retaliation for their professional activity. For example, several major human rights groups expressed concern about the government’s prosecution of Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the anticorruption NGO AntAC, which they alleged was selective and politically motivated. On January 15, authorities charged Shabunin with allegedly inflicting bodily harm on a journalist, a charge that carries a heavier penalty than the crime of inflicting intentional moderate bodily harm with which he had previously been charged in 2017. Both charges stemmed from an incident in June 2017 in which Shabunin allegedly punched Vsevolod Filimonenko, a supposed journalist who had reportedly harassed one of Shabunin’s colleagues. Human rights groups noted that video footage of the events suggested that Filimonenko may have been sent by the country’s security services to provoke a conflict with Shabunin and that the resources and vigor the government applied to prosecuting Shabunin far exceeded their usual approach to prosecuting attacks on journalists, including attacks where the resultant injuries were much more grave.

According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces, domestic and international civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, could not operate freely. Residents informed the HRMMU they were being prosecuted (or feared being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation. The HRMMU also noted an increase in civil society organizations run by Russia-led forces, which appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. International and domestic organizations reported the system for protecting asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern did not operate effectively.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval.

In-country Movement: The government and Russia-led forces strictly controlled movement between government-controlled areas and territories in the Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces. Crossing the contact line remained arduous. Public passenger transportation remained prohibited.

While five crossing points existed, only four were in operation for much of the year. According to the HRMMU, between May and August, an average of 39,000 individuals crossed the line daily. The HRMMU reported that individuals crossing the contact line, predominantly the elderly and people with medical issues, had to spend several hours standing in line. According to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Luhansk Oblast, up to 100 persons experienced health incidents each day at the Stanytsia-Luhanska checkpoint between May and August.

The government used a pass system involving an online application process to control movement into government-controlled territory. Human rights groups expressed concern that many persons in Russia-controlled territory did not have access to the internet to obtain such passes and that the pass system imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, in particular those who sought to receive pensions and government benefits, which were not distributed in the territory controlled by Russia-led forces. As of April 2017, crossing permits no longer expire and residents of territory adjacent to the line of contact on the government-controlled side did not need a permit to cross.

The HRMMU repeatedly voiced concern over reports of corruption by checkpoint personnel on both sides, including demands for bribes or goods in exchange for easing passage across the line of contact. Russia-led forces continued to hinder freedom of movement in the eastern part of the country.

The government and Russian occupation authorities subjected individuals crossing between Russian-occupied Crimea and the mainland to strict passport controls at the administrative boundary between Kherson Oblast and Crimea. Authorities prohibited rail and commercial bus service across the administrative boundary, requiring persons either to cross on foot or by private vehicle. Long lines and insufficient access to toilets, shelter, and potable water remained prevalent. Civil society, journalists, and independent defense lawyers continued to maintain that the government placed significant barriers to their entry to Crimea, including lengthy processes to obtain required permissions, thereby complicating their ability to document and address abuses taking place there.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of late September more than 1.5 million persons were registered IDPs due to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea. Some NGOs and international organizations estimated the number to be lower, since some persons returned to their homes after registering as IDPs, while others registered while still living in the conflict zone. The largest number of IDPs resided in areas immediately adjoining the conflict zones, in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts as well as in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in the hope they would be able to return home.

The government granted social entitlements only to those individuals who had registered as IDPs. By law, IDPs are eligible to receive payments of 880 hryvnias ($33) per month for children and persons with disabilities and 440 hryvnias ($16) per month for those able to work. Families may receive no more than 2,400 hryvnias ($89) per month. According to the law, the government should provide IDPs with housing, but authorities did not take effective steps to do so. On October 10, the president signed a law providing for the priority provision of social housing for IDPs with disabilities. Humanitarian aid groups had good access to areas under government control.

Housing, employment, and payment of social benefits and pensions remained the greatest concerns among IDPs. Local departments of the Ministry of Social Policy regularly suspended payment of pensions and benefits pending verification of their recipients’ physical presence in government-controlled territories, ostensibly to combat fraud, requiring recipients to go through a burdensome reinstatement process.

According to the HRMMU, the government applied the IDP verification procedure broadly. The suspensions affected the majority of IDP residents in government-controlled territory, as well as most residents of Russia-controlled areas; effects were especially acute for the elderly and disabled, whose limited mobility hindered their ability to verify whether they were included in the lists or to prove their residency. The government often suspended payments without notification, and IDPs reported problems having them reinstated. On September 4, the Supreme Court ruled that the verification requirement did not constitute lawful grounds for termination of pension payments.

According to research conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 59 percent of surveyed IDP households relied on government support as one of their main sources of income. More than 15 percent of IDP respondents indicated their social payments had been suspended.

IDPs were unable to vote in local elections unless they changed their registration to their new place of residence.

According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a government strategy and the consequent absence of allocation of financial resources, leading to IDPs’ economic and social marginalization. Local civil society organizations and international humanitarian organizations provided the bulk of assistance for IDPs on a temporary basis. NGOs reported their ability to support IDPs was limited and nearing exhaustion. UN agencies reported the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for scarce resources. Critics accused internally displaced men who moved to western areas of the country of evading military service, while competition rose for housing, employment, and educational opportunities in Kyiv and Lviv.

A shortage of employment opportunities and the generally weak economy particularly affected IDPs, forcing many to live in inadequate housing, such as collective centers and other temporary accommodations. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodations, although affordable private accommodations were often in poor condition.

NGOs reported employment discrimination against IDPs. Some IDPs, particularly those in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, lacked sufficient sanitation, shelter, and access to potable water. IDPs continued to have difficulty obtaining education, medical care, and necessary documents. Romani activists expressed concern that some Roma in eastern areas could not afford to flee conflict areas, while others had no choice but to leave their homes.

In 2015 the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal overturned a National Bank decision that Crimean IDPs were nonresidents, which had restricted access to banking and financial services for those fleeing the Russian occupation. Nonetheless, media reports indicated that banks continued to restrict banking services for Crimean IDPs even after the court decision.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government often did not provide for protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers to a country where there was reason to believe their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. For example on September 12, the Prosecutor General’s Office authorized the extradition of a Russian citizen, Timur Tumgoyev, to the Russian Federation, which subsequently prosecuted him on terrorism charges. According to press reports, Tumgoyev had been in the country since 2016, had apparently fought in a progovernment battalion in the Donbas, and had requested asylum. The UN Human Rights Committee had previously called on the country’s authorities to halt Tumgoyev’s extradition pending consideration of his assertion that he would face torture if forcibly returned. On September 19, the Prosecutor General’s Office opened an investigation into whether there had been criminal negligence on the part of the state agencies involved in Tumgoyev’s extradition. On October 6, the Russian press reported that Tumgoyev had been severely beaten in detention in Russia.

There were also allegations that officials deported some individuals to countries where they were at risk of imprisonment without providing an opportunity for them to apply for asylum. For example on July 12, the SBU in Mykolaiv detained Turkish opposition journalist Yusuf Inan, who had a permanent residence permit in Ukraine. On July 13, a Mykolaiv court ruled to extradite him to Turkey, where he was wanted on charges of being a member of the Gulen movement. According to press reports, authorities immediately transported Inan to Turkey, denying him the ability to appeal the court decision or apply for asylum.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system to protect refugees. Protection for refugees and asylum seekers was insufficient due to gaps in the law and the system of implementation. As of July 1, only seven persons had received refugee status since the start of the year. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, the Russian Federation, Bangladesh, Syria, and Iraq.

Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of a refugee. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment. In other instances government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without a legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. Asylum seekers have five days to appeal an order of detention or deportation.

A lack of access to qualified interpreters also hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted the government did not provide resources for interpreters, which created opportunities for corruption and undermined the fairness of asylum application procedures.

Employment: Most asylum seekers were unable to obtain a work permit as required by law. Some asylum seekers worked illegally, increasing their risk of exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: The national plan on the integration of refugees adopted by the government did not allocate resources for its implementation. A UNHCR report indicated all newly recognized refugees received a one-time grant of approximately 30 hryvnias ($1.10). Some reports, however, indicated the government did not always provide payment.

Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421. Asylum seekers living outside an official temporary accommodation center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly fined them more than 500 hryvnias ($19) because they lacked registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees and those seeking complementary protection could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.

According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation. UNHCR noted a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; as of July 1, authorities had provided complementary protection to 37 persons during the year, bringing the overall total to 739.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR estimated there were 35,463 stateless persons in the country at year’s end. Persons who were either stateless or at risk of statelessness included Roma, homeless persons, current and former prisoners, and persons over 50 who never obtained a Ukrainian personal identification document after the fall of the Soviet Union and were no longer able to obtain one.

The law requires establishing identity through a court procedure, which demanded more time and money than some applicants had. UNHCR reported Roma were at particular risk for statelessness, since many did not have birth certificates or any other type of documentation to verify their identity. Homeless persons had difficulty obtaining citizenship because of a requirement to produce a document testifying to one’s residence.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 citizens elected Petro Poroshenko president in an election considered free and fair by international and domestic observers. The country held early legislative elections in 2014 that observers also considered free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Communist Party remains banned.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption. Authorities did not effectively implement the law, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the number of reports of government corruption was low, corruption remained pervasive at all levels in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

On June 26, the president signed the Law on the High Anticorruption Court (HACC); on August 2, he signed an amendment to the law that clarified the HACC appeals processes. Observers noted that the HACC’s creation completed the country’s system of bodies to fight high-level corruption. Its success will depend on the integrity of the selection procedures for its judges as well as on the effectiveness and independence of the other two previously created anticorruption agencies, the National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) and the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor (SAP). The process for selecting HACC judges began in August. In November anticorruption watchdogs expressed concern about apparent limitations on the work of an international expert panel that the law mandates participate in the HACC judge selection process to ensure the integrity of candidates.

The new independent anticorruption bodies faced political pressure that undermined public trust, raised concern about the government’s commitment to fighting corruption, and threatened the viability of the institutions. Anticorruption watchdogs noted that several appointments to NABU’s audit board during the year were seen as personally loyal to the president and posing a threat to NABU’s independence. Observers alleged that the release of leaked conversations by the head of SAP in early 2018 indicated he had engaged in witness tampering and obstruction of justice. He refused to resign, was not disciplined by the Prosecutor General or prosecutorial body, and allegedly proceeded to undermine NABU investigations, weakening efforts to hold high-ranking officials to account.

Corruption: While the government publicized several attempts to combat corruption, it remained a serious problem for citizens and businesses alike.

On February 13, NABU arrested Odesa Mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov and three city council deputies, who were charged with embezzlement and causing financial damage to the state. He was released on bail on February 15. According to NABU, Trukhanov and his associates profited from a fraud scheme in which the Odesa city government bought a building from a fictitious private company for 185 million hryvnias ($6.9 million) in 2016. That company, allegedly beneficially owned by Trukhanov and associates, had allegedly bought the building just months earlier from the Odesa city government for just 11.5 million hryvnias ($430,000) at an auction and had made millions of dollars in illicit profit from the resale. A court began reviewing the case on November 14.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates the filing of income and expenditure declarations by public officials, and a special review process allows for public access to declarations and sets penalties for either not filing or filing a false declaration. By law, the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) is responsible for reviewing financial declarations, monitoring the income and expenditures of high-level officials, and checking party finances. Observers increasingly questioned, however, whether the NAPC had the capacity and independence to fulfill this function, noting that in practice NABU had proven to be more effective for oversight of declarations, even though this was not its core mandate. In July, Transparency International Ukraine noted that the NAPC had fully reviewed only 300 declarations out of 2.5 million that had been submitted and had identified multiple serious holes in its verification procedures. On September 25, the NAPC launched “automated” verification of declarations, which would purportedly allow easier identification of declarations at “high risk’ of fraud. Observers noted serious flaws in this automated procedure and doubted it would result in improved verification. Observers noted that the NAPC’s December announcement that it would open criminal cases regarding party financing against the lead opposition party Batkivshchyna and several minor parties after years of general inactivity raised concerns that it might be used for political purposes ahead of the 2019 election cycle.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. During the year burdensome new reporting requirements on NGOs working on anticorruption matters came into effect. The requirements were adopted in 2017 in apparent retaliation for the NGOs’ activities (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Authorities in Russia-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine routinely denied access to domestic and international civil society organizations. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for a human rights ombudsman, officially designated as legislative commissioner on human rights. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office frequently collaborated with NGOs through civic advisory councils on various projects for monitoring human rights practices in prisons and other government institutions.

The Ombudsman’s Office collaborated with leading domestic human rights groups and acted as an advocate on behalf of Crimean Tatars, IDPs, Roma, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and prison inmates.

On March 15, the parliament appointed Lyudmila Denisova parliamentary commissioner for human rights. The office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson cooperated with NGOs on various projects to monitor human rights practices in various institutions, including detention facilities, orphanages and boarding schools for children, and geriatric institutions. Denisova took a proactive stance advocating on behalf of political prisoners held by Russia, Crimean Tatars, Roma, IDPs, and persons with disabilities.

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

During the year, human rights groups expressed growing concern about an increasingly organized set of nationalist hate groups committing violent attacks on ethnic minorities (especially Roma), LGBTI persons, feminists, and other individuals they considered to be “un-Ukrainian” or “anti-Ukrainian.” The HRMMU noted that the failure of police and prosecutors to prevent these acts of violence, properly classify them as hate crimes, and effectively investigate and prosecute them created an environment of impunity and lack of justice for victims. A June 13 joint open letter to Ukrainian authorities from Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, and Frontline Defenders also expressed concerns about the spike in attacks and impunity, and noted “the inadequate response from the authorities sends a message that such acts are tolerated.”

Investigative journalists exposed several instances during the year in which the government provided grant funds to or cooperated with hate groups. On June 8, the Ministry of Youth and Sport announced that it would award C14, a nationalist hate group, 440,000 hryvnia ($17,000) to hold a youth summer camp. The ministry later justified the decision by stating that it provided the funds only for specific project activities that were not violent. Media outlets reported that C14 and other hate groups had entered into formal agreements with municipal authorities in Kyiv and other cities to form “municipal guard” patrol units to provide public security. In a December 2017 media interview, the head of C14 described cooperation with the SBU and police (see section 1.d.).

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men or women. The penalty for rape is three to 15 years imprisonment. Sexual assault and rape continued to be significant problems.

On January 4, the president signed a new law, On Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence, which came into force on January 7. It introduced a new legal concept of domestic violence and called for the creation of a unified state register to monitor cases of domestic violence. Under the law, an offender is liable for compulsory community service, or a two to eight year prison term.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. Spousal abuse was common. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 651 cases of domestic violence were registered during the first nine months of the year. Police issued approximately 68,000 domestic violence warnings and protection orders during the first nine months of the year. Punishment included fines, emergency restraining orders of up to 10 days, ordinary restraining orders from one to six months, administrative arrest, and community service. Human rights groups noted that the ability of agencies to detect and report cases of domestic violence was limited. Human rights groups asserted that law enforcement often did not consider domestic violence to be a serious crime but rather a private matter to be settled between spouses, but also noted that police were starting to take the problem more seriously.

On November 5, police in Vinnytsia Oblast arrested 54-year old Petro Putsak for starving his 78-year old mother. Neighbors reported that he locked his mother in the house, deprived her of medical help and would occasionally beat her when demanding money. The woman was taken to the intensive care unit of a local hospital. Police were in the process of investigating the case.

According to the NGO La Strada, the conflict in the Donbas region led to a surge in violence against women across the country. Human rights groups attributed the increase in violence to posttraumatic stress experienced by IDPs fleeing the conflict and by soldiers returning from combat. IDPs reported instances of rape and sexual abuse; many claimed to have fled areas controlled by Russia-led forces because they feared sexual abuse.

Although the law requires the government to operate a shelter in every major city, it did not do so. Social services centers monitored families in matters related to domestic violence and child abuse.

Sexual Harassment: While the law prohibits coercing a “materially dependent person” to have sexual intercourse, legal experts stated that safeguards against harassment were inadequate. The law puts sexual harassment in the same category as discrimination and sets penalties from a fine of up to three years in prison. Women’s rights groups reported continuing and widespread sexual harassment, including coerced sex, in the workplace. Women rarely sought legal recourse because courts declined to hear their cases and rarely convicted perpetrators.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides that women enjoy the same rights as men. Nevertheless, women experienced discrimination in employment. According to the government commissioner on gender policy, women received 30 percent lower salaries than men. In December 2017 the Ministry of Health removed 450 occupations from a list of occupations prohibited for women; 50 occupations remained on the list, however. In April the government approved the State Social Program for Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men, which aimed to ensure access of men and women to employment, achieve balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision-making, to bridge the gap in salary payments, and to adopt appropriate regulations to achieve gender mainstreaming in all policies.

In September the parliament approved the Law on Ensuring Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men Serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Other Military Institutions, which provided for gender equality related to military service. The bill was aimed at ensuring gender equality and combating gender-based discrimination in the security and defense sectors, including the recognition and compensation of women’s service in combat roles and the ability for women to receive an education at military academies (see also section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Either birth in the country or to Ukrainian parents conveys citizenship. A child born to stateless parents residing permanently in the country is a citizen. The law requires that parents register a child within a month of birth, and failure to register sometimes resulted in denial of public services.

Registration of children born in Crimea or Russia-controlled areas in Donbas remained difficult. Authorities required hospital paperwork to register births. Russia-backed “authorities” routinely kept such paperwork if parents registered children in territories under their control, making it difficult for the child to obtain a Ukrainian birth certificate. In addition, authorities did not recognize documents issued by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea or “authorities” in territories controlled by Russia-led forces. Persons living in Crimea and parts of Russia-controlled Donbas had to turn to Ukrainian courts with birth or death documents issued by occupational authorities in order to receive Ukrainian documents. The courts were obliged to make rulings in 24 hours; these decisions were then carried out by the registry office. Due to the lack of judges in local courts, Ukrainians living in regions occupied by Russia and Russian-led forces faced serious difficulty in obtaining Ukrainian documents.

Child Abuse: Penalties for child abuse range from three years to life depending on severity. The law “On Children Protection from Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation,” which amended the Criminal Code of Ukraine to criminalize sexual relations between adults and persons who have not reached the age of 16, came into force on April 18. The law calls for imprisonment of up to five years for those who engage in sexual relations with a child younger than 16.

Human rights groups noted authorities lacked the capability to detect violence against children and refer victims for assistance. Preventive services remained underdeveloped. There were also instances of forced labor involving children (see section 7.c.).

Authorities did not take effective measures at the national level to protect children from abuse and violence and to prevent such problems. The ombudsman for human rights noted the imperfection of mechanisms to protect children who survived or witnessed violence, in particular violence committed by their parents. According to the law, parents were the legal representatives of their children, even if they perpetrated violence against them. There is no procedure for appointing a temporary legal representative for a child during the investigation of alleged parental violence.

In early November a two-year old boy was taken to the intensive care unit in Kyiv. According to the police, his stepfather brutally beat him. Police began investigating the incident and the child was removed from the family pending conclusion of the investigation.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. A court may grant a child as young as 16 permission to marry if it finds marriage to be in the child’s interest. Romani rights groups reported that early marriages involving girls under the age of 18 were common in the Romani community.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum prison sentence for child rape is 10 years. Molesting a child younger than 16 is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. The same offense committed against a child younger than 14 is punishable by imprisonment for five to eight years. The age of consent is 16.

Sexual exploitation of children, however, remained significantly underreported. Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem.

Domestic and foreign law enforcement officials reported that a significant amount of child pornography on the internet continued to originate in the country. The IOM reported that children from socially disadvantaged families and those in state custody continued to be at high risk of trafficking, including for commercial sexual exploitation and the production of pornography. For example on June 13 in Kryvyi Rih, police arrested a couple who repeatedly raped their daughter. They allegedly recorded the child’s abuse and sold videos of it over the internet. According to police, the father had abused the four-year-old child since she was two. The girl’s 30-year-old mother did nothing to stop her husband from abusing and molesting the child. The child was placed in a local rehabilitation center. An investigation was underway as of year’s end.

Displaced Children: The majority of IDP children were from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, authorities registered more than 240,000 children as IDPs. Human rights groups believed this number was low.

Institutionalized Children: The child welfare system continued to rely on long-term residential care for children at social risk or without parental care, although the number of residential-care institutions continued to drop. Government policies to address the abandonment of children reduced the number of children deprived of parental care. In August 2017 the government approved a national strategy for 2017-2026 intended to transform the institutionalized childcare system into one that provides a family-based or family-like environment for children.

Human rights groups and media outlets reported unsafe, inhuman, and sometimes life-threatening conditions in some institutions. Officials of several state-run institutions and orphanages were allegedly complicit or willfully negligent in the sex and labor trafficking of girls and boys under their care.

On August 6, Odesa Oblast police launched an investigation into alleged cases of child abuse in a local orphanage. The investigation began after a five-year old girl reported numerous cases of humiliation and violence from orphanage staff. The police initiated investigation.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to census data and international Jewish groups, an estimated 103,600 Jews lived in the country, constituting approximately 0.2 percent of the population. According to the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD), there were approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country, although the number might be higher. Before the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, according to VAAD, approximately 30,000 Jews lived in the Donbas region. Jewish groups estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Jews lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.

According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG), like in 2017 no cases of suspected anti-Semitic violence were recorded as of November 30. The last recorded anti-Semitic violence against individuals occurred in 2016. The NMRMG recorded approximately 11 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism as of November 30, compared with 24 incidents in 2017. According to NMRMG, the drop in violence and anti-Semitic vandalism was due to better police work and prosecution of those committing anti-Semitic acts.

Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv, Lviv, Poltava, and other cities. On April 27-28, unidentified individuals smashed windows and scattered prayer books at the ohel (a structure built over the grave of a righteous Jew) at the grave of renowned 17th century Rabbi Shmuel Eidels in Ostroh, Rivne Oblast. Police opened an investigation. Jewish organizations expressed concern about the continued existence of Krakivsky Market and new construction atop a historic Jewish cemetery in Lviv. There were reportedly several anti-Semitic incidents targeting the Babyn Yar memorial during the year.

In other manifestations of anti-Semitism during the year, nationalists in Odesa chanted anti-Semitic slogans during a March of Ukrainian Order on May 3. Tetyana Soykina, head of the local chapter of the Right Sector, a far-right party, said, “We will restore order in Ukraine, Ukraine will belong to Ukrainians, not Jews and oligarchs,” using a pejorative term for Jews. The Ukrainian Jewish Committee condemned an April 28 march sponsored by nationalist organizations honoring the local volunteers who were in the Nazi Waffen SS during the Holocaust. The march featured Nazi symbols and salutes. On April 13, police detained two individuals who were removing gold from mass graves of Jews from the Holocaust in the town of Nemyriv in Vinnytsia Oblast.

In mid-May the Ukrainian consul in Hamburg published anti-Semitic statements in his Facebook account; on May 30, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs fired him for the posts. On June 25, Anatoliy Matios, the country’s chief military prosecutor, espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in a media interview, suggesting that Jews want to drown ethnic Slavs in blood and finance world conflicts. Authorities took no action against Matios for the remarks.

In line with the country’s 2015 decommunization and denazification law, authorities continued to rename Communist-era streets, bridges, and monuments in honor of 20th century Ukrainian nationalists, some of whom were associated with anti-Semitism.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The law requires the government to provide access to public venues, health services, information, communications, transportation, and the judicial system and opportunities for involvement in public, educational, cultural, and sporting activities for persons with disabilities. The law also requires employers to take into account the individual needs of employees with disabilities. The government generally did not enforce these laws.

Advocacy groups maintained that, despite the legal requirements, most public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Access to employment, education, health care, transportation, and financial services remained difficult (see section 7.d.).

Patients in mental health facilities remained at risk of abuse, and many psychiatric hospitals continued to use outdated methods and medicines. In February several patients of a psychiatric institution in Veselynivka, Zaporizhzhya Oblast complained of unbearable conditions and treatment by the staff who allegedly beat and verbally abused them and locked them in a closet. The director of the institution was suspended from his duties. The local prosecutor’s office opened an investigation.

In general, law enforcement took appropriate measures to punish those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities.

By law, employers must set aside 4 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. NGOs noted that many of those employed to satisfy the requirement received nominal salaries but did not actually perform work at their companies

Based on a law adopted in 2017, starting September 1, every child with a disability had the right to study at regular secondary schools. On September 6, parliament approved amendments to a separate law regarding access of persons with disabilities to education. It called for the creation of inclusive groups in preschool facilities, secondary and vocational schools, and colleges. According to the President’s Commissioner for the rights of children, 12,000 children with disabilities went to regular schools within the program of inclusive education.

Persons with disabilities in Russia-controlled areas in the east of the country suffered from a lack of appropriate care.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Mistreatment of members of minority groups and harassment of foreigners of non-Slavic appearance remained problems. NGOs dedicated to combating racism and hate crimes observed that overall xenophobic incidents increased considerably during the year.

Human rights organizations stated that the requirement to prove actual intent, including proof of premeditation, to secure a conviction made it difficult to apply the laws against offenses motivated by racial, national, or religious hatred. Authorities opened two criminal proceedings under the laws on racial, national, or religious offenses during the year. Police and prosecutors continued to prosecute racially motivated crimes under laws against hooliganism or related offenses.

There were numerous reports of societal violence against Roma during the year, often perpetrated by known members of violent nationalist hate groups. In some instances, police declined to intervene to stop violence. On July 18, three UN special rapporteurs released a statement calling on the government to take immediate action to stop “what amounts to a systematic persecution” of the country’s Romani minority.

For example on June 24, a group of masked men armed with batons and other weapons attacked a Romani camp on the outskirts of Lviv. A 24-year-old man died of stab wounds; four others, including a 10-year-old boy, were injured. Police detained eight individuals after the attack. They were members of the neo-Nazi group Tvereza i Zla Molod (Sober and Angry Youth). Seven of them were charged with hooliganism and one, twenty-year-old Andriy Tychko, was charged with premeditated murder. An investigation continued at year’s end. During the year there were attacks on Romani settlements in Kyiv, Lviv, Ternopil, Berehove, Uzhhorod, Mukacheve, and Zolotonosha.

Roma continued to face governmental and societal discrimination and significant barriers accessing education, health care, social services, and employment. According to the Romani women’s foundation, Chirikli, local authorities erected a number of barriers to prevent issuing national identification documents to Roma. Authorities hampered access to education for persons who lacked documents and segregated Romani children into special schools or lower-quality classrooms.

During the year many Roma fled settlements in areas controlled by Russia-led forces and moved elsewhere in the country. According to Chirikli approximately 10,000 Roma were among the most vulnerable members of the country’s IDP population. Because many Roma lacked documents, obtaining IDP assistance, medical care, and education was especially difficult.

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

The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. No law, however, prohibits such discrimination in other areas, and discrimination was reportedly widespread in employment, housing, education, and other sectors.

There was frequent violence against LGBTI persons, and authorities often did not adequately investigate these cases or hold perpetrators to account. An increase in attacks was due to increasingly active nationalist hate groups (see national minorities above). The HRMMU noted that attacks against members of the LGBTI community and other minorities were rarely classified under criminal provisions pertaining to hate crimes, which carried heavier penalties. Crimes and discrimination against LGBTI persons remained underreported.

For example on June 30, about 10 unidentified young persons attacked Boris Zolotchenko, the head of the organizing committee of the Kryvbas Equality march. Witnesses called police, who refused to come to the crime scene. An investigation into a prior attack on Zolotchenko that took place in January in which five unknown men beat him was closed due to “lack of suspects.”

According to the LGBTI rights group Nash Mir, nationalist hate groups consistently tried to disrupt LGBTI events with violence or threats of violence. For example, on May 10, members of a nationalist hate group disrupted a public discussion in Kyiv on LGBTI rights in Russia. More than 20 men arrived at the venue and threatened participants with violence unless they left. The venue owner joined in the calls and told the organizers to cancel the event and vacate the premises. Police officers present on the site refused to intervene.

Although leading politicians and ministers condemned attacks on LGBTI gatherings and individuals, officials sometimes failed to protect LGBTI persons. Transgender persons continued to face discrimination and violence. On August 19, an unknown person made homophobic remarks and beat transgender activist Anastasia Kristel Domani. Police opened an investigation for minor assault charges, but as of late November had made no arrests.

Transgender persons reported difficulties obtaining official documents reflecting their gender identity, which resulted in discrimination in health care, education, and other areas.

According to Nash Mir, the situation of LGBTI persons in Russia-controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. Most LGBTI persons either fled or hid their sexual orientation or gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigma and discrimination in health-care centers were barriers to HIV-positive individuals’ receiving medical services. UNICEF reported that children with HIV/AIDS were at high risk of abandonment, social stigma, and discrimination. Authorities prevented many children infected with HIV/AIDS from attending kindergartens or schools. Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination in housing and employment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association as a fundamental right and establishes the right to participate in independent trade unions. The law provides the right for most workers to form and join independent unions, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes. There are no laws or legal mechanisms to prevent antiunion discrimination, although the labor code requires employers to provide justification for layoffs and firings, and union activity is not an acceptable justification. Legal recourse is available for reinstatement, back wages, and punitive damages, although observers describe court enforcement as arbitrary and unpredictable, with damages too low to create incentives for compliance on the part of employers.

The law contains several limits to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. A number of laws that apply to worker organizations are excessively complex and contradictory. For example the status of trade unions under two laws provides they are considered legal entities only after state registration. Under another law, however, a trade union is considered a legal entity upon adoption of its statute. The inherent conflict between these laws creates obstacles for workers seeking to form trade unions. Unions also reported significant bureaucratic hurdles in the registration process, including the payment of notary fees and requirements to visit as many as 10 different offices. Moreover, independent unions have reported multiple incidents of harassment by local law enforcement officials while navigating the registration process, including atypical and irregular requests for documentation and membership information.

The legal procedure to initiate a strike is complex and severely hinders strike action, artificially lowering the numbers of informal industrial actions. The legal process for industrial disputes requires consideration, conciliation, and labor arbitration allowing involved parties to draw out the process for months. Only after completion of this process can workers vote to strike, a decision that courts may still block. The right to strike is further restricted by the requirement that a large percentage of the workforce (two-thirds of general workers’ meeting delegates or 50 percent of workers in an enterprise) must vote in favor of a strike before it may be called. The government is allowed to deny workers the right to strike on national security grounds or to protect the health or “rights and liberties” of citizens. The law prohibits strikes by broad categories of workers, including personnel in the Office of the Prosecutor General, the judiciary, the armed forces, the security services, law enforcement agencies, the transportation sector, and the public service sector.

Legal hurdles made it difficult for independent unions that were not affiliated with the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) to take part in tripartite negotiations, participate in social insurance programs, or represent labor at the national and international levels. The legal hurdles resulting from an obsolete labor code hindered the ability of smaller independent unions to represent their members effectively. Authorities did not enforce labor laws effectively or consistently. Trade unions expressed concern that the labor inspectorate lacked funding, technical capacity, and sufficient professional staffing to conduct independent inspections effectively (see section 7.e.).

Worker rights advocates continued to note concerns for the independence of unions from government or employer control. Independent trade unions alleged that the country’s largest trade union confederation, the FPU, enjoyed a close relationship with employers and members of some political parties. Authorities further denied unions not affiliated with the FPU a share of disputed trade union assets inherited by the FPU from Soviet-era unions, a dispute dating back more than two decades.

Independent union representatives continued to be the subjects of violence and intimidation, and reported that local law enforcement officials frequently ignored or facilitated violations of their rights. Worker advocates reported an increase in retaliation against trade union members involved in anticorruption activities at their workplaces.

In April unidentified assailants assaulted a doctor, who was also a trade union activist and whistleblower, in Kyiv. The assault was the second in a series of attacks that followed the doctor’s official and public statements regarding widespread corruption in the healthcare sector.

Trade unions also reported unidentified assailants assaulted a railway inspector who was a union activist in Kryvyi Rih in April. The Independent Railworker’s Union reported that it believed the attack was related to anticorruption activity by the local union chapter.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations were sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to provide for enforcement.

During the year the IOM responded to numerous instances of compulsory labor, to include pornography, criminal activity, labor exploitation, begging, and sexual and other forms of exploitation. There were also reports of trafficking of women, men, and children for labor in construction, agriculture, manufacturing, services, the lumber industry, nursing, and street begging. Annual reports on government action to prevent the use of forced labor in public procurement indicated that the government has not taken action to investigate its own supply chains for evidence of modern slavery. Traffickers subjected some children to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

According to the IOM, identified victims of trafficking received comprehensive reintegration assistance, including legal aid, medical care, psychological counseling, financial support, vocational training, and other types of assistance based on individual needs.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for most employment is 16, but children who are 14 may perform undefined “light work” with a parent’s consent. While the law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, it does not always provide inspectors sufficient authority to conduct inspections.

From January to August, the State Service on Labor conducted 2,614 inspections to investigate compliance with child labor laws. The inspections identified 72 organizations engaged in child labor activities. Of these, 24 were in the service sector, seven in the industrial sector, six in the agricultural sector, and 35 in other areas. The inspections uncovered 40 cases of undeclared labor, one child working in hazardous conditions, and six minors receiving undeclared wages. Increased child labor in amber mining was a growing problem, according to reports by international labor groups.

The most frequent violations of child labor laws concerned work under hazardous conditions, long workdays, failure to maintain accurate work records, and delayed salary payments. Child labor in illegal mining of coal and amber in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces grew during the year. The government established institutional mechanisms for the enforcement of laws and regulations on child labor. The exceptionally low number of worksite inspections conducted at the national level, however, impeded the enforcement of child labor laws.

Penalties for violations of the child labor laws ranged from small fines for illegitimate employment to prison sentences for sexual exploitation of a child; as in previous years, some observers believed these punishments were insufficient to deter violations.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic, social, and foreign origin, age, health, disability, HIV/AIDS condition, family and property status, or linguistic or other grounds.

The government did not always enforce the law, and employment discrimination reportedly occurred with respect to gender, disability, nationality, race, minority status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The agriculture, construction, mining, heavy industry, and services sectors had the most work-related discrimination. The law provides for civil, administrative, and criminal liability for discrimination in the workplace. Penalties include a fine of up to 50 tax-free minimum incomes, correctional labor for a term of up to two years, restraint of liberty for up to five years, and restriction on engaging in certain activities for a period of up to three years. When accompanied by violence, employment discrimination violations are punishable by correctional labor for a term of up to two years or imprisonment for a term of up to five years if such actions were committed by an organized group of persons or if they caused death or other grave consequences.

Women received lower salaries due to limited opportunities for advancement and the types of industries that employed them. According to the State Statistics Office, men earned on average 26 percent more than women. The gap was not caused by direct discrimination in the setting of wages, but by horizontal and vertical stratification of the labor market: Women were more likely to work in lower-paid sectors of the economy and in lower positions. Women held fewer elected or appointed offices at the national and regional levels (40 percent).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The country’s annual budget establishes a government-mandated national minimum wage. The minimum wage increased to 3,723 hryvnias per month ($133) during the year from 3,200 hryvnias per month ($125) in 2017. The monthly minimum wage is above the poverty income level, which stood at 1,777 hryvnias ($65.80) in July and will rise to 1,853 hryvnias ($66.20) on December 1. Some shadow employees received wages below the established minimum.

The labor law provides for a maximum 40-hour workweek, with a minimum 42-hour period of rest per week and at least 24 days of paid vacation per year. It provides for double pay for overtime work and regulates the number of overtime hours allowed. The law requires agreement between employers and local trade union organization on overtime work and limits overtime to four hours during two consecutive days and 120 hours per year.

The law requires employers to provide workplace safety standards. Employers must meet occupational safety and health standards but at times ignored these regulations due to the lack of enforcement or strict imposition of penalties. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardizing their continued employment. According to one NGO, employers in the metal and mining industries often violated the rule and retaliated against workers by pressuring them to quit.

Wage arrears continued to be a major problem during the year. A lack of legal remedies, bureaucratic wrangling, and corruption in public and private enterprises, blocked efforts to recover overdue wages, leading to significant wage theft. Total wage arrears in the country rose during the year through September 1 to 3.6 billion hryvnias ($97.6 million). The majority of wage arrears occurred in the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. The Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine reported that arrears in the coal sector had reached almost 930 million hryvnias ($33.2 million) in September. Arrears and corruption problems exacerbated industrial relations and led to numerous protests.

The government did not always effectively enforce labor law. In 2017 the government adopted a new procedure for state control and supervision of labor law compliance that introduces new forms and rules for oversight of labor law compliance, extends the powers of labor inspectors, amends the procedure for imposing fines for violation of labor law requirements, and introduces specific forms for exercise of control by labor inspectors, namely, inspection visits and remote inspections.

Labor inspectors may assess compliance based on leads or other information regarding possible unreported employment from public sources. This includes information the service learns concerning potential violations from other state agencies. For example, when tax authorities discover a disparity between a company’s workforce and its production volumes as compared to average data for the industry, they may refer the case to labor authorities who will determine compliance with labor laws.

While performing inspection visits to check potential unreported employment, labor inspectors may enter any workplace without prior notice at any hour of day or night. The law also allows labor inspectors to hold an employer liable for certain types of violations (e.g., unreported employment), empowering them to issue an order to cease the restricted activity. Labor inspectors may also visit an employer in order to monitor labor law compliance and inform the company and its employees about labor rights and best practices.

The law provides procedures for imposing fines for violation of labor and employment laws. Municipal authorities may impose fines for labor law violations. In addition, the authority imposing a fine need not be affiliated with Labor Service. For example, a report from an onsite tax audit that reveals labor law violations may result in a fine.

In September the Cabinet of Ministers approved regulation #649, increasing regulatory oversight to monitor and counter “shadow” employment in the informal economy, the widespread practice of paying for labor without an existing employment contract. The regulation compels the State Labor Service, the State Fiscal Service, the State Pension Fund, and the National Police to review their internal regulations to introduce stricter control measures to combat shadow employment. Agencies are also required to conduct public awareness campaigns to inform employers of the new procedures.

Penalties for violations workplace safety standards ranged from 510 to 1,700 hryvnias ($19 to $63), which were insufficient to deter violations. The State Labor Inspectorate was responsible for enforcing labor laws. Inspectors were limited in number, funding, and authority to enforce existing regulations. The absence of a coordination mechanism with other government bodies was also significant. Penalties established for undeclared work, wage arrears, and work-hour violations included fines of 50 to 100 tax-free minimum incomes that could reach 111,690 hryvnias ($4,000). Additional penalties included limitations on the right to occupy positions of responsibility or to engage in some activities for three to five years, correctional labor for up to two years, or arrest for up to six months if the actions committed affected a minor or a pregnant woman.

Labor inspections occurred at a company’s request or upon the formal request of the investigator in the framework of criminal proceedings against a company.

Mineworkers, particularly in the illegal mining sector, faced serious safety and health problems. Operational safety problems and health complaints were common. Lax safety standards and aging equipment caused many injuries on the job. Over the first eight months of the year, authorities reported 2,725 individual injuries, including 254 fatalities; 474 injuries to coal miners, including 14 fatalities; 333 injuries in the agro-industrial sector, including 39 fatalities; and 225 injuries in engineering, including 14 fatalities.

Despite Russian aggression close to industrial areas in the government-controlled areas of the Donbas region, enterprises involved in mining, energy, media, retail, clay production, and transportation continued to operate. Fighting resulted in damage to mines and plants through loss of electricity, destroyed transformers, physical damage from shelling, and alleged intentional flooding of mines by combined Russia-led forces. Miners were especially vulnerable, as loss of electrical power could strand them underground. The loss of electrical power also threatened the operability of mine safety equipment that prevented the buildup of explosive gases.


IN THIS SECTION: Ukraine (ABOVE) |  Crimea

Ukraine (Crimea)

Executive Summary

In February 2014 Russian forces entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and occupied it militarily. In March 2014 Russia announced the peninsula had become part of the Russian Federation following a sham referendum that violated Ukraine’s constitution. The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 on the “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine” of March 27, 2014, and Resolution 73/263 on the “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”of December 22, 2018, called on states and international organizations not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status and affirmed the commitment of the United Nations to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. In April 2014 Ukraine’s legislature (Verkhovna Rada) adopted a law attributing responsibility for human rights violations in Crimea to the Russian Federation as the occupying state. The United States does not recognize the attempted “annexation” of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Russian law has been applied in Ukraine’s Crimea since the Russian occupation and purported “annexation” of the peninsula. For detailed information on the laws and practices of the Russian Federation, see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia.

A local authority installed by the Russian government and led by Sergey Aksyonov as “prime minister” of the “state council of the republic of Crimea” administers occupied Crimea. The “state council” is responsible for day-to-day administration and other functions of governing. In 2016 Russia’s nationwide parliamentary elections included seats allocated for purportedly annexed Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community and that contravened the Ukrainian constitution.

Russian authorities maintained control over Russian military and security forces deployed in Crimea. Russian security services continued to consolidate control over Crimea and restrict human rights. Occupation authorities imposed and disproportionately applied repressive Russian Federation laws on the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

Human rights issues included: disappearances; torture, including punitive psychiatric incarceration; mistreatment of persons in detention as punishment or to extort confessions; harsh prison conditions and removing prisoners to Russia; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; pervasive interference with privacy; severe restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, including closing outlets and violence against journalists; restrictions on the internet, including blocking websites; gross and widespread suppression of freedom of assembly; severe restriction of freedom of association, including barring the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; restriction of freedom of movement and on participation in the political process; systemic corruption; and systemic discrimination against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians.

Russian-installed authorities took few steps to investigate or prosecute officials or individuals who committed human rights abuses, creating an atmosphere of impunity and lawlessness. Occupation and local “self-defense” forces often did not wear insignia and committed abuses with impunity.

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

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

Russian occupation authorities did not adequately investigate cases of abductions and killings of Crimean residents from 2014 and 2015. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 Crimean residents who had disappeared during the occupation were later found dead. Occupation authorities did not investigate other suspicious deaths and disappearances, occasionally categorizing them as suicide. Human rights observers reported that families frequently did not challenge findings in such cases due to fear of retaliation.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of abductions and disappearances by occupation authorities. For example, according to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), a Kharkiv resident disappeared at the Russian Federation-controlled side of the administrative boundary on April 11. The Federal Security Service (FSB) initially detained the victim without charge. Documents reviewed by the HRMMU indicated further formalized detention of the victim for 12 days, allegedly for committing an administrative offense. On the day when he was supposed to be released, he disappeared again. Despite efforts of relatives and human rights defenders to inquire about the whereabouts of the victim, the law enforcement and penitentiary institutions in Crimea failed to provide any information.

According to September data by the HRMMU, from 2014 to June 30, 2018, 42 persons were victims of enforced disappearances. The victims (38 men and four women) include 27 ethnic Ukrainians, nine Crimean Tatars, four Tajiks, one person of mixed Tatar-Russian origins, and one Uzbek. Twenty-seven were released after being illegally detained for periods lasting from a few hours to two weeks; 12 were missing and feared dead by their relatives; two were held in custody; and one was found dead. According to the HRMMU, in none of these cases have the perpetrators been brought to justice. Russian occupation authorities did not adequately investigate the deaths and disappearances. Human rights groups reported that police often refused to register reports of disappearances and intimidated and threatened with detention those who tried to report a disappearance. Ukrainian government and human rights groups believed Russian security forces kidnapped the individuals for opposing Russia’s occupation to instill fear in the population and prevent dissent.

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

There were widespread reports Russian authorities in Crimea tortured and otherwise abused residents who opposed the occupation. Human rights monitors reported that Russian occupying forces subjected Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in particular to physical abuse. For example, on June 28, members of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) searched Crimean Tatar activist Akhtem Mustafayev’s house and detained him. FSB officers put a plastic bag over his head and brought him to the basement of an unknown building. Unknown men beat him, forced him to his knees with his hands cuffed behind his back, and threatened that no one would ever find him. He was reportedly tortured for four hours and immediately fled for mainland Ukraine after being released.

Occupation authorities demonstrated a pattern of using punitive psychiatric incarceration as a means of pressuring detained individuals. On June 28, occupation authorities committed Crimean Tatar journalist Nariman Memedinov to a psychiatric hospital for a mental health evaluation that human rights advocates believed to be a punitive measure in retaliation for his vocal opposition to the occupation. Memedinov had previously been arrested on March 22 on terrorism charges that were widely considered to be politically motivated. The charges were based on videos he posted on YouTube in 2013 in which authorities alleged he recruited people to join Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group that is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, as of early October, 17 Crimean Tatar defendants had been subjected to psychiatric evaluation and confinement against their will without apparent medical need since the beginning of the occupation (see section 1.d.).

Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities also threatened individuals with violence or imprisonment if they did not testify in court against individuals authorities believed were opposed to the occupation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions reportedly remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and poor conditions.

Physical Conditions: The HRMMU reported that detainees were often held in conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and that health care in prisons deteriorated after the occupation began.

According to the Crimean Human Rights group, 31 Crimean prisoners had been transferred to the Russian Federation since occupation began in 2014. One factor in the transfers was the lack of specialized penitentiary facilities in Crimea, requiring the transfer of juveniles, persons sentenced to life imprisonment, and prisoners suffering from serious physical and mental illnesses.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, at least four persons, including two Crimean Tatars, died under suspicious circumstances in the Simferopol pretrial detention center in April. On April 6, Server Bilialov and Oleg Goncharov were allegedly found hanged. On April 12, Dmitriy Shaposhnik was found hanged in a punishment cell. On April 13, Islam Iskerov was found with his throat slit in an isolation cell. The Federal Penitentiary Service Department of Russia officially confirmed three of the deaths; occupation authorities, however, did not open an investigation.

There were reports of physical abuse by prison guards. For example, on July 20, more than 70 convicts at the Kerch Penal Colony Number Two filed a complaint with prison authorities alleging systematic severe beatings and other forms of abuse at the facility. The occupation authorities’ appointed “human rights ombudsman,” Lyudmila Lubina, who was generally not considered to provide independent oversight of government actions, called the treatment of prisoners at the colony “barbaric.”

In June Crimean Tatar detainee Izmail Ramazanov filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights alleging inhuman conditions at the Simferopol pretrial detention center, citing overcrowding, cells covered in mold, the housing of prisoners with tuberculosis with healthy prisoners, and poor ventilation and sanitation. The HRMMU reported that detainees in the facility had to sleep in shifts due to overcrowding.

Prison authorities reportedly retaliated against detainees who refused Russian Federation citizenship by placing them in smaller cells or in solitary confinement.

Independent Monitoring: Occupation authorities did not permit monitoring of prison or detention center conditions by independent nongovernmental observers or international organizations. Occupation authorities permitted the “human rights ombudsman,” Lyudmila Lubina, to visit prisoners, but human rights activists regarded Lubina as representing the interests of occupation authorities and not an independent actor.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Russian government agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, the Federal Investigative Committee, and the Office of the Prosecutor General applied and enforced Russian law in Crimea. The FSB also conducted security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism activities and combatted organized crime and corruption. A “national police force” operated under the aegis of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

In addition to abuses committed by Russian forces, “self-defense forces”–largely consisting of former Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs officers allegedly linked to local organized crime–reportedly continued to operate and commit abuses. These forces often acted with impunity in intimidating perceived occupation opponents and were involved in extrajudicial detentions and arbitrary confiscation of property. The HRMMU cited the FSB as the most common perpetrator of abuses in recent years, while Crimean “self-defense forces” committed most abuses in the earlier years of the occupation.

According to human rights groups, there was total impunity for human rights abuses committed by both Russian occupation authorities and Crimean “self-defense forces.”

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests continued to occur as a means of instilling fear, stifling opposition, and inflicting punishment on those who opposed the occupation. According to the HRMMU, in many cases victims were neither charged nor tried but were detained as a form of extrajudicial punishment or harassment. Detention under such circumstances usually lasted from several hours to several days, in which victims were often held incommunicado and sometimes subjected to abuse during interrogations. The HRMMU noted the prevalence of members of the Crimean Tatar community among those apprehended during police raids. Detainees were typically taken to a police station, photographed, fingerprinted, and made to provide DNA samples before being released. For example on January 25, authorities raided Crimean Tatar homes in several cities. During the raids, they arrested two Crimean Tatar activists, Enver Krosh and Ebazer Islyamov, and charged them with “propagating extremist symbols and organizations,” charges rights groups described as baseless.

There were reports that authorities arbitrarily arrested the family members of known dissidents to exert pressure on them. For example, on July 19, representatives of the FSB searched the house of the Aliev family. Their target was the daughter of Muslim Aliev, a political prisoner. The FSB brought her to the Investigative Committee in Alushta for interrogation and released her after a couple of hours.

On November 25, Russian authorities fired on and seized three Ukrainian naval ships and 24 crew attempting legally to transit the Kerch Strait. The crewmembers were brought to Kerch Prison, Crimea and then Lefortovo detention center in Moscow, where they subsequently asserted their rights to detainee status under the Geneva Convention of 1949. Russia treated them instead as criminals; a Simferopol “court” sentenced them to two months’ detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Under the Russian occupation regime, the “judiciary” was neither independent nor impartial. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were subject to political directives from occupation authorities, and the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by government interference. The HRMMU documented 39 cases between September 2017 and June where due process and fair trial guarantees were disregarded by Crimea occupation authorities, including judges, prosecutors, investigators, police, and FSB officers.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities interfered with defendants’ ability to access an attorney. For example on May 4, FSB officers detained five crewmen of a Ukrainian fishing boat near the coast of Crimea for a month and a half under inhuman conditions at the FSB border control facility in Balaklava. During their detention, the men did not have access to a Ukrainian consul or lawyers. FSB officers psychologically pressured and intimidated the men during interrogations. The crew did not have access to lawyers. The vessel’s captain, Viktor Novitsky, was charged with “illegal extraction of marine biological resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Russian federation.” No charges were filed against the other members of the crew. On September 30, they were released and left Crimea.

According to the HRMMU defendants facing terrorism or extremism-related charges were often pressured into dismissing their privately hired lawyers in exchange for promised leniency. For example the HRMMU’s September report on Crimea described three Crimean Tatar defendants who cancelled a contract with their lawyers after being prompted to do so by FSB officers and warned, through their family members, that having “pro-Ukrainian” lawyers would damage their defense.

Occupation authorities retroactively applied Russian Federation laws to actions that took place before the occupation began. The HRMMU documented at least 10 such cases since September 2017, including sentences imposed for years-old social media posts and for taking part in protest actions that occurred before the occupation began.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Human Rights advocates estimated there were more than 60 political prisoners in occupied Crimea; the Crimean Tatar Mejlis organization claimed that by the end of the year Russia held 96 Ukrainian citizen political prisoners, of whom 63 were Crimean Tatar. Charges of extremism, terrorism, or violation of territorial integrity were particularly applied to opponents of the occupation, such as Crimean Tatars, independent journalists, and individuals expressing dissent on social media. The HRMMU noted that justifications underpinning the arrests of alleged members of “terrorist” or “extremist” groups often provided little evidence that the suspect posed an actual threat to society by planning or undertaking concrete actions.

Russian occupation authorities also transferred Crimean cases to Russia’s legal system and changed the venue of prosecution for some detainees.

On July 5, an occupation “court” in Crimea sentenced Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh to five years in a penal colony and imposed a fine of 10,000 rubles ($170). The five-year sentence was the combination of a previous three year, five month sentence imposed on him in January for supposed “weapons possession,” plus additional time for allegedly “disrupting the activities of a detention center.” The January conviction resulted from a retrial after his October 2017 conviction on the same charges was overturned. Both charges were seen as retaliation for Balukh’s pro-Ukrainian views, which he displayed by hanging a plaque and Ukrainian flag in the courtyard of his house. The FSB initially detained Balukh in 2016, claiming it found ammunition and explosives in the attic of his house. Human rights defenders asserted that the material was planted. Balukh had been repeatedly threatened by authorities to remove pro-Ukrainian symbols or face prosecution. On March 19, Balukh went on a hunger strike, during which prison authorities denied him a medical examination, despite indications that his health was deteriorating. He ended his hunger strike on October 9, after being notified that he was to be transferred to the Russian Federation to serve his sentence.

On July 13, the “supreme court” of Crimea convicted Ukrainian citizen Yevhen Panov of plotting sabotage against Crimea’s military facilities and critical infrastructure. He was sentenced to eight years in a high-security penal colony. Occupation authorities arrested Panov in August 2016. According to human rights groups, the case against Panov bore signs of political motivation, including indications that Panov had been subjected to electric shocks and other forms of torture in an attempt to coerce his confession and a lack of other evidence against him.

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

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities and others engaged in electronic surveillance, entered residences and other premises without warrants, and harassed relatives and neighbors of perceived opposition figures.

Russian occupation authorities routinely conducted raids on homes to intimidate the local population, particularly Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, ostensibly on the grounds of searching for weapons, drugs, or “extremist literature.” The HRMMU documented 38 such searches between January and June; 30 of these concerned properties of Crimean Tatars.

Human rights groups reported that Russian authorities had widespread authority to tap telephones and read electronic communications and had established a network of informants to report on suspicious activities. According to Mejlis members, Russian authorities had invited hundreds of Crimean Tatars to “interviews” where authorities played back the interviewees’ telephone conversations and read their email aloud. Authorities reportedly encouraged state employees to inform on their colleagues who might oppose the occupation. According to human rights advocates, eavesdropping and visits by security personnel created an environment in which persons were afraid to voice any opinion contrary to the occupation authorities, even in private.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Individuals opposing the occupation reported widespread harassment and intimidation by occupation authorities to suppress their ability to assemble peacefully. For example, the press reported on October 11 that authorities in Armyansk had issued a warning to a local resident, Yekaterina Pivovar, not to violate laws governing public protests. Pivovar had allegedly been planning to organize a group of local mothers to assemble outside city hall to demand a meeting with local officials. The mothers were concerned about the impact of toxic sulfur dioxide gas being released since late August from a nearby titanium plant on the health of their children.

A 2017 regulation limits the places in Crimea where public events may be held to 366 listed locations. The HRMMU noted that the “regulation” restricted freedom of assembly to a shrinking number of “specially designated spaces,” an unnecessary move that appeared “designed to dissuade the exercise of the right of freedom of assembly.”

Authorities fined individuals for conducting single-person pickets, the only type of protest that is supposed to be permitted without official permission under the legal system that Russia has imposed on occupied Crimea. According to the HRMMU, between December 2017 and March, occupation “courts” fined 80 Muslim men, who had conducted single-person pickets in October 2017 to protest the arrests of other Muslim men, mostly Crimean Tatars, for alleged membership in terrorist or extremist organizations.

There were reports of occupation authorities using coercive methods to provide for participation at rallies in support of the “government.” Students, teachers and civil servants were forced to attend a commemoration event on the day of deportation of the Crimean Tatars organized by Crimean-occupation authorities in Simferopol on May 18.

There were reports that occupation authorities charged and fined individuals for allegedly violating public assembly rules in retaliation for gathering to witness security force raids on homes.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities broadly restricted freedom of association for individuals that opposed the occupation. For example, there were numerous reports of authorities taking steps to harass, intimidate, arrest, and imprison members of the human rights group Crimean Solidarity, an unregistered movement of friends and family of victims of repression by occupation authorities. Two of the group’s leaders, Emir-Usain Kuku and Server Mustafayev, remained in pretrial detention as of November on charges of allegedly belonging to the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. Human rights monitors believed the cases against both men to be politically motivated and without basis. On January 27, law enforcement officers in Sudak disrupted a Crimean Solidarity civic group meeting attended by 150 persons. Law enforcement officers allegedly searched for drugs and weapons and questioned and photographed participants at the gathering. On October 27, in Simferopol, officials from the “prosecutor general’s office” accompanied by a contingent of armed men in masks and uniformed police raided another Crimean Solidarity meeting. The officials issued formal warnings to three members of the group, whom authorities claimed were poised to violate “counterterrorism and counterextremism” legislation by purportedly planning to hold a series of single-person pickets. On October 28, occupation authorities blocked the group’s website.

The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people remained banned for purported “extremism” despite an order by the International ?ourt of Justice requiring that Russian authorities “refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis.” On October 29, occupation authorities announced plans to “nationalize” the Mejlis building in Simferopol, which they had seized in 2014, by transferring it to a Muslim organization that supported the occupation. Following the 2016 ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist organization,” occupation authorities banned gatherings by Mejlis members and prosecuted individuals for discussing the Mejlis on social media (see section 6).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

Russian occupation authorities did not respect rights related to freedom of movement and travel.

In-country Movement: Occupation authorities maintained a state border at the administrative boundary between mainland Ukraine and Crimea. According to the HRMMU, this border and the absence of public transportation between Crimea and mainland Ukraine continued to undermine freedom of movement to and from the peninsula, affecting mainly the elderly, people with limited mobility, and young children.

There were reports occupation authorities selectively detained and at times abused persons attempting to enter or leave Crimea. According to human rights groups, Russian authorities routinely detained adult men at the administrative boundary for additional questioning, threatened to seize passports and documents, seized telephones and memory cards, and questioned them for hours. For example, according to the HRMMU, on March 8, the FSB detained a Crimean Tatar man for 12 hours and subjected him to physical violence in order to force him to testify against Crimean Tatar acquaintances suspected of being members of “radical” Muslim groups.

Occupation authorities prohibited entry into Crimea by Mustafa Jemilev and Refat Chubarov, members of the Verkhovna Rada, and the former and current chairmen of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, respectively; by Crimean Tatar activist Sinaver Kadyrov; and by Ismet Yuksel, general director of the Crimean News Agency, on the pretext that they would incite radicalism.

According to the HRMMU, Ukrainian legislation restricts access to Crimea to three designated crossing points and imposes sanctions, including long-term entry bans, in case of noncompliance. Crimean residents lacking Ukrainian passports, who only possess Russian-issued Crimean travel documents not recognized by Ukrainian authorities, often faced difficulties when crossing into mainland Ukraine.

Citizenship: Russian occupation authorities required all residents of Crimea to be Russian citizens. Those who refused Russian citizenship could be subjected to arbitrary expulsion. Multiple citizens of Ukraine were deported from Crimea for violating the Russian Federation’s immigration rules. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, during the first four years of Russia’s occupation, over 2,000 Ukrainians were prosecuted for not having Russian documents and 336 persons have been deported.

On February 13, the Yevpatoria city court ruled against 23 citizens of Ukraine. They were fined 5,000 Russian rubles ($76) each and administratively expelled to mainland Ukraine for working without a labor license.

Residents of Crimea who chose not to adopt Russian citizenship were considered foreigners. In some cases, they could obtain a residency permit. Persons holding a residency permit without Russian citizenship, however, were deprived of key rights and could not own agricultural land, vote or run for office, register a religious congregation, or reregister a private vehicle. Authorities denied those who refused Russian citizenship access to government employment, education, and health care, as well as the ability to open bank accounts and buy insurance, among other limitations.

According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, Russian authorities prosecuted private employers who continued to employ Ukrainians. Fines could be imposed on employers for every recorded case of employing a Ukrainian citizen without a labor license. Fines in such cases amounted to several million dollars.

In some cases, authorities compelled Crimean residents to surrender their Ukrainian passports, complicating international travel, because many countries did not recognize passports issued by Russian occupation authorities.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Approximately 27,600 residents of Crimea registered as IDPs on the mainland, according to the Ministry of Social Policy. The Mejlis and local NGOs, such as Krym SOS, believed the actual number could be as high as 100,000, as most IDPs remained unregistered. Many individuals fled due to fear that occupation authorities would target them for abuse because of their work as political activists or journalists. Muslims, Greek Catholics, and Evangelical Christians who left Crimea said they feared discrimination due to their religious beliefs.

Crimean Tatars, who made up the largest number of IDPs, said they were concerned about pressure on their community, including an increasing number of arbitrary searches of their homes, surveillance, and discrimination. In addition, many professionals left Crimea because Russian occupation authorities required them to apply for Russian professional licenses and adopt Russian procedures in their work.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Recent Elections: Russian occupation authorities prevented residents from voting in Ukrainian national and local elections since Crimea’s occupation began in 2014.

On March 18, the Russian Federation held presidential election and included the territory of occupied Crimea. The Crimea Human Rights Group recorded incidents in which occupation authorities coerced residents into voting in the elections, including through threats of dismissals and wage cuts.

HRMMU reported pressure on public sector employees to vote in order to ensure high turnout. Some voters stated their employers required them to photograph themselves at the polling station as evidence of their participation. For example the Crimean Human Rights Group reported that in the Krasnoperekopsk district three days before the election, teachers were instructed to report to the principal that they and their family members voted. On voting day, teachers received phone calls from the principal threatening termination of employment if they did not vote.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption: There were multiple reports during the year of systemic rampant corruption among Crimean “officeholders,” including through embezzlement of Russian state funds allocated to support the occupation. For example on October 17, Russian police in Moscow arrested Vitaliy Nakhlupin, the “deputy prime minister” of Crimea, and charged him with taking unspecified bribes, reported by media to be related to the construction of the Kerch bridge and other road construction projects.

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

Most independent human rights organizations ceased activities in Crimea following Russia’s occupation. Occupation authorities refused to cooperate with independent human rights NGOs, ignored their views, and harassed human rights monitors and threatened them with fines and imprisonment.

Russia continued to deny access to the peninsula to international human rights monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations.

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

Women

Birth Registration: Under both Ukrainian law and laws imposed by Russian occupation authorities, either birthplace or parentage determines citizenship. Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea complicated the question of citizenship for children born after February 2014, since it was difficult for parents to register a child as a citizen with Ukrainian authorities. Registration in Ukraine required a hospital certificate, which is retained when a birth certificate is issued. Under the occupation regime, new parents could only obtain a Russian birth certificate and did not have access to a hospital certificate. In 2016 the Ukrainian government instituted a process whereby births in Crimea could be recognized with documents issued by occupation authorities.

Institutionalized Children: There were reports Russian authorities continued to permit kidnapping of orphans in Crimea and transporting them across the border into Russia for adoption. Ukraine’s government did not know the whereabouts of the children.

Anti-Semitism

According to Jewish groups, an estimated 10-15,000 Jews lived in Crimea, primarily in Simferopol. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Since the beginning of Russia’s occupation, authorities singled out Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians for discrimination, abuse, deprivation of civil liberties and religious and economic rights, and violence, including killings and abductions (also see sections 1.a.-1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 2.b., and 2.d.).

There were reports that government officials openly advocated discrimination and violence against Crimean Tatars. Occupation authorities harassed Crimean Tatars for speaking their language in public and forbade speaking it in the workplace. There were reports teachers prohibited schoolchildren from speaking Crimean Tatar to one another. Crimean Tatars were prohibited from celebrating their national holidays and commemorating victims of previous abuses. For example on May 17, occupation authority law enforcement officers detained 14 persons who had gathered for an event commemorating victims of the Crimean Tatar deportation from Simferopol in 1944.

Occupation authorities also restricted the use of Crimean Tatar flags and symbols.

Occupation authorities placed restrictions on the Spiritual Administration of Crimean Muslims, which was closely associated with Crimean Tatars. According to human rights groups, Russian security services routinely monitored prayers at mosques for any mention that Crimea remained part of Ukraine. Russian security forces also monitored mosques for anti-Russian sentiment and as a means of recruiting police informants.

In April 2017 the International Court of Justice ruled, in response to Ukraine’s January 17 request for provisional measures concerning the Application of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, that the Russian Federation must refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis. Nevertheless, Russian occupation authorities continued to ban the Mejlis and impose restrictions on Crimean Tatars.

Russian occupation authorities also targeted ethnic Ukrainians. By the end of 2014, Ukrainian as a language of instruction was removed from university-level education in Crimea. According to the HRMMU, in the 2017-2018 academic year instruction in Ukrainian was provided in one Ukrainian school and there were 13 available Ukrainian language classes in Russian schools that were attended by 318 children. In April 2017 the International Court of Justice ruled on provisional measures in proceedings brought by Ukraine against the Russian Federation, concluding unanimously that the Russian Federation must “ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language.”

Occupation authorities have not permitted churches linked to ethnic Ukrainians, in particular the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to register under Russian law. Occupation authorities harassed and intimidated members of the churches and used court proceedings to force the UOC-KP in particular to leave properties it had rented for years. As of June 30, the number of registered religious organizations in Crimea decreased by 45 percent in comparison with preoccupation period.

Russian occupation authorities targeted businesses and properties belonging to ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars for expropriation and seizure. On April 26, Crimean Tatar philanthropist and businessman Resul Velilyaev, an owner of a leading food wholesale company and retail network, was arrested and transferred to Lefortovo prison in Moscow on the pretext that some of his food products had exceeded their shelf-life dates. Observers believed his arrest was connected to his support for Crimean Tatar cultural heritage projects. In late September, a Moscow court extended his arrest until December 28.

Russian occupation authorities prohibited Crimean Tatars affiliated with the Mejlis from registering businesses or properties as a matter of policy.

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

Human rights groups and local LGBTI activists reported that most LGBTI individuals fled Crimea after the Russian occupation began. Those who remained live in fear of verbal and physical abuse due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to HRMMU, NGOs working on access to healthcare among vulnerable groups, have found it impossible to advocate for better access to healthcare for LGBTI persons because of fear of retaliation by occupation authorities.

Russian occupation authorities prohibited any LGBTI group from holding public events in Crimea. According to HRMMU, LGBTI residents of Crimea faced difficulties with finding a safe environment for gatherings because of the overall hostile attitude towards the manifestation of LGBTI identity. In May a gay-friendly hotel closed due to continuous and unwarranted inspections, accusations of extremism, harassment by authorities, and an organized campaign of telephone threats by “city residents.” LGBTI individuals faced increasing restrictions on their right to assemble peacefully, because occupation authorities enforced a Russian law that criminalizes the so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors (see section 6 of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia).

Section 7. Worker Rights

Russian occupation authorities announced the labor laws of Ukraine would no longer be in effect after the start of 2016 and that only the laws of the Russian Federation would apply.

Russian occupation authorities imposed the labor laws and regulations of the Russian Federation on Crimean workers, limited worker rights, and created barriers to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the ability to strike. Trade unions are formally protected under Russian law, but limited in practice. As in both Ukraine and Russia, employers were often able to engage in antiunion discrimination and violate collective bargaining rights. The pro-Russian authorities threatened to nationalize property owned by Ukrainian labor unions in Crimea. Ukrainians who did not accept Russian citizenship faced job discrimination in all sectors of the economy. Only holders of Russian national identification cards were allowed to work in “government” and municipal positions. Labor activists believed that unions were threatened in Crimea to accept “government” policy without question and faced considerable restrictions on advocating for their members.

Although no official data were available, experts estimated there was growing participation in the underground economy in Crimea.


IN THIS SECTION: Ukraine | Crimea (ABOVE)