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Haiti

Executive Summary

Haiti is a constitutional republic with a multiparty political system. Voters elected Jovenel Moise as president for a five-year term in national elections held in November 2016, and he took office in February 2017. The most recent national legislative elections were held in 2016; international observers considered the elections free and fair. Prime Minister Jean Henry Ceant departed office in March after a vote of no confidence in the lower house of parliament. Legislative elections planned for October 2019 did not take place. As of December, parliament had not approved a new prime minister and cabinet, nor a budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

The Haitian National Police (HNP), an autonomous civilian institution under the authority of a director general, maintains domestic security. The HNP includes police, corrections, fire, emergency response, airport security, port security, and coast guard functions. The Ministry of Justice and Public Security, through its minister and the secretary of state for public security, provides oversight to the HNP. The Superior Council of the National Police, chaired by the prime minister, provides strategic guidance to the HNP. The Superior Council also includes the HNP director general, HNP chief inspector general, minister of the interior, and minister of justice. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included allegations of unlawful killings by police; excessive use of force by police; arbitrary and prolonged pretrial detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; a judiciary subject to corruption and outside influence; physical attacks on journalists; widespread corruption and impunity; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities; and sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination.

The government rarely took steps to prosecute government and law enforcement officials accused of committing abuses. There were credible reports that officials engaged in corrupt practices, and civil society groups alleged widespread impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution grants broad freedom of expression to citizens and protection to journalists. Civil society observers noted those rights were not always upheld or respected.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported a deteriorating security climate for journalists and said some journalists were resorting to self-censorship to avoid being publicly targeted by political or gang leaders. Complaints against police for assaults and attacks on journalists increased, compared with 2018.

Gedeon Jean, director of the Research and Analysis Center for Human Rights, claimed that members of a security detail accompanying former president Michel Martelly assaulted and threatened to kill Jean in March. The incident occurred as he was leaving a radio station. A fervent critic of the former president, Jean filed a complaint with authorities on March 25. As of September it was unclear if the case had been assigned to an investigative judge.

In December 2018 a fire destroyed the headquarters of Radio Quisqueya. The station’s co-owner was Lilianne Pierre Paul, a well known critic of the majority PHTK Party, who on several occasions had been publicly vilified by former president Martelly. Pierre Paul filed a complaint demanding that authorities investigate the “real causes” of the fire. The government offered assistance to rebuild the station, but Paul and her business partner declined the offer in order to maintain their journalistic independence. As of September the station had resumed programming.

On October 10, the body of journalist Nehemie Joseph was found in Mirebalais. Joseph had been working for Panic FM, a local radio station, and for radio Mega, located in Port-au-Prince. Eleven days later, the government fired Mirebalais prosecutor Faublas Romulus, who publicly declared knowing the perpetrators with “90 percent certainty” but failed to make any arrests.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status or asylum through Haitian missions or consulates abroad. Third-country nationals can petition for asylum through the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law criminalizes a wide variety of acts of corruption by officials, including illicit enrichment, bribery, embezzlement, illegal procurement, insider trading, influence peddling, and nepotism. There were numerous reports of government corruption, and a perception of impunity for abusers. The judicial branch investigated several cases of corruption during the year, but there were no prosecutions.

Corruption: The constitution mandates that the Senate (vice the judicial system) prosecute high-level officials and Parliament members accused of corruption, but the Senate has never prosecuted a high-level official for corruption.

On January 31 and May 31, the Audit Bureau issued reports on the government’s spending of $1.6 billion in Petro Caribe funds between 2008 and 2018. The two reports identified numerous current and former government officials and private-sector contractors involved in questionable disbursement of government funds, overbilling, collusion, favoritism, and embezzlement. The reports implicated past administrations for alleged misappropriation of public funds, as well as President Moise for alleged misappropriation of contracts worth $1.2 million prior to his presidency. Based on the Audit Bureau’s report to the chief prosecutor, on February 4 then prime minister Jean-Henry Ceant announced a formal complaint against several former government officials. On March 13, the chief prosecutor transferred the case to the judiciary, noting the involvement of several high-level officials in potentially corrupt actions. On July 15, the investigative judge assigned to the Petro Caribe case issued subpoenas for former prime ministers Jean Max Bellerive and Laurent Lamothe and several other high-level officials to answer questions regarding government spending of Petro Caribe funds.

In a separate case, in October 2018 a judge ordered the arrest of former HNP director general Godson Orelus in connection with his role in illegally smuggling arms and ammunition into the country in 2016. Orelus was charged with a number of crimes, including money laundering. After Orelus appealed the charges, a judge released him from custody in April, and an appellate court dropped the charges in May.

In November 2018 unknown assailants fired numerous gunshots into the home and vehicle of Dieunel Lumerant, the presiding judge in an arms-trafficking case involving then chief of the National Palace Security Vladimir Paraison. In January, Judge Lumerant fled the country due to fear for his safety.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all senior government officials to file financial disclosure forms within 90 days of taking office and within 90 days of leaving office. Government officials stated the requirement was not always followed. There is no requirement for interim, periodic reporting during the officials’ terms. Disclosure reports are confidential and not available to the public. The punishment for failure to file financial disclosure reports is withholding 30 percent of the official’s salary, but the government has never applied this sanction.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally cooperated with human rights groups, although they disagreed at times on the scope of certain human rights problems and the most appropriate means of addressing human rights issues. The government generally consulted human rights groups, including the OPC, on legislative matters.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The OPC’s mandates are to investigate allegations of human rights abuse and to work with international organizations, including MINUJUSTH, to implement programs to improve human rights. The OPC’s regional representatives implemented assistance programs throughout the country. Several civil society organizations commended the efforts of the OPC to engage the government and civil society organizations on human rights. Nonetheless, the OPC’s activities were restricted by its small budget, limiting its ability to execute its mandate. In April the OPC published its report for 2017-18 that contained 22 recommendations to government authorities on human rights abuses. The OPC reported that as of May the government had taken action on one of the recommendations, which pertained to prolonged pretrial detention.

In April the government worked with a MINUJUSTH-funded consultant to develop a human rights action plan to implement recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council.

The Chamber of Deputies has a Justice, Human Rights, and Defense Commission, and the Senate has a Justice, Security, and Defense Commission that cover human rights issues.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law establishes and regulates labor relations. It provides for the right of some workers, excluding public-sector employees, to form and join unions of their choice, and to strike, with restrictions. The law allows for collective bargaining and states employers must conclude a collective contract with a union if that union represents at least two-thirds of the workers and requests a contract. Strikes are legal if, among other requirements, they are approved by at least one-third of a company’s workers. The law prohibits firing workers for union activities but is unclear on whether employers can be fined for each violation. Employers should reinstate workers fired for any illegal reason, including for union activity. Article 251 sets very low fines for trade union dismissals and does not provide for reinstatement as a remedy.

The law restricts some workers’ rights. It requires that a union obtain prior authorization from the government to be recognized. The law limits legal strikes to four types: striking while remaining at post, striking without abandoning the institution, walking out and abandoning the institution, and striking in solidarity with another strike. Public-utility service workers and public-sector enterprise workers may not strike. The law defines public-utility service employees as essential workers who “cannot suspend their activities without causing serious harm to public health and security.” A 48-hour notice period is compulsory for all strikes, and strikes may not exceed one day. Some groups were able to strike despite these restrictions by being present at their workplace but refusing to work. One party in a strike can request compulsory arbitration to halt the strike. The law does not cover freelance workers or workers in the informal economy.

The government made efforts to enforce labor laws, although its efforts were not completely effective. Government officials, unions, and factory-level affiliates also continued to expand their dialogue. The labor court is located in Port-au-Prince and is under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. It adjudicates private-sector workplace conflicts. Outside of Port-au-Prince, plaintiffs have the legal option to use municipal courts for labor disputes. The law requires ministry mediation before filing cases with the labor court. In the case of a labor dispute, the ministry investigates the nature and causes of the dispute and tries to facilitate a resolution. In the absence of a mutually agreed resolution, the dispute is referred to court.

During the year the labor ombudsperson for the apparel sector and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor provided mediation services to workers and employers in Port-au-Prince, Caracol Industrial Park, and Ouanaminthe. Due to limited capacity and procedural delays in forwarding cases from the ministry to the courts, the mediation services of the apparel sector’s labor ombudsperson and the conciliation services of the ministry were often the only practical option for workers’ grievances regarding better pay and working conditions. The labor ombudsperson intervened to improve relationships between employers, workers, and trade union organizations, either upon formal request by workers, unions, or employers’ representatives, or based on labor-related human rights allegations reported by the International Labor Organization’s Better Work Haiti (BWH) program.

The penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations, and authorities did not impose or collect them. During the year the government required some factories to remedy labor violations, including violations related to freedom of association. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Antiunion discrimination persisted, although less than in previous years. Workers continued to report acts of suspension, termination, and other retaliation by employers for legitimate trade union activities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors of the economy. The labor ombudsperson did not record any instances of intimidation or employer abuse. Penalties for violations of forced labor laws were insufficient to deter violations.

There were reports that forced or compulsory labor occurred, specifically instances of forced labor among child domestics, or restaveks (see section 7.c.). Children were vulnerable to forced labor in private and NGO-sponsored residential care centers, construction, agriculture, fisheries, domestic work, and street vending. Other children vulnerable to forced labor were internally displaced persons, including those displaced by Hurricane Matthew; members of female-headed, single-parent, or large families; and LGBTI youth left homeless and stigmatized by their families and society (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The worst forms of child labor, including forced child labor, continued to be problematic and endemic, particularly in domestic service. There are no legal penalties for employing children in domestic labor. The law requires employers to pay domestic workers older than 15, but employers of domestic workers use “food and shelter” as unregulated compensation for workers age 15 and younger.

Children younger than 15 commonly worked in the informal sector to supplement family income. Children often worked in domestic work, subsistence agriculture, and street trades such as selling goods, washing cars, serving as porters in public markets and bus stations, and begging. Children also worked with parents on small family farms, although the high unemployment rate among adults kept significant numbers of children from being employed on commercial farms.

Working on the streets exposed children to a variety of hazards, including severe weather, vehicle accidents, and crime. Abandoned and runaway restaveks (see below) were a significant proportion of children living on the street. Many of these children were exploited by criminal gangs for prostitution or street crime, while others became street vendors or beggars.

The most recent study by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, published in 2015, estimated 286,000 children were working in indentured domestic servitude (restaveks), a form of trafficking in persons. Restaveks were often victims of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. The IBESR and the HNP’s specialized Child Protection Bureau protect the welfare of children. Their efforts were limited by small budgets and insufficient personnel. Restaveks were exploited by being forced to work excessive hours at physically demanding tasks without commensurate pay or adequate food, being denied access to education, and being subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Girls were often placed in domestic servitude in private urban homes by parents who were unable to provide for them, while boys more frequently were exploited for farm labor. Restaveks who did not run away from families usually remained with them until the age of 14. Many families forced restaveks to leave before age 15 to avoid paying them wages as required by law. Others ignored the law, often with impunity.

The minimum age for employment in industrial, agricultural, or commercial companies is 16 years. The minimum age for work does not apply to work performed outside a formal labor agreement. Children age 12 and older may work up to three hours per day outside of school hours in family enterprises, under supervision from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. The law allows children age 14 and older to be apprentices; children 14 to 16 may not work as apprentices more than 25 hours a week. The law states it is illegal to employ children younger than age 16, but it was unclear whether the provision supersedes older statutes that create the sectoral exceptions mentioned above. In addition it was unclear whether there is a minimum age for domestic workers.

The law prohibits anyone younger than 15 years of age from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous; interferes with their education; or is harmful to their physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social health and development, including the use of children in criminal activities. The law prohibits minors from working under dangerous or hazardous conditions, such as in mining, construction, or sanitation services, and it prohibits night work in industrial enterprises for children younger than 18. The law doubles penalties for employing underage children at night. Prohibitions related to hazardous work omit major economic sectors, including agriculture. No apparel factories were reported noncompliant with respect to child labor during the year. A BWH report covering April 2018 to March 2019 found one case of noncompliance for child labor because one factory failed to request proper identification for some workers during the hiring process.

Persons between the ages of 15 and 18 seeking employment must obtain a work authorization from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor unless they work in domestic service. The law has penalties for failure to follow procedures, such as failing to obtain authorization to employ minors between 15 and 18, but it does not provide penalties for the employment of children. The penalties were not sufficient to protect children from labor exploitation. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

The IBESR is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Resource constraints hindered the IBESR’s ability to conduct effective child labor investigations, but the IBESR and the Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM), a unit within the HNP, responded to reports of abuse in homes and orphanages where children worked. The government does not report on investigations into child labor law violations or the penalties imposed. Although the government and international donors allocated supplemental funds for the IBESR to acquire a new administrative space and hire more staff, the IBESR lacked the programs and legislation needed to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.

The National Tripartite Committee, organized by the government to help develop national policy on child labor, updated the list of hazardous work for children younger than 18 in accordance with the International Labor Organization. The hazardous work list remained unratified by Parliament.

The BPM is responsible for investigating crimes against children. It referred exploited and abused children to the IBESR and partner NGOs for social services. The BPM has the authority to respond to allegations of abuse, and to apprehend persons reported as exploiters of child domestic workers. The BPM did not investigate restavek cases because there are no legal penalties it could impose on persons who exploited children in these cases. There is no law with specific protections for child trafficking victims.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for freedom of work for all citizens and prohibits discrimination based on sex, national or geographic origin, religion, opinion, or marital status. For public-sector employment, the constitution states that women should occupy 30 percent of the positions. The labor code does not define employment discrimination, although it sets out specific provisions with respect to the rights and obligations of foreigners and women, such as the conditions to obtain a work permit, foreign worker quotas, and provisions related to maternity leave. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, social status, or HIV-positive status.

The government took some steps to enforce the laws through administrative methods, such as through the Ministry of Women’s Conditions and the Office of the Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities. In the private sector, several industries including public transportation and construction, which had been male-oriented, began employing female workers at the same pay scale as men. Despite these improvements, gender discrimination remained a major concern. There was no governmental assessment or report of work abuses. BWH’s assessment of 28 factories between April 2018 and March 2019 identified one case of noncompliance related to gender discrimination. Following the assessment, the factory where the case occurred terminated the offender.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage. The Superior Wage Council published new minimum wage levels in November. The daily minimum wage varies by profession, ranging from 250 HTG ($2.60) for domestic workers to 550 HTG ($5.70) for workers in private electricity, finance, telecommunications, and similar activities.

The law known as the 3×8 law organizes and regulates work over a 24-hour period divided into three eight-hour shifts. This law sets the standard workday at eight hours and the workweek at 48 hours for industrial, commercial, agricultural, and tourist establishments, and for public and private utilities. The 3×8 law repealed numerous provisions of the labor code, including provisions that covered working hours, overtime payment, a weekly rest day, and certain paid annual holidays. According to the ombudsperson for industrial affairs, the 3×8 law needed wider distribution to guarantee its implementation.

The law establishes minimum health and safety regulations, and it also sets requirements regarding workers’ health and safety, including rules for onsite nurses at factories, medical services, and annual medical checks. The law allows workers to notify the employer of any defect or situation that may endanger their health or safety, and to call the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor or police if the employer fails to correct the situation. Occupational safety and health standards are appropriate for the main industries, but these standards were not always enforced.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing a range of labor-related regulations on wage and hour requirements, standard workweeks, premium pay for overtime, and occupational safety and health, but it did not effectively enforce these regulations. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, and authorities often did not impose them. There were no prosecutions for the individuals accused of violating the minimum wage or hours of work.

A lack of human resources and other constraints hampered the ministry’s capacity to enforce labor laws. Labor inspectors faced challenges including a lack of funding and training, as well as a lack of support from law enforcement.

There were few reports of noncompliance with overtime provisions in apparel factories. In its 18th Biannual Synthesis Report, BWH found that most factories had at least one noncompliance issue related to emergency preparedness, working hours, or handling of chemical and hazardous substances. Management and union representatives from factories at the Caracol Industrial Park and Metropolitan Industrial Park participated in workshops led by BWH to promote management-worker dialogue, skill development, and improvements in working conditions.

BWH reported cases in which several workers exposed to work-related hazards failed to receive free annual medical exams. The Office of Insurance for Work Accidents, Sickness, and Maternity (OFATMA) is responsible for these exams. Some factories began conducting medical checks-up independently, and OFATMA continued performing its own medical checks at a number of factories. BWH continued to work with factories and OFATMA to improve compliance with this requirement.

Laos

Executive Summary

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is ruled by its only constitutionally legitimate party, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The most recent National Assembly election held in 2016 was not free and fair. The LPRP selected all candidates, and voting is mandatory for all citizens. Following the election the National Assembly approved Thongloun Sisoulith to be prime minister.

The Ministry of Public Security maintains internal security and is responsible for law enforcement; the ministry oversees local, traffic, immigration, and security police, village police auxiliaries, and other armed police units. The armed forces, under the Ministry of Defense, also have some domestic security responsibilities, including counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and border security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary detention; political prisoners; censorship; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; corruption; and trafficking in persons.

While the government prosecuted and punished officials for corruption, there were no prosecutions or punishments for officials who committed other abuses, and police and security forces committed human rights abuses with impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government severely restricted political speech and writing and prohibited most public criticism it deemed harmful to its reputation.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides citizens the right to criticize the government but forbids slandering the state, distorting party or state policies, inciting disorder, or propagating information or opinions that weaken the state. On September 16, police arrested Houayheuang Xayabouly on charges of defaming the country when she criticized on Facebook the government’s response to flooding in Champassak and Salavan Provinces. She had previously used social media to criticize graft and greed among government officials. She pled guilty and in November was sentenced to five years in prison and a 20 million kip ($2,260) fine.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally exercised self-censorship, particularly after the 2012 disappearance of an internationally respected civil society advocate. NGOs said they also tried to avoid saying anything that might further delay government approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) needed to carry out their work. NGOs reported that citizens are taught at an early age not to criticize the government.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The state owned and controlled most domestic print and electronic media. Local news reflected government policy. The government permitted publication of several privately owned periodicals of a nonpolitical nature, including ones specializing in business, society, and trade. By law foreign media must submit articles to the government before publication; however, authorities did not enforce these controls. The government did not allow foreign news organizations to set up bureaus in the country, except those from neighboring communist states China and Vietnam.

Although the government closely controlled domestic television and radio broadcasts, it did not interfere with broadcasts from abroad. Citizens had 24-hour access to international stations via satellite and cable television. The government required owners of satellite receivers to register them and pay a one-time licensing fee, largely as a revenue-generating measure, but otherwise made no effort to restrict their use.

The government restricted the activities of foreign journalists. Authorities denied journalists free access to information sources and at times required them to travel with official escorts.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Officials reviewed all articles in privately owned periodicals after publication and by law could penalize those whose articles did not meet government approval. Publishers and journalists were generally aware of what content the government would approve for publication and practiced self-censorship. The Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism’s Mass Media Department did not confirm whether the government disapproved any publication during the year.

Authorities prohibited dissemination of materials deemed subversive of national culture or politically sensitive. Any person found guilty of importing a publication considered offensive to national culture was subject to a fine of one to three times the value of the item or imprisonment of up to one year.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The government restricted freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

In-country Movement: Citizens traveling for religious purposes, including to minister, give advice, or visit other churches are required to seek permission from central and provincial authorities. This process can take several weeks. Christian groups reported problems obtaining permission to travel within the country, although many chose to ignore this requirement.

The government’s policy for Hmong separatists who either surrendered internally or returned from Thailand was to offer them amnesty and return them to their community of origin whenever possible.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated in some cases with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. For example, in August, four Thai activists living in Laos applied for and received asylum in France. As mentioned earlier (section 1.b.), however, Thai political activists living in the country have disappeared in recent years.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Public Security did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status but dealt with individuals on a case-by-case basis.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law denies citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, and it did not provide for the free expression of the will of the people. Although the constitution outlines a system comprising executive, legislative, and judicial branches, the LPRP controlled governance and leadership at all levels through its constitutionally designated leading role.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials and the government made some progress in addressing corruption. Some officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Official corruption was widespread and found at all levels of government, and was acknowledged by government-controlled media. In March local media reported that investigating agencies discovered more than 1,000 cases of corruption in 2018, with 1,285 persons involved (including 970 government officials and 315 persons from the private sector). The government established an anticorruption hotline that reportedly was often used, and members of the public frequently raised awareness of government officials’ inappropriate or suspicious activities on social media; such postings were not censored or removed.

In 2018 the government prosecuted 55 persons in cases that cost the government $113.6 million, up from $45 million in 2017. Many cases involved bribery or theft in connection with infrastructure development projects. In March, 18 state employees in Attapeu Province were dismissed for embezzlement and property theft. In April, 19 party members and state employees were dismissed for embezzlement and 21 were disciplined for involvement with illegal timber trading. Earlier in the year, authorities in Xayaburi Province disciplined 102 provincial government workers for violating LPRP rules. In May, Xiengkhouang Province authorities punished officials for embezzling several million dollars by “re-educating” 16 officials, demoting two, and issuing a warning to nine others.

Financial Disclosure: There is no legal requirement for public disclosure of assets and income by appointed or elected officials, although LPRP policy requires senior officials, prior to taking their designated positions, to disclose their personal assets and those of their dependents, but not their incomes, to the party’s inspection committee. The committee inspects the officials’ assets before and after they have been in their positions. Persons not compliant with this policy are subject to unspecified sanctions, although the LPRP used its control of government authorities and media to block public censure of corrupt officials who were party members.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups operated only under government oversight, and the government limited their ability to investigate or publish findings on human rights abuses.

The government intermittently responded in writing to requests for information on the human rights situation from international human rights organizations. Moreover, the government maintained human rights dialogues with some foreign governments and continued to receive training in UN human rights conventions from international donors.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government continued to support a National Committee on Human Rights, chaired by the minister to the Prime Minister’s Office, and composed of representatives from the government, National Assembly, the judiciary, and LPRP-affiliated organizations. The Department of Treaties and Legal Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs acts as the secretariat for the National Human Rights Steering Committee and has authority to review and highlight challenges in the protection of human rights.

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

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 worker organizations independent of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU), an organ of the LPRP. The law defines collective bargaining but does not set out conditions, and it requires the examination of all collective bargaining agreements by the Labor Administration Agency. The law provides for the right to strike, subject to certain limitations. The law does not permit police, civil servants, foreigners, and members of the armed forces to form or join unions. There is a general prohibition against discrimination against employees for reasons unrelated to performance, although there is no explicit prohibition against antiunion discrimination. There is no explicit requirement for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law requires a workforce of 10 or more workers to elect one or more employee representatives. Where a trade union exists, the head of the union is by default the employee representative. Both representatives and trade union heads may bargain collectively with employers on matters including working conditions or recruitment, wages, welfare, and other benefits.

Trade union law allows workers in the informal economy, including workers outside of labor units or who were self-employed, to join LFTU-affiliated unions. It also established rights and responsibilities for “laborer representatives,” which the law defines as “an individual or legal entity selected by the workers and laborers in labor units to be a representative to protect their legitimate rights and interest.”

There was no information on the resources dedicated to enforcement of freedom of association provisions of the labor laws. Penalties under law for infringing on workers’ freedom of association include fines, incarceration, and/or business license revocation; these penalties were sufficient to deter violations, although violations and enforcement were rare.

The government reported the law permits affiliation between independent unions of separate branches of a company but that it does not explicitly allow or disallow affiliation at the industry, provincial, or national levels. There were reports that unions not affiliated with the LFTU existed in some industries, including the garment industry, light manufacturing, and agricultural processing. These unions were not allowed to strike.

Labor disputes reportedly were infrequent, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare generally did not enforce the dispute resolution section of the labor law, especially in dealings with joint ventures in the private sector. In February 2018 the government issued a decree to help resolve labor disputes, including disputes related to salaries and working hours.

According to local law, workers who join an organization that encourages protests, demonstrations, and other actions that might cause “turmoil or social instability” can face prison time. The government’s overall prohibition of activities it considered subversive or demonstrations it considered destabilizing, workers’ lack of familiarity with the provisions of the amended labor law, and general aversion to open confrontation continued to make workers extremely unlikely to exercise their right to strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prohibits private employers from using forced labor, and the penalties for perpetrating forced labor can include fines, suspension from work, revocation of business license, and prosecution. The law allows for prisoners to work. There may be civil or criminal prosecutions for forced labor violations. Penalties for trafficking in persons, which includes forced labor, consist of imprisonment, fines, and confiscation of assets. Such penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. Due to limited numbers of inspectors, among other factors, the government did not effectively enforce the law.

According to civil society organizations, the establishment of large-scale, foreign-financed agricultural plantations led to displacement of local farmers. Unable to continue traditional practices of subsistence agriculture, many farmers sought employment as day laborers through local brokers.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Child labor is outlawed except under very strict, limited conditions that ensure no interference with the child’s education or physical well-being. Age 14 is the minimum for employment. The law allows children from ages 14 to 18 to work a maximum of eight hours per day, provided such work is not dangerous or difficult. Employers may, however, employ children from ages 12 to 14 to perform light work. The law applies only to work undertaken in a formal labor relationship, not to self-employment or informal work.

The Ministry of Public Security and Justice, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, including in the informal economy, but enforcement was ineffective due to the lack of inspectors. The law prescribes penalties of imprisonment and fines, which were not sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare conducted public awareness campaigns, organized workshops with the National Commission for Mothers and Children in the northern and southern provinces, and collected data on child labor as part of its effort to implement the National Plan of Action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labor.

There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law requires equal pay for equal work, although a gender wage gap persisted, and prohibits discrimination in hiring based on a woman’s marital status or pregnancy, and it protects against dismissal on these grounds. The government enforced prohibitions against employment discrimination or requirements for equal pay; penalties under law included fines but were insufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In May 2018 the government raised the monthly minimum wage for all private-sector workers; it is higher than the estimated national poverty line.

The law provides for a workweek limited to 48 hours (36 hours for employment in dangerous activities). Overtime may not exceed 45 hours per month, and each period of overtime may not exceed three hours. Employers may apply to the government for an exception, which the law stipulates workers or their representatives must also approve.

Occupational health and safety standards existed, but inspections were inconsistent. The law provides for safe working conditions and higher compensation for dangerous work, but it does not explicitly protect the right of workers to remove themselves from a hazardous situation. In case of injury or death on the job, employers are responsible to compensate the worker or the worker’s family. The law requires employers to report accidents causing major injury to or death of an employee or requiring an employee to take a minimum of four days off work to the Labor Administration Agency. The law also mandates extensive employer responsibility for workers who became disabled while at work. The law does not specify penalties for noncompliance with occupational safety and health provisions, but they could include warnings, fines, “re-education,” or suspension of business license.

The law also prohibits the employment of pregnant women and new mothers in occupations deemed hazardous to women’s reproductive health. The law requires the transfer of women working in such jobs to less demanding positions, and they are entitled to maintain the same salary or wage.

The government did not always effectively enforce the law.

The Department of Labor Management within the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare is responsible for workplace inspections. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance.

Some piecework employees, especially on construction sites, earned less than the minimum wage. The overtime or wage law was not effectively enforced.

There were a number of undocumented migrant workers in the country, particularly from Vietnam and Burma, who were vulnerable to exploitation by employers in the logging, mining, and agricultural sectors. Migrants from China and Vietnam also worked in construction, plantations, casinos, and informal service industries, sectors where wage and occupational safety and health violations were common.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future