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Albania

Executive Summary

The Republic of Albania is a parliamentary democracy. The constitution vests legislative authority in the unicameral parliament (Assembly), which elects both the prime minister and the president. The prime minister heads the government, while the president has limited executive power. In June 2017, the country held parliamentary elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported the elections respected fundamental freedoms but were marred by allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included pervasive corruption in all branches of government.

Impunity remained a problem. Prosecution, and especially conviction, of officials who committed abuses was sporadic and inconsistent. Officials, politicians, judges, and persons with powerful business interests often were able to avoid prosecution. In response, authorities have undertaken an internationally monitored vetting of judges and prosecutors, and have dismissed a significant number of officials for unexplained wealth or ties to organized crime. Authorities also undertook technical measures, such as allowing electronic payment of traffic fines and use of body cameras, to improve police accountability and punished some lower-level officials for abuses.

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

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

There was one report that the government or its agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing.

In May, a young Romani man died in detention in a police facility in Korca. His family alleged that he died due to police abuse, claiming they had photos of his body showing signs of violence. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent, constitutional entity that serves as a watchdog over the government, concluded there was not enough evidence to bring charges. The Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC), however, reported irregularities in documenting the incident and providing medical assistance to the detainee. The Albanian Rehabilitation Center from Trauma and Torture (ARCT) reported that the police officers allegedly involved in the detention were transferred to other positions.

b. Disappearance

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

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such actions, there were reports that police and prison guards sometimes beat and abused suspects and prisoners, usually in police stations. Through September, the Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints (SIAC) received complaints of police abuse and corruption that led to administrative sanctions and criminal prosecutions. As of July, the AHC reported one case of alleged physical violence in a police facility. The Office of the Ombudsman reported that most cases of alleged physical or psychological abuse occurred during arrest and interrogation.

In May the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released a report on its February 2017 visit to the country. The report noted that in Durres, the CPT received reports of recent physical mistreatment of several persons by police, notably of severe beatings combined with blows with a truncheon or baseball bat to the soles of the feet, which the report stated “could easily be considered to amount to torture.” In all cases, the alleged mistreatment took place during questioning by officers of the crime investigation unit at Durres Police Station, and including one particular senior officer. The CPT report noted that authorities had initiated criminal and disciplinary investigations into the allegations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Poor physical conditions and a lack of medical treatment, particularly for mental health conditions, were serious problems, as were overcrowded facilities and corruption. The AHC and ARCT reported that conditions in certain detention facilities were so poor as to constitute inhumane treatment. Conditions remained substandard in police detention facilities outside of Tirana and other major urban centers.

Physical Conditions: ARCT reported the main problems prisons faced over the year were overcrowding, increases in deaths during detention, attempted suicides, and staff turnover. The government, the Office of the Ombudsman, the AHC, and ARCT reported that prison overcrowding continued. ARCT reported acute overcrowding in facilities in Elbasan, Fier (a new facility), Rrogozhina, Lushnja, Peqin, and Lezha. Overcrowding was worse in pretrial detention centers. In some cases, prison officials placed inmates not subject to disciplinary measures in isolation cells due to a lack of space elsewhere. Conditions in prison and detention centers for women were generally better than those for men.

The official cause of death for persons who died in detention was reported to be natural causes; there were no reports, however, of investigations to verify those conclusions. In six of the 10 reported cases of death in the penitentiary system in 2017, relatives complained that state authorities closed the files immediately without further investigation.

Prison and detention center conditions varied significantly by age and type of facility. The Office of the Ombudsman, the AHC, and ARCT identified problems in both new and old structures, such as dampness in cells, poor hygiene, lack of bedding materials, and inconsistent water and electricity supply. ARCT also reported some facilities had dirty bathroom facilities, no hot water, and insects.

According to ARCT, the number of inmates with mental health issues increased during the year. The Office of the Ombudsman and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that authorities held inmates with mental disabilities in regular prisons, where access to mental health care was wholly inadequate.

In its May report, the CPT also expressed serious concern that psychiatric patients at the Zaharia Special Facility for Ill Inmates in Kruja and the Prison Hospital in Tirana continued to be held under conditions that, in the CPT’s view, “could easily be considered for many patients to be inhuman and degrading.” The report also noted that living conditions in both facilities had deteriorated since the CPT’s previous visit in 2014. The government set up a working group in March 2017 to close the Zaharia prison and transfer patients to another facility.

Conditions in facilities operated by the Ministry of Interior, such as police stations and temporary detention facilities, were inadequate, except for regional facilities in Tirana (excluding its commissariats, which are smaller units falling under regional police directorates), Durres, Gjirokaster, Kukes, Fier, and Korca. Some detention facilities were unheated during the winter, and some lacked basic hygienic amenities, such as showers or sinks. Facilities were cramped, had limited access to toilets and little or no ventilation, natural light, or beds and benches. Camera monitoring systems were nonexistent or insufficient in the majority of police stations.

Prisoners serving sentences for terrorism convictions in Fushe-Kruja were frequently isolated without adherence to a clear process governing their detention or a deradicalization or rehabilitation program.

Administration: The Office of the Ombudsman reported prison and police officials generally cooperated with investigations. The General Directorate for Prisons (GDP) received 77 complaints through July, while the Office of the Ombudsman received 276 complaints from detainees and inmates through August. The majority concerned the quality of health care, prisoner welfare, and overcrowding. The Office of the Ombudsman, however, did not refer any cases for prosecution.

Corruption continued to be a serious problem in detention centers, particularly in connection with access to work and special release programs. In May, the former general director of prisons, Artur Zoto, was convicted for his involvement in creating fake procurement documents for food-supply companies. On September 19, however, the Serious Crimes Court of Appeals reversed the verdict. In July the former deputy general director of prisons, Iljaz Labi, was convicted on similar corruption charges and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and banned from public office for five years. During the year, several other senior prison staff were arrested and convicted for supplying drugs to prisoners or demanding payment for family visits.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed local and international human rights groups, the media, and international bodies such as the CPT to monitor prisons and detention facilities. In 2017 the Office of the Ombudsman conducted frequent unannounced inspections of detention facilities. The Office of the Ombudsman inspected two detention centers during the year. ARCT reported that the government favored some NGOs over others.

Improvements: The GDP reported that, as of July, overall prison overcrowding had dropped to 3 percent from 4 percent in 2017. Both the Office of the Ombudsman and NGOs reported a decrease in cases of physical and psychological abuse in prisons.

A new EU-funded prison in Shkoder for 180 pretrial detainees and 600 inmates opened on August 3.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law and constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior oversees the Guard of the Republic and the State Police, which includes the Border and Migration Police. The State Police is primarily responsible for internal security. The Guard of the Republic protects senior state officials, foreign dignitaries, and certain state properties. The Ministry of Defense oversees the armed forces, which also assist the population in times of humanitarian need. The State Intelligence Service (SIS) gathers information, carries out foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities, and is responsible to the prime minister. Constitutional amendments adopted in 2016 require the government to create a new investigation service, the National Bureau of Investigation, to work with a special prosecution office to investigate corruption and organized crime.

While the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, police corruption remained a problem. SIAC received 3,832 telephone complaints through the anticorruption “green line” through August and 6,439 telephone complaints in 2017. The service also received 1,217 written complaints through August and 1,048 in 2017. The majority of the complaints alleged a failure to act, arbitrary action, abuse of office, or a violation of standard operating procedures. Through August, SIAC filed 77 administrative violations, recommending 133 police officers for disciplinary proceedings, and referred six cases for prosecution. The Office of the Ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly concerning problems with arrests and detentions.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, the Guard of the Republic, the armed forces, and SIS, although officials periodically used state resources for personal gain and members of the security forces committed abuses.

Police did not always enforce the law equitably. Personal associations, political or criminal connections, poor infrastructure, lack of equipment, and inadequate supervision often influenced law enforcement. Poor leadership contributed to continued corruption and unprofessional behavior. Authorities continued to make efforts to address these problems by renovating police facilities, upgrading vehicles, and publicly highlighting anticorruption measures. The Ministry of Interior has established a system of vetting security officials, but the Assembly has not appropriated funds to support it.

Impunity remained a serious problem, although the government made greater efforts to address it, in particular by increasing the use of camera evidence to document and prosecute police misconduct.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires that, except for arrests made during the commission of a crime, police arrest a suspect on criminal grounds with a warrant issued by a judge and based on sufficient evidence. There were no reports of secret arrests. By law, police must immediately inform the prosecutor of an arrest. The prosecutor may release the suspect or petition the court within 48 hours to hold the individual further. A court must also decide within 48 hours whether to place a suspect in detention, require bail, prohibit travel, or require the defendant to report regularly to police. Prosecutors requested, and courts ordered, detention in many criminal cases, although courts sometimes denied prosecutors’ requests for detention of well-connected, high-profile defendants.

By law, police should transfer detainees to the custody of the Ministry of Justice, which has facilities for detention exceeding 10 hours. Due to overcrowding in the prison system, detainees, including juveniles, commonly remained in police detention centers for periods well in excess of the mandated 10-hour maximum.

There was one reported case of police failing to bring suspects before a judge within the required time. On March 31, Kukes police arrested 23 protesters (and issued warrants for 30 others) for burning toll booths on the Durres-Kukes National Highway. Police brought the detainees to court more than 48 hours after they arrested them. The Office of the Ombudsman criticized police for recording the time they processed the protestors, rather than the time of arrest. The Office of the Ombudsman recommended that the general prosecutor pursue administrative measures against the prosecutors handling the case.

The constitution requires authorities to inform detained persons immediately of their rights and the charges against them. Law enforcement authorities did not always respect this requirement. The law provides for bail and a system is operational; police frequently release detainees without bail, on the condition they report regularly to the police station. Courts also often ordered suspects to report to police or prosecutors on a weekly basis. While the law gives detainees the right to prompt access to an attorney, at public expense if necessary, NGOs reported interrogations often took place without the presence of a lawyer. Authorities placed many suspects under house arrest, often at their own request, because, if convicted, they receive credit for time served.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Although the government generally observed these prohibitions, there were instances when police detained persons for questioning for inordinate lengths of time without formally arresting them.

Pretrial Detention: While the law requires completion of most pretrial investigations within three months, a prosecutor may extend this period. The law provides that pretrial detention should not exceed three years. Extended pretrial detention often occurred due to delayed investigations, defense mistakes, or the intentional failure of defense counsel to appear. The law enables judges to hold offending attorneys in contempt of court. Limited material resources, lack of space, poor court-calendar management, insufficient staff, and failure of attorneys and witnesses to appear prevented the court system from adjudicating cases in a timely fashion. As of July, 39.4 percent of the prison and detention center population was in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political pressure, intimidation, widespread corruption, and limited resources sometimes prevented the judiciary from functioning independently and efficiently. Court hearings were often not open to the public. Court security officers frequently refused to admit observers to hearings and routinely telephoned the presiding judge to ask whether to admit an individual seeking to attend a particular hearing. Some agencies exhibited a pattern of disregard for court orders.

The government implemented an internationally monitored process to vet judges and dismiss those with unexplained wealth or ties to organized crime. As of August, 44 percent of judges and prosecutors who had undergone vetting had failed and been dismissed. As a result, only two of nine judges remained on the Constitutional Court; the others had been dismissed during the vetting process or resigned before undergoing vetting, which deprived the court of a quorum. As of August, 15 of the 19 seats on the Supreme Court were also vacant, and the court faced a considerable case backlog. The politicization of appointments to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of these institutions.

The Ministry of Justice generally did not vigorously pursue disciplinary measures against judges. When it did, the High Council of Justice (HCJ) was reluctant to enact the measures. As of August, the Ministry of Justice had initiated disciplinary proceedings against four judges. The HCJ rejected the request to dismiss them, and issued a public reprimand for one. The HCJ ordered the suspension of four appellate-court judges following investigations for corruption. One was arrested after a search of his home revealed cash in different currencies worth 250,000 euros ($288,000). His trial was ongoing at year’s end, although he accepted the evidence against him, which would result in some leniency during sentencing. A second case involved appeals judges who accepted trips to expensive soccer matches in Western Europe from litigants. The accused judges had been changing lawyers frequently to delay the start of trial.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for a fair and public trial. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until convicted. It provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, and to have a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, consult an attorney, and have one provided at public expense if they cannot afford one. The law provides defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and access to interpretation free of charge. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. The government generally respected these rights, although trials were not always public and access to a lawyer was at times problematic. To protect the rights of defendants and their access to the evidence against them, a prosecutor must apply to a preliminary hearing judge and make a request to send the case to trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

While individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, courts were susceptible to corruption, inefficiency, intimidation, and political tampering. Judges held many court hearings in their offices, demonstrating a lack of transparency and professionalism and providing opportunities for corruption. These factors undermined the judiciary’s authority, contributed to controversial court decisions, and led to an inconsistent application of civil law. Despite the statutory right to free legal aid in civil cases, NGOs reported that very few individuals benefitted from this during the year.

Persons who had exhausted remedies in domestic courts could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In many cases, authorities did not enforce ECHR rulings, especially those concerning the right to a fair trial.

Persons who were political prisoners under the former communist regime continued to petition the government for compensation. The government made some progress on disbursing compensation during the year.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The Office of the Ombudsman and NGOs reported that some claimants still struggle to obtain due process from the government for property claims. Thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved with the Agency for Property Treatment. Claimants may appeal to the ECHR; many cases are pending ECHR review. The Office of the Ombudsman reported that as of August, the ECHR had tried seven cases that involved millions of Euros in claims. The Office of the Ombudsman repeated that the government, generally, paid out according to the timeframe that the ECHR determined.

The country endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. It does not have any restitution or compensation laws relating to Holocaust-era confiscations of private property. Under the law, religious communities have the same restitution and compensation rights as natural or legal persons. The government reported no property claims had been submitted by victims of the Holocaust.

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

The constitution and laws prohibit such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect those prohibitions. As of August, the Office of the Ombudsman had received 30 citizen complaints against local Inspectorates for the Protection of Territory and nine against the National Inspectorate for the Protection of Territory (NIPT), which regulate construction, domestic development, and water resources. The Office of the Ombudsman noted there was an increase in the number of complaints for illegal, irregular, or overdue actions of local and national inspectorates. Residents in Shkoza complained that NIPT had begun to demolish their properties even though they had already started the legalization process. Some of them had documents showing legal title to the property but had not received compensation when the demolition started. The Albanian Islamic Community received similar complaints from frustrated citizens due to a lack of results in receiving compensation from the process.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the 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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Police allowed UNHCR, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the NGO Caritas to monitor the processing, detention, and deportation of some migrants, especially in southern Albania.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported a few cases of police intimidation and reluctance to accept requests for asylum. UNHCR received only one report of violence. It shared the report with the government, which took measures to address the complaint.

Authorities often detained irregular migrants who entered the country. As of August 23, authorities had detained approximately 67 migrants, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; most of those who did not request asylum were deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation. UNHCR reported that conditions at the Karrec center were unsuitable, particularly for families and children.

Through July, the Ministry of Interior reported there were 2,328 asylum seekers, including 184 boys and 105 girls, in the National Center for Asylum Seekers in the Babrru open detention center. UNHCR reported there were 2,947 asylum seekers in total through August, more than 50 percent of all migrants tracked passing through the country.

In-country Movement: To receive government services, individuals changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many persons could not provide proof and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means to register, and many lacked the motivation to go through the process.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

There were credible reports from NGOs, migrants, and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process procedures for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the system. UNHCR, Caritas, and the Office of the Ombudsman were critical of the government’s migrant screening and detention procedures. There were reports of border police pushing migrants back into Greece.

The law on asylum requires authorities to grant or deny asylum within 51 days of an applicant’s initial request. Under the law, asylum seekers cannot face criminal charges of illegal entry if they contact authorities within 10 days of their arrival in the country. UNHCR reported that the asylum system lacked effective monitoring.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law prohibits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or refugee status. UNHCR reported, however, that no asylum requests had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which included Greece.

Employment: The law permits refugees to work. The limited issuance of refugee identification cards and work permits, however, meant few refugees had employment opportunities.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance. Migrants and asylum seekers often required the intervention of UNHCR or local NGOs to secure these services.

STATELESS PERSONS

The government does not have reliable data regarding the total number of stateless persons or persons at risk of statelessness in the country.

In July, UNHCR and its partner, the Tirana Legal Aid Society, published a report mapping the population at risk of statelessness in the country. The report identified 1,031 persons at risk of statelessness, 97 percent of whom were children. The report concluded that most of those at risk of statelessness were entitled to nationality under the law on citizenship, but exercising this right was difficult. Most of the persons at risk were Roma or Balkan-Egyptian children. Unregistered children born abroad to returning migrant families were at risk of statelessness, although the law affords the opportunity to obtain nationality.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government. The law prohibits individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions.

The constitution requires judges and prosecutors to undergo vetting for unexplained wealth, ties to organized crime, and professional proficiency. Vetting was conducted by the Independent Qualification Commission, and appeals were heard by an appeals chamber. The process was overseen by the International Monitoring Operation, which was composed of international judicial experts from the United States and the EU. As of October 24, the commission had dismissed 25 judges and prosecutors and confirmed 28, while 16 others had resigned from duty rather than undergo vetting.

A number of government agencies investigated corruption cases, but limited resources, investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered investigations. In selective instances involving international actors, anticorruption agencies cooperated with civil society.

Corruption: Between January and June, the prosecutor general’s office registered 83 new corruption investigations. During the same period, 29 individuals were convicted on corruption charges, and trials began against an additional 28 individuals. . Through August, 19,295 complaints had been submitted to authorities through the online portal stopkorruption.al, 1,396 of which contained information on alleged corrupt practices. A former interior minister remained under investigation for ties to organized crime and abuse of office.

While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low-level public corruption cases, including corrupt prosecutors and judges, prosecution of higher-level crimes remained rare due to investigators’ fear of retribution, a general lack of resources, and corruption within the judiciary itself.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to disclose their assets to the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest (HIDAACI), which monitored and verified such disclosures and made them available to the public. The law authorizes HIDAACI to fine officials who fail to comply with disclosure requirements or refer them to the prosecutor.

HIDAACI reported that through August it had referred 25 new cases for prosecution involving six Assembly members, one deputy minister, one mayor, six tax inspectors, six customs officials, and 11 other government officials on charges including refusing to declare, hiding, or falsifying asset declarations, money laundering, falsification of documents, and corruption. In 2017 HIDAACI fined 296 individuals for not disclosing their assets or conflicts of interest or for violating the law on whistleblower protection.

Burundi

Executive Summary

The Republic of Burundi is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected government. The 2018 constitution, promulgated in June following a May referendum, provides for an executive branch that reports to the president, a bicameral parliament, and an independent judiciary. In 2015 voters re-elected President Pierre Nkurunziza and elected National Assembly (lower house) members in elections boycotted by nearly all independent opposition parties, who claimed Nkurunziza’s election violated legal term limits. International and domestic observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but deeply flawed and not free, fair, transparent, or credible. There were widespread reports of harassment, intimidation, threatening rhetoric, and some violence leading up to the referendum and reports of compulsion for citizens to register to vote and contribute financially to the management of the elections planned for 2020.

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

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary arrest and politicized detention by the government; prolonged pretrial detention; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; threats against and harassment of journalists, censorship through restrictive legislation, internet site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, including elections that were not found to be genuine, free, or fair; corruption; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence against women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, minority groups, and persons with albinism; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and use of forced or compulsory or worst forms of child labor.

The reluctance of police and public prosecutors to investigate and prosecute and of judges to hear cases of government corruption and human rights abuse in a timely manner resulted in widespread impunity for government and National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) officials.

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

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often against perceived supporters of the political opposition or those who exercised their lawful rights. The banned NGO Ligue Iteka, which continued operating from outside the country, documented 309 killings by the end of September, many allegedly committed by agents of the security services or members of the Imbonerakure. The assessments of Ligue Iteka and other human rights groups differed on the number of killings for which agents of the state or ruling party were likely responsible. Responsibility for arbitrary killings and exact statistics were difficult to determine due to the government’s restrictions on human rights monitors and civil society organizations (CSOs) and refusal of access to international bodies. Investigations and prosecutions of government officials and members of the ruling party who allegedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings were rare.

The 2018 report of the UN Commission of Inquiry (UN COI), whose members were denied access to the country by the government but who conducted interviews with more than 400 witnesses living in exile, restated its conclusions from the previous year and found “reason to believe that arbitrary killings remain a widespread practice in Burundi” and that members of the National Intelligence Service (SNR), police, and Imbonerakure were mostly responsible for these killings. The UN COI reported that the practice of hiding bodies, including by weighing them down with stones and throwing them into rivers or by transporting them from one province or district to another to make it difficult to identify victims, persisted. As previously reported the UN COI noted that when bodies are found, they are often buried without an investigation. The commission stated that killings were increasingly taking place in a clandestine fashion rendering documentation more difficult. The report stated that the UN COI received no reports of killings on a scale commensurate with those in 2015 and 2016, with the exception of a May 11 armed group attack in Cibitoke province of a more severe nature. The report also stated that the UN COI had reasonable grounds to believe that crimes including killings, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, and political persecution amounted to crimes against humanity. NGOs also reported numerous cases of extrajudicial killings committed by police, SNR, and military personnel, sometimes with involvement of local government officials. Local and international organizations also charged that members of the Imbonerakure were responsible for some unlawful killings, including summary executions.

Human rights organizations documented violence, including alleged killings, in advance of the May referendum. Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented the death of Simon Bizimana on March 14 following his arrest and alleged torture during a month-long detention in prison for refusing to register as a voter, which by law is not a crime. During a video, in which Bizimana was questioned by a government official prior to his arrest, he stated he would not participate in elections due to reasons of religious conscience. A hospital certificate stated that the cause of death was malaria, but witness accounts alleged his condition worsened following beatings with iron rods inflicted by police. HRW also documented the killing on February 24 of Dismas Sinzinkayo, a member of the nonrecognized Forces Nationales de Liberation party led by Agathon Rwasa (FNL-Rwasa), by members of the Imbonerakure following his refusal to show proof of voter registration. On May 13, during the two-week official campaign period before the referendum, a violent confrontation between members of Imbonerakure and FNL-Rwasa supporters in Kirundo province resulted in the death of two FNL-Rwasa members.

Burundian armed opposition groups, primarily operating from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), conducted periodic cross-border forays into Burundi that resulted in killings. On May 11, an armed group crossed the border from the DRC and attacked the town of Ruhagarika in Cibitoke province, killing 26, including women and children. The government stated that some victims were burned alive. Following the incident, the government established a domestic investigative commission, but as of November it had not publicly released its findings. On September 26, police announced the arrest of an alleged leader of the May 11 attack. The individual, Dismas Ndayisaba, stated that he was a member of the armed group RED-Tabara and that the attack was ordered by Alexis Sinduhije, an opposition figure in exile associated with RED-Tabara. Spokespersons for Sinduhije denied the accusation.

As of mid-October there were at least 48 grenade attacks throughout the country, resulting in at least 17 fatalities. It was often difficult to identify perpetrators and motives behind the attacks. While some attacks specifically targeted police and other members of the security services with apparent political motives, others were likely motivated by personal or business vendettas. Responsibility for attacks was often unclear.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports that individuals were victims of politically motivated disappearances after they were detained by elements of the security forces or in kidnappings where the identities of the perpetrators were not evident.

In September the UN COI reported that the phenomena of arbitrary arrest and detention, including in secret locations, the concealment of bodies, and the impunity prevailing in the country continued to create a climate of secrecy conducive to enforced disappearance. The report also noted the persistence of allegations that individuals were arrested by members of the security services and killed “without, in certain cases, their bodies being found.” Members of the Imbonerakure, SNR, and police continued to be responsible for most of the disappearances. The 2018 UN COI report stated that commission members had received information regarding cases of alleged forced disappearances for which insufficient details were available to document the cases.

The September report found reason to believe that Bonaventure Havyarimana, Egide Habonimana, Lionel Hafashimana, Emmanuel Nyabenda, and Benius Mbanyenimanga were subjected to forced disappearance following their detention by members of the SNR on March 2. All five were members of the suspended opposition party Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD). The report stated that SNR agents demanded ransoms from the victims’ relatives for their release and that they were allegedly killed despite payment of ransom.

Jean Bigirimana, a journalist for independent newspaper Iwacu, was abducted from his car in 2016. Bigirimana’s spouse was present at the abduction and stated publicly that SNR officers were responsible. As of October his whereabouts remained unknown. According to media reports, his spouse received several anonymous death threats in 2017 and subsequently fled the country with her children; the family continued to receive threats during the year.

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

The constitution and penal code prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were numerous reports government officials employed these practices. NGOs reported cases of torture committed by security services or members of the Imbonerakure. As of September Ligue Iteka reported 200 such cases, the majority allegedly committed by members of the Imbonerakure. According to HRW some Burundian refugees in other countries testified they had fled the country after they or their family members suffered rape and other sexual violence, torture, and illegal detention by members of the security forces.

In its 2018 report, the UN COI reported that torture and ill-treatment persisted and the methods employed remained consistent, while observing an “evolution in the profile of victims and perpetrators, as well as the goals pursued.” The report stated that since 2017 members of the Imbonerakure were the most frequent perpetrators of acts of torture but reported continued allegations of acts of torture by police officers, agents of the SNR, and Burundian National Defense Forces (BNDF) to a lesser extent. The report described acts of torture as primarily punitive, and aimed particularly at perceived political opponents. According to the UN COI, victims were beaten or kicked or were struck with stones, sticks, rods, metal bars or rifle butts, or were attacked with sharp objects such as machetes or knives. Some victims were burned with heated metal rods, including some who were tied up or handcuffed. In a number of cases, these acts were accompanied by death threats, intimidation, and verbal abuse.

Most such acts of torture and ill-treatment occurred in places of detention, including police or SNR holding cells, the Mpimba central prison in Bujumbura, and unofficial places of detention such as private homes. Several victims described conditions of detention in prisons and police cells that constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. For example, representatives of the nonrecognized FNL-Rwasa party and the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of political independents with which it was associated stated that security service members tortured detained members of the party, including individuals who participated in campaign activities prior to the May constitutional referendum.

Sexual violence remained pervasive and was often used as a means of torture to obtain information or confessions from detainees, although the COI and other observers assessed a trend toward sexual violence by government agents or members of the Imbonerakure being committed in private residences rather than in detention sites. A May report by HRW documented testimonies from Burundian refugees in Uganda and Tanzania that included accounts of acts of sexual violence committed by members of the Imbonerakure against political opponents in 2017 and during the year. Rape was also committed while police officers or members of the Imbonerakure arrested a victim’s spouse or relative accused of belonging to an opposition party.

The country has contributed peacekeepers to the African Union Mission in Somalia since 2008 and to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) since 2014. As of October there were almost 800 Burundian personnel serving in MINUSCA. The United Nations received three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) against three members of the Burundian military contingent serving with MINUSCA as of September, including one allegation of the rape of a minor. The allegations were pending investigation as of September. Burundian authorities were also investigating other SEA allegations against MINUSCA peacekeepers from Burundi referred to them by the United Nations in 2016 and 2015, in compliance with requirements of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons were overcrowded, and conditions remained harsh and sometimes life threatening. Conditions in detention centers managed by the SNR and in local “lock-ups” managed by police generally were worse than in prisons, and there were allegations that police and members of the SNR committed acts of torture, beating, and mistreatment of detainees. Prisons did not meet the standards established by the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules).

Physical Conditions: The Office of Penitentiary Affairs reported that, as of September, there were 10,373 inmates, including 4,745 pretrial detainees, in 11 prisons, the majority of which were built before 1965, with the capacity to accommodate 4,194 inmates. Of the 10,373 inmates, 560 were women and 125 were juveniles. As of October authorities held 117 juveniles (most but not all of whom had been convicted; others were awaiting trial) in two juvenile rehabilitation facilities that opened in 2015; they were allowed to participate in recreational activities and received psychosocial support and preparation for eventual return to their families and communities. In addition, there were 82 children living with their incarcerated mothers. The most crowded prisons were Muramvya (30 miles from Bujumbura), where the inmate population was at 721 percent of capacity and Mpimba (in Bujumbura) which was at 513 percent of capacity. No information was available on the number of persons held in detention centers managed by the SNR or in communal jails operated by police. There was a prison for women in Kayanza. Authorities commonly held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. No data were available on the number of deaths in detention, reports of abuse by guards, or prisoner-on-prisoner violence. There were reports of physical abuse by government officials, lack of adequate medical treatment, and prolonged solitary confinement.

Prisons did not have adequate sanitation systems (toilets, bathing facilities), drinking water, ventilation, or lighting. Prisons and detention centers did not have facilities for persons with disabilities.

According to government officials and international human rights observers, many prisoners suffered from intestinal illnesses and malaria (which were also pervasive in the country’s general population). An unknown number died from disease. Each inmate received approximately 12 ounces of manioc and 12 ounces of beans daily; rations also included oil and salt on some days. Authorities expected family and friends to provide funds for all other expenses. Each prison was required to employ at least one qualified nurse and received at least one weekly visit by a doctor, but positions were sometimes vacant and prisoners did not always receive prompt access to medical care; inmates with serious medical conditions were sent to local hospitals.

Administration: Prison authorities allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but they rarely investigated prisoners’ complaints. There were credible reports of mistreatment of prisoners, but no record that abusers were punished. Visitors were authorized to see prisoners in most cases.

Independent Monitoring: The 2018 UN COI report documented the continued existence of numerous secret, unofficial detention facilities, including one located in the headquarters of the SNR. No independent monitors were allowed to visit these secret facilities. The September 2016 UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) report concluded there were “reasonable grounds to believe” security forces and Imbonerakure had established 13 places of detention that were denied or unacknowledged by the prosecutor general, according to victims UNIIB had interviewed. In its response to the UNIIB report, the government challenged UNIIB’s “reasonable grounds to believe” there were unacknowledged detention centers by asserting there was no tangible evidence to support the allegations.

The government permitted visits requested by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the African Union, and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (CNIDH). Monitors visited known official prisons, communal jails, and SNR detention centers regularly. Monitoring groups had complete and unhindered access to those prisoners held in known detention facilities. Since the government’s 2016 decision to suspend official cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) local office, the OHCHR was not allowed to conduct prison visits.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not observe these prohibitions. The law provides for a fine of 10,000 Burundian francs ($5.65) and imprisonment of 15 days to one year for any member of the security forces found guilty of involvement in arbitrary arrest. Human rights groups reported numerous arbitrary arrests and detentions, including some involving the participation of Imbonerakure members. The UN COI described an ongoing trend of arbitrary arrests and detentions during the period of its mandate, starting in 2015, but it did not provide statistics. As of September Ligue Iteka documented 1,182 cases it deemed to be arbitrary arrests but was not able to document the subsequent disposition of all cases. Although regulations obligated government officials to notify family members of an arrest and allow communication, there were documented cases wherein families of arrested individuals did not receive timely notification or were not allowed contact with detainees.

Among other reasons for arbitrary arrests or detentions, police arrested persons on accusations of “undermining state security, participation in armed banditry, holding illegal meetings, illegal detention of weapons, or simply because they were traveling to or from other provinces or neighboring countries,” according to the OHCHR.

In 2017 there were reportedly 15 cases of children detained for “participation in armed groups, participation in an insurrectional movement, or illegal possession of arms,” all receiving legal assistance through CSOs. Some of those detained were subsequently convicted and sentenced. Those convicted were placed in government-run rehabilitation centers in Ruyigi and Rumonge provinces for children in conflict with the law and received psychosocial support, recreational activities, and preparation for eventual return to their families and communities. As of October, 14 of the 15 children arrested in 2017 were released; one was serving a sentence at the center in Rumonge. There were no further reports of children arrested under these provisions as of October.

NGOs reported numerous cases of individuals arrested without due process and accused of being part of or intending to join the armed opposition. Members of the nonrecognized FNL associated with National Assembly First Vice President Agathon Rwasa (FNL-Rwasa), and his Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of political independents, stated that security service members arrested party members in retaliation for their political activism and membership in the party, including for political activities during the official campaign period before the May constitutional referendum. Authorities charged some of those identified with the FNL with threats to state security, participation in rebellion, or illegal possession of firearms.

In July 2017 Germain Rukuki, a former employee of the banned NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture-Burundi, was arrested by SNR officials and subsequently transferred to Ngozi Prison. Rukuki was accused of acts against state security and rebellion; international and local human rights organizations criticized the nature of his detention and the charges against him as politically motivated. On April 26, Rukuki was convicted and sentenced to 32 years’ imprisonment, which he appealed. As of November his appeal was in progress. In June Rukuki broke his leg during a volleyball game in prison; he requested and was allowed access to medical treatment at a hospital in Ngozi. During his recovery following his operation, he was returned to prison; Rukuki and his lawyers argued that he needed more time for recovery in hospital. His lawyers applied for a provisional release on humanitarian grounds, but it was not granted.

In November 2017 Nestor Nibitanga, a human rights monitor and former representative of the banned NGO Burundian Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detainees was arrested in Gitega and accused of acts against state security. On January 3–he was denied bail and on August 13–Nibitanga was convicted of the charges against him and sentenced to five years in prison; his lawyer stated that Nibitanga would appeal.

In June 2017 Emmanuel Nshimirimana, Aime Constant Gatore, and Marius Nizigiyimana, all employees of the NGO Speech and Action for the Raising of Consciousness and the Evolution of Mentalities (PARCEM) in Muramvya province were arrested and similarly charged with acts against state security. In March they were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Their lawyers appealed the conviction; a hearing scheduled in July was postponed and had not been held by year’s end.

Numerous reports from human rights activists continued to detail instances in which persons arrested allegedly had to pay bribes to be released. The amount demanded typically ranged from 5,280 to 52,800 Burundian francs ($3 to $30). A September 2017 Amnesty International report recounted instances wherein persons arrested by security forces or detained by members of the Imbonerakure were subjected to extortion and asked to pay between 200,000 and two million Burundian francs ($115 to $1,150). The 2017 UN COI report stated that members of the SNR, police, judiciary, and Imbonerakure often demanded large sums of money for the release of detainees or for their transfer to official prisons.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, which is under the Ministry of Public Security’s authority, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The armed forces, which are under the Ministry of Defense’s authority, are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. The SNR, which reports directly to the president, has arrest and detention authority. Members of the Imbonerakure, who have no official arrest authority, were involved in or responsible for numerous detentions and abductions, according to reporting by multiple human rights organizations, and the Imbonerakure regularly took over the role of state security agents. In such cases Imbonerakure members often turned over arrested individuals to members of the official security services, but in some cases harassed or committed acts of violence against detained individuals without subsequently turning them over. The September report of the UN COI stated that the SNR and police continued to be the principal perpetrators of human rights violations but highlighted the increasing role played by members of the Imbonerakure. The UN COI found that impunity for these crimes was widespread and perpetuated by the lack of an independent judiciary.

The 2005 constitution provides for equal numbers of Hutu and Tutsi in the military, police, and the SNR to prevent either of these ethnic groups from having disproportionate power that might be used against the other. The SNR, however, did not achieve equilibrium between Hutu and Tutsi members, as a large majority remained Hutu; a slight majority of the police were Hutu. The May constitutional referendum removed the SNR from the security services subject to ethnic quotas but maintained the quotas for other institutions; it also maintained a clause providing for a review of the quotas by the Senate at a future date. The composition of the BNDF remained close to the quota requirement.

Police were often poorly trained, underequipped, underpaid, and unprofessional. Local citizens widely perceived them as corrupt, often demanding bribes and engaging in criminal activity. The Anticorruption Brigade, which reports to the minister in Charge of Good Governance in the Office of the President, is responsible for investigating police corruption but was widely perceived to be ineffective.

A significant proportion of police were former rebels. Approximately 85 percent of police received minimal entry-level training but had no refresher training in the past five years, while 15 percent received no training. Wages were low and petty corruption widespread.

Police were heavily politicized and responsive to the CNDD-FDD. Police officials complained that members of the Imbonerakure had infiltrated their ranks. CSOs claimed the weaponry carried by some supposed police officers was not in the official arsenal. Some police officers prevented citizens from exercising their civil rights and were implicated in or responsible for summary executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, acts of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and sexual violence. The September UN COI report stated that the Antiriot Brigade and the Protection of Institutions unit continued to be significant perpetrators of grave violations of human rights since 2015. The government rarely investigated and prosecuted these cases, which resulted in widespread police impunity and politicization.

In its response to the 2017 UN COI report, the government admitted that, “certain elements of the security forces have overstepped the framework of their competencies.” The government stated they had been held accountable by the justice system but provided no supporting documentation.

Mixed security committees, whose members came from local government, regular security services, and the citizenry, operated in towns and villages throughout the country. Local government authorities designed the committees to play an advisory role for local policymakers and to flag threats and incidents of criminality for local administration. Members of the Imbonerakure frequently occupied positions on the mixed security committees that were reserved for local citizenry, giving them a strong role in local policing, which permitted the ruling party to harass and intimidate opposition members and those perceived to favor the opposition on the local level. Government officials and a spokesperson for the CNDD-FDD confirmed that Imbonerakure members participated in mixed security committees. The mixed security committees remained controversial because lines of authority increasingly blurred between Imbonerakure members and police. Imbonerakure members reportedly detained individuals for political or personal reasons, despite having no legal powers of arrest; beat, extorted, tortured, and killed persons with impunity; and often handed individuals over to the SNR or police, indicating evidence that authorities knew of and failed to punish their conduct. According to reports by multiple human rights groups, Imbonerakure members set up roadblocks in many provinces, sometimes detaining and beating passersby and extorting money or stealing their possessions.

Independent observers generally regarded the BNDF as professional and politically neutral. The 2017 UN COI report, however, reported that military personnel were implicated in summary executions, arbitrary arrests, and torture; although the most recent COI report clarified the responsibility of BNDF members for torture in particular as “of a lesser measure.” Among the units involved in grave violations of human rights, the commission identified the Special Brigade for the Protection of Institutions, the Combat Engineer Battalion (Camp Muzinda), and the Support Battalion of the First Military Region (Camp Muha) in Bujumbura. The commission and other organizations reported that major decisions, including those that have given rise to gross violations of human rights, were allegedly made through parallel chains of command reporting to senior government and ruling party leadership.

The SNR’s mandate is to provide both external and internal security. It often investigated certain opposition political party leaders and their supporters. Many citizens perceived the SNR as heavily politicized and responsive to the CNDD-FDD. The UN COI and NGOs asserted SNR officials committed acts of torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary arrest and detention.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Arrests require warrants issued by a presiding magistrate, although police may arrest a person without a warrant by notifying a police supervisor in advance. Police have seven days to finish their investigation and transfer suspects to appear before a magistrate but may request a seven-day extension if they require additional investigation time. Police rarely respected these provisions and routinely violated the requirement that detainees be charged and appear before a magistrate within seven days of arrest.

A magistrate must either order the release of suspects or confirm the charges and continue detention, initially for 14 days, and for an additional seven days if necessary to prepare the case for trial. Magistrates routinely failed to convene preliminary hearings, often citing their heavy case backlog or improper documentation by police. The CNIDH identified some cases of prisoners held in detention without a preliminary hearing or in excess of the statutory limits for preventive detention in previous years but did not report publicly on the issue during the year. Officials acknowledged that the legal system struggled to process cases in a timely fashion and that lengthy pretrial detentions were common. A UN human rights team that visited SNR facilities in Bujumbura in 2016 reported that 25 of the 67 detainees they saw had been kept in custody beyond the prescribed maximum time. Due to suspension of the OHCHR’s memorandum of understanding in October 2016, it has been unable to verify conditions since then. There were reportedly instances in which police did not comply with magistrates’ orders to release suspects in detention, even when there was insufficient evidence to merit charges.

Lack of transportation for suspects, police, and magistrates was a frequently cited reason for the failure to convene preliminary hearings. This was a particular problem in the six provinces without prisons, where lack of transport prevented the transfer of suspects from the site of detention to the provincial court with jurisdiction over the case.

Judges have authority to release suspects on bail but rarely used it. They may also release suspects on their own recognizance and often did so. Suspects may hire lawyers at their own expense in criminal cases, but the law does not require legal representation, and the government did not provide attorneys for those unable to afford one. Prisons have solitary confinement facilities, and detainees were sometimes held in solitary confinement for long periods. Authorities on occasion denied family members prompt access to detainees, particularly those detainees accused of opposing the government.

The law provides for prisoners to have access to medical care and legal assistance. The SNR denied to lawyers access to detainees held at its headquarters in Bujumbura. The ICRC continued to have access to official prisons and detention centers. Several credible organizations, however, reported that the SNR, police, senior officials of the government, and other security organizations maintained clandestine holding cells to which no independent monitors, including the ICRC, were granted access. The September report of the UN COI documented continued cases of torture and mistreatment that occurred in secret, unofficial detention centers where national and international observers had no access.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law provides for a fine of 10,000 Burundian francs ($6) and imprisonment of 15 days to one year for security force members found guilty of arbitrary arrest. There was no evidence that this law had ever been applied. NGOs reported numerous instances of alleged arbitrary arrests wherein no underlying offense in law existed; Ligue Iteka alleged 1,182 such cases as of September. Comprehensive data were not available on the subsequent handling of the cases. Authorities released many within a day or two of their detention.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem. The law specifies authorities may not hold a person longer than 14 days without charge. As of September, according to the director of prison administration, 47 percent of inmates in prisons and detention centers were pretrial detainees. The average time in pretrial detention was approximately one year, according to the Office of Penitentiary Affairs, and authorities held some without charge. Some persons reportedly remained in pretrial detention for nearly five years. In some cases the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inefficiency and corruption among police, prosecutors, and judicial officials contributed to the problem. For example, authorities deprived many persons of their legal right to be released on their own recognizance, because public prosecutors failed to open case files or files were lost. Others remained incarcerated without proper arrest warrants, either because police failed to complete the initial investigation and transfer the case to the appropriate magistrate or because the magistrate failed to convene the required hearing to rule on the charges.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: 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 obtain prompt release if found to have been unlawfully detained. There was no record that any person was able to challenge their arrest on these grounds during the year.

Amnesty: On January 31, a presidential decree announced an amnesty of prisoners who were serving sentences of less than five years and halving the sentences of others. The government announced the amnesty would affect approximately 2,000 prisoners; as of October, the government stated that 2,611 had been released under the decree. Some of those released, including members of opposition political parties, were reported to have been subsequently rearrested. The decree specifically excluded those imprisoned for the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, armed robbery, illegal possession of firearms, threatening the internal or external security of the state, voluntary homicide, being a mercenary, cannibalism, and all other crimes committed in association with organized gangs. In September civil society organizations raised concerns with Ombudsman Edouard Nduwimana that a number of persons who received presidential pardons or who finished their sentences remained in prison. Human rights activists claimed that there were delays in the release of some prisoners eligible under the decree, and members of the banned MSD party stated that more than 100 members of their party who met the degree criteria had not been released as of October.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, there were instances when authorities subjected members of the judiciary to political influence or bribery to drop investigations and prosecutions, predetermine the outcome of trials, or avoid enforcing court orders. According to the UN COI, the rules of criminal procedure were rarely observed. Warrantless arrests of political opponents were routinely carried out, pretrial detentions were illegally extended, and judges used confessions obtained under torture as a basis for convicting defendants.

The September report of the UN COI stated there was a long-standing lack of judicial independence. The executive branch frequently interfered with politically sensitive cases to protect members of the CNDD-FDD and the Imbonerakure by issuing orders to have them acquitted or released, or to have opponents of the government convicted and imprisoned. Prosecutors and members of the security services sometimes ignored court orders for the release of detainees after judges had determined that there were no legal grounds for holding them.

There were allegations the public prosecutor willfully ignored calls to investigate senior figures within the security services and national police. Serious irregularities undermined the fairness and credibility of trials, and the failure to prosecute members of the security forces accused of abuse created an atmosphere of impunity.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

By law defendants are presumed innocent. Panels of judges conduct all trials publicly. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges and free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, if necessary, although these rights were not always respected. Defendants have the right to a fair trial without undue delay and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, although this did not always occur. Defendants have a right to counsel but not at the government’s expense, even in cases involving serious criminal charges. Few defendants had legal representation because few could afford the services of a lawyer. Some local and international NGOs provided legal assistance to some defendants. Defendants have a right to defend themselves, including questioning prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, calling their own witnesses, and examining evidence against them. Defendants also may present evidence on their own behalf and did so in the majority of cases. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law extends the above rights to all citizens.

The right to a fair trial was often violated. The September UN COI report stated judges often accepted and based decisions on evidence collected through acts of torture. In January 2017, 20 individuals accused of participating in an armed group attack on the Mukoni military camp in Muyinga province were tried, convicted, and received prison sentences in an expedited procedure in the Superior Court of Muyinga. They were reportedly tried without access to counsel, and the court reportedly did not take into account signs that some had been subjected to torture. According to HRW those standing trial had badly swollen hands and feet, many were limping, one had his arm in a sling, and another vomited blood during the trial. The judge denied a defendant’s request that the trial be postponed because he had been tortured, and wanted to be treated before presenting his defense. The defendants were convicted and sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment and each fined five million Burundian francs ($2,900), approximately 10 times the average annual income in the country, with an increase of the sentences to 55 years in prison if they failed to pay the fine.

All defendants, except those in military courts, have the right to appeal their cases to the Supreme Court. The inefficiency of the court system extended the appeals process for long periods, in many cases for more than a year.

Procedures for civilian and military courts are similar, but military courts typically reached decisions more quickly. The government does not provide military defendants with attorneys to assist in their defense, although NGOs provided some defendants with attorneys in cases involving serious charges. Military trials generally are open to the public but may be closed for reasons such as national security or when publicity might harm the victim or a third party; for example, cases involving rape or child abuse. Defendants in military courts are entitled to only one appeal.

While many of the above rights were often violated, no rights were systematically denied to persons from specific groups.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

No verifiable statistic was available on the number of political prisoners or detainees; an estimate was unavailable due to the government’s suspension of the OHCHR’s activities and refusal to cooperate with or allow the UN COI access to the country. In 2016 the OHCHR estimated there were more than 500 political prisoners or detainees, but independent observers estimated that the number of political prisoners remained in the hundreds. The government denied it held persons for political reasons, citing instead acts against state security, participation in a rebellion, or inciting insurrection. Human rights groups stated that these charges were often a pretext for repressing members of political opposition parties and human rights defenders. Before, during, and after the campaign for the May constitutional referendum, members of opposition parties, particularly FNL-Rwasa, reported numerous instances of their members being detained for political activity. Some of those detained were subsequently released, some charged, and some remained in lengthy pretrial detention. In September 60 prisoners went on a hunger strike in response to a statement by the minister of justice claiming that there were no political prisoners in the country.

The UN COI reported that political opponents were often treated unfairly, they were arrested without warrants, and their rights were routinely violated during both the pretrial and trial stages, particularly through restrictions on access to counsel or obstruction of the work of counsel.

The director of prison affairs said he could not identify political prisoners, as they were incarcerated on charges just like ordinary criminals. In some cases, however, political prisoners were confined in separate cells.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations and may appeal decisions to an international or regional court. In 2016, five civil society organizations that the government closed in October 2016 contested the decision in the East African Court of Justice. As of November the case remained in process. In January the court denied an application by the complainants for a preliminary injunction overruling their closure pending the outcome of the case. In denying the application, the court concluded that the complainants had not demonstrated that their closure caused irreparable damage.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In the wake of violence and repression, fear, hunger, insecurity, abuse, and severe economic hardship following the 2015 political crisis and harvest failures in early 2017, more than 400,000 Burundians fled to neighboring states, primarily Tanzania. As of November more than 54,000 had returned primarily from Tanzania through a formal process organized by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. There were reports that in some instances government officials and private citizens seized land owned or legally occupied by departing refugees since 2015, which complicated the reintegration of some of those who returned during the year. Some returnees also found that their houses were destroyed, either due to natural conditions or to intentional property destruction. In general, however, government officials prevented the occupation of lands belonging to refugees. Government officials cited specific instructions from President Nkurunziza in a 2015 speech to provide for the integrity of refugees’ property.

The National Commission for the Land and Other Properties (CNTB) was established in 2006 to resolve land ownership conflicts, particularly between returning refugees who had fled successive waves of conflict in the country and those who had remained. Land disputes were frequently a source of conflict given small plot sizes and the reliance of the vast majority of citizens on subsistence agriculture, and many government officials and civil society actors considered land conflict to be the top cause of killings in the country. In 2015 the president suspended the implementation of all decisions to expropriate taken by the CNTB due to violence associated with land disputes in Makamba province. The CNTB’s reported practice of generally restoring lands to returning refugees from Burundi’s past conflicts, many of whom were ethnic Hutu, led to accusations of ethnic favoritism. In January 2017 the president lifted the suspension, and the CNTB continued its work to resolve land ownership conflicts.

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

The constitution and law provide for the right to privacy and require search warrants, but authorities did not always respect these rights. The legislature passed into law a revised Criminal Procedures Code, which was officially promulgated in May. The revised law provided for warrantless searches when security services suspect acts of terrorism, fraud, trafficking in persons, illegal possession of weapons, trafficking in or consumption of drugs, or “infractions of a sexual nature.” The law requires that security services provide advance notice to prosecutorial officials but does not require approval. Human rights groups raised concerns that the breadth of exceptions to the warrant requirement and the lack of protections provided for in the law created risks of abuse. They also noted that by law warrants may be issued by a prosecutorial official without reference to a judicial authority, limiting judicial oversight of the decisions of police and prosecutors.

Police, SNR agents, and Imbonerakure members–sometimes acting as mixed security committees–set up roadblocks and searched vehicles for weapons. They conducted search-and-seizure operations throughout the year, with a particularly high number of reported searches in the weeks leading up to the May referendum. During these searches security agents seized weapons and household items they claimed could be used to supply an insurgency, including large cooking pots and mosquito nets. Members of the security forces also sought bribes in many instances, either during searches or in lieu of a search.

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 peaceful assembly, but the government severely restricted this right (see section 1.d.). The law requires political parties and large groups to notify the government with details prior to a public meeting and at least four days prior to a proposed demonstration, and allows the government to prohibit meetings or demonstrations for reasons of “public order.” When notified, authorities in most cases denied permission for opposition members to meet or demonstrate and dispersed meetings already underway. By contrast, supporters of the CNDD-FDD and government officials were regularly able to meet and organize demonstrations on short notice; these demonstrations were frequently large and included participation by senior officials.

Freedom of assembly was significantly restricted in the wake of the failed coup attempt in 2015, and these restrictions largely remained in place, with some notable exceptions. Members of the wing of the nonrecognized FNL-Rwasa and the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of independents stated that government officials harassed or arrested supporters for holding unauthorized meetings. Other political parties generally reported being unable to hold party meetings or conduct political activities outside Bujumbura, except during the official campaign period before the May referendum. Some opposition party members cited greater leeway, however, to conduct political meetings, such as party conferences than in the preceding three years. In September the FRODEBU-Sahwanya party conducted a congress in Bujumbura followed by a series of meetings in regions around the country; however, the party continued to be unable to conduct public events outside of Bujumbura.

During the official May 1-14 campaign period before the referendum, the Amizero Y’Abarundi coalition of independents led by Rwasa and some other opposition parties conducted large rallies throughout the country to publicize their opposition to, and advocate for votes against, the proposed constitutional changes. The events were widely publicized in media sources, through social media, and online, and there were no apparent constraints on Rwasa’s public discourse, which was critical of the government. There were some reports that individuals attending rallies subsequently faced arrest or harassment by government officials, security services, and members of the Imbonerakure.

Outside of the official campaign period, opposition actors continued to be restricted from conducting most political activities, and members of the Imbonerakure and security services arrested, harassed, and in some cases committed violence against individuals they alleged opposed passage of the referendum. Although government officials stated that restrictions on political speech outside of the campaign period were consistent with the Burundian Electoral Code, no such limitations were applied to government officials and members of the CNDD-FDD party, who between December and May conducted numerous events and media appearances, during which they promoted the referendum and the proposed constitutional changes.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association within the confines of the law, but the government severely restricted this right.

In January 2017 the government enacted a law constricting the liberties of international NGOs. The law includes requirements that international NGOs deposit a portion of their budgets at the Bank of the Republic of Burundi and that they maintain ethnic and gender balances in the recruitment of local personnel. The law contains several clauses that give the government considerable control over NGO selection and programming. In November 2017 an international NGO was instructed to suspend its agricultural programs due to a disagreement with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock on program design; in September the NGO was reinstated following lengthy negotiations with the government. In December 2017 another international NGO was expelled for allegedly distributing rotten seeds.

On September 27, the government’s National Security Council announced a three-month suspension of international NGOs as of October 1. On October 2, the minister of the interior clarified that the government was suspending their operations until the NGOs provided documents demonstrating compliance with the country’s NGO and banking laws. The minister required NGOs to submit a copy of their cooperative agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a memorandum of understanding with the appropriate technical ministry, a certification of compliance with banking regulations, and a plan to comply with the law’s ethnic and gender balances within three years. He stated that the ministry would review the files of each NGO as soon as it received their submissions, but that NGOs failing to provide documents within three months would be closed. Many organizations viewed the suspension as a politically motivated restriction on civil space. The suspension had an immediate and significant impact on NGO operations, including on the provision of basic services. Some international NGOs were allowed to continue medical and education programs during the suspension. As of mid-November the government had lifted the suspension on 38 NGOs, while the majority were either awaiting response to their compliance documents or still in the process of completing them.

In January 2017 the government also enacted laws governing domestic CSOs. The law requires CSOs to register with the Ministry of the Interior (or with provincial governments if they operate in a single province), a complex process that includes approval for an organization’s activities from the Ministry of the Interior and other ministries depending on their areas of expertise. There is no recourse when authorities deny registration. Registration must be renewed every two years. The law provides for the suspension or permanent closure of organizations for “disturbing public order or harming state security.”

In 2016 the government permanently banned five CSOs that it claimed were part of the political opposition. In 2016 the government announced its intention to ban Ligue Iteka, the country’s oldest human rights organization, for “sow(ing) hate and division among the population following a social media campaign created by the International Federation of Human Rights and Ligue Iteka in which a mock movie trailer accused the president of planning genocide.” The ban took effect in January 2017; Ligue Iteka continued to operate from Uganda and report on conditions in Burundi. At year’s end there were no further reported closings of domestic CSOs.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government severely restricted these rights.

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

In-country Movement: According to several news sources, the government enforced the use of “cahiers de menage,” booklets that listed the residents and domestic workers of each household in some neighborhoods of the capital. In numerous instances police arrested persons during neighborhood searches for not being registered in household booklets. Persons who attempted to cross the border to flee violence and reach refugee camps were sometimes stopped and turned back by police, the SNR, or Imbonerakure members. Stateless persons also faced restrictions on movement, because in addition to lacking identification documents, they may not apply for driver’s licenses and may not travel freely throughout the country.

The government strongly encouraged citizens to participate in community-level work projects every Saturday morning and imposed travel restrictions on citizens from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Authorities required permits for movement outside of one’s community during those hours, and police enforced the restrictions through roadblocks. There were reports that members of the Imbonerakure compelled individuals to engage in community work. Persons could obtain waivers in advance, and persons performing physical exercise were generally considered exempt. Foreign residents were exempt.

During the February 8-17 voter registration period organized by the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), government officials, members of the security services, and members of the Imbonerakure pressured citizens to register as voters. In some instances this pressure included denial of freedom of movement to citizens who did not provide proof of registration, including denial of access to market areas. In July, as the government sought what it termed “contributions” from citizens, there were also reports that citizens who did not demonstrate proof of payment faced restrictions on freedom of movement from members of the Imbonerakure and local officials.

Local governments established checkpoints on roads throughout the country on a widespread basis officially for the collection of transit taxes on drivers and passengers; the checkpoints were often manned by police or members of the Imbonerakure. Checkpoints were also established for security purposes. There were frequent allegations that those staffing the checkpoints sought bribes before allowing vehicles to proceed. In some instances members of the Imbonerakure were accused of using the checkpoints to deny free movement to individuals for political reasons, such as failing to demonstrate proof of voter registration or proof of contributions for the funding of elections, for refusal to join the ruling party, or for suspicion of attempting to depart the country in order to seek refugee status.

Foreign Travel: The price of a passport was 235,000 Burundian francs ($133). Authorities required exit visas for foreign nationals who held nonofficial passports and who did not hold multiple-entry visas; these visas cost 48,000 Burundian francs ($28) per month to maintain. The majority of foreign nationals held multiple-entry visas and were no longer subject to this requirement. Stateless persons may not apply for a passport and may not travel outside the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) counted approximately 151,520 IDPs as of September. According to the IOM, 74 percent were displaced due to natural disasters while 26 percent were displaced for political or social reasons. Some IDPs reported feeling threatened because of their perceived political sympathies. Some IDPs returned to their homes, but the majority remained in IDP sites or relocated to urban centers. The government generally permitted IDPs at identified sites to be included in programs provided by UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations, such as shelter and legal assistance programs.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees.

UNHCR estimated 68,748 refugees were in the country as of September, with a further 5,148 in the process of seeking asylum. Of the refugees, approximately 68,200 were Congolese, including arrivals during the year; 4,371 of those in the process of seeking asylum were also Congolese. Continuing violence in the DRC prevented their return. Efforts to resettle Congolese refugees in third countries, begun in 2015, continued.

Employment: The employment of refugees was subject to restrictions. The government is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Related to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees, but with a reservation regarding the employment of refugees that meant Burundian nationals had preferred access to employment opportunities. In 2016 the government committed to lifting these reservations, but as of October had not taken steps to do so.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees residing in camps administered by the government and the United Nations and its partners received basic services. The large percentage of refugees residing in urban areas also accessed services, such as education, health care, and other assistance offered by humanitarian organizations.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately 4,400 persons during the year. These individuals were primarily Congolese who crossed into the country from Lake Tanganyika in order to avoid fighting on the Fizi peninsula in January and did not subsequently seek refugee status but returned to the DRC during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR an estimated 974 persons at risk of statelessness lived in the country. All were from Oman, were awaiting proof of citizenship from the government of Oman, and had lived in Burundi for decades. Most of those who remained at risk of statelessness had refused an offer of Burundian citizenship from the government if they could not get Omani citizenship. Stateless persons face limited freedom of movement because they were ineligible for driver’s licenses and passports.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, yet corruption remained a very serious problem. The government did not fully implement the law, and some high-level government officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The constitution provides for the creation of a High Court of Justice to review accusations of serious crimes against high-ranking government officials. The anticorruption law applies to all other citizens, but no high-ranking person has stood trial for corruption.

Corruption: The public widely viewed police to be corrupt, and petty corruption involving police was commonplace. There were also allegations of corruption in the government, including incidents related to lack of transparency of budget revenue related to gasoline importation; to the management of public tenders and contracts, including in the health sector; and to the distribution of the country’s limited foreign currency reserves to finance imports. The Burundian Revenue Office (OBR) has an internal antifraud unit, but observers accused OBR officials of fraud.

The state inspector general and the Anticorruption Brigade, which reported to the Minister in Charge of Good Governance in the Office of the President, were responsible for investigating government corruption. There is also a designated anticorruption general prosecutor and an anticorruption court. The Anticorruption Brigade has the authority to investigate, arrest, and refer offenders to the anticorruption general prosecutor.

In view of the lengthy backlog of cases in the Anticorruption Court and the difficulty of obtaining convictions, the Anticorruption Brigade often resorted to enforcing the law through out-of-court settlements in which the government agreed not to prosecute if the offending official agreed to reimburse the money stolen.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires financial disclosure by elected officials and senior appointed officials once every five years, but it does not require public disclosure. The Supreme Court receives the financial disclosures. By law the president, two vice presidents, and cabinet ministers are obligated to disclose assets upon taking office, but the nonpublic nature of the disclosure means compliance with this provision could not be confirmed. No other officials are required to disclose assets.

Eswatini

Executive Summary

Eswatini is an executive monarchy. King Mswati III and Queen Mother Ntombi, the king’s mother, rule as comonarchs and exercise varying levels of authority over the three branches of government. There is a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and House of Assembly, each composed of appointed and elected members. The king appoints the prime minister. Political power remained largely vested with the king and his traditional advisors. International observers concluded the 2018 parliamentary elections were procedurally credible, peaceful, and well managed.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included restrictions on political participation, corruption, rape and violence against women linked in part to government inaction, criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, although rarely enforced, and child labor.

The government often did not investigate, prosecute, or administratively punish officials who committed human rights abuses. With very few exceptions, the government did not identify officials who committed abuses. Impunity was widespread.

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

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

In contrast with 2017, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were few credible reports that government officials employed them. During the year the government enacted the Police Service Act, which prohibits police from inflicting, instigating, or tolerating torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The new law also establishes a new disciplinary offense for officers who use violence or unnecessary force, or who intimidate prisoners or others with whom they have contact in the execution of their duties.

There were scattered reports throughout the country of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by “community police”–untrained, volunteer security personnel who exist outside the country’s formal legal structures and are empowered by rural communities to act as vigilantes, patrolling against rural crimes such as cattle rustling. In March three community police members in Manzini confronted and assaulted a young couple who had been walking together in a rural area. The assailants then raped the young woman, who was 17-years-old on the date of the incident. Each of the three community police members received sentences of 13 years’ imprisonment with no option of paying a fine to effect an earlier release. Two of the assailants received an additional year of imprisonment for the assault that preceded the rape.

In May the newspaper Times of Swaziland reported that a group of police arrested and abused a 35-year-old man whom they suspected of having committed a handful of home burglaries. When the accused reached the police station and denied responsibility for the break-ins, police allegedly tied him to a bench, where one officer sat on his chest while another wrapped plastic bags around his face. The accused told reporters that he confessed to the crimes to avoid further abuse. He led the officers to his sister’s home, where he had told them he hid the stolen items. Upon showing the officers an assortment of old furniture and other items, the accused reported that the police seemed to realize that they might have the wrong person. Police released him and reportedly told him not to tell anyone what had happened. The accused reported he sought medical treatment but lied to the nurses about how he had been injured, saying that he had fallen from a tree, because he did not want to be asked to file a police report. X-rays ultimately revealed the accused had suffered a broken rib and a dislocated shoulder. When reached for comment, a police spokesperson encouraged the accused to file a formal complaint with the station commander. There were no further media reports relating to the accused’s allegations, and it was unclear whether a police investigation ensued or resulted in disciplinary measures.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied and did not always meet international standards due to overcrowding and, in certain locations, facilities that require repair or modernization.

Physical Conditions: His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS) stated in September that the total prison population was 3,453, exceeding the prison system’s designed capacity by 615 inmates. Facilities were of mixed quality; some were old and dilapidated; others such as the women’s prison were newer and well maintained. HMCS officials reported a growing incidence of prisoner-on-prisoner violence due to increased gang activity among inmates as prison populations have expanded and diversified in recent years. During larger incidents of prisoner-on-prisoner violence that involved multiple individuals, prison officials faced growing challenges in maintaining control.

In July and August 2017, media outlets reported that during a search for contraband, prison guards wearing surgical gloves ordered a dormitory of inmates to strip naked and face the wall. Wearing surgical gloves, they hit inmates on their buttocks with fists and, according to one inmate, “squeezed their (genitals) like one does when milking a cow.”

Administration: Authorities reportedly conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment and held prison officials accountable through appropriate disciplinary measures–primarily suspensions without pay.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions by independent nongovernmental observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, African Union, local nongovernmental organizations, and diplomatic missions. Independent monitoring groups generally received broad access to prison facilities and were able to conduct unchaperoned interviews of inmates and prison guards.

Improvements: During the year the government enacted the Correctional Services Act, which repealed the Prisons Act of 1964 and expanded opportunities for sentences to be served through community service. HMCS officers reported the new law already had begun easing congestion in the prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The king is the commander in chief of the Umbutfo Eswatini Defense Force (UEDF), holds the position of minister of defense, and is the commander of the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) and HMCS. He presides over a civilian principal secretary of defense and a commanding general. Approximately 35 percent of the government workforce was assigned to security-related functions.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over security forces. The REPS is responsible for maintaining internal security as well as migration and border crossing enforcement. The UEDF is responsible for external security but also has domestic security responsibilities, including protecting members of the royal family. The prime minister oversees the REPS, and the principal secretary of defense and the army commander are responsible for day-to-day UEDF oversight. The HMCS is responsible for the protection, incarceration, and rehabilitation of convicted persons and keeping order within HMCS institutions. HMCS personnel, however, sometimes worked alongside police during demonstrations and other large events, such as national elections, that call for a larger complement of personnel. While the conduct of the REPS, UEDF, and HMCS was generally professional, members of these forces were susceptible to political pressure and corruption.

Traditional chiefs supervised volunteer rural “community police,” who have the authority to arrest suspects concerning minor offenses for trial by an inner council within the chiefdom. For serious offenses suspects were handed over to the REPS for further investigations.

Impunity was a problem. Although there were mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, there were few prosecutions or disciplinary actions taken against security officers accused of abuses. The internal REPS Complaints and Discipline Unit investigated reports of police abuse and corruption but did not release its findings to the public. In most cases the REPS transferred police officers found responsible for violations to other offices or departments within the police system. Police academy training for recruits included human rights components in line with regional standards. Some officers also attended additional training programs that included a human rights component.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires warrants for arrests, except when police observe a crime being committed, believe a person is about to commit a crime, or conclude evidence would be lost if arrest is delayed. The law requires authorities to charge detainees with the violation of a statute within a reasonable time, usually within 48 hours of arrest or, in remote areas, as soon as a judicial officer is present to assume responsibility. Authorities sometimes failed to charge detainees within this time period, sometimes taking up to a week. There is a bail system, and suspects may request bail at their first appearance in court, except in serious cases such as those involving murder or rape. In general detainees could consult with lawyers of their choice, to whom they were generally allowed prompt access. Lawyers may be provided to indigent defendants at public expense in capital cases or if conviction of a crime is punishable by life imprisonment.

Most citizens who encountered the legal system did so through the 13 traditional courts. Each court has a presiding judicial officer appointed by the king. These courts adjudicate minor offenses and violations of traditional law and custom. Authorities generally respected traditional court rulings.

The director of public prosecutions has the legal authority to determine which court should hear a case. The director delegated this responsibility to public prosecutors. Rather than refer a case to the director, police often referred cases not properly investigated to one of the traditional courts because the standard of evidence required for conviction was not as high as in the civil judicial system. Persons convicted in the traditional courts may appeal to the High Court. Prolonged delays during trials in the magistrate courts and High Court were common.

Military courts are not allowed to try civilians. They do not provide the same rights as civil criminal courts. For example, military courts may use confessions obtained under duress as evidence and may convict defendants based on hearsay.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality in nonpolitical criminal and civil cases not involving the royal family or government officials.

Judicial powers are based on two systems: Roman-Dutch law and a system of traditional courts that follows traditional law and custom. Neither the Supreme Court nor the High Court, which interprets the constitution, has jurisdiction in matters concerning the Offices of the King or Queen Mother, the regency, chieftaincies, the Swati National Council (the king’s advisory body), or the traditional regiments system. Unwritten traditional law and custom govern all of these institutions. Courts were unwilling to recognize many of the fundamental rights provided for in the constitution and instead relied on antiquated civil laws, which often reduce or disregard these rights. The king appoints Supreme Court justices on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission, which is chaired by the chief justice. Supreme Court justices must be Swati citizens and are subject to mandatory retirement at age 75. The Supreme Court hears cases throughout the year.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed of charges promptly, in detail, and with free interpretation if necessary. The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial without undue delay, except when exclusion of the public is deemed necessary in the “interests of defense, public safety, public order, justice, public morality, the welfare of persons under 18, or the protection of the private lives of the persons concerned in the proceedings.” The judiciary enforced this right. Court-appointed counsel is provided to indigent defendants at government expense with free assistance of an interpreter for any defendant who cannot understand or speak English or SiSwati if the crime is punishable by death or life imprisonment. Defendants and their attorneys have access to relevant government-held evidence, generally obtained from the Public Prosecutor’s Office during pretrial consultations. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and prosecutors have the right of appeal up to the Supreme Court. The law extends the foregoing rights to all persons.

The traditional courts operate under traditional authorities, including local chiefs. In general, chiefs preside over traditional courts as court presidents. Traditional courts hear both civil and minor criminal matters. By law traditional courts may not impose fines above 240 emalangeni ($17) or prison sentences longer than 12 months.

Traditional courts are empowered to administer customary law only “insofar as it is not repugnant to natural justice or morality” or inconsistent with the provisions of any civil law in force, but some traditional laws and practices violate civil laws, particularly those involving women’s and children’s rights. Defendants in traditional courts are not permitted formal legal counsel but may speak on their own behalf, call witnesses, and be assisted by informal advisors. Traditional law and custom provide for an appeals process, but the process is long and cumbersome. Under the constitution, the High Court has review and appellate jurisdiction over matters decided in traditional courts. Judicial commissioners within the traditional legal system may adjudicate appeals themselves or refer appeals to a court within the civil judicial system on their own volition. Appellants and appellees also have the right to seek High Court review of traditional court decisions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, including appeal to international courts or bodies. Administrative remedies are also available under civil service rules and regulations.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions except “in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning, use of mineral resources, and development of land in the public benefit.” The government did not always respect these prohibitions and broadly construed exceptions to the law. The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a magistrate before searching homes or other premises, but officers with the rank of subinspector or higher have authority to conduct a search without a warrant if they believe delay might cause evidence to be lost.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

In June, August, and September, REPS officials used nonlethal measures to control and disperse crowds when protesters deviated from agreed routes or provoked the police by throwing stones or trying to enter government facilities without authorization. Some protesters experienced non-life-threatening injuries during these incidents.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year, although there was a widespread public perception of corruption in the executive and legislative branches of government and a consensus that the government did little to combat it.

Corruption: There were widespread reports of immigration and customs officials seeking bribes to issue government documents such as visas and resident permits. In March police raided the Department of Immigration, where they confiscated files and arrested and charged two senior immigration officers. The government filed charges against one of the senior officers based on allegations she had processed applications for travel documents for foreign nationals who were not present in, and had never visited, the country. The prosecution of this case was ongoing.

Credible reports continued that a person’s relationship with government officials influenced the awarding of government contracts; the appointment, employment, and promotion of officials; recruitment into the security services; and school admissions. Authorities rarely took action on reported incidents of nepotism.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution prohibits government officials from assuming positions in which their personal interests are likely to conflict with their official duties. The constitution requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets and liabilities to the Commission on Public Administration and Human Rights. The commission is mandated to monitor and verify disclosures. There are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance. Sanctions for failure to disclose assets and conflicts of interest include removal from office, disqualification from holding a public office for a period determined by a court, and confiscation of any property illegitimately acquired during tenure in office. According to the commission, the majority of those required to declare assets and liabilities did so, but the commission suspected underreporting in some cases. The commission did not make this information public.

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