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Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Read A Section: The Area Administered By Turkish Cypriots

Republic of Cyprus

The government of the Republic of Cyprus is the only internationally recognized government on the island, but since 1974 the northern third of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriots.  This area proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” in 1983.  The United States does not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” nor does any country other than Turkey.  A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island.  A buffer zone, or “Green Line,” patrolled by a UN Peacekeeping Force, separates the two sides.  This report is divided into two parts:  the Republic of Cyprus, and the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The northern part of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriots since 1974 and proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” in 1983. The United States does not recognize the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” nor does any country other than Turkey. In 2020 Ersin Tatar was elected “president” and leader of the Turkish Cypriot community in elections widely seen as influenced by pro-Tatar interference from Turkey. In 2018 voters elected 50 “members of parliament” in free and fair elections. The “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” “constitution” is the basis for the “laws” that govern the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities.

Police are responsible for enforcement of the “law.” The “chief of police” is nominally under the supervision of the “Prime Ministry.” Police and Turkish Cypriot security forces, however, are ultimately under the operational command of the Turkish armed forces, as provided by the “constitution,” which entrusts responsibility for public security and defense to Turkey. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminal libel “laws”; refoulement of asylum seekers; serious acts of “government” corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national minorities.

Authorities took steps to investigate officials following allegations of human rights abuses and corruption. There was evidence, however, of impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The “law” does not refer explicitly to torture but does prohibit police mistreatment of detainees under the section of the “criminal code” that deals with assault, violence, and battery. There were reports that police abused detainees.

In February police arrested Russian fugitive Alexander Satlaev in Kyrenia four days after he escaped from the “Central Prison.” The Turkish Cypriot Bar Association Human Rights Committee, Refugee Rights Association, Turkish Cypriot Human Rights Foundation, and other human rights organizations issued a joint statement claiming police subjected Satlaev to inhuman treatment and torture. Organizations reported a police officer pulled Satlaev’s hair and that there were bruises on his arms and his face. Online news outlets posted photographs and videos purportedly showing a police officer pulling Satlaev’s hair while his arms were handcuffed behind his back.

The “attorney general’s office” reported they received four complaints concerning police battery and use of force and had launched investigations into all four cases. The “attorney general’s office” determined two of the complaints were baseless, based on statements from eyewitnesses. Investigations regarding the other two cases continued at year’s end.

The “attorney general’s office” also reported the completion of three investigations regarding police mistreatment pending since 2020: two complaints were assessed to be baseless; the third resulted in a police officer being charged with abuse. The trial was pending at year’s end.

An “attorney general’s office” investigation concluded that a complaint by two female international students of police mistreatment in July 2020 was unfounded. The students had reported that they were forced into a vehicle by four undercover police officers, beaten in the vehicle and at a police station, and then released 24 hours later without any explanation. Press outlets published photos of their bruised faces. The “attorney general’s office” determined the students were fighting in the street while intoxicated and had refused to report to the police station to provide statements, so police detained both students and held them overnight at the police station. The students were charged with disturbing the peace and public intoxication.

In one of the complaints, which it assessed to be baseless, the “attorney general’s office” determined that a complainant’s injuries in 2019 resulted from a traffic accident that occurred three days prior to an alleged abuse complaint. The complainant was charged with providing false statements to police and fined.

In April a police officer was sentenced to 50 days in prison after a video was published of the officer kicking a detained tourist in the presence of other officers at the Ercan (Timbou) airport in 2019. Other police officers present during the incident received administrative penalties. According to local press, the detainee was drunk and yelled at police for getting his cell phone wet during the security screening.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions did not meet international standards in a number of areas, including overcrowding, sanitary conditions, medical care, heating, and access to food. A nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported asylum seekers were detained in overcrowded, “government”-run detention centers pending their return to Turkey.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was reported to be a problem. The “Central Prison,” the only prison administered by Turkish Cypriots, is in the northern part of Nicosia and has an official capacity of 454 inmates. Authorities stated the number of prisoners and pretrial detainees at the “Central Prison” was 622 in October, after peaking at 633 earlier in the year, requiring the use of prison classrooms and computer rooms as cells for inmates. Press reported as many as 45 to 50 persons for every 10 square meters (107.6 square feet) living in unhygienic conditions. An NGO that visited both the “Central Prison” and detention centers reported conditions remained deplorable: asylum seekers complained about inadequate sleeping arrangements, poor hygienic conditions, insect infestation, poor ventilation, lack of heating and cooling systems, lack of access to fresh air or shower facilities, inadequate food, and no access to internet or phones. Asylum seekers at detention centers, as a general practice, were provided sandwiches twice a day.

NGOs, media, and the “ombudsman” reported overcrowding remained a problem. An NGO also reported receiving complaints about police mistreatment of detainees in police detention centers. Most of the complaints alleged inhuman conditions in the detention centers and that police officers verbally abused detainees. According to NGOs, the “Central Prison” did not effectively separate adults and juveniles, and there were no detention or correction centers for children. Due to lack of space, pretrial detainees and prisoners occupied the same cells. NGOs reported conditions were better in the women’s section of the prison.

NGOs reported that the lack of security cameras at detention centers and in parts of the “Central Prison” allowed police officers and prison guards to abuse detainees with impunity. In addition, NGOs reported that sanitation remained a significant problem in the “Central Prison,” with inadequate access to hot water. Authorities stated hygiene supplies were insufficient due to an increasing number of inmates. An NGO also reported the police detention facilities lack hygienic conditions, direct sunlight, proper ventilation, and access to water.

NGOs claimed that prison health care was inadequate, lacking sufficient medical supplies and a full-time doctor. NGOs reported testing for contagious diseases at the “Central Prison” was haphazard and inconsistent. In June 2020 the Prison Guards Association chair stated that overcrowding in prison cells created a breeding ground for contagious diseases. Authorities reported all inmates were subject to hospital health checks before entering the “Central Prison.” Authorities stated a doctor visited the prison twice a week and was on call for emergencies. A dentist visited the prison once per week, a dietician visited twice per week, and there were two full-time psychologists at the prison, according to authorities.

An NGO reported that the detention center at Ercan (Timbou) airport lacked proper ventilation and access to natural light. The NGO stated hygiene was a concern because there was only one bathroom inside each detention room and the rooms were not regularly cleaned.

An NGO reported that pandemic quarantine centers generally included cells where individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 were placed together with close contacts or travelers undertaking mandatory quarantine after their arrival in the country.

In October local press reported COVID-19 continued to spread at the “Central Prison,” with 125 inmates and eight guards testing positive for COVID-19 in one week. The COVID-19 positive inmates were first placed in a quarantine hotel and later transferred to a newly constructed – but at the time, not yet fully functional – prison meant to replace the “Central Prison.” After several days at the new prison, the inmates were sent back to another quarantine hotel as the infrastructure at the new prison was inadequate, including a lack of running water and closed-circuit cameras. Multiple media outlets reported the inmates did not have water for three days.

Administration: Authorities reported an investigation of a complaint regarding a prison guard’s mistreatment and battery against an inmate. Authorities reported there were no intentional or nonintentional deaths at the “Central Prison.” Authorities stated facilities were available for Muslim prisoners and detainees to conduct their religious observance but that due to space restrictions, inmates generally conducted their religious observance in their cells. No equivalent facilities or space was provided for non-Muslim prisoners to conduct religious observances, services, or prayers. Non-Muslim clergy were permitted to visit the prison, although there were no reports of such visits.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally permitted prison monitoring but with some restrictions. An NGO reported the physical conditions at the “Central Prison” could not be observed in detail, as their staff were not allowed to visit the cells. They were only allowed to conduct detainee interviews in the visitor waiting room or in areas designated for private conversations.

Improvements: Authorities reported that the “Ministry of Health” provided disinfectant and masks to the “Central Prison” to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Authorities also reported that all prisoners and prison guards had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Authorities reported some inmates completed their high school education and exams online. While in-person visits were restricted due to the pandemic, inmates held video conferences with their families.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees: “Judicial warrants” are required for arrests. According to the “law,” police must bring a detained person before a “judge” within 24 hours of arrest. Police can then keep the detainee in custody for up to three months, but a “judge” must review the detention after the third day and every eight days thereafter. Authorities generally respected this right and usually informed detainees promptly of charges against them, although they often held individuals believed to have committed a violent offense for longer periods without charge.

Bail may be granted by the “courts” and was routinely used. “Courts” confiscated detainees’ passports pending trial. Human rights contacts and an NGO reported that translators were not available for non-Turkish speakers, forcing defense attorneys or NGOs to provide one. As in previous years, according to an NGO and a human rights attorney, during the detention review process, officials pressured detainees to sign confessions in order to be released on bail. The lawyer cited situations in which police used the threat of prolonged detention to induce detainees to plead guilty.

According to the “constitution,” indicted detainees and prisoners have the right to access legal representation. Authorities usually allowed detainees prompt access to family members and a lawyer of their choice, but as in previous years, NGOs reported there were cases in which authorities prevented detainees from seeing a lawyer. Authorities provided lawyers to the indigent only in cases involving violent offenses. According to NGOs and human rights attorneys, police sometimes did not observe required legal protections, particularly at the time of arrest. Suspects who demanded the presence of a lawyer were sometimes physically intimidated or threatened with stiffer charges.

A lawyer reported a “Central Prison” “regulation” prohibits sentenced individuals in solitary confinement from meeting with a lawyer without the “prison director’s” permission. The “prison director” has the authority to deny the visit without providing justification.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The “law” provides for an independent judiciary, and authorities generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Most criminal and civil cases begin in “district courts,” whose decisions can be appealed to the “Supreme Court.” Civilian “courts” have jurisdiction in cases where civilians face charges of violating military restrictions, such as filming or photographing military zones.

Trial Procedures

The “law” provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and independent judicial authorities generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. NGO representatives and human rights lawyers stated defendants generally enjoyed the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The “constitution” provides for fair, timely, and public trials, the defendant’s right to be present at those trials, and the defendant’s right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner (or, in cases of violent offenses, to have one provided at public expense if unable to pay). The “attorney general’s office” reported the pandemic and COVID-19 mitigation measures delayed investigations, prosecutions, and court proceedings. The “attorney general’s office” reported the “courts” often chose to ban departure from the island or request a pecuniary guarantee in order to avoid sending pretrial detainees to prison for minor offenses.

There was insufficient free interpretation for some languages and insufficient professional translation in “courts.” Lawyers and NGOs claimed authorities haphazardly recruited nonprofessional translators who did not translate everything said during proceedings. Inadequate translation delayed hearings and prolonged defendants’ detentions.

Defendants may question prosecution witnesses and present evidence and witnesses on their behalf. They cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have a right to appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

As in previous years, there were reports of detention and deportation to Turkey of persons with alleged ties to Fethullah Gulen and his movement. The Turkish government holds Gulen responsible for the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey and designated his network as the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization” (“FETO”).

According to press reports in March, police arrested an alleged Gulen movement member in the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) and transferred him to a Turkish General Directorate of Security Interpol-Europol team, who took him to Turkey.

In July 2020 the Turkish “ambassador” to the “TRNC” stated the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” was the first “foreign country” to define “FETO” as a terror organization and that cooperation between Turkish and “TRNC” authorities would continue toward identifying additional members of Gulen’s network.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic “courts.” After exhausting local remedies, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions that involve human rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Property Seizure and Restitution

Greek Cypriots continued to pursue property suits against the Turkish government in the ECHR for the loss of property in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities since 1974.

A property commission handles claims by Greek Cypriots. As of November the commission had paid more than 318 million British pounds ($420 million) in compensation to applicants this year.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

The “law” prohibits such actions. There were reports that police subjected Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities to physical surveillance and monitoring, including police patrols and questioning. Greek Cypriot and Maronite residents reported that police required them to report their location and when they expected visitors. A Maronite representative asserted that Turkish armed forces continued to occupy 18 houses in the Maronite village of Karpasia.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The “law” provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and authorities generally respected this right. Libel and blasphemy are criminalized, but these “laws” are rarely enforced by “courts.” While individuals were sometimes able to criticize authorities publicly without reprisal, human rights defenders, NGOs, and press reported a marked increase in harassment and threats against critics of the “TRNC government,” of Turkish interference into Turkish Cypriot affairs, and of Turkish President Erdogan.

Freedom of Expression: It is a criminal offense to insult the “government,” the Turkish government, or “government” officials. This often led journalists and others to self-censor. According to NGOs, journalists, and human rights defenders, authorities advised some journalists not to criticize the Turkish government. An NGO reported that due to perceived pressure and potential reaction from Turkey, some journalists did not express their critical opinions and preferred to remain silent. According to a survey conducted by the Center for Migration, Identity, and Rights Studies, 63 percent of respondents said freedom of speech had declined in the past year.

According to media reports and human rights defenders, police prevented opposition political parties, NGOs, and unions from assembling in front of the Turkish “embassy” on March 12 and March 21 to demonstrate against the arrest of Leftist Movement member Abdullah Korkmazhan. Following complaints from the Turkish Justice and Reform Party youth branch, authorities arrested Korkmazhan and three others on March 12 on suspicion of vandalizing “Love Erdogan” billboards. Korkmazhan was charged with “conspiracy to create a secret alliance” and released, only to be detained again on March 19 after making remarks critical of “president” Tatar during a subsequent protest. Korkmazhan said that police confiscated his cell phone and charged him with insulting the “TRNC president.” The “president” formally asked the court to sentence Korkmazhan to five years in prison. The court released him on bail for 25,000 Turkish lira ($2,717 as of mid-October) and ordered him to report in-person to a police station weekly. As of November Turkish Cypriot police still had Korkmazhan’s cell phone in their possession. In March Tatar filed another defamation and slander lawsuit against Korkmazhan, seeking compensation of 100,000 Turkish lira ($10,870 as of mid-October) for the speech he delivered at the protest against Tatar. The charges against Korkmazhan were pending at year’s end, and he reportedly continued to appear at a police station every week.

This Country is Ours Platform, an umbrella organization for more than 25 trade unions and political parties that supports a federal solution to the Cyprus problem, released a statement criticizing Turkey’s suppression of freedom of expression in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots. The Cyprus Press Council, a bicommunal umbrella organization for left-wing, pro-solution parties, issued a statement criticizing Korkmazhan’s arrest as an attempt to “muzzle” critics in northern Cyprus. In March several unions and left-wing political parties issued a joint statement expressing concern that increased suppression of freedom of expression in Turkey was having a spillover effect in the “TRNC.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While authorities usually respected press and media freedom, at times they harassed, intimidated, or arrested journalists or otherwise obstructed their reporting.

In March the Turkish Cypriot Journalists Association and the Press Workers Union held a demonstration with approximately 200 participants in support of press freedom and freedom of expression. In their joint statement to the press, the association and the union stated there has been an increase of insults, pressure, mobbing, and violence against journalists in northern Cyprus, and that freedom of expression and freedom of the press was under threat.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports that defendants in some “court” cases allegedly threatened journalists, who also faced pressure to report favorably on companies that advertised in their publications.

A journalist association reported some journalists were verbally and physically attacked at “court” hearings by detainees or their families or friends. Other journalists reported being similarly assaulted while reporting at hospitals and police stations by individuals associated with detainees.

In October the Turkish Cypriot Journalist’s Association condemned the beating of journalist Suna Erden for attempting to photograph right-wing National Democratic Party leader Buray Buskuvutcu as he was entering the Kyrenia District “Court.” The association reported Erden was blocked by 15 individuals known to be Buskuvutcu’s security guards and physically attacked outside the “court.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists cannot interview or report on persons under control of the armed forces.

Journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid losing their jobs. Journalists reported some press representatives censored themselves when reporting on Turkey’s role in Cyprus and on Turkish leadership. A labor union leader reported a journalist was dismissed from his job for reading and talking about an anti-Erdogan article on a local television channel operated by “president” Tatar’s wife.

Libel/Slander Laws: The “law” criminalizes libel and blasphemy, although “courts” often declined to convict defendants on those charges, citing free speech legal precedent.

Internet Freedom

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

In July 2020 a cybercrime “law” was passed in “parliament” and approved by the “presidency.” According to the “law,” any verbal or physical attacks made with deliberate intent to harm individuals, institutions, or organizations over the internet is considered a crime. Human rights defenders expressed concern the new “law” could be used to suppress free speech. Penalties range from six to 200 times the minimum monthly wage and from one to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports of “government” restrictions on cultural events. There were no reports of blocked visits during the year; although, for much of the year, foreign tourists were not permitted to enter due to COVID-19-related restrictions.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The “government” sometimes limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The “law” provides for the right of peaceful assembly, and the government usually respected this right, although some restrictions were reported. A labor union reported police sometimes interfered in demonstrations and at times used force against peaceful demonstrators.

Throughout the year, some union representatives reported police obstructed unions and civil society organizations from marching and opening banners in front of the Turkish “embassy” during demonstrations and protests. For example, according to local press reports, in March police prevented unions and associations from demonstrating in front of the “parliament” and the Turkish “embassy” on at least two occasions.

In August the NGO Voice of International Students in Cyprus (VOIS) reported some of its members and representatives of other student groups were allegedly threatened by police and prevented from issuing a press release in front of the “parliament.” After VOIS reportedly notified police that 10 to 15 students planned to read a press release in front of “parliament,” the student group declined a request from police to provide additional information about the planned demonstration. On the day of the protest, 20 to 30 police officers reportedly physically forced the students away from the area and told them they did not have the right to protest. Police allegedly told VOIS that according to “TRNC laws,” foreigners are not permitted to organize protests. The altercation ended with police allegedly threatening to arrest the students and to declare VOIS an illegal entity.

Freedom of Association

The “law” provides for the freedom of association, and the “government” usually respected this right.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The “law” provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Authorities generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: Authorities required individuals to show identification when crossing the “Green Line.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some checkpoint crossings on the island were closed during the year, at times causing altercations with authorities (see section 2.d. of the Republic of Cyprus report).

In January Turkish Cypriot workers who crossed the buffer zone daily to work in the government-controlled area of Cyprus held a series of demonstrations at “parliament” and at various buffer zone checkpoints. They protested the “Ministry of Health’s” COVID-19-related decision preventing Turkish Cypriot workers from crossing to the south of the Green Line for employment or other purposes without quarantine requirements.

Foreign Travel: Only Turkey recognizes travel documents issued by the “TRNC.” Some Turkish Cypriots used Turkish travel documents, but many obtained travel documents issued by the Republic of Cyprus government. Turkish Cypriots born after 1974 to parents who were both Republic of Cyprus citizens prior to 1974 obtained Republic of Cyprus passports with greater ease than Turkish Cypriots born after 1974 to only one Cypriot parent.

According to media reports and contacts, Turkish authorities barred some Turkish Cypriot critics from entering Turkey in early July and in October. Contacts reported the Turkish “embassy” in the “TRNC” created a list of politicians and writers supportive of a bizonal bicommunal federal (BBF) Cyprus solution and who were critical of Ankara’s policies. Media commentators claimed Ankara’s enforcement of an “entry blacklist” – purportedly introduced in September 2020 – was intended to intimidate BBF solution supporters and silence opposition against the Erdogan regime. Citing national security grounds, Turkish authorities denied entry to former “president” Akinci’s press officer Ali Bizden on July 5, to Turkish Cypriot intellectual and pediatrician, Dr. Ahmet Cavit on July 9, and to the chair of Basin-Sen (the Press Workers’ Union) and journalist Ali Kismir on October 10. Turkish immigration officials told all three they were denied entry for posing a security threat to Turkey. All were reportedly interrogated upon arrival and held overnight at Istanbul airport before being flown back to northern Cyprus.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Turkish Cypriots considered those displaced because of the island’s 1974 division to be refugees, although they fell under the UN definition of internally displaced persons (IDPs). At the time of the division, the number of IDPs in the north was approximately 60,000.

f. Protection of Refugees

Turkish Cypriot authorities at times cooperated with the Refugee Rights Association (RRA), the NGO implementing partner of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. UNHCR reported cooperation was more frequent during the first half of the year, when authorities allowed RRA lawyers to interview Syrian asylum seekers seeking access to international protection in Cyprus. Following the introduction of a new “visa” requirement for Syrian nationals in June, cooperation between Turkish Cypriot authorities and UNHCR was less frequent. With the assistance of these organizations, several asylum seekers gained access to asylum procedures in Turkey or in the government-controlled area.

Turkish Cypriot authorities shared information with RRA for locating and identifying Syrian asylum seekers in detention or in quarantine pending deportation. Authorities allowed RRA to access quarantine centers holding Syrian asylum seekers. As a result of RRA’s advocacy, Syrian asylum seekers arriving irregularly from Turkey, Lebanon, or Syria are no longer prosecuted but are instead quarantined pending return to Turkey.

According to human rights advocates, the few refugees residing in the north face racism, exploitation, and challenges achieving self-sufficiency and integration within society.

Access to Asylum: The “law” does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and authorities have not established a system for providing protection to refugees. An NGO reported that approximately 100 persons of concern to UNHCR were able to stay in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots with UNHCR protection papers.

One NGO reported asylum seekers arriving at legal entry points are generally not allowed entry into the “TRNC,” are detained, and subsequently deported to Turkey. Once returned to Turkey, those that do not have valid residence status face the risk of onward refoulement, particularly non-Syrians, as Turkish authorities continued efforts to deport those it claimed entered the country illegally before they were granted refugee status-determination interviews by Turkish migration authorities. The NGO also reported asylum seekers arriving irregularly are considered prohibited migrants by Turkish Cypriot authorities and are detained under deportation procedures in quarantine facilities.

There were reports Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to deport numerous asylum seekers during the year before UNHCR’s implementing partner could interview them to obtain information necessary for assessing their asylum claims. Some potential asylum seekers who attempted to enter the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities illegally were arrested, taken to “court,” and deported after serving their prison sentences. One NGO reported incidents of asylum seekers repeatedly being arrested for irregular entry as many as three times a week, and that these incidents went unreported in the press.

Refoulement: Authorities did not provide protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers or refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened. According to NGOs, authorities at ports often denied entry and extradited to Turkey asylum seekers, including a number of persons designated by the Turkish government as alleged members of the Gulen movement. Some observers considered these deportations refoulement, as the individuals were denied the opportunity to seek refuge in the territory of Cyprus and were at substantial risk of mistreatment in Turkey (also see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees, in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Turkey).

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: UNHCR reported asylum seekers generally were treated as illegal migrants because an official framework for asylum does not exist in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. Most were either denied entry or deported, irrespective of the risk of refoulement.

In April, 26 Syrian asylum seekers, two boat captains, and three other accomplices were arrested while illegally entering through the Sadrazamkoy coast, on the northwest side of the island. All 31 were detained and appeared in “court.” The 26 Syrians were quarantined in a student dormitory in Lefke. Following the RRA’s intervention and interviews, 11 individuals were provided with clothing by “social welfare services,” two persons were given access to health care, and one received medication. After 19 days the group was returned to Turkey where they were readmitted and reportedly given access to asylum procedures.

In June police arrested 13 Syrian nationals for illegal entry into the north. The Syrians, all men, were identified at the Famagusta port inside a truck on June 6. They had arrived in a cargo truck from Turkey’s Mersin province and were placed in a student dormitory under police control. After 12 days the group was sent back to Turkey and reportedly given access to asylum procedures.

On July 9, 17 irregular migrants from Syria were discovered on the Taslica coast between Derince and Avtepe in the Karpaz region. Media outlets reported the group included six children, four women, and seven men. Police stated that the boat carrying the migrants was found stranded on the coastline. Following RRA’s intervention and interviews, all individuals were provided with clothing by “social welfare services.” After 19 days the group was returned to Turkey where they were readmitted and reportedly given access to asylum procedures.

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots could not travel abroad because they would be unable to return due to their lack of “legal” status.

Employment: According to immigration “law,” employers need official permission from the “Department of Labor” to register foreign workers. Persons holding UNHCR protection papers receive the same access to the labor market as third country nationals, although NGOs reported that authorities refused to issue work permits to some individuals with UNHCR protection papers. UNHCR reported access to employment improved during the year after authorities lifted requirements that job seekers post a financial guarantee and hold a valid passport.

Access to Basic Services: Persons holding UNHCR protection papers and persons of concern to UNHCR who had not gone through a status determination procedure but were found to be of concern after screening could access basic services, including primary health care and education, but lacked access to residence permits or welfare assistance, which rendered them at risk of exploitation and put vulnerable individuals at risk of destitution.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Turkish Cypriots choose a leader and a representative body at least every five years. In 2018 Turkish Cypriots held “parliamentary elections” that observers considered free and fair. In October 2020 Turkish Cypriots elected Ersin Tatar as “president” in “elections” that were widely seen as influenced by pro-Tatar interference from Turkey.

Civil society leaders alleged the level of Turkish interference on behalf of Tatar’s candidacy was uncharacteristically high and led to the resignation of several Turkish Cypriot members from the bicommunal Technical Committee on Gender Equality.

According to reports by Turkish Cypriot journalists and statements by candidates during the year, Turkey’s interference in the “TRNC presidential” elections in October 2020 was significant. According to an investigative report by Turkish Cypriot journalist Esra Aygin published in June, the Turkish “embassy” in the “TRNC” and Turkish National Intelligence (MIT) pressured, threatened, and blackmailed former Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and his supporters, other candidates, and journalists during the election campaign. Aygin also reported receiving threats.

Aygin’s report, based on the work of a team of civil society representatives, lawyers, and researchers, showed “blatant interference by Ankara” in favor of Tatar. According to Aygin several journalists reported being pressured by Turkish officials who claimed they were in northern Cyprus to ensure Tatar’s election. In an interview with local media in July, former Turkish Cypriot leader Akinci alleged there was direct pressure, threats, and blackmailing from MIT and Turkey.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While membership in the dominant party did not confer formal advantages, there were widespread allegations of political cronyism and nepotism.

On June 23, a consortium of Turkish Cypriot organizations spoke out against the “government” in the north concerning its acceleration of “TRNC citizenship” applications. This Country is Ours Platform criticized a decision to reorganize the “Ministry of Interior” in order to approve new passport applications more quickly.

In August opposition Republican Turkish Party “member of parliament” Asim Akansoy said the “Ministry of Interior” was rapidly granting citizenships and asked, “Is it true that 200 people are given citizenship with the approval of the Ministry, per day?” Akansoy criticized the “government” for remaining silent regarding the matter and implied the “government” sought to increase the pro-Turkey voting base by offering “citizenship” to newly arrived immigrants from Turkey.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No “laws” limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. remained underrepresented in senior political positions. Nine of the 50 “members of parliament” were women.

Turkish Cypriot authorities did not permit Greek Cypriots and Maronites residing in the north to participate in elections they administered. Greek Cypriots and Maronites residing in the north were eligible to vote in elections in the Republic of Cyprus-controlled area but had to travel there to do so. Greek Cypriot and Maronite communities living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities directly elected municipal officials, but Turkish Cypriot authorities did not recognize them. There was no minority representation in the 50-seat “parliament” or in the “cabinet.”

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The “law” provides criminal penalties for corruption by “officials.” Authorities, however, did not implement the “law” effectively, and “officials” sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of “government” corruption during the year. Observers generally perceived corruption, cronyism, and lack of transparency to be serious problems in the legislative and executive branches.

Corruption: In July a civil servant working as a cashier at the “tax department” was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison for embezzling one million Turkish lira ($108,700 as of mid-October) in driver’s license fees from 2016 to 2020. The “court” ordered a freeze on the cashier’s assets.

In September, six individuals, including a north Nicosia Police Station officer and an information technology (IT) specialist, were arrested for bribery and forging digital vaccine certificates. According to press reports, an unvaccinated police officer from Nicosia paid 650 Turkish lira ($70 as of mid-October) to the IT specialist to create a fake electronic vaccination certificate. The allegations arose after the IT specialist offered to create another fake vaccination certificate for another officer at the Kyrenia police station. Five of the suspects were released pending charges. The investigation continued at year’s end.

In 2019 local press outlets reported that former National Unity Party leader and then “prime minister” Huseyin Ozgurgun inaccurately declared his assets, according to an “attorney general” investigation. Ozgurgun was charged with failing to accurately declare wealth and for abusing public office for private gain. The “parliament” subsequently voted to remove Ozgurgun’s immunity. No trial has yet been held, as Ozgurgun has been living in Turkey since 2019. The “attorney general’s office” reported three lawsuits were pending against Ozgurgun at the Nicosia District Court at year’s end.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A limited number of domestic human rights organizations operated in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities. Authorities were rarely cooperative or responsive to their views and requests. NGOs promoted awareness of domestic violence; women’s rights; rights of asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants; trafficking in persons; police abuse; and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons. These NGOs had little effect on changes to “legislation” to improve the protection of human rights. Local NGOs liaised with the United Nations, UNHCR, foreign diplomatic missions, representatives of the European Union, and international NGOs on human rights matters.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an “ombudsman,” whose portfolio includes human rights issues. The “ombudsman” investigates and reports on institutions that exercise administrative and executive powers and ensures that “legislation” and “court” decisions are properly implemented. The “ombudsman” can initiate investigations in response to media reports, complaints from individuals and organizations, or on its own initiative. The “ombudsman” was not always effective due to the lack of an enforcement mechanism.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The “law” criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and provides for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Authorities and police did not enforce the “law” effectively. No “laws” specifically address domestic violence. The “law” prohibits domestic violence under various assault and violence or battery clauses, with a maximum sentence of four years imprisonment.

Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a major problem. The Nicosia Turkish Municipality operated a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and there were local NGOs that supported rape and domestic violence victims. Turkish Cypriot authorities also reported establishing gender focal points at relevant “ministries” to respond to complaints of violence against women.

In March there were multiple reports of violence against women. One man was arrested in north Nicosia for beating his wife with a stick, another man was arrested for breaking a woman’s finger after a dispute concerning a divorce case at the “court” in Famagusta, and three persons (including a relative) were arrested for repeatedly raping a 17-year-old girl. The girl was seven-and-a-half months pregnant.

According to a survey of local women conducted by the Nicosia Turkish Municipality’s Side by Side Against Violence Project in February 2020, 60 percent of women were subjected to psychological violence, and 40 percent of women were subjected to physical violence. Survey results also showed that one out of every four women had been exposed to sexual violence and one out of every four women had been exposed to economic violence – defined by the project as the manipulation of economic resources or money as a means of sanction, intimidation, or control over women. Two out of every 10 women had been threatened with physical violence.

Nicosia district police in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots operated the specialized Combating Violence against Women Unit to respond to complaints of domestic violence, including calls to a dedicated hotline.

According to the Combatting Violence against Women Unit, 871 women filed complaints to the unit’s hotline seeking help between January-October. In 2020 a total of 1,063 women called the hotline and filed complaints or sought help.

In October the Coordination Center for Combating Domestic Violence, a joint effort of the “government,” the Nicosia Turkish Municipality Shelter House, police, and the SOS Children’s orphanage held a special training session on domestic violence for 100 police officers from the Combating Violence against Women Unit.

In November, Meral Akinci, Chair of the Association for Women who Support Living (KAYAD) reported that according to KAYAD’s research, one in every five women surveyed suffered from domestic violence. Akinci added that the survey indicated one in five women suffered from economic abuse in the form of spouses either seizing their salary or applying for a bank loan in their name without their consent.

Sexual Harassment: The “criminal code” prohibits sexual harassment and considers it a misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months imprisonment, an unspecified fine, or both. According to NGOs, sexual harassment went largely unreported. The NGO Voice of International Students in Cyprus (VOIS) reported widespread sexual harassment of female international students and noted that police routinely dismissed complaints of sexual harassment from international students. The organization reported in March that an international student was raped by her landlord’s friend. The perpetrator allegedly tried to bribe the victim to keep her from reporting the incident to police. Although the victim sought help from local NGOs, as of year’s end, police had not opened an investigation.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of “government” authorities.

Authorities did not provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. No publicly funded services were available to survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not available as part of clinical management of rape.

Some doctors in the private and public sectors required women to have their husband’s consent to proceed with sterilization, although the law does not require such consent.

According to KAYAD, women living in northern Cyprus did not have free access to contraception, one out of every four women was under pressure from their spouse not to use contraception, and abortion services were not provided at public hospitals upon request.

Discrimination: The “law” provides the same “legal” status and rights for women and men, but authorities did not enforce the “law” effectively. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as employment, credit, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. For example, female teachers were reportedly instructed to schedule their pregnancies in order to deliver during summer break. Some female teachers working at private schools were dismissed from their duties for being pregnant during or at the beginning of the school year.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The “TRNC Constitution” prohibits discrimination. According to the “constitution,” “Every person shall be equal before the ‘constitution’ and the law without any discrimination. No privileges shall be granted to any individual, family, group, or class. The organs and the administrative authorities of the ‘State’ are under an obligation to act in conformity with the principle of equality before the law and not to make any discrimination in their actions.”

Despite the “law,” authorities rarely acted on incidents regarding racial or ethnic discrimination. According to human rights contacts, most of these incidents went unreported in part because victims did not expect authorities to open an investigation.

The “law” prohibits discrimination, and the 1975 Vienna III Agreement remains the legal source of authority regarding the treatment of the 310 Greek Cypriot and 62 Maronite residents in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities.

There is discrimination against Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. They could take possession of some of their properties in that area but were unable to leave their properties to heirs residing in the Republic of Cyprus-controlled area. Maronites living in the Republic of Cyprus-controlled area could use their properties in the north only if those properties were not under the control of the Turkish military or had not been allocated to Turkish Cypriots.

Foreign domestic workers faced discrimination and, at times, violence.

As in previous years, the Turkish Cypriot Public Sector Workers Union (KTAMS) reported that many foreign workers receive salaries below minimum wage.

There were reports of social and job discrimination against Kurds in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, as well as allegations that police closely monitored Kurdish activities.

Some of the approximately 10,000 African students reportedly studying at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities reported racial discrimination in housing, employment, and interactions with authorities. Thirty to forty thousand foreign students, excluding Turkish students, study at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots. The NGO VOIS stated authorities excluded foreign students from receiving food packages that were distributed to citizens during the pandemic. VOIS claimed that authorities ignored foreign students and deprived them of medical and other support during the lockdown and pandemic. VOIS also reported that measures and restrictions, as well as digital vaccine passes were initially only available in Turkish and that dormitories for students who tested COVID-19 were in poor condition, unhygienic, and lacked food services. VOIS stated obtaining support in anything but Turkish at the pandemic hospital, quarantine centers, and COVID-19 hotline was “nearly impossible.”

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive “citizenship” from their parents, and there was universal registration at birth, including of children born to migrants.

Child Abuse: The “law” does not explicitly prohibit child abuse, but it does prohibit sexual abuse of children, which carries a penalty of up to six years imprisonment. There were reports of child abuse. As with domestic violence, there were social and cultural disincentives to seeking legal remedies for such problems.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage for girls and boys is 18. A “court” may allow marriages of minors who are 16 or 17 if they receive parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The “law” prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the prohibition. The age of consent is 16. Statutory rape or attempted statutory rape of a minor younger than 16 is a felony, and the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. If the offender is younger than 18 and less than two years apart in age from the victim, the crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison, an unspecified fine, or both. A cybercrime “law” enacted in July 2020 makes possession or production of child pornography punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 150 persons in the Jewish community, which primarily consisted of nonresident businesspersons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Organ Harvesting

In July police opened an investigation at two private hospitals after receiving information that a young woman had sold her ovaries. Police arrested six persons, including three doctors, a lab technician, and two donors. Police also confiscated documents, computers, and records from the hospitals. According to police reports, two donors sold their ovaries for 3,500 Turkish lira ($380 as of mid-October) each. One of the donors reported the transaction to police after experiencing health concerns. An investigation continued at year’s end.

Persons with Disabilities

The “law” protects the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to social benefits, and prohibits discrimination against them. Authorities did not effectively enforce all parts of the “law.” Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. For example, advocates complained of the absence of accessible infrastructure in public areas, including lack of sidewalks, blocked sidewalks, and inaccessible public transportation.

The Turkish Cypriot Orthopedic Disabled Persons Association reported many buildings, sidewalks, and public bathrooms were not accessible to persons with disabilities. The association claimed the “government” had failed to meet the requirement in “law” that 4 percent of public-sector positions be filled by persons with disabilities. In a press statement in May, the chair of the Cyprus Turkish Federation of the Disabled, Dervis Yuceturk, reported there were 660 disabled individuals living in the “TRNC” who were “waiting for employment and support.” Yuceturk stated 800 disabled individuals had been employed under the “Protection, Rehabilitation and Employment Law for the Disabled” and that more than 5,000 disabled individuals have received cash assistance. Yuceturk stated, “We regret that we still have not reached the point we want in terms of employment or assistance. We regret to see that we are still far behind in our fight for a humane life, and that we are far below European standards.”

Children with disabilities attend specific schools that are “state” funded.

Authorities reported that as of August, 260 persons with disabilities worked in the “government.” Authorities also reported that as of August, 5,035 persons with disabilities received financial aid from the “government.”

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

The “law” prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, nationality laws and access to government services. According to the “criminal code,” it is a minor offense for a civil servant employee to discriminate against any person based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Authorities did not effectively enforce the “law.”

While there were no reported cases of official or societal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, or access to education or health care, members of the LGBTQI+ community noted an overwhelming majority of LGBTQI+ persons concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid potential discrimination.

The Queer Cyprus Association reported LGBTQI+ persons often could not access legal remedies to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity because authorities declined to enforce them.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The “law” protects the rights of workers, except members of police and other Turkish Cypriot security forces, to form and join independent unions of their own choosing without prior authorization. The “law” allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides for their right to strike, with the provision that a union notify authorities in writing if members planned to strike for longer than 24 hours. The “law” does not permit “judges,” members of the police force, or other Turkish Cypriot security forces to strike. The “council of ministers” has the power to prohibit a strike in any individual sector twice a year for up to 60 days if it affects the general health, security, or public order, or if it prevents the provision of essential services. There is no list of what constitutes essential services.

The “law” provides for collective bargaining. The “Ministry of Labor and Social Security” reported that employers could not condition employment on membership or non-membership in a union or participation in strikes. The “law” does not provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activities.

The “government” did not effectively enforce applicable “laws.” Despite having freedom of association and the right to engage in collective bargaining, very few private-sector workers were unionized, according to labor union representatives. A union representative stated that if private-sector workers affected business operations while exercising their rights, employers would likely dismiss them. Some companies pressured workers to join unions that the company led or approved. Officials of independent unions claimed authorities created public-sector unions as rivals to compete with and weaken independent unions.

KTAMS reported that 35 percent of public sector and 0.5 percent of private sector workers were members of labor unions. According to KTAMS approximately 28 percent of the workforce in Turkish Cypriot administered areas was unionized.

Labor authorities did not effectively enforce the “law.” Penalties for employers convicted of violating the “law” were not commensurate with those for violating other “laws” involving the denial of civil rights and were sporadically enforced.

Public and semipublic employees benefited from collective bargaining agreements. Semipublic employees worked for companies run jointly by public and private enterprises where, for example, the “government” handled administration while the company’s budget came from private sources.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The “law” prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the “government” did not effectively enforce it. Penalties for violations of the “law” were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

Authorities reported they did not receive any complaints regarding forced labor during the year. NGOs and unions stated there were reports of forced labor during the year, primarily in agriculture, construction, and the industrial sector. A labor union representative reported migrant workers in the construction and agricultural sectors were subjected to reduced wages, nonpayment of wages, beatings, and threats of deportation. Another labor union reported that some foreign workers, mainly in the construction and industrial sectors, were forced to work long periods up to 12 hours without additional compensation or pay. The union also reported that some foreign workers were paid less than the minimum wage.

A researcher reported that universities were used to smuggle or traffic large numbers of Africans and South Asians. Some foreign students who could not pay their tuition after arriving in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots became vulnerable to exploitation, including forced labor, and victims of labor and human trafficking.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The “law” prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for restricted employment is 15, the last year at which education is compulsory. Employers may hire children between the ages of 15 and 18 in apprentice positions under a special status. Children older than 15 are restricted to no more than six hours of work per day and 30 hours per week. The “law” prohibits children between the ages of 15 and 18 from working during mealtimes, at night, in heavy physical labor, and under dangerous conditions. The “law” also states that every six months the employer must prove, with medical certification, that the physical work done by a child is suitable for children. Written parental consent is also required, and children are entitled to the hourly wage of a full-time employee.

Authorities reported they received three complaints to the child labor hotline in 2020 but that subsequent inspections did not reveal any children working onsite.

The “Ministry of Labor and Social Security” is responsible for enforcing child labor “laws” and policies. Inspections were not sufficient and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those of other serious crimes.

Authorities did not always effectively enforce the “laws,” and NGOs reported that primarily children of Turkish immigrants often worked alongside their families in the agricultural, manufacturing, automotive, and construction sectors. NGOs reported that some children worked in dangerous conditions, such as on construction sites, and were subjected to heavy physical work despite “legal” prohibitions.

Child labor in the urban informal economy was also a problem, but to a lesser extent than in agriculture and manufacturing. In family-run businesses, it was common for children to work after school in shops and for young children to work on family farms.

In July the Turkish Cyprus Pediatric Institution reported there was lack of inspection and supervision at workplaces and inadequate laws to protect against child labor in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots. The institution also reported the death of a 15-year-old boy who died in July while working at a car mechanic’s garage in the Morphou region. The “Ministry of Labor” announced an investigation into the incident. The investigation continued at year’s end.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The “law” generally prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, and social status. The “law” does not specifically address discrimination with respect to religion, political opinion, or HIV-positive status, which were addressed by general “regulations.” Authorities did not effectively enforce the “law,” and penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for violating other “laws” related to civil rights. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, ethnicity, sex, disability, and gender.

Authorities reported there were more than 38,340 registered foreign workers (24,711 Turkish citizens and 13,629 from other countries) in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriot authorities. These workers were mainly from Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey, and Turkmenistan. Foreign migrant workers faced societal discrimination based on their ethnicity, race, and religious belief. Although it was uncommon for Greek Cypriots to seek employment in northern Cyprus, they faced social and employment discrimination when they did.

Women faced sexual harassment in the workplace, but most instances of sexual harassment went unreported. Women held far fewer managerial positions than men.

LGBTQI+ individuals often concealed their sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace to avoid discrimination. Persons with disabilities routinely found it physically difficult to access workplaces.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The “government” increased the minimum wage during the year, but it remained below the poverty level for a family of four, as inflation and the cost of living outpaced the increase. The “Ministry of Labor and Social Security” is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but it did not effectively do so. The number of inspectors was not sufficient for enforcement. The penalties for noncompliance were not commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

As of September the minimum monthly wage in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots was 4,324 Turkish lira ($470 as of mid-October). According to labor unions, this is below the poverty line. As of September KTAMS reported the poverty line for family of four was 4,470 Turkish lira ($485 as of mid-October).

According to a labor union, per capita income fell from $12,649 to $10,055, a level not seen since 2005.

There was premium pay for overtime in the public sector. Premium pay for overtime is also required in the private sector, but it is frequently not paid. The “law” prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were insufficient. Authorities did not effectively enforce safety and health standards, and the number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Multinational companies reportedly met health and safety standards. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Authorities could conduct unannounced inspections or initiate sanctions, but according to unions and associations, inspections were not adequately or routinely carried out. Authorities commonly deported migrant workers who reported violations. Authorities did not penalize violators, and inspections were not adequate to protect worker rights. Accommodations for migrant workers, either as part of their compensation or for those made to pay, were substandard.

Authorities reported there were 143 major industrial accidents during the year that caused five deaths.

In April, six public sector worker unions filed a case at the “Constitutional Court” to obtain an interim order to stop a “government” statutory decree from freezing cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for four months. Public sector worker unions, including KTAMS, KAMUSEN, KAMU-IS, GUC-SEN, VERGI-SEN, and the Nurses Union, claimed the COLA freeze was illegal. In June the “Constitutional Court” decided in favor of the unions and cancelled the decree.

Informal Sector: The “government” has not established social protections for workers in the informal economy.

Cabo Verde

Executive Summary

The Republic of Cabo Verde is a parliamentary representative democratic republic largely modeled on the Portuguese system. Constitutional powers are shared between the head of state, President Jose Maria Neves, and the head of government, Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva. The National Elections Commission and international observers declared the 2021 nationwide legislative and presidential elections generally free and fair.

The National Police, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is responsible for law enforcement. The Judiciary Police, under the Ministry of Justice, is responsible for major investigations. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by military personnel against other military personnel.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports of hazing involving sexual abuse and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by military personnel against other military personnel. Military authorities detained six individuals alleged to have been involved, expelled them from the armed forces following disciplinary proceedings, and referred the case to the Attorney General’s Office for criminal investigation.

As of August, the National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship reported six complaints of police abuse during the year and 10 for all of 2020. Authorities investigated 20 reports of violence by National Police agents through September and 19 such reports for all of 2020, many of which resulted in dismissal, suspension, or other disciplinary action against officers involved. The cases included hitting detainees, excessive force with a baton, and discharging a weapon. The Attorney General’s Office reported 141 cases of alleged crimes by law enforcement agents between August 2020 and July, 83 percent by National Police, 8 percent by Judicial Police, and 7 percent by prison guards. During the same period, authorities resolved 106 such cases.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Although the government took steps to improve prison conditions in some areas during the year, they remained deficient due to overcrowding and inadequate health and sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Of the five prisons in the country, three, in Praia, Sao Vicente, and Fogo, had populations that substantially exceeded capacity. Prisons in Praia, Sao Vicente, and Sal separated inmates by trial status, sex, and age. In Fogo officials established isolation cells that separated youths from adults. In Santo Antao inmates were separated according to trial status and crime but not age. Conditions in general were inadequate for inmates with mental disabilities or substance addictions. Women were not incarcerated in regional prisons because of the lack of separate space for them. In the Praia and Sao Vicente prisons, women generally had more space per person and better sanitary conditions than male prisoners. The Ministry of Justice reported eight deaths in prisons during the year, including three due to prolonged illness, one due to COVID-19, one homicide, and one suicide.

At least 15 inmates at the Sao Vicente prison took part in a hunger strike in April to protest allegedly abusive disciplinary measures, measures to limit spread of the COVID-19 virus such as suspension of visits and deliveries of food and hygiene products from family members, and the alleged denial of medical treatment to an inmate who subsequently died from COVID-19. The National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship visited the prison, met with striking inmates, and submitted 22 recommendations to improve conditions, but stated that nearly all remained to be implemented. Prison authorities reported that all inmates subsequently received COVID-19 vaccinations and visits resumed from visitors with proof of vaccination. Corrections authorities continued to use solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for prisoners.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints; however, the semi-independent National Commission for Human Rights received prisoners’ complaints through regular prison visits, written communication, social media postings, and telephone calls from prisoners or their relatives. The commission received 11 complaints from detainees through August and 17 for all of 2020 of inadequate provisions for health and hygiene, inadequate food, mistreatment by prison guards, poor security, inadequate access to lawyers, limitations on visits, extended periods of preventive detention, and substandard prison facilities. In addition, semi-independent “Provider of Justice” teams made unannounced visits to prisons to assess conditions. Corrections officials stated the complaints had been investigated. Prison visits were restricted to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Meetings with legal counsel took place under controlled conditions to mitigate spread of the disease. All prisons suspended activities, including religious assistance, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prisons resumed such assistance in December.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted formal visits by international human rights monitors to the prisons and individual prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) made visits to prisons to record conditions.

Improvements: During the year, prison authorities recruited more doctors. The Ministry of Justice reported completion of remodeling improvements at Fogo and other prisons that was expected to make it possible to separate prisoners and accommodate female prisoners where this was not previously the case. Under the government’s National Plan for Social Rehabilitation, the ministry continued inmate vocational training programs.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The National Police may not make arrests without a warrant from the Attorney General’s Office unless police apprehend the suspect in the act of committing a crime. Neither the National Police nor Judiciary Police have the authority to conduct investigations unless mandated by the Attorney General’s Office. The law stipulates a suspect must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. The law provides a detainee the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of the detention, and authorities respected this right. Attorneys inform detainees of the charges against them. There is a functioning bail system. Authorities allow detainees prompt access to a lawyer of the detainee’s choice. If a detainee is unable to afford a lawyer, the Cabo Verdean Bar Association appoints one.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Cases nevertheless moved through the judicial system slowly because it lacked sufficient staffing and was inefficient.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges and receive free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. The law provides for the right to a fair and public nonjury trial without undue delay, but cases often continue for years. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Free counsel is provided for the indigent in all types of cases. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to confront or question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and the right to appeal regional court decisions to the Supreme Court of Justice.

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 abuses. Courts handle civil matters including lawsuits seeking damages for, or injunctions ordering the cessation of, human rights abuses. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Both administrative and judicial remedies are available, although administrative remedies were rare.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced limited self-censorship, partly due to family and social connections that made investigative journalism difficult.

b. Freedoms 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 https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government has ratified but not implemented the 1951 UN Protocol on the Status of Refugees, and no central authority manages the extremely few cases of refugees and asylum seekers. The government has no policy for handling refugees or asylum seekers, and there was no coordination among different agencies on requests for refugee or asylum status. The country coordinates repatriation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) when foreign citizens request such assistance.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has not established legislation or an institutional body for granting asylum or refugee status. Asylum applications are rare and there were no reports during the year of any applications. The actual number of asylum seekers is unknown since there is no systematic procedure in place to register and process asylum claims. Because the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does not have an established presence in the country, the IOM refers asylum seekers who request protection and assistance to UNHCR’s regional representation for West Africa in Dakar, Senegal, which conducts refugee status determinations. Temporary protection mechanisms and access to basic services are in place for asylum seekers while they await a decision. Authorities permitted foreign victims of crime to remain in the country legally.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the April 18 legislative elections, individuals and parties were free to declare their candidacies and candidates for a total of 72 seats. The ruling party, Movement for Democracy, won 38 seats in the National Assembly with 49 percent of the vote. The main opposition party, the African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV), won 30 seats with 38 percent, and the Union for a Democratic and Independent Cabo Verde won the remaining four seats with 8 percent of the vote.

The most recent presidential election took place in October. Jose Maria Neves won the election with the support of the PAICV and nearly 52 percent of the vote.

Election observers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) characterized the legislative elections as free, transparent, and credible while observers from ECOWAS and the African Union assessed the presidential election as transparent, peaceful, and free of significant irregularities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The National Elections Commission did not allow some persons with mental disabilities to vote (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). Women remained underrepresented in positions within the central government and the Supreme Court of Justice, especially in prosecutorial positions. Women held 26 of the 72 National Assembly seats (36 percent), an increase from 17 in the previous National Assembly, and occupied five of the 18 cabinet-level positions in government ministries. Women filled two of the seven seats on the Supreme Court.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Authorities opened a criminal investigation of a Judicial Police inspector accused of narcotrafficking, money laundering, corruption, and extortion.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Commission for Human Rights worked on all nine inhabited islands to protect, promote, and reinforce human rights, rights of citizenship, and international humanitarian law in the country. Although independent, the commission remained inadequately staffed and funded.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Conviction for rape of women and men is punishable by eight to 16 years’ imprisonment, and conviction for domestic violence is punishable by one to five years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is implicitly covered by the law; penalties for conviction range from one to five years’ imprisonment. The law focuses on increasing protection of victims, strengthening penalties for convicted offenders, and raising awareness regarding gender-based violence. The law calls for establishing several care centers with financial and management autonomy, but implementation lagged due to inadequate staffing. Violence and discrimination against women remained significant problems. The National Police Annual Report for 2020 reported 1,667 cases of gender-based violence, a figure that represented 24 percent of all reported crimes against persons for that year. The Attorney General’s Office reported 1,832 cases of gender-based violence between August 2020 and July.

The National Police regularly accompanied victims of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence to the hospital and escorted them to their homes to collect their belongings. Police officers helped victims go to a location where they believed they would be safe. The Cabo Verdean Institute for Gender Equality and Equity ran five shelters on four islands, two on Santiago and one each on Fogo, Sao Vicente, and Boa Vista.

The government did not always enforce the law against rape and domestic violence effectively. NGO sources noted the lack of social and psychological care for perpetrators and victims alike.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment. Penalties for conviction include up to one year in prison and a substantial monetary fine. Although authorities generally enforced the law, sexual harassment was common.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Survivors of sexual violence had access to contraception and sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception.

Discrimination: The law, including that related to family, religious, personal status and nationality, labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing business or property, provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and the government enforced the law somewhat effectively.

Women suffered discrimination in equal pay for equal work (see also section 7.d.). Women often worked in informal jobs and lacked access to social security. When girls became pregnant while still in school, they nearly always dropped out and did not resume their education.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution provides protections against racial discrimination and upholding the rights of immigrants and foreigners. In addition, the law prohibits discrimination in employment and criminalizes activities that incite racial discrimination, hatred, or violence.

There were no reports of governmental or societal violence or discrimination against members of racial, ethnic, or national minorities.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents or grandparents or by birth within the country if the parents have been legal residents for five years. When those conditions are not met, and if the child does not receive citizenship from the country of at least one of its parents, the parents must obtain a lawyer to petition for an exception. Birth registration was not denied or provided on a discriminatory basis. Failure to register births did not result in denial of public services.

Child Abuse: Laws prohibit physical, psychological, and moral violence against children, including sexual violence, but these remained problems. The Institute for Children and Adolescents received 116 reports of sexual abuse through July and 172 for 2020. Through August, the National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship reported 17 cases of violations of children’s rights, 12 of which were related to sexual abuse, compared to 12 cases of violations of children’s rights in 2020, seven of which were related to sexual abuse. Government efforts to combat child abuse employed a national network that included the child welfare government body Institute for Children and Adolescents, various police forces, the Attorney General’s Office, hospitals, local civil society organizations, and health centers. During the year, the government renewed a national action plan to prevent and combat sexual abuse and violence against children and adolescents for the years 2021 to 2023. The Institute for Children and Adolescents maintained a presence on all inhabited islands.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law punishes those who foment, promote, or facilitate commercial sexual exploitation or sexual exploitation of children younger than age 17. The law punishes those who induce, transport, or provide housing or create the conditions for sexual exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than age 17 in a foreign country. The law prohibits the exploitation of children younger than age 18 in pornography. The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 16. Sexual relations with a child younger than age 14 are considered a public crime and invoke mandatory reporting from anyone who becomes aware of the crime. By law at ages 14 and 15, sexual relations are a semipublic crime and may be reported by any involved party (the minor or the minor’s parents or guardians).

Authorities generally enforced laws against sexual exploitation of children. The government continued efforts to prevent the sexual exploitation of children through a national coordinating committee. The government also continued to enforce the Ethics Code of Conduct for Tourism, which includes provisions countering child sex tourism. The Observatory for Monitoring and Rapid Identification of Trafficking in Persons, which assembles numerous government agencies and partners, continued to hold meetings to advance priorities related to human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and provides for access to services in the areas of employment, training, health, housing, transportation, mobility, culture, sports, and leisure. The government generally enforced these provisions and made information available in accessible formats, although problems remained in areas such as physical accessibility, means of communication, and public transport accessible for persons with disabilities.

Persons with intellectual or mental disabilities, as determined by the Ministry of Health, are not allowed to vote, according to the National Elections Commission, if they are deemed not to have the mental capacity to exercise that right.

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

Antidiscrimination laws exist, and state employers may not discriminate based on sexual orientation, family situation, habits and dress, health status, or membership or nonmembership in any organization. Laws prohibit discrimination in the provision of a good or service, engaging in normal economic activities, and employment. The government generally enforced these laws. The investigation into an October 2020 attack against a member of the Cabo Verdean Gay Association on the island of Sao Vicente remained ongoing as of December.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form or join unions of their choice, to engage in collective bargaining, and to conduct legal strikes. The labor code provides for protection against antiunion discrimination and for the reinstatement of workers.

The code designates certain jobs essential and limits workers’ ability to strike in associated industries. Services provided by telecommunications, justice, meteorology entities, health, firefighting, postal service, funeral services, water and sanitation services, transportation, ports and airports, private security, and the banking and credit sectors are considered indispensable. The law states the government may force the end of a strike when there is an emergency or “to ensure the smooth operation of businesses or essential services of public interest.” The law and custom allow unions to carry out their activities without interference.

The government respected workers’ right of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector outside of the essential jobs list. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector. The labor code prohibits forced labor, and the penal code outlaws slavery, with penalties if convicted in line with those for comparable serious crimes. The government continued efforts to reduce vulnerability to exploitation of migrants from West Africa employed in the construction and hospitality sectors and increase their integration into society. Nonetheless, migrants from China, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Nigeria, and Guinea may receive wages below minimum wage and work without contracts, creating vulnerabilities to forced labor in the construction sector.

As of August, the case of two Chinese nationals and one citizen charged with labor trafficking in 2019 was still pending trial. The charges were filed following the escape of four Chinese nationals from forced labor on the island of Sal in 2018.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibited all of the worst forms of child labor. The legal minimum age for work is 15. The labor code does not allow children ages 15 to 18 to work more than 38 hours a week or more than seven hours a day but does allow children ages 16 to 18 to work overtime in an emergency, albeit for no more than two overtime hours per day, and these extra hours may not exceed 30 hours per year. The civil code includes a list of light work activities that children aged 14 are allowed to perform, but the law does not prescribe the number of hours per week permissible for light work or specify the conditions under which light work may be performed.

Legal penalties for child labor convictions were commensurate with those for comparable serious crimes, but the government did not always effectively or consistently enforce the law, including in the informal sector, estimated to represent 30 percent of the economy. Children continued to work to support their families, especially in small remote communities, in some cases under dangerous conditions.

Children engaged in street work, including water and food sales, car washing, and begging. Some children worked in domestic service, agriculture, animal husbandry, trash picking, garbage and human waste transport, and, to a lesser extent, drug trafficking. The Institute for Children and Adolescents received reports of 17 cases of child labor through July and 24 cases of child labor in 2020.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion, ethnic origin, age, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. The law does not, however, explicitly prohibit discrimination based on national origin. The government somewhat effectively enforced the law, and penalties for violation were commensurate to those for similar laws.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6). Women generally had lower economic status and experienced inequality in economic participation. In some sectors of the formal economy, women received lower salaries than men for equal work. Women were also more likely than men to work in the informal economy, where remuneration was generally lower and labor protections not enforced.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law stipulates a monthly minimum wage greater than the official estimate of the poverty income level. The law stipulates a maximum of eight hours of work per day and 44 hours per week and requires rest periods, the length of which depends on the work sector. The Directorate General for Labor and Inspectorate General for Labor are responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. There were adequate numbers of inspectors to enforce compliance. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Although companies tended to respect laws on working hours, many employees, such as domestic workers, health-care professionals, farmers, fishers, and commercial workers, commonly worked for longer periods of time than the law allows. It was common for companies not to honor foreign workers’ rights regarding contracts, especially concerning deductions for social security.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law sets minimum occupational and safety standards and gives workers the right to decline work if conditions pose serious risks to health or physical integrity. In specific high-risk sectors, such as fishing or construction, the government may and often does provide, in consultation with unions and employers, occupational safety and health rules. The employer must also develop a training program for workers. The government did not effectively enforce these laws, but the National Commission for Human Rights noted companies generally chose to follow these rules. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The Directorate General for Labor and Inspectorate General for Labor are charged with implementing labor laws. The government imposed no penalties for violations that included fines or imprisonment during the year. Labor agencies had sufficient personnel to enforce the law. The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws during the year, continuing inspections to ensure workers were protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Inspectorate General for Labor 2020 report, most irregularities detected during labor inspections related to nonsubscription to the National Institute for Social Protection, nonsubscription to mandatory insurance for job injury, and some irregularities in complying with health and safety standards. Inspections revealed the most common work violations concerned the right to vacation time and the right to rest periods between work periods.

Many work-related accidents reported during the year occurred in the construction sector. In 2020 the Inspectorate General for Labor registered 782 work-related accidents (compared with 238 in 2019), including nine deaths.

Informal Sector: According to 2020 data from the National Institute of Statistics, 52 percent of workers were in the informal economy, including domestic workers and those self-employed in tourism, trade, agriculture, livestock, and fishing activities, especially in rural areas. The government sets a minimum wage for all workers, including domestic workers. Most employed in the informal sector received no benefits from national social protection services and no paid leave, including sick leave.

Cambodia

Executive Summary

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliamentary government. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 National Assembly seats in the 2018 national election, having banned the main opposition party in 2017, turning the country into a de facto one-party state. The prime minister since 1985, Hun Sen, continued in office. International observers, including foreign governments and international and domestic nongovernmental organizations, criticized the election as neither free nor fair and not representative of the will of the people.

The Cambodian National Police maintain internal security. The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces are responsible for external security and also have some domestic security responsibilities. The National Police report to the Ministry of Interior, while the armed forces report to the Ministry of National Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, which at times threatened force against opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen and were generally perceived as an armed wing of the ruling party. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; arbitrary detention by the government; political prisoners and detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary interference in the private lives of citizens, including pervasive electronic media surveillance; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, criminal libel laws, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious and pervasive government corruption, including in the judiciary; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic or international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labor, including forced or compulsory child labor.

A pervasive culture of impunity continued. There were credible reports that government officials, including police, committed abuses and acts of corruption with impunity, and in most cases the government took little or no action. Government officials and their family members were generally immune to prosecution.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

In contrast with 2020, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On January 13, the Battambang Provincial Court sentenced two military police officers, Sar Bunsoeung and Chhoy Ratana, to four and seven years in prison, respectively, and ordered them to pay between 20 and 30 million riels ($4,900 and $7,400) in compensation to the family for the January 2020 death of Tuy Sros, who died in police custody after being arrested in a land dispute in Banteay Meanchey Province. Two witnesses reported that military police beat Tuy and refused to provide medical treatment. By law those who commit “torture and the act of cruelty with aggravating circumstances” may be sentenced to between 10 and 20 years in prison. The victims’ family appealed the sentence seeking stronger punishment; there were no reports of progress on the appeal as of October.

b. Disappearance

In contrast with 2020, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

On June 4, the one-year anniversary of Thai prodemocracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s disappearance, local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) released a statement calling the Cambodian government’s investigation a failure and a violation of international human rights obligations. Wanchalearm’s sister called on the Cambodian government to identify those responsible and bring them to justice.

Eyewitnesses reported that in June 2020 several armed men abducted Wanchalearm outside his Phnom Penh apartment. Authorities initially denied an abduction had taken place, claiming that official records showed Wanchalearm had left the country three years earlier. A representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva raised concerns that the incident “may now comprise an enforced disappearance.” In March the Cambodian government responded to the UN’s Committee on Enforced Disappearances, claiming that Wanchalearm was not on the list of residents in the apartment where the alleged abduction took place, that the vehicle seen in security camera footage of the alleged abduction was not registered, that three individuals who lived near the apartment said they had not witnessed any abduction, and that authorities could not find any further evidence from the security camera footage.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices; however, beatings and other forms of physical mistreatment of police detainees and prison inmates reportedly continued during the year.

NGOs and detainees reported that military and police officials used physical and psychological abuse and occasionally severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during interrogation. On April 3, local police in Battambang Province took Pich Theareth into custody for allegedly murdering his wife. Police later announced that Pich died of a heart attack a few hours after his arrest. Pich’s relatives alleged that he was beaten to death and posted photographs of his bruised body on social media and filed a complaint against police. On June 16, the National Antitorture Committee determined that Pich’s death was caused by “excessive torture” and requested that the National Police investigate the case. An NGO reported in September that the National Police had not filed any charges against the police officers involved.

Although the law requires police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate all complaints, including those of police abuse, in practice there was impunity for government officials and their family members for human rights abuses. Judges and prosecutors rarely conducted independent investigations. Although the law allows for investigations into accusations of government abuse, cases were pursued only when there was a public outcry or when they drew the prime minister’s attention. If abuse cases came to trial, presiding judges usually passed down verdicts based only on written reports from police and witness testimony. In general police received little professional training on protecting or respecting human rights.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and in many cases life threatening.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Interior, as of July authorities held an estimated 39,000 prisoners and detainees, including 2,571 women, in 29 prisons designed to hold a maximum of 11,000 prisoners. The ministry reported the government’s “war on drugs” had exacerbated overcrowding, as approximately 22,000 of the prisoners and detainees were held for drug trafficking crimes.

In most prisons there was no separation of adult and juvenile prisoners (including children living with incarcerated mothers) or of persons convicted of serious crimes, minor offenses, or in pretrial detention. According to a local NGO, as of July prisons held at least 25 pregnant women and 74 children living with their mothers. Between January and June, the General Department of Prisons reported there were at least 120 deaths in custody.

Allowances for food and other necessities were inadequate in many cases. Family members often provided these, at least in part, and sometimes had to pay a bribe to do so. Observers continued to report that authorities misappropriated allowances for prisoners’ food, exacerbating malnutrition and disease. Authorities did not provide updated figures on access to clean water; as of 2016, 18 of 29 prisons provided clean water. Prisons did not have adequate facilities for persons with mental or physical disabilities. NGOs also alleged prison authorities gave preferential treatment, including increased access to visitors, transfers to better cells, and permission to leave cells during the day, to prisoners whose families paid bribes, while greater restrictions, such as stricter surveillance and denial of gifts from visitors, were placed on human rights defenders and political prisoners. According to a local NGO, prison gangs sometimes violently attacked other prisoners. NGOs reported significant drug use by prisoners, made possible by bribing guards.

The country had 11 government, three private, and four NGO-run inpatient drug rehabilitation centers. Most observers agreed most “patients” in such facilities were involuntarily detained, committed by police or family members without due process. According to the National Authority for Combating Drugs, no detainee was younger than age 18. The authority reported that from January to March, 9,267 drug users received treatment in these centers. Observers noted employees at the centers frequently controlled detainees with physical restraints and subjected them to intense physical exercise. Violence committed by other drug patients was also common. In January, Moy Somnang died at a hospital after he was beaten by other patients. A police officer reported that the “boss” of a criminal network operating at the facility ordered others to beat and torture Moy soon after he arrived at the center.

After COVID-19 began spreading widely throughout the country due to an outbreak in February, officials severely limited access to prisons for family members, attorneys, consular officials, and other outside representatives. Lawyers defending detained labor leader Rong Chhun were not able to communicate with their client and did not know whether Chhun was sick or had been vaccinated until a prosecutor informed attendees in an open court hearing on June 8. There were some reports of COVID-19 spreading uncontrolled through overcrowded detention facilities before the government vaccinated most of the prison population. As of November the government maintained strict restrictions on outside visitation. According to prison officials, as of September the government had provided COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 90 percent of prisoners and detainees throughout the country.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen or other government advocates for prisoners. Prisoners could submit complaints about alleged abuse to judicial authorities through lawyers, but a large number of prisoners and detainees could not afford legal representation. The government stated it investigated complaints and monitored prison and detention center conditions through the General Department of Prisons, which reportedly produces internal biannual reports on prison management. The prison department, however, did not release any reports despite frequent requests from civil society organizations.

Before COVID-19 pandemic protocols were put in place in February, authorities routinely allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitors, although human rights organizations confirmed families sometimes had to bribe prison officials to visit prisoners. There were credible reports officials demanded bribes before allowing prisoners to attend trials or appeal hearings, before releasing inmates who had served their full terms of imprisonment, or before allowing inmates to exit their cells.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed, subject to preconditions and restrictions, international and domestic human rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to visit prisons and provide human rights training to prison guards, although COVID-19 policies affected attempts to arrange visits. Some NGOs reported limited cooperation from local authorities who, for example, generally made it difficult to gain access to pretrial detainees.

The Ministry of Interior required lawyers, human rights monitors, and other visitors to obtain permission prior to visiting prisoners (often from multiple government agencies), and sometimes the government required NGOs to sign a formal memorandum of understanding delineating their roles during prison visits. The government largely halted prison visits after COVID-19 began spreading widely throughout the country in February. Although some local independent monitoring groups were able to meet privately with prisoners, others were not. A local human rights NGO that provides medical care to prisoners reported the government refused requests to visit convicted prisoners who were members of an opposition political party. Another NGO reported the government accused it of harboring political bias and using its visits to embolden political prisoners. Representatives of the UN human rights commissioner reported they were usually able to visit prisons and hold private meetings when interviewing a particular prisoner of interest.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits pretrial detention to a maximum of 18 months; however, the government did not always respect these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from an investigating judge prior to making an arrest, unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. The law allows police to take a person into custody and conduct an investigation for 48 hours, excluding weekends and government holidays, before they must file charges or release a suspect. In felony cases of exceptional circumstances prescribed by law, police may detain a suspect for an additional 24 hours with the approval of a prosecutor. Nevertheless, authorities routinely held persons for extended periods before charging them.

There was a bail system, but many prisoners, especially those without legal representation, had no opportunity to seek release on bail. Authorities routinely denied bail in politically sensitive cases, leading to lengthy pretrial detention before trial begins.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of August observers recorded at least 68 arbitrary arrests, including 14 political activists, 21 journalists, 10 environmental activists, and four land rights activists. The actual number of arbitrary arrests and detentions was likely higher, since victims in rural areas may not have filed complaints due to the difficulty of traveling to human rights NGO offices or because of concern for their family’s security. Authorities took no legal or disciplinary action against persons responsible for illegal detentions.

In February, Ministry of Environment officers arrested and arbitrarily detained five environmental activists for investigating illegal logging, according to Amnesty International. They were released three days later.

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha continued to be held under house arrest arbitrarily and well beyond the legal limit. Following Sokha’s 2017 arrest and after 26 months in pretrial detention, in 2019 the government partially lifted judicial restrictions, effectively releasing him from house arrest, but not allowing him to travel abroad or engage in political activity. The charges of treason against him were pending as of December.

Pretrial Detention: As of July the Ministry of Interior reported holding 13,549 pretrial detainees, approximately one-third of all prisoners. Government officials stated that prolonged detentions were frequently the result of the limited capacity of the court system. The law allows for a maximum pretrial detention of six months for misdemeanors and 18 months for felonies, but NGOs reported authorities held some accused in pretrial detention for longer than those legal maximums. In cases of “incitement,” a charge commonly levied against political and environmental activists, no individuals were granted bail, according to reports; every known “incitement” suspect was held in pretrial detention until the end of their trial, almost always beyond the statutory minimum sentence of six months. In some cases the period spent in pretrial detention was longer than the minimum sentence for the crime detainees were to be tried for. Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees without legal representation. Under the law police may arrest and detain accused persons for a maximum of 24 hours before allowing them access to legal counsel, but authorities routinely held prisoners incommunicado for several days before granting them access to a lawyer or family members.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The government made significant progress clearing a backlog of court cases and long delays in obtaining judicial rulings, which had interfered with the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of detention. On June 29, the Ministry of Justice reported that it had expedited and resolved 96 percent of approximately 40,000 backlogged criminal cases after a year-long effort.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government did not respect judicial independence, exerting extensive control over the courts. Court decisions were often subject to political influence. Judicial officials, up to and including the chief of the Supreme Court, often simultaneously held positions in the ruling party, and observers alleged only those with ties to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) or the executive received judicial appointments. Corruption among judges, prosecutors, and court officials was widespread. The judicial branch was inefficient and could not assure due process. At times the outcome of trials appeared predetermined.

The government significantly increased the use of arbitrary charges of “incitement” over the last two years, using the law to charge criminally political opposition leaders and their supporters, labor and environmental activists, and citizens who make politically sensitive comments, including social media posts about the border with Vietnam, the government’s COVID-19 response, relations with China, and unflattering comments about senior government officials. The law criminalizes the “direct incitement to commit a felony or disturb social security,” a vague standard commonly used to suppress and punish peaceful political speech and dissent. By the end of 2020, the government reportedly filed at least 200 cases of incitement, up from approximately 40 in 2019 and no more than 20 in previous years. This included a mass filing of incitement charges against approximately 120 individuals in November 2020, most of whom were associated with the opposition CNRP. There was no report that anyone had ever been acquitted of an incitement charge; individuals with a criminal record may not hold public office until the king grants clemency after a request from the prime minister.

In the long-suspended treason trial of former political opposition leader Kem Sokha, the government gave conflicting statements, at times insisting the court was acting independently, while at other times insisting the trial would last for “years,” or that the outcome would depend on other factors, such as the EU’s partial withdrawal of trade benefits.

Observers alleged the Bar Association of Cambodia heavily favored admission of CPP-aligned members at the expense of nonaligned and opposition attorneys and at times admitted unqualified individuals to the bar solely due to their political affiliation. Analysts revealed that many applicants to the bar paid high bribes for admittance.

A shortage of judges and courtrooms continued to delay many cases. NGOs also believed court officials focused on cases that might benefit them financially. Court delays or corrupt practices often allowed accused persons to escape prosecution. There were widespread allegations that rich or powerful defendants, including members of the security forces, often paid victims and authorities to drop criminal charges. These allegations were supported by NGO reports and instances of rich defendants appearing free in public after their high-profile arrests were reported in media without further coverage of court proceedings or final outcomes of the cases. Authorities sometimes urged victims or their families to accept financial restitution in exchange for dropping criminal charges or for failing to appear as witnesses.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary rarely enforced this right.

Defendants are by law required to be informed promptly of the charges against them, be presumed innocent, and have the right of appeal, but they often resorted to bribery rather than rely on the judicial process. Trials are not always public and frequently face delays. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and consult with an attorney, confront and question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law, however, allows trials in absentia, and courts at times convicted suspects in absentia with no defense representation. In felony cases, if a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the law requires the court to provide the defendant with free legal representation; however, the judiciary was not always able to provide legal counsel, and most defendants sought assistance from NGOs, pro bono representation, or “voluntarily” proceeded without legal representation. In the absence of a required defense attorney in a felony case, trial courts routinely adjourned cases until defendants could secure legal representation, a process that often took months. Trials were typically perfunctory, and extensive cross-examination usually did not take place. NGOs reported that sworn written statements from witnesses and the accused in many cases constituted the only evidence presented at trials. The courts offered free interpretation.

There was a critical shortage of trained lawyers, particularly outside the capital. The right to a fair public trial often was denied de facto for persons without means to secure counsel.

Authorities sometimes allegedly coerced confessions through beatings or threats or forced defendants to sign written confessions without informing them of the contents. Courts accepted forced confessions as evidence in trial despite legal prohibitions against doing so. According to a human rights NGO’s random sample of 148 appeals court proceedings in the first half of the year, eight individuals reported that judicial police had used torture or violence to force them to confess during their investigations. For years NGOs reported that fewer than half of all known defendants were present at their appeals because of difficulties traveling to the capital from other parts of the country.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

As of October a local human rights NGO estimated that authorities held nearly 30 political prisoners and detainees.

In January a Phnom Penh court found prominent labor leader Rong Chhun guilty of “incitement to commit a felony” and sentenced him to the maximum punishment of two years’ imprisonment. The court also ordered him and two codefendants to pay the Cambodian Boundary Commission up to 400 million riels ($100,000) in restitution. Chhun was arrested in July 2020 after he visited the border with Vietnam and spoke to the press about concerns over border demarcation. Chhun was subsequently released on probation after an appeals court suspended a portion of his sentence in November.

In December the court in charge of the treason case against CNRP leader Kem Sokha set a trial date of January 19, 2022.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: According to Human Rights Watch, Cambodian refugees hiding in Bangkok reported escalating levels of surveillance and threats by unidentified persons whom they believed were under the direction of Cambodian government officials. In October the prime minister publicly called for a UNHCR-registered CNRP activist living in Thailand to be “eliminated” and urged police to search for him, including searching “abroad.” In November the government of Thailand refouled three Cambodian opposition activists who were UNHCR-registered refugees. They were immediately arrested upon arrival in Cambodia.

Efforts to Control Mobility: Some government critics and opposition politicians were in self-imposed foreign exile. In some cases the government subsequently took steps to block exiles’ return, including revoking their Cambodian passports.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The country has a system in place for hearing civil cases, and citizens are entitled to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Some administrative and judicial remedies were available. NGOs reported, however, that public distrust in the judicial system due to corruption and political control deterred many from filing lawsuits and that authorities often did not enforce court orders.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The land law states that any person who peacefully possessed private or state land (excluding public lands, such as parks) or inhabited state buildings without contest for five years prior to the 2001 promulgation of a law on restitution has the right to apply for a definitive title to that property. Most citizens, however, lacked the knowledge and means to obtain formal documentation of ownership.

Provincial and district land offices continued to follow pre-2001 land registration procedures, which did not include accurate land surveys or opportunities for public comment. Land speculation in the absence of clear title fueled disputes in every province and increased tensions between poor rural communities and speculators. Some urban communities faced forced eviction to make way for commercial development projects.

Authorities continued to force inhabitants to relocate from disputed land, although the number of cases declined in recent years. On September 12, police arrested more than 30 displaced rice farmers and villagers protesting being forcibly removed from their land with inadequate compensation to make way for Phnom Penh’s new international airport and surrounding development. On September 20, thousands of displaced villagers from three provinces blocked the road to the Land Ministry, demanding the government’s help in resolving land disputes. Some persons also used the threat of legal action or eviction to intimidate poor and vulnerable persons into selling their land at below-market values. As of July a local NGO reported 49 new cases of land grabbing and forced evictions. Another human rights NGO investigated 31 new cases of land grabbing as of June, affecting 2,659 families across the country.

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

Although the law provides for the privacy of residences and correspondence and prohibits illegal searches, NGOs reported police routinely conducted searches and seizures without warrants. The government continued to leak personal correspondence and recordings of telephone calls by opposition and civil society leaders to government-aligned media. On June 24, police arrested Kak Sovanchay, a 16-year-old boy reportedly with autism, for allegedly “insulting the government” in posts he made in a private chat group on the social media app Telegram that related to his father, a jailed CNRP official. Kak was convicted and later released on probation after an appeals court suspended a portion of his sentence in November.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The April 2020 state of emergency law, which the prime minister claimed was necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic, allows the government to ban or limit freedoms of travel, assembly, and information distribution and the ability to leave one’s home during a declared emergency. NGOs and UN experts condemned the law, arguing that it lacked an effective oversight mechanism and could be used to infringe on the rights of the people. As of November the government had not declared a state of emergency under this law.

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. In 2017, however, the government began carrying out a sustained campaign to eliminate independent news media and dissenting voices in the country and increasingly restrict free expression; many individuals and institutions reported widespread self-censorship.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government did not respect this right. In a survey covering the nine months to January, 64 percent of NGOs and 28 percent of trade unions stated they believed they were free to assemble peacefully.

The law requires advance notification for protests, marches, or demonstrations, although authorities inconsistently enforced this requirement. One provision requires five days’ notice for most peaceful demonstrations, while another requires 12 hours’ notice for impromptu gatherings on private property or protests at designated venues and limits such gatherings to 200 persons. By law provincial or municipal governments issue demonstration permits at their discretion. Lower-level government officials, particularly in Phnom Penh, generally denied requests unless the national government specifically authorized the gatherings. All levels of government routinely denied permits to groups critical of the ruling party. Authorities cited the need for stability and public security – terms left undefined in the law and therefore subject to wide interpretation – as reasons for denying permits.

In May a court sentenced Long Kunthea and several of her associates to 18 months’ imprisonment for “incitement” for planning a peaceful, one-person demonstration aimed at raising concerns about environmental matters and urban development. Long and her associates had planned to post a video of the demonstration online. In November an appeals court suspended their sentences and placed them on probation.

In August, Neth Savoeun, the National Police chief and nephew of Prime Minister Hun Sen, appointed Dy Vichea, deputy commissioner of the National Police and the prime minister’s son-in-law, as the head of a working group publicly tasked with searching for individuals who were “inciting other villagers to protest in land disputes.” NGOs and land activists condemned the working group, arguing that its purpose was to crack down on land rights activists.

There were credible reports the government prevented associations and NGOs from organizing human rights-related events and meetings; those NGOs failed to receive permission from local authorities. Government authorities occasionally cited the law to break up meetings and training programs deemed hostile to the government.

Despite these restrictions, media reported on unauthorized public protests related to a variety of matters, including land and labor disputes and demands to release political prisoners. Since the July 2020 arrest of union leader Rong Chhun, authorities on multiple occasions forcibly dispersed protesters demanding his release, leading to at least four injuries. In October a court sentenced 10 youth activists from the Khmer Thavrak group to 14- or 15-month prison terms and a two-million-riel ($490) fine each for joining peaceful protests in August and September 2020 calling for Rong’s release.

In June approximately 100 soldiers fired on land rights protesters in Kandal Province; one demonstrator was shot in the shoulder but survived.

On July 10, the fifth anniversary of the death of prominent government critic Kem Ley, authorities banned any gathering at the Caltex gas station where he was shot, citing COVID-19 health protocols. Thousands gathered at the station in previous years to commemorate Kem Ley on the anniversary of his killing.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government continued to restrict it, targeting specifically groups it believed could be involved in political dissent. The law requires all associations and NGOs to register and to be politically neutral, which restricts the right to association and those organizations’ right to free expression.

Vague provisions in several laws prohibiting any activity that may “jeopardize peace, stability, and public order” or harm “national security, national unity, traditions, and the culture of Cambodian society” created a substantial risk of arbitrary and politicized restriction of the right of association. According to critics, the laws on associations and trade unions establish heavily bureaucratic, multistep registration processes that lack both transparency and administrative safeguards, thereby reinforcing legal and political objections to registering groups. Laws on reporting activities and finances, including the disclosure of all successful funding proposals, financial or grant agreements, and bank accounts also impose burdensome obligations that allow officials to restrict or close organizations for petty or arbitrary reasons. Some NGOs and unions complained that police carefully monitored their activities and intimidated participants by sending uniformed or plainclothes police to observe their meetings and training sessions.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government restricted the movement of persons into and out of certain “red zones” in several cities at various points throughout the year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, reportedly causing significant cash and supply shortages. On April 29, more than 100 Phnom Penh residents protested severe restrictions in the red zones, pointing to acute food shortages.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. In August, at the request of an international NGO, Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed to accept up to 300 Afghan refugees for temporary stays in Cambodia until they could be resettled to a third country. On November 16, an initial group of 15 Afghan refugees arrived.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The system, however, is not equally accessible to all refugees and asylum seekers and is not transparent. Asylum seekers who enter the country without documentation or overstay their visas are vulnerable to deportation. The government does not grant resident status or a resident “book” to refugees, only a “refugee card.”

Freedom of Movement: Authorities restricted the movement of refugees. For example, local authorities require Montagnards who have been granted refugee status to stay confined to their temporary homes, aside from shopping trips for groceries and other essential items. As of December the government had made no announcement about restrictions on Afghan refugees awaiting resettlement in the country.

Employment: The law allows refugees to work and operate a business. Refugees, however, are generally not provided with resident status or resident books, making it difficult to exercise these rights.

Access to Basic Services: The government’s refusal to grant resident status and resident books to refugees limited their access to basic services.

g. Stateless Persons

The country had habitual residents who were de facto stateless. According to UNHCR, there were an estimated 57,450 stateless persons in the country as of the end of 2019, primarily ethnic Vietnamese. On June 2, Phnom Penh authorities ordered 700 families living in boats or floating houses along the Tonle Sap River, most of whom were ethnic Vietnamese and had long lived in the area, to dismantle their homes and depart the vicinity immediately. The government did not effectively implement laws or policies to provide such persons the opportunity to acquire or document their Cambodian nationality (see section 6, Children). According to an NGO, individuals without proof of nationality often did not have access to formal employment, education, marriage registration, the courts, or the right to own land.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, in practice there was no such ability. By law the government may dissolve parties and ban individuals from party leadership positions and political life more broadly. The law also bars parties from using any audio, visual, or written material from a convicted criminal.

As of September, 29 of the 118 CNRP officials barred from political activity after the Supreme Court disbanded the party in 2017 had applied for political rehabilitation. Authorities restored the political rights of 26 individuals and rejected three applications. Prime Minister Hun Sen stated in August that he would not restore any politician’s political rights unless he was “pleased.” Local experts and opposition party members complained the “rehabilitation” process was arbitrary, created a false appearance of wrongdoing on the part of the banned politicians, and allowed the prime minister to choose his own political opponents. The CPP dominated all levels of government from districts and provincial councils to the National Assembly.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national election occurred in 2018. Although 20 political parties participated, the largest opposition party, the CNRP, was excluded. Of the 19 non-CPP parties that competed in the election, political rights groups claimed that 16 were CPP proxies.

Although campaign laws require news outlets to give equal coverage to each party participating in an election, there was no evidence of the law’s enforcement during the 2018 election; news outlets gave significantly greater coverage to the CPP than to other parties. In view of the decline in independent media outlets, government-controlled news outlets provided most content and coverage prior to the election. This was particularly the case in rural areas, where voters had less access to independent media.

Approximately 600,000 ballots cast in 2018 were deemed invalid, compared with an estimated 100,000 in the previous election. Observers argued this was a sign of protest; in view of the pressure to vote and the absence of the CNRP from the ballot, many voters chose to spoil their ballots intentionally rather than vote for a party. According to government figures, 83 percent of registered voters went to the polls. The ruling CPP won all 125 seats in the National Assembly. Government statistics could not be verified due to a lack of independent observers.

Most independent analysts considered the entire election process seriously flawed. Most diplomatic missions to the country declined to serve as official observers in the election. Major nonstate election observation bodies, including the Carter Center and the Asian Network for Free Elections, also decided against monitoring the election after determining the election lacked basic credibility. The National Election Committee accused the international community of bias, arguing the international community supported it only when the CNRP was on the ballot. Although nominally independent, the government installed closed-circuit television cameras in the committee offices, enabling it to observe the committee’s proceedings.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Excepting the CPP and several small progovernment parties, independent political parties suffered from a wide range of legalized discrimination, selective enforcement of the law, intimidation, and biased media coverage. These factors contributed significantly to the CPP’s effective monopolization of political power. Membership in the CPP was a prerequisite for many government positions.

In September 2020 Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly stated that CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s case may not be resolved until 2024.

In April, Kak Sovanchhay, the teenage child of an imprisoned former opposition party official, was struck in the head by a brick thrown by two men on a motorbike, putting him in critical condition. The offenders were not located. Kak Sovanchhay was later arrested and charged with “incitement,” a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. Kak, who reportedly had autism, received no treatment or any special accommodation in detention or during his trial.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of ethnic minorities in the political process, but cultural practices that relegate women to second-class status – epitomized by the Chbab Srey, a traditional code of conduct for women dating to the 14th century – limited women’s role in politics and government. Despite repeated vows by the CPP to increase female representation, only 19 women were elected to the National Assembly in the 2018 national election, down from 25 in 2013. The 2017 local elections saw participation for the first time of the Cambodia Indigenous People’s Democracy Party; the party also participated in the 2018 parliamentary elections.

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. The National Council Against Corruption and its Anticorruption Unit are authorized by law to receive and investigate corruption complaints. The unit, however, did not collaborate frequently with civil society and was considered ineffective in combating official corruption. Instead, it focused on investigations of opposition figures, leading to a widespread perception that it served the interests of the ruling CPP. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The Anticorruption Unit has never investigated a high-level member of the ruling party, despite widespread allegations of corruption at senior levels of the party and government. For example, in June activists renewed allegations against National Assembly member and former provincial governor Prak Chan for involvement in the illegal smuggling of timber to Vietnam after his name was put forward as a candidate for the National Election Committee, but authorities took no action against him. In August the unit arrested two individuals for impersonating government officials, but otherwise had not arrested anyone since 2016 when it arrested five employees of a prominent human rights NGO and an opposition party member serving as commune chief. Similarly only one financial disclosure statement was ever unsealed, that of then National Assembly vice president and opposition CNRP president Kem Sokha.

Corruption was endemic throughout society and government. There were reports police, prosecutors, investigating judges, and presiding judges took bribes from owners of both legal and illegal businesses.

Civil servants must seek clearance and permission from supervisors before responding to legislative inquiries about corruption allegations.

Citizens frequently and publicly complained about corruption. Meager salaries contributed to “survival corruption” among low-level public servants, while a culture of impunity enabled corruption to flourish among senior officials. In January, Le Changsangvath, head of the Banteay Meanchey provincial health department, was accused of soliciting a 60-million-riel ($15,000) bribe. Instead of investigating, the Ministry of Health dismissed the allegation and claimed that those who made the complaint were trying to provoke social chaos. On October 25, police surrounded the house of Kong Kheang, an official from the ruling CPP, who had accused Land Management Minister Chea Sophara of demanding bribes from lower officials in exchange for their position promotions in the party and in the government. Police threatened him and his family. In July the government granted 425 acres of land (designated as state forest) to real estate tycoon (and former government official) Leng Pheaktra (commonly known as Leng Navatra).

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

There were multiple reports of a lack of official cooperation with human rights investigations and in some cases, intimidation of investigators by government officials.

Approximately 25 human rights NGOs operated in the country. A further 100 NGOs’ work involved some human rights concerns, but only a few actively organized training programs or investigated abuses.

Human rights defenders faced increasing repression. On September 18, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly ordered the arrest of political commentator Seng Sary, accusing him of joining the opposition party to create a revolution; the prime minister withdrew his order two days later, stating he had listened to Seng’s explanations and found them “reasonable.”

Defenders were detained without bail before trial and pending verdict.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Although the government generally permitted visits by UN representatives with human rights responsibilities, authorities generally restricted access to opposition officials, including Kem Sokha. On September 23, Prime Minister Hun Sen met via videoconference with Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. Government spokespersons regularly chastised UN representatives publicly for their remarks on a variety of human rights concerns.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There were three government human rights bodies: a Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Reception of Complaints in both the Senate and National Assembly; and the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, which reported to the prime minister’s cabinet. The Cambodian Human Rights Committee submitted government reports for international human rights review processes, such as the Universal Periodic Review, and issued responses to reports by international organizations and government bodies, but it did not conduct independent human rights investigations. Credible human rights NGOs considered the government committees of limited efficacy and criticized their role in vocally justifying the government crackdown on civil society and the opposition.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which was established to investigate and prosecute leaders of the former Khmer Rouge regime who were most responsible for the atrocities committed between 1975 and 1979, continued operations. The chambers are a hybrid tribunal, with both domestic and international jurists and staff, governed by both domestic law and an agreement between the government and the United Nations. All investigations have officially ended, no new investigations were opened during the year, and no prosecutions were conducted in the trial chamber. Appeals and some preprosecution proceedings continued.

On August 16, the chambers’ Supreme Court heard an appeal in a case against Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge head of state in the 1970s. In 2018 the chambers sentenced Khieu to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and genocide. Two separate cases, those of Khmer Rouge naval commander Meas Muth and Khmer Rouge official Yim Tith, remained under consideration before the chambers. As of September international jurists continued to advocate that the two defendants be brought to trial for similar charges, while Cambodian jurists continued to advocate for dismissal. As of November, the Pretrial Chamber had yet to resolve these disputes.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape and domestic violence were significant problems. The law, which does not specify the sex of a victim, criminalizes rape and “indecent assault.” Rape is punishable by five to 30 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is not specifically mentioned in the law, but the underlying conduct may be prosecuted as “rape,” “causing injury,” or “indecent assault.” Charges for rape were rare. The law criminalizes domestic violence and assigns penalties ranging from one to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Rape and domestic violence were likely underreported due to fear of reprisal, social stigma, discrimination, and distrust of police and the judiciary. Women comprised a small proportion of judicial officials, which likely contributed to underreporting of rape and domestic abuse. NGOs reported authorities inadequately enforced domestic violence law and avoided involvement in domestic disputes.

Rape and domestic violence sometimes led to death. Most observers believed neither authorities nor the public generally regarded domestic violence as a criminal offense.

In one example, Heng Sear, a wealthy businessman with connections to the government, was accused of sexual assault by university student and former beauty pageant contestant Mean Pich Rita who, after refusing Heng’s advances, was arrested in May for allegedly stealing his cell phone. She was quickly released after a public outcry, but police took no action against Heng.

The Ministries of Information and Women’s Affairs implemented a code of conduct for media reporting on violence against women, which bans publication of a survivor’s personal identifiable information, photographs of victims, depictions of a woman’s death or injury, depictions of nudity, and the use of certain offensive or disparaging words against women.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, imposing penalties of six days’ to three months’ imprisonment and modest fines. Workplace sexual harassment was believed to be widespread.

As of September no legal action had been taken against Ouk Kosal, the former police chief of Kampong Thom Province. In July 2020 four female police officers submitted a letter to Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng reporting that Kosal sexually assaulted them. The letter stated they had reported the abuse on multiple occasions since 2018, but the case had not progressed. National Police chief Neth Savoeun stated that police did not take action because they “wanted to protect the dignity of the women.”

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Cultural barriers played a significant role in limiting women’s access to contraceptives. Unmarried, sexually active persons were often too shy or embarrassed to ask for contraceptives at health centers, clinics, and pharmacies.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception.

According to the country’s 2019 census, the maternal mortality rate was 141 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with 178 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Major factors influencing high maternal mortality rates included shortages of adequate health facilities, medications, and skilled birth attendants.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equal rights for women and men, including equal pay for equal work and equal status in marriage. The government did not effectively enforce the law. For the most part, women had equal property rights, the same legal right as men to initiate divorce proceedings, and equal access to education, but cultural traditions and greater parenting responsibilities than men limited the ability of women to reach senior positions in business and government or participate in the workforce.

The government expected women to dress and comport themselves according to “Khmer traditions.” In March a female police officer was forced to apologize for a Facebook post showing her nursing her baby while in uniform, leading to an outcry from civil society groups and some government officials, who came to the woman’s defense. On June 5, authorities arrested a woman selling lotions online for “ruining women’s honor” and accused her of using inappropriate and sexual words during an online promotion of her product.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution grants equality before the law and offers the same rights to all citizens regardless of their race, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth, or other status. The law criminalizes discrimination and violence if due to “membership in a particular ethnicity, nationality, race, or religion.”

Experts noted an increase in negative attitudes toward Chinese nationals in the country, in part due to links with criminal activity, particularly in Sihanoukville. Newspapers reported stories of crimes committed by Chinese residents and business owners (mostly against fellow Chinese nationals), including murder, shootings, armed robbery, gang violence, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, extortion, counterfeiting, pornography, drunk driving, and drug possession. On August 21, authorities arrested more than 100 Chinese nationals for suspected drug trafficking.

Hundreds of ethnic Vietnamese fishing families living along the Tonle Sap River were forced to relocate their floating homes in June after government officials ordered them to vacate the area, despite some families reportedly having lived there for generations. The government did not recognize the citizenship of some ethnic Vietnamese, leaving them stateless. Some of the families attempted to move their floating homes into Vietnam via the Mekong River but their movements were prevented at the border.

Children

Birth Registration: By law children born to one or two ethnic Khmer parents are citizens. A child derives citizenship by birth to a mother and father who are not ethnic Khmer if both parents were born and living legally in the country or if either parent acquired citizenship through other legal means. Ethnic minorities are considered citizens by law. The Ministry of Interior administered the birth registration system, but not all births were registered immediately, primarily due to lack of public awareness of the importance of registering births and corruption in local government.

Failure to register births resulted in discrimination, including the denial of public services. Children of ethnic minorities and stateless persons were disproportionately unlikely to be registered. NGOs that serve disenfranchised communities reported authorities often denied access to education and health care services for children without birth registration. NGOs stated such persons, when adults, were also often unable to gain employment, own property, vote, or access the legal system.

Education: Education was free, but not compulsory, through grade nine. Many children left school to help their families in subsistence agriculture or work in other activities. Others began school at a late age or did not attend school at all. The government did not deny girls equal access to education, but families with limited resources often gave priority to boys, especially in rural areas. According to international organization reports, enrollment dropped significantly for girls after primary school in urban areas, while secondary school enrollment for boys dropped significantly in rural areas.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was common, and legal action against perpetrators was rare, according to observers. According to UNICEF’s Violence Against Children Report in 2020, approximately half of the children in the country had experienced extreme violence. As of July a local human rights NGO had investigated 94 abuses involving 106 children – 99 girls and seven boys. Almost 90 percent were either cases of rape or attempted rape.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both men and women is 18; however, children as young as 16 may marry with parental permission.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual intercourse with a person younger than 15 is illegal. The government continued to raid brothels to identify and remove child sex trafficking victims, although the majority of child sex trafficking was clandestine, occurring in beer gardens, massage parlors, beauty salons, karaoke bars, other retail spaces, and noncommercial sites. Police investigated child sex trafficking in brothels or when victims filed complaints directly but did not typically pursue more complicated cases, for example those involving online sexual exploitation. According to a 2020 NGO report, 15 percent of children in the country reported having been contacted by strangers on social media, and 2 percent reported having been asked to share intimate pictures or videos, or to perform inappropriate acts. The Cambodia National Council for Children launched a five-year action plan in July aimed at improving several areas of public policy and coordination, “including strengthening measures to prevent exploitation” and to rehabilitate victims. Undercover investigation techniques were generally not used in trafficking investigations, which impeded officials’ ability to hold child sex traffickers accountable.

The country remained a destination for child sex tourism. The government used the law to prosecute both sex tourists and citizens for the sexual exploitation of children. The law provides penalties ranging from two to 20 years in prison for commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law also prohibits the production and possession of child pornography.

Local human rights organizations and local experts were concerned regarding the government’s failure to punish appropriately foreign residents and tourists who purchase or otherwise engage in sex with children. Endemic corruption at all levels of government severely limited investigations and prosecutions of child sex traffickers, and the government took no action to investigate or prosecute complicit officials.

Displaced Children: Displaced children represented a serious problem. The government offered limited, inadequate services to street children at a single rehabilitation center in Phnom Penh. In 2017 a local NGO estimated there were 1,200 to 1,500 displaced street children in Phnom Penh with no relationship to their families and 15,000 to 20,000 children who worked on the streets but returned to families in the evenings.

Institutionalized Children: NGOs and other observers alleged many private orphanages were mismanaged and populated by sham orphans to lure donations from foreigners. From 36,000 to 49,000 children lived in residential care institutions or orphanages, according to UNICEF and research conducted by Columbia University in 2018. Approximately 80 percent of these children had at least one living parent. The study also found that residential care resulted in lower developmental and health outcomes for children and put them at higher risk for future exploitation. There were no state-supported or -operated orphanages or other child protection programs that provided safe alternatives for children.

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

Anti-Semitism

A small Jewish foreign resident community lived in Phnom Penh. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination, neglect, exploitation, or abandonment of persons with physical or intellectual disabilities, but it was not effectively enforced. The law does not address access to transport. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth has overall responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, although the law assigns specific tasks to other ministries, including the Ministries of Health, Education, Public Works and Transport, and National Defense.

Persons with disabilities faced significant societal discrimination and economic disadvantages, especially in obtaining skilled employment. According to a 2019 NGO survey of more than 4,300 persons with disabilities, at least 60 percent lived below the poverty line, compared with 25 percent in the general population.

Children with limited physical disabilities attended regular schools. According to a Ministry of Education report in 2019, there were 60,284 students with disabilities throughout the country. The ministry worked to train teachers on how to integrate students with disabilities into classes with students who did not have disabilities. Children with more significant disabilities attended separate schools sponsored by NGOs in Phnom Penh; education for students with more significant disabilities was not available outside of Phnom Penh. A local NGO reported that at least 60 percent of children with disabilities did not attend school. Although there are no legal limits on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs, the government made no concerted effort to assist their civic engagement.

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

No law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, nor was there official discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons. Societal discrimination persisted, however, particularly in rural areas.

LGBTQI+ persons generally had limited job opportunities due to discrimination and exclusion. LGBTQI+ persons were occasionally harassed or bullied for their work in the entertainment and commercial sex sectors.

A local LGBTQI+ rights organization reported incidents of violence or abuse against LGBTQI+ persons, including domestic violence by family members. Stigma or intimidation may have inhibited further reporting of incidents. Police did not prioritize investigations into LGBTQI+-related complaints.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law broadly provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join independent trade unions of their own choice, to bargain collectively, and to strike. The law excludes certain categories of workers from joining unions, puts significant restrictions on the right to organize, limits the right to strike, facilitates government intervention in internal union affairs, permits the government as well as third parties to seek the dissolution of trade unions, and imposes minor penalties on employers for unfair labor practices. The government failed to enforce applicable laws effectively. Penalties for antiunion discrimination in hiring and dismissing employees were commensurate with penalties for other types of discrimination.

Civil servants, teachers, workers employed by state-owned enterprises, and workers in the banking, health-care, and informal sectors may form only “associations,” not trade unions, affording them fewer worker protections than unionized trades. The law also restricts illiterate workers from holding union leadership.

Reports of severe restrictions on union formation were common. In 2020 the country registered 210 new unions, down from 375 unions registered in 2019. Independent union leaders noted that a small number of unions were active, and that an estimated 10 percent could be considered independent. Some employers reportedly refused to sign notification letters to recognize unions officially or to renew contracts with short-term employees who joined unions. Most workers in the formal manufacturing sector were on short-term contracts. Unions noted short-term contracts allowed employers to dismiss union organizers by failing to renew their contract. Employers and local government officials often refused to provide necessary paperwork for unions to register. Some employers took advantage of the prolonged registration process to terminate elected union officials prior to the unions’ formal registration, making them ineligible to serve as union officers and further retarding the registration process.

Onerous registration requirements amounted to a requirement for prior authorization for union formation. Union registration requirements include filing charters, listing officials and their immediate families, and providing banking details to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. Labor activists reported many banks refused to open accounts for unregistered unions, although unions are unable by law to register until they provide banking details. Provincial-level labor authorities reportedly stalled registration applications indefinitely by requesting more materials or resubmissions due to minor errors late in the 30-day application cycle, although anecdotal evidence suggested this practice had decreased, particularly for garment- and footwear-sector unions. The law forbids unregistered unions from operating.

Workers reported various other obstacles while trying to exercise their right to freedom of association. There were reports of government harassment of independent labor leaders, including the use of spurious legal charges. Several prominent labor leaders associated with the opposition or independent unions had charges pending against them or were under court supervision.

Several unions reported increased union-busting activity amid the sharp economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, according to union leaders at the Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville airports, the Cambodia Airport Management Service stopped negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the International Airport Independent Employees Union due to COVID-19 and then suspended workers unilaterally in all airports, without consulting the union. In April, NagaWorld, the country’s largest casino, notified the casino workers’ union that it would dismiss 1,329 employees; it had fired 956 workers as of August. NagaWorld union representatives accused the company of using the pandemic as a pretext to get rid of union leaders and members specifically, noting that while union members represented approximately 50 percent of the company’s total of 8,000 employees, they made up nearly 83 percent of those expected to be dismissed. According to Solidarity Center, from January to August, 140 legal cases were brought against unions and workers in the garment industry, a sharp increase from previous years.

While workers enjoy the right to conduct strikes, the legal requirements for doing so are cumbersome. The law stipulates that workers may strike only after meeting several requirements, including the successful registration of a union; the failure of other methods of dispute resolution (such as conciliation, mediation, and arbitration); the completion of a 60-day waiting period following the emergence of the dispute; a secret-ballot vote of the absolute majority of union members; and seven days’ advance notice to the employer and the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. Strikers may be criminally charged if they block entrances or roads or engage in any other behavior interpreted by local authorities as harmful to public order. A court may issue an injunction against the strike and require the restart of negotiations with employers.

There were credible reports of workers dismissed on spurious grounds after organizing or participating in strikes. Unions initiated most strikes without meeting all the requirements stated above, making them technically illegal, according to Better Factories Cambodia. Participating in an illegal strike, however, is not in itself a legally acceptable reason for dismissal. In some cases employers failed to renew the short-term contracts of union activists; in others they pressured union personnel or strikers to accept compensation and quit. Government-sponsored remedies for these dismissals were generally ineffective.

The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s Strike Demonstration Resolution Committee reported that unions held 49 strikes and demonstrations involving 35,500 workers during the first half of the year, compared with 92 strikes and demonstrations involving 50,700 workers during the same period in 2020. Observers attributed the decline to widespread factory closures and restrictions due to the increased spread of COVID-19 beginning in late February. Most of the strikes concerned unpaid wages and denial of benefits following factory closures due to the sharp economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the year the government restricted workers’ right to assemble. Authorities turned down most union requests for rally permits on the grounds that social distancing would be difficult or impossible during such events. Unions complained that police prevented them from marching and broke up such activities before marchers could reach their destination.

Union leaders and observers expressed concerns that new laws enacted during the pandemic could further curtail workers’ rights to association and assembly. There was a decrease in union gatherings and other activities in the first half of the year, according to a report by local rights groups, partly due to restrictions amid widespread community transmission of COVID-19.

The resolution of labor disputes was inconsistent. Unions reported progress in “minority” unions’ ability to represent workers in collective disputes. From January to August the Arbitration Council heard 22 labor disputes, compared with 47 in the same period in 2020, with a council official noting that this decrease was due in part to widespread factory closures since February after an outbreak of COVID-19 and continued community transmission since then. The official stated the decline was also due to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training classifying more disputes as “individual” instead of “collective,” making them ineligible for referral to the council, which hears only “collective” disputes. Labor disputes that are designated “individual” disputes may be brought before the courts, although the judicial system was neither impartial nor transparent. There is no specialized labor court.

The law places significant, detailed reporting responsibilities on labor unions, such as a requirement to submit annual financial statements, including, under some circumstances, independently audited statements. Union representatives feared many local chapters would not be able to meet the requirements, and unions that fail to meet these requirements face fines.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and while there were penalties for employing forced labor or hiring individuals to work off debts (a maximum of one month’s jail time or a fine), they were not commensurate with penalties for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping (at least one year of imprisonment).

Media reported on organized Chinese criminal gangs trafficking Chinese and other foreign citizens into Cambodia to work as forced labor in online gambling and online fraud operations; multiple police raids on such operations freed suspected trafficking victims. Some NGOs reported that migrant workers were trafficked to work in Chinese-run and other construction sites in Cambodia. There was evidence that employers, particularly those operating brick kilns, were violating the law prohibiting forced or bonded labor. Brick kiln proprietors subjected many of the more than 10,000 persons living at these kilns, including children, to multigenerational debt-based coercion, either by buying off their preexisting loans or by requiring them to take out new loans as a condition of employment.

Although the government made efforts to highlight the problem of forced labor, the extent to which these efforts were effective remained unclear.

Debt remained an important driver of forced labor. According to a joint report by two human rights groups, 3.6 million households had loans from microfinance lenders totaling $11.8 billion in 2020. The report revealed that the average microloan was approximately 17,400 riels ($4,280) – more than the annual income of 95 percent of the country’s residents. The report added that some workers had taken out new loans to repay existing debt. The Cambodia Microfinance Association and Association of Banks in Cambodia disputed the report’s findings. Children were also at risk of forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor and establishes 15 as the minimum age for most employment and 18 as the minimum age for hazardous work. Although the law prohibits work by children younger than 15, it does not apply to children outside of formal employment relationships. The law permits children between ages 12 and 15 to engage in “light work” that is not hazardous to their health and does not affect school attendance; an implementing regulation provides an exhaustive list of activities considered “heavy work.” These include agriculture, brickmaking, fishing, tobacco, and cassava production. The law limits most work by children between ages 12 and 15 to a maximum of four hours on school days and seven hours on other days and prohibits work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Ministry of Labor regulations define household work and set the minimum age for it at 18. The regulation, however, does not specify rights or a minimum age for household workers employed by relatives.

The law stipulates fines for persons convicted of violating the country’s child labor provisions, but such sanctions were rarely imposed. The penalties for employing child labor were not commensurate with penalties for analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping, except for employing children in working conditions that affected a child’s health or physical development, which carries a two- to five-year prison sentence (10 years if the working conditions cause a child’s death).

Child labor inspections were concentrated in Phnom Penh and provincial formal-sector factories producing goods for export rather than in rural areas where the majority of child laborers worked. Inadequate training also limited local authorities’ ability to enforce child labor regulations, especially in rural areas and high-risk sectors. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training reported that its labor inspectorate lacked the resources and mandate to conduct inspections in hospitality and nightlife establishments and at construction sites.

Children were vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, including in agriculture, brickmaking, and commercial sex (see also section 6, Children). Poor access to basic education and the absence of compulsory education contributed to children’s vulnerability to exploitation. Children from impoverished families were at risk because some affluent households reportedly used humanitarian pretenses to hire children as domestic workers who were then subjected to abuse and exploitation. Children were also forced to beg; several NGOs reported such street work had increased due to economic pressures caused by the pandemic.

Children worked with their parents on rubber, cassava, cashew, and banana plantations, according to a union active in the agriculture sector.

Between 2019 and 2020, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training inspected 486 brick kilns and stated it found no child labor or debt bondages. A 2019 census by independent researchers, however, recorded at least 638 cases of child labor at kilns in addition to debt bondage at 464 kilns. Inspectors often provided kiln owners with advance notice of inspections.

Rising debt during the pandemic contributed to child labor, including the “worst forms,” because some families pressured to repay debt forced their children to leave school to work.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, political opinion, birth, social origin, HIV-positive status, or union membership. The law does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or communicable disease status. The constitution stipulates that citizens of either sex shall receive equal pay for equal work.

The government generally did not enforce these laws. Penalties for employment discrimination include fines and administrative remedies.

Harassment of women was widespread. Penalties for sexual harassment (six days to three months in jail plus a fine by law) were not commensurate with those in laws related to civil rights. A 2020 Better Factories Cambodia report stated that sexual harassment had been reduced at export-oriented garment factories over the last three years, which researchers attributed to factory participation in the Better Factories program. The report also noted survey results showing that 7 percent of women reported having things being thrown at them, and 18 percent of women reported someone at the factory tried to have a sexual relationship with them.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage covers only the garment and footwear sector. It was more than the official estimate for the poverty income level.

The law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day. The law establishes a rate of 130 percent of daytime wages for nightshift work and 150 percent for overtime, which increases to 200 percent if overtime occurs at night, on Sunday, or on a holiday. Employees may work a maximum two hours of overtime per day. The law states that all overtime must be voluntary and provides for paid annual holidays. Workers in marine and air transportation are not entitled to social security and pension benefits and are exempt from limitations on work hours prescribed by law.

Workers reported overtime was often excessive and sometimes mandatory; many complained that employers forced them to work 12-hour days, although the legal limit is 10, including overtime. Workers often faced dismissal, fines, or loss of premium pay if they refused to work overtime.

The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training is responsible for enforcing labor laws, but the government did not do so effectively. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, but penalties were seldom assessed and were insufficient to address problems. Penalties for violating laws on minimum wage (six days’ to one month’s imprisonment) and overtime (a fine of 31 to 60 times the prevailing daily base wage) were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud (six months’ to three years’ imprisonment).

The government met the International Labor Organization (ILO) standard for the number of inspectors in a less developed country but enforced standards selectively due to poorly trained staff, lack of necessary equipment, and corruption. Ministry officials admitted their inability to carry out thorough inspections of working hours and stated they relied upon Better Factories Cambodia to do such inspections in export-oriented garment factories. Outside the export garment industry, working-hour regulations were rarely, if ever, enforced. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training put a partial moratorium on all inspections in February due to a COVID-19 outbreak and widespread community transmission, including in factories.

Workers and labor organizations raised concerns that short-term contracts (locally known as fixed-duration contracts) allowed firms, especially in the garment sector, to avoid wage and legal requirements. Fixed-duration contracts also allowed employers greater freedom to dismiss union organizers and pregnant women simply by failing to renew their contracts. The law limits such contracts to a maximum of two years, but more recent directives allow employers to extend this period to up to four years. The Arbitration Council and the ILO disputed this interpretation of the law, noting that after 24 months an employee should be offered a permanent “unlimited duration contract” (also see section 7.a.). Forced overtime remained a problem in factories making products for export. Unions and workers reported some factory managers fired workers who refused to work overtime.

Occupational Safety and Health: By law workplace health and safety standards must be adequate to provide for workers’ well-being. Labor inspectors assess fines according to a complex formula based on the severity and duration of the infraction as well as the number of workers affected. Labor Ministry inspectors are empowered to conduct unannounced visits and assess fines on the spot, without the cooperation of police.

The number of inspectors met ILO standards for a less developed country but was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. Government inspection of construction worksites was insufficient. Penalties for violating occupational safety and health laws (typically a fine of 30 to 120 times the prevailing daily base wage) were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud (six months’ to three years’ imprisonment).

Compliance with safety and health standards continued to be a problem in the garment export sector due largely to improper company policies, procedures, and poorly defined supervisory roles and responsibilities.

Work-related injuries and health difficulties remained problems, although the latest available statistics showed some improvement. More than 15,000 workers were injured in 2020, a 23.7 percent drop from 2019, according to the National Social Security Fund.

Informal Sector: The country had a substantial number of informal workers. Estimates varied, but 19 percent of the nearly 9.2 million-strong workforce enjoyed social protection under the National Social Security Fund, with the remaining 81 percent therefore meeting a common definition of informal workers. Such workers dominated the agricultural sector. These workers were not covered by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws and inspections. In addition most construction companies and brick factories operated informally, and workers in those sectors were not entitled to the minimum wage, lacked insurance, and worked weekends and holidays with few days off. Most brick-factory workers did not have access to the free medical care provided by the National Social Security Fund because the factories were not registered.

In July the government increased social protections, including direct cash payments, for some informal workers due to the economic hardships created by the pandemic.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The president retains power over the legislative and judicial branches of government. The ruling political party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, has remained in power since its creation in 1985. The country held legislative elections in February 2020 that were marked by irregularities. The ruling party won 152 of 180 National Assembly seats. Paul Biya has served as president since 1982. He was last reelected in 2018 in an election marked by irregularities.

The national police and the national gendarmerie are responsible for internal security. The former reports to the General Delegation of National Security and the latter to the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the Gendarmerie. The army shares some domestic security responsibilities; it reports to the minister delegate at the presidency in charge of defense. The Rapid Intervention Battalion reports directly to the president. Civilian and military authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Casualties rose in the Anglophone crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. Anglophone separatists used improvised explosive devices with greater success. ISIS-West Africa increased attacks in the Far North Region. The government continued to crack down on the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement, and in December several of its members were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from one to seven years following protests in 2020.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government and nonstate armed groups; forced disappearances by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government and nonstate armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including abductions and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nonstate armed groups; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigations and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption, it did not do so systematically and rarely held public proceedings. Impunity remained a serious problem.

Armed separatists, Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, and criminal gangs also committed human rights abuses, some of which were investigated by the government.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of their official duties. As in the previous year, most of the killings were associated with the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions (see also section 1.g., Abuses in Internal Conflict).

The Ministry of Defense, through the Secretariat of State in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED), is responsible for investigating whether killings attributed to the security forces, including police perpetrated killings, are justifiable. Prosecutions related to these matters are conducted through the Military Tribunal. In some high-profile cases, preliminary investigations are entrusted to a mixed commission of inquiry, including civilian members with relevant professional backgrounds.

On January 10, according to multiple credible sources, including Reuters, the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, Buea-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Reach Out Cameroon, and Cameroon News Agency, soldiers carried out an offensive raid in Mautu, a village in the Muyuka subdivision of the Southwest Region, killing at least nine civilians, including a child and an elderly woman, neither of whom was an affiliate of any separatist organization. Three witnesses reportedly told Reuters that soldiers raided homes and shot civilians as they ran for cover. The Southwest Region-based NGO Reach Out Cameroon identified the deceased as Takang Anyi Roger, age 20; Tambe Daniel; Shey Keisa, age six; Obenegwa David, age 30; Egoshi Lucas, age 25; Takang Bruno, age 22; Ndakam Pascal, age 22; Tambe Ann, age 50; and Ngoto Valentine Akama, age 32. Defense Ministry spokesperson Cyrille Serge Atonfack Guemo acknowledged in a January 11 press release soldiers from the 21st Motorized Infantry Battalion conducted a preventive operation against terrorist positions in the Mautu but did not admit that troops killed civilians. Atonfack Guemo said troops came under heavy gunfire and “adequately responded,” which resulted in the neutralization of some terrorists.

Multiple media outlets reported that on January 23, security officers killed four unarmed teenagers in the Meta Quarter neighborhood in Bamenda, Northwest Region. The victims included Sale Saddam and Aloysius Ngalim each age 16, and Blaise Fon and Nelly Mbah, both age 17. In a January 27 press release, Defense Ministry spokesperson Atonfack Guemo said soldiers of the Fifth Gendarmerie Region raided Meta Quarter to apprehend separatists who were planning an assault on a nearby police post from an abandoned building. He said the separatists opened fire on the soldiers approaching their vehicles and during the ensuing confrontation, security officers killed four separatists, wounded several others who escaped, and recovered large quantities of weapons. On January 25, the Guardian Post newspaper reported that local residents identified two of the boys as students at Government Bilingual High School downtown and categorically stated that the teenagers were not armed and had “nothing to do with the ongoing conflict in the Anglophone regions.”

In an August 2 report, HRW denounced abuses committed by the army and separatists in Northwest and Southwest Regions. HRW wrote that on June 8 and 9, members of the security forces killed two civilians and raped a 53-year-old woman in the Northwest Region. Survivors and witnesses reportedly told HRW that in the early hours of June 9, approximately 150 security force members from both the regular army and Rapid Intervention Battalion (French acronym: BIR) conducted an operation in and around Mbuluf village. Survivors reportedly told HRW that security forces stopped their group of six including a husband and wife, their two children, another man, and another woman in the vicinity of the village for questioning. In Mbah they released everyone except the husband of the woman who was reportedly raped. His body was reportedly found with multiple gunshot wounds on June 11 in Tatum village, approximately 18 miles from Mbah.

On June 8, at approximately 7 p.m. in Gom village in the Northwest Region, two plainclothes soldiers, whom a witness recognized as regular army members from the Gom military base, broke into the local traditional ruler’s home, known as the fon’s home, and beat a 72-year-old man. At approximately 7:30 p.m., they questioned and shot Lydia Nwang, a 60-year-old woman, in the right leg after she failed to provide information regarding a separatist fighter. The soldiers then forced the man age 72 and his wife to carry Nwang towards the Gom military base for questioning. Nwang was carried as far as a bridge approximately one mile from her house, when the soldiers shot and killed her. Nwang’s relatives recovered her body from the bridge the following morning. HRW claimed that on July 15, it emailed its findings to Defense Ministry spokesperson Atonfack Guemo requesting responses to specific questions but received no response by the time it released its findings. In an August 5 statement, Atonfack Guemo qualified the information contained in HRW’s report as false and baseless.

According to NGO Un Monde Avenir, Juste Magloire Tang Ndjock died sometime overnight between July 20 to 21, in the premises of the Gendarmerie Brigade in Pouma after authorities severely beat him. He had been summoned to the Pouma gendarmerie brigade following a complaint. After failing to appear, gendarme Marshal Okala ordered the arrest of Tang Ndjock. As of the end of the December, his remains and findings of the autopsy report had not been released to the family of the deceased.

On the night of February 13, according to multiple credible sources, a group of armed separatists carried out an attack on the Essoh Atah village in Lebialem division of the Southwest Region, killing four civilians, including the following three traditional rulers: Chief Benedict Fomin, Chief Simon Forzizong, and Chief Fualeasuoh. According to the minister delegate in charge of planning at the Ministry of the Economy, Planning, and Regional Development, Paul Tasong, the group led by Oliver Lekeaka, also known as “Field Marshal,” stormed Essoh Atah village, pulled the chiefs from their houses, and shot and killed them at the market square before dumping their bodies near a river. Minister Tasong added that the separatists accused the chiefs of refusing to hand over proceeds from the sale of cocoa for the 2020-21 season and organizing schools in the community. Other reports suggested the separatists also accused their victims of participating in the December 2020 regional election. On July 8, the fon of Baforkum in the Northwest Region was abducted from his palace for the second time in less than 60 days sometime between July 6 and July 7 by suspected separatist fighters; on July 8, residents discovered his body dumped nearby a stream.

On June 15, separatists abducted six divisional delegates in Ekondo-Titi subdivision of the Southwest Region. On June 18, local residents discovered the body of Johnson Mabia Modika, the divisional delegate for the Ministry of Economy, Planning, and Regional Development. HRW indicated on July 1, at approximately 7:30 p.m., two suspected separatist fighters killed Fuh Max Dang, a physics teacher at the Government Bilingual High School in Kumba, Southwest Region, after they broke into his home. A relative of the deceased reportedly told HRW that separatist fighters had previously threatened the teacher, warning him that he would face consequences if he continued teaching. As of the end of December, the status of the remaining five delegates remained unknown.

On July 14, separatists dressed in army uniforms and riding motorbikes killed two security officers at a security post in Babadjou, West Region. On July 18, according to multiple reports, separatists killed five police officers in Bali, Mezam division of the Northwest Region. The attack took place at a security checkpoint where separatists detonated an improvised explosive device near a police vehicle, after which the separatists opened fire on the occupants. In a video a group of armed men claimed responsibility for the attack and identified themselves as the “Bali Buffaloes.” On July 19, less than 24 hours after the Bali attack, a video found on social media showed separatists dismembering a security officer, Patrick Mabenga.

Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued killing civilians, including members of vigilance committees, which are organized groups of local residents cooperating with government forces in the Far North Region. On April 5, HRW reported that Boko Haram had increased attacks on civilians in towns and villages in the Far North Region since December 2020, killing at least 80 civilians. HRW documented that Boko Haram suicide bombers blew up fleeing civilians, adding that dozens of local fishermen were killed with machetes and knives, and an elderly village chief was killed in front of his family. HRW indicated that the actual number of casualties was much higher, in view of the difficulty of confirming details remotely, underscoring that some attacks often went unreported. In late July ISIS-WA carried out two attacks against the army in the Logone-et-Chari division. The first attack took place on July 24 in the locality of Sagme, in Fotokol subdivision. According to multiple accounts, eight soldiers died during the attack and 13 others were wounded. According to the NGO Stand Up for Cameroon, suspected Boko Haram affiliates killed at least 27 persons in the months of November and December.

Although the government repeatedly promised to investigate abuses committed by security forces, it did not do so transparently or systematically. Following the April 2020 release of a summary of the findings of an investigation into the February 2020 killing by security forces of an estimated 23 civilians in the village of Ngarbuh, legal proceedings against three security force members, 17 members of a vigilance committee, and one former separatist fighter, indicted on murder charges, opened at the Yaounde Military Tribunal in June, after multiple adjournments. As of the end of December, only three of the accused had appeared before the court.

b. Disappearance

As in the previous year, government security forces were believed to be responsible for enforced disappearances of suspected separatists or their supporters. Human rights lawyers documented the cases of Onyori Mukube Onyori and Ernest Mofa Ngo, whose abductions they believed were orchestrated at the behest of authorities. Following an attack on the Mother Theresa International Bilingual Academy in Kumba, Southwest Region, in November 2020 two men who were playing cards in the hallway of their house, were abducted and taken to an undisclosed location. After months of investigations, lawyers discovered in late April that they were being detained at the General Directorate for External Research (DGRE), an intelligence agency, in Yaounde. The lawyers reported Mofa Ngo was subsequently released under unclear circumstances, but Mukube remained in detention as of December.

As of December there were no developments reported on the high-profile investigation into the death of broadcast journalist Samuel Abue Adjiekha, popularly known as Samuel “Wazizi.” Wazizi was detained in August 2019 after authorities accused him of having connections with armed separatists. He was transferred to a military-run facility in Buea in August 2019 and never appeared in court, despite several scheduled hearings. According to the Ministry of Defense, Wazizi died in police custody 10 days after his arrest in 2019 from severe sepsis. Although Wazizi was officially pronounced dead in June 2020, his family had yet to see or recover his remains more than one year after the official death announcement.

There were no reported developments concerning the alleged disappearance of human rights activist Franklin Mowha, the president of NGO Frontline Fighters for Citizen Interests, who disappeared after leaving his hotel room in 2018, while on a mission to monitor human rights abuses in Kumba, Southwest Region. Despite multiple calls by human rights organizations for an investigation into the disappearance, the government had not taken action more than three years later. Mowha highlighted and denounced the abuses perpetrated by persons associated with the government, and authorities had previously detained him on several occasions.

On October 13, barrister Amungwa Nde Ntso Nico, one of the lawyers for separatist leader Sisuku Julius Ayuk Tabe and 47 others arrested in connection to the Anglophone crisis in 2017, told the international community that members of government security forces had removed three of his clients, Tebid Tita, Hamlet Acheshit, and John Fongue, from Yaounde Kondengui Central Prison without official authorization and were holding them incommunicado in the Central Service for Judicial Enquiries (SCRJ) bunker. On October 15, barrister Amungwa and members of the defense team announced to the public that he had a meeting with the state prosecutor at the Yaounde Military Tribunal, who told him the detainees had been transferred to the SCRJ at the SED. Following the meeting, he said he went to the SCRJ, but the clients were not on the prisoner manifest. Amungwa later reported he had been able to visit the three, who were very ill and said they had been mistreated and forced to sign a document in the absence of their lawyer. Tita, Acheshit, and Fongue, in detention since 2017, had yet to be officially sentenced, despite multiple appearances before the Military Tribunal.

On June 15, separatists abducted six divisional delegates in Ekondo-Titi subdivision of the Southwest Region. One of the delegates was eventually killed (see also section 1.a.), and the five others remained unaccounted for as of the end of December.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security force members tortured or otherwise abused citizens, including separatist fighters, their alleged supporters, and political opponents. Human rights organizations documented several cases in which security forces severely mistreated separatist fighters and others in which armed separatists mistreated civilians and members of defense forces. Public officials, or persons acting at their behest, reportedly carried out acts that resulted in severe physical, mental, and emotional trauma.

On February 13, a video emerged on social media and television news programs showing a mixed unit of government defense forces abusing a civilian. They interrogated the man in French and pidgin English, poured water on him, beat him with a machete until he fell unconscious. According to the video, authorities demanded that the man reveal the location of his brother whom they believed to be a separatist fighter. In a February 15 press release, MOD spokesperson Atonfack Guemo acknowledged that the incident took place in the afternoon of February 11 in the locality of Ndu, Donga and Mantung division of the Northwest Region. Atonfack Guemo said the victim was identified upon preliminary investigations as Jean Fai Fungong, a suspected criminal and separatist. He indicated that the minister delegate for defense, Joseph Beti Assomo, ordered the immediate arrest of two soldiers, two gendarme officers, and four police officers believed to be responsible for the abuse and placed them in detention at the Ndu Territorial Gendarmerie Brigade pending the outcome of a full investigation. As of the end of December, authorities had not released information concerning the outcome of the investigation, and there was no indication that the case had been fully investigated (see also section 1.a.).

On September 21, multiple videos depicting a civilian being beaten by gendarme officers with machetes circulated on social media. The MOD issued a press release and stated there would be a full investigation into the matter. The communique added that the perpetrators of the abuse, which took place on the overnight on September 16 at a gendarme facility in Yaounde, had been identified and would be subject to disciplinary and judicial sanctions. As of late November, the MOD had not provided an update on this case.

According to NGO Un Monde Avenir, shopkeeper Sieur Nzimou Bertin died in gendarme custody on the morning of November 18, a few hours after he was released from police custody, following a summons after a dispute with his neighbor. His death was said to be the consequence of the severe assault and degrading treatment he suffered while in detention on the evening of November 17 at the 9th quarter police station in the Littoral Region.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, three allegations were submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). This followed six allegations against the country’s peacekeepers deployed to MINUSCA in 2020. As of the end of December, investigations by the United Nation’s Office of Internal Oversight Services into all allegations from during the year remaining pending. There were also 26 other open allegations dating from previous years of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions dating back to 2017. Of the open cases, eight allegedly involved rape of a child. One case allegedly involved multiple allegations: four instances of rape of a child and two instances of exploitative relationships with an adult. Another open case allegedly involved rape by two peacekeepers of two children and an exploitative relationship with an adult.

Reports from credible organizations and anecdotal evidence suggested there were cases of rape and sexual assaults perpetrated by persons associated with the government in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, as well as in other parts of the country. NGOs also indicated armed separatists sexually assaulted survivors in the two regions (see also section 1.g., Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture). On February 13, the NGO Mandela Center International issued a press release denouncing the December 2020 gang rape of a 16-year-old girl by police inspector Remy Gaetan Eba’a Ngomo and his colleagues. Police inspector Eba’a Ngomo, who was on duty at the Ntui public security police station, forced the girl and a male colleague to follow him, according to the survivors and the civil society organizations reporting on the issue. Once at the police station, the police inspector forced the two to have sex outdoors. Afterwards, Eba’a Ngomo invited his colleagues, including a person he referred to as his boss, to rape the female survivor, after chasing away the male survivor. Eba’a Ngomo gave the female survivor 1,000 CFA francs ($2) and threatened to kill her if she revealed what had happened. The father of the female survivor unsuccessfully initiated a series of complaints starting with the head of public security police in Ntui, followed by the public prosecutor in Ntui. The father of the female survivor filed another complaint with the regional division of judicial police in Yaounde. As of early October, the case was pending before the prosecutor, while police inspector Eba’a Ngomo was reportedly in detention; however, his presence in detention was not independently confirmed as of December.

In May Reach Out Cameroon released its human rights situation and incident report for the period extending from January to March 31. In the report, Reach Out indicated that on January 21, separatist fighters attacked, robbed, and gang-raped a young woman at Nkewen, in the Bamenda III municipality in the Northwest Region. The survivor reportedly told Reach Out that she was on her way back from a party with her aunt when armed men attacked her at the entrance to her neighborhood, pulled her into a nearby bush, and raped her.

While some investigations and prosecutions were conducted and a few sanctions meted out, impunity remained a problem. Few of the reports of trials involved those in command. The General Delegation of National Security and the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the National Gendarmerie investigated some abuses. The government levied punitive action against convicted low-level offenders, and other investigations continued as of year’s end. The trial for the four soldiers and 17 members of vigilance committees accused of assisting regular defense forces in perpetrating the February 2020 massacre in Ngarbuh continued at the Yaounde Military Tribunal, but as of December, only three of the accused, all of them members of defense and security forces, had been seen in court.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, poor-quality food, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, as well as inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a significant problem in most prisons, especially in major urban centers.

Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons. Authorities often held pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in the same cells. In some cases female detainees had better conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less-crowded living quarters. Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children. Authorities reported that the sick were held separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.

The conditions in detention cells located at gendarmerie and police units were worse. The cells were generally very narrow, and most of them lacked toilets and windows. Virtually all lacked beds. Unlike prisons that had separate wards for men, women, and children, separation of detainees by age and sex was not systematic in gendarmerie and police unit cells. Conservative estimates by the Human Rights Commission of the Cameroon Bar Association indicated the country’s prisons had the capacity to accommodate 17,915 inmates. As of September, the total prison population was 31,815, representing an occupancy rate of 177 percent above the maximum inmate capacity. Prisons in the Littoral Region that had a maximum intake capacity of 1,550 had a total population of 4,639 inmates, representing an occupancy rate of 299 percent above the maximum inmate capacity as of October.

Access to food, water, sanitation, heating and ventilation, lighting, and medical care was inadequate. Consequently, malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other treatable conditions, including infections, were rampant. Failure to observe minimum detention rules resulted in at least two deaths during the year. According to credible reports, including by the Mandela Center, Andre Youmbi died on April 25 at the Bafoussam Central Prison in the West Region, after 43 months of detention. Youmbi was ill and had requested treatment in an adequate health facility. The magistrates handling his case considered the nature of the offenses of which he was the alleged perpetrator advocated against his provisional release. The West Region Court of Appeal president reportedly denied the request for provisional release on April 23. Youmbi returned to prison the same day and died two days later.

Multiple organizations reported that on May 3, Jean Louis Tiotso, who was in poor health and had been awaiting trial for illicit sale of medicines, died at the Foumbot prison in the West Region. Ombouda, the prosecutor in his case, allegedly refused to release him to seek appropriate treatment as was his right under the law. Anecdotal reports suggested that Tiotso unsuccessfully attempted multiple times to appeal to the courts for treatment but failed each time. The prison administration also reportedly supported his request to no avail. Tiotso’s death triggered a riot that led to the burning of the Foumbot Court House and at least one additional death on May 3, according to reports.

Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence occurred during the year. Violence among inmates was reported in virtually all prisons. In an August 30 Facebook posting, the content of which was confirmed by Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) lawyers, a whistleblower shared the complaint of an unidentified MRC detainee. The detainee claimed that MRC detainees were assaulted in their Yaounde central prison cell by inmates at the behest of prison authorities on August 27 after the lights went off. According to the account, Henry Etchome Misse, head of the prison’s disciplinary office, led a group of unidentified inmates and assaulted the MRC detainees. Misse and his men allegedly participated in the assault of MRC detainees, some of whom had their money stolen along with other valuables.

Administration: Authorities allegedly did not address all credible allegations of mistreatment. MRC detainees, for instance, claimed they had been assaulted on multiple occasions in their prison cells by other prisoners, but they reported that prison officials were indifferent, giving them no opportunity to express their complaints. Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel to communicate with inmates; without authorization, visitors had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates. While overall prison visits continued to be limited in compliance with COVID-19-pandemic-related restrictions, political detainees reportedly suffered tougher restrictions.

Independent Monitoring: Independent monitoring of prisons was constrained by COVID-19-pandemic-related restrictions. Diplomatic missions were granted access to visit their nationals; the government denied human rights groups the ability to review prison conditions. Buea-based Human Is Right reported a few prison visits in the Southwest Region. The International Federation of Actions by Christians Littoral also conducted prison visits mostly in Edea and Mbanga, in the Littoral Region. Other NGOs, including Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme, the Network for Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC), and the Justice and Peace Commissions of Catholic Archdiocese also conducted prison visits, but with reduced access.

Improvements: The new Douala-Ngoma Central Prison, reported completed in 2020, was still not functional as of December. The facility was expected to help address prison overcrowding and improve the living conditions of inmates at the Douala-New Bell Central Prison. As of the end of December, the new facility was reportedly still missing equipment and required additional construction before it could begin receiving inmates.

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 in court of an arrest or detention. The law states that except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest must disclose their identity and inform the detainee of the reason for his or her arrest. Any person illegally detained by police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation. The government did not always respect these provisions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judge or prosecutor before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement. The law provides that suspects be brought promptly before a judge or prosecutor, although this often did not occur, and citizens were detained without judicial authorization. Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once. This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought. Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods. The law also permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities, such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command. The law also provides that individuals arrested on suspicion of terrorism and certain other crimes may be detained for investigation for periods of 15 days, renewable without limitation with authorization of the prosecutor. The law allows access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but such cases occurred, especially in connection with the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal to recuse judges and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected. Bail was approved only on a selective basis, and applications to recuse judges with conflicts of interest rarely succeeded, especially in politically sensitive cases.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police, gendarmes, the BIR, and other government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado. “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless the detainee paid a bribe, continued, although on a limited scale.

On May 31, gendarmes arrested Nicodemus Nde Ntso Amungwa, a lawyer, while he was assisting a client during his interrogation at the gendarmerie facility in Yaounde. Minlo, a warrant officer, allegedly seized Amungwa’s cell phone without a warrant, claiming Amungwa had taken photographs of the facility. While searching for the alleged photographs, the gendarme found other photographs that recorded alleged military abuses in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions and arrested Amungwa. Amungwa was taken to the SED, where he was detained for 10 days at the SCRJ. Amungwa was first presented to the government commissioner at the Yaounde Military Tribunal on June 3, but the government commissioner returned the case file to the investigating unit. Upon his release, authorities dropped the charges against Amungwa (see also section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, including case of “Shakiro” and “Patricia”).

Government authorities arrested four members of the NGO consortium Stand Up for Cameroon in September 2020 in Douala after a “Friday in Black” meeting held at the Cameroon People’s Party headquarters. After 15 months of pretrial detention, on December 31, the military tribunal in Douala sentenced them to 16 months in prison, including time served, after declaring them guilty of insurrection. The four, Moussa Bello, Etienne Ntsama, Mira Angoung, and Tehle Membou, were reportedly subjected to brutal treatment and interrogated without legal counsel. At least 124 of the more than 500 citizens arrested in September 2020 in connection with the planned MRC protest remained in detention as of December 31, according to their lawyers. A few of the 500 who were detained were released at police stations, while others were prosecuted in civilian jurisdictions and received varying sentences. On December 27 and 28, the military tribunal in Yaounde sentenced 48 of the remaining detainees to prison terms ranging from one to seven years. Accused among other things of rebellion, rioting, and insurrection, they were sentenced in the absence of their lawyers, who in September withdrew from all pending proceedings to denounce what they referred to as a “lack of independence” of the judges. In many of the cases, lawyers initiated habeas corpus proceedings or asked the judges to recuse themselves from the hearing due to conflicts of interest or perceived judicial bias.

Pretrial Detention: The code of criminal procedure provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court. The 2014 antiterrorism law provides that a suspect may be held indefinitely in investigative detention with the authorization of the prosecutor. According to estimates by the Human Rights Commission of the Cameroon Bar Association, there were 18,437 pretrial detainees in a total of 31,815 inmates as of September. Some of the detainees had been awaiting trial for more than five years. In some cases the length of pretrial detention equaled, and in other cases exceeded, the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. Factors contributing to lengthy pretrial detentions included, but were not limited to, insufficient staff, mismanagement of case files, inability to pay court fees, and the politicization of some legal proceedings that required direction from authorities in the central government. Lawyers reported a prolonged pretrial detention in what they referred to as the Calabar 37. The case involved 37 persons from the Northwest and Southwest Regions who were repatriated from Calabar, Nigeria, the same day as separatist leader Sisiku Ayuk Tabe in 2019. According to their defense lawyers, while the Military Tribunal in Yaounde prosecuted Sisiku and nine of his followers and sentenced them to life imprisonment in August 2019, the 37 other detainees who began appearing in court in October 2019 had their case adjourned without the court providing a cause.

Freelance journalist Kingsley Fumunyuy Njoka, whom plainclothes security agents arrested in Douala in May 2020, remained in pretrial detention. He was allegedly interrogated regarding his reporting in relation to the Anglophone crisis, and he was placed in a six-month pretrial detention at the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. During the March parliamentary session, a parliamentarian questioned the Minister Delegate for Defense Assomo regarding the status of this case, to which Assomo replied that the trial would soon begin, without providing any further details. In June 2020 Njoka made his first appearance in court, but the case was adjourned. Reporters Without Borders denounced his arrest and provisional detention and said the charges against him were not yet substantiated. As of October, according to one of Njoka’s lawyers, the matter was still before the government commissioner at the Military Tribunal, and Njoka’s six-month preventive custody had been extended.

Amadou Vamoulke, a former general manager of state-owned Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) who was arrested and detained in 2016 on embezzlement charges, continued to await trial at the Kondengui Central Prison. After at least 50 hearings as of September 26, the Special Criminal Court had not reached a decision on his case as of the end of December.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but this was not always the case. In some instances the outcomes of trials appeared influenced by the government, especially in politically sensitive cases. Despite the judiciary’s partial independence from the executive and legislative branches, the president of the republic appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, as well as the president and members of the Constitutional Council, and he may dismiss them at will.

Military courts may exercise jurisdiction over civilians in a broad number of offenses including civil unrest. Military courts increasingly exercised jurisdiction over peaceful demonstrations, which the government had not previously authorized.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and the defendant is presumed innocent. Authorities did not always respect the law, applying the presumption of innocence in a selective manner. Criminal defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice, but in many cases the government did not respect this right, restricting access to lawyers, particularly in cases of individuals suspected of complicity with separatists, or political opponents. When defendants cannot pay for their own legal defense, the court may appoint trial counsel at public expense, but the process was often burdensome and lengthy, and the quality of legal assistance was poor. Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf but did not compel witnesses to testify in the Ngarbuh trial. In some cases related to the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions, defendants reported that the state did not share evidence during discovery and that they were not provided the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but authorities often violated this right. Hearsay and anonymous testimony were sometimes permitted, especially in terrorism cases. Examining magistrates sometimes attempted to induce political opponents and suspected separatists to incriminate themselves. Defendants may appeal convictions up to the Supreme Court and may subsequently petition the president for pardon.

Courts often limited procedural rights in politically sensitive cases. During a press briefing on September 9, the collective of the 60 lawyers defending MRC detainees announced its decision to withdraw from proceedings concerning the remaining 124 inmates, who were held in Bafoussam, Douala, Mfou, and Yaounde, and those whose appeals were awaiting review. Justifying their decision, the lawyers said they could not continue to provide professional services under conditions contrary to their oath as lawyers and did not want to be associated with arbitrariness and illegality. They said all civil, administrative, and military judges handling the cases lacked independence and fairness. According to the lawyers, the judges violated their oath as magistrates by systematically refusing to apply the law, which is contrary to judicial ethics and the principles of justice in conformity with human rights. Addressing journalists on the occasion, barrister Meli, the lead lawyer, remarked that all steps taken before judicial police officers as well as before civil and military courts for a statutory release, a release on bail or under guarantor, remained unaddressed for the most part or had simply been rejected. Meli said the same applied to all habeas corpus requests initiated from October 2020 to establish the illegal, unlawful, and arbitrary character of the arrests. Overall the lawyers said they carried out 279 procedures, all of which were unsuccessful.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of newly identified political detainees as of December. At least 124 of those associated with the September 2020 protests called for by the MRC opposition party, however, remained in detention. Prominent among the remaining detainees were MRC treasurer Alain Fogue and MRC leader Maurice Kamto’s spokesperson Olivier Bibou Nissack. As in the previous year, political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in SED facilities, at the Kondengui Principal Prison and the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde, the New Bell Central Prison in Douala, and the Mfou Principal Prison in the Center Region. Some were allegedly held at DGRE facilities. Political detainees often did not enjoy the same protections as other detainees, and the government at times restricted access to them by human rights organizations. There were credible allegations that the government falsely charged peaceful dissidents with violence.

REDHAC in an April 7 press release expressed concern regarding the judicial harassment against MRC detainees in Douala, including Ndljole Annis Wilfried, Kouamou Kouam Adolphe Romuuald, Tatcheumou Noutebel Constant Rofel, Kamou Staphane, Kue Francois, Kontchouo Thomas, Feugou Ludovic, Tanakeng Lezigning Mecxhideng, Nsa Ngako Guesie Pene, Pouakou Jiabvo Andre Gislain, Kue Bogne Colline, Nguegang Simplice Romeo, and Maptouhe Antoine Roger. According to the press release, the investigating judge No.3 at the Douala Military Court, Nyango Eko Linda Epse Afane Fongo, on April 1, referred the case to the military court ruling on criminal matters. The MRC members were indicted for offenses including “revolution, insurrection, public meeting demonstrations, and gatherings.”

The 10 separatist leaders, including Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, whom the Yaounde Military Tribunal sentenced to life imprisonment in 2019, remained in prison, since the Court of Appeals in September confirmed the sentence. Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, who was convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in prison.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Unlike in previous years, there were no credible reports during the year of politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options involved lengthy delays. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies, but the decisions of regional human rights bodies are not binding.

Property Seizure and Restitution

On January 9, administrative authorities forcibly evicted more than 100 families from New-Town Aeroport, a township located near the Douala International Airport. Houses were bulldozed and protesters were teargassed. Officially, the operation was to “ensure the rights of way” for Douala Airport. A group of young persons protested the demolition of their homes and a mosque. Some of the persons evicted claimed they had been living in the area for more than 30 years. Authorities claimed no responsibility for resettling persons, and many were left homeless. One member of parliament Cameroonian Party for National Reconciliation President Cabral Libii denounced the evictions and insisted that the persons whose rights had been violated should be compensated.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction in the interests of the state, and there were credible reports police and gendarmes abused their positions by harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants. The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant only if pursuing a person suspected of or seen committing a crime. Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision and entered private homes without a warrant. An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred.

The Buea-based NGO Human Is Right reported in August that it documented several cases of arbitrary arrests and detentions by defense and security forces in Mutengene, Muea, Mile 16, Mile 14, and Molyko, in the Southwest Region, from August 18 to August 30. According to Human Is Right, security forces patrolling neighborhoods arrested persons, especially young men, and searched their homes without warrants. An anonymous witness reportedly told Human Is Right how his 24-year-old son was arrested in Molyko, despite having his national identification card, and subsequently was asked to pay 50,000 CFA francs ($91) to secure his release.

Reports suggest authorities punished family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives. In an audio recording circulated on social media platforms early on August 3, the separatist fighter alias “General No Pity,” who controlled a separatist base known as Marine Forces located in Ndop, Northwest Region, claimed that soldiers stormed his compound and arrested his “uncles, aunts, younger brothers, and sisters.” He gave authorities 48 hours to release the family members, threatening to wreak havoc if anything bad happened to them. The NGO The Center for Research and Resources Distribution to Rural and Underprivileged People (CEREDRUP) confirmed his claims in a September 4 report. According to CEREDRUP, No Pity’s brother and cousin were released on August 5, but his mother and uncle remained in government custody. In order to pressure for their release, No Pity and his fighters took up positions along the Bamenda Kumbo Highway in Ndop and Sabga Hill, completely blocking the road for weeks. As of late December, there was no official statement from the government concerning the arrests.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

Killings: There were credible reports that members of government forces and separatist fighters deliberately killed civilians. On July 4, according to multiple credible sources, soldiers at a security checkpoint shot and killed local resident Djibring Dubila Ngoran. A July 6 government press release described the victim as a fugitive from justice and accused him of acting in complicity with separatists abroad. Local residents rejected this narrative, and hundreds of civilians protested on the streets of Bamenda.

On July 18, separatists beheaded Esomba Nlend at Ekondo Titi Beach, accusing him of being a traitor. On July 23, in Ekondo Titi, Ndian division of the Southwest Region, separatists killed former fighter John Eyallo, who had laid down his arms and joined the Deradicalization, Demobilization, and Rehabilitation center in Buea.

Abductions: Armed separatists allegedly kidnapped several persons for not respecting the separatist-imposed lockdown measures. The separatists held persons as hostages, including public officials, political leaders, teachers, schoolchildren, and traditional leaders. There were credible allegations that separatists physically brutalized their victims.

On January 13, armed separatists attacked a transport truck at Bamessing in the Ndop subdivision in the Northwest Region and abducted the driver and his assistant. Two days later, on January 15, two civilians were abducted by alleged separatists from their farm in Mbelewa, in the Bamenda III municipality. According to the NGO Reach Out, separatists abducted three civilians from a construction site on January 21 at Mile 6 Nkwen, in the Bamenda III municipality of the Northwest Region, for failing to receive a permit from the local commander of separatist forces before beginning construction.

On February 3, armed men believed to be separatists abducted three officers of the Bamenda II council, while council members were in the process of sealing shops. In a video found on social media, officers could be seen shirtless, sitting on the ground, and being threatened by their abductors, who accused them of violating the laws of “Ambazonia.”

On March 12, HRW reported that armed separatists kidnapped a medical doctor in the Northwest Region on February 27 and took him to their camp. The separatists accused the victim of “not contributing to the struggle” and threatened to kill him. The doctor was released six hours later, after a 300,000 CFA francs ($545) ransom payment.

Several media outlets reported that on March 13, gunmen presumed to be separatists abducted Ayiseh Bonyui Fame, a journalist assigned to the CRTV station in Buea, the Southwest Region. A video that was widely circulated on social media featured Ayiseh pleading for her life while in captivity at knifepoint at an unknown location. Ayiseh was eventually released on the night of March 14 after her family paid part of the ransom amount requested.

Reach Out reported in May that on January 12, security forces raided Bawum in the Northwest Region and burned down the Bafut ecovillage, which was also a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. On January 22, security forces attacked the village of Bafia in Muyuka subdivision of the Southwest Region and set houses on fire. A similar incident happened on February 16 in Tad, a village in Batibo subdivision of the Northwest Region. On March 1, security forces also set fire to a guest house and laboratory of the Baptist hospital in Bamkikai, Kumbo subdivision, according to multiple sources. In its August report, HRW indicated that security forces destroyed and looted at least 33 homes, shops, as well as a traditional leader’s palace in the Northwest Region on June 8 and 9. On June 25, according to credible sources, including OCHA, separatists in the Northwest Region kidnapped four humanitarian workers and held them overnight.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to anecdotal reports, members of government forces physically abused civilians and prisoners in their custody. Reports suggested that both government forces and separatists mistreated persons, including through sexual and gender-based violence (see also section 1.a.).

Child Soldiers: The government did not recruit or use child soldiers. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reported allegations that some members of defense and security forces used children for intelligence gathering. Some community neighborhood watch groups, known as vigilance committees, may have used and recruited children as young as 12 in operations against Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. Authorities increasingly encouraged the creation of vigilance committees. On July 29, for example, the senior divisional officer for Bamboutos, Francois Franklin Etapa, issued a decision to reorganize local self-defense committees in his command zone.

Boko Haram continued to recruit and use child soldiers, including girls, in its attacks on civilian and military targets.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: As in the previous year, there were reports of violence directed against health workers and institutions and the use of firearms around health facilities by members of security forces and armed separatists.

From January to June, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 29 attacks were reported in seven health districts in the Northwest Region and seven health districts in the Southwest Region. Health districts also reported attacks on health-care facilities. The types of attacks included removal of patients and health workers; criminalization of health care; psychological violence, abduction, arrest, and detention of health personnel or patients; and setting of fires. These attacks resulted in the death of one patient and the complete destruction of one district health service structure and equipment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government often restricted this right, explicitly or implicitly. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy. Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately frequently faced reprisals. On several occasions the government invoked laws requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse.

On January 20, during a meeting held at the governor’s office with traditional rulers of the West Region in Bafoussam, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji criticized the traditional rulers because of a statement some of them issued in November 2020 concerning the sociopolitical situation in the country. In the statement the traditional rulers remarked that the military option to curb the Anglophone crisis had shown its limitations and suggested that a different avenue for peace was needed. Relaying the minister’s message, state-funded CRTV declared that “traditional rulers must not engage or allow their people to engage in the political struggle but should rather stimulate development through the decentralization process.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, including Online Media: Private media were active and expressed a wide spectrum of viewpoints. The media landscape faced constraints on editorial independence, in part due to fear of reprisal from state and nonstate armed actors, including separatists connected to the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions, including extortion for criticizing or contradicting the government.

Violence and Harassment: Police, gendarmes, and other government agents arrested, detained, physically attacked, and intimidated journalists. The state’s failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on journalists created de facto restrictions.

The private daily newspaper Le Jour reported that on April 29, Yaounde V municipal police members assaulted two reporters of Canal 2 International while they were covering a protest by commercial bike riders. According to media reports, the Yaounde V police severely beat Canal 2 cameraman Bertrand Tchasse, seized and destroyed his working equipment, and threatened to kill him. Other team members, including a driver and a reporter, were threatened. A government spokesperson said Tchasse’s work equipment was seized because the journalists were encouraging motorbike riders to be disorderly in order to record additional footage for their report.

On April 14, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that six armed men in plainclothes arrested Mbombog Mbog Matip, director of the privately owned Climat Social newspaper, who also posts political commentary on social media, in August 2020. CPJ’s release indicated that Mbombog Mbog was held at the SED until September 2020, when a military court judge charged him with “propagation of false news,” and placed him on pretrial detention until March 7. Following the court hearing, the journalist was transferred to Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. CPJ stated that Mbombog Mbog remained in custody until March 7 without receiving any update regarding his case. CPJ reported that in the months before he was arrested, Mbombog Mbog was investigating an alleged coup attempt involving Colonel Joel Emile Bamkoui, the commander of the Department of Military Security. While Mbombog Mbog was detained at SED, Bamkoui reportedly beat and threatened him, according to CamerounWeb. CPJ further reported that the country had eight journalists in prison as of April, many of whom were arrested for being perceived as antigovernment.

On April 19, progovernment private television channel Vision 4 produced a report on J. Remy Ngono, a Cameroonian journalist who lived in France and participated in the Radio Foot International program on Radio France International. In the report Raoul Christophe Bia questioned Remy Ngono’s sexual orientation. Using photoshopped pictures as evidence, Christophe Bia explicitly compared Ngono to an animal. On September 16, Vision 4 television channel again featured the derogatory imagery in another report. Some observers believed the questioning of Ngono’s sexual orientation and the photoshopped images were in response to Ngono’s criticism of the government.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the Ministry of Communication requires editors to submit two signed copies of their newspapers within two hours after publication. Journalists and media outlets reported practicing self-censorship, especially if the National Communication Council had suspended them previously.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and blasphemy are treated as criminal offenses. The law authorizes the government to initiate a criminal suit when the president or other senior government officials are the alleged victims. These laws place the burden of proof on the defendant, and crimes are punishable by prison terms and substantial fines. While the government may initiate criminal suits when the president or other senior government official are alleged victims, ordinary citizens may also file libel or slander suits, but the law is often applied selectively and privileges senior government officials and well connected individuals.

On June 17, the Court of First Instance in Mbanga, Littoral Region, sentenced Clement Ytembe Bonda, Andre Boris Wameni, and Flavy Kamou Wouwe to one year of imprisonment and a fine after declaring them guilty of joint contempt of the president of the republic, contempt of the civil authorities, and propagating fake news on social media. The three individuals were workers at the Plantations de Haut Penja (PHP) agricultural complex. They were arrested on June 11 after a video that was widely circulated on social network showed them lambasting the poor working conditions at PHP. In the video Bonda, the main speaker, used critical language to describe President Paul Biya and his government. He could be heard saying that they worked at the banana plantation from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., under the rain and sun for a monthly salary of approximately 30,000 CFA francs ($55) while government ministers in Yaounde loitered and stole hundreds of billions from public coffers.

After more than two years in pretrial detention as the result of a defamation complaint filed by French Cameroonian writer Calixthe Beyala, Paul Chouta, who worked as a reporter for the privately owned Cameroon Web news website, was released on May 20, two days after his sentencing by the Mfoundi Court of First Instance to 23 months’ imprisonment. The court issued a post facto sentence to cover the time he was imprisoned without charge.

At a meeting in Yaounde on July 5 for its 28th Extraordinary Session, the National Communication Council sanctioned three journalists for what they deemed to be unprofessional conduct. The sanctions ranged from suspensions for one to six months and a warning. Stive Jocelyn Ngo, a DBS TV journalist, received a 30-day suspension for publishing unsubstantiated and “offensive” information concerning the president of France on April 21 during the program DBS Martin. Sismondi Barkev Bidjocka, publisher of Ris Radio, received a one-month suspension for “insufficient investigation” leading to the broadcast of unsubstantiated and “offensive” information against parliamentarian Cabral Libii. The publisher insinuated that Cabral was engaged in some malfeasance involving the procurement of public contracts for private gain related to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Nynanssi Nkouya, publisher of Confidence Magazine, received a six-month suspension for publishing a flyer containing “offensive” information concerning Senator Sylvester Nghouchinghe.

National Security: Authorities often cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to threaten critics of the government.

Nongovernmental Impact: There were no reported cases of armed separatist groups in the Southwest and Northwest Regions explicitly inhibiting freedom of expression, including for the press. Restrictions on movements by armed separatists, however, contributed to limiting freedom of the press. Also, some political and opinion leaders sought to inhibit freedom of expression by criticizing those who expressed views that were at odds with government policies.

Internet Freedom

Anecdotal reports indicated that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, some school authorities reportedly sanctioned academic personnel for teaching politically sensitive topics, and administrative officials often deterred teachers from criticizing the government.

Anecdotal reporting suggested scientists and academics were subjected to threats, intimidation, and restriction on freedom of expression. In its March report on human rights, the NGO consortium Stand Up for Cameroon reported professor Pascal Charlemagne Messanga Nyamding, a former lecturer at the Institute of International Relations of Cameroon, feared for his life after a March 9 interrogation at SED.

Governor of the East Region Gregoire Mvondo ordered the inclusion of exam questions on the content of President Biya’s February 10 message to the youth.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited and restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the freedom of assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Although the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government often restricted this right. The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, and processions to notify officials in advance but does not require prior government approval for public assemblies, nor does it authorize the government to suppress public assemblies that it did not approve in advance. Nevertheless, officials routinely asserted the law implicitly authorizes the government to grant or deny permission for public assemblies. The government often granted permits for gatherings on a selective basis and used force to suppress assemblies for which it had not issued permits. On December 1, Maurice Kamto intended to organize a book launch at Restaurant La Chaumiere in the Bonapriso neighborhood of Douala, but authorities deployed security forces to prevent the event. Early in the morning, security forces took positions on strategic areas, disrupted traffic, and blocked access to the proposed venue of the book launch. Also, police blocked access to hotel Vallee des Princes where Kamto had secured accommodation. After a day of tension, police escorted Kamto out of Douala.

Authorities typically cited security and health-related concerns as the basis for deciding to block assemblies. Progovernment groups, however, were generally authorized to organize public demonstrations.

On July 16, Roger Justin Noah, deputy secretary general of the opposition MRC, petitioned the divisional officer of Yaounde I for a public protest. The purpose of the event, according to the MRC, was to promote peace in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, call for solidarity with the populations of the Far North Region victimized by Boko Haram, denounce ethnocentrism and hate speech, and call on the government to respect the political rights of all citizens, including political prisoners. The event was scheduled to take place on July 25; however, on July 22, the divisional officer banned the demonstration, citing the risk of “disturbing public order” and “spreading COVID-19.” The government, however, approved demonstrations in support of President Biya in Mokolo, Far North Region, on July 21, and on July 25 in Bertoua, East Region. Overall, these rallies, which took place respectively a day before and three days after the ban on the MRC planned demonstration, were perceived by observers as part of reactions against protest messages by activists in the diaspora referred to as “Brigade antisardinards,” who disrupted President Biya’s stay at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, on July 17 through the duration of his stay.

On December 15, the divisional officer of Yaounde 2 also banned a subregional consultation that the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa previously planned to hold on December 16 at the Yaounde Conference Center. The stated purpose of the event was to seek solutions to the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. The divisional officer cited security and COVID-19-pandemic-related concerns as reasons to justify his decision.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, but the law also limits this right. On the recommendation of the senior divisional officer, the Ministry of Territorial Administration may suspend the activities of an association for three months on grounds that the association is disrupting public order. The minister may also dissolve an association if it is deemed a threat to state security. National associations may acquire legal status by declaring themselves in writing to the ministry, but the ministry must explicitly register foreign associations, and the president must accredit religious groups upon the recommendation of the minister of territorial administration. The law imposes substantial fines for individuals who form and operate any such association without ministry approval. The law prohibits organizations that advocate a goal contrary to the constitution, laws, and morality, as well as those that aim to challenge the security, territorial integrity, national unity, national integration, or republican form of the state.

Conditions for recognition of political parties, NGOs, and associations were complicated, involved long delays, and were unevenly enforced (see also section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation). This resulted in associations operating in legal uncertainty with their activities tolerated but not formally approved.

Although the government did not officially ban any organizations, it continued to restrict the activities of some NGOs and political parties, including Doctors without Borders, Un Monde Avenir, and the MRC. In an August 2 press release, Doctors Without Borders indicated that it was forced to withdraw teams from the Northwest Region, after nearly eight months of suspension by authorities. Authorities accused the humanitarian group of providing material assistance to separatists, a charge Doctors Without Borders consistently denied. In an August 26 release, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji ordered promoters of foreign organizations operating in Cameroon to update their status by submitting specific documentation within a month. Although the NGO Un Monde Avenir, which regularly denounces government abuses submitted the required file, the organization’s leadership claimed their accreditation had not been renewed at year’s end. Philip Nanga, the coordinator, reportedly learned from his banker that he could not open an account for the organization because its accreditation had been suspended.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, at times the government restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: Using minor infractions as a pretext, police, gendarmes, and custom officers often extorted bribes and harassed travelers at roadblocks and checkpoints in cities and on most highways. Police frequently stopped travelers to check identification documents, including national identity cards, passports, residence permits, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration control measures. As in the previous year, humanitarian organizations cited difficulty in accessing certain areas and in some instances were harassed and denied passage by government authorities. Unaccompanied women were frequently harassed when traveling alone. Authorities restricted movements of persons and goods, including motorbikes, especially in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, citing security concerns. Armed separatists also restricted the movements of persons and goods in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, sometimes in a deliberate attempt to harass and intimidate the local population. They often used weekly lockdowns referred to as “ghost towns” to enforce restrictions on movement, in which the armed separatists demanded all businesses close and residents stay home. Violent crime, including kidnapping by terrorists, kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, assault, and carjacking, were major impediments to in-country movement in the three northern regions and part of the East Region.

On July 20, Simon Emile Mooh, the senior divisional officer for Mezam in the Northwest Region, banned the operation of motorbikes in Bali subdivision. The officer indicated that the ban would last for three months and could be extended. The decision followed the killing of five police officers by suspected separatists riding motorbikes in Bali on July 18. On September 11, separatists aligned with a faction of the Interim Government of Ambazonia, signed a resolution instituting a lockdown of the Northwest and Southwest Regions beginning on September 15 and ending on October 1. During the lockdown period, all vehicles were banned from the roads in these regions. Separatists warned that any person or group of persons contravening the ban would be punished. According to media reports, streets and markets in Buea, Kumba, and Bamenda remained empty, and schools closed on September 16 following the declaration.

Foreign Travel: Citizens have the right to leave the country without arbitrary restrictions. The movement of some political opponents and debtors, however, was monitored, and their travel documents were often confiscated to confine them to the country. To obtain exit permits, citizens need a valid passport and visa for their country of destination.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to estimates by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there were more than two million persons of concern as of December 31, and there were more than one million internally displaced persons (IDPs), of whom 358,000 were in the Far North Region and 711,000 in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. In addition the country had an estimated 477,500 formerly displaced persons who had returned to their place of origin. Humanitarian access remained very limited, since military officials maintained tight control over access. Insecurity due to armed groups in the Northwest and Southwest Regions also limited humanitarian access in some areas. UN Humanitarian Air Service flights to the Northwest Region were suspended due to security concerns. Additional factors driving displacements included the desire to flee from Boko Haram.

The government put in place Deradicalization, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) centers to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of former combatants in the Far North, Northwest, and Southwest Regions. Reports suggested the government’s DDR centers were inadequately resourced, and some of the former combatants left. During the year, however, many former Boko Haram fighters reportedly joined the DDR centers in the Far North Region after their leader Abubakar Shekau died. As of the end of August, more than 1,102 former fighters had joined the DDR centers since January, according to official estimates. Provision of basic social services to IDPs and assistance to returnees were carried out by relief actors with minimal support from the government. Humanitarian actors mentioned on several occasions that the humanitarian community could not effectively implement its DDR programming without having a legal framework in place, which the government had thus far not implemented. In the Northwest and Southwest Regions, humanitarian actors mostly had access to urban centers. The government made some efforts to provide urgently needed in-kind assistance to crisis-affected IDPs in the Northwest and Southwest Regions based on its humanitarian assistance response plan. This assistance was reportedly distributed to populations without an assessment of their needs and only to persons in accessible urban areas.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. The country operated an open-door policy. This policy, however, was not translated into a progressive legal framework allowing refugees their rights as stated in various legal instruments.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system of providing protection to refugees, but the implementation of this system was weak. UNHCR continued to provide documentation and assistance to the refugee population, although local authorities did not always recognize the documents as official, which prevented refugees from travelling and engaging in business activities. UNHCR and the government continued to conduct biometric verification and registration of refugees in the Far North Region, including those not living in refugee camps.

Freedom of Movement: The government did not provide documents in a timely manner to refugees and other persons in need of primary documentation, which restricted movement.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees had limited access to health care, education, and employment opportunities. Their rural host communities faced similar problems, but the situation was somewhat worse for refugees. Access to these services varied according to the location of the refugees, with those in camps receiving more support through humanitarian assistance, while refugees living in host communities faced more difficulty receiving services. On May 25, the Ministry of Public Health and UNHCR signed a memorandum of understanding providing for the treatment of refugees in public health facilities. A strategic integration plan covers refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) and Nigeria, and those displaced because of the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of the country. The agreement was intended to afford refugee and host population equitable access to quality primary health-care services and a referral system for secondary and tertiary care.

Durable Solutions: There was no evidence that the government accepted refugees for resettlement or offered naturalization to refugees residing on its territory. The government, however, assisted in the voluntary return of persons from CAR and Nigeria.

On February 10, the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon and UNHCR announced the planned voluntary return of 5,000 Nigerian refugees from the Minawao refugee camp in the Far North Region. On March 8, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji donated relief packages from President Biya to the first contingent of more than 400 Nigerian refugees who voluntarily opted to return home. After 3,880 Nigerian refugees were voluntarily returned to Banki and Bama towns in Nigeria’s Borno State, returns were halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, insecurity, and movement difficulties due to the rainy season. The private daily Le Jour indicated that the returns took place between January and March, within the framework of the regional strategy for stabilization, recovery, and resilience of the Lake Chad basin areas affected by the Boko Haram crisis. In October UNHCR reported that after meetings with Nigerian and Cameroonian officials, 7,000 Nigerians were scheduled to return home in 14 convoys of 500 persons during the rest of the year and in 2022.

Temporary Protection: The government continued to provide temporary and unofficial protection to individuals who might not qualify as refugees, extending this protection to hundreds of individuals, including third-country nationals who had fled violence in CAR. Due to their unofficial status and inability to access services or support, many of these individuals were subject to harassment and other abuses.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Elections, however, were often marked by irregularities, although no elections were conducted during the year.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In February 2020 the country held simultaneous legislative and municipal elections. An estimated 32 political parties participated in the legislative elections and 43 participated in the municipal elections. Security concerns constrained voter participation in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. The courts annulled the legislative elections in 11 constituencies of the Northwest and Southwest Regions due to voter turnout of less than 10 percent. Legislative reruns occurred in the 11 constituencies in March 2020. The ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) won 152 of the 180 National Assembly seats and 316 of 360 local councils. Opposing political parties lost significant numbers of seats when compared with previous elections. Overall, eight opposition political parties won seats in the National Assembly, and nine won control of local councils. Additionally, irregularities including lack of equal access to media and campaign space, restrictions on the ability of opposition candidates to register for the election, ballot stuffing, lack of ballot secrecy, voter intimidation, inconsistent use of identification cards, and lack of expertise among local polling officials prompted the Constitutional Council and regional administrative courts to annul some legislative elections.

Estimates of voter turnout showed an unprecedented low rate of participation of 43 percent for the legislative and municipal elections in 2020. The lower turnout could partially be attributed to the call for a boycott of the elections by the MRC and other opposition parties. In December 2020 the first-ever election of regional councilors was held, 24 years after provisions for regional elections in the 1996 constitution. Due to the gains achieved in the municipal councils that made up the electoral college in the February 2020 elections, the ruling CPDM won in nine of the 10 regions. The government cited the regional elections as a sign of progress on decentralization, although political opposition and civil society groups criticized the elections for failing to meaningfully decentralize power.

In 2018 Paul Biya was re-elected president in an election marred by irregularities and against the backdrop of protracted sociopolitical unrest in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: As of the end of December, the country had approximately 330 registered political parties. During the year the government accredited 11 new political parties “to enrich the political debate and encourage the expression of freedoms.” The CPDM remained dominant at every level of government due to restrictions on opposition political parties, gerrymandering, unbalanced media coverage, the use of state funds to promote party campaigns, interference with the right of opposition parties to register as candidates and to organize during electoral campaigns, and undue influence of traditional rulers, who were largely coopted by the CPDM. Traditional rulers, who received salaries from the government, openly declared their support for President Biya prior to the 2018 presidential election, and some reportedly compelled residents of their constituencies to prove they did not vote for an opposition candidate by presenting unused ballots. Traditional rulers who refused to associate with the government were either removed or threatened with destitution. Membership in the ruling political party conferred significant advantages, including in the allocation of key jobs in state-owned entities and the civil service. Conversely, membership in some opposition political parties, especially the MRC, was often associated with threats and intimidation from the government.

Human rights organizations and opposition political actors considered the drawing of voter districts and distribution of parliamentary or municipal councilors’ seats unfair. They complained that smaller districts considered CPDM strongholds were allocated a disproportionate number of seats compared with more populous districts where the opposition was expected to poll strongly. Managers of state-owned companies and other high-level government officials used corporate resources to campaign for candidates sponsored by the ruling party.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities, or persons with disabilities in the political process and they did participate, although women remained underrepresented at all levels of government. There were no official laws limiting the participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; however, observers noted social stigma and criminalization of same-sex conduct may have deterred LGBTQI+ persons from openly participating in the political process. In parliament women occupied 87 of 280 seats, 61 in the National Assembly and 26 in the Senate. Women held 11 of 66 cabinet positions. Similar disparities existed in other senior-level offices, including territorial command and security and defense positions. The minority Baka, a nomadic indigenous group, were not represented in the Senate, National Assembly, or higher offices of government, although there were no laws limiting their participation.

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. There were numerous reports of government corruption. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The law identifies different offenses as corruption, including influence peddling, involvement in a prohibited employment, and failure to declare a known conflict of interest. Reporting corruption was encouraged through exempting whistleblowers from criminal proceedings. In addition to the laws, the National Anticorruption Agency (CONAC), Special Criminal Court, National Financial Investigation Agency, Ministry in Charge of Supreme State Audit, and Audit Bench of the Supreme Court also contributed to fighting corruption in the country. CONAC, the most prominent of the anticorruption agencies, was constrained by the absence of any legislative or presidential mandate that could empower it to combat corruption. There were reports that senior officials sentenced to prison were not always required to forfeit their ill-gotten gains.

Corruption: As in 2020, allegations of mismanagement of resources continued, especially in respect to the special COVID-19-pandemic fund, which some referred to as “Covidgate.” The presidency in March ordered an audit of the management of COVID-19-pandemic spending to include an audit of the Special National Solidarity Fund established in 2020 to fight against the pandemic and its socioeconomic consequences. Endowed with a budget of 180 billion CFA francs ($3.27 million), the Special Solidarity Fund was expected to be used, among other things, for the purchase of protective equipment, tests, ambulances, and medicines, and to manage the quarantine of travelers.

According to its interim report, the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court specifically targeted two ministries that played a central role in the official COVID-19-pandemic response, namely the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation. The report highlighted shortcomings including the degree of opacity in the awarding of contracts, overruns of allocated budgets, embezzlement, and blatant overbilling. According to the Audit Bench, Mediline Medical Cameroon (MMC) and Moda Holding Hong Kong (a shareholder of MMC) won 90 percent of the COVID-19 rapid tests purchased and received 95 percent of the available credit to finance purchase orders to the detriment of two other local providers with experience in the same field. Moda Holding Hong Kong billed the Ministry of Health for transportation-related expenses, but the incurred expenses were not proportional to the quantity of tests delivered. Auditors noted that a COVID-19 test purchased from MMC cost 17,500 CFA francs ($32) per unit, 10,415 CFA francs ($19) more than the price proposed by SD Biosensor. The overpayment cost the state an additional 14.5 billion CFA francs ($26.36 million).

A dozen officials reportedly appeared before the commission during the investigation. Members of the political opposition and human rights activists urged the government to publish the full report, especially since all relevant agencies were not assessed in the interim report. On April 6, the presidency sent the Ministry of Justice a copy of the report on COVID-19-pandemic spending and instructed the minister to open a “judicial inquiry” into the misappropriation of funds. On May 28, Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi reported that President Biya called for judicial proceedings to take place at the Special Criminal Court. In December the full report was released; however, no criminal proceedings had taken place by year’s end.

The trial of the former defense minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo opened at the Special Criminal Court in September 2020 after multiple adjournments. He stood accused of embezzling 236 billion CFA francs ($429 million) as part of the purchase of military equipment for the army. Mebe Ngo and his wife had been awaiting trial at the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde since their arrest in 2019. As of the end of December, the court had not reached a decision.

The government continued Operation Sparrow Hawk that was launched in 2006 to fight embezzlement of public funds. As in the previous year, the Special Criminal Court opened new corruption cases during the year. The National Gendarmerie maintained a toll-free telephone line to allow citizens to report acts of corruption in the gendarmerie.

In a September 23 anticorruption report, CONAC reported the country lost close to 18 billion CFA francs ($32.7 million) to corruption in 2020. The report on the state of the fight against corruption in 2020 showed that corruption remained prevalent in the country. The report identified the transportation sector, land tenure, and the police force as the three most corrupt sectors in the country, adding corrupt practices were rampant in the Center and Littoral Regions.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases. Government officials rarely were cooperative and responsive to their views. Government officials impeded many local human rights NGOs by harassing their members, limiting access to prisoners, refusing to share information, and threatening violence against NGO personnel. The government took no action to investigate or prevent such occurrences. The government criticized reports from international human rights organizations by accusing them of publishing baseless accusations.

On August 2, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report entitled Cameroon: New Abuses by Both Sides, which accused government forces of destruction of property, rape, killings, execution of civilians, and looting in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. In response military spokesman Cyrille Atonfack Guemo firmly rejected what he referred to as an “outrageous and provocative” report. In an August 5 statement, he declared, “Everything appeared to clearly indicate that the multiple positions taken by HRW are intended only to discredit the defense and security forces.”

In an August 26 press release, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji announced an inquiry into the registration of all foreign NGOs operating in Cameroon. In the release Atanga Nji ordered them to deposit all required original documentation at his ministry by the end of September.

The order specifically asked for a dossier comprising an original copy of the document authorizing the organization in Cameron; two copies of the organization’s constitution; the instrument appointing the organization’s representative; a legalized photocopy of the national identity card or the representative’s passport that is less than three months old; a map indicating the location of the organization’s headquarters, or of its legal representative’s office and permanent telephone address; a complete list of nonnational staff working for the organization; their curricula vitae and certified copies of their passports; a complete list of local personnel including their work contracts; and the organization’s annual activity program. Minister Atanga Nji added that foreign organizations that did not submit the documents prior to the required deadline would be suspended (see also section 2.b, Freedom of association). As of October the Ministry of Territorial Administration had relaxed some of the requirements after strong pushback from civil society organizations and international NGOs.

Observers saw the minister’s decision as a strategy to intimidate human rights organizations and possibly ban those that highlighted government abuses. As in the previous year, human rights defenders and activists received anonymous threats from persons suspected to be affiliated with the government by telephone, text message, and email. In particular this was the case for the Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network was a consistent target of the government.

On July 21, Chief Warrant Officer Bako Jean Oscar, commander of research Brigade I in Bonanjo, Douala, summoned Maximilienne Chantal Ngo Mbe, executive director of Network for Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa, to appear before him on August 9. The summons did not contain further information on the case in question, and authorities refused to specify what charges, if any, they were investigating. Ngo Mbe received an additional summons on August 13 from the Legion Gendarmerie to appear on August 16 again without any specified reason; however, the date in question fell on a holiday so she was not required to appear. Ngo Mbe received a subsequent summons to appear before the Yaounde Scientific and Judicial police in November, ordering her to appear on December 28; however, her lawyers petitioned to have the date postponed until February 2022.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2019 the government passed a law establishing the Cameroon Human Rights Commission (CHRC), as a replacement for the existing National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF). During the year the president appointed 15 members to the CHRC, including James Mouangue Kobila, formerly acting chairperson of the NCHRF, as chairperson, and Galega Gana Raphael as the deputy chairperson. The CHRC became operational on April 29 after the team took the oath of office. Like the NCHRF, the CHRC is a nominally independent, government-funded institution. The law establishing the CHRC extended its mandate to protect human rights. While the CHRC coordinated actions with NGOs and participated in some inquiry commissions, it remained poorly funded.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides penalties of between five and 10 years of imprisonment for convicted rapists. Police and courts rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since survivors often did not report them. The law does not address spousal rape, nor does it specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.

During the year there were allegations that persons associated with the government raped women and children. Authorities investigated the allegations in some cases but denied the reports in other cases. On August 2, HRW reported that on June 8-9, members of the security forces raped a 53-year-old woman in the Northwest Region. Authorities did not order any investigation into the allegations (see also sections 1.a, 1.c., and 1.g.).

On April 29, Yaya Hamza Bamanga, an examining magistrate at the Koung-Khi High Court in Bandjoun, charged senior police inspector Asso’o Simon Jean with aggravated rape of a student (see also section 1.c.).

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law protects the bodily integrity of persons and prohibits genital mutilation for all women, including women ages 18 and older and girls younger than 18. Perpetrators are subject to a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years or imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice for commercial purposes, or if the practice causes death. According to estimates by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), FGM/C prevalence among girls ages 15 to 19 between 2004 and 2018 was zero percent. On February 6, the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family Marie Therese Obama met the Muslim community at the Yaounde Briquetterie neighborhood to raise awareness concerning FGM/C. Although the practice was gradually dying out as indicated by statistical data collected during the previous 10 years, the minister said she believed it continued in some areas. As in the previous year, anecdotal reports suggested children were subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions and among the Choa and Ejagham ethnic groups.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of their deceased husband’s relatives to secure continued use of property left by the deceased husband, including the marital home. The government included provisions in the law outlawing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the other spouse. The practice of widow rites, by which widows were subject to certain trials such as bathing in public or movement restrictions, was also prevalent in some parts of the country, including in some rural communities of the West Region.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Offenders may be subject to imprisonment for periods of six months to one year and a fine. If the survivor is a minor, the penalty may be one to three years in prison. If the offender is the survivor’s teacher, the penalty may increase to three to five years in prison. Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread and there were no reports during the year that anyone was fined or imprisoned for sexual harassment, in part due to sexual harassment survivors’ reluctance to file official complaints for fear of reprisal and or stigmatization.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The Ministry of Public Health offered counseling services to women during prenatal visits, promoting the concept of responsible parenthood and encouraging couples to use contraception to space the timing of their children. Many women, however, lacked the means to manage their reproductive health, and societal pressures continued to reinforce taboos on discussing reproductive health within certain communities. Women’s dependence on receiving their husbands’ consent continued to be a barrier in contraceptive decisions.

The government provided support to survivors of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence through the development of policies to protect survivors of gender-based violence, legal support to survivors via the judiciary network, general clinical care offered in health facilities, and collection of data through the District Health Information System and provision of situational analysis. Many of the prevention and basic support programs for survivors of gender-based violence were implemented by community-based organizations.

The Ministry of Health did not provide emergency contraception for survivors of gender-based violence. UNFPA provided a kit with emergency contraception as part of post-gender-based violence clinical care. These kits were offered in a few clinical sites that provided services to gender-based violence survivors.

UNFPA indicated that as of mid-September the contraceptive prevalence rate among all women ages 15 to 49 using any method was 27 percent, and 23 percent among married or in-union women ages 15 to 49. The information also indicated that contraceptive prevalence rate among all women ages 15 to 49 using a modern method was 22 percent and 17 percent among married or in-union women. Unmet need for family planning among all women ages 15 to 49 was 16 percent, while it was 23 percent of married or in-union women. Access to and availability of basic social services, including sexual and reproductive health care, however, were severely limited in conflict-affected regions, and many pregnant women did not have access to adequate maternal health care.

The 36 billion CFA francs ($65.5 million) Health Check project launched in 2015 in the Adamawa, North and Far North Regions to contribute to the reduction of maternal and child mortality came under review on March 4. Maternal and neonatal mortality decreased to 467 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, and 28 neonatal deaths per 100,000 infants. Health checks were sold to women at a cost of 6,000 CFA francs ($11), which granted women access to four prenatal consultations, echography, delivery including cesarian and postnatal consultations, and a 42-day stay after delivery in a health-care facility.

Discrimination: The constitution provides women and men the same legal status and rights. The government, however, often did not enforce the law. In practice, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. Although local government officials claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of denying women the right to own land, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions. The government did not implement any official discriminatory policy against women in such areas as divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing business or property, education, the judicial process, or housing. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in some occupations and industries. Within the private sector, fewer women occupied positions of responsibility.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution states in its preamble that the State shall protect “minorities and preserve the rights of indigenous populations in accordance with the law,” but it does not mention specific categories that qualify as minorities or indigenous populations. The laws and regulations on decentralization and elections also protect the rights of minorities by requiring that lists of candidates reflect the sociological landscape of constituencies, or that the office of president of a regional council or city mayor be held by a native of the constituency. The government made efforts to enforce these provisions, but some forms of discrimination and violence persisted.

While there were no reliable reports of governmental or societal violence or discrimination against members of racial, ethnic, or national minorities, there were reports of violence along ethnic lines during the year, although it was not always clear whether ethnicity was the primary reason for the violence.

On September 8, in Tonga, Nde division of the West Region, four persons were killed and several others injured in clashes between IDPs from the Northwest and Southwest Regions and local Bamileke communities. The conflict reportedly started when an Anglophone IDP killed a young Bamileke who was accused of theft. The local gendarmerie legionnaire station was reportedly burned down during the clashes between the communities.

On December 5, clashes between the Mousgoum and Arab Choa ethnic groups regarding control of water resources broke out in the Logone and Chari division of the Far North Region, leaving 22 persons dead, approximately 30 injured, and tens of thousands displaced in Chad, according to UNHCR. Thousands of persons fled to neighboring Chad for safety. Approximately 30 other persons died in similar clashes earlier in August.

Indigenous Peoples

Taking as basis the criteria for identifying indigenous populations contained in the International Labor Organization Convention 169 and the Report of the African Commissions Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities, the groups that may be considered indigenous in Cameroon are the Mbororo and the Baka. An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Baka, including Bakola and Bagyeli, resided primarily in (and were the earliest known inhabitants of) the forested areas of the South and East Regions. The government did not effectively protect the civil or political rights of either group. Logging companies continued to destroy indigenous persons’ naturally forested land without compensation. Other ethnic groups often treated the Baka as inferior and sometimes subjected them to unfair and exploitative labor practices. The government continued long-standing efforts to provide birth certificates and national identity cards to Baka. Nonetheless, most Baka did not have these documents, and efforts to reach them were impeded by the difficulty in reaching homes deep in the forest.

There were credible reports from NGOs that the Mbororo, nomadic pastoralists living mostly in the North, East, Adamawa, and Northwest Regions, continued to be subject to harassment, sometimes with the complicity of administrative or judicial authorities. The Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association indicated that the Anglophone crisis negatively affected the Mbororo community. According to the association program coordinator, between January and September 14, separatists were responsible for the killing of 10 Mbororos in the Northwest Region. Separatists reportedly burglarized 63 homes, burned down one house, and kidnapped 11 persons for ransom for a total of 7.61 million CFA ($13,800) during the same period.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through their parents, but not through birth in the country’s territory; the responsibility to register a child’s birth falls upon parents. Birth registration was provided on a nondiscriminatory basis, but many births went unregistered because children were not always born in health facilities. Also, many parents faced problems in reaching local government offices. A diagnostic study and the complementary evaluation of the civil status system conducted in 2016 revealed that the low level of birth registration was due to a multitude of factors, including administrative obstacles linked, among other things, to the nonfunctioning of civil status centers or their remoteness from the populations. In addition existing regulations that established the free declaration and registration of births were not respected in health facilities and in civil registration centers. Ignorance of laws and regulations and the neglect of the populations also contributed to inadequate birth registration. Children without birth certificates were unable to register for official examinations to enter secondary school or secure legally required identity documents.

Offices of Civil Affairs were located within municipal councils in each subdivision, and in many rural or remote areas, they were in civil status centers. In some jurisdictions parents would need to travel more than 15 miles to find an operational civil administrative office. Parents have until 90 days after a child is born to register the birth. After that time, a birth may only be registered by appealing to the local district prosecutor. To adjudicate and notarize official birth documents, a family would be expected to pay 15,000 to 25,000 CFA francs ($27-$46) and face bureaucratic obstacles, which most families from rural communities would struggle to afford, forcing many parents to abandon the process early. The president of the court sets the price to execute summary judgements, and the price for the execution varied by division and region.

According to a Ministry of Basic Education report released in March, an estimated 36 percent of the nearly five million primary students registered for the 2020-21 academic year did not have birth certificates. On March 8, Far North Region Governor Midjiyawa Barkary issued a report in which he said 40.6 percent of primary school students in the Far North Region did not have birth certificates.

Education: The law provides for tuition-free compulsory primary education up to the age of 12. The law punishes parents with sufficient means who refuses to send their child to school with a fine. Children were generally expected to complete primary education at 12 years of age. Secondary school students had to pay tuition and other fees in addition to buying uniforms and books. This rendered secondary education unaffordable for many children.

A 2019 UN Women report highlighted gender disparity in education, particularly in secondary education. According to the report, the literacy rate in 2019 was lower for women and girls (86 percent) than for men and boys (97 percent).

During the year separatists ordered boycotts and attacked schools in the Southwest and Northwest Regions that continued to disrupt the normal school operations. According to the United Nations, two of three schools in the two regions were closed. Several teachers were killed or kidnapped during the year. On November 24, suspected separatist gunmen killed four students and one teacher in the Government Bilingual High School in Ekondi-Titi in the Southwest Region. At the beginning of the school year, school attendance in rural communities remained notably lower than school attendance in urban areas.

On January 9, according to credible accounts, separatists shot and killed a school principal in Ossing, a village in Mamfe subdivision of the Southwest Region. Local reports suggest the principal was attacked and shot in his neighborhood after returning from school that day. On February 2, armed separatists stormed Bamessing in Ngoketunjia division of the Northwest Region, killed two civilians for allegedly being traitors. On March 8, separatist fighters attacked a bus transporting passengers out of the Northwest Region at Akum, killing four civilians and wounding several others.

UNICEF reported that on June 6, members of an armed group attacked a religious center in Mamfe, Southwest Region, killing a 12-year-old boy and wounding a 16-year-old boy.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits various forms of child abuse, including but not limited to assault, indecency, kidnapping, forced labor, rape, sexual harassment, and situations where one parent refuses to disclose the identity of the other parent to the child. Despite these legal provisions, child abuse remained a problem. Children continued to suffer corporal punishment, both within families and at school. Boko Haram continued to abduct children for use as child soldiers or as suicide bombers (see section 1.g.), and adults, including persons associated with the government sexually assaulted children.

According to an article published in the daily newspaper La Nouvelle Expression on June 21, approximately 30 cases of rape of minors were recorded in 17 months in the country. The article followed a survey conducted by Griote TV on the Day of the African Child. The authors claimed that between January and May, they identified at least 30 cases of child sexual abuse, with the survivors between three and 13 years of age, and that after investigation and discussions with families, it was clear that most of the sexual assaults involved members of the government security forces.

As of July 2, the West Region-based Association pour le developpement economique et la gouvernante locale (ADEGEL) claimed it documented 76 cases of physical violence perpetrated by men against young girls ages 12 to 14 in the Noum division, including 34 cases in Foumbot and 42 in Koptamou. ADEGEL highlighted the case of a 13-year-old girl who was gang-raped in mid-April by five men. Due to injuries suffered in the abuse, the survivor underwent restorative surgery with assistance from ADEGEL. The organization was in the process of compiling a file to share with the prosecutor’s office, but as of October ADEGEL members had been unable to identify the assailants.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Despite the law, according to UNICEF’s 2018 child marriage data, 31 percent of women between ages 20 to 24 were married before age 18 and 11 percent were married before age 15. Early and forced marriages, as well as abusive “temporal marriages,” were more prevalent in the northern part of the country and some parts of the West Region, especially in the Noun division. As of July 2, ADEGEL stated it had documented 12 cases of forced marriage in Foumbot and petitioned the Court of First Instance to nullify the marriages. In March, however, the case files were completely destroyed after the court was set on fire following the death of an inmate.

Servitas Cameroon, a nonprofit organization which aims to support and empower women and young girls, documented the case of a 13-year-old girl forcefully married to a man who was more than four times her age at the time. She endured eight years of violence and isolation, which resulted in the birth of three children before she reached the age of 18, when a marriage certificate was issued. A consortium of civil society organizations, including Servitas and Women’s Counseling and Information Center, assisted the survivor. The NGO consortium reported that they were pursuing legal action to nullify the marriage, and that the case was pending before the Wouri High Court in Douala.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation and the sale, offering, or procuring for child sex trafficking and practices related to child pornography. The country’s legal framework requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense and therefore does not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The law does not set a minimum age for consensual sex. According to anecdotal reports, traffickers exploited children younger than 18 in sex trafficking, although no statistics were available. Anecdotal reports suggested the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions had contributed to a dramatic increase in child sex trafficking and number of early pregnancies, especially in areas with IDPs. Reports suggested the Bonaberi neighborhood in Douala was a hub for the sexual exploitation of underage IDP girls.

Displaced Children: Many displaced children continued to live on the streets of urban centers, although the number was in decline because of stringent security measures and a law that criminalizes vagrancy. According to estimates of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were 2,170 separated children and 1,790 unaccompanied children in the Far North Region as of 2020 (Multi-Sectoral Needs Assessment (MSNA), December 2020, IOM), including IDPs, returnees, out-of-camp refugees, and other migrants (see also sections 2.e. and 2.f.). During the year, among 3,369 households interviewed, 5 percent of 18,000 children were either unaccompanied or separated (Return Intention Survey, November 2021, IOM). These children faced many obstacles including limited access to school, health, and protection.

Thousands of children were affected by the humanitarian crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. These children faced significant abuses of their rights by armed forces and nonstate armed actors alike. According to the August MSNA, there were approximately 769 unaccompanied and 8,320 separated children in the Northwest and Southwest Regions among the displaced population. These children faced many problems, including limited access to school, health care, protection, and risk of being recruited into armed groups. The government had not established structures to ensure that internally displaced children were protected from recruitment by nonstate armed groups and terrorist organizations.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was very small, and here were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. A 2010 law provides additional protection to persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The protections under the law cover access to education and vocational training, employment, health services, information and cultural activities, communications, buildings, sports and leisure, transportation, housing, and other state services. Some infrastructure projects were made accessible to persons with mobility challenges. Public education is free for persons with disabilities and children born of parents with disabilities. Initial vocational training, medical treatment, and employment must be provided “when possible,” and public assistance “when needed.” The government did not enforce these provisions effectively.

The government did not provide government information and communication in accessible formats.

The constitution protects the rights of all persons, including persons with disabilities. There were no reports of police or other government officials inciting, perpetrating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities during the year.

Many children with disabilities attended school with peers without disabilities. The government introduced inclusive education in many schools and reviewed the curriculum of teacher training colleges to include training in inclusive education skills. Other children with disabilities continued to attend separate schools, such as the Bulu Blind Center in Buea and the Yaounde Special School for Hearing-impaired Children.

Persons with disabilities did not receive adequate protection in conflict zones.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV often suffered social discrimination and were isolated from their families and society, in part also due to a lack of education on the disease. As in the previous year, while no specific cases of discrimination in employment were made public, anecdotal reports indicated some discrimination occurred with respect to HIV status, especially in the private sector.

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

On February 12, a representative from Working for Our Wellbeing (WFW), an organization based in Douala working on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) matters reported that authorities had arrested six LGBTQI+ persons, including four transgender women, between November 2020 and February 8. Mildred Loic Njeuken, known as “Shakiro,” and Roland Moute, who is also known as “Patricia,” were arrested together on February 8. The WFW report added that every detainee experienced varying degrees of physical abuse, harassment, and threats of sexual violence from inmates and guards while inside New Bell Prison in Douala. While the charges against all but Shakiro and Patricia were dropped, the latter two were convicted in May on charges of attempted homosexuality and failure to display a national identity card, and they were sentenced to five years in prison. They were released on bail in July, and as of December the case was before the Court of Appeal in Bonanjo. On August 7, a group of young men violently assaulted “Shakiro” and “Patricia” after they had been released on bail pending an appeal in mid-July. Images and video footage found circulating on social media showed a group of young men violently attacking and disrobing the two survivors on the street. Police reportedly did not officially document the attack in an official report after arriving on the scene, although they escorted the two to the hospital.

In a July 1 report on gender-based violence, Alternative-Cameroon documented the case of a 33-year-old man who was illegally detained at the Douala New Bell Central Prison. On January 24, according to the report, residents in the Douala neighborhood accused the man of being gay, beat him, and called the Douala 10th police district. Police came and arrested the man whom the individuals accused of being homosexual and remanded him for less than 24 hours before referring him to New Bell Central prison, where he spent three months without appearing in court. The survivor lost his job and was evicted from his home.

Consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults is illegal and punishable with imprisonment lasting anywhere between six months and five years plus a fine.

LGBTQI+ human rights organizations such as the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, Humanity First Cameroon, Alternatives-Cameroon, the National Observatory of the Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons and Their Defenders, Colibri, Working for Our Wellbeing, and others continued to report arbitrary arrests of LGBTQI+ persons. LGBTQI+ individuals continued to face significant stigma, violence, and discrimination from their families, communities, and the government.

In one instance on February 24, highlighted in the April HRW report, police officers raided the office of Colibri, a health and human rights organization that provides HIV prevention and treatment services in Bafoussam, West Region. Authorities arrested 13 persons on attempted homosexuality charges, including seven from the Colibri staff. Police released all 13 between February 26 and 27. Three of those who were arrested said police beat at least three Colibri staff members at the police station and threatened everyone who had been arrested. They added that police interrogated them without the presence of a lawyer and forced them to sign statements, which they were not allowed to read. One of them, a 22-year-old transgender woman, said, “Police told us we are devils, not humans, not normal. They beat up a transwoman in front of me.” Police also forced one of the 13 arrested, a 26-year-old transgender woman, to undergo an HIV test and a forced anal exam at a health center in Bafoussam on February 25. She reportedly told HRW that “the doctor was uncomfortable with performing the procedure but said he had to do the examination because the prosecutor’s office asked for it.”

On April 14, HRW reported that security forces since February had arbitrarily arrested, beat, or threatened at least 24 persons, including a 17-year-old boy, for alleged consensual same-sex conduct or gender nonconformity. Between February 17 and April 8, HRW said it interviewed 18 persons, including five who had been detained, three lawyers, and 10 members of LGBTQI+ NGOs in relation to the aforementioned case.

The constitution prescribes equal rights for all citizens; however, the law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality, and access to government services such as health care. Security forces sometimes harassed persons based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including individuals found with condoms and lubricants. Fear of exposure affected individuals’ willingness to access HIV and AIDS services, and several HIV positive men who had sex with men reportedly were partnered with women, in part to conceal their sexual orientation. Anecdotal reports suggested some discrimination occurred in places of employment with respect to sexual orientation.

LGBTQI+ organizations could not officially register as such and thus sought registration either as general human rights organizations or as health-focused organizations. Many LGBTQI+ organizations found that operating health programs, particularly HIV programs, shielded them from potential harassment or shutdown rather than promoting advocacy for LGBTQI+ persons as their primary mission.

According to multiple reports, on November 15, an intersex person was sexually assaulted, beaten, and threatened by a violent mob in Yaounde. The attack, which lasted for several hours, was filmed and later posted on social media. In a press statement issued on November 26, the minister of communication condemned the publication of explicit videos, adding that while homosexuality was against the law, violence against those suspected of homosexuality was also illegal. A man allegedly connected to the attack was arrested and released 48 hours later. A complaint was filed with the police on behalf of the survivor.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes, albeit with significant restrictions. The right does not apply to defined groups of workers, including defense and national security personnel, prison administration civil servants, and judicial and legal personnel. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Statutory limitations and other practices substantially restricted these rights. The law does not permit the creation of a union that includes both public- and private-sector workers or the creation of a union that includes different, even if closely related, sectors. The law requires that unions register with the government, have a minimum of 20 members, and formalize the union by submitting a constitution and bylaws. Founding members must also have clean police records. Those who form a union and carry out union activities without registration may be fined. More than 100 trade unions and 12 trade union confederations were in operation, including one public sector confederation. Trade unions or associations of public servants may not join a foreign occupational or labor organization without prior authorization from the minister of territorial administration, who is responsible for “supervising public freedoms.”

The constitution and law provide for collective bargaining between workers and management as well as between labor federations and business associations in each sector of the economy. The law does not apply to the agricultural or informal sectors, which included most of the workforce.

Legal strikes or lockouts may be called only after conciliation and arbitration procedures are exhausted. Workers who ignore procedures to conduct a strike may be dismissed or fined. Free industrial zones are subject to some labor laws, but there are several exceptions. The employers have the right to determine salaries according to productivity, the free negotiation of work contracts, and the automatic issuance of work permits for foreign workers. Some laws intended to target terrorists may impose harsh legal penalties on legitimate trade union activity.

The government and employers did not effectively enforce the applicable laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were rarely enforced and were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. Administrative judicial procedures were infrequent and subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Collective agreements are binding until three months after a party has given notice to terminate. As in the previous year, there were no reported allegations that the minister of labor and social security negotiated collective agreements with trade unionists who had nothing to do with the sectors concerned and did not involve trade union confederations that prepared the draft agreements.

Many employers continued to use subcontractors to avoid hiring workers with collective bargaining rights. Major companies, including quasi-state-run and or -operated companies, reportedly engaged in the practice, according to workers from Energy of Cameroon, the water company Camerounaise des Eaux, cement manufacturer Cimencam, Guinness, Aluminum Smelter, Cameroon Oil Transportation Company, Ecobank, and many others. Subcontracting reportedly involved all categories of personnel, from the lowest to senior levels. As a result workers with equal expertise and experience did not always enjoy similar protections when working for the same business, and subcontracted personnel typically lacked a legal basis to file complaints.

As in 2020, workers’ representatives said some workers were granted technical leave because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which took a heavy toll on most businesses. Several strikes were announced. Some were called off after successful negotiations, others were carried out peacefully, while others faced some degree of repression.

The National Union of Higher Education Teachers (SYNES) called on its members to suspend lectures from January 25 to 30. University teachers were protesting the nonpayment of the quarterly modernization and research bonuses, an incentive they had been receiving since 2009. They also protested the new method of evaluating undergraduate students, in particular the introduction of multiple-choice questions, which they deemed to be inappropriate. In an interview posted on YouTube, Jeannette Wagging, SYNES’ communications secretary, acknowledged that authorities had begun making payments, but she said the union would continue to make sure all teachers received bonuses.

On June 10, the leaders of the country’s national public transport unions issued a notice to strike beginning on July 12. According to the union leaders, commercial motorbike riders lacked sufficient insurance coverage to compensate vehicles damaged during accidents. Also, unions protested the increase in the cost of insurance for cab drivers from 40,000 CFA francs ($73) to 60,000 CFA francs ($109). Trade unions denounced the fact that urban buses were paying the same taxes as interurban buses. After a series of consultations at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, the union leaders suspended the strike to give the government more time to address the problems.

The General Union of Transporters of Cameroon also announced a strike on the transport of goods in the commercial trucking sector beginning on September 6. The truckers were protesting what they characterized as illegal surcharges.

On September 22, during the 28th and 29th sessions of the Consultation and Monitoring Committee of the Social Dialogue, the minister of labor and social security announced that 102,000 workers had lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The minister invited the social partners to make proposals to him for the use of COVID-19 pandemic funds to limit the effects of the coronavirus in the world of work.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced and compulsory labor. The law prohibits slavery, exploitation, and debt bondage and voids any agreement in which violence was used to obtain consent. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The law also extends culpability for all crimes to accomplices and corporate entities. Although the statutory penalties are severe, the government did not enforce the law effectively, in part due to a lack of capacity to investigate trafficking, limited labor inspection and remediation resources, and regular conflation of human trafficking and migrant smuggling. In addition due to the length and expense of criminal trials and the lack of protection available to victims participating in investigations, many victims of forced or compulsory labor resorted to accepting out-of-court settlements. Anecdotal reports of hereditary servitude imposed on former slaves in some chiefdoms in the North Region continued. Many members of the Kirdi, a predominately Christian and animist ethnic group enslaved by the Muslim Fulani in the 1800s, continued to work for traditional Fulani rulers for compensation in room and board and generally low and unregulated wages, while their children were free to pursue schooling and work of their choosing. Kirdi were also required to pay local chiefdom taxes to the Fulani, as were all other subjects. The combination of low wages and high taxes (although legal) effectively constituted forced labor. While technically free to leave, many Kirdi remained in the hierarchical and authoritarian system because of a lack of viable alternative options.

Anecdotal reports suggested that in the South and East Regions, some Baka, including children, continued to be subjected to unfair labor practices by Bantu farmers who hired the Baka at exploitative wages to work on their farms during the harvest seasons.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits most of the worst forms of child labor and sets 14 as the minimum age of employment. The law prohibits children from working at night or longer than eight hours per day. It also outlines tasks children younger than 18 may not legally perform, including moving heavy objects, undertaking dangerous and unhealthy tasks, working in confined areas, and commercial sex. Employers are required to provide skills training to children between the ages of 14 and 18. Because compulsory education ends at the age of 12, children who were not in school and not yet 14 were particularly vulnerable to child labor. Laws relating to hazardous work for children younger than 18 are not comprehensive, since they do not include prohibitions on work underwater or at dangerous heights. Children engaged in hazardous agricultural work, including cocoa production. The law provides penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment for those who violate child labor laws. These penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes, such as kidnapping.

Children younger than the minimum age of employment tended to be involved in agriculture, fishing and livestock, the service industry, sex work, and artisanal gold mining. Children in refugee or IDP camps were particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation. Reports also indicated some internally displaced children from the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions were exploited in farm work, and children who escaped child and early marriages often ended up as survivors of sexual exploitation, especially in the Noun division of the West region. There were reports of underage children associated with nonstate armed groups in the Far North, Southwest, and Northwest Regions. In agriculture children were exposed to hazardous conditions, including climbing trees, handling heavy loads, using machetes, and handling agricultural chemicals. Children in artisanal gold mines and gravel quarries spent long hours filling and transporting wheelbarrows of sand or gravel, breaking stones without eye protection, and digging and washing the soil or mud, sometimes in stagnant water, to extract minerals. These activities left children vulnerable to physical injuries, waterborne diseases, and exposure to mercury. Children worked as street vendors; in fishing, where they were exposed to hazardous conditions; and largely alongside families and rather than for formal employers. Children were subjected to forced begging as talibes in Quranic schools.

Traffickers exploited children in domestic service and restaurants, as well as begging or vending on streets and highways. Additionally, criminal elements forced children to work in artisanal gold mining, gravel quarries, fishing, animal breeding, and agriculture (on onion, cotton, tea, and cocoa plantations), as well as in urban transportation assisting bus drivers and in construction to run errands, work, or provide security. Media reports indicated exploitation in the country’s fishing sector was widespread. Extremist groups, such as Boko Haram, forced children to work as scouts, porters, and cooks.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law contains no specific provisions against or penalties for discrimination, but the constitution in its preamble provides that all persons shall have equal rights and obligations and that every person shall have the right and the obligation to work.

Discrimination in employment and occupation allegedly occurred with respect to ethnicity, HIV status, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, and gender identity especially in the private sector. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous or “morally inappropriate” and in industries including mining, construction, factories, and energy. Members of ethnic groups often gave preferential treatment to other members of their group in business. Persons with disabilities reportedly found it difficult to secure and access employment. There were no reliable reports of discrimination against internal migrant or foreign migrant workers, although anecdotal reports suggested such workers were vulnerable to unfair working conditions. The government took no action to eliminate or prevent discrimination and kept no records of incidents of discrimination.

Credible reports of discrimination against workers with disabilities persisted. For example, Bonfeu Eric Michel, a visually impaired citizen and disability rights activist, complained to the president that despite his qualifications and antidiscrimination laws, multiple state-owned and private companies refused to hire him due to his visual impairment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minimum wage in all sectors was greater than the World Bank’s poverty line. Premium pay for overtime ranged from 120 to 150 percent of the hourly rate, depending on the amount of overtime and whether it was weekend or late-night overtime. Despite the minimum wage law, employers often negotiated lower wages with workers, in part due to the extremely high rate of underemployment in the country. Salaries lower than the minimum wage remained prevalent in the public works sector, where many positions required unskilled labor, as well as in domestic work, where female refugees were particularly vulnerable to unfair labor practices.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours in public and private nonagricultural firms and a total of 2,400 hours per year, with a maximum limit of 48 hours per week in agricultural and related activities. There are exceptions for guards and firefighters (56 hours per week), service-sector staff (45 hours per week), and household and restaurant staff (54 hours per week). The law mandates at least 24 consecutive hours of rest weekly.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcement of the minimum wage and workhour standards but did not enforce the law. Penalties for violations of the law were not commensurate with those for comparable crimes, such as negligence. The government more than doubled the total number of labor inspectors, but the number was still insufficient, and the ministry lacked the resources for a comprehensive inspection program.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets health and safety standards in the workplace. The minister in charge of labor matters establishes the list of occupational diseases in consultation with the National Commission on Industrial Hygiene and Safety. Ministry inspectors and occupational health physicians are responsible for monitoring health and safety standards.

The regulations were not enforced in the informal sector. The labor code also mandates that every enterprise and establishment of any kind provide medical and health services for its employees. This stipulation was not enforced.

Informal Sector: According to International Labor Organization estimates as of December 2020, the employment situation in the country could be characterized by the large size of its informal economy. The International Labor Organization further indicated that informal workers, who represented 90 percent of all employed, were mostly women. Sectors where informal employment was most prevalent included artisanal mining, petty trade, hunting and fishing, and handicraft. The informal economy was mostly unregulated.

Canada

Executive Summary

Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair multiparty federal election held in September, the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, won a plurality of seats in the federal parliament and formed a minority government.

Federal, provincial, municipal, and indigenous police forces maintain internal security. The armed forces are responsible for external security but in exceptional cases may exercise some domestic security responsibility at the formal request of civilian provincial authorities. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police reports to the Department of Public Safety, and the armed forces report to the Department of National Defense. Provincial and municipal police report to their respective provincial authorities. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses during the year.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings; crimes involving violence against indigenous women and girls; and crimes involving violence or threats targeting Black, Asian, Jewish, and Muslim minorities.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses and corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were isolated reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Some family members of individuals killed by police said police may have committed unlawful killings during mental wellness checks or in response to calls to police by them for assistance when their relative was in mental distress and at risk of self-harm or harm to others. For example on August 1, Montreal police in Quebec fatally shot Jean-Rene Junior Olivier after his family called police to report Olivier was confused, mentally unstable, and armed with a knife. Olivier’s family said police responded inappropriately to a mental-health crisis and racially profiled Olivier, who was Black. Quebec’s police investigation office opened an investigation into the death that remained in progress as of October.

In the 2020 cases regarding police-involved deaths of New Brunswick residents Rodney Levi and Chantal Moore, on January 26, New Brunswick’s Public Prosecutions Service determined police acted lawfully and in self-defense in the death of Rodney Levi. On June 7, it found police acted lawfully and in self-defense in the death of Chantal Moore. Officials stated no criminal charges would be filed against officers in the cases.

Charges of negligence causing death filed in December 2020 against prison guards at the St. John’s penitentiary in Newfoundland and Labrador in the 2019 death of Jonathan Henoche, an indigenous inmate at the facility, remained pending as of November. The province dropped charges against one of the nine guards in August on the basis there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction. Media reports indicated Henoche may have had a violent altercation with correctional officers prior to his death. Provincial police opened a homicide investigation that remained in progress as of November.

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

Correctional Services Canada (CSC) stated it would review a February 23 report by federally commissioned researchers that concluded the government continued to use solitary confinement in federal prisons. The Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that solitary confinement for longer than 15 days constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and the government passed legislation the same year prohibiting the measure. The February report stated that in practice isolation placements continued to regularly exceed the 15-day threshold and broke guidelines permitting inmates a minimum of four hours per day outside their cells.

In April the family of Edward Snowshoe, an indigenous man who killed himself in federal prison in 2010 after 162 days in solitary confinement, filed suit against CSC alleging racial discrimination, neglect, and failure to fulfill its duty of care in the man’s death. The family sought 12.5 million Canadian dollars (C$) ($10 million) in damages. The case remained pending as of November.

There were no known developments in a suit filed by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 2020 against the province of Ontario in which the commission alleged the province failed to respect its commitments to end use of solitary confinement in the provincial correctional system for persons with mental disabilities.

As of July 23, at least nine women in Newfoundland and Labrador reported incidents of sexual assault involving six former and one serving police officer of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC). The nine women stated that on-duty police officers drove them home at night after the women had been drinking at bars in St. John’s and sexually assaulted them; at least three other women said on-duty officers sexually propositioned them after driving them home from bars. The RNC opened an independent civilian investigation into the reports. The RNC disclosed it had conducted four separate investigations over the previous five years into similar reports but had filed no charges. The latest complaints followed the separate conviction in July of RNC officer Douglas Snelgrove in his third criminal trial on charges of sexually assaulting a woman in her home after driving her home from a bar in 2014. The third trial followed a successful appeal and a declared mistrial. Snelgrove was held in custody pending a sentencing hearing in November.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were some reports of sexual assault and harassment of female inmates by male prison staff, and of prison and detention center measures designed to control the spread of COVID-19 that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: There were reports of abuse in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions and inmate abuse. In February the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies called for a public inquiry into reports of sexual coercion and violence against inmates by staff in women’s federal prisons across the country. In March a former female federal inmate filed a class-action suit against CSC alleging a culture of sexual harassment and sexual assault by male staff against inmates. CSC stated it did not track complaints of sexual assault or criminal charges by staff. In 2020 police in Truro, Nova Scotia, charged a male guard at the Nova Institution for Women with six counts of sexual assault, six counts of breach of trust, and one count of communication for the purpose of obtaining sexual services in incidents between 2013 and 2018 involving four female inmates. The guard was no longer employed at the prison, and his trial was scheduled for January 2022. In 2020 a former correctional officer was charged in connection with sexual assault of a female inmate at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario. Adults and juveniles were held separately, although minors were held with their parents in immigration detention centers as an alternative to separating families.

On February 23, the federal correctional investigator reported a COVID-19 infection rate in excess of 10 percent of the total inmate population in federal facilities since March 2020, significantly higher than in the general population, and called for alternatives to incarceration. In April the John Howard Society of Canada and seven federal inmates filed a civil suit against CSC, claiming “unpredictable and indefinite” medical and administrative lockdowns in federal penitentiaries in British Columbia due to COVID-19 constituted solitary confinement. The suit also asserted CSC failed to provide adequate health care and protective equipment against the virus and withheld visitation, religious services, and programs and services required to qualify for parole eligibility.

In June Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported persons held in immigration detention were often held in solitary confinement. They called for the abolition of the practice and of the use of provincial jails to detain undocumented immigrants and persons inadmissible to the country.

Administration: Independent authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities generally relied upon warrants in the apprehension of persons. A judge may issue a warrant if satisfied a criminal offense might have been committed. A person arrested for a criminal offense has the right to a prompt, independent judicial determination of the legality of the detention. Authorities provided detainees with timely information on the reason for their arrest and provided prompt access to a lawyer of the detainee’s choice, or, if the detainee was indigent, a lawyer was provided by the state. Bail was generally available. Authorities may hold persons under preventive detention for up to seven days, subject to periodic judicial review.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials occur before a judge alone or, in more serious cases, before a judge and jury. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence; be informed promptly of the charges; have a fair, timely, and public trial; be present at their trial; communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters and access to a domestic court to bring a suit seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Remedies can be monetary, declaratory, or injunctive. Federal or provincial human rights commissions may also hear alleged human rights violations. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Federal Court of Canada for judicial review. The court may uphold, amend, or return the decision to provincial or federal human rights tribunals for review or a new hearing. Individuals may also bring human rights complaints to the United Nations or Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Property Seizure and Restitution

Canada helped draft the Terezin Declaration and endorsed it in 2009. It also endorsed the Terezin Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. Experts stated that Canada did not enact immovable property restitution laws because no such property was seized in the country during the Holocaust. According to the government, “the issue of displaced cultural property primarily affects those art museums and private collectors that acquired European fine and decorative art of unknown provenance from the period of 1933-1945.” The government’s Canadian Heritage Information Network hosts an online database known as Artefacts Canada, which contains five million object records and one million images from Canadian museums. Both museum professionals and the general public can access the database, which may assist museum professionals and Holocaust survivors and their heirs in identifying confiscated or looted movable property.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

On August 6, British Columbia’s information and privacy commissioner launched an investigation at the request of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) into the federal Liberal Party’s use of facial recognition technology to screen candidates to run for the party in the 2021 federal election. The technology verifies the identity of members eligible to vote in nomination meetings. Nomination meetings are normally held in person, but the party moved them online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CCLA asserted the Liberal Party’s use of such software “sends the wrong message to municipal, provincial, and federal election officials that this technology is ready for prime time.” The review was to determine whether the party complied with British Columbia’s Personal Information Protection Act; it was the only province that had privacy laws subjecting activities of political parties to independent oversight, including the use of identity technology and of third-party automated identification verification service providers. The outcome of the review remained pending as of November.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Freedom of Expression: According to Supreme Court rulings, the government may limit speech to counter discrimination, foster social harmony, or promote gender equality. The court ruled that the benefits of limiting hate speech and promoting equality are sufficient to outweigh the freedom of speech clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the country’s constitutional bill of rights.

The criminal code prohibits public incitement and willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group in any medium. Inciting hatred (in certain cases) or genocide is a criminal offense, but the Supreme Court sets a high threshold for such cases, specifying that these acts must be proven to be willful and public. Provincial-level film censorship, broadcast-licensing procedures, broadcasters’ voluntary codes curbing graphic violence, and laws against hate literature and pornography impose some restrictions on media.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamatory libel with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, but courts seldom imposed such a punishment.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides 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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights prior to the start of the global pandemic. Some provinces implemented measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 that restricted internal movement.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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.

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

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and facilitated local integration (including naturalization), particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (in the form of temporary residence permits) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, by the end of 2020 (latest available figures), there were 3,790 persons in the country who fell under the UN statelessness mandate; a total of 4,139 stateless persons were in the country, including forcibly displaced stateless persons. The law provides for access to citizenship for stateless persons who have a birth parent who was a citizen of the country at the time of the birth, meets age and physical presence requirements, and has not been convicted of specified criminal offenses. The minister of immigration has the discretion to grant citizenship to any person to alleviate cases of statelessness or of special and unusual hardship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Following a free and fair federal election on September 20, the Liberal Party won a plurality of seats in the federal parliament and secured a mandate to form a minority national government.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In the September federal election, 44 percent of 338 House of Commons candidates were women, up from a previous record high of 42 percent of female candidates in the 2019 election. Women won 30 percent of the seats in the House of Commons. The government of New Brunswick provided financial incentives to political parties to field female candidates in provincial elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On May 13, the federal ethics commissioner reported his findings in investigations into former federal finance minister Bill Morneau’s failure to recuse himself from the proposed award of a sole source C$900 million ($692 million) federal pandemic-relief contract in 2020 to the nonprofit WE Charity, and into the prime minister’s relations with the charity. The contract was never issued. The commissioner found Morneau had a prior personal and professional relationship with the charity’s directors and broke federal ethics law by failing to recuse himself, by allowing his staff to “disproportionately assist” WE, and by “improperly furthering” WE’s private interests. The breaches did not carry criminal or financial penalties. In a related investigation, the commissioner cleared Morneau of improperly accepting approximately C$41,000 ($32,000) in personal travel from WE Charity. Separately, the commissioner found the prime minister did not breach the act.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: Federal and provincial human rights commissions enjoyed government cooperation, operated without government or party interference, and had adequate resources. Observers considered the commissions effective. Parliamentary human rights committees operated in the House of Commons and the Senate. The committees acted independently of government, conducted public hearings, and issued reports and recommendations to which the government provided written, public, and timely responses. Most federal departments and some federal agencies employed ombudsperson. Nine provinces and one territory also employed an ombudsperson.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, as sexual assault, and the government enforced the law effectively. Penalties for sexual assault carry prison sentences of up to 10 years, up to 14 years for sexual assault with a restricted or prohibited firearm, and between four years and life for aggravated sexual assault with a firearm or committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization. Most victims of sexual assault were women.

The law provides protections against domestic violence for both men and women, although most victims were women. Although the law does not define specific domestic violence offenses, assault, aggravated assault, intimidation, mischief, or sexual assault charges apply to acts of domestic violence. Persons convicted of assault receive up to five years in prison. Assaults involving weapons, threats, or injuries carry terms of up to 10 years. Aggravated assault or endangerment of life carry prison sentences of up to 14 years. The government generally enforced the law effectively. Police received training in interacting with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and agencies provided hotlines to report abuse.

The law was appropriately enforced, but a study prepared for federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of justice and released to the public in 2018 acknowledged challenges in reporting, investigating, and prosecuting sexual assault cases. Crimes of sexual assault were self-reported, and the majority of incidents were not reported to police. According to studies in 2014 by the federal department of justice, 83 percent of survivors of sexual assault did not report their assaults to police in that year. Of all sexual assaults reported to and substantiated by police from 2009 to 2014, 43 percent resulted in police laying a charge, 21 percent proceeded to court, and 12 percent resulted in a criminal conviction over the six-year period. Indigenous women and girls were disproportionately victims of sexual abuse. In 2014 indigenous women reported a sexual assault rate of 115 incidents per 1,000 population, significantly higher than the rate of 35 per 1,000 reported by nonindigenous women.

Approximately 1,180 indigenous women disappeared or were killed from 1980 to 2012, according to a 2014 report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Indigenous advocates and a report issued in 2019 by the government-commissioned National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (NIMMIWG) stated the number was probably far higher, since many deaths had gone unreported. Indigenous women and girls made up an estimated 5 percent of the country’s women but represented 16 percent of the women killed, according to government statistics. Indigenous women and children were also at high risk of human trafficking.

The NIMMIWG concluded in 2019 that the government’s treatment of indigenous peoples amounted to “deliberate race, identity, and gender-based genocide,” that the harm continued, and that it required immediate remedy. On June 1, two years after the NIMMIWG report and one year later than the government had originally promised an official response, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) said it had “lost confidence” in the government and released its own NIMMIWG action plan without waiting for government action. NWAC is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that had originally spurred creation of the NIMMIWG. On June 3, the government released its National Action Plan in response to the NIMMIWG inquiry’s 231 recommendations. The government attributed the delay to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan committed C$2.2 billion ($1.7 billion) over five years and C$160.9 million ($127 million) for data collection, counseling and support services, culture, health, justice, safety, and security, and to combat human trafficking. It committed to no timeline for action.

The government’s Family Violence Initiative involved 15 federal departments, agencies, and crown corporations, including Status of Women Canada, Health Canada, and Justice Canada. These entities worked with civil society organizations to eliminate violence against women and to advance women’s human rights. The government continued a national strategy begun in 2017 to prevent and address gender-based violence, budgeting C$101 million ($77.8 million) over five years and C$20.7 million ($16.6 million) annually thereafter to create a center of excellence within Status of Women Canada for research, data collection, and programming, and to provide support for prevention, victim and family support, public education, justice, training, and programming. The 2018 federal budget allocated an additional C$86 million ($66 million) over five years, starting in 2018-19, and C$20 million ($15.4 million) per year thereafter, to expand the strategy with a focus on preventing teen-dating violence, bullying, and cyberbullying; health care for victims; investigative policing; police training; research; funding for rape crisis and sexual assault centers; and programs to prevent gender-based violence in postsecondary educational institutions. Provincial and municipal governments also sought to address violence against women, often in partnership with civil society.

In July preliminary findings from the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability’s (CFOJA) midyear report found 92 women and girls were killed between January and June, 79 of whom were killed by men. Indigenous women accounted for 12 percent of femicide victims, despite comprising 5 percent of the country’s population. The CFOJA reported 60 women and girls were victims of femicide in 2020. NGOs reported higher demand for services during the COVID-19 pandemic and attributed increases in domestic partner fatalities in part to the stress of societal lockdowns. The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses reported an increase of domestic violence fatalities in Ontario of more than 84 percent, from 19 to 35 in the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2020.

On April 23, the Quebec government allocated C$223 million ($173.4 million) over five years to combat gender-based violence, including C$90 million ($70 million) for women’s shelters. The new money, combined with allocations in the provincial budget in March and previous commitments, totaled C$425 million ($330.5 million) over five years. According to the Quebec public security minister, as of October, 16 women had been killed by their male partners in Quebec, a significant increase from an average of 12 deaths in the province attributed to domestic violence in a calendar year.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls and prosecutes the offense, including parents of minors, as aggravated assault with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. FGM/C occurred on occasion, predominantly in diaspora communities. While internal government reports leaked to media asserted that FGM/C practitioners and victims often traveled to the country of the practitioners’ origin for the illegal procedure, officials also sought to prevent the entry of FGM/C practitioners into the country.

Sexual Harassment: The law offers protections from sexual harassment at the workplace but does not articulate a specific offense of “sexual harassment” outside of work; instead, it criminalizes harassment (defined as stalking), punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, and sexual assault, with penalties ranging from 10 years for nonaggravated sexual assault to life imprisonment for aggravated sexual assault. Federal, provincial, and territorial human rights commissions have responsibility for investigating and resolving harassment complaints. Employers, companies, unions, educational facilities, professional bodies, and other institutions had internal policies against sexual harassment, and federal and provincial governments provided public education and guidance.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of the government. A class action suit filed in 2017 against the province of Saskatchewan by at least 60 indigenous women who claimed physicians in the provincial health system subjected them to coerced sterilization or sterilization without proper or informed consent between 1972 and 2017 remained in progress as of November.

No significant legal, social, or cultural barriers or government policies adversely affected access to contraception; cost was cited as the most important barrier to contraception access in the country, particularly for young and low-income women and indigenous women in northern or remote communities where menstrual products and other imported consumer goods cost significantly more than in southern and urban communities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence in hospitals and through dedicated sexual assault care centers, including emergency contraception as part of clinical management of rape.

Women had access to emergency health care, including services for the management of complications arising from abortion. Skilled health attendants were available during pregnancy and childbirth and were publicly funded; however, women in rural, remote, and Arctic areas had more difficulty accessing care. Although the country’s maternal mortality rate in 2018 was low at 8.5 per 100,000 live births, a 2016 medical study reported indigenous women had a two times higher risk of maternal mortality than the national average and a higher risk of adverse outcomes, including stillbirth, perinatal death, low-birth weight infants, prematurity, and infant deaths. The country’s birth rate among females 15 to 19 years of age was 6.3 per 1,000 in 2019, the latest available figure, and varied widely by province. In Ontario, the most populous province that includes multiple urban centers, the birth rate was 4.3 per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19. In the rural northern territory of Nunavut – 86 percent of the population of which was indigenous – the rate was 97.3 per 1,000. The country’s national statistical agency cited low income, overcrowded or inadequate housing, lack of a high school diploma, and lack of access to sexual health education and contraception as social determinants of higher birth rates among indigenous adolescents.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, including under family, religious, personal status and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property. The government enforced these rights effectively.

In May the government released 2020 data regarding female representation and diversity on the corporate boards of approximately 669 publicly traded companies in the country required by law to disclose annual diversity data. Women held 25 percent of all senior management positions in the identified companies and 50 percent had at least one woman on their board of directors. Fourteen percent had set targets for the representation of women on their boards and 32 percent had written policies relating to the identification and nomination of women for board seats. Seven provinces and two territories require private-sector companies to report annually on their efforts to increase the number of women appointed to executive corporate boards. The government’s statistical agency reported that hourly wages for women were, on average, lower than for men but that the wage gap had narrowed to 87 cents for women for every dollar earned by men in 2018 (latest available figures), except at the top of corporate structures. The agency attributed the change to women’s higher rates of public-sector work, unionization, and higher educational attainment and cited factors such as differences in the industries where men and women work, and the higher likelihood for women to work part-time, for the continuing gap.

An April 20 ruling by Quebec’s Superior Court upheld most of a provincial law that bans specific public employees in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work. The Superior Court judge acknowledged the law violated the rights of Muslim women and had “cruel” and “dehumanizing” consequences for those who wore religious symbols but concluded it did not violate the country’s constitution. The province had shielded the law by invoking a constitutional override provision that allows a province to suspend protected rights for a period of five years. The judge, however, struck down the application of the law for two worker categories: members of the provincial National Assembly and those working for Anglophone school boards. Under the law judges, lawyers, police officers, and teachers in the majority Francophone public school system continued to be prohibited from wearing visible religious symbols at work. The two-tiered ruling was seen by minority rights groups as a major setback that they said would perpetuate violation of religious freedom and permit the continuation of legal discrimination in the province – especially against Muslim women. The judge remarked in his ruling that persons who “fall into this category can no longer seek out new jobs in the public service without compromising their beliefs.”

In June the Quebec government appealed the Superior Court ruling, which remained pending as of November. The government’s appeal paused the exemption from the law for Anglophone school boards; the English Montreal School Board asked the Quebec Court of Appeal for a temporary exemption to allow them to hire staff before the appeal was decided. A judicial decision on the temporary exemption also remained pending as of November. Separately, Muslim and civil rights organizations in Quebec in May said they would appeal the Superior Court ruling. Their appeal remained pending as of November.

First Nations women living on reservations (where land is held communally) have matrimonial property rights. First Nations may choose to follow federal law or may enact their own rules related to matrimonial real property rights and interests that respect their customs.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution, the law, and federal and provincial human rights laws provide for equal rights, protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination, and provide redress. The federal Canadian Race Relations Foundation coordinates and facilitates public education and research and develops recommendations to eliminate racism and promote harmonious race relations. The government enforced the law effectively.

There were reports of discrimination and violence against ethnic minority groups and racial profiling by police. In July the government’s national statistical agency reported 2,669 hate crimes, up from 1,951 in 2019, a 37 percent increase and the highest number since comparable data became available in 2009. The increase was largely the result of hate incidents targeting the Black population (up 318 incidents and 92 percent from 2019) and the East or Southeast Asian population (up 202 incidents and 301 percent as of 2019).

On January 28, Montreal police arrested a Black man, charged him with attempted murder, assaulting a police officer, and disarming a police officer, and detained him for six nights after an officer was attacked at a separate location following a traffic stop. The man was exonerated and cleared of all charges on February 5, and Montreal’s police chief apologized to him. Police denied the man had been racially profiled, and a public inquiry led by a Quebec Superior Court justice concurred on September 3. The judge found that both police and the prosecutor who authorized the charges acted lawfully and reasonably. The judge reported investigators made technical errors that delayed the man’s release and recommended improvements in police training and procedures. Lawyers for the man described the judicial report as “one-sided” and confirmed the man would continue with a suit seeking redress for the wrongful arrest and detention that he had filed in July against the city and the province. The suit remained in progress as of October.

Police forces in major cities, including Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa, reported an increase in incidents of harassment, violence, and graffiti based on race, ethnicity, or skin color against Asians between 2019 and 2020, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Verbal harassment, targeted coughing and spitting, and physical aggression reportedly accounted for the majority of the incidents. According to the Vancouver Police Department, anti-Asian hate crimes in the city increased seven-fold in 2020. A June 8 poll by the Angus Reid Institute found 58 percent of Asian respondents to the survey said they had experienced at least one incident of anti-Asian discrimination in the previous year; 86 percent of those polled said the discrimination was societal, not institutional. On June 17, police charged two individuals with mischief after they allegedly threw a hot beverage at an Asian staff member and uttered racist slurs at a coffee shop in Richmond, British Columbia, on March 29 after the employee asked them to maintain social distance between customers. A British Columbia court scheduled a hearing for the case in November. On August 18, the British Columbia Human Rights Commission launched a year-long public inquiry to investigate the increase in hate crime incidents in the province during the pandemic. The commission will not hold public hearings but will solicit expert and public written testimony and report in 2022.

The prime minister and government ministers condemned anti-Asian racism and “scapegoating” for the COVID-19 pandemic. In April the federal budget allocated C$11 million ($8.6 million) over two years to the Canadian Race Relations Foundation to combat racism during the pandemic and to establish a national coalition to support Asian-Canadian communities. In 2019 the government announced a C$45 million ($35.7 million) Anti-Racism Strategy over three years to combat racism and discrimination, including creation of an Anti-Racism Secretariat to coordinate initiatives across government, conduct outreach and public education, and engage indigenous people and community groups. On August 4, the government allocated C$96 million ($76 million) to Black community groups to support capacity and workspace development in addition to C$25 million ($20 million) in 2019 and C$350 million ($277.5 million) in 2020 to support Black entrepreneurs and address barriers to access to credit and systemic racism.

The government held a national emergency summit on anti-Semitism on July 21 and a separate summit on Islamophobia on July 22 to raise awareness, conduct public education, engage communities, and identify best practices to combat discrimination. The prime minister addressed both summits, and elected officials were invited to attend. The country’s special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism participated in the summit on July 21. In October the prime minister confirmed the government had made the role of special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism a permanent office with dedicated funding.

Indigenous Peoples

According to the government’s national statistical agency, indigenous peoples constituted approximately 5 percent of the national population and much higher percentages in the country’s three territories: Yukon, 23 percent; Northwest Territories, 51 percent; and Nunavut, 86 percent. Disputes over land claims, self-government, treaty rights, taxation, duty-free imports, fishing and hunting rights, and alleged police brutality and harassment were sources of tension. Indigenous peoples remained underrepresented in the workforce, leadership positions, and politics; more susceptible than other groups to suicide, poverty, chronic health conditions, sexual violence, human trafficking, and other violent crime; and overrepresented on welfare rolls and in prison populations.

On June 9, the provincial government of British Columbia agreed to a request by the indigenous Pacheedaht, Ditidaht, and Huu-ay-aht First Nations to defer commercial logging for two years on the Fairy Creek watershed on Vancouver Island, which included their territories. The logging company also agreed to the moratorium. Activists, including nonindigenous persons, had blocked roads to the site to stop commercial harvesting of old-growth trees since August 2020, resulting in more than 180 arrests after police enforced an injunction in May. Chiefs of the impacted First Nations asked activists to leave their territories and allow indigenous peoples to make decisions on how to use the land.

The law recognizes individuals registered under the Indian Act based on indigenous lineage and members of a recognized First Nation as Status Indians and eligible for a range of federal services and programs. Status and services are withheld from unregistered or nonstatus indigenous persons who do not meet eligibility criteria for official recognition.

The law recognizes and specifically protects indigenous rights, including rights established by historical land claims settlements. Treaties with indigenous groups form the basis for the government’s policies in the eastern part of the country, but there were legal challenges to the government’s interpretation and implementation of treaty rights. Indigenous groups in the western part of the country that had never signed treaties continued to claim land and resources, and many continued to seek legal resolution of outstanding issues. As a result the evolution of the government’s policy toward indigenous rights, particularly land claims, depended on negotiation or legal challenges.

The law imposes statutory, contractual, and common-law obligations to consult with indigenous peoples on the development and exploitation of natural resources on land covered by treaty or subject to indigenous land claims. According to a Supreme Court ruling, the federal government has the constitutional duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate indigenous peoples when the government contemplates actions that may adversely affect potential or established indigenous and treaty rights, and indigenous title.

Supreme Court decisions affirmed that indigenous title extends to territory used by indigenous peoples for hunting, fishing, and other activities prior to contact with Europeans, as well as to settlement sites. Provincial and federal governments may develop natural resources on land subject to indigenous title but are obliged to obtain consent of the indigenous titleholders in addition to existing constitutional duties to consult, and where necessary, accommodate indigenous peoples in matters that affect their rights. If governments cannot obtain consent, they may proceed with resource development only based on a “compelling and substantial objective” in the public interest, in which the public interest is proportionate to any adverse effect on indigenous interests. The court has established that indigenous titles are collective in nature.

On April 23, the Supreme Court affirmed the country’s constitutional obligations towards indigenous peoples extended to noncitizen indigenous persons with historical territory in Canada. The court determined indigenous rights stemmed from precolonial territorial control, even if that area was now outside the country’s borders.

Indigenous minors were overrepresented in foster care and in the custody of provincial child welfare systems. In 2020 the law changed to affirm and recognize First Nations, Inuit, and Metis jurisdiction over child and family services with the goal of keeping indigenous children and youth connected to their families, communities, and culture. On July 7, the government signed an agreement with the Cowessess First Nation, the first indigenous group under the law to take control of child welfare in its community. Indigenous groups must sign these agreements with the federal government on a case-by-case basis. They may develop their own child welfare laws or use traditional practices, either of which take precedence over federal or provincial law.

In September the Federal Court upheld two 2019 rulings by the federal Human Rights Tribunal that awarded financial compensation to indigenous children in the child welfare system after 2006. The tribunal had concluded the government discriminated against indigenous children by willfully underfunding child welfare services on reserves that resulted in their removal from their families, and by failing to provide services as the result of a jurisdictional dispute between federal and provincial governments over which government should pay for care off reserves. The federal government acknowledged the discrimination but claimed the tribunal lacked jurisdiction and asserted the government wanted to resolve the issue as part of separate but related class-action lawsuits with a more generous financial settlement. On October 29, it announced that it would appeal the part of the tribunal’s ruling that related to financial compensation, but not the section that mandated the government provide public services to First Nations children on the same basis as nonindigenous children. The government stated the parties had agreed to pause litigation until December to allow time to negotiate financial compensation as part of a comprehensive settlement package.

On September 24, the Federal Court approved a financial settlement reached in June by the federal government with indigenous former students who attended indigenous residential schools on a day basis but did not reside at the schools. Court approval was required to verify the agreement was “fair and reasonable.” The agreement was the third relating to compensation for abuse experienced by students compelled to attend the schools. In 2019 the Federal Court approved a financial settlement between the government and indigenous former students to compensate students who suffered physical, sexual, and psychological abuse and loss of culture and language while attending federal and provincial government-funded day schools. The claims period was scheduled to remain open until July 2022. The government and churches that operated indigenous residential schools on the former’s behalf reached a settlement with indigenous former students in 2006, the largest class action settlement in the country’s history. As of March when the claims period closed, the government had disbursed more than C$ three billion ($2.3 billion) to claimants.

In May the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia announced the discovery of 251 unmarked graves on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School that they believed included the remains of indigenous children who attended the school. The prime minister said the discovery served as a “painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history.” Indigenous communities in British Columbia and other provinces subsequently identified undocumented grave sites on or near the locations of former residential schools totaling more than 1,200 graves. More than 130 indigenous residential schools operated across the country between the 1870s and 1996. As of August the federal government had received more than 100 applications from indigenous nations or groups for funding to locate, identify, and commemorate the remains and had committed C$27 million ($21.4 million). Provincial governments in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario also pledged funding for a combined federal and provincial total of approximately C$62 million ($50 million) as of October.

Contaminated drinking water was a problem in many indigenous communities. On July 30, the government announced an out-of-court settlement of C$ eight billion ($6.3 billion) to compensate 258 First Nations and to fix water quality systems on reserves. The settlement was subject to approval by the Federal Court to determine whether it was fair. The government had committed to end all drinking water advisories on indigenous lands by March 2021 but missed the deadline. In March it recommitted to end the advisories but did not provide a timeline. As of September the government stated 117 long-term water advisories had been lifted since November 2015 and 45 long-term water advisories remained in effect in 32 indigenous communities.

On October 1, a Quebec coroner concluded that racism contributed to the death of Joyce Echaquan, an indigenous woman who died in a Quebec hospital in 2020 and recorded racist abuse on her cell phone directed toward her by nursing staff. The coroner found Echaquan did not receive the medical care to which she was entitled and that the care provided by the hospital was “imprinted with prejudice and biases” that prompted staff to neglect, minimize or misdiagnose her symptoms because she was indigenous. The coroner issued several recommendations, including that the provincial government recognize the existence of systemic racism within its institutions. The premier of Quebec stated Echaquan experienced discrimination and Quebec would continue to combat racism, but he denied the existence of systemic racism in the province. The prime minister recognized Echaquan’s death as an example of systemic racism. In October Echaquan family members said they would file suit against the hospital where she died.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Births are registered immediately and are neither denied nor provided on a discriminatory basis.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 16 years as the legal minimum age of marriage with parental consent. Early marriages were not known to be a major problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, sale, grooming, offering, or procuring children for commercial sex, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities enforced the law effectively. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16 years. Persons convicted of living from the proceeds of child sex trafficking face between two and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who aid, counsel, compel, use, or threaten to use violence, intimidation, or coercion in relation to child sex trafficking face between five and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who solicit or obtain the sexual services of a child younger than age 18 face between six months’ and 10 years’ imprisonment. Children, principally teenage girls, were exploited in sex trafficking. The country was a destination for child sex tourism, and Canadian tourists committed child sex tourism crimes abroad. Children from indigenous communities; at-risk youth; runaway youth; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) children; and youth in the child welfare system were at high risk for trafficking.

The law prohibits accessing, producing, distributing, and possessing child pornography. Maximum penalties range from 18 months’ imprisonment for summary offenses to 10 years’ imprisonment for indictable offenses.

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

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

Approximately 1 percent of the population is Jewish. The government enforced laws against discrimination effectively.

The B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights received 2,610 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2020, the latest available data, representing an 18 percent increase from 2019. Of this total, there were 2,483 incidents of anti-Semitic harassment in 2020, up 23 percent from 2019. B’nai Brith also reported there were nine cases of anti-Semitic violence, of which approximately 44 percent were related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 118 reports of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2020.

In May the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies filed a complaint with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regarding the flying of a Hitler Youth flag on private property in Breton, Alberta. Police officers spoke to the property owner, who refused to take down the flag. The center also filed a separate police complaint the same month regarding the flying of a Hitler Youth flag at a property in Boyle, Alberta. The property owner removed the flag after police spoke to him.

In July Toronto police charged a man with assault and municipal by-law infractions for antisocial behavior in two separate anti-Semitic incidents. On July 6, a man with a swastika drawn on his bare chest yelled anti-Semitic slurs and threw an object at a Jewish person in a public park, and on July 10, the same man, again with the swastika drawn on his chest, yelled anti-Semitic slurs at three Jewish women walking in a public park with a baby. When a Jewish man intervened, the assailant punched the man several times. Police investigated whether to file hate-crime charges in both incidents. In September the same assailant was arrested and charged with one count of assault and one count of failure to comply with a release order in a third anti-Semitic incident in Toronto. The man approached a woman at a subway station, asked her multiple times whether she was Jewish, performed a Nazi salute, and attacked her when she ignored his questions. The woman was not Jewish.

In August unknown vandals defaced election signs of two Jewish candidates in Montreal, Quebec, with swastikas. On August 17, the prime minister tweeted the graffiti was “completely unacceptable” and that he stood “in solidarity” with the two candidates and with “the entire Jewish community against this type of hatred.”

On July 21, the government hosted an emergency national summit on anti-Semitism and announced C$ six million ($4.7 million) in funding for 150 projects to support communities at risk of hate crime. On July 5, the Ontario government gave C$327,000 ($258,500) to the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center to develop anti-Semitism courses for teachers and students in the province’s schools.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and persons with disabilities could access education, employment, health services, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services on an equal basis with others. Children with disabilities attended school with peers without disabilities. Federal and provincial governments effectively implemented laws and programs mandating access to public buildings, information, and communications in accessible formats for persons with disabilities, but regulation varies by jurisdiction. The government enforced these provisions effectively. The law requires employers and service providers to “identify, remove, and prevent” accessibility barriers in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction.

Disability rights NGOs reported that persons with disabilities experienced higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, lower rates of job retention, and higher rates of poverty and economic marginalization than others. Persons with disabilities were at increased risk of human trafficking. Mental-disability advocates asserted the prison system was not sufficiently equipped or staffed to provide the care necessary for those in the criminal justice system, resulting in cases of segregation and self-harm.

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

The law prohibits discrimination by state and nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services, including health care, and the government enforced the law. Conversion therapy designed to change a person’s sexual orientation is lawful. A 2020 study by the British Columbia-based nonprofit Community-Based Research Centre that promotes the health of individuals of diverse sexualities and genders found 20 percent of sexual-minority men surveyed reported experiencing sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression change efforts, and, of them, almost 40 percent (or 47,000 men) reported having experienced conversion therapy. LGBTQI+ individuals were at increased risk of human trafficking.

In January the Quebec Superior Court invalidated provisions in the province’s civil legal code that prevented individuals from changing their birth gender designation to reflect their gender identity, required parents to identify as a mother or father rather than parent on a declaration of birth, and required individuals ages 14 to 17 years to obtain approval from a physician or health professional to change their gender designation on official documents. The court ruled the code deprived transgender and nonbinary persons of dignity and equality and gave the province until December 31 to amend it. In April the Quebec government appealed the decision that struck down the requirement for minors to obtain permission from a physician or health professional to change their gender designation; the case remained in progress as of November.

On June 15, Egale Canada, a LGBTQI+ NGO, filed an application at the Ontario Superior Court to challenge the constitutionality of exemptions in the law that permit nonconsensual aesthetic surgeries on the genitalia of intersex infants and children. The application remained pending as of November.

On March 21, unknown vandals painted a homophobic slur on the road outside the home of Ottawa’s mayor, an openly gay man. In a tweet the prime minister condemned “ignorance and inexcusable hate” and expressed his support for the mayor. The city removed the graffiti.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Federal and some provincial laws, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provide for the right of workers in both the public and the private sectors to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Bargaining units had access to mediation at any time and the choice of binding arbitration or conciliation to resolve disputes with employers. Workers in the public sector who provide essential services, including police and armed forces, do not have the right to strike but have mechanisms to provide for due process and to protect workers’ rights. Workers in essential services had recourse to mediation and binding arbitration if labor negotiations fail. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union functions.

Federal labor law applies in federally regulated sectors, which include industries of extra provincial or international character, transportation and transportation infrastructure that cross provincial and international borders, marine shipping, port and ferry services, air transportation and airports, pipelines, telecommunications, banks, grain elevators, uranium mining and processing, works designated by the federal parliament affecting two or more provinces, protection of fisheries as a natural resource, many First Nation activities, and most state-owned corporations. These industries employed approximately 10 percent of workers.

The law requires the government and a bargaining unit in a federal or federally regulated industry to negotiate an essential services agreement defining an essential service and identifying the number and type of employees and the specific positions within the bargaining unit necessary to provide such essential service and, consequently, do not have the right to strike. If the parties are unable to agree, either party can apply to the independent Federal Public Sector Labor Relations and Employment Board for a resolution.

Provincial and territorial governments regulate and are responsible for enforcing their own labor laws in all occupations and workplaces that are not federally regulated, leaving categories of workers excluded from statutory protection of freedom of association in several provinces. Some provinces restrict the right to organize. For example, agricultural workers in Ontario and Quebec do not have the right to organize or bargain collectively or experience restrictions on such rights, under provincial law. Migrant workers in specific occupations, such as agriculture or caregiving, may also be exempt from minimum wage, overtime, and other labor standards protections in specific provinces.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right of collective bargaining. The government effectively enforced applicable laws and regulations, including with remedies and penalties such as corrective workplace practices and criminal prosecution for noncompliance and willful violations. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government enforced the law, although NGOs said enforcement lacked resources. The law prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The government investigated and prosecuted cases of forced labor, including domestic servitude, and penalties were commensurate with penalties for other analogous serious crimes. The government’s efforts to identify victims and address forced labor, through both law enforcement and victim identification and protection measures, remained inadequate.

The federal government held employers of foreign workers accountable by verifying employers’ ability to pay wages and provide accommodation and, through periodic inspections and mandatory compliance reviews, ensuring that employers provided the same wages, living conditions, and occupation specified in the employers’ original job offer. The government can deny noncompliant employers the permits required to recruit foreign workers for two years and impose fines of up to C$100,000 ($77,000) per violation of the program. Some provincial governments imposed licensing and registration requirements on recruiters or employers of foreign workers and prohibited the charging of recruitment fees to workers. Forced labor, fraud, coercion, and the withholding of identity and travel documents from workers was a criminal offense with penalties that include imprisonment. The government’s national strategy to combat human trafficking committed to prevent human trafficking in federal procurement supply chains. In August the government’s procurement agency, Public Services and Procurement Canada, updated its code of conduct for procurement for vendors supplying products and services to the government that included new provisions relating to human and labor rights, and to mitigate risks in supply chains. The government amended its Customs Tariff Act in 2020 to prohibit the importation of all goods produced, in whole or in part, by forced or compulsory labor, irrespective of their country of origin. There were reports that employers subjected employees with temporary or no legal status to forced labor in the agricultural sector, food processing, cleaning services, hospitality, construction industries, and domestic service. During the pandemic there were also reports that some employers barred migrant workers from leaving the work location, hired private security to prevent workers from leaving, and deducted inflated food and supply costs from their wages. NGOs reported bonded labor, particularly in the construction industry, and domestic servitude constituted the majority of identified cases of forced labor and that some victims had participated in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

In July the government announced amended regulations to improve protections for migrant workers, including mandating that employers inform workers of their rights, prohibiting reprisals for workers who file complaints, requiring employers to provide access to health care and health insurance, strengthening employment assessments of applications from employers, and increasing the frequency and scope of enforcement inspections. NGOs cited lack of oversight and enforcement of quarantine and isolation for outbreaks of the virus among migrant agricultural workers.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. In federally regulated sectors, children younger than age 17 may work only when they are not required to attend school under provincial legislation, provided the work does not fall under excluded categories (such as work underground in a mine, on a vessel, or in the vicinity of explosives) and the work does not endanger health and safety. Children may not work in any federally regulated sector between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The provinces and territories have primary responsibility for regulation of child labor, and minimum age restrictions vary by province. Enforcement occurs through a range of laws covering employment standards, occupational health and safety, education laws, and in regulations for vocational training, child welfare, and licensing of establishments for the sale of alcohol. Most provinces restrict the number of hours of work to two or three hours on a school day and eight hours on a nonschool day and prohibit children ages 12 to 16 from working without parental consent, after 11 p.m., or in any hazardous employment.

Authorities effectively enforced child labor laws and policies, and federal and provincial labor ministries carried out child labor inspections either proactively or in response to formal complaints. There were reports that limited resources hampered inspection and enforcement efforts. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports child labor occurred, particularly in the agricultural sector. There were also reports children, principally teenage girls, were subjected to sex trafficking – including child sex tourism – and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, color, sex (including pregnancy), religion, national origin or citizenship, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, and refugee status. Refugees and statelessness NGOs reported stateless persons may have difficulty in obtaining legal employment. The law does not include restrictions on women’s employment concerning working hour limits, occupations, or tasks. In 2019 Quebec used a legal exemption to override constitutional protections of freedom of religion for a period of five years to pass a law that restricts the wearing of visible religious symbols – including hijabs, kippahs, turbans, and crosses – by certain public-sector employees in the province to enforce a policy of religious neutrality in the delivery of provincial public services. Some provinces, including Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Northwest Territories, prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of social origin or “social condition.” Some provinces list political opinion as a prohibited ground of discrimination, but the federal Human Rights Act does not extend this protection to federally regulated workers. The government enforced the law effectively, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were generally commensurate with laws related to civil rights.

Federal law requires equal pay for equal work for four designated groups in federally regulated industries enforced through the Canadian Human Rights Commission: women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and visible minorities. Ontario and Quebec have pay equity laws that cover both the public and private sectors, and other provinces require pay equity only in the public sector.

Authorities encouraged individuals to resolve employment-related discrimination complaints through internal workplace dispute resolution processes as a first recourse, but federal and provincial human rights commissions investigated and mediated complaints and enforced the law and regulations. Some critics complained the process was complex and failed to issue rulings in a timely manner. Foreign migrant workers generally have the same labor rights as citizens and permanent residents, although workers in specific sectors such as agriculture or caregiving were exempt from minimum wage, overtime, and other labor standards protections in specific provinces. NGOs alleged discrimination occurred against migrant workers and that some refugee claimants faced language and other nonlegal barriers that made it difficult to enter the workforce.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is no national minimum wage. Employees are subject to the minimum wage of the province or territory in which they are employed. In June the government amended the law to apply a federal minimum wage of C$15 ($11.87) per hour, effective December 29, for workers across the country in federally regulated sectors. If the minimum wage of a province or territory is higher than the federal minimum wage, the law requires employers to pay federally regulated workers the higher minimum wage in that jurisdiction. In 2018 the government adopted the Market Basket Measure (MBM) as its first official poverty line. The income level varies based on family size and province; for example, the threshold for a family of four in the national capital, Ottawa, was C$48,391 ($38,300) in 2019, the most recent date for which data was available. The minimum wage was less than the MBM for a family of four, notably in urban centers. The government effectively enforced wage rates, and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Standard work hours vary by province, but the limit is 40 or 48 hours per week, with at least 24 hours of rest. The law requires payment of a premium for work above the standard workweek. There is no specific prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, which is regulated by means of the required rest periods in the labor code that differ by industry. Some categories of workers have specific employment rights that differ from the standard, including commercial fishermen, oil-field workers, loggers, home caregivers, professionals, managers, and some sales staff. Employment and Social Development Canada is responsible for regulation and enforcement of wage and hour standards in federally regulated sectors across the country, and departments of labor, training, and employment in each province and territory regulate labor standards in all other employment sectors in their respective jurisdictions. Some trade unions claimed that limited resources and number of inspectors hampered the government’s enforcement efforts, including delays in addressing complaints.

Occupational Safety and Health: Federal law provides safety and health standards for employees under federal jurisdiction. Provincial and territorial legislation provides for all other employees, including foreign and migrant workers. Standards were current and appropriate for the industries they covered. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations resides with authorities, employers, and supervisors, not the worker. Inspectors conducted proactive workplace visits to raise awareness of hazards, advise parties of their rights, duties, and obligations, and to promote and assist with compliance, and reactively in response to fatalities, injuries, and complaints. Federal, provincial, and territorial laws protect the right of workers with “reasonable cause” to refuse dangerous work and to remove themselves from hazardous work conditions, and authorities effectively enforced this right. The government also promoted safe working practices and provided training, education, and resources through the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, a federal agency composed of representatives of government, employers, and labor.

Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards were enforced by the same authorities. Standards were effectively enforced, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Federal and provincial labor departments monitored and effectively enforced labor standards by conducting inspections through scheduled and unscheduled visits, in direct response to reported complaints, and at random. Inspectors had authority to require remedies and initiate sanctions, including fines, suspensions, or closures. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

NGOs reported migrants, especially agricultural migrant workers, new immigrants, young workers, and the unskilled were vulnerable to violations of the law on minimum wage, overtime pay, unpaid wages, and excessive hours of work. NGOs also alleged that restrictions on the types of labor complaints accepted for investigation and delays in processing cases discouraged the filing of complaints. Federal and federally regulated workers could file complaints related to unpaid wages and health and safety, and grievances for unjust dismissal and genetic testing. Restrictions varied between provinces in provincially regulated industries, and time limits existed to file complaints.

According to the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada, during 2019, the most recent year for which data were available, there were 925 fatalities related to the workplace, including from traumatic injuries and work-related exposure to chemicals or disease-causing substances.

Informal Sector: In 2020 the government’s national statistical agency estimated GDP at market prices for activity in the informal sector in the country in 2018 at C$61.2 billion ($49.2 billion), or 2.7 percent of total GDP. Residential construction, retail trade, finance, insurance, real estate, rental services, and accommodation and food services were the largest sectors of informal activity, and wages and tips accounted for the largest share of unreported income. The federal government has authority to enforce standards over federal workers and in federally regulated industries and provincial governments in all other sectors, but standards were not enforced in practice because work in the informal economy was not reported. Similarly, workers in the informal economy were not subject to federal or provincial wage, hour, and occupational health and safety laws and inspection in practice because the work was not reported. Employers or businesses often classified workers in the gig economy as self-employed independent contractors and not employees, which left them without protections afforded under labor statutes, including the right to unionize or bargain collectively; to occupational health and safety protections, minimum wage, and sick leave provisions; and access to employment insurance.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic is a presidential republic. Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected president for a second five-year term in the first round during December 2020 presidential and legislative elections marred by widespread violence. In December 2020 six armed groups formerly in the peace process combined to form a new alliance, the Coalition of Patriots for Change, led by former president Francois Bozize, and called for a suspension of the electoral process and the establishment of national consultations. These groups significantly disrupted the presidential and legislative elections. More than half of the country’s polling stations were unable to return results primarily due to insecurity, and only an estimated 37 percent of all registered voters were able to cast votes for the presidential elections. As a result of election-related insecurity, President Touadera requested support from the Russian Federation government, which facilitated the deployment of a Russian private military company, Wagner Group, and Rwandan forces. Several opposition leaders denounced irregularities in the elections. International observers found the elections not to be free and fair due to an increased level of violence and intimidation by armed groups. On June 11, President Touadera appointed Henri Marie Dondra as prime minister

Police and gendarmes are responsible for enforcing law and maintaining order. The Central African Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and have the primary role of maintaining internal security. The president is commander in chief of the armed forces. Police and the gendarmerie report to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security. Civilian authorities’ control over security forces continued to improve but remained weak. There were credible reports that members of the security forces, along with Russian private military company elements from the Wagner Group, engaged in active combat and committed human rights abuses at a rate comparable to armed groups.

State authority beyond the capital improved with the increased deployment of prefects and troops in provincial capitals. Armed groups, however, still controlled some portions of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing bodies in those areas, taxing local populations and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious abuses in the context of an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances, torture and physical abuse or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, and other conflict-related abuses by armed groups; restrictions on free expression and media, including the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and laws criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct between adults.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute government officials for alleged human rights abuses and corruption, including in the security forces. Nevertheless, a climate of impunity and a lack of access to legal services remained obstacles to citizens’ ability to obtain formal justice.

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups continued. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during these internal conflicts. Ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property. The government stated it was investigating several high-profile cases of intercommunal violence during the year and considering charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against perpetrators. (Note: This report refers to the “ex-Seleka” for all abuses attributed to the armed factions associated with Seleka, including the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic and the Union for Peace, which were formed after Seleka was dissolved in 2013. The armed group known as “Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation” also committed serious human rights abuses during the year.)

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. The Ministry of Justice investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and pursues prosecutions. In an August joint report by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), covering the electoral period of July 2020 through June, the UN agencies cited 59 instances of extrajudicial killings committed by state security forces, along with “other security forces,” including Russian private military company (PMC) elements from the Wagner Group who have been engaged in active combat. Many of these killings occurred when security forces and Russian elements suspected civilians of being affiliated with armed groups. On April 30, MINUSCA shared with authorities a list of human rights abuses allegedly committed by the national defense forces and “bilaterally deployed and other” security personnel. Subsequently, in May the government announced the creation of a special commission of inquiry to shed light on alleged abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law from December 2020 to April. Government authorities investigated these incidents and released preliminary findings in an October 2 report synopsis, although as of year’s end, the official report had not been released to the public. The government report synopsis accused armed rebel groups of war crimes and crimes against humanity; additionally, it acknowledged that extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and disappearances, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, occupation of public buildings, and hindrances to humanitarian access were also committed by the Central African Army (FACA), internal security forces, and Russian “instructors.” As of year’s end there was no indication authorities had taken action to hold responsible officials accountable.

The United Nations reported that in the Ombella M’Poko Prefecture, from December 30, 2020, to January 20, 10 civilians were victims of summary and extrajudicial killings by the country’s armed forces and “other security forces,” a term that includes Russian PMC elements affiliated with the sanctioned Wagner Group. Killings by PMC elements of the Wagner Group were reported in local and international press by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies. According to local official sources, on June 12, Wagner Group elements summoned the sultan mayor of the town of Koui, Lamido Souleymane Daouda, his deputy, and his bodyguard to accompany them to seize weapons from a rebel group. Hours later the Wagner elements returned to Koui to inform Daouda’s family that he, his deputy, and his bodyguard were killed in a landmine explosion. After discussions with his family, the Wagner elements handed over the remains of all three deceased, which observers noted showed bullet wounds and no trace of explosives. The UN’s report corroborated allegations that Daouda and his entourage were killed by Wagner Group elements.

The report also stated that Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebels were responsible for approximately 61 killings targeting civilians for party affiliation or participation in the elections. On July 31, Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) rebels attacked the northwestern village of Mann near the borders of Chad and Cameroon, killing at least six civilians, according to MINUSCA sources.

b. Disappearance

There were some reports of disappearances committed by or on behalf of government authorities. According to a local news report, in December 2020 members of a government-sponsored militia commonly known as the Sharks, while disguised as presidential guards, broke into Ngaragba Prison in Bangui and abducted three individuals: army officer Bombole; Staff Sergeant Amazoude; and Corporal Ringui, alias Badboy. There has been no sign of the three since that time. On February 1, Saint Claire Danmboy Balekouzou, a FACA soldier known as “Sadam,” was also allegedly kidnapped by the Sharks. His body was later found in the bordering Bimbo district of Bangui.

In a July 7 letter to President Touadera, members of the Goula ethnic community in the central town of Bria alleged 12 Goula community members were detained by government forces during the unrest that followed December 2020 polling. The letter states there had been no further contact with the individuals after their arrest. Although a government investigation acknowledged UN reports that other disappearances were committed by government or Wagner Group elements, as of year’s end there was no indication that authorities had taken action regarding those disappearances, or those abuses cited earlier (see section 1.a.).

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

Although the law defines and specifies punishment for torture and other cruel and inhuman treatments, authorities and armed groups continued to commit abuses against the civilian population. Although sentences for such crimes range from 20 years to life in prison and forced labor, impunity persisted. In August FACA soldiers stationed at the Boing neighborhood police station reportedly extorted 146,000 Central African Francs (CFA) ($254) from timber seller Alfred Doualengue and severely beat him. The online newspaper Le Tsunami published Doualengue’s photograph, which showed scars across his buttocks. Although a government investigation acknowledged UN reports that other instances of torture were committed by government or Wagner Group elements, as of year’s end there was no indication that authorities had acted regarding those abuses (see section 1.a). Impunity for human rights abuses continued to be a significant problem throughout the country’s security forces, including the army, gendarmerie, and police. According to human rights advocates, factors that contributed to impunity included judicial backlogs and fear of retaliation. The government worked with the EU and MINUSCA to provide training on human rights for FACA and gendarme units.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the National Commission for Human Rights and local NGOs, prison conditions did not generally meet international norms and were often harsh, life-threatening, and inhuman due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, and inadequate sanitation.

Physical Conditions: According to MINUSCA, at the start of the year, the imprisoned population included 1,226 men and 65 women, three of whom were caring for infants.

The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and a women’s prison at Bimbo. In other locations, including Bossembele, Sibut, and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody at police stations and gendarmerie brigades. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded the facilities.

Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities such as food, clothing, and medicine were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors’ unofficial fees.

COVID-19 highlighted shortcomings that endangered the health and lives of detainees and prison staff. Poor hygienic detention conditions linked to overcrowding and inadequate health care increased the likelihood of infection. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, mixed juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender, as well as in smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, M’Baiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa. Detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors. There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders.

Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by international donors, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent experts on human rights in the country. In addition, state organs like the National Commission for Human Rights and the General Inspectorate of Justice were also authorized independently to visit detention centers.

In July and August the National Commission for Human Rights visited Ngaragba Prison in Bangui and M’Baiki Prison in Lobaye Prefecture and found that both had substandard roofing and lacked sufficient food for inmates. Inmates in both lived in overcrowded cells, lacked access to health care, and experienced recurrent health problems. During remarks at the opening of the judicial year in July, President Touadera noted the state only allocated 3,330,000 CFA francs ($6,060) weekly for inmates’ food at all facilities, an average of 299 CFA francs ($0.54) per inmate per day. Touadera admitted during the speech that the amount was unacceptably low.

Improvements: Forty-seven detainees, including seven women from Ngaragba and the Bimbo-based women’s detention center received training certificates in carpentry, plumbing and manufacturing solar cookers on July 21, after three months of training sponsored by MINUSCA.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detentions and lengthy pretrial detentions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides that persons under arrest be informed immediately of the allegations against them. Detainees must be presented before a judge within 72 hours and cannot be held longer than 144 hours without appearing before a judge. There are exceptions for those detained under national security laws and those in remote areas where there are no courts. In both cases detentions can be extended up to eight days, renewable once. Poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and an insufficient number of judges meant these requirements were not always observed. Provisional release was available for those awaiting trial, but not consistently enforced. There was a functioning bail system. Suspects were often detained incommunicado.

The law requires that defendants in felony cases involving sentences of 10 years or more be provided a lawyer. The law does not require defendants in nonfelony cases be provided a lawyer. Many felony and nonfelony defendants could not afford counsel. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 50,000 CFA francs ($91) per case, a sum low enough that it deterred many lawyers from accepting indigent defendants.

Arbitrary Arrest: Both security forces and armed groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals. Many arbitrary arrests occurred during the January counteroffensive by security forces and Wagner Group elements, according to reports in the local press and by NGOs. Security forces arbitrarily arrested at least 35 citizens during the counteroffensive, according to the August joint report by MINUSCA and the OHCHR. Thierry Savonarole Maleyombo was arrested in January in Bangui, accused of complicity in former president Francois Bozize’s attempted takeover by force. He was first detained in Ngaragba Prison, then transferred to the annex prison of Camp de Roux. At year’s end he remained in preventive detention, and no date had been given for his trial. In August the prosecutor of the Bambari Appeal Court (Ouaka Prefecture) reportedly fled the town to escape retribution by the Wagner Group, which he claimed accused him of collaborating with rebels, because he spoke out in favor of due process. According to the prosecutor, Russians in Ouaka often made arbitrary arrests to question detainees. Reports by Amnesty International, UN experts, and MINUSCA documented arbitrary arrests, looting of properties, and other abuses committed by FACA, Wagner Group elements, and rebels from the CPC.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was a serious problem, as was associated overcrowding in prisons and prolongation of trial dates. During a July speech, President Touadera estimated that as many as 75 percent of prisoners in the country were in pretrial detention. Touadera added that this rate placed the country at odds with domestic requirements and international commitments. Lengthy pretrial detentions occurred in part because of a lack of affordable legal representation and low capacity of judiciary bodies.

The law provides that preventive detention is possible if the penalty incurred exceeds one year’s imprisonment and if, for the needs of the investigation, it is essential to preserve evidence and separate parties involved. In August the National Human Rights Commission visited M’Baiki Prison in Lobaye Prefecture and noted only eight of 40 detainees had been convicted and that the remaining inmates were in preventive detention.

Although record keeping of arrests and detentions was poor, slow investigation and processing of cases was the primary cause of lengthy pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained and understaffed, resulting in very slow case-processing times. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. Judges resisted holding sessions due to security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of quality, affordable legal services, and a poorly functioning justice system. According to UN legal experts, detainees met difficulty finding adequate legal representation, since court-appointed lawyers were often less than enthusiastic about defending detainees due to being perceived as “difficult” by magistrates. Court-appointed attorneys also believed they were not paid sufficiently for defending detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political actors exerted undue influence on it. The country’s judicial system had not recovered from 2013 attacks by Seleka rebels who destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country. Despite slight improvements in the number of judges deployed outside Bangui, the overall inadequate number of justices still hindered court operations nationwide. Many judges were unwilling to conduct proceedings outside Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office space and housing. UN legal experts explained that while some “security concerns” were legitimate, others were used to avoid deployment to underdeveloped areas outside Bangui that lacked social services, housing, and other infrastructure. For judges based in Bangui, legal advocacy organizations noted performance problems and impunity for underperformance, particularly for judges in “investigative chambers.” At the end of January, 55.2 percent of judicial staff were present at their posts across the country, according to records from MINUSCA’s Justice and Corrections Division. By the end of September, this figure increased to 70.6 percent. National criminal courts of appeal operated in two (Bouar and Bangui) of the country’s three appellate districts (Bouar, Bambari, and Bangui). The Bangui military tribunal held its second hearing in July, hearing 14 cases. In late September the Court Martial held its first criminal session in Bangui. The Military Tribunal hears cases punishable by less than 10 years, whilst the Court Martial hears cases punishable by 10 years or more.

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

The Special Criminal Court (SCC) established in 2015 operates with both domestic and international participation and support. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. With the arrival of four international judges and one prosecutor between January and June, and two appellate judges from France and Germany set to arrive by the end of November, the court had its full complement of national and international judges.

In May the SCC accepted nine cases involving members of the armed group Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) who were arrested for crimes committed in the towns of Obo, Zemio, and Bambouti in the southeastern portion of the country. As of September the SCC received 122 complaints; 24 of those were in various stages of investigation. Pursuant to an SCC warrant, 15 persons were also detained and were awaiting trial at Ngaragba Prison and its annex at Camp de Roux. In September the SCC announced war crimes charges against Anti-balaka leader Eugene Barret Ngaikosset.

The country’s Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRRC), is a transitional justice body charged with establishing truth, determining nonjudicial responsibility for violations, creating a reparations fund, and promoting reconciliation. In April 2020 the National Assembly passed legislation creating the TJRRC, giving it a mandate of four years (with possible extension to five). The law charged the commission with “investigating, determining the truth, and assigning responsibly for the grave events that have marked the nation starting with the March 29, 1959, disappearance of President Barthelemy Boganda until December 31, 2019.” In July the TJRRC’s 11 commissioners, including five women, were sworn in by national authorities. Edith Douzima presided over the TJRRC. The UN Development Program and MINUSCA provided support to the TJRRC through strategic planning and training retreats in August and September.

On February 16, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened the trial of Alfred Yekatoum and Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The prosecution began the presentation of evidence against Yekatoum and Ngaissona, both former Anti-balaka leaders. Government authorities surrendered Mahamat Said Abdelkani, a former Seleka commander, to the ICC on January 24, and his initial appearance before the court to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity took place on January 28 and 29. From October 12-14, the ICC held a hearing to confirm the charges against Abdelkani. The government referred the situation in the country to the ICC in 2014, and investigations continued during the year.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but this right was not always enforced. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty, requires trials to be public, and states that indigent felony defendants facing sentences of 10 years or more have the right to consult a court-appointed attorney. Criminal trials use professional judges and juries selected from lists generated by magistrates in courts of appeal. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, question witnesses, and file appeals. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them (with free interpretation as needed) throughout all stages of the legal process, receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. All defendants who do not speak the country’s main languages, French and Sango, are entitled to an interpreter. If this right is not respected, defendants have the right to appeal the decision of the court. Authorities did not always respect these rights.

There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity in the criminal and civil court systems, except for a new victims’ protection program in the SCC. Witness protection was a major issue in the criminal setting. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no assurance of their safety and a credible judicial process.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in which to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. Civil courts, which are collocated with correctional courts, held regular sessions.

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

The law prohibits home searches without a warrant during preliminary investigations, except for provisions in the law that permit searches with the defendant’s consent. Once the case is under investigation by an investigating magistrate, the presence of the defendant or witnesses is sufficient. The government did not always follow this requirement. For instance, in early January former minister Thierry Savonarole Maleyombo, also a senior executive of former president Francois Bozize’s Kwa na Kwa Party, was arrested in Bangui following a search of his home. According to his lawyer, Me Crepin Mboli Goumba, Maleyombo was arrested on suspicion of sheltering pro-Bozize armed individuals in his hotel, which was being used as a rear base. According to Mboli Goumba, authorities did not present Maleyombo a warrant.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

There were numerous reports of serious human rights and international humanitarian law abuses countrywide by FACA, Wagner Group elements, and armed groups. Reports of abuses included unlawful killings, torture, disappearances, rape, forced marriage, looting, destruction of property, recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups, and disruption of humanitarian access.

Between July 2020 and June, a joint report by the UN Human Rights Office and MINUSCA recorded 526 cases of violations and abuses of human rights and of international humanitarian law across the country, impacting 1,221 victims, including 144 civilians. Armed groups affiliated with the CPC were responsible for 286 (54 percent) of the incidents, and the FACA, internal security forces, and other security personnel, including Russian elements from the Wagner Group, were responsible for 240 incidents (46 percent). Violations included summary and extrajudicial executions, acts of torture and ill treatment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, conflict-related sexual violence, and serious violations of children’s rights. The report attributed kidnappings, attacks on peacekeepers, and looting of humanitarian organizations’ premises to CPC rebels.

Killings: In June, 14 persons were killed and two badly wounded during intercommunal clashes between Peuhl herders and local farmers in the Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. The 3R rebels, Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC), UPC, Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic (FPRC), and Anti-balaka armed groups participated in killings of civilians related to armed conflict. Additionally, reports indicated that after forming the CPC in late 2020, these armed groups committed a series of attacks that resulted in civilian deaths and the looting of homes and private properties.

On September 4, the SCC confirmed the arrest of Eugene Ngaikosset, a former captain in the presidential guard accused of multiple killings of civilians from 2005 to 2007. According to Human Rights Watch, his unit was accused of burning thousands of homes in the northeast and northwest of the country in the same period, as well as other crimes as a leader of the Anti-balaka in 2015. The SCC charged him with crimes against humanity.

Abductions: On August 24, three teenagers, ages 12 to 14, were kidnapped, allegedly by 3R rebels and CPC members, in the outskirts of Bozoum, capital of the Ouham-Pende Prefecture in the northwestern part of the country. Local authorities stated the three hostages were safely released by their captors early the next morning after carrying the rebels’ luggage into the bush. They were referred to the local gendarmerie commander for investigation.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were numerous reports throughout the year that all parties to the conflict, including FACA, Wagner Group elements, and rebel armed groups mistreated, assaulted, and raped civilians with impunity.

The United Nations reported a significant increase in conflict-related sexual violence linked with the deterioration of the security situation following the elections. Between June and October, MINUSCA received allegations concerning 118 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence, most of which involved rape. Eighty percent of incidents were attributed to armed groups, while 5 percent were attributed to national defense forces, and 7 percent to “bilaterally deployed and other security personnel.” In Bangui, MINUSCA supported a safe house operated by a local NGO to provide temporary protection to survivors of sexual violence and worked with the UN Country Team to establish a working group to assist survivors in the areas of health, justice, and psychosocial and socioeconomic support. In October President Touadera named Minister Counselor of Child Protection Josiane Bemaka Soui as the country’s new focal point for sexual violence in conflict.

Military tribunals, courts martial, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. After a decade of inactivity, military courts resumed work in July. Several officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to seven years in prison. Most were found guilty of abandoning their posts during the CPC offensive from December 2020 to January. Additionally, Arsene Laki, a divisional police commissioner, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine by the Permanent Military Tribunal for beating a woman while on duty.

MINUSCA announced in September that it would withdraw Gabon’s 450-strong peacekeeping contingent in the wake of sexual exploitation and abuse allegations against some members. The Gabonese government stated it would open its own investigation into the charges and dispatched an investigation team to the country.

Child Soldiers: Armed militias associated with Anti-balaka, ex-Seleka, the CPC, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and other armed groups forcibly recruited and used child soldiers; however, there were no verified cases of the government supporting units recruiting or using child soldiers during the year. Armed groups recruited children and used them as combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks. Girls were often forced to marry combatants or were used as sex slaves. The United Nations also documented the presence of children operating checkpoints and barricades.

Despite signing the United Nation’s Standard Operation Procedures proscribing the use of child soldiers, the MPC, FPRC, and UPC continued to use child soldiers. The FPRC and UPC issued orders barring the recruitment of children; however, NGOs reported the continued presence of children within these groups.

The country is party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibit the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In addition, on June 15, President Touadera signed the decree enacting the Child Protection Law. The law prohibits and criminalizes the recruitment and the use of children into armed groups and their exploitation for sexual purposes; perpetrators may be sentenced up to 10 years of imprisonment to hard labor. In addition, the law establishes that a child who has served in an armed force or group is a victim and should not be subject to criminal prosecution or that service, and mandates social reintegration mechanisms for victims.

During the year the government, UNICEF, and various NGOs worked with armed groups to combat the exploitation of child soldiers. The focal point for children’s affairs in the unit in charge of the national Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation program, confirmed in August that there were still former child soldiers detained in Ngaragba Prison, because the government was unable to find alternative centers to hold and rehabilitate them.

See the Department of State’s annual Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that humanitarian organizations’ ability to access remote areas worsened because of insecurity. Beginning in December 2020, insecurity forced the closure of the country’s main road, leading to severe shortages of relief commodities. The government continued to impose restrictions on humanitarian travel due to insecurity, and operations by FACA and affiliated forces led to temporary suspensions of assistance in affected areas. Humanitarian organizations suspended activities in areas with high levels of armed group activity as a preventive measure. Additionally, the increase in the use of explosive devices along roads during the year, as well as attacks on key infrastructure such as bridges, limited relief actors’ ability to travel by road. The United Nations recorded 314 security incidents affecting humanitarian staff between January and September, leading to three deaths and 23 injuries. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also reported “a rise in the number of reports of attacks on humanitarian workers and medical services” during the year, and in its most recent appeal, the ICRC noted that health facilities were closed, operating at limited capacity, or were damaged or looted during fighting.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press, the government did not always respect these rights. The law allows criminal prosecutions for defamation of public officials (see Libel/Slander Laws below).

Freedom of Expression: Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. Public political debates known as patara were broadcast on private radio stations in Bangui and in most provincial capitals. In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, with some restrictions. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were alternatives to state-owned radio stations. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka militias, the CPC, and Wagner Group elements. International media broadcast within the country. The High Commission for Communication is the regulatory body in charge of controlling the content of information broadcast or published in media. Opposition political candidates alleged that state-owned media favored the administration during the presidential election campaign. The government monopolized domestic television and national radio station broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government opinion.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: After the January 21 decree establishing the state of emergency, on February 16, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications blocked access to two online newspapers, corbeaunews-centrafrique.com and letsunami.net. Both were accused of disseminating hate speech, disinformation, and fake news on social media. According to Reporters Without Borders, although the ministry did not cite specific reporting in its ban, both Corbeau News publisher Alain Nzilo and Le Tsunami publisher Edouard Yamalet claimed that their online publications were banned because of their coverage of abuses by Russian Wagner Group elements.

Libel/Slander Laws: On May 25, the Court of Justice of Bangui sentenced Jean Serge Wafio in absentia to four years’ imprisonment on allegations of defamation, outrage, and public insults against then prime minister Firmin Ngrebada. In addition, the Court ordered Wafio to pay five million CFA francs ($9,090) in damages to Ngrebada and 300,000 CFA francs ($545) in court costs. Wafio is president of the Central African Democratic Party and resided in France. In an April 9 statement on social media, Wafio accused then prime minister Ngrebada of attempting to kill political opponents, including Simplice Mathieu Sarandji of the United Hearts Movement (MCU), by poisoning. Sarandji was former prime minister Ngrebada’s predecessor. According to Maitre Zoumalde, Ngrebada’s lawyer, the court also issued an arrest warrant against Wafio, prohibiting him from exercising his civil and political rights, including eligibility to serve in public office for the next 10 years. Wafio is subject to enforcement of this warrant at any point he reenters the country. Many observers considered the ruling politically motivated. In another case journalist Landry Ulrich Nguema Ngokpele was arrested in June, pursuant to a complaint filed by local NGO president Harouna Douamba. The complaint cites a 2018 article by Ngokpele’s publication, Le Quotidien de Bangui, alleging that Douamba had swindled government authorities. Ngokpele was released in June after an outcry from civil society but later arrested again on national security charges for alleged connections to the CPC armed group.

Nongovernmental Impact: In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Internet Freedom

In one case the government restricted online content (see above Censorship and Content Restrictions). There were no credible reports that the government otherwise monitored or restricted private online communications.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports that the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

During the year the government denied several requests to protest from civil society groups, including E Zingo Biani, citing insecurity in Bangui, and subsequently dispersed demonstrators. The government tolerated demonstrations by groups closer to the regime. For instance, in May several thousand persons, mostly from groups associated with President Touadera’s MCU party, marched across Bangui to denounce Special Representative of the Secretary General Mankeur Ndiaye’s statements regarding the solution to the country’s crisis being primarily diplomatic, and not military, during an interview with Radio France International. Security forces did not stop them.

Freedom of Association

A law prohibiting unregistered organizations from organizing for purposes of political advocacy remained in place. All political organizations in the country must register with the Ministry of Administration.

The constitution grants the rights to freedom of association to nationals and foreigners, including the rights to establish NGOs, political parties, or religious groups. The law defines NGOs as associations having nondiscriminatory, apolitical, and nonprofit purposes, which aim to carry out activities of public interest that contribute to the achievement of development objectives. Political parties are organizations that prepare candidates to compete in elections.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not always respect these rights.

In-country Movement: Armed groups, criminals, and Russian elements from the Wagner Group made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, Wagner Group elements, armed groups, and criminals frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds. Additionally, due to the significant number of police, gendarme, customs, FACA, and armed group checkpoints, it was difficult to move freely between Bangui and provincial cities. There were reports that members of the Peuhl ethnic group were singled out for particularly abusive treatment and heightened scrutiny at many checkpoints.

Foreign Travel: Between March and May, the Bangui prosecutor issued travel bans on opposition leaders, Anicet-Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, Karim Meckassoua, and Aurelien Simplice Zingas. Border police executed the decision, preventing three from boarding flights at Bangui International Airport between March and June. Zingas challenged the decision before the Bangui Administrative Court. On May 25, in its ruling at first instance, the court ordered the lifting of the measures and restitution of his travel documents.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

As of October OCHA noted there were 722,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country due to the armed conflict. Humanitarian actors aided IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of refugees. The government worked with the United Nations and the broader humanitarian community on safe, voluntary return of the country’s IDPs and refugees through a durable solutions working group. The government adopted and followed humanitarian principles for returnees. While there were no reports of forced returns, there were reports of forced evictions, such as a June eviction in Bambari (see below). There were multiple reports of instances in which government forces and Wagner Group elements also obstructed humanitarian organizations from providing services to civilians, including the displaced. Since April security incidents involving explosive devices in the western part of the country resulted in deaths of civilians and humanitarian workers and disrupted humanitarian access, prompting UN agencies and humanitarian actors to restrict movements. Even after reaching safe locations, IDPs frequently risked assault by criminals, including those associated with armed groups, when venturing outside of camps. Women and girls were often at risk of sexual violence in and outside IDP sites. In many affected areas, poor access and insecurity limited humanitarian assistance. From June to August humanitarian international NGOs had limited access to populations south of the town of Alindao due to military operations. When operations subsided in September, international NGOs were able to serve the affected populations. The presence of armed groups also delayed or obstructed humanitarian activities. OCHA reported that more than 8,500 individuals residing in an IDP site in the central town of Bambari, most of them ethnic Peuhl, were forcefully displaced by armed elements on June 4. MINUSCA’s human rights division reported that FACA and Wagner Group elements were responsible. Two days later the site was set afire in circumstances that remained to be clarified. With extremely limited capacity, the government relied on MINUSCA to provide protection and humanitarian actors to provide multisector services to IDPs. Humanitarian organizations remained concerned that armed group members continued to hide in IDP sites, carrying out recruitment activities and putting IDPs and humanitarian staff at risk. Violence increased humanitarian needs, which exceeded existing capacities. OCHA estimated that 2.8 million of the country’s approximately five million inhabitants required humanitarian assistance and protection. Security concerns related to criminality, as well as armed group, FACA, and Russian Wagner Group activity prevented aid organizations from operating in some areas, particularly in the northwest.

f. Protection of Refugees

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, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: Internal conflicts made it difficult for the country to routinely provide security and protection for persons within its borders. The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals who had fled their countries of origin and had prior criminal records, however, were immediately repatriated.

Durable Solutions: UNHCR restarted voluntary repatriations of refugees from the country living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many of whom fled across the Oubangui River during violence in 2013. An initial group of 250 was welcomed back at Bangui’s Port Amont during an October 22 ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Henri Dondra.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Refugees who returned to the country after voter registration was closed and the estimated 200,000 potential voters still outside the country were denied the right to participate in the December 2020 presidential and legislative elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In many areas of the country, before and during late December 2020 presidential and legislative elections, armed groups interfered with voter registration and the distribution of election materials. On election day threats and violence by armed groups prevented citizens from voting in 26 of 68 voting districts and interrupted voting in six others. It was unclear precisely how many registered voters were prevented from voting because of armed group interference with electoral processes. Most of the violence committed around the elections was committed by CPC-affiliated armed groups. There were no reports of government security actors attempting to interfere with the election or prevent individuals from voting. The government did not attempt to restrict eligible voters from registering, but armed groups interfered with registration.

International and NGO observers reported high voter turnout in Bangui. Some media reported that threats of violence suppressed turnout in many other areas. NGO observers reported some irregularities in polling places that were able to open, particularly a lack of indelible ink and legislative ballots at certain sites. They also reported that some voters who did not have voter identification cards were allowed to vote with a certificate from the National Elections Authority. Some candidates and opposition leaders, including Anicet Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, and Mahamat Kamoun, alleged there were cases of election fraud. A local elections NGO, the National Observatory of Elections, concluded that observed irregularities did not undermine the overall credibility of the elections. The African Union observation mission reported that voting in Bangui conformed to the country’s electoral code and international standards. Election results were announced in early January.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. UN Women, however, assessed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited women’s ability to participate in political life on an equal basis with men. Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons prevented them from effectively advocating for their interests in the political sphere (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). The law requires that in all public and private institutions, 35 percent of seats should be reserved for women. This provision was not observed. Seven of 32 ministers in President Touadera’s cabinet were women, a 5 percent increase over his previous cabinet, but still short of the law’s requirements. Political parties likewise did not reach 35 percent gender parity in their slates of candidates during the 2020 parliamentary elections. There were 17 women among the 133 members of the National Assembly, a 5 percent increase over the previous legislature. The law prohibits gender discrimination and provides for an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance. As of year’s end the National Observatory had not been established.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not effectively implement the law, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government. Weak government capacity further limited attempts to address fully the problem of public-sector corruption. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption and bribery remained widespread. In April, President Touadera signed a decree dismissing Regis Lionel Privat Dounda, minister of youth and sports. Dounda was allegedly implicated, according to a report by the State’s General Inspectorate, in a corruption affair with a Cameroonian oil company.

Laws and procedures for awarding natural resource extraction contracts and ensuring that information on those processes remain transparent were not followed. The Constitutional Court also asked that the government disclose mining concessions terms. The government did not respond. The government’s oversight body, the High Authority for Good Governance, is not authorized to proceed with investigations without prior authorization from the president and the prime minister.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights abuses and violations of law. Government officials were typically cooperative and responsive.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country’s independent National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties has the authority to investigate complaints, including the power to call witnesses and subpoena documents. In March the commission investigated living conditions in Ngaragba Prison and the M’Baiki Prison. The commission publicized its findings in the local press.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of physical and sexual violence, as well as sexual exploitation. The law prohibits rape of all persons regardless of gender, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual slavery of women and girls by several armed rebel groups continued to threaten security, as did the use of sexual violence as a deliberate tactic of conflict. Attackers enjoyed broad impunity.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison and prohibits all forms of violence against women. Domestic violence against women was common, including physical and verbal abuse and spousal rape. There were no reports of prosecutions during the year for domestic violence, although many courts did not operate for much of the year due to instability throughout the country. According to UNICEF’s 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), nearly 45 percent of women suffered physical violence from their husbands or relatives; 52 percent suffered verbal abuse, and 32 percent were raped.

Women and girls were particularly affected by high rates of conflict-related sexual violence. Decades of unrest and harmful traditions and cultural practices in the country exacerbated gender-based violence, in particular rape, forced marriage, and domestic violence. Survivors of sexual violence were discriminated against, and the government was unable to provide adequate care, including health and social services, to survivors. Sexual violence committed by armed actors increased the risk of spreading HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. In Bangui, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) observed a significant increase in cases of conflict-related sexual violence; the number of consultations linked to such attacks in its Bangui-based Tongolo center rose from 173 in December 2020 to 421 in February. Local NGOs like the National Association for the Support of Free Women and Girls Victims of Sexual Violence in Situations of Distress, the Flamboyants, and the Nengo (“Dignity” in the country’s predominant Sango language) Project assisted victims of sexual violence.

Increased instances of sexual violence corresponded to rising armed group activity and clashes between CPC rebels and the FACA after December 2020. Between January and June, MINUSCA’s human rights office documented 131 incidents of sexual violence connected to the conflict, including 115 rapes. Of these, 19 cases involved government security forces and Wagner Group elements, while 112 involved CPC rebels. For example during the electoral period, 3R and Anti-balaka rebels seized control of Bouar town in Nana-Mambere Prefecture. MINUSCA recorded 21 cases of rape pursuant to this single incident.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls and establishes penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine. When FGM/C results in the death of the victim, sentences can reach life terms with hard labor and a substantial monetary fine.

Nearly one-quarter of girls and women were subjected to FGM/C, with variations according to ethnicity and region. One percent of girls ages 10 to 14 were mutilated. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice appeared to be decreasing, according to 2018 data, the most recent available. Information on what may be causing this trend was unavailable.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government did not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime. In August the National Assembly passed a law on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The most recent available data on reproductive health is based on 2019 surveys. According to UNICEF’s 2018-2019 MICS Findings Report, 82 percent of women, and 89 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 years did not use contraception. Individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children. The law authorizes abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape. The MICS 2010 survey indicated that the abortion rate was 7 percent among women ages 15 to 45.

The maternal mortality rate was 829 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. The major factor contributing to the high maternal death rate was the lack of access to adequate health care. According to 2019 data from the Ministry of Health, the most recent available, there were 873 health-care establishments in the country, of which approximately 52 were hospitals. Of these, 50 percent were small, often rural doctor’s offices, and 44 percent were clinics. Most health-care establishments received medicine, supplies, and other support from humanitarian organizations including UN organizations, the ICRC, and Doctors Without Borders.

Only 19 percent of women reported receiving prenatal care for their last pregnancy (MICS 2018-2019). The birth rate was high at 6.4 per woman (MICS 2018-2019) and 43 percent of women reported having a child before age 18 (MICS 2018-2019). Lacking sexual and reproductive education contributed to early pregnancy among girls, which was more prevalent in rural than in urban areas (MICS 2010). Only 53 percent of births in 2006 were attended by qualified health personnel (83 percent in urban areas, 35 percent in rural areas). Data from the 2018-2019 MICS survey indicated that the infant mortality rate was 100 per 1,000 live births, and 53 percent of deliveries were assisted.

The government worked closely with the International Organization for Migration and MINUSCA to train and deploy the Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Repression of Sexual Violence to Women and Children (UMIRR). UMIRR opened a new office in Bouar in September to reach victims of sexual violence in the country’s northwestern region. Emergency contraception was not widely available to women as a part of the country’s clinical management of rape. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.)

Menstrual health and hygiene issues severely impacted girls’ ability to attend school. Socioeconomic barriers, rather than explicit policies, often prevented pregnant girls from attending school.

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

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Nomadic Peuhl pastoralists were often the victims of violence. Their cattle wealth made them frequent targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the northern and northwestern parts of the country. Peuhl were often perceived as foreign because of their transnational migratory patterns. They were also associated with CPC-affiliated armed groups that claimed to represent Peuhl interests. Ethnic killings often occurred in relation to transhumance movements, a major source of livelihood for Peuhl. In recent years some Peuhl pastoralists armed themselves against attacks from farmers objecting to the presence of their grazing cattle. Transhumance movements brought Muslim Fulani/Peuhl herders, Muslim, and Christian farming communities into conflict, which waned during the rainy season and increased as cattle movements resume during the dry season.

Intercommunal clashes also took place in June between Peul herders and local farmers in the Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture, in the village of Tiri, near N’dele. The government took no action to prosecute or investigate these killings and many others, in view of the ongoing conflict in the country.

Peuhl community leaders reported that FACA and Wagner Group elements indiscriminately targeted Peuhl civilians during military operations against the 3R rebels in the western part of the country. International community sources assessed that the government’s moving 8,000 majority-Peuhl IDPs from a site in Bambari in June was a case of forced displacement (see also section 1.e., Internally Displaced Persons).

Armed group conflict at times devolved into ethnic violence, such as the Goula/Rounga conflict in Birao. Throughout the year acts of violence were recorded between the Rounga and the Goula ethnic groups. Violence between the groups continued in Birao and spread to N’dele.

The government had no programs to address factors behind racial or ethnic biases.

Indigenous Peoples

Traditionally, forest dwelling Ba’Aka, including children, were often coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were used as slaves by members of other local ethnic groups. Even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far less than those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups. Some NGOs described the Ba’Aka as “second-class citizens.”

The vast majority of Ba’Aka did not have birth certificates and consequently could not register to be political candidates and vote. They often also had trouble registering for school. Ba’Aka, and Ba’Aka women in particular, frequently were exploited and coerced into servitude or working long hours for “in-kind” salaries of fabric or other household goods. Access to health care, particularly prenatal healthcare, was poor and many Ba’Aka women gave birth in the forest instead of in clinics and other medical facilities. A local Human Rights Center, cosponsored by the World Wildlife Fund employed one lawyer who assisted the Ba’Aka with legal cases. To date, three persons were found guilty of exploiting Ba’Aka labor.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration was less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately for many reasons including a registration deadline of one month, registration costs, or distances to government facilities. Many citizens’ birth certificates and civil status documents were lost during the conflict. Unregistered children were at times unable to access education and other social services. During the year NGOs assisted with documentation activities. In July the Norwegian Refugee Council held mobile hearings with courts in the town of Alindao to issue birth certificates to children in need. The initiative provided more than 3,000 children between the ages of six and 13 with identity documents.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six to 15. Tuition is free, but students pay for books, supplies, and transportation. Few indigenous Ba’Aka children attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to incre