Executive Summary

Kenya is a republic with three branches of government: an executive branch, led by a directly elected president; a bicameral parliament consisting of the Senate and National Assembly; and a judiciary. In the 2017 general elections, the second under the 2010 constitution, citizens cast ballots for president, deputy president, and parliamentarians, as well as county governors and legislators. International and domestic observers judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups and the opposition alleged there were irregularities. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared Jubilee Coalition Party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta had won re-election as president over opposition candidate Raila Odinga. The Supreme Court subsequently annulled the results for president and deputy president, citing irregularities, and the court ordered a new vote for president and deputy president that the opposition boycotted. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared President Kenyatta winner of the new vote, and the Supreme Court upheld the results.

The National Police Service maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. The National Intelligence Service collects intelligence both internally and externally and reports directly to the president. The Kenya Defense Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and are responsible for external security but have some domestic security responsibilities, including border security and supporting civilian organizations in the maintenance of order, including post disaster response. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or on behalf of the government and by the terrorist group al-Shabaab; forced disappearances by the government or on behalf of the government and by al-Shabaab; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; arbitrary interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations and activists; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

Impunity at all levels of government continued to be a serious problem. The governmental Independent Policing Oversight Authority, established to provide civilian oversight of police, investigated numerous cases of misconduct. The government took limited and uneven steps to address cases of alleged unlawful killings by security force members, although the Independent Policing Oversight Authority continued to refer cases of police misconduct to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution. Impunity in cases of alleged corruption was also common.

Al-Shabaab staged deadly attacks on isolated communities along the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. The government continued to prioritize investigations and prosecutions of terrorist activities. Human rights groups alleged security forces committed abuses, including extrajudicial killings, while conducting counterterrorism operations.

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, particularly of known or suspected criminals, including terrorists. Between July 2020 and June 30, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) received 188 complaints regarding deaths resulting from police actions or inactions, compared with 161 in the prior year (see section 5). The Missing Voices website, founded by a group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to track police killings and disappearances, documented 168 cases of killings and 33 suspected enforced disappearances during the year.

Some groups alleged authorities significantly underestimated the number of extrajudicial killings by security forces, including due to underreporting of such killings in informal settlements, particularly in dense urban areas. Media reports and NGOs attributed many human rights abuses to counterterrorism operations in Nairobi and the northeast counties of Mandera, Garissa, and Wajir bordering Somalia, as well as along the coast. Human rights groups reported these abuses targeted Muslims, especially ethnic Somalis. During the year the NGO HAKI Africa and its partners alleged suspected security force members killed 18 persons, including many ethnic Somalis, in the coastal region. HAKI reported extremists and criminal groups killed six individuals in the six coastal counties. In the Nairobi metropolitan area, HAKI alleged police killed 19 persons.

The Police Reforms Working Group, a collection of NGOs, called on the government to investigate the April 29 killing of a young man known as Collins, who lived in Nairobi’s Marathe informal settlement. NGOs claimed a police officer killed Collins because he was a witness to a separate extrajudicial killing.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights investigated a May incident in which prison guards beat to death a prisoner. Police investigated the killing, and prison officials involved were charged with murder. Other prisoners who witnessed the killing claimed they were intimidated not to testify. The commission also investigated these allegations and successfully advocated for the witnesses’ transfer to another prison. As of November the original murder case was pending in court.

Media reported police killed 38-year-old John Kiiru, who was out past curfew on August 18 in Nairobi’s Kayole neighborhood. Police reportedly shot teargas to disperse protests that broke out the next day in response to the killing. IPOA was investigating Kiiru’s death.

In March 2020 the government began enforcing a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew and other measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. The government lifted the curfew in October. Media and human rights groups reported police used excessive and arbitrary force to enforce these measures, which led to deaths and injuries. As of October 4, IPOA stated it received 103 complaints of police misconduct while enforcing the curfew, involving 23 deaths and 80 injuries from shootings, assaults, and inhuman treatment since the start of the pandemic. Through September 23, the NGO Independent Medico-Legal Unit reported 17 cases of police brutality related to alleged violations of pandemic mitigation protocols. For example, on August 1, police officers in Embu County allegedly killed two brothers for reportedly violating curfew. IPOA launched an investigation on August 4 and recommended murder charges against six police officers. As of year’s end, the case remained in court. Separately, police officer Duncan Ndiema Ndie continued to face a murder charge in the death of 13-year-old Yassin Moyo, who was shot and killed on the balcony of his family’s home in March 2020. As of year’s end, this case also was still in court. Between January and August, the Social Justice Centres Working Group recorded 20 deaths in informal settlements from shootings, beatings, and other violence related to enforcement of COVID-19 measures.

Al-Shabaab terrorists continued to conduct deadly attacks in areas close to the border with Somalia, targeting both security forces and civilians. On May 3, two government contractors working on a border security project died when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device planted by al-Shabaab extremists in Lamu County. Al-Shabaab militants attacked two cell phone towers on May 12 in Mandera and Wajir Counties, killing three police reservists.

Police failed to prevent vigilante violence in numerous instances but in other cases played a protective role (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination).

b. Disappearance

Observers and NGOs alleged members of the security forces and extremist groups were culpable of forced disappearances. Human rights groups noted many unlawful killings first materialized as enforced disappearances. The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported that in early April 2020 an activist from Kiamaiko Social Justice Centre and two companions disappeared. Their car was later found abandoned, but authorities found no trace of the men, and a criminal investigation remained pending. HAKI alleged security forces conducted 13 enforced disappearances in the coastal region and four in the Nairobi metropolitan area from January to August. In September four unidentified men reportedly abducted Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdusamad, a well-known ethnic Somali scholar, in downtown Nairobi during daylight hours. NGOs expressed concern he had been taken by security forces. Abdiwahab was reunited with his family two weeks later.

In August, NGOs again commemorated the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances and called on the government to enact a comprehensive law on enforced disappearances and investigate disappearances allegedly committed by security force members.

Media also reported on families on the coast and in northeastern counties searching for relatives who disappeared following arrest and of authorities holding individuals incommunicado for interrogation for several weeks or longer (see section 1.d.). HAKI reported authorities in Garissa County found 11 unidentified bodies in the Tana River from June to September. HAKI confirmed that some of the bodies had signs of torture, including hands tied with rope and large stones tied to the bodies.

Al-Shabaab and other extremist groups reportedly continued to abduct civilians in areas bordering Somalia. In August al-Shabaab militants abducted a local government official in Mandera County, whose whereabouts were unknown.

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

The law includes provisions to apply articles of the constitution, including freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; respect and protection of human dignity; and freedom and security of the person. The law brings all state agencies and officials under one rather than multiple legislative mandates. Additionally, the law provides protections to vulnerable witnesses and officials who refuse to obey illegal orders that would lead to torture. The law also provides a basis to prosecute torture but was rarely used. The government had not instituted the regulations required to implement fully the law’s provisions.

NGOs continued to receive reports of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment by government forces. As of December 21, the Independent Medico-Legal Unit documented 109 cases of torture and other inhuman treatment allegedly perpetrated by police during the year.

Police and prison officials reportedly used torture and violence during interrogations as well as to punish pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners. According to human rights NGOs, physical battery, bondage in painful positions, and electric shock were the most common methods used by police. A range of human rights organizations and media reported police committed indiscriminate violence with impunity.

Police used excessive force in some cases when making arrests. For example, there were numerous press and NGO reports of police brutality against protesters and unarmed citizens (see sections 2 and 5), particularly related to the enforcement of COVID-19 public health measures.

The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported police violence was especially prevalent in informal settlements. The most prevalent form of violence was beatings to disperse traders and other persons in markets after curfew. Monitors also documented incidents involving use of live ammunition, tear gas, sexual violence, and property damage.

In July 2020 four police officers assaulted Nairobi Member of County Assembly Patricia Mutheu at Nairobi’s City Hall. Video of the incident received significant coverage in traditional and social media. IPOA investigated the incident and forwarded recommendations to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP), which by year’s end had not announced whether it would charge the officers involved.

Impunity remained a serious problem. Authorities investigated and prosecuted several police officers for committing killings, which resulted in one new murder conviction during the year. Four additional police officers were convicted of manslaughter and sexual assault. In February the Gatundu Law Courts sentenced Constable Paul Kipkoech Rotich to 40 years in prison for sexual offenses against a minor. In February the Busia Law Courts sentenced Constable James Kinyua to 10 years’ imprisonment for raping a high school student. In June the Garissa High Court convicted Officers Dennis Langat and Kennedy Okuli of manslaughter in the death of a woman whose son was accused of possessing and selling marijuana. As of November, Langat and Okuli were awaiting sentencing. In July the Naivasha High Court sentenced Constable Evans Maliachi to 20 years in prison for the 2016 murder of a fisherman in Naivasha.

Since its inception in 2012, IPOA has investigated 887 deaths allegedly caused by police. These investigations have led to nine murder convictions. Additionally, IPOA conducted investigations that led to four additional convictions for crimes such as attempted murder and rape, for a total of 13 police officer convictions since 2012.

Human rights groups also noted the government failed to provide compensation and redress to families of victims. In September 2020 several human rights groups filed a suit against the government on behalf of victims of police brutality, including Yassin Moyo, to seek compensation for deaths and injuries resulting from police abuses during the enforcement of COVID-19 measures. The petition, which remained pending in court, also called on the government to implement laws intended to address human rights violations and protect victims.

Victims of police abuse may file complaints at regional police stations, police headquarters through the Internal Affairs Unit and its hotline, and through the IPOA website and hotline (see section 5). IPOA investigated allegations of excessive force that led to serious injuries, but few led to prosecutions. Police officials at times resisted investigations and detained some human rights activists who publicly registered complaints against government abuses. Authorities sometimes attributed the failure to investigate a case of police corruption or violence, including unlawful killings, to the failure of victims to file official complaints. Human rights activists reported that at times police officers in charge of taking complaints at the local level were the same ones who committed abuses. Sometimes police turned away victims who sought to file complaints at police stations where alleged police misconduct originated, directing them instead to other area stations. This created a deterrent effect on reporting complaints against police. Human rights NGOs reported police used disciplinary transfers of officers to hide their identities and frustrate investigations into their alleged crimes. Many media and civil society investigations into police abuse ended after authorities transferred officers, and police failed to provide any information about their identities or whereabouts.

The National Police Service continued efforts launched in August 2020 to digitize records held at police stations on incidents and complaints. Government officials stated one of the aims of the program was to reduce opportunities for police to alter or delete records and increase accountability.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Human rights organizations reported prison, detention center, and police station conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, food and water shortages, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: In February the National Council on the Administration of Justice (NCAJ) reported the average daily prisoner population for 2019-20 was 41,500, of which more than 15,000 were pretrial detainees. The NCAJ reported authorities had released approximately 14,000 prisoners since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce overcrowding. Authorities also continued a prison decongestion program that entailed releasing petty offenders and encouraging the judiciary to increase use of a community service program in its sentencing. Although several new prisons were constructed since 2012, the average prisoner population remained nearly 200 percent of capacity, including a large population of pretrial detainees; some prisons held up to 400 percent of capacity. Six new women’s prisons were added since 2018 to ease congestion in facilities for women.

During the year the judiciary took steps to address overcrowding by developing alternatives to pretrial detention and promoting sentence reduction, including through the expanded use of plea bargaining.

Authorities generally separated minors from adults except during the initial detention period at police stations, when authorities often held male and female adults and minors in a single cell. Several counties lacked adequate facilities to hold minors and women apart from men in courts and police stations. According to IPOA, 73 percent of police facilities had separate cells for women, 18 percent had separate cells for female juveniles, and 41 percent had separate cells for male juveniles. IPOA reported some police facilities used offices and corridors as holding places for minors and that some facilities had converted cells into storage and office space due to space constraints. According to the prison commissioner, the Prisons Service included four correction facilities for minors. Prison officials reported that, because there were few correction facilities for minors, authorities often had to transport them long distances to serve their sentences, spending nights at police stations under varying conditions along the way.

The law allows children to stay with their mothers in certain circumstances until age four or until arrangements for their care outside the facilities are concluded, whichever is earlier.

Prisoners generally received three meals a day, but portions were inadequate. Access to water improved slightly overall, although provision of drinking water declined at some facilities. Prisoners generally spent most of their time indoors in inadequately lit and poorly ventilated cellblocks.

In September the Ministry of Interior began mass COVID-19 vaccination of the prison population and staff to facilitate resumption of family visitations and in-person trials for pretrial detainees. The prison commissioner reported, however, the prison system continued to face serious health and welfare problems due to communicable diseases such as tuberculosis. NGOs reported that women inmates sometimes performed unpaid labor, including cooking, laundry, and cleaning.

Administration: The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights reported improved access to prisons and detention facilities to monitor human rights standards. The Commission on the Administration of Justice serves as ombudsman over government administration of prisons. It receives confidential correspondence from inmates and recommends remedies to address their concerns, including those pertaining to prison living conditions and administration. Many government-designated human rights officers lacked necessary training, and some prisons did not have a human rights officer.

Prison officials sometimes denied prisoners and detainees the right to contact relatives or lawyers. Family members who wanted to visit prisoners commonly reported bureaucratic obstacles that generally required a bribe to resolve. NGOs reported prisoners had reasonable access to legal counsel and other official visitors, although there was insufficient space in many prisons and jails to meet with visitors in private and conduct confidential conversations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent nongovernmental observers and foreign diplomats.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arrest or detention without a court order unless there are reasonable grounds for believing a suspect has committed or is about to commit a criminal offense. Police, however, arrested and detained persons arbitrarily, accused them of a crime to mask underlying police abuses, or accused them of more severe crimes than they had committed. For example, legal rights NGOs and prison officials reported overuse of the charge of “robbery with violence” that may carry a life sentence, even when violence or threats of violence were insignificant. Some petty offenders consequently received disproportionately heavy sentences.

Poor casework, incompetence, and corruption among police, prosecutors, and judges undermined prosecutions. Police also frequently failed to enter detainees into custody records, making it difficult to locate them. Dispute resolution at police stations resolved a significant number of crimes, but authorities did not report or record them, according to human rights organizations.

NGOs reported arbitrary arrests and detention of activists, journalists, and bloggers during the year. The Defenders Coalition said it had provided support, including legal representation and bail, to 79 activists who had been arrested or detained through September. Most activists were released within short periods, usually less than 24 hours, and in most cases prosecutors either declined to press charges or courts dismissed the cases. The NGO Article 19 recorded 51 attacks against journalists, including online communicators, between May 2020 and April.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides police with broad powers of arrest. Police officers may make arrests without a warrant if they suspect a crime occurred, is happening, or is imminent. Victims’ rights NGOs reported that in some cases authorities required victims to pay bribes and to provide transportation for police to a suspect’s location to execute a legal arrest warrant.

The constitution’s bill of rights provides significant ‎legal protections, including provisions requiring arrested persons to be arraigned, charged, informed of the reason for continuing their detention, or released within 24 hours of their arrest as well as provisions requiring the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus to allow a court to determine the lawfulness of detention. In many cases, however, authorities did not follow the prescribed time limits. While authorities in many cases released detainees held longer than the prescribed period, some cases did not result in an acquittal, and authorities provided no compensation for time served in pretrial detention.

The constitution establishes the right of suspects to bail unless there are compelling reasons militating against release. There is a functioning bail system, and all suspects, including those accused of capital offenses, are eligible for bail. Many suspects remained in jail for months pending trial because of their inability to post bail. Due to overcrowding in prisons, courts rarely denied bail to individuals who could pay it, even when the circumstances warranted denial. For example, NGOs that worked with survivors of sexual assault complained authorities granted bail to suspects even in cases in which there was evidence they posed a continuing threat to survivors.

Although the law provides pretrial detainees with the right to access family members and attorneys, family members of detainees frequently complained authorities permitted access only upon payment of bribes. When detainees could afford counsel, police generally permitted access to attorneys.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Victims of arbitrary arrest were generally poor young men, particularly those living in informal settlements. Human rights organizations complained security forces made widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions during counterterrorism operations. These arrests reportedly targeted Muslim citizens, including ethnic Somalis.

The Social Justice Centres Working Group reported arrests continued in informal settlements during the pandemic for noncompliance with the curfew or failure to wear masks. Individuals were asked to pay cash bail or a bribe to be released. The NCAJ directed that, during the COVID-19 period, petty offenders should not be held at police stations for more than 24 hours and should be released either on cash bail or on free police bond.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem and contributed significantly to prison overcrowding. In 2020 approximately 40 percent of total inmates were pretrial detainees. Authorities held some defendants in pretrial detention longer than the statutory maximum term of imprisonment for the crime for which they were charged. The government claimed the average time spent in pretrial detention was 14 days, but there were reports many detainees spent two to three years in prison before their trials were completed. Police from the arresting locale were responsible for bringing detainees from prison to court when hearings are scheduled but often failed to do so, forcing detainees to wait for the next hearing of their case (see section 1.e.).

During the year courts procured new equipment to increase access to virtual proceedings. In-person hearings and trials resumed partially, despite many court facilities having limited capacity to fully comply with the government’s COVID-19 restrictions. In March, for example, Milimani Court’s Family Division closed temporarily following an outbreak of COVID-19 among staff members.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law entitles persons arrested or detained to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but that right was not always protected.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, although the government did not always respect judicial impartiality. The government sometimes undermined the independence of the judiciary and at times did not respect court orders, but the outcomes of trials did not appear to be predetermined.

The Judicial Service Commission, a constitutionally mandated oversight body intended to insulate the judiciary from political pressure, provides the president with a list of nominees for judicial appointment. The president selects one of the nominees for parliamentary approval. The president appoints the chief justice and appellate and High Court judges through this process. The commission publicly reviews judicial appointees. In May the president appointed 34 judges but declined to appoint six of the commission’s nominees. The chief justice called on the president to appoint the remaining six nominees.

In November the judiciary issued the State of the Judiciary and the Administration of Justice Report for 2020-2021, which noted that the number of pending cases continued to grow, expanding by 5 percent compared with the prior year to more than 649,000 cases, primarily due to the adverse effects of the pandemic on court operations. The number of severely backlogged cases pending for more than five years fell from 35,359 to 34,648, continuing a downward trend.

The constitution gives the judiciary authority to review appointments and decisions made by other branches of government. Parliament generally adhered to judicial decisions, with some exceptions. In September 2020 the chief justice advised the president to dissolve parliament for its failure to adhere to four prior court orders directing the legislature to implement constitutional provisions mandating that no more than two-thirds of elected and appointed positions be persons of the same gender. A court suspended the chief justice’s advice pending a hearing by a judicial panel, and the hearing remained pending at year’s end.

Witness harassment and fear of retaliation severely inhibited the investigation and prosecution of major crimes. For example, in March an official from the National Land Commission was killed days before she was scheduled to testify in a fraud case involving 18 government officials, including a member of parliament and a former principal secretary. In May authorities charged one person not directly connected to the fraud case with murder. The Witness Protection Agency was underfunded, and doubts about its independence were widespread. Nevertheless, the Witness Protection Agency continued to work closely with IPOA and other investigative bodies to provide security for witnesses and victims.

The law provides for qadi courts that adjudicate Muslim law on marriage, divorce, and inheritance among Muslims. There are no other traditional courts. The national courts use the traditional law of an ethnic group as a guide in personal matters, if it does not conflict with statutory law.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, although vulnerable individuals may give some testimony in closed session; the independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to attend their trials, confront witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence in their defense. The law also provides defendants the right to receive prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary, including during trials; to be tried without undue delay; to have access to government-held evidence; to be represented by an attorney of their choice or to have one appointed at the state’s expense if substantial injustice would otherwise result; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and if convicted, to appeal to or apply for review by a higher court. Authorities generally respected these rights, although they did not always promptly inform persons of the charges against them.

The NCAJ and the ODPP continued efforts to disseminate speedy case resolution techniques to reduce case backlog and ease prison congestion. In July 2020 the ODPP published decision to charge guidelines, which encourage use of plea bargaining and diversion to resolve cases. It also continued to educate prosecutors, judges, court user committees, civil society members, and others on the role of speedy resolution mechanisms in enhancing efficiency. In July the ODPP conducted decision to charge training for 54 prosecutors in the Coast region.

Authorities generally respected a defendant’s right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants generally had adequate time to prepare a defense. The government and courts generally respected these rights. There was no government-sponsored public defenders service, and courts continued to try most defendants without representation because they could not afford legal counsel.

By government order the judiciary continued to suspend all but urgent operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020 the judiciary commenced virtual court sessions. NGOs, including the Legal Resources Foundation and Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya, provided computers and internet connectivity to enable remandees to connect with courts virtually. Most litigants, however, did not have the ability to participate in the virtual court sessions, and many cases could not proceed to trial because witnesses lacked the ability to connect with the courts virtually.

The National Legal Aid Service facilitates access to justice, with the goal of providing pro bono services for indigent defendants who cannot afford legal representation. Other pro bono legal aid was available only in major cities where some human rights organizations, notably the NGO Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya provided services. The Prisons Service collaborated with various paralegal organizations such as Kituo Cha Sheria and Legal Resources Foundation Trust to establish justice centers within prisons to facilitate delivery of legal aid. Pretrial detainees also received instructions on how to self-represent in court. Government-established special committees, which included paralegals and prison officials, also served to increase prisoners’ access to the judicial system. NGOs noted no single system provides “primary justice” to prisoners and detainees, who instead relied on a patchwork of services largely provided by NGOs.

Discovery laws are not clearly defined, handicapping defense lawyers. Implementation of a High Court ruling requiring provision of written statements to the defense before trial remained inconsistent. Defense lawyers often did not have access to government-held evidence before a trial. There were reports the government sometimes invoked the Official Secrets Act as a basis for withholding evidence.

Defendants may appeal a verdict to the High Court and ultimately to the Court of Appeal and, for some matters, to the Supreme Court.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may use the civil court system to seek damages for violations of human rights and may appeal decisions to the Supreme Court as well as to the African Court of Justice and Human Rights.

According to human rights NGOs, bribes, extortion, and political considerations influenced the outcomes in some civil cases. Court fees for filing and hearing civil cases effectively barred many from access to the courts. NGOs reported the government was slow to comply with court orders requiring compensation for victims of torture and other police abuses in some cases. Groups also reported victims relied on civil society organizations for rehabilitative services.

Property Seizure and Restitution

There is no established system for restitution or compensation for those declared to be squatters and ordered to vacate land. Both private and communal clashes were common because of land disputes. The government used forced eviction and demolition to regain what it claimed was illegally occupied public land. Reports of evictions continued despite a May 2020 government declaration of a moratorium on forced evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February the governmental Kenya Railways Corporation forcefully evicted 3,500 members of the Nubian community in Kisumu. One child reportedly died after being trapped under the rubble of razed homes. Human rights organizations claimed the evictions were carried out in violation of a presidential moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. In August the Environment and Land Court ruled the eviction was illegal and that victims could file civil suit against the Kenya Railways Corporation for compensation.

In April approximately 5,000 persons in Embu were forcefully evicted from a piece of land allegedly owned by the governmental Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority. Police arrested one member of parliament, who was protesting the evictions, and nine journalists covering the incident.

In August the Environment and Land Court barred the National Land Commission from evicting 1,000 squatters from Nairobi’s Mathare Mabatini informal settlement. The court ruled the commission’s commercial development plan was unlawful and violated the government’s policy of upgrading informal settlements.

In 2017 the African Union Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled in favor of the indigenous Ogiek community evicted in 2009 from the Mau Forest. The court ruled government actions had violated seven articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which the country is a signatory. The government-appointed task force established to implement the decision provided its final report to the cabinet secretary of the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry in January 2020 but did not release the report publicly. The government task force appointed in 2020 to review the Mau Forest boundaries did not make substantive progress during the year.

In March the Sengwer community appealed a 2020 ruling that dismissed petitions filed in 2013 and 2018 protesting evictions from Embobut Forest in Elgeyo Marakwet County. The court halted further evictions. In October the East African Court of Justice began hearing a case filed in 2018 against the government by victims of unlawful evictions from the Mau Forest seeking compensation.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, except “to promote public benefit,” but authorities sometimes infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. The law permits police to enter a home without a search warrant if the time required to obtain a warrant would prejudice an investigation. Although security officers generally obtained search warrants, they occasionally conducted searches without warrants during large-scale security sweeps to apprehend suspected criminals or to seize property believed stolen.

Human rights organizations reported police officers raided homes in informal settlements in Nairobi and communities in the coast region in search of suspected terrorists and weapons. The organizations documented numerous cases in which plainclothes police officers searched residences without a warrant, and household goods were confiscated when residents were unable to provide receipts of purchase on demand. Rights groups reported police in numerous locations broke into homes and businesses and extorted money from residents while enforcing measures to control the pandemic. The government continued efforts to implement the law that requires citizens to register their personal details, including biometrics, to receive a card with a unique identifier number required to access public services, widely known as a Huduma Namba card. By September the government had created 10.5 million cards, but only 7.3 million had been collected by citizens. In October the High Court declared the Huduma Namba system invalid because the government failed to conduct a data impact assessment prior to rolling out the new cards. Legal activists had challenged the Huduma Namba system on the grounds it lacked sufficient data protection safeguards.

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 sometimes restricted this right. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.

Freedom of Expression: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional the section of the penal code that criminalized “undermining the authority of a public officer,” ruling the provision violated the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Other provisions of the constitution and the law prohibiting hate speech and incitement to violence remained in force. The Judicial Service Commission, however, reported many cases were withdrawn due to failure of witnesses to appear in court or to facilitate mediation. Cases that did proceed often failed to meet evidentiary requirements.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government occasionally interpreted laws to restrict freedom of expression for members of the press, and officials occasionally accused international media of publishing stories and engaging in activities that could incite violence. Two laws give the government oversight of media by creating a complaints tribunal with expansive authority, including the power to revoke journalists’ credentials and levy debilitating fines. The government was media’s largest source of advertising revenue and regularly used this as a lever to influence media owners. Most news media continued to cover a wide variety of political and social issues, and most newspapers were free to publish opinion pieces criticizing the government.

Sixteen other laws restrict media operations and place restrictions on freedom of expression for members of the press. As of year’s end, the government had not issued regulations required to implement fully the 2016 Access to Information Act, which promotes government transparency, and civil society organizations reported government departments failed in some instances to disclose information.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists alleged security forces or supporters of politicians at the national and county levels sometimes harassed and physically intimidated or assaulted them. The government at times failed to investigate allegations of harassment, threats, and physical attacks on members of media or failed to provide victims access to information about their cases. The NGO Article 19 Eastern Africa reported there were 51 attacks against journalists between May 2020 and April, including nine female journalists, compared with 59 such incidents during the prior year. Attacks included threats, intimidation, online and offline harassment, invasion of media houses, and physical assaults resulting in some journalists seeking self-exile or engaging in self-censorship.

In March journalists Regina Wangui, Kigotho John Mwangi, Evans Asiba, and Elijah Cherutich sustained serious injuries from attacks by supporters of the United Democratic Alliance party while covering voting in a by-election at Milimani Primary School in Nakuru County. One of the victims of the incident told Article 19 Eastern Africa that despite filing a report at the Nakuru central police station, there was no evidence of an investigation into the attacks, and that police were unable to provide information on the status of the case.

In April police assaulted nine journalists in Embu County who were covering a story regarding the forceful eviction by police officers of families from contested land allegedly belonging to the Tana and Athi River Development Authority (TARDA). In May police again beat and arrested three journalists reporting on a demonstration by residents who opposed a land demarcation claimed by TARDA.

In April police officers beat and arrested Milele FM journalist David Omurunga for violating the COVID-19 curfew while walking home after work, although he presented his national identification card and official press card.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Mainstream media were generally independent, but there were reports by journalists that government officials pressured them to avoid certain topics and stories and intimidated them if officials judged they had already published or broadcast stories too critical of the government. There were also reports journalists were fired due to pressure from government officials seeking to sway editorial content. This caused some journalists to avoid covering issues or writing stories they believed their editors would reject due to direct or indirect government pressure. Journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government on sensitive subjects, such as the first family or assets owned by the Kenyatta family.

In April the director of criminal investigations (DCI) issued a summons to Royal Media Services journalists in response to the broadcast of a television expose on the sale and rental of firearms and other equipment from police officers. The DCI accused Royal Media Services of “abuse of media freedom” and called the program, which was shown on April 18, “a malicious attempt to discredit the National Police Service.”

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional a portion of the law that defined the offense of criminal defamation. Libel and slander remain civil offenses.

In August the cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government threatened to sue political strategist Dennis Itumbi for libel stemming from a series of tweets in which Itumbi accused the cabinet secretary of stealing land. The cabinet secretary threatened legal action if Itumbi did not issue an unconditional apology and retract the tweets.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association, the government sometimes restricted these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government sometimes restricted this right. Police routinely denied requests for meetings filed by human rights activists, and authorities dispersed persons attending meetings that had not been prohibited beforehand. Organizers must notify local police in advance of public meetings, which may proceed unless police notify organizers otherwise. By law authorities may prohibit gatherings only if there is another previously scheduled meeting at the same time and venue or if there is a perceived specific security threat. In March 2020 the government began enforcing government directives to stem the spread of COVID-19, including a curfew and restrictions on public gatherings.

Police used excessive force at times to disperse demonstrators. The local press reported on multiple occasions that police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators or crowds of various types. In May police used tear gas against protesters demonstrating against police brutality and COVID-19 lockdown measures. Police arrested at least one protester and reportedly shot a journalist twice with teargas cannisters.

The NGO Defenders Coalition recorded 31 arrests of human rights defenders through September, mostly for alleged violations of COVID-19 restrictions.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, but there were reports authorities arbitrarily denied this right in some cases. NGOs continued to express concerns regarding reprisals faced by numerous human rights defenders and communities. Reprisals reportedly took the form of intimidation, termination of employment, beatings, and arrests and threats of malicious prosecution. Human rights groups noted activists continued to face increased attacks in a climate of impunity (see section 5).

There were reports of restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including in the agribusiness and public sectors. Trade unionists reported workers were dismissed for joining trade unions or for demanding respect for their labor rights (see section 7.a.).

The law requires every public association be either registered or exempted from registration by the registrar of societies. The law requires NGOs dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research to register with the NGO Coordination Board. It also requires organizations employing foreign staff to seek authorization from the NGO Coordination Board before applying for a work permit.

Despite two court rulings ordering the government to operationalize the 2013 Public Benefits Organization Act, an important step in providing a transparent legal framework for NGO activities, the act had not been implemented by year’s end.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation for citizens, and the government respected these rights, but it placed restrictions on movement for refugees.

In-country Movement: Refugees and asylum seekers were required to register with the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS), and the law reiterates strict implementation of the encampment policy. The RAS is responsible for refugee management in the country and continued to enforce the encampment policy requiring all refugees and asylum seekers to reside in the designated refugee camps, despite a 2017 Court of Appeal decision to the contrary.

Typically, the RAS issued newly arrived asylum seekers registration documents and movement passes requiring them to report to the camps. The government, however, declined to provide registration services to asylum seekers from Somalia, leaving an estimated 19,000 Somali asylum seekers vulnerable to harassment from law enforcement officials due to irregular immigration status in the country.

Refugees needing to move outside the designated areas (Kakuma camp, Kalobeyei settlement, and the Dadaab refugee camp complex) had to obtain a temporary movement pass issued by the RAS. Stringent vetting requirements and long processing times delayed the issuance of temporary movement passes in the camps.

Given the government’s COVID-19 prevention protocols for staff, the RAS continued significantly reduced client-facing activity in its Nairobi office, including reducing the registration of new arrivals, which further influenced refugee movement. The Nairobi RAS office also moved locations and underwent a period of closure for several weeks during the transition, further restricting refugees’ access to government officials responsible for providing documents and other services to refugees.

The law allows exemption categories for specific groups to live outside designated camp areas, including in protection and medical cases. The government granted limited travel permission to refugees to receive specialized medical care outside the camps, and to refugees enrolled in public schools. It made exceptions to the encampment policy for extremely vulnerable groups in need of protection. The government continued to provide in-country movement and exit permits for refugee interviews and departures for third-country resettlement, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although there were no restrictions on movements of internally displaced persons (IDPs), stateless persons in the country faced restrictions on their movement (see section 2.g.).

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The NGO Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimated there were 394,000 IDPs in the country and 3,900 new displacements at the end of 2020. Communities were sometimes displaced due to interethnic violence and conflict, as well as natural disasters such as flooding.

State and private actors caused some displacements, usually during the construction of dams, railways, and roads. There is no mechanism to provide compensation or other remedies to victims of these displacements. Additionally, some residents remained displaced during the year due to land tenure disputes, particularly in or around natural reserves (see section 1.e.).

Water and pasture scarcity exacerbated communal conflict and left an unknown number of citizens internally displaced, especially in arid and semiarid areas. IDPs generally congregated in informal settlements and transit camps. Living conditions in such settlements and camps remained poor, with rudimentary housing and little public infrastructure or services. Grievances and violence between IDPs and host communities were generally resource based and occurred when IDPs attempted to graze livestock. In the north IDP settlements primarily consisted of displaced ethnic Somalis and were targets of clan violence or involved in clashes over resources.

f. Protection of Refugees

The national government’s relationship with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) worsened during the year, making it more difficult for UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. In March the government called on UNHCR to close all refugee camps in the country by June 30, 2022, citing national security concerns. The government requested UNHCR develop a plan of action to promote large-scale refugee repatriation within 114 days of its call to close all camps. The government previously called for the closure of Dadaab camp, but the High Court blocked the plan, determining it violated the principle of nonrefoulement and refugees’ constitutional right to fair administration action.

In April the High Court issued a temporary stay against the government’s call for camp closures but did not rule on the legality of the plan. The plan put into jeopardy the protection of approximately 440,000 camp-based refugees living in the country. In May the government and UNHCR launched a National Joint Commission to discuss the future of camp-based refugees in the country. The government said it would respect its international obligations but declined to commit to providing protections for refugees in the country or future new asylum seekers after the government-declared deadline of June 30, 2022.

The government issued a plan to implement the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) in February, which would enhance refugee self-reliance, but the March announcement about camp closures stalled CRRF implementation indefinitely. In August President Kenyatta declined to assent to the National Assembly-approved Refugee Bill, sending it back to parliament for further revision. President Kenyatta subsequently signed the bill into law on November 17 following amendments by the National Assembly, which could help some refugees gain greater access to employment opportunities and improved freedom of movement.

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 camp-based refugees. The government generally coordinated with UNHCR to assist and protect refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps and urban areas. The government had yet to register nearly 19,000 refugees and asylum seekers estimated to reside in Dadaab. South Sudanese refugees received prima facie refugee status.

According to UNHCR, as of September 30, the country hosted 534,622 registered refugees and asylum seekers, including 230,137 in the Dadaab refugee camp complex, 177,126 in Kakuma camp, 43,787 in Kalobeyei settlement, and 83,572 in urban areas. Most refugees and asylum seekers were from Somalia (274,499), with others coming from South Sudan (135,771), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (30,576), Ethiopia (20,668), and Burundi (7,160). Most refugees arriving in Kakuma were from South Sudan, and the refugee population in Dadaab was 96 percent Somali. New arrivals also included individuals from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and Uganda. The tripartite agreement on voluntary repatriation between Kenya, Somalia, and UNHCR expired in 2018, although the spirit of the agreement and coordination remained.

The RAS, responsible for refugee management in the country, maintained a generally cooperative working relationship with UNHCR, which continued to provide it with technical support and capacity building.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Police abuse, including detention of asylum seekers and refugees, continued, often due to a lack of awareness and understanding of the rights afforded to those holding refugee or asylum-seeker documentation or those who entered the country and were apprehended before obtaining asylum seeker documents. Most detainees were released after a court appearance or intervention by local legal aid organizations such as the Refugee Consortium of Kenya or Kituo Cha Sheria.

During the year the security situation in Dadaab remained precarious. There were no attacks on humanitarian workers and no detonations of improvised explosive devices within 15 miles of the refugee complex during the year. The security partnership between UNHCR and local police remained strong and led to improvements in camp security through community policing and neighborhood watch initiatives. UN security teams reported unspecified kidnapping threats against humanitarian workers during the year, but no humanitarians were attacked or abducted.

Gender-based violence against refugees and asylum seekers remained a problem, particularly for vulnerable populations, including women, children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) refugees and asylum seekers. Reported incidents included domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, physical assault, psychological abuse, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), and early and forced marriage, particularly of Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Somali girls (see section 6, Women). Most urban refugees resided in informal settlements, where insecurity and gender-based violence were rampant. Although there was increased community engagement to reduce gender-based violence and strengthened partnerships, including with the local authorities, women in female-headed households, young girls separated from families due to conflict, and women and girls of lower social and economic status were most at risk. Girls and boys out of school were at risk of abuse, survival sex, and early marriage. Despite awareness programs in the camps, underreporting persisted due to community preference for maslaha, a traditional form of jurisprudence prevalent in the region, as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism; shortages of female law enforcement officers; limited awareness of what constitutes gender-based violence among vulnerable populations; and barriers to meeting the medical forensic requirements for trying alleged rape cases.

Refugees have equal access to justice and the courts under the law, although following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, courts scaled down operations, prioritizing urgent cases and deferring nonurgent cases. Refugees were often unable to obtain legal services because of the prohibitive cost and their lack of information on their rights and obligations, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNHCR, through its partners, continued to provide legal assistance and representation to refugees to increase their access to justice. The law specifically provides that refugees are eligible to receive legal aid services. The law, however, had not been fully operationalized.

Many refugees dealt with criminality in accordance with their own customary law and traditional practices, although some opted to go through the country’s justice system. Other security problems in refugee camps included petty theft, banditry, and ethnic violence, according to UNHCR.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees’ freedom of movement was significantly restricted due to the country’s strict encampment policies as well as COVID-19 (see section 2.d.).

Employment: By law refugees are generally not permitted to work in the country. While the law allows recognized refugees to engage in any occupation, trade, business, or profession upon approval of applications for a Class M work permit, many barriers and red tape hindered refugees’ ability to secure work permits. Only refugees with specialized skills or those who could invest were successful in obtaining a work permit from the Immigration Department.

Access to Basic Services: Despite the encampment policy, many refugees resided in urban areas, even though they lacked documentation authorizing them to do so. This affected their access to basic government services, including the National Hospital Insurance Fund, education, employment, business licenses, financial institutions, mobile phones, and related services. Additionally, they were vulnerable to arrest, police harassment, and extortion.

Durable Solutions: During the year UNHCR assisted 1,461 refugees with voluntary repatriation to their places of origin, including Ethiopia, Somalia, and Burundi. Insecurity and unfavorable conditions in countries of origin such as South Sudan and Somalia limited the desire among refugees for voluntary repatriation assistance.

g. Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for the protection of stateless persons and for legal avenues for eligible stateless persons to apply for citizenship. UNHCR estimated 15,500 stateless persons were registered in the country; the actual number was unknown.

In July the government formally granted citizenship to 1,670 Shona and 1,300 individuals of Rwandan descent who were previously stateless.

Communities known to UNHCR as stateless include the Pemba in Kwale (approximately 7,000 persons) and persons of Burundian or Congolese descent; some descendants of slaves from Zambia and Malawi; the Galjeel, who were stripped of their nationality in 1989; and smaller groups at risk of statelessness due to their proximity to the country’s border with Somalia and Ethiopia, including the Daasanach and returnees from Somalia (the Sakuye) residing in Isiolo. The Pare are a group who intermarried with Kenyans for many years who reside at the border with Tanzania but are at risk of statelessness since they do not hold marriage certificates or other identity documents. Children born in the country to British overseas citizens are stateless due to conflicting nationality laws in the country and in the United Kingdom, although the estimated affected population size was unknown.

The country’s legislation provides protection, limited access to some basic services, and documentation to stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness. The constitution contains a progressive bill of rights and a revised chapter on citizenship, yet it does not include any safeguards to prevent statelessness at birth. The law provides a definition of a stateless person and opportunities for such a person as well as his or her descendants to be registered as citizens so long as the individual was a resident in the country at the time of its independence.

Stateless persons had limited legal protection, and many faced social exclusion. Others encountered travel restrictions and heightened vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation, forced displacement, and other abuses. UNHCR reported stateless persons faced restrictions on internal movement and limited access to basic services, property ownership, and registration of births under the late birth registration procedures, marriages, and deaths. Inadequate documentation sometimes resulted in targeted harassment and extortion by officials and exploitation in the informal labor sector.

National registration policies require citizens age 18 and older to obtain national identification documents from the National Registration Bureau (NRB). Failure to do so is a crime. Groups with historical or ethnic ties to other countries faced higher burdens of proof in the registration process. During the participatory assessments UNHCR conducted in 2018 and 2019, stateless persons said they could not easily register their children at birth or access birth certificates because they lacked supporting documents. The lack of permanent NRB offices near refugee camps also made it more difficult for refugees to register births, leading to an increased risk of statelessness. UNHCR and NGO partners worked with the government during the year to facilitate regular missions to the camps by NRB officials to conduct birth registrations. A backlog of older cases remained, but all refugees became able to register births within six months.

Formal employment opportunities, access to financial services, and freedom of movement continued to be out of reach for stateless persons due to lack of national identity cards. Stateless persons without identity cards cannot access the National Hospital Insurance Fund, locking them out of access to subsidized health services, including maternity coverage.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In August 2017 citizens voted in the second general election under the 2010 constitution, electing executive leadership and parliamentarians, county governors, and members of county assemblies. International and domestic observers, such as the Kenya Elections Observation Group, African Union Observer Mission, and Carter Center, judged the elections generally credible, although some civil society groups raised concerns regarding irregularities. In the presidential election, Jubilee Party candidate Uhuru Kenyatta won with a margin significantly above that of runner-up candidate Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance. The National Super Alliance challenged the results in a petition to the Supreme Court. In September 2017 the court ruled in the National Super Alliance’s favor, annulling the presidential elections and citing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for irregularities in voter registration and technical problems with vote tallying and transmission. The court ordered a new election for president and deputy president, which was held on October 26, 2017.

On October 10, 2017, Odinga announced his withdrawal from the new election, asserting the IEBC had not taken sufficient steps to ensure a free and fair election. The October 26 vote was marred by low voter turnout in some areas and protests in some opposition strongholds. Human Rights Watch documented more than 100 persons badly injured and at least 33 killed by police using excessive force in response to protests following the August election, and the Independent Medico-Legal Unit reported another 13 deaths before, during, and after the October vote.

On October 30, 2017, the IEBC declared Kenyatta the winner of the new election. On November 20, 2017, the Supreme Court rejected petitions challenging the October 26 elections and upheld Kenyatta’s victory. Odinga refused to accept Kenyatta’s re-election and repeated his call for citizens’ assemblies across the country to discuss constitutional revisions to restructure the government and the elections process. On January 30, 2018, elements of the opposition publicly swore Odinga in as “the People’s President,” and the government shut down major public media houses for several days to prevent them from covering the event.

Kenyatta and Odinga publicly reconciled in March 2018 and pledged to work together towards national unity. In May 2018 the president established the Building Bridges to Unity Advisory Taskforce as part of this pledge. The task force issued a report with proposed constitutional, legislative, and policy reforms, which led to passage of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2020. Civil society organizations challenged the bill and the so-called Building Bridges Initiative’s constitutionality in court. In August the Court of Appeal ruled the bill and overall initiative were unconstitutional, in part because the court found the president lacks authority to initiate a popular initiative to amend the constitution.

Political Parties and Political Participation: To reduce voter fraud, the government used a biometric voter registration system, first employed in 2013. Possession of a national identity card or passport was a prerequisite for voter registration. In June some voters found their names on the membership lists of parties for which they had not registered, sparking concerns about voters’ data privacy. In October the IEBC reduced a three-month-long voter registration drive to one month, reportedly due to a lack of funding. The IEBC aimed to register more than six million new voters, but at the conclusion of the drive on November 2 had registered approximately 1.4 million new voters.

The country’s five largest ethnic groups, the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luhya, Luo, and Kamba, continued to hold most political positions. Civil society groups raised concerns regarding the underrepresentation of minority ethnic groups, including indigenous communities and women.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Voting rates and measures of other types of participation in the political process by women and members of minority groups remained lower than those of nonminority men.

The constitution provides for parliamentary representation by women, youth, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, and marginalized communities. The constitution specifically states no gender should encumber more than two-thirds of elective and appointed offices. Parliament had not enacted legislation to implement this provision, despite four court orders to do so (see section 1.e.). As of year’s end, men made up nearly the entire leadership of the National Assembly and the Senate, except for a female deputy speaker of the Senate. President Kenyatta appointed one additional woman to the cabinet in January, for a total of seven women in the cabinet.

Female leaders and advocacy groups continued to cite inadequate political support from their parties, particularly in the primaries; a lack of financial resources; gender-based violence, including rape and sexual harassment; gender stereotyping; and patriarchal structures across society as significant barriers to women’s participation in political processes.

The overall success rate of female candidates who ran for positions in the 2017 national elections was 16 percent, with 23 women elected and 52 women nominated to the 349-member National Assembly, and three women elected and 18 women nominated to the 67-member Senate. Women were elected to three of the 47 governorships, although there were only two female governors during the year. Compared with 2013, the number of women elected to office increased by almost 19 percent. The constitution provides for the representation in government of ethnic minorities, but civil society groups noted minorities remained underrepresented in local and national government. The constitution also calls for persons with disabilities to hold a minimum of 5 percent of seats in the Senate and National Assembly, but persons with disabilities composed only 3 percent of Senate and National Assembly members.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Officials frequently engaged in allegedly corrupt practices with impunity. Despite public progress in fighting corruption, the government continued to face hurdles in implementing relevant laws effectively. The slow processing of corruption cases was exacerbated by COVID-19 containment measures, with courts lacking sufficient technological capacity to hear cases remotely.

Corruption: The director of public prosecutions continued prosecutions of high-level cases involving six sitting county governors and dozens of national government and parastatal officials with ties to the ruling party and to the political opposition. A landmark ruling in 2019 bars county governors from accessing their offices until their corruption cases are concluded. Two governors were indicted and impeached by their county assemblies while their cases continued in the courts. The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) also investigated high-level procurement irregularities at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, a state agency with the sole mandate of procuring medications and equipment for government health centers. The investigations involved procurement of personal protective equipment at inflated costs and probed the alleged disappearance of personal protective equipment and other equipment donated to the country. These investigations and prosecutions continued at year’s end. In September the Anti-Corruption Court convicted two high-profile defendants, a former cabinet secretary and a former director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

The public continued to perceive corruption as a severe problem at all levels of government. Transparency International’s 2019 Global Corruption Barometer – Africa found 45 percent of respondents had paid a bribe, compared with 37 percent in the previous 2015 survey. Police and authorities issuing identification documents were cited the most for taking bribes. Corruption had increased according to 67 percent of respondents, and 71 percent believed the government was doing a poor job of combating corruption, unchanged from the results of Transparency’s 2015 Corruption Barometer.

In 2019 President Kenyatta appointed a new chief executive officer of the EACC, who introduced a new approach to tackling corruption that prioritized high-impact cases, systems reviews, assets recovery, and public communication. Officials from agencies tasked with fighting corruption, including the EACC, the ODPP, and judiciary, were also subjects of corruption allegations.

The EACC has the legal mandate to investigate official corruption allegations, develop and enforce a code of ethics for public officials, and engage in public outreach on corruption. The EACC, however, lacks prosecutorial authority and must refer cases to the ODPP to initiate prosecutions. Disagreements between the ODPP and Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) regarding which office can initiate investigations and deliver files to court resulted in the delayed prosecution of the Kenya Ports Authority managing director on corruption allegations. In June 2020 the Kenyan Constitutional Court declared the DCI did not have power or authority to institute criminal proceedings before a court of law without consent from the ODPP. Following that ruling, the ODPP issued decision to charge guidelines to assist prosecutors in charging decisions.

The government took additional steps during the year to combat corruption, including increasing the number of investigations and prosecutions. The government made limited progress on other commitments, including adoption of international anticorruption standards and digitization of government records and processes. Because courts had significant case backlogs and relied heavily on trials (rather than settlements), cases could take years to resolve.

Police corruption remained a significant problem. Human rights NGOs reported police often stopped and arrested citizens to extort bribes. Police sometimes jailed citizens on trumped-up charges or beat those who could not pay the bribes. During police vetting conducted by the National Police Service Commission (NPSC) in recent years, many police officers were found to have the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in their bank accounts, far exceeding what would be possible to save from their salaries. Mobile money records showed some officers also transferred money to superior officers.

The judiciary and the National Police Service continued measures to reform the handling of traffic cases by police and courts, streamlining the management of traffic offenses to curb corruption. Despite this progress, no senior police official was convicted or jailed for corruption-related offenses during the year.

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, although some groups reported experiencing government harassment. Officials were sometimes cooperative and responsive to the queries of these groups, but the government did not implement recommendations by human rights groups if such recommendations were contrary to its policies. There were reports officials intimidated NGOs and threatened to disrupt their activities (see section 2.b.). Less-established NGOs, particularly in rural areas, reported harassment and threats by county officials as well as security forces. Human rights activists claimed security forces conducted surveillance of their activities, and some reported threats and intimidation.

There were also reports that officials and police officers threatened activists who sought justice for police killings and other serious abuses. The intimidation included threats of arrest, warnings not to post information about police brutality, home and office raids, and confiscation of laptops and other equipment.

In July the government began the process of reviewing host country agreements for 115 international governmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations. Civil society activists expressed concern this process could be used to target organizations carrying out activities unaligned with government policy.

The Civil Society Reference Group condemned the July 15 killing of environmentalist Joannah Stutchbury at her home in Kiambu. According to the group’s statement, Stutchbury was killed because of her efforts to prevent individuals from excising parts of the Kiambu forest and wetlands. The group described her killing as evidence of a hostile and shrinking environment for human rights defenders. The Senate launched an inquiry into her killing, and a law enforcement investigation continued at year’s end.

In September the High Court ruled that four police officers and one civilian must stand trial for the 2016 triple homicide of International Justice Mission lawyer and investigator Willie Kimani, client Josphat Mwenda, and their driver Joseph Muiruri. The trial was underway at year’s end.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights reported security agencies continued to deny it full access to case-specific information and facilities to conduct investigations of human rights abuses as the constitution permits. The commission, however, noted improved access to detention facilities during the year.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights is an independent institution created by the constitution and established in 2011. Its mandate is to promote and protect human rights in the country. The body’s commissioners completed their terms in March 2020. In August the president officially announced the vacancies, and in September the government appointed a selection panel to interview and recommend nominees for formal appointment. The president nominated a new chairperson and four commissioners on December 29, but at year’s end they were awaiting parliamentary approval. The commission continued to function under the management of the CEO. Citing budget restrictions, the government again reduced the commission’s operating budget. The commission stated the budget was not sufficient to cover its expenses and fulfill its mandate. Its programmatic budget was entirely unfunded by the government, forcing the commission to secure funding from development partners.

The NPSC and IPOA, both government bodies, report to the National Assembly. The NPSC consists of six civilian commissioners, including two retired police officers, as well as the National Police Service inspector general and two deputies. The NPSC is responsible for recruiting, transferring, vetting, promoting, and disciplining National Police Service members.

The ODPP is empowered to direct the National Police Service inspector general to investigate any information or allegation of criminal conduct and to institute criminal proceedings in police abuse or corruption cases.

Police accountability mechanisms, including those of the Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) and IPOA, maintained their capacity to investigate cases of police abuse. The IAU director reports directly to the National Police Service inspector general. The IAU did not hire any new officers or support staff during the year. It maintained 127 officers and 14 civilian support staff. Most investigators previously served in the Kenya Police Service and the Administration Police Service. The IAU conducts investigations into police misconduct, including criminal offenses not covered by IPOA. Between January and September, the IAU received approximately 715 complaints, down from 1,400 during the prior year. The EACC, an independent agency, investigates cases involving police corruption. IPOA also helps to train police officers on preventing abuses and other human rights issues but reported it did not conduct any human rights training during the year.

Between July 2020 and June 30, IPOA received 2,881 complaints, bringing the total since its inception in 2012 to 139,490 complaints. IPOA defines five categories of complaints. Category one complaints comprise the most serious crimes, such as murder, torture, rape, and serious injury, and result in an automatic investigation. In category two, serious crimes, such as assault without serious injury, are investigated on a case-by-case basis. Categories three to five, for less serious crimes, are generally not investigated, although during the year IPOA and the IAU entered regular dialogue about referring cases deemed less serious offenses for disciplinary action. If, after investigation, IPOA determines there is criminal liability in a case, it forwards the case to the ODPP. IPOA hired two new staff members between July 2020 and October and was in the process of replacing its CEO, who retired in August. IPOA’s budget for the financial year starting July 1 was reduced by approximately 1.6 percent due to economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and IPOA anticipated further budget reductions.

Although the law requires the NPSC to vet all serving police officers, it had not vetted any officers since the new commission took office in January 2019. Vetting required an assessment of each officer’s fitness to serve based on a review of documentation, including financial records, certificates of good conduct, and a questionnaire, as well as public input alleging abuse or misconduct. The NPSC reported it had vetted more than 15,000 officers since 2012.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of all persons, defilement (statutory rape), domestic violence, and sex tourism, but enforcement remained limited. The law’s definition of domestic violence includes sexual violence within marriage, early and forced marriage, FGM/C, forced wife “inheritance,” damage to property, defilement, economic abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, harassment, incest, intimidation, physical abuse, stalking, verbal abuse, or any other conduct against a person that harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health, or well-being of the person. The law does not explicitly criminalize spousal rape. Insulting the modesty of another person by intruding upon that person’s privacy or stripping them of clothing are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment for up to 20 years.

The law provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for rape when the survivor is older than 18, although sentences were at the discretion of the judge and usually no longer than the minimum of 10 years (see section 6, Children). Citizens frequently used traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms, including maslaha in Muslim communities, to address sexual offenses in rural areas, with village elders assessing financial compensation for the survivors or their families. They also used such mechanisms occasionally in urban areas.

The judiciary recorded 17,272 cases of gender-based violence filed in court between July 2019 and June 2020. The NGO Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya reported arrests and prosecutions of sexual violence cases remained low, even in cases in which survivors identified perpetrators, due to limited police resources to conduct investigations, insufficient evidence collection and handling mechanisms, and lengthy court proceedings, which made it difficult and expensive for survivors to pursue cases.

Although police no longer required physicians to examine survivors, physicians still had to complete official forms reporting rape. Rural areas generally had no police physician, and in Nairobi there were only three. NGOs reported police stations often but inconsistently accepted the examination report of clinical physicians who initially treated rape survivors. In October the National Police Service launched its “Policare” program, which sought to establish one-stop shops in every county to address and prevent gender-based violence. Police also launched an updated Integrated Response to Gender-Based Violence document, which standardized procedures and standards of care in these cases.

Authorities cited domestic violence as the leading cause of preventable, nonaccidental death for women. Except in cases of death, police officers generally refrained from investigating domestic violence, which they considered a private family matter.

NGOs expressed concerns regarding a rise in incidents of sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, and forced evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. In September Human Rights Watch released a report on the rise of gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report blamed the government for failing to protect and providing inadequate assistance to survivors.

A national helpline established by the Department of Gender Affairs received a total of 5,009 cases in 2020, an increase of 36 percent compared with the prior year. Survivors of sexual violence were unable to report crimes or seek medical treatment during curfew hours. The government established rescue centers for gender-based violence in West Pokot, Bungoma, Vihiga, Meru, and Mirgori Counties.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law makes it illegal to practice FGM/C, procure the services of someone who practices FGM/C, or send a person out of the country to undergo the procedure. The law also makes it illegal to make derogatory remarks about a woman who has not undergone FGM/C. In September the court dismissed a petition filed in 2017 to strike down the law banning FGM/C. The court ruled revoking the anti-FGM/C law would expose women to this harmful practice without sufficient legal protection. Government officials often participated in public-awareness programs to prevent the practice. Nevertheless, individuals practiced FGM/C widely, particularly in some rural areas. According to UNICEF, despite the legal prohibition of FGM/C and progress made by the government in eliminating the practice, myths supporting the practice remained deep rooted in some local cultures. UNICEF estimated 21 percent of adult women ages 15 to 49 had undergone the procedure some time in their lives, but the practice was heavily concentrated in a few communities, including the Maasai (78 percent), Samburu (86 percent), and Somali (94 percent).

As part of the government’s initiative to end FGM/C by 2022, the Ministry of Public Service, Gender, Senior Citizens Affairs, and Special Programs continued work with county officials and nonstate actors to improve enforcement of the FGM/C law. This included education and advocacy efforts as well as prosecutions of those violating the law. NGOs and government officials reported a significant increase of FGM/C cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting school closures left girls more at risk. Many FGM/C rescue centers were closed partially or even totally due to the pandemic. Media reported arrests of perpetrators and parents who agreed to FGM/C, but parents in regions with a high prevalence of FGM/C frequently bribed police to allow the practice to continue. There were also reports FGM/C increasingly occurred in secret to avoid prosecution. County officials in areas with a high prevalence of FGM/C noted many cases targeted infants, with one recent government study finding an estimated 61 percent of girls younger than five in one county had undergone the procedure.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Certain communities practiced wife inheritance, in which a man inherits the widow of his brother or other close relative, regardless of her wishes. The practice was more likely in cases of poor women with limited access to education and living outside of major cities.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes prison time of at least three years or a fine of at least $880 or both for anyone found guilty of committing such crimes. Sexual harassment was often not reported, and survivors rarely filed charges.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Nonetheless, families of girls with disabilities sometimes colluded with medical professionals to sterilize them as a means of protecting them from sexual violence, according to a disability rights activist. See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.

The constitution recognizes the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Exercising this right, however, remained difficult due to the prohibitive costs of contraception for some persons, the limited information and services that were available, and cultural and religious norms in some areas that discouraged the use of modern contraceptives and gave men decision-making authority over women. Subsidized contraception options, including condoms, birth control pills, and long acting or permanent methods, were widely available to both men and women, although access was more difficult in rural areas.

A 2019 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that more than half of sexually active adolescent women between the ages of 15 and 19 who did not want to become pregnant had an unmet need for modern contraception and that almost two-thirds of pregnancies among this age group were unintended. The adolescent birth rate was 96 per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Access to sexual and reproductive health information by adolescents remained a problem due to lack of comprehensive sexuality education in schools, low coverage of youth-friendly services, and a lack of adequate stocks of contraceptives in public hospitals.

According to UNFPA, 56 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 made their own decisions regarding health care, contraception, and sex with their husbands or partners. NGOs reported that it was more difficult for marginalized groups, including LGBTQI+ persons, women with disabilities, displaced persons, and persons with HIV, to access reproductive health information and services.

Skilled obstetric, prenatal, and postpartum care was available in major hospitals, but many women could not access or afford these services. Skilled health-care personnel attended an estimated 62 percent of births, according to the 2014 Kenya Demographic Health Survey. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Maternity services were free of charge in all public health institutions in the country. The government’s Linda Mama program, a free health insurance plan that covers the pregnancy period and up to three months postdelivery, targeted women in rural and low-income areas and continued to operate during the year. NGOs reported that government measures to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a nationwide curfew and movement restrictions, led to an increase in maternal morbidity, a decrease in births attended by skilled health-care personnel, and a decrease in women receiving prenatal and postpartum care during the year.

Maternal deaths accounted for 51 percent of all deaths of women between the ages of 15 and 49, and the maternal mortality rate was 342 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. Unsafe abortion, pregnancy, and birth complications limited access to health services, and harmful cultural practices were cited as among the main causes of maternal death and morbidity. UNFPA reported that maternal mortality in Mandera County was 3,795 deaths per 100,000 live births – the highest in the country – partially due to harmful cultural rites such as FGM/C and limited access to health services. In 2019 the High Court ruled that the director of medical services and the Ministry of Health had violated the rights of the country’s women by arbitrarily withdrawing standards and guidelines on reducing morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions.

The law provides pregnant girls the right to continue their education until and after giving birth, but NGOs reported schools often did not always respect this right (see section 6, Children). Human rights organizations reported teenage pregnancy often led girls to drop out of school without a safety net or plan for continued education after birth.

Discrimination: The constitution provides equal rights for men and women and specifically prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, color, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language, or birth. Nevertheless, the justice system widely applied customary laws that discriminated against women, limiting their political and economic rights.

The constitution prohibits gender discrimination in relation to land and property ownership and gives women equal rights to inheritance and access to land. The constitution also provides for the enactment of legislation for the protection of wives’ rights to matrimonial property during and upon the termination of a marriage, and it affirms parties to a marriage are entitled to equal rights at the time of marriage, during the marriage, and at its dissolution. In September a judge presiding over a matrimonial property dispute ruled being a housewife should be considered a full-time job. The judge ruled it was unfair for courts to rule that housewives do not contribute to household financial wellbeing. According to civil society groups, women continued to face institutional and legal barriers that hindered their access to justice and a fair share of matrimonial property upon the dissolution of marriage. Additionally, the components of the law that stipulate how to apply for succession were little known, and thus many inheritances continued to pass from fathers to sons only.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Although the constitution declares the state shall not discriminate against any person based on race, societal discrimination against persons of different racial and ethnic groups was common. Enforcement of laws prohibiting discrimination was inadequate, according to human rights groups. The 2019 census recognized 45 ethnic groups in the country; none holds a majority. The Kikuyu and related groups dominated much of private commerce and industry and often purchased land outside their traditional home areas, which sometimes resulted in fierce resentment from other ethnic groups, especially in the coastal and Rift Valley areas. Competition for water and pasture was especially serious in the north and northeast.

There was frequent conflict, including banditry, fights over land, and cattle rustling, among the Somali, Turkana, Gabbra, Borana, Samburu, Rendille, and Pokot ethnic groups in arid northern, eastern, and Rift Valley areas that at times resulted in deaths. Disputes regarding county borders were also a source of ethnic tensions.

Media reported at least 18 persons died in July during tribal clashes regarding resources in Marsabit County along the border with Ethiopia. The government deployed security forces to stop the fighting, which had plagued the region for many years.

In September media reported at least eight persons died, and dozens of homes were burned in Laikipia County, as armed herders invaded privately run nature conservancies in search of water and grazing land for their livestock. In October the government deployed an interagency team to quell the violence after fighting broke out again.

Ethnic differences also caused several discriminatory employment practices (see section 7.d.).


Birth Registration: A child derives citizenship from the citizenship of the parents, and either parent may transmit citizenship. Birth on the country’s territory does not convey citizenship. Birth registration is compulsory. An estimated 82 percent of births were officially registered in 2020, according to the Interior Ministry’s Civil Registration Services. Authorities attributed the increase in registered births to a rise in the number of women delivering in health centers. Lack of official birth certificates resulted in discrimination in delivery of public services. The Department of Civil Registration Services implements the Maternal Child Health Registration Strategy, which requires nurses administering immunizations to register the births of unregistered children.

Education: By law education is tuition free and compulsory until age 18, although public schools may impose fees for boarding, uniforms, and other expenses. The law also allows schools to charge tuition and other fees on children who are noncitizens of the country. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory attendance law uniformly. The government closed all schools in March 2020 due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic but fully reopened all grades and schools in January 2021. Media reported widely on the negative impact of long-term school closures on students. In April a study found that 53 percent of students exhibited a decline in math proficiency. Civil society organizations highlighted a rise in teen pregnancy and drug use during the pandemic.

While the law provides pregnant girls the right to continue their education until and after giving birth, NGOs reported schools did not always respect this right (see section 6, Women). School executives sometimes expelled pregnant girls or transferred them to other schools. In recent years media outlets reported a significant number of girls failed to take their final secondary school examinations due to pregnancy. Final examinations were not held during the year due to the pandemic.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes several forms of violence that affect children, including early and forced marriage, FGM/C, incest, and physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Violence against children, particularly in poor and rural communities, was common, and child abuse, including sexual abuse, occurred frequently. A recent Ministry of Labour report found nearly half of female children and more than half of male children experienced childhood violence. The study found emotional violence was also common.

According to IPOA, most police facilities did not have designated child protection units, and police usually requested the Department of Children Services to take custody of child survivors. Although all the police facilities that IPOA inspected during the year had at least one officer designated to handle children’s cases, only some of the officers had received training on handling these cases, and the police stations did not have sufficient resources to process the large number of cases involving child survivors. IPOA found the shortage of designated child protective units made it difficult for officers to record statements from child survivors due to the lack of privacy. According to IPOA, police also reported difficulties investigating cases such as child rape, since some communities defended the perpetrators and preferred to settle cases through traditional mechanisms.

The minimum sentence for conviction of statutory rape is life imprisonment if the survivor is younger than age 11; 20 years in prison if the survivor is between ages 11 and 15; and 10 years’ imprisonment if the survivor is 16 or 17. Although exact numbers were unavailable, during the year media reported several statutory rape convictions.

The government banned corporal punishment in schools, but there were reports corporal punishment occurred.

Although there were no reports the government recruited child soldiers, there were reports the al-Shabaab terrorist group recruited children in areas bordering Somalia.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 years for women and men. According to UNICEF, 25 percent of girls are married by 18. Media occasionally highlighted the problem of early and forced marriage common among some ethnic groups. Under the constitution the qadi courts retain jurisdiction over Muslim marriage and family law in cases where all parties profess the Muslim religion and agree to submit to the jurisdiction of the courts. NGOs reported an increase in child, early, and forced marriages during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting school closures left girls more vulnerable to the practice.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children, including prohibiting procurement of a child younger than age 18 for unlawful sexual relations. The law also prohibits domestic and international trafficking or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, transfer, or receipt of children up to age 18 to produce pornography or for pornographic performances. Provisions apply equally to girls and boys. The law has provisions regarding child trafficking, child sex tourism, child sexual exploitation, and child pornography. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Nevertheless, according to human rights organizations, children were sexually exploited and victims of trafficking.

The DCI continued to expand its Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit, which is responsible for investigating cases of child sexual exploitation and abuse, providing guidance to police officers across the country on cases involving children, and liaising with the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection’s Department of Children Services to identify and protect abused children.

NGOs, international organizations, and local officials expressed concerns with reports of rising number of pregnancies among teenage girls, resulting in part from increased sexual abuse and exploitation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Displaced Children: Poverty and the spread of HIV and AIDS continued to intensify the problem of child homelessness. Street children faced harassment and physical and sexual abuse from police and others and within the juvenile justice system (see section 1.c.). The government operated programs to place street children in shelters and assisted NGOs in providing education, skills training, counseling, legal advice, and medical care to street children whom the commercial sex industry abused and exploited. According to UNHCR, 52 percent of refugees were younger than age 18 (see section 2.d.).

Children continued to face protection risks in urban areas, particularly unaccompanied and separated children. Alternative care arrangements, such as foster care placement, were in place for a limited number of children. Additionally, government child protection services and the children’s department often stepped in to provide protection to children at risk, particularly unaccompanied 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


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

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities cannot access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Several laws limit the rights of persons with disabilities. For example, the Marriage Act limits the rights of persons with mental disabilities to marry, and the Law of Succession limits the rights of persons with disabilities to inheritance. The constitution provides for legal representation of persons with disabilities in legislative and appointive bodies.

The Ministry for Devolution and Planning is the lead ministry for implementation of the law to protect persons with disabilities. The quasi-independent but government-funded parastatal National Council for Persons with Disabilities assisted the ministry. Neither entity received sufficient resources to address effectively problems related to persons with disabilities.

The constitution states every person has the right to education, yet NGOs reported persons with disabilities had limited opportunities to obtain education and job training at any level due to lack of accessibility of facilities and resistance by school officials and parents to devoting resources to students with disabilities. Obtaining employment was also difficult.

Persons with disabilities faced significant barriers to accessing health care. They had difficulty obtaining HIV testing and contraceptive services due to the perception they should not engage in sexual activity. According to the NGO Humanity & Inclusion, 36 percent of persons with disabilities reported facing difficulties in accessing health services; cost, distance to a health facility, and physical barriers were the main reasons cited.

The law provides that persons with disabilities should have access to public buildings, and some buildings in major cities had wheelchair ramps and modified elevators and restrooms. The government did not enforce the law, however, and new construction often did not include specific accommodations for persons with disabilities. Government buildings in rural areas generally were not accessible to persons with disabilities. According to NGOs, police stations remained largely inaccessible to persons with mobility and other physical disabilities. Most common forms of public transportation, all of which are privately operated, were difficult for persons with physical disabilities to use due accessibility challenges and crowding.

Few facilities provided interpreters or other accommodations to persons with hearing disabilities. The government assigned each region a sign language interpreter for court proceedings. Authorities often delayed or adjourned cases involving persons who had hearing disabilities due to a lack of standby interpreters, according to NGO reports.

According to a report by a coalition of disability advocate groups, persons with disabilities often did not receive the procedural or other accommodations they needed to participate equally in criminal justice processes as victims of crime.

Authorities received reports of killings of persons with disabilities as well as torture and abuse, and the government acted in some cases.

Persons with albinism have historically been targets of discrimination and human rights abuses. Human rights groups successfully lobbied to include a question on albinism in the 2019 national census, the first time that persons with albinism were counted. An NGO reported some persons with albinism experienced increased discrimination during the year due to unfounded fears they were more likely to carry the COVID-19 virus.

NGOs reported the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally impacted persons with disabilities. One survey found 92 percent of respondents said their daily lives had been affected by the pandemic, pinpointing factors such as limited transport; restricted movement; a lack of available necessities; lack of contact with others at school, church, and social functions; reduced income; and job or income loss. Of respondents, 39 percent reported experiencing discrimination due to their disability, including exclusion from vital services.

According to a 2017 NGO report to the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, persons with disabilities made up only 2.8 percent of the Senate and National Assembly, less than the 5 percent mandated by the constitution (see section 3, Elections and Political Participation).

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The government, along with international and NGO partners, made progress in creating an enabling environment to combat the social stigma of HIV and AIDS and to address the gap in access to HIV information and services. The government and NGOs expanded their staffing support at county levels for counseling and testing centers to ensure provision of free HIV and AIDS diagnosis. The government continued inclusion of diverse populations in provision of HIV services through 47 mobile clinics and medical camp safaris across the country. The government also supported programs to ensure nondiscrimination and undertook a community-led stigma index study.

Stigma nonetheless continued to hinder efforts to educate the public about HIV and AIDS and to provide testing and treatment services. The government continued to support the HIV and AIDS Tribunal to handle all legal matters related to stigma and discrimination. The tribunal, however, lacked sufficient funding to carry out its mandate across all 47 counties and thus still functioned only out of Nairobi.

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

The penal code criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which was interpreted to prohibit consensual same-sex sexual conduct and specifies a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment if convicted, and seven years for “attempting” said conduct. The law also criminalizes acts of “gross indecency” between men, whether in public or in private, with five years’ imprisonment. Police detained persons under these laws, particularly persons suspected of prostitution, but released them shortly afterward.

In 2016 LGBTQI+ activists filed two petitions challenging the constitutionality of these penal codes. In 2019 the High Court issued a unanimous ruling upholding the laws criminalizing homosexuality, citing insufficient evidence they violate LGBTQI+ rights and claiming repealing the law would contradict the constitution that stipulates marriage is between a man and woman. The LGBTQI+ community filed an appeal against this ruling and received favorable decisions on a handful of procedural matters but was awaiting a substantive hearing at year’s end. After filing this case, the LGBTQI+ community experienced increased ostracism and harassment, according to activist groups.

LGBTQI+ organizations reported police more frequently used public-order laws (for example, disturbing the peace) than same-sex legislation to arrest LGBTQI+ individuals. NGOs reported police frequently harassed, intimidated, or physically abused LGBTQI+ individuals in custody. They also reported police threatened homosexual men with forced anal examinations while in custody, which were outlawed in 2018.

Authorities permitted LGBTQI+ advocacy organizations to register and conduct activities.

The constitution does not explicitly protect LGBTQI+ persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals were widespread. LGBTQI+ rights organizations reported an increase in conversion therapy and practices. It attributed this increase to the fact many LGBTQI+ persons had returned to hostile home and community environments after losing their jobs because of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some LGBTQI+ groups also reported an increase in abuses cases against LGBTQI+ persons during the pandemic. They attributed this rise to increased scrutiny of LGBTQI+ persons’ lifestyles because of COVID-19-related lockdown and curfew orders. In May human rights defender and HAPA Kenya paralegal Joash Mosoti was allegedly tortured and killed at his home in Mombasa.

In September the Kenya Film Classification Board banned the film I am Samuel for attempting to “promote same-sex marriage agenda as an acceptable way of life.” The board claimed the film violated Article 165 of the penal code, which outlaws homosexuality, as well as provisions of the Films and Stage Plays Act.

Although the country grants refugee status to persons whose persecution is due to sexual orientation or gender expression, some LGBTQI+ refugees continued to face stigma and discrimination. They were often compelled to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity to protect themselves, especially among Somali refugee communities in Dadaab. National organizations working with LGBTQI+ persons offered support to refugees who were LGBTQI+, including access to safety networks and specialized health facilities.

There were approximately 1,000 LGBTQI+ refugees in the country, including approximately 300 in Kakuma, where there were reports of violence and intimidation against LGBTQI+ refugees during the year. An arson attack by unknown perpetrators in March led to the death of one LGBTQI+ refugee in April. UNHCR and NGO partners provided medical and other assistance for LGBTQI+ refugees when necessary, but legal accountability for perpetrators was lacking. In March UNHCR released a statement outlining efforts in collaboration with police and the Refugee Affairs Secretariat to enhance security for LGBTQI+ refugees, including the relocation of some particularly vulnerable individuals.

Mob violence and vigilante action were common in areas where the populace lacked confidence in the criminal justice system. The social acceptability of mob violence also provided cover for acts of personal vengeance. During the year HAKI reported civilian mobs killed 10 persons in the six coastal counties. Through the end of August, HAKI reported civilian mobs killed six persons in the Nairobi metropolitan area. Police frequently failed to act to stop mob violence. In August four men, who had stopped on the side of a road to repair their motorcycles, were killed by a mob in Kitengela. The mob mistakenly identified the four men as cattle thieves.

Landowners formed groups in some parts of the country to protect their interests from rival groups or thieves. Reports indicated politicians often funded these groups or provided them with weapons, particularly around election periods.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, including those in export processing zones, to form and join unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The Labour Relations Court can order reinstatement and damages in the form of back pay for employees wrongfully dismissed for union activities.

Legal restrictions limit worker rights to establish a union, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. For example, the Registrar of Trade Unions may refuse to register a union if a similar union already exists, and union membership is granted only to persons employed in the sector for which the trade union is registered. For a union to be recognized as a bargaining agent, it must represent a simple majority of the employees in a firm eligible to join the union. This provision extends to public- and private-sector employees. Members of the armed forces, prisons service, and police are not allowed to form or join trade unions.

The law permits the government to deny workers the right to strike under certain conditions. For example, the government prohibits members of the military, police, prison guards, and the National Youth Service from striking. Civil servants are permitted to strike following a seven-day notice period. A bureau of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection typically referred disputes to mediation, fact finding, or binding arbitration at the Employment and Labour Relations Court, a body of up to 21 judges that has exclusive jurisdiction to handle employment and labor matters and that operates in urban areas, including Nairobi, Mombasa, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kisumu, and Kericho. The Employment and Labour Relations Court also has subregistries in Meru, Bungoma, Eldoret, Malindi, Machakos, and Garissa.

By law workers who provide essential services, interpreted as “a service the interruption of which would probably endanger the life of a person or health of the population,” may not strike. Any trade dispute in a service listed as essential or declared an essential service may be adjudicated by the Employment and Labour Relations Court.

Strikes must concern terms of employment, and sympathy strikes are prohibited.

The law permits workers in collective bargaining disputes to strike if they have exhausted formal conciliation procedures and have given seven days’ notice to the government and the employer. Conciliation is not compulsory in individual employment matters. Security forces may not bargain collectively but have an internal board that reviews salaries. Informal workers may establish associations, or even unions, to negotiate wages and conditions matching the government’s minimum wage guidelines and advocate for better working conditions and representation in the Employment and Labour Relations Court. The bill of rights in the constitution allows trade unions to undertake their activities without government interference, and the government generally respected this right.

Labor laws apply to all groups of workers. Penalties for labor law violations were not commensurate with those for similar offenses.

The government enforced the decisions of the Labour Relations Court inconsistently. Many employers did not comply with reinstatement orders, and some workers accepted payment in lieu of reinstatement. In several cases employers successfully appealed the Labour Relations Court’s decisions to a branch of the High Court. The enforcement mechanisms of the Labour Relations Court remained weak, and its case backlog raised concerns regarding the long delays and lack of efficacy of the court.

The Labour Relations Court received many cases arising from the implementation of new labor laws. The parties filed most cases directly without referral to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection for conciliation. The court had a significant backlog.

The chief justice designated all county courts presided over by senior resident magistrates and higher-ranking judges as special courts to hear employment and labor cases. Providing adequate facilities outside of Nairobi was difficult, but observers cited the ability of workers to submit labor-related cases throughout the country as a positive step. The 2016 employment and labor relations (procedure) rules provide parties access to file pleadings directly in electronic form, pretrial procedures, and alternative dispute resolution. The rules also set a 30-day time limit for the court to submit a report on disagreements over collective bargaining agreements filed.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although enforcement was inconsistent. The government expressed its support for union rights mandated in the constitution.

Migrant workers often lacked formal organization and consequently missed the benefits of collective bargaining. Similarly, domestic workers and others who operated in private settings were vulnerable to exclusion from legal protections, although domestic workers’ unions existed to protect their interests.

The government had labor attaches in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to regulate and coordinate contracts of migrant workers from the country and promote overseas job opportunities. The National Employment Authority managed a website that provided information to prospective migrant workers on the procedures of becoming a migrant worker in the Gulf. The Ministry of East African Community and Regional Development also helped domestic workers understand the terms and conditions of their work agreements. The government had additional bilateral agreements with Qatar and United Arab Emirates. The ministry has a directorate to regulate the conduct of labor agents for local migrant workers, including requiring the posting of a performance-guarantee bond for each worker. Civil society organizations and trade unions, however, criticized the government for not doing enough to protect migrant workers’ rights and failing to repatriate citizens working overseas under what they described as abusive conditions.

The misuse of internships and other forms of transitional employment threatened the survival of trade unions, with employers often not hiring employees after an internship ends. State agencies increasingly outsourced jobs to the private sector, and in the private sector, casual workers were employed on short-term contracts.

This shift contributed to declining numbers in trade unions. NGOs and trade unionists reported replacement of permanent positions by casual or contract labor, especially in the export-processing zones, the Port of Mombasa, and in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. In some cases employers staffed permanent jobs with rotating contract workers. This practice occurred at the management level as well, where employers hired individuals as management trainees and kept them in these positions for the maximum permitted period of three years. Instead of converting such trainees to permanent staff, employers replaced them with new trainees at the end of three years.

The governmental Teachers Service Commission (TSC) reportedly contributed to weakening teacher trade unions through its dispute with the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) regarding alleged TSC delays in remitting members’ fees to KNUT, which crippled the capacity of the union to provide member services and reduced union membership. The University Academic Staff Union also expressed frustration over continued Ministry of Labour delays in implementing a collective bargaining agreement, pending since 2017, that would improve pay and terms of service of its 30,000 members.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The law allows, in some situations, up to 60 days of compulsory labor per year for the preservation of natural resources. The country made moderate advances to prevent or eliminate forced labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred, including forced child labor (see section 7.c.). Certain legal provisions, including the penal code and the Public Order Act, impose compulsory prison labor, including for political offenses. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate to prevent forced labor, and penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Forms of forced labor included debt bondage, exploitation of migrant workers, and compulsion of persons, including family members, to work as domestic servants. Traffickers exploited children through forced labor in domestic service, agriculture, fishing, cattle herding, street vending, and begging (see section 7.c.). Nairobi-based labor recruiters maintained networks in Uganda and Ethiopia that recruited Burundian, Ethiopian, Rwandan, and Ugandan workers through fraudulent offers of employment in the Middle East and Asia. The country continued to serve as a transit point for migrants seeking work in South Africa, leaving these populations vulnerable to exploitation; traffickers exploited transient Ethiopians in forced labor and Burundian and Rwandan women in domestic servitude.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government prohibits most, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for work (other than apprenticeships) is 16, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. The ministry published a list of specific jobs considered hazardous that constitute the worst forms of child labor. This list included but was not limited to scavenging, carrying stones and rocks, metalwork, working with machinery, mining, and stone crushing. The law explicitly prohibits forced labor, trafficking, and other practices like slavery; child soldiering (see section 6, Children); prostitution; the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; and the use by an adult for illegal activities (such as drug trafficking) of any child up to age 18. The law applies equally to girls and boys. The International Labor Organization (ILO) identified gaps in the law with regards to children working as cadets at sea.

The law allows children ages 13 to 16 to engage in industrial undertakings when participating in apprenticeships. Industrial undertakings are defined under law to include work in mines, quarries, factories, construction, demolition, and transportation, which are legally categorized as hazardous work.

The law provides for penalties for any person who employs, engages, or uses a child in an industrial undertaking in violation of the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Employment of children in the formal industrial wage sector in violation of the Employment Act was rare. The law does not prohibit child labor for children employed outside the scope of a contractual agreement. Child labor in the informal sector was widespread, but the government did not effectively monitor or control it.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection enforces child labor laws, but enforcement remained inconsistent. Supplementary programs, such as the ILO-initiated Community Child Labor monitoring program, helped provide additional resources to combat child labor. These programs identified children who were working illegally, removed them from hazardous work conditions, and referred them to appropriate service providers.

The government also worked closely with the Central Organization of Trade Unions and the Federation of Kenyan Employers to eliminate child labor.

In support of child protection, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection operated a national online database system. The Child Protection Information Management System collects, aggregates, and reports on child protection data that informs policy decisions and budgeting for orphans and vulnerable children. The web-based system allows for an aggregate format of data to be made available to all the child protection stakeholders. The government had seven child protection centers, which remove child laborers from the workplace, rehabilitate them, and provide counseling and life-skills training.

The government continued to implement the National Safety Net Program, which managed four cash transfer programs, including Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. The cash transfer programs encountered irregularities in disbursement and corruption allegations.

Many children worked on family plots or in family units on tea, coffee, sugar, sisal, tobacco, and rice plantations, as well as in the production of khat. Children worked in mining, including in artisanal gold mines, small quarries, and sand mines. Children also worked in the fishing industry. In urban areas businesses employed children in hawking, scavenging, carrying loads, gathering and selling water, selling food, and forced begging. Children often worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes for little or no pay, and there were reports of physical and sexual abuse of child domestic servants. Parents sometimes initiated forced or compulsory child labor, such as in agricultural labor and domestic service, but also including commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

Traffickers exploited children through forced labor in domestic service, agriculture, fishing, cattle herding, street vending, and begging (see section 7.b.).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, ethnicity, religion, and several other criteria, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Several regulatory statutes explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities; provide a legal framework for a requirement for the public and private sectors to reserve 5 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities; provide tax relief and incentives for such persons and their organizations; and reserve 30 percent of public-procurement tenders for women, youth, and persons with disabilities.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for discrimination were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred, although the law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring. The average monthly income of women was approximately two-thirds that of men. Women had difficulty working in nontraditional fields, received slower promotions, and were more likely to be dismissed. According to a World Bank report, both men and women experienced sexual harassment in job recruitment, but it was more frequently experienced by women. Both men and women who tried to establish their own informal businesses were subjected to discrimination and harassment.

Many county governors continued to appoint and employ disproportionate numbers of the dominant tribe in their county, bypassing minority groups. These problems were aggravated by the devolution of fiscal and administrative responsibility to county governments. Observers also noted patterns of preferential hiring during police recruitment exercises.

In both private business and in the public sector, members of nearly all ethnic groups commonly discriminated in favor of other members of the same group.

The law provides protection for persons with disabilities against employment discrimination, although many employers discriminated against persons with disabilities during hiring processes (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). Due to societal discrimination, there were very limited employment opportunities for persons with albinism. There are no legal employment protections for LGBTQI+ persons, who remained vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy, and the minimum wage for all occupations exceeded the World Bank poverty rate. Regulation of wages is part of the Labor Institutions Act, and the government established basic minimum wages by occupation and location, setting minimum standards for monthly, daily, and hourly work in each category.

The law limits the normal workweek to 52 hours (60 hours for night workers); some categories of workers had lower limits. It specifically excludes agricultural workers from such limitations. It entitles an employee in the nonagricultural sector to one rest day per week and 21 days of combined annual and sick leave. The law also requires total hours worked (regular time plus overtime) in any two-week period not exceed 120 hours (144 hours for night workers) and provides premium pay for overtime.

The Ministry of Labour is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. The government did not employ enough inspectors to surveil and enforce wage and hour laws. The same inspectors were responsible for occupational safety and health enforcement and have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. The government did not effectively enforce wage and hour laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Authorities reported some workweek and overtime violations, but workers in some enterprises, particularly in the export-processing zones and those in road construction, claimed employers were not penalized for forcing them to work extra hours without overtime pay to meet production targets. Hotel industry workers were usually paid the minimum statutory wage, but employees worked long hours without compensation. Additionally, employers often did not provide required nighttime transport, leaving workers vulnerable to assault, robbery, and sexual harassment.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law details environmental, health, and safety standards. The Ministry of Labour’s Directorate of Occupational Health and Safety Services has the authority to inspect factories and work sites but employed an insufficient number of labor inspectors to conduct regular inspections. The same inspectors were responsible for wage and hour enforcement. Fines generally were insufficient to deter violations.

The directorate’s health and safety inspectors can issue notices against employers for practices or activities that involve a risk of serious personal injury. Employers may appeal such notices to the Factories Appeals Court, a body of four members, one of whom must be a High Court judge. The law stipulates factories employing 20 or more persons have an internal health and safety committee with representation from workers. According to the government, many of the largest factories had health and safety committees.

Workers, including foreigners and immigrants, have the legal right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The Ministry of Labour did not effectively enforce these regulations, and workers were reluctant to remove themselves from working conditions that endangered their health or safety due to the risk of losing their jobs. The Kenya Federation of Employers provided training and auditing of workplaces for health and safety practices.

The law provides for labor inspections to prevent labor disputes, accidents, and conflicts and to protect workers from occupational hazards and disease by ensuring compliance with labor laws. The government paid low salaries to labor inspectors and did not provide vehicles, fuel, or other resources, making it very difficult for labor inspectors to do their work effectively and leaving them vulnerable to bribes and other forms of corruption. The State Department for Labor had yet to hire new inspectors after a large number retired in the previous two years.

Informal Sector: More than 80 percent of citizens worked in the informal sector, according to World Bank data. The Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics reported in 2020 that informal-sector operations cut across all sectors of the economy and sustain a majority of households, with predominant work sectors in order of prevalence including agriculture and livestock, wholesale and retail trade, repair of vehicles and motorcycles, small-scale and home-based manufacturing and production, and accommodation and food service activities.

The law provides social protections for workers employed in the formal and informal sectors. Informal workers organized into associations, cooperatives, and, in some cases, unions. All local employers, including those in the informal sector, are required to contribute to the National Hospital Insurance Fund and the National Social Security Fund; these provide health insurance and pensions, respectively. Most informal workers were not covered because they did not make the required contributions, either because they were self-employed, or their employers did not contribute. Informal workers worked long hours, with high mean weekly working hours of 60 hours. Although informal-sector workers are covered by wage and hour laws and occupational safety and health law, the government did not inspect or enforce violations in the informal sector. Local authorities often harassed home-based and microenterprises, which often operated without licenses due to a lack of business premises. Workers in these enterprises were unable or unlikely to receive help from local authorities to enforce workplace protections and were inhibited from making complaints due to fear of losing their sole livelihood.


Executive Summary

Malawi is a multiparty democracy. Constitutional power is shared between the president and the 193 National Assembly members. In 2019 elections were conducted for president, parliament, and local councils. In February 2020 the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of an opposition challenge, annulling the 2019 presidential election (leaving intact the parliamentary and local results). In June 2020 a new presidential election was conducted, and opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera won 58 percent of the vote, returning the opposition to power for the first time in 26 years. The international community and donors congratulated the country on the strength of its democratic institutions and peaceful transition of power.

The Malawi Police Service, under the Ministry of Homeland Security, has responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The executive branch sometimes instructed the Malawi Defense Force to carry out policing or other domestic activities, such as disaster relief. The Malawi Defense Force commander reports directly to the president as commander in chief. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the Malawi Police Service committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence; and criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

In some cases the government took steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corrupt practices, but impunity remained a problem.

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 the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

In February 2019 Buleya Lule died while in police custody in Lilongwe, just hours after appearing in court as one of six suspects in the abduction of Goodson Makanjira, a boy age 14 with albinism (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination). In a May 2019 report into Lule’s death, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) found the deceased was tortured, and his immediate cause of death was from torture using electricity. Earlier, police arranged an autopsy that attributed his death to intracranial bleeding and hypertension. The MHRC recommended that the police officers involved be prosecuted. In July 2020, 13 officers, including now-suspended police commissioner Evalista Chisale, were arrested for their alleged involvement in the death of Lule. Later that month the officers were released on bail. Although the trial against the 13 officers was ongoing as of October, the government through the Office of the Attorney General accepted liability and agreed to pay Lule’s widow 331 million kwacha ($386,000).

Perpetrators of past abuses were occasionally punished administratively, but investigations often were delayed, abandoned, or remained inconclusive.

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 prohibits the use of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment; however, police sometimes used excessive force and other unlawful practices, including torture, to extract confessions from suspects. The MHRC stated in its annual report that torture was widespread in prisons.

Reputable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with sex workers reported police officers regularly extracted sexual favors from sex workers under the threat of arrest.

In December 2020 a university student age 17 reported being raped by a police officer while she was detained at the Limbe police station in Blantyre. The police officer was subsequently arrested, tried, and convicted in July of raping the girl two times while she was held in custody overnight in December 2020. In August the Limbe Magistrate Court in Blantyre requested that the High Court take up sentencing for the case, which was still pending as of December.

In 2019 the MHRC opened an independent inquiry into allegations police officers raped women and teenage girls in Msundwe, M’bwatalika, and Mpingu in Lilongwe. The alleged rapes were reportedly in retaliation for the killing of police officer Usuman Imedi by an irate mob in Msundwe. A 2019 MHRC report stated police officers raped and sexually assaulted 18 women and girls, at least four younger than age 18. In August 2020 High Court Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda ordered the government to compensate the women. The judge also ordered police authorities to release the report of the internal investigations within 30 days. On August 24, the Malawi Police Service issued a press release disavowing a leaked report titled February 2020 Police Investigation Report that claimed the rapes were staged by a lawyer and two politicians who cajoled the rape victims into making false claims. In the press release, the Malawi Police Service announced its support for a new investigation to be conducted by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

One allegation of sexual abuse involving a girl younger than 18 by one of the country’s peacekeepers was reported in March. Another case of alleged sexual misconduct by one of the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reported in 2016 remained pending at year’s end. Two additional allegations of abuses by Malawian peacekeepers with MONUSCO – in 2016 and 2014 – were reported during 2019. According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were four open allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including one submitted during the year, two submitted in 2018 and one submitted in 2016. As of November the government had not yet provided the accountability measures taken for all four open allegations. The 2016 case remained pending a government investigation. For one of the 2018 cases, the United Nations completed its investigation and was awaiting additional information from the government. The United Nations was still investigating the other 2018 case. The three cases reported in prior years allegedly involved exploitation of an adult, while the case reported during the year allegedly involved the exploitation of a child younger than 18.

Impunity was a problem in the security forces. Impunity was widespread largely due to corruption within the security forces. The IPCC was established to address allegations of police abuse. The functions of the IPCC include receiving and investigating complaints by the public against police officers and the Malawi Police Service, investigating deaths or injuries which are a result of police action, and investigating all deaths and injuries which occur in police custody. The IPCC had strong support from the chief of police but was hampered by limited staff and inadequate funding. Between July 1 and December 31, the IPCC received 99 complaints and commenced investigations on 35 cases. The main challenge to carrying out its mandate was lack of cooperation from police officers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding and poor sanitation; inadequate food, potable water, heating, ventilation, lighting, and health care; and torture.

Physical Conditions: An Inspectorate of Prisons report released in December covering the period from February 2020 to February 2021 indicated the Malawi Prison Service was failing to execute its rehabilitative role, while the courts were failing to exercise their sentence review powers in time. The Inspectorate of Prisons monitoring tour of prisons and police cells across the country conducted most recently in February found recurrent problems of poor sanitation, poor diet, overcrowding, prisoner abuse, poor ventilation, understaffing, prison staff corruption, and insufficient prisoner rehabilitation such as education and vocational training.

Overcrowding and malnutrition remained problems. In December 2020 the Malawi Prison Service reported a total prison population of 14,500 in a space with a designed holding capacity of 7,000. Police held detainees in police stations for long periods beyond the legal limit of 48 hours, which contributed to pervasive cell overcrowding.

Authorities held women separately from men but often held pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together. In police detention centers, children were not always held separately from adults. Although inadequate, conditions in detention facilities for women and children were generally better than men’s facilities.

As of December 2020, according to the prison service, 15 inmates died in prison, all of natural causes. Authorities provided no information by the end of the year whether these deaths could be attributed to prison conditions.

Basic emergency medical care generally was available in the daytime but unavailable after regular working hours. Daily prison rations were meager. Officials allowed family members to provide food and encouraged inmates to grow vegetables and raise livestock in rural prisons. Malnutrition in the prison population remained a problem, however, particularly in urban prisons.

Inadequate infrastructure remained a serious problem. Prisons and detention centers had no provisions for temperature control other than wood fires.

The MHRC and NGOs working in prisons expressed concern regarding the human rights of detained persons. In 2020 the MHRC released a report that cited overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate food and health care as major problems in prisons and detention centers. It stated torture was widespread and that most prisoners and detainees lived in degrading and inhuman conditions.

Administration: Each prison had a designated welfare officer, some of whom had received specialized training, to receive prisoner complaints regarding conditions. The complaints process, however, was primarily verbal and informal, allowed for censorship, and provided little follow-up. Prisoners sometimes had the opportunity to complain to NGOs that recorded cases for inclusion in government advocacy and reports, but this rarely resulted in follow-up on individual cases.

From January to September, the MHRC received one complaint regarding the rights of prisoners. NGOs attributed the low number of submitted complaints to fear of retaliation by authorities.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted domestic and international NGOs and media to visit and monitor prison conditions and donate basic supplies. Domestic NGOs, the Malawi Red Cross Society, and diplomatic representatives had unrestricted access to prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court but does not provide for compensation if the person is found to have been unlawfully detained. Lack of knowledge of statutes and of access to representation meant detainees did not challenge the legality of their detention.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Police apprehended most suspects without a warrant if they had reasonable grounds to believe a crime was being or had been committed. Only in cases involving corruption or white-collar crime were arrest warrants normally issued by a duly authorized official based on evidence presented. The law provides detainees the right to have access to legal counsel and be released from detention or informed of charges by a court within 48 hours of arrest; however, authorities often ignored these rights. The use of temporary remand warrants to circumvent the 48-hour rule was widespread. Police frequently demanded bribes to authorize bail. Bail was often granted to reduce overcrowding in jails, rather than because of legal merit. Relatives were sometimes denied access to detainees. There were no reports detainees were held incommunicado or held under house arrest.

Detainees who could afford counsel were able to meet with counsel in a timely manner. While the law requires the government to provide legal services to indigent detainees, such aid was provided almost exclusively to suspects charged with homicide. The Legal Aid Bureau is mandated to provide legal assistance to indigent persons. As of the end of the year, the bureau had 41 lawyers and 47 paralegals in its four offices, located in the largest cities: Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu, and Zomba. The bureau opened district offices in 13 additional locations: Chitipa, Karonga, Mzimba, Nkhota Kota, Mchinji, Kasungu, Salima, Dedza, Mangochi, Machinga, Nsanje, Mulanje, and Mwanza.

During the year the Center for Human Rights Education, Advice, and Assistance assisted 1,109 persons detained at police stations and in prisons through several projects, camp courts, police cell visits, and a paralegal aid clinic to expedite their release. During the year the center succeeded in obtaining the release of 718 of the 1,109 detainees assisted with the help of its paralegals. The Paralegal Advisory Service Institute and the Center for Legal Assistance, both NGOs that assist prisoners with legal matters, provided limited free legal assistance to expedite trials of detainees. These organizations gave priority to the sick, the young, mothers with infants, persons with disabilities, and those in extended pretrial detention.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, or false arrest. Although sections of the law pertaining to rogues and vagabonds used in the past to make arbitrary arrests were struck down as unconstitutional, police made arrests based on other provisions, such as conduct likely to cause breach of peace and obstruction of police officers. Although prostitution is legal, living off the proceeds of prostitution is illegal. Police regularly harassed sex workers.

Pretrial Detention: Of the total prison population of approximately 14,000 inmates, World Prison Brief reported that as of December 2020 an estimated 2,550, or 18 percent, were in pretrial detention. Despite a statutory 90-day limit on pretrial detention, authorities held most homicide suspects in detention for two to three years before trial. There was evidence some homicide detainees remained in prison awaiting trial for much longer periods, but reliable information on the number and situation of these detainees was unavailable.

To reduce case backlog and excessive pretrial detention, certain cases were directed to local courts and camp courts organized by civil society groups to expedite cases by having magistrates visit prisons to adjudicate cases. Paralegals gathered cases of pretrial detainees awaiting trial for excessive periods, who were held unlawfully, or who had been granted bail but were unable to meet the bail terms set by the court. Magistrates, along with the court clerk and police prosecutor, worked through the list, granting bail to some, reducing bail for others, dismissing cases, or setting trial dates.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The judicial system, however, was inefficient and handicapped by serious weaknesses, including poor recordkeeping; a shortage of judges, attorneys, and other trained personnel; heavy caseloads; and corruption. The slow-moving judicial system, including extensive delays due to motion practice (a three-step court order request), a low bar for granting injunctions, judge shopping, prosecutorial delay tactics, recusals, and lawyers and witnesses not being present on trial dates, undermined the government’s ability to dispense justice.

The Malawi Defense Force conducts courts-martial but not military or security tribunals. A nonjudicial procedure is used more frequently than courts-martial; in this procedure, cases are dealt with summarily by senior officers without a formal trial process. In both procedures military personnel are entitled to the same rights as persons accused in civilian courts.

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants are presumed innocent. The constitution and law require a court to inform an accused of charges within 48 hours of arrest, with free assistance of an interpreter if necessary. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, to have an attorney, and, if indigent, an attorney provided at state expense, but such assistance was usually limited to homicide cases. Defendants have the right to challenge prosecution or plaintiff evidence and witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. By law they may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law does not specify a length of time for the accused to prepare a defense. The slow pace of trials afforded defendants adequate time to prepare, but not to adequate facilities due to insufficient prison system funding. All persons have the right of appeal; however, appeals often were delayed for years and sometimes never addressed by a higher court.

The judiciary’s administrative problems led to backlogs that effectively denied expeditious trials for most defendants and kept some defendants in pretrial detention for long periods. Recruitment and retention of government attorneys remained a problem. Police prosecutors with limited legal training prosecuted most criminal cases. The Directorate of Public Prosecutions in the Ministry of Justice customarily tried high-profile cases and those involving the most serious offenses. The directorate had 19 prosecuting attorneys supported by 17 paralegals, who also prosecuted certain lower court cases. COVID-19 pandemic restrictions caused trial delays.

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 citizens have access to a court to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional courts. The law provides for administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs; however, a lack of legal professionals restricted the number of human rights cases pursued and resulted in a large backlog. As of October there were only 627 licensed legal practitioners in a country of more than 18 million inhabitants.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions.

The law permits police officers of the rank of sub-inspector or higher to conduct searches without a court warrant if they have reasonable grounds to believe they could not otherwise obtain something needed for an investigation without undue delay. Before conducting a search without a warrant, the officer must write a reasonable-grounds justification and give a copy to the owner or occupant of the place to be searched.

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.

Freedom of Expression: Freedom House reported that individuals were prosecuted for online statements.

In April Ignatius Kamwanje was arrested after posting on Facebook that employees at the National Bank of Malawi were stealing money. Bank employees filed a complaint with police. In June Kamwanje pleaded guilty to a spamming charge and was fined.

In May Irene Chisulo Majiga was arrested after she filed a WhatsApp voice note that a person accused of rape had been released under suspicious circumstances. She pleaded guilty to spreading false news and was fined.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: On January 1, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi published a report on the status of media freedom during the first six months of President Chakwera’s administration (July to December 2020). In the report, MISA documented cases where some cabinet members and supporters of the president’s ruling Tonse Alliance coalition had called and threatened journalists who had published articles deemed to be critical of the alliance. On May 3, during a panel discussion at a function commemorating World Press Freedom Day, Presidential Director of Communications Sean Kampondeni responded to the report’s allegations, reassuring journalists of their safety and stating, “cases of intimidation or threats against the media are not based on government policy. They are just cases of public officials abusing their offices. Government policy is to regard the media as free.”

Violence and Harassment: On April 2, police detained reporter Enock Balakasi of Joy Radio for more than two hours after he photographed police who had responded to an attempted suicide in Kawale, a suburb of Lilongwe. Balakasi claimed police accused him of photographing them without permission and deleted photos from his cell phone. Balakasi told the Committee to Protect Journalists that police charged him with conduct likely to cause a breach of peace, obstructing police officers on duty, and working without permission from police, but then dropped the charges after interrogating him and released him unconditionally.

On June 30, police beat and briefly detained journalist Oliver Malibisa of Likoma Community Radio, after he tried to film a student demonstration at a local secondary school. One officer struck him with a gun, another pepper-sprayed him, and they took him to a police station before releasing him without charge two hours later.

Libel/Slander Laws: According to Freedom House, the law provides for criminal penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment for libel, although it noted most cases were prosecuted as civil matters or settled out of court. According to the NGO End Blasphemy Laws, the law makes insulting the religion of another person a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment of up to a year. The NGO found no indication that these provisions were enforced.

On April 6, police in Lilongwe interrogated reporter Watipaso Mzungu of the news website Nyasa Times concerning an article he published on April 2. Mzungu quoted a local activist in the article who referred to President Lazarus Chakwera as “a joker” and a “time waster” in relation to a proposed reshuffling of his cabinet. On April 6, police called Mzungu in for questioning and instructed him not to bring a lawyer. During questioning at the Lilongwe police headquarters, officers told Mzungu that the article constituted a criminal insult of the president and an attempt to undermine the authority of the head of state. The interrogation lasted approximately two hours, during which time Mzungu reported his requests to contact his lawyer or editor were denied. He was released unconditionally after giving a statement in which he stood by the article.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, and the government respected this right. The government required registration of all NGOs and political parties. NGOs must register with three different government entities and pay significant yearly registration fees.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The constitution and law provide 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 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. As a result of COVID-19 border closures, UNHCR reported only 2,612 new arrivals from January to September.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and as of October the government provided protection to more than 51,000 individuals. Asylum seekers primarily came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Most of them remained designated as asylum seekers.

In 2019 the government published a gazette notice recognizing asylum seekers from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, in North and South Kivu Provinces, and Katanga Region as refugees. By year’s end the government had yet to follow through on implementation of automatic refugee status for Congolese asylum seekers pursuant to the 2019 notice. As of August the number of asylum seekers who had not received a determination of refugee status stood at 34,739.

The government continued to ban registration of perceived lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) asylum seekers on the basis that it was against the law. UNHCR continued to advocate for the Ministry of Homeland Security to reverse its decision and consider registration and processing of all arrivals, including LGBTQI+ cases. UNHCR continued to register persons of concern in the database and conducted the mandatory refugee status determination.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Security forces sometimes intimidated refugees and asylum seekers. Police routinely detained and returned to the Dzaleka Camp refugees found outside of the camp, including those with proper identity documents. During the year UNHCR received no cases of refugees facing forced return to their countries of origin.

There were multiple reports of refugees engaging in survival sex to obtain income to supplement food rations and other necessities in the Dzaleka Camp. UNHCR also reported gender-based violence at Dzaleka.

The MHRC received one complaint of mistreatment at the Dzaleka Camp.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees were subject to an encampment policy that restricted them to the Dzaleka Camp, the only official designated refugee camp. Dzaleka Camp, initially built for 10,000 individuals, held more than 51,000 persons of concern. Severe overcrowding increased a range of risks including the spread of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases. In addition, overcrowding burdened resources and facilities. Authorities periodically rounded up and returned to the Dzaleka Camp those who left it. On April 1, the Ministry of Homeland Security issued a letter ordering all refugees and asylum seekers living and conducting business in communities outside Dzaleka to return to the camp within 14 days, affecting more than 4,000 refugees and asylum seekers. UNHCR in the country stated the directive was in line with the country’s encampment laws but advised the government to reconsider. One day before the deadline set by the government, Malawi’s Supreme Court granted an injunction preventing the government from going ahead with the action. Judicial review of the policy remained pending as of the end of the year.

Employment: In general, the government did not allow refugees to seek employment or educational opportunities outside the camp. Most refugees were dependent on donor-funded humanitarian assistance. A small number of refugees with professional degrees received permits to pursue employment and other opportunities outside the camp, but these refugees may be compelled to return to camps if the order to return to camps is implemented.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR, NGOs, and the government collaborated to provide most basic services. Refugees had access to education and health-care services through camp schools and clinics. Overtaxed facilities served both refugees and local communities. For example, health services in the camp designed to serve 12,000 individuals served 80,000 refugees, asylum seekers, and host community residents. Dzaleka’s water and sanitation facilities fell short of international standards. The inability of most refugees to grow food or earn money due to the encampment policy resulted in 96 percent of the refugees living below the poverty line. Donor-funded assistance did not keep pace with the increasing refugee population.

While local laws and the justice system applied to refugees, inefficiencies and inadequate resources limited access to the system. Law enforcement capacity was extremely limited at the Dzaleka Camp because it had only 13 police officers.

g. Stateless Persons

The law does not prevent persons born in the country of unknown or stateless parents from becoming stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 citizens voted in simultaneous presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. International observers characterized conduct of those elections as generally competent, professional, and successful. With 39 percent of the vote, incumbent President Arthur Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party was re-elected to a second five-year term. Lazarus Chakwera of the main opposition Malawi Congress Party received 35 percent of the vote, while Mutharika’s former vice president Saulos Chilima of the United Transformation Movement received 20 percent of the vote. Chakwera and Chilima challenged the election results in court and sought an annulment of the election. In February 2020 the High Court nullified the election, and in May 2020 the Supreme Court of Appeal reaffirmed the nullification. Another presidential election was conducted in June 2020 that opposition leader Chakwera won as the torchbearer of the nine-party Tonse Alliance with 58 percent of the votes. Former president Peter Mutharika garnered 39 percent of the votes.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, including persons with disabilities, and they did participate. Cultural and traditional gender bias and lower levels of literacy, education, and economic empowerment prevented women from participating in the political process to the same extent as men. More women contested parliament and local councilor seats in 2019 than ever before, but a majority ran as independents as the primary system often disadvantaged women from competing as party candidates. Women reported harassment and intimidation when campaigning. There were 45 women elected to the 193-seat National Assembly and 67 women among the 462 elected local councilors. In the 31-member cabinet, there were 12 women of whom four were ministers and eight were deputy ministers. These represented gains of 7 percent in parliament, a 1 percent increase in local councilors, and an 8 percent increase in cabinet positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

The government, in cooperation with donors, continued implementation of an action plan to pursue cases of corruption, reviewed how the “Cashgate” corruption scandal occurred, and introduced internal controls and improved systems to prevent further occurrences. Progress on investigations and promised reforms was slow.

Corruption: On April 18, President Chakwera announced the results of an investigative audit into the use of COVID-19 relief funds, which revealed the misuse of 494 million kwacha ($576,000). The investigation led to the arrests of more than 60 individuals across all levels of government and led Chakwera to dismiss the minister of labor for his role in the scheme. The Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) is the agency primarily responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases of official corruption. It also works to educate the civil service and public on anticorruption matters. As of 2020 the bureau reported it completed 35 investigations and completed prosecution of 19 cases of which 10 resulted in convictions, three were acquittals, three were dismissed, and one was discharged; two were civil cases where individuals unsuccessfully sued the ACB. In the 2020/21 national budget, the government increased the ACB budget by 39 percent to allow an increase in staff and resources to investigate and prosecute cases.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, training civic educators, advocating changes to existing laws and cultural practices, and investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The MHRC, an independent government-chartered institution, is mandated by the constitution to promote and protect human rights and investigate human rights abuses. Despite its independent leadership, resource shortfalls resulted in a backlog of cases, delayed production of reports, and limited investigation of human rights abuses. The ombudsman and the law commissioner are ex officio members of the MHRC.

The Office of the Ombudsman is mandated to investigate cases of maladministration such as abuse of power, manifest injustice, oppressive conduct, and unfair treatment. Despite having a wider mandate under the constitution to investigate both public- and private-sector offenses, problems of limited capacity led the office to investigate only public officials and entities as the Ombudsman Act prescribes. According to the Office of the Ombudsman, it also prioritizes investigations relating to accountability of public resources. The office had 20 investigators, complemented by five full-time legal officers who handle the investigation of cases. During the year the Office conducted more than 50 public-awareness campaigns in seven of the country’s 28 districts, 46 radio programs on community radio stations, and three television programs on national television stations reaching approximately 3.8 million persons.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and girls with a maximum penalty of death for conviction. A 2015 law explicitly introduced the concept of spousal rape, but the act does not prescribe specific penalties for conviction and applies only to legally separated spouses. Spousal rape may be prosecuted under the rape provisions of the penal code. The government generally enforced the law effectively, and convicted rapists routinely received prison sentences.

Data on the prevalence of rape or spousal rape, prosecutions, and convictions were unavailable; however, press reporting of rape and defilement (statutory rape) arrests and convictions were an almost daily occurrence. Although the maximum penalty for conviction of rape is death or life imprisonment, the courts generally imposed lesser prison sentences. For cases of conviction of indecent assault on women and girls, the maximum penalty is 14 years’ imprisonment. A person convicted of indecent assault on a boy younger than age 14 may be imprisoned for up to seven years.

The Ministry of Gender, Community Development, and Social Welfare and donor-funded NGOs conducted public-education campaigns to combat domestic sexual harassment, violence, and rape.

The law provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for conviction of domestic violence and recognizes that both men and women may be perpetrators as well as victims. Domestic violence, especially wife beating, was common, although victims rarely sought legal recourse. Police regularly investigated cases of rape, sexual assault, and gender-based violence but did not normally intervene in domestic disputes. Police support units provided limited shelter for some abuse survivors.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C. There were no national statistics on FGM/C. The practice of labia elongation or pulling has been documented. It was performed on girls ages 11 to 15 during sexual initiation camps in rural areas of the Southern Region.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law prohibits harmful social, cultural, or religious practices, including “widow cleansing” and “widow inheritance.” Nonetheless, in some areas widows were sometimes forced to have sex with male in-laws or a designee as part of a culturally mandated “sexual cleansing” ritual following the death of the husband. In some cases widows were “inherited” by a brother-in-law or other male relative. The government and NGOs sought to abolish such practices by raising awareness concerning the inherent dangers of such behavior, including the risk of HIV transmission.

Kupimbira, a practice that allows a poor family to receive a loan or livestock in exchange for pubescent daughters, existed in some areas.

Despite certain legal prohibitions, many abusive practices, including the secret initiation of girls into the socially prescribed roles of womanhood, continued. Such initiations were often aimed at preparing girls for marriage with emphasis on how to engage in sexual acts. In some traditional communities, girls as young as 10 undergo kusasa fumbi, a “cleansing ritual” in which the girls are raped by men. According to one UN-sponsored study in 2018, more than 20 percent of girls in secondary school underwent a form of initiation that involved rape by an older man.

Sexual Harassment: Although sexual harassment was believed to be widespread, there were no data on its prevalence or on the effectiveness of government enforcement of the law. The law makes conviction of sexual harassment punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and places an obligation on government to have policies and procedures aimed at eliminating sexual harassment. Conviction of “insulting the modesty” of a woman is a misdemeanor punishable by one year’s incarceration. Conviction in extreme cases, such as indecent assault on a woman or girl is punishable by sentences of up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

On March 29, the MHRC released a report which alleged former director general of the state-owned broadcaster Malawi Broadcasting Corporation Aubrey Sumbuleta sexually harassed eight female employees. The report recommended compensation for victims and Sumbuleta’s prosecution for indecent assault. The report resulted from an investigation initiated in response to a July 2020 petition calling for Sumbuleta’s dismissal. On April 17, Sumbuleta was arrested and soon after was charged on six counts of indecent assault and abuse of office. He was released on bail on May 20.

In April the MHRC launched the country’s first workplace sexual harassment policy. The policy aims to safeguard employees and persons seeking services at the MHRC from unwelcome sexual advances and provide them with reporting guidelines. The policy provides the mechanism for handling complaints, actions to be taken against perpetrators and strategies for assisting survivors, including accessing legal remedies.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children.

Health-care clinics and local NGOs operated freely in disseminating information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Health. Access to contraceptives was limited in rural areas. According to the 2016 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (MDHS), 58 percent of girls and women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. The government provided free childbirth services, but availability depended upon access to hospitals and other medical facilities in rural areas.

The MDHS estimated the maternal mortality rate was 439 deaths per 100,000 live births, and a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 41. HIV and AIDS and adolescent pregnancy were factors in these high rates. Nurses and midwives were a critical component of prenatal and postnatal care due to a shortage of doctors. According to the National Statistical Office, skilled health-care providers assisted in 90 percent of births in 2018. There was only limited access to emergency obstetric care, particularly in rural areas.

Cultural beliefs regarding menstruation and lack of access to menstruation hygiene resources impacted women’s and girls’ ability to participate equally in society, including limiting girls’ access to education. Cultural practices in some regions traditionally excluded menstruating women and girls from participation in social activities, such as forbidding them from talking to male figures or being present where food is being cooked. UNICEF reported that increased availability of menstruation hygiene products such as reusable pads in recent years decreased absenteeism of women and girls in school and in the workplace but stated that lack of access to appropriate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities continued to be a problem. Factors such as pregnancy, economic hardship, and marriage were the main reasons that girls drop out of school. The country has policies allowing reentry for adolescent mothers. Pregnant students are suspended for one year. They can apply for readmission after this period only by sending requests to the Ministry of Education as well as the school. Many teachers have not seen the policy and were unsure how to implement it.

Discrimination: By law women have the same legal status and rights as men and may not be discriminated against based on gender or marital status, including in the workplace. Nevertheless, women had significantly lower levels of literacy, education, and formal and nontraditional employment opportunities, as well as lower rates of access to resources for farming. Widows often were victims of discriminatory and illegal inheritance practices in which most of an estate was taken by the deceased husband’s family. Although citizen men may sponsor their wives for naturalization, the law does not permit citizen women to sponsor their husbands for naturalization.

The government addressed women’s concerns through the Ministry of Gender, Community Development, and Social Welfare. The law provides for a minimum level of child support, widows’ rights, and maternity leave; however, few knew their rights or had access to the legal system and thus did not benefit from these legal protections.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnic origin. The MHRC is constitutionally charged with the responsibility of protecting and investigating human rights abuses. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Despite numerous tribal groups with diverse cultures, languages, and traditions, violence and discrimination due to tribal, ethnic, or racial differences were rare. The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished persons complicit in violence and abuses.

The government took various measures to ensure equal access to education and employment at all levels of society, including a deliberate policy for free primary education to ensure equal access to basic education for all citizens, irrespective of their tribal, ethnic, cultural, or geographical origin.

The government launched numerous programs to promote social stability, including preventing racial and ethnic violence and discrimination. The government’s Malawi 2063 economic development plan includes numerous initiatives to mitigate poverty and address unemployment. The MHRC conducted effective awareness campaigns to address societal racial or ethnic biases.


Birth Registration: Citizenship may be derived from birth within the country or abroad to at least one citizen parent “of African race.” There were no reports of discrimination or denial of services due to lack of birth registration.

Education: The government provided tuition-free primary education for all children, although many families could not afford exercise book fees and uniforms, and limited space in secondary schools prevented many students from continuing beyond primary education. In a reversal of previous trends, girls outnumbered boys in primary enrollment. Although initial secondary school enrollment rates for girls and boys were approximately the same, girls tended to drop out of secondary school at much higher rates. Girls accounted for approximately 63 percent of secondary school dropouts.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. The press regularly reported cases of sexual abuse of children, including arrests for rape, incest, sodomy, and defilement.

The law prohibits subjecting a child to any social or customary practice that is harmful to health or general development. Prohibited practices include child trafficking, forced labor, early and forced marriage or betrothal, and use of children as security for loans or other debts.

The Ministry of Gender, Community Development, and Social Welfare activities to enhance protection and support of child victims included reuniting rescued victims of child labor with their parents and operating shelters for vulnerable children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage:  The law sets the minimum age for marriage at 18. According to UNICEF, 46 percent of girls were married before 18, and 9 percent of girls were married before 15. Civic education on early marriage was carried out mainly by NGOs. Some traditional leaders annulled early marriages and returned the girls involved to school.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law forbids engaging in sexual activity with children younger than age 16, which is also the minimum age for sexual consent. The law further prohibits “indecent practice” in the presence of or with a child.

The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography and using a child for public entertainment of an immoral or harmful nature. The law was not effectively enforced.

The widespread belief that children were unlikely to be HIV-positive and that sexual intercourse with virgins could cleanse an individual of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS, contributed to the widespread sexual exploitation of minors. The trafficking of children for sexual purposes was a problem, and children engaged in commercial sex for survival at the behest of parents or without third-party involvement occurred. In urban areas bar and rest house owners recruited girls as young as 12 from rural areas to do household work such as cleaning and cooking. They then coerced them to engage in commercial sex with customers in exchange for room and board.

Displaced Children: According to the 2015 Demographic and Health Survey, 20 percent of children younger than age 18 were not living with either biological parent, and 12 percent were orphaned or vulnerable due to extended parental illness or death. Extended family members normally cared for such children and other orphans.

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


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

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law requires such access. Government information and communication was provided in accessible formats. Societal stigma related to disability and the lack of accessibility to public buildings and transportation negatively affected the ability of persons with disabilities to obtain services and obtain and maintain employment.

The law prohibits discrimination in education, health care, the judicial system, social services, the workplace, housing, political life, and cultural and sporting activities for persons with disabilities, defined as a long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairment. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in political and public life and calls for the government to take measures to provide access for them to transportation, information, and communication services. The law provides for the establishment of a disability trust fund to support persons with disabilities, including regarding access to public facilities, both governmental and private.

Accommodations for persons with disabilities were not among the government’s priorities. Although the relevant law took effect in 2013, the government had yet to adopt standards and plans for its enforcement and implementation. The Ministry of Gender, Community Development, and Social Welfare is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, but it was unable to do so.

There were public and privately supported schools and training centers that assisted persons with disabilities. As of September the MHRC reported that no complaints were received related to abuse of disability rights.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS remained a problem, especially in rural areas. Many individuals preferred to keep silent regarding their health conditions rather than seek help and risk being ostracized. Campaigns by the government and NGOs to combat the stigma had some success. The National AIDS Commission maintained that discrimination was a problem in both the public and private sectors.

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

The Center for the Development of People documented 16 instances of abuse based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The nature of the abuses fell into three broad categories: stigma, harassment, and violence. Although victims were willing to report the abuses to the center, they did not want their orientation to be revealed to their families or the public, so no investigations or prosecutions resulted.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, or “unnatural offenses,” and conviction is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment, including hard labor. Conviction of attempting “unnatural offenses” is punishable by seven years’ imprisonment. The penal code also criminalizes “indecent practices” between men as well as between women and provides for punishment of five years’ imprisonment if convicted. The government did not actively enforce these laws.

Same-sex sexual conduct may also be prosecuted as “conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace.”

The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons. The revised Malawi National Strategic Plan for HIV and AIDS (202025) included transgender persons and men who have sex with men as part of the key populations to be targeted to reach its goals.

Mobs and local citizens sometimes engaged in vigilante attacks, at times killing persons suspected of crimes such as theft.

There were several attacks on persons with albinism driven by demand for body parts for witchcraft rituals. Religious, traditional, civil society, and political leaders, including the president, denounced the attacks. On August 13, the mutilated body of Ian Muhama, a 20-year-old man with albinism, was found in Kachere Township in Blantyre. Nine police officers from the nearby Limbe police station were later suspended in September for allegedly compromising the investigation by attempting to conceal the crime.

In March a baby with albinism, age 20 months, was abducted from its home in the southern city of Chikwawa. In a sign of increased vigilance against killings of persons with albinism, courts across the country handed down severe sentences to those convicted of killing persons with albinism.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers, except for military personnel and police, to form and join trade unions of their choice without previous authorization. Unions must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers’ Organizations in the Ministry of Labor; registration requirements are not onerous, but failure to meet annual reporting requirements may result in cancellation of a union’s registration. The law places some restrictions on the right to collectively bargain, including requirements of prior authorization by authorities, and bargaining status. The law provides for unions to conduct their activities without government interference. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for remedial measures in cases of dismissal for union activity. The law does not specifically prohibit retaliation against strikers or actions against unions that are not registered.

The law requires that at least 20 percent of employees (excluding senior managerial staff) belong to a union before it may engage in collective bargaining at the enterprise (factory) level, and at least 15 percent of employees must be union members for collective bargaining at the sector (industry) level. The law provides for the establishment of industrial councils in the absence of collective agreements for sector-level bargaining. Industrial council functions include wage negotiation, dispute resolution, and industry-specific labor policy development.

The law allows members of a registered union to strike after going through a mandatory mediation process overseen by the Ministry of Labor. A strike may take place only after failure of a lengthy settlement procedure, including seven days’ notice of a strike and a 21-day conciliation process as set out in the Labor Relations Act. An amendment to the Employment Act and Labor Relations Act enacted in October allows employers to deduct wages from striking employees if they strike for more than three days per year. The law also requires the labor minister to apply to the Industrial Relations Court to determine whether a strike involves an “essential service,” the interruption of which would endanger the life, health, or personal safety of part of the population. The law does not provide a specific list of essential services, but the amendment to the Labor Relations Act enacted during the year authorizes the minister of labor to designate categories of workers deemed essential who are not allowed to strike. Before the amendment, members of a registered union in essential services had only a limited right to strike. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in export-processing zones. The law does not apply to most workers who are in the informal sector without work contracts.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. As was true of all cases entering the justice system, lack of capacity resulted in delays of some labor cases. Small fines for most violations were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Provisions exist for punishment of up to two years’ imprisonment, but no convictions were reported.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were adequately respected for those in the formal sector. Union membership among workers was low due to the small percentage of the workforce in the formal sector.

Arbitration rulings were legally enforceable; however, the Industrial Relations Court (IRC) did not monitor cases or adequately enforce the laws. The amendment to the Labor Relations Act restructured the Industrial Relations Court to eliminate the requirement of employer and employee panelists. Furthermore, the IRC is required to have permanent staff only.

The Ministry of Labor launched the Malawi Decent Country Programme II in September, modeled on the International Labor Organization (ILO) Decent Work Agenda, to improve worker rights and protections through support from the ILO and other development partners.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but penalties for conviction were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. The amendment to the Employment Act during the year prohibits unlawful labor, including forced and tenancy labor. Violations of the act can incur a fine of up to five million kwacha ($5,830) and five years’ imprisonment for anyone convicted of exacting, imposing, causing, or permitting forced or tenancy labor.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and forced labor occurred during the year, especially in agriculture (predominantly the tobacco industry), goat and cattle herding, and brickmaking. Child forced labor also occurred (see section 7.c.). Under the tenancy system, estate owners recruited farmers from distant districts to grow tobacco for them on their estates. The tenants were often promised such services as accommodation and food rations as well as a share of the earnings from sales. Tenant farmers included men and women, usually accompanied by their children and dependents. Most tenants were from the southern region of the country and worked in the central or northern region. Employers loaned tenant farmers money to buy agricultural inputs during the growing season, which could turn into situations of debt bondage if they were unable to repay the loans. An amendment to the Employment Act during the year outlawed tenancy labor.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 14, and children between ages 14 and 18 may not work in hazardous jobs or jobs that interfere with their education. The prohibition of child labor does not apply to work done in homes, noncommercial farms, vocational technical schools, or other training institutions. The law provides a list of hazardous work for children and specifies a fine or imprisonment for conviction of violations. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

Police and Ministry of Labor officials were responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and child labor occurred.

Child labor, including the worst forms of child labor, remained a serious and widespread problem. In December the National Statistics Office released the Malawi Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicating that 14 percent of children between age five and 17 years engage in child labor, with 22 percent working in hazardous conditions. Child labor was most prevalent in agriculture, especially tea, tobacco, and livestock herding, brickmaking and construction, and domestic service. Forced child labor also occurred, particularly in agriculture, construction, forced begging and street work, in illicit activities, and commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children). Children often worked 12-hour days, frequently for little or no pay. Many boys worked as vendors, and young girls in urban areas often worked outside their families as domestic servants, receiving low or no wages. Children who worked in the tobacco industry risked working with hazardous chemicals and sometimes suffered from nicotine poisoning. The closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic led more children into situations of child labor, especially in rural areas.

In 2019 the Tobacco Industry Act came into force, requiring tobacco growers to report on efforts to eliminate child labor in tobacco farming. As a result of the law, most major tobacco companies put in place systems to address child and forced labor in their supply chain, and the Tobacco Commission engaged in awareness-raising activities.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The employment law prohibits discrimination against any employee or prospective employee but does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity, and the government in general did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for laws related to civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender and disability (see section 6). Despite the law against discrimination based on gender or marital status, discrimination against women was pervasive, and women did not have opportunities equal to those available to men. Women had significantly lower levels of literacy, education, and formal and informal employment opportunities. Few women participated in the limited formal labor market, and underrepresentation in the employment of women in managerial and administrative jobs was especially poor. Households headed by women were overrepresented in the lowest quarter of income distribution. In October 2020 protesters criticized the government’s failure to comply with the law’s requirement to include no less than 40 percent of either men or women in public appointments.

LGBTQI+ individuals faced discrimination in hiring and harassment, and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The minister of labor sets the minimum wage rate based on recommendations of the Tripartite Wage Advisory Board composed of representatives of labor, government, and employers. The minimum wage was set below the World Bank’s poverty income level. The government reported during the year that 51 percent of citizens lived below the poverty line.

Migrant workers are entitled to the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens if they comply with immigration laws. Those persons not in compliance, however, lacked these protections and were subject to deportation.

The legal workweek is 48 hours, with a mandatory weekly 24-hour rest period. The law requires premium payment for overtime work and prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for a period of annual leave of no less than 15 working days.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. Under the law labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections but lack the authority to initiate sanctions. The government did not provide information on the number of labor inspectors nor on government actions during the year to prevent violations, particularly for vulnerable groups.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law establishes occupational safety and health (OSH) standards that are appropriate for the main industries in the country. The Ministry of Labor houses a Directorate of Occupational Safety and Health responsible for minimum standards, but the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Workers, particularly in industrial jobs, often worked without basic safety clothing and equipment. Workers harvesting tobacco leaves generally did not wear protective clothing and absorbed up to 54 milligrams of dissolved nicotine daily through their skin, the equivalent of 50 cigarettes.

Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment. Workers dismissed for filing complaints regarding workplace conditions have the right to file a complaint at the labor office or sue the employer for wrongful dismissal; however, these processes were not widely publicized, and workers were unlikely to exercise these rights. Authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation.

The government did not effectively enforce laws related to OSH, wages, or overtime. Workweek and annual leave standards were not effectively enforced, and employers frequently violated statuary time restrictions. Alleged violations of wage, hour, and overtime laws were believed to be widespread and, according to a 2017 Ministry of Labor report, were common across both the private and public sectors. The Ministry of Labor’s enforcement of health and safety standards was also poor. The law specifies fines and imprisonment for violations, but these penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, and no reports of jail terms were ever reported.

Informal Sector: More than 88 percent of Malawi’s working population worked in the informal sector. Informal workers included street and market vendors, artisans, small veranda (khondes) businesses, cross-border traders, and smallholder tea farmers. A study by the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions found that informal workers endured unsafe and unhealthy working conditions; the law does not protect workers outside the formal sector.

Approximately 15,000 of two million informal workers were organized in the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector (MUFIS), which is affiliated with the Malawi Congress of Trade Unions. MUFIS worked with district councils to address matters affecting informal workers due in part to a Ministry of Labor decision that MUFIS did not have sufficient standing to bargain collectively with employers.


Executive Summary

Zambia is a constitutional republic governed by a democratically elected president and a unicameral national assembly. On August 12, the country held elections for president, national assembly seats, and local government. The United Party for National Development candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, won the election by a wide margin. Incumbent president and Patriotic Front candidate, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, conceded and facilitated a peaceful transition of presidential power. International and local observers deemed the election technically well-managed but cited several irregularities. The pre-election period was marred by abuse of incumbency, restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and movement, and political party intolerance resulting in sporadic violence across the country. Although the results were deemed a credible reflection of votes cast, media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favored the ruling party and prevented the election from being genuinely free and fair.

The Zambia Police Service has primary responsibility for internal security and reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security. The military consists of the Zambia Army, the Zambia Air Force, and the Zambia National Service, under the Ministry of Defense. The commanders of each respective service, however, are appointed by and report directly to the president. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities in cases of national emergency. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the internal security forces committed numerous abuses.

President Hichilema’s victory in the August 12 election represented a significant break from years of authoritarian drift. Hichilema’s election occurred despite ruling party efforts to tilt the electoral playing field in its favor. Hichilema has announced plans to combat corruption, enshrine protections for human rights, and strengthen independent media. His administration has also voiced strong support for human rights and democratic governance at international fora.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by government agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious restrictions on free expression online and in the media and the press, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, censorship, and the application of criminal libel and slander laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the right to freedom of assembly; official corruption; the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and widespread child labor.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of human rights abuses. Nevertheless, impunity before the August 12 elections remained a problem because perpetrators affiliated with the ruling party or serving in government were either not prosecuted for serious crimes or, if prosecuted, were acquitted or released after serving small fractions of prison sentences. During the Lungu administration, the government applied the law selectively to prosecute or punish individuals who committed abuses and mostly targeted those who criticized the ruling party. The government also took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials for corruption, although impunity remained widespread.

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 government agents under the Lungu administration committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. For example, in December 2020 police shot and killed National Prosecution Authority prosecutor Nsama Chipyoka and United Party for National Development (UPND) member Joseph Kaunda during a peaceful protest. The killings occurred when President Hichilema, then opposition UPND leader, appeared at police headquarters for interrogations in response to a police summons. On February 24, police arrested and charged Constable Fanwell Nyundu with two counts of murder in connection with the killings. In its March 4 statement released after independent investigations into the killings, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) noted that the shooting was an excessive use of force and a blatant violation of the rights to life, freedom of assembly, and movement and alleged that former Lusaka Province police commissioner Nelson Phiri was responsible for the killings. The case relating to the killing remained pending trial at year’s end.

Police in Petauke shot and killed a suspect in full view of onlookers. According to the HRC, the suspect was trying to run away after being found with a gun in his car at a roadblock. Despite capturing him, police shot the man “at close range”, the HRC reported. Media also reported that prison wardens beat an inmate to death at Luwingu correctional facility for allegedly trying to escape from custody.

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 prohibits cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, no law addresses torture specifically. In 2020 local media reported police used arbitrary and excessive force to enforce public health regulations implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Impunity remained a significant problem within the security forces, particularly police, under the guise of enforcing public health regulations to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the lead up to the August 12 general elections. The factors that contributed to impunity were the deliberate and unbalanced application of the Public Order Act and public health regulations, as well as lack of training in, understanding of, and respect for human rights. According to the HRC, police frequently used disproportionate force during the Lungu administration. In June 2020 the Zambia Police Service with the HRC and UN Development Program assistance instituted COVID-19 standard operating enforcement procedures that provided for the enforcement of COVID-19 measures by security and law enforcement officers in a manner that safeguards human rights.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical conditions in prisons and detention centers remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, frequent outbreaks of disease, food and potable water shortages, poor sanitation, and inadequate medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons and other detention facilities remained a problem. For example, Lusaka Central Correctional Facility as of August had 1,088 male inmates in a facility with a holding capacity of 500 male inmates, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Undikumbukire Project Zambia reported. As of December 21, there were 23,157 inmates across the country’s correctional facilities with a holding capacity of 9,000, the Zambia Correctional Service reported. According to the Prisons Care and Counseling Association (PRISCCA), congestion was mainly due to a slow-moving, highly centralized judicial system, outdated laws, and increased incarceration due to higher numbers of prosecutions of petty offenses. Other factors included limitations on magistrates’ powers to impose noncustodial sentences, a retributive police culture, and poor bail and bonding conditions. Indigent inmates lacked access to costly bail and legal representation. A shortage of high court judges in the country’s six provinces delayed the execution of magistrate orders to transfer juveniles being held with adults in prisons and jails to reformatories. In May then president Lungu pardoned 579 inmates and 60 additional inmates in August, and President Hichilema pardoned 1,018 inmates on December 24.

There were no reports of deaths in prison attributed to physical conditions.

The law requires separation of different categories of prisoners, but only gender separation was routinely practiced. According to the HRC, some correctional facilities did not strictly follow guidelines on separating different prisoner categories. There was no total separation of juveniles from adult prisoners at police or remand level. Although most correctional facilities have isolation cells for juveniles, total separation holding cells were nonexistent, PRISCCA reported. Incarcerated women who had no alternative for childcare could choose to have their infants and children younger than age four with them in prison. Inadequate ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and basic and emergency medical care remained problems. Many prisons had deficient medical facilities, and female inmates’ access to gynecological care was extremely limited. Many prisons had meager food supplies. Lack of potable water resulted in serious outbreaks of waterborne and foodborne diseases, including dysentery and cholera. According to PRISCCA and the HRC, prison food was nutritionally inadequate, and prisoners noted insufficient bedding (blankets and mattresses) and poor sanitation. The prison healthcare system remained understaffed. The incidence of tuberculosis remained high due to overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of compulsory testing, and prisoner transfers. The supply of tuberculosis medication and other essential drugs was erratic. Failure to remove or quarantine sick inmates resulted in the spread of tuberculosis and other illnesses and the deaths of several prisoners. In February then Zambia correctional service commissioner general Dr. Chileshe Chisela announced the service had recorded 100 cases of COVID-19. The announcement followed the death of an inmate from COVID-19 at Namuseche Prison in Chipata.

The HRC and PRISCCA expressed concern at the lack of isolation facilities for the sick and for persons with a psychiatric condition. Although prisoners infected with HIV or AIDS were able to access antiretroviral treatment services within prison healthcare facilities, their special dietary needs and those of persons under treatment for tuberculosis were inadequately met. Prisons also failed to address adequately the needs of persons with disabilities.

Administration: A formal mechanism to investigate allegations of prisoner mistreatment existed through the Police Public Complaints Commission. The commission received complaints and disciplined some erring police and prison officers, but human rights groups reported it did not effectively investigate complaints and was staffed by former officers who often hesitated to prosecute their colleagues.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison monitoring by independent local and international NGOs and religious institutions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. It also provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Although the government generally observed these requirements, there were frequent reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions, including in situations of civil disputes.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution and law require authorities to obtain a warrant before arresting a person for most offenses. Police officers do not need a warrant, however, if they suspect a person has committed offenses such as treason, sedition, defamation of the president, or unlawful assembly. Police rarely obtained warrants before making arrests regardless of the offense.

Although the law requires that detainees appear before a court within 24 to 48 hours of arrest and be informed of the charges against them, authorities routinely held detainees for as long as six months before trial. The HRC noted this abuse remained common particularly in rural districts where subordinate courts operated in circuits, because detainees could be tried only when a circuit court judge was in the district.

Based on a constitutional presumption of innocence, the law provides for bail in most cases. Bail is not granted for persons charged with murder, aggravated robbery, narcotics violations, espionage, or treason. Before granting bail, courts often required at least one employed person, usually a government employee, to vouch for the detainee.

Detainees generally did not have prompt access to a lawyer. Although the law obligates the government to provide an attorney to indigent persons who face serious charges, many defendants were unaware of this right. The government’s legal aid office and the Legal Resources Foundation provided legal services to some indigent arrestees but could not meet demand.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to human rights groups, arbitrary or false arrest and detention continued through the duration of the Lungu administration. Police often summoned family members of criminal suspects for questioning, and authorities arrested criminal suspects based on uncorroborated accusations or as a pretext for extortion. For example, on April 13, police in Lusaka arrested UPND members Ackson Sejani (a former cabinet minister), Vincent Lilanda, Javen Simoloka, and Fines Malambo, and detained them in police custody for a month without charges. The suspects appeared in court on April 22, jointly charged with Veronica Mukuni, wife of prominent traditional leader Chief Mukuni, for allegedly abducting Pheluna and Milton Hatembo, two family members who in January unsuccessfully sued President Hichilema, then opposition UPND leader, claiming he had illegally obtained their land. Police also arrested civil society activist Partner Siabatuba on March 10 in connection with the alleged abduction and detained him for more than five days without charge, before releasing him. The HRC reported that the detentions were baseless and politically motivated.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention, including that of irregular migrants awaiting trial or removal, continued to be a problem. On average, detainees spent an estimated six months in pretrial detention, which often exceeded the maximum length of the prison sentence corresponding to the detainee’s alleged crime. Contributing factors included inability to meet bail requirements, trial delays, and trial continuances due to absent prosecutors and their witnesses.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but police often prevented detainees from filing challenges to prolonged detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. While the government largely refrained from direct interference, the Ministry of Finance and National Planning’s control of the judiciary’s budget continued to limit judicial independence. In most cases authorities respected court orders.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judicial system was influenced by the ruling party in cases in which it had an interest. While the law provides the right to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly of charges, and to be present at a fair and timely trial, these rights were not consistently protected. There were reports of lengthy detentions without trial and defendants who were not informed promptly of charges against them, and the overburdened and insufficiently resourced judicial system led to lengthy and delayed trial procedures.

While defendants enjoy the right to consult with an attorney of their choice, to have adequate time to prepare a defense, to present their own witnesses, and to confront or question witnesses against them, courts rarely provide indigent defendants with an attorney at state expense despite a legal requirement to do so. Interpretation services in local languages were available in most cases. There were no reports of defendants being compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Although there were politically motivated arrests, there were no reports of lengthy detention or imprisonment of individuals for political reasons.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Although individuals or organizations may seek redress for human rights violations from the High Court, lack of access to affordable or pro bono legal services prevented many persons from exercising this right.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government frequently did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires a search or arrest warrant before police may enter a home, except during a state of emergency or when police suspect a person has committed an offense such as treason, sedition, defaming the president, or unlawful assembly. There were no reports that government authorities entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. The law grants authority to the Drug Enforcement Commission, the Zambia Security and Intelligence Service, and police to monitor communications using wiretaps with a warrant based on probable cause; authorities generally respected this requirement. The government required cell phone service providers to register all subscriber identity module (SIM) cards. In March the government enacted a new cyber security law that expanded its capacity to restrict online expression and violate citizens’ privacy. The new law gave the government the power to intercept private communications and curtail civil liberties, an activity the government was reportedly doing already.

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, including for members of the press and other media, it has provisions that permit restrictions of these fundamental rights and freedoms in certain circumstances. In particular, the law allows restrictions on freedom of expression in the interests of national defense, public safety, public order, and public health, or for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights, and freedoms of others and maintaining the authority and independence of the courts.

Freedom of Expression: During the Lungu administration the ruling Patriotic Front government was sensitive to criticism, particularly from the political opposition and civil society, and restricted the ability of individuals to criticize it freely or discuss matters of public interest. For example, in May police arrested opposition Economic and Equity Party leader Chilufya Tayali and charged him with defaming then president Lungu. Tayali had criticized Lungu of allegedly “funding” Patriotic Front partisans (known colloquially as “cadres”) to incite political violence. In December police dropped the charge against Tayali.

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 but not without some restrictions. The government published two of the country’s four most widely circulated newspapers. One of the two privately owned newspapers opposed the then ruling party, while the other supported the party and the government. During the Lungu administration, opposition political parties and civil society organizations contended government-run media failed to report objectively.

In addition to a multichannel government-controlled radio station that broadcasts nationwide, 73 private and community radio stations broadcast locally. Some radio stations experienced political pressure. Although some local private stations broadcast call-in and other talk programs on which diverse and critical viewpoints were expressed freely, media bodies claimed journalists who appeared on such programs while Lungu was in office received threats from senior government officials and politicians if seen as too critical. Independent private media outlets also often received threats from the government during the Lungu administration for providing broadcast time to the opposition. Then ruling Patriotic Front party “cadres” attacked several private media houses and disrupted live programs featuring opposition political leaders. For example, on February 11, cadres armed with iron bars and slingshots attacked Liberty Community Radio Station in Mporokoso district in Northern Province and disrupted a live radio program featuring opposition Democratic Party leader and presidential candidate Harry Kalaba. On March 10, Patriotic Front cadres again allegedly attacked and teargassed Chete Radio Station in Nakonde district in Muchinga Province. This was after the station featured then opposition UPND provincial chairman for Muchinga Province Reverend Matthew Chilekwa and other officials. The Media Institute for Southern Africa Zambia Chapter described the attack as “a threat to freedom of expression and a hindrance to freedom of the press.”

Violence and Harassment: According to media watchdog organizations, independent media did not operate freely due to restrictions imposed by government authorities during the Lungu administration. While the government broadly tolerated negative articles in newspapers and magazines, reports of government officials and supporters of Lungu’s then ruling party harassing and physically disrupting the work of journalists continued during Lungu’s time in office. For example, on May 1, Patriotic Front cadres attacked and assaulted two journalists at the Patriotic Front secretariat when rival Patriotic Front cadres violently clashed during a meeting to welcome opposition National Democratic Congress leader Chishimba Kambwili back to the Patriotic Front party. The cadres attacked Francis Mwiinga Maingaila, a reporter at Zambia 24, a privately owned news website, and Nancy Malwele, a reporter at the independent New Vision newspaper. On June 24, the cadres set ablaze the Kalungwishi FM radio station in Chiengi district in Luapula Province. Although the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) condemned these attacks, police reportedly did not sufficiently investigate cases of assaults against journalists and radio stations, and some media houses were impeded from broadcasting or threatened with closure for unfavorable reporting or insufficient coverage of then president Lungu.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Lungu administration was sensitive to media criticism and indirectly censored publications or penalized publishers. Numerous media watchdog organizations reported harassment and arrests related to information disseminated on social media, threats by the government to introduce punitive legislation against media personnel, restriction of their access to public places, and undue influence compromised media freedom and resulted in self-censorship.

During the Lungu administration authorities penalized media that criticized the government by withholding licenses and government advertising funds. In April 2020 the government, through the IBA, closed Prime TV, a leading independent media company that broadcast criticism of the government and the then ruling party, ostensibly for failing to apply for renewal of its operating license on time. The closure followed the television station’s refusal to broadcast government COVID-19 announcements at no charge because station management stated the government was in arrears in payments to the station. On August 17, following the Patriotic Front’s loss of the August 12 elections, the IBA restored Prime TV’s license, allowing it to resume operations.

Libel/Slander Laws: The Lungu administration and individual public figures used laws against libel and slander against critics to restrict public discussion or retaliate against political opponents. During the Lungu administration, the government also often used sedition laws against its critics. For example, on April 26, Zambia’s then ambassador to Ethiopia and permanent representative to the African Union, Emmanuel Mwamba, accused University of Zambia (UNZA) modern history professor Sishuwa of sedition. This was in response to Sishuwa’s article, “This is Why Zambia May Burn After the August Election,” in which he discussed factors that could lead to potential unrest in the country after the August 12 elections. In a Facebook post, Mwamba called Sishuwa’s article an attempt to “scandalize Zambia, harm its reputation, and impose a false and alarming international narrative” and accused him of “being a hired gun.” In response, Sishuwa sued Mwamba for defamation. Subsequently, Mwamba wrote a letter to then inspector general of police Kakoma Kanganja, which appeared to instruct him to charge Sishuwa for inciting violence. Other senior government officials reiterated threats against Sishuwa.

On April 19, the Lusaka Magistrates Court sentenced Fred Manya to three years in prison for allegedly defaming president Lungu during a phone-in program. Another person was sentenced to one year in prison for a similar offense.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government at times restricted peaceful assembly, while generally respecting freedom of association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for the right of freedom of peaceful assembly and association; however, during the Lungu administration the government restricted this right, and police and progovernment groups disrupted opposition and civil society political meetings, rallies, and other activities.

There were reports of police partiality in the application of the law, impunity for violent actions, and excessive use of force by the police. During the Lungu administration police frequently required opposition party or civil society organizations critical of the government to hold meetings at unfavorable locations and times. The law requires political parties and other groups to notify police in advance of any rallies but does not require a formal approval or permit. In 1995 the Supreme Court declared provisions in the act that previously gave police the power to regulate assemblies, public meetings, or processions unconstitutional. Police, however, disregarded this ruling during the Lungu administration. Police stopped opposition and civil society groups from holding public gatherings, and imposed overly broad and unjustifiably long restrictions on such meetings, citing COVID-19 regulations issued by the Ministry of Health. According to the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG), there were 28 instances of campaign space limitation, targeting mostly then UPND supporters.

In May police arrested and detained members of the Resident Doctors Association of Zambia for staging a peaceful assembly to air grievances about the government’s nonpayment of their salary arrears and allowances, among other claims. Police Inspector General Kakoma Kanganja warned the doctors they would be arrested if they continued with their assembly or participated in any virtual meetings organized by Resident Doctors Association president Dr. Brian Sampa. On June 7, the government terminated Sampa’s employment contract and suspended his medical license. Police later arrested and charged him with “inciting persons employed to provide essential services.” On September 7, the Lusaka High Court ordered the Health Professional Council of Zambia to restore Sampa’s license and awarded him damages amounting to 101,000 kwacha ($5,560) for loss of income and legal costs, following successful litigation by Chapter One Foundation, which represented Sampa.

Prior to the August 12 elections, the Patriotic Front government regularly prevented opposition presidential candidates from campaigning, while allowing the then ruling party’s presidential candidate and incumbent president and other Patriotic Front officials to campaign freely.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected the right to freedom of association, it retained some limits on this right through various mechanisms. For example, although it generally went unenforced, the law requires all organizations to apply for registration from the registrar of societies. The registration process is stringent and lengthy and gives the registrar considerable discretion. The law also places restrictions on funding from foreign sources. For this reason, donors, including some UN agencies, required all organizations to register before receiving funding. According to the Southern African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, government implementation of the law and NGO policy negatively affected the operations of civil society organizations because it gave authorities the power to monitor and restrict their legitimate activities.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

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

In-country Movement: The former Patriotic Front government intermittently restricted freedom of internal movement for internally displaced persons, refugees, and stateless persons. Although police generally used roadblocks to control criminal activity, enforce customs and immigration controls, check drivers’ documents, and inspect vehicles for safety compliance, there were reports police used such interventions to limit participation in political gatherings, especially during parliamentary and local government by-elections. For example, on July 30, police detained then opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema at a Chipata airport runway for two hours to prevent him from meeting his supporters to canvass for votes. On August 3, police further blocked him from entering the Mpika, Isoka, Nakonde, and Mbala districts where he was scheduled to meet his supporters.


e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

There were not large numbers of internally displaced persons. The government promoted the safe resettlement of the few groups displaced for construction or other government-sanctioned activities.

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, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The law gives the minister of home affairs wide discretion to deport refugees without appeal or to deny asylum to applicants having asylum status in other countries; however, there were no reported cases of asylum denial to applicants having asylum status in other countries or of refugee deportation.

Freedom of Movement: The established encampment policy requires recognized refugees to reside in one of three designated refugee settlements. According to the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees, there were 71,728 refugees and 4,932 asylum seekers living in settlements as of August 31. There were also 24,696 former Angolan and Rwandan refugees. Only refugees who have received a permit for work, study, health, or protection reasons may stay legally in urban areas. Refugees in the settlements may obtain passes to leave the settlements for up to 60 days, but police officers unfamiliar with different permits and passes put them at risk of administrative detention. In May 2020 the government ordered entry and exit restrictions at refugee settlements as a COVID-19 mitigation measure.

Employment: The law requires refugees to obtain work permits before they may engage in employment, including self-employment activities. Issuance of employment permits is subject to normal immigration procedures, including a government policy that requires the immigration department to ascertain that there is no qualified and available citizen to perform the job.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided basic social services including education and health care to refugees without discrimination. The government provided primary and secondary education in refugee settlements, and secondary school for refugees living in urban areas, but it required a student permit and the payment of school fees.

Durable Solutions: The government promoted safe, voluntary return, resettlement, and local integration of refugees. In February the government issued 60 residence permits to former Rwandan refugees, the state-run Times of Zambia reported. UNHCR reported that in recent years the government issued residence permits to refugees with Angolan and Rwandan passports and offered them land as part of a local integration program. The inability to secure passports and the increase in the cost of residency permits during the year limited former refugees’ ability to participate in local integration efforts.

Temporary Protection: The government continued to provide temporary protection to stateless persons found in the territory. The Office of the Commissioner for Refugees reported that as of August 31, 4,932 asylum seekers awaited status determination.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, the country does not maintain statistical information regarding stateless persons. In 2019 authorities reported a relatively small number of undocumented habitual residents were integrated into local rural communities.

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: The most recent national elections were held on August 12. The election, which marked the country’s third peaceful transition of power since the reintroduction of multiparty politics, consisted of four separate ballots for president, members of parliament, mayors, and local councilors. The opposition United Party for National Development candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, won a landslide victory with 59 percent of the vote. His closest opponent, incumbent president and Patriotic Front candidate, Edgar Lungu, received 38.7 percent, and 14 other candidates received a combined 2.3 percent of the vote. The presidential election was conducted under a majoritarian electoral system that requires a candidate to receive more than 50 percent of votes to avoid a second-round runoff.

There were reports the electoral process was characterized by abuses and irregularities. These included burdensome national voter registration time limitations and lack of transparency in procedures (including access by observers), opaque and inconsistent application of the Electoral Code of Conduct, and late changes to accreditation procedures (including new requirements and without prior consultation), which election experts and civil society observers assessed as undue burdens that did not meet international standards of electoral process management. On May 10, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) announced a new voter roll of 7,023,499 voters, replacing the existing one. Chapter One Foundation alleged that ECZ’s decision to replace the existing register disenfranchised many voters and led to a decline in the number of registered voters in the opposition stronghold Southern, North-Western, and Western Provinces. Despite calls by the public for an independent audit of the new register, ECZ insisted on conducting a physical inspection.

Election observers and monitors reported that the election results management process complied with transparency requirements at the polling stations and the election was relatively peaceful. They also cited, however, widespread reports of pre-election violence, political interference, abuse of incumbency, unbalanced public media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favored the ruling Patriotic Front party, which raised questions about the fairness and credibility of the electoral process. For example, on August 1, then president Lungu deployed army troops on the streets across the country in reaction to increased political violence. The president reinforced the troops on election day in UPND stronghold areas of Western, North-Western, and Southern Provinces, following the killing of Patriotic Front’s North-Western Province chairman Jackson Kungo and another person, allegedly by UPND cadres. Opposition leaders described these actions as an “intimidation tactic.” In an August 14 press statement, then president Lungu raised more concerns when he declared the elections “not free and fair.” Lungu later conceded and congratulated the winning candidate on August 16 and committed to a peaceful transfer of power, which culminated in Hakainde Hichilema’s inauguration on August 24.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Since the advent of multiparty democracy in 1991, political parties largely operated without restriction or outside interference, and individuals could independently run for office. In recent years, however, the government under the Lungu administration pursued activities that undermined opposition parties, including targeted arrests of opposition party leaders and members, denial of party registration, and general harassment. Prior to the August 12 elections, media reported that the then ruling party continued to enjoy the use of government resources for campaign purposes and at times used police to harass opposition parties. During campaigns the former ruling government distributed money as a “church empowerment fund” to religious organizations. Members of the then ruling party also openly distributed money to members of the public. Critics described such actions as tantamount to “corruption” and “vote buying.”

The CCMG reported campaign statistics showed a limitation of campaign space for opposition parties, which created an uneven playing field. On May 26, then president Lungu directed the police to prevent members of political parties from holding public rallies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Police prevented or interrupted opposition party meetings and blocked opposition leaders from meeting supporters without citing any reasons. For example, on July 25, authorities at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport prevented then opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema from departing Lusaka after boarding a private aircraft despite having been previously granted flight clearance. Similarly, on July 29, police officers detained Hichilema at Chipata Airport and denied him entry into the district on the grounds that he would be conducting political campaigns, according to media reports. Police blocked the road leading to the airport and fired teargas at his supporters. On January 31, ECZ announced that prisoners would be allowed to vote in the upcoming general elections based on the Constitutional Court’s 2017 ruling that the electoral law preventing convicted prisoners from voting was unconstitutional. The government complied with the ruling and eligible prisoners voted in the August 12 election.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: There are no laws preventing women or members of minority groups from voting, running for office, serving as electoral monitors, or otherwise participating in political life on the same basis as men or nonminority citizens, and women and minorities did so. Nevertheless, observers reported that traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life on the same basis as men. For example, the constitutional requirement of a high school education to qualify as a candidate for election to public office had the effect of disqualifying many female candidates, because they often were unable to complete secondary school due to traditional or cultural factors such as early marriage.

As of September, 25 of 166 members of parliament were women. On September 3, members of parliament elected Nelly Mutti as the first female speaker of the National Assembly. The country’s new vice president was also a woman. Overall, however, few women occupied public decision-making positions. According to the NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa, selective implementation of policies and law undermined the full participation of women in political life.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for officials convicted of corruption, and the government attempted to enforce the law but did so inconsistently. Officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Although the government collaborated with the international community and civil society organizations to improve capacity to investigate and prevent corruption, anticorruption NGOs observed that, the enforcement rate was low among senior government officials and in the civil service.

According to Transparency International Zambia, the conviction rate for those prosecuted for corruption was 10 to 20 percent. The Patriotic Front government did not effectively or consistently apply laws against corrupt officials; it selectively applied anticorruption law to target opposition leaders or officials who ran afoul of it. Transparency International Zambia further reported that, during the Patriotic Front administration, officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Media reported numerous allegations of government corruption, particularly in public procurement. For example, the Ministry of Health’s procurement of 17 million dollars’ worth of defective and unsafe medical supplies in 2020 and its alleged misapplication of COVID-19 donations made corruption a key electoral issue during the national elections. Subsequently, former Minister of Health Dr. Chitalu Chilufya, former Ministry of Health permanent secretary Kakulubelwa Mulalelo, and others were arrested in connection with the scandal. In July the Lusaka Magistrates Court acquitted Chilufya, Mulalelo, and others of all charges relating to these allegations.

In June 2020 the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) arrested Chilufya, while serving as minister of health, and charged him with four counts of possession of criminally obtained property. The ACC offered no further evidence against him and dropped the charges.

On June 24, the Lusaka Magistrates Court convicted former minister of community development and social services, Emerine Kabanshi, of corruption-related charges and sentenced her to two years of imprisonment. Kabanshi appealed to the High Court and her appeal case remained pending at the year’s end. Kabanshi was also arrested for abuse of authority of office by the ACC in 2019.

On December 7, former international minister Joseph Malanji was arrested by the government for possessing property suspected to be proceeds of crime; he remained in police detention at year’s end.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRC is an independent body established by the constitution to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. The HRC monitored human rights conditions, interceded on behalf of persons whose rights it believed the government denied, and spoke on behalf of detainees and prisoners.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and other sexual offenses, and courts have discretion to sentence convicted rapists to life imprisonment with hard labor.

The law does not include provisions for spousal rape. The law criminalizes domestic violence between spouses and among family members living in the same home. The law provides for prosecution of most crimes of gender-based violence, and penalties for conviction range from a fine to 25 years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of injury and whether a weapon was used. The law provides for protection orders for survivors of domestic violence and gender-based violence, and such orders were issued and enforced. Despite this legal framework, rape remained widespread. Although the law criminalizes rape and domestic violence, the government did not consistently enforce the law.

To address the problem of gender-based violence, the government engaged traditional marriage counselors on gender-based violence and women’s rights in collaboration with NGOs. The government and Young Women’s Christian Association worked to address these problems through community sensitizations, shelters, toll-free lines, and one-stop centers where survivors accessed counseling and legal support services. The Survivor Support Unit under the Zambia Police Service, staffed with trained personnel, supplemented these efforts. Other efforts to combat and reduce gender-based violence included curriculum development for training police officers, roadshows to sensitize the public about gender-based violence, and instruction on how to file complaints and present evidence against perpetrators.

A gender-based violence information management system in the government Central Statistics Office strengthened monitoring and reporting of cases of gender-based violence. The system, which allows for effective and comprehensive reporting of gender-based violence and improved support, including legal services, social, economic, and overall national planning, has increased the number of reported cases.

Human rights-focused NGOs observed that the country’s dual system of customary and statutory law made it difficult to combat and deter injustices against women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls. The NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa and other human rights-focused NGOs reported that labia elongation, the practice of pulling of the labia which is intended to elongate the labia, was widely practiced. There were, however, indications the incidence rate was declining, especially in urban areas.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common, and the government took few steps to prosecute harassment during the year. Although the law contains provisions under which some forms of sexual harassment of women may be prosecuted, the provisions are inadequate to protect women effectively from sexual harassment. The NGO Gender Organizations’ Coordinating Council received many reports of sexual harassment in the workplace but noted stringent evidence requirements often prevented survivors from filing charges against their harassers. Family pressure on survivors to withdraw complaints, especially when perpetrators were also family members, also hampered prosecution.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Lack of access to information and services, however, remained a problem. Many women lacked access to contraception and skilled attendance during childbirth, including essential prenatal, intrapartum, and postpartum care.

Barriers to access to reproductive health services included myths and misconceptions regarding contraceptive use and inadequate reproductive health infrastructure, including insufficient skilled health-care providers, communication, and referral systems. These barriers were greatest in remote, hard-to-reach rural areas, contributing to significant inequalities in access to and availability of maternal and reproductive services. Access to menstrual health and hygiene remained limited due to inadequate knowledge and poverty resulting in inadequate funds to buy menstrual hygiene products. Teen pregnancy also remained a barrier to education, but under the reentry policy girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy are readmitted into school after delivery. Barriers to accessing post-abortion care (PAC) included lack of information and inadequate sensitization on the existence of PAC services, limited resources to provide PAC services, and inadequate skilled staff, infrastructure, equipment, and commodities.

Through the Zambia-UN Joint Program on Gender Based Violence, the government provided survivors of sexual violence access to sexual and reproductive health services. Although emergency contraception was available, service delivery points did not stock it due to funding gaps in the procurement process and the stigma associated with getting the commodity in public health centers. There was, however, an increased uptake of emergency contraception in private health centers.

The maternal mortality ratio was 278 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2018. The three major causes of maternal mortality were postpartum hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, and septicemia. According to the Zambia 2018 Demographic and Health Survey, 80 percent of childbirths were assisted by a skilled provider, the pregnancy rate for girls and women between ages 15 and 19 was 29 percent, and the median age of having the first child was 19, indicating limited contraceptive use among teenagers.

Discrimination: In contrast to customary law, the constitution and other laws provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, labor, property, and nationality laws. The government did not adequately enforce the law, and women experienced discrimination. For example, customary land tenure and patriarchal systems discriminate against women seeking to own land. This situation restricted women’s access to credit as they lacked the collateral that land ownership provides.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits any form of discrimination including on ethnicity, and there were no reports of violence or discrimination based on ethnicity. The government generally permitted autonomy for ethnic minorities and encouraged the practice of local customary law. Some political parties maintained political and historical connections to tribal groups and promoted their interests. There are seven major ethnic and language groups, Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Ngoni, and Tonga, and 66 smaller ethnic groups, many of which are related to the larger tribes.

The government granted special recognition to traditional leaders nationwide. It did not recognize the 1964 Barotseland Agreement that granted the Lozi political autonomy and was signed by the United Kingdom, Northern Rhodesia, and the Barotse Royal Establishment immediately prior to the country’s independence. Some Lozi groups continued to demand official recognition of the Barotseland Agreement, while others pushed for independence.


Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents or, except for refugees, by birth within the country’s territory. Birth registration was neither denied nor provided on a discriminatory basis. Failure to register births did not result in the denial of public services, such as education or health care, to children, and there were no differences in birth registration policies and procedures between girls and boys. Birth registration rates remained low, at 11 percent of children under the age of five years old, UNICEF reported. Both state and nonstate institutions accepted alternative documents to access other basic services.

Education: Although the law provides for free and compulsory education for children of “school-going age,” it neither sets a specific age nor defines what is meant by “school-going age.” These omissions left children particularly vulnerable to child labor (see section 7.b.). The numbers of girls and boys in primary school were approximately equal, but only 37 percent of children who completed secondary school were girls.

Medical Care: Boys and girls had equal access to state-provided medical care. In July the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a press statement calling on the government to provide medical treatment to thousands of children suffering from lead poisoning in Kabwe. It urged the government to “take swift steps to clean up areas” in Kabwe “contaminated by residue from what was once the country’s largest lead mine.” According to the World Health Organization, more than 95 percent of children in the area had excessive blood lead levels, meaning they were exposed to serious risks and harm. In 2020 approximately 2,500 Kabwe children who were tested under a World Bank project were found to have extremely high blood lead levels and required immediate chelation therapy, the most common treatment for lead poisoning.

Child Abuse: The punishment for conviction of causing bodily harm to a child is five to 10 years’ imprisonment, and the law was generally enforced. Beyond efforts to eliminate child marriage, there were no specific initiatives to combat child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 16 for boys and girls with parental consent and 21 without consent. There is no minimum age under customary law. According to UNICEF, 29 percent of women between ages 20 and 24 had been married before age 18, and 5 percent before age 15. UNICEF reported child marriage was largely between peers, rather than forced. Early and forced marriages were prevalent, especially in rural areas. The government, parliamentarians, civil society organizations, and donors worked together to fight early and forced marriages. The government adopted a multisectoral approach to stop child marriage, including keeping children in school, creating reentry policies for girls who become pregnant, and strengthening the role of health centers for sexual reproductive health. These efforts were articulated by the National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage (2016-2021) started in 2017. Other efforts by the government and other nonstate actors included community sensitization and withdrawing children from child marriages, supported by several traditional leaders. Some local traditional leaders nullified forced and early marriages and placed the girls removed from such marriages in school.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sexual relations is 16. The law provides penalties of up to life imprisonment for conviction of statutory rape or defilement, which the law defines as the unlawful carnal knowledge of a child younger than age 16. The minimum penalty for a conviction of defilement is 15 years’ imprisonment.

The law criminalizes sex trafficking of children and child pornography and provides for penalties of up to life imprisonment for convicted perpetrators. Demonstration of threats, force, intimidation, or other forms of coercion, however, is required to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, which is inconsistent with the definition under international law, and therefore, does not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The law requires prosecution of perpetrators and referral to care for survivors of sex trafficking but authorities did not enforce the law, and commercial sexual exploitation of children was common. According to UNICEF transactional sexual exploitation, which refers to engaging in sexual activity in exchange for basic needs, such food, clothes, or shelter, remained prevalent among extremely vulnerable girls.

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


There were fewer than 500 persons in the Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, and the provision of other government services.

The Zambia Agency for Persons with Disabilities (ZAPD) reported the government did not enforce the law; lack of accessibility in public transportation and infrastructure and information access remained a problem. ZAPD reported police and other government institutions did help prevent violence against persons with disabilities by investigating allegations of violence.

The Ministry of Community Development and Social Services oversees the government’s implementation of policies that address general and specific needs of persons with disabilities in education, health care, buildings access, and electoral participation.

A lack of consolidated and disaggregated data was a major impediment to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in government programming and policy. Persons with disabilities had limited access to education and correspondingly low literacy levels. While the government did not restrict persons with physical or mental disabilities from voting or otherwise participating in most civic affairs, progress in providing for their participation remained slow. Persons with disabilities also faced significant societal discrimination in employment and education.

By law the government must provide reasonable accommodations for all persons with disabilities seeking education and provide that “any physical facility at any public educational institution is accessible.”

Public buildings, including schools, prisons, and hospitals, rarely had facilities to accommodate persons with disabilities. Five schools were designated for children with disabilities. Some children with physical disabilities attended mainstream schools, but long distances to school restricted others from accessing education. According to ZAPD, three types of education systems were accessible to children with disabilities: segregated education (special schools), integrated education (special units), and inclusive education. Most children with disabilities attended special schools, while the rest attended special units. There were 150 schools practicing inclusive education in selected provinces during the year. The government also developed and promoted employment recruitment strategies for persons with disabilities seeking to enter the civil service and had a university student loan program for students with disabilities.

Government inaction limited participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process, including voting. According to CCMG, most polling stations were not accessible to persons with disabilities. For example, of the 965 polling stations observed, 354 were not accessible to persons with disabilities, CCMG reported. During the August 12 elections, information on voter registration and elections was accessible and the government provided ballots in braille or digitally accessible formats.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The government actively discouraged discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. Most employers adopted nondiscriminatory HIV and AIDS workplace policies. Training of the public sector, including the judiciary, on the rights of persons with HIV or AIDS increased public awareness and acceptance, but societal and employment discrimination against such individuals persisted. The government continued to make progress in changing entrenched attitudes of discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and penalties for conviction of engaging in “acts against the order of nature” are 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Conviction of the lesser charge of gross indecency carries a penalty of up to 14 years’ imprisonment. Under the Lungu administration the government continued to reject calls to recognize and protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) rights.

Police perpetrated violence and verbal and physical harassment against persons based on gender identity and sexual orientation. LGBTQI+ persons were at risk of societal violence due to prevailing prejudices, misperceptions of the law, lack of legal protections, and inability to access healthcare services, and were subjected to prolonged detentions. Many politicians, media figures, and religious leaders expressed opposition to basic protections and human rights for LGBTQI+ persons and same-sex marriage.

According to LGBTQI+ advocacy groups, police routinely requested bribes from LGBTQI+ individuals after arresting them. Bribes ranged from 500 to 15,000 kwacha ($30 to $900). Societal violence against LGBTQI+ persons continued, as did discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care. LGBTQI+ groups reported frequent harassment of LGBTQI+ persons and their families, including threats via text message and email, vandalism, stalking, and outright violence. For example, an LGBTQI+ group reported that in March a 17-year-old intersex individual who applied for a job that required a female was made to undress in front of a hiring official to confirm their gender. The group alleged that the individual was not offered the job as a result of discrimination.

Freedom of expression or peaceful assembly on LGBTQI+ matters remained nonexistent.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Statutory restrictions regulate these rights; the government has discretionary power to exclude certain categories of workers from unionizing, including prison staff, judges, court registrars, magistrates, and local court justices. The law also requires the registration of a trade union with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, which may take up to six months. The ministry has the power to refuse official registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds. The labor commissioner has authority to monitor the accounts of trade unions and recommend dissolution of trade union boards if the union has violated the law or is dormant.

No organization may be registered as a trade union unless its application is signed by at least 50 employees or such lesser number as may be prescribed by the minister of labor and social security. With some exceptions, a trade union may not be registered if it claims to represent a class of employees already represented by an existing trade union. Unions may be deregistered under certain circumstances, but the law provides for notice, reconsideration, and right of appeal to an industrial relations court.

The government, through the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, brokers labor disputes between employers and employees. Casualization and unjustifiable termination of employment contracts is illegal. The law defines a casual employee as one engaged for less than a day.

In cases involving the unjustified dismissal of employees, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security settles disputes through social dialogue, and any unresolved cases are sent to the Industrial Relations Division of the High Court. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other similar violations. The law also provides a platform for employers, workers, and government to discuss matters of mutual interest through the Tripartite Consultative Labor Council.

The law provides for collective bargaining. In certain cases, however, either party may refer a labor dispute to a court or for arbitration. The International Labor Organization raised concerns the law did not require the consent of both parties involved in the dispute for arbitration. The law also allows for a maximum period of one year for a court to consider the complaint and issue a ruling. The parties to the collective agreement must conclude negotiations within three months or face fines. Collective bargaining agreements must be filed with the commissioner and approved by the minister before becoming binding on the signatory parties.

Except for workers engaged in a broadly defined range of essential services, the law provides for the right to strike if all legal options are first exhausted. The law defines essential services as fire departments, the mining sector, sewage removal, and any activity relating to the generation, supply, or distribution of electricity and water. Employees in the defense force and judiciary as well as police, prison, and intelligence service personnel are also considered essential. Essential employees do not have the right to strike; disputes must be referred directly to the Industrial Relations Court. The process of exhausting the legal alternatives to a strike is lengthy. The law also requires a union to notify employers 10 days in advance of strike action and limits the maximum duration of a strike to 14 days. If the dispute remains unresolved, it is referred to the court. The government may stop a strike if the court finds it is not “in the public interest.” Workers who engage in illegal strikes may be dismissed by employers.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides for reinstatement and other remedies for workers fired for union activity. Except for workers in “essential services,” no other groups of workers are excluded from relevant legal protections. The law covers workers in the informal sector but is seldom applied. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for employers were not commensurate with those for similar violations and were not effectively enforced.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law authorizes the government to call upon citizens to perform labor in specific instances, such as during war, national emergencies, or disasters. The government also may require citizens to perform labor associated with traditional, civil, or communal obligations. Disobeying a lawful order or command to perform labor in such instances is an offense punishable by up to two years of imprisonment.

The law criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for conviction of violations range from a fine, up to two years’ imprisonment, or both. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations, such as kidnapping.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. While the government investigated cases involving a small number of victims, it did not investigate more organized trafficking operations involving forced labor in the mining, construction, and agricultural sectors. According to the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, there was no standard system for collecting data on forced labor.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor, but gaps hampered adequate protection of children. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than age 15 at any commercial, agricultural, or domestic worksite or engaging a child in the worst forms of child labor. The employment code consolidates all child-related labor laws into a single law to provide regulations on the employment and education of children. Restrictions on child labor prohibit work that harms a child’s health and development or that prevents a child’s attendance at school.

The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors, particularly in the informal sector where child labor was prevalent. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations such as kidnapping. The law does not stipulate an age for compulsory education, and children who were not enrolled were vulnerable to child labor.

The labor commissioner enforced minimum age requirements in the industrial sector, where there was little demand for child labor, and prosecuted some cases of child labor. The government seldom enforced minimum age standards in the informal sector, particularly in artisanal mining, agriculture, and domestic service. The government reported that the National Steering Committee on Child Labor was reconstituted during the year, consisting of government representatives, employers, trade unions, and civil society members, and remained active in overseeing child labor activities. The government collaborated with local and international organizations to implement programs combatting child labor. Because most child labor occurred in the agricultural sector, often on family farms or with the consent of families, inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security focused on counseling and educating families that employed children. In some cases, such work also exposed children to hazardous conditions. Scarcity of financial and human resources, including lack of transportation, hampered the ability of labor inspectors and law enforcement agencies to investigate alleged violations and successfully prosecute cases.

Child labor remained prevalent, particularly in agriculture, including the production of tobacco, herding, fisheries, domestic service, construction, farming, commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), quarrying, begging, and mining. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security estimates, there are 38.3 percent and 44.4 percent of unpaid and paid incidences of child labor in the country. UNICEF noted discrepancies between the right to education and child labor laws in the country; the employment code allows children ages 13 to 15 legally to be engaged in light work that is not harmful to the child’s health or development and education.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at , and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The employment code prohibits employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, or refugee status but does not specifically prohibit such discrimination based on HIV and AIDS status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Various organizations had policies that protected individuals with HIV or AIDS. Although the employment code provides for maternity leave, it requires a worker be continuously employed for two years before being eligible for such leave. Some NGOs warned the code was likely to have a negative impact on women because potential employers would see hiring them as a financial risk, since the increased maternity leave allowance provides for up to 14 weeks with full pay. The law prohibits termination or imposition of any penalty or disadvantage to an employee due to pregnancy.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. There were reports of discrimination against minority groups. Undocumented migrant workers are not protected by the law and faced discrimination in wages and working conditions.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. LGBTQI+ persons were at times dismissed from employment or not hired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Women’s wages lagged men’s, and training opportunities were less available for women. Women were much less likely to occupy managerial positions. Persons with disabilities faced significant societal discrimination in employment, education, and access to the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law allows the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to set wages by sector; the category of employment determines the minimum wage and conditions of employment. The minimum wage categories, last revised in 2019, at the low end were slightly above World Bank poverty estimates for a lower-middle-income country but lower than the Basic Needs Basket. Before an employee commences employment or when the nature of employment changes, an employer is required to explain employee conditions of employment, including about wages. For unionized workers, wage scales and maximum workweek hours were established through collective bargaining. Almost all unionized workers received salaries considerably higher than the nonunionized minimum wage. Penalties for violations of wage and hour laws were commensurate with those for similar violations.

According to the law, the normal workweek should not exceed 48 hours. The standard workweek is 40 hours for office workers and 45 hours for factory workers. There are limits on excessive compulsory overtime, depending on the category of work. The law provides for overtime pay. Employers must pay employees who work more than 48 hours in one week (45 hours in some categories) for overtime hours at a rate of 1.5 times the hourly rate. Workers receive double the rate of their hourly pay for work done on a Sunday or public holiday. The law requires that workers earn two days of annual leave per month without limit.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law regulates minimum occupational safety and health (OSH) standards in industry. According to the Workers Compensation Fund Control Board and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, government OSH standards are appropriate for the main industries. The law places on both workers and experts the duty to identify unsafe situations in a work environment.

The government did not consistently enforce wage, hour, and safety laws. Inspection was inadequate and did not extend to the informal sector. Safety and health standards were only applied in certain sectors of the formal economy. According to the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, compliance levels to standardized overtime pay were low due to insufficient enforcement.

Reported incidents of Chinese-owned firms forcing workers into quarantine to prevent the spread COVID-19 among them continued. For example, SinoHydro, a Chinese company working at the Kafue Gorge Lower Hydro Power project in Kafue, forcibly held its workers under lockdown from March 2020 until October 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Human Rights Commission reported.

The government engaged with mining companies and took some steps to improve working conditions in the mines. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Despite these legal protections, workers generally did not exercise the right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered their safety or health, and workers who protested working conditions often jeopardized their employment.

Violations of wage, overtime, or OSH standards were most common in the construction and mining sectors, particularly in Chinese-owned companies, and among domestic workers.

Informal Sector: The informal sector employs approximately 90 percent of the labor force. Labor laws apply to the informal sector, but they are rarely enforced. Agriculture was the biggest sector in the informal economy, but much of the artisanal mining and construction sectors were also informal.


Executive Summary

Zimbabwe is constitutionally a republic. The country elected Emmerson Mnangagwa president for a five-year term in 2018 in general elections. Despite incremental improvements from past elections, domestic and international observers noted serious concerns and called for further reforms to meet regional and international standards for democratic elections. Numerous factors contributed to a flawed election process in 2018, including: the Zimbabwe Election Commission’s lack of independence; heavily biased state media favoring the ruling party; voter intimidation; unconstitutional influence of tribal leaders; disenfranchisement of alien and diaspora voters; failure to provide a preliminary voters roll in electronic format; politicization of food aid; security services’ excessive use of force; and lack of precision and transparency concerning the release of election results. The election resulted in the formation of a government led by the ruling party with a supermajority in the National Assembly but not in the Senate.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police maintains internal security. The police and the Department of Immigration, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs, are primarily responsible for migration and border enforcement. Although police fall under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Office of the President may direct the police to respond to civil unrest. The Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force constitute the Zimbabwe Defense Forces and report to the minister of defense. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The Central Intelligence Organization, under the Office of the President, engages in both internal and external security matters. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the police, military, and intelligence service committed abuses throughout the country.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by security forces; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious political interference that undermined judicial independence; serious government restrictions on free expression, press, civil society, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; widespread acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including crimes involving violence or threats of violence against women and girls; and laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although generally not enforced.

Impunity remained a problem. The government took very few steps to identify or investigate officials who committed human rights abuses or acts of corruption and did not systematically arrest or prosecute such persons.

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. There were reports of police shooting civilians while enforcing COVID-19 lockdown measures.

b. Disappearance

There were no new reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. In 2018 the High Court ordered the government to provide updates on the 2015 disappearance of democracy activist Itai Dzamara, but officials failed to do so, without consequence. There were no reports of authorities punishing any perpetrators of previous acts of disappearance.

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

The constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; however, there were reports that police, civilian intelligence, and military intelligence officers engaged in such practices with impunity. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported security forces abducted, assaulted, and tortured citizens in custody, including targeted assaults on and torture of civil society activists, labor leaders, opposition members, and other perceived opponents of the government. Throughout the year police used excessive force in apprehending, detaining, and interrogating criminal suspects, including the use of torture while in police custody. Police and military officers used violence to enforce COVID-19 lockdown measures, to disperse peaceful demonstrations, and to disrupt informal trading.

Impunity for politically motivated violence remained a problem. The government did not establish an independent complaints mechanism to investigate allegations of security force misconduct as called for in the constitution. Investigations into violence from previous years remained pending, including into state-sponsored violence that resulted in the deaths of 17 civilians in 2019 and seven civilians in postelection violence in 2018. As of year’s end, there were no arrests or charges in those cases. During the year a court awarded minor damages to one individual injured by a stray bullet in 2018. The respondents, however, were appealing the case. Other cases remained pending.

Human rights groups reported government agents perpetrated physical and psychological torture on labor leaders and opposition party members in recent years, including sexual assault; beating victims with sticks, clubs, cables, gun butts, and heavy whips (sjamboks); falanga (beating the soles of the feet); forced consumption of human excrement; oral chemical poisoning; and pouring corrosive substances on exposed skin. On November 29, Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency CEO Doug Munatsi died in a house fire. Several media outlets reported that his remains showed signs of torture. Police indicated they would investigate the fire as possible arson. Various newspaper and social media sources, suspecting foul play, called for swift and transparent investigations into the cause of death.

During government-mandated lockdowns due to COVID-19, uniformed and plainclothes soldiers and police officers used clubs to beat civilians in the Harare central business district and suburbs for violating curfews, failure to wear masks, or failure to exercise social distancing. NGOs reported police officers assaulted, raped, and arrested with impunity residents who crossed into the poorly demarcated Marange diamond mines.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces and among the civilian authorities who oversee them, including police, military, and intelligence officers. Security forces were firmly under the control of the ruling party and were often directed against the political opposition.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life-threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, lack of water, physical mistreatment of prisoners, lack of access to personal protective equipment to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Prison guards occasionally beat and abused prisoners. NGOs reported the use of excessive force but noted prison guards did not employ excessive force systematically. There were reports in September that prodemocracy activist Makomborero Haruzivishe was repeatedly strangled in his sleep by fellow inmates at Harare Central Prison, although he survived.

Physical Conditions: Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centers were harsh. While some prisons operated below capacity, NGOs reported most were overcrowded due to outdated infrastructure and judicial backlogs.

The Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS), responsible for maintaining prisons, prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society, did not provide adequate food, water, sanitary conditions, or personal protective equipment during the global pandemic. The ZPCS sometimes allowed faith-based and community organizations to help address these problems.

Detainees depended on family members for essential dietary needs. Those without family or community support were forced to rely on other detainees for survival, although in recent years prisoners identified as malnourished have received additional meals. If available at all, blankets and clothing were often unwashed and soiled. Lice were a common problem. Although detainees could be transported to hospitals for medical treatment, unsanitary conditions and cold winters led to severe and sometimes fatal medical conditions. Detainees who were denied bail were often held in severely overcrowded remand cells for multiple years while awaiting trial.

were an estimated 2.4 percent of all prisoners. Authorities held women in separate prison wings and provided female guards. The several dozen children younger than age four living with their incarcerated mothers shared their mothers’ food allocation, rather than receiving their own. Female inmates reported violence and sexual abuse. Despite support from NGOs, prison distribution of menstrual hygiene supplies was limited. Women often lacked access to pre- and postnatal care and emergency obstetric services. Officials did not provide pregnant women and nursing mothers with additional care or food rations out of the ZPCS budget, but the ZPCS solicited and received donations from NGOs and donors for additional provisions.

There was one juvenile prison, housing boys only. Girls were held together with women. Authorities also held boys in adult prisons throughout the country while in remand. Officials generally tried to place younger boys in separate cells, but NGOs reported older prisoners often physically assaulted the younger boys. Although the law stipulates juveniles should be sent to reformatory homes, authorities generally sent juveniles to prison as there was only one adequate reformatory home in the country, located in the Harare suburbs. Juveniles were vulnerable to abuse by prison officials and other prisoners. In June the ZPCS opened a female prison for 30 inmates in Marondera that permits home visits to see minor children after serving half of a prison sentence. ZPCS stated this prison would accommodate up to 500 inmates at full capacity.

Prisoners with mental health issues were often held with other prisoners until a doctor was available to make an assessment. Psychiatric sections were available at some prisons for these individuals but offered little specialized care.

According to the ZPCS, remand prisons were overcrowded. Authorities often held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners until their bail hearings. Due to fuel shortages, the ZPCS was at times unable to transport pretrial detainees to court hearings, resulting in delayed trials and longer detentions. While an estimated 4,200 prisoners were released under an amnesty program in March and April 2020 to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons, NGOs, contacts, and several news outlets reported some remand prisons had 70 persons to a cell in August 2020. In April the ZPCS Harare province commander announced another amnesty release of 400 of an estimated 22,000 prisoners. Inmates at remand prisons were not tested before admittance but instead were tested only when sent to nonremand prisons.

Although hurt by the economic downturn associated with COVID-19, NGOs helped provide prisoners with disinfectant, personal protective equipment, and information about the virus. The economic downturn shuttered small, community-based NGOs that once supported prisoners. These organizations had steady streams of outside and community-based donations but suspended operations due to a lack of funding caused by the country’s protracted economic crisis.

The ZPCS ignored requests from medical personnel to isolate journalist Hopewell Chin’ono when he exhibited COVID-19 symptoms while incarcerated in August 2020 (see section 2.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

According to NGOs, food shortages were widespread in prisons but not life threatening. The harvest of prison farm products provided meals for prisoners. Protein was in short supply, particularly meat. Prisoners’ access to clean water varied by prison. NGOs worked with prisons to provide enhanced water collection systems.

Diarrhea was prevalent in most prisons. Diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS-related illnesses were highest in those with the poorest conditions. Lighting and ventilation were inadequate. There were insufficient mattresses, blankets, warm clothing, sanitary supplies, and hygiene products.

Prisoners had access to very basic medical care, with a clinic and doctor at nearly every prison. In partnership with NGOs, the ZPCS offered peer education on HIV/AIDS. The ZPCS tested prisoners for HIV only when requested by prisoners or prison doctors. Due to outdated regulations and a lack of specialized medical personnel and medications, prisoners suffered from routine but treatable medical conditions such as hypertension, tuberculosis, diabetes, asthma, and respiratory diseases. The ZPCS was at times unable to transport prisoners with emergency medical needs to local hospitals.

Administration: The ZPCS inspections and audit unit, charged with assessing prison conditions and improving monitoring of prisoners’ rights, did not release the results of its assessments. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) conducted monitoring visits when conditions allowed. There was no prison ombudsman.

Independent Monitoring: The law provides international human rights monitors the right to visit prisons. Church groups and NGOs seeking to provide humanitarian assistance, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, gained access. Some organizations working in prisons reported meetings with prisoners occurred without third parties present and with minimal restrictions, but some political prisoners reported no privacy for visits, even with their legal representatives. Monitoring missions were extremely limited during the COVID-19 lockdown.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, although other sections of the law effectively weaken these prohibitions. The government’s enforcement of security laws often conflicted with the constitution. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, particularly political and civil society activists, labor leaders, street vendors, and journalists perceived as opposing the government. Security forces frequently arrested individuals during and following antigovernment protests through selective enforcement of COVID-19 protocols.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law stipulates that arrests require a warrant issued by a court or senior police officer and that police inform an arrested person of the charges before taking the individual into custody. Police did not always respect these requirements. A preliminary hearing must be held before a magistrate within 48 hours of an arrest. This was not followed consistently. According to the constitution, only a competent court may extend the period of detention.

The law provides that bail be made available for most accused persons. The government amended the law to include provisions that allow prosecutors to veto judicial bail decisions and keep accused persons in custody for up to seven days, despite a prior Constitutional Court ruling declaring this power unconstitutional. Prosecutors relied on these provisions to extend the detention of opposition leaders, civil society activists, and labor leaders, some of whom were denied bail for almost two months. In December 2020 youth activist Allan Moyo was arrested and spent 72 days in detention. He was denied bail three times before a court finally granted him bail in February.

Authorities often did not allow detainees prompt or regular access to their lawyers and often informed lawyers who attempted to visit their clients that detainees or those with authority to grant access were unavailable. The government also monitored, harassed, intimidated, and arrested human rights lawyers when they attempted to gain access to their clients. A destitute detainee may apply to the government for an attorney, but only for capital offenses. Some opposition party members, civil society activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens had limited or no access to their legal counsel.

Arbitrary Arrest: The government regularly used arbitrary arrest and detention as tools of intimidation and harassment, especially against political activists, civil society members, journalists, attorneys, and ordinary citizens asserting their rights. The government commonly used COVID-19 lockdown restrictions to arrest individuals perceived as threats against the government.

In April police arrested an opposition youth leader, Obey Sithole, for alleged criminal nuisance after holding a peaceful demonstration. He was released on bail after four weeks in detention. Police and media reported that security forces arrested political and civil society activists, journalists, labor leaders, and ordinary citizens for their alleged violation of COVID-19 lockdown measures or alleged involvement in planned demonstrations in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, and other cities.

Police selectively enforced COVID-19 safety regulations against opposition parties, civil society, and street vendors while making only modest interventions to prevent ruling party supporters from engaging in rallies and attending large gatherings. Human rights NGOs reported street vendors in urban areas were often targets of arbitrary arrest and allegations of operating illegal businesses. The law absolves individual security agents from criminal liability regarding unlawful arrests and detention. Police officers routinely argued they merely followed orders in conducting arrests and were not responsible for compensating victims of unlawful arrests.

Pretrial Detention: Although the constitution provides for the right to bail for detained suspects, prolonged pretrial detention for government critics, including journalists, ordinary citizens, student activists, and opposition leaders, was common. The government routinely opposed bail for political detainees, and judges generally upheld these motions. Cases involving human rights defenders also involved lengthy pretrial detentions. When judges issued bail rulings, they often delayed announcing their rulings until after the court cashier closed on Fridays to ensure political detainees remained in prison over the weekend. Delays in pretrial procedures were common, however, due to a shortage of magistrates and court interpreters, poor bureaucratic procedures, and an insufficient number of court officials to hear many cases.

Other prisoners remained in prison because they could not afford to pay bail. Magistrates rarely exercised the “free bail option” that authorizes them to waive bail for destitute prisoners. Lawyers reported juveniles usually spent more time in pretrial detention than did adults because they could not attend court unless a parent or guardian accompanied them. Sometimes their parents could not be located or did not have the funds to travel to court. Authorities occasionally did not notify parents of a juvenile’s arrest or the closest kin of an adult detainee’s arrest.

Defendants commonly faced prolonged pretrial detention as well as unnecessary hurdles that inconvenience and humiliate the defendant. After being arrested on May 26, New York Times journalist Jeffrey Moyo’s bail check-ins were moved from Harare to Bulawayo, which made compliance more difficult for him and his Harare-based lawyer. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the defendant had to travel in a separate vehicle from his lawyer, increasing the cost of his defense.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government intensified executive influence over the courts and executive interference in court decisions. In May the government amended the constitution to give the president authority to appoint senior justices without public interviews and extend the term of the chief justice beyond the mandatory retirement age stipulated in the original constitution. Prior to the amendment’s passage, Supreme and High Court judges issued an anonymous letter expressing concerns regarding the chief justice’s interference in their judgments. Many viewed the chief justice as biased in favor of the ruling party, citing his ruling against the leading opposition party when it challenged the results of the 2018 general election. In September the Constitutional Court overturned a High Court decision that would have blocked the extension. As a result the chief justice was to remain head of the Supreme and Constitutional Courts for another five years until his 75th birthday, well beyond the general election scheduled for 2023. Although the constitution includes safeguards against changing term limits for incumbents, the Constitutional Court’s decision makes it easier for parliament to pass additional constitutional amendments to extend term limits for other key positions, and the September decision further disempowers lower courts to rule on constitutional matters, setting a precedent that their rulings cannot be enforced until reviewed by the Constitutional Court.

At times the judiciary demonstrated its independence despite intense pressure to conform to government directives. The government, however, often dismissed justices who resisted executive pressure. In June the president fired High Court Justice Erica Ndewere for “gross incompetence” after she refused to take instructions to deny bail to an opposition politician.

The government often refused to abide by judicial decisions and routinely delayed payment of court costs or judgments awarded against it in civil cases.

Judicial corruption was widespread. NGOs reported senior government officials gave homes, farms, agricultural machinery, and other perks to numerous judges as part of its corrupt Command Agriculture program.

NGOs reported that the president of the High Court often routed cases involving human rights defenders to specific anticorruption magistrates in the lower courts even if the cases were unrelated to corruption. Legal experts claimed defendants in politically sensitive cases were less likely to receive a fair hearing from magistrates, who heard most cases, than from higher courts. In lower courts justices were more likely to make politicized decisions due to the use of threats and intimidation to force magistrates to rule in the government’s favor, particularly in rural areas. In politically charged cases, other judicial officers such as prosecutors and private attorneys also faced pressure from high-ranking judges and officials of the ruling party, including harassment and intimidation.

Certain high court justices made seemingly independent rulings and granted opposition party members and civil society activists’ bail. Some observers, however, believed the decisions in those cases were motivated by ruling party infighting rather than judicial independence.

There were reports that judges or magistrates failed to recuse themselves from politically charged cases. In July the deputy chief justice and numerous Supreme Court and Constitutional Court judges refused to recuse themselves from proceedings involving the chief justice despite having been directly supervised by him. In September a Harare magistrate refused to recuse herself from a case involving a high-profile journalist and human rights activist after making earlier statements insinuating the defendant’s guilt.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but corruption and executive control over the judiciary increasingly compromised this right. By law defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, although courts often did not respect this right, with government and ruling party officials using social media to imply guilt ahead of a court ruling in politically charged cases. Conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the prosecution bears the burden of proof. The right to appeal both conviction and sentence exists in all cases, and it is automatic in cases in which the death penalty is imposed. Magistrates or judges held trials without juries. Trials were usually open to the public except in cases involving minors or state security matters. Government officials liberally interpreted state security matters to include trials and hearings for defendants who protested the government or reported on government corruption. In cases where conviction could result in a death penalty or a lengthy prison sentence, assessors – usually nonlawyers who sit together with a judge to provide either expert advice or guidance on local practices – could be appointed in lieu of juries.

In the case of freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, acquitted of the charge of publishing falsehoods by retweeting a video of police allegedly killing a baby, Prosecutor General Kumbirai Hodzi reportedly filed with the High Court to challenge his acquittal. Government officials asserted they appealed Chin’ono’s acquittal to the Supreme Court, which delayed the hearing and release from bail until February 2022 to allow for the government’s appeal. Chin’ono said he had not seen evidence an appeal was ever sent to the Supreme Court.

Defendants have the right to a lawyer of their choice, but most defendants in magistrates’ courts did not have legal representation. In criminal cases, a destitute defendant may apply to have the government provide an attorney, but requests were rarely granted except in capital cases in which the government provided an attorney for all defendants unable to afford one. Individuals in civil cases may request free legal assistance from the Legal Resources Foundation or Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. The Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association also provided some free legal assistance to women and youth. The law provides for free interpretation, and Shona-English and Ndebele-English interpretation was generally available. The right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense is also provided for by law but was often lacking. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf and to confront adverse witnesses.

Any person arrested or detained for an alleged offense has the right to remain silent and may not be compelled to confess. Authorities did not always respect these rights. Authorities sometimes denied or significantly delayed attorneys’ access to their clients or falsely claimed the attorneys’ clients were being held at another facility. There were also cases where authorities used COVID-19 regulations to deny attorneys timely access to their clients.

Government officials sometimes ignored court orders, delayed bail and access to medical care, and selectively enforced court orders related to land disputes favorable to those associated with the government. Lower courts commonly denied bail based on previous arrests, including for defendants never convicted of an offense.

The public generally had access to the courts of law, particularly magistrate courts, although observers reported occasional physical and procedural impediments, such as limited available seating areas and arbitrary rules about notetaking during hearings.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of individuals arrested for political reasons, including opposition party officials, their supporters, NGO workers, journalists, civil society activists, and labor leaders. Authorities sometimes detained such individuals for one or two days and released them without charge. Political prisoners and detainees did not receive the same standard of treatment as other prisoners or detainees. There were reports police beat and physically abused political activists and journalists while they were in detention.

Unlike normal criminal proceedings, which move from investigation to trial within months, prosecutors regularly took abnormally long to submit cases involving members of the political opposition or civil society critics of the government for trial. Hearings were sometimes scheduled when presiding judges were on vacation. Prosecutors in political cases were often “unprepared to proceed” and received numerous extensions. When authorities granted bail to government opponents, they often did not conclude investigations and set a trial date but chose to “proceed by way of summons.” This left the threat of impending prosecution remaining, with the accused person eventually being called to court, only to be informed of further delays. Magistrates sometimes delayed making case records available to deliberately delay appeals for bail in the High Court.

In 2020 opposition members, including Member of Parliament Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri, and Netsai Marova, reported security agents abducted them from police custody after their arrest for participating in a demonstration. The three women sustained severe injuries from alleged physical, sexual, and mental abuse. The three were released, but after they reported the crimes to police, they were rearrested and charged with making false statements to police and for faking their own abductions. After being again released, on February 1, police arrested them a third time for peacefully demonstrating and a fourth time on March 5 while they were calling for the release of youth activist Makomborero Haruzivishe. On April 22, Mamombe fell ill and was rushed to the hospital with acute stomach pain. On May 5, a justice granted them bail. On July 12, a prosecutor, however, attempted to bypass a pending High Court decision on a stay of trial. On September 3, Mamombe was rearrested for her tardiness in a routine appearance at the police station as part of her conditions of bail, but she was later released to continue her bail. On November 2, a court charged Mamombe with trespassing but failed to provide her with documents to prepare for her trial. The court instructed her to reappear on December 8.

In March a court sentenced Haruzivishe to prison for inciting violence and resisting arrest. Authorities said the 28-year-old blew a whistle to alert opposition protesters to pounce on police during a protest in February 2020 and that he incited violence in a protest demanding the government provide more support to the poor. ZHLR, which represented Haruzivishe during his trial, said only circumstantial evidence was used to convict him of inciting violence and resisting arrest. While outside the courthouse during Haruzivishe’s trial, one journalist witnessed indiscriminate police brutality against his supporters. As part of Haruzivishe’s appeal to the High Court, he sued the magistrate to correct two allegedly inaccurate statements in the court transcript.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

In contrast with 2020, there were no reports that the government attempted to exert bilateral pressure on another country to take adverse action against specific individuals or groups for politically motivated purposes.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Civil judicial procedures allow for an independent and impartial judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to political influence and intimidation, particularly in cases involving high-ranking government officials, politically connected individuals, and individuals and organizations seeking remedies for abuses of human rights.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The constitution stipulates the government must compensate persons for improvements made on land taken by the government, but it does not set a timeline for providing compensation. The government rarely provided restitution or compensation for the confiscation of private property, and police generally did not act against individuals who seized private property without having secured authorization from the state to do so.

Most commercial farmers reported the government had still not compensated them for losses suffered from the land resettlement program in the early 2000s. In 2020 the government, the Commercial Farmers Union, and other farmers’ groups signed a $3.5 billion compensation deal for farms expropriated in the decades following independence. The deal promised half of the payments after one year and the remainder over the course of the next four years. In June the government made a one-million-dollar token payment to commercial farmers but delayed additional compensation payments until 2022. Despite the negotiated agreement, government officials continued to seize farms without compensation as recently as September 2020.

The Commercial Farmers Union estimated there were fewer than 400 active white commercial farmers still living in the country. Those remaining continued to be targeted, harassed, threatened with eviction, and evicted by unemployed youth and individuals hired by politically connected individuals standing to benefit from farm seizures.

High-level Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) officials, meanwhile, registered numerous farms in the names of family members to evade the government’s policy of one farm per official. In September 2020 Anxious Masuka, the minister of lands, agriculture, water, and rural resettlement, stated the country had no more farmland to distribute to the applicants on the land application list. As a result, Masuka said the ministry planned to reallocate land to prospective farmers from farmers with multiple farm plots or those who were underutilizing the land.

The government continued to allow individuals aligned with top officials to seize land not designated for acquisition and the media commonly cites high-level government officials possessing large farm holdings. The government began a comprehensive land audit in 2018 to reflect land ownership accurately, but as of year’s end, the commission had not completed the exercise.

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

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, or home, but local NGOs reported the government did not respect this right. Throughout the year government officials pressured local chiefs and ZANU-PF loyalists to monitor and report on persons suspected of supporting political parties other than ZANU-PF.

The law permits intercepting or monitoring any communication (including telephone, postal mail, email, and internet traffic) transmitted through a telecommunication, postal, or other system in the country. Civil liberties advocates claimed the government used the law to stifle freedom of speech and target political and civil society activists (see section 2.a.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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, but the law limits these freedoms in the “interest of defense, public security or professional confidentiality, to the extent that the restriction is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society.” The government continued to arrest, detain, and harass journalists, critics, and opposition politicians. While independent media continued to operate, journalists and editors practiced self-censorship. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

Freedom of Expression: There were restrictions on individuals criticizing the government or discussing matters of public interest. Authorities were sensitive to criticism in general, particularly when directed at President Mnangagwa or his family. Persons accused of insulting the president and his office are charged under a law making undermining the authority of or insulting a president criminal acts. In June the ZPCS commenced disciplinary proceedings against a prison officer for insulting President Mnangagwa based on a comment on his Facebook account.

Police also arrested citizens for speaking out against government corruption associated with public resources meant for the government’s COVID-19 response.

In September authorities sentenced human rights activist Paul Besa to 36 months in prison for violating the government’s COVID-19 lockdown and inciting public violence, among other charges. Besa had held up several signs, including one that said “Respect the Constitution” as part of calls by Jacob Ngarivhume, a leader of a minor opposition party, for a nationwide demonstration to protest corruption in July 2020. The court suspended the sentence on the condition that Besa not become involved in any case involving public violence, a breach of peace, or bigotry for the next five years.

The family of Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC Alliance) supporter Mazwi Joseph Ndlovu continued to press for justice for his July 2020 death. In July 2020 Ndlovu was fatally assaulted after questioning local ZANU-PF authorities why they denied him food assistance and challenged the partisan distribution of food aid. Local press reported police charged the perpetrators, identified as ZANU-PF youths, with murder; the trial was pending at year’s end.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent newspapers and commercial radio stations were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although with some restrictions. State-sponsored media, however, were more prevalent. The Ministry of Media and Information exercised control over state-run media and some independent media outlets, using the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Media Commission.

In January police arrested prominent journalist and activist Hopewell Chin’ono and senior opposition officials Job Sikhala and Fadzayi Mahere for their social media posts. Chin’ono, was arrested for the third time in six months on charges of “communicating falsehoods.” Chin’ono and Sikhala were denied bail and remained in pretrial detention until the bail decisions were overturned by higher courts. In April the High Court agreed with Chin’ono’s lawyer that the law used to arrest him ceased to exist in 2014 after the Supreme Court judged it unconstitutional. In July, after retweeting a call for antigovernment protests, Chin’ono faced new charges and had his passport confiscated until September. A judge dismissed Chin’ono’s case and noted the courts had previously deemed the law the police used to charge him as unconstitutional. All three cases, however, were pending as of year’s end due to government appeals.

The government used accreditation laws to monitor international media journalists’ entry into the country, requiring foreign journalists to obtain permits 60 days prior to arrival. Foreign reporters paid more for permits and accreditation than their local counterparts. International media outlets such as al-Jazeera and the BBC continued to operate in the country.

Radio remained the principal medium of public communication, particularly for the rural majority. All urban commercial radio stations licensed in 2015 were operating during the year. Despite their perceived allegiance to ZANU-PF, these stations included independent voices in their programming. On September 15, the broadcasting authority increased the number of licensed community radio stations from eight to 14.

The government-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation – the country’s only domestically based television broadcasting station – operated one channel. The broadcasting corporation censored programming critical of the government created by a think tank on its network, although that programming was broadcast on private networks. One commercial television network that was denied a license in 2020 continued to broadcast online. International satellite television broadcasts were available through private firms but were too expensive for most citizens.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces, officials, and supporters of the ruling party routinely harassed journalists. In April, two opposition activists were hospitalized in Harare after being assaulted in police custody. In May police arrested freelance journalist Jeffrey Moyo and Zimbabwe Media Commission registrar Thabang Manhika on charges of forging accreditation documents for New York Times journalists. After the government deported the Times journalists, Moyo was held without bail for 19 days and Manhika was held for 37 days. In August police arrested and detained journalist Elizabeth Mashiri in Gweru on allegations of disorderly conduct after she captured footage of an incident involving police and informal vendors. She was released and reportedly was to be summoned for trial after the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted. In September security forces detained journalists Pamenus Tuso and Brenda Lulu Harris and forced them to delete their footage of an opposition party speech in Bulawayo. According to an NGO, the journalists were approached by a plainclothes police officer who asked them why they were taking pictures before taking them to his superior, who identified himself as a member of the military police. They were detained for more than thirty minutes at the venue, despite producing their accreditation cards.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government maintained its censorship through media registration and accreditation laws, although many provisions of the law are inconsistent with the constitution. The law provides the government with extensive powers to control media and suppress free speech by requiring the registration of journalists and prohibiting the “abuse of free expression.” Government-controlled and independent media and journalists practiced self-censorship. In April the government enacted the Zimbabwe Media Commission Act with provisions for the regulatory body to investigate complaints against journalists and media.

Libel/Slander Laws: The constitution prohibits criminal defamation. Although libel, slander, defamation, and blasphemy should be treated only as civil offenses, there were occasional arrests for insulting the president or his family. Civil defamation laws remained in force. Newspapers exercised self-censorship due to government intimidation and the prospect of prosecution under civil libel laws. In July, Auditor General Mildred Chiri told a parliamentary committee she opted in her 2019 annual report not to name specific companies committing wrongdoing to limit the risk of potential lawsuits.

National Security: The law grants the government a wide range of legal powers to prosecute persons for political and security crimes that are not clearly defined. For example, the extremely broad Official Secrets Act criminalizes the divulging of any information acquired by government employees in the course of official duties. Authorities used these laws to restrict publication of information critical of government policies or public officials.

Internet Freedom

The Interception of Communications Act permits the government to monitor all communications in the country, including internet transmissions.

The government regulated internet and mobile phone communication to curb dissent and increased its share of the information and communications technology market and international gateways. The government regularly monitored and interfered with social media. In April hackers attempted to infiltrate the social media accounts of several prominent independent journalists. In November, Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa announced the government had appointed social media monitoring teams to monitor online activities. While the minister stated the government did not intend to regulate social media, human rights NGOs expressed concerns that monitoring social media could have a devastating impact on the right to privacy and freedom of expression.

In 2020 the government announced a proposed telecommunications monitoring system with the stated purpose of protecting consumers from abuse by mobile networks operators. Industry professionals stated abuse by the operators was not a problem in the country. They perceived the measure as an attempt to monitor communication for security and political purposes. Bloggers alleged the company that was awarded the monitoring system contract had engaged in citizen content monitoring under the guise of ensuring mobile network operators’ compliance in numerous other African countries. The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe director general, who had led the telecom authority since 2016, was a former senior official in the Central Intelligence Organization.

While the post and telecommunications authority is reportedly barred from monitoring content, communications laws permit eavesdropping and call interception by state security personnel. The laws allow law enforcement officers to apply to the responsible minister for a warrant authorizing them to intercept communications, including calls, emails, and other messages. Regulations permit officers to apply for interception warrants if they know the identities of individuals whose calls and messages they want to intercept. There were no reported applications of this provision. In August the Senate passed the Cyber and Data Protection Bill which, if signed into law, would criminalize sending messages that incite violence (often used as a charge against individuals calling for peaceful demonstrations) as a national security offense.

Freedom House reported the National Data Center, which President Mnangagwa launched in February to support national identity registration and the country’s planned smart city network, was well equipped with surveillance technology.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government did not explicitly restrict academic freedom; however, the law more broadly restricts the independence of universities, subjecting them to government influence and providing university authorities with disciplinary powers over staff and students. President Mnangagwa is the chancellor of all eight state-run universities and appoints their vice chancellors. The government has oversight of higher education policy at public universities through the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education.

The Censorship and Entertainment Controls Board approves scripts by playwrights. Artists who violate provisions of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act receive fines and prison sentences.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government continued to restrict these rights, particularly for political opposition and government critics.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government restricted the right to peaceful assembly. The law requires organizers to notify police of their intention to hold a public gathering, defined as 15 or more individuals, seven days in advance. Failure to do so may result in criminal prosecution as well as civil liability. The law allows police to prohibit a gathering based on security concerns but requires police to file an affidavit in a magistrate’s court stating the reasons behind the denial. The government must respond to notifications to demonstrate within three days. COVID-19 lockdown regulations were used to deny free peaceful assembly.

In May police arrested Jacob Ngarivhume, president of a small opposition party called Transform Zimbabwe, for organizing a cleanup campaign in Harare without securing police clearance in advance. In September police interrupted opposition leader Nelson Chamisa while he was delivering a speech in Bulawayo on the grounds that they had not approved the meeting. In the same month, 10 teachers protesting at Matsine Secondary School in Wedza over nonpayment of their salaries were arrested on charges of participating in a gathering with intent to cause public violence. On September 20, police beat and arrested 10 students peacefully demonstrating against tuition increases at Belvedere Teachers College in Harare. The Zimbabwe National Students Union reported more than 50 similar arrests as of December.

The government demonstrated a pattern of selectively enforcing COVID-19 regulations based on political factors. Rallies in support of the ruling party were generally unimpeded, as were religious assemblies by groups seen as loyal to the ruling party. Meanwhile opposition members, civil society activists, and street vendors often faced arrests, and in some cases police violence, for violating COVID-19 measures. In June police and soldiers violently dispersed vendors in Gwanda, claiming they were spreading COVID-19.

Authorities continued to use COVID-19 lockdown restrictions to bar civil society, trade unions, religious groups, and the opposition from holding public events even though the ruling party continued to hold such events.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. The government did not officially restrict the formation of political parties or unions but used proxies to register political parties under the same name as a major opposition contingent. Ruling party supporters, sometimes with direct government support or tacit approval, intimidated and harassed members of organizations perceived to be opposed to the government.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

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

In-country Movement: Police regularly interrupted freedom of movement with checkpoints throughout major cities and nationwide along most major routes. The government began imposing intermittent restrictions on intercity transport when the COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020, expanding the “intercity” definition in July to include travel between Harare and densely populated suburbs such as Chitungwiza and Norton, which were opposition strongholds. That restriction was lifted in September.

Foreign Travel: The constitution provides the right for citizens to enter and leave the country and for the right to a passport or other travel documents. White citizens, however, routinely faced additional bureaucratic hurdles and requests for bribes to obtain a passport. Although dual citizenship was recognized, there were reports the Office of the Registrar General sometimes imposed administrative obstacles in the passport application process for dual citizens, particularly Malawian, Zambian, and Mozambican citizens.

Exile: The constitution prohibits expulsion from the country for all citizens. Several persons who left the country in recent years, including former government officials, prominent businessmen, human rights activists, opposition party members, and human rights lawyers, remained in self-imposed exile due to fear of persecution.

The government facilitated the return of former refugees from Botswana. One returnee who had deserted from the military was temporarily detained upon return.

Citizenship: The constitution provides for citizenship based on birth, on descent, or on registration. Despite being granted citizenship under the constitution and having voted previously; some persons have been denied the right to vote during by-elections in recent years because they could not adequately demonstrate their citizenship.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

International organizations estimated there were more than 20,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of January. The government evicted an unknown number of persons who built homes on contested lands, leading to their displacement. In 2019 Cyclone Idai displaced thousands of persons in Chimanimani and Chipinge. The Cyclone Idai IDP camps remained in place during the year. Urban evictions displaced persons, but the precise numbers were unknown.

Many IDPs from earlier emergencies continued to live in dire conditions, lacking basic sanitation. IDPs were among those at greatest risk of food insecurity. Several generations of undocumented farm workers from neighboring countries resided in insular commercial farming communities in the country.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government often 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, and other persons of concern, but reportedly ordered the refoulement of Congolese refugees in violation of international law (see below).

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. As of November, Tongogara Refugee Camp hosted 15,797 refugees and asylum seekers despite being designed to host 3,000. Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) comprised the majority, 76 percent, with communities from Mozambique (11 percent), Burundi (6 percent), and Rwanda (5 percent) forming the bulk of the remainder. Prior to COVID-19 border closures, an estimated 100 persons arrived each month.

Refoulement: In August the government removed approximately 80 refugees accused of looting a food supply warehouse from Tongogara Refugee Camp and placed them in detention in Harare. The government forcibly returned approximately 70 of these refugees to the DRC in violation of international law according to an international organization. DRC authorities rejected approximately 15 of these, whom the government then placed in detention facilities in Harare.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Security forces routinely detained migrants who lacked identity documents or permission to be in the country and held them in prisons with convicted criminals. Prolonged detention for undocumented migrants was common. Migrants complained of mistreatment by other prisoners.

Freedom of Movement: The government maintained a formal encampment policy requiring refugees to live at Tongogara Refugee Camp. Nevertheless, at year’s end approximately 850 refugees lived in urban areas, including Harare and Bulawayo, and more than 6,500 Mozambican asylum seekers lived among host communities along the porous border with Mozambique. An unknown number of refugees were held in criminal detention facilities.

Employment: Refugees working in the informal sector had limited employment options due to the government’s encampment policy requiring all refugees to reside in Tongogara Refugee Camp. UNHCR partners and Julia Taft Fund supported organizations have provided camp residents employment opportunities, including banana farming, livestock production, and soap production.

Durable Solutions: While the government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement, it facilitated the voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries by recognizing the Voluntary Repatriation Declaration Form as a valid document for travel purposes. The government also allowed former Rwandan refugees, who lost refugee status after 2013, to remain in the country pending final arrangements for their return. Additionally, the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees stated that Rwandans with Zimbabwean spouses were permitted to regularize their status in the country. Many refugees were unwilling to return to their home countries voluntarily, and resettlement remained the only viable solution for many of them.

g. Stateless Persons

The country has a significant number of habitual residents who are legally or de facto stateless. In 2015 international organizations estimated a minimum of 300,000 persons in the country were stateless. Longstanding migrant labor populations from Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia lacked documentation. Many migrant workers and their families who had lived in the country for generations, along with thousands of survivors of the Gukurahundi massacres of mainly Ndebele persons in the country’s southwest between 1983 and 1987, remained blocked from accessing national identity documents. One in four of such persons was not registered at birth.

Mothers may register their child’s birth only if the father or another male relative is present. If the father or other male relative refuses, the child may be deprived of a birth certificate, which limits the child’s ability to acquire identity documents, enroll in school, and access social services.

The country has strict citizenship transmission requirements; children born in wedlock between 1980 and 1996 to a Zimbabwean mother and non-Zimbabwean father cannot claim citizenship. Descendants of victims of the Gukurahundi massacres in the 1980s may have difficulty securing a birth certificate because they often cannot obtain their parents’ death certificates, as required. Due to stringent documentation requirements, many IDPs do not possess evidence of their nationality following the destruction and displacement resulting from Cyclone Idai in 2019.

Discriminatory practices often prevent persons born in the country from registering for citizenship when they have foreign relatives. The government resolved to re-code national identity documents so mixed-race citizens will no longer be deemed of foreign descent.

In September, after the government issued a waiver on documentation requirements for the San ethnic group, the Registrar General began a 30-day mobile exercise in Matabeleland to issue birth certificates, death certificates, and other forms of identification. This effort also extended to other Gukurahundi-affected populations. Marginalized ethnic groups that lived along the country’s borders, such as the Doma and Kanyemba, were perceived to be from neighboring countries and thus unable to obtain documentation on either side of the border.

Stateless persons were often unable to enroll or remain enrolled in school, access formal health care facilities (including the COVID-19 vaccination program), or obtain a passport to travel to neighboring countries for work or to visit family. In December 2020 hundreds of students were unable to complete secondary school exams due to failure to obtain identity cards. Additionally, the government’s launch of the national COVID-19 vaccination program in February required identity documents to register for vaccines.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability for citizens to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot. In October 2020 the government, however, indefinitely suspended by-elections to fill vacant political seats. The government enacted constitutional amendments that created a legal framework that strengthened the ruling ZANU-PF party’s dominance in political processes and government. The October 2020 suspension of by-elections due to COVID-19 remained in effect throughout the year. From January 8 to April 1, and from July 26 to August 8, the government suspended voter registration and related field work due to COVID-19. Some NGOs criticized the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the government for not complying with constitutional requirements to hold by-elections within 90 days of a vacancy, noting Zambia and other nations in the region completed national elections while still maintaining COVID-19 health measures.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Most international and local independent observers characterized the 2018 presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as largely free of violence but not meeting standards for credible elections. The Southern African Development Community, the African Union, and the Common Market for Southern and Eastern Africa, however, declared the elections free and fair. Political parties and civil society organizations complained of widespread voter disenfranchisement, including of foreign-born and diaspora voters, and the inability to compete under equal conditions. State media coverage was heavily biased in favor of ZANU-PF and provided almost no access to or positive coverage of the opposition. There were reports of voter intimidation, including the collection of voter registration slips by party and tribal leaders to undermine the secrecy of the vote.

While the law obliges traditional chiefs to be impartial, in 2018 traditional leaders mobilized voters and canvassed support for ZANU-PF in rural areas. In return, traditional leaders continued to receive farms, vehicles, houses, and other benefits. Chiefs Council President Fortune Charumbira continued to be in contempt of a 2018 High Court order to withdraw public comments made in support of ZANU-PF. In July he denounced politically motivated violence that occurred during the 2018 elections and called for an end to the politicization of food aid. Nonetheless, he delivered a partisan political speech at the annual ZANU-PF party conference in October in support of ZANU-PF and President Mnangagwa.

Local leaders including traditional chiefs and government officials often distributed food aid based on perceived political affiliation, according to local NGOs. Through politicized food distribution, the government punished communities that elected opposition councilors by denying them assistance while rewarding communities that voted for ZANU-PF. In February ruling party activist Collen Moyo allegedly issued threats to opposition members while gathering villagers for food distribution in Gwanda. The government also used food distribution events to cajole citizens into joining ZANU-PF. In April ruling party activists Fani Moyo and Lameck Tshuma told citizens in Tsholotsho they needed to join the party to receive food aid. There were similar reports in Binga, Redcliff, Silobela, and Zhombe. In June ruling party representatives in Kwekwe informed residents they were collecting names to join the ruling party and the same list would be used for future food distribution programs. NGOs noted similar discrimination in government programs to distribute agricultural inputs nationwide. In August, Village Head Mabvepi Chihota stated ZANU-PF oversaw distributing assistance from the Pfumvudza Agricultural Inputs Scheme, noting community members who wished to benefit must join political cell structures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: An unprecedented number of presidential candidates and political parties contested the 2018 elections. Elements within ZANU-PF and the security forces intimidated and committed abuses against other parties and their supporters and obstructed their activities. NGOs reported ZANU-PF youth members and so-called war veterans threatened communities with violence, reminding them that the violence of the 2008 elections would return if ZANU-PF candidates lost.

The High Court, in a series of decisions beginning in March 2020, paved the way for a minor political party, the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), to take over the assets, headquarters, and parliamentary seats of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC Alliance). The court ruled the party’s founder, Morgan Tsvangirai, violated the party constitution by appointing Nelson Chamisa as vice president and therefore deemed his later ascent to party leadership invalid. This ignored earlier judicial rulings that political parties should resolve their differences internally. The MDC-T initially recalled 25 elected MDC Alliance parliamentarians and local councilors. Another minor opposition party recalled six additional MDC Alliance parliamentarians. Despite a High Court ruling that reversed the latter recall, an appeal continued to block the six from representing their constituents. In September the MDC-T threatened to recall all opposition parliamentarians and local councilors still loyal to the MDC Alliance president. At year’s end at least 27 parliamentary seats remained vacant, including 19 from recalls and eight due to deaths. At least 86 municipal seats also remained vacant, with no date yet confirmed for by-elections. In May the Zimbabwe Election Support Network estimated 750,000 persons lacked National Assembly representation.

Members of the ruling party threatened violence against opposition officials in apparent efforts to coerce them to withdraw from politics or change party alliance. In May media reported the ruling party’s youth secretary for indigenization sponsored violent gangs in Makonde and Chinhoyi. A ruling party official complained a “gang of hooligans” had “rendered some districts ungovernable.” In June unknown perpetrators burned down the home of an opposition official in Chikomba. In October the MDC Alliance reported violent attacks from state intelligence and military officers during multiple visits to rural areas, and MDC Alliance published photographic and video evidence of those attacks. In November news reports indicated the ruling party used its youth structures to coordinate disruption campaigns against the MDC Alliance during visits to rural areas.

Violent political competition was common within the ruling party, particularly among contenders for provincial party leadership. In September, one candidate for the ZANU-PF Mashonaland central chairmanship, Lazarus Dokora, described an attack against his vehicle as an assassination attempt. In October, Manicaland chair Mike Madiro fled a party meeting to avoid an altercation with rivals waiting for him outside the venue; two weeks later, assailants attacked the home of one of his party rivals. In October, Harare chair Goodwills Masimirembwa filed assault charges against his deputy while Bulawayo chair Obert Musindo hid under a car after an assailant pulled a gun on him. In July a local politician in Mashonaland East lost her home in a fire one day after receiving threats from a party rival.

The MDC Alliance asserted ZANU-PF supporters attacked party president Nelson Chamisa on October 11 in Masvingo where he had planned to meet party supporters and other stakeholders. A progovernment newspaper suggested the attack was part of a rising trend in political violence. The opposition party stated Chamisa survived a live-fire attempt on his life during his travel to Manicaland on October 19.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of historically marginalized or minority groups including persons with disabilities and indigenous persons in the political process, and they fully participated as voters and candidates. Nevertheless, laws criminalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) identities have the effect of prohibiting LGBTQI+ persons from participating in the political process.

Women remained largely underrepresented in local and national political offices, and men overwhelmingly held most senior positions in the public sector. Female candidates across multiple political parties faced particularly vitriolic gender-based insults regarding appearance, sexual proclivity, accusations of involvement in sex work, and gender-based stereotypes. They also faced challenges within their party if running against a male candidate in a primary. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors also limited women’s political participation. Women headed six of 22 cabinet-level ministries, an increase from prior years but well below their share of the population and well below the equal representation encouraged by the constitution. Women held six of 13 minister of state positions and were elected to 32 percent of seats in the National Assembly and Senate, down from 34 percent in 2013. In 2018 the Senate elected a woman as president. In accordance with the constitution, female members of parliament filled all 60 seats reserved for women in the National Assembly under a gender-quota provision.

In April a constitutional amendment to extend the expiration of the women’s proportional representation quota for 10 years passed parliament but faced unresolved legal challenges as of November. The amendment introduces a 30 percent women’s quota in local government and establishes a new quota for 10 parliamentarians ages 21 to 35 in the National Assembly on a party-list basis, to include five women in that age range within the women’s quota. Despite the quotas, women’s representation still did not meet the 50/50 target set out in the constitution. Reports suggested this system resulted in women candidates facing greater difficulty running for constituency seats (women won 28 percent of existing constituency seats in 2008 but only 12 percent of constituency seats in 2018), and women’s authority in parliament was diminished because they generally did not represent geographic constituencies.

The constitution reserves Senate seats for one man and one woman with disabilities elected by an electoral college system designated through the National Disability Board. During the 2018 elections, some persons associated with the opposition reported their family members were instructed to declare themselves blind or illiterate to enable a biased “disabled voter assistant” to vote on their behalf.

Undocumented individuals could not vote, run for office, or serve as an election agent. Large numbers of youth lacked the national identification cards needed to register to vote. A wide range of factors contributed to this problem including clerical errors, limited registration windows, inaccessibility for persons with disabilities, undocumented home births, distance to registrar offices, parental deaths and imprisonment, illiteracy, and onerous age requirements for witnesses. Additionally, the loss of documents due to Cyclone Idai and in Gukurahundi-affected communities was a problem, as well as challenges faced by minority groups such as the San, Tonga, and Doma.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively or impartially. Despite government pronouncements, there were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Experts described the problem as “catch and release,” where the government arrested some corrupt officials, often those out of favor, without ever convicting them.

Corruption: Corruption in both the public and private sectors persisted and was highly institutionalized. The country continued to experience both petty and grand corruption, defined respectively by Transparency International Zimbabwe as an “everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- to mid-level public officials” such as by police and local officials and “an abuse of high-level power by political elites.” Although the country had established specialized anticorruption courts in all 10 provinces by December 2020, challenges persisted: perceptions of political interference, delays in concluding high-profile cases, and a low quality of investigations. Additionally, the anticorruption courts often displayed political bias and were assigned cases involving activists, journalists, or opposition leaders even though the cases did not relate to corruption. Independent governmental oversight entities were often constrained politically or lacked sufficient funding and staffing to carry out their mandates. In September 2020 the ZHRC, Zimbabwe Gender Commission, and National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) signed an agreement to collaborate on joint investigations and strengthen their oversight capacities. The government responded with budget cuts and did not implement most of the commissions’ recommendations.

The constitution mandates the Zimbabwe Anticorruption Commission (ZACC) conduct corruption investigations. In 2019 President Mnangagwa appointed nine new commissioners to the ZACC and gave the commission the power to arrest. ZACC does not, however, have the power to prosecute. Concerns remained that the government’s anticorruption efforts were highly politicized and that ZACC targeted high-profile officials who had fallen out of favor with President Mnangagwa.

The country’s COVID-19 response was marred by corruption. In June 2020 President Mnangagwa fired Health and Child Care Minister Obadiah Moyo for corruptly awarding a multimillion-dollar contract overpaying for COVID-19 equipment. Moyo was released on bail within one day and acquitted by the High Court in October.

Despite Deputy Health Minister John Mangwiro’s role in steering a tender to a firm that offered inflated prices in 2020, he remained in his position as of November.

According to Home Affairs Minister Kazembe, the country was losing U.S. $100 million monthly to gold smuggling. In October 2020 security officials at Harare International Airport arrested Henrietta Rushwaya, a relative of President Mnangagwa, when she attempted to smuggle approximately U.S. $300,000 worth of gold to Dubai. Despite receiving wide publicity at the time, Rushwaya avoided conviction and was reinstated as the president of the Zimbabwe Miners Federation. In May the South African Revenue Service arrested a Zimbabwean man trying to smuggle U.S. $780,000 worth of gold into South Africa. As of November the investigation had not concluded.

Corruption also permeated the government’s Command Agriculture program and other agricultural programs such as the President’s Input Scheme. ZACC reported multiple cases of groups corruptly benefiting from these programs. In February 2020 the ZACC raided a syndicate that ran a warehouse that sold repackaged government-provided inputs intended for farmers.

ZANU-PF benefactor Kudakwashe Tagwirei was placed under foreign sanctions for corruptly profiting from misappropriation of property when his company, Sakunda Holdings, redeemed government treasury bills at 10 times their official value. This resulted in a rapid depreciation of the Zimbabwe dollar and a corresponding increase in prices of goods to the public. Following his designation as a sanctioned individual, Tagwirei transferred most of his assets into Kuvimba Mining House Ltd. (Kuvimba), a newly formed entity of which the government purportedly owns 65 percent. Kuvimba has since acquired multiple mines from private owners struggling to stay afloat due to Zimbabwe’s difficult business environment.

In June the Auditor General’s report for 2020 was released. The report exposed poorly managed accounting records, diversion of public funds for unintended purposes, payments for undelivered goods, and failure to follow procurement procedures. The report also noted that most ministries failed to comply with the government’s own Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act, as ministries did not have written documentation to justify their decisions for choosing sole suppliers for most direct purchases of goods and services, thereby opening room for corrupt officials to exploit the system. The Auditor General also reported U.S. $445 million of accounts receivable that remained outstanding for extended periods, making their collectability doubtful.

In September the NGO Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development launched a viral billboard and social media campaign highlighting specific corruption scandals and the social cost of gold smuggling. The government promptly responded, attacking the campaign and the coalition as “rogue.” The coalition received multiple threats, and three billboards were burned or defaced in Bindura and Harare. In October the Hwange Colliery Company pulled down a billboard discussing the Zambezi Water Project and threatened coalition staff. One report suggested involvement by Central Intelligence Organization officials in removing the billboards.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Such groups were subject to government restrictions, interference, monitoring, confiscation of materials and documentation, arrest, and other forms of harassment. Major domestic civil society actors included the Heal Zimbabwe Trust, Legal Resources Foundation, Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise, Women’s Coalition, Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, and Zimbabwe Peace Project.

The government harassed NGOs it believed would expose abuses by government personnel or oppose government policies. NGOs reported surveillance missions by unidentified individuals visiting and occasionally raiding NGO offices. According to many human rights NGOs, the state viewed NGOs as regime-change agents supported by the West. Government-controlled media as well as government-associated social media handles to disparage and attack human rights groups, especially those believed to communicate with western embassies or governments.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ZHRC remained underfunded but managed to fulfill some of its constitutionally mandated functions. Through its website, a hotline, and mobile legal clinics, which were resurfacing after COVID-19 suspensions, the ZHRC conducted public outreach and accepted complaints from the public for investigation. The ZHRC, however, did not have sufficient personnel to investigate the number of complaints it received. Some NGOs questioned the ZHRC’s independence and effectiveness.

The government did not overtly attempt to obstruct the ZHRC’s work that was critical of government or security service actions.

The NPRC, which has the constitutional mandate to handle issues related to the Gukurahundi massacres, made no significant progress, in part due to limited funding. The government asserted resources would be made available to finance outcomes developed by chiefs with their communities, including access to documentation, counseling and psychological support, exhumations, burials, memorials, reparations, and social security benefits (including pensions, social welfare, education, and health services). Access to birth and death certificates and national identification documents in Matabeleland began to make it easier for Gukurahundi-affected populations to access documents with support from their chiefs.

The government portrayed the NPRC’s work as a durable and definitive solution to the 1980s massacres believed to have claimed more than 20,000 lives in Midlands Province and Matabeleland. Nevertheless, it bypassed the NPRC. In October 2020 the NPRC was reportedly excluded from meetings between the president and traditional chiefs on exhumations and reburial of victims’ remains. Critics argued traditional leaders were not adequately trained to lead discussions on reconciliation of rape, genocide, and disappearances, and that putting them in this position could alienate them from their communities. Chiefs and communities in Midlands Province also were excluded from discussions and procedure. Government spokesperson Nick Mangwana tweeted that the e Matabeleland approach would serve as a template in Midlands. The National Transitional Justice Working Group, a coalition of legal, religious, and civil society actors, asserted that this approach usurped the work of the NPRC. The working group called instead for public apologies by Mnangagwa and his administration for violations perpetrated during Gukurahundi.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses


Rape and Domestic Violence: While the law criminalizes sexual offenses, including rape and spousal rape, these crimes remained widespread. Almost a quarter of married women who had experienced domestic violence reported sexual violence, while approximately 8 percent reported both physical and sexual violence. Women were sexually assaulted while seeking treatment in public hospitals, collecting water from communal boreholes and riding in public transportation. The incidence of gender-based violence increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. An NGO reported an increase from 500-600 cases of gender-based violence per month before the COVID-19 pandemic to 700-800 cases per month during the pandemic. Statistics on gender-based violence were not openly shared by law enforcement agencies or the Ministry of Justice, and it was difficult to access data on gender-based violence from these sources.

NGOs reported that government transport restrictions on commuter-only buses and informal taxis increased the incidence of rape and harassment against women by pushing commuters toward illegal and thus more dangerous means of transportation.

Although sexual offenses are punishable by lengthy prison sentences, women’s organizations stated that convictions were rare and sentences were inconsistent. Rape survivors were not consistently afforded protection in court. In April a police officer sexually assaulted a female opposition member in Harare. In May a police officer in Karoi sexually assaulted a woman reporting gender-based violence. Female political leaders and human rights activists were targeted physically and through threats and intimidation via social media; at least one fled the country due to such threats. Social stigma and societal perceptions that rape was a “fact of life” continued to inhibit reporting of rape. Women were less likely to report spousal rape, due to fear of losing economic support or of reprisal, lack of awareness that spousal rape is a crime, police reluctance to engage with domestic disputes, and bureaucratic hurdles. Many rural citizens reported being unfamiliar with laws against domestic violence and sexual offenses. A lack of adequate and widespread services for rape victims also discouraged reporting.

Children born from rape suffered stigma and marginalization. The mothers who gave birth after rape were sometimes reluctant to register the births, and therefore such children did not have access to social services or national identification cards. The adult rape clinics in public hospitals in Harare and Mutare were run by NGOs and did not receive significant financial support from the Ministry of Health. The clinics received referrals from police and NGOs. They administered HIV tests and provided medication for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Although police referred most reported rapes of women and men who received services from the rape centers for prosecution, very few individuals were ultimately prosecuted.

Despite the law, domestic violence remained a serious problem, especially intimate partner violence perpetrated by men against women. This issue was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and frequent government-mandated lockdowns. Although domestic violence is punishable by a fine and a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, authorities generally considered it a private matter and rarely prosecuted.

Members of the joint government-NGO Anti-Domestic Violence Council actively raised domestic violence awareness, although NGOs reported the council was not involved in much of their programmatic work.

Government-controlled media implemented various initiatives to combat gender-based violence through radio programming and a national hotline. Several women’s rights groups also worked with law enforcement agencies and provided training and literature on domestic violence as well as shelters and counseling for women. NGOs reported most urban police stations had trained officers to deal with domestic violence survivors but lacked capacity to respond on evenings and weekends. The law requires victims of any form of violence to produce a police report to receive free treatment at government health facilities. This requirement prevented many rape survivors from receiving necessary medical treatment, including postexposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV. The sparse trauma counseling resources for persons who suffered sexual violence were provided almost exclusively by NGOs.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no national statistics available regarding FGM/C, but the practice of labial elongation reportedly occurred.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Virginity testing, although reportedly decreasing, continued to occur in some regions. Also widows, when forced to relocate to rural areas, were sometimes married off to an in-law.

Sexual Harassment: No specific law criminalizes sexual harassment, but labor law prohibits the practice in the workplace. Media reported that sexual harassment was prevalent in universities, workplaces, and parliament, where legislators routinely and publicly body shamed, name called, and booed female members of parliament. The Ministry of Women Affairs acknowledged the lack of sexual harassment policies at higher education institutions was a major cause for concern. This acknowledgement came after a student advocacy group, the Female Students Network Trust, revealed incidents of gender-based violence and sexual harassment of students in a 2017 survey. Female college students reported they routinely encountered unwanted physical contact from male students, lecturers, and nonacademic staff, ranging from touching and inappropriate remarks to rape. Of the students interviewed, 94 percent indicated they had experienced sexual harassment in general, 74 percent indicated they had experienced sexual harassment by male university staff, and 16 percent reported they were raped by lecturers or other staff.

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

Adolescents, rural residents, LGBTQI+ persons, and survivors of gender-based violence lacked consistent access to reproductive health services. The contraceptive prevalence rate for women ages 15-49 years of age seeking contraception was 67 percent. Barriers affecting access to contraception included supply chain and commodity issues, limited access to health facilities in remote areas, religious skepticism of modern medicine among some groups, and ambiguity on the age of access to contraception. Access to contraception became more difficult due to COVID-19 lockdown measures. Security forces turned back many women traveling to clinics without clearance letters. Many women avoided travel altogether due to of fear of contagion or the consequences of breaking travel restrictions.

Emergency contraceptives were not readily available in the public sector. Women could purchase emergency contraceptives at private pharmacies or obtain them from NGOs, but the cost was prohibitive and availability limited. The law, the policy on sexual abuse and violence, and the creation of one-stop centers for survivors of gender-based violence were designed to provide survivors access to sexual and reproductive health services. Access was constrained by limited state funding to NGOs operating adult rape clinics in Harare and Mutare and limited police capacity to provide victims with the police report needed to access treatment at government health facilities.

The 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey estimated maternal mortality at 462 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 651 deaths per 100,000 live births in the 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey. Nonetheless, the rate was high despite high prenatal care coverage (93 percent), high institutional deliveries (86 percent), and the presence of a skilled health worker at delivery (86 percent). Although these rates of maternal mortality were partly explained by the high prevalence of HIV, maternal and neonatal quality of care were areas of concern.

Ministry of Health guidelines provide for post abortion care to rape survivors, including both medical and psychosocial support. These services were not uniform across facilities and not routinely available. Psychosocial support services for women who experienced abortion were largely unavailable.

Few families could afford menstrual hygiene products. Some girls failed to attend school when menstruating, while others used unhygienic rags, leading to illness and infections associated with reproductive health.

Discrimination: The constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, stating all “laws, customs, traditions, and practices that infringe the rights of women conferred by this constitution are void to the extent of the infringement.” There is an institutional framework to address women’s rights and gender equality through the Ministry of Women Affairs and the Gender Commission, one of the independent commissions established under the constitution. The commission received minimal support from the government and lacked sufficient independence from the ministry. The law recognizes a woman’s right to own property, but very few women owned property due to the customary practice of patriarchal inheritance. Fewer than 20 percent of female farmers were official landowners or named on government lease agreements. Divorce and alimony laws were equitable, but many women lacked awareness of their rights. In traditional practice, property reverts to the man in case of divorce or to his family in case of his death. When women are not listed on lease agreements, they cannot benefit from most government programs that provide agricultural inputs as a form of economic assistance.

The 2020 Marriage Act affords civil partnerships or common law marriages the same remedies as legal marriages but recognizes only heterosexual civil unions or common law marriages. The new law does not address property rights during marriage or inheritance following the death of a spouse.

Women receive fewer loans and other forms of financial support, even in informal economic sectors where they outnumber men, such as in micro and small-scale enterprises and agricultural production. This disparity was partly explained by deficiencies in access to loan collateral and documented years of business experience. The Ministry of Women Affairs accelerated loan access for women by encouraging financial institutions to set quotas for women, encouraging conventional banks to support women entrepreneurs, expanding financial services available to women entrepreneurs, and providing pre- and postcredit counselling for female loan recipients.

Young girls and women increasingly relied on traditional healers and midwives to address health issues due to the difficulty of accessing doctors during COVID-19 lockdowns. This increased severe health complications. Additionally, an NGO reported women sleeping on the floor in some maternity wards due to overcrowding.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution includes progressive and strong language to protect members of racial and ethnic minorities from violence and discrimination. Implementation, however, was less strong, with some serious gaps in access to personal identity documents for certain ethnic minority groups, and consequent impacts on access to services and statelessness. In practice discrimination based on race and tribe continued to exist.

According to government statistics, the Shona ethnic group made up 82 percent of the population, Ndebele 14 percent, whites and Asians less than 1 percent, and other ethnic and racial groups 3 percent. Historical tension between the Shona majority and the Ndebele minority resulted in marginalization of the Ndebele by the Shona-dominated government. During the year senior political leaders refrained from attacking each other along ethnic lines. Observers expressed concern over Mnangagwa’s perceived favoritism towards his own Shona subclan, the Karanga, in senior government appointments, saying the appointments came at the expense of other Shona subgroups and the Ndebele.

Government-controlled media did not vilify white citizens or blame them for the country’s problems, as was common practice under former president Robert Mugabe.

Police seldom arrested government officials or charged them with infringing upon minority rights, particularly the property rights of the minority white commercial farmers or wildlife conservancy owners, who continued to be targets of land redistribution programs.

Government developmental projects reportedly excluded some ethnic minorities in border areas, such as the Tonga people living in Binga. Those living in these areas face food insecurity and lack modern infrastructure.


Birth Registration: The 2013 constitution states citizenship is derived from birth in the country and from either parent, and all births are to be registered with the Births and Deaths Registry. According to the 2012 census, only one in three children younger than age five possessed a birth certificate – 55 percent in urban areas and 25 percent in rural areas. An estimated 39 percent of school age children did not have birth certificates. Lack of birth certificates impeded access to public services, such as education and health care, resulting in many children being unable to attend school and increasing their vulnerability to exploitation (see section 2.g.).

Women have the right to register their children’s births, although either the father or another male relative must be present. If the father or other male relative refuses to register the child, the child may be deprived of a birth certificate, which limits the child’s ability to acquire identity documents, enroll in school, and access social services (see section 2.g.).

Education: Basic education is not free or universal. The constitution states that every citizen and permanent resident of the country has a right to a basic state-funded education but adds a caveat that when the state provides education, it “must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to it.” According to the 2012 population census, 87 percent of all children attended primary school, but enrollment declined after age 14. Primary school attendance was only slightly higher in urban than in rural areas. Rural secondary education attendance (44 percent) trailed behind urban attendance (72 percent).

In August many government schools increased fees by 33 percent, reportedly due to an extension in the duration of the semester from 60 to 80 days. This sparked protests from some students. In addition, frequent COVID-19 lockdowns further restricted children’s access to education. Online and remote learning was not possible for many residents. As a result many students dropped out of school and sought work in the informal sector. Teenage pregnancies are also a barrier to girls’ education.

Child Abuse: Child abuse, including incest, infanticide, child abandonment, and rape, continued to be a serious problem. In 2018 the NGO Childline received more than 15,000 reports of child abuse via its national helpline and managed more than 10,000 in-person cases at its drop-in facilities across the country. Approximately 26 percent of all reported cases of abuse involved sexual abuse; 28 percent involved physical or emotional abuse; 18 percent involved neglect; and 7 percent forced marriage. Of the 25,000 total cases, 93 percent involved girls.

All corporal punishment is illegal.

NGOs reported some children were kidnapped and sold into forced labor in mines because of their size (to access narrow spaces). For additional information on child labor, see section 7.c.

In some cases children were kidnapped and killed to sell their body parts for ritual practices within the country or in South Africa. NGOs report an increase in these cases based on anecdotal evidence.

Government efforts to combat child abuse were inadequate. The government continued to implement a case management protocol to guide the provision of child welfare services. Additionally, there were facilities that served underage victims of sexual assault and abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The constitution declares anyone younger than age 18 a child. Although the government enacted a new Marriage Act in 2020 to abolish child marriage and align the country’s marriage laws with the constitution, NGOs reported teenage pregnancies and child marriages increased sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic. The marriage law prohibits anyone underage from marriage or entering a civil partnership. The law also criminalizes assisting, encouraging, or permitting child marriages or civil partnerships.

Despite legal prohibitions, some rural families and religious groups continued to force girls to marry. In July a teenage girl died during childbirth at a shrine in Mutare Province. The girl belonged to an Apostolic Christian religious group that engages in child marriages. The death sparked national and some international condemnation, prompting a September lawsuit in the Constitutional Court seeking to align the Marriages and Customary Marriages Acts with the constitutional age of consent.

Child welfare NGOs reported evidence of increased underage marriages, particularly in isolated religious communities or among AIDS orphans who had no relatives willing or able to take care of them. High rates of unemployment, the prevalence of girls dropping out of school, and the inability of families to earn a stable income were major causes of child marriage.

Families gave girls or young women to other families in marriage to avenge spirits, as compensatory payment in interfamily disputes, or to provide economic protection for the family. Some families sold their daughters as brides in exchange for food, and sometimes if a wife died her family offered a younger daughter as a “replacement” bride to the widower.

An NGO study published in 2014 found the cultural emphasis placed on virginity meant that any real or perceived loss of virginity – whether consensual or forced – could result in marriage, including early or forced marriage. In some instances family members forced a girl to marry a man based on the mere suspicion the two had had sexual intercourse. This cultural practice even applied in cases of rape, and the study found numerous instances in which families concealed rape by facilitating the marriage between rapist and victim.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction of statutory rape, legally defined as sexual intercourse with a child younger than age 12, carries a fine of U.S. $19, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. A person in possession of child pornography may be charged with public indecency; convictions result in a U.S. $6 fine, imprisonment for up to six months, or both. A conviction for procuring a child younger than age 16 for purposes of engaging in unlawful sexual conduct results in a fine up to U.S. $105, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. Persons charged with facilitating child sex trafficking often also were charged with statutory rape. A parent or guardian convicted of child sex trafficking may face up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Girls from towns bordering South Africa, Zambia, and Mozambique were forced into commercial sexual exploitation in brothels that catered to long-distance truck drivers. Increasing economic hardships contributed to higher rates of child sex trafficking.

Displaced Children: The proportion of orphans in the country remained very high. Many orphans were cared for by their extended family or lived in households headed by children.

Orphaned children were more likely to be abused, homeless, not enrolled in school, suffer discrimination and social stigma, and face food insecurity, malnutrition, and HIV/AIDS. Some children turned to prostitution for income. Orphaned children often were unable to obtain birth certificates because they could not provide enough information regarding their parents or afford to travel to offices that issued birth certificates.

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


An estimated 300 to 350 long-term residents identify as Jewish. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, access to public places, and the provision of services, including education and health care. In May a constitutional amendment mandated the Public Service Commission employ persons with disabilities as 10 percent of its workforce, although government offices continued to have limited accessibility and other accommodations for persons with disabilities. The constitution and law do not specifically address access to transportation. They do not distinguish between physical, sensory, mental, or intellectual disabilities.

In June the government adopted a national disability policy that expands the definition of “disabled persons” based on standards set by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Informed by NGO lobbying efforts, the policy incorporates albinism and epilepsy. Prevailing law stipulates government buildings must be accessible to persons with disabilities, but implementation was slow. Two senate seats are designated for persons with disabilities.

Some killings involving mutilation of the victim were attributed to customary or traditional rituals, in some cases involving a healer who requested a human body part to complete a rite.

The National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped reported difficulties in courts for persons with hearing disabilities due to a lack of sign language interpreters.

Persons with disabilities living in rural settings faced even greater challenges. For example they faced discrimination based on a belief they were bewitched. In extreme cases families hid children with disabilities from visitors. Mothers of children with disabilities in rural settings were often viewed negatively and discriminated against.

There were very few government-sponsored schools for persons with disabilities, thus necessitating the need for NGOs to compensate for this in their communities. Organizations such as the Zimbabwe Parents of Handicapped Children Association rotated classroom space and hours to accommodate children with physical and mental disabilities. Sunshine Zimbabwe, the only accredited center offering skill-based training for adults with disabilities, was poorly supported. Some schools discriminated against children with disabilities by refusing to accept them.

Essential accommodations such as sign language interpreters, braille materials, and ramps were commonly unavailable, which prevented children with disabilities from attending school. Many urban children with disabilities obtained informal education through private institutions, but these options were generally unavailable for children with disabilities in rural areas. Government programs intended to benefit children with disabilities, such as the Basic Education Assistance Module, only provided for rudimentary instruction.

Persons with disabilities were often unable to access food assistance distribution sites and were unaware of services available to them. NGOs noted an increase in the number of persons with disabilities turning to begging during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women with disabilities faced compounded discrimination, resulting in limited access to services, reduced opportunities for civic and economic participation, and increased vulnerability to violence. Persons with mental disabilities also experienced inadequate medical care. As of 2020 there were 20 mental health institutions, including four hospitals, three-day treatment facilities, three outpatient facilities, and 10 community residential facilities in the country with a total capacity of more than 1,500 residents. Residents in these government-run institutions received cursory screening, and most waited for at least one year for a full medical review.

A shortage of drugs and adequately trained mental health professionals resulted in improper diagnoses and inadequate therapy for persons with mental disabilities. There were few certified psychiatrists working in public and private clinics and teaching in the country. NGOs reported that gaining access to mental health services was slow and frustrating. They reported persons with mental disabilities experienced extremely poor living conditions, due in part to limited access to food, water, clothing, and sanitation.

Two prison doctors examined inmates with psychiatric conditions. The doctors were required to confirm a mental disability and recommend an individual for release or return to a mental institution. Inmates with mental disabilities routinely waited up to three years for an evaluation.

There were minimal legal or administrative provisions for participation in the electoral processes by persons with disabilities. Administrative arrangements for voter registration at relevant government offices were burdensome, involving long queues, several hours or days of waiting, and necessary return visits that effectively served to disenfranchise some persons with disabilities (see section 3 for voter assistance). Ballots were not provided in braille or large text.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The government has a national HIV and AIDS policy that prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV, and the law prohibits such discrimination in the private sector and within parastatals. Despite these provisions, societal discrimination against persons with HIV remained a problem. Local NGOs reported persons affected by HIV faced discrimination in employment, health services, and education. Although there was an active information campaign to destigmatize HIV – organized by international and local NGOs, the Ministry of Health, and the National AIDS Council – ostracism and discrimination continued. In the 2015 Demographic Health Survey, 22 percent of women and 20 percent of men reported they held discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV.

The willful spread of HIV is illegal. According to NGOs, the law was misused as a form of blackmail, particularly in divorce cases. In March the Southern African Litigation Center reported an HIV-positive mother was charged with a crime for breastfeeding her child. The court dismissed the case on procedural grounds.

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

According to the criminal code, “any act involving physical contact between men that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act” carries a penalty of up to 14 years in prison or a fine up to U.S. $5,000. LGBTQI+ organizations reported several arrests as well as severe mental health consequences because of criminalization, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. Leading NGOs noted harassment and discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons seeking employment, housing, and health services. Trans Smart, an active LGBTQI+ group, reported their members believed they were unsafe and unwelcome in churches due to deeply held religious and social stigmas in society. There is no legal option to change the gender designation on state identity cards, creating identification and travel difficulties. The mismatch between gender presentation and the designated gender can lead state officials, police, and potential employers to believe the individual is committing identity fraud, sometimes leading to criminal arrest.

LGBTQI+ persons were vulnerable to blackmail because of the criminalization of and stigma against same-sex activity. LGBTQI+ advocacy organizations reported blackmail and being “outed” as two of the most common forms of repression of LGBTQI+ persons. It was common for blackmailers to threaten to reveal a victim’s sexual identity to police, the church, employers, or family if the victim refused to pay. NGOs reported hate crimes against LGBTQI+ persons. LGBTQI+ persons often left school at an early age due to discrimination. Higher education institutions reportedly threatened to expel students based on their sexual orientation. LGBTQI+ persons also had higher rates of unemployment and homelessness. They were also less likely to seek medical care for sexually transmitted diseases or other health problems due to fear that health-care providers would shun them or report them to authorities. Health care workers commonly discriminated and refused service to LGBTQI+ persons.

Public medical services did not offer hormone treatment or gender-confirmation surgeries to transgender and intersex individuals. A small number of private clinics provided testosterone therapy, but estrogen therapy required patients to purchase treatment privately and self-administer the drugs or travel to neighboring countries where treatment was available. Some parents treated their children’s identity as an intellectual disability and forced transgender youth into mental health institutions.

Transgender individuals continued to face challenges when seeking government services. An NGO reported a transgender woman was initially prevented from boarding a flight due to the inconsistency between her gender presentation and the sex listed on her passport. Similarly, transgender persons often encountered difficulties when registering to vote because of changes in their appearance, disenfranchising them from the political process.

In October openly gay South African celebrity Somizi Mhlongo planned to visit the country to attend a restaurant opening but ultimately canceled his trip after the Apostolic Christian Council and the ruling party’s youth wing urged the government to block his admission citing moral issues.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Other legal provisions and the government’s application of the law effectively abrogated these rights. Public-sector workers may not form or join trade unions but may form associations that bargain collectively and strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, provides that the labor court handle complaints of such discrimination, and may direct reinstatement of workers fired due to such discrimination.

The law provides for the registrar of the Ministry of Public Service and Labor to supervise the election of officers of workers’ and employers’ organizations, to cancel or postpone union elections, and to change the venue of a union election. The minister may choose to not approve or to rescind recognition of a union on the grounds that it does not represent the interests of its members. The law also grants the minister extensive powers to regulate union activities, such as collecting dues and paying staff salaries, and to make decisions concerning the equipment and property that may be purchased by trade unions. The minister has the authority to veto collective bargaining agreements perceived to be harmful to the economy as well as to appoint an investigator who may, without prior notice, enter trade union premises, question any employee, and inspect and copy any books, records, or other documents. The law empowers the minister to order an investigation of a trade union or employers’ organization and to appoint an administrator to run its affairs. Unions are not required to register, but registered unions have additional rights, such as negotiating for its members at the National Employment Council, calling for a strike, and filing a lawsuit. The fee for union registration is nominal.

The law significantly limits the right to strike. Strikes are limited to disputes regarding work issues. The law provides that a majority of employees must agree to strike by voting in a secret ballot. Strike procedure requirements include a mandatory 30-day reconciliation period and referral to binding arbitration. This applies to essential and nonessential services where the parties agree or where the dispute involves rights. Following an attempt to resolve a dispute of interest and a labor officer’s issuance of a certificate of no settlement, the party proposing a collective job action must provide 14 days’ written notice of intent to resort to the strike or labor action, including specifying the grounds for the intended action, to call a strike legally. No provisions prohibit employers from hiring replacement workers in the event of a strike. Strikes were commonly met with police brutality and dismissals.

Police and army members are the only legally recognized essential services employees and may not strike, but the law allows the Ministry of Public Service and Labor to declare any nonessential service an essential service if a strike is deemed a danger to the population (e.g., a strike of health-care workers). The law also allows employers to sue workers for liability during unlawful strikes, with penalties for conviction that include fines, up to five years’ imprisonment, or both.

Collective bargaining agreements apply to all workers in an industry, not just union members. Collective bargaining takes place at the enterprise and industry levels. At the enterprise level, works councils negotiate collective agreements, which become binding if approved by 50 percent of the workers in the bargaining unit. Industry-level bargaining takes place within the framework of National Employment Councils. Unions representing at least 50 percent of the workers may bargain with the authorization of the Minister of Public Service and Labor. The law encourages the creation of employee-controlled workers’ committees in enterprises where less than 50 percent of workers are unionized. Workers’ committees existed in parallel with trade unions. Their role is to negotiate shop floor grievances, while that of the trade unions is to negotiate industry-level grievances, notably wages. The minister and the registrar have broad powers to take over the direction of a workers’ committee if they believe it is mismanaged. Trade unions regarded the existence of such a parallel body as an arrangement that allows employers to undermine the role of unions.

For a collective bargaining agreement to go into effect, the ministry must announce it, thus giving the minister the power to effectively block the agreement indefinitely by failing to announce it officially. The law allows the minister to veto a collective bargaining agreement if the minister deems it “contrary to public interest.” Workers and employers at the enterprise level may come to a binding agreement outside of the official framework.

Although the law does not permit national civil servants to collectively bargain, the Apex Council, a group of public service associations, represented civil servants in job-related negotiations with the National Joint Negotiating Council in November 2020. On August 30, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe called for a national day of action and protest due to underfunding in the education sector and a lack of preparedness for school reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic. When schools reopened in September, nearly a quarter of teachers declared a strike demanding higher wages and adequate personal protective equipment. In response to the strike, the Public Service Commission announced civil servants would receive pay only for days when they reported to duty. Meanwhile, the acting minister of public service and labor accused the rural teachers’ union of receiving foreign funding with the intention of inciting unrest. The teacher strike continued as of year’s end.

The Ministry of Public Service and Labor did not effectively enforce labor laws. Penalties for conviction of violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining laws were not commensurate with those for similar violations. Those charged with violating the law were subject to lengthy judicial delays and appeals.

In November 2020 the court acquitted 19 members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) charged in 2018 for protesting the high cost of living and the imposition of a 2 percent transaction tax. The national president of the rural teachers’ union remained on remand after charges of subverting constitutional government for taking part in a demonstration to protest low teachers’ salaries in 2019, and he continued to await a trial date as of year’s end.

The Tripartite Negotiating Forum, a body established by law, formalizes dialogue efforts among government, labor leaders, and employers on social and economic policy. The forum met only once during the year. Representatives from the ZCTU, the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions, and the Apex Council walked out of the negotiating forum meeting in April. Labor unions, under the leadership of ZCTU, stated the forum did little to address their demands for wage increases and labor law reform, and the government showed little progress in supporting workers’ protections, fairness in addressing labor and national issues, or the peaceful resolution of labor disputes.

Government interference with trade union activity was common. Police and state intelligence services regularly attended and monitored trade union meetings and other activities. Police or ZANU-PF supporters sometimes prevented unions from holding meetings with their members and carrying out organizational activities. Although the law does not require unions to notify police of public gatherings, police demanded such notification. In March police disrupted a trade union meeting at the offices of the Commercial Workers Union in Harare, detaining four members who were later fined for holding unsanctioned meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parastatal unions are generally perceived as progovernment. The Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions is regarded the largest progovernment trade union and a rival to the ZCTU, which has a history of alignment with opposition parties. The federation was launched in October 1996 with the stated purpose of providing an alternative to the ZCTU. It claimed more than 40 affiliates and to be the largest labor body in the country; however, precise membership numbers were not known.

When unions exercised their right to strike, the government generally met their efforts with violence and excessive force. On August 31, police arrested 11 teachers following a protest in Wedza to demand increased salaries. The teachers spent two days in police custody and were ordered to present themselves to the court every two weeks. The rural teachers’ union’s provincial gender and welfare secretary Sheila Chisirimhuru was convicted and sentenced to 10 months in prison for participating in a gathering with the intent of promoting public violence after she participated in a protest demanding improved salaries and working conditions for teachers. The High Court overturned her conviction on September 16.

Despite frequent reports of wage grievances in the press, the Zimbabwe Nurses Association reported no health-care worker strikes as of November. The Health Service Amendment Bill introduced on July 23 bars health-care workers from participating in strikes exceeding 72 hours during a two-week period. The nurses association reported the government did not consult unions on the bill.

In 2019 the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Committee on the Application of Standards noted serious violations of fundamental rights by government security forces, including a clear pattern of intimidation, arrests, detentions, violence, and torture of union and opposition members. The committee also noted persistent allegations of violations of the rights of freedom of assembly of workers’ organizations. The committee urged the government to accept an ILO mission to assess progress before the next conference. After encountering initial resistance, the ILO persuaded the government to support a direct mission, originally scheduled for May 2020 but postponed due to COVID-19.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, with exceptions for work for the national youth service and forced prison labor. Prisoners may be required to work in any employment but not for the private benefit of any person, except on the order of the prison commissioner. One newspaper reported prisoners were used to clean the city of Bindura prior to the ruling party’s annual political conference in October.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. No cases of forced labor were prosecuted. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable crimes. Forced labor, sometimes with official complicity, occurred in prisons, agriculture, mining, street vending, and domestic servitude. The full extent of the problem was unknown.

The law does not clearly define forced labor. The government significantly decreased investigations and prosecutions and did not identify a single victim of forced labor during the year, while NGOs rescued more than 400 victims of forced labor and trafficking. While it had a new national action plan against trafficking, the government did not allocate sufficient funding for the plan’s implementation.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law fully prohibits the worst forms of child labor. It sets the minimum age for light work at age 12 and for apprenticeship at 16. The law declares void and unenforceable formal apprenticeship contracts entered by children younger than age 18 without the consent of a guardian. The law further states that no person younger than age 18 shall perform any work likely to jeopardize that person’s health, safety, or morals.

The lack of free basic education for children increased the prevalence of child labor. Children are required to attend school only up to age 12, which made children ages 12 through 15 particularly vulnerable to exploitation since they are not required to attend school. School fees were often prohibitively expensive and limited access to education, leading some to leave school and enter the workforce at a young age.

The Department of Social Welfare in the Ministry of Public Service and Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but the department did not effectively enforce the laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable serious crimes.

NGOs estimated 840,000 children dropped out of school during the COVID-19 pandemic; many joined the informal workforce. Children participated in hazardous activities or other forms of child labor in subsistence agriculture, growing sugarcane and tobacco (the latter cited by NGOs as posing adverse health effects for child workers), domestic service, street begging, informal trading, artisanal gold mining, and sex work. The Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation estimated more than 20,000 children had turned to street vending since the start of the pandemic.

Working children often faced hazards to their health and safety as they lacked necessary occupational safety equipment and training. Working on farms exposed children to poor weather conditions, dangerous chemicals, and the use of heavy machinery. Most children involved in mining worked for themselves, a family member, or someone in the community. The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association estimated thousands of children were driven to artisanal mining, defined as mining activities carried out using low technology or with minimal machinery, due to deteriorating economic conditions. Exposure to hazardous materials, particularly mercury, increased in the informal mining sector.

Some employers did not pay wages to child domestic workers, claiming they were assisting a child from a rural home by providing room and board. Some employers paid with goods instead of cash, while others paid the parents for the child’s work.

See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment or occupational discrimination based on race, color, gender, tribe, political opinion, creed, place of origin, disability, HIV status, and pregnancy. The law does not expressly prohibit employment discrimination based on age, language, citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or communicable diseases other than those related to HIV. The government did not effectively enforce antidiscrimination laws. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, HIV status (see section 6) and, for civil servants, political affiliation.

The constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. Labor legislation prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, and an employer may be held liable for civil remedies if found to be in violation of provisions against “unfair labor practices,” including sexual harassment. The law does not specify penalties for conviction of such violations. Women commonly faced sexual harassment in the workplace (see section 6).

There were no known formal complaints of wage discrimination filed with the Ministry of Public Service and Labor; however, women’s salaries lagged those of men in most sectors. Unions expressed their concern regarding gender-based wage disparities.

Women faced discrimination because of gender when seeking maternity leave provided for by law, and other gender-based benefits. A 2018 Oxfam study revealed societal views that women should have overall responsibility for domestic work but also participate in productive or income-generating activity. Demands on women were heightened during the farming season from October to March. Outside of the farming season, women often took part in the informal sector, including as artisanal miners. Women’s participation in the labor force was viewed as necessary due to economic hardship. There was a relative lack of women in decision-making positions, despite a constitutional requirement that the government make efforts to have equal representation of men and women in all governmental institutions and agencies at every level.

Employment discrimination against migrant workers occurred, especially those employed in the informal sector. Persons with HIV/AIDS and albinism faced discrimination in employment. Employers discriminated against members of minority ethnic groups whom they often perceived as opposition supporters. Persons with disabilities faced social and employment discrimination and lack of access to many workplaces. LGBTQI+ persons faced discrimination in employment. Opposition officials commonly reported employment discrimination based on political affiliation, in both governmental and nongovernmental employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: Parliament-mandated National Employment Councils set the minimum wage for all industrial sectors through agreement between employers and labor unions. The minimum wage, when paid, seldom exceeded the poverty line due to the speed of inflation. Employers paid many agricultural and domestic workers less than minimum wage. Many public servants earned salaries that put them below the poverty line due to rampant inflation and currency depreciation. The minimum wage was equivalent to U.S. $25 per month at the official rate and $14 per month at the parallel market rate, according to the ZCTU as of October.

The law does not provide for a standard workweek, but it prescribes a minimum of one 24-hour continuous rest period per week. Unions and employers in each sector negotiate the maximum legal workweek. No worker may work more than 12 continuous hours. The law prescribes workers receive not less than twice their standard remuneration for working on a public holiday or on their rest day. The law provides workers paid public holidays and annual leave upon one year of service with an employer. Although workers were generally unlikely to complain to authorities of violations due to fear of losing their jobs, some exceptions occurred.

The Ministry of Public Service and Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and work hours laws for each sector. The government did not effectively enforce these laws, particularly in the farming and domestic service sectors. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce labor laws, including those covering children. Penalties for violations of wage or working hour restrictions were not commensurate with penalties for comparable offenses.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets safety and health standards on an industry-specific basis. Occupational safety and health standards were up to date and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The law provides for workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The government did not enforce safety and health laws. The quasi-governmental Zimbabwe Occupational Safety Council regulated working conditions. Staffing shortages and a limited mandate rendered the Council largely ineffective. The law permits unannounced inspections, but the ZCTU charged in 2020 that proper workplace inspections had not been carried out for a long time. Poor health and safety conditions in the workplace were common in both the formal and informal sectors.

Abuses by management at certain enterprises and companies owned by People’s Republic of China (PRC) parastatals and private PRC citizens were common, including reports of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of workers; unsafe working conditions; underpayment or nonpayment of wages; unfair dismissals; and firings without notice. In June the ZCTU visited a PRC-backed company after reports of labor abuses and found employees worked excessive hours and received less than their agreed wages. Meanwhile, the company deducted the cost of protective equipment from worker salaries, ignored elected workers’ committee representatives, permitted harassment of female workers, and exposed workers to hazardous materials without proper protection. In August, Transtech Engineering, a contractor of Sino Zim, violated labor law by terminating 43 employees without notice.

ZCTU reported 3,528 work-related injuries and 49 fatalities in 2020, with 14 additional deaths in January and February. Most work-related injuries and deaths occurred in the mining sector due to low investment in occupational safety and health, noncompliance with rules and regulations, and poor awareness of safety and health practices due to lack of training. The growth of the informal mining sector led to increased exposure to chemicals and environmental waste for artisanal miners, including children. The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association estimated 190 miners died in mining accidents in 2020. In November 2020 a mine collapse in Bindura killed at least 20 artisanal miners. During the same month a collapse in Mutasa killed at least 10 workers at a mine owned by PRC-backed mining venture Zhong Jian. In May a gold mine collapse at a defunct mining settlement in Mhangura killed an artisanal miner.

Informal Sector: An estimated 80 to 90 percent of the country’s workers labored in the informal sector, where labor laws were not observed or enforced. Most informal workers worked in agriculture, trading, or mining. An estimated 500,000 persons worked in small-scale or artisanal mining, according to the Zimbabwe Economic Policy Analysis and Research Unit, an independent think tank.