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China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet) – Macau

Read A Section: Macau

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Executive Summary

Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and has a high degree of autonomy, except in defense and foreign affairs, according to the Basic Law. In 2017 residents elected 14 representatives to the SAR’s legislative assembly. In accordance with the law, limited franchise functional constituencies elected 12 representatives, and the chief executive nominated the remaining seven. In August a 400-member election committee selected Ho Iat-seng to be the chief executive, the head of government. He began a five-year term in December after being appointed by the government.

The Secretariat for Security oversees the Public Security Police, which has responsibility for general law enforcement, and the Judiciary Police, which has responsibility for criminal investigations. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and restrictions on political participation.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government occasionally sought to restrict this right. In January the Legislative Assembly passed legislation to amend an existing law that criminalized some actions that disrespect the Chinese national anthem.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Local media expressed a wide range of views, but the government took steps to restrict unfavorable news coverage.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media sometimes practiced self-censorship, in part because the government subsidized some media outlets. According to 2018 media reports, the Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong indirectly owns Plaza Cultural Macau, a local bookstore, raising concerns that central government authorities may restrict the sale of sensitive books.

Libel/Slander Laws: Macau law criminalizes libel, slander, and defamation. If such offenses are committed through the media or online, they are punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association but the government limited the freedom of peaceful assembly.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

The law grants police authority to deport or deny entry to nonresidents whom they regard under the law as unwelcome, a threat to internal security and stability, or possibly implicated in transnational crimes. The government banned several Hong Kong activists from entering Macau throughout the year, claiming the activists posed threats to internal security, according to media reports. In December, Macau denied entry to both the president and the chairman of American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Persons granted refugee status would ultimately enjoy the same rights as other SAR residents.

Pending final decisions on their asylum claims, the government registered asylum seekers and provided protection against their expulsion or return to their countries of origin. There were few applicants for refugee or asylum status and no successful applicants. Persons with pending applications were eligible to receive government support, including basic needs such as housing, medical care, and education for children, but they were not allowed to work until their refugee status was granted.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law limits voters’ ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections because there was no universal suffrage in elections for the majority of elected positions. Only a small fraction of citizens played a role in the selection of the chief executive, who was chosen in August by a 400-member election committee consisting of 344 members elected from four broad societal sectors (which themselves have a limited franchise) and 56 members chosen from and by the SAR’s legislators and representatives to the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. In June critics protested against this “small circle” election. Organizers of an unofficial online petition for universal suffrage said in August that the petition website suffered a severe cyberattack reportedly originating from mainland China, and unknown individuals physically threatened the petition’s organizers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively.

Corruption: The government’s Commission against Corruption (CAC) investigated the public and private sectors and had power to arrest and detain suspects. The Ombudsman Bureau within the CAC reviewed complaints of mismanagement or abuse by the CAC. An independent committee outside the CAC–the Monitoring Committee on Discipline of CAC Personnel–accepted and reviewed complaints about CAC personnel.

Financial Disclosure: By law the chief executive, judges, members of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council, and executive agency directors must disclose their financial interests upon appointment, promotion, retirement, and at five-year intervals while encumbering the same position. The information is available to the public on the website of the Macau Courts. The law states that if the information contained in the declaration is intentionally incorrect, the declarant shall be liable to a maximum imprisonment of three years or a minimum fine equal to six months’ remuneration of the position held. Furthermore, the declarant may be prohibited from appointment to public office or performing public duties for a maximum of 10 years.

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The Basic Law provides workers the right to form and join unions, but the Legislative Assembly has not passed legislation to regulate this right. Workers may join labor associations of their choice, but employers and the government reportedly wielded considerable influence over some associations. The law does not provide that workers can collectively bargain, and, while workers have the right to strike, there is no specific protection in the law from retribution if workers exercise this right. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, stating employees or job seekers shall not be prejudiced, deprived of any rights, or exempted from any duties based on their membership in an association. The law imposes financial penalties for antiunion discrimination, but observers noted this may not be sufficient to deter discriminatory activity. The law does not require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

The law forbids workers in certain professions, such as the security forces, to form unions, take part in protests, or to strike. Such groups had organizations that provided welfare and other services to members and could speak to the government on behalf of members. Vulnerable groups of workers, including domestic workers and migrant workers, could freely associate and form associations, as could public servants.

Workers who believed they were dismissed unlawfully could bring a case to court or lodge a complaint with the Labor Affairs Bureau (LAB) or the CAC, which also has an Ombudsman Bureau to handle complaints over administrative violations. The bureau makes recommendations to the relevant government departments after its investigation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties range from three to 12 years’ imprisonment, with the minimum and maximum sentences increased by one-third if the victim is younger than age 14. Observers previously noted these penalties generally were sufficient to deter the use of forced labor.

Children and migrants were vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking, including in construction and domestic work. The government investigated cases, but there were no convictions during the year.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

A law prohibits minors younger than age 16 from working, although minors from ages 14 and 15 may work in “exceptional circumstances” if they get a health certificate to prove they have the “necessary robust physique to engage in a professional activity.” The law defines “exceptional circumstances” as: the minor (younger than age 16) has completed compulsory education and has the authorization of the LAB after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions; minors between ages 14 and 16 may work for public or private entities during school summer holidays; minors of any age may be employed for cultural, artistic or advertising activities upon authorization of the LAB after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions and when such employment does not adversely affect their school attendance. The law governing the number of working hours was equally applicable to adults and legally working minors, but the law prohibits minors from working overtime hours. According to the civil code, minors who are age 16 can acquire full legal capacity if they marry.

The law prohibits minors younger than age 16 from certain types of work, including but not limited to domestic work, employment between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., and employment at places where admission of minors is forbidden, such as casinos. The government requires employers to assess the nature, extent, and duration of risk exposure at work before recruiting or employing a minor. These regulations serve to protect children from physically hazardous work, including exposure to dangerous chemicals, and jobs deemed inappropriate due to the child’s age.

The LAB enforced the law through periodic and targeted inspections, and prosecuted violators. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law provides that all residents shall be equal before the law and shall be free from discrimination, irrespective of national or social origin, descent, race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, language, religion, political or ideological beliefs, membership in associations, education, or economic background. Equal opportunity legislation states that women are to receive equal pay for equal work. The law prohibits discrimination in hiring practices based on gender or physical ability and allows for civil suits. Penalties exist for employers who violate these guidelines and the government generally enforced the law effectively.

Some discrimination occurred. According to official statistics, at the end of June, nonresident workers accounted for approximately 28 percent of the population. They frequently complained of discrimination in the workplace in hiring and wages.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Local labor laws establish the general principle of fair wages and mandate compliance with wage agreements. The SAR does not calculate an official poverty line. The law provides for a 48-hour workweek, an eight-hour workday, paid overtime, annual leave, and medical and maternity care. The law provides for a 24-hour rest period each week. All workers employed in the SAR, whether under a term contract or an indefinite contract, are entitled to such benefits as specified working hours, weekly leave, statutory holidays, annual leave, and sick leave. It was not clear whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The law requires that employers provide a safe working environment, and the LAB sets industry-appropriate occupational safety and health standards. The law prohibits excessive overtime but permits legal overtime (a maximum of eight hours and irrespective of workers’ consent) in force majeure cases or in response to external shocks, at the discretion of the employer.

All workers, including migrants, have access to the courts in cases in which an employee is unlawfully dismissed, an employer fails to pay compensation, or a worker believes his or her legitimate interests were violated. If an employer dismisses staff “without just cause,” the employer must provide economic compensation indexed to an employee’s length of service.

The LAB provides assistance and legal advice to workers upon request, and cases of labor-related malpractice are referred to the LAB.

The LAB enforced occupational safety and health regulations, and failure to correct infractions could lead to prosecution. The number of labor inspectors was adequate to enforce compliance.

The law allows workers to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardy to their employment.

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Laos

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

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

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

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

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

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

The government did not always effectively enforce the law.

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

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

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

Latvia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Latvia is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. A unicameral parliament (Saeima) exercises legislative authority. Observers considered the elections in October 2018 for the 100-seat parliament to be free and fair.

The State Police and municipal police forces share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The State Border Guard and the armed forces, the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, the Constitution Protection Bureau, the State Security Service, and the National Guard are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. The State Police, State Security Service, and State Border Guards are subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. Municipal police are under local government control. The armed forces, the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, Constitution Protection Bureau, and National Guard are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials accused of committing human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. The government legally restricts racial and ethnic incitement, denial, or glorification of crimes against humanity, and certain war crimes.

Freedom of Expression: Although the law generally provides for freedom of speech, it criminalizes incitement to racial or ethnic hatred and the spreading of false information about the financial system. The law forbids glorifying or denying genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the country perpetrated by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Violation of these provisions can lead to a five-year prison sentence, community service, or a fine. There are also restrictions on speech deemed a threat to the country’s national security. The law criminalizes nonviolent acts committed against the state or that challenge its “independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, or authority.”

As of October authorities investigated individuals for inciting national, ethnic, or racial hatred, but issued no indictments.

Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with few restrictions. The law requires that 65 percent of all television broadcast time in national and regional electronic media be in Latvian or be dubbed or subtitled. Extensive Russian-language programming was also available in all national and local media. Restrictions on speech that incites racial hatred, spreads false information about the financial system, or glorifies or denies genocide, crimes against humanity, or crimes against the country by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany also apply to print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

Electronic media are legally required to present news and current affairs programs with due accuracy and impartiality. All companies, including the media and other publishers, are required to disclose their ownership, and this data is publicly available. Electronic mass media are required to disclose their ultimate beneficiaries and report any changes to the media regulator. NGOs stated that opaque ownership of many of the largest media outlets posed a threat to media independence and transparency.

The Latvian Journalists Association expressed concern about local newspapers’ independence and viability. Some municipalities provided funding to local newspapers in exchange for editorial control, or even published their own newspapers to drive independent competitors out of business.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, which permits authorities to return asylum seekers to their country of first entry into the EU if they arrive from other EU member states, except in cases involving family reunification or other humanitarian considerations. The government made an exception to this policy to participate in the EU’s efforts to address high levels of migration into Europe.

Durable Solutions: Some observers expressed concern that the government did not take sufficient steps to integrate asylum seekers granted refugee status in the country. Refugee benefits fell well below the country’s poverty line.

Temporary Protection: In the first eight months of the year, the government provided no subsidiary protection status to any individual who did not qualify as a refugee.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices, and polling data consistently showed that the majority of the public believed corruption was widespread and that officials were rarely held accountable.

Corruption: Corruption was a problem. Investigation of corruption cases improved, but prosecutions were slow, and conviction rates low. NGOs noted that the Bureau for Combating and Preventing Corruption (KNAB) and media outlets focused more attention on large-scale corruption cases, such as the case of European Central Bank Governor Ilmars Rimsevics, corruption in transportation procurement, construction businesses, and waste management.

In September KNAB initiated criminal proceedings against an alleged construction industry cartel that used illegal agreements between cartel members to divide work on some of the country’s largest public sector projects among them. KNAB indicated it had reason to believe that at least 10 of the largest construction companies in the country were involved in the illegal arrangement.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to file income and asset disclosures annually. Declarations are made public, and there are sanctions for noncompliance. While authorities investigated some irregularities, NGOs stated that the State Revenue Service had limited capacity and thus could not effectively oversee these disclosures.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often cooperated with NGOs and responded to their views and inquiries.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for monitoring the government’s performance on human rights. The ombudsman received some cooperation from the agencies it monitored and operated without direct government or political interference.

NGOs continued to criticize the Office of the Ombudsman for lacking the institutional authority or capacity to investigate and act on allegations of discrimination. The office also encountered difficulties resolving problems that required parliamentary funding or changes in the law. In a report published on March 5, the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) observed that the ombudsman’s mandate does not include providing independent assistance to victims of racism and racial discrimination. The ombudsman cannot enforce its recommendations or levy fines, although it may apply to the Constitutional Court to initiate proceedings against a public institution that has failed to address a source of discrimination. The ombudsman can also file a complaint in an administrative court if it is in the public interest or bring a case to the civil courts if the problem concerns a violation of equal treatment, ECRI stated. As required by law, the Office of the Ombudsman published an annual report describing its activities and making recommendations to the government.

A standing parliamentary committee on human rights and public affairs met weekly when parliament was in session. It considered initiatives related to human rights but generally focused on public media policy.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Unions may not have fewer than 15 members or less than 25 percent of the total number of employees in the company (which cannot be fewer than five). The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, and it provides reinstatement for unlawful dismissal, including dismissal for union activity.

There were several limitations on these rights. Uniformed members of the military, members of the State Security Services, and border guards may not form or join unions. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, collective bargaining in the public administration is a formal procedure with no real substance, since all employment conditions are fixed by law.

While the law provides for the right to strike, it requires a strike vote by a three-fourths majority at a meeting attended by at least three-fourths of the union’s members. It prohibits strikes in sectors related to public safety and by personnel classified as essential, including judges, prosecutors, police, firefighters, border guards, employees of state security institutions, prison guards, and military personnel. The law prohibits “solidarity” strikes by workers who are not directly involved in a specific labor agreement between strikers and their employers, a restriction criticized by local labor groups. It also bans political strikes. The law provides arbitration mechanisms for essential personnel not permitted to strike.

The government generally enforced applicable labor laws. EU labor regulations also apply. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate under the law. Penalties for violations ranged from a few hundred to several thousand euros and were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor rights organizations expressed concern about employer discrimination against union members.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. The law on trade unions requires trade unions to be independent under the law. Anticorruption officials and press reports stated, however, that external funding and support appeared to make some union individuals or groups lack independence. Press reports stated that one of the largest worker unions in the country, LABA, was reportedly under the unofficial control of the Riga City Council. Recent corruption scandals have significantly weakened LABA.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, although staffing problems hindered more effective enforcement. Penalties range from fines to imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Welfare’s State Labor Inspectorate, the agency responsible for enforcing labor laws, conducted regular inspections of workplaces, and reported three incidents of forced labor through September. One forced labor case resulted in a September conviction and sentencing. The inspectorate reported a high employee turnover, with approximately 11 percent of positions unfilled, a situation exacerbated by perennial wage issues.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government effectively enforced child labor and minimum age laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The statutory minimum age for employment is 15. Children who are 13 or older may work in certain jobs outside of school hours with written permission from a parent. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing nighttime or overtime work. By law children may not work in jobs that pose a risk to their physical safety, health, or development. There were no reports of labor abuses involving children. Through September the State Labor Inspectorate reported four cases of unregistered employment of youth.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination. Following Soviet-era russification and relocation programs and the creation of a sizeable Russian-speaking minority, the government required the use of Latvian as the officially recognized language where employment activities “affect the lawful interests of the public.” Citing the continuing political and economic threat posed by Russia to Latvia, the government restricted some sensitive civil service positions for candidates who previously worked for the former Soviet intelligence apparatus.

There were instances of hiring and pay discrimination against women, particularly in the private sector. Because this type of discrimination was underreported, during the first eight months of the year the ombudsman did not open any cases of employment discrimination. According to the World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law 2019, women in the country have equal legal standing with men.

Employment discrimination also occurred with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, and ethnicity. Persons with disabilities experienced limited access to work due to a lack of personal assistance, poor infrastructure, and absence of specialized programs. The Romani community faced discrimination and high levels of unemployment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets a monthly minimum wage which was above the official poverty line. The government enforced its wage laws effectively.

The law provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours. The maximum permitted overtime work may not exceed eight hours on average within a seven-day period, which is calculated over a four-month reference period. The law requires a minimum of 100 percent premium pay in compensation for overtime, unless the parties agree to other forms of compensation in a contract; however, this was rarely enforced.

The law establishes minimum occupational health and safety standards for the workplace, which are current and appropriate for the main industries. While the law allows workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, these regulations were not always followed. Workers are able to complain to the State Labor Inspectorate when they believe their rights are violated.

The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing minimum wage regulations, restrictions on hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards. These standards were not always enforced in the informal economy. Penalties for violations are monetary and vary widely, depending on the severity and frequency of the violation, but they were generally sufficient to deter violations. The inspectorate had adequate resources to inspect and remediate labor standards problems and effectively enforced labor laws.

Through September the State Labor Inspectorate reported 39 workplace fatalities. The majority of these were classified as due to natural causes. The inspectorate also reported 122 serious workplace injuries. The State Labor Inspectorate commented that most of the injuries were actually minor injuries, such as a broken finger. Workplace injuries and fatalities were primarily in the construction, wood-processing, and lumber industries.

Real wage estimates were difficult to calculate in the sizeable informal economy, which according to some estimates accounted for approximately 24 percent of gross domestic product. Workers in low-skilled manufacturing and retail jobs as well as some public-sector employees, such as firefighters, were reportedly most vulnerable to poor working conditions, including long work hours, lack of overtime pay, and arbitrary remuneration.

Lebanon

Executive Summary

Lebanon is a parliamentary republic based on the 1943 National Pact, which apportions governmental authority among a Maronite Christian president, a Shia speaker of the Chamber of Deputies (parliament), and a Sunni prime minister. Lebanese law officially recognizes 18 religious sects or confessions. In 2016 parliament elected Michel Aoun to the presidency, ending more than two years of political deadlock. Following the 2017 passage of the country’s new electoral law, the government held parliamentary elections in May 2018, after parliament had extended its legal term three times between 2013 and 2017. The elections were peaceful and considered generally free and fair. President Michel Aoun accepted Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation on October 29 following almost two weeks of protests starting October 17. As of the end of the year, no new government had been formed.

The Internal Security Forces (ISF), under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for law enforcement, while the Directorate of General Security (DGS), also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for border control but also exercises some domestic security responsibilities. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but authorized to arrest and detain suspects on national security grounds; they also arrested alleged drug traffickers, managed protests, enforced building codes related to refugee shelters, and intervened to prevent violence between rival political factions. The General Directorate of State Security (GDSS), reporting to the prime minister through the Higher Defense Council, is responsible for investigating espionage and other national security issues. Civilian authorities maintained control over the government’s armed forces and other security forces, although Palestinian security and militia forces, the designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) Hizballah, and other extremist elements operated outside the direction or control of government officials.

The Syrian conflict affected the country economically and socially. Over the past several years, the Syrian conflict has generated an influx of more than one million refugees and strained the country’s already weak infrastructure and ability to deliver social services.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings by nonstate actors; allegations of torture by security forces; excessive periods of pretrial detention by security forces; undue and increasing restrictions on freedoms of speech and press, including laws criminalizing libel and a number of forms of expression; high-level and widespread official corruption; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; and forced or compulsory child labor.

Although the legal structure provides for prosecution and punishment of officials who committed human rights abuses, enforcement remained a problem, and government officials enjoyed a measure of impunity for human rights abuses, including evading or influencing judicial processes.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and stipulates that restrictions may be imposed only under exceptional circumstances. The government generally respected this right, but there were some restrictions, particularly regarding political and social issues.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government and discuss matters of public interest; however, several legal restrictions limited this right. The law prohibits discussing the dignity of the president or insulting him or the president of a foreign country. The military code of justice prohibits insulting the security forces, and the Military Court prosecuted civilians under this statute.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The 1962 Publications Law regulates print media. The law holds journalists responsible for erroneous or false news; threats or blackmail; insult, defamation, and contempt; causing prejudice to the president’s dignity; insulting the president or the president of a foreign country; instigation to commit a crime through a publication; and sectarian provocation. The law further contains detailed rules governing the activities of printing houses, press media, libraries, publishing houses, and distribution companies. This law provides rules and conditions for becoming a journalist and for obtaining licenses for new publications. It also prohibits the press from publishing blasphemous content regarding the country’s officially recognized religions or content that may provoke sectarian feuds.

There was uncertainty regarding which legal framework is applicable to online news sites in the country. No specific laws regulate online speech. The penal code, however, contains a number of speech offenses, such as defamation of public officials, public entities, and individuals. Accordingly, authorities are able to prosecute individuals, journalists, and bloggers for what they express online.

On March 11, the Military Court sentenced al-Jadeed TV correspondent Adam Chamseddine in absentia to three months in prison for criticizing the GDSS in a Facebook post. On April 12, a military judge ruled that, because Chamseddine is a journalist, the Military Court did not have jurisdiction over the case and returned the file to the military prosecutor who subsequently dropped all charges. Authorities heard these cases in both civil and military courts; they generally carried sentences of between one and three years in prison, although typically they resulted in fines.

The law governing audiovisual media bans live broadcasts of unauthorized political gatherings and certain religious events, as well as any broadcast of “any matter of commentary seeking to affect directly or indirectly the well-being of the nation’s economy and finances, material that is propagandistic and promotional, or promotes a relationship with Israel.” Media outlets must receive a license from the Council of Ministers to broadcast any type of political news or programs. The law prohibits broadcasting programs that harm the state or its relations with foreign countries or have an effect on the well-being of such states. The law also prohibits the broadcast of programs that seek to harm public morals, ignite sectarian strife, or insult religious beliefs.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face intimidation and harassment. Political friction and tension led some outlets to fear entering certain “politically affiliated” areas to report without removing brandings and logos identifying the outlets. For example, MTV reporters have been known to remove their outlet’s logo when entering Hizballah-affiliated areas. Outlets that sought to report in areas under control of Hizballah were required to obtain special permission from Hizballah’s media arm.

Authorities continued to prosecute online, print, and television journalists for violations of the country’s publications law. NGOs and media watchdogs claimed such prosecutions were efforts to intimidate critics. Prosecutors sometimes referred these cases to criminal courts based on both private complaints and their own discretion, but more often they referred such cases to the Publications Court. Publications Court cases typically remained open for a year or more and typically ended with fines or dismissal.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Authorities selectively applied elements of the law that permit censorship of pornographic material, political opinion, and religious material considered a threat to national security or offensive to the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders. The DGS may review and censor all foreign newspapers, magazines, and books to determine admissibility into the country, but these reviews are mostly for explicit, pornographic content. Some journalists reported that political violence and extralegal intimidation led to self-censorship.

On September 18, the president of the Lebanese University, Fouad Ayoub, had the judiciary request on his behalf that at least 20 media outlets remove all news and media reports related to him from their websites in an apparent attempt to edit his appearance on search engines. Media outlets were still determining their responses as of December 19.

The law includes guidelines regarding materials deemed unsuitable for publication in a book, newspaper, or magazine. Any violation of the guidelines could result in the author’s imprisonment or a fine. Authors could publish books without prior permission from the DGS, but if the book contained material that violated the law, including material considered a threat to national security, the DGS could legally confiscate the book and put the author on trial. Publishing without prior approval a book that contained unauthorized material could put the author at risk of a prison sentence, fine, and confiscation of the published materials.

Authorities from any of the recognized religious groups could request that the DGS ban a book. The government could prosecute offending journalists and publications in the publications court. According to NGOs, as of September each of the 30 book-banning cases the government registered in the publications court in 2017–mainly from libel suits filed by politicians, political parties, and private citizens–was in the process of being resolved. Authorities occasionally also referred such cases to criminal courts, a process not established in law.

Libel/Slander Laws: In most cases criminal courts heard libel and defamation complaints, which can carry sentences of one to three years but typically resulted in fines or a promise to remove offending material from the internet. NGOs and activists reported increased prosecutions under such laws, and political figures or their representatives filed several complaints against critics throughout the year. Human rights NGO ALEF (Association Libanaise pour l’Education et la Formation) reported that in several dozen cases this year, criminal defamation suits were filed against journalists, bloggers, political activists, and private citizens, including for posting their opinions in WhatsApp groups or on Facebook. While these cases rarely, if ever, resulted in prolonged detentions or jail sentences, interrogations by police and lengthy, expensive trials created a chilling effect on political speech.

Following publication of intentionally provocative articles on September 12 that criticized President Aoun and sarcastically suggested that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the true leader of Lebanon, editors of the newspaper Nidaa al-Watan were summoned to appear before the Office of the Prosecutor General for the State on charges of defamation of the president. On September 20, the case was referred to the Publications Court. On November 21, the editor was found not guilty.

Private citizens may file criminal complaints, which the law requires an investigating judge to consider, and many defamation cases were initiated via the allegations of private citizens. Politicians at times responded to allegations of wrongdoing leveled at them by filing criminal complaints alleging defamation. The military justice code also prohibits defamation of the army.

The ISF Cybercrimes Bureau reported that, as of May 15, they had received referrals of 432 defamation cases for investigation. The Cybercrimes Bureau reportedly investigated 1,451 defamation cases in 2018, an increase of 81 percent from 2017. In November Human Rights Watch reported a 325 percent increase in the number defamation cases investigated by authorities and noted prison sentences against at least three individuals in defamation cases between 2015 and 2019. On October 5, four lawyers filed a complaint against the Economist, accusing the magazine of damaging the country’s reputation and insulting the Lebanese flag in its article reporting on the country’s dollar shortage that was published the same day.

On May 13, the GDSS arrested social media activist Rasheed Jumblatt and detained him for four days over a Facebook video post that allegedly included provocative and sectarian comments and insults against Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Jumblatt was subsequently released after charges were dropped.

Nongovernmental Impact: Political and religious figures sometimes sought to rally public outcry aimed at inhibiting freedom of expression and the press, including through coercion and threats of violence. This included public statements by some political and religious figures calling for the cancellation of a concert by local indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila due to threats of violence or content of the band’s music they perceived as offensive (see Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of refugee populations and asylum seekers, most of whom were from Palestine, Syria, and Iraq (see section 2.f. Protection of Refugees).

In-country Movement: Armed nonstate actors hindered or prevented movement in areas they controlled. Armed Hizballah members controlled access to some areas under Hizballah’s control, and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine prevented access to a border area under its control, according to the security services. Armed supporters of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt sought to block the motorcades of the foreign minister and of a rival Druze minister on June 30, the latter blockade resulting in a shootout and two deaths. Within families, men sometimes exercised considerable control over female relatives, restricting their activities outside the home or their contact with friends and relatives.

Citizenship: Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father. A citizen mother married to a noncitizen father cannot transmit Lebanese citizenship to her children (see section 2.g. Stateless Persons).

f. Protection of Refugees

As of October there were nearly 920,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since the government instructed UNHCR to stop registering Syrian refugees in early 2015, this total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived after that time. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Most Syrian refugees resided in urban areas, many in unfinished, substandard, or nonresidential buildings. Approximately 20 percent lived in informal tented settlements, often adjacent to agricultural land, according to an October UN assessment. According to a UN study, refugees often took loans to cover even their most basic needs, including rent, food, and health care, putting nearly 90 percent of them in debt and leaving them food insecure.

In early 2015 the government banned the entry of all Syrian refugees except for undefined “humanitarian exceptions.” During the year the Ministry of Social Affairs approved a limited number of Syrian asylum cases, including unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, medical cases, and resettlement cases under extreme humanitarian criteria.

In addition to nearly 14,000 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees residing in the country, a limited number of additional Iraqis entered during the year to escape violence. As of June 30, UNHCR also registered more than 4,200 refugees or asylum seekers from Sudan and other countries.

During the year the government launched campaigns which limited refugees’ ability to reside or work in the country. These included forced compliance with building codes limiting the use of concrete and hardened materials in refugee shelters, increased arrests for residency-related offenses, and stepped-up enforcement of labor laws that targeted businesses employing refugees–which affected more than 6,600 refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In April the Higher Defense Council (HDC), a body chaired by the president that includes cabinet ministers and security service heads, issued guidance to the security services to increase enforcement of building codes. This resulted in the destruction of thousands of refugee shelters. Security services forced refugees to destroy and replace hardened walls and roofs; alternatively security services did so themselves or entirely demolished noncompliant shelters. Although authorities generally cited violations of building, environmental codes, or both, there was insufficient judicial review or opportunity to legally challenge eviction or demolition actions.

On June 5, residents of an informal refugee settlement in Deir El Ahmar in Northwest Baalbek claimed that a Civil Defense member, responding to a fire in the camp, recklessly drove into the camp putting children’s lives at risk, which resulted in an altercation between camp residents and the driver, who ended up in the hospital. Following the incident, a group of approximately 50 local men, who had previously posted threats against refugees on social media, purportedly to protect the local population, returned to the camp and verbally threatened residents. Later that night the same group entered the camp and set fire to multiple refugee shelters, prompting local authorities to evacuate all 88 refugee families for their safety.

Labor laws were also enforced more strictly to fine employers who employed Syrians or Palestinians and to close illegal refugee-run businesses. Environmental regulations were cited more frequently in the eviction of refugees and bulldozing of dwellings in some locations. Refugee arrests and detentions also increased, and some NGOs funded by international donors to provide water and sanitation services to refugee settlements were sued by the government and fined for allegedly contributing to the pollution of the Litani River.

Multiple NGOs and UN agencies shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by employers and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage for their daughters to relieve economic hardship. There were multiple reports of foreign migrant domestic workers (mainly from East Africa and Southeast Asia) tied to their employers through legal sponsorship, known as the kafala system, who faced physical, mental, and sexual abuse, unsafe working conditions, and nonpayment of wages. According to NGOs who assisted migrant workers in reporting these abuses to authorities, security forces and judges did not always adequately investigate these crimes; victims sometimes refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to threats and fear of reprisals or deportation.

Refoulement: The government reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians. Some political party representatives, however, employed antirefugee rhetoric, stating assistance to Syrian refugees in particular placed additional burden on the state already facing an economic crisis. The DGS coordinated with Syrian government officials to facilitate the voluntary return of approximately 16,000 refugees from 2017 to September 1, 2019. UNHCR did not organize these group returns but was present at departure points and found no evidence that returns were involuntary or coerced in the cases of those refugees whom they interviewed. Human rights groups including Amnesty International questioned government claims that refugee returns were entirely voluntary, calling the environment “coercive” and citing credible risk of persecution or other human rights abuses upon return to areas controlled by the Syrian regime.

An HDC decision in April required the deportation of anyone arrested and found to have entered the country illegally after April 24. As of September the DGS reported it had deported 2,731 individuals under this order. UN officials considered the government’s new deportation policy as creating a high risk of refoulement given the lack of a formal review process to assess credible fear of persecution or torture. Specifically, the HDC decision requiring the deportation of anyone arrested and found to have entered the country illegally after April 24 elevated the risk of refoulement. Human rights groups and the international community all raised concerns about the risk of turning over refugees to Syrian authorities. There were several anecdotal reports of Syrian refugees who were subsequently abused in detention after being turned over to Syrian authorities by Lebanese officials. Government officials maintained their policy only applied to illegal migrants, not refugees, although it did not appear there was sufficient due process to make such a determination. UNHCR and international donors urged the government to provide for a judicial or independent administrative review before carrying out deportations. The government maintained that while the law requires a court hearing on all deportation cases, it did not have the bandwidth to process the existing caseload.

Non-Syrian asylum seekers arrested due to irregular entry or residency faced administrative detention without being sentenced by a court. The DGS held these individuals in a migrant retention facility where officials processed their immigration files before making administrative deportation decisions. Most cases resulted in deportation of the detainee, except for some instances where UNHCR secured their resettlement to a third country. During the year two Sudanese asylum seekers and four Iraqis (three refugees and one asylum seeker) were deported. In addition, one Iraqi refugee and her two children were not allowed re-entry into Lebanon after they briefly returned to Iraq to obtain an official document.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Nonetheless, the country hosted an estimated 1.5 million refugees, the vast majority of them Syrian. In an effort to address the low number of refugees obtaining and renewing legal residency, since 2017 residency fees have been waived for refugees who had registered with UNHCR prior to 2015. This ruling excluded unregistered refugees or those who had renewed on the basis of Lebanese sponsorship. DGS implementation of the waiver continued to be inconsistent, and there was minimal improvement in the percentage of refugees with legal status. According to the United Nations, only 20 percent of the refugee population held legal residency as of September.

Due to the slow pace of implementation of residency determinations, the majority of Syrian refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement owing to the possibility of arrests at checkpoints, particularly for adult men. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, some of the refugees said authorities required them to pay fines before releasing them or confiscated their identification documents (IDs). Syrian refugees faced barriers to obtaining Syrian ID documentation required to renew their residency permits in Lebanon because of the hostility of the Syrian government to the refugee population and because Syrian government embassies and consulates charge exorbitant fees. Obtaining and maintaining legal residency was also a challenge for refugees of other nationalities, particularly Iraqis, due to high renewal fees and sponsorship requirements. There is no official limitation of movement for Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) in the country; however, PRS without legal status faced limitations on their freedom of movement, mainly due to the threat of arrest at checkpoints.

Since 2014 authorities granted entry visas at the border only to PRS with either a verified embassy appointment in the country or a flight ticket and visa to a third country. Additionally, limited numbers of PRS secured visas to Lebanon by obtaining prior approval from the DGS, which required a sponsor in the country and could not be processed at border posts. UNRWA estimated that only 12 percent of the PRS in the country had arrived after 2016.

In 2017 the DGS issued a circular allowing the free, unlimited renewal of PRS residency for six months, with no fees for delayed submission. This circular has been consistently used since its issuance and applies to PRS who entered the country legally or who regularized their status before September 2016. The circular also granted temporary residency documents to PRS who turned 15 years old in the country, allowing them to use available documents such as an individual civil status card, instead of passports or national identity cards. Previously children were required to have an ID or valid travel document to be able to renew their residency. If they did not have one of these two documents, their legal status was revoked, and they became at risk of arrest and detention if they were stopped at any checkpoint. The circular, issued for residency renewal and not regularization, did not apply to PRS who entered the country through unofficial border crossings. Authorities issued a departure order to PRS who entered the country through official border crossings but who overstayed their temporary transit visa or failed to renew their visa.

Since 2017 the government waived the condition of valid residency for birth and marriage registration for PRS, expanding the application of a previous circular issued in September 2017 applicable to Syrians. Since March 2018 the Ministry of Interior waived the costly court proceedings to obtain birth registration of PRS and Syrian refugee children older than one year who were born in Lebanon between January 2011 and February 2018. The proof of marriage requirement remained in effect during the year.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in a number of municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures may be discriminatory and excessive, since authorities typically enforced them for Syrian refugees, who mostly lack legal residency status and could face greater consequences if detained for a curfew violation. Municipalities and neighborhoods hosting Syrian refugee populations continued to impose movement restrictions through curfews, evictions, and threats of evictions. UN agencies reported that local municipal officials frequently used the threat of evictions to exert control over refugees or to appease host communities competing with refugees for jobs and other resources.

Police checkpoints and curfews imposed by municipalities restricted refugees’ movement. Cases of identity document confiscation and fines for breaking curfews continued, and a few violent incidents against refugees occurred. UNHCR staff reported restrictions on movement increasingly forced families to send children and young women, whom authorities are less likely to stop yet who are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, to perform family errands.

Employment: Authorities continued requiring Syrian refugees who wished to obtain residency permits to pledge to abide by the country’s laws, under which Syrians may work only in agriculture, construction, and cleaning. In July the Ministry of Labor stepped up enforcement and fined employers who hired refugees outside these sectors.

The law allows a special account to provide end-of-service indemnities or severance pay to Palestinian refugees who retire or resign. These benefits were available only to Palestinians working in the legal labor market. Palestinians did not benefit from national sickness and maternity funds or the family allowances fund. UNRWA continued to bear the cost of any medical, maternity, or family health-care expenses (excluding worker’s compensation).

Palestinian refugees received partial access to the benefits of the National Social Security Fund. They may not, however, work in at least 33 professions including medicine, law, and engineering and face informal restrictions on work in other industries. According to UN agencies, government officials, and Palestinian advocacy groups, Palestinian refugees consistently reported discrimination in hiring due to excessive bureaucracy and societal stigma. Lack of written contracts, lack of employment benefits, and insecure job tenure contributed to unstable working conditions.

Palestinian refugees were barred from employment in many fields, making refugees dependent upon UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health care, and social services. A 2010 law expanding employment rights and removing some restrictions on Palestinian refugees was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including almost all those that require membership in a professional association. A Ministry of Labor effort to restrict Syrian refugee access to employment led to closure of several businesses employing or owned by Palestinians, triggering three weeks of protests in July and August.

Access to Basic Services: The government did not consider local integration of any refugees a viable solution.

The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners. UNRWA provides health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country has changed only marginally since 1948, despite a fourfold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which suffered heavy damage in past conflicts. By agreement with the government, Palestinian security committees provided security for refugees in the camps.

A comprehensive, multi-year plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared Camp in eight stages began in 2008; the project continued at year’s end and was approximately 75 percent completed. Remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, with a 99 billion LBP ($66 million) shortfall remaining. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the camp’s destruction, UNRWA expected that approximately 21,000 would return. Many moved into completed apartments this year, and the temporary settlements that housed them near Nahr el-Bared Camp were decommissioned. The government did not permit UNRWA to install individual electricity meters in apartments, preferring that UNRWA pay a single bill rather than collecting from thousands of households, which limited access to electricity for residents.

Palestinian refugees typically could not access public health and education services or own land. A 2001 amendment to the law was designed to exclude Palestinians from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law entering into force could bequeath it to their heirs.

Palestinian refugees residing in the country could not obtain citizenship and were not considered citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to Lebanese citizens were able to obtain citizenship after one year of marriage. According to the country’s nationality law, the father transmits citizenship to children. Palestinian refugees, including children, had limited social and civil rights and no access to government-provided health, education, or other social services. Children of Palestinian refugees faced discrimination in birth registration, and many had to leave school at an early age to earn an income.

Palestinian refugees who fled Syria for Lebanon since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance, such as cash to purchase fuel for heating. Authorities permitted children of PRS to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of more than 200,000 non-Lebanese students, predominantly Syrian refugees, in public schools (basic education from kindergarten to grade nine) in the 2018-19 academic year. Authorities estimated there were almost 338,000 registered Syrians of school age (three to 14 years old) in the country. Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many nonprofit and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded the majority of associated costs with international donor support. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for lifesaving and obstetric care.

Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary health-care system. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care with donor support.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections conducted by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, lack of government control over parts of the country, defects in the electoral process, previous prolonged extensions of parliament’s mandate, and corruption in public office restricted this ability.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity and on a wide scale. Government security officials, ISF, agencies, customs, and the judiciary were subject to laws against bribery and extortion. The lack of strong enforcement limited the law’s effectiveness. The Ministry of State for Combating Corruption was eliminated when a new government was formed on January 31; the ministry previously had little operational budget or authority.

The Central Inspection Board (CIB), an oversight body within the Office of the Prime Minister, is responsible for monitoring administrative departments, including procurement and financial actions, and remained mostly independent of political interference. The CIB may inspect employees of the national and municipal government, and has the authority to seek their removal or refer cases for prosecution. The CIB’s authority does not extend to cabinet ministers or to municipal executives. The Social Security Fund and the Council for Development and Reconstruction, public entities that managed large funding flows, were outside the CIB’s jurisdiction.

Corruption: Observers widely considered government control of corruption to be poor. There was limited parliamentary or auditing authority oversight of revenue collection and expenditures. During the continuing protests that began October 17, alleged corruption in the government and public sector was a major complaint of protesters and a major impetus for the protests. Within the first month after protests began, there was an increase in the number of corruption-related investigations and prosecution actions.

Types of corruption generally encountered included systemic patronage; judicial failures, especially in investigations of official wrongdoing; and bribery at multiple levels within the national and municipal governments. Corruption led to diversion of resources intended for other objectives. A few judges were suspended from duty pending investigation of allegations of receiving bribes from lawyers and intermediaries; some were released while one judge remained under further investigation as of November 19.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president of the republic, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, the president of the Council of Ministers, as well as ministers, members of parliament, and judges to disclose their financial assets in a sealed envelope deposited at the Constitutional Council, but the government does not make the information available to the public. They must also do the same when they leave office. Heads of municipalities disclose their financial assets in a sealed envelope deposited at the Ministry of Interior, and civil servants deposit their sealed envelopes at the Civil Servants Council, which are also not available to the public. If a case is brought to the State Council for noncompliance, the State Council may take judiciary administrative action to remove the offender from office.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were sometimes responsive to these groups’ views, but there was limited accountability for human rights abuses.

There was no information on reports from previous years of international and local human rights groups being targeted by security services for harassment.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The position of State Minister for Human Rights was eliminated in the new cabinet formed in January. Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights struggled to make legal changes to guide ministries in protecting specific human rights. In March 2018 the cabinet appointed the five members of the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture, a body within the 10-member National Human Rights Institute, but as of October the Institute, which was created in 2016, had no budget and had still not commenced its work (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and strike but places restrictions on these rights. The Ministry of Labor must approve the formation of unions, and it controlled the conduct of all trade union elections, including election dates, procedures, and ratification of results. The law permits the administrative dissolution of trade unions and bars trade unions from political activity. Unions have the right to strike after providing advance notice to and receiving approval from the Ministry of Interior. Organizers of a strike (at least three of whom must be identified by name) must notify the ministry of the number of participants in advance and the intended location of the strike, and 5 percent of a union’s members must take responsibility for maintaining order during the strike.

There are significant restrictions on the right to strike. The labor law excludes public-sector employees, domestic workers, and agricultural workers. Therefore, they have neither the right to strike nor to join and establish unions. The law prohibits public-sector employees from any kind of union activity, including striking, organizing collective petitions, or joining professional organizations.

The law protects the right of workers to bargain collectively, but a minimum of 60 percent of workers must agree on the goals beforehand. Two-thirds of union members at a general assembly must ratify collective bargaining agreements. The Association of Banks in Lebanon renewed the collective sectoral agreement with the Federation of Lebanese Bank Employees Unions on December 6 after nearly three months of mediation between the two parties led by the minister of labor. The Association of Banks in Lebanon had initially refused to renew the agreement.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Under the law, when employers misuse or abuse their right to terminate a union member’s contract, including for union activity, the worker is entitled to compensation and legal indemnity and may institute proceedings before a conciliation board. The board adjudicates the case, after which an employer may be compelled to reinstate the worker, although this protection was available only to the elected members of a union’s board. Anecdotal evidence showed widespread antiunion discrimination in both the public and private sectors, although this issue did not receive significant media coverage. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the most flagrant abuses occurred in banking, private schools, retail businesses, daily and occasional workers, and the civil service. Prime Minister Hariri warned civil servants in May against striking or expressing their opinion about the national budget discussions.

By law foreigners with legal resident status may join trade unions. According to the ILO, however, in practice most unions do not encourage or accept the participation of foreign workers. The migrant law permits migrant workers to join existing unions (regardless of nationality and reciprocity agreements) but denies them the right to form their own unions. They do not enjoy full membership as they may neither vote in trade union elections nor run for union office. Certain sectors of migrant workers, such as migrant domestic workers, challenged the binding laws supported by some unions by forming their own autonomous structures that acted as unions, although the Ministry of Labor has not approved them.

Palestinian refugees generally may organize their own unions. Because of restrictions on their right to work, few refugees participated actively in trade unions. While some unions required citizenship, others were open to foreign nationals whose home countries had reciprocity agreements with Lebanon.

The government’s enforcement of applicable laws was weak, including with regard to prohibitions on antiunion discrimination.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. The government and other political actors interfered with the functioning of worker organizations, particularly the main federation, the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGTL). The CGTL is the only national confederation recognized by the government, although several unions boycotted and unofficially or officially broke from the CGTL and no longer recognized it as an independent and nonpartisan representative of workers. Since 2012 the Union Coordination Committee (UCC), a grouping of public and private teachers as well as civil servants, played a major role in pushing the government to pass a promised revised salary scale, largely overshadowing the CGTL. While the UCC is not formally recognized by any government body, it acts as an umbrella organization and guides several recognized leagues of workers in demonstrating and in negotiating demands. During the 2019 national budget debate, both CGTL and UCC failed to successfully take leadership of worker protest actions or to coherently voice the demands and aspirations of working people. CGTL was further weakened when in January union president Antoine Bechara was interrogated by the ISF Anti-Cybercrime Bureau over a complaint filed by Minister of Economy Raed Khoury. In May, Bechara was arrested and pressured to resign after a video was leaked showing him insulting and making offensive comments against the late Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir. The National Federation of Workers and Employees in Lebanon emerged as another alternative to represent the independent trade union movement.

On April 30, health workers at Saida Public Hospital began a strike that lasted four days, demanding payment of overdue salaries and denouncing the lack of basic materials in the facility. Police used force to end the strike and arrested the leaders of the trade union committee. Antiunion discrimination and other instances of employer interference in union functions occurred. Some employers fired workers in the process of forming a union before the union could be formally established and published in the official gazette.

There was widespread anecdotal evidence of arbitrary dismissals of Lebanese, and their replacement by non-Lebanese, across economic and productive sectors. This action was mainly in the form of Syrian refugees allegedly replacing Lebanese in some sectors. There were no official statistics to quantify the scale of these dismissals.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, but there is no legislative provision that provides criminal penalties for those employing forced labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law, although the government made some efforts to prevent or eliminate forced labor. The law does not criminally prohibit debt bondage.

Children, foreign workers employed as domestic workers, and other foreign workers sometimes worked under forced labor conditions. The law provides protection for domestic workers against forced labor, but domestic work is excluded from protections under the labor law and vulnerable to exploitation. In violation of the law, employment agencies and employers routinely withheld foreign workers’ passports, especially in the case of domestic workers, sometimes for years. According to NGOs assisting migrant workers, in some instances employers withheld salaries for the duration of the contract, which was usually two years.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Child labor occurred, including in its worst forms. While up-to-date statistics on child labor were unavailable, anecdotal evidence and the accounts of NGOs suggested the number of child workers may have risen during the year and that more children worked in the informal sector. UNHCR noted that commercial, sexual exploitation of refugee children continued to occur.

The minimum age for employment is 14, and the law prescribes the occupations that are legal for juveniles, defined as children between ages 14 and 18. The law requires juveniles to undergo a medical exam by a doctor certified by the Ministry of Public Health to assure they are physically fit for the type of work employers ask them to perform. The law prohibits employment of juveniles for more than seven hours per day or between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., and it requires one hour of rest for work lasting more than four hours. The law prohibits specific types of labor for juveniles, including informal “street labor.” It also lists types of labor that, by their nature or the circumstances in which they are carried out, are likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of children younger than 16, as well as types of labor that are allowed for children older than 16, provided they are offered full protection and adequate training.

Overall, the government did not enforce child labor laws effectively, in part due to inadequate resources. Advocacy groups did not consider penalties for those who violate laws on the worst forms of child labor as sufficient deterrents.

Child labor, including among refugee children, was predominantly concentrated in the informal sector, including in small family enterprises, mechanical workshops, carpentry, construction, manufacturing, industrial sites, welding, agriculture, and fisheries. UN agencies and NGOs reported that Syrian refugee children were vulnerable to child labor and exploitation. According to the ILO, child labor rates have at least doubled since the Syrian refugee influx. The ILO reported that instances of child labor strongly correlated with a Syrian refugee presence. The ILO equally highlighted that the majority of Syrian children involved in the worst forms of child labor–especially forced labor–worked primarily in agriculture in the Bekaa and Akkar regions and on the streets of major urban areas (Beirut and Tripoli). Anecdotal evidence also indicated child labor was prevalent within Palestinian refugee camps.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor requirements through its Child Labor Unit. Additionally, the law charges the Ministry of Justice, the ISF, and the Higher Council for Childhood (HCC) with enforcing laws related to child trafficking, including commercial sexual exploitation of children and the use of children in illicit activities. The HCC is also responsible for referring children held in protective custody to appropriate NGOs to find safe living arrangements.

A Ministry of Labor unit responsible for inspections of all potential labor violations also investigates child labor issues when a specific complaint is reported or found in the course of their other inspection.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Unit acts as the government’s focal point for child labor issues, and it oversees and implements the ministry’s national strategy to tackle child labor. The National Steering Committee on Child Labor is the main interministerial body coordinating on child labor across the government.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law provides for equality among all citizens and prohibits employment discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status. The law does not specifically provide for protection against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. Although the government generally respected these provisions, they were not enforced in some areas, and aspects of the law and traditional beliefs discriminated against women. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, foreign domestic workers, and LGBTI and HIV-positive persons (see section 6).

The law does not distinguish between women and men in employment, and it provides for equal pay for men and women. On wage equality for similar work, the 2018 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report indicates that the overall situation in the country remained largely unchanged, despite slight progress on the ratio of women in parliament.

According to the UN Population Fund, the labor law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace; it merely gives an employee the right to resign without prior notice in the event that the employer or representative committed an indecent offense towards the employee or a family member. There are, however, no legal consequences for the perpetrator.

Employment law defines a “disability” as a physical, sight, hearing, or mental disability. The law stipulates that persons with disabilities fill at least 3 percent of all government and private-sector positions, provided such persons fulfill the qualifications for the position. There was no evidence the government enforced the law. Employers are legally exempt from penalties if they provide evidence no otherwise qualified person with disabilities applied for employment within three months of advertisement.

Migrant workers and domestic workers faced employment hurdles that amounted to discrimination (see section 7.e.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal minimum wage was last raised in 2012. There was no official minimum wage for domestic workers. Observers concluded that the minimum wage is lower than unofficial estimates of the poverty income level. Official contracts stipulated monthly wages for domestic workers, depending on the nationality of the worker. A unified standard contract, which was registered with the DGS for the worker to obtain residency, granted migrant domestic workers some labor protections. The standard contract covered uniform terms and conditions of employment, but not wages.

The law prescribes a standard 48-hour workweek with a weekly rest period that must not be less than 36 consecutive hours. The law stipulates 48 hours work as the maximum per week in most corporations except agricultural enterprises. The law permits a 12-hour day under certain conditions, including a stipulation that overtime pay is 50 percent higher than pay for normal hours. The law does not set limits on compulsory overtime. The law includes specific occupational health and safety regulations and requires employers to take adequate precautions for employee safety.

Domestic workers are not covered under the labor law or other laws related to acceptable conditions of work. Such laws also do not apply to those involved in work within the context of a family, day laborers, temporary workers in the public sector, or workers in the agricultural sector.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing regulations related to acceptable conditions of work, but it did so inconsistently. The ministry’s enforcement team handled all inspections of potential labor violations, but suffered from a lack of staff, resources, legal tools, and political support for its work. Interference with inspectors affected the quality of inspections and issuance of fines for violators was common. The law stipulates that workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although government officials did not protect employees who exercised this right.

Workers in the industrial sector worked an average of 35 hours per week, while workers in other sectors worked an average of 32 hours per week. These averages, however, were derived from figures which included part-time work, including for employees who desired full-time work. Some private-sector employers failed to provide employees with family and transportation allowances as stipulated under the law and did not register them with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

Some companies did not respect legal provisions governing occupational health and safety in specific sectors, such as the construction industry. Workers could report violations to the CGTL, Ministry of Labor, NSSF, or through their respective unions. In most cases they preferred to remain silent due to fear of dismissal.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were most common in the construction industry and among migrant workers, particularly with foreign domestic workers.

Foreign migrant workers arrived in the country through local recruitment agencies and source-country recruitment agencies. Although the law requires recruitment agencies to have a license from the Ministry of Labor, the government did not adequately monitor their activities. A sponsorship system tied foreign workers’ legal residency to a specific employer, making it difficult for foreign workers to change employers. If employment was terminated, a worker lost residency. This circumstance made many foreign migrant workers reluctant to file complaints to avoid losing their legal status.

Some employers mistreated, abused, and raped foreign domestic workers, who were mostly of Asian and African origin. Domestic workers often worked long hours and, in many cases, did not receive vacations or holidays. Victims of abuse may file civil suits or seek other legal action, often with the assistance of NGOs, but most victims, counseled by their embassies or consulates, settled for an administrative solution that usually included monetary compensation and repatriation. In a typical example, one victim explained that, when she escaped from an employer who was withholding her wages, an NGO helped her file charges against her employer. Authorities reached an administrative settlement with her employer to pay back wages and finance return to her home country but did not seek criminal prosecution of her employer.

Authorities typically did not prosecute perpetrators of abuse against foreign domestic workers for a number of reasons, including the victims’ refusal to press charges and lack of evidence. Authorities settled an unknown number of cases of nonpayment of wages through negotiation. According to source-country embassies and consulates, many workers did not report violations of their labor contracts until after they returned to their home countries, since they preferred not to stay in the country for a lengthy judicial process.

While licensed businesses and factories strove to meet international standards for working conditions with respect to occupational safety and health, conditions in informal factories and businesses were poorly regulated and often did not meet these standards. The Ministry of Industry is responsible for enforcing regulations to improve safety in the workplace. The regulations require industries to have three types of insurance (fire, third party, and workers’ policies) and to implement proper safety measures. The ministry has the authority to revoke a company’s license if its inspectors find a company noncompliant, but there was no evidence this occurred.

The law requires businesses to adhere to safety standards, but authorities poorly enforced the law, and it did not explicitly permit workers to remove themselves from dangerous conditions without jeopardy to their continued employment. Workers may ask to change their job or be removed from an unsafe job without being affected, as per the labor code. The government only weakly implemented the law due to lack of governance, the weak role of the trade union movement, corruption, and lack of trade union rights.

Lesotho

Executive Summary

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary government. Under the constitution the king is head of state but does not actively participate in political activities. The prime minister is head of government and has executive authority. In 2017 former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress Party lost a vote of no confidence and a snap election. All major parties accepted the outcome, and Motsoahae Thomas Thabane of the All Basotho Convention Party (ABC) formed a coalition government and became prime minister. Mosisili transferred power peacefully to Thabane, and Mathibeli Mokhothu assumed leadership of the opposition. Local and international observers assessed the election as peaceful, credible, and transparent.

The security forces consist of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF), the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), the National Security Service (NSS), and the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS). The LMPS is responsible for internal security. The LDF maintains external security and may support police when the LMPS commissioner requests assistance. The NSS is an intelligence service that provides information on possible threats to internal and external security. The LDF and NSS report to the minister of defense; the LMPS, to the minister of police and public safety; and the LCS, to the minister of justice and correctional service. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Preventive Mission in Lesotho contingent of troops, deployed to foster stability as the government moved forward with SADC-recommended security-sector reforms, departed the country in November 2018. In May the government did not meet an SADC deadline for completion of constitutional and security reforms.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police; torture by police; arbitrary detention by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious government efforts to infringe on the independence of the judiciary; acts of corruption; lack of timely accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape; and criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

Impunity was a problem. During the year the government provided no credible evidence it acted to investigate and punish police accused of committing human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, but the constitution does not explicitly mention freedom of the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits expressions of hatred or contempt for any person because of the person’s race, ethnic affiliation, gender, disability, or color. The government did not arrest or convict anyone for violating the law. The NSS reportedly monitored political meetings.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law provides for the right to obtain and impart information freely but only if it does not interfere with “defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health.”

Violence and Harassment: Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of journalists being subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation by any actor due to their reporting.

By year’s end no trial date was set for the five LDF suspects arrested in 2017 for involvement in the 2016 shooting of Lesotho Times editor Lloyd Muntungamiri, a Zimbabwean national. Mahanye Phusumane, one of the five LDF suspects arrested and charged in the case, reportedly became a state witness. On September 4, he was released from custody.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media relied heavily on government advertising and technical resources, leading to some level of self-censorship. The government restricted antigovernment broadcaster MoAfrika FM radio (the country’s second-largest broadcaster) by limiting its access to transmission lines outside of the capital from September 2018 to April. The government initially issued a public service announcement that technical work to achieve digital migration caused broadcasting disruptions but provided no explanation for the protracted length of the disruption.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the law requires organizers to obtain permits seven days in advance for public meetings and processions.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. For example, in May the Public Accounts Committee released a report that stated the government lost 1.5 billion maloti ($103 million) between 2013 and 2016 due to public service corruption and misuse of public funds.

Corruption: There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. For example, the press reported former Ministry of Health principal secretary Lefu Manyokole stated Minister of Health Nkaku Kabi had pressured him to sign an inflated 40.1 million maloti ($2.8 million) contract for procurement of medical equipment. He claimed the contract was inflated from an initial 33.4 million maloti ($2.3 million).

Financial Disclosure: The law requires appointed and elected officials to disclose income and assets and prohibits false or misleading declarations. The declaration regime identifies the assets, liabilities, and other financial interests public officials must declare. Officials must file their declarations annually by April 30. The law does not require public declarations or that officials file declarations upon leaving office.

The law provides for disciplinary measures and criminal penalties for conviction of willful noncompliance. The law mandates that the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offenses (DCEO) monitor and verify disclosures. The DCEO claimed it could not effectively implement the law because it lacked adequate resources. Some ministers and ministry staff declared their assets and potential conflicts of interest. The DCEO did not question any declaration’s veracity.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. According to some local NGOs, government officials were not always responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The mandate of the independent Office of the Ombudsman is to receive and investigate complaints of government maladministration, injustice, corruption, and human rights abuses, and to recommend remedial action where complaints are justified. The TRC advocates for justice, peace, and participatory development. It continued to campaign for the establishment of a human rights commission meeting international standards.

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

Violence reporting: Media reported rapes and killings of the elderly across the country. For example, on August 13, two boys strangled and killed an 87-year-old woman at Moshoeshoe II village in Maseru. The government held gatherings to raise public awareness of the problem of elder abuse at which senior government officials issued warnings, including the view that security services should summarily kill perpetrators of violence against the elderly (see section 1.a.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

By law workers in the private sector have the right to join and form trade unions of their own choosing without prior authorization or excessive bureaucratic requirements. The law prohibits civil servants and police from joining or forming unions but allows them to form staff associations for collective bargaining and promoting ethical conduct of their members. All trade unions must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference.

The law significantly limits the right to strike. In the private sector, the law requires workers and employers to follow a series of procedures designed to resolve disputes before the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR), an independent government body, authorizes a strike. A registered union with a 51 percent majority of staff may call a strike on a “dispute of interest” (a demand that goes beyond labor code stipulations). If mandatory negotiations between the employer and employees reach a deadlock, a union may file with the DDPR for permission to embark on a strike. Typically, the employer and employees agree on the strike rules and its duration. Employers may also invoke a lockout clause. The law does not permit civil servants to strike.

The law protects collective bargaining and places no restrictions on it. Government approval is not required for collective agreements to be valid. By law the Public Service Joint Advisory Council provides for due process and protects civil servants’ rights. The council consists of equal numbers of members appointed by the minister of public service and members of associations representing at least 50 percent of civil servants. The council concludes and enforces collective bargaining agreements, prevents and resolves disputes, and provides procedures for dealing with general grievances. Furthermore, the Public Service Tribunal handles appeals brought by civil servants or their associations.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and other employer interference in union functions. The law provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The law does not exclude particular groups of workers from relevant legal protections.

The government effectively enforces applicable law with cases typically resolved within one to six months at the DDPR. Penalties are sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Court’s independence remained questionable because it is under the authority of the Ministry of Labor and Employment, despite a 2011 law transferring it to the judiciary.

The government and employers generally supported freedom of association and collective bargaining. Although factory workers have bargaining power, the law requires any union entering negotiations with management to represent 50 percent of workers in a factory. Only a few factories met that condition, and unions at factories where union membership is below 50 percent may not represent workers collectively in negotiations with employers. In 2015 the Factory Workers Union (FAWU), the Lesotho Clothing and Allied Workers Union, and the National Union of Textile Workers merged to form the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho to strengthen their bargaining power. The National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union, which separated from FAWU, was active. All worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties except the Lesotho Workers Party-affiliated Factory Workers Union. Most unions focused on organizing apparel workers.

Factory owners in the apparel industry were generally willing to bargain collectively on wages and working conditions but only with trade unions that represented at least 50 percent of workers. Factory decisions concerning labor disputes are determined by companies’ headquarters, which are usually located overseas. In the retail sector, employers generally respected the freedom to associate and the right to bargain collectively, although retail unions complained employers commonly appealed Labor Court rulings to delay their implementation.

Workers exercised their right to strike. In August 2018 factory workers embarked on violent illegal strikes demanding a minimum wage of 2,000 maloti ($139). At the time the minimum wage was 1,237 maloti ($85). In April the government agreed to increase the minimum wage, but it did not address what some labor experts noted was the practice of issuing repeated short-term contracts to the same workers to keep them at the minimum wage. Three labor unions wrote to the International Labor Organization (ILO) and accused the government of violating the ILO’s convention on setting minimum wages and failing to affect retroactive wage payments. In June the ILO recommended talks between the government and labor unions. The talks were pending at year’s end.

The Lesotho National Development Corporation indicated factory workers in June embarked on eight unlawful strikes and one lawful strike. The causes of the strikes were low wage increase increments, underpayments, poor terms of employment, and unsatisfactory work conditions.

In September 2018 the Labor Court overturned the DDPR’s ruling barring teachers from engaging in a strike regarding pay and working conditions. The court instructed the DDPR to award teachers unions an industrial action protection certificate to enable their members to go on a legal strike. The teachers suspended the strike following negotiations with the government. On August 12, the teachers’ strike resumed. On August 26, some teachers went back to work while others remained on strike. The government applied a no-work, no-pay policy to those teachers who continued to strike.

In the public sector, while both police and civil servants had associations, no single association represented 50 percent of civil servants. According to the Lesotho Public Servants Staff Association (LEPSSA), 34 percent of civil servants belonged to the association. LEPSSA reported most civil servants did not register for membership in the association because they were not aware of its existence. This low rate of participation made it difficult for LEPSSA to engage with the government on workers’ rights problems. In July police embarked on a “go-slow” work action and countrywide protest against the government’s failure to pay a risk allowance and 6 percent salary increase. Police also complained of a lack of uniforms and unclear transfer and promotion criteria. The government granted the salary increase. On August 1, a group of National Security Service agents briefly blocked Mpilo Boulevard, demanding review of their salaries, which were last adjusted in 2013. Agents also complained of poor work conditions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce applicable law. Police reported inadequate resources hampered their investigations and remediation efforts, although penalties for conviction of violations would be sufficient to deter violations if enforced.

The CGPU conducted community outreach on forced labor through community gatherings, lectures, workshops, and radio programs. The police Human Trafficking Unit targeted high schools to raise awareness of human trafficking and other forms of forced labor.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, continued to occur in the sectors of domestic work and agricultural work. Victims of forced labor were either children or workers in the informal sector. The government also continued to use forced prison labor and has not responded to an ILO request for information on the use of forced prison labor by political prisoners. The government did not inspect the informal sector nor prosecute such cases, so the extent of the problem remained obscure.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law defines the legal minimum age for employment as 15, or 18 for hazardous employment. The law prohibits most, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. It defines hazardous work to include mining and quarrying; carrying heavy loads; manufacturing where chemicals are produced or used; working in places where machines are used, or in places such as bars, hotels, and places of entertainment where a person may be exposed to immoral behavior, herding, and producing or distributing tobacco. Children in domestic work are sometimes exposed to the worst forms of child labor not prevented by existing law and regulations.

The law provides for completion of free and compulsory primary school at age 13, two years before the legal age of employment, rendering children ages 13-15 particularly vulnerable to forced labor. The law prohibits the use of children for illicit activities, including drug trafficking, hawking, gambling, or other illegal activities detrimental to the health, welfare, and educational advancement of the child. The law also states a child has a right to be protected from the use of hallucinogens, narcotics, alcohol, tobacco products, psychotropic drugs, and any other substances declared harmful, and from being involved in their production, trafficking, or distribution. Additionally, the law prohibits the use of children for commercial sexual exploitation. While the law applies to children working in the informal economy, it excludes self-employed children from relevant legal protections.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum age law regarding employment outside the formal economy, since scarce resources hindered labor inspections. The Ministry of Labor and Employment and the CGPU investigated cases of working children. The ministry did not employ enough labor inspectors. Police reported no pending Child Labor Court cases.

The NGO Beautiful Dream Society reported five cases of sexual harassment but no cases of child labor, sex trafficking, or boys being forced to leave school to work as herdboys (boys who look after livestock).

Government regulations on children working as herdboys regulate the work and distinguish between legal “child work” and illegal “child labor.” The guidelines apply to children younger than age 18 and strictly prohibit the engagement of children at a cattle post, the huts where herders stay when in remote mountain rangelands. In line with international conventions and standards, the law considers herding by children to be illegal child labor only if it deprives herdboys of the opportunity to attend school, obliges them to leave school prematurely, or requires them to combine school attendance with excessively long hours and difficult working conditions. The highest estimated percentage of working children was in herding.

Children also engaged in domestic service and street work, including vending.

See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, but it occurred. Discrimination based on race is barred, but discrimination based on disability is not explicitly prohibited. The law’s prohibition of gender-based discrimination is ambiguous. Generally, gender-based employment discrimination is prohibited. Nevertheless, in certain sectors, such as mining, what the law refers to as “fair discrimination” permits employers to decline to hire women for dangerous jobs. There is no provision for equal pay for equal work.

According to the NGO Women and Law in Southern Africa, there was no legal basis for discrimination against women in employment, business, and access to credit, although social barriers to equality remained. Both men and women reported hiring practices often aligned with gender, with men preferentially selected for certain positions (such as mechanics) and women preferentially selected for other positions (such as sewing machine operators).

The law prohibits discrimination against those who are HIV-positive. The Ministry of Labor and Employment did not report any such cases during the year.

Migrant workers enjoy the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is a sector-specific minimum wage and a general minimum wage. The general minimum monthly wage was above the poverty line. Minimum wage provisions do not cover significant portions of the workforce. Labor law does not apply to workers in agriculture or other informal sectors.

The law stipulates standards for hours of work, including a maximum 45-hour workweek, a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, a daily minimum rest period of one hour, at least 12 days of paid leave per year, paid sick leave, and public holidays. Required overtime is legal if overtime wages for work in excess of the standard 45-hour workweek are paid. The maximum overtime allowed is 11 hours per week; however, there are exemptions under special circumstances. The law requires the premium pay for overtime be at a rate not less than 25 percent more than the employee’s normal hourly wage rate; any employer who requires excessive compulsory overtime is liable to a fine, imprisonment, or both.

The law empowers the Ministry of Labor and Employment to issue regulations on occupational health and safety standards, and the commissioner of labor is responsible for investigating allegations of labor law violations.

The law requires employers to provide adequate light, ventilation, and sanitary facilities for employees and to install and maintain machinery in a manner that minimizes injury. It also requires each employer to have a registered health and safety officer. Employers must provide first aid kits, safety equipment, and protective clothing. The law also provides for a compensation system for industrial injuries and diseases related to employment. Penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations. The law holds employers responsible for orienting their employees on safety standards and for providing adequate protective clothing. Workers may be held responsible for accidents if they fail to use provided protective clothing or fail to comply with safety standards.

Labor inspectors worked in all districts and generally conducted unannounced inspections of a random sample of workplaces on a weekly basis. The government did not employ enough labor inspectors. By law the informal sector is not subject to inspection. The Ministry of Labor and Employment’s inspectorate reported employers, particularly in the security, transport, and construction sectors, did not always observe the minimum wage and hours of work laws. Many locally owned businesses did not keep employees’ records to facilitate labor inspections as required by law. Smaller employers failed to establish safety committees, did not have complete first aid kits, and did not provide protective clothing. Except for the mining industry, employers’ compliance with health and safety regulations generally was low. According to the ministry, there was noncompliance with health and safety regulations, especially in construction. Employers took advantage of the fact the ministry failed to prosecute perpetrators.

Trade union representatives described textile sector working conditions as poor or harsh but not dangerous. Union officials stated most textile factories were in prefabricated metal buildings. Unions reported few examples of dangerous health hazards but noted that in government-constructed factories there was usually improper ventilation due to poor planning and design. Employers, who leased factories from the government, were not allowed to change the design of government factory buildings to install ventilation systems. Third-party auditors hired by foreign textile buyers conducted spot checks on many exporting factories, customarily sought labor’s input, and briefed the unions on their findings. Unions believed third-party auditors kept factory owners in line with health and safety regulations.

On August 15, a coalition of labor unions and women’s rights organizations, an apparel supplier, and three apparel brands signed agreements to address GBV in garment factories. In response to allegations of sexual harassment, including some claims of supervisors demanding sexual favors, these agreements provide for the establishment of an independent body to receive complaints of GBV and carry out investigations accordingly.

Many workplace policies covered employees with HIV/AIDS. Some of the larger factories provided health services at the workplace. Where factories did not provide health care, workers had the right to access services at public health centers. Employers provided space for employee examinations and time off for employees to see doctors, receive counseling, and participate in educational and antistigma programs.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment is responsible for enforcing labor law and standards. A study on the rural and informal economy estimated 48 percent of workers were in the informal economy. The ministry’s inspectorate noted penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Labor and Employment prepared a report on workplace fatalities and accidents during the year. According to the report, from January through August, there were the following 25 accidents (involving 15 men and 10 women): six in the textile sector, five in the manufacturing sector, four in the security sector, three in the retail sector, three in the construction sector, and four in other sectors.

Working conditions for foreign or migrant workers were like those of residents.

The law does not explicitly provide for workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Nevertheless, code provisions on safety in the workplace and dismissal imply such a dismissal would be illegal. Authorities protected employees when violations of the law were reported.

Liberia

Executive Summary

Liberia is a constitutional republic with a bicameral national assembly and a democratically elected government. The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2017, and legislative by-elections in 2018, which domestic and international observers deemed generally free and fair. Vacancies in one Senate seat and one House of Representatives seat prompted by-elections on July 29. Soon after, the National Elections Commission (NEC) declared Liberty Party candidate Darius Dillon winner of the Senate race. On August 28, the NEC held a run-off in 20 voting precincts for the House seat, given irregularities in voter registration. There were incidents of violence during the campaign for the House seat, including stone throwing and property damage. In addition, multiple press outlets reported allegations of an assault on Deputy Police Inspector General Marvin Sackor. On August 28, the NEC declared the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) candidate Abu Kamara the winner.

The Liberia National Police (LNP) maintains internal security, with assistance from the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) and other civilian security forces. The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities if called upon. The LNP and LDEA report to the Ministry of Justice while the AFL reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary killings by police; arbitrary detention by government officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; substantial restrictions on free expression and the press, including site blocking; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases of violence against women due to government inaction in some instances, including rape, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and use of forced or compulsory child labor.

Impunity for individuals who committed human rights abuses, including atrocities during the civil wars that ended in 2003, remained a serious problem. The government made intermittent but limited attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of current abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Security forces and law enforcement officials undertook some training to increase respect for human rights.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, although with some unofficial limits.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could generally criticize the government publicly or privately, but civil libel and slander laws placed limits on freedom of speech, and self-censorship was widespread. Some media outlets avoided criticizing government officials due to fears of legal sanction and to retain government advertising, which, according to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), was the largest source of media revenue. Other outlets avoided addressing sensitive human rights issues like female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Court decisions against journalists sometimes involved exorbitant fines.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Some media outlets, journalists, and broadcasters charged fees to publish articles or host radio programs. According to the PUL, civil suits relating to libel, slander, and defamation were sometimes used to curtail freedom of expression and intimidate the press. The PUL also expressed concern media outlets owned directly by politicians and government officials were crowding out privately owned media and advocated for legislation to prohibit ownership of media by public officials.

Violence and Harassment: Law enforcement officers occasionally harassed newspaper and radio station owners because of their political opinions and reporting, especially those that criticized government officials. Government officials also harassed media members for political reasons. For example, in August, Front Page Africa newspaper reported cabinet members were pressuring the Firestone Corporation to fire Patrick Honnah, a public relations manager who criticized the government on social media and through the Punch FM website, where he previously worked. Separately, in July, Judge Peter Gbeneweleh summoned Othello B. Garblah, publisher of New Dawn newspaper, for possible contempt of court because of an article he wrote that speculated there was a plot to exonerate the defendants in the Sable Mining corruption case.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although generally able to express a wide variety of views, some journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid harassment. Journalists and media directors also practiced self-censorship to maintain advertising revenue from the government, the largest advertiser in the country. There were several reports that politicians and government agencies offered “transportation fees” to journalists to secure coverage of events.

From approximately February to August, the radio show of government critic Henry Costa, was frequently unavailable. On at least a few occasions, the broadcast seemed to feature older, progovernment clips, leading to speculation that the station was being jammed or otherwise interfered with. In response Costa made a number of threats of violence in his Facebook Live broadcasts. The government’s reactions to these and other broadcasts from Costa, which the government deemed as inciting violence, included a suspension of Roots FM’s broadcast license due to nonpayment of fees and inciting violence. On October 10, amid groups of protesters supporting Costa, sheriffs from the Monrovia Magisterial Court, escorted by armed police units with a “search and seizure” writ issued by the court at the request of Solicitor General Saymah Cyrenius Cephus, stormed the Roots FM studio, shut Costa’s broadcast down, and seized the station’s broadcasting equipment.

Libel/Slander Laws: In February criminal libel and slander laws were repealed with the passage of the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom. Government officials occasionally used the threat of civil suits to intimidate critics. On April 15, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel McGill filed a $500,000 defamation suit against Roots FM and its hosts Henry Costa and Fidel Saydee, alleging the two radio personalities “slandered, badmouthed, vandalized and vilified” McGill by accusing him of financial impropriety. He later dropped the suit.

PUL continued efforts to self-regulate the media and ensure adherence to standards including investigation and settlement of complaints against or by the press. PUL’s National Media Council, launched in 2017 to address court cases against the media, continued to mediate cases during the year.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Security officials at road checkpoints throughout the country frequently requested bribes, which may have inhibited domestic travel.

f. Protection of Refugees

The law forbids the forced return of refugees, their families, or other persons who may be subjected to persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, and the government generally respected those rights for refugees. The government provides a prima facie mode of recognition for Ivoirian refugees, meaning that Ivoirian refugees arriving in Liberia because of the 2011 postelectoral violence in Cote d’Ivoire do not have to appear before the asylum committee to gain refugee status; the status is granted automatically. According to Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the country was host to 8,623 refugees from Cote d’Ivoire and 77 others of diverse nationalities.

Those denied asylum may submit their case to the appeals committee of the LRRRC. Asylum seekers unsatisfied with the appeals committee ruling can seek judicial review at the Supreme Court. The Alien and Nationality Law of 1974, however, specifically denies many of the safeguards for those wishing to seek asylum in the country under the Refugee Convention.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with UNHCR, other humanitarian organizations, and donor countries in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The LRRRC did not record any cases of abuse or discrimination against refugees. UNHCR reported one case of a refugee being harassed and assaulted by an immigration official at an internal checkpoint.

Refoulement: The LRRRC and UNHCR reported seven Ivoirian refugees remained in custody in the MCP, pursuant to a 2013 request for extradition from the government of Cote d’Ivoire that alleged their involvement in “mercenary activities.” The case has continued since 2013, and bail requests have been denied. Three of the seven refugees were brothers, the youngest 16 years old at the time of arrest. The LRRRC and UNHCR continued to provide subsistence allowances, legal support, and medical and psychosocial support to refugees in custody.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees enjoyed freedom of movement, since the country did not have a mandatory encampment policy. Government policy stated refugees wishing to receive material assistance should move to one of the three refugee camp locations in Bahn Town, Nimba County; Zwedru, Grand Gedeh; and Harper, Maryland County. The camps were in the process of being transformed into settlements intended for local integration of refugees.

Employment: The law generally prohibits non-Liberian citizens from obtaining work permits when Liberian citizens are available to perform the labor, but this law was generally not enforced. The LRRRC and UNHCR worked with partners to implement livelihood programs for Ivoirian refugees who wished to integrate. As of August 14, refugees requested work permits from the Ministry of Labor to work in the formal sector. UNHCR paid the requisite fee.

Durable Solutions: During the year the government resettled, offered naturalization, and assisted in the voluntary return of refugees. Voluntary repatriation of Ivoirian refugees continued. According to UNHCR, as of June approximately 715 Ivoirian refugees had voluntarily returned to Cote d’Ivoire. UNHCR and the LRRRC assisted those returning and supported 1,584 refugees who opted for local integration. As of August the government had begun the process of naturalizing five refugees.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government, with UNHCR and other implementing partners, continued to provide protection to Ivoirian refugees who entered the country after November 2010. According to UNHCR, as of June, 8,623 Ivoirian refugees remained in the country.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for bribery, abuse of office, economic sabotage, and other corruption-related offenses committed by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption.

The mandate of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is to prevent, investigate, and prosecute cases of corruption among public officials. As of September it had 41 active cases and had forwarded six to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution.

Corruption: In June a grand jury indicted 10 persons, including sitting representatives Edward W. Karfiah and Josiah M. Cole, following an investigation by the LACC into corruption related to construction of the Bong County Technical College. According to the press release, the individuals were accused of using fraud to embezzle approximately $2.7 million in county development funds. In a press conference after the indictment was announced, Solicitor General Sayma Syrenius Cephus said he would keep the indictment sealed pending an investigation. As of November the indictment remained sealed. According to media reports, former speaker of the House Alex Tyler was listed in documents as owning 7.5 percent of the company contracted to build the college; Tyler was speaker at the time of the alleged scheme, and funds from the national budget were allocated to the project despite a lack of visible progress. Tyler was not included in the indictment, prompting further questions about transparency and accountability.

Financial Disclosure: By law all government officials “involved in making decisions affecting contracting, tendering or procurement, and issuance of licenses” must declare their income, assets, and liabilities before taking office, at the end of every three years, upon promotion or transfer to another position, and upon leaving office. Members of the legislature must submit their declarations to the secretary of the Senate and the chief clerk of the House, members of the judiciary must submit to the clerk of the Supreme Court, and members of the executive branch must submit to the General Auditing Commission, with receipt “notified” to the LACC. The law provides for dismissal in cases of false declaration but does not outline punishments for noncompliance. Financial disclosures are not made public, and officials were reluctant to share them publicly.

As of December the LACC reported that approximately 67 percent of officials in the executive branch and 83 percent in the judiciary had submitted notification of their declarations. The Senate and the House of Representatives reported that 11 senators and 25 representatives had submitted asset declarations to their respective offices in the legislature. The LACC, for its part, reported it had undertaken to verify the assets of 49 individuals.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government has not implemented the majority of the recommendations contained in the 2009 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report. The law creating the commission requires that the president submit quarterly progress reports to the legislature on the implementation of TRC recommendations; however, since taking office in January 2018, President Weah has failed to submit quarterly reports.

The INCHR has a mandate to promote and protect human rights, investigate and conduct hearings on human rights violations, propose changes to laws, policies, and administrative practices and regulations, and counsel the government on the implementation of national and international human rights standards. Since coming to office in January 2018, President Weah has not appointed a commissioner to lead the INCHR, which observers reported hampered its effectiveness.

The Human Rights Protection Unit of the Ministry of Justice convened some coordination meetings that provided a forum for domestic and international human rights NGOs to present matters to the government, but it complained about a lack of funding. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights acted as an independent check on the actions of the government in line with its mission to monitor human rights violations in the country.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers, except public servants and employees of state-owned enterprises, the right to freely form or join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and it prohibits antiunion discrimination. It allows unions to conduct their activities without interference by employers, parties, or government. The law provides that labor organizations and associations have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules with regard to electing their representatives, organizing their activities, and formulating their programs.

Public-sector employees and employees of state-owned enterprises are prohibited under the Civil Service Standing Orders from organizing into unions and bargaining collectively, but instead they may process grievances through the Civil Service Agency grievance board. Representatives from the Ministry of Labor, the Liberia Labor Congress, and the Civil Servants Association continued to argue the Standing Orders conflict with Article 17 of the constitution, which affords the right to associate in trade unions. Some public-sector associations, including those for teachers and public-health workers, declared themselves to be unions, despite the law, and the LLC and Ministry of Labor backed their efforts to unionize.

The law provides for the right of workers to conduct legal strikes, provided they have attempted to negotiate to resolve the issue and give the Ministry of Labor 48 hours’ notice of their intent. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law prohibits unions from engaging in partisan political activity and prohibits agricultural workers from joining industrial workers’ organizations. The law prohibits strikes under certain circumstances as follows: if the disputed parties have agreed to refer the issue to arbitration; if the issue is already under arbitration or in court; and if the parties engage in essential services as designated by the National Tripartite Council comprising the Ministry of Labor, Liberian Chamber of Commerce, and the Liberian Labor Union. The National Tripartite Council has not published a list of essential services.

While the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity, it allows for dismissal without cause if the company provides the mandated severance package. It also does not prohibit retaliation against strikers whose strikes comply with the law if they commit “an act that constitutes defamation or a criminal offense, or if the proceedings arise from an employee being dismissed for a valid reason.”

In general the government endeavored to enforce applicable laws in the formal sector, and workers exercised their rights. Employees enjoyed freedom of association and had the right to establish and become members of organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization or coercion. The law, however, does not provide adequate protection, and some protections depend on whether property damage has occurred and is measurable. Penalties were inadequate to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays or appeals and to outside interference.

Union influence continued to increase during the year. There were reports of union-led protest actions in a number of concession areas, including plantations, leading to work stoppages or disruptions for days, and by public-sector associations of health workers and teachers. Labor unions called on the government to enforce laws that would improve work conditions across the country, particularly the Decent Work Act.

In April and September, the Ministry of Labor, Liberia Revenue Authority, the Liberia Immigration Service, and the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation conducted joint nationwide labor inspections to ensure employers complied with the Decent Work Act and all other existing labor laws. Observers reported labor inspectors solicited and took bribes to certify compliance with regulations, and the labor inspectorate did not track numbers of individual inspections or violations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, aside from forced prison labor or work defined as “minor communal service.” Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and the government did not effectively enforce the law. These penalties were not sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred. Families living in the interior of the country sometimes sent young women and children with relatives, acquaintances, or even strangers to Monrovia or other cities with the promise the women and children would pursue educational or other opportunities. In some instances these women and children were forced to work as street vendors, domestic servants, beggars or in commercial sexual exploitation. There were also reports of forced labor in auto shops, on small rubber plantations, and artisanal mines.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Under the Decent Work Act, most full-time employment of children younger than age of 15 is prohibited. Children older than age 13 but younger than age 15 may be employed to perform “light work” for a maximum of two hours per day and not more than 14 hours per week. “Light work” is defined as work that does not prejudice the child’s attendance at school and is not likely to be harmful to a child’s health or safety and moral or material welfare or development as defined by law. There is an exception to the law for artistic performances, where the law leaves the determination of work hours to the minister of labor. Under the act children age 15 and older are not allowed to work more than seven hours a day or more than 42 hours in a week. There are mandatory rest periods of one hour, and the child may not work more than four hours consecutively. The law also prohibits the employment of children younger than age 16 during school hours, unless the employer keeps a registry of the child’s school certificate to illustrate the child attended school regularly and can demonstrate the child was able to read and write simple sentences. The law prohibits the employment of apprentices younger than age 16. The compulsory education requirement extends through grade nine or until age 15.

The law provides that an employer must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Labor before engaging a child in a proscribed form of labor. The Ministry of Labor did not provide statistics on if such permits were either requested or issued.

The government prohibits some, but not all, of the worst forms of child labor. The government prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in hazardous work, but has not yet published a hazardous work list, leaving children vulnerable to hazardous work in certain sectors. According to the law, “a parent, caregiver, guardian, or relative who engages in any act or connives with any other person to subject a child to sexual molestation, prohibited child labor, or such other act, that places the well-being of a child at risk is guilty of a second-degree felony.”

The National Commission on Child Labor (NACOMAL) is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies, although it did not do so effectively. It was unclear if any labor inspectors were assigned to monitor and address child labor or if any labor inspections included checking for child labor. The government charged the National Steering Committee for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (National Child Labor Committee) with investigating and referring for prosecution allegations of child labor. The committee consists of the Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Secretariat (which includes NACOMAL); the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Protection Unit; the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection’s Human Rights Division; and the LNP’s Women’s and Children’s Protection Section. It was not clear if any inspections or remediation took place. Although the National Child Labor Committee convenes regular meetings, coordination of their activities remained a serious challenge. In July the government released the National Action Plan on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The government has not identified specific funding to implement its provisions and expects the donor community to contribute 59 percent of the total budget.

The law penalizes employers who violate the minimum age provision of child labor laws and parents or guardians who violate this minimum age provision. These penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Child labor was widespread in almost every economic sector. In urban areas children assisted their parents as vendors in markets or hawked goods on the streets. There were reports that children tapped rubber on smaller plantations and private farms, which exposed them to hazardous conditions involving use of machetes and acids. Children also worked in other conditions likely to harm their health and safety, such as rock crushing or work that required carrying heavy loads. Children were engaged in hazardous labor in alluvial diamond and gold mining, which exposed them to heavy loads and hazardous chemicals. Children were also engaged in agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Some children in Monrovia, particularly girls, worked in domestic service after being sent from rural communities by their parents or guardians. There were also reports of children working in auto shops.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Section 2.4(b) of the Decent Work Act prohibits discrimination with respect to equal opportunity for work and employment and calls for equal pay for equal work. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, HIV-positive status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in hiring based on gender, and women experienced economic discrimination based on cultural traditions resisting their employment outside the home in rural areas. Anecdotal evidence indicated that women’s pay lagged behind that for men. LGBTI individuals and those with disabilities faced hiring discrimination, and persons with disabilities faced difficulty with workplace access and accommodation (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes minimum wages for unskilled laborers and for formal sector workers. The law allows workers in the informal sector to bargain for a wage higher than the legal minimum.

The minimum wage was greater than the World Bank’s poverty income level. Many families paid minimum-wage incomes were also engaged in subsistence farming, small-scale marketing, and begging.

The law provides for a 48-hour, six-day regular workweek with a one -hour rest period for every five hours of work. The Decent Work Act stipulates that ordinary hours may be extended by collective agreement up to an average of 53 hours during an agreed upon period, as well as to 56 hours for workers in seasonal industries. The law provides for overtime pay and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The law provides for at least one week of paid leave per year, severance benefits, and occupational health and safety standards; the standards are up to date and appropriate for the intended industries. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. For certain categories of industries, the law requires employers to employ safety and health officers and establish a safety and health committee in the workplace.

The Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspection Department is responsible for enforcing government-established health and safety standards, but it is not clear if these standards were enforced. These inspectors are responsible only for monitoring labor in the formal sector, and there is no system for monitoring the informal sector. The government did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce the law.

Most citizens were unable to find work in the formal sector and therefore did not benefit from any of the formal labor laws and protections. The vast majority of citizens (estimated at 80 percent) had no other option than to work in the largely unregulated informal sector, where they faced widely varying and often harsh working conditions. Informal workers included rock crushers, artisanal miners, agricultural workers, street sellers, most market sellers, domestic workers, and others. In the diamond and gold mines, in addition to physical danger and poor working conditions, the industry is unregulated, leaving miners vulnerable to exploitive brokers, dealers, and intermediaries.

Libya

Executive Summary

Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) is a transitional government, created by the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement. The 2011 Constitutional Declaration envisions a parliamentary democracy that allows for the exercise of political, civil, and judicial rights. Citizens elected an interim legislature, the Libyan House of Representatives (HoR), in free and fair elections in 2014. The country is in a state of civil conflict. The GNA, headed by Libyan prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj, governed only a limited portion of the country. Parallel, unrecognized institutions in eastern Libya, especially those aligned with the self-styled “Libyan National Army” (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar, continued to challenge the authority of the GNA.

During the year the GNA had limited effective control over security forces, and these forces consisted of a mix of semi-regular units, tribal nonstate armed groups, and civilian volunteers. The national police force, which reports to the Ministry of Interior, has official responsibility for internal security. The armed forces under the Ministry of Defense have the primary mission for external defense, but they also supported Ministry of Interior forces on internal security matters. Civilian authorities had only nominal control of police and the security apparatus, and security-related police work generally fell to disparate informal armed groups, which received salaries from the government and exercised law enforcement functions without formal training or supervision and with varying degrees of accountability.

Conflict heightened during the year among GNA-aligned armed nonstate armed groups and other nonstate actors. The LNA exercised varying levels of control over the majority of Libyan territory at various points during the year. Informal nonstate armed groups filled security vacuums across the country, although several in the west aligned with the GNA as a means of accessing state resources. ISIS-Libya attempted to maintain a presence, although limited, primarily in the southwestern desert region. The UN and international partners were leading efforts to broker a cessation of hostilities in Tripoli and urged stakeholders to return to a UN-mediated political process.

Significant human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings, including of politicians and members of civil society, by armed groups including some aligned with the GNA and the LNA, criminal gangs, and ISIS-Libya; forced disappearances; torture perpetrated by armed groups on all sides; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities, some of which were outside government control; political prisoners held by nonstate actors; unlawful interference with privacy, often by nonstate actors; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence against journalists and criminalization of political expression; widespread corruption; trafficking in persons; threats of violence against ethnic minorities and foreigners; criminalization of same-sex sexual orientation; and use of forced labor.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various armed groups, including those aligned with the GNA, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists and reporters for political views.

Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The HoR, since its election in 2014, and the GNA, since taking its seat in Tripoli in 2016, have done little to lessen restrictions on freedom of speech. Civil society organizations practiced self-censorship because they believed armed groups would threaten or kill activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.

International and local human rights organizations claimed that human rights defenders and activists faced continuing threats–including physical attacks, detention, threats, harassment, and disappearances–by armed groups, both those aligned with and opposed to the GNA.

Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech. Armed groups reportedly used social media to target political opponents, incite violence, and engage in hate speech. According to UNSMIL, various news publications and television stations published calls to violence, spread intentionally false news, and permitted ad hominem attacks.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Press freedoms were limited in all forms of media, creating an environment in which virtually no independent media existed. International news agencies reported difficulties obtaining journalist visas, encountered refusals to issue or recognize press cards, and were barred from reporting freely in certain areas, especially eastern cities. UNSMIL documented restrictions imposed by the Foreign Media Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which seriously affected the operations of journalists in Tripoli.

Violence and Harassment: The international NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists. Harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings made it nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict. In the first half of the year, UNSMIL reviewed 23 cases of threats, intimidation, and violence against journalists; two cases of unlawful killing; and 10 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. Journalists were targeted based on their media work or other factors, including tribal affiliation.

Impunity for attacks on members of media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or a functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks.

On January 19, Mohamed Ben Khalifa, an Associated Press photographer, was killed by an airstrike while covering clashes between rival nonstate armed groups south of Tripoli. In response to his death, protests condemning violence against journalists were held in Tripoli, Benghazi, Sebha, and Zuwara, according to the Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press. It is unclear what, if any, efforts authorities took to seek accountability for his death.

On May 2, two Libyan journalists for television broadcaster Libya Al-Ahrar, Mohamed al-Qurj and Mohamed al-Shibani, were abducted while covering the hostilities in Tripoli. Libya Al-Ahrar alleged that LNA-aligned nonstate armed groups were responsible. The journalists were released three weeks later.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to the lack of security and intimidation. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing armed groups or political factions.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalized a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It and other laws also provide criminal penalties for conviction of defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.

National Security: The penal code criminalized speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad,” but the GNA did not enforce this provision of the code during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental armed groups, terrorist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The GNA did not exercise control over internal movement in the west, although GNA-aligned armed groups set up some checkpoints. The LNA established checkpoints in the east and south. These checkpoints were occasional targets of attacks by terrorist organizations, including a May 18 attack on an LNA checkpoint at the entrance to an oilfield in Zillah, which was claimed by ISIS-Libya.

There were reports that armed groups controlling airports within the country conducted random checks on departing domestic and international travelers, since the country lacked a unified customs and immigration system.

Citizenship: The Nationality Law states that citizens may lose citizenship if they obtain a foreign citizenship without receiving permission beforehand from authorities, but there is still no process for obtaining permission. Authorities may revoke citizenship if it was obtained based on false information, forged documents, or withheld relevant information concerning nationality. The state lacked the capacity, however, to investigate the authenticity of citizenship applications.

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

Non-Arab communities were marginalized under the Arab nationalist Qadhafi regime. Qadhafi revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including minorities such as the Tebu and Tuareg, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip along the Libya-Chad border to Chad in 1994. As a result there were many nomadic and settled stateless persons in the country.

Additionally, due to a lack of state control of the southern borders, a large number of irregular migrants of Tebu background entered the country, some of whom reportedly applied for and obtained documents attesting to nationality, including national identification numbers.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual exploitation, and other abuses by GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned and other nonstate groups, and criminal organizations (see section 1.d.).

Conditions in government and extralegal migrant detention facilities included severe overcrowding, insufficient access to toilets and washing facilities, malnourishment, lack of potable water, and spread of communicable diseases (see section 1.c.). Many press reports indicated refugees and migrants were summarily tortured in official and unofficial detention centers. According to numerous press reports, nonstate actors routinely held migrants for ransom payments.

UNSMIL reported migrant deaths in GNA detention centers at Tariq al-Sikkah, Qasr Bin Ghashir, Zawiyah, and Sebha.

On September 19, a Sudanese migrant who had been intercepted on a boat off the coast of Libya was shot and killed by Libyan Coast Guard personnel when he resisted being taken to a detention center, according to the IOM.

Armed groups, criminal gangs, and terrorist organizations involved in human smuggling activities targeted migrants. Numerous reports during the year suggested that various human smugglers and traffickers had caused the death of migrants. Hundreds of rescued migrants who were reported to have been sent to detention centers were later determined to be missing. In June OHCHR called on the GNA to launch an investigation to locate these missing persons. On July 25, up to 150 migrants who set sail from the Libyan coast, including women and children, drowned when a wooden boat piloted by smugglers capsized in the Mediterranean. There were no known arrests or prosecutions by the GNA during the year of Libyan nationals engaged in trafficking or human smuggling.

Women refugees and migrants faced especially difficult conditions, and international organizations received many reports of rape and other sexual violence. The OHCHR concluded in a December 2018 report on interviews with 1,300 migrant women and girls that a majority of female migrants in the country were subject to systematic rape by their traffickers and prison guards or witnessed the rape of others. An al-Jazeera investigation concluded in September 2019 similarly documented systematic female and male rape in migrant detention facilities.

Migrants were exploited for forced labor at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, and GNA-aligned armed groups (see section 7.b.).

Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol, although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The GNA has not established a system for protecting refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities can detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request asylum. The GNA did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits.

UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies operated within the country and were allowed to assist refugees and immigrants and repatriate those who wish to return to their countries. UNHCR monitored and publicly reported on the situation of refugees and migrants in the country, including those in GNA detention centers. During the year, UNHCR, ICRC, and the IOM provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers.

In December 2018 UNHCR and the Ministry of Interior began receiving refugees at a new Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in Tripoli, intended to host vulnerable refugees while they awaited resettlement or voluntary repatriation. In July, following an airstrike on the Tajoura migrant detention center in Tripoli, nearly 500 individuals who survived the airstrike spontaneously appeared at the GDF. In September UNSMIL assessed that GDF conditions were overcrowded, contributing to a deteriorating humanitarian situation. On October 2, UNHCR and the Ministry of Interior conducted the first relocation of 15 former Tajoura arrivals to a Community Day Center in Gurji. In November UNHCR reported the GDF hosted 1,200 individuals.

On September 10, the Rwandan government, UNHCR, and the African Union signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish a transit mechanism for refugees and asylum seekers evacuated out of Libya. Under the MOU, Rwanda will receive some refugees and asylum seekers currently held in Libyan migrant detention facilities. The first group of 66 refugees was evacuated to Rwanda on September 26. As of November UNHCR had assisted 2,018 refugees and asylum seekers with leaving Libya, including 1,293 under evacuation programs and another 725 under resettlement programs.

Freedom of Movement: Migrants and refugees are generally considered to be illegally present in Libya and are subject to fines, detention, and expulsion. Migrants attempting sea crossings on the Mediterranean who were later intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard were considered to have violated Libyan law and were often sent to migrant detention facilities in western Libya.

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year but, as in 2018, no significant investigations or prosecutions occurred.

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

Corruption: Internal conflict and the weakness of public institutions undermined implementation of the law. Officials frequently engaged with impunity in corrupt practices such as graft, bribery, and nepotism. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, including some reports that officials engaged in money laundering, human smuggling, and other criminal activities. The government lacked significant mechanisms to investigate corruption among police and security forces.

Slow progress in implementing decentralization legislation, particularly with regard to management of natural resources and distribution of government funds, led to accusations of corruption and calls for greater transparency.

The Audit Bureau, the highest financial regulatory authority in the country, made efforts to improve transparency by publishing annual reports on government revenues and expenditures, national projects, and administrative corruption. The Audit Bureau also investigated mismanagement at the General Electricity Company of Libya that had lowered production and led to acute power cuts.

The UN Libya Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts, a committee established pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970 (2011), continued to make recommendations, including on corruption and human rights issues.

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

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

A number of human rights groups encountered government restrictions when investigating alleged abuses of human rights. The GNA and affiliated nonstate armed groups used legal and nonlegal means to restrict some human rights organizations from operating, particularly organizations with an international affiliation.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: UNSMIL maintained an office and staff in Tripoli during the year. UN agency representatives were able to visit some areas of the country, contingent on the permission of government and nonstate actors and on local security conditions.

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights, a national human rights institution created by legislative authority in 2011, was not able to operate in the country due to security concerns. The council maintained limited engagement with other human rights organizations and the UN Human Rights Council. It had a minimal presence in Tripoli. Its ability to advocate for human rights and investigate alleged abuses during the reporting period was unclear. The GNA Ministry of Justice has a human rights directorate; however, domestic human rights organizations criticized the body for inactivity.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions. It provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires the reinstatement of workers for union activity. By law workers in the formal sector are automatically members of the General Trade Union Federation of Workers, although they may elect to withdraw from the union. Only citizens may be union members, and regulations do not permit foreign workers to organize. According to Freedom House, some trade unions formed after the 2011 revolution, but they remain in their infancy, and collective-bargaining activity was severely limited due to the continuing hostilities and weak rule of law.

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

Employees organized spontaneous strikes, boycotts, and sit-ins in a number of workplaces. In March up to 60 workers at the country’s largest oilfield, al-Sharara, appeared in a video demanding a 67-percent salary increase and timely salary payments. In August the National Oil Corporation requested that the GNA implement a 2013 resolution approving salary increases. The GNA has yet to approve the requested increases.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The GNA, however, did not fully enforce the applicable laws due to its limited capacity. The resources, inspections, and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violators.

There were numerous anecdotal reports of migrants and IDPs being subjected to forced labor by human traffickers. According to numerous press reports, individuals were compelled to support the armed groups that enslaved them, including by preparing and transporting weapons. Others were forced to perform manual labor on farms, at industrial and construction facilities, and in homes under threat of violence.

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

There were reports of children forced into labor or military service by nonstate armed groups. These accounts were difficult to verify due to the absence of independent monitoring organizations and the ongoing hostilities.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law stipulates a workweek of 40 hours, standard working hours, night shift regulations, dismissal procedures, and training requirements. The law does not specifically prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. There is a national monthly minimum wage. There is not an official poverty income level.

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

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

No accurate data on foreign workers were available. Many foreign workers have departed the country due to continuing instability and security concerns.

Liechtenstein

Executive Summary

The Principality of Liechtenstein is a multiparty constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government. Prince Hans Adam II is the official head of state, although in 2004 Hereditary Prince Alois assumed the day-to-day duties of head of state, exercising the rights of office on behalf of the reigning prince. The unicameral parliament (Landtag) nominates, and the monarch appoints, members of the government. Five ministers, three from the Progressive Citizens’ Party and two from the Patriotic Union Party, formed a coalition government following free and fair parliamentary elections in 2017.

The national police maintain internal security and report to the Department of Civil Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits public insults, including via electronic means, directed against an individual’s race, language, ethnicity, religion, world view, gender, disability, age, and sexual orientation, with a possible prison sentence of up to two years for violations. In 2018 authorities registered two cases of public insults; no charges were filed through September 2019.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In some cases authorities detained unsuccessful asylum applicants pending their deportation.

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law allows asylum seekers under deportation orders to be granted an appeal hearing if requested within five days after the decision. The law permits persons from safe countries of origin who are ruled to be ineligible to be processed for denial of asylum within a maximum of seven days.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Persons entering the country from another safe country, including Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Benin, and Ghana, among others, are not eligible for asylum.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided subsidiary and humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately five persons in each category in 2018.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Bribery in the private sector is also a criminal offense. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws.

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of all workers to form and join independent unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. The law is silent on the right to strike. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government adequately enforced applicable laws. Penalties in the form of fines were adequate to deter violations.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations. The government effectively enforced the law.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and sets the minimum age for employment at 16, with exceptions for limited employment of children 14 years old. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 may engage in certain categories of light work, including running errands, housework, and babysitting, for no more than eight hours per week during the school year and 35 hours per week during school vacations. Children age 15 years and younger may be employed for the purposes of cultural, artistic, athletic, and advertising events. Working hours for youths between the ages of 15 and 18 who have completed compulsory education are not to exceed 40 hours a week. The labor law prohibits children younger than 17 from working overtime and prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in night work and Sunday shifts. The labor law stipulates that an employer must consider the health of minors and provide them a proper moral environment within the workplace; the law also stipulates that employers may not overexert minors and that employers must protect the child from “bad influences” within the workplace.

The Office for Worker Safety of the Department of National Economy effectively enforced child labor laws and devoted adequate resources and oversight to child labor policies. Legal penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on gender, disability, race, nationality, age, and sexual orientation, among other characteristics. Violations may result in the award of compensation to a prospective or dismissed employee equal to at least three months’ salary. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. According to the 2018 ECRI report and statements by the Liechtenstein Institute and Liechtenstein Association for Persons with Disabilities, women, particularly migrant and Muslim women wearing headscarves, persons with disabilities, and LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination in the labor market.

According to the Women’s Network, although the law explicitly requires equal pay for equal work, women still experienced discrimination in the workplace. The Women’s Network also noted a marked difference between men and women persisted in professional promotions; women were severely underrepresented in top-level management positions in private industry and the national administration.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not provide for a national minimum wage. The Liechtenstein Workers Association negotiates voluntary collective bargaining agreements annually with the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber for Economic Affairs on a sector-by-sector basis. Collective bargaining agreements were effectively enforced. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The law sets the maximum workweek at 45 hours for white-collar workers, employees of industrial firms, and sales personnel; and 48 hours for other workers. Some exceptions to overtime limits were authorized in the areas of nursing and medical treatment. The law provides for a standard workweek, including overtime, which may not exceed an average of 48 hours a week over a period of four consecutive months.

The law sets occupational safety and health standards, which were appropriate for the main industries in the country. The labor standards also cover the thousands of workers who commuted daily from neighboring countries. There are additional safeguards for youths, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and employees with children. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts, not with workers.

The Office of Labor Inspection, a part of the Department of National Economy, is responsible for enforcing labor laws. The agency had a sufficient number of inspectors to enforce compliance with the law effectively. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The LHRA and Infra noted the working conditions of domestic workers and nurses employed in private homes were not subject to inspections or official labor contracts, which made the sectors vulnerable to exploitation.

Lithuania

Executive Summary

The Republic of Lithuania is a constitutional, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority resides in a unicameral parliament (Seimas), and executive authority resides in the Office of the President. Observers evaluated the presidential elections on May 12 and 26, the European Parliamentary elections on May 26, and the 2016 national parliamentary elections as generally free and fair.

The police and the State Border Guards Service are subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior. The army is responsible for external security and reports to the Ministry of Defense. The Special Investigative Service, the main anticorruption agency, reports to the president and parliament. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police, the State Border Guards Service, the army, and the Special Investigative Service.

Significant human rights issues included harsh and life-threatening prison conditions.

The government took measures to prosecute or otherwise punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The constitutional definition of freedom of expression does not permit slander; disinformation; or incitement to violence, discrimination, or national, racial, religious, or social hatred. Inciting hatred against a group of persons is punishable by imprisonment for up to two years. Inciting violence against a group of persons is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years.

It is a crime to deny or “grossly to trivialize” Soviet or Nazi German crimes against the country or its citizens, or to deny genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. They are subject to the same laws that prohibit hate speech and criminalize speech that grossly trivializes international and war crimes.

It is illegal to publish material that is “detrimental to minors’ bodies or thought processes” or that promotes the sexual abuse and harassment of minors, sexual relations among minors, or “sexual relations.” Human rights observers continued to criticize this law. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) groups claimed that it served as a rationale for limiting LGBTI awareness-raising efforts and that agencies overseeing publishing and broadcast media took prejudicial action against the coverage of stories with LGBTI themes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On April 26, parliament amended the Law on the Provision of Information to the Public granting the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania (LRTK) the right to impose a 72-hour suspension on television programs that posed a threat to public and national security. The LRTK may impose this suspension without a court order on television programs from countries both within and outside the EU, the European Economic Area, and from European states that ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention on Transfrontier Television.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law makes insulting or defaming the president of the country in mass media a crime punishable by a fine. Authorities did not invoke it during the year.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government generally respected the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, with the exception of some organizations associated with the Soviet period.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: In compliance with the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, authorities barred asylum seekers arriving from safe countries of origin or transit and returned them to such countries without reviewing the substantive merits of their applications. The government’s participation in the EU’s efforts to address high levels of migration into Europe was an exception to this policy.

Employment: Refugee employment opportunities were primarily concentrated in construction, hospitality (restaurants), manufacturing, and housekeeping. Highly skilled positions required Lithuanian, English, or Russian language skills. The lack of language skills, job search assistance, and education, and qualifications were major barriers to the employment of refugees.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees said that language barriers prevented them from accessing health and psychological consulting services. The parliamentary ombudsman reported that some children did not attend school. Some schools were unprepared to accept refugee children because they lacked teachers who were able to integrate children into the education system notwithstanding the language barrier.

Durable Solutions: During the year four refugees were settled permanently in the country.

Temporary Protection: The government may grant “temporary protection” to groups of persons. Authorities may also grant “subsidiary protection” to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, and in 2018 the authorities extended temporary protection to 20 persons.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Government officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: In July media reported that 48 persons, including eight judges and six attorneys, were suspected of judicial corruption, involving 110 criminal acts. According to the pretrial investigation, these judges received a total of 400,000 euros ($440,000) in bribes in exchange for favorable rulings. In September parliament passed resolutions to dismiss four of eight judges involved in the judicial corruption case.

As of September, 155 pretrial investigations of corruption were in progress.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires appointed and elected officials to declare their assets and incomes annually. The declarations were available to the public. Administrative sanctions were imposed for noncompliance.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman has three mandates: to investigate complaints about abuse of office or other violations of human rights involving public administration; to implement the national prevention of torture mechanism under the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; and to serve as an accredited national human rights institution. In the last capacity, the parliamentary ombudsman is responsible for reporting on and monitoring human rights problems, cooperating with international and domestic human rights organizations, and promoting human rights awareness and education.

The Equal Opportunities Ombudsman operates an independent public institution with responsibility for implementing and enforcing rights under the law and for investigating individual complaints.

A Children’s Rights Ombudsman is responsible for overseeing observance of children’s rights and their legal interests. It may initiate investigations of possible violations of such rights, either upon receipt of a complaint or on its own initiative.

Parliament’s human rights committee prepares and reviews draft laws and other legal acts related to civil rights and presents recommendations to government institutions and other organizations about problems related to the protection of civil rights. It also receives reports from the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except the armed forces, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits employer discrimination against union organizers and members and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. These provisions also apply to migrant workers.

There were some specific legal limits to these rights. The law bans sympathy strikes. It also prohibits law enforcement officials, first aid medical workers, and other security-related personnel from collective bargaining and striking, although they may join unions. The law does not afford workers in essential services, whose right to strike is restricted or prohibited, alternative procedures for impartial and rapid settlement of their claims or a voice in developing such procedures.

In the event of a disagreement between management and labor, any such disputes are settled by a labor arbitration board formed under the jurisdiction of the district court where the registered office of the enterprise or entity involved in the collective dispute is located. Despite the fact that the law establishes the binding character of the decision upon the parties, the decisions cannot lay down rights or obligations of individuals and are not enforceable by the courts. Labor-code procedures make it difficult for some workers to exercise the right to strike. The law prohibits sympathy strikes and allows an employer to hire replacement workers in certain sectors to provide for minimum services during strikes.

Penalties ranged from fines to imprisonment and were insufficient to deter violations. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the judicial system was slow to respond to cases of unfair dismissal and no employer faced penal sanctions for antiunion discrimination as envisaged in the law. No courts or judges specialized in labor disputes.

The government generally respected freedom of association but did not enforce the labor code effectively, although resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Employers did not always respect collective bargaining rights, and managers often determined wages without regard to union preferences except in large factories with well organized unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and the government generally enforced the law effectively. Penalties ranged from a fine to imprisonment, which were sufficient to deter violations.

There were instances of forced labor, most of which involved Lithuanian men subjected to forced labor abroad. Foreign workers from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine were at risk of labor trafficking as long-haul truck drivers, builders, ship hull assemblers, and welders.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for most employment at 16 but allows the employment of children as young as 14 for light work with the written consent of the child’s parents or guardians and school. The government has not created a list of jobs considered “light work.” The law mandates reduced work hours for children, allowing up to two hours per day or 12 hours per week during the school year and up to seven hours per day or 32 hours per week when school is not in session. According to the law, hazardous work is any environment that may cause disease or pose a danger to the employee’s life, such as heavy construction or working with industrial chemicals. Under the law children under 18 may not perform hazardous work. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for receiving complaints related to employment of persons younger than 18. The government effectively enforced the law. In the first eight months of the year, the inspectorate identified 25 cases in which children were working illegally in the construction, agriculture, retail, services, and manufacturing sectors.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination but does not specifically address HIV-positive or other communicable disease status, or gender identity. The law obliges the employer to implement the principles of gender equality and nondiscrimination, which prohibit direct and indirect discrimination, and psychological and sexual harassment. The employer must apply the same selection criteria and conditions when hiring new employees; provide equal working conditions, opportunities for professional development, and benefits; apply equal and uniform criteria for dismissal; pay equal wages for the same work and for work of equal value; and take measures to prevent psychological and sexual harassment in the workplace.

The government effectively enforced the law, issuing penalties adequate to deter violations.

The law stipulates that discrimination based on sex should also cover discrimination related to pregnancy and maternity (childbirth and breastfeeding). The matter of female poverty among the elderly who do not receive equal government social remuneration, as well as a pay gap between men and women, continued to exist.

The equal opportunity ombudsman (EOO) monitored the implementation of discrimination laws. As of September 1, the EOO received 155 complaints. To address the gender equality problem, the EOO in cooperation with the Association of Municipalities and the Lithuanian Women’s Lobby Organization continued implementing a three-year project, entitled Equal OpportunitiesSuccess in Municipalities. The EEO visited all 60 municipalities and gave presentations on discrimination and gender equality problems.

NGOs reported that workers in the Romani, LGBTI, and HIV-positive communities faced social and employment discrimination (see section 6). Non-Lithuanian speakers and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment and workplace access.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

According to the National Department of Statistics, as of January 1, the minimum monthly wage increased by 7 percent and was above the poverty line.

The law limits annual maximum overtime hours to 180 hours, and establishes different categories of work contracts, such as permanent, fixed-term, temporary agency, apprenticeship, project work, job sharing, employee sharing, and seasonal work. The occupational safety and health standards are current and appropriate for the main industries. The law applies to both national and foreign workers.

The government enforced standards effectively across all sectors including the informal economy, which accounted for an estimated 25 percent of the economy. The State Labor Inspectorate, which is responsible for implementing labor laws, had a staff sufficient to enforce compliance. During the first half of the year, the inspectorate conducted approximately 3,600 inspections at companies and other institutions. Of these cases, 80 percent were related to underpayment of wages, late payment of wages, or worker safety. Workers dissatisfied with the results of an investigation can appeal to the court system. The State Labor Inspectorate continued to conduct seminars for managers of companies, local communities, and persons looking for work. The seminars dealt with preventing and combating illegal employment, the administration of labor contracts, and worker’s rights.

According to the State Labor Inspectorate, violations of wage, overtime, safety, and health standards occurred primarily in the construction, retail, and manufacturing sectors. The inspectorate received complaints about hazardous conditions from workers in the construction and manufacturing sectors. As of October 1, the State Labor Inspectorate recorded 31 fatal accidents at work and 95 severe work-related injuries, compared with 25 and 58, respectively, in 2018. Most accidents occurred in the transport, construction, processing, and agricultural sectors. To address the problem, the inspectorate continued conducting a series of training seminars for inspectors on technical labor inspection. Workers have the legal right to request compensation for health concerns arising from dangerous working conditions.

Luxembourg

Executive Summary

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has a constitutional monarchy and a democratic parliamentary form of government with a popularly elected unicameral Chamber of Deputies (parliament). The prime minister is the leader of the dominant party or party coalition in parliament. In October 2018 the country held parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair.

The Grand Ducal Police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of Internal Security. The Luxembourg Army is responsible for external security and reports to the Directorate of Defense of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government remained prepared and took steps to identify, investigate, and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech in any medium, including online, and provides for prison sentences of between eight days and two years and fines between 251 and 25,000 euros ($280 and $27,500) for violations. The public prosecutor’s office and the courts responded firmly to hate speech. Victims of hate speech on the internet as well as third-party observers can access a website to report hateful remarks and seek help and advice.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits “libel, slander and defamation” and provides for prison sentences of between eight days and two years and fines between 251 and 25,000 euros ($280 and $27,500) for violations. The government or individual public figures did not use these laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stated that applicants for asylum continued to experience prolonged waiting periods for adjudication of their claims in some individual cases. Representatives of the Immigration Directorate at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs noted that the average waiting time was 6.5 months.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally denied asylum to asylum seekers who arrived from a safe country of origin or transit, pursuant to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation. The government considered 13 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of fundamental human rights and does not expose nationals to torture and persecution. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains and updates as needed a list of safe countries. The Directorate of Immigration can examine asylum requests through an accelerated procedure for nationals of safe countries of origin as determined by the law. The non-EU countries considered “safe” at the end of 2017 were Albania, Benin (only for male applicants), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Croatia, Georgia, Ghana (only for male applicants), Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal, Serbia, and Ukraine.

Employment: Once granted asylum, there are no additional legal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to work other than those applicable to non-EU country nationals. According to the country’s National Refugee Council (a collection of NGOs assisting refugees), the absence of training opportunities during the application process affected a refugee’s chances of direct employment once granted asylum. In addition the council underscored that language barriers and an inability to understand the domestic job market reduce employment opportunities. According to the representatives of the Immigration Directorate, application procedures are the same for all non-EU nationals.

Asylum seekers can apply for a temporary work permit six months after applying for asylum. Job positions are published at the national employment agency but are open to non-EU nationals only if no qualified Luxembourg or other EU citizen registered with the national employment agency applies within three weeks. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must approve requests for temporary work permits. According to the National Refugee Council, application procedures are lengthy and not adapted to the needs of the labor market.

Durable Solutions: Through the EU, the country accepted refugees for resettlement, offered naturalization to refugees residing in the country, and assisted in voluntary return to their homelands.

Temporary Protection: The law provides for temporary protection, triggered for example by a decision of the Council of the EU when necessary to provide immediate and temporary protection to a massive influx of displaced persons from outside the EU who cannot return to their countries of origin. In addition the government provided subsidiary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, but who could not return to their country of origin due to a risk of serious harm, and provided it to approximately 74 persons during 2018.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively.

Financial Disclosure: By executive order, cabinet members must disclose any company assets, in the form of shares or otherwise, that they own. The order requires that prospective ministers submit the information before they assume office. The declarations are available to the public on the government’s internet website. There are no criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance, and no particular agency has a mandate to monitor disclosures.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government bodies that deal with human rights are the Consultative Commission for Human Rights and the Ombudsman Committee for the Rights of Children. In addition the Center for Equal Treatment monitors issues related to discrimination based on race or ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, religion or beliefs, disability, and age. The three organizations are government funded and composed of government nominees but act independently of the government and of one another. The government provided resources that enabled the continuous and unrestricted operation of the committees. As consultative bodies in the legislative process, the committees commented on the government’s bills and amendments to laws concerning human rights. They were also active in outreach efforts, informing the public about human rights and the rights of children and publishing annual reports on their activities.

The ombudsman mediates solely between citizens and the public sector and cannot receive complaints against the private sector, although many assistance institutions are private or run by not-for-profit organizations that often received government support. The Center for Equal Treatment can receive complaints against the private sector but cannot take cases to court on behalf of victims.

The Interministerial Committee on Human Rights aims to improve interministerial cooperation and coordination on human rights issues and to strengthen the country’s internal and external human rights policies. It is in charge of monitoring the implementation of the country’s human rights obligations in consultation with national human rights institutions and civil society. Every ministry has a seat on the committee, which is coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and chaired by the ambassador-at-large for human rights.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, including foreign workers and workers in the informal sector, to form and join independent unions of their choice, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Workers exercised these rights freely, and the government protected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The right to strike excludes government workers who provide essential services. Legal strikes may occur only after a lengthy conciliation procedure between the parties. For a strike to be legal, the government’s national conciliation office must certify that conciliation efforts have ended.

The government effectively enforced the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in practice.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Continuously improving its resources and inspections, the government pursued suspected cases and effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations included imprisonment under criminal law and were sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports that foreign men and women were engaged in forced labor, chiefly in the construction and restaurant sectors. Some children were engaged in forced begging (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and the employment of children younger than 16. Trainees younger than age 16 must attend school in addition to their job training. The law also prohibits the employment of workers younger than 18 in hazardous work environments, on Sundays and official holidays, or for nighttime work. The Ministries of Labor and Education effectively enforced the child labor laws.

Romani children from neighboring countries were sometimes brought into the country during the day and trafficked for the purpose of forced begging (see section 7.b.).

Government resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were adequate. By law persons who employ children younger than 16 may be subject to a fine and prison sentence. The penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, political opinion, sex, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or refugee or social status. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. The labor code prohibits discrimination based on religion, national extraction, or social origin.

Employers occasionally discriminated against persons with disabilities in employment (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). The law establishes quotas that require businesses employing more than 25 persons to hire workers with disabilities and pay them prevailing wages, but InfoHandicap, an NGO for persons with disabilities, noted that the government had not enforced these laws consistently.

The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including rights under labor law and in the judicial system. The law mandates equal pay for equal work. According to information provided by the Ministry of Equality between Women and Men, during the year employers paid women 5.5 percent less on average than men for comparable work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

As of January 1, the national minimum wage for a worker above the age of 18 was greater than the estimated poverty income level. Minimum wage provisions apply to all employees, including foreign, migrant, temporary, and contract workers.

The Labor Inspection Court (ITM), the Social Security Ministry, and the Superior Court of Justice are responsible for enforcing laws governing maximum hours of work and mandatory holidays. The government regularly conducted investigations and transferred cases to judicial authorities. The majority of alleged violations occurred in the construction sector. The agencies effectively enforced the law, when notified. The law’s penalties are sufficient to deter violations. In 2018 the ITM carried out 3,667 checks and levied a total of 2.208 million euros ($2.429 million) in fines.

The law mandates a safe working environment. Workers can remove themselves from situations endangering health and safety without jeopardizing their employment. Authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Penalties are sufficient to deter violations.

The Labor Inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor and the accident insurance agency of the Social Security Ministry are responsible for inspecting workplaces. The ITM reported it needs more personnel because the number of inspectors was not sufficient to identify violations as the country’s construction sector continues to expand. Workers have the right to ask the Labor Inspectorate to make a determination regarding workplace safety. Penalties for violations included fines and imprisonment and were generally sufficient to deter violations. Accidents occurred most frequently in the construction and catering sectors. In 2018 the ITM recorded 442 accidents (versus 384 accidents in 2017), including 10 fatalities.

Madagascar

Executive Summary

Madagascar is a semipresidential democratic republic with a popularly elected president, a bicameral legislature (Senate and National Assembly), prime minister, and cabinet. A presidential election was held on November 7, 2018, with a two-candidate run-off on December 19, 2018. The winner, Andry Rajoelina, took office on January 19. Independent observers judged the election to be generally free and fair, despite several candidates’ allegations of irregularities in the electoral process, including voter suppression. Legislative elections took place in late May with no major incidents. Observers judged these elections to be generally free and fair, with some irregularities. Nationwide municipal elections took place on November 27 and were generally considered to be free and fair.

The national police, under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security, are responsible for maintaining law and order in urban areas. The gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, is responsible for maintaining law and order in rural areas at the village level, protecting government facilities, and operating a maritime police contingent. The military is also active in rural areas, particularly to maintain order in areas affected by cattle rustling and banditry, and reports to the Ministry of National Defense. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings by government agents; torture by government agents; arbitrary detention by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; pervasive corruption; trafficking in persons; violence against women and children, which the government took little action to prevent or prosecute; and use of forced child labor.

The government prosecuted and punished some officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government; however, impunity remained a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but these “may be limited by the respect for the freedoms and rights of others, and by the imperative of safeguarding public order, national dignity, and state security.” The government sometimes restricted these rights. The communications code includes several provisions limiting freedom of speech and expression. The code also grants broad powers to the government to deny media licenses to political opponents, seize equipment, and impose fines.

The government arrested journalists and activists who had publicly denounced the misbehavior of public authorities. The government often used unrelated charges to prosecute them.

Freedom of Expression: In accordance with the constitution, the law restricts individuals’ ability to criticize the government publicly.

On May 13, the police commissioner of Antananarivo limited activities meant to commemorate the 1972 political movement in which some demonstrators died. He prohibited political speeches, with only representatives of associations and political parties allowed to enter the city hall and lay wreaths on the memorial to “avoid overflow.”

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but not without restriction. The communications code contains several articles limiting press and media freedoms. For example, Article 85 requires the owner of a media company to be the chief publisher. This article may permit candidates for political office, who are also media owners, to use their outlets to advocate against opponents.

The communications code gives the communications ministry far-reaching powers to suspend media licenses and seize property of media outlets if one of their journalists commits two infractions of the code. Finally, the code allows only state-owned radio and television stations the right to broadcast nationally, although this limitation was not always enforced.

The country had numerous independent newspapers. More than 300 radio and television stations operated in the country, although many shifted to live call-in shows in recent years to distance themselves from editorial responsibility for content. Many of them continued to have a national audience, despite the code’s limitations. The opposition had greater access to state-run media than in previous years.

Violence and Harassment: There were several reports of journalists being harassed for criticizing the government and public services. A columnist and human rights activist was reportedly the target of anonymous threats and insults on social media for writing an open letter denouncing the failure of the government to address the most urgent issues affecting the population.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, and authors generally published books of a political nature abroad.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although defamation is not a criminal offense in the communications code, a separate cybercrime law allows for the charge of criminal defamation for anything published online. It is unclear whether the cyber criminality law, which includes prison sentences for online defamation, has precedence over the communications code, as all newspapers are also published online. The fines allowed for offenses under the communications code are many times higher than the average journalist’s annual salary.

There were several reports of government authorities using libel, slander, or defamation laws to restrict public discussion. During the year journalists and citizens faced police investigation and legal prosecution for defamation and infringement of public order for posting criticism of government performance and public services on social media.

In June authorities tried Mahery Lanto Manandafy, son of a political party president, for defamation using information technology for criticizing the president’s development plan on his Facebook page. The court acquitted him on June 22.

On September 16, three journalists and the cultural director of Antananarivo municipality went on trial on charges of spreading false news and disparaging the army. The journalists, who worked for press associated with the opposition party, reported in August on an army helicopter hovering above the municipal stadium of Mahamasina without the municipality’s authorization. They reported Chinese investors interested in bidding on a stadium renovation project were on board the helicopter, while the Ministry of Defense claimed the helicopter was performing a security drill ahead of the Pope’s visit. On September 19, the court sentenced two of the journalists to a fine of 10 million ariary ($2,700) each for defamation of the army while acquitting the two other defendants.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

A 2013 decree prohibits citizens from leaving the country to work abroad in countries deemed “risky,” as a measure to reduce trafficking in persons. Because destination countries are not specifically identified in the decree, citizens may be prevented from leaving the country to work abroad at the discretion of border agents.

Foreign Travel: During the year the government issued an exit ban to several individuals known to be close to the opposition or to the former regime. Authorities often justified such measures as necessary for investigative needs. In January the Ministry of Interior issued an exit ban against a group of five journalists and former presidential candidates who had publicly opposed the winning presidential candidate, accusing them of offenses against national security. There was no known further legal action against any of them, except for Mbola Rajaonah, who remained in prison as of September under separate corruption charges.

In March and August, the government issued an exit ban against two former government officials who served under the former regime for their presumed involvement in corruption and public fund embezzlement.

f. Protection of Refugees

Official refugees or asylum seekers were present in Madagascar in small numbers.

Access to Asylum: The law does not include provisions for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Authorities generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting the small number of refugees in the country.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees and asylum seekers reported that police frequently detained some of them and sometimes did not honor UNHCR-issued documents certifying their status or tore them up, rendering them vulnerable to arrest or expulsion.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers did not have access to employment, because without a resident visa they were unable to get a work permit.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers received no support from the government, but the government did not interfere with support provided by UNHCR via a local NGO. Refugees and asylum seekers complained that the amount of support they received was insufficient because they could not work and received no government support. Hospitals and service providers charged refugees higher rates as foreigners, making basic medical care unaffordable to refugees.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Corruption was pervasive at all levels of government; however, the new administration focused greater attention on combating corruption, leading to multiple convictions.

Corruption: Corruption investigations by the Independent Anti-Corruption Bureau (BIANCO) led to several cases going to trial at the Anti-Corruption Court and resulted in the conviction of former high-level individuals for embezzlement and bribery. These legal actions targeted mainly former government officials and related to cases including public fund embezzlement, rosewood trafficking, and illegal sale of state-owned land.

For example on May 3, the Anti-Corruption Court (PAC) committed former senator Berthin Andriamihaingo to pretrial detention at Antanimora Prison on charges of favoritism, abuse of power, and public fund embezzlement totaling 618 million ariary ($167,000), in regard to a vaccination campaign by the Ministry of Public Health in 2018.

In August the PAC sentenced Claudine Razaimamonjy, an unofficial advisor to the previous president, to seven years’ imprisonment with hard labor and a fine of 100 million ariary ($27,000) for public fund embezzlement. She had been held in pretrial detention since 2017.

During the year the government subjected working-level civil servants in the police, gendarmerie, and judiciary to legal procedures or disciplinary measures for bribery or involvement in natural resources smuggling. In March the Ministry of Justice ordered a six-month suspension for five magistrates from the Court of Appeals of Toamasina for collectively granting a temporary release to someone accused of masterminding a kidnapping scheme. The minister of justice stated the magistrates had acted corruptly in their release decision.

In its annual activities report for 2018, BIANCO reported receiving 2,689 complaints. It investigated 851 of those cases and referred 179 for prosecution, leading to the arrest of 147 persons, 39 of whom were put in pretrial detention. During the same period, BIANCO summoned approximately 150 government officials for hearings, including members of government, high-ranking civil servants, local authorities, elected officials, and members of the security forces.

In July the president issued a new law on recovery of illicit assets. The law provides for government seizure of assets proven to result from public fund embezzlement, corruption, and money laundering. A newspaper reported in early September the law was not yet enforced due to a delay in adoption of the enactment decree.

Government officials conducted surprise visits to departments that were highly affected by corruption, such as customs and passport delivery. Such visits led to disciplinary measures against agents. In May the Ministry of Justice installed surveillance cameras inside court buildings in Antananarivo and began implementing a more rigorous control of entry points to stem bribery and corruption. In May, in collaboration with a German foundation, BIANCO officially launched an online grievance system to collect complaints related to corruption.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires regular income and asset declarations by individuals in the following positions: prime minister and other government ministers; members of the National Assembly and Senate; members of the High Constitutional Court; chiefs of regions and mayors; magistrates; civil servants holding positions of or equivalent to ministry director and above; inspectors of land titling, treasury, tax, and finances; military officers at the company level and above; inspectors from the state general inspection, the army’s general inspection, and the national gendarmerie’s general inspection; and judicial police officers.

As of September, according to the HCC website, the prime minister, 20 of the 22 members of his cabinet, and 112 of the 214 members of both houses of parliament had declared their assets as required by law.

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

Numerous domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not always responsive to their views, but authorities allowed international human rights groups to enter the country, work, and consult freely with other groups.

In response to Amnesty International’s call for an investigation into the killing of eight thieves by gendarmes on February 7 in Betroka, the state secretary for national gendarmes said the officers had acted legitimately and in self-defense, and he stood ready to protect them against criticism for their actions against wrongdoers.

Several domestic NGOs worked on human rights, but few had the capacity to work effectively and independently.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNIDH is composed of 11 commissioners, each elected by members of a different human rights organization and given a mandate to investigate cases of, and publish reports on, human rights violations. The government dedicated a budget for the commission to operate during the year. In addition, some international organizations and diplomatic missions provided some equipment.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that public and private sector workers may establish and join labor unions of their choice without prior authorization or excessive requirements. Civil servants and maritime workers have separate labor codes. Essential workers, including police, military, and firefighters, may not form unions. The maritime code does not specifically provide the right to form unions.

The law generally allows for union activities and provides most workers the right to strike, including workers in Export Processing Zones (EPZs). Authorities prohibit strikes, however, if there is a possibility of “disruption of public order” or if the strike would endanger the life, safety, or health of the population. Workers must first exhaust conciliation, mediation, and compulsory arbitration remedies, which may take eight months to two and one-half years. Magistrates and workers in “essential services” (not defined by law) have a recognized but more restricted right to strike. The law requires them to maintain a basic level of service and to give prior notice to their employer. The labor code also provides for a fine, imprisonment, or both for the “instigators and leaders of illegal strikes.”

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers. In the event of antiunion activity, unions or their members may file suit against the employer in civil court. The law does not accord civil servants and other public sector employees legal protection against antiunion discrimination and interference.

The law provides workers in the private sector, except seafarers, the right to bargain collectively. Public sector employees not engaged in the administration of the state, such as teachers hired under the auspices of donor organizations or parent associations in public schools, do not have the right to bargain collectively. Authorities did not always enforce applicable laws, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Larger international firms, such as in the telecommunications and banking sectors, more readily exercised and respected collective bargaining rights. These rights, however, were reportedly more difficult to exercise in EPZs and smaller local companies. Union representatives reported workers in such companies often were reluctant to make demands due to fear of reprisal.

The government was inconsistent in its respect for freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. The law requires that unions operate independently of the government and political parties. Union representatives indicated employers increasingly attempted to dissuade or influence unions, which often prevented workers from organizing or criticizing poor working conditions. Unions reported that many employers hindered their employees’ ability to form or join labor unions through intimidation and threats of dismissal for professional misconduct. Due to pervasive corruption, labor inspectors, bribed by some employers, usually approved dismissal of union leaders. As a result, workers were reluctant to join or lead unions.

Strikes occurred throughout the year, including by public school and university teachers, staff of some municipalities, and national company employees. There were no reports of official sanctions taken against any labor leaders.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor, with penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. Trafficking in children was a significant problem in the informal sector. Forced labor also persisted in dina judgments (see section 1.d.). In some communities, local dinas imposed forced labor to resolve conflicts or pay debt. These arrangements persisted because authorities did not effectively enforce the law. The legal definition of trafficking includes forced labor.

The government has a national service requirement law, under which all men are required to perform two years of military service or other work, which the ILO criticized as a potential means of mobilizing compulsory labor for economic development. The national service requirement, however, was not enforced, because those wishing to enlist exceeded the available spaces and funding.

Union representatives charged that working conditions in some garment factories were akin to forced labor. Setting production targets instead of paying overtime allowances became a general practice among EPZ companies. Workers were assigned higher targets each time they reached the previous goals, obliging them to work more hours to avoid sanctions like salary withholding or even dismissal for low performance. The media and union representatives reported additional abuses perpetrated in call centers run by offshore companies and reported that managers required employees to work overtime beyond legal limits.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law establishes a legal minimum working age of 16, with various restrictions. The law also regulates working conditions of children, defines the worst forms of child labor, identifies penalties for employers, and establishes the institutional framework for implementation. The law allows children to work a maximum of eight hours per day and 40 hours per week with no overtime and prohibits persons younger than 18 from working at night or where there is an imminent danger to health, safety, or morals. The law prohibits hazardous occupations and activities for children. The law requires working children to undergo a semiannual medical checkup performed by the company’s doctor or an authorized doctor at the expense of the employer.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Civil Services, Administrative Reform, Labor, and Social Laws is responsible for enforcing child labor laws.

Child labor was a widespread problem. Centers operated by NGOs in Antananarivo, Antsirabe, and Toamasina cared for children who were victims of human trafficking and forced labor. Children in rural areas worked mostly in agriculture, fishing, and livestock herding, while those in urban areas worked in domestic labor, transport of goods by rickshaw, petty trading, stone quarrying, artisanal mining for gemstones such as sapphires, in bars, and as beggars. Children also worked in the vanilla sector, salt production, mining, deep-sea diving, and the shrimp industry. Some children were victims of human trafficking, which included child sex trafficking and forced labor. The results of the 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated 47 percent of children were involved in child labor, including 36 percent of those between five and 11 years old. In addition, 32 percent of children between ages five and 17 worked in dangerous environments or occupations.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws prohibit workplace discrimination based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, origin, or disability. A special decree on HIV in the workplace bans discrimination based on serology status. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or language. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Discrimination remained a problem. Employers subjected persons with disabilities and LGBTI individuals to hiring discrimination. Stateless persons had difficulty accessing employment, and refugees and asylum seekers were barred from employment. Members of some evangelical churches reported limited access to employment if their Sabbath was not on Sunday.

In rural areas, where most of the population engaged in subsistence farming, traditional social structures tended to favor entrenched gender roles, leading to a pattern of discrimination against women. While there was little discrimination in access to employment and credit, women often did not receive equal pay for substantially similar work. The law does not permit women to work in positions that might endanger their health, safety, or morals. According to the labor and social protection codes, such positions included night shifts in the manufacturing sector and certain positions in the mining, metallurgy, and chemical industries, and this was generally respected in the formal sectors.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government raised the minimum wage to an amount slightly above the poverty level as defined by the World Bank. The standard workweek was 40 hours in nonagricultural and service industries and 42.5 hours in the agricultural sector.

The law limits workers to 20 hours of overtime per week and requires two and one-half days of paid annual leave per month. The law requires overtime pay, generally for more than 40 hours work in one week, but the exact circumstances requiring such pay are unclear. If the hours worked exceed the legal limits for working hours (2,200 hours per year in agriculture and 173.33 hours per month in other sectors), employers are legally required to pay overtime in accordance with a labor council decree that also denotes the required amount of overtime pay.

The government sets occupational safety and health standards for workers and workplaces, but the labor code does not define penalties for noncompliance, and only requires an inspection before a company may open. Workers, including foreign or migrant workers, have an explicit right to leave a dangerous workplace without jeopardizing their employment as long as they inform their supervisors. Employers did not always respect this right. Labor activists noted that standards, dating to the country’s independence in some cases, were severely outdated, particularly regarding health and occupational hazards and classification of professional positions. There was no enforcement in the large informal sector, which was estimated to comprise as much as 85 percent of the work force.

The Ministry of Civil Services’ Department of Administrative Reform, Labor, and Social Laws is responsible for enforcing minimum wage and working conditions but did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to monitor conditions outside of the capital. Apart from the insufficient number of inspections, authorities reportedly took no other action during the year to prevent violations and improve working conditions. There were no prosecutions, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Violations of wage, overtime, or occupational safety and health standards were common in the informal sector and in domestic work, where many worked long hours for less than minimum wage. Although most employees knew the legal minimum wage, high unemployment and widespread poverty led workers to accept lower wages.

Media and union representatives reported that employees of offshore companies operating in customer service and online commerce generally worked in harsh conditions. These employees were subjected to long working hours including night shifts, weekends, and holidays, generally with no appropriate allowances such as overtime pay. Representatives reported many of them were frequently sick or gave up their jobs within a few days as a result.

Malawi

Executive Summary

Malawi is a multiparty democracy. Constitutional power is shared between the president and the 193 National Assembly members. On May 21, elections for president, parliament, and local councils were conducted. International observers characterized the elections as competent and professional.

The Malawi Police Service, under the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, has responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The Malawi Defense Force (MDF) has responsibility for external security. The executive branch sometimes asked the MDF to carry out policing activity. The MDF commander reports directly to the president as commander in chief. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detention committed by official security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; significant acts of corruption; lack of investigation and enforcement in cases of violence against girls and women, including rape and domestic violence, partly due to weak enforcement; trafficking in persons; and criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct.

In some cases the government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, but impunity remained a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Expression: In the aftermath of the May tripartite elections, during several weeks in which thousands of citizens protested the results on the streets, the government, through the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA), took at least two separate steps to suppress and curtail freedom of speech.

On June 7, MACRA banned call-in radio shows, justifying this by claiming the shows were a platform for callers to incite the public against the government. On August 6, the government banned all radio stations in the country from live broadcasting of demonstrations when most radio stations suspended regular programming to cover the protests. MACRA stated the broadcasters should install a delay machine to allow sufficient time for it to disapprove prohibited content.

On September 2, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Malawi, a private rights advocacy group, applied to the High Court for an injunction against MACRA regarding its blanket ban of call-in programs on radio stations. MISA Malawi was joined in the application by the Times Media Group, Zodiak Broadcasting Station, and Capital Radio. On September 25, the High Court granted MISA Malawi’s injunction to temporarily lift the ban while the court investigated whether some broadcasters indeed violated the terms of their licenses as alleged by MACRA.

Violence and Harassment: On September 18, in Lilongwe, two journalists, Golden Matonga from the Nation newspaper and Gladys Nthenda from Kulinji.com, were assaulted by demonstrators protesting the May election outcome. The demonstrators who assaulted them believed they were taking photographs for police, despite the two showing their press identity cards.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship, especially at government-owned media outlets such as the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). Government agencies sometimes selectively targeted prominent media houses critical of the government for enforcement actions. On October 18, the Malawi Revenue Authority sealed National Publications Limited offices in Blantyre due to unpaid tax arrears. In contrast, the equally tax-delinquent progovernment MBC owed 4.5 billion Malawian kwacha (MWK) ($5.9 million) in back taxes but operated without any impediment.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: 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. Local citizens often accused refugees of committing various crimes, and this at times resulted in looting of refugee property by community members. During the year UNHCR received no cases of refugees facing forced return to their countries of origin. Sporadic detention of persons of concern who were found outside the camp took place, with others taken to court and fined up to 100,000 MWK ($130), an approach authorities adopted in 2018.

There were multiple reports of so-called survival sex by refugees to obtain income to supplement food rations and other necessities in the Dzaleka Camp. UNHCR also reported gender-based violence and other criminal activities at Dzaleka. Some refugees reported fear of alleged country of origin operatives in Malawi.

In 2018 the MHRC received one complaint of mistreatment at the Dzaleka Camp.

The government continued to ban registration of perceived lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons 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 LGBTI cases. In the interim UNHCR registered the persons of concern in the database and conducted the mandatory Refugee Status Determination (RSD).

The government cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. As of September 30, there were 42,686 asylum seekers and refugees at the Dzaleka Camp in the central region, with an average monthly arrival total of 500 individuals, mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and as of September the government provided protection to more than 42,000 individuals. Asylum seekers primarily came from the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Most of them remained designated as asylum seekers, with fewer than 14,000 recognized as refugees.

On April 12, the government published a gazette notice on group-based determination for asylum seekers from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, in North and South Kivu Provinces, and Katanga Region. As of September the RSD backlog in the country stood at 28,702 of the 42,686 total asylum seeker and refugee population. UNHCR advocated for more efficient refugee status determination procedures to end the backlog. With the implementation of the recognition of refugee status for Congolese citizens, it was expected the backlog would decline to 35 percent by year’s end.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees were subject to an encampment policy that restricted them to the Dzaleka and Luwani refugee camps, the only two officially designated refugee camps. Authorities periodically rounded up and returned to the Dzaleka Camp those who left it.

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 food assistance. A small number of refugees with professional degrees, especially those with medical training, received permits to pursue employment and other opportunities outside the camp.

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, although only 37 percent of school-age refugee children were enrolled in primary and secondary school. The Dzaleka camp housed almost 43,000 persons of concern, creating congestion and a burden on resources and facilities. These overtaxed facilities served both refugees and local communities. A rapid increase in the refugee population and the inability of most refugees to grow food or earn money due to the encampment policy limited the available food and services to that provided by donors through UNHCR and the World Food Program. Shelter and food ration allocations were below recommended levels due to lack of space and insufficient funding.

While local laws and the justice system applied to refugees, access to the justice system was limited by inefficiencies and inadequate resources. With only 13 police officers assigned to the Dzaleka Camp, law enforcement capacity was extremely limited.

For the first time, refugees and asylum seekers were included in the Malawi Development and Growth Strategy III and the 20192023 United Nations Development Assistance Framework. On several occasions the country expressed its commitment to implement the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, which aims to integrate refugees into national systems. UNHCR continued to engage the government to accelerate the roll out of the framework, and a joint implementation plan was expected in early 2020.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; however, no reliable statistics were available.

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.

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 was little criminal or professional accountability for those involved.

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

Corruption: The Anti-Corruption Bureau 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 October the bureau reported it completed 94 investigations in the 2018/19 financial year and referred 21 of those cases to prosecutors.

On January 10, one Cashgate trial involving 11 suspects was concluded with 10 of the suspects convicted and one acquitted. The 10 were convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to commit a felony involving 201 million MWK ($264,000) from the former Ministry of Disability and the Department of the Accountant General. On April 16, the High Court sentenced three of the 10 to five years’ imprisonment each, four of the 10 to four years’ imprisonment each, and the last three of the 10 to three years’ imprisonment each.

The state’s eight billion MWK ($10.5 million) corruption case against former president Bakili Muluzi, begun in 2006, remained stalled.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president, vice president, and members of the cabinet to disclose their assets in writing to the speaker of the National Assembly within three months of being elected or appointed. There is no requirement in law for the speaker to make the declarations public or available to other members of parliament. The law requires officials in 48 categories, ranging from the president, members of parliament, and senior officials down to specific categories of civil servants, including traffic police and immigration officers, to make financial disclosures. Noncompliance is grounds for dismissal, and individuals who knowingly provide inaccurate information may be fined, dismissed, and imprisoned.

In October 2018 the director of Public Officers’ Declarations wrote the president and the speaker of parliament recommending they take disciplinary measures against a cabinet member and members of parliament for failure to comply with asset declaration statutes. No disciplinary measures had been carried out by October.

The declarations are to be accessible to the public upon request, but the director has the authority to deny such requests. Denials may be appealed to the High Court. The Directorate of Assets Declaration made no effort to make the paper-based asset declarations more readily available by, for example, digitizing them.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding 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. Seven MHRC commissioners appointed by the president on March 25 were never sworn in after the ombudsman challenged the legality of the appointments of two of the commissioners. The ombudsman and the law commissioner are ex officio members of the MHRC. As of November the issue remained unresolved, and the MHRC remained without commissioners.

The Office of the Ombudsman is mandated to investigate government officials responsible for human rights and other abuses. The Ombudsman’s Office does not take legal action against government officials but may order administrative action to redress grievances and may recommend prosecution to the director of public prosecution. The office had 21 investigators who were assisted by 11 government interns. During the year more than 4,000 members of the public were reached through ombudsman mobile clinics. During these exercises the office carried out sensitization campaigns with Village Development Committees and Area Development Committees, road shows, and distribution of flyers, T-shirts, and caps. It maintained a website, Facebook page, and an active Twitter account and provided regular updates on its activities.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers, except for military personnel and police, to form and join trade unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. Unions must register with the Registrar of Trade Unions and Employers’ Organizations in the Ministry of Labor, Skills, and Innovation; 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 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 has failed. 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. Members of a registered union in essential services have 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 insufficient to deter violations. Provisions exist for punishment of up to two years in prison, 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 did not monitor cases or adequately enforce the laws.

Informal sector workers 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 issues affecting informal workers due in part to a Ministry of Labor decision that MUFIS did not have sufficient standing to bargain collectively with employers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but penalties for conviction were insufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws.

Children were sometimes subjected to domestic servitude and other forms of forced labor, including cattle herding, bonded labor on tobacco farms and other plantations, and menial work in small businesses.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law 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, vocational technical schools, or other training institutions. The law prohibits child trafficking, including labor exploitation and the forced labor of children for the income of a parent or guardian. The Employment Act provides a list of hazardous work for children and specifies a fine or imprisonment for conviction of violations. Penalties and enforcement were insufficient to deter offenders.

Police and Ministry of Labor officials were responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies. Labor inspectors do not have law enforcement authority and must enlist police to pursue violators.

The Ministry of Labor, Skills, and Innovation increased the number of labor inspectors by 20 following promotions from lower grades to minimum grade for an officer to be eligible to conduct labor inspections. The ministry trained all 85 labor inspectors on child trafficking, labor legislation, and labor exploitation. The training on child trafficking was a follow-up to the designation of labor officers as enforcement officers of the trafficking in Persons Act and was carried out with assistance by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The ministry also carried out inspections focusing on the agricultural sector and domestic workers. The ministry worked with police and the social welfare department in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence persons convicted in cases of labor violations. The government acknowledged programs and activities continued largely based on the legal and regulatory framework that existed in 2018 except for the incorporation of labor officers as enforcement officers of the trafficking in persons act. The government, however, in collaboration with social partners and other stakeholders, developed several strategic documents to scale up interventions on ending child labor by 2025, and modern slavery and forced labor by 2020. Government reviewed the National Action Plan on Child, reviewed the Malawi Decent Work Country Program, and proposed abolition of tenancy labor in the employment amendment act. On November 7, the government ratified four ILO instruments, namely ILO C.029 protocol of 2014 to the forced labor convention 1930, ILO C187 promotional framework for occupational safety and health convention 2006, ILO C155 occupational safety and health convention 1981 and ILO C184 safety and health in agriculture convention 2001. These conventions are expected to be in force by November 7, 2020. Most public education activities and programs on child labor were carried out by tobacco companies–tobacco is the country’s largest export–and NGOs.

Child labor remained a serious and widespread problem. The 2015 National Child Labor Survey found 38 percent of children ages five to 17 were involved in child labor. Child labor was most prevalent on farms and in domestic service. These 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. On February 22, the Tobacco Industry Act came into force. The act requires tobacco growers to report on efforts to eliminate child labor in tobacco farming.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The 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.

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 nontraditional employment opportunities. Few women participated in the limited formal labor market, and those that did represented only a very small portion of managerial and administrative staff. Households headed by women were overrepresented in the lowest quarter of income distribution.

LGBTI 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

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. In 2018 the World Bank estimated 69 percent of citizens lived below the poverty line. There is no requirement that persons employed in the informal sector receive a minimum wage.

The Ministry of Labor did not effectively enforce the minimum wage. Because the law is limited to the formal sector, it did not apply to the more than 88 percent of the population that worked in the informal sector. Wage earners often supplemented their incomes through farming activities. No government programs provided social protections for workers in the informal economy.

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, lack these protections and are 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. Workweek and annual leave standards were not effectively enforced, and employers frequently violated statutory time restrictions. The Ministry of Labor’s enforcement of health and safety standards was also poor. The law specifies fines and imprisonment for conviction of violations, but these penalties were not sufficient to deter offenders, and no reports of jail terms were ever reported.

The law includes extensive occupational health and safety 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. Workers, particularly in industrial jobs, often worked without basic safety clothing and equipment. In tobacco fields workers harvesting leaves generally did not wear protective clothing; workers 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.

Malaysia

Executive Summary

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy. It has a parliamentary system of government selected through regular, multiparty elections and is headed by a prime minister. The king is the head of state, serves a largely ceremonial role, and has a five-year term. Sultan Muhammad V resigned as king on January 6 after serving two years; Sultan Abdullah succeeded him that month. The kingship rotates among the sultans of the nine states with hereditary rulers. In 2018 parliamentary elections, the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition defeated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, resulting in the first transfer of power between coalitions since independence in 1957. Before and during the campaign, then opposition politicians and civil society organizations alleged electoral irregularities and systemic disadvantages for opposition groups due to lack of media access and malapportioned districts favoring the then ruling coalition.

The Royal Malaysian Police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. State-level Islamic religious enforcement officers have authority to enforce some criminal aspects of sharia. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; reports of torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; reports of problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, censorship, site blocking, and abuse of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on and intolerance of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; acts of corruption; trafficking in persons; violence against transgender persons; criminalization of consensual adult same-sex sexual activities; and child labor.

The government arrested and prosecuted some officials engaged in corruption, malfeasance, and human rights abuses, although civil-society groups alleged continued impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution allows restrictions on the freedom of expression “in the interest of the security of the Federation…[or] public order.” The government regularly restricted freedom of expression for members of the public, media, and civil society, citing reasons such as upholding Islam and the special status of ethnic Malays, protecting national security, maintaining public order, and preserving friendly relations with other countries.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits sedition and public comment on issues defined as sensitive, including racial and religious matters or criticism of the king or ruling sultans.

In July a sessions court upheld the sedition conviction of Wan Ji, an Islamic preacher and former political aide, for insulting the sultan of Selangor State in 2012, and sentenced him to three months in jail in addition to the nine-month sentence a lower court imposed. Upon his release from custody pending appeal, Wan Ji said a police warden punched him three times while he was detained; he speculated that the attack was politically motivated but said he could not be sure. Following the session court’s decision, Amnesty International Malaysia stated, “The restrictions on the right to freedom of expression imposed in the Sedition Act are phrased in an excessively broad and vague manner, potentially resulting in both an overreach of the law and potential for abusive application of the law. The law should have been abolished by now, as per Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto.”

In August police banned Islamic preacher Zakir Naik from speaking in public and posting on social media after he made comments insulting ethnic Chinese and Indian minority groups. Zakir Naik was banned from preaching in several other countries under antihate laws. The Inspector General of Police said the ban “is only temporary,” adding that “if the situation doesn’t change, the order will remain.” Police said they “ordered” law enforcement officers to “advise” organizers of any events involving Naik to cancel his participation. Police justified their action citing a law authorizing them to maintain “law and order” and preserve “peace and security.” Some lawyers argued police did not have the authority to ban someone from speaking in public under such a provision. Referring to the section of law cited by police, one lawyer told media, “That section is just to identify the role of the police force. It does not give explicit power to do anything specific.”

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Political parties and individuals linked to the former Barisan Nasional ruling coalition owned or controlled a majority of shares in almost all English and Malay language print and broadcast media, many of which were overtly pro-opposition. Online media outlets were more independent but were often the target of legal action and harassment.

Despite many restrictions and official pressure, opposition parties, social action groups, unions, internet news sites, and other private groups actively covered opposition activity and frequently printed views critical of government policies. Online media and blogs provided views and reported stories not featured in the mainstream press.

The government maintained and at times exerted control over news content, both in print and broadcast media. The government banned, restricted, or limited circulation of publications believed a threat to public order, morality, or national security. The government has the power to suspend publication for these reasons and retained effective control over the licensing process.

In October parliament repealed the law against “fake news,” which criminalized the “malicious” production or dissemination of “any news, information, data or reports, which is or are wholly or partly false.” Parliamentarians voted to repeal the law in August 2018, but the opposition-controlled Senate overturned the decision, postponing the law’s repeal.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subject to harassment and intimidation. In September police summoned Dennis Ignatius, a columnist and former Malaysian diplomat, as they investigated his August 16 column in Free Malaysia Today criticizing Zakir Naik, a controversial Islamic preacher. Referring to India’s attempt to extradite Naik, an Indian national, and Naik’s police report against him for defamation, Ignatius told reporters, “I think it’s so ironic that in this era of Malaysia Baru (New), I am now being summoned to the police to give a statement because of a report filed by a fugitive.” In August police detained a foreign journalist who had been taking photographs of a blockade set up by indigenous-rights activists in Perak state. The journalist was released after the intervention of the state’s chief minister.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government maintained the ability to censor media but did not use this power as frequently as did its predecessor. The law requires a permit to own a printing press, and printers often were reluctant to print publications critical of the government due to fear of reprisal. Such policies, together with antidefamation laws, inhibited independent or investigative journalism and resulted in self-censorship in the print and broadcast media.

According to the NGO Reporters Without Borders, “The general environment for journalists is much more relaxed, self-censorship has declined dramatically, and the print media are now offering a fuller and more balanced range of viewpoints, including support for the new ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and support for the old ruling coalition, now in the opposition.” Reporters Without Borders said the lack of progress amending or annulling controversial legislation that limited freedom of expression continued to “pose a constant threat to media personnel, who still cannot express themselves with complete freedom, despite all the progress.”

The government occasionally censored foreign magazines, newspapers, and news programming, most often due to sexual content.

Government restrictions on radio and television stations mirrored those on print media, and the electronic media predominantly supported the government. Television stations censored programming to follow government guidelines.

The government generally restricted publications it judged might incite racial or religious disharmony. The Ministry of Home Affairs maintained a list of 1,715 banned publications as of November. In April the high court upheld a previous ban on three books by the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) because the books “are likely to be prejudicial to public order and interest and likely to alarm public opinion.” IRF’s director, Farouk Musa, said, “It seems to me the minister of home affairs has the absolute discretion in banning books that do not conform” to the version of Islam preferred by Islamic authorities. The same month, the high court lifted the previous government’s ban on the book, Breaking Silence: Voices of ModerationIslam in a Constitutional Democracy, by the NGO G25.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law includes sections on civil and criminal defamation. Criminal defamation is punishable by a maximum two years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. True statements can be considered defamatory if they contravene the “public good.” The government and its supporters used these laws, along with provisions against sedition, to punish and suppress publication of material critical of government officials and policies.

National Security: Authorities under the former government occasionally cited national security laws to restrict media distribution of material critical of government policies and public officials. The current government maintained the ability to impose these restrictions.

Nongovernmental Impact: NGOs sympathetic to the former government sought to limit freedom of expression through criminal complaints of allegedly seditious speech. Such NGOs also sometimes attempted to intimidate opposition groups through demonstrations.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association but allows restrictions deemed necessary or expedient in the interest of security, public order, or (in the case of association) morality. Abiding by the government’s restrictions did not protect some protesters from harassment or arrest.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, but these rights were often restricted by federal and state government officials, particularly in eastern Sabah and Sarawak States.

In-country Movement: Sabah and Sarawak States controlled immigration into their areas and required citizens from peninsular Malaysia and foreigners to present passports or national identity cards for entry. State authorities continued to deny entry to certain national leaders to these states. Sarawak maintained its ban on Zakir Naik, a controversial Islamic preacher; Mandeep Karpal Singh, formerly of the fair-election NGO coalition Bersih; current Bersih chair Thomas Fann; former chairs Maria Chin and Ambiga Sreenevasan; Wong Chin Huat, an academic and Bersih resource chair; Jerald Joseph, a SUHAKAM commissioner; and activists Colin Nicholas and Jannie Lasimbang, among others. The Sabah state government lifted its ban on political activists.

Foreign Travel: Travel to Israel is subject to approval and limited to religious purposes.

In May the Immigration Department lifted travel restrictions on former attorney general Apandi Ali after Apandi challenged them, arguing that he had not been charged with any criminal offense and did not face any pending legal actions. In 2016, while attorney general with the previous government, Apandi cleared Prime Minister Najib Razak of any wrongdoing in a corruption scandal.

f. Protection of Refugees

As of August, 177,690 refugees and asylum seekers were registered with UNHCR in Malaysia, of whom more than 153,000 were from Burma.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government generally did not impede organizations providing protection and assistance to migrants, refugees, and stateless persons, most of whom lived intermingled with the general public. The government cooperated to a limited extent with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. As there is no legal framework for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers in the country, UNHCR conducted all activities related to protection, including registration and status determination. Most migrants, refugees, and stateless persons lived in private accommodations and survived on support from UNHCR, NGOs, or illegal casual labor. The government held thousands in immigration detention centers and other facilities. Access to those in detention centers was often significantly limited.

NGOs and international organizations involved with these populations made credible allegations of overcrowding, inadequate food and clothing, lack of regular access to clean water, poor medical care, improper sanitation, and lack of bedding in the immigration detention centers. In July the Philippine civil society organization Migrante International accused Malaysian immigration officials of keeping detained migrants in inhumane conditions, with inadequate food and water and subject to verbal abuse. The group claimed one detainee showing signs of psychosis was tied to the wall and forced to stand for long periods. NGOs provided most medical care and treatment in the detention centers.

Local and international NGOs estimated the population at most of the country’s 17 immigration detention centers was at or beyond capacity, with some detainees held for a year or longer. The number detained in these centers was not publicly available.

Human rights organizations expressed serious concerns about the lack of access to fair legal process and adequate representation during immigration court hearings. The Malaysian Bar Council strongly criticized the immigration courts in detention centers as facilitating a legal process where migrant workers were not provided with a clear understanding of the charges against them in their own language and were effectively denied the right to legal counsel. At court hearings, 15 to 20 migrants were often tried together, grouped by the offense with which they were charged. If found guilty, the cost of deportation generally fell to the detainee, which led to prolonged detention for those unable to pay.

Refoulement: The government at times forcibly returned refugees to countries where their lives or freedom were at risk. In May Malaysian authorities forcibly returned Praphan Pipithnamporn, a Thai national registered as an asylum seeker with UNHCR and considered a “person of concern,” to Thailand at the request of Thai authorities. According to media, the Thai government issued a warrant for her arrest in January, “accusing her of sedition and organized crime for her involvement with the Organization for Thai Federation, a peaceful antimonarchy group.” In a statement, Human Rights Watch said, “Malaysia’s flouting of international law has placed a Thai activist at grave risk of arbitrary detention and an unjust prosecution in Thailand.”

The wife of Abdallah Mahmoud Hisham, deported to Egypt in March, said her husband had gone missing after returning to Egypt. Human Rights Watch stated that Abdallah Mahmoud Hisham, along with Abdelrahman Abdelaziz Ahmed, Mohamed Fathy Eid, and Azmy al-Sayed Mohamed, who were deported at the same time for their alleged membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, were at “serious risk of torture and ill-treatment in Egypt.”

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Migrants, refugees, and stateless persons receive no government support. The government allows UNHCR and NGOs to work with these populations, but government cooperation with UNHCR was inconsistent.

As “illegal immigrants,” refugees and others are subject to deportation at any time. They also face a maximum five years’ imprisonment, a fine of RM10,000 ($2,400), or both, and mandatory caning with a maximum six strokes if convicted of immigration-law violations.

Freedom of Movement: The government generally tolerated the presence of undocumented refugees and asylum seekers but sometimes detained them for a variety of causes in police jails or immigration detention centers until they could be deported or UNHCR established their bona fides. Some refugees holding UNHCR identification cards nonetheless reported limited ability to move throughout the country because authorities sometimes did not recognize the UNHCR card.

Employment: Although the government does not authorize UNHCR-registered refugees to work, it typically did not interfere if they performed informal work. UNHCR reported the government brought charges, in a few cases, against employers for hiring them. Refugees employed in the informal sector were paid lower wages than comparable employees and were vulnerable to exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided access to health care at a discounted foreigner’s rate of 50 percent to UNHCR-registered refugees, but not to persons without UNHCR registration cards. NGOs operated static and mobile clinics, but their number and access were limited. Refugees did not have access to the public education system. Access to education was limited to schools run by NGOs and ethnic communities, and UNHCR estimated no more than 40 percent of refugee children attended school. A lack of resources and qualified teachers limited opportunities for the majority of school-age refugee children. UNHCR staff members conducted numerous visits to prisons and immigration detention centers to provide counseling, support, and legal representation for refugees and asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary, renewable residence permits to a group of Syrian refugees. The permit allows for legal residency and conveys work rights, but must be renewed annually.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In 2018 the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition unseated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in general elections, marking the first federal transition of power between coalitions since independence in 1957. Prior to the elections, then opposition political parties were disadvantaged due to government control over traditional media outlets and malapportionment of constituencies, among other issues.

While authorities generally recorded votes accurately, there were irregularities perpetrated by the former government that affected the fairness of elections. A special election court ruled on August 16 that there were serious breaches in the Kimanis parliamentary district in Sabah State during the May 2018 general election, including “manipulation” of ballot boxes and more than 300 “improperly cast” ballots. Former foreign minister Anifah Aman, who has held the Kimanis seat since 1999, won in 2018 by 156 votes; he appealed the court’s decision.

The constitution fixes the number of seats in parliament assigned to each state to the advantage of rural states and regardless of population shifts over time. Moreover, it does not require equal populations in electoral constituencies in any given state. Each constituency elects one member of parliament. The Electoral Commission has established constituencies with widely varying populations, further to the advantage of rural populations. For example, the rural district of Igan had 18,000 registered voters, while the urban district of Kapar had more than 144,000 registered voters. Local and municipal officials are appointed at the state or federal level.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; prior to the 2018 change of government, however, enforcement generally focused on relatively small-scale, low-level crime. After the change, the government charged several former government officials with corruption, including the former prime minister, although there remained a broadly held perception of widespread corruption and cronyism in government institutions. Media outlets reported numerous cases of alleged official corruption.

The Malaysian Anticorruption Commission is responsible for investigating corruption in both private and public bodies but does not have prosecutorial authority. An auditor general is responsible, per the constitution, for auditing the accounts of the federal and state governments, government agencies, and other public authorities.

Responding to questions in parliament on March 28, a deputy minister confirmed that the report on governance and the economy drafted by the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP), an advisory body established by Prime Minister Mahathir, would remain classified because it contained confidential information. Civil society criticized the decision, as did some members of parliament. According to the Center for Independent Journalism, “any document can be classified secret once it has been certified as such by a public officer” and “the courts have no jurisdiction to review whether or not the document should be considered secret.”

Corruption: Corruption was a key campaign issue in the 2018 general elections.

Suits filed in 2018 against former prime minister Najib Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, remained ongoing. Najib was charged with criminal breach of trust, abuse of power as a public officer, and money laundering; Rosmah was charged with 19 counts of money laundering and tax evasion.

According to the federal government, authorities arrested 418 civil servants for bribery in 2018; as of April, 140 had been charged. In January Prime Minister Mahathir said reports of alleged corruption were increasing because individuals no longer feared filing complaints with the Malaysian Anticorruption Commission, adding that most of the reports were linked to the previous government.

The federal government launched a national anticorruption plan in January. The plan is composed of 115 initiatives, including sweeping changes to how government officials are appointed and to the procurement process; requirements that legislators publicly declare their assets; and new laws regulating political financing and lobbying.

Financial Disclosure: Cabinet members must declare their assets to the prime minister. Senior civil servants are required to declare their assets to the chief secretary of the government. Junior civil servants must declare their assets to the head of their department. The assets, liabilities, and interests public officials must declare are clearly defined and do not include the assets and incomes of spouses and dependent children, except in the case of members of parliament. Public officials must declare their assets annually, but not upon entering or leaving office. Those who refuse or fail to declare their assets face disciplinary actions and are ineligible for promotion. The government did not make public these declarations.

In a unanimous voice vote, lawmakers passed a regulation on July 1 compelling all members of parliament, their immediate family members, and trustees to declare their assets by October 1. Those who did not abide by the requirement could be held in contempt of parliamentary regulations, while those found to have provided false information could be subject to criminal proceedings. Prime Minister Mahathir said the initiative would deter members of parliament from abusing their positions. Although opposition members did not vote against it, the deputy president of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party claimed the measure is unnecessary and against Islam, arguing, “If God gives us wealth, you do not reveal it to the public, because it will create attention and envy.” Former prime minister Najib Razak said the decision was “unfair” because many parliamentarians derive income from sources in addition to their government salary.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups operated subject to varying levels of government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases; however, the government was not always cooperative or responsive to their views. In October Michelle Bachelet became the first UN high commissioner for human rights to visit Malaysia, at the invitation of the Malaysian government.

In April police summoned Numan Afifi, an LGBTI activist and president of the NGO PELANGI Campaign, to question him about statements he made during Malaysia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations in Geneva in March. Numan said the police action was “designed to intimidate and harass human rights defenders.”

Outside the political and human rights fields, the government generally allowed NGOs to function independently, met with representatives from some NGOs, and responded to some NGO requests. The government, however, also took action against some NGOs. In an August 27 ruling, the high court dismissed the argument by the NGO Sisters in Islam that a 2014 Selangor state fatwa deeming the organization “deviant” represented an infringement on the group’s and members’ constitutional rights. The fatwa stated that Sisters in Islam deviated from the teachings of Islam because it subscribed to the principles of liberalism and pluralism, ruling that its books and materials could be seized, although the court did not define “liberalism” or “pluralism.” At a press conference outside the courtroom the NGO’s executive director said she was “very disappointed” in the decision, adding, “We are looking at really dark hours ahead for Malaysia.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: Created by an act of parliament, the official human rights commission SUHAKAM is headed by a chairperson and commissioners appointed by the king on the recommendation of the prime minister. Observers generally considered SUHAKAM a credible human rights monitor. It conducted training, undertook investigations, issued reports, and made recommendations to the government. SUHAKAM may not investigate court cases in progress and must cease its inquiries if a case becomes the subject of judicial action.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for limited freedom of association and for some categories of workers to form and join trade unions, subject to a variety of legal and practical restrictions. The law provides for the right to strike and to bargain collectively, but both were severely restricted. The law prohibits employers from interfering with trade union activities, including union formation. It prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for legal union activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law prohibits defense and police officials, retired or dismissed workers, or workers categorized as “confidential, managerial, and executive” from joining a union. The law also restricts the formation of unions to workers in “similar” trades, occupations, or industries. Foreign workers may join a trade union but cannot hold union office unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Human Resources. In view of the absence of a direct employment relationship with owners of a workplace, contract workers may not form a union and cannot negotiate or benefit from collective bargaining agreements.

The director general of trade unions and the minister of human resources may refuse to register or withdraw registration from some unions without judicial oversight. The time needed for a union to be recognized remained long and unpredictable. Union officials expressed frustration about delays in the settlement of union recognition disputes; such applications were often refused. If a union’s recognition request was approved, the employer sometimes challenged the decision in court, leading to multi-year delays in recognizing unions.

Most private-sector workers have the right to bargain collectively, although these negotiations cannot include issues of transfer, promotion, appointments, dismissal, or reinstatement. The law restricts collective bargaining in “pioneer” industries the government has identified as growth priorities, including various high-technology fields. Public-sector workers have some collective bargaining rights, although some could only express opinions on wages and working conditions instead of actively negotiating. Long delays continued in the treatment of union claims to obtain recognition for collective bargaining purposes. The government also had the right to compel arbitration in the case of failed collective bargaining negotiations.

Private-sector strikes are severely restricted. The law provides for penal sanctions for peaceful strikes. The law prohibits general strikes, and trade unions may not strike over disputes related to trade-union registration or illegal dismissals. Workers may not strike in a broad range of industries deemed “essential,” nor may they hold strikes when a dispute is under consideration by the Industrial Court. Union officials claimed legal requirements for strikes were almost impossible to meet; the last major strike occurred in 1962.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting employers from seeking retribution for legal union activities and requiring reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. Penalties included fines but were seldom assessed and generally not sufficient to deter violations. In July the Federal Court upheld a lower-court ruling that two banks had promoted clerical staff to executive positions without giving them any executive powers in order to exclude the employees from the National Union of Bank Employees (Nube). The union’s lawyer called the decision “groundbreaking.”

Freedom of association and collective bargaining were not fully respected. National-level unions are prohibited; the government allows three regional territorial federations of unions–peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak–to operate. They exercised many of the responsibilities of national-level labor unions, although they could not bargain on behalf of local unions. The Malaysian Trade Unions Congress is a registered “society” of trade unions in both the private and government sectors that does not have the right to bargain collectively or strike but may provide technical support to affiliated members. Some workers’ organizations were independent of government, political parties, and employers, but employer-dominated or “yellow” unions were reportedly a concern.

The inability of unions to provide more than limited protection for workers, particularly foreign workers who continued to face the threat of deportation, and the prevalence of antiunion discrimination created a disincentive to unionize. In some instances, companies reportedly harassed leaders of unions that sought recognition. Some trade unions reported the government detained or restricted the movement of some union members under laws allowing temporary detention without charging the detainee with a crime. Trade unions asserted some workers had wages withheld or were terminated because of union-related activity.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Five agencies, including the Department of Labor of the Ministry of Human Resources, have enforcement powers under the law, but their officers performed a variety of functions and did not always actively search for indications of forced labor. NGOs continued to criticize the lack of resources dedicated to enforcement of the law.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting forced labor in some cases, and large fines as penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. In July a court overruled an earlier labor department ruling that there was no remedy for undocumented domestic workers to pursue claims of unpaid wages and ordered an Indonesian domestic worker’s case against her employer to receive a full hearing. The Indonesian employee, filing her case under the pseudonym “Nona,” claimed her employer failed to pay her for five years. The executive director of the NGO Tenaganita stated, “with this precedent, there is hope for undocumented workers to seek redress in court.”

In 2018 the government established an Independent Committee on Foreign Workers to provide comprehensive reform plans to the government regarding foreign-worker management and labor policy. The committee presented its final report to cabinet in July with recommendations on streamlining policies related to foreign workers, but the report was not made public.

A variety of sources reported occurrences of forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor in plantation agriculture, the fishing industry, electronics factories, garment production, construction, restaurants, and domestic service among both adults and children (also see section 7.c.).

Employers, employment agents, and labor recruiters subjected some migrants to forced labor or debt bondage. Many companies hired foreign workers using recruiting or outsourcing companies, creating uncertainty about the legal relationship between the worker, the outsourcing company, and the owner of the workplace, making workers more vulnerable to exploitation and complicating dispute resolution. Labor union representatives noted that recruiting agents in the countries of origin and in Malaysia sometimes imposed high fees, making migrant workers vulnerable to debt bondage.

In August three nonprofit organizations filed a formal complaint with a foreign government urging it to ban imports of products from FGV Holdings Berhad, a Malaysian palm oil company, due to reports of forced labor at FGV plantations. Another petition filed earlier in the year accused FGV of using child labor. An FGV spokesperson told media in August, “We are committed to ensure respect for human rights. We are very serious in handling this.” The trial of former deputy prime minister Zahid Hamidi for his role in a fraudulent scheme involving hundreds of thousands of Nepali workers seeking jobs in the country continued as of November. Private companies linked to the then deputy prime minister’s brother and brother-in-law reportedly charged Nepali workers more than RM185 million ($46.3 million) for medical tests and to submit visa applications during the prior five years. These medical and visa processing services increased the cost tenfold without offering additional protections or benefits. Zahid denied involvement in or knowledge of the scam, but the Malaysian Anticorruption Commission charged him in October 2018 with 45 counts of corruption, bribery, and money laundering, three of which concern RM3 million ($750,000) he allegedly received in bribes from a company that ran a visa center for Nepali workers. Critics of the former government had long characterized the foreign-worker recruitment system as corrupt.

Nonpayment of wages remained a concern. Passport confiscation by employers increased migrant workers’ vulnerability to forced labor; the practice was illegal but widespread and generally went unpunished. Migrant workers without access to their passports were more vulnerable to harsh working conditions, lower wages than promised, unexpected wage deductions, and poor housing. NGOs reported that agents or employers in some cases drafted contracts that included a provision for employees to sign over the right to hold their passports to the employer or an agent. Some employers and migrant workers reported that workers sometimes requested employers keep their passports, since replacing lost or stolen passports could cost several months’ wages and leave foreign workers open to questions about their legal status.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 14 but permits some exceptions, such as light work in a family enterprise, work in public entertainment, work performed for the government in a school or in training institutions, or work as an approved apprentice. There is no minimum age for engaging in light work. For children between the ages of 14 and 18, there was no list clarifying specific occupations or sectors considered hazardous and therefore prohibited.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child labor. Those found contravening child labor laws faced penalties that were not sufficient to deter violations.

Child labor occurred in some family businesses. Child labor in urban areas was common in the informal economy, including family food businesses and night markets, and in small-scale industry. Child labor was also evident among migrant domestic workers.

NGOs reported that stateless children in Sabah were especially vulnerable to labor exploitation in palm oil production, forced begging, and work in service industries, including restaurants. Although the National Union of Plantation Workers reported it was rare to find children involved in plantation work in peninsular Malaysia, others reported instances of child labor on palm oil plantations across the country. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6, Children).

Also, see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to hiring; the director general of labor may investigate discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment for both foreign and local employees. The director general may issue necessary directives to an employer to resolve allegations of discrimination in employment, although there were no penalties under the law for such discrimination.

Employers are obligated to inquire into most sexual harassment complaints in a prescribed manner. Advocacy groups such as the Association of Women Lawyers stated these provisions were not comprehensive enough to provide adequate help to victims.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women; members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities; and persons with disabilities. A code of practice guides all government agencies, employers, employee associations, employees, and others with respect to placement of persons with disabilities in private-sector jobs. Disability-rights NGOs reported that employers were reluctant to hire persons with disabilities. A regulation reserves 1 percent of public-sector jobs for persons with disabilities.

Migrant workers must undergo mandatory testing for more than 16 illnesses as well as pregnancy. Employers may immediately deport pregnant or ill workers. Migrant workers also faced employment discrimination (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.). Employers were unilaterally able to terminate work permits, subjecting migrant workers to immediate deportation.

Women experienced some economic discrimination in access to employment. Employers routinely asked women their marital status during job interviews. The Association of Women Lawyers advocated for passage of a separate sexual harassment bill making it compulsory for employers to formulate sexual harassment policies. The law prohibits women from working underground, such as in sewers, and restricts employers from requiring female employees to work in industrial or agricultural work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. or to commence work for the day without having 11 consecutive hours of rest since the end of the last work period.

The government reserved large quotas for the bumiputra majority for positions in the federal civil service as well as for vocational permits and licenses in a wide range of industries, which greatly reduced economic opportunity for minority groups (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage applied to both citizen and foreign workers in most sectors, with the exception of domestic service (see below). The minimum wage rates were less than Ministry of Finance-published poverty income levels in Sabah and Sarawak.

Working hours may not exceed eight per day or 48 per week, unless workers receive overtime pay. The law specifies limits on overtime, which vary by sector, but it allows for exceptions. The law protects foreign domestic workers only with regard to wages and contract termination. The law excludes them from provisions that would otherwise stipulate one rest day per week, an eight-hour workday, and a 48-hour workweek. Instead, bilateral agreements or memoranda of understanding between the government and some source countries for migrant workers include provisions for rest periods, compensation, and other conditions of employment for migrant domestic workers, including prohibitions on passport retention.

In January 2018 employers became responsible for paying a levy for their foreign workers, a move designed to better protect low-wage foreign workers and to encourage the hiring of local employees. Previously, employers regularly passed the costs on to employees and withheld as much as 20 percent of a worker’s annual salary to cover the levy.

The Ministry of Human Resources began enforcing amendments to the Private Employment Agencies Act (PEAA) in 2018. The measure aims to make the cost of business too high for small-scale recruiting agencies that have been sources of abuses in the past. Employment agencies must now pay as much as RM250,000 ($62,500) to operate a business that recruits foreign workers, a significant increase from the RM1,000 ($250) required under the original PEAA. In addition, agencies must secure a guaranteed bank note for as much as RM250,000 ($62,500) that would be liquidated (and used for victim repatriation costs) if they are found to be in violation of the law. Under a new amendment, agencies found operating without a license face tough new penalties, including a RM200,000 ($50,000) fine and a maximum three years in prison, an increase from the previous RM5,000 ($1,250) fine.

Migrant workers often worked in sectors where violations were common, performed hazardous duties, and had no meaningful access to legal counsel in cases of contract violations and abuse. Some workers alleged their employers subjected them to inhuman living conditions and physically assaulted them. Employers of domestic workers sometimes failed to honor the terms of employment and subjected workers to abuse. Employers reportedly restricted workers’ movement and use of mobile telephones; provided substandard food; did not provide sufficient time off; sexually assaulted workers; and harassed and threatened workers, including with deportation.

Occupational health and safety laws cover all sectors of the economy except the maritime sector and the armed forces. The law requires workers to use safety equipment and cooperate with employers to create a safe, healthy workplace, but it does not specify a right to remove oneself from a hazardous or dangerous situation without penalty. Laws on worker’s compensation cover both local and migrant workers but provide no protection for migrant domestic workers.

The National Occupational Safety and Health Council–composed of workers, employers, and government representatives–creates and coordinates implementation of occupational health and safety measures. It requires employers to identify risks and take precautions, including providing safety training to workers, and compels companies with more than 40 workers to establish joint management-employee safety committees.

The Department of Labor of the Ministry of Human Resources enforces wage, working condition, and occupational safety and health standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor enforcement officers was insufficient to enforce compliance in businesses and households that employ domestic help. Department of Labor officials reported they sought to conduct labor inspections as frequently as possible. Nevertheless, many businesses could operate for years without an inspection.

Penalties for employers who fail to follow the law begin with a fine assessed per employee and can rise to imprisonment. Employers can be required to pay back wages plus the fine. If they refuse to comply, employers face additional fines per day that wages are not paid. Employers or employees who violate occupational health and safety laws are subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Employers did not respect laws on wages and working hours. The Malaysian Trade Union Congress reported that 12-, 14-, and 18-hour days were common in food and other service industries.

According Department of Occupational Safety and Health statistics, 127 workers died, 3,491 acquired a nonpermanent disability, and 131 acquired permanent disability in work-related incidents in the first half of the year.

Maldives

Executive Summary

The Republic of Maldives is a multiparty constitutional democracy. In September 2018 voters elected Ibrahim Mohamed Solih president. Observers considered the election mostly free and fair despite a flawed pre-election process, which was overseen by the former administration. Parliamentary elections held on April 6 were well administered and transparent according to local and international observers.

Maldives Police Service (MPS) is responsible for internal security and reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) is responsible for external security and disaster relief and reports to the Ministry of Defence. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: allegations of torture by government authorities; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; trafficking in persons; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and the lack of a legal framework recognizing independent trade unions.

The government took some steps to investigate officials who committed human rights abuses, including enforced disappearances, and established investigative commissions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, except on religious matters, and the government generally respected this right.

Freedom of Expression: Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Community Empowerment regulations prohibit publishing literary material without first seeking authorization from the National Bureau of Classification. The regulations define publication of literary material as “any writing, photograph, or drawing that has been made publicly accessible electronically or by way of printing, including publicizing or circulating on the internet.”

The constitution prohibits utterances contrary to tenets of Islam or the government’s religious policies. In September the MPS arrested a local citizen for “criticizing Islam” on his twitter profile, days after he reported receiving death threats online after he claimed he was an atheist and would encourage prosecular activities on his island. As of September the MPS was also investigating the death threats made against him.

On October 10, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment ordered the human rights-focused NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) to “suspend all activities” for the duration of an MPS investigation into “anti-Islamic” rhetoric used in the MDC’s 2015 “Preliminary Report on Radicalization in Maldives,” which explored institutional practices such as teaching of Islam, enforcement of laws, public awareness and education, social media and the work of religious organizations. The ministry cited Article 39 of the Associations Regulation in their suspension decision, which authorizes the Registrar of Associations to suspend associations for no more than a year in cases in which they “engage in any activity that under the laws and regulations of the Maldives is specified as an act that undermines national security or societal harmony.” In a press statement defending the suspension, the government argued the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights noted freedom of speech and expression could not be exercised “maliciously, in the form of hate-speech, or in a manner that contributes to public discord and enmity.” The investigation was initiated at the request of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs following an online campaign calling for the government to ban the MDC. Local media reported the MPS issued summons to the report authors and MDN Executive Director Shahindha Ismail to submit to police questioning. After the MPS found that the report mocked Islam, the government removed the MDC from the registry of associations on November 5, formally banning their activities.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Criticism of the government and debates on societal problems were commonplace, but media did not question Islamic values or the government’s policies on religion.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Parliament Privileges Act allows authorities to force journalists to reveal their sources, but authorities did not routinely take advantage of this provision. Media reported higher levels of self-censorship in reporting on religion due to concerns about harassment and threats. Several outlets continued to avoid publishing bylines to protect their journalists from possible punitive actions or harassment. NGO and journalist sources stated media practiced self-censorship on matters related to Islam due to fears of harassment from being labeled “anti-Islamic.”

There were no known restrictions on domestic publications, nor were there prohibitions on the import of foreign publications or materials, except for those containing pornography or material otherwise deemed objectionable to Islamic values, such as Bibles and idols for worship. The restriction applies only to items for public distribution; tourists destined for resort islands were not prohibited from carrying Bibles and other religious paraphernalia for their personal use. In August, the Maldives Customs service confiscated 109 books from a public book fair in Male organized by a private bookshop for content that “violated the principles of Islam,” but no charges were pressed.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Authorities reported, however, that migrant workers who overstayed their visas were held in the Hulhumale Detention Center for weeks or sometimes even years while awaiting the necessary travel documents from their respective governments prior to deportation. NGOs also reported concerns with a September High Court ruling declaring migrant workers who are arrested cannot be released until they identify a local national who will take responsibility for monitoring them until the conclusion of a possible trial.

f. Protection of Refugees

Refoulement: The law obligates the state not to expel, return, or extradite a person where there is substantial evidence to believe the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture. The HRCM’s sixth annual antitorture report investigating one case involving the government violating the principle of nonrefoulement in the case of one foreign detainee. HRCM reported the case remains under investigation and the foreigner remained in the country as of September.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Nonetheless, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity and the government and judicial system have been slow to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption. Suspected cases of corruption in the judicial system also stymied the ability to provide additional oversight. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The independent Anti-Corruption Commission has responsibility for investigating corruption charges involving senior government officials. According to NGOs, executive interference, a narrow definition of corruption in the law, and the lack of a provision to investigate and prosecute illicit enrichment limited the commission’s work.

In December 2018 President Solih established a Presidential Commission on Corruption and Asset Recovery to investigate corruption cases originating between February 2012 and November 2018. As of December the commission had not issued a report of its findings.

In August parliament removed former Supreme Court judge Abdulla Didi over eight ethics standards violations, including alleged abuse of authority and receipt of a one million dollar bribe to sentence former president Mohamed Nasheed to jail under terrorism charges. Ghaniya Abdul Gahoor, Didi’s spouse and former deputy ambassador to Malaysia, was also removed from her position during the investigation.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires parliamentarians to submit annually to the secretary general of parliament a statement of all property owned, monetary assets, business interests, and liabilities. The constitution also requires the president and each cabinet minister to submit a similar statement to the auditor general and for each judge to submit a similar statement to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). It was unclear whether all officials submitted these statements, which do not require public disclosure. The law does not stipulate criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance and does not require the vice president to disclose income and assets.

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

A number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views. The government deregistered and formally banned human-rights focused NGO MDN in November for using language the Ministry of Islamic Affairs argued criticized Islam in the MDC’s 2015 “Preliminary Report on Radicalization in Maldives.”

NGOs reported that although sporadically enforced, a 2015 associations regulation threatened their freedom of operation. The regulation requires human rights and other NGOs to seek government approval before applying for domestic assistance above MVR 25,000 ($1,630) or for any foreign assistance. The regulation also requires organizations to submit a membership registry to the government and grants the registrar of associations sweeping powers to dissolve organizations and enter organizations to obtain documents without a search warrant.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRCM is a constitutionally recognized independent institution with a mandate to promote and protect human rights under the constitution, Maldivian Islamic law, and regional and international human rights conventions ratified by the country. NIC is a constitutionally recognized independent institution with a mandate to investigate allegations of human rights violations by law enforcement agencies and employees, and it has the authority to forward any cases with criminal elements to police for further investigation. Both the ruling coalition and NGOs questioned the independence of the HRCM, which they reported was biased towards the former government.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for workers’ freedom of association; however, there is no specific law protecting the right to freedom of association, which is required to allow unions to register and operate without interference and discrimination. As a result, the court system refused to recognize trade unions officially. Worker organizations are usually treated as civil society organizations or associations without the right to engage in collective bargaining. Police and armed forces do not have the right to form unions. The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act effectively prohibits strikes by workers in the resort sector, the country’s largest money earner. Employees in the following services are also prohibited from striking: hospitals and health centers, electricity companies, water providers, telecommunications providers, prison guards, and air traffic controllers. The Home Ministry enforces the act by arresting workers who go on strike, but there were no such arrests during the year. In June resort workers from JA Manafaru went on a hunger strike to protest the resort management’s decision to dismiss several employees. The conflict was resolved, without any dismissals, after Tourism Minister Ali Waheed went to the resort and held discussions with the management and representatives of the resort workers’ association, Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives (TEAM). TEAM noted this incident indicated the government is capable and willing to hold tripartite discussions even if it is not mandated under current domestic legislation.

The government did not always enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Relations Authority (LRA) is mandated to oversee compliance of the Employment Act and its related regulations. The Employment Tribunal examines and adjudicates legal matters arising between employers and employees and other employment problems, but its processes are cumbersome and complicated. In addition, because the LRA does not regularly screen labor violations such as nonpayment of wages for elements of trafficking, the Employment Tribunal adjudicates some potential trafficking cases. Violators who refused to correct violations or pay fines were referred to the courts, whose decisions often were ignored. The cases are heard in the Dhivehi language, which few foreign workers understood. Foreign workers may not file a case with the tribunal unless they appoint a representative to communicate for them in the local language. If an employer fails to comply with a decision of the tribunal, the case must be submitted to the Civil Court, which often delays decisions. TEAM reported the judicial system continued to delay final decisions on numerous such cases, some older than six years of age. The Employment Tribunal only hears cases submitted within three months for cases involving unfair dismissals and within six months of the alleged offense for all other violations of the Employment Act. A September 2018 amendment to the Employment Tribunal regulation that states dismissed or withdrawn appeals can only be resubmitted once, after paying a MVR 500 ($32) fine, was still in place. Previously, there was no restriction on the number of times such cases could be resubmitted.

Under the law, some workers’ organizations were established as civil society organizations, specifically in the tourism, education, health, and shipping (seafarers’) sectors, although these functioned more as cooperative associations and had very limited roles in labor advocacy. The Teachers Association of the Maldives (TAM) and TEAM were among the more active workers’ organizations, along with the Maldivian Ports Workers. In September the workers’ associations, including TEAM, TAM, Maldivian Ports Worker, and newly established Maldives Health Professionals Unions jointly registered an umbrella organization called the Maldives Trade Union Congress, which aims to work in solidarity for the rights of workers in all major industries.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

All forms of forced or compulsory labor are prohibited, but the government did not effectively enforce applicable laws.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were generally inadequate, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The foreign worker population, especially migrant workers from Bangladesh, were particularly vulnerable to forced labor in the construction industry, as were Sri Lankan and Indian women engaged in domestic work. Maldives Immigration detained undocumented workers at Hulhumale Detention Center, an immigration-processing center near Male, until deportation or repatriation. There were continued reports of bureaucratic delays in receiving passports from foreign missions for undocumented immigrants and substandard facilities at the immigration-processing center. Maldives Immigration reported it screened the workers for victims of trafficking, but there were reports some of the detained and deported undocumented workers should have been identified as trafficking victims.

Under the penal code, forced labor carries a penalty of up to eight-years’ imprisonment. Under section 29 of the Maldives Prevention of Human Trafficking Act, confiscation, alteration, or withholding of identity and travel documents is a crime, and perpetrators are subject to up to five-years’ imprisonment. In 2015 parliament approved the National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons for 2015-19. The penalty for human trafficking is a maximum sentence of 10 years. As of December the MPS and Maldives Immigration reported they were investigating more than 35 labor recruiters or agencies allegedly engaged in fraudulent practices. In September, Maldives Immigration denied entry to two Bangladeshi nationals reportedly engaged in trafficking Bangladeshi migrant workers to the country. Employee associations reported concerns the alleged traffickers were deported with no further action or attempts to identify local traffickers who worked with them to traffic victims.

The LRA, under the Ministry of Economic Development, recommended to the ministry and Maldives Immigration the blacklisting of companies that violated the law, precluding the companies from bringing in new workers until violations were rectified the LRA reported, however, that the Ministry of Economic Development and Maldives Immigration did not always take their recommendations to blacklist and allowed companies to continue operations. In addition to blacklisting, the law allows a fine of not more than MVR 50,000 ($3,250) for forced labor and other violations of the Employment Act, but the LRA reported this amount was not sufficient to deter violations by large companies.

As of September, Maldives Immigration reported the number of documented foreign workers at approximately 200,000. They estimated there were an additional 63,000 undocumented foreign workers in the country, predominantly men from Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. Some of the foreign workers in the country were subject to forced labor in the construction and tourism sectors. Both the LRA and TEAM noted an increasing trend of resorts hiring third party subcontractors to work in departments such as maintenance, landscaping, and laundry services. These subcontractors reportedly hired undocumented migrant workers who received a lower salary, work longer hours, and often experience delays in payment of salaries and work without a legal employment contract. Most victims of forced labor suffered the following practices: debt bondage, holding of passports by employers, fraudulent offers of employment, not being paid the promised salary, or not being paid at all. Domestic workers, especially migrant female domestic workers, were sometimes trapped in forced servitude, in which employers used threats, intimidation, and in some cases sexual violence to prevent them from leaving.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and sets the minimum age for employment at 16, with an exception for children who voluntarily participate in family businesses. The law prohibits employment of children under age 18 in “any work that may have a detrimental effect on health, education, safety, or conduct,” but there was no list of such activities. The law prescribes a fine of no less than MVR 1,000 ($65) and no more than MVR 5,000 ($325) for infractions.

The Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services, the Ministry of Economic Development, and the Family and Child Protection Unit of the MPS are tasked with receiving, investigating, and taking action on complaints of child labor. According to the LRA, the MPS and the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Services none of the complaints received related to child labor or employment of minors. Additionally, the LRA found no cases of child labor during its regular labor inspections during the year. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate, because no additional resources were dedicated specifically to uncover additional child labor cases.

Government officials and civil society groups reported concerns that some Bangladesh migrant workers in the construction and service sectors were under 18, but possessed passports stating they were older. Civil society groups also reported that minors were used in the transport of drugs for criminal gangs.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, political opinion, religion, social origin, marital status, or family obligations. The government generally enforced those laws and regulations, with some exceptions that included unequal pay for women and discrimination in working and living conditions of foreign migrant workers, especially from Bangladesh.

According to NGOs, there were no policies in place to provide equal opportunities for women’s employment, despite provisions in the constitution and the law. The law and constitution prohibit discrimination against women for employment or for equal pay or equal income, but women tended to earn less than men for the same work and also because they tended to work in lower-paying industries. The absence of child-care facilities made it difficult for women with children to remain employed after they had children.

The Employment Act establishes an Employment Tribunal to examine and protect the rights of employers and employees in legal matters and other employment problems.

Discrimination against migrant workers was pervasive (see section 7.b.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The country does not have a national policy on minimum wage. Wages in the private sector were commonly set by contract between employers and employees and were based on rates for similar work in the public sector. According to 2016 Asian Development Bank statistics, 8.2 percent of citizens lived below the poverty level of MVR 29 ($1.90) per day.

The law establishes maximum hours of work, overtime, annual and sick leave, maternity leave, and guidelines for workplace safety. In March, President Solih announced civil servants would be allowed six months of maternity leave, instead of the previously allocated three months, and one month’s paternity leave instead of the previously allocated three days. The law provides for a 48-hour per week limit on work with a compulsory 24-hour break if employees work six days consecutively. Certain provisions in the law, such as overtime and public-holiday pay, do not apply to emergency workers, air and sea crews, executive staff of any company, or workers who are on call. Employee associations reported some government schools and hospitals placed a cap on overtime pay. The law mandates implementation of a safe workplace, procurement of secure tools and machinery, verification of equipment safety, use of protective equipment to mitigate health hazards, employee training in the use of protective gear, and appropriate medical care, but there were no national standards for safety measures, and as a result such measures were at the discretion of employers. The LRA also reported difficulties in assessing safety standards during inspections due to the lack of national standards. In January the government published safety regulations for the construction industry which requires employers to provide employees with safety equipment such as helmets, belts, and masks, but NGOs reported the government failed to monitor implementation of these standards. All employers are required to provide health insurance for foreign workers.

In 2013 parliament approved the country’s accession to eight core International Labor Organization conventions, but the government had not finalized the bills required for the conventions to be legislated into domestic law as of December.

The LRA and Employment Tribunal are charged with implementing employment law, and the LRA conducted workplace investigations and provided dispute resolution mechanisms to address complaints from workers. The most common findings related to lack of or problematic provisions included in employment contracts and job descriptions, overtime and other pay, and problems related to leave. The LRA preferred to issue notices to employers to correct problems, because cases were deemed closed once fines were paid. The LRA typically gave employers one to three months to correct problems but lacked sufficient labor inspectors and travel funding to enforce compliance.

Migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation, worked in unacceptable conditions, and were frequently forced to accept low wages to repay their debts with employment agencies, especially within the construction sector. Female migrant workers, especially in the domestic service sector were especially vulnerable to exploitation. Employers in the construction and tourism industry often housed foreign workers at their worksites. Some migrant workers were exposed to dangerous working conditions, especially in the construction industry, and worked in hazardous environments without proper ventilation. During the year there were multiple accidents at construction sites in Male, including the death of a migrant worker struck by a falling rock at a construction site in Hulhumale in February.

The Employment Act protects workers who remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Mali

Executive Summary

Mali, a constitutional democracy, reelected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to a second five-year term in August 2018. International observers deemed the elections to have met minimum acceptable standards despite some irregularities and instances of violence. Parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for October 2018, were further delayed from June 2019 until at least May 2020, ostensibly to allow time to enact constitutional and electoral reforms.

Security forces include the National Police, the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA), the National Gendarmerie, the National Guard, the General Directorate of State Security (DGSE), and the National Penitentiary Administration (DNAPES). FAMA, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard are administratively under the Ministry of Defense, although operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared with the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection. Police officers have responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order in urban areas, while gendarmes have that responsibility in rural areas. The army occasionally performed domestic security operations in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The National Guard has specialized border security units, which were largely ineffective. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The DGSE has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general. It usually did so only in terrorism and national security cases. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the civilian and military security forces.

As of November 6, the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), a signatory to the Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation, had withdrawn from the national dialogue aimed at implementing the 2015 accord. The CMA signed the accord with the Malian government in 2015, as did the Platform of Northern Militias (Platform)–including the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA), the Arab Movement for Azawad-Platform (MAA-PF), and the Coordination of Patriotic Resistance Forces and Movements (CMFPR). The CMA’s withdrawal, which occurred on September 25, came in response to comments by President Keita that parts of the already signed Algiers Accord could be revisited in the context of the national dialogue. In July the government assisted in brokering signed agreements to “cease hostilities” between a dozen armed groups of the Dogon and Fulani ethnic communities. Intercommunal violence between nomadic Fulani herders and Dogon farmers and hunters increased in the first half of the year, and internal displacement throughout central Mali has more than quadrupled since January 2018.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearance by government forces; torture by government forces; arbitrary detention by government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; significant acts of corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nongovernmental armed groups, some of which received support from the government; crimes involving violence against national and ethnic minorities; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons; violence against women and children, which was rarely investigated; slavery and trafficking in persons; and the disregarding of workers’ rights through the use of exploitative labor, including child labor.

The government made little or no effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity continued to be a problem. The 2012 coup leader Amadou Sanogo, first arrested in 2013, remained under arrest awaiting trial. Sanogo’s trial began in Sikasso in 2016, but the presiding judge accepted a defense motion to delay the trial until 2017. The case remained pending at the Court of Appeals, awaiting results of a DNA analysis. Impunity for serious crimes committed in the country’s North and Center continued with few exceptions. On September 30, the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided there was sufficient evidence for Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud to stand trial on charges including torture, rape, sexual slavery, and deliberately attacking religious buildings and historic monuments. Al Hassan had been transferred by the government to the ICC following a year of local detention in response to an ICC arrest warrant for war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the 2012 occupation of Timbuktu by al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar Dine (“Defenders of the Faith”).

Ethnic militias committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, targeted killings, the destruction of homes and food stores, and the burning of entire villages. Despite the 2015 Algiers Accord for Peace, elements within the Platform–including GATIA, MAA-PF, and the CMFPR–and elements in the CMA–including the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA)–committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Extremist groups, including affiliates of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and the al-Qa’ida coalition Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (translated as the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, JNIM), neither of whom are parties to the peace process, kidnapped and killed civilians and military force members, including peacekeepers.

The French military counterterrorism operation, Operation Barkhane, continued. The operation had a regional focus, undertaking counterterrorism activities in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. Together, those five countries comprise the G5 Sahel, an alliance through which the countries coordinate security, counterterrorism, and development policies. Approximately 2,500 soldiers conducted counterterrorism operations in collaboration with the FAMA in northern Mali. The government, in collaboration with French military forces, conducted counterterrorism operations in northern and central Mali leading to the detention of extremists and armed group elements accused of committing crimes. Accusations against Chadian peacekeepers from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)–including accusations of killings, abductions, and arbitrary arrests in the Kidal region in 2016–remained unresolved. Reports of abuses rarely led to investigations or prosecutions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally restricted those rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government restricted freedom of expression and information, particularly during the April demonstrations of the opposition, civil society, and religious leaders. There was generally good public access to private radio stations and newspapers. When tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets in April, the national media’s coverage was minimal. Various social media platforms, including WhatsApp and Facebook, were also disrupted or restricted during the protest. Internet interruptions also occurred during the same period.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. Former presidential candidate General Moussa Sinko Coulibaly was called in for several hours of questioning at the investigative panel of the gendarmerie following an October 2 tweet perceived to be incendiary and critical of the government.

Violence and Harassment: The media environment in Bamako and the rest of the South was relatively open, although there were sporadic reports of censorship and threats against journalists. Reporting on the situation in the North remained dangerous due to the presence of active armed groups. Journalists had difficulty obtaining military information deemed sensitive by the government and often were unable to gain access to northern locations. As reported in 2018, elections in the country were often accompanied by an uptick in violations of press freedom. The High Authority for Communication, the country’s media regulator, is the only authority with the power to issue legal rulings on media content.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law imposes fines and prison sentences for defamation. On June 4, Karim Keita, legislator, son of the president and chairman of the Defense Committee at the National Assembly, formally lodged a complaint against journalist Adama Drame and radio announcer Mamadou Diadie Sacko (aka Sax) for defamation. They had both accused Karim Keita of orchestrating the January 2016 disappearance of journalist Boubacar Toure. On July 17, the High Instance of the Commune III Tribunal rejected the complaint.

Financial considerations also skewed press coverage. Most media outlets had limited resources. Journalists’ salaries were extremely low, and many outlets could not pay the transportation costs for their journalists to attend media events. Journalists often asked event organizers to pay their transportation costs, and the terms “transportation money” and “per diem” became euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better financed organizations often receiving more favorable press coverage.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian assistance, including some protection services, to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. Security restrictions and failure to uphold the 2015 Algiers Peace Accord affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

In-country Movement: While in-country movement was not formally restricted, the army and some militias established checkpoints to maintain security, and the unstable security situation limited freedom of movement. The populations of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, and parts of Mopti feared leaving the cities for security reasons, including the threat from IEDs (see section 1.g.). Conditions at the beginning of the year encouraged some refugees and IDPs to return to their homes in the North and the Center, but subsequent incidents of insecurity slowed the rate of returns. The government facilitated travel to the North and the Center for IDPs who lacked the means to pay for their travel.

Police routinely stopped and checked citizens and foreigners to restrict the movement of contraband and verify vehicle registrations. The number of police checkpoints on roads entering Bamako and inside the city increased after a rise in extremist attacks across the country. Journalists often complained that the government, citing security concerns, did not allow them to move freely in the North during military operations.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. A national committee in charge of refugees operated with assistance from UNHCR. According to UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and the government, by September 30, there were 26,851 registered refugees and 1,000 asylum seekers residing in the country. The majority of refugees were of Afro-Mauritanian origin–expelled from Mauritania in 1989–and their children. At a meeting between UNHCR and ministers from the Economic Community of West African States, the government committed itself to assisting all Mauritanian refugees who wished to integrate locally with a declaration of intention to facilitate their naturalization. In 2015 the government issued birth certificates to nearly 8,000 refugee children born in the country as part of its commitment to facilitate local integration for Afro-Mauritanian refugees, allowing them to access public services, sign employment contracts, buy and sell land, set up companies, and borrow from banks.

As of September 30, UNHCR estimated there were 138,404 Malian refugees registered in neighboring Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. New refugee arrivals continued to increase throughout the year due to the conflict and violence in Mali. Despite security challenges, the government reported 74,205 Malian refugees had returned to Mali from neighboring countries as of September 30.

Temporary Protection: The government’s Office of International Migration is responsible for providing temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The National Commission for Refugees adjudicates refugee or asylum claims and provides temporary protection pending a decision on whether to grant asylum.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

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

In July the general auditor of Mali released its 2018 report on government and public institution waste, fraud, and abuse. The airport of Mali and the office of the mayor of the rural commune of Baguineda were investigated. These two agencies were reported to have lost 2.12 billion CFA (more than five million dollars) in taxpayers’ money in 2018.

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

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is an independent institution which receives administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice. The government continued to provide the CNDH with headquarters and staff. The adoption of the 2016 law pertaining to the CNDH and its subsequent implementation, allowed the CNDH to make strides toward fulfilling its mandate. The CNDH became more effective and autonomous. The Ministry of Justice decreased control over the CNDH’s budget and the commission’s large membership included civil society representatives. With improved funding and capacity, the CNDH issued statements on several cases of human rights violations including the Ogossagou massacre and conducted investigations into allegations of abuse. In August the CNDH undertook missions in Diema to facilitate the return of displaced victims of hereditary slavery. It also issued a statement to condemn the practice. The current minister of justice, appointed in May, previously served as the president of the CNDH.

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

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

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

Authorities did not consistently respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, although workers generally exercised these rights. The government did not always respect unions’ right to conduct their activities without interference.

Although unions and worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties, they were closely aligned with various political parties or coalitions. The Ministry of Mines intervened to facilitate negotiations between labor and management over the closure of the Morila gold mine. Officials have not renegotiated some collective agreements since 1956.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Forced labor occurred. The law prohibits the contractual use of persons without their consent, and penalties include fines and imprisonment with compulsory hard labor. Penalties can double if a person younger than 15 is involved. Penalties were seldom enforced and therefore were not sufficient to deter violations. According to NGOs, the judiciary was reluctant to act in forced labor cases. The government made little effort during the year to prevent or eliminate forced labor, although it did allocate initial funding to its antitrafficking action plan. A government commission has conducted an inventory of mercury in artisanal gold mines, mapped artisanal gold mines in the auriferous regions of Kayes, Koulikoro, and Sikasso, and created a professional identification card for artisanal gold miners. On September 17, a man in the town of Kremis was publicly assaulted for his opposition to hereditary slavery.

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

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum employment age at 15. No child may work more than eight hours per day under any circumstance. The government prohibits some of the worst forms of child labor. The government’s Hazardous Occupations List prohibits certain activities by children younger than 18. Girls between the ages of 6 and 18 may not work more than six hours per day. The law applies to all children, including those who work in the informal economy and those who are self-employed. Gaps exist in the country’s legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, and the law does not meet international standards as related to the prohibition of forced labor, the prohibition against using children in illicit activities, and the prohibition of military recruitment by nonstate armed groups.

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

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

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

Child labor in artisanal gold mining was a serious problem. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, at least 20,000 children worked under extremely harsh and hazardous conditions in artisanal gold mines. Many children also worked with mercury, a toxic substance used in separating gold from its ore.

An unknown number of primary school-age boys throughout the country, mostly younger than 10, attended part-time Quranic schools funded by students and their parents. Some Quranic teachers (marabouts) often forced their students, known as garibouts or talibes, to beg for money on the streets or work as laborers in the agricultural sector; any money earned was usually returned to their teachers. In some cases talibes are also used as domestic workers without receiving compensation.

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

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, disability, social status, HIV-positive status, and color. The government’s Labor Inspection Agency is responsible for investigating and preventing discrimination based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, or ethnicity, but the law was not effectively enforced. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and ethnicity (see section 6). The government was the major formal-sector employer and ostensibly paid women the same as men for similar work, but differences in job descriptions permitted pay inequality. There were cases where employers from southern ethnic groups discriminated against individuals from northern ethnic groups.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The official minimum wage allows one to live above the World Bank’s poverty line. Minimum wage requirements did not apply to workers in the informal and subsistence sectors, which included the majority of workers. The government supplemented the minimum wage with a required package of benefits, including social security and health care. In January 2018 the government increased the salaries of public sector workers after coming to a collective bargaining agreement with the largest national workers’ union, the National Workers’ Union of Mali. In August 2018 banks and insurance companies also increased their employees’ salaries.

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

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

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

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

Malta

Executive Summary

Malta is a constitutional republic and parliamentary democracy. The president is the head of state, appointed by a resolution of the unicameral parliament for a term of five years. The parliament appointed George Vella president for a five-year term beginning April 4. The president names as prime minister the leader of the party that wins a majority of seats in parliamentary elections. Early parliamentary elections held in 2017 were considered free and fair. On December 1, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced he will resign the Labor Party (PL) party leadership following the election of a new leader on January 12, 2020. He also said that he will resign as prime minister in the days that followed the leadership election to make way for a new premier. The PL intends to complete its five-year mandate, which began in 2017.

The national police maintain internal security. The armed forces are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities. Both report to the Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police, the intelligence services, and the armed forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.

Significant human rights issues included: an alleged unlawful killing by two members of the armed forces and allegations of high-level government corruption.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed violations, whether in security services or elsewhere in the government.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Expression: It remains a criminal offense to “commit an offence against decency or morals, by any act committed in a public place or in a place exposed to the public.” The law criminalizes speech that promotes hatred on grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief, or political or other opinion. Incitement to religious hatred is punishable by a prison term of six to 18 months.

Violence and Harassment: In 2017 police charged three persons with the killing of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a 2017 car bombing near her home. Authorities, however, have not brought the men to trial. Caruana Galizia had reported on major government corruption, allegedly involving the prime minister and other senior government officials.

In September Prime Minister Muscat created a commission for an independent public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s killing. On November 20, police arrested business magnate Yorgen Fenech as a “person of interest” in the killing. On November 30, they arraigned Fenech and charged him with criminal conspiracy, being an accomplice in Caruana Galizia’s murder, and of conspiring to commit murder, among other things. Fenech denied the charges (see also section 4, Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government). Both the president of the country and the cabinet denied Fenech’s requests for a presidential pardon in return for giving evidence against persons in high positions with connections to the murder. Both the public inquiry and the murder investigation were ongoing.

International organizations criticized officially sponsored online disinformation campaigns aimed at vilifying and intimidating critics.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Reports of abuse of migrants attracted by the country’s unskilled labor shortage, including health and safety issues, workers found living in substandard conditions, and low wages, spiked during the year. For example, authorities evicted migrants from substandard housing in multiple raids.

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

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

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to applicants who arrived from other EU countries, in accordance with the Dublin III Regulation.

Freedom of Movement: The government may legally detain an asylum applicant for up to nine months. By law the detention must serve to verify the applicant’s identity or nationality; identify elements on which the asylum application is based; decide on the applicant’s legal right to enter the country; facilitate a return procedure, including to another EU country; or protect national security or public order.

In some cases, immigration authorities may allow alternatives to detention, which are also limited to nine months’ duration, which may include regular reporting to an assigned place, residing at an assigned place, or depositing documents or a surety. Most asylum seekers were allowed one of these alternatives to detention and stayed in detention for no more than two months.

Immigration officers may also legally detain irregular migrants (including failed asylum seekers) who are subject to repatriation. Such detention may have a duration of six months and can be extended by a further 12 months. Most persons detained under these regulations stayed in detention for less than three months prior to their return.

Persons permitted to remain in the country were issued work permits. They were eligible for voluntary repatriation programs, but few chose to participate.

Durable Solutions: Between January and July, 34 persons were granted refugee status. Few refugees were able to naturalize. While persons with refugee status may apply for reunification with family outside the country, those with temporary “subsidiary” protection–the majority of asylum seekers–are not allowed to do so. As of August, eight migrants had sought assisted voluntary return. According to several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), integration efforts moved slowly, as migrants generally tended to stay close to residential centers, although some moved into the community. Many migrants found work, mostly in low-skill sectors.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, known as “subsidiary” protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. From January to July, the country granted subsidiary protection to 168 persons.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively against low-level corruption. Allegations of high-level government corruption continued during the year. Rule of law concerns over the government’s lack of criminal prosecutions and convictions for tax evasion and money laundering persisted. Authorities prioritized tax collection over criminal investigations on tax-related matters and similar financial investigations and excluded money-laundering considerations in such cases.

Corruption: There were developments during the year on allegations of high-level government corruption stemming from international investigations into Pilatus Bank, established in Malta in 2014. Before journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in an unsolved car bombing in 2017, she alleged the prime minister’s wife was the ultimate beneficial owner of a Panamanian offshore account, Egrant Inc., connected to transactions involving Pilatus and was working on freshly leaked emails related to a second government corruption scandal involving allegations that the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and the then energy minister, Konrad Mizzi, took part in a 1.8 million euro (two million dollar) kick-back scheme.

On November 20, police arrested business magnate Yorgen Fenech, and on November 30, they charged him in court with several violations in connection with the Caruana Galizia murder case (see section 2.a., Violence and Harassment). Fenech was also a director of Electrogas, which runs a new power plant that Caruana Galizia was investigating prior to her death. The arrest followed a presidential pardon granted to an alleged middleman, Melvin Theuma, who revealed information about Caruana Galizia’s murder. Civil society NGOs Repubblica and Occupy Justice stepped up their demonstrations in Valletta, including outside Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s office, at Caruana Galizia’s makeshift memorial opposite the Law Courts, and the parliament building to call for Muscat’s resignation or removal. On November 26, both the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and Minister of Tourism Konrad Mizzi resigned their posts; Mizzi stayed on as a member of parliament, which grants him parliamentary privileges but not immunity from investigations, interrogations, and prosecutions for criminal activity. Police also arrested Schembri but released him without charge. On December 1, Muscat announced that he will step down as leader of the Labor Party and prime minister on January 12, 2020, once the party completes a leadership contest scheduled for mid-December through January 11.

In November the courts ruled that Ministers Edward Scicluna, Chris Cardona, and former minister Konrad Mizzi will face a criminal inquiry over the Vitals Global Healthcare deal, following the submission of new evidence. The three ministers had successfully appealed a first decision in October following NGO Repubblika’s request in May for a magisterial inquiry to establish whether Scicluna, Mizzi, and Cardona could be criminally complicit in the transfer. The three ministers intended to appeal the decision again. The auditor general was reportedly investigating the affair.

Financial Disclosure: Government officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and declarations are available to the public. Courts can compel disclosure from officials not complying with the regulation.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman is empowered to investigate complaints about the activities of governmental bodies, including activities affecting human rights and problems involving prisoners and detainees. The president appoints the ombudsman with the consent of two-thirds of the House of Representatives. The ombudsman investigates complaints only when administrative or judicial remedies are not available. The ombudsman had adequate resources, operated independently, and was effective. In responding to complaints, the ombudsman submits recommendations to the public entity responsible for addressing the complainant’s grievance. The ombudsman has no power to impose or compel a remedy, but relevant public bodies accepted most of the ombudsman’s recommendations.

The House of Representatives’ Standing Committees on Foreign and European Affairs and on Social Affairs were responsible for human rights issues. The committees met regularly and normally held open hearings, except when they closed a hearing for national security reasons. For the most part, the committees had a reputation for independence, integrity, credibility, and effectiveness, with legislation enacted in the areas under their purview enjoying widespread public support.

The National Commission for the Promotion of Equality and the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities operated effectively and independently with adequate resources and oversaw human rights issues related to gender equality and disabilities. The prime minister, on the advice of or in consultation with the minister responsible for each entity, appoints members to these commissions, who serve for terms of two and three years, respectively. They may be reappointed at the end of their term.

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

The law criminalizes domestic abuse. In July the government amended the criminal code and the Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Act to strengthen enforcement in cases of gender-based violence and domestic violence and also to ensure representation of persons with disabilities on the Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Commission.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of most workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. A trade union can register an industrial dispute with an employer, at which point the trade union enters into negotiations with the employer. In the absence of an agreement, both parties are free to resort to industrial action. The trade union can take industrial actions, which may include slowdowns, wildcat strikes, work-to-rule, strike action for a defined period of time or any other industrial action which the union may deem necessary. The employer may use a “lockout” to protect its interests.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of unfairly dismissed workers, including for legal, nonviolent union activity. Workers have a right to seek redress for alleged antiunion dismissals, although procedures to seek such redress were unclear for certain categories of public sector workers.

Members of the military and law enforcement personnel may join a registered trade union, but the law prohibits strikes by this category of workers. The law does not explicitly prohibit acts of interference by worker or employer organizations in one another’s activities. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), compulsory arbitration continues to limit collective bargaining rights. Arbitration did not take place during the year.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties ranged from fines to two years’ imprisonment and were sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Both the government and employers generally respected these rights, and workers freely exercised them during the year. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union activities. Trade unions and employers’ organizations may both refer a dispute to the Industrial Tribunal, but it is customary that until the tribunal decides on an award, both parties generally refrain from taking further industrial action.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally took some steps to prevent and eliminate forced labor and acted quickly to investigate and address complaints. The processing of cases through the courts was slow. Three labor trafficking prosecutions initiated in 2014 remain pending. The law prescribes penalties of imprisonment for forced labor violations; such penalties were considered sufficient to deter violations. Nevertheless, there were reports of adult men and women in bonded labor and domestic servitude. Foreign domestic workers as well as irregular migrant workers were vulnerable to forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor as well as employment of children younger than 16 in all sectors. The director general for educational services in the Ministry of Education and Employment may grant an exemption for employment only after determining that it would not harm the health or normal development of the minor. While no legal work is specifically restricted for minors, children granted an exemption may work up to 40 hours per week. Children are not allowed, however, to carry out any night duties or perform work that could be regarded as harmful, damaging, or dangerous to a young person. Minors granted an exemption to work in certain areas such as manufacturing, heavy plant machinery, and construction are required to work under supervision.

The government generally enforced the law in most formal sectors of the economy. Jobs Plus, the former Employment Training Corporation, a government entity under the Ministry for Education and Employment, is responsible for labor and employment issues. While Jobs Plus generally enforced the law in most formal sectors of the economy, it allowed summer employment of underage youth in businesses operated by their families. No assessment was available on the effectiveness with which Jobs Plus monitored the unregistered employment of children as domestic employees and restaurant workers. Fines and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in any form of employment and occupation. The government effectively enforced the law. However, many foreign workers, including migrants, worked in dangerous, unsanitary jobs, with low social status and little prospect of improvement in their employment conditions. Penalties took the form of fines and were sufficient to deter violations against citizens, and remedies were available to them through the civil court system.

From January to September, the NCPE received seven claims of alleged workplace discrimination, including complaints at the recruitment stage. Following an NCPE investigation, the commissioner may either dismiss the complaint or find the complaint warranted. In the latter case, if the complaint constitutes an offense, the commissioner must submit a report to the police commissioner for action. In instances where the complaint did not constitute an actionable offense, the NCPE followed the law and undertook steps to investigate the cases and refer them to the police or mediate to ensure provision of redress as appropriate.

While women constituted a growing proportion of graduates of higher education and of the workforce, they remained underrepresented in management and generally earned less than their male counterparts. Eurostat reports showed the gender pay gap in 2017, the most recent period for which data was available, was 12 percent. In 2018 labor force participation by women was 63 percent, compared with 86 percent for men.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The country had a national weekly minimum wage that was above the poverty income level. The government effectively enforced the minimum wage. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Early in the year, the country’s second largest trade union, Voice of the Workers, expressed concern about reports that some foreign workers were paid below the minimum hourly rate.

The law mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours, but the norm was 43 or 45 hours in certain occupations such as in health care, airport services, and civil protective services. The law provides for paid annual holidays (i.e., government holidays) and paid annual leave. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, and employers cannot oblige employees to work more than 48 hours per week, inclusive of overtime.

The government sets occupational safety and health standards, and such standards were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. Workers have the right to remove themselves from situations dangerous to health or safety without jeopardizing their employment.

The Ministry of Education and Employment generally enforced minimum wage and hours of work requirements effectively in the formal economy. The Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA), a government entity composed of representatives of the government, unions, and employers, conducted regular inspections at worksites and cited a number of offenders. Nevertheless, enforcement of health and safety standards continued to be inconsistent. There were media reports that in at least the construction industry, the number of labor inspectors fell short of the ILO standard.

Workers in the informal economy did not have the same protection but were able to file complaints against companies that failed to provide a safe work environment. Many workers were unaware of their rights and social welfare programs because they avoided state-run agencies over concerns about their work or immigration status.

Authorities did not stringently enforce standards in the informal economy, which consisted of approximately 5 percent of the workforce and encompassed various sectors of working society, including day laborers and self-employed individuals. The OHSA imposed fines on companies that did not comply with minimum safety standards in the formal economy and, to a lesser extent, the informal economy.

Industrial accidents remained frequent, particularly in the manufacturing, building, and construction sectors, with reported incidents up by nearly 4 percent in the first half of 2018, according to the National Statistics Office. The OSHA reported four fatalities in 2018, its most recent published finding. Although the government reported steady progress in improving working conditions, authorities conceded that the labor shortage, coupled with language barriers and lack of required certifications, contributed to unsafe conditions in some workplaces.

Irregular migrant workers, who made up a small but growing percentage of the workforce, sometimes worked under conditions that did not meet the government’s minimum standards for employment. The Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers, in coordination with Jobs Plus, which is administered by the government, organized informational programs to help individuals pursue employment and obtain work permits. The latest economic growth figures require nearly 10,000 new workers annually, so many jobs continued to be filled by regular and irregular migrants.

Marshall Islands

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a constitutional republic led by President Hilda C. Heine. The Nitijela, the country’s parliament, elected Heine in early 2016 following free and fair multiparty parliamentary elections in late 2015.

The national police, local police forces, and the Sea Patrol (maritime police) maintain internal security. The national police and Sea Patrol report to the Ministry of Justice; local police report to their respective local government councils. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over national police, local police, and maritime police.

Significant human rights issues included corruption and trafficking in persons.

The government did not initiate or conclude investigations or prosecutions of officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: In August, after confirming outbreaks of dengue fever in Majuro and Ebeye, the government temporarily restricted movement from those locations to the outer islands to prevent the spread of the disease.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has no history of receiving refugees or asylum seekers.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government, including their representatives in the Nitijela, in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The constitution also recognizes the hereditary Council of Iroij’s right to decide on issues of custom and tradition, including land tenure. The council consists of 12 traditional clan chiefs.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and although the government generally implemented the law effectively, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The fiscal year 2018 (October 1, 2017-September 30, 2018) audit of the national government listed several deficiencies and material weaknesses in fighting corruption.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office did not pursue any cases, and there were no indictments or notable corruption cases during the year, but credible evidence suggested problems with government officials colluding in goods being smuggled into the country.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws.

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government interpreted this right as allowing persons to form and join independent labor unions. The law neither provides for nor prohibits collective bargaining or the right to strike. The law does not specifically prohibit antiunion discrimination, nor does it require the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The government enforced freedom of association laws. Penalties take the form of fines and were sufficient to deter violations.

With a small number of major employers, there were few opportunities for workers to unionize. Independent trade unions did not exist, and there were no NGOs promoting the rights of workers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced labor and prescribes penalties which are sufficient to deter violations.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were no reports of government enforcement, and there were no reported investigations of forced labor.

There were reports of families holding or attempting to hold extended relatives, including children, in domestic servitude, but there were no known formal allegations made or convictions for this practice. There were also reports some foreign fishermen were subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor on ships in Marshallese waters.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

There is no law or regulation setting a minimum age, hours of work, or occupational health restrictions for employment of children. The law prohibits exploitation of children younger than 18, including in the worst forms of child labor, child begging, and child domestic work. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. No information was available on government enforcement efforts regarding the worst forms of child labor.

Children typically did not work in the wage economy, but it was common for them to assist their families in fishing, agriculture, retailing, and other small-scale enterprises. This was particularly true in the subsistence economies of the more remote atolls where copra production can take children from school and may reduce educational outcomes.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution states that no person may be treated in a discriminatory manner under law or by public officials. Labor laws and regulations do not specifically prohibit employment discrimination. The constitution states that the attorney general, in all cases of violations of the constitution, whether by private or public officials, has the standing to complain of the violation in judicial proceedings. The criminal code does not stipulate any specific penalty in such cases. There were no formal complaints of employment discrimination during the year. No law mandates equal pay for equal work; government employees receive pay equity. Under the law citizens receive preference in hiring, and noncitizen workers are hired only to supplement the local work force when no citizens qualify for the job. The law requires that employers who hire foreign workers pay a fee used for training citizen workers. Many employers willingly paid the fee to hire technically skilled labor, which was not widely available in the country.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes a minimum wage which is not above the poverty line. The government has not effectively enforced the law. The minimum wage does not apply to casual workers or family employees.

Foreign employees and local trainees of private employers who invested in or established a business in the country are exempt from minimum-wage requirements provided the employer receives government authorization. Most foreign workers, who constituted approximately 30 percent of the workforce (excluding agroforestry), and most of the professional and technical classes in the country earned considerably more than the minimum wage. Their earnings were estimated to average at least 50 percent higher than those of local workers.

The law provides for a standard workday of eight hours but places no restrictions on the amount of overtime that could be worked.

No legislation provides protection for workers who file official complaints about conditions that endanger their health or safety. The law does not provide for workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Occupational health and safety standards are generally appropriate. The Board of Inquiry within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has the authority to make recommendations to the Nitijela on working conditions, such as the minimum wage, legal working hours, overtime payments, and occupational health and safety standards for workers. There were no policy recommendations or political initiatives by the Board of Inquiry during the year, however, and the board did not conduct any health and safety inspections of workplaces. The board is empowered to do so, but it does not have dedicated inspectors to carry out inspections to enforce sufficient compliance. The law provides no protections for informal sector workers, which generally included work on a family farm or in copra production.

Mauritania

Executive Summary

Mauritania is an Islamic Republic with a president as head of state and a constitution grounded in French civil law and sharia (Islamic law). The National Assembly exercises legislative functions but was weak relative to the executive. Voters elect deputies to the National Assembly, municipal mayors, and regional councilors. On June 22, voters elected former minister of defense Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani as president in the first round of the presidential elections with 52 percent of the vote. The election marked the first democratic transition of power between two elected presidents since the country’s independence in 1960. Both the United Nations and African Union observers considered the election to be relatively free and fair. In the September 2018 parliamentary elections, the Union for the Republic (UPR), the political party founded by former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, won a majority 95 of 157 seats in the National Assembly.

The Ministry of Interior and Decentralization controls the National Police, which is responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order in urban areas. The National Guard performs a limited police function in keeping with its peacetime role as the guarantor of physical security at government facilities, to include prisons. Regional authorities may call upon the National Guard to restore civil order during riots and other large-scale disturbances. The gendarmerie, a specialized paramilitary organization under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for maintaining civil order around metropolitan areas and providing law enforcement services in rural areas. The Ministry of Interior and Decentralization’s newest police force, the General Group for Road Safety, maintains security on roads and operates checkpoints throughout the country. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included allegations of torture by law enforcement officers; arbitrary and politically motivated arrests; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; sporadic restrictions on freedom of assembly; restrictions on freedom of association and religion; widespread corruption; crimes of violence against women and girls, which the government took little action to prevent or prosecute; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; continued existence of slavery and slavery-related practices with antislavery organizations subjected to restrictions; trafficking in persons; and child labor.

The government took modest steps to punish officials who committed violations and prosecuted some violators, but officials frequently acted with impunity. Civil society organizations objected to the scant number of indictments handed down by the authorities.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government arbitrarily and selectively applied regulations to suppress individuals or groups of individuals who opposed government policies. Individuals were generally free to criticize the government publicly but were occasionally subject to retaliation. The constitution and law prohibit racial or ethnic propaganda. The government used these provisions against political opponents, accusing them of “racism” or “promoting national disunity” for speaking out against the extreme underrepresentation in government of disadvantaged populations (namely the Haratines, or “Black Moors”), and sub-Saharan Africans.

Freedom of Expression: There were no major restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression. Nevertheless, local NGOs and bloggers, among other observers, reported the government’s actions in recent years discredited their image and reputation.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Several independent daily publications expressed a range of views with limited restrictions. Throughout the year incidents of government retaliation against media decreased compared with the previous year.

On July 3, authorities arrested Ahmedou Ould Wediaa, an antislavery activist and a journalist for the private television station al-Mourabitoune. The same day, another journalist, Camara Seydi Moussa, known for his frequent criticism of the government, was released after being detained for one week by police. These arrests were linked to the journalists’ published criticism of the presidential election process and disputation of the election results. Independent media remained the principal source of information for most citizens, followed by government media. Government media focused primarily on official news but provided some coverage of opposition activities and views–a practice that was noticeably more frequent after the new government took office in August.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some opposition leaders asserted they had no access to official media channels or outlets. The government made payment of back taxes, at times unpaid for years with official complicity, a matter of priority, threatening several independent media stations with insolvency. Since the August inauguration of the new president, private media channels have not reported being threatened.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: Persons lacking identity cards could not travel freely in some regions. As in previous years, the government set up mobile roadblocks where gendarmes, police, or customs officials checked the papers of travelers.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, vulnerable migrants, and other persons of concern. Resources provided by the government were inadequate to meet the assistance needs of these populations.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR carries out refugee status determinations under its mandate and then presents cases to the National Consultative Commission for Refugees for recognition. The country hosted nearly 57,000 Malian refugees in the M’bera refugee camp and continued to offer asylum to new refugee arrivals. The country also provided additional security in the camp to allow the Malian refugees to vote in the 2018 Malian presidential election.

In accordance with agreements with the Economic Community of West African States on freedom of movement, the government allows West Africans to remain in the country for up to three months, after which they must apply for residency or work permits. Authorities immediately deported migrants determined to be illegally seeking to reach Spain’s nearby Canary Islands.

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 based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but authorities did not enforce the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The law defines corruption as “all exploitation by a public agent of his position for personal purposes, whether this agent is elected, or in an administrative or judicial position.” Corrupt practices were widely believed to exist at all levels of government. The 2015 anticorruption law was mostly used as a weapon against opponents of the regime.

Corruption: Corruption and impunity were serious problems in public administration, and the government rarely held officials accountable or prosecuted them for abuses. There were reports government officials frequently used their power to obtain personal favors, such as unauthorized exemption from taxes, special grants of land, and preferential treatment during bidding on government projects. Corruption was most pervasive in government procurement but was also common in the distribution of official documents, fishing and mining licenses, land distribution, as well as in bank loans and tax payments. Although there was a slight increase in prosecutions for corruption during the year, authorities rarely jailed those found guilty. Instead, they were usually fired and required only to return the funds. One exception was Mohamedou Ould Mohamed Lemine, a former accountant of the National Guard who was sentenced in April 2018 to five years in prison for economic crimes.

Financial Disclosure: The government enforced the requirement that senior officials, including the president, file a declaration of their personal assets at the beginning and end of their government service. This information is not available to the public. During the year the opposition continued to denounce former president Aziz and other government members’ nondisclosure of their personal assets as required by law. On July 31, on the last official day of his presidency, Aziz made a declaration of assets to the Committee on Financial Transparency in Public Life, but this information was not made public. His former minister of finance did the same and later disclosed his information on his personal Facebook page.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding 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 officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Several domestic and international groups also reported evidence of a general change in attitude under the new government, citing statements by government human rights bodies calling attention to international laws and conventions protecting human rights as well as increased willingness to work with human rights groups.

There were restrictions on some human rights groups, particularly those investigating cases of slavery and slavery-related practices. On March 17, authorities prevented entry of a delegation from Amnesty International.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Commissariat for Human Rights and Humanitarian Action designs, promotes, and implements national human rights policies. The commissariat managed government and internationally funded human rights and humanitarian assistance programs. During a visit to the United States in October, the head of the commissariat met with several international human rights groups, including those, such as the Abolition Institute, who had previously been denied entry to Mauritania, and invited them to visit the country and assist with government efforts to improve human rights legislation and encourage prevention of abuses.

The CNDH, an independent ombudsman organization, includes government and civil society representatives. It actively monitored human rights conditions and advocated for government action to correct violations. The CNDH produced an annual report on thematic human rights topics, conducted regular investigations (to include prison and police detention center facility visits in the aftermath of the wave of postelection arrests conducted by government authorities), and made recommendations to the government. In November the CNDH launched an information “caravan” of public meetings in the country’s far eastern Hodh el Chargui region, where human rights groups believe that cases of hereditary slavery continued to persist, to sensitize marginalized, largely illiterate communities to their rights.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows all workers, except members of police, armed forces, and foreign and migrant workers, to form and join independent unions of their choice at local and national levels and provides for the right to conduct legal strikes and to bargain collectively. Other provisions and laws severely restrict or excessively regulate these rights. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Prior authorization or approval by authorities is required before a union may be recognized. The public prosecutor must authorize all trade unions before they enjoy legal status. The public prosecutor may provisionally suspend a trade union at the request of the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization if ministry officials believe the union has not complied with the law. The law also provides that authorities may initiate legal proceedings against union leaders who undermine public order or make false statements. This law, in effect, authorizes administrative authorities to dissolve, suspend, or deregister trade union organizations by unilateral decision.

Noncitizens do not have the right to become trade union officials unless they have worked in the country and in the profession represented by the trade union for at least five years. Labor unions must obtain government authorization in order to hold labor elections. Despite previous promises by the government to do so, it has not authorized union elections since 2014. The government has promised to restore union elections on multiple occasions since suspending them in 2014 but has not yet done so.

Bargaining collectively at the national level requires previous authorization or approval by the president, who decides how collective bargaining is organized. No such authorization is required for collective bargaining at the company level. The minister of labor, public service, and modernization of the administration may call for bargaining among employers, employees, labor unions, and the government. In addition the ministry is entitled to take part in the preparation of collective agreements. The law provides that the meeting must occur 15 days following a statement of nonagreement between parties.

The law provides for the right to strike, except for those working in services deemed essential. Aggrieved parties must follow complex procedures before conducting a strike action. If negotiations between workers and employers fail to produce an agreement, the case is referred to the Court of Arbitration. If the court fails to broker a mutually satisfactory agreement, workers may have to wait up to four additional months from the time of the decision before they can legally strike. The government may also dissolve a union for what it considers an illegal or politically motivated strike. The law prohibits workers from holding sit-ins or blocking nonstriking workers from entering work premises. Workers must provide advance notice of at least 10 working days to the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration for any strike.

The government did not enforce the law effectively and did not provide adequate resources for inspections. While authorities seldom punished violators, on several occasions the government ordered the reinstatement of workers who were wrongfully terminated or directed companies to improve employee benefits and services. While antiunion discrimination is illegal, national human rights groups and unions reported authorities did not actively investigate alleged antiunion practices in some private firms.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not fully respected, although unions exercised their right to organize workers during the year. Collective bargaining at the company level, however, was rare. Longshoremen of the Autonomous Port of Nouakchott observed a general strike in July 2018. On June 14, longshoremen occupied the central market of Nouakchott to claim the full implementation of the agreements reached during the strike the previous year. According to the Mauritanian Workers’ Free Confederation, the authorities dismissed thousands of longshoremen without giving them their rights, adding that the walkout came in response to the “arbitrary policies and decisions” taken against the carriers.

Registration and strike procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Labor ministry officials routinely issued notices calling on all parties to negotiate. Such notices legally restrict workers from striking for a period of four months. Workers and unions organized several strikes and, in an improvement over previous years, authorities only occasionally employed force to disperse them.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. It also criminalizes the practice of slavery, which includes forced labor and child labor, and imposes penalties, both on government officials who do not take action in response to reported cases and on those who benefit from contracting forced labor. The constitution and the Law on the Criminalization of Slavery and Punishing Slave Practices makes the offense “a crime against humanity.” The antislavery law grants civil society organizations the right to file complaints in court on behalf of victims as civil parties; however, many civil society organizations reported difficulty in filing complaints on behalf of victims. The law also provides free legal assistance for victims and refers to their right to compensation. Although the government continues to take some actions towards ending the practice of slavery, including increased engagement with civil society groups after the change of administration, efforts to enforce the antislavery law were considered inadequate.

Tadamoun, the government agency charged with combating the “vestiges” of slavery, received 750 million ouguiyas ($21 million) of public funding to underwrite infrastructure and educational programs to improve opportunities, primarily for the benefit of the Haratine community. Some national and international NGOs accused Tadamoun of corrupt practices, of not effectively targeting its funding to the Haratine community, and of doing little to facilitate the prosecution of slavery cases in the country.

On November 28, President Ghazouani announced the creation of a new institution to replace Tadamoun and intensify government efforts to combat slavery and address the social and economic conditions that have left many citizens vulnerable to forced labor. The General Delegation for National Solidarity and the Fight against Exclusion, or Taazour, has a larger budget, a broader mandate, and greater authorities than Tadamoun, with its head holding the rank of minister and reporting directly to the presidency. With a budget of 20 billion ouguiyas ($55 million) over the next five years, Taazour is mandated to implement projects designed to improve living conditions and provide skills to members of historically marginalized communities. The institution has the authority to coordinate projects of other government agencies in order to maximize their impact. Taazour retains Tadamoun’s prior authority to file criminal cases on behalf of victims of forced labor or exploitation.

Other than Tadamoun/Taazour, the only entities that can legally file criminal cases on behalf of former slaves are registered human rights associations that have been legally operating for five years. The government continued to prevent the registration of certain antislavery organizations and associations that work for the promotion and protection of the Haratine community; these include former slave groups that would have been able to submit complaints once their five-year probationary period had expired.

The Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), one of the most active organizations fighting slavery in the country, has been prevented from registering since its creation in 2008. The government’s previous refusal to register IRA and other human rights NGOs who could have helped to file complaints on behalf of slavery victims was a contributing factor to the underutilization of the three Specialized Antislavery Courts.

In October the Nema Antislavery Court convicted five individuals across three separate cases of practicing slavery in violation of the 2007 antislavery law. The perpetrators, who are believed to reside in northern Mali, were convicted in absentia, with warrants issued for their rendition and arrest. The victims were each granted five million ouguiyas ($140,000) in financial compensation as well as provided with civil registration documents, and the convicted perpetrators were sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison.

In March 2018 the Nouadhibou Antislavery Court adjudicated its first two slavery cases by convicting and sentencing three slaveholders. A woman was convicted of enslaving three sisters in Nouadhibou and was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. The woman was released two months later due to her age and health. In April 2018 the Nouakchott Antislavery Court sentenced two defendants in two separate cases to one year in prison and a fine of 25,275 ouguiyas ($702) for the crimes of libel and slavery. The third case, in which the defendant was accused of slavery, was postponed pending a decision of the Nouakchott appeals court. The Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the case and closed the file.

Slavery and slavery-like practices, which typically flowed from ancestral master-slave relationships and involved both adults and children, continued throughout the year. Although reliable data on the total number of slaves does not exist, local and international experts agreed hereditary slavery and slavery-like conditions continued to affect a substantial portion of the population in both rural and urban settings. Enslaved persons suffered from traditional chattel slavery, including forced labor and forced sexual exploitation. Human rights groups reported that masters coerced persons in slavery and slave-like relationships to deny to human rights activists that such exploitative relationships existed.

In 2015 the government asked the International Labor Organization (ILO) for a program to assess the scope of forced labor in the country. Among other activities, the Bridge Project supports research in the country on recruitment mechanisms and employment conditions to help identify different types of employment that may involve slavery or slavery-like practices. In January the Ministry of Labor accelerated work on the Bridge Project after several months of delay and was on schedule to complete the project in September 2020.

Former slaves and their descendants remained in a dependent status vis-a-vis their former slave masters due to a variety of factors, to include cultural tradition, a lack of marketable skills, poverty, and persistent drought. Some former slaves and descendants of slaves were forced to revert to a de facto slave status by working for their former masters in exchange for some combination of lodging, food, and medical care. Some former slaves reportedly continued to work for their former masters or others under exploitative conditions to retain access to land that they traditionally farmed. Although the law provides for distribution of land to the landless, including to former slaves, authorities rarely enforced the law.

Former slaves in subservient circumstances were also vulnerable to mistreatment. Women with children faced particular difficulties. Because they were particularly vulnerable and lacked the resources to live independently from their former masters, they could be compelled to remain in a condition of servitude, performing domestic duties, tending fields, or herding animals without remuneration.

Some former slaves were coerced into continuing to work for their former masters, who relied on adherence to religious teachings and a fear of divine punishment to keep these individuals enslaved. Former slaves were often subjected to social discrimination and limited to performing manual labor in markets, ports, and airports.

Slavery, forced labor, and de facto slavery were more prevalent in areas where educational levels were generally low or a barter economy still prevailed, and prevalent to a lesser degree in urban centers, including Nouakchott. The practices commonly occurred where there was a need for workers to herd livestock, tend fields, and do other manual or household labor. Nevertheless, such practices also occurred in urban centers where young children, often girls, were retained as unpaid domestic servants (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The General Child Protection Code, enacted in June 2018, forbids some, but not all of, the worst forms of child labor. The labor code sets the minimum age for employment at 16. Nevertheless, it allows children as young as 12 to be employed in most forms of family enterprise with authorization from the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration, as long as the work does not affect the child’s health, exceed two hours per day, or occur during school hours or holidays. The labor code states employed children between ages 14 and 16 should receive 70 percent of the minimum wage and those who are 17 and 18 should receive 90 percent of the minimum wage. Children should not work more than eight hours a day, should be given one or several one-hour breaks, and may not work at night. Children working in unpaid, temporary, or noncontractual work do not have the same protections under the child labor laws and regulations as do children working in contractual employment.

The Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration authorized children as young as 13 to do work in a variety of areas, resulting in children doing hazardous work by government authorization in the areas of agriculture, fishing, construction, and garbage removal. Additionally, the government does not legally prohibit all forms of hazardous work as defined by international law.

The General Child Protection Code increases the penalties associated with violations of child labor laws and criminalizes commercial sexual exploitation of children and forced begging. It also increases the prison term for trafficking children. The penalties were generally insufficiently enforced to deter violations. The law does not prohibit hazardous occupations and activities in all relevant child labor sectors, including domestic work and agriculture. The law prohibits the use of children for illicit activities, such as the production and trafficking of drugs.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Existing mechanisms for exchanging information among agencies or assessing the effectiveness of child labor laws were not active during the year. There was no specific mechanism for submitting complaints, other than to labor inspectors or the Special Police Brigade for Minors. NGOs were the only organizations that handled cases of child victims, referred them to the Special Police Brigade for Minors, and pressured the government to adjudicate the cases or integrate the victims in social centers or schools during the year.

The CNDH’s 2016 annual report, which had the most recent numbers available, stated that 26 percent of children between ages of 15 and 17 worked. The report indicated the proportion of children between ages of 12 and 14 who performed some work was up to 22 percent. The report also stressed that exploitation of girls was more frequent in domestic work.

An unknown number of talibes (religious students), nearly all from the Halpulaar community, begged in the streets and gave the proceeds to their religious teachers as payment for religious instruction. There were reliable reports that some marabouts (religious teachers) forced their talibes to beg for more than 12 hours a day and provided them with insufficient food and shelter. The government continued a program to reduce the number of talibes and cooperated with NGOs to provide talibes with basic medical and nutritional care.

Child labor in the informal sector was common and a significant problem, particularly within poorer urban areas. Several reports suggested girls as young as age seven, mainly from remote regions, were forced to work as unpaid domestic servants in wealthy urban homes. Young children in the countryside were commonly engaged in cattle and goat herding, cultivation of subsistence crops, fishing, and other agricultural labor in support of their families. Young children in urban areas often drove donkey carts, delivered water and building materials, and were very active in garbage collection. Street gang leaders occasionally forced children to steal, beg, and sell drugs. In keeping with longstanding tradition, many children also served apprenticeships in small-scale industries, such as metalworking, carpentry, vehicle repair, masonry, and the informal sector.

The government continued to operate seven Centers for Protection and Social Integration of Children in Difficult Situations: one in each of the regions of Kiffa, Nouadhibou, Aleg, and Rosso, and three in Nouakchott. During the year these centers hosted 614 children.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, disability, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, or language, but the government often did not enforce the law. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race and language. For example, in conformity with long-standing practice, the advancement of both Haratines and sub-Saharans in the armed services remained limited.

The law provides that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. The two largest employers, the civil service and the state mining company, observed this law; most employers in the private sector reportedly did not. In the modern wage sector, women also received family benefits, including three months of paid maternity leave. Women faced widespread employment discrimination, because employers usually preferred to hire men, with women overrepresented in low-paying positions (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage that is more than the most recent estimate for the poverty income level. The law provides that the standard legal nonagricultural workweek must not exceed either 40 hours or six days unless there is overtime compensation, which is to be paid at rates graduated according to the number of supplemental hours worked. Domestic workers and certain other categories could work 56 hours per week. The law provides that all employees must be given at least one 24-hour rest period per week. There are no legal provisions regarding compulsory overtime.

The government sets health and safety standards, and in principle workers have the right to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment; however, this was rarely applied. The law applies to all workers in the formal economy, and the labor code applies to all formal workers regardless of nationality. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The Labor Office of the Ministry of Labor, Public Service, and Modernization of the Administration is responsible for enforcing labor laws but did not do so effectively. The ILO reported that a significant pay gap between staff in the labor inspectorate and staff in other government inspection departments who receive better remuneration (such as tax inspectors or education inspectors) led to attrition of personnel. The number of labor inspectors, however, was sufficient for the labor force. The ILO also reported that the labor inspectorate was subject to undue influence by employers and the government, thereby reducing the effectiveness of inspection activity.

The majority of the working population labored in the informal sector, primarily in subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry. According to the General Confederation of Mauritanian Workers (CGTM), only 25 percent of workers filled positions accorded regular pay.

Despite the law, labor unions pointed to conditions approaching forced labor in several sectors, including the food processing industry. In these sectors workers did not have contracts or receive pay stubs. Their salaries were below the official minimum wage, and they worked in unfavorable conditions. They occasionally did not receive pay for several months.

Working conditions in the fishing industry were similarly difficult. Commercial fishermen reportedly often exceeded 40 hours of work per week without receiving overtime pay. Additionally, some factory workers employed by fish-processing plants and boat manufacturers did not receive contracts guaranteeing the terms of their employment. Government inspections of fishing vessels, processing plants, and boat factories remained rare.

Violations of minimum wage or overtime laws were frequent in many sectors but more common in the informal economy, which includes domestic service, street vending, artisanal fishing, garbage collection, bus fare collection, donkey-cart driving, apprenticeship, auto repair, and other similar types of employment. According to the CGTM, the National Agency of Social Security registered 187 workplace fatalities or injuries during the year, comparable with previous years.

Mauritius

Executive Summary

Mauritius is a multiparty democracy governed by the prime minister, the Council of Ministers, and the National Assembly. International and local observers judged elections for the prime minister and legislators on November 7 to be free and fair. The coalition headed by the incumbent prime minister won a majority of seats.

A police commissioner heads the police and has authority over all police and other security forces, including the Coast Guard and Special Mobile Forces (a paramilitary unit that shares responsibility with police for internal security). The national police report to the Ministry of Defense. The Coast Guard and police handle external security, reporting to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included allegations of security force abuse of suspects and detainees; government corruption; crimes of violence against women and girls; and restrictions on labor rights.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Enforcement of prosecution and punishment was inconsistent and sometimes politically influenced, resulting in impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, a related law was amended in October 2018 to prevent internet users from posting anything that could cause “annoyance, humiliation, inconvenience, distress or anxiety to any person” on social media. Anyone found guilty faces up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

The government owned the sole domestic television network, MBC TV. Opposition parties and media commentators regularly criticized the station for its allegedly progovernment bias and unfair coverage of opposition parties, as well as alleged interference in the network’s daily operations by the prime minister’s senior adviser. International television networks were available by subscription or via cable. Stringent limitations on foreign investment in local broadcast media contained in the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act were deterrents to the establishment of independent television stations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On July 31, the United Arab Emirates deported Mauritian citizen Shameem Korimbocus for posting offensive comments on social media directed at the Mauritian government. Media reported in 2018 that a senior member of the Mauritian government requested that the Dubai government intervene. Authorities did not charge Korimbocus with any crimes on his return.

The government maintained its 1989 ban of The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie and the Rape of Sita by Lindsey Collen. While bookstores could not legally import the book, purchasers could buy it online without difficulty.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

Foreign Travel: In cases where individuals were arrested and released on bail, the government generally seized the person’s passport and issued a prohibition order prohibiting such individuals from leaving the country.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system providing protection to refugees. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there were no registered refugees or asylum seekers in the country.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: There were widespread anecdotal reports that corruption occurred, but during the year no complaints were lodged with police or with the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires national government cabinet officers and commissioners of the Rodrigues Island Regional Assembly to make a public disclosure of assets upon taking office and at the dissolution of the National Assembly or the Rodrigues Island Regional Assembly. On August 22, the Declarations of Assets Act was amended to extend financial disclosure to senior civil servants and political appointees to government agencies; however, the government did not always enforce the law.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The president appoints an ombudsman to investigate complaints against public servants, including police officers and prison guards. Individual citizens, council ministers, or members of the National Assembly may request the ombudsman to initiate an investigation. As an alternative to filing judicial charges, the ombudsman may make recommendations to the appropriate government office for administrative responses to offenses committed by a public officer or other authority carrying out official duties. The ombudsman is independent and was adequately resourced and effective.

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) investigates allegations of discrimination and promotes equality of opportunity in both the private and public sectors. The EOC is independent and was adequately resourced and effective.

The NHRC enjoyed the government’s cooperation and operated without government or party interference.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for the rights of workers, including foreign workers, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes.

Civil servants have the right to bargain collectively with the Pay Research Bureau. Workers are free to form and join unions and to organize in all sectors, including in the export-oriented enterprises (EOE), formerly known as the export-processing zone. The Police (Membership of Trade Union) Act allows police officers to form and join unions. The law grants authorities the right to cancel a union’s registration if it fails to comply with certain legal obligations; however, there were no reports that the government exercised this right. The law provides for a commission to investigate and mediate labor disputes, and a program to provide unemployment benefits and job training. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference.

The law establishes a mandatory, complex, and excessively lengthy process for declaring a legal strike. This process calls for labor disputes to be reported to the Commission for Conciliation and Mediation only after meaningful negotiations have occurred and the parties involved have reached a deadlock–a process that is not to exceed 90 days unless the parties involved agree. If the parties reach no compromise, the workers may call a strike. Even if workers follow this procedure, the law allows the government to prohibit a strike and refer the dispute to arbitration if the strike could seriously affect an industry or service or threaten employment. Strikes are not generally legal on issues that are already covered in a collective bargaining agreement. The law requires workers in many sectors to provide minimum service levels in the event of a strike, including sectors that international standards do not classify as “essential services.” The law prohibits strikes and other demonstrations during the sittings of the National Assembly and does not allow unions to organize strikes at the national level or concerning general economic policy issues.

Worker participation in an unlawful strike is sufficient grounds for dismissal, but workers may seek a remedy in court if they believe their dismissals were unjustified. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, but it does not provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Dismissed workers can turn to the Industrial Relations Court to seek redress.

National labor laws cover all workers in the formal and informal sectors, with exceptions in the EOE pertaining to overtime. Despite growth in the informal economy over the years, there was no research on or estimate of the size of the informal economy, which traditionally includes street “hawkers” involved in vending of food and clothing.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws, but there were a few delays in procedures and appeals. Penalties for violations by employers were insufficient to deter violations.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected, and workers exercised these rights. Most unions collectively negotiated wages higher than those set by the National Remuneration Board (NRB). Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. There were no reports of government interference in union activities.

Despite the law antiunion discrimination and dismissal remained a problem in the private sector. Some employers in the EOE reportedly continued to establish employer-controlled work councils for EOE workers, effectively blocking union efforts to organize. Approximately 59,000 persons worked in the EOE; only 10 percent belonged to unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government made some efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor (see section 7.c.), but trade unions stated resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. Data from the Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations, Employment and Training on the number of victims removed from forced or compulsory labor during the year were not available.

Trade unionists reported cases of forced labor during the year among migrant workers involving passport confiscation, underpayment of wages, substandard living conditions, lack of clearly defined work titles, denial of meal allowances, and deportation. As of September 30, there were 44,967 migrant workers in the country, mainly from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, and Madagascar. In addition, Malagasy women reportedly transited the country while traveling to other countries, where employers subjected them to forced labor conditions.

The International Labor Organization noted some deficiencies in the law, including provisions that allow for compelled labor from seafarers who do not follow orders and allow for the hiring out of prisoners to private companies.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 16 and prohibits employment of children younger than 18 in work that is dangerous, unhealthy, or otherwise unsuitable for young persons. The penalties for employing a child were not sufficient to deter violations.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations, Employment, and Training is responsible for the enforcement of child-labor laws and conducted frequent inspections of businesses in the formal economy, but generally inspections did not occur after hours or in the informal sector where there was evidence of child labor. The ministry developed vocational training programs to prevent employment of underage children and conducted programs to identify and integrate street children into its vocational training program. These programs are preparatory professional training for school dropouts who are too young to enter the work force.

While the government generally respected this law, it did not effectively enforce it, especially in the informal sector. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Children worked in the informal sector, including as street traders, and in small businesses, restaurants, agriculture, small apparel workshops, and retail shops.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, social status, religion, political opinion, and national origin. The law affords women broadly defined wage protections and requires equal pay for equal work for both men and women; it also states that employers should not force women to carry loads above certain weight limits. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation with respect to gender, race, disability, and HIV/AIDS status occurred. While women had equal access to education, the private sector paid women less than men for substantially similar work. Women filled few decision-making positions in the private sector, and there were even fewer women sitting on corporate boards, where approximately 6 percent of all board members were women.

The law requires organizations employing more than 35 persons to set aside at least 3 percent of their positions for persons with disabilities, but the government was not always effective in enforcing this law. The main reasons for the low employment rate of persons with disabilities were inaccessible workplaces and a lack of adapted equipment.

Many community leaders claimed there was discrimination in the employment of Creoles (citizens of African descent) and Muslims of Indian origin in the public service.

In 2017 the Equal Opportunities Amendment Act came into force to counter abuses under the 2012 Certificate of Character Act, which requires employees to provide proof to their employers that they have no criminal record. The new amendment protects employees from being fired due to a criminal record on their certificate of character that “is irrelevant to the nature of the employment for which that person is being considered.” Previously some workers complained employers fired them once the employer learned they lacked a clean certificate of character. Many individuals complained the certificate makes no distinction between minor offenses, such as street littering, and more serious offenses. Observers noted all offenses remain permanently on the certificate of character.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In the private sector, the NRB sets minimum wages for nonmanagerial workers outside the EOE. The minimum wage for an unskilled domestic worker in the EOE was above the poverty line, while the minimum wage for an unskilled factory worker outside the EOE was below the poverty line.

By law employers cannot force a worker outside the EOE to work more than eight hours per day, six days per week. The standard legal workweek in the EOE is 45 hours. According to a local trade union, the Mauritius Labor Congress, 10 hours of overtime a week is nonetheless mandatory at certain textile factories in the EOE. Regulations require remuneration for those who work more than their stipulated hours at one and a half times the normal salary rate. Those who work during their stipulated hours on public holidays are remunerated at double their normal salary rate. The law provides for paid annual holidays but does not prohibit compulsory overtime in the EOE. For industrial positions, regulations do not permit workers to work more than 10 hours a day. The law requires the Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations, Employment and Training to investigate cases of overtime violations. If an employer fails to take action to address the violations, the ministry initiates a court action.

The Employment Rights Act and the Employment Relations Act cover the laws relating to acceptable conditions of work outside the EOE. These laws provide for a standard workweek and paid annual holidays, require premium pay for overtime, and prohibit compulsory overtime. A worker (other than a part-time worker or a watchperson) and an employer may agree, however, to have the employee work in excess of the stipulated hours without added remuneration, if the number of hours covered in a 14-day period does not exceed 90 hours or a lesser number of hours as agreed to by both parties.

The government did not enforce the law effectively. While the government enforced wages in the formal sector, there were reports employers demoted workers to part-time status to evade wage and hour requirements. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The government sets occupational safety and health standards. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in these situations; however, workers did not generally exercise this right.

Ministry of Labor, Industrial Relations, Employment and Training officials inspected working conditions. The ministry employed labor and industrial relations officers, including labor inspectors in the Migrant Labor Unit, to investigate all reports of labor abuses. Despite an increase in the number of inspectors in the Migrant Labor Unit, trade unions said the number was insufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties were not always sufficient to deter violations. Authorities generally applied these standards to both foreign and citizen workers.

The actual market wage for most workers was much higher than the minimum wage due to a labor shortage and collective bargaining.

Unions reported cases of underpayment for overtime in the textile and apparel industries due to differences in existing legislation and remuneration orders for the calculation of overtime hours.

Employers did not always comply with safety regulations, resulting in occupational accidents. There were reports of foreign workers living in dormitories with unsanitary conditions, which gave rise to spontaneous protests during the year. For example, on October 3, the Passport and Immigration Office deported 42 Bangladeshi migrant workers of Firemount Textiles after they violently protested delays in salary payment and poor living conditions.

Mexico

Executive Summary

Mexico is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement won the presidential election in July 2018 in generally free and fair multiparty elections and took office in December 2018. Citizens also elected members of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, governors, state legislators, and mayors.

The National Guard and federal, state, and municipal police are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order. The National Guard, created in March, is a civilian institution reporting to the Secretariat of Public Security and Civil Protection. The Federal Police are scheduled to be subsumed into the National Guard by 2020, but in the interim remain under the Public Security Secretariat and National Security Commission. The bulk of National Guard personnel consist of seconded army and navy elements that have an option to return to their services after five years. State preventive police report to state governors, while municipal police report to mayors. The Secretariat of National Defense and Secretariat of the Navy also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combating organized criminal groups. The constitution grants the president the authority to use the armed forces for the protection of internal and national security, and the courts upheld the legality of the armed forces’ role in undertaking these activities in support of civilian authorities. The National Migration Institute, under the authority of the Interior Secretariat, is responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants. Although authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, there were instances in which elements of security forces acted independently of civilian control.

Significant human rights issues included reports of the involvement by police, military, and other government officials and illegal armed groups in unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, and torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions in some prisons; impunity for violence against human rights defenders and journalists; violence targeting persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

Impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem, with extremely low rates of prosecution for all crimes. The government’s federal statistics agency (INEGI) estimated 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations were privately owned. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained a significant source of advertising revenue for many media organizations, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, could constrain freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were killed or subject to physical and cyberattacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) in response to their reporting. This limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. According to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, as of August 31, 10 journalists had been killed because of their reporting.

Perpetrators of violence against journalists acted with impunity. According to the NGO Article 19, as of February the impunity rate for crimes against journalists was 99 percent. In 2018 there were 544 attacks against journalists, according to Article 19. Since its creation in 2010, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Journalists (FEADLE), a unit in the Attorney General’s Office, secured only 10 convictions for various related crimes, and only one for murder, in the 1,077 cases it investigated. Only 16 percent of the cases FEADLE investigated were taken to court. As of September, FEADLE had not opened any new cases, reportedly in an effort to focus on bringing existing investigations to trial.

Government officials believed organized crime to be behind most of the attacks against journalists, but NGOs asserted there were instances when local government authorities participated in or condoned the acts. According to Article 19, in 2018, 42 percent of physical attacks against journalists originated with public officials. Although 75 percent of those came from state or local officials, federal officials and members of the armed forces were also suspected of being behind 7 percent of attacks against journalists.

There were no developments in the 2017 killing of Miroslava Breach, a prominent newspaper correspondent who reported on organized crime and corruption. In March, Undersecretary for Human Rights Alejandro Encinas stated the federal government was “aiding” the state prosecutor in the case, ultimately affirming it would remain with state prosecutors.

In January the UN Human Rights Committee declared the government responsible for violating journalist Lydia Cacho’s human rights, including subjecting her to acts of torture in 2005 after she exposed government corruption and a pedophile ring, and for shortcomings in the investigation. In response, on April 11, FEADLE issued arrest warrants against former Puebla governor Mario Marin Torres, Kamel Nacif, Juan Sanchez Moreno, and Hugo Adolfo Karam for their role as masterminds of the acts of torture against Cacho. As of September all four remained fugitives. In July, two assailants entered Cacho’s home, poisoned her dogs, and stole research material–including 10 hard drives containing information on pedophile rings, both the one she exposed in 2005 and a new case she was working on. Article 19 referred to the incident as “an act of reprisal for her work as a defender of free speech.”

In August, Cacho fled the country due to fear for her safety, declaring herself “in a situation of forced displacement.” Article 19 stated, “Lydia Cacho was forced to leave the country in the face of not receiving the minimal conditions of security to carry out her job and continue the process of seeking justice for her arbitrary detention and torture perpetrated in 2005.”

Between 2012 and September 2019, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received 976 requests for protection for journalists and human rights defenders. Since 2018 five journalists with protective measures from the Mechanism were killed, including two during the year. In January, Rafael Murua, under Mechanism protection, was shot and killed in Baja California Sur. Police arrested three individuals in connection with the case. In May journalist Francisco Romero was beaten, shot, and killed in Quintana Roo. He had received threats–including from local police–after exposing corruption of local authorities. Both victims had government-issued panic buttons. After these killings, the OHCHR representative in Mexico, Jan Jarab, said the Mechanism merited a “deep reflection” and added, “These cases show that violence against human rights defenders and journalists is deeply rooted and structural changes are needed.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported some state and local governments censored the media. Journalists reported altering their coverage due to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of the media and newsrooms, and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship due to threats from criminal groups and government officials.

In March 2018 Article 19 reported the government, despite reductions in its advertising budgets, continued to have a strong financial impact and influence on the largest media companies.

Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal criminal laws against defamation, libel, or slander; however, eight states have criminal laws on these acts. In Baja California Sur, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, and Yucatan, the crime of defamation is prosecuted, with penalties ranging from three days to five years in prison and fines ranging from five to 500 days of minimum salary for committing defamation or slander, both considered “crimes against honor.” Slander is punishable under the criminal laws of the states of Campeche, Colima, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Sonora, Yucatan, and Zacatecas with sentences ranging from three months to six years in prison and monetary fines. Five states have laws that restrict the publishing of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.

In May the Supreme Court struck down a law in the state of Nayarit penalizing slander. The court ruled the law violated freedom of expression.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave and increasing influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted about the use of physical violence by organized criminal groups in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence faced by traditional journalists.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. There were some reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators. Twelve states have laws that restrict public demonstrations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by kidnappings and homicides.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police, immigration officers, and customs officials. In September the Migrant Organizations Network (Redodem, a group of NGOs that shelter migrants) reported that in 2018, federal, state, and municipal police, as well as military forces, committed at least 865 crimes against migrants. Redodem registered 542 robberies committed by authorities, 131 cases of abuse of authority, 83 extortions, 46 injuries, 26 acts of intimidation, eight illegal detentions, and six acts of bribery, among others. According to the report, federal police agents committed 297 incidents, followed by municipal police (266), the state police (179), migration agents (102), the army (18), and the navy (four).

Government and civil society sources reported Central American gang presence spread farther into the country and threatened migrants who had fled the same gangs in their home countries. There were media reports that criminal groups kidnapped undocumented migrants to extort money from their relatives or force them into committing criminal acts on the groups’ behalf.

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

Access to Asylum: Federal law provides for granting asylum or refugee status and complementary protection. The government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protections. From January to August 10, the Mexican Commission to Assist Refugees received 42,788 petitions, a 230 percent increase over the same period in 2018.

The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to asylum and the asylum procedure, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, and integration (access to school and work) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to enforce the law more effectively. In February, Congress approved a constitutional reform expanding the catalogue of crimes subject to pretrial detention to include acts of corruption (see section 1.d., Pretrial Detention). In December 2018 Congress also approved a constitutional reform, which came into force in March, to increase the number of illicit activities for which the government can seize assets, including acts of corruption.

On August 7, the Public Administration Secretariat launched a platform within its own website where persons can report cases of corruption. The platform allows citizens to report acts of corruption, human rights violations, and harassment in cases where public officials are involved. The secretariat responds to these reports based on three principles: guarantee of confidentiality, continuous monitoring of the case, and effective sanctioning.

Although by law elected officials enjoy immunity from prosecution while holding public office, state and federal legislatures have the authority to waive an official’s immunity. Of the 32 states, 17 followed this legal procedure to strip officials of immunity.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office opened a corruption investigation against Emilio Lozoya, former director of Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), for receiving bribes in connection to the Odebrecht case. The Attorney General’s Office also obtained an arrest warrant against Lozoya’s mother, accused of money laundering, and on July 24, Interpol arrested her in Germany. As of September, Lozoya remained at large and was presumably out of the country. In a separate case, a judge ordered the detention of former social development minister Rosario Robles. On August 13, she was taken into custody pending criminal proceedings for her participation in an embezzlement scandal known as “Estafa Maestra,” arguing she was a flight risk. She was detained for two months while an investigation took place. She faced allegations of involvement in the disappearance of billions of pesos allocated for welfare programs during her tenure as minister.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all federal- and state-level appointed or elected officials to disclose their income and assets, statements of any potential conflicts of interests, and tax returns. The Public Administration Secretariat monitors disclosures with support from each agency. Regulations require disclosures at the beginning and end of employment, as well as annual updates. The law requires declarations be made publicly available unless an official petition for a waiver to keep his or her file private. Criminal or administrative sanctions apply for abuses. President Lopez Obrador ordered all cabinet members to make their declarations public as a show of transparency. On July 9, the Coordinating Committee of the National Anti-Corruption System approved new formats for these asset disclosure statements. High-ranking public officials must include information related to their spouses and dependents to prevent conflicts of interest, but this information is to remain private. The new platform was scheduled to be operational by the end of the year.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were mostly cooperative and responsive to their views, with the president, cabinet officials, or both meeting with human rights organizations, such as the OHCHR, IACHR, and the CNDH. Some NGOs alleged individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders at times acted with tacit support from government officials. As of April the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists protected 790 individuals, 292 journalists, and 498 human rights defenders.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is a semiautonomous federal agency created by the government and funded by the legislature to monitor and act on human rights violations and abuses. It may call on government authorities to impose administrative sanctions or pursue criminal charges against officials, but it is not authorized to impose penalties or legal sanctions. If the relevant authority accepts a CNDH recommendation, the CNDH is required to follow up with the authority to verify it is carrying out the recommendation. The CNDH sends a request to the authority asking for evidence of its compliance and includes this follow-up information in its annual report. When authorities fail to accept a recommendation, the CNDH makes that failure known publicly. It may exercise its power to call government authorities before the Senate who refuse to accept or enforce its recommendations.

All states have their own human rights commission. The state commissions are funded by state legislatures and are semiautonomous. State commissions did not have uniform reporting requirements, making it difficult to compare state data and therefore compile nationwide statistics. The CNDH may take on cases from state-level commissions if it receives a complaint that the state commission has not adequately investigated the case.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The government continued its efforts to strengthen freedom of association protections, promote union democracy, and improve the ability of workers to bargain collectively. On May 1, President Lopez Obrador signed a labor reform law aimed at ensuring workers may freely and independently elect union representatives and approve or reject collective bargaining agreements before they are implemented. Revisions to the constitution in 2017 envisioned independent labor courts to replace the system of conciliation and arbitration boards (CABs) and streamline the judicial process for labor disputes. The labor reforms passed during the year provide the implementing legislation for this new labor justice system and establish a four-year timeline for transfer. The government demonstrated its prioritization of labor reform through its commitment of budgetary resources and its regular issuance of implementing regulations to bring the new laws into force.

The government announced it would implement the labor reforms in a phased manner, beginning at the federal level and in 10 states in October 2020. In August unions began registering updated bylaws with the Secretariat of Labor and Social Protection and holding leadership elections under the terms of the labor reform. The registration process was scheduled to conclude in May 2020. The secretariat also began the process of having workers review and vote on the collective bargaining agreements under which they work following the procedures for free and fair elections under the new labor reform.

In September 2018 the Senate ratified International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 98 on collective bargaining. By ratifying the convention, the government subjects itself to the convention’s oversight and reporting procedures. According to the independent unions, ratification also contributes to ensuring the institutions established as a result of the labor justice reform are, in law and practice, independent, transparent, objective, and impartial, with workers having recourse to the ILO’s oversight bodies to complain of any failure.

Federal labor law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive government recognition, unions must file for registration with the appropriate CAB or the Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare. For the union to be able to function legally, its leadership must also register with the appropriate CAB or the secretariat. CABs operate under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives. Outside observers raised concerns that the boards did not adequately provide for inclusive worker representation and often perpetuated a bias against independent unions, in part because worker representation on the CABs was based on majority representation, which is held by “protection” unions. Protection unions and “protection contracts” were common in all sectors.

By law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own bylaws. Before a strike may be considered legal, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate CAB, which may find the strike is “nonexistent” and therefore illegal. The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for reinstatement of workers if the CAB finds the employer fired the worker without just cause and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also exempts broad categories of employees from this protection, including so-called employees of confidence and workers who have been in the job for less than a year.

The government, including the CABs, did not consistently protect worker rights. The government’s common failure to enforce labor and other laws left workers with little recourse for violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor problems. The CABs’ frequent failure to impartially and transparently administer and oversee procedures related to union activity, such as union elections, registrations and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise freely their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. For example, the government rejected registration applications for locals of independent unions, and for unions, based on technicalities.

Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws were rarely applied and were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced violence and intimidation around bargaining-rights elections perpetrated by protection union leaders and employers supporting them, as well as other workers, union leaders, and vigilantes hired by a company to enforce a preference for a particular union. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of pseudo employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union. CABs were widely alleged to administer these elections with a bias against new, independent unions, resulting in delays and other procedural obstacles that impacted the results and undermined workers’ right to organize.

Other intimidation and manipulative practices were common, including dismissal of workers for labor activism. For example, 57 workers at a Goodyear factory in San Luis Potosi alleged they were fired after striking in April 2018 to demand better working conditions, wages, and authentic union representation. The workers claimed that because of their independent strike, a corporatist union had blackballed them from working in other factories.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and the law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. While penalties for conviction of forced labor were sufficient to deter violations, very few cases reached the court system or were successfully prosecuted.

Forced labor persisted in the industrial and agricultural sectors, especially in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes, as well as in the informal sector. Women and children were subject to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor. In July 2018 authorities identified 50 forced agricultural workers on three commercial tomato farms in Coahuila. Authorities in Coahuila freed an additional 25 forced agricultural workers–including nine children–from a chili pepper and tomato farm in August 2018. In both cases the victims reportedly lived in unsanitary conditions, worked excessive hours under the threat of dismissal, and received subminimum wage payments or no payment at all.

Day laborers and their children were the primary victims of forced and child labor in the agricultural sector. In 2016 INEGI reported 44 percent of persons working in agriculture were day laborers. Of the day laborers, 33 percent received no financial compensation for their work. Only 3 percent of agricultural day laborers had a formal written contract.

Indigenous persons in isolated regions reported incidents of forced labor, in which cartel members forced them to perform illicit activities or face death. Minors were recruited or forced by cartels to traffic persons, drugs, or other goods across the border. In July authorities in Chihuahua rescued 21 men who had been kidnapped and forced to grow marijuana and poppies, allegedly by the Sinaloa Cartel. Migrants were also recruited by criminal organizations to conduct illicit activities.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The constitution and the law prohibit children younger than age 15 from working and allows those ages 15 to 17 to work no more than six daytime hours in nonhazardous conditions daily, and only with parental permission and permission from the labor authority. The law requires children younger than 18 to complete compulsory basic education and to have a medical certificate to work. The minimum age for hazardous work, including all work in the agricultural sector, is 18. The law prohibits minors from working in a broad list of hazardous and unhealthy occupations.

The government was reasonably effective in enforcing child labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially in the export-oriented factory (maquiladora) sector and other industries under federal jurisdiction. Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies and in agriculture and construction, and nearly absent in the informal sector, in which most child laborers worked. In January the newspaper El Universal reported as many as 400 children were working on tomato and chili pepper farms near Coahuayana, Michoacan, receiving little education and earning very low wages.

Underage children in urban areas throughout the country earned money by begging, washing windshields, selling small items, or performing in public places for gratuities. In April authorities in Sinaloa announced they had identified 312 children who had been working in the streets of various cities. In the same month, two children from Chiapas were identified in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, while begging in the streets dressed as clowns. Authorities found the children had no relatives in the area and were possibly victims of human trafficking. In October 2018 authorities identified 63 persons, including 56 children, who had been forced to work in the streets of Oaxaca, and arrested 11 individuals on charges of human trafficking.

At the federal level, the Secretariat of Social Development, Attorney General’s Office, and National System for Integral Family Development share responsibility for inspections to enforce child labor laws and to intervene in cases in which employers violated such laws. The Secretariat of Labor is responsible for carrying out child labor inspections. Penalties for violations were not sufficiently enforced to deter violations.

According to a 2017 INEGI survey, the number of employed children ages five to 17 was 3.2 million, or approximately 11 percent of children in the country. This represented a decrease from 12.4 percent of children in the 2015 INEGI survey. Of these children, 7.1 percent were younger than the minimum age of work or worked under conditions that violated federal labor laws, such as performing hazardous work. Child labor was most common in the agricultural sector; children worked in the harvest of beans, chili peppers, coffee, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, onions, tobacco, and tomatoes, as well as in the production of illicit crops such as opium poppies. Other sectors with significant child labor included services, retail sales, manufacturing, and construction.

Also, see the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and the law prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation. The federal labor law specifically proscribes discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, handicap (or challenged capacity), social status, health, religion, immigration status, political opinion, sexual preference, marital status, or pregnancy. The government did not effectively enforce the law or regulations. According to a 2017 INEGI survey, 12 percent of women had been illegally asked to take a pregnancy test as a prerequisite to being hired. Job announcements specifying desired gender, age, marital status, and parental status were common.

INEGI reported in 2017 that 23 percent of working women experienced violence in the workplace within the past 12 months and 6 percent experienced sexual violence.

Penalties for violations of the law included administrative remedies, such as reinstatement, payment of back wages, and fines (often calculated based on the employee’s wages), and were not generally considered sufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred against women, indigenous groups, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and migrant workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission is responsible for establishing minimum salaries. In December 2018 it unanimously approved the largest general minimum wage increase (16 percent) in 23 years and a doubling of the minimum wage in the economic zone along the border with the United States. Wages had stagnated since 1994, with the country’s minimum wage declining almost 20 percent in real terms. Despite the minimum wage increase, the real general minimum wage fell once again below the official poverty line. Nonetheless, most formal-sector workers received between one and three times the minimum wage. The minimum wage increase set off major strikes by unionized workers in Matamoros, who demanded employers honor contractual employment clauses unique to the city requiring all wages to go up by a factor of any minimum wage increase. According to reports, manufacturing executives in the northern border region colluded with one another to keep wages artificially low. As a result of the strikes in Matamoros, most of the manufacturing plants agreed to worker demands, a general wage increase of 20 percent and a bonus of 32,000 pesos ($1,600).

The federal labor law sets six eight-hour days and 48 hours per week as the legal workweek. Any work in excess of eight hours in a day is considered overtime, for which a worker is to receive double pay. After accumulating nine hours of overtime in a week, a worker earns triple the hourly wage. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for eight paid public holidays and one week of paid annual leave after completing one year of work. The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations, issued jointly by the Secretariat of Labor and the Institute for Social Security. Legally mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for overseeing workplace standards in plants and offices. Individual employees or unions may complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Secretariat of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws and inspecting workplaces. Neither the number of labor inspections nor the penalties for violations of labor law were sufficient to secure compliance with labor law. A chemical spill on July 9 by the mining company Grupo Mexico called widespread public attention to that company’s long record of safety and environmental violations, leading President Lopez Obrador to call for talks with union leaders and Grupo Mexico’s ownership to resolve the miners’ grievances. Through its DECLARALAB self-evaluation tool, the secretariat provided technical assistance to almost 4,000 registered workplaces to help them meet occupational safety and health regulations.

According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach–requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting hours when it is light–to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This was a common practice in the maquiladora sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and obliged them to work in peak seasons, including the Christmas holiday period, without the corresponding triple pay mandated by law for voluntary overtime on national holidays. Additionally, many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers informally, using subcontracting regimes or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. INEGI estimated 57 percent of the workforce was engaged in the informal economy during the year. Of the 30 million informal workers, approximately one-quarter (7.6 million) were employed by formal businesses or organizations, often paid in cash, off the books, to evade taxes and social security payments.

Observers from grassroots labor rights groups, international NGOs, and multinational apparel brands reported that employers in export-oriented supply chains were increasingly using hiring methods that lessened job security. For example, manufacturers commonly hired workers on one- to three-month contracts, and then waited a period of days before rehiring them on another short-term contract, to avoid paying severance and to prevent workers from accruing seniority. This practice violated federal labor law and restricted worker’s rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Observers noted it also increased the likelihood of work-related illness and injury. Outsourcing practices made it difficult for workers to identify their legally registered employer, limiting their ability to seek redress of labor grievances.

Citizens hoping to secure temporary, legal employment in the United States and other countries frequently paid recruiters hundreds or thousands of dollars in prohibited fees to secure jobs, and many prospective workers were promised jobs that did not exist. Allegations of abusive and fraudulent recruitment practices rarely were investigated. Although the law requires entities recruiting for overseas employment to register with the Secretariat of Labor, there is no enforcement mechanism, and only a handful of recruiters complied. During the year the secretariat’s National Employment Service began reviewing ways to enforce the foreign recruitment registration law.

The situation of agricultural workers remained particularly precarious, with similar patterns of exploitation throughout the sector. Labor recruiters enticed families to work during harvests with verbal promises of decent wages and a good standard of living. Rather than pay them daily wages once a week, as mandated by law, day laborers had to meet certain harvest quotas to receive the promised wage. Wages may be illegally withheld until the end of the harvest to ensure the workers do not leave, and civil society organizations alleged workers were prohibited from leaving by threats of violence or by nonpayment of wages. Workers had to buy food and other items at the company store at high markups, at times leaving them with no money at the end of the harvest after settling debts. Civil society groups reported families living in inhuman conditions, with inadequate and cramped housing, no access to clean water or bathrooms, insufficient food, and without medical care. With no access to schools or childcare, many workers brought their children to work in the fields. Due to alleged corruption and opacity, in January the federal government eliminated the Program of Care for Agricultural Day Labors, which was intended to reduce the vulnerability of agricultural migrant workers.

News reports indicated there were poor working conditions in some maquiladoras. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, a lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and no freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse. Most maquiladoras hired employees through outsourcing with few benefits.

In April the Senate unanimously approved legislation intended to improve working conditions for the 2.4 million domestic workers, 90 percent of whom were women, by making it possible for them to enroll in social security, thereby gaining access to benefits such as medical services, child care, and maternity leave.

According to data from the Mexican Social Security Institute, in 2018 there were 201,310 workplace accidents, resulting in 303 deaths. In June an accident involving an industrial press in Nuevo Leon caused the partial amputation of four workers’ arms. In August an accident at a silver and gold mine in Oaxaca killed a contractor who was operating heavy machinery.

Micronesia

Executive Summary

The Federated States of Micronesia is a constitutional republic composed of four states: Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap. Individual states enjoy significant autonomy, and their traditional leaders retain considerable influence, especially in Pohnpei and Yap. On March 5, national elections were held for the 14-seat unicameral Congress; 10 were elected in single-seat constituencies to two-year terms, and four (one per state) to four-year terms. Following the election, the Congress selected the new president, David W. Panuelo. Observers considered the election generally free and fair, and the transfer of power was uneventful.

The national police are responsible for enforcing national laws, and the Department of Justice oversees them. The four state police forces are responsible for law enforcement in their respective states and are under the control of the director of public safety for each state. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over national and state police forces.

Significant human rights issues included corruption in the government.

The government sometimes took steps to punish officials, but impunity was a problem, particularly for corruption.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but does not refer specifically to speech or the press; however, the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law, but some officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous anecdotal reports of corruption.

Corruption: The Attorney General’s Office within the Department of Justice has primary responsibility for combating government corruption, including investigation and prosecution of individual cases. It operated somewhat independently. The office had sufficient resources, but observers said it allowed the Transnational Crime Unit (which investigates corruption) to deteriorate. The public auditor referred some corruption cases to the Department of Justice during the year.

On July 29, Master Halbert, an official in the Department of Transportation, Communications and Infrastructure (and the son-in-law of former president Peter Christian), was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a foreign court for his role in a money-laundering scheme involving bribes from a U.S. company to secure engineering and project management contracts from the Micronesian federal government. As of November the country itself, however, had not charged anybody involved in the scheme.

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

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

Although there are no official restrictions, no local groups concerned themselves exclusively with human rights. Several groups addressed problems concerning the rights of women and children, and the government cooperated with these groups. There were active women’s associations throughout the country.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Although the law does not specifically provide for the right of workers to join a union, under the constitution citizens have the right to form or join associations, and by law government employees can form associations to “present their views” to the government without being subject to coercion, discrimination, or reprisals. Citizens did not exercise this right. No law deals specifically with trade unions, the right to collective bargaining, or antiunion discrimination. There is no specific right to strike, but no law prohibits strikes.

Although the law does not prohibit workers, including foreign workers, from joining unions, there were no unions and most private-sector employment was in small-scale, family-owned businesses or in subsistence farming and fishing. No nongovernmental organizations focused on unions or labor issues.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, although resources and inspections were minimal. The national antitrafficking law provides for penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. There were reports of foreign workers from Southeast Asian countries working in conditions indicative of human trafficking on Asian fishing vessels in the country or its territorial waters.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

National and state laws do not establish a minimum age or prescribe limits on hours or occupations for employment of children. The law does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor. There was no employment of children for wages, but children often assisted their families in subsistence farming and family-owned shops. There were reports of children trafficked by family members for commercial sex, particularly to foreign fishermen and other seafarers.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, and religion. Labor law also prohibits discrimination based on race and gender. The law also provides protections for persons with disabilities, but they are limited in scope. The law does not provide for specific legal protections for age, citizenship, national origin, political opinion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or positive diagnosis of HIV/AIDS or other diseases. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

There was no pattern of discrimination in most areas, although discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to persons with disabilities. Traditional customs, especially in Yap State, limited professional opportunities for lower-status and outer-island persons. Women were underrepresented in all areas except in the service sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum hourly wage for employment with the national government was above the official estimate for the poverty income level. There is no other minimum wage.

The law sets a standard of an eight-hour day and a five-day workweek, with premium pay for overtime. There are no legal provisions prohibiting excessive or compulsory overtime. A federal regulation requires that employers provide a safe workplace. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Division of Immigration and Labor within the Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing these standards. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. The tax system monitored the minimum wage effectively. The government generally was effective in its enforcement of these standards and provided sufficient resources for effective enforcement. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Approximately one-half of workers were in the informal economy where the law does not apply, predominantly in subsistence agriculture and fishing. Working conditions aboard some foreign-owned fishing vessels operating in the country’s waters continued to be very poor. Crewmembers reported incidents of injuries, beatings by officers, and nonpayment of salaries.

Moldova

Executive Summary

Note: Except where otherwise noted, all references in this report exclude the secessionist region of Transnistria.

The Republic of Moldova is a parliamentary democracy with competitive multiparty elections. The constitution provides for legislative and executive branches, as well as an independent judiciary and a clear separation of powers. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament. Parliamentary elections on February 24 met most Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Council of Europe, and other international commitments, although observers noted allegations of vote buying and misuse of administrative resources. Two rounds of presidential elections in 2016 resulted in the election of Igor Dodon. According to the OSCE election observation mission, both rounds were competitive and respected fundamental freedoms. International and domestic observers, however, noted polarized and unbalanced media coverage, harsh and intolerant rhetoric, lack of transparency in campaign financing, and instances of abuse of administrative resources.

The national police force reports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and is the primary law enforcement body, responsible for internal security, public order, traffic, migration, and border enforcement. The police force has two divisions: criminal and public order. The agencies under the ministry are the General Police Inspectorate, Border Police, the Civil Protection Service, Carabinieri (a militarized gendarmerie responsible for protecting public buildings and other national security functions), the Bureau for Migration and Asylum, and the Material Reserves Agency. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

On June 7, six weeks after the parliamentary elections, the country faced an unprecedented political and constitutional crisis when the Constitutional Court ruled to dissolve parliament, stating that the deadline to form a parliamentary majority had expired, and suspended President Dodon. The then ruling Democratic Party (PDM) refused to relinquish power to a newly formed governing coalition of the pro-Russian Socialist Party (PSRM) and the pro-Western NOW Platform or ACUM bloc. As a result, there were two parallel governments between June 7 and 14. Following intense negotiation and diplomatic engagement, power transitioned peacefully to the newly formed coalition, with ACUM’s Maia Sandu as prime minister and PSRM’s Zinaida Greceanii as speaker of parliament. On November 12, the Sandu Cabinet was dismissed in a no-confidence vote by a majority of PSRM and PDM legislators following an intracoalition dispute on the selection of a new prosecutor general. Two days later, a new PSRM-appointed minority government was sworn in, led by former presidential advisor Ion Chicu and supported by PDM.

Significant human rights issues included: torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; problems with judicial independence; acts of corruption; violence against and medical abuse of children and adults in psychiatric hospitals and residential institutions for persons with mental disabilities; and the use of forced or compulsory child labor.

While authorities investigated reports of official human rights abuses, they rarely successfully prosecuted and punished officials accused of human rights violations or corruption. Selective prosecution of officials for political reasons continued. Impunity remained a major problem. Opposition parties reported pressure and politically motivated prosecutions and detentions.

In 1990 separatists declared a “Transdniester Moldovan Republic” (Transnistria) along the border with Ukraine. A 1992 ceasefire agreement established a peacekeeping force of Moldovan, Russian, and Transnistrian units. The central government did not exercise authority in the region, and Transnistrian authorities governed through parallel administrative structures. There were reports that police in Transnistria engaged in torture, arbitrary arrests, and unlawful detentions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

While the law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, there were allegations that authorities did not always respect this right. Journalists were subjected to harassment, intimidation, threats, physical assaults, and politicized prosecutions, particularly around the February parliamentary election and during the constitutional crisis in June. Concentration of ownership of major media outlets in the hands of a few political figures and oligarchs further limited the independence of the press. According to media NGOs and journalists, the incidence of intimidation decreased following the inauguration of the Sandu government.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for freedom of expression and allows individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of general public interest. Restrictions apply only in cases when such discussion poses a threat to national security, territorial integrity, public order, or safety.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: According to media NGOs and international monitors, independent media were active and expressed a plurality of views but were often marginalized by larger outlets owned or controlled by a few politicians and oligarchs. Large media outlets pressured smaller outlets, including by colluding to prevent advertisers from buying advertising space from those smaller outlets, which brought several to the brink of closing. Prominent journalists left key outlets acquired by oligarchs.

Oligarchs closely supervised content and maintained editorial control over reporting from outlets they owned or controlled. Russian news channels rebroadcast in the country continued to disseminate propaganda and presented distorted information about regional and international events. Journalists were blocked from covering certain political events, including Chisinau City Council meetings; the inauguration ceremony for Gagauzia governor Irina Vlah; and rallies by the Shor Party.

On February 19, authorities prohibited the entry into the country of crews from Russia’s NTV and Rossiya-1 television channels.

Two organizations controlled the Transnistrian mass media market: The “Public Agency for Telecommunication,” which controlled official news information agencies, newspapers, and one of the two most popular television channels, and Sheriff Holding, a business conglomerate with considerable influence in the Transnistrian “Supreme Soviet.” The Transnistrian “Supreme Soviet” passed a law restricting access of journalists to the institution’s plenary sessions.

Violence and Harassment: There were multiple reports of political and business interests using violence and intimidation against members of the media. During protests organized by the then-ruling Democratic Party on June 7-9, participants, including the bodyguards of party leaders, pushed, struck, and verbally threatened journalists covering the events.

In October 2018 the investigative journalism news portal RISE.md reported that law enforcement agents followed one of its journalists, Liuba Sevciuc, after she published an article on September 5 about vacation properties owned by Democratic Party leader Vlad Plahotniuc.

Censorship or Content Restriction: In many cases, journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflicts with the sponsors or owners of their media outlets, many of whom are politicians or oligarchs connected to political parties.

Journalists voiced concern that a personal data protection law restricted journalists’ access to information. In addition, investigating journalists complained of problems accessing websites of legal entities.

In Transnistria, journalists avoided criticizing separatist officials’ goal of independence or their “foreign policy” to avoid official reprisals.

Libel/Slander Laws: Some newspapers practiced self-censorship and avoided controversial issues due to concerns that government officials and other public figures could use defamation laws to retaliate against critical news reports.

On March 29, Transnistrian leader Vadim Krasnoselsky approved changes to the “criminal code” criminalizing public insults of the region’s leader, which may be punished by a fine of 5,280 lei ($300) or up to five years in prison. On August 8, blogger Tatiana Belova and her partner disappeared from their home; Belova’s friends believed she was arrested for insulting Krasnoselsky on social networks. Transnistrian officials have not confirmed Belova’s arrest, but intermediaries have informed human rights NGO Promo-Lex that she is in prison in Transnistria. No public information has been available about the case since August. According to Promo-Lex, Belova refused Promo-Lex representation in the Transnistrian court.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country movement: Transnistrian authorities imposed some restrictions on travel by Moldovan officials to and from the region for official purposes. Chisinau and Tiraspol reached an agreement to lift restrictions on personal travel by government officials and Transnistrian separatist “officials” to and from the region in August. In December 2018, Transnistrian authorities simplified travel procedures for officials of foreign embassies accredited to Moldova and no longer require them to submit pretravel notification letters.

Foreign Travel: Although citizens generally may depart from and return to the country freely, there were some limitations on emigration. Before emigrating, the law requires individuals to settle all outstanding financial obligations with other persons or legal entities. The government did not strictly enforce this requirement. The law also provides that close relatives who are financially dependent on a potential emigrant must concur before the prospective emigrant may depart the country. Authorities did not enforce this law.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Refoulement: In June the European Court of Human Rights fined the country 125,000 euros ($137,500) for forcibly returning seven Turkish educators to Turkey in 2018, where they were imprisoned on unclear charges by Turkish authorities. The ruling noted the transfer of Turkish citizens undermined domestic and international law and that five of the seven were asylum applicants who had been unlawfully deprived of their freedom. A former deputy head of the Moldovan Intelligence Service and the head of the Moldovan Bureau for Migration and Asylum were put under criminal investigation following the ECHR ruling.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system for protecting refugees. Obtaining formal refugee status was slow and burdensome. Authorities issued refugees identity cards valid indefinitely; beneficiaries of humanitarian protection received identification documents valid for three years; and asylum seekers received temporary identification cards. UNHCR provided refugees logistical, housing, medical and financial support. A temporary accommodation center administered by the Bureau of Migration and Asylum was available for asylum seekers.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country has a policy of presumptive denial of asylum seekers from Ukraine displaced by the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. The country had previously accepted Ukrainian asylum seekers but determined that Ukraine’s process for protecting and resettling internally displaced persons was sufficient. The majority of displaced Ukrainians preferred to transit Moldova, then seek asylum in the EU.

Temporary Protection: The government provided humanitarian protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of July, there were 257 beneficiaries of humanitarian protection registered in the national asylum system.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government failed to implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Despite some improvement, corruption remained a serious problem. Corruption in the judiciary and other state structures was widespread. The government made progress in investigating corruption cases involving public officials and the judiciary, which resulted in several high-profile detentions.

The law provides the National Anticorruption Center (NAC) the authority to verify wealth and address “political integrity, public integrity, institutional integrity, and favoritism.” The National Integrity Authority (NIA), which was formed to check assets, personal interests, and conflicts of interest of officials, was not fully operational due to delays in selecting the 30 integrity inspectors required by law. The former ruling coalition harshly criticized both the NAC and the NIA for lack of action in investigating corrupt officials.

Corruption: The two key anticorruption institutions, the NIA and the Criminal Assets Recovery Agency, were not fully functional and there was no monitoring of the implementation of the National Integrity and Anticorruption Strategy. According to a May survey, 26 percent of citizens admitted to having paid bribes to those working in the public sector in the previous year.

Reports noted that authorities’ attempts to compromise anticorruption processes, including by legalizing possibly illegally acquired assets, remained high during the first half of the year. A much-contested law on capital amnesty expired; it had been adopted in 2018, and could allow the legalization of unreported assets, tax liabilities, and cash. Observers noted that there were few safeguards to prevent the legalization of criminally acquired assets, although the amnesty law nominally prohibited it.

A 2018 report by Transparency International noted that the government hindered anticorruption efforts by: suppressing civic activists, whistleblowers, lawyers, and judges; initiating new criminal cases against political opponents at the local level; using the law on the protection of personal data to impede access to information of public interest; and amending election laws to benefit the largest, most organized political parties. The report concluded that these practices were indicative of high-level corruption and political corruption, which led to what it labelled “state capture” (i.e., private interests significantly influencing a state’s decision-making processes).

In 2018 the NAC detained 10 persons on corruption charges, including three judges from the Court of Appeals, two judges from the Chisinau Central Court, and a prosecutor from the Chisinau prosecutor’s office. During preliminary hearings in April, only seven out of the 10 suspects showed up in court. The cases were ongoing at year’s end.

In September the Superior Council of Magistrates (SCM) refused to endorse a request from the interim prosecutor general to criminally investigate five judges suspected of involvement in laundering more than 352 billion lei (20 billion) from Russia through the country’s banking system. The SCM postponed the request examination. On September 24 the SCM accepted the interim prosecutor general’s request to lift the immunity of Supreme Court of Justice head Ion Druta, who was being investigated on charges of illicit enrichment. On October 30 anticorruption prosecutors seized several assets (real estate and cars worth 12.9 million lei ($735,000)) belonging to Druta.

In a separate case, anticorruption prosecutors detained and then released on bail Oleg Sternioala, judge at the Supreme Court of Justice, on charges of money laundering and illicit enrichment. Sternioala tendered his resignation in December.

Financial Disclosure: Laws require financial disclosure by public officials, including state officials, judges, prosecutors, civil servants, and officials holding leadership positions. The NIA has the legal power to apply sanctions. The law provides that officials who fail to declare their assets may be dismissed from office and barred from holding public office. NIA integrity inspectors have authority to alert relevant authorities (Tax Office and Prosecutor’s Office) and request seizure of illegally acquired assets by a court decision. The law requires the heads of state enterprises and local councilors to submit income statements and provides for an online system for wealth and interest statement submissions. By law officials must make public income statements within 30 days of their appointment and before March 31 of each year for the duration of their term in office. The NIA was not fully functional, and the government enforced these requirements inconsistently.

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

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

Authorities in Chisinau did not have full access to or control over the Transnistrian region. According to local and international experts, authorities in Transnistria continued to monitor and restrict activities of human rights NGOs. There were credible reports that no human rights NGO in the region investigated serious human rights violations due to fear of repression and harassment from authorities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman was fully operational and active in reporting on human rights issues. The law provides for the independence of the ombudsman from political influence and for his or her appointment to a seven-year, nonrenewable term. The Office of the Ombudsman may initiate an investigation based on complaints or on its own authority. Although the Office of the Ombudsman lacked the power to enforce decisions, it acted as a monitor of human rights violations, including monitoring conditions in prisons and other places of detention. A separate ombudsman for children’s rights operates under the same framework within the Office of the Ombudsman.

Parliament also had a separate standing committee for human rights and interethnic relations.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The government generally respected these rights with limitations. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not provide for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law does not allow government workers and workers in essential services, such as law enforcement, judges, holders of public administration offices, health-care providers, and public utility employees, to strike. The law prohibits strikes during natural disasters, epidemics, and pandemics as well as in times of state emergency. Authorities may impose compulsory arbitration at the request of one party to a dispute. There are no particular groups of workers excluded from or covered differently by relevant legal protections.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations were independent of the government, political parties, employers, or employers’ associations. There were no reports that the government, political parties, or employers interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations. Prosecutors may reject appeals by trade unions alleging antiunion behavior, and authorities did not punish alleged violations of the trade union law. Workers exercised the right to strike by conducting legal strikes.

There is a mechanism to monitor and enforce labor laws through the State Labor Inspectorate (SLI) and the Prosecutor General’s Office, but it failed to monitor effectively and enforce the rights to collective bargaining and to organize. The law does not provide effective sanctions for violations of freedom of association, or stipulate penalties for violating trade union rights. Penalties for the deliberate failure to negotiate and amend collective agreements or the violation of negotiated terms were not sufficient to deter violations.

The SLI does not have the authority to enforce penalties for violations of workplace health and safety concerns; this was delegated to 10 other state agencies according to their areas of expertise.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, with exceptions. The law and a government decision allow central and local authorities as well as military bodies to mobilize the adult population under certain conditions, such as in the event of a national disaster, and to employ such labor to develop the national economy. The government did not invoke this provision during the year. Penalties for persons who engage workers in forced labor were sufficiently stringent to deter violations and were seldom imposed.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation for forced labor were generally inadequate. Men and women were subjected to labor trafficking to Russia, Turkey, Cyprus, and the United Arab Emirates. Internal trafficking occurred in all regions of the country, focused mostly on farms and begging in larger towns. Internal trafficking for begging and labor exploitation, particularly in the agriculture and construction sectors, was steadily on the rise. Official complicity in trafficking continued to be a significant problem that the government attempted to curb by prosecuting those involved.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 15. The law permits juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 to work under special conditions, including shorter workdays (35 hours per week and no night, weekend, holiday, or overtime work). With written permission from a parent or guardian, 15-year-old children may work. Work for children who are 15 or 16 should not exceed 24 hours per week. Children younger than 18 are not allowed to perform hazardous and dangerous activities in 30 industries, including construction, agriculture, food processing, and textiles. The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for persons engaging children in such activities. Under aggravated circumstances, courts can increase the sentence to life imprisonment. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Parents who owned or worked on farms often sent children to work in fields or to find other employment. Children left behind by parents who had emigrated abroad also worked on farms. The vast majority of child laborers worked in family businesses or on family farms.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on sex, age, race, color, nationality, religion, political opinion, social origin, residence, disability, HIV-positive status, and membership or activity in trade unions, as well as other criteria. The law requires employers to provide for equal opportunity and treatment of employees without discrimination, to apply the same criteria to assess each employee’s work, and to provide equal conditions for men and women relating to work and family obligations. The law defines and prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, minority status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The National Trade Union Confederation (NTUC) reported frequent cases of employers denying employment to pregnant women, since such employment was associated with additional benefits payable after childbirth.

The law also stipulates that the Council for Preventing and Eliminating Discrimination and Ensuring Equality be responsible for reviewing complaints of discrimination and making recommendations. As of September the council made decisions on 191 cases of alleged discrimination, 43 percent more than in 2018.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

According to NTUC, as of October, salary arrears were more than 40 million lei ($2.27 million), with almost half the sum accounted for by the state forestry service.

The law sets the maximum workweek at 40 hours with overtime compensation; provides for at least one day off per week; and mandates paid annual leave of at least 28 calendar days (government holidays excluded). Different paid leave plans may be used in some sectors, such as education, health care, and public service. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. Foreign and migrant workers have the same legal status as domestic workers.

The government sets occupational safety and health standards. According to labor law, workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The labor code requires work contracts for employment. There were no reports of work contracts in the agricultural sector, where the central government did not have an effective mechanism to monitor compliance.

Government efforts to enforce requirements for minimum wage, work hours, and occupational health and safety standards were limited and ineffective. The law requires the government to establish and monitor safety standards in the workplace, but there is no public reporting available on inspections for compliance with health and safety standards. Penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations.

Inspectors from the SLI were required to give advance notice before conducting labor investigations and were generally prohibited from conducting onsite inspections if information sought could be obtained in writing, which undercut their enforcement ability. This legal change also distributed responsibility for occupational health safety controls to 10 sectoral inspection agencies, most of which did not have sufficient trained staff to carry out inspections. As a result, the SLI did not conduct any unannounced or onsite inspections in 2018 or from January to June, and the sectoral agencies conducted fewer than 100 such inspections. Authorities did not effectively enforce legal protections, and child labor remained a problem, especially in the agriculture and construction industries.

A thriving informal economy accounted for a significant portion of the country’s economic activity. According to the International Labor Organization, 30.9 percent of the total employed population had an informal job and 68.7 percent of those jobs were in the agricultural sector. Workers in the informal economy did not have the same legal protections as employees in the formal sector. There were no government social programs targeting workers in the informal economy.

Poor economic conditions led enterprises to spend less on safety equipment and to pay insufficient attention to worker safety. There is a consensus among stakeholders that after the change in the legislation governing labor inspections, occupational safety and health standards in the workplace worsened during the year. In the first nine months of the year, the SLI reported 352 work accidents involving 366 victims. The SLI also reported 18 work-related deaths. Enterprise committees investigated 266 cases of temporary incapacitation resulting from work accidents, involving 274 persons.

Monaco

Executive Summary

The Principality of Monaco is a constitutional monarchy in which the sovereign prince plays the leading governmental role. The prince appoints the government, which consists of a minister of state and five ministers. The prince shares the country’s legislative power with the popularly elected National Council, which is elected every five years. Multiparty elections for the National Council in February 2018 were considered free and fair.

The national police are responsible for maintaining public order and the security of persons and property. The Palace Guard is responsible for the security of the prince, the royal family, and property. Both report to the Ministry of Interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

There were no reports of abuses committed by government officials.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits public “denunciations” of the ruling family and provides for punishment of six months’ to five years’ imprisonment for violations. Authorities did not charge anyone with violating these statutes during the year. The law on freedom of expression prohibits defamation or insult, particularly against citizens responsible for a public service or office.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Monaco is not normally a refugee-receiving country. France handles immigration matters for Monaco.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The authority to change the government and to initiate legislation rests solely with the prince. The constitution can be revised by common agreement between the prince and the elected National Council. The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose the National Council in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: There were sporadic allegations of governmental corruption during the year but no formal proceedings against government officials for corrupt practices. The Council of Europe’s anticorruption body, GRECO, reported in 2017 there was “no record of criminal or disciplinary proceedings relating to the integrity of a parliamentarian, which may be as much due to the absence of intrinsic problems as to the absence of specific rules and mechanisms designed to preserve the integrity of national elected representatives.”

On June 26, the government announced that the contract of French investigating judge Edouard Levrault, which expired on September 1, would not be renewed. Judge Levrault had been leading into the inquiry of bribery and influence peddling. “The Monaco authorities gave no justification for their decision, something that should not be tolerated under the rule of law,” Levrault told press in October. Rybolovlev is a Russian businessman and the owner of the country’s soccer team. A collector of expensive art, he sued his Monaco-based art dealer for fraud in 2015, accusing him of inflating the prices of paintings he resold to Rybolovlev. In 2018 the government began a formal investigation into accusations that Rybolovlev had bribed several police and other officials to influence the case. The ensuing corruption scandal resulted in the resignation of the former minister of justice in 2017. During the year the government appointed a senior French prosecutor, Robert Gelli, to be the minister of justice, replacing the previous Monegasque incumbent Laurent Anselmi.

Financial Disclosure: Appointed and elected officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws.

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

While the government did not restrict the establishment or operation of groups devoted to monitoring human rights, none existed in the country. International human rights organizations generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s mediation service is available to residents seeking redress against administrative decisions. The Office of the High Commissioner for the Protection of the Rights and Freedoms and Mediation protects human rights and fights discrimination. While the office acted independently, had adequate resources, and was considered effective, the government does not allow the high commissioner to initiate investigations on her own.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, including foreign workers, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes; government workers do not have the right to strike. Antiunion discrimination is prohibited. According to a report published in 2016 by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the law requires the majority of members of a trade union’s bureau to be citizens of Monaco or France. Union representatives may be fired only with the agreement of a commission that includes two members from the employers’ association and two from the labor movement. The government generally respected these rights.

The government generally enforced the law. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. The government provides the assistance of mediators for private or professional conflicts to avoid long and costly court procedures and to find a solution acceptable to all parties to the dispute.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, and employer organizations and trade unions negotiated agreements on working conditions that were largely respected.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Information regarding the adequacy of resources, remediation effort, inspection sufficiency, and penalties for violations was not available.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 16. Employment between the ages of 16 and 18 is subject to severely restricted conditions. Youths younger than age 18 are allowed to work eight hours per day to a maximum of 39 hours per week and are barred from night work. The government enforced the law effectively. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations; no violations were reported during the year.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law requires equal pay for equal work. No data were available to substantiate any gender pay discrepancy,

The law allows the firing of foreign employees without justification. ECRI reported foreign women did not enjoy the same entitlement to social benefits as their male counterparts.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is a minimum wage, which exceeded the official estimate of the poverty level. Wage laws were enforced, and penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations. Law and government decree establish health and safety standards that are appropriate for the country. Workplace health and safety committees and government labor inspectors enforced the standards.

The Department of Employment in the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs had several labor inspectors. The chief inspector answered directly to the director of the Department of Employment. Labor inspectors informed employers and employees on all matters related to labor laws as well as health and safety standards. They arbitrated, mediated, and reconciled labor/management disputes. When possible, they carried out onsite inspections to ensure employers respected all requirements of the law. Data was not available on enforcement of occupational safety and health standards in the informal economy.

Mongolia

Executive Summary

Mongolia is a multiparty parliamentary democracy governed by a democratically elected government. The 2017 presidential election and 2016 parliamentary elections were considered free and fair, although some observers expressed concern during the presidential election about allegations of vote-buying and candidates’ involvement in corruption.

The National Police Agency and the General Authority for Border Protection, which operate under the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, are primarily responsible for internal security. The General Intelligence Agency, whose director reports to the prime minister, assists these two agencies with internal security. The armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense and assist internal security forces in providing domestic emergency assistance and disaster relief. Civilian authorities maintained control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: threats against the independence of the judiciary; harsh prison conditions; the existence of criminal libel laws; acts of official corruption; violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and forced child labor.

Government efforts to punish officials who committed human rights abuses were inconsistent.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. The government imposed content restrictions in some instances, licensing occasionally proved problematic, and there was reported harassment of journalists.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Globe International, a local NGO specializing in freedom of the press and media, reported continued pressure from police, politicians, and large business entities on local media and press outlets. The ownership and political affiliations of media often were not disclosed to the public, and in a 2018-19 survey by Globe International, seven of 10 journalists reported that at least once in their career state officials did not respond to their requests for information that by law should have been publicly available.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists reported they faced violence, harassment, or intimidation by police. For example, according to a Globe International survey, 67 percent of journalists said they had experienced some form of threat or intimidation in connection with their reporting at least once in their career.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Communications Regulatory Commission (CRC) regulations on digital content and television and radio service impose content restrictions in broad terms, for example on extreme violence. The government appoints members of the CRC, which grants television and radio broadcast licenses without public consultation. This process, together with a lack of transparency during the license-tendering process, inhibited fair access to broadcast frequencies and benefited those with political connections. This also contributed to some self-censorship by journalists.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law treats libel and slander as petty offenses, except during an election campaign period (typically 18 days), when they are treated as criminal offenses. Libel and slander cases, when prosecuted as petty offenses, are punishable by fines ranging from two million to 20 million tugriks ($730 to $7,300). When prosecuted as criminal offenses, they are punishable by fines ranging from 450,000 to 5.4 million tugriks ($164 to $1,970), or imprisonment from one month to one year. If a media organization is found guilty of libel or slander during an election campaign period, its license can be suspended for six months.

The law allows media organizations to seek redress against a person who, by threats of violence, attempted bribery, or other means of intimidation, seeks to compel them to withhold critical information about that person. In such cases the media organization may pursue criminal charges or file a civil complaint against the alleged offender. If convicted, that person is subject to a fine of 450,000 to 2.7 million tugriks ($164 to $985), revocation of the right to travel from one to six months, and one to six months’ imprisonment.

Press representatives and individuals who had a large social media following but were not associated with a media organization faced libel complaints by government authorities and private persons or organizations. Globe International expressed concern about efforts by some government authorities to make all libel and slander cases criminal offenses. In July the President’s Office sued a civil rights activist for defamation based on her critical social media postings. According to Globe International, government officials increasingly used defamation lawsuits against journalists and independent social media personalities.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: In November authorities lifted an order that had suspended migration to Ulaanbaatar. The suspension had aimed to curb air and environmental pollution and to ease traffic. While in effect, the order had exempted persons traveling to Ulaanbaatar for medical treatment or for work for longer than six months.

Foreign Travel: Under the criminal code, at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office, courts can ban the departure of persons who are plotting criminal activity. The law requires that those subject to an exit ban receive timely notification. Authorities did not allow persons under exit bans to leave until the disputes leading to the bans were resolved administratively or by court decision, and bans may remain in place for years. According to reports, 500 persons, including several foreign residents, were banned from leaving the country in 2018, and the practice continued during the year.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum, and the government provided limited protections to foreign residents in the country while UNHCR adjudicated their refugee claims. The law establishes deportation criteria and permits the Agency for Foreign Citizens and Naturalization (the country’s immigration agency) to deport asylum seekers who it deems do not qualify.

Employment: The law does not afford a specific legal status to refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities usually treated them as irregular migrants and did not issue them work permits.

Access to Basic Services: Because the law does not provide for refugee status, asylum seekers generally did not have access to government-provided basic services such as health care and education. Refugees and asylum seekers could access private medical facilities with UNHCR support.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not always implement the law effectively, and corruption continued at all levels. Some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The government implemented the third year of a six-year action plan, the National Program Combatting Corruption, adopted in 2016. The criminal code contains liability provisions for corruption and corruption-related offenses for public servants and government officials. For example, the code dictates that those sentenced for corruption may not work in public service.

On March 27, the parliament adopted amendments to the Anticorruption Law (see section 1.c.).

The criminal code offers immunity from punishment to anyone who reported they bribed an official at the official’s request. In addition, the law criminalizes the misuse of an official position to offer or give preference to close associates or family members when awarding contracts. Nonetheless, private enterprises reported instances in which government employees pressured them to pay bribes to act on applications, obtain permits, and complete registrations.

Members of parliament are generally immune from arrest and searches of their homes and offices during their tenure, but this immunity may be removed by court order, and there is no immunity from criminal investigation. Members of parliament who are caught at the scene of a crime with damaging evidence against them enjoy no immunity.

Factors contributing to corruption included conflicts of interest, lack of transparency, lack of access to information, an inadequate civil service system, and weak government control of key institutions. The government took measures to improve transparency, including implementing electronic tenders for most government procurement and contracting.

The IAAC is the principal agency responsible for investigating corruption, assisted at times by the National Police Agency’s Economic Crime Division of the Criminal Police Department for more routine cases. The IAAC has investigatory responsibility for corruption and crimes committed by military personnel and on-duty police officers. Although questions about the IAAC’s political impartiality persisted, the public viewed the agency as effective. It utilized a standard operating procedure to guide the handling of investigations of corruption allegations and maintained a blacklist of companies that violated government procurement rules. The IAAC conducted 64 training sessions for 4,947 public officials and regularly sponsored public awareness campaigns on television, in social media, and in press conferences that highlighted its work.

Corruption: Corruption at all levels of government remained widespread. The politicization of anticorruption efforts presented an obstacle to effectively addressing corruption. In January, following November 2018 allegations by investigative journalists that at least 14 members of parliament (including two cabinet ministers) and other high-level officials had illegally channeled millions of dollars from a government fund to families and friends, the Parliamentary Immunity Subcommittee rejected a request by the Prosecutor General’s Office to deny four members of parliament immunity from investigation in connection with the scandal. The same month parliament expelled the speaker due to his alleged involvement in a separate 2016 corruption scandal. In July a former energy minister was convicted of abuse of power and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for violating procurement regulations and accepting nearly $100,000 in bribes.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires civil servants and elected officials to report assets and outside sources of income for themselves, their spouses, parents, children, and live-in siblings. It also aims to prevent conflicts of interest between official duties and the private interests of those in public service roles, and to regulate and monitor conflicts of interest to specify that officials act in the public interest. The law requires candidates for public office to submit financial statements and questionnaires on personal business interests.

Public officials must electronically file a private interest declaration with the IAAC within 30 days of appointment or election and annually thereafter during their terms of public service. The law provides that such declarations be accessible to the public and prescribes a range of administrative sanctions and disciplinary actions in case of violation. Violators may receive formal warnings, face salary reductions, or be dismissed from their positions. The IAAC is required to review the asset declarations of public servants, including police officers and members of the military. According to the IAAC, public officials are required to file the documentation in a timely manner or be subject to fines, dismissal from their positions, or both. The IAAC made public the financial disclosure short forms for approximately 36,794 of the country’s public officials. The IAAC received a 20 percent increase in complaints related to alleged conflicts of interest.

Officials with authority to spend government funds are required to report expenditures and audit results on their ministry and agency websites. All transactions more than one million tugriks ($365) are subject to reporting. Plans for budgets, loans, or bonds must be registered with the Ministry of Finance for monitoring and tracking, even after the originating officials have left their positions.

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

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

Amnesty International has received reports of discrimination, intimidation, harassment, police intimidation, and stigmatization against human rights organizations. Progovernment actors sometimes characterized such NGOs as “undesirables,” “troublemakers,” “foreign agents,” or “opponents of the state.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC is responsible for monitoring human rights abuses, initiating and reviewing policy changes, and coordinating with human rights NGOs. The NHRC consists of three senior commissioners nominated by the president, the Supreme Court, and parliament, respectively, for six-year terms. Officials reported government funding for the NHRC, provided by parliament, remained inadequate, and inspection, training, and public awareness activities were entirely dependent on external funding sources. The NHRC consistently supported politically contentious human rights issues, such as the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) individuals, persons with disabilities, and ethnic minorities.

There was some collaboration between the government and civil society in discussing human rights problems. NGOs and international organizations noted, however, that government officials were less open to including NGOs in the legislative drafting process and in the preparation of official reports on social and human rights problems.

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form or join independent unions and professional organizations of their choosing without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the rights of all workers except those employed in essential services to participate in union activities without discrimination, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law bars persons employed in essential services–defined as occupations critical for national defense and safety, including police, utilities, and transportation services–from striking, and it prohibits third parties from organizing strikes. The law prohibits strikes unrelated to matters regulated by a collective agreement.

Laws providing for the rights of collective bargaining and freedom of association generally were enforced. Penalties, largely fines, for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining provisions were not sufficient to deter violations. Labor dispute settlement committees resolved most disputes between individual workers and management. These committees comprise representatives of the local government, the employer, and the employee, who is joined by a representative of the Confederation of Mongolian Trade Unions (CMTU). The CMTU reported the court process was so lengthy many workers abandoned their cases due to time and expense.

The CMTU stated some employees faced obstacles, including the threat of salary deductions, to forming, joining, or participating in unions. Some employers prohibited workers from participating in union activities during work hours. The CMTU also stated workers terminated for union activity were not always reinstated. The CMTU further reported some employers took steps to weaken existing unions. For example, some companies used the portion of employees’ salaries deducted for union dues for other purposes and did not forward the monies to the unions. The CMTU also reported some employers refused to conclude collective bargaining agreements.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as part of a legally imposed sentence. The criminal code provides for a fine or imprisonment for forced labor offenses, but penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

There were isolated reports of forced labor, including forced child labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 14 from working. At age 14, children may, with parental and government permission, work a maximum of 30 hours per week, to acquire vocational training and work experience. At age 15, children may establish a vocational training contract with permission from parents or guardians. According to a Ministry of Labor and Social Protection order, children younger than 18 may not work in hazardous occupations such as mining and construction; engage in arduous work; serve as jockeys during the winter (children may be jockeys beginning at age seven during other seasons); participate in cultural, circus, or folk art performances at night; work in businesses that sell alcoholic beverages; or engage in roadside vending. Despite these restrictions, children were commonly seen participating in horse racing, roadside vending, and other occupations in contravention of the order.

Authorities reported employers often did not follow the law, requiring minors to work in excess of 40 hours per week and paying them less than the minimum wage.

The criminal code’s child protection provisions cover hazardous child labor, which is punishable by severe penalties that are not sufficient to deter violations due to ineffective enforcement. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

The government convenes a council on trafficking in persons on a monthly basis. Despite government programs to support the employment of adult family members, unemployment remains a problem.

Child labor, including cases of forced child labor, was suspected in many sectors, including hotels and restaurants, vehicle repair, manufacturing, petty trade, scavenging and forced begging, event or street contortionism (a local art form), and the illicit sex trade (see section 6, Children). The FCYDA and the General Agency for Specialized Inspection (GASI) conducted child labor inspections, including at artisanal mining sites, public markets, service centers, dumpsites, construction and transportation sites, and on farms.

International organizations continued to express concern about child jockeys in horseracing. Children commonly learned to ride horses at age four or five, and young children traditionally served as jockeys during the annual Naadam festival in races ranging from two to 20 miles. All jockeys including child jockeys are prohibited from working from November 1 to May 1, when cold weather makes racing more hazardous.

The regulations also require registration, adequate headgear, and chest protection, but despite greater government and public attention to safety, enforcement was inconsistent. GASI reported that in sanctioned races during the year, there were 49,641 instances of a child competing in a race (children who raced more than once were counted multiple times). In these races, 550 children fell from horses, 166 were slightly injured, and 12 were seriously injured. The number of deaths was not reported, and races not sanctioned were not counted in these statistics. The FCYDA maintained an electronic database containing information on more than 10,325 child jockeys and collected biometric information to better track jockeys and prevent children younger than seven years from working as jockeys. In addition the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection established guidelines requiring the purchase and maintenance of an insurance policy for jockeys that costs 100,000 tugriks ($37) and pays to jockeys or their surviving family members up to 20 million tugriks ($7,300) in case of injury or death sustained during a race. Observers reported compliance with safety regulations at national races, but less satisfactory compliance at community and regional events. The government, however, only conducts child labor inspections at horse racing events once a year and must provide 48 hours’ notice before conducting an investigation.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on nationality, language, race, age, gender, sexual orientation, sex or marital status, social origin or status, wealth, religion, ideology, education, or medical status. It also prohibits employers from refusing to employ a person with disabilities but provides broad exceptions, applying “unless the condition of such person prevents him from performing a specified activity or would otherwise be contrary to established working conditions at the workplace.” The law prohibits employers from refusing employment to or dismissing an individual diagnosed with HIV/AIDS unless the condition makes it difficult to perform job duties. The law also prohibits women from working in occupations that require heavy labor or exposure to chemicals that could affect infant and maternal health.

The government enforced the law in a limited manner, and discrimination occurred in employment and occupation based on sex and disability, as well as on sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The law charges employers with taking steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, including by establishing internal rules about sexual harassment and the redress of complaints, but provides no penalties. The NHRC reported poor knowledge of the law’s sexual harassment provisions among both employers and employees.

The NHRC found employers were less likely to hire, promote, or provide professional development opportunities to women. There were also reports some employers refused to hire overweight persons, claiming they could not perform essential job functions.

Although the law requires workplaces with more than 25 employees to employ a minimum of 4 percent of persons with disabilities or pay a fine, NGOs reported a reluctance to hire them persisted, and many companies preferred to pay the fine. They also noted the government itself failed to meet the quota. Members of the disability community noted that, even when hired, the lack of accessible public transport made it difficult for persons with disabilities to hold a job (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).

The labor ministry’s Department for the Development of Persons with Disabilities is responsible for developing and implementing employment policies and projects for persons with disabilities. Government organizations and NGOs reported employers’ attitude toward employing persons with disabilities had not improved and that many employers still preferred to pay fines to the Employment Support Fund maintained by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection rather than employ persons with disabilities.

NGOs, the NHRC, and members of the LGBTI community reported companies rarely hired LGBTI persons who were open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and LGBTI persons who revealed their status in the workplace frequently faced discrimination, including the possibility of dismissal. Illegally dismissed LGBTI persons rarely sought court injunctions to avoid disclosing their status and increasing the risk of discrimination.

Foreign migrant workers did not receive the same level of protection against labor law violations as the general population.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was above the poverty line.

Laws on labor, cooperatives, and enterprises set occupational health and safety standards, which apply equally to local and foreign workers. GASI noted many standards were outdated.

Labor inspectors assigned to GASI’s regional and local offices are responsible for enforcement of all labor regulations and have the authority to compel immediate compliance. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, working hours, and occupational safety and health laws and regulations. Neither the penalties nor the number of inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. GASI reported its inspectors, faced with large investigative workloads, needed better training on investigative techniques and evidence collection. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the size of the country’s workforce. Inspectors generally did not conduct inspections in the informal sector.

GASI acknowledged that fines imposed on companies for not complying with labor standards or for concealing accidents were insufficient to induce management to resolve problems. Moreover, safety experts responsible for labor safety and health were often inexperienced or had not received training. GASI lacks the authority to perform surprise inspections.

The law on pensions allows for participation by small family businesses and workers in the informal economy (such as herders) in pension and social benefit programs. These categories of workers were able to access health care, education, social entitlements, and an optional form of social security.

Many workers received less than the minimum wage, particularly at smaller companies in rural areas. Workers in the construction sector, in which work is constrained to a few months each year due to extreme winters, were sometimes pressured to work long hours, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries.

Many foreign workers, the majority of whom were Chinese mining and construction workers, reportedly worked in conditions that did not meet government regulations.

Workers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were in the country at the beginning of the year, and the government enforced a series of deportations in compliance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Reliance on outmoded machinery, poor maintenance, and management errors led to frequent industrial accidents, particularly in the construction, mining, and energy sectors. According to the NHRC, lack of proper labor protection and safety procedures made the construction sector particularly susceptible to accidents. The CMTU stated workers had limited awareness of their legal right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.

GASI provided safety training to companies and private enterprises. According to GASI, the training resulted in a decrease in industrial accidents in accident-prone sectors such as light industry, food, health, and education. According to most recent data provided by GASI, 17 persons were killed in industrial accidents in 2016. Construction-related industrial accidents were especially deadly: according to GASI, over the previous 10 years, 246 persons were killed in such accidents. According to newspaper reports, four workers died in February at a gold mine, and there were other reports that cited industrial accidents.

Montenegro

Executive Summary

Montenegro is a mixed parliamentary and presidential republic with a multiparty political system. Voters choose both the president and the unicameral parliament through popular elections. The president nominates, and the parliament approves, the prime minister. An observation mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) stated the 2016 parliamentary elections were conducted in a competitive environment and that fundamental freedoms were generally respected. The opposition coalition did not accept the election results and began a continuing boycott of parliament, although all but two parties have since returned. In April 2018 Milo Djukanovic, president of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), was elected president, winning approximately 54 percent of the vote in the first round for his second term as president. He had already served six terms as prime minister. Observers from the OSCE/ODIHR, the European Parliament, and the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly noted the election proceeded in an orderly manner but had a few minor irregularities that did not affect the outcome. Despite opposition protests, elections were generally considered free and fair.

The National Police Force, which includes Border Police, is responsible for maintaining internal security. They are organized under the Ministry of Interior and report to the police director and, through him, to the prime minister. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unsolved attacks on journalists and pressure on the press including violence or threats of violence; corruption; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Impunity remained a problem, since the government did not investigate or punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. Unsolved attacks against journalists, political interference with the public broadcaster, smear campaigns carried out by progovernment tabloids, and unfair treatment and economic pressure from government ministries and agencies against independent and pro-opposition media remained a significant problem.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media generally expressed a wide variety of political and social views, including through articles and programs critical of the authorities. The NGO Center for Civic Education warned in each of its annual reports since 2012, however, that selective and nontransparent public funding through the purchase of advertising continued to exert undue influence on the media market. According to the NGO, such funding was provided to reward media outlets favorable to the government and withheld from media that questioned official policies or practices.

The independent television station and newspaper Vijesti continued to attribute its difficulties making regular tax payments to unfair media conditions, economic pressure from the government, and selective prosecution. It complained of large government subsidies to the national public broadcaster, favoring progovernment media when distributing public funds through advertising and project tenders, and a favorable disposition towards foreign-based media compared with local outlets; it also alleged the judiciary practiced selective efficiency and application of defamation laws when independent media are involved. On April 17, an appellate court overturned a 2018 Commercial Court ruling that rejected a 2014 lawsuit brought by Vijestis parent company, Daily Press, against the progovernment tabloid Pink M Television for allegedly defaming and discrediting Vijesti. The appellate court returned the case to the Commercial Court for a readjudication, which continued at year’s end.

Violence and Harassment: Unsolved attacks from previous years and an atmosphere of intimidation against media critical of the government continued to be a serious problem.

On February 19, police announced that the May 2018 shooting of Vijesti reporter Olivera Lakic in front of her home in Podgorica had been solved and named a known criminal and his gang as the perpetrators. Police arrested nine individuals for the attack on Lakic, but independent media questioned police findings because prosecutors had not yet brought formal indictments against the suspects. Lakic, whose investigative reporting covered crime and corruption in the country, was previously attacked in 2012. Government officials, political parties, and international and multilateral organizations condemned the 2018 attack.

On October 14, the High Court of Bijelo Polje fined Nova M, the company that acquired Pink M in 2018, 2,000 euros ($2,200) for defaming Vijestis owners Zeljko Ivanovic and Miodrag Perovic. The basic court had originally ordered a fine of 5,000 euros ($5,500). Ivanovic and Perovic sued Pink M for its misleading reporting connecting them to a former Vijesti journalist suspected of collecting and distributing child pornography on the internet. Separately, 20 journalists from Vijesti individually sued Pink M for similarly attacking their reputations by misleadingly linking them to the accused. As of November, first instance courts had ruled in favor of 19 of the journalists, ordering Nova M to pay fines ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 euros ($1,100 to $5,500), with higher courts subsequently lowering the fines to 800 to 2,000 euros ($880 to $2,200). Vijesti welcomed the court decisions but criticized state institutions for being inefficient in preventing progovernment tabloids from waging smear campaigns against independent media.

On December 3, journalist Vladimir Otasevic, who worked for the independent daily newspaper Dan, was assaulted while photographing controversial Montenegrin businessman Zoran Becirovic, whom the special prosecutor had previously brought in for questioning regarding an alleged attempt to intimidate a witness in the company of high state prosecutor Milos Soskic, in a shopping mall in Podgorica. According to media reports, Becirovic’s bodyguard Mladen Mijatovic grabbed Otasevic by the back of the neck, used his shoulder to hit him, and verbally threatened him. The assault reportedly occurred in the presence of Soskic, who according to media reports “remained silent” and did nothing to stop the incident. The incident received additional attention as Mijatovic is employed by the Ministry of Interior and did not have permission to work as a private bodyguard. The Ombudsman’s Office, media outlets, NGOs, and opposition political parties condemned the attack and urged the authorities to investigate the role of the state prosecutor and the Interior Ministry’s employee in this incident.

Media outlets reported that more than two-thirds of the 85 attacks on journalists since 2004 remained unsolved or did not result in sentences. Observers also noted that the vast majority of the attacks targeted independent or pro-opposition journalists and media professionals.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent and pro-opposition media complained about unfair treatment and economic pressure from government ministries and agencies. The Center for Civic Education claimed that selective and nontransparent distribution of public funds to media outlets created an unfair media environment and constituted “soft censorship.”

On December 4, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court in Podgorica’s June 1 ruling making it final that the managing council of the public broadcaster Radio and Television Montenegro (RTCG) illegally dismissed RTCG’s director general, Andrijana Kadija, in 2018. Of the nine-member council, six representatives affiliated with the ruling DPS voted for Kadija’s dismissal. Kadija maintained she was dismissed because of her professional and politically unbiased managing of RTCG. The EU and the OSCE sharply criticized the dismissal.

Independent journalists, civil society activists, and opposition politicians asserted that Kadija’s dismissal was the final step in DPS’s campaign to regain control of the public broadcaster. That campaign, they claimed, began late in 2017 when parliament dismissed two RTCG council members, film director Nikola Vukcevic and NGO activist Goran Djurovic, allegedly over conflicts of interest. On February 28 and in December 2018, in separate rulings, the basic courts in Podgorica and Niksic, respectively, ruled that parliament’s dismissals of Djurovic and Vukcevic were illegal and annulled the parliament’s decisions on the dismissals. Parliament contested the court’s ability to adjudicate parliamentary decisions on appointments and dismissals and order reinstatement, and it did not comply with the decision. On June 27, the Supreme Court issued a nonbinding but advisory general legal opinion stating that courts cannot challenge parliamentary decisions on elections, appointments, and dismissals of public officials and force reappointments via injunctive relief.

On October 25, in a retrial, the basic court in Podgorica reversed its February ruling and dismissed Djurovic’s lawsuit against the parliament. The NGO Human Rights Action warned that the reversal, influenced by the Supreme Court’s earlier opinion, showed there is no effective legal protection against the parliamentary majority’s illegal decisions. Nonetheless, actions for monetary damages for illegal dismissals remained available.

On September 24, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court in Podgorica’s February 7 ruling that RTCG director general Bozidar Sundic, who replaced Kadija, illegally dismissed Kadija’s first associate, RTCG’s Television Section director Vladan Micunovic. Commenting on the verdict, Micunovic described the decision on his replacement, as well as the replacements of Kadija, Vukcevic, and Djurovic as a “totalitarian purge and a mockery of the law, profession, and common sense.”

On September 24, the High Court in Podgorica ordered the state government and the former editor-in-chief of the daily Pobjeda, Srdjan Kusovac, to pay a total of 10,000 euros ($12,000) to journalists of the independent weekly newspaper Monitor, Milka Tadic Mijovic and Milena Perovic, for damaging their “reputation and honor.” Kusovac, the incumbent head of the Montenegrin government’s public relations bureau, and the state government were also ordered to pay an additional fine of nearly 4,000 euros ($4,400) for court expenses. The formerly state-owned daily Pobjeda, under Kusovac’s leadership, published a series of articles in 2011-2012 attempting to discredit the two independent journalists and strong government critics.

In its 2019 Report on Montenegro, published on May 29, the European Commission (EC) noted the country made no progress in advancing freedom of expression since April 2018. The EC specifically warned that “recent political interference in the national public broadcaster council and the Agency for Electronic Media are a matter of serious concern.”

Some media outlets continued to demonstrate a willingness to criticize the government. A lack of training and unprofessional journalistic behavior, combined with low salaries and political pressure, contributed to self-censorship and what could be deemed biased coverage.

Libel/Slander Laws: There is no criminal libel law, but media outlets faced libel charges in civil proceedings.

According to a February report of the NGO Center for Civic Education, more than 60 percent of all complaints filed with the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM) in 2015-18 were against Pink M, usually related to unprofessional and unethical reporting aimed at discrediting media and civil society figures critical of the government. In 39 of the cases, the AEM found that Pink M had violated the agency’s program principles and standards. The AEM took no disciplinary actions against Pink M during the year since the broadcaster sold its national frequency and moved to cable transmission in the second half of 2018, significantly reducing its reach and Montenegro-related content.

On July 18, the Constitutional Court overturned the 2015 Podgorica Supreme Court and the High Court decisions to fine independent weekly newspaper Monitor 5,000 euros ($5,500) for the alleged defamation of President Milo Djukanovic’s sister, Ana Kolarevic, in the weekly’s 2012 reports about Kolarevic’s alleged role in the controversial privatization of the national telecommunication company, Telekom Crna Gora. The Constitutional Court found that the lower instance courts had violated Monitors constitutional right to freedom of expression and returned the case for a retrial.

On September 12, an appellate court overturned, the High Court of Podgorica’s January 15 ruling to sentence investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic to 18 months in prison for allegedly being part of an international drug smuggling chain. Martinovic denies the charges of drug trafficking and criminal association, claiming that his contact with convicted criminals was solely in the context of his work as a journalist. The appellate decision sent the case back to the High Court for a retrial.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee or subsidiary protection status, and the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. Authorities did not employ methods for managing mixed migration movements effectively, such as prioritization or accelerated procedures. Observers noted that attention and readiness to address the increased mixed flow of migrants remained focused on border control aspects, as evidenced by the sharp rise in the number of migrants pushed back from the Montenegro border during the year.

Access to Basic Services: Once the asylum procedure is initiated, asylum seekers are granted access to free health care and education for minor applicants in line with international standards, although barriers to access, including language and cultural differences, sometimes limited practical access. For example, M.F. from Iran was not able to find a job because of poor command of the local language although he is officially registered with Employment Agency. F.K. from Ghana was not able to find a job because of language requirements. Many IDPs have difficulties obtaining documents, and thus accessing services such as healthcare, due to language barriers.

Durable Solutions: A path to citizenship is available but requires evidence that the applicant had renounced citizenship in his or her country of origin. The government provided support for the voluntary return or reintegration of DPs from countries of the former Yugoslavia. Those who chose the option of integration rather than return to their country of origin enjoyed access to the same rights as citizens, including access to basic services and naturalization in the country, but they did not have the right to vote.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided subsidiary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately five persons. By law persons granted subsidiary protection are entitled to a facilitated integration plan for three years after receiving status. The integration plan is tailored to the individual’s particular needs and includes support in accessing education, Montenegrin language classes, seeking employment, and the provision of accommodation for up to two years. Beneficiaries of refugee or subsidiary protection status may appeal a decision relating to their entitlements before the Administrative Court.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and corruption remained a problem. Some government officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The public viewed corruption in hiring practices based on personal relationships or political affiliation as endemic in the government and elsewhere in the public sector at both local and national levels. This was particularly the case in the areas of health, higher education, the judiciary, customs, political parties, police, urban planning, the construction industry, and employment. The Agency for the Prevention of Corruption continued to operate, but NGOs and the EC stated that “challenges related to the independence, credibility, and priority-setting of the agency are yet to be addressed.”

Agencies tasked with fighting corruption acknowledged that cooperation and information sharing among them was inadequate; their capacity improved but remained limited. Politicization, poor salaries, and lack of motivation and training of public servants provided fertile ground for corruption.

Corruption: Most citizen reports of corruption to the Agency for Prevention of Corruption involved public administration, the private sector, and the judiciary. After the Special Prosecutor’s Office issued an indictment against controversial businessman Dusko Knezevic for heading a criminal group that organized and executed the laundering of 500 million euros ($550 million) through Atlas Banka, which Knezevic owns, a video surfaced allegedly showing him providing bribes and illegal election financing to a top DPS official. The video, locally dubbed as “the envelope affair,” was followed by several large protests in February demanding the resignation of the president, the supreme state prosecutor, and the chief prosecutor for organized crime. Knezevic’s alleged criminal organization purportedly planned for several legal entities from the country partially to avoid paying taxes by utilizing falsified invoices for goods and services to launder funds. During the year Knezevic was reportedly living in the United Kingdom, where he was undergoing extradition proceedings. Knezevic previously had close ties with many officials from the country’s ruling party, the DPS. For his part Knezevic claimed that the charges were arranged by the highest government officials close to President Milo Djukanovic with the goal of taking over his businesses.

In May the Podgorica High Court confirmed the Special Prosecution’s indictment against 24 individuals in a massive cigarette smuggling case. Such excise tax avoidance operations were a key source of funds for organized crime groups in the country. The criminal organization included employees of the country’s customs service, and their operations resulted in an estimated 44-million-euro ($48.4 million) loss to the state.

In August the Special Prosecution in cooperation with the Special Police continued to make arrests in operation “Klap,” a nationwide anticorruption campaign against tax officials, private companies, and individuals. During the year authorities arrested 30 government officials, including four tax inspectors, and their partners in private companies. Several of those charged cooperated with authorities and negotiated plea bargains. Through their illegal activities, the suspects were estimated to have damaged the state budget by approximately five million euros ($5.5 million). Charges were also filed against nine companies involved in the scheme.

Police corruption and inappropriate government influence on police behavior remained problems. Impunity remained a problem in the security forces, according to the NGOs Human Rights Action. NGOs cited corruption, lack of transparency, and the ruling political parties’ influence over prosecutors and officials of the Ministry of Interior as obstacles to greater effectiveness. They noted there was no clear mechanism to investigate instances of impunity. There was also a widespread view that personal connections influenced the enforcement of laws. Low salaries sometimes contributed to corruption and unprofessional behavior by police officers.

Human rights observers continued to express concern over the low number of prosecutions of security force personnel accused of human rights abuses. Police did not provide information about the number of human rights complaints against security forces, or investigations into complaints. The prosecutor’s office, which is responsible for investigating such abuses, seldom challenged a police finding that its use of force was reasonable. Human rights observers claimed citizens were reluctant to report police misconduct due to fear of reprisals. Watchdog groups alleged that the continuing police practice of filing countercharges against individuals who reported police abuse discouraged citizens from reporting and influenced other police officers to cover up responsibility for violations. An external police oversight body, the Council for Civilian Control of Police Operations, stated that identification of police officers who committed alleged abuses was problematic because officers wore masks and were not willing to admit personal responsibility. Although part of their uniform, the masks contributed to a de facto impunity because police officers who perpetrated abuses could not be identified, and their units and commanders were unwilling to identify one of their members.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires government officials to report any increases in value of personal property of more than 5,000 euros ($5,500) or any gift exceeding 50 euros ($55) to the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (APC). Violations of the obligation to file and disclose are subject to administrative or misdemeanor sanctions. Most officials complied with the requirements in a timely fashion. In the first six months of the year, however, the agency filed 179 requests to initiate misdemeanor proceedings against public officials who did not submit regular annual reports on income and assets or for breaking campaign finance laws; 40 of these proceedings resulted in fines that amounted to 8,745 euros total ($9,600).

NGOs urged the APC to pursue charges against President Djukanovic after indicted businessman Dusko Knezevic submitted documentation showing he had paid 16,000 euros ($17,600) of debt on the president’s credit card. The APC determined, however, that settling a public official’s debt on a credit card could not be considered as a gift.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups operated, generally without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were usually cooperative and responsive to the views of international groups, but some domestic NGOs assessed this cooperation as uneven. In its 2019 Progress Report on Montenegro, the EC identified as “matters of serious concern” the practice of “controversial dismissals of prominent nongovernmental organizations’ representatives from key institutions and bodies” and a growing trend among public institutions of responding to requests for information by declaring it to be classified.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman served within the Office of the Protector of Human Rights to prevent torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment as well as discrimination. The Office of the Protector of Human Rights may investigate alleged government human rights violations and inspect such institutions as prisons and pretrial detention centers without prior notification. It may access all documents, irrespective of their level of secrecy, relating to detainees or convicts and talk to prisoners or detainees without the presence of officials. The office may not act upon complaints about judicial proceedings in process, except when the complaint involves delays, obvious procedural violations, or failure to carry out court decisions. The ombudsman may propose new laws, ask the Constitutional Court to determine whether a law violates the constitution or treaty obligations, evaluate particular human rights problems upon request of a competent body, address general problems important for the protection and promotion of human rights and freedoms, and cooperate with other organizations and institutions dealing with human rights and freedoms. Upon finding a violation of human rights by a government agency, the ombudsman may request remedial measures, including dismissal of the violator, and evaluate how well the agency implemented the remedial measures. Failure to comply with the ombudsman’s request for corrective action within a defined period is punishable by fines of 500 to 2,500 euros ($550 to $2,750). The government and courts generally implemented the ombudsman’s recommendations, although often with delays. The ombudsman operated without government or party interference and enjoyed cooperation from NGOs.

Parliament has a six-member Standing Committee for Human Rights and Freedoms. Many observers continued to perceive its contribution as insignificant and criticized its apparent sole focus on how international and European institutions assessed the country.

Some NGOs and international organizations criticized the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights for passivity stating that its capacity remained limited and needed further strengthening.

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