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Austria

Executive Summary

The Republic of Austria is a parliamentary democracy with constitutional power shared between a popularly elected president and a bicameral parliament (Federal Assembly). The multiparty parliament and the coalition government it elects exercise most day-to-day governmental powers. Parliamentary elections in September 2019 and presidential elections in 2016 were considered free and fair.

The federal police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of the Interior. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities and reports to the Defense Ministry. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that members of the security forces committed abuses during the year.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports or allegations of: the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; and violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Judicial authorities investigate whether any security force killings that may occur were justifiable and pursue prosecutions as required by the evidence.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government has measures in place to ensure accountability for disappearances if one were to occur.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

After police used excessive force against several climate activists while dispersing a spontaneous assembly in Vienna in 2019, one police officer involved was prosecuted on charges of bodily injury and another on charges of abuse of office and false testimony. In October a Vienna court convicted one officer of one count of bodily injury and sentenced him to a four-month suspended sentence. The other officer was convicted of one count of abuse of office and sentenced to a one-year suspended prison sentence. In June a Vienna court convicted a third officer involved in the case of abusing his office and giving false testimony. The court sentenced him to a 12-month suspended prison term. The country’s administrative court also declared some actions by police during the incident as illegitimate. In October a Vienna court convicted another officer involved in the case of endangering bodily safety and imposed a fine.

In July a Vienna court convicted six police officers accused of striking a Chechen man during an identity check in 2019; two others were acquitted. The two main defendants received suspended prison sentences of 10 to 12 months on charges of bodily injury and abuse of office. Four others received suspended sentences of eight to 10 months on charges of abuse of office. Amnesty International stated that the suspended sentences did not have a sufficient deterrent effect.

The government’s January 2020 coalition agreement called for the creation of an independent office to deal with complaints of police brutality, but it had not been established as of year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse. The most recent public report by an international prison monitoring body was the 2015 report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) based on a 2014 visit to the country. The report stated that the committee received virtually no allegations of physical mistreatment of prisoners by staff and that material conditions of detention were satisfactory.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by the CPT.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities base arrests on sufficient evidence and legal warrants issued by a duly authorized official. Authorities bring the arrested person before an independent judiciary. In criminal cases, the law allows investigative or pretrial detention for no more than 48 hours, during which time a judge may decide to grant a prosecution request for extended detention. The law specifies the grounds for investigative detention and conditions for bail. There were strict checks on the enforcement of pretrial detention restrictions and bail provisions, and a judge is required to evaluate investigative detention cases periodically. The maximum duration for investigative detention is two years. There is a functioning bail system. Police and judicial authorities generally respected these laws and procedures. There were isolated reports of police abuse, which authorities investigated and, where warranted, prosecuted.

Detainees have the right to an attorney. Although indigent criminal suspects have the right to an attorney at government expense, the law requires appointment of an attorney only after a court decision to remand such suspects into custody (96 hours after apprehension). Criminal suspects are not legally required to answer questions without an attorney present. Laws providing for compensation for persons unlawfully detained were enforced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

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

The law presumes persons charged with criminal offenses are innocent until proven guilty; authorities inform them promptly and in detail of the charges. Trials must be public and conducted orally; defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Attorneys are not mandatory in cases of minor offenses, but legal counsel is available at no charge for indigent persons in cases where attorneys are mandatory. The law grants defendants and their attorneys adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants can confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Free interpretation is available from the moment a defendant is charged through all appeals. Suspects cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. A system of judicial review provides multiple opportunities for appeal.

The law extends the above rights to all defendants regardless of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, or disability.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including an appellate system. These institutions are accessible to plaintiffs seeking damages for human rights violations. Administrative and judicial remedies were available for redressing alleged wrongs. Individuals and organizations may appeal domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

Property Seizure and Restitution

For the resolution of Holocaust-era restitution claims, including by foreign citizens, the government has laws and mechanisms in place. Property restitution also includes an art restitution program. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported that the government had taken comprehensive steps to implement these programs.

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals, and provides criminal penalties for violations. The law also prohibits disparagement of religious teachings in public. The government strictly enforced these laws (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and denouncement of religious teachings (blasphemy) are criminal offenses and are enforced. NGOs reported that strict libel and slander laws created conditions that discouraged reporting of governmental abuse. For example, many observers believed the ability and willingness of police to sue for libel or slander discouraged individuals from reporting police abuses.

Internet Freedom

With limited exceptions, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities continued to restrict access to websites that violate the law, such as neo-Nazi sites. The law barring neo-Nazi activity provides for one- to 10-year prison sentences for public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of National Socialist crimes. The criminal code provision on incitement provides for prison sentences of up to five years for violations. Authorities restricted access to prohibited websites by trying to shut them down and by forbidding the country’s internet service providers from carrying them.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

In-country Movement: Asylum seekers’ freedom of movement was restricted to the district of the reception center assigned by authorities for the duration of their initial application process, until the country’s responsibility for examining the application was determined. By law asylum seekers must be physically present in the centers of first reception while administrative processing is underway, but no more than 120 hours during the initial application process. Authorities have 20 days in which to determine the country’s responsibility and jurisdiction for the case.

Concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in special requirements for movement within the country. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government imposed nationwide lockdowns from the beginning of the year through mid-May and from November 22 to December 12. On November 15, the government also imposed a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated and nonrecovered individuals, requiring them to stay at home unless they needed to exercise, purchase items at essential retail outlets such as grocery stores and pharmacies, or go to work. The lockdown for unvaccinated and nonrecovered individuals continued after the nationwide lockdown ended on December 12. There were also some exit restrictions in provinces and municipalities throughout the country when infection or hospital rates became too high. For example, in September persons near Braunau, which had a high incidence of infection and a low rate of immunization, were required to be vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 with a negative result to leave that area.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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.

Despite growing criticism by human rights NGOs, the government continued to deport unsuccessful asylum seekers to Afghanistan until August. In a legal challenge brought by an Afghan being held in custody prior to deportation, the Constitutional Court ruled on August 17 that given recent developments in Afghanistan, it was impossible to deport Afghan asylum seekers within any reasonable time. Subsequently, the ministers of interior and foreign affairs acknowledged deportations to Afghanistan were no longer possible and stressed that under EU and Schengen Zone rules, the government instead would return Afghans to the first EU country they entered on their way to Austria.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: EU regulations provide that asylum seekers who transit an EU country determined to be “safe” on their way to Austria can be returned to that country to apply for refugee status. Authorities considered signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol to be safe countries of transit.

Employment: While asylum seekers are legally restricted from seeking regular employment, they are eligible for seasonal work, low-paying community service jobs, or professional training in sectors that require additional apprentices. A work permit is required for seasonal employment but not for professional training. An employer must request the work permit for the prospective employee. Asylum seekers have access to health care services and school education is available to their children, but they do not receive other integration services, such as language classes or employment assistance, until their applications have been approved.

Durable Solutions: While the government processes and grants applications for asylum, there was no active program for resettlement of refugees, and UNHCR was not involved in the refugee or asylum process in the country. The integration section in the Ministry for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration at the Federal Chancellery, together with the Integration Fund and provincial and local integration offices, coordinated measures for integration of refugees.

Temporary Protection: According to the Ministry of Interior, in 2020 the government provided temporary protection to 2,524 individuals who might not qualify as refugees but were unable to return to their home countries. According to the Ministry of Interior, between January and July, the government provided temporary protection to 2,110 individuals.

g. Stateless Persons

According to the government’s statistical office, in January there were 17,992 persons in the country registered as stateless, that is, having undocumented or unclear citizenship. Stateless persons in the country were largely Austrian-born children of foreign nationals who were unable to acquire their parents’ citizenship due to the laws in their parents’ country of origin. Authorities did not deport them because they lacked a home country.

The law allows some stateless persons to gain Austrian nationality. A stateless person born in the country may be granted citizenship within two years of reaching the age of 18 if he or she has lived in the country for a total of 10 years, including five years continuously before application, and is able to demonstrate sufficient income. Stateless persons can receive temporary residence and work permits that 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.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held parliamentary elections in 2019 and presidential elections in 2016. There were no reports of serious abuse or irregularities in either election, and credible observers considered both to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women’s participation in government at the national level increased because of the 2019 federal elections. There were 74 women in the 183-member lower house of compared with 63 during the 2017-19 legislative term. The coalition government had eight women in its 17-member body. The previous government had six female ministers.

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. Anticorruption laws and regulations extend to civil servants, public officials, governors, members of parliament, and employees or representatives of state-owned companies. The law also criminalizes corrupt practices by citizens outside the country. The penalty for bribery is up to 10 years in prison.

There were reports of government corruption during the year. The Ministry of Justice’s 2020 annual report disclosed that it had investigated 2,031 allegations of corruption in 2020, of which 1,594 were closed without prosecution, 249 resulted in convictions, and 93 resulted in acquittals. The convictions represent a 15 percent increase from 2019.

Corruption: On November 18, parliament voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of former chancellor Sebastian Kurz, at his request, so that an investigation against him by anticorruption prosecutors could continue. Kurz resigned as chancellor in October but at that time continued to serve as the People’s Party chairman and started serving as the party’s parliamentary floor leader. Kurz resigned in the wake of corruption investigations against him in connection with alleged abuse of office and alleged misuse of public funds for manipulated polling and favorable press coverage beginning in 2016. Kurz withdrew from politics completely in December and resigned as chairman of the People’s Party and as the party’s parliamentary floor leader.

On August 27, a Vienna court sentenced the former vice chancellor and former leader of the Freedom Party, Hans-Christian Strache, to a 15-month suspended prison term for trying to initiate legislation to benefit the owner of a private hospital who donated $14,000 to Strache’s party. Strache appealed the verdict.

During the year, prosecutors also continued investigations regarding both party-affiliated personnel appointments in the partly state-owned Casinos Austria company and the government holding company OeBAG. The investigations included a search of the finance minister’s house based on allegations he may have been involved in discussions about a political party donation by gambling company Novomatic in exchange for the government’s assistance regarding a tax matter in Italy. In June prosecutors initiated investigations against Kurz on perjury charges in connection with his June 2020 testimony before a parliamentary investigative committee regarding his possible involvement in the appointment of the CEO of the government holding company. The finance minister resigned all party positions and withdrew from politics in December.

Prosecutors also continued investigating allegations the former vice chancellor and former Freedom Party leader submitted private expenses of more than 500,000 euros ($575,000) for reimbursement to the party (the Freedom Party and other leading political parties receive some government funding).

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: A human rights ombudsman’s office consisting of three independent commissioners examines complaints against the government. The ombudsman’s office is completely independent and has its own budget; parliament appoints its members. The ombudsman’s office effectively monitored government activities. A parliamentary human rights committee also provides oversight of the government’s actions with respect to human rights.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men, including spousal rape, is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment; domestic violence is punishable under the criminal code provisions for murder, rape, sexual abuse, and bodily injury. The government generally enforced the law, and law enforcement response to rape and domestic violence was generally effective. Police can issue, and courts may extend, an order barring abusive family members from contact with survivors. Police referred victims of domestic violence to special shelters.

Under the law, the government provides psychosocial care in addition to legal aid and support throughout the judicial process to survivors of gender-based violence. Police training programs addressed sexual or gender-based violence and domestic abuse. The government funded privately operated intervention centers and hotlines for victims of domestic abuse.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government generally enforced the law. Labor courts may order employers to compensate victims of sexual harassment; the law entitles a victim to monetary compensation. The Ministry for Women, Family, Youth and Integration and the labor chamber regularly provided information to the public on how to address sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There are no legal barriers or government policies that adversely affected access to contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, and emergency contraception was available as part of the clinical management of cases of rape.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit and owning or managing businesses or property. Women were subject to some discrimination in remuneration and representation in certain occupations.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Laws to protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination are in place, and the government enforced them effectively. The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals and provides criminal penalties for violations. (See section 2.a.)

In response to a parliamentary inquiry, the Ministry of Interior reported there were 443 neo-Nazi extremist, racist, anti-Muslim, or anti-Semitic incidents between January and June, up from 314 in the previous year.

In July the Ministry of Interior presented its first report on hate crimes. The report listed 1,936 hate crimes between November 2020 and April 21, primarily directed against persons of a different religion, opinion, or ethnicity.

The NGO ZARA, which operated a hotline for victims of racist incidents, reported receiving 3,039 complaints of threats and harassment in 2020, up from 1,950 complaints in 2019. It reported that 2,148 of the cases were based on racist internet postings, up from 2,070 in 2019. Most of these were directed against Muslims and immigrants.

The Islamic Faith Community’s documentation center reported receiving 1,402 complaints of threats and harassment in 2020, a 33.4 percent increase over the 1,051 complaints received in 2019. Some 84 percent of the reported incidents took place on digital media. The incidents included verbal abuse directed against Muslims and anti-Muslim graffiti.

Muslim groups objected to a new online “Islam Map” published by the University of Vienna’s Institute for Islamic Religious Pedagogics and presented by the integration minister’s Documentation Office of Political Islam on May 27 that shows the location of over 600 Muslim institutions in the country as well as their origin and ideology, structure and network, and connections abroad. The groups interpreted the map as an attempt to put Muslims in the country under general suspicion. Minister for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration Raab defended the map as providing more transparency that the government and public could use as reference material.

Human rights groups continued to report that Roma faced discrimination in employment and housing. Government programs, including financing for tutors, helped school-age Romani children move out of “special needs” programs and into mainstream classes. NGOs reported that Africans living in the country were also verbally harassed or subjected to violence in public.

NGOs continued to assert that police allegedly targeted minorities for frequent identity checks.

The Ministry of Labor and the Ministry for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration continued providing German-language instruction and skilled-labor training to young persons with immigrant backgrounds. Preschool programs, including some one- and two-year pilot programs, sought to remedy language deficiencies for non-native German speakers.

The government continued training programs to combat racism among police forces and educate police in cultural sensitivity. The Ministry of Interior renewed an annual agreement with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to teach police officers cultural and racial sensitivity, religious tolerance, and the acceptance of minorities in the framework of the ADL’s “A World of Difference” program. Training has been conducted on an ongoing basis for police officers since 2002 and was introduced as part of officers’ basic training in 2008. In 2020, 525 current police officers and 1,035 prospective police officers received training nationwide. As of the end of 2020, a total of 23,265 police officers had received the ADL training out of a total police force of about 31,000 members.

Children

Birth Registration: By law children derive citizenship from one or both parents. Officials register births immediately.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, which may be extended to 10 years. Severe sexual abuse or rape of a minor is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, which may be increased to life imprisonment if the victim dies because of the abuse. The government continued its efforts to monitor child abuse and prosecute offenders. Officials noted a growing readiness by the public to report cases of such abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Adolescents between the ages of 16 and 18 may legally contract a marriage by special permit and parental consent or court action. NGOs estimated there were 200 cases of early marriage annually, primarily in the Muslim and Romani communities.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, grooming, and offering or procuring children for commercial sex and practices related to child pornography; authorities generally enforced the law effectively. The law provides up to 15 years’ imprisonment for an adult convicted of sexual intercourse with a child younger than 14, the minimum age for consensual sex for both girls and boys. Possession of or trading in child pornography is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to figures compiled by the Austrian Jewish Community (IKG), there were between 12,000 and 15,000 Jews in the country, of whom an estimated 8,000 were members of the IKG.

The IKG expressed concern that the COVID-19 crisis led to a further increase of anti-Semitism. The NGO Forum against Anti-Semitism reported 585 anti-Semitic incidents during 2020. These included physical assaults in addition to name-calling, graffiti, and defacement, threatening letters, dissemination of anti-Semitic texts, property damage, and vilifying letters and telephone calls. Of the reported incidents, 11 concerned physical assaults, 22 involved threats and insults, 135 were letters and emails, 53 were cases of vandalism, and 364 involved insulting behavior. The IKG reported 562 incidents in the period from January to June. The government provided police protection to the IKG’s offices and other Jewish community institutions, such as schools and museums. The IKG noted that the majority of anti-Semitic incidents involved neo-Nazi and other related right-wing extremist perpetrators but reported that a substantial number of incidents involved Muslim perpetrators.

An August 2020 physical attack by a Syrian immigrant on a Graz Jewish community leader remained under investigation. Authorities reportedly were unable to locate the perpetrator of another assault in November 2020 on a rabbi in Vienna.

Government officials roundly condemned the attacks at the time they occurred. School curricula included discussion of the Holocaust, the tenets of different religious groups, and advocacy of religious tolerance. The Ministry of Education, Science, and Research offered special teacher training seminars on Holocaust education and conducted training projects with the Anti-Defamation League.

From September 2020 – the date a law extending citizenship to descendants of Austrian victims of National Socialism entered into force – to August, approximately 6,600 persons, mostly from Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States, received citizenship.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not always effectively enforce these provisions. Employment discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred. Health services and transportation were available on an equal basis with others, and government communication was generally provided in accessible formats. There were no government actions that limited participation in civic life, including the ability to vote.

The government had a National Action Plan on Disability for 2012-20 that called for gradual abandonment of segregated schools for students with disabilities. During the 2019-20 school year, however, 36.2 percent of students with disabilities were placed in special education schools.

The Federal Disabilities Act mandates access to public buildings for persons with physical disabilities. While the federal ombudsman for disabled persons has noted most buildings comply with these regulations, NGOs complained some public buildings still lacked such access. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Health Care, and Consumer Protection handled disability-related problems. The government funded a wide range of programs for persons with disabilities, including transportation and other assistance, to help integrate schoolchildren with disabilities into mainstream classes and employees with disabilities into the workplace.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

A Social Democratic Party parliamentarian reported in April that the Federal Ombudsman’s Office was examining his complaint about a ban on blood donations by sexually active gay men.

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

There were no reports of police or other government agents inciting, perpetrating, condoning, or tolerating violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals or those reporting on such abuse. There was some societal prejudice against LGBTQI+ persons but no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQI+ organizations generally operated freely. According to a survey by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, 11 percent of homosexual persons and 17 percent of transgender persons reported they had been verbally or physically assaulted in the previous five years.

In October a court in Styria convicted a Syrian national living in Austria who had defaced the walls of an LGBTQI+ community center in the city of Graz, assaulted the president of the Graz Jewish Community, and vandalized the Graz synagogue. The court sentenced him to a three-year prison term.

In March a trial before the Vienna court on incitement charges against a man who had allegedly harassed three LGBTQI+ men after a rainbow parade in 2019 ended in a settlement providing financial compensation to the victims.

Federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in employment. Laws at the provincial level prohibit discrimination by state and nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons, including with respect to essential goods and services such as housing, employment, and access to government services such as health care. Civil society groups noted there was no federal mechanism to prevent service providers from discriminating against LGBTQI+ individuals.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. It prohibits antiunion discrimination or retaliation against strikers and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. The Austrian Trade Union Federation was the exclusive entity representing workers in collective bargaining. Unions were technically independent of government and political parties, although unions in some sectors were closely associated with parties.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws that covered all categories of workers. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties for violations were of a civil nature, with fines imposed, and were commensurate with those under other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative, registration, and judicial procedures were not overly lengthy.

There were few reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union functions. The government and employers recognized the right to strike and respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Authorities effectively enforced laws providing for collective bargaining and protecting unions from interference and workers from retaliation for union activities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government effectively enforced the law, and resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Labor inspectors and revenue authorities conducted routine site visits to identify forced labor. The government initiated forced labor awareness campaigns and workshops. Penalties ranged from six months to five years imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and from one to 10 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim and were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

NGOs noticed an upward trend in labor trafficking in recent years due to organized crime in Eastern Europe. Traffickers were reported to exploit men and women from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and China in forced labor, primarily in restaurants, construction, agriculture, health care, and domestic service, including in diplomatic households. Seasonal migrants were especially vulnerable to labor trafficking, particularly during the harvest seasons. Traffickers exploited children, persons with physical and mental disabilities, and Roma in forced begging.

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 the worst forms of child labor. The minimum legal working age is 15, with the exception that children who are at least 13 may engage in certain forms of light work on family farms or businesses. Children who are 15 and older are subject to the same regulations on hours, rest periods, overtime wages, and occupational health and safety restrictions as adults, but they are subject to additional restrictions on hazardous forms of work or work that is detrimental to ethics and morals. Restrictions for hazardous jobs include work with materials considered dangerous for children, work in the sawmill business, on high-voltage pylons, and specified jobs in the construction business.

The labor inspectorate of the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies in the workplace and did so through regular and thorough checks of workplaces and special youth advisors in companies. Penalties in the form of fines may be doubled in cases of repeated violations of the child labor code. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous crimes.

Child labor occurred. Children were trafficked to the country and subjected to forced begging and occasionally sexual exploitation. Forced labor or exploitation of minors is treated under the criminal code as trafficking in persons, with criminal penalties of one to 10 years in prison, double the penalty for forced labor or exploitation of adults.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations related to employment or occupation prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive (or other communicable disease) status, religion, age, or world view. The law does not address national origin. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Penalties for violations were commensurate with laws relating to civil rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, and members of certain minorities. Muslim women wearing headscarves sometimes encountered discrimination when trying to obtain a retail or customer service position. Companies sometimes preferred to pay a fine rather than hire a person with a disability.

The law requires equal pay for equal work, but women occasionally experienced discrimination in remuneration. Persons with disabilities had difficulty accessing the workplace. Women employees in the private sector may invoke laws prohibiting discrimination against women by filing a court case or registering a complaint with the Federal Equality Commission, which can award the equivalent of up to four months’ salary to women found to have experienced gender discrimination in promotion, despite being better qualified than their competitors. The courts may also order compensation for women denied a post despite having equal qualifications.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: There is no legislated national minimum wage. Instead, nationwide collective bargaining agreements covered between 98 and 99 percent of the workforce and set minimum wages by job classification for each industry. Where no such collective agreements existed, such as for domestic workers, custodial staff, and au pairs, wages were generally lower than those covered by collective bargaining agreements. The agreements set wages above the poverty line except in a few cases.

The law in general provides for a maximum workweek of 40 hours, although collective bargaining agreements establish 38- or 38.5-hour workweeks for more than half of all employees. Regulations to increase workhour flexibility allowed companies to increase the maximum regular time from 40 hours to 50 hours per week with overtime. A law that entered into force in 2019 allows work hours to be increased to a maximum of 12 hours per day and 60 hours per week, including overtime, but employees can refuse, without providing a reason, to work more than 10 hours per day.

Overtime is officially limited to 20 hours per week and 60 hours per year. The period worked must not exceed an average of 48 hours per week over a period of 17 weeks. Some employers, particularly in the construction, manufacturing, and information technology sectors, exceeded legal limits on compulsory overtime. Collective bargaining agreements can specify higher limits. An employee must have at least 11 hours off between workdays. Wage and hour violations can be brought before a labor court, which can fine employers who commit violations. Penalties were commensurate with other similar crimes.

Sectors with immigrant and migrant workers were particularly affected by violations in wage and hour regulations. Foreign workers in both the formal and informal sectors made up 19 percent of the country’s workforce. They constituted 20 percent of officially employed persons and 35 percent of unemployed persons. There were concerns that some migrant workers, especially those in the childcare industry, were misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees. Consequently, these workers did not have access to social safety net benefits, such as unemployment insurance, as well as other benefits, such as paid leave.

Occupational Safety and Health: The labor inspectorate effectively enforced mandatory occupational safety and health standards, which were appropriate for the main industries. The number of inspectors was sufficient to deter violations. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Resources and remediation remained adequate. In cases of violations resulting in serious injury or death, employers may be prosecuted under the penal code. Penalties are commensurate with those for other crimes, such as negligence.

In 2020 a total of 113 workers died in industrial accidents, down from 126 in 2019. Hazardous sectors where the most accidents occurred include construction, agriculture, and forestry.

Workers could file complaints anonymously with the labor inspectorate, which could in turn sue the employer on behalf of the employee. Workers rarely exercised this option and normally relied instead on the nongovernmental workers’ advocacy group and the Chamber of Labor, which filed suits on their behalf.

Workers could remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety, without jeopardy to their employment. The Employment and Labor Relations Federal Public Service protected employees in this situation.

Informal Sector: Authorities did not effectively enforce wage, hour, and occupational safety and health standards in the informal sector. Workers in the small informal economy generally did not benefit from social protections. Workers generally had to pay into the system to receive health-care benefits, unemployment insurance, and pensions, and such payments were rare in the informal sector. Economists estimated the size of the country’s informal sector at approximately 7 percent of GDP.

Croatia

Executive Summary

The Republic of Croatia is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral parliament (Sabor). The president serves as head of state and nominates the prime minister, who leads the government, based on majority support of parliament. The latest presidential election was held in December 2019 with a second round for the top two candidates held in January 2020. President Zoran Milanovic was elected by a majority of voters. Domestic and international observers stated that presidential elections and parliamentary elections held in July 2020 were free and fair.

The national police, under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, have primary responsibility for domestic security. In times of disorder, the prime minister and the president may call upon the armed forces to provide security. The president is commander in chief of the armed forces. The armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense and to the president as commander in chief. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Domestic and international nongovernmental organizations reported some members of the border police committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: instances of intimidation and censorship of journalists and the existence of a criminal libel provision in the penal code; reported acts of unjustified police violence, including pushbacks, against irregular migrants, some of whom may have been asylum seekers; ongoing legal cases involving serious government corruption; and crimes involving violence targeting members of minority groups, particularly Serb, Romani, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex individuals.

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

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person:

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities; however, a significant number of cases of missing persons from the 1991-95 conflict remained unresolved. The Ministry of Veterans Affairs reported that as of November 23, 1,455 persons remained missing, and the government was searching for the remains of 398 individuals known to be deceased, for a total of 1,853 unsolved missing persons’ cases. The ministry reported that during the year field searches were conducted in 31 locations in eight different counties, and remains of five individuals were exhumed from four locations. Remains of 20 persons were identified. Progress on missing persons remained slow primarily due to lack of reliable documents and information regarding the location of mass and individual graves, as well as other jurisdictional and political challenges with neighboring countries.

On May 12, Veterans Minister Tomo Medved attended the opening of a newly renovated DNA laboratory at the Institute of Forensic Medicine and Criminology in Zagreb. The government invested 5.08 million kuna ($829,000) in the lab.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but, according to the Office of the Ombudsperson, there were several reports of physical and verbal mistreatment among prisoners.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Some prison conditions were inadequate due to overcrowding, a propensity for violence among inmates, and a lack of health professionals working in the prison system.

Physical Conditions: The ombudsperson’s 2020 annual report stated that the COVID-19 pandemic and two devastating earthquakes that hit Zagreb and Sisak-Moslavina county in March and December 2020, respectively, affected the prison system. The March 2020 earthquake in the city of Zagreb caused minor damage to the prison hospital building while the earthquake in Sisak-Moslavina county caused significant damage to the prisons in Sisak and Glina. COVID-19 exacerbated some prison conditions, including a lack of organized social activities for inmates. The ombudsperson’s report stated overcrowding remained a problem in some prisons and that many detained persons resided in conditions that did not meet legal and international standards. Some inmates reported physical, sexual, and psychological violence perpetuated by other inmates. Those individuals often belonged to vulnerable groups, such as the Romani community or individuals with intellectual challenges. Some prisons, for example in Lepoglava, sought to suppress violence among prisoners by transferring abused prisoners to other facilities and collecting relevant data regarding incidents better. The ombudsperson’s report stated that such actions were often considered reactive and insufficient. The ombudsperson’s report noted a lack of adequate facilities and employees, especially health workers within the prison system.

In addition the ombudsperson reported the most frequent complaints were inadequate health care, followed by inappropriate conduct of prison officials, inadequate accommodation conditions, inadequate legal remedies for complaints, and violence among inmates. The ombudsperson’s report described regular site visits to 20 police stations and three detention centers in the country. The report described partial compliance with the standards of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) at seven police stations. Although the standards stipulate that detention facilities must be equipped with water and flush toilets, some facilities did not have them. Video surveillance in some police stations included coverage of a sanitary facility located outside the detention room, which endangered the right to privacy. In some stations, due to lack of space, medical examinations were carried out in the corridors, contrary to medical confidentiality standards. After observing these issues during initial visits, the report noted that some police stations implemented recommendations regarding the conditions in follow-up visits.

Administration: The ombudsperson’s report stated detained persons frequently turned to the ombudsperson to address these issues due to the ineffectiveness of legal remedies. The ombudsperson investigated credible allegations of mistreatment and issued recommendations to improve conditions for detained persons. During 2020 the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) conducted 26 visits of locations housing persons deprived of liberty, including 20 police stations, three police detention units, one educational institution, and restricted psychiatric wards in two hospitals.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent, nongovernmental observers. The ombudsperson carried out tasks specified in the NPM and is authorized to make unannounced visits to facilities where individuals are deprived of liberty. The CPT and the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions also made visits in recent years.

Improvements: In November 2020 the reconstruction of the water system and sanitary facilities and renovation of 22 prison rooms in Osijek prison was completed at a cost of approximately 1.8 million kuna ($294,000).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Other than those apprehended during the commission of a crime, persons were arrested with warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence. Prosecutors may hold suspects for up to 48 hours in detention. Upon the request of prosecutors, an investigative judge may extend investigative detention for an additional 36 hours. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them. The law requires a detainee be brought promptly before a judicial officer, and this right was generally respected. The law limits release on bail only in cases of flight risk. In more serious cases, defendants were held in pretrial detention. Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or, if indigent, to one provided by the state.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Cases of intimidation of state prosecutors, judges, and defense lawyers were isolated.

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence. They must be informed promptly of the charges against them. Defendants have a right to a fair, public, and timely trial and to be present at their trial. Despite an overall decrease in the number of backlogged court cases during the past 10 years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on court operations and the March and December 2020 earthquakes which damaged some court buildings, the backlog in domestic courts (508,578 cases as of September 30) increased from the 462,200 backlogged cases reported at the end of 2020. This continued to raise concerns regarding judicial effectiveness, efficiency, legal uncertainty, and the rule of law.

Lengthy trials remained one of the main problems in the judiciary. The European Commission’s rule of law report in July and the report of the Office of the Ombudsperson also both noted the deleterious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the earthquakes in Zagreb and Sisak-Moslavina county on the speedy delivery of justice in the country. The European Commission’s report stated, “the Croatian justice system has seen improvements in reducing length of proceedings and backlogs, but further improvements are still needed to address serious efficiency and quality challenges.” The report also noted that the level of perceived judicial independence remained very low. In the commission’s survey, 68 percent of respondents cited interference or pressure from government and politicians as the main reason they felt the courts lacked independence, while 63 percent cited pressure from special interests.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to have one provided at state expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Any defendant who cannot understand or speak Croatian has free access to an interpreter from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and prosecutors may file an appeal before a verdict becomes final. During 2020, the latest year for which data was available, the ombudsperson received 206 complaints regarding the judiciary, 6 percent more than in 2019. Of these, 94 related to the work of the courts, an increase of 12 percent. Most of the complaints were related to procedural delays, while others related to accusations of abuse of position by officers of the court, complaints regarding case outcomes, and court performance in general.

Political Prisoners and Detainee

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may seek damages for, or cessation of, an alleged human rights violation. They may file an application (appeal) to the European Court of Human Rights after all domestic legal remedies have been exhausted or after a case has been pending for an excessive period in domestic courts. Administrative remedies were also available.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The government has endorsed the Terezin Declaration but does not have adequate legal mechanisms in place to address Holocaust-era property restitution. The country has not effectively compensated claimants for property seized during the Holocaust period (1941-45) and has inconsistently permitted noncitizens to file claims.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported the government did not make significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. The law limits restitution of property seized during the Communist era to individuals who were citizens of the country in 1996 and permitted claims to be filed only within a specified window, which closed in January 2003. Consequently, the law does not provide effective compensation to persons, including Holocaust survivors, whose property was expropriated but who left the country and obtained citizenship elsewhere. A 2002 amendment to the law allows foreign citizens to file claims if their country of citizenship has a bilateral restitution treaty with Croatia. In 2010, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot require such a treaty as a necessary condition for restitution. In 2011 the Ministry of Justice attempted unsuccessfully to amend the legislation to reflect this finding and reopen claims. At the time the government estimated the amendment might benefit between 4,211 and 5,474 claimants. As of year’s end, the government had taken no subsequent steps to amend the law.

The government reported 70,000 property restitution claims filed as of year’s end. The government reported approximately 66,200 of those claims (almost 95 percent) were resolved, but cases were not broken down by religion, ethnicity, or nationality, making it impossible to determine precisely which were linked to Jewish Holocaust victims. In September the government reported the resolution of 294 claims, mainly from the postwar period, worth a total of 749 million kuna ($122.4 million), involving Jewish claimants. Of the 101 pending cases monitored by the government since 2018, 46 were resolved; some in cash compensation 14.7 million kuna ($2.4 million) and some in returned property compensation (estimated worth 42.2 million kuna or $6.9 million, based on present real estate market values). Of those pending cases monitored since 2018, 55 remained outstanding.  Restitution of communal property remained a problem for the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Communities in Croatia. The government reported that since 1999 it resolved 344 property claims related to the Serbian Orthodox Church, which included the right to compensation in bonds. The Serbian Orthodox Church and representatives of the Catholic Church stated that several claims remained outstanding. The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media, but judicial ineffectiveness at times delayed resolution of cases.

Freedom of Expression: The law sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred, or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” A conviction for internet hate speech is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law provides for six months’ to five years’ imprisonment for those who organize or lead a group of three or more persons to incite violence or hate via print media, radio, television, computer system or networks, during public gatherings or in other way against certain categories or groups. Under the law, libel and insult also represent criminal acts and are punishable by a fine. Insults shall not be criminally prosecuted if committed in the conduct of journalism, in a public interest, or for other justifiable reasons. Although the laws and recent Constitutional Court decisions technically impose restrictions on symbolic speech considered “hate speech,” including the use of Nazi and (the World War II [fascist, pro-Nazi] regime) Ustasha-era symbols and slogans, NGOs and advocacy groups complained that enforcement of those provisions remained inadequate, and that courts’ jurisprudence remained inconsistent.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media. On October 1, parliament amended the Electronic Media Law to make providers of electronic publications responsible for the entire content published including user-generated content only if providers fail to register a user or fail to warn users in a clear and visible way concerning the rules regarding online comments. The amendments regulate the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of legal and natural persons that provide audio or audiovisual media services and services related to electronic publications and video platforms, transposing several EU directives into national legislation. The amendments also define mechanisms to determine jurisdiction over various providers of media services and increases transparency in the publication of information outlining the ownership structure of media service providers. The law was amended in cooperation with the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) and the Association of Newspaper Publishers of the Croatian Employers’ Association.

The law bans inciting violence or hatred against groups or a member of a group on grounds of race, gender, language, religion, political or other beliefs, national or social origin, property status, trade union membership, education, social status, marital or family status, age, health, disability, genetic inheritance, gender identity, expression or sexual orientation, and anti-Semitism and xenophobia, ideas of fascist, Nazi, communist and other totalitarian regimes.

Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported intimidation and threats, especially online threats, against journalists. Organizations including the CJA, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the Union of Croatian Journalists (SNH), and the Croatian Political Science Association condemned verbal attacks on the country’s media and called for more government engagement to address the issue. In May the EFJ joined their affiliates in the country, including the SNH and the CJA, in condemning President Milanovic’s calling journalists who work for public broadcaster Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) “tricksters,” “mercenaries,” and “an embarrassment to the country.” The EFJ also condemned remarks regarding media by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported practicing self-censorship due to fear of online harassment, lawsuits, upsetting politically connected individuals, or possible adverse employment effects for covering certain topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel, but no criminal penalties were imposed. The country has both criminal and civil laws against libel. According to results of an annual survey conducted by the CJA, at least 924 lawsuits were filed against journalists and media, with claimed damages of almost 79 million kuna ($13 million). Of the 924 lawsuits, 892 were for civil alleged violations of honor and reputation against publishers, editors, and journalists, while 32 were criminal lawsuits. The CJA was defending itself against three active lawsuits. The HRT had active lawsuits against 36 of its own journalists, including the president of the CJA, Hrvoje Zovko, and the president of the CJA branch at the HRT, Sanja Mikleusevic Pavic.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status and subsidiary protection status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees and asylum seekers. Despite restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of the Interior reported it continued to work with asylum seekers and persons granted international protection, and it provided access to the asylum procedure in accordance with epidemiological measures and recommendations adopted by the European Commission.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: As in previous years, national and international NGO reports accused the country’s border police of violent pushbacks and abuse of irregular migrants.

The television network RTL released news footage on October 6 appearing to show masked men in Croatia forcefully pushing back migrants into Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The footage was taken in collaboration with a consortium of European journalists associated with Lighthouse Reports as part of an eight-month investigation. The video showed masked men in vests and wielding batons used by Croatia’s riot police. Head of the Border Police Zoran Niceno said the Police Directorate formed a task force to investigate the incident, which reportedly took place in June, and emphasized that such physical violence had no place in police procedures, a sentiment echoed by Minister of Interior Davor Bozinovic. Prime Minister Plenkovic stressed the country’s duty to protect the border and to prevent illegal migration but noted everything must be in accordance with the law. Police Director General Nikola Milina said on October 8 that authorities suspended three police officers in connection with the incident and added that police were in close contact with the state prosecutors and the country’s Independent Monitoring Mechanism.

In the first half of the year, the NGO Danish Refugee Council alleged there were 3,629 pushbacks from Croatia to BiH, and 144 pushbacks from Croatia to Serbia, as well as 275 chain pushbacks from Slovenia, Italy, and Austria, through Croatia, to BiH. A significant increase in the number of alleged pushbacks from Croatia was recorded in the second quarter and mostly involved Afghan, Pakistani, Syrian, and Moroccan nationals. During the same period, the Croatian NGO Center for Peace Studies, an advocate for the rights of migrants, stated it received 224 inquiries from 178 groups of potential asylum seekers (including 82 that included children) and other migrants, involving at least 658 persons, requesting legal advice or other assistance.

In April media reported that an Afghan woman alleged that a border police officer sexually assaulted her, holding her at knifepoint and forcing her to strip during a search of a group of irregular migrants on the border with BiH. The Guardian newspaper reported the woman said she tried to cross the Croatian border with a group of four others, including two children, but they were stopped by an officer who allegedly pointed a rifle at them, and tore up their papers when they requested asylum. The European Commission described the reported incident as a “serious alleged criminal action” and urged Croatian authorities “to thoroughly investigate all allegations and follow up with relevant actions.” In response, the Ministry of Interior stated police would investigate the allegations but that based on preliminary checks there were no recorded dealings with “females from the population of illegal migrants” on the day in question.

On June 8, the Interior Ministry concluded an agreement to establish an Independent Mechanism for Monitoring the Conduct of Police Officers of the Ministry of the Interior in the Field of Illegal Migration and International Protection (the Mechanism). According to one of the implementers, the agreement was concluded with professional associations in medical and legal sciences, national societies dealing with humanitarian aid and protection, associations for the protection of human rights and promotion of a culture of dialogue, and prominent scholars dealing with the protection of human rights of migrants and seekers of international protection, who will conduct the monitoring.

The purpose of the Mechanism is to monitor the treatment of irregular migrants and seekers of international protection through announced and unannounced observations in police stations, shelters for foreigners, and announced visits to “other appropriate places” such as Croatia’s green border with BiH. In addition to individual observations, the Mechanism has the right to inspect final case files on complaints regarding the conduct of police officers. Reports on observations and other materials and documentation on the work of the Mechanism shall be consolidated in a semiannual and final report, which shall be made public. Some NGOs criticized the Mechanism for a lack of public information on the details of the agreement and insufficient oversight at the green border where they alleged most human rights violations occurred.

Durable Solutions: The government continued to participate in a joint regional housing program (RHP) with the governments of BiH, Montenegro, and Serbia. The RHP aimed to contribute to the resolution of the protracted displacement situation of the most vulnerable refugees and displaced persons following the 1991-95 conflict. As of September the RHP increased the number of assisted families and provided housing to 332 families (786 individuals) in the country.

In March the country offered to participate in the EU’s scheme to relocate unaccompanied minors from overcrowded reception centers in Greece. The Ministry of Interior reported 19 Afghan nationals affiliated with the EU delegation in Kabul arrived in Zagreb for resettlement on August 28. The group included three families (including 10 children), and one single person.

Temporary Protection: The country also has a mechanism for subsidiary protection for those who do not qualify for asylum, but no one was granted subsidiary protection during the year.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, at the end of December 2020, an estimated 2,900 stateless persons lived in the county. Many of these persons were Roma who lacked citizenship documents. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for granting stateless individuals who fulfill legal requirements residency and eventual citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parliamentary elections were held in July 2020, presidential elections in January 2020, and European Parliament elections in 2019. According to observers, all elections took place in a pluralistic environment and were administered in a professional and transparent manner.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women, members of minority groups, persons with disabilities, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons in the political processes, and they did participate. By law minority groups are guaranteed eight seats in the 151-seat parliament. Representation of women in major political parties remained low. The law requires that the “less represented gender” make up at least 40 percent of candidates on a party’s candidate list, with violations punishable by a fine. This quota was not respected on 315 local election lists out of a total of 2,462 (13 percent), a slight decrease from the last local elections in 2017 when 14 percent of lists were in violation. One candidate list had less than 40 percent male representation. The percentage of women elected to parliament in 2020 was 23 percent (35 of a total of 151 parliamentarians), the highest percentage since parliament’s constitution in 1990. Four ministers in the 16-member cabinet were women.

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. Corruption remained a problem, and there were significant reports of government corruption during the year. State prosecutors continued to prosecute several new major corruption cases involving judges, local city officials, and public figures, and the judiciary generally imposed statutory penalties in cases in which there was a conviction. High-profile convictions for corruption, however, were sometimes overturned on appeal.

Corruption: The ombudsperson’s report for 2020 reported citizens still believed there were not enough final court verdicts to demonstrate successful suppression of corruption. On October 29, parliament adopted a new 2021-30 anticorruption strategy.

Several corruption cases against former high-level government officials reported in previous years were still pending. The Supreme Court largely upheld convictions in two high-profile and longstanding corruption cases involving former prime minister Ivo Sanader, one in which the ruling Croatian Democratic Union political party was also convicted as a legal entity and ordered to return approximately 14.1 million kuna ($2.31 million), plus a fine of 3.3 million kuna ($541,200).

In another case, on June 9, media reported three judges from Osijek County Court were arrested on corruption charges. All three were allegedly involved with convicted former Dinamo soccer club manager Zdravko Mamic, who publicly accused several judges of corruption following his own conviction for corruption in March. The investigation continued, and no indictments against the judges were filed.

Media reported separate high-profile investigations linked to former mayor of Zagreb Milan Bandic, who died in February. One investigation alleged that then HRT director general Kazimir Bacic, acting on behalf of businessman Milan Loncaric, was a middleman passing a bribe of 50,000 euros ($57,500) to Bandic for the Gardens of Light cultural project. As a reward for his role, Bacic was believed to have been given an apartment worth 133,000 euros ($153,000) by Loncaric. Parliament’s Media Committee unanimously decided in July to relieve Bacic of his duties after he was arrested on the corruption charges.

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

In most cases 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 country has an ombudsperson for human rights who investigated complaints of human rights abuses, as well as three additional ombudspersons for gender equality, persons with disabilities, and children. The law stipulates that parliament cannot dismiss the ombudsperson for human rights because of dissatisfaction with his or her annual report. Parliament may dismiss the other three if it does not accept their annual reports. Ombudspersons admitted that this limited their ability to do their jobs thoroughly and independently and imposed political influence over their work.

The law authorizes ombudspersons to initiate shortened procedures in cases where there is sufficient evidence of the violation of constitutional and legal rights.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of women or men, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The law was in most cases enforced. Sentences range from fines to jail, depending on the crime’s severity. Rape, including spousal rape, is punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment. Conviction for domestic violence is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law provides for stricter penalties for violence among closely related family members and violence against women. Sexual intercourse without consent is classified as rape, punishable with three to 10 years’ imprisonment. The law provides sanctions (fines and up to 90 days’ imprisonment) for misdemeanor domestic violence. The ombudsperson’s 2020 report noted during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant increase in domestic violence of a criminal nature, and women represented the vast majority of domestic violence survivors. The report stated that during the last two years there was a 50 percent increase in the total number of women killed and the number of women killed by intimate partners. In addition to domestic violence, the ombudsperson stated survivors of domestic violence still did not have adequate legal protection.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment of women and men. The maximum punishment for sexual harassment is two years’ imprisonment. The ombudsperson for gender equality reported a general lack of effective and dissuasive sanctioning of perpetrators, and judicial practice was generally not gender sensitive, due in part to insufficient education on international standards.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities, had the ability to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting reproductive health, including for sterilization. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men regarding family, employment, labor, religion, inheritance, personal status and nationality laws, property, access to credit, owning or managing businesses or property, and voting. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Women experienced discrimination in employment and occupation. The ombudsperson for gender equality in 2020 (the most recent data available) worked on 515 discrimination cases, a 2 percent increase compared with 2019. The largest number of complaints was related to the area of exercising labor rights (25 percent), followed by the area of social security, including social welfare, pension, and health insurance (23 percent) and administration (14 percent).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

According to an opinion of the Council of Europe published on June 10, the country continued to apply the provisions of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (the Framework Convention) to 22 constitutionally recognized national minorities. The country has laws which provide for protection of members of national minorities from racial and ethnic discrimination and abuse. The legislative framework pertaining to national minorities is in conformity with the provisions of the Framework Convention. Comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation is in place as are structures to promote equal treatment and address individual cases of discrimination at national and regional levels.

The opinion noted, however, that discrimination against persons belonging to certain groups “persists,” notably for Roma and Serb national minorities, including returnees. The opinion also noted an increase in hate crime and “incidents of hate speech in the media and in political discourse” since the previous one. The opinion was also critical of the extent to which public debate related to national minorities was “dominated by antiminority rhetoric and prejudice, with persons belonging to the Serb and the Romani national minorities being the most affected.”

Constitutional provisions against discrimination applied to all minorities. According to the ombudsperson for human rights, ethnic discrimination was the most prevalent form of discrimination, particularly against Serbs and Roma.

According to the Serb National Council (SNV), the Serb national minority continued to face discrimination, including hate speech and anti-Serb graffiti. Serbs were subject to discrimination especially in Eastern Slavonia. The SNV also said members of the Serb national minority faced significant discrimination in employment, and there were unresolved, long-standing issues of registration of Serb schools in Eastern Slavonia and in the justice system, particularly with respect to missing persons and unprosecuted war crimes cases.

On May 5, police filed criminal charges against 21 individuals, including one minor, for inciting hate and violence after they participated in an early-morning rally on May 2 at which they chanted anti-Serb slogans, including “ubij Srbina” (kill Serbs). The incident occurred in the village of Borovo Selo near the town of Vukovar and coincided with the 30th anniversary of the killing of 12 Croatian police officers by Serb paramilitaries during the 1991-95 Homeland War (war in the former Yugoslavia). The commemoration date also coincided with Orthodox Easter, celebrated by ethnic Serbs in Croatia. Senior government officials strongly and swiftly condemned the incident. Prime Minister Plenkovic called the incident “unacceptable,” and President Milanovic stated it was a “disgrace and deserving of absolute condemnation.” Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milosevic, an ethnic Serb, stated he was “appalled by the messages” and promised that ‘‘they won’t stop the progress of peace.”

Media quoted a member of parliament representing national minorities saying there remained cases of Romani patients being separated from other patients at a local hospital in northeastern Croatia. Local authorities denied the allegations, saying Romani patients were equally treated and that segregation of Romani students was no longer present following a 2010 antidiscrimination ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (Orsus v. Croatia) involving Romani children in the country’s schools.

Children

Birth Registration: Authorities registered all births at the time of birth within the country or abroad. Citizenship is derived by descent from at least one citizen parent or through birth in the country’s territory in exceptional cases.

Child Abuse: The law provides stricter penalties than were imposed previously for grave criminal acts of sexual abuse and abuse of children. Penalties depend on the crime’s gravity and include long-term imprisonment if the child dies as a consequence of the abuse. Child abuse, including violence and sexual abuse, remained a problem. The trend of the number of complaints continued to increase, and the ombudsperson for children reported in 2020 (the latest year data was available) receiving 1,923 requests for assistance and complaints, 10 percent more than 2019. Among the complaints in 2020, those regarding children’s personal rights dominated. Complaints increased regarding judicial protection, connected to the actions of police officers, employees of social welfare centers, special guardians, courts, and state prosecutors’ offices.

According to the ombudsperson’s report, complaints pointed to the need to sensitize officials better regarding the needs and rights of children. There was a small decrease in the number of complaints associated with family and institutional violence against children, due, according to the report, to movement restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic and the reduced ability of children to contact trusted individuals to report violence and abuse. Complaints were most frequently reported by parents, followed by institutions such as schools and kindergartens. The ombudsman for children reported in 2020 that complaints of violence committed against children decreased and claimed many crimes remained unreported.

On April 4, media widely reported on a child abuse case involving a two-and-a-half-year-old girl who died in the hospital after sustaining serious injuries allegedly at the hand of her mother. Both parents of the girl were immediately arrested, and the mother was charged with inflicting grievous bodily injuries, while the father was charged with violating the child’s rights, child neglect, and abuse of the girl and her three siblings. The parents were reportedly suspected of abusing the girl between November 2020 and March 31. After a preliminary report that noted administrative errors at the local social welfare department, including returning the girl from a foster family to her parents, the head of the Center for Social Welfare in the town of Nova Gradiska was relieved of his duties. Minister of Labor, Pension System, Family and Social Policy Josip Aladrovic told reporters on April 26 he supported a ministry report that identified welfare-service issues in Nova Gradiska. He also presented an action plan aimed at improving the social welfare system, which envisaged the hiring of 200 new staff, assessing that the system’s main issues were poorly connected institutions and a shortage of expert personnel, supervision, and support.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18; children older than 16 may marry with a judge’s written consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children; the sale, offering, or procuring of a child for prostitution; and child pornography. The law provides for jail penalties ranging from six months to long-term imprisonment for the sexual exploitation of children, depending on the age of the victim and severity of the crime. Authorities enforced the law. The Ministry of the Interior conducted investigations and worked with international partners to combat child pornography. The ministry operated a website known as Red Button for the public to report child pornography to police. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.

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

Anti-Semitism

The World Jewish Congress estimated the country’s Jewish population at 1,700. Some Jewish community leaders continued to report anti-Semitic rhetoric, including the use of symbols affiliated with the Ustasha and historical revisionism. Members of the Jewish community were also affected by historical revisionism and anti-Semitism. President Milanovic, Speaker of Parliament Gordan Jandrokovic, Deputy Prime Minister Milosevic, and Culture and Media Minister Nina Obuljen-Korzinek marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 by laying a wreath in the Jewish section of Zagreb’s Mirogoj Cemetery. Civil society organizations, including the Croatian Antifascist League and the SNV, issued a statement on January 27 demanding a law to ban and criminally prosecute the use of Ustasha insignia, denial of World War II concentration camps, and glorification of pro-Nazi Ustasha war criminals. The initiative came just days after the Jewish Community of Zagreb initiated a discussion in parliament on a bill to outlaw Ustasha insignia. The government issued a statement strongly opposing any form of discrimination, exclusiveness, or intolerance, and stressing the importance of Holocaust education.

On February 5, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlic-Radman attended a ceremony to reinstall a damaged stumbling block (Stolperstein) for Chief Rabbi Miroslav Salom Freiberger, organized by the Center for the Promotion of Tolerance and Holocaust Remembrance, in partnership with the Bet Israel community and the Stiftung-Spuren Foundation. Grlic-Radman expressed regret that the monument was damaged, sending a clear message on behalf of the government regarding the importance of preserving collective memory and paying respects to all victims of the Nazi regime. He said that the country’s efforts and commitment to the culture of Holocaust remembrance had been recognized by the international community and that the country would chair the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2023.

On April 22, the president, prime minister, speaker of parliament, and representatives of victims’ groups (Jews, Roma, Serbs, and antifascists) commemorated the victims of the World War II Jasenovac concentration camp and condemned the World War II Nazi-affiliated Independent State of Croatia (NDH). Prime Minister Plenkovic called the atrocities committed under the NDH “the most tragic period in Croatian history” and underlined that patriotism cannot be contrary to the tolerance of others.

On August 26, Prime Minister Plenkovic told reporters the use of the salute was already banned by law and stated potential amendments of the law would be discussed.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Children with disabilities attended all levels of school with nondisabled peers, although NGOs stated the lack of laws mandating equal access for persons with disabilities limited educational access for those students. While the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, building owners and managers did not always comply, and there were no reported sanctions.

The government did not always effectively enforce the law’s prohibitions of discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, including in access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, and the judicial system and other state services.

The ombudsperson for persons with disabilities described the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on persons with disabilities in her annual report. The report stated that, although persons with disabilities were prioritized for protection from the virus, there was a “notable lack” of professionals available to assist persons with disabilities during the pandemic. The report also noted deficiencies in social services for those with special needs, necessitating a move to care homes for some of them where individual attention was not possible.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS remained a problem. The NGO Croatian Association for HIV (HUHIV) reported some physicians and dentists refused to treat HIV-positive patients. HUHIV reported violations of the confidentiality of persons diagnosed with HIV, causing some to face discrimination, including in employment, after disclosure of their status. There were reports that transplant centers refused to place HIV-positive patients on their lists of potential organ recipients.

HUHIV reported that the government’s National Plan for Fighting HIV helped combat the stigmatization and discrimination of persons with HIV or AIDS.

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

Representatives from minority groups said the law’s prohibitions of discrimination in employment and occupation, nationality laws, housing, access to education, and health care based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression were not consistently enforced and reported sporadic incidents. LGBTQI+ NGOs noted the continuation of the judiciary’s uneven performance in discrimination cases. They reported members of their community had limited access to the justice system, with many reluctant to report violations of their rights due to concerns regarding the inefficient judicial system and fear of further victimization during trial proceedings. NGOs reported that investigations into hate speech against LGBTQI+ persons remained unsatisfactory. On July 3, during the Zagreb Pride parade, there were incidents of violence and spitting on participants, verbal abuse, and the burning of a rainbow flag, according to the organizers’ statement and media reports. The attacks allegedly took place during and after the march, and police arrested several suspects. During a July 6 meeting, Prime Minister Plenkovic reportedly stated that the entire governing coalition would openly stand against violent incidents such as the ones that occurred after the Pride Parade. He asserted there was no room in Croatian society for hate speech, and he praised Deputy Prime Minister Milosevic for his participation in the Pride parade.

On May 17, in a Facebook post on the occasion of International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, Rijeka’s Archbishop Mate Uznic asked forgiveness from homosexuals who felt rejected by the Roman Catholic Church. Uznic expressed regret that there were still Catholics who disagreed with the spirit of the apostolic exhortation of Amoris Laetitia, released by Pope Francis in 2016, which stated, ‘‘every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while every sign of unjust discrimination is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.”

The Zagreb Pride organization reported on August 13 that a group of LGBTQI+ tourists from several different countries were thrown out of the Lost in the Renaissance Festival on the southern Adriatic island of Korcula. The organizing Aminess Hotels and Campsites company and the mayor of the city of Korcula strongly condemned the incident and expressed sincere regrets.

On April 21, the Zagreb Administrative Court granted same-sex couples the right to adopt children. The court ruled in favor of a same-sex couple who had challenged a 2019 law meant to increase the number of foster parents. Soon after the court ruling, however, the Ministry of Labor, Pensions, Family and Social Policies announced it would appeal.

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 of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to challenge dismissals in court. The law requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity.

Some limitations of these rights exist. Members of the military are not allowed to organize or to participate in a strike, while civilian employees of the military are permitted to organize but not to strike. Workers may strike only at the end of a contract or in specific circumstances cited in the contract, and only after completing mediation. Labor and management must jointly agree on a mediator if a dispute goes to mediation. If a strike is found to be illegal, participants may be dismissed and the union held liable for damages.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally enforced relevant laws effectively. Penalties were commensurate with similar violations. Judicial procedures were lengthy in the country overall and could hamper redress for antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for conviction of forced labor were commensurate with other serious crimes. Inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance. The government collaborated with several NGOs in public-awareness programs. As of September 22, state prosecutors reported one ongoing investigation against one perpetrator who exploited one victim and a separate ongoing investigation that involved one perpetrator and four Nepalese victims who were allegedly exploited in agriculture and construction, for labor purposes, without being compensated. There were isolated reports that Romani children were at risk of 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. The minimum age for the employment of children is 15, the age at which compulsory education ends for most children. Minors between ages 15 and 18 who have not completed compulsory education may work only with prior approval from the government labor inspectorate and only if they would not suffer physically or mentally from the work. Children younger than age 15 may work only in special circumstances and with the approval of the ombudsperson for children. In 2020 (the last year for which data were available), there were 171 such requests, of which all were approved, usually for children to act in film or theatrical performances. The law prohibits workers younger than age 18 from working overtime, at night, or in dangerous conditions, including but not limited to construction, mining, and work with electricity. The Ministry of Labor, the Pension System, the Family, and Social Policy; the State Inspectorate; and the ombudsperson for children are responsible for enforcing this regulation.

The government effectively enforced the law. Criminal penalties were generally commensurate with similar serious violations (see also section 7.b.). There were isolated instances of violations of the child labor law. Labor inspectors identified 14 violations involving eight minors in 2020. The violations involved minors working overtime or past curfew and occurred mainly in the hospitality and construction sectors. Some children were reportedly subject to early marriage that could result in domestic servitude. Romani children were reportedly at risk of forced begging (see also section 7.b.).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, pregnancy, family obligations, age, language, religion, political or other beliefs, national or social origin, wealth status, birth, social position or standing, political party membership or nonmembership, union or nonunion membership, or physical or mental disabilities.

The government enforced the law in all sectors, but sporadic discrimination in employment or occupation occurred based on gender, disability, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and ethnicity, particularly for Roma. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes, and inspection and remediation were sufficient. Some companies, state institutions, and civil society organizations, however, sometimes chose to pay a fine rather than comply with quotas for hiring persons with disabilities. In her 2020 report, the ombudsperson for gender equality asserted no appropriate measures would yet effectively encourage the participation of women in economic decision-making positions, and women had lower average salaries (13 percent lower) and pensions (22 percent lower) than men. According to citizens’ complaints, age and motherhood continued to be the main challenges of gender discrimination against women in the labor market.

The 2020 annual report of the ombudsperson for disabilities assessed limited growth of employment of persons with disabilities, putting persons with disabilities at greater risk for poverty, especially because of low salaries and pensions, and reported that in comparison with 2019, only 3 percent more persons with disabilities were hired in 2020.

According to LGBTQI+ advocacy organizations, although legislation protects LGBTQI+ employees against discrimination at the workplace, employers did not have adequate policies and procedures in place to provide protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported LGBTQI+ persons sometimes refrained from publicly revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity because they were vulnerable to termination of employment or demotion.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law establishes a national minimum wage slightly above the official poverty income level. The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours and limits overtime to 10 hours per week and 180 hours per year.

The Office of the Labor Inspectorate effectively enforced wage and hour laws. Inspection was sufficient to enforce compliance, and penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations. In 2020, inspectors reported 3,757 violations of labor laws, including numerous violations for wage, hour, time off, and contract irregularities.During 2020, inspectors filed 63 reports seeking criminal proceedings against employers, of which some included multiple violations by the same employer for nonpayment of wages (45), or for not registering employees properly with state health and pension insurance (24), one charge for counterfeiting documents, and two charges for making false statements.

The law allows employees to sue employers for nonpayment of wages and provides a penalty commensurate with other similar violations, although the law exempts employers who fail to pay wages due to economic duress. Workers may sue employers who do not issue pay slips to their employees in order to bypass mandatory employer contributions to social insurance programs.

There were concerns regarding poor working conditions in the health-care sector. Nurses particularly experienced high workloads, insufficient number of workers, the lack of opportunities for advancement or professional development, unpaid overtime hours, and disorders that could harm mental health (e.g., fatigue, exhaustion, anxiety).

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and during the year, a series of government job-keeping measures allowed employers to maintain their employees by covering both health-care payments and a set monthly wage of approximately 4,000 kuna ($652), on which, as of September 2, the government spent 18 billion kuna ($2.9 billion).

Occupational Safety and Health: The law establishes occupational safety and health standards that are appropriate, and the government generally enforced them. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remained with occupational safety and health experts, not the worker.

The Labor Inspectorate conducted 20,623 workplace inspections in 2020, of which 12,982 were directly related to labor and 7,647 were related to safety at work. In regard to labor safety violations, the inspectorate issued 788 fines to employers for violations that affected the safety of employees, 162 employers were charged with misdemeanors for violating certain safety codes, and 91 persons faced criminal charges for endangering the lives of employees.

Accidents were most frequently reported in the construction sector, where foremen could be held criminally responsible for injuries or deaths resulting from safety violations.

Informal Sector: Generally, work in the informal sector is against the law, and there were no wage, hour, and occupational safety and health protections for such workers. Reliable data on the country’s informal economy was extremely limited. In 2019 the statistics bureau assessed the informal economy’s size to be approximately 6.5 percent of GDP but noted the data’s unreliability and lack of systematic approach to assessing it.

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

The Czech Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in a bicameral parliament, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecka snemovna) and a Senate (Senat). The president is head of state and appoints a prime minister and cabinet ministers. Voters elected representatives to the Chamber of Deputies on October 8 and 9 and re-elected President Milos Zeman to a second five-year term in 2018. The most recent elections, for one-third of the seats in the Senate, were held in two rounds in October 2020. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

The national police report to the Ministry of Interior and are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining public order, including protecting the border and enforcing immigration law. The General Inspection of Security Forces reports to the Office of the Prime Minister and is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct involving police, customs officials, fire fighters, and the prison service. General Inspection of Security Forces inspectors investigated allegations of criminal misconduct and carried out sting operations to catch violators in action. The Ministry of Defense oversees the armed forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: crimes involving violence or threats of violence against members of minority groups, mainly the Romani community and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex community; and the lack of accountability for violence against women.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses in the security services and elsewhere in the government.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There was one report that the government or its agents may have committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing. The General Inspection of Security Forces or military police investigate whether security force killings were justifiable and pursue prosecutions.

On June 12, a Romani man died while or after he was restrained by several police officers. According to videos that appeared on social media, police officers knelt on the man’s back and neck while he was prostrate. Some media outlets reported that the European Commission requested an independent investigation into the matter. High-level officials, including Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, spoke out in support of police on social media and criticized the victim’s reported behavior and substance abuse. On June 24, the General Inspectorate of Security Forces announced at a press conference that based on the available facts and the preliminary results of the autopsy, it found no evidence the police officers “committed a criminal act” and would not initiate disciplinary proceedings. The final medical expert opinion issued in October did not offer additional details. The family of the Romani man initiated at least one criminal complaint that was still pending in November. In September the deputy public defender of rights (deputy ombudsman) opened an investigation into the death, which she finalized in November and expected to release in December.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment.

In its 2020 annual report, the ombudsman again recommended amendments to laws regulating the treatment of persons in detention facilities. The report highlighted that some less serious forms of “ill-treatment” (mistreatment) were not punishable and that persons in some facilities that impose restrictions on movement (e.g., psychiatric institutions, senior homes) do not have access to an independent investigative body.

In June the military police recommended that a prosecutor bring charges against four unidentified members of the special-forces unit of the army. The recommendation was based on the investigation of a 2018 interrogation and subsequent death of an Afghan commando. The soldiers and the victim were engaged in the NATO mission in Afghanistan, and the soldiers reportedly interrogated the victim after he killed a Czech soldier. According to media reports, military police recommended that two of the four accused be charged with the use of force and failure to follow orders and the other two with not providing assistance and violating the rules of conduct. The prosecutor’s decision on whether to file charges was pending as of September.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The main concerns for prison conditions included high prison populations, overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions in some prisons, mistreatment of inmates, lack of medical staff, lack of support programs and services inside prisons, and generally unsatisfactory conditions for inmates with physical or mental disabilities.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding improved but remained a problem. On average facilities for prisoners were at almost 95 percent of capacity in the first eight months of the year, a decrease from 2020. Observers noted, however, that the lower numbers were mainly caused by delays in criminal proceedings related to the COVID-19 pandemic and more frequent use of alternative sentences. Several prisons remained at more than 110 percent of capacity.

According to the Prison Service, there were 23 deaths in prisons and detention facilities in 2020, compared to 40 in the previous year. All cases were investigated. There was a notable increase in deaths from suicide, with 17 cases reported in 2020 compared to 11 in 2019.

The ombudsman’s report for 2020 noted that many types of detention centers had significant problems related to social isolation and restrictions on movement due to COVID-19 pandemic measures. The ombudsman also highlighted intrusive restraining measures of patients in psychiatric departments.

Administration: Specialized public prosecutors are responsible for regular prison visits, which the ombudsman cited as a useful tool for monitoring conditions. The ombudsman investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and made random checks.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many prisoners faced either a ban on all visits or restriction on the number of visitors to one person, which in some cases prevented prisoners from receiving visits from their children. In some cases, administrators allowed for virtual visits using Skype. After advocacy by the ombudsman, the restrictions on visitor numbers were revised to allow visits by family or close friends and relatives.

In November 2020 the Constitutional Court ordered a new investigation into the 2018 alleged abuse of a prisoner by six prison guards in one of the country’s highest-security detention facilities. The prisoner, who was on hunger strike, alleged that he fell to the ground and was attacked by four guards while being escorted to the prison’s complaint department. When he was taken in handcuffs to the doctor for treatment, two guards allegedly threw him down the stairs at the infirmary. The General Inspectorate of Security Forces suspended the case after a yearlong investigation, a decision supported by prosecutors. The Constitutional Court found that the prisoner’s rights to an effective investigation and other legal protection were violated and ordered an additional investigation, which continued as of year’s end. In a separate case, in May the General Inspectorate of Security Forces initiated a criminal investigation of 15 guards in a different prison who allegedly verbally and physically abused prisoners from February 2020 to January 2021. If convicted, some face three to 10 years in prison for abuse of official authority.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups, including the European Commission’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and by media. Monitoring was conducted less regularly due to restrictive measures imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Improvements: The government introduced new guidelines on providing medical treatment to prisoners that were designed to increase prisoners’ privacy, permit reporting signs of any mistreatment, and ensure the security of medical personnel.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

In most cases, police use judicial warrants to arrest individuals accused of criminal acts. Police may make arrests without a warrant when they believe a prosecutable offense has been committed, when they regard arrest as necessary to prevent further offenses or the destruction of evidence, to protect a suspect, or when a person refuses to obey police orders to move.

Police must refer individuals arrested on a warrant to a court within 24 hours. A judge has an additional 24 hours to decide whether to continue to hold the individuals. For suspects arrested without a warrant, police have 48 hours to inform them of the reason for the arrest, question them, and either release them or refer them to a judge who must decide within 24 hours whether to charge them. Authorities may not hold detainees for a longer period without charge.

The law provides for bail except in cases of serious crimes or to prevent witness tampering. A defendant in a criminal case may request a lawyer immediately upon arrest. If a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, the government provides one. The court determines whether the government partially or fully covers attorney’s fees. Authorities generally respected these rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. In most instances authorities respected court orders and carried out judicial decisions.

In 2019 Prague High Court judge Ivan Elischer was taken into custody a second time for attempting to influence witnesses. In 2018 he was accused of taking bribes, abuse of power, and preferential treatment in serious drug cases. Elischer allegedly accepted a bribe of one million crowns ($45,200) in a drug-crimes trial. In November the Prague Municipal Court sentenced the judge to nine years in prison. The sentence was subject to appeal.

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence and to receive prompt and detailed information about the charges against them. They have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, and to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense if they are unable to pay. They generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront the prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Convicted persons have the right to appeal; however, the procedures were sometimes lengthy.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that some criminal investigations, trials, and other related procedures were still delayed by the closures of institutions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for a separate, independent judiciary in civil matters and for lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations. Available remedies include monetary damages, equitable relief, and cessation of harmful conduct. NGOs reported increased coherence between criminal and civil procedures that simplified the process for victims, although remedies and relief required a lengthy legal process and were difficult to obtain, particularly for members of disadvantaged groups such as the Romani minority or trafficking victims. Plaintiffs may appeal unfavorable rulings that involve alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights. Administrative remedies are also available; however, many victims of violence did not seek remedies in civil courts following criminal trials because civil procedures require facing the perpetrator and recounting traumatic experiences.

The law recognizes children, persons with disabilities, victims of human trafficking, and victims of sexual and brutal crimes as the most vulnerable populations and lists the rights of crime victims, such as to claim compensation and access to an attorney. In July a new amendment to the law on the protection of crime victims added rape victims and victims of domestic violence to the category of the most vulnerable victims.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The government has laws and mechanisms in place for some restitution of private and religious property confiscated during Nazi occupation or the Communist era, but challenges remained, especially for claimants who are not citizens. Areas posing significant issues include the disposition of heirless Holocaust-related property and complex cases involving noncitizens. Although it was still possible to file claims for artwork confiscated by the Nazis, the claims period for other types of property had expired.

By law, religious groups receive an annual installment of the total sum of 59 billion crowns ($2.6 billion) to be paid over a 30-year period in compensation for property seized during communism that cannot be returned.

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the media. The law provides for some limitations to this freedom, including in cases of hate speech, Holocaust denial, and denial of Communist-era crimes.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation. It also limits the denial of the Holocaust and Communist-era crimes. Individuals who are found guilty can serve up to three years in prison. The law is also applied to online, print, and broadcast media.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. President Zeman, his spokesperson, and political parties on the far right and left publicly alleged bias in both public and private media outlets. The Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, the Communist Party, and to a lesser degree the governing ANO party openly sought to appoint politically polarizing figures to public media supervisory boards, raising concerns they were attempting to violate the political neutrality of these institutions. Observers raised concerns over the impartiality of some of the new members based on their public remarks skeptical of the need for independent media. In September parliament dismissed a member of the public media supervisory board due to her active involvement and candidacy for a political movement in the October elections.

The law prohibits elected officials from controlling media properties while in office. Prime Minister Babis, whose company Agrofert owned two prominent newspapers and other media outlets, placed control of these assets into trust funds in 2017. Observers maintained that this measure did not insulate media from the influence of the government. In September the municipal government with jurisdiction over Prime Minister Babis due to his place of residence found him in breach of the media ownership law and fined him 250,000 crowns ($11,300). The ruling was the result of the second administrative complaint filed by Transparency International in January, which alleged that Babis controlled media assets despite their placement into trusts. The regional government office, which in 2019 overturned a similar ruling based on Transparency International’s first complaint in 2018, annulled the decision of the municipal office on the grounds that the issue was addressed two years previously.

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. The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly or association in connection to COVID-19 pandemic under the state of emergency.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

From October 2020 to April, the government declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with restrictions on freedom of movement inside the country and limitations on entry into the country.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees and other specifically endangered foreign nationals.

Some NGOs claimed statements from political leaders discouraged refugees from seeking asylum. The leaders, including Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Interior Minister Jan Hamacek, stated numerous times that asylum seekers did not wish to settle in the country and that the country did not accept “illegal migrants.” Babis stated in June that he “does not want a Muslim Europe.”

An NGO claimed that persons detained at the Prague airport from Syria, the Palestinian Territories, Afghanistan, and Turkey were denied entry into the country without being advised of their legal options and access to asylum. The NGO reported that the information was based on the reports by the passengers’ contacts or relatives. The Ministry of the Interior reported that the foreigners’ police provide each person seeking international protection at the airport (the country’s only non-EU point of entry) with an information leaflet available in several languages. The checkpoint at the airport through which all non-Schengen arrivals must pass also contains a UNHCR poster informing passengers of the right to seek international protection.

NGOs have reported concerns that the Interior Ministry would stop distributing grants for legal assistance to migrants under the European Commission’s Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund, which constitute a large part of one NGO’s budget. The ministry would instead fund such assistance by awarding funds from its budget to private law firms. Negotiations regarding the extension of the fund program continued as of October.

The law governing appeals from asylum denials was amended, effective August 2. Under the new law, according to immigration attorneys, persons coming from “safe” countries must leave the country while awaiting the outcome of an appeal of initial asylum application denial absent a court order allowing them to stay; persons whose appeals are denied while waiting in the airport cannot file a second appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court, which will generally no longer entertain appeals beyond the second one.

Under the law, the Ministry of Interior must decide on asylum cases within six months if the applicant has submitted all required documents. According to the ministry, during the first eight months of the year the average length of asylum procedures was 75 days. The length of asylum procedures in more than 90 percent of cases met all legal requirements. In the remaining cases, asylum applicants received information about new deadlines for completing the asylum process in compliance with the law. Observers criticized the length and substance of some decisions.

The Interior Ministry reported that as of June all the remaining Chinese Christian asylum seekers, who originally applied for asylum in 2016 based on religious persecution and whose cases went through appeals and remands, received subsidiary protection. The ministry reported that some of the original applicants were no longer in the country, although an NGO reported that the applicants they represent have ceased communications with the government for fear of reprisals from the People’s Republic of China.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country generally adheres to the Dublin III Regulation, which calls for authorities to return asylum seekers to the first EU country they entered. The Ministry of Interior accepted asylum applications from individuals arriving from or through countries deemed to be safe, as defined by law. Authorities reviewed all cases individually, but usually did not grant international protection to these applicants. There are 24 countries on the list of safe countries.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The ombudsman visited detention centers for asylum seekers at the end of 2020 and concluded that individual rights were significantly restricted and the measures imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were excessive. Neither women nor other at-risk groups were separated from men, and the detainees had limited access to fresh air and legal and psychological counselling. Another control visit was planned for the end of the year.

An NGO reported that two Vietnamese men were sexually abused at a refugee center by another detainee in July 2020 and that the administrators had not taken adequate measures, such as revising housing assignments, to prevent similar incidents. The Interior Ministry commented that the offender was sentenced later in the year to six years of prison and to nonmaterial damage compensation of 72,000 crowns ($3,300) and that various measures were implemented, such as 24/7 video surveillance, emergency telephones, and increased physical checks.

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers are generally not detained or limited in free movement within the country. By law, persons facing deportation may be detained for up to 180 days. If there are children accompanying the adults, detention can last no more than 90 days with no possibility of further extension. The average length of detention for illegal migrants and rejected asylum seekers was shortened to 55 days due to the government’s implementation of a voluntary return system. Vulnerable persons, including families, cannot be detained if they apply for international protection.

As of September there were 160 migrants in detention facilities in the country. A total of 10 migrants were in a detention facility specifically designed for at-risk groups, single women without children, and families with children. There were no forced returns of families with minors. The Interior Ministry reported there were no displaced unaccompanied children in the country.

Durable Solutions: The government generally rejected requests within the EU Relocation Scheme to accept designated numbers of refugees and asylum seekers.

In August the government transported 169 Afghan interpreters and other then and former employees of its diplomatic and military missions, as well as their families, to the country; 151 refugees filed for asylum; 118 received it; the rest moved to other countries. Some of the arrivals had residency permits. An NGO reported that the asylum cases were processed in approximately four weeks and that the evacuees entered a government-funded integration program. The Interior Ministry reported that it was assisting Afghan families with finding housing, which was a challenge due to a shortage of available apartments.

A national integration program managed by the government in close cooperation with UNHCR and NGOs continued. Under the State Integration Program, beneficiaries of international protection are entitled to temporary accommodation, social services, language training, and assistance with finding employment and permanent housing. Children are entitled to school education. The Ministry of Interior started its own assisted voluntary return program in 2017 and effectively used it to help 1,996 individuals return to their country of origin. As of September 1, approximately 202 individuals had been voluntarily returned to their countries of origin.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to some individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In 2020 and 2021, following the unrest after presidential elections in Belarus in August 2020, the government assisted 89 citizens of Belarus under the Interior Ministry’s MEDEVAC Health and Humanitarian Program. In addition to transportation, health, rehabilitation, and psychological care, the government provided accommodation, meals, social worker services, interpreter services, seasonal clothing, and communication devices. The government provided five million crowns ($229,000) to the program. Some of the evacuees were enrolled in language programs that would enable them to enter the country’s universities.

g. Stateless Persons

The Ministry of Interior reported 503 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2020. UNHCR listed 1,502 persons as stateless in its 2019 statistics for the country. The ministry reported that 11 stateless persons applied for international protection and that seven were granted asylum or subsidiary protection in 2020.

In March the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that persons awaiting the outcome of their application for stateless status should enjoy the same governmental support (e.g., housing, health insurance, right to remain in the country) as refugees awaiting asylum application determinations. As of August the government amended the law governing foreigners to include a procedure for determining statelessness that, if successful, will result in granting long-term visas and an identity document. Some NGOs criticized the “shift” of procedures related to the determination of “statelessness” from the asylum laws to the laws governing foreign nationals due to lessened benefits to the applicants.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Voter elected representatives to the Chamber of Deputies on October 8 and 9. In 2018 voters re-elected Milos Zeman to a five-year term as president in the country’s second direct presidential election. Elections for one-third of the seats in the Senate were held in two rounds in October 2020. Observers considered all elections free and fair, and there were no reports of significant irregularities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws or practices limit the participation of women or members of historically marginalized groups in the political process, and they did participate. Participation by women and minority groups in elected bodies remained low in comparison to their estimated percentage of the population. Four out of 15 government ministries were headed by women. For the first time, more than 30 percent of candidates running in the parliamentary elections were women. As a result of the October elections, 51 of the 200 members of the Chamber of Deputies were women, representing an increase from 23 percent in the previous session to 25 percent.

Romani participation in politics and governance remained minimal in comparison to their estimated percentage of the population. There were no Romani members of parliament, cabinet ministers, or Supreme Court judges. There were some Romani appointees to national and regional advisory councils dealing with Romani affairs. Roma were elected to 13 seats (out of 62,000) in local governments in the 2018 elections. Roma received one seat (out of 675) in regional government elections in 2020

There were only six Romani candidates and one Czech-Vietnamese candidate in the October parliamentary elections out of total of 5,260 candidates.

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. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. An offender may face up to 12 years in prison and property forfeiture. Several high-level political figures were under investigation in various regions for manipulating public contracts and abuse of official power.

Corruption remained a problem among law enforcement bodies and at various levels of bureaucracy, and the most common forms of corruption included: leaking information for payments; the unauthorized use of law enforcement databases, typically searching for derogatory information; acceptance of bribes in connection with criminal proceedings and other procedures (e.g., issuance of permits) and unlawful influencing of law enforcement procedures.

Observers criticized the tenuous position of principal prosecutors whom, under existing legislation, the government could remove from office without cause. Observers also criticized the continued lack of legal protections for whistleblowers and regulations on lobbying.

The government took some steps to implement its fifth Open Government Partnership action plan which contains commitments to anonymize online publication of lower court decisions, implement whistleblower protections, provide open data to enable public monitoring of the quality of education, increase civil society participation in government processes, and increase online transparency on the use of public funds. Implementation of the plan was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the parliamentary elections.

In February parliament approved legislation requiring transparency regarding the real (or “beneficial”) ownership of companies. The law bars anonymously owned companies from applying for public subsidies or tenders, although in its final version it does not authorize officials to challenge discrepancies or irregularities in a company’s ownership structure, absent a court finding.

Corruption: In May, the European Commission issued a final report on an audit of EU agricultural subsidies received by Prime Minister Babis’ Agrofert, which – like a 2020 final audit report of EU structural subsidies – concluded that Babis is in conflict of interest due to his concurrent ownership of Agrofert and position as the prime minister, despite the 2017 placement of Agrofert assets into trust funds. Prime Minister Babis and the government disagreed with the findings of both audit reports on the grounds that Babis complied with national law and took no action. In August the European Commission again requested steps to address the conflict of interest outlined in the reports and warned it would stop future EU subsidy payments if no action was taken.

In a separate case, a prosecutor was still reviewing allegations that Prime Minister Babis had improperly received investment subsidies from the EU for a development project, following a recommendation by police in September to file criminal charges against Babis and a former associate. Babis allegedly temporarily transferred the Stork’s Nest conference complex from his Agrofert conglomerate to family members to qualify for EU subsidies in 2007. The criminal proceeding in the case was initiated in 2016, dismissed by the prosecutor in 2019, and reopened later that year by the country’s top prosecutor.

In November the municipal court found former Deputy Education Minister Simona Kratochvilova and former head of the Czech Soccer Association Miroslav Pelta guilty in a case involving manipulation of sports subsidies in 2017. Together, they caused damage estimated at up to 175.8 million crowns ($7.9 million). Kratochvilova was sentenced to six and one-half years in prison and a fine of two million crowns ($90,000). Pelta was sentenced to six years in prison and a fine of five million crowns ($220,000). The judgment was subject to appeal.

A trial against a large group of public officials and companies from the Brno area accused of corruption and manipulating public contracts amounting to 47 million crowns (two million dollars) took place in September 2020. The prosecutor recommended 14 years’ imprisonment for the highest-ranking regional politician implicated in the case. The court was scheduled to announce its decision in December.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without governmental restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views, although some politicians disparaged NGOs in public remarks.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Government has a commissioner for human rights as well as several advisory and working-level bodies related to human rights, including the Government Council for Human Rights, the Council for Roma Minority Affairs, the Council for National Minorities, and the Board for Persons with Disabilities. The Governmental Council for Coordination of the Fight against Corruption was placed under the Ministry of Justice, and the Agency for Social Inclusion was placed under the Ministry of Regional Development.

The ombudsman operated without government or party interference and had adequate resources. The ombudsman’s office issued quarterly and annual reports to the government on its activities in addition to reports and recommendations on topics of special concern.

Human rights observers generally regarded the office of the ombudsman as effective. The ombudsman elected in March 2020, however, was widely criticized by NGOs, the Romani community, and some politicians, who contended he had publicly downplayed the extent of discrimination faced by Roma and other minorities. The ombudsman also stated that the protection of human rights was not among the functions of his office. In addition to the public defender of rights, the country has ombudsmen for security forces and for education.

In addition to the public defender of rights, the country has ombudsmen for security forces and for education.

Newly approved government strategies on Roma issues and children require the establishment of separate ombudsmen for these two groups.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including of women and men, including spousal rape, as well as domestic or intimate partner violence, and provides for a penalty of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances.

A survey published in October found that 9 percent of women over the age of 18 and 2 percent of men reported they had been raped, and that 54 percent of women reported having encountered some form of sexual violence or harassment.

The government did not consistently enforce the law effectively and NGOs called for revising the definition of the crime of rape to focus on the victim’s lack of consent and not on the evidence of violence. Women’s advocates pointed out that rape survivors who do not resist rape out of fear for their life or safety often lack evidence that both the investigators and the courts typically required (e.g., bruises, bleeding, and other injuries).

Observers reported prosecutors and judges in rape cases sometimes lacked knowledge on the subject and cited a shortage of experienced judicial experts. Penalties were often too low, and only half of all sentences included prison time.

In June parliament amended the law on the protection of victims of crimes to include survivors of rape and domestic violence among “particularly vulnerable victims” and thereby entitle them to benefits, such as free legal representation in courts, shared burden of proof, and compensation, and shield them from “secondary or tertiary victimization.” Perpetrators of spousal rape, including brutal attacks, were frequently given inadequate sentences, including probation. Observers acknowledged that conditional sentences were more often correctly combined with restraining orders that effectively protected victims from perpetrators.

NGOs cited continued lack of funding as a constraint on their ability not only to lobby for equal opportunities for women and men, but also to provide other services to sexually abused women or survivors of domestic violence.  NGOs highlighted that, under the government-funded program providing free legal assistance to survivors, NGOs and persons providing pro bono assistance to survivors receive a much lower hourly fee than court-appointed attorneys.

Domestic violence is punishable by up to four years in prison, with longer sentences in aggravated circumstances. Police have the authority to remove violent abusers from their homes for 10 days. The law states a removal order can remain in effect for a total of up to six months, including extensions. The Ministry of Interior reported police removed 1,170 offenders from their homes in 2020, a small drop in removals despite the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. The government supported a widely used hotline for gender-based violence crimes, including domestic violence.

The government supported a widely used hotline for gender-based violence crimes, including domestic violence.

In February Charles University and the Sociological Institute conducted research into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on domestic violence. The research showed that the pandemic contributed to the frequency and intensity of domestic violence and raised the threshold for survivors reporting or seeking help from institutions. The research also showed that the most frequent types of violence were psychological forms difficult to prove. Sexual violence was present in fewer than half of the cases. NGOs reported that demand for support services increased significantly during the pandemic, in some cases by 50 percent compared to the same period in previous years, although intervention centers, police, and social departments for child protections did not record an increase in official cases.

In November 2020 IKEA’s Czech subsidiary, in cooperation with several nonprofit organizations, launched a two-year campaign to counter domestic violence. The company contributed 3.8 million crowns ($174,000) to provide domestic abuse survivors with necessary assistance and accommodation.

Sexual Harassment: The antidiscrimination law prohibits sexual harassment and treats it as a form of direct discrimination. If convicted, penalties may include fines, dismissal from work, and up to eight years in prison. Police often delayed investigations until the perpetrator committed serious crimes, such as sexual coercion, rape, or other forms of physical assault.

Survey results published in October found that 54 percent of all adult women experienced some form of sexual violence or harassment. Thirty-three percent of women reported verbal harassment, 31 percent reported unwanted or unconsented touching, 17 percent reported acts involving unwanted photographs or videos, and 12 percent reported unwanted or unconsented kissing.

Offenders convicted of stalking may receive sentences of up to three years in prison.

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

Transgender individuals are required to be sterilized to obtain gender altering surgery or receive legal gender recognition (see Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, below).

The government does not allow women access to artificial insemination if using the cells of an anonymous donor without the written consent of their partner, and medical providers can only use artificial insemination for opposite-sex couples. Unmarried persons, persons who do not have consent from a partner, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons are ineligible to receive treatment.

Some observers reported that Roma faced obstructions in access to health care in general, including to reproductive health care.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Women must cover the costs of emergency contraception themselves.

In July, after a decade of advocacy, the government passed legislation compensating women who were involuntarily sterilized between 1966 and 2012. Eligible women are entitled to compensation of 300,000 crowns ($14,000). According to some estimates, more than 1,000 women, primarily Romani, were sterilized without their knowledge or full and informed consent during that period.

Discrimination: The law grants men and women the same legal status and rights, including under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws.Women  sometimes experienced employment and wage discrimination.

In March the government approved the Strategy for Equality of Women and Men 2021-2030. Experts noted the document is more comprehensive than the previous 2014 strategy and applauded the scope and specificity in addressing electoral representation, pay gaps, availability of childcare, and security, among other issues. The government acknowledges that the country continues to significantly lag other EU member states in gender equality. Observers cited continued obstacles to achieving gender equality, including women having most household and childcare responsibilities, and professional and societal stereotypes.

There were NGO reports that allegations of hate crime, including hate speech, targeted at women based on gender are not taken seriously or handled adequately by the police and the courts. The director of a leading NGO focusing on hate crimes was unable to obtain relief in court, including the Constitutional Court, after she received more than 100 emails containing sexually explicit content and death threats from a man. The Constitutional Court reasoned that the director was a public figure and should expect and ignore such communications.

In March the Supreme Administrative Court upheld a fine for distributing an advertisement depicting an almost naked female body unrelated to the services offered by the company. The court stated that by distributing a leaflet promoting a business and completely unrelated photographs of the almost naked female body, the company discriminated against the female sex and diminished human dignity. Observers noted this decision sets an important precedent for gender discrimination efforts.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Laws prohibit discrimination and hate speech against racial and ethnic minorities. In January the ombudsman stated that Roma had problems finding housing because they “devastate housing stock” and not because of discrimination. Several NGOs asserted that such statements discourage Roma from pursuing discrimination complaints through the Public Defender of Rights office that the ombudsman heads. In February, 16 NGOs and several representatives of the government’s Roma rights councils, acting in a nonofficial capacity, signed an open letter demanding that Prime Minister Babis and other high-level political figures distance themselves from the ombudsman.

The situation of the Romani minority remained one of the country’s most pressing problems. Despite partial successes, marginalization, social exclusion, and territorial segregation of some Roma continued. Moreover, Roma faced daily prejudice, intolerance, and discrimination in education, housing, and employment.

In May the government approved a new Strategy for Roma Equality, Inclusion and Participation for 2021-2030, the drafting of which was led by Romani representatives. According to observers, the strategy required more research and data collection to address a lack of data and statistics on the Romani community. The strategy also called for the establishment of an ombudsman specializing in Romani issues.

Approximately one-third of Roma lived in socially excluded communities and continued to face difficulties obtaining both public and private housing. In August the Constitutional Court annulled a 2017 amendment to the law addressing poverty. This amendment had reduced government housing subsidies in areas that cities designated as blighted. Some municipalities used this law as a tool to push Roma and other low-income citizens into their city’s periphery. A government-funded investment program to build new public housing units and provide social services through two projects totaling 1.35 billion crowns ($61.1 million) continued.

Hate crimes against Roma and minorities continued to be a problem. An NGO reported that a man physically attacked a Romani teenage boy for having a verbal dispute with a teenage girl. The man slapped the boy, told him that he could not speak to a white girl in that manner, and damaged the boy’s hearing aid.

The government took steps to promote Romani culture and heritage. The Museum of Romani Culture received a property in Prague from the Ministry of Culture to operate as a new cultural center. The Museum confirmed that despite some COVID-19-related delays in the reconstruction process, the center should open in March 2023 as originally planned. Demolition of a Communist-era pig farm at the site of a WWII concentration camp for Roma in the town of Lety was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic, although the projected completion date of 2023 remained unchanged. The museum reported limited success in getting information about the Romani people, their history, and their culture incorporated into the country’s general educational program.

NGOs also reported a case of discrimination against a woman from Algeria who lives and works in the country. She alleged workplace discrimination, stating that colleagues at work called her a “black parasite” and praised Israel for “bombing Arabs.”

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents and not by birth within the country’s territory. Any child with at least one citizen parent is automatically a citizen. There have been no reports of denial or lack of access to birth registration on discriminatory basis. Authorities registered births immediately.

Education: In June, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that COVID-19 pandemic emergency measures implemented by the Ministry of Health that restricted the operation of secondary and higher vocational schools and conservatories were illegal. The court stated the whole country could not be considered at risk of an outbreak at the time of closure.

NGOs reported that school children who do not speak Czech as their first language did not receive sufficient language support, and that the problem has been increasing with the rising number of foreigners residing in the country. Starting with the 2021-22 school year, NGOs reported that 200 students in elementary schools will start receiving instructions in the Czech language but noted that access should be expanded to more elementary school children and to the secondary level of education as well. In its 2020 annual report, the ombudsman’s office recommended changes to entrance examinations for high schools and universities that would accommodate students whose native language is not Czech.

School segregation of Romani children remained a problem. Following the 2007 judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in D.H. and Others v. Czech Republic, the government is obliged to prevent the inappropriate placement of Roma into segregated schools and to integrate them into schools with the general population. Children who attended segregated schools were found to have lower academic attainment and fewer employment opportunities due to lower quality of education and decreased social integration. Despite legislative changes in 2016 to expand the use of inclusive education, the situation improved only slightly, and in 2020 the Council of Europe requested more details regarding obstacles to improvements. An estimated 10.5 percent of Romani pupils were still educated in segregated programs, and the share of Romani pupils in segregated programs stood at 24.2 percent (compared to 26.2 percent in 2016), which far surpassed the percentage of Roma in the general population, which was estimated by the government in 2017 at 2.2 percent.

The government provided technical support to Romani students during the pandemic so they could participate in online education. It also offered free summer tutoring camps, but only a small number of Roma participated.

Medical Care: With the exception of children under the age of two months, to whom access to public health insurance was extended during the year, children of foreigners who are long-term residents in the country but not citizens are not entitled to public health insurance.

Child Abuse: Prison sentences for persons found guilty of child abuse range from five to 12 years. The law requires citizens to report suspected cases of child abuse. The government reported that child abuse is more prevalent among socially excluded families, households suffering from poor communication and stress, households inhabited by persons addicted to substances or gambling, foreigners and ethnic minorities, children of juvenile parents, young single mothers and other disadvantages persons, and children who are homeless or disabled. Infants and toddlers are more frequently subject to abuse because of their inability to defend themselves.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs registered approximately 2,000 cases of abused or exploited children in 2020, a slight decrease from 2019. NGOs reported, however, that three times more children called crisis hotlines in 2020 than in 2019. They also reported that there were more cases of attempted suicide among children and violence against children and between children, which they attributed to isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and more time spent on the internet.

Advocates for children reported improved collaboration among representatives from the Ministries of Education, Social Services, Health, and Interior. The Interior Ministry, in close collaboration with advocacy groups and other ministries, distributed special cards (KID cards) for early identification of endangered children to schools, police, doctors, and other specialists who working with children. The cards outline indicators of possible child abuse and recommended steps that may be taken in response.

In April police charged a social worker for failing to attempt to see a six-year-old Romani girl who was declared missing in 2017, during repeated visits to the girl’s place of residence. The social worker faces up to three years in prison. The girl’s grandmother was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2018 for severely abusing the girl and her young brother prior to the girl’s disappearance. Observers sharply criticized the placement of the children with the grandmother, who had earlier been sentenced for abuse of her own children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. The law allows for marriage at the age of 16 with court approval; no official marriages were reported of anyone younger than 16.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children and the possession, manufacture, and distribution of child pornography, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to eight years. The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. Sexual relations with a child younger than 15 is punishable by a prison term of up to eight years, or more in the presence of aggravating circumstances. The law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of two to 10 years in prison for violations, with longer sentences in the presence of aggravating circumstances. These laws were generally enforced.

A February 2020 documentary film, In the Net (V siti), followed online and in-person interactions between actresses posing as underage girls and real-life sexual predators, gaining significant media attention and resulting in several charges against the predators. In September, a 38-year-old foreign national was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contacting an underage girl on the internet in May and trying to arrange a personal meeting with her. The man was previously subject to probation and legally expelled from the country in February, based on activities shown in In the Net as well as separate charges of creating child pornography.

Institutionalized Children: In August the government passed legislation that will largely close so-called infant care centers by 2025. The move followed a 2020 finding by the Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Rights that the institutionalization of children, particularly Romani children and children with disabilities, was widespread and discriminatory.

The infant centers are government-funded institutions for children up to three years old. Experts had criticized the centers for a variety of reasons, including their cost, quality of care, unavailability of specialist (e.g., psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists) care, and the fact that children admitted to the centers must be separated from their parents to receive government assistance. The new legislation increases payments to foster parents and retains infant centers only for the care of abandoned or seriously disabled children. Supporters of the legislation urged the government to assist parents at home or enable parents battling substance abuse and similar problems to retain their children, including by bringing them to rehabilitation centers. Opponents of the legislation, most notably members of the Communist Party, argued that the abolition of infant centers would deprive children of government-provided housing and care and claimed the country lacked enough foster families.

The ombudsman visited psychiatric hospitals for children during the year and noted that conditions are humane but, in many cases children lacked the right to participate in the decision-making process about their placement into these facilities. Moreover, there was little standardization of these admissions processes between facilities. Consequently, in August, the Ministry of Health recommended that all psychiatric institutions introduce greater participation of children in decisions regarding their care and requested a more coordinated approach be taken by care providers.

In its 2020 annual report, the ombudsman also noted that children in institutionalized care were deprived of contact with parents and other family members due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 10,000 Jews in the country; approximately 3,000 are registered members of the Federation of Jewish Communities. Public expressions of anti-Semitism were rare, but small, well-organized right-wing groups with anti-Semitic views were active. The Ministry of Interior continued to monitor the activities of such groups and cooperated with police from neighboring countries as well as the local Jewish community.

The Ministry of Interior recorded 27 criminal offenses related to anti-Semitism in 2020. The Federation of Jewish Communities reported 874 incidents with anti-Semitic motives in 2020, of which 98 percent were cases of hate speech on the internet.

In June, police charged the publisher of a book on the grounds of denying the Holocaust and justifying genocide.

In January police charged the publisher of a calendar that featured figures of the Third Reich with propagating a movement aimed at suppression of human rights and freedoms.

In June the government approved the 2021-2026 Counterextremism and Hate Crime Strategy that emphasized communication, prevention, and education to curb extremism and combat hostility of radicals. The strategy also addressed extremism and hate crimes on the internet.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities face challenges accessing public buildings and public transportation on an equal basis with others. The country does not have a unified law governing access for disabled persons. Instead, specific pieces of legislation in each area (education, transport, health, construction) contain accessibility provisions linked to technical or EU-approved standards. Experts reported that only buildings built since 2009 or modifications to older buildings require compliance with the standards, so access to older buildings posed a problem. The government at times enforced these provisions effectively. Government communication is not always accessible, and the government often relies on the public television service to fill this gap. There was a general absence of videos in sign language and materials in easy-to-read format for persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities on government websites. Some progress has been made in making websites and mobile applications accessible for persons with visual impairments because of the implementation of an EU directive on accessibility of public resources.

Early in the year, the government began implementing the new National Plan for the Promotion of Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities 2021-2025, the seventh such plan since 1992. As were previous plans, the new plan is structured around the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Experts viewed the approval and implementation of the plan as a positive step but noted that recommendations under previous plans were not always implemented.

The ombudsman conducted a survey in 2020 to identify shortcomings related to the rights of persons with disabilities. The survey identified restrictions on disabled persons’ legal capacity to make financial judgments and to vote as the most significant issues, calling them a “deprivation of rights.” Nearly half the persons with disabilities under guardianships had court restrictions on their voting rights. In July the Interior Ministry, in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, issued guidelines to social service facilities regarding the ability of their clients, including persons with disabilities, to exercise the right to vote. The guidelines specifically focused on the October 8-9 parliamentary elections. The guidelines clarified, among other things, the legal right to vote, restrictions on the right to vote, and accommodations and support that must be provided to persons housed in the facilities for them to exercise their voting rights.

The ombudsman’s annual report for 2020 noted an undated case of a disabled woman who was thrown out of a taxi because she was accompanied by her service dog. The ombudsman also described shortcomings in early care for children with disabilities, the employment of persons with disabilities in public administration, equal access to prenatal and postnatal care for pregnant women, and homes for persons with disabilities.

According to law, only children with significant disabilities should attend segregated schools with specially trained teachers. Many children with disabilities were able to attend mainstream primary and secondary schools and universities, but funding for additional educational support such as teaching assistants and equipment remained insufficient. The ombudsman’s office reported that 14.2 percent of primary school students and 5.9 percent of secondary school students were persons with disabilities, they however noted that the percentages are based on the enrollment only and a significant portion of school-aged persons with disabilities may not be enrolled.

NGOs noted an increase in reports of violence against persons with disabilities, especially persons with mental disabilities.

Disability was among the most common grounds for alleged discrimination in cases submitted to the ombudsman in 2020. Of the 353 claims of discrimination filed with the ombudsman, 77 were based on alleged discrimination due to disability. In the courts, approximately 23 percent of equal treatment cases were based on claimed disability, making it the most frequently invoked grounds for claiming discrimination in 2020.

In July the Constitutional Court overturned a Prague court’s decision in the case of a rape victim with autism spectrum disorder/Asperger syndrome. The victim, who had identified as female since childhood, was repeatedly raped by one or more other patients in a boys’ psychiatry ward where she was placed pursuant to a court order at the age of 12. The Prague court awarded the victim less than one-fifth of what she sought in damages, in part because it found that the victim was unable, due to her disability, to understand the interference with her fundamental rights to inviolability and privacy. The Constitutional Court found the award amount inadequate and ruled that a victim’s compensation cannot be reduced based on the injured party’s incomplete understanding of interference with her fundamental rights.

In May a district court in Prague delivered the first-ever decision on reasonable accommodation of a public service employee. The plaintiff, a prison educator with a physical disability, sought reassignment to a work location closer to his home due to negative effects of a long, 180-mile commute on his health. The court found that the employer’s refusal to provide the accommodation amounted to discrimination on the grounds of disability and ordered the employer to cover lost wages and pay damages.

The ombudsman’s office noted problems related to restrictions on free movement and other emergency measures imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, lockdowns in residential homes for the elderly and persons with disabilities lasted for a disproportionately long period and exceeded by a month the lockdown measures for the general population.

In September parliament passed legislation that allows schools to provide additional health services. One change specifically allows an estimated 4,000 children with diabetes to receive assistance with insulin injections from health service providers at school instead of relying on their teacher’s willingness to help.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV and AIDS faced societal discrimination, although there were no reported cases of violence. HIV and AIDS were classified as a disability under the antidiscrimination law, which contributed to the stigmatization of and discrimination against HIV-positive individuals. Individuals with HIV or AIDS often preferred to keep their status confidential rather than file a complaint, which observers believed led to underreporting the problem. The Czech AIDS Help Society noted most insurance companies did not provide health insurance to persons with HIV and AIDS. NGOs reported that some physicians refused to treat HIV-positive patients.

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

In June President Zeman stated that he “does not understand transgender people,” that persons who undergo surgery to change their gender are “committing the criminalized act of self-harm,” and that transgender persons are “disgusting.” A leading NGO in the field viewed the comments as psychologically harmful to LGBTQI+ persons and as inciting hatred. An NGO that provides legal assistance to hate crime victims reported that it received five referrals shortly after Zeman’s statement.

An NGO reported that while attacks on Roma remained the most prevalent form of hate crime (verbal and physical), there was a significant increase in attacks on LGBTQI+ individuals during the year. The NGO noted an increase (from two to eight) in such cases reported to it between the first and the second quarters of the year.

In August a young man who identified as nonbinary, accompanied by his 74-year-old grandfather, was attacked by several men in Prague. The grandfather fell and suffered head injuries during the attack and later died in the hospital. An NGO assisting the victim reported that police were not treating the incident as an attack motivated by sexual orientation.

In June a group of eight persons attacked Jakub Stary, the editor of a gay magazine, as well as his same-sex partner and three friends in Prague because Stary and his partner were holding hands. Stary lost teeth and suffered injuries on his head and body. He reported to the media that police on the scene became dismissive of the incident when they were told the attack was provoked by Stary and his partner holding hands.

Several LGBTQI+ individuals complained to the ombudsman that their blood donations were refused on the grounds that they had unprotected sex in the previous six months, although all blood samples are tested for all sexually transmitted diseases. No similar refusals were made regarding blood donations by heterosexual persons.

Official change of gender is only available to persons who undergo gender reassignment surgery. Transgender individuals are required to be sterilized to obtain gender altering surgery or receive legal gender recognition. Gender altering surgery is allowed for single or divorced persons who have a minimum of one year of hormonal therapy and “acting” as the person of the desired gender. The Council of Europe found this practice contrary to EU member commitments on the protection of health. The ombudsman recommended that the government submit amendments to relevant laws. In May 2019 the Supreme Administrative Court ruled, contrary to the European Court for Human Rights, that the sterilization requirement was legitimate. The decision was challenged in the Constitutional Court, where the case was pending as of year’s end.

Laws prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, and access to health care, and the government generally enforced such laws. The country does not have specific hate crime provisions covering sexual orientation and gender identity. Laws allow registered partnerships of same-sex couples but not marriage. The law on victims of crimes covers lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender minorities, but they are not considered “particularly vulnerable persons” and are not entitled to additional legal protections, unlike children, seniors, victims of trafficking or terrorism, and, as of July, rape and domestic violence victims.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers with the right to form and join independent unions of their choosing without authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the right to associate freely for both citizens and foreign workers. Unions are apolitical and independent of the state, and the state may not interfere in their internal affairs. The minimum number of members needed to form a union is three.

The law allows collective bargaining. It prohibits antiunion discrimination and does not recognize union activity as a valid reason for dismissal. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Workers in most occupations have the legal right to strike if mediation efforts fail, and they generally exercised this right.

Strikes can be restricted or prohibited in essential service sectors, including health and social care facilities, fire brigades, public utility services, air traffic control, nuclear energy, and the oil and natural gas sector. Members of the armed forces, prosecutors, and judges may not form or join trade unions or strike. Only trade unions may legally represent workers, including nonmembers. When planning a strike, unions are required to inform employers in writing of the number of strikers and provide a list of the members of the strike committee or contact persons for negotiation. Strikes are permitted only in negotiations over collective agreements and can only be undertaken after mandatory mediation lasting at least 20 days. Unions must announce the strike at least three days in advance.

The law protects union officials from dismissal by an employer during their term of union service and for 12 months after its completion. To dismiss a union official, an employer must seek prior consent from the employee’s unit within the union. If the union does not consent, the dismissal notice is invalid.

The government enforced applicable laws effectively and permitted unions to conduct their activities without interference. Government resources for inspections and remediation were adequate, and legal penalties in the form of fines were commensurate with those for similar violations.

The Global Rights Index 2021, a report produced by the International Trade Union Confederation, alleged that Amazon warehouses in the country were under surveillance to monitor “security risks, including labor organization and trade union presence.” Collected data included information about union protests and strikes, including the number of participants and whether leaflets were being handed out. Other surveillance activities reportedly included infiltrating Facebook groups and creating false social media profiles to investigate employees who led protests. In 2020 the Global Rights Index 2021 gave the country “Rating 2,” stating that repeated violations of workers’ rights occurred in the country.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced these prohibitions. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations.

Men and women from the country, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, the Philippines, Russia, and Vietnam were exploited in forced labor, typically through debt-based coercion or exploitation of other vulnerabilities, in the construction, agricultural, forestry, manufacturing, food processing, and service sectors, including in domestic work. Private labor agencies often used deceptive practices to recruit workers from abroad, as well as from inside the country. For example, after arriving in the country, workers from abroad were given job offers that differed from what they had been promised prior to arrival. Their rejection of a job offer on these grounds typically meant they lost money invested in travel to the country and threatened their ability to support families and children who remained in their country of origin. In 2020 women from abroad were frequently hired through such deceptive practices to work in factories, poultry farms, or hairdressing studios.

In August amendments to the foreigners and employment acts entered into force that introduced fines for employers who allow or benefit from “disguised employment,” a system of sophisticated chains of supply contracts in which a company outsources work to an employment pseudo-agency lacking necessary permits to provide such employment activities. The pseudo-agency provides workers, often foreigners without necessary work or residence permits or even Czech employees without proper contracts, necessary insurance, and protections. This system opens a space for exploitation of workers or forced labor, since such workers are often in vulnerable positions. A fine of up to 10 million crowns ($440,000) can be imposed on employers using “disguised employment” in addition to intermediaries facilitating such employment.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 15. Employment of children between the ages of 15 and 18 was subject to strict safety standards, limitations on hours of work, and the requirement that work not interfere with education.

The law permits children younger than 15 (or who have not completed mandatory elementary education) to work only in certain areas: cultural and artistic activities; advertising; product promotion; and certain modeling and sports activities. A child younger than 15 may work only if he or she obtains a positive health assessment from a pediatrician and prior approval by the Labor Office. Work permits for children are issued for 12 months. Resources, inspections, and remediation were adequate. The State Bureau for Labor Inspections (SBLI) effectively enforced these regulations. Penalties were commensurate with those for other violations. The SBLI did not report any child labor law violations during the year.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit any kind of discrimination based on nationality, race, color, religion, political opinion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, disability, HIV or other communicable disease status, social status, or trade union membership.

According to the ombudsman’s report, discrimination at work accounted for the greatest number of complaints to the ombudsman in 2020 (approximately 27 percent). Like the previous year, most complaints in 2020 were for discrimination based on age, gender, and disability. The ombudsman’s office, for example, helped an employee after his employer refused to extend the employment contract due to his age. In this case, the ombudsman’s arguments contributed to an amicable conclusion of the court proceedings, including compensation for nonpecuniary damages.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations, and inspection and remediation were sufficient to enforce compliance. The SBLI conducted checks for unequal treatment and discrimination in 2020 and imposed penalties for violations of discrimination laws, mostly for noncompliance with the requirement to employ a specific number of persons with disabilities, discrimination due to health conditions, gender, and age, or the publication of discriminatory job advertisements.

Women’s salaries lagged those of men by approximately 20 percent. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs continued using a testing tool for employers that evaluates gender pay gaps in an organization as part of the “22 percent towards equality” project. The testing tool highlights pay gaps and sensitizes management to disparities in remuneration.

Associations supporting HIV-positive individuals reported cases of employment discrimination. HIV-positive individuals are not legally obligated to report their diagnosis to their employer unless it prevents them from executing their duties. Some employers dismissed HIV-positive employees due to the prejudices of other employees. To avoid accusations of discrimination, employers justified such dismissals on administrative grounds, such as redundancy.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs establishes and enforces minimum wage standards. The minimum wage is above the “minimum subsistence cost,” which is defined as the minimum amount needed to satisfy the basic needs of a working-age adult for a month. Inspections for compliance with the minimum wage were one of the primary objectives of SBLI inspectors.

The SBLI detected 2,610 violations of wage and hour laws in 2020 and imposed penalties of 9 million crowns ($415,000). Violations of wage, hour, and overtime laws were common in the wholesale, retail, food, hospitality, land transport, construction, and security services sectors.

While SBLI inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions, they are not responsible for enforcement of wage and hour laws. Employees can seek enforcement of wage and hour laws through judicial recovery. Observers reported judicial recovery can be very lengthy and hard to get, especially for foreign worker.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, two days of rest per week, and a 30-minute break during the standard eight-hour workday. Employees are entitled to at least 20 days of paid annual leave. Employers may require up to eight hours per week of overtime to meet increased demand but not more than 150 hours of overtime in a calendar year. Additional overtime is subject to the employee’s consent. The labor code requires premium pay for overtime that is equal to at least 125 percent of average earnings.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government set occupational health and safety standards that were appropriate for the country’s main industries. The labor code requires employers to provide health and safety protections in the workplace, maintain a healthy and safe work environment, and prevent health and safety risks. Responsibility for identifying unsafe conditions remains with inspectors, who have the authority to make unannounced visits and initiate sanctions. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardy to their employment.

The government effectively enforced the law. Inspection and remediation were sufficient to enforce general compliance. SBLI inspectors conducted checks for labor code compliance and imposed penalties that were commensurate with those for similar violations. The SBLI’s labor inspection plan typically focused on sectors with high-risk working conditions, such as construction, agriculture, forestry, handling of hazardous chemicals, and transport.

There were 35,071 registered workplace injuries in 2020, 7,345 fewer than in 2019. There were 108 fatal accidents in 2020, compared with 95 in 2019. Most workplace injuries and deaths occurred in the agriculture, forestry, transport, construction, and processing industries. Fatal accidents were investigated. For example, when an agricultural worker died after being injured by cattle, the SBLI concluded the employer did not take adequate organizational and technical measures to prevent the fatal injury and imposed a penalty.

Italy

Executive Summary

The Italian Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a bicameral parliament consisting of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The constitution vests executive authority in the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister whose official title is president of the Council of Ministers. The president of the republic is the head of state and nominates the prime minister after consulting with political party leaders in parliament. Parliamentary elections in 2018 were considered free and fair. Members of parliament and regional representatives elect the president of the republic; the last such election was held in 2015.

The National Police and Carabinieri (gendarmerie or military police) maintain internal security. The National Police reports to the Ministry of Interior. The Carabinieri report to the Ministry of Defense but are also under the coordination of the Ministry of Interior. They are primarily a domestic police force organized along military lines, with some overseas responsibilities. The army is responsible for external security but also has specific domestic security responsibilities such as guarding public buildings. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: violence or threats of violence against journalists; criminal libel laws with penalties of up to three years in prison; denial of access to asylum; crimes, violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence and threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and labor exploitation.

The government identified, investigated, prosecuted, and punished officials who committed human rights abuses. It sometimes implemented effectively laws against official corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were no reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings committed by police officers.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were some reports that government officials employed them.

On January 11, a court in Piacenza indicted five of the 11 Carabinieri officers arrested in July 2020 on charges of participating in a criminal gang that made illegitimate arrests, tortured arrestees, trafficked narcotics, and carried out extortions from 2017 to 2020. On July 21, prosecutors in Turin requested the indictment of the director and chief of prison guards of the Turin prison for abetting the mistreatment of detainees in at least 10 cases in 2018 and 2019, and for failing to report those guards responsible to authorities.

On June 30, the Ministry of Justice suspended 52 prison guards accused of beating a group of prisoners in the Santa Maria Capua Vetere prison who in 2020 had protested for more masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to protect against COVID-19. On July 15, Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Justice Minister Marta Cartabia visited the prison and ordered a full internal investigation. Prosecutors opened investigations into the actions of 110 individuals, including prison guards of various ranks and the prison director. Associazione Antigone, an Italian nongovernmental organization (NGO) that reports on the human rights of prisoners, filed complaints for similar episodes that allegedly occurred in three other prisons.

The government found an allegation in 2020 of sexual exploitation and abuse by Italian peacekeepers deployed on a UN peacekeeping mission to be unsubstantiated and closed the case.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions met international standards overall, but some prisons were overcrowded and antiquated.

Physical Conditions: Prison populations at the Taranto, Brescia, Lodi, and Lucca prisons were at more than 180 percent of capacity. While the law requires the separation of pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, Associazione Antigone reported that authorities at those prisons held the two groups of prisoners together.

According to a March report by Associazione Antigone, 23 percent of the 44 prisons that the NGO visited in 2020 and 2021 did not meet the minimum requirement of 32 square feet for each detainee. Additionally, the report noted that 29 percent of the cells lacked hot water. Lack of access to physical activity for inmates contributed at times to self-inflicted violence.

Ristretti Orizzonti, an NGO that tracks prison deaths, reported that 35 prisoners committed suicide, and 52 died of other causes as of September 4. Associazione Antigone believed that overcrowding and lack of services caused several deaths.

In several cases health care in prisons, including diagnosis, treatment, and psychiatric support, was insufficient. The ombudsman of detainees for the national prison system reported that in some overcrowded facilities, authorities did not allow prison personnel to implement all government-recommended measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In December 2020 more than 1,000 detainees and over 700 prison guards and staff tested positive for COVID-19.

The most recent publicly available report by an international prison-monitoring body was a January 2020 report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) on its 2019 visit to the country. The report stated that at Viterbo Prison, the CPT heard a considerable number of allegations of physical mistreatment of prisoners by staff, mainly slaps, punches, and kicks. At Saluzzo Prison, the CPT heard additional allegations of physical mistreatment of inmates by staff consisting of punches and kicks. At Biella and Milan Opera Prisons, it received a few allegations of excessive use of force by staff. The CPT found deteriorating physical and structural conditions in one wing of Viterbo Prison.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment. In July prisoners at two separate prisons in Florence and Genoa violently protested mistreatment. The protests came following the prisons’ denial of visitor permits, their refusal to allow prisoners to work outside the prison, and in response to overcrowding and a lack of services.

Independent Monitoring: In addition to periodic visits by the CPT, the government permitted independent human rights organizations, parliamentarians, the national and regional ombudsmen of detainees, and media to visit prisons and detention centers. The government also provided access to migrant and refugee detention centers to representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Italian Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Medecins sans Frontieres, and the European Asylum Support Office.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

To detain an individual, police must have a warrant issued by a public prosecutor, unless a perpetrator is caught in the act or there is a specific and immediate danger to which a police officer is responding. The law requires authorities to inform a detainee of the reason for arrest. If authorities detain a person without a warrant, an examining prosecutor must decide within 24 hours of detention whether there is enough evidence to validate the arrest. An investigating judge then has 48 hours to affirm the arrest and recommend prosecution. In cases of alleged terrorist activity, authorities may hold suspects up to 48 hours before bringing the case to a magistrate. These rights and processes generally were respected.

There is no provision for bail, but judges may grant detainees provisional liberty while awaiting trial. The government provides a lawyer to indigent persons at its expense. The law requires authorities to allow a detainee to see an attorney within 24 hours of his or her arrest, or within 48 hours for cases of suspected terrorist activities. Access to an attorney can take up to five days under exceptional circumstances if the investigating judge needs to interrogate the accused concerning organized crime or if the judge foresees a risk the attorney may attempt to tamper with the evidence.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention that exceeded the legal time limit of two to six years and trial delays caused problems. Authorities normally adhered to the maximum term for pretrial detention; in no case did it equal or exceed the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. According to independent analysts and magistrates, the large number of drug and immigration cases awaiting trial, the lack of judicial remedies, the high number of foreign detainees, and insufficient digitalization of trial records resulted in delays. In some cases detainees could not be placed under house arrest because they had no legal residence or because there was a shortage of resources, including officers, judges, and administrative staff.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. There were isolated reports that judicial corruption and politically motivated investigations by magistrates impeded justice. Several court cases involved long trial delays.

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. They have the right to a fair and public trial, although trials can be delayed due to an insufficient number of available judges and administrative clerks or due to legal maneuvering. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials.

The law provides for defendants to have access to an attorney of their choice in a timely manner or to have one provided at public expense if they are unable to pay. Defendants had adequate time to discuss and prepare cases with their lawyers in appropriate facilities available in all prisons. Judiciary experts reported foreign detainees were unable to access needed interpretation or translation services in a timely manner. A defendant has the right to confront and question opposing witnesses and to present his or her own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be forced to testify or confess guilt, and they have a right to appeal verdicts.

Domestic and European institutions criticized the slow pace of the judicial process, which the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated. The Ministry of Justice reported that the period between a criminal charge and the start of a trial was on average 478 days. Additionally, on average 1,038 days elapsed for a case to arrive at the court of appeals from the time of the initial indictment. The country’s “prescription law” (statute of limitations) in criminal proceedings requires that a trial end by a specific date. Courts determine when the statute of limitations applies. Defendants sometimes took advantage of delays to exceed the statute of limitations, which allowed them to avoid a guilty sentence at trial, or to be released from prison pending an appeal by the prosecutor’s office. In 2019 the Ministry of Justice reported the statute of limitations applied to 113,524 cases. The percentage of detainees who received a final sentence that cannot be appealed has risen over the previous 10 years. As of September 2020, 66 percent of prisoners had received a final sentence, compared with only 51 percent in 2009. In October a new penal reform law modified the maximum length of time allowed for various trial stages in an effort to accelerate the judicial process. Specifically, the new law created a statute of limitations of two years for cases to be heard on appeal, and one year for cases that reach the Court of Cassation (the country’s highest court).

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

By law individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Individuals may bring cases of alleged human rights violations by the government to the European Court of Human Rights once they exhaust all avenues for a remedy in the domestic court system.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The government has endorsed the Terezin Declaration and worked toward fulfilling its goals and objectives. The Jewish community has no outstanding restitution claims with the government. The Anselmi Commission, a technical body with the mandate to investigate the confiscation of Jewish assets during the Holocaust and the restitution of assets thereafter, reported in 2002 that, in general, deported survivors who claimed assets received them back, but those survivors or heirs who did not claim assets remained uncompensated. Governmental institutions, however, have not followed up on the Anselmi Commission’s recommendations to try to identify survivors or their heirs entitled to unclaimed property. The Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) reported that, in general, most confiscated assets were returned to their owners or next of kin except in cases when the latter could not be identified. UCEI additionally noted that national and local authorities have not been fully effective in seeking out potential claimants for communal and heirless property but characterized the government as cooperative and responsive to community concerns in the areas of protection and restoration of communal property. The Rome Jewish Community continued to seek international assistance in restoring the contents of the Jewish communal library of Rome looted by the Nazis in 1943.

A December 2020 law expanded compensation to Holocaust survivors, Jewish victims of persecution, and their heirs facilitating access to a 500 euros ($575) per month government benefit. The new law also simplifies procedures to obtain the benefit, easing the requirement of proving that discrimination occurred.

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

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

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports of arbitrary or unlawful interference by the government.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

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

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes insults against any divinity as blasphemy and penalizes offenders with fines. There were no reports of enforcement of this law or of convictions during the year.

Speech based on racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination is a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Detention is legitimate only in the case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. Holocaust denial is an aggravating circumstance carrying additional penalties in judicial proceedings.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and libel with penalties of up to three years in prison. On June 22, the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional a law punishing libel and defamation with up to six years of imprisonment if committed through the press and consisting of “attribution of a specific fact.” Criminal penalties for libel were seldom carried out, but on April 21, a Rome judge sentenced a former editor and a journalist of daily newspaper La Repubblica to pay 50,000 euros ($57,500) to former interior minister Matteo Salvini as compensation for an article regarding a canceled trip to Israel.

Nongovernmental Impact: The NGO Reporters without Borders stated there was growing hostility toward reporters, mainly due to organized crime-affiliated threats. According to the NGO, approximately 20 journalists – mostly in Rome and the South – received around-the-clock police protection because of serious threats or murder attempts. In Rome reporters were at times harassed by neo-Fascist activists and became targets of criticism and harassment on social media platforms by private and political activists.

Police reported 123 cases of intimidation against journalists between January and July compared with 103 during the same period in 2020. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) alleged some attacks against reporters. It reported that on April 11, an unidentified man attacked Rete-4 TV reporter Carmen La Gatta and two support staffers while they were conducting interviews in the northwestern city of Cuneo, using physical force including a metal chain to attack the reporting team and the vehicle in which they were traveling. According to the CPJ, on August 28, a mob in Rome protesting the country’s measures against COVID-19 surrounded Antonella Alba, a journalist working for public broadcaster Rai News 24. The mob harassed her verbally, assaulted and injured her physically, and tried to steal her cell phone.

The CPJ also reported that on August 30, at another rally in Rome against the anti-COVID-19 measures, a protester threatened to leave Francesco Giovannetti, a video journalist for La Repubblica, “lying on the ground” unless he turned off his camera. The protester then punched Giovannetti in the face four or five times. One report stated police intervened and apprehended the attacker and that Giovannetti was taken to the hospital and treated for head injuries.

Reporters without Borders reported that journalists exposed to threats by criminal organizations increasingly chose to self-censor out of fear. In February and April, the editor of the Livorno-based daily Il Tirreno reported verbal attacks, threats, and a physical assault against journalists at the newspaper. The newspaper also received a tape recording threatening a violent attack against the newsroom.

On April 15, a Bari court convicted a member of an organized crime gang to 16 months in jail for violence and threats against Maria Grazia Mazzola, a journalist from the national broadcaster Rai.

The National Federation of Italian Press also reported 110 cases of threats made against journalists between January and June, 18 of which were made by organized crime gangs and 36 of which were made by extremist political organizations.

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 and the Right to Leave the Country

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other international and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, as well as 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 for refugees.

Through December 13, a total of 63,062 seaborne irregular migrants had entered the country, compared with 32,919 during the same period in 2020. The increase, together with the fear of possible COVID-19 transmission, affected the ability of authorities to provide housing and other services to migrants and asylum seekers. The Italian Red Cross was responsible for managing migrants during their period of COVID-19 quarantine.

Authorities regularly authorized disembarkation of migrants rescued by NGO ships despite an April 2020 decree by the minister for infrastructure and transportation stating that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Italian ports could not guarantee that they meet the requirements to qualify as places of safety for migrants who were rescued by foreign-flagged ships outside the Italian search and rescue area. NGOs and independent observers identified difficulties in asylum procedures, including inconsistencies in the application of standards in reception centers and insufficient referral rates of trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors to appropriate, adequate services. NGOs asserted authorities did not properly identify many of the victims on arrival, potentially leaving some trafficking victims unidentified within the system and classified instead as asylum seekers or undocumented immigrants subject to deportation.

Some territorial adjudication committees took more than one year to process asylum claims, due in part to preventive measures adopted in response to COVID-19. If a case was legally appealed, the process could last up to three years.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation and its subsequent revisions, which identify the member state responsible for examining an asylum application based primarily on the first point of irregular entry.

Refoulement: Amnesty International and other NGOs accused the government of failing to protect migrants when, on February 7, it renewed with Libya the 2017 memorandum of understanding on illegal immigration. Italian authorities cooperated with the Libyan coast guard to seize vessels carrying migrants in Libyan waters to take them back to Libya. UNHCR did not consider Libya a “safe country” due to the absence of a functioning asylum system, the widely reported difficulties faced by refugees and asylum seekers in Libya including the lack of protection from abuses, the lack of durable solutions, and a heightened risk of trafficking facing migrants forced to remain in Libya.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: International humanitarian and human rights organizations accused the government of endangering migrants by encouraging Libyan authorities, through cooperation and resources, to seize migrants at sea and return them to reception centers in Libya. Aid groups and international organizations deemed the Libyan centers to have inhuman living conditions.

The IOM, UNHCR, and NGOs reported labor exploitation, including labor trafficking, of asylum seekers, especially in the agricultural and service sectors (see section 7.b.), and sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking, of unaccompanied migrant minors (see section 6, Children).

The government uncovered corruption and organized crime in the management of resources allotted for asylum seekers and refugees. On March 9, police arrested three persons and investigated another five accused of fraud and money laundering in Frosinone. They were suspected of holding migrants in overcrowded facilities in unhealthy conditions and inflating official reports of the center’s population in order to receive public funds.

Freedom of Movement: The law permits authorities to detain migrants and asylum seekers in identification and expulsion centers for up to 120 days if authorities decide they pose a threat to public order or if they may flee from a deportation order or predeportation jail sentence. The ombudsman for detainees noted that only half of the migrants in expulsion centers were repatriated in 2020 and lamented the lack of independent monitoring of the centers and judicial remedies for abuses. The government worked to reduce the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea on smuggler vessels and restricted their movement for up to 72 hours after they arrived at reception centers.

Employment: According to labor unions and NGOs, employers continued to discriminate against refugees in the labor market, taking advantage of weak enforcement of legal protections against exploitation of noncitizens. High unemployment in the country and the COVID-19 lockdown also made it difficult for refugees to find legal employment.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations and NGOs reported that thousands of legal and irregular foreigners, including refugees, were living in abandoned, inadequate, or overcrowded facilities in Rome and other major cities. They also reported that these persons had limited access to health care, legal counseling, basic education, and other public services.

Some refugees working in the informal economy could not afford to rent apartments, especially in large cities. They often lived in makeshift shacks in rural areas or squatted in buildings in substandard conditions.

Durable Solutions: The government’s limited attempts to integrate refugees into society produced mixed results. Many asylum seekers moved to other European countries; based on conversations at welcome centers in Catania, Sicily, most Tunisians sought to move to France or Germany, while in contrast, most Bangladeshis sought to remain in the country. The government offered refugees resettlement services, while both the government and the IOM assisted migrants and refugees who opted to return to their home countries.

Temporary Protection: Between January and July, the government provided special protection to 185 persons and subsidiary protection to 2,258 persons.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, at the end of 2020 approximately 3,000 stateless persons lived in the country. Most of them were children born in Italy to parents coming from the former Yugoslavia. The law gives Italian citizenship to children born in Italy to stateless individuals, both of whom must have obtained formal recognition of stateless status. Otherwise, Italian citizenship will not be conferred upon the child at birth, and the child will be born stateless. The law provides that individuals formally recognized as stateless may request to become naturalized citizens after five years of legal residence in the country.

According to the NGO Tavola Apolidia, many stateless individuals reported difficulty in obtaining their rights, due to the low level of knowledge in the country’s administrative bodies concerning statelessness. Individuals who are stateless but have not received stateless status do not receive fundamental rights such as the rights to work; to go to school; to own property; or to receive welfare, identity documents, and travel documents. They were also at risk of detention and expulsion.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: National and international observers considered the 2018 parliamentary elections free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government sometimes implemented the law effectively. Corruption was a problem. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

On March 29, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption noted the absences of “clear and enforceable conflict of interest rules” for parliamentarians, “a robust set of restrictions concerning donations, gifts, hospitality, favors and other benefits for parliamentarians,” “practical measures … to support the implementation of clear parliamentary integrity rules including through the development of dedicated training activities,” and “a restriction on the simultaneous holding of the office of magistrate and that of a member of local government.”

Corruption: In January the trial of 325 members of the ‘Ndrangheta organized-crime syndicate began in Calabria. The charges against defendants included murder, extortion, usury, money laundering, drug trafficking, corruption, and belonging to a criminal syndicate. The prosecution aimed to expose the deep links between organized crime and other elements of society. The trial continued at year’s end.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Office to Combat Racial Discrimination under the Department of Equal Opportunity in the Prime Minister’s Office assisted victims of discrimination. The Interministerial Committee for Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Senate’s Human Rights Committee focused on international and high-profile domestic cases.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law penalizes convicted perpetrators of rape of either gender, including spousal rape, with six to 12 years in prison. The law criminalizes the physical abuse of women (including by family members) and provides for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women and assistance in shielding abused women from publicity. Judicial protective measures for violence occurring within a family allow for an ex parte application to a civil court judge in urgent cases. A specific law on stalking includes mandatory detention for acts of sexual violence, including by partners. Police officers and judicial authorities prosecuted perpetrators of violence against women, but survivors frequently declined to press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have both caused and masked an increase in violence against women. The pandemic at times forced women into closer proximity with their abusers, leading to greater abuse, while restrictions on movement and decreased funding for civil society organizations and agencies lowered the level of social services and hampered the reporting of cases and the delivery of assistance to survivors.

Between August 2020 and July, 62 women were killed by domestic partners or former partners. In the same period, authorities reported 11,832 cases of stalking. On June 22, for example, police arrested a man accused of having abused his wife for more than 30 years in Catanzaro. The woman had been repeatedly stabbed, beaten, and raped.

The Department of Equal Opportunity operated a hotline for victims of violence seeking immediate assistance and temporary shelter. It also operated a hotline for stalking victims. Between January and March, the hotline received 7,974 calls, a 39 percent increase from the same period in 2020. In 72 percent of those cases of violence, the mistreatment occurred at home where, in 48 percent of the cases, children were present.

Sexual Harassment: By law gender-based emotional abuse is a crime. Minor cases of verbal sexual harassment in public are punishable by up to six months’ incarceration and a fine. The government effectively enforced the law. Police investigated reports of harassment.

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

Independent observers and NGOs reported that government health authorities did not provide sufficient resources to adequately supply the public with reproductive health services and counseling.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape. NGOs reported that in some cases government personnel were not sufficiently trained to identify victims and refer them to the requisite sources of assistance.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, and the government enforced laws prohibiting discrimination in all sectors of society and economy. Women nonetheless experienced widespread discrimination, particularly with respect to employment (also see section 7.d. regarding pay disparities between genders).

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law protects members of racial and ethnic minorities from violence and discrimination. Governmental and societal violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities, including Roma, Sinti, and the nomadic Caminanti, remained a problem. There were reports of discrimination based on race or ethnicity in employment (see section 7.d.).

The press and NGOs reported cases of incitement to hatred, violent attacks, forced evictions from unauthorized camps, and mistreatment by municipal authorities. In 2019, authorities reported 726 crimes of racial hatred, including 234 incidents of incitement to violence, 147 acts of grave desecrations, and 93 acts of physical violence. On September 22, police in Foggia arrested three persons and put three additional persons under investigation for two episodes of violence against a Colombian minor and a Paraguayan who were also insulted for their nationalities and cultural backgrounds.

The European Roma Rights Center reported at least seven evictions of Roma from their unauthorized camps between January and July. On July 1, local authorities closed a Romani camp on the outskirts of Rome. Of the 105 persons living in the camp, 33 found alternative housing and 48 received financial assistance to rent apartments or were hosted in public facilities. Such camps often had no access to drinking water, power, or sewage. Living in a segregated camp usually meant living in overcrowded housing (seven or eight persons per trailer, shack, or shipping container) on the periphery of a town or city.

The NGO Associazione 21 Luglio reported that in 2020, 11,500 Roma lived in 119 authorized camps in 68 municipalities, and another 7,000, mainly Romanians, lived in informal encampments, primarily in Lazio and Campania. More than half of persons living in authorized camps were minors. Their average life expectancy was approximately 10 years lower than that of the rest of the population. The absence of supplies made it difficult, if not impossible, for Roma living there to follow recommended guidelines for preventing COVID-19. The crowded living quarters in some camps led some municipalities to quarantine entire camps rather than single, at-risk individuals.

Children

Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship automatically when one of the parents is a citizen, when the parents of children born in the country are unknown or stateless, when parents are nationals of countries that do not provide citizenship to their children born abroad, when a child is abandoned in the country, or when the child is adopted. Local authorities require registration immediately after birth.

Child Abuse: Abuse of minors is punishable by six to 24 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. Child abuse within the family is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

On March 10, police arrested 29 persons and investigated another 64 suspected of exploiting minors by forcing them to commit robberies and other crimes in Rome. The press reported that most of the victims, who were Romani and younger than age 14, did not attend school.

On September 1, authorities reported a case of a mother abusing an 11-year-old child living in a facility shared by some Romani families. The victim was prevented from attending school and forced to collect reusable items from dumpsters. In 2020 the NGO Telefono Azzurro registered a 41 percent increase in the number of reports of abused minors. In 2020 there were 13,527 reports of missing minors, approximately 70 percent of whom were foreigners. The government implemented prevention programs in schools, promptly investigated complaints, and punished perpetrators.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18, but juvenile courts may authorize marriages for individuals as young as 16. Forced marriage is punishable by up to five years in prison, or six years if it involves a minor. Forced marriage for religious reasons is also penalized. On April 30, a Pakistani woman disappeared in Reggio Emilia after a meeting with her parents, who had attempted to force her to marry a cousin in Pakistan. Prior to her disappearance, she had contacted local social service centers and moved to a protected community. Her parents returned to Pakistan after her disappearance.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Authorities enforced laws prohibiting child sexual exploitation, the sale of children, child sex trafficking (offering or procuring a child for commercial sex), and practices related to child pornography. Independent observers and the government estimated at least 4,000 foreign minors were victims of sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking. According to the Department of Equal Opportunity, the number of minor victims of trafficking who received assistance decreased from 160 in 2019 to 105 in 2020.

On July 26, police arrested a janitor working at a primary school in Brescia on charges of engaging in sexual acts with children. The man also allegedly engaged in child sex trafficking by attempting to force some of the child victims into commercial sex.

There were reports of child pornography. In July authorities arrested four persons and investigated three others in Lombardy for producing videos and photos of exploited minors having sexual intercourse with adults and animals. In 2020 Postal Police reported 1,578 cases of online pedophilia, representing a 232 percent increase compared with 2019. Save the Children Italy reported that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated sexual exploitation and other abuses of children, who were often forcibly trapped unprotected in overcrowded apartments without access to health care.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, or 13 if the age gap with the partner is less than three years.

Displaced Children: The Ministry of the Interior reported 5,101 unaccompanied minors arrived in the country between January and August 17. As of July 31, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies reported the presence in the country of 8,382 unaccompanied minors, of whom 97 percent were boys. It also stated that 325 minors previously registered at reception centers were reported missing between January and July, putting them at risk of labor and sexual exploitation, including trafficking.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were approximately 28,000 Jews in the country. The law criminalizes the public display of the fascist stiff-armed Roman salute and the sale or display of fascist or Nazi memorabilia. Violations can result in imprisonment from six months to two years, with an additional eight months if fascist or Nazi memorabilia were sold online.

Anti-Semitic societal prejudices persisted. Some extremist fringe groups were responsible for anti-Semitic remarks and actions, including physical violence against Jews, vandalism of Jewish-owned business and synagogues, and publication of anti-Semitic material on the internet. The Observatory on Anti-Semitism, part of the Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation, reported 123 anti-Semitic incidents between January and August 17, including acts of violence. In March a food delivery rider in Rome stabbed a Jewish colleague several times, after screaming anti-Semitic insults. On May 23, three men wearing Palestinian and Algerian flags assaulted and spit on a Jewish man in Milan. The victim required hospitalization. In August a Bangladeshi migrant attacked an Israeli tourist in Pisa with a souvenir statue, yelling “Jews are murderers!”

On April 29, an estimated 800 neo-Nazis marched in Milan, with groups of persons performing the Nazi salute. On June 7, antiterror police dismantled a far-right extremist group, the Roman Aryan Order, and arrested 12 persons. Police seized photographs of Hitler, swastikas, and a book listing Jewish surnames.

Internet hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic attacks, according to the center. On February 19, a Holocaust survivor’s attempt to encourage older adults to receive the COVID-19 vaccine resulted in anti-Semitic comments on social media. On August 18, the center reported 41 cases of insults on the internet and five cases of graffiti against Jewish residents. Most incidents occurred during Jewish holidays or celebrations. Anti-Semitic slogans and graffiti appeared in some cities, including Milan, Rome, and Busto Arsizio.

More than 2,000 police officers guarded synagogues and other Jewish community sites in the country.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and the law require authorities to guarantee access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation to persons with disabilities on an equal basis. The government enforced these provisions, but there were incidents of societal and employment discrimination. Although the law mandates access to government buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities, physical barriers continued to pose challenges, and government information was not always provided in accessible format. On March 10, the NGO Associazione Coscioni reported that a court ordered the Sperlonga municipality to remove physical barriers preventing persons with disabilities from visiting the historic center of the city. The press reported several cases of escalators and elevators out of order in public buildings and persons with disabilities being denied access to public transportation and other services.

On July 28, police arrested three persons accused of having raped a woman and committed violence against other residents in a nursing home in Serradifalco.

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

NGOs advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons reported instances of societal violence, discrimination, and hate speech. The website Gay.it received 70 reports of discrimination against gay men between January and July compared with 64 registered in 2020.

The press reported isolated cases of violence against LGBTQI+ individuals. On May 24, a Milan court sentenced a former banker to 18 years in prison for killing a transgender escort from Brazil. When LGBTQI+ persons reported crimes, authorities consistently investigated them but in some cases failed to identify the perpetrators.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to establish and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and employees fired for union activity have the right to request reinstatement, provided their employer has more than 15 workers in a unit or more than 60 workers in the country.

The law prohibits union organization of the armed forces. The law mandates that strikes affecting essential public services (such as transport, sanitation, and health services) require longer advance notification than in other sectors and prohibits multiple strikes within days of each other in those services. The law only allows unions that represent at least one-half of the transit workforce to call a transit strike.

The government effectively enforced these laws. The penalties were commensurate with those provided under other laws involving denials of civil rights, although administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes subject to lengthy delays. Judges effectively sanctioned the few cases of violations that occurred.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively, although there were instances in which employers unilaterally annulled bargaining agreements. Union representatives suffered casualties while raising awareness and advocating for labor interests. In June, during a demonstration, a truck driver ran over and killed a union leader who was protesting for better working conditions in the logistics sector. The truck dragged the labor leader for several yards as the driver drove away from the scene. Police arrested the driver for alleged vehicular homicide and failure to provide assistance to the union leader. Two other protesters were also reportedly hit by the truck driver and suffered minor injuries. Employers continued to use short-term contracts and subcontracting to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes. The actual sentences given by courts for forced and compulsory labor, however, were significantly lower than those provided by law.

The law provides stiff penalties for illicit intermediaries and businesses that exploit agricultural workers, particularly in the case of forced labor but also in cases of general exploitation. It identifies the conditions under which laborers may be considered exploited and includes special programs in support of seasonal agricultural workers. The law punishes so-called caporalato, the recruitment of agricultural workers who are illegally employed at subminimum wages and required to work long hours without premium pay or access to labor or social protections. Penalties range from fines to the suspension of commercial and business licenses and in some cases imprisonment.

The government continued to focus on forced labor, especially in the agricultural sector. Government labor inspectors and labor organizations expressed concerns during the year that lockdown measures related to COVID-19 made migrant workers more vulnerable to exploitation. Some migrant workers were designated “essential,” which put them at risk of exploitation, including employer blackmail. The government has a system to legalize undocumented foreign workers in the country. According to press reports, some employers manipulated and blackmailed migrant agricultural workers and care givers to obtain employer signatures on applications. More than 220,000 migrant workers applied for legal status through the program. The government estimated there were 600,000 undocumented migrants in the country.

Forced labor occurred. According to NGO reporting, workers were subjected to debt bondage in construction, domestic service, hotels, restaurants, and agriculture, especially in the South. The practice has reportedly spread to other sectors and regions. There were anecdotal media reports that a limited number of Chinese nationals were forced to work in the textile sector and that criminal groups coerced persons with disabilities from Romania and Albania into beggary. In the southeastern region of Sicily, 30,000 workers on approximately 5,500 farms worked through the pandemic for as little as 15 euros ($17) per day. There were also reports of children subjected to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

In 2020 a new three-year plan (2020-22) revitalized the government’s efforts to fight labor exploitation and other illegal practices in the agricultural sector. In the same year, the European Commission and the Ministry of Labor funded projects to coordinate labor inspections with law enforcement agencies and the private sector. While the COVID pandemic made labor inspection activities challenging, nationwide in 2020 authorities identified 1,850 potential victims of caporalato and other labor law offenses, of whom 119 were undocumented migrants. Teams in several provinces in central and southern Italy inspected 758 sites, checked 4,767 positions, and identified 1,069 violations of labor rules and 205 potential victims. As a result of the inspections, 22 individuals were summoned for prosecution. The multiagency approach expanded to include an ad hoc group made up of local health officials, inspectors from other regions, and cultural mediators provided by the IOM.

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 employment of children younger than 16 in all sectors as well as all the worst forms of child labor, and there are specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthy occupations for minors, such as activities involving potential exposure to hazardous substances, mining, excavation, and working with power equipment. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 are limited to working eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. The government generally effectively enforced laws related to child labor in the formal economy. Penalties were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Enforcement was not effective in the relatively extensive informal economy, particularly in the South and in family-run agricultural businesses.

There were some reports of child labor during the year, primarily in migrant and Romani communities. In 2020, labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers identified 127 underage laborers, of whom 51 were working in the services sector (hotels and restaurants). The remainder worked in the art, sports, and entertainment sector, wholesale and retail trade, and car and motorbike repair.

The law provides for the protection of unaccompanied foreign minors and creates a system of protection that manages minors from the time they arrive in the country until they reach the age of 21 and can support themselves. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies recognized that unaccompanied minors were vulnerable to child labor exploitation and worked to prevent abuse by placing them in protected communities that provided education and other services. The law also created a roster of vetted and trained volunteer guardians at the juvenile court level to help protect unaccompanied minors. According to a report by Save the Children, elements of the law were not yet fully implemented across the country, although significant progress has been made.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex (including pregnancy), ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. However, there were media reports of employment discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Unions criticized the government for providing insufficient resources to the National Office against Racial Discrimination to intervene in discrimination cases and for the lack of adequate legal measures to address new types of discrimination. Penalties were commensurate with other laws related to civil rights, but the number of inspections was insufficient to provide adequate implementation.

Discrimination based on gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity also occurred. The government implemented some information campaigns, promoting diversity and tolerance, including in the workplace.

In many cases, according to labor unions, victims of discrimination were unwilling to request the forms of protection provided by employment laws or collective contracts, due to fear of reprisal. According to a 2021 Eurostat study, women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 14.1 percent lower than those of men performing the same job in the country in 2019.

In 2020 Ministry of Labor inspectors carried out 309 inspections to protect working mothers and pregnant women. The sectors with the most violations included hospitality, wholesale and retail trade, tourism, and health- and home-care assistance.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law does not provide for a minimum wage. Instead, collective bargaining contracts negotiated between unions and employers set minimum wage levels for different sectors of the economy. These minimum wages were above the poverty income level.

Unless limited by a collective bargaining agreement, the law sets maximum overtime hours in industrial firms at no more than 80 hours per quarter and 250 hours annually. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and provides for paid annual holidays. It requires rest periods of one day per week and 11 hours per day.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policies is responsible for enforcement and, with regular union input, effectively enforced standards in the formal sector of the economy. The penalties for wage and hour violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The number of inspectors, resources, inspections, and remediation were generally adequate to ensure compliance in the formal sector. Labor inspectors were permitted to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations but remained insufficient to deter violations.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law sets occupational safety and health standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts of government institutions

Occupational safety and health inspections were conducted by the same inspectors as wage and hour violations under the same authorities. The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws, and penalties were commensurate with similar violations but remained insufficient to deter violations.

In 2020 labor inspectors and Carabinieri officers inspected 103,857 companies (including agricultural firms) and identified 93,482 workers whose terms of employment were in violation of labor law. Migrants in the agricultural sector faced unsafe work conditions, including working outdoors for prolonged periods of time while being exposed to temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and receiving wages below legal minimum wage requirements. In addition to farmworkers, unions and workers in the logistic sector expressed concerns regarding the grueling pace of work, work-related pain and injuries, and mental health issues as well as the lack of employment stability and security for temporary workers. In 2020 there were 1,270 workplace deaths due to accidents in the industrial sector as well as 554,340 reported incidents that resulted in injuries.

Informal Sector: Informal workers were often exploited and underpaid, worked in unhygienic conditions, or were exposed to safety hazards. Labor standards were partially enforced in the informal sector, especially in agriculture, construction, and services, which employed an estimated 16 percent of the country’s workers. According to the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro, a national trade union, such practices occurred in the service, construction, and agricultural sectors. Unions reported significant numbers of informal foreign workers living and working in substandard or unsafe conditions in some areas of Calabria, Puglia, Campania, and Sicily. According to the National Institute of Statistics, the informal sector of the economy was responsible for more than 11 percent of the country’s GDP.

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 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 stated that the August 2020 parliamentary elections were overall transparent and efficient but highlighted that the ruling party gained an undue advantage through misuse of office and state resources and dominant media coverage, which undermined the quality of information available to voters. Milo Djukanovic, president of the Democratic Party of Socialists, was elected president in 2018 with nearly 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 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Parliament, and the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly noted the election proceeded in an orderly manner but had 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. It is organized under the Police Administration within the Ministry of Interior and reports to the police director and, through the director, to the minister of interior and prime minister. The Armed Forces of Montenegro are responsible for external security and consist of an army, navy, and air force that are overseen by the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: alleged torture by the government; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression; serious government corruption; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities and members of national, racial, or ethnic minority groups; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.

Impunity remained a problem, and the government did little to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

On October 25, Special Prosecutor Lidija Vukcevic filed charges against a Montenegrin citizen, Slobodan Pekovic, for allegedly killing two Bosniaks and raping a civilian in the southeast Bosnian town of Foca in 1992 while serving as a soldier for the Bosnian Serb Army. A spokesperson for the Special Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that an indictment proposal had been forwarded to the court for further adjudication after Pekovic was arrested on October 18. According to media outlets, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Prosecutor’s Office transferred the case to Montenegro judicial authorities following a several months’ long exchange of information. Pekovic, who may be detained for up to 30 days, denied having committed crimes against humanity in Foca. In a related development, media outlets quoted Special Prosecutor Vukcevic as stating that since the 2015 adoption of the Strategy for Investigation of War Crimes in Montenegro, the country has held seven trials for war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. The nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) Human Rights Action (HRA) and Civic Alliance both noted a significant lack of progress on war crimes prosecution, despite the government’s 2015 adoption of the strategy.

b. Disappearance

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

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports alleging that police tortured suspects and that beatings occurred in prisons and detention centers across the country. The government prosecuted some police officers and prison guards accused of overstepping their authority, but there were delays in the court proceedings. NGOs noted that several police officers found to be responsible for violating the rules of their service, including cases of excessive use of force, remained on duty. In 2020 the Office of the Ombudsman received complaints regarding police torture, noting that most complaints involving criminal proceedings did not result in heavy penalties.

On July 28, local news portal Vijesti released video of police in Cetinje stepping on the head of and kicking a local resident who was offering no resistance during a raid on his business. Police conducting the raid belonged to the Sector for the Fight against Crime and wore masks covering their faces and did not wear visible identification. The beaten individual filed a police complaint against the police officer. The day after the incident, police reported that they had evidence that one police officer exceeded their authority and that they would investigate the case.

In July the NGO HRA issued a press release stating that foreign forensic experts of international renown prepared reports on the injuries of Jovan Grujicic and Marko Boljevic. The pair had reported police torture in May 2020, when they were arrested as part of the investigation into the cases of so-called bomb attacks in 2015. The bomb attacks targeted the bar Grand and the house of former National Security Agency officer and current police officer Dusko Golubovic. The suspects were arrested in May 2020 and later reported that they were victims of police torture at the time of the arrest. Jovan Grujicic, the main suspect in the bombings, was later acquitted of charges by the Basic Court; the charges against Benjamin Mugosa, initially accused of participation in the attacks, were subsequently dropped when it was revealed that he was in prison at the time of the bombings. A third suspect, “MB,” was an alleged witness who was said to have testified that Mugosa and Grujicic executed the attacks before the charges were dropped. All three submitted separate reports to the Basic State Prosecution Office in Podgorica containing identical allegations of police torture by application of electroshock devices to their genitals and thighs, brutal beatings using boxing gloves and baseball bats, and other cruel methods, such as threatening to kill them and playing loud music to drown out their screams during the interrogation to extract their confessions. The State Prosecutor’s Office was investigating the case.

Foreign forensic experts observed traces of torture in the form of “physical and psychological symptoms” during the examination of Grujicic and Boljevic and stated that they were “highly consistent” with the allegations that they had been tortured by police with beatings, electric shocks, humiliation, and intimidation. The HRA provided the reports in collaboration with the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and the Independent Forensic Expert Group, which operates within the council.

Media outlets and NGOs also cited the findings from a 2017 visit by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which noted allegations of police mistreatment, including “punches, slaps, kicks, baton blows, and strikes with nonstandard objects, and the infliction of electrical shocks from handheld electrical discharge devices.” Most abuses were alleged to have occurred either at the time of apprehension or during the preinvestigation phase of detention for the purpose of extracting confessions.

In March the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a judgment in the case of Baranin and Vukcevic v. Montenegro, finding that Montenegro violated the procedural aspect of the prohibition of torture, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights) due to ineffective investigation of police abuse of Momcilo Baranin and Branimir Vukcevic in 2015. The applicants were beaten by several police officers in a street in the center of Podgorica following the dispersal of a protest organized by the Democratic Front political coalition. The incident was recorded on video, with footage shared online. The ECHR found that the competent state authorities, primarily the prosecutor’s office and police, failed to conduct an efficient and effective investigation to identify the perpetrators of the abuse and punish them adequately.

Impunity remained a problem in the security forces, particularly among police and prison officers. Domestic NGOs cited corruption; lack of transparency; a lack of capacity by oversight bodies to conduct investigations into allegations of excessive force and misuse of authority in an objective and timely manner; and the ruling political parties’ influence over prosecutors and officials within the Police Administration and the Ministry of Interior as factors contributing to impunity. Despite the existence of multiple, independent oversight bodies over police within the Ministry of Interior, parliament, and civil society, NGOs and the Council for Civilian Control of Police Operations noted a pervasive unwillingness of police officers to admit human rights abuses or misuses of authority committed by themselves or their colleagues. To increase respect for human rights by the security forces, authorities offered numerous training sessions, often in conjunction with international partners, as well as working group meetings dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.

According to domestic NGOs, authorities made little progress in addressing the problem of police mistreatment and other shortcomings in the Internal Control Department of the Ministry of Interior. They cited a lack of strict competitive recruitment criteria and training for police officers; the absence of effective oversight by the Internal Control Department; and the need for prosecutors to conduct more thorough and expeditious investigations into cases of alleged mistreatment by police officers as areas where there were continuing problems. NGOs also noted there was an ongoing need for prosecutors to carry out timely investigations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were some reports regarding prison and detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: There were some poor conditions in prisons and pretrial detention facilities due to overcrowding and access to medical care. In the report issued following its 2017 visit to Montenegro, the CPT noted problematic levels of prison overcrowding, i.e., less than 32.3 square feet of space per inmate in multiple-occupancy cells in certain sections and remand prisoners confined to their cells for 23 hours a day without being offered activities for months or years. The CPT noted that material conditions in police stations it visited were not suitable for detaining persons for up to 72 hours due to structural deficiencies, such as poor access to natural light, inadequate ventilation, poor conditions of hygiene, and irregular provision of food. NGOs reported that detainees who were addicted to drugs, had mental disabilities, or had other disabilities continued to face difficulties in obtaining adequate treatment while detained.

The CPT also noted the level of serious interprisoner violence was a long-standing and persistent problem at the remand prison and the Institute for Sentenced Prisoners. During the year there were reports of cases of violence in the country’s primary prison attributed to the long-standing “war” between the country’s two main organized criminal groups, which prison authorities managed by taking preventive measures, such as providing separate accommodations and preventing contact between persons who are members of opposing criminal groups as well as other operational and tactical measures and actions, such as providing close personal supervision of individuals and conducting random periodic searches of their persons and accommodations. There were widespread reports that prison employees cooperated with members of organized criminal groups, including one in prison. Some such employees were prosecuted by authorities.

In 2020 the Council for Civilian Control of Police Operations noted poor conditions in the pretrial detention rooms in the security center in Niksic. In addition to lacking water and being equipped with damaged and dirty mattresses, overcrowding was a problem because there were only seven beds for the nine detainees. In other inspections of the security centers in Podgorica and Niksic, the council noted similar problems with overcrowding and a lack of capacity to provide basic services to detainees.

The Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights stated that all prisons and detention centers were accessible for persons with disabilities.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment, but they usually did so only in reaction to media campaigns or upon the ombudsman’s recommendation. Results of investigations were generally made available to the public.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prisons by independent nongovernmental observers, including human rights groups and media, and international bodies such as the CPT. Even when monitors visited on short notice, prison authorities allowed them to speak with the prisoners without the presence of a guard. The Justice Ministry’s Directorate for the Execution of Criminal Sanctions noted positive working relationships with NGOs, including those who were critical of the organization.

Improvements: Improvements in the physical facilities, staffing levels, and training for guards continued throughout the year. According to NGO reports, some improvements were made to nutrition and health-care services, family visits, staffing, and the work environment. Additional measures were also taken to address shortcomings noted by the CPT, including the renovation of select rooms in the central prison and detention centers, construction of a protective fence, procurement of additional security cameras, and construction of a recreational basketball court and walking paths for prisoner use.

According to the European Commission’s 2020 Progress Report on Montenegro, material conditions of detention remained poor and serious shortcomings were exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Overcrowding in Podgorica’s temporary detention prison continued to diminish. The government continued programs designed to focus on rehabilitation and providing inmates with skills to increase employment prospects upon release, including apprenticeship programs to cultivate farming skills. The Ministry of Justice stated that the Bureau for the Execution of Criminal Sanctions provided vaccines for all prisoners and guards and immunization started in March.

In 2020 parliament passed an amnesty law aimed at relieving the problem of overcrowding in the prison system and ensuring the safety of prisoners threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. The law provides for a 15 percent reduction in prison sentences and a 10 percent reduction of sentences for those who have not yet begun serving their sentences. The amnesty does not apply to the most serious crimes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government usually observed these requirements. Detainees have a right to be compensated in cases of unfounded detention, and the government generally follows these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Arrests require a judicial ruling or a “reasonable suspicion by police that the suspect committed an offense.” Police generally made arrests using warrants issued by judges and based on sufficient evidence. Police and prosecutors may detain suspects for up to 72 hours before bringing them before a judge and charging them. Although the law prohibits excessive delay in filing formal charges against suspects and in conducting investigations, delays sometimes occurred. At arraignment, judges make an initial determination about the legality of the detention, and arraignment usually occurred within the prescribed period.

Courts increasingly used bail. Judges may also release defendants without bail and limit their movements, impose reporting requirements on them, or retain their passports or other documents to prevent flight. The law permits a detainee to have an attorney present during police questioning and court proceedings, and detainees generally had prompt access to a lawyer. Although legal assistance is required to be available for persons in need, financial constraints sometimes limited the quality and availability of assistance. Authorities must immediately inform the detainee’s family, common-law partner, or responsible social institution of an arrest, and they usually did so.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police continued to summon witnesses and suspects to police stations for “informational talks” and often used this practice to curb hooliganism during soccer matches or to reduce participation in opposition political rallies. This practice generally did not involve holding suspects longer than the six hours allowed by law, nor did it typically result in charges.

Pretrial Detention: Courts frequently ordered the detention of criminal defendants pending trial. The law sets the initial length of pretrial detention at 30 days but permits prosecutors to increase it by five months. When combined with extensions granted by trial judges, authorities could potentially detain a defendant legally for up to three years from arrest through completion of the trial or sentencing. The average detention lasted between 90 and 120 days. The length of pretrial detention was usually shorter than the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. Authorities stated that pretrial detainees on average accounted for 30 percent of the prison population. Police often relied on prolonged pretrial detention as an aid to investigate crimes. The backlog of criminal cases in the courts also contributed to prolonged detention. The courts continued to reduce the backlog gradually.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary. While the government expressed support for judicial independence and impartiality, some NGOs, international organizations, and legal experts asserted that political pressure, corruption, and nepotism influenced prosecutors and judges. The process of appointing judges and prosecutors remained somewhat politicized, although the constitution and law provide for a prosecutorial council to select prosecutors and a judicial council to select judges.

The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) stated that outstanding issues remain about strengthening the Judicial Council’s independence against undue political influence, including the ex officio participation of the minister of justice. GRECO described as “alarming” the lack of progress on the composition and independence of the Judicial Council, the body charged with upholding the independence and autonomy of courts. GRECO was particularly concerned by the ex officio participation of the minister of justice on the Judicial Council and the council’s decision to reappoint five court presidents for at least a third term. While some progress was made in providing the public with information concerning disciplinary proceedings against prosecutors, the anticorruption monitoring body criticized the lack of similar progress in reviewing the disciplinary framework for judges.

In May parliament adopted amendments to the Law on State Prosecution, the government body tasked with selecting prosecutors. The amendments adjusted the composition of the council by reducing the number of prosecutors on the council by one and adding a civil society representative. The new Prosecutorial Council composition has 11 members: four prosecutors elected by the Conference of Prosecutors; two positions reserved for a representative of the Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights and the supreme state prosecutor; four “distinguished lawyers” elected by parliament; and one civil society representative elected by parliament. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission warned that the proposed changes could lead to increased politicization of the Prosecutorial Council. The amendments also stipulated the cancellation of the previous council members’ mandates once the new council was formed. On August 5, Speaker of Parliament Aleksa Becic proclaimed a new, partial Prosecutorial Council, consisting solely of six members, notwithstanding parliament’s failure to elect new distinguished lawyers or a civil society representative. Although no new distinguished lawyers were named, Speaker Becic stated that the proclamation of the new, partial council automatically terminated the mandate of all previous council members and that the new, partial council had enough members to form a quorum. Prominent NGOs, legal experts, and other political parties and coalitions, including the Democratic Party of Socialists, United Reform Action, and the Democratic Front, criticized the proclamation of the partial council, with some alleging that the term of office of the existing distinguished lawyer members of the council had not and could not end until a full council is formed. The Venice Commission, in its opinion on the then draft Law on the Prosecution, discouraged arbitrarily terminating the mandates of existing council members.

Inadequate funding and a lack of organization continued to hamper the effectiveness of the courts. The law provides for plea bargaining, which is available for all crimes except war crimes and those related to terrorism.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial and the judiciary generally enforced that right, although many trials were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By law, defendants are presumed innocent. Authorities are required to inform detainees of the grounds for their detention. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay and to be present at their trial. Courts may close certain sessions during the testimony of government-protected or other sensitive witnesses. Authorities also close juvenile trials. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner in pretrial and trial proceedings. The law requires authorities to provide an attorney at public expense when a defendant is a person with disabilities or is already in detention, destitute, facing a charge carrying a possible sentence of more than 10 years, being tried in absentia, engaged in a plea-bargaining process, or being questioned solely by police or Customs Authority officials during the preliminary investigative phase, upon the approval of a prosecutor. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals; and to confront prosecution witnesses, present their own witnesses and evidence, and remain silent. Both the defense and the prosecution have the right of appeal.

The judiciary was unable to hold all criminal trials publicly due to a shortage of proper facilities. The shortage also affected the timeliness of trials. Systemic weaknesses, such as political influence and prolonged procedures, inconsistent court practices, and relatively lenient sentencing policy, diminished public confidence in the efficiency and impartiality of the judiciary. Lenient sentencing policies also discouraged the use of plea agreements, since they left little maneuvering room for prosecutors to negotiate better terms, thereby contributing to inefficiency in the administration of justice.

Courts may try defendants in absentia but by law must repeat the trial if the convicted individuals are later apprehended.

From May 24 through the end of July, the country’s Bar Association went on strike in protest of proposed changes to the Law on Fiscalization, resulting in the suspension of court operations and the postponement of trials. The law regulates issuing of bills for products and services in real time through the internet and a fiscal service. Attorneys opposed the changes, claiming that they would violate client confidentiality, since bills submitted by attorneys would have to list the specific reason for the service. The changes would also create the possibility that fiscal inspectors could access protected client files during audits. Several NGOs involved in judicial matters, including the Association of Lawyers of Montenegro, European Association for Law and Finance, Human Rights Action, Women’s Rights Center, Center for Civic Education, Association of Youth with Disabilities of Montenegro, Committee of Young Lawyers of Montenegro, Prima, Association of Parents, ADAMAS, and Alliance of Youth Workers released a statement noting the deleterious impact of the strike on the quick resolution of trial proceedings.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Misuse of International Law-enforcement Tools: There were credible allegations that the country attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country.

In August 2020 Interpol’s Commission for Control of International Arrest Warrants adopted the appeal filed by fugitive businessman Dusko Knezevic and revoked the arrest warrant issued for him in 2019. In 2019 and 2020, the country’s special prosecutor filed six indictments against Knezevic for several crimes, including organizing a criminal group, money laundering, and tax evasion. In July the Special State Prosecutor’s Office filed charges against businessman Knezevic and 12 other persons, including the Central Bank vice governor, for creating a criminal organization, abuse of official position in business, money laundering, and tax evasion. The charges remained pending at year’s end.

Knezevic, who fled to London, accused President Milo Djukanovic of corruption, claiming the arrest warrant was issued upon pressure from persons close to the president and his family who were trying to take over Knezevic’s business and properties. Knezevic had claimed that Interpol’s arrest warrants against him were not in line with the organization’s legal regulations. His legal representative, Zdravko Djukic, told media that revoking the arrest warrant against Knezevic proved that the indictments against him were politically motivated.

Toby Cadman, a London-based lawyer specializing in criminal law, human rights law, and extradition, told local A1 Television that Interpol also revoked its international red notice against British-Israeli political consultant Aron Shaviv, whom he represented. Montenegro prosecutors accused Shaviv of assisting an alleged 2016 coup attempt in the country. In 2020, after hearing arguments from both the defense and the prosecution, Interpol concluded, per Cadman, that the Montenegro-initiated red notice for Shaviv constituted “abuse of process” and was “politically motivated.”

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions without court approval or legal necessity and prohibit police from searching a residence or conducting undercover or monitoring operations without a warrant. The law requires the National Security Agency and police to obtain court authorization for wiretaps. Similarly, a 2018 Constitutional Court decision proclaimed that some provisions in the criminal procedure code regarding secret surveillance measures were unconstitutional and all requests must be approved by a court.

There were no official reports the government failed to respect these requirements for conducting physical and property searches. Human rights activists, such as the NGOs Network for Affirmation of the NGO Sector (MANS) and Institute Alternativa, continued to claim, however, that authorities engaged in illegal wiretapping and surveillance.

On May 27, one of the ruling parties, the Democrats, published a secretly recorded conversation between Tamara Nikcevic, a journalist for the public broadcaster Radio and Television Montenegro (RTCG), and her guest before they went on the air. The Democrats then filed criminal charges against Nikcevic for allegedly abusing her official position as a public television journalist by expressing critical views about the Democrats. Several NGOs criticized the Democrats for releasing the unauthorized recording.

On February 25, the Special Police Department filed criminal charges against former National Security Agency director Dejan Perunicic and former agency agent Srdja Pavicevic for abuse of office, illegal wiretapping, and surveillance carried out from January to September 2020 on several the then opposition leaders, the Serbian Orthodox metropolitan, and two journalists critical of the former government, Petar Komnenic (TV Vijesti) and Nevenka Boskovic Cirovic (RTCG).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected these rights. Unsolved attacks against journalists, political interference with the public broadcaster, politically biased media reporting, and a deluge of ethnically divisive content and disinformation from Serbian outlets, however, continued to characterize the media landscape.

Freedom of Expression: Unlike 2020, during which the number of journalists, political activists, and private citizens who were detained and fined for posting disinformation, “fake news,” or insulting comments – mostly against government officials on social media – spiked, a much smaller number of individuals were prosecuted for social media postings during the year.

On April 28, the High Court of Podgorica convicted Aleksandar Jovanovic from Niksic to one year in prison for inciting ethnic, religious, and racial hatred through social media posts about Serbs. The same day, according to media reports, the High Court of Podgorica sentenced another individual from Niksic, Stefan Kovacevic, to seven months in prison for sharing an article containing hate speech against Muslims on his social media account.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of political and social views, media regulators faced increasing demands during the year that they curtail the rebroadcast of material from Serbia inciting hatred and intolerance.

The Atlantic Council of Montenegro’s Digital Forensic Center (DFC) reported on September 16 that since October 2020, Serbia-based media published a total of 15,825 articles containing the keyword Crna Gora (Montenegro), with 9,698 of them directly dealing with Montenegro and its internal political affairs. Their reporting, the DFC stated, “in an extremely sensationalist and inciting way, often violating journalism ethics and human moral code of conduct…leads to dangerous prejudices against Montenegro, its citizens, and institutions.”

Several times throughout the year, opposition parties urged the country’s Agency for Electronic Media (AEM) to ban rebroadcasting of programming from a few Serbian tabloid television stations for reportedly spreading hate speech. Following the August 30 broadcast of the Happy TV talk show “Will there be bloodshed in Montenegro?” about the enthronement of the Serbian Orthodox Church metropolitan, opposition parties and the Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society, and Media called on the AEM to ban the broadcast.

On September 15, the AEM Council asked the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media in Serbia to initiate a procedure to determine the liability of the Happy TV and Pink TV channels, based in Serbia, for violating professional and ethical journalistic standards. The AEM asserted that the broadcasters continuously aired content that incited hatred, intolerance, and discrimination towards ethnic Montenegrins. The AEM further specified that those stations used derogatory, insulting, or disturbing language, denying the national identity of Montenegrins, and warned that if violations continued after 15 days it would restrict the rebroadcasting of the controversial programs in Montenegro. There were no official reactions by the Serbian regulator nor any subsequent actions by the AEM.

Violence and Harassment: Violence and harassment against journalists continued to be a problem. Heightened political tensions in the country posed a risk for journalists who were targets of physical and verbal attacks while reporting or commenting on election rallies, political and religious gatherings, and protests. Unsolved attacks from previous years contributed to an atmosphere of intimidation against media.

On March 20, a group of five or six opposition demonstrators threatened and then physically assaulted TV Vijesti journalist Sead Sadikovic. Police detained two attackers, and the basic prosecutor filed charges against them. On November 19, the trial began in the Basic Court of Bijelo Polje against Edin Dizdarevic (age 18) and Nermin Omerovic (age 21), the two attackers accused of insulting and physically assaulting Sadikovic.

On May 25, a columnist of the private Radio Antena M, Dragan Bursac, a strong critic of the Serbian Orthodox Church, received death threats through social media. From the same account, similar threats were sent to Antena M and its editor in chief, Darko Sukovic. Media outlets reported that on June 4, police arrested Srdjan Misovic, a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina residing in Montenegro, on suspicion of threatening the journalists, and prosecutors opened an investigation into his activities. On October 25, the Basic Court of Kotor sentenced Misovic to a suspended sentence of four months in prison, which would not be executed if he did not commit a new crime in the next two years.

Protesters at antigovernment demonstrations sometimes verbally assaulted or obstructed journalists from reaching a demonstration, including TV Vijesti journalist Ljubica Milicevic and her crew on August 24, another TV Vijesti crew, led by reporter Danijela Lasica and an N1 TV crew, on September 5, the day of the enthronement of Serbian Orthodox Church metropolitan Joanikije.

On September 1, RTCG journalist Tanja Sukovic and cameraman Dragan Tomasevic filed criminal reports against several Serbian Orthodox priests for preventing them from filming a group of citizens in Cetinje who were holding a protest performance at the entrance of the Cetinje Monastery. Sukovic told media that the priests were aggressive and insulted her (as a Montenegrin) because of her ethnicity. The Serbian Orthodox Church responded that the RTCG crew did not have permission to film on church property.

Condemning the series of attacks and threats against journalists, the NGO HRA noted 14 cases of verbal and physical attacks, threats, insults, and humiliation of journalists and other media professionals over the first six months of the year with most taking place while journalists performed their work. On November 2, the NGO Center for Civic Education reported 17 attacks or threats against journalists and media crews over the first 10 months of the year. The NGO called it a concerning trend of intensified threats and assaults against journalists and media.

On May 27, the 17th anniversary of the murder of Dusko Jovanovic, the editor in chief of the daily newspaper Dan, Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic and Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic announced that the investigation was being reopened and that the case would finally be solved. As of November, no updates on the investigation had been made public.

There was also no progress in solving the 2018 shooting of Vijesti investigative reporter Olivera Lakic in Podgorica. Although media speculated about the alleged progress during the year and police announced in 2019 that they had solved the case, identifying a criminal ringleader and eight members of his gang as the perpetrators, formal charges in the case have not been brought.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent and pro-opposition media complained about unfair treatment and economic pressure from government ministries and agencies. Unprofessional journalistic behavior, combined with low salaries and political pressure, contributed to self-censorship and biased coverage of events.

Libel/Slander Laws: There is no criminal libel law, but media outlets faced libel charges in civil proceedings.

On March 29, the Court of Appeals confirmed the 2020 ruling of the High Court of Podgorica to sentence investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic to one year in prison for facilitating drug trafficking. Martinovic, an investigative freelance journalist who covered organized crime, spent 14 months in pretrial detention from 2015 to 2017 and therefore was not expected to serve additional time. In 2019 the High Court sentenced Martinovic to 18 months in prison for being part of an international drug smuggling network, but an appellate court overturned the verdict in September and sent the case back for retrial. Martinovic claimed his contact with convicted criminals was solely in the context of his work reporting on organized crime. Martinovic called the Appellate Court’s decision politically motivated. Twelve local and international media organizations, including Reporters Without Borders and International Federation of Journalists, condemned the verdict and regretted that the Court of Appeals “has not seized the opportunity to acquit the internationally awarded journalist and send a message of support to investigative journalism in Montenegro.”

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Media: In July 2020 parliament adopted two new media laws, a general law on media and a law on the public broadcaster RTCG to increase the RTCG’s transparency. The NGO Media Center claimed that, despite the then government’s declared intention to decrease political influence over the public broadcaster, the way the law defined the parliament’s role in the appointment and dismissal process of the RTCG managing council, including allowing members of parliament to vote on the NGO-proposed candidates, showed that it wanted to retain control over the RTCG.

Parliament ignored the NGO Media Center’s complaints over the mechanism to select council members and on June 11, elected nine new members of the RTCG council. On August 6, out of four candidates who applied, the council elected civil activist Boris Raonic as RTCG director general. Media Center stated that four of the nine council members had conflicts of interest with Raonic, which was denied by Raonic and the council members.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. There were credible reports that the government selectively restricted freedom of peaceful assembly in conjunction with the issuance of health measures by the Ministry of Health to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through arbitrary arrests, detentions, and fines (see section 1.d.). Public gatherings within 164 feet of government buildings are prohibited.

Police asserted that they prohibited gatherings that would disturb public peace and order, cause public transmission of COVID-19, or interfere with traffic. In some cases authorities offered protesters alternate locations for demonstrations. In a few cases, police detained protesters for questioning or charged them with misdemeanors.

Several NGOs, including Civic Alliance, stated that during the September 5 enthronement of the Serbian Orthodox Church metropolitan in Cetinje, police used disproportionate force against protesters, including tear gas and shock bombs, beyond the permitted means of crowd control. There were also unconfirmed reports of police using rubber bullets. The HRA stated that all complaints should be investigated and all those who violated the law should be prosecuted, protesters and police officers alike. The HRA found the events surrounding the enthronement of the metropolitan posed a significant risk to peace, due to the exacerbation of national and religious divisions for political purposes. The NGO stated that there were no fatalities and that the government had generally ensured respect for freedom of religion or belief and freedom of peaceful assembly.

Health measures were sometimes applied unevenly by authorities. Several NGOs criticized the government for issuing confusing and inconsistent announcements of limits on both outdoor and indoor public gatherings to contain the spread of COVID-19. For example, on September 26, the prime minister, joined by several cabinet members, politicians, and other public figures, violated government COVID-19 health restrictions at a religious ceremony, including by not wearing masks and not socially distancing. Inconsistent application of health measures was also raised by the Council for Civilian Control of Police Operations in 2020.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. COVID-19-derived public health restrictions included occasional bans on intercity travel and other movement restrictions, which some citizens protested.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Ministry of Interior statistics indicated that between 2009 and September 2021, a total of 15, 258 displaced persons (DPs) from the former Yugoslavia applied to resolve their residency status. Of these, 15,123 completed applications, 11,781 received permanent resident status, 616 received temporary resident status, and 135 applications remained pending. Individuals with temporary residence still needed support to acquire permanent residence because they still needed to acquire identity documents, such as birth and citizenship certificates, to get their passports.

Persons whose applications for “foreigner with permanent residence” status were pending with the Ministry of Interior continued to hold the legal status of DPs or internally displaced persons (IDPs). Some persons who were entitled to apply faced difficulties in obtaining the required documentation, particularly in regularizing previously unregistered births or paying the fees required to procure documents.

In April the government announced changes in criteria for receiving Montenegrin citizenship by admittance as well as amendments to the Law on Registries of Temporary and Permanent Residency. The proposed residency related amendments included an obligation that persons temporarily living abroad renounce their permanent place of residence in the country. Furthermore, removal from the temporary registry was understood as an interim step towards deletion from the voter registry and loss of suffrage. The initiatives sparked immediate protest, with some media outlets calling them an attempt at “demographic engineering” allegedly to offer citizenship to several thousand residents while revoking residency to thousands of Montenegrins temporarily living abroad. Following fierce reactions from the opposition, minority parties, and the diaspora community, the government suspended its decision to amend the conditions for acquiring citizenship while it prepared new draft amendments to the law to send to parliament for consideration.

With support of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the government, together with the government of Kosovo, continued to assist displaced Roma and Balkan-Egyptians in obtaining personal identification documents under a Montenegro-Kosovo agreement on late registration of births of persons born outside the hospital system. By the end of 2019, approximately 1,400 persons received assistance through this cooperation, while 40 others remained in need of Kosovo documents to acquire permanent residence status in Montenegro. The process, supported by UNHCR, facilitated the registration of births of persons born in Montenegro or Kosovo, especially Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children.

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed cooperation between Montenegro and Kosovo. During the year there were no organized returns of IDPs to Kosovo.

Conditions for IDPs and DPs from the Yugoslav wars varied. Access to employment, health care, and social services was sometimes limited due to language barriers, insufficient integration programs, lack of documentation, or unclear or inconsistent administrative procedures. According to UNHCR’s livelihood study launched in 2018, many remained vulnerable, in need of support to become self-reliant, and continued to live below the poverty line. The COVID-19 pandemic additionally affected livelihood prospects and earnings of refugees from the former Yugoslavia, especially members of the Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian population. In April, more than a year into the pandemic, access to food and hygiene kits remained the most pressing needs of refugees from the former Yugoslavia.

Together with Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country was a party to the Regional Housing Program, facilitated by international donors, to provide durable solutions for up to 6,000 DPs and IDPs in the country. DPs and IDPs continued to live in substandard dwellings, struggled to pay rent for private accommodation, faced problems obtaining sustainable livelihoods, or feared eviction from illegally occupied facilities known as informal collective centers, mostly in the coastal municipalities.

Restricted access to employment pushed many DPs into gray-market activities. Poor economic prospects particularly affected Roma, Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptians, and IDPs from Kosovo in urban areas due to their low levels of schooling and literacy, high unemployment, and other obstacles to full integration in society. The high unemployment rate affected the aging population across the country.

Although the law gives foreigners with permanent residence the full scope of rights of citizens except for the right to vote, DPs and IDPs from the former Yugoslavia sometimes had limited access to employment, education, property ownership, and specialized medical care due to the difficulty of obtaining official documents.

The government continued to encourage IDPs and DPs to return to their places of origin, but repatriation was essentially nonexistent due to the preference of many IDPs and DPs to remain in the country because they feared reprisals in their countries of origin, a lack of resources, or the lost bond with their country or place of origin. During the first eight months of the year, the situation worsened due to movement restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19 and related health concerns.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with 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 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 authorities reported 2,351 illegal border crossings during the first eight months of the year, an increase from 2020.

During the first eight months of the year, the country continued to record transitory movements of migrants and refugees along the Western Balkans route and a smaller number of applications for asylum. As of August, 190 persons (8 percent) applied for asylum out of the 2,328 who had declared an intention to do so when crossing the border. The borders remained open for asylum seekers.

From January 1 to October 31, UNHCR registered 3,313 pushbacks into Albania on the country’s border. They also registered approximately 191 pushbacks from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, or Croatia into the country. The two facilities for accommodation of asylum seekers – one in Spuz, fully funded by the government, and one in Bozaj, partially funded by the government – were generally sufficient to accommodate all asylum seekers.

In response to processing delays caused by COVID-19, the Ministry of Interior Directorate for Asylum in conjunction with UNHCR undertook an initiative to resolve asylum applications that had been outstanding for more than six months. During the first eight months of the year, authorities conducted 41 interviews, compared with a total of 56 interviews in 2020. Of the total applications filed, as of the end of August, 55 asylum seekers had actively pursued their asylum claim; the claims had been pending for two to 31 months. Although the deadline for a decision is set at six months, it may be extended up to 21 months. Of the 190 asylum applications, only 10 (5.2 percent) were approved; inadequate follow-through on applications contributed significantly to this figure.

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. As of September 2020, asylum seekers residing in the country for more than nine months could get a personal identification number, which allowed them to register with the Employment Agency and be legally employed. This system, however, was functional only in a small number of municipalities. UNHCR continued its advocacy with the Ministry of Interior to issue personal identification cards to at least those asylum seekers eligible to work. Many refugees had difficulties obtaining documents, and thus accessing services such as health care, due to language barriers. Throughout the year, newly recognized refugees continued to face problems with the Ministry of Interior in obtaining identification documents after receiving refugee status, limiting their access to social and economic rights and benefits.

Durable Solutions: A path to citizenship for refugees 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 basic services and naturalization in the country. Naturalized citizens were eligible to vote two years after naturalization.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided international protection (called subsidiary protection) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. During the first 10 months of the year, authorities did not approve subsidiary protection for any of the 231 requests submitted for international protection, while 11 persons were granted refugee status.

g. Stateless Persons

As of the end of August, 423 persons were at risk of statelessness or in a stateless-like situation. Since 2009 the government addressed the problem through simplified procedures for obtaining documents for refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Through reforms in 2015 and 2019 the government improved birth registration procedures, including for children abandoned by their mothers or whose mothers were without identity documentation.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held parliamentary elections in August 2020. The elections were competitive and took place in an environment highly polarized over topics of religion and national identity. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) stated the elections were overall transparent and efficient but highlighted that the ruling party gained an undue advantage through misuse of office and state resources and dominant media coverage. ODIHR also found the State Election Commission did not entirely fulfill its regulatory role, leaving many aspects related to voter registration unaddressed and failing to provide clear recommendations for protecting the health of voters and for facilitating mobile voting by voters in quarantine. ODIHR further noted the elections took place amid concerns about the government’s inconsistent adherence to the constitution, including calling early elections without shortening parliament’s mandate; introducing pandemic-related restrictions on public gatherings and rallies without parliament calling a state of emergency; and initiating criminal proceedings and arrests for several members of parliament without a prior waiver of their immunity by parliament.

The European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations and ODIHR observers noted that election day was calm and peaceful but identified a few cases of minor irregularities that did not affect the electoral process. Unlike the previous parliamentary elections in 2016, all parties accepted the election results. ODIHR found that the lack of independent campaign coverage by media further undermined the quality of information available to voters. In the August 2020 election, opposition parties won a majority of the seats in parliament for the first time in 30 years.

The country held presidential elections in 2018. The ODIHR observation mission to the elections noted in its final report that although the candidate nominated by the governing party held an institutional advantage, fundamental freedoms were respected. Candidates campaigned freely, and media provided the contestants with a platform to present their views. The technical aspects of the election were adequately managed, although observers noted the transparency and professionalism of the State Election Commission remained matters of concern. Election day proceeded in an orderly manner despite a few observed procedural irregularities.

On February 5, the Appellate Court accepted the appeals of 13 defendants and annulled the 2019 verdicts by the Podgorica High Court in the 2016 failed coup attempt case, ordering the Higher Court to repeat the trial.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties were able to form and operate freely. The largest constituent of the ruling majority, the Democratic Front (DF), and the major opposition party, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), chose to boycott parliament occasionally.

On January 30, police briefly detained and then expelled eight Serbian citizens for a lack of valid temporary residency and work permits. The eight individuals, four of whom were reportedly members of Serbia’s Progressive Party, were hired by Montenegro’s New Serbian Democracy (NOVA) party, a core constituent of the DF coalition, to upgrade the party’s operations and update its voter data base ahead of local Niksic elections on March 14. Some media outlets reported that the expelled individuals were supposedly close to President Aleksandar Vucic and Serbian Security Agency agents and accused them of being heavily involved in the Niksic elections. To support the assertion, they highlighted the earlier seizure of money and computers from Serbia, which were allegedly intended to support pro-Serbian parties in the elections.

On February 25, Nik Gjeloshaj, the mayor of Tuzi, a predominantly ethnic Albanian municipality, accused the government of “politically” imposing COVID-19 restrictions on the municipality based on national identity. The measures, including the closing of the catering facilities and specific only to Tuzi, banned demonstrations organized by the mayor’s party, Albanian Alternative, to protest the government. The government accused Gjeloshaj of civil disobedience and politicizing a health matter by organizing protests, while opposition and ethnic minority parties backed Tuzi leadership, blaming the national authorities for losing control over the pandemic. Meanwhile, police filed charges against Gjeloshaj and two more local communal police officials for calling for resistance to the measures.

Opposition parties condemned numerous dismissals among the state administration as politically motivated actions so that the ruling parties could install their members into the positions.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws formally limit the participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Ethnic Bosniak and Albanian minority parties complained of inadequate representation within the government. The law requires that at least 30 percent of a political party’s candidates be female, and women held 27 percent of delegate seats (22 of 81) in the parliament, up from 22 percent (18 seats) in the previous parliament. In the new national government, women held four of the 12 ministerial seats. Out of 24 local governments, however, women were presidents of only two municipalities.

The largest minority groups in the country (i.e., Serbs, Bosniaks, and Albanians) had ethnic party representatives in parliament; Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians remained unrepresented. In the August 2020 parliamentary elections, the two Croatian electoral lists did not pass the election threshold needed to win seats in parliament. Although the law provides representation to minority-affiliated parties that win less than 3 percent of the vote or constitute less than 15 percent of the population, the law does not apply to the Romani community. At the end of 2019, the Democratic Roma Party became the first Romani political party established in the country. The law also provides for positive discrimination in the allocation of electoral seats at the municipal level for minorities constituting 1.5 to 15 percent of the population. There were no political representatives of Roma, Ashkali, or Balkan-Egyptians at the municipal level.

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. Corruption and low public trust in government institutions were major issues in the 2020 parliamentary elections. There were numerous media and NGO reports that the new government upheld old patterns and that 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, particularly in the areas of health care, higher education, the judiciary, customs, political parties, police, the armed forces, urban planning, the construction industry, and employment.

The Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (APC) was strengthened through continued capacity-building activities and technical assistance during the year, but domestic NGOs were critical of the agency’s lack of transparency and described periodic working group meetings with it as cosmetic and superficial. The European Commission noted that problems related to APC’s independence, priorities, selective approach, and decision quality continued.

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 APC involved public administration, the private sector, and the judiciary.  According to the NGO Network for Affirmation of the NGO Sector (MANS), a corruption watchdog, impunity for corruption and the use of tailor-made laws as vehicles for achieving and maintaining state capture are common in the country. MANS’s analysis indicated that courts tended towards milder penalties for high-level corruption than for administrative corruption. MANS also found that courts have a more lenient attitude towards high-level corruption in the public sector, which caused multimillion-euro losses in the state budget, than to corruption in the private sector, where damages were less harmful to state finances. The corruption cases analyzed showed that high-level public officials received more favorable treatment before the courts than other accused persons. This worked heavily in favor of public officials, who even received suspended sentences when there is no legal basis. Key shortcomings in the judicial system are also related to a lack of transparency and free access to information.

In 2019, in an incident that came to be known as the “Envelope Affair,” businessman Dusko Knezevic, who was until then close to the DPS ruling elite, revealed a video clip from 2016 in which he was shown allegedly handing former Podgorica mayor and former high-ranking DPS official Slavoljub Stijepovic an envelope containing 97,000 euros ($112,000) to fund the DPS election campaign. The amount was later determined to be 47,000 euros ($54,000). In March the High Court rejected the indictment against Stijepovic for the second time, finding that he did not know where the funds he received from Knezevic, who was accused of money laundering and corruption, came from and that he did not intentionally plan to commit any criminal offense. The ruling parties, including the Democratic Front and Democrats, criticized the court’s decision, stressing that it showed the need for urgent changes in the prosecution and judiciary. MANS separately requested the Special Prosecutor’s Office to make public the proposed indictment against Stijepovic, based on which the court made its decision that MANS characterized as “scandalous.” In June the Court of Appeals revoked the decision and ordered the High Court to reconsider indicting Stijepovic, and on September 24, the Higher Court confirmed an indictment against him.

In July police issued an international arrest warrant for the former director of the Real Estate Administration, Dragan Kovacevic, after he fled Montenegro in February. In an investigation by the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Organized Crime, Corruption, War Crimes, Terrorism, and Money Laundering (SPO), Kovacevic was identified as the organizer of a criminal organization through which he allegedly misused his official position to appropriate oceanfront property valued at more than 660,000 euros ($759,000). The SPO indicted Kovacevic, eight other persons, and one company. They were charged with multiple criminal offenses, including creation of a criminal organization; abuse of official position; abuse of official position through incitement; illegal occupation of land; extortion through incitement; extortion in complicity; abuse of position in business in conjunction with the criminal offense of forgery of a document; evasion of taxes and contributions; and abuse of position in business operations in conjunction with the criminal offense of forgery of a document.

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 and MANS. 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.

Human rights observers continued to express concern over investigative delays (even factoring in the difficult operating environment because of COVID-19) and 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 the Police Administration’s 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 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.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards 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 and noted that the government selectively ignored their requests for information under the Law on Free Access to Information. In its 2020 Progress Report on Montenegro, the European Commission stated that the amount of information classified by public institutions and withheld from the public grew, thus restricting the access of NGOs and the public to key policy decisions. The report added that this concern needed to be addressed as a matter of priority, including in reviewing the legal framework, to ensure civil society has genuine oversight in key policy areas.

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 is punishable by fines of 500 to 2,500 euros ($575 to $2,880). 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 13-member Standing Committee for Human Rights and Freedoms and a 13-member Standing Committee for Gender Equality. The new Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights, established in 2020, worked on its administrative capacity, but NGOs stated that dismissal of the minister in June affected its effectiveness. NGOs also noted difficulty identifying appropriate working-level points of contact within the ministry and across the government.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: These acts are illegal, and authorities generally enforced the law. In most cases the penalty provided by law for rape, including spousal rape, is one to 10 years in prison, although the law permits lower sentences in cases where there are exceptionally extenuating circumstances or a significant lack of evidence. Actual sentences were generally lenient, averaging three years. Judges often used questionable methods, including forcing confrontations between victims and perpetrators, to assess the credibility of victims. NGOs expressed concern about the security of the courtrooms where victims were often forced to meet with abusers. On more than one occasion, the NGO Safe Women’s House has reported perpetrators physically attacked domestic violence survivors in the courtroom during the trial and in view of the judge. The NGO emphasized the problem of very small courtrooms where victim and perpetrator sit very close to one another without police protection.

Domestic violence is generally punishable by a fine or a one-year prison sentence. According to UNICEF data, 42 percent of Montenegrin women experienced intimate partner violence during their lifetime, while just 12 percent of survivors reported the violence to authorities. According to NGO reports, domestic violence survivors continued to experience difficulties having their cases prosecuted in the judicial system, promoting an atmosphere of impunity for abusers. This problem was further compounded by the additional constraints on prosecutors and the courts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases police were quick to dismiss allegations of domestic violence, particularly for young couples, noting that the problems would be resolved over time. When their cases were tried in court and they received a judgment in their favor, survivors noted the sentences imposed on perpetrators were lenient and dominated by suspended sentences and fines. Lengthy trials, economic dependency, societal norms, and a lack of alternative housing often forced survivors and perpetrators to continue to live together.

Police response to domestic violence was also reported to be substandard, with officers often counseling women to “forgive” their attackers or to “not harm their (the attackers) job prospects.” Cases involving perpetrators who were also public officials remained problematic. In the case of a police officer who attacked and injured a woman in a nightclub in 2019, the Basic Prosecutor’s Office stated that in his actions there were no elements of a criminal offense, and charges were not pressed, so police filed a misdemeanor report against him. Other institutions’ responses were also problematic. According to NGOs, social centers have increasingly taken actions to keep victims and abusers together in order to preserve the family structure or pay one-time assistance for rent, rather than accommodating victims in licensed shelters and providing other needed support to them, including psychological and legal support.

On September 30, a 19-year-old woman was killed by her common-law husband, who also severely injured her father. Her husband subsequently turned himself in to police after protesters gathered in Tuzi to demonstrate support for the victim’s family and push authorities to investigate, a call echoed by the prime minister. At year’s end it remained unclear whether charges were filed over the killing. The victim had previously filed a complaint in August against her husband, from whom she had separated, for constant harassment and threats. In response, police filed a complaint against the man for threatening his wife. The Basic Prosecutor’s Office in Podgorica, however, determined that there were no elements of a criminal offense, sending the case to the Misdemeanor Court, which acquitted the suspect.

On October 21, a husband killed his wife in their family house in Petnjica and then committed suicide. According to police, their 15-year-old daughter was seriously injured in the incident. A month later, the minister of interior acknowledged failures by police officers in this case. The minister explained that the victim’s son had reported an incident of violence involving his parents to the Center for Social Work months prior to the killing, which the center forwarded to police. Despite this, police did not visit the scene of the incident, electing instead to conduct a telephone interview of the husband without interviewing the wife or her children. Based on this interview, police concluded that there was no reason to go to the scene and the situation was calm. The case was closed until the killing occurred a few months later. At year’s end the officers involved were under internal review to determine responsibility.

In July President Milo Djukanovic pardoned Tomas Boskovic, who had been sentenced in June to 30 days in prison for illegally preventing his former wife from seeing their minor children for three years. The former wife was a victim of domestic violence. The president signed the pardon according to the opinion of the head of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the minister of interior. NGOs dealing with human rights and protection from domestic violence and violence against women strongly protested the president’s decision to pardon convicted family abuser Tomas Boskovic, who, according to them, continuously abused his parental rights, disrespected the law and court decisions, and worked against the interests of his minor children by not allowing them to have contact with their mother for three years. With this decision, NGOs stated, the president encouraged illegal behavior and disrespect for court decisions to the detriment of children and discouraged all parents who struggle to contact their children in accordance with court decisions. They also stated that by this act, the government committed outrageous institutional discrimination against women and children who are victims of violence and violated legally binding international standards, primarily the standards of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Istanbul Convention.

Domestic violence remained a persistent and common problem. The law permits survivors to obtain restraining orders against abusers. When the abuser and survivor live together, authorities may remove the abuser from the property, regardless of ownership rights. This was rarely done, and NGOs reported that, as a result of the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 restrictive measures, women were spending more time with abusers. Domestic violence was a serious problem in all communities.

According to NGOs and the ombudsman, female survivors of domestic violence often complained that government-run social welfare centers did not respond adequately to their appeals for help. NGOs reported that state institutions did not provide physical protection for survivors.

The government, in cooperation with an NGO, operated a free hotline for victims of family violence. The NGO SOS Line Niksic, which ran the hotline, reported a steady rise in domestic violence cases since 2019, driven by both increased reporting and the economic and psychological stresses of COVID-19. From January to May, they hosted 38 possible survivors of domestic violence (both women and children) in their shelter, 55 percent higher than the same period in the previous year. The government promoted use of the NGO SOS Hotline in Niksic, and the UN Development Program (UNDP) developed the mobile application “Be safe” as tools for domestic violence survivors to call for help. NGOs continued to report that, despite some progress, particularly in the law, government agencies responded inadequately to prevent domestic violence and help survivors recover.

According to NGOs, because of the restrictive COVID-19 measures, authorities failed to address domestic violence in a timely manner, leaving survivors with limited support. The NGO Women’s Rights Center stated that perpetrators often confiscated victims’ cell phones and not all survivors were able to use digital tools, which limited reporting. The NGO Women Safe House stated that the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic exposed women who lived with violent partners to even greater control and violence. According to a Women’s Safe House focus group survey, key reasons why women decided not to report the violence were fear of the perpetrator, uncertainty over the pandemic, lack of family support, and lack of trust in state institutions. More than two-thirds of women who participated in the focus group believed that bad economic conditions, isolation, and feelings of uncertainty contributed to the increase in domestic violence during the pandemic.

In 2020 local NGOs reported a case in which police in Niksic refused to accept a complaint and call for help of a Romani survivor of domestic violence seeking safe refuge at a police station, despite being accompanied by a caseworker from the NGO Center for Roma Initiatives. The survivor, a trafficking victim who entered the country illegally in 2019 after escaping a forced marriage in Kosovo, had been forced to marry a man in Bar, then marry a man in Herceg Novi. During both marriages, the survivor faced domestic violence, including seizure of her personal documents. Upon fleeing to stay with acquaintances in Niksic, she faced an attempted rape by a family friend. While in Niksic, the survivor was advised by the Center for Roma Initiatives to file a complaint with police concerning her abuse. Because the survivor was from Kosovo, police refused to act without first receiving permission from a health inspector due to COVID-19 restrictions. The inspector required the survivor and the NGO caseworker to self-isolate for 14 days, a period later extended to 28 days. Homeless and unable to find accommodation due to the self-isolation requirement, the survivor spent the night in front of the police station with her infant, after which she returned to her abuser, as she risked facing criminal charges for violating public health measures. The Center for Roma Initiatives continued to advocate on her behalf with police, who finally allowed her to be accommodated at an NGO-run shelter in mid-April 2020. The Ministry of Interior’s Department for Combatting Trafficking in Persons took up the survivor’s case, and in June 2020 she was transferred to the Shelter for Victims of Trafficking in Persons. Officials investigated the case as human trafficking rather than as domestic violence; the Higher Court in Podgorica prosecuted one man for trafficking in persons in connection with the case.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Child marriage continued to be a problem in Romani communities (see section 6, Children, subsection on Child, Early, and Forced Marriage). Although illegal, in many Romani communities, the practice of paying a traditional “bride price” of several hundred to several thousand euros for girls and women to be sold into or purchased from families across the border in Kosovo or Albania led to concerns about trafficking in persons. The potential to be “remarried” existed, with some girls being sent back to their families, then being resold, and the money then given to the former spouse’s family. These practices were rarely reported, and police rarely intervened, viewing the practices as “traditional.” These practices led to girls withdrawing from school at a rate much higher than boys, limiting their literacy and ability to provide for themselves and their families, essentially trapping them in these situations.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not defined as a crime under the law. According to the Center for Women’s Rights, sexual harassment, including street harassment, of women occurred often, but few women reported it. Public awareness of the problem remained low. Victims hesitated to report harassment in the workplace due to fears of employer reprisals and a lack of information about legal remedies. Stalking or predatory behavior with physical intimidation is punishable by law with a fine or up to three years’ imprisonment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The country continues to require sterilization to confer legal recognition of gender identity for transgender individuals. While free health care was available to citizens, health-care costs acted as a barrier for noncitizens and those lacking identification documents to access regular prenatal care. Due to poor education and living conditions, Romani and Balkan-Egyptian women seldom visited gynecologists, obstetricians, or any other doctors and had the least access to family planning counseling and gynecological services. Seeking to improve knowledge of reproductive rights within the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian community, the Center for Roma Initiatives organized a series of focus groups with the intention of developing a targeted action plan on improving Romani and Balkan-Egyptian reproductive health. Romani and Balkan-Egyptian women able to access these services often reported discriminatory treatment, including verbal harassment. Women outside these communities also reported verbal harassment when accessing reproductive health services. NGOs noted that such harassment was often unreported due to inadequate victim support mechanisms. Depending on the location, there was one gynecologist per 5,000 to 8,000 women, which affected women’s access to routine health services during pregnancy and childbirth.

Although there were no legal barriers to contraception, a 2020 UNFPA report indicated the country had enacted only 37 percent of legislation and regulations necessary to provide for full and equal access to contraceptive services. According to NGOs, there was a lack of publicly available information and appropriate educational programs, and economic status and restrictions by partners were barriers preventing women from using contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but that did not include emergency contraception. NGOs stated that these services were often not tailored to those experiencing sexual violence and that persons performing examinations sometimes lacked the necessary expertise to prepare a valid forensic report. Victims also often wait up to seven days for an examination, and there is no specialized center for supporting victims of sexual violence.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. All property acquired during marriage is joint property. The government enforced these laws somewhat effectively. The NGO SOS noted, however, that women often had trouble in defending their property rights in divorce proceedings due to the widespread public belief that property belongs to the man. Sometimes women ceded their inherited property and inheritance rights to male relatives due to tradition and pressure from their families. Men consequently tended to be favored in the distribution of property ownership, sometimes limiting a woman’s options in the cases of domestic violence or divorce. Women continued to experience discrimination in salaries and access to pension benefits (see section 7.d.).

The Department for Gender Equality worked to inform women of their rights, and parliament has a committee on gender equality. The government has a 2017-21 strategy on gender equality. In 2020 the government published the Gender Equality Index for Montenegro, one of a series of indices that measures inequalities in EU member states and countries in the EU accession process. On a rating scale of zero to 100, the index measured labor, money, knowledge, time, power, health, and violence. The largest inequality between men and women was noted in the category of power (35.1), followed by time (52.7), knowledge (55.1), money (59.7), and work (65.2). The greatest level of equality was reported in health (86.9).

Female judges who were forced to retire two years ahead of their male peers, per existing law, brought a complaint against the Judicial Council on the ground of discrimination. Throughout the year female political figures were the target of public, misogynistic insults, and occasional death threats, both online and by public figures. For example, in April the minister of education, science, culture, and sport, Vesna Bratic, was depicted in sexist and vulgar caricature with then bishop Joanikije. Local NGOs condemned this incident, stating that the mockery and shame to which Minister Bratic was exposed because of her gender did not, nor could not, have any justification and represented a brutal misogynistic attack on Bratic as a person with the intention to hurt, insult, and humiliate her.

According to Romani rights NGOs, one-half of Romani women between the ages of 15 and 24 were illiterate. Romani women often faced double discrimination based on their gender and ethnicity.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: Although illegal, medical professionals noted that gender-biased sex selection took place, resulting in a boy-to-girl ratio at birth of 110 to 100. The government did not actively address the problem.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Some reporting by Serbia-based media outlets, popular among Montenegrin-Serb populations in the country, contributed to rising tensions between ethnic groups. Tabloid television stations, portals, and online media continued to report intensively about Montenegro and its internal political developments during the year frequently using ethnically charged, inflammatory language playing on ethnic and national differences and disinformation, particularly over local elections in Niksic on March 14 and Herceg Novi on May 9, as well as around the enthronement of the country’s Serbian Orthodox Church metropolitan Joanikije on September 5.

Following the September 5 enthronement of the Serbian Orthodox metropolitan in Cetinje, ethnic tensions between Montenegrins and Serbs increased. The NGO Civic Alliance stated that the event deepened the already existing divisions in Montenegrin society.

Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians remained the most vulnerable victims of discrimination, mainly because of prejudice and limited access to social services due to a lack of required documentation. The law on citizenship and its accompanying regulations make obtaining citizenship difficult for persons without personal identity documents or those born outside of a hospital. Access to health-care services, including childbirth, remained challenging for members of these communities due to their lack of medical-care cards.

According to the Roma Education Fund, the poverty rate among Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians remained higher than for the general population. Many Roma, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptians lived in illegal squatter settlements that often lacked services, such as public utilities, medical care, and sewage disposal. NGOs reported that several Romani neighborhoods did not have running water, which prevented, for example, the Vreli Ribnicki Romani community from complying with health recommendations. The NGO Young Roma stated that one of the biggest problems for the Romani community living in illegal squatter settlements was the risk of eviction, especially in the southern part of the country. According to the NGO Center for the Affirmation of Roma and Egyptian Population, the Roma and Balkan-Egyptian population, particularly children, faced discrimination during schooling, problems arising from unresolved legal status, the lack of employment opportunities, and poor housing (also see section 6, Children, subsection on Education). Albanians and Bosniaks in the southern and northeastern parts of the country also frequently complained about central government discrimination and economic neglect.

On February 11, the Hadzi-Ismail Mosque in Niksic was defaced with graffiti saying “Srebrenica,” “Turks,” and “Niksic will be Srebrenica.” The Hadzi-Ismail Mosque is the only mosque for Niksic’s Muslim population of approximately 1,500. The government, NGOs, and other religious groups condemned the graffiti.

Government-supported national councils for Serbs, Bosniaks, Albanians, Muslims, Croats, and Roma represented the interests of those groups. NGOs, legal observers, and media outlets continued to accuse the government of misappropriating money from a fund established to finance the national councils.

The Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights stated that the government continued to provide housing for marginalized groups, including Roma. During the year the government adopted a new Strategy for Social Inclusion of Roma and Balkan Egyptians 2021-2025 and the Action Plan for 2021. The previous government’s strategy resulted in some improvement in the number of Romani children attending school, access to health care, and access to housing.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from their parents and, under some circumstances, by birth in the country, through naturalization, or as otherwise specified by international treaties governing the acquisition of citizenship. Registration of birth, a responsibility of the parents, is required for a child to have the necessary documents to establish his or her citizenship. Births of all children in hospitals and medical institutions were registered automatically. The parents of Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children not born in hospitals registered their births at much lower rates than other groups, mostly due to lack of awareness of the registration process or the parents’ own lack of identification documents. It was difficult for the unregistered children of Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents to access such government services as health care, social allowances, and education. Of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian children in primary school, 10 percent were not registered.

Education: The law provides for free, compulsory elementary education for all children. Secondary education is free but not compulsory. Enrollment in secondary education starts at the ages of 14 or 15. NGOs reported that the end of elementary education represented one of the most vulnerable moments for Roma and Balkan-Egyptian children, especially girls, since without school attendance monitoring, children were left to their parents and were vulnerable to “traditional” marriages. UNICEF data indicated that during 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a socioeconomic crisis, and children became more vulnerable to poverty, violence, and social exclusion and less able to acquire knowledge as schools closed and education went digital. A Rapid Social Impact Assessment by the UN, co-led by UNICEF and the UNDP, found that in April and June 2020, the country’s poorest households were increasingly unable to meet their children’s most basic needs, particularly affecting Roma and Egyptian children, children with disabilities, and refugee and migrant children. Half of the Roma and Balkan-Egyptian children dropped out of primary school, and only 3 percent completed high school. UNICEF noted there was not sufficient data on children with disabilities to assess their participation in and access to schooling.

NGOs reported that, although the number of Romani children attending school increased, they continued to face limitations in education. The NGO Young Roma reported that its research showed the average score of Romani children in schools was 2.23 out of five – just above passing – which reduced their chances of continuing their education later. The enrollment rate for Roma primary school pupils slightly increased in 2019-20 compared to 2018-19, compared to the higher birth rate. There was a persistent lack of data on the overall number of Romani children who should be enrolled in the education system, especially in obligatory primary education. In the 2019-20 school year, a total of 1,803 Roma and Egyptian children were enrolled in primary schools (compared with 1,793 in 2018-19), only 142 in secondary school and there were 13 high school students. The NGO Pihren Amenica stated that Romani children were additionally disadvantaged due to the shift to online schooling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, since not all families had access to electricity or computers to facilitate virtual learning.

Child Abuse: Penalties for child abuse range from a year in prison for violence without a weapon to 12 years’ imprisonment for actions that result in the victim’s death; however, severe penalties were rarely imposed and short prison stays, suspended sentences, or small fines were the norm.

The Ministry of Health reported that child abuse remained a problem, with every third child subject to emotional abuse, while every fourth child was a victim of physical abuse. Many children, particularly high school students, were exposed to alcohol, drugs, and violence. The ombudsman noted that child sexual abuse victims were usually girls between ages 14 and 16. The abusers were mostly close relatives of the children, and abuse usually occurred at home. The very low number of reported cases of sexual violence against children raised concerns about identification of victims. To address the problem of child abuse, the government developed, in conjunction with UNICEF, a document called the Strategy for Exercising the Rights of the Child 2019-2023. The strategy set out a comprehensive “whole of government” approach to improving the conditions for exercising children’s rights in all areas covered by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols.

Authorities prosecuted child abuse when they had cases with enough evidence, and the government worked to raise public awareness of the importance of reporting cases. Facilities and psychotherapy assistance for children who suffered from family violence were inadequate, and there were no marital or family counseling centers. Authorities sometimes placed juvenile victims of domestic violence in the children’s correctional facility in Ljubovic or in the orphanage in Bijela.

In September the Basic Court in Podgorica convicted a man and sentenced him to the maximum sentence of two year’s imprisonment for the criminal offense of prolonged illicit sexual activity with a 12-year-old girl. The man was in custody since the beginning of April, which was extended after the verdict; the time spent in custody was expected to be included in his prison sentence.

In April several thousand individuals protested in Podgorica against extremely low penalties for sexual offenses against children. The law prescribes that the perpetrator be punished by a fine or maximum two years of imprisonment for illicit sexual activity committed against a child; imprisonment for two to 10 years, if the act caused grievous body injures to the person or if an act was committed by several persons or in a particularly cruel or particularly degrading manner. If, as a result of the act, the child died, the perpetrator is punishable by imprisonment for a term between three and 15 years.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 in most cases, but persons as young as 16 may marry with the consent of a court or a parent. Punishment for arranging forced marriages ranges from six months to five years in prison, but convictions were rare, generally due to a lack of evidence or poor understanding of the law.

Child marriage was a serious problem in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities. According to UNICEF, 32 percent of Romani girls and one in six Romani boys between ages 15 and 19 were married. There continued to be reports of underage girls being sold into “traditional” or “arranged” marriages without their consent, including to persons in neighboring countries. These marriages generally did not meet the criteria necessary for legal, documented marriages. As such, they were difficult to track and regulate, regardless of legality.

In 2020 the government launched the “Children are Children” campaign to raise awareness of the harmful effects of child marriage in the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities and explain the applicable regulations and procedures for protecting children from arranged marriages. The campaign was conducted by the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, and the Police Administration in cooperation with the NGO Center for Roma Initiatives, and it focused on working with members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities in Podgorica, Niksic, Tivat, and Berane.

The custom of buying or selling virgin brides continued in the Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian communities. Brides found not to be virgins prior to marriage faced severe repercussions, including violence, from the groom’s family, their family, and the community at large.

The government implemented some measures to prevent underage marriage, including enforcing mandatory school education.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, and offering or procuring for prostitution, and the country partially enforced the law. The age of sexual consent is 18. There is a statutory rape law. Sexual activity with a juvenile carries a prison sentence of up to three years. Paying a juvenile for sexual activity carries a prison term of three months to five years. Authorities may fine or imprison for one to 10 years any person found guilty of inducing a minor into prostitution.

Child pornography is illegal, and sentences for violators range from six months in prison for displaying child pornography to eight years for using a child in the production of pornography.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community population was estimated to be approximately 400 to 500 individuals. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities did not have access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The government was implementing the Strategy for Integration of Persons with Disabilities 2016-2020, but NGOs claimed it did not do so effectively. During the year a network of 10 NGOs that worked with persons with disabilities continued to coordinate and monitor implementation of the government’s strategy. The NGO Youth with Disabilities (YWD) stated that although the Ministry of Finance and Social Welfare oversees the register of persons with disabilities established pursuant to the strategy, there were problems consolidating information on persons with disabilities that had been collected by different state institutions and included new data from persons who had not previously registered with any institution. Government information and communication were not provided in accessible formats.

Authorities generally enforced the requirement that new public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but most public facilities, including buildings and public transportation, were older and lacked access. Although election laws specifically require accessible polling places, according to NGOs, approximately 65 percent of polling stations remained inaccessible during the 2020 national parliamentary elections. In addition ballot templates for persons with visual disabilities were missing in 17 percent of polling stations. Individual abuses of the right to vote with a proxy voter were also reported. After the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the provision on legal capacity as a precondition for exercising the right to vote, all citizens deprived of legal capacity were returned to the voter list by the Ministry of Interior, at the initiative of the YWD. The inaccessibility of polling stations led several persons with disabilities to initiate court proceedings to establish discrimination had occurred and, according to the YWD, there was some improvement in the accessibility of polling stations used during local elections in Niksic and Herceg Novi during the year, following active civil advocacy.

Some renovations of existing government buildings took accessibility into account, such as the construction of a central elevator at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was completed in January 2020. The renovation of parliament’s plenary hall made it more accessible, including installation of an elevator and wheelchair-compatible seating space. Despite legal protections, persons with disabilities often hesitated to file charges against persons or institutions seen to be violating their rights. Observers ascribed this reluctance to the adverse outcomes of previous court cases or, according to the ombudsman, to insufficient public awareness of human rights and protection mechanisms relating to disabilities. Discrimination cases that the YWD initiated against the Ministry of Finance, a health center in Podgorica, the Montenegrin Fund for Solidarity Housing Construction, and social centers in Podgorica, Tivat, and Budva continued through the year, with three of the cases concluding in rulings in favor of persons with disabilities.

According to NGOs, the Council for Care of Persons with Disabilities, chaired by the minister of labor and social welfare, which has responsibility for policies protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, did not meet during the year. The NGO Association of Youths with Disabilities noted that the failure of this body to hold any sessions led to a lack of institutional mechanisms for persons with disabilities to engage with the government and their subsequent exclusion from decision-making processes.

According to NGOs, services at the local level to children with mental and physical disabilities remained inadequate. Associations of parents of children with disabilities were the primary providers of these services. The law permits parents or guardians of persons with disabilities to work half-time, but employers did not respect this right.

The government made efforts to enable children with disabilities to attend schools and universities, but the quality of the education they received and the facilities to accommodate them remained inadequate at all levels. There are three models of education for children with disabilities in the country: mainstream schools, segregated classes at mainstream schools, and resource centers (public educational institutions that provide children with disabilities with necessary academic and social tools, training, and support), of which there were three in the country. The laws governing education also provide for the creation of special commissions by municipalities to provide guidance in the educational process for children with disabilities. Such guidance does not apply to other children. The YWD stated that the last two models are tantamount to segregation of students with disabilities, which is considered a form of discrimination under the law. NGO monitoring of the education of children and young persons with disabilities showed that commissions often referred them to a limited number of primary and secondary schools and that no child with a disability was admitted to a gymnasium (the most prestigious type of preparatory school for students who were expected to continue in postsecondary education), which the NGO found unacceptable.

NGOs also stated that supported-living assistance at home and similar services were not provided to families and parents of children with disabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the schooling of children with disabilities, many of whom remained without adequate teaching assistance. Paid leave was not ensured to some parents of children with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities were often institutionalized or encouraged towards institutions, which perpetuated stigmatization. Persons with physical disabilities also had difficulty in obtaining high-quality medical devices to facilitate their mobility through health and social insurance.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The NGOs Juventas and the Montenegrin HIV Foundation stated that persons with HIV/AIDS were stigmatized and experienced discrimination, although most discrimination was undocumented. Observers believed fear of discrimination, societal taboos relating to sex, and the lack of privacy of medical records discouraged many persons from seeking testing for HIV. NGOs reported patients often faced discrimination by medical personnel and received inadequate treatment. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals had difficulty or were unable to access HIV testing and medication, which was available only in Podgorica, and medical personnel failed to provide adequate treatment

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

The law forbids incitement of hatred based on sexual orientation and prohibits discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The presence of an anti-LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex) bias is an aggravating circumstance when prosecuting hate crimes.

In the first eight months of the year, the NGO LGBT Forum Progress submitted more than 60 complaints to police regarding online discrimination, hate speech, and verbal abuse, including comments on social media, and asked authorities to press charges against the commenters. The NGO stated that the total number of charges filed in the first half of the year was somewhat lower when compared with the same period in 2020 or 2019 but noted a significant rise of hate and hate speech online targeting different communities and groups, based on their nationality, ethnicity, and religious beliefs, which corresponded to the rise of tensions and divisions in the society throughout the year.

According to NGOs, as a result of COVID-19-related restrictions on movement, many LGBTQI+ persons returned to their primary residences where they experienced an increase of hate, abuse, discrimination, and rejection by family members. Many of them searched for psychosocial and legal support. One LGBTQI+ center was operational during the second half of 2020 and throughout 2021. It was run by an NGO and relied solely on small emergency grants and funds without government support.

Every police station had an officer whose duties included monitoring observance of the rights of LGBTQI+ persons. During the year a “team of confidence” between police and LGBTQI+ NGOs continued working to improve communication between police and the community. The government also formed the National Focal Point Network composed of representatives from local municipalities to promote LGBTQI+ rights at the local level.

During the year the national team formed by the Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights to monitor implementation of the National Strategy for the Improvement of the Quality of Life of LGBTI Persons in Montenegro 2019-2023 worked to increase the capacity of institutions involved in the protection of individuals against discrimination, particularly in the judicial system. COVID-19 prevented the team from meeting more than twice, but it coordinated and remained informed on all ongoing activities. The NGO Spectra reported that realization of most of the planned activities would be continued next year, again due to COVID-19 delays. The NGOs Juventas and Queer of Montenegro reported they cooperated with the team to help local authorities create and approve local action plans to fight homophobia and transphobia and improve the quality of life for LGBTQI+ persons. The government did not provide funds for operating the LGBTQI+ shelter in 2022, although the 2019-23 national strategy anticipated that the shelter would be fully funded for the duration of the strategy.

The NGO Spektra reported that transgender women and men in the country had been unable to access hormone therapy for the previous four years, which led to significant risks to their physical and mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the ordering of hormone therapies from neighboring countries. Spektra also noted that the health system experienced a periodic shortage of testosterone supply since the beginning of the pandemic, which resulted in a direct threat to the health and well-being of transgender persons. The NGO alleged the situation violated the basic human rights provided by the country’s constitution and laws concerning access to health care and health insurance.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, including members of the armed forces, to form and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. To represent workers in collective bargaining at the enterprise level, a union must count at least 20 percent of the workforce in the enterprise as members. To act as a worker representative in a sector, group, or branch of industry, a trade union must include at least 15 percent of the total workforce in that sector, group, or branch. The law prohibits discrimination against union members or those seeking to organize a union and requires the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

In 2020 a labor law took effect that is intended to strengthen the protection of employees’ rights, increase flexibility in the labor market, and suppress the informal economy through several new measures. The law creates an obligation for employers to consult with a labor union (or employee representatives) and notify the Employment Agency about the consultations in cases of a collective layoff (i.e., dismissal of at least 20 employees over a 90-day period); creates an obligation for all employment agreements to contain a reference to bargaining agreements being applied with the employer; and requires that all employer bargaining agreements must be registered with the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.

The government generally enforced the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those under other laws related to denials of civil rights.

While the government generally respected freedom of association, employers often intimidated workers engaged in union activity. According to the Union of Free Trade Unions, workers in the trade sector were intimidated when establishing their union, and they belonged to the category of workers whose rights were the most endangered.

Workers exercised their right to join unions and engage in collective bargaining, although not always without employer interference.

Although allowed by law, collective bargaining remained rare. The government continued to be party to collective negotiations at the national level. Only the union with the largest registered membership at any given level was entitled to bargain, negotiate settlements of collective labor disputes, and participate in other government bodies.

The right to strike is restricted for public servants whose absence from work would jeopardize public interests, national security, the safety of persons and property, or the functioning of the government. International observers noted that the range of professions in which strikes are proscribed exceeds international standards. Employers may unilaterally establish minimum service requirements if negotiations with trade unions fail to lead to an agreement.

Management and local authorities often blocked attempts to organize strikes by declaring them illegal, citing lack of legally required advance notice, which ranges from two to 10 days, depending on circumstances. There were reports from employees in both the private and public sectors that employers threatened or otherwise intimidated workers who engaged in union organizing or in other legal union activities. In some cases private employers reduced workers’ salaries or dismissed them because of their union activities.

Workers in privatized or bankrupt companies had outstanding claims for back pay and severance. Workers occasionally were not able to collect on their claims, despite valid court decisions in their favor. Several local governments failed to pay their staff for months at a time. Trade unions claimed workers were largely unaware of their rights and afraid of retaliation if they initiated complaints.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and authorities made efforts to investigate or identify victims of forced labor in the formal economy. Penalties under the law for offenses related to forced labor were commensurate with those for other serious crimes.

There were reports of Romani girls forced into domestic servitude and of children forced to beg, mostly by their families (see section 7.c.). Migrants from neighboring countries were vulnerable to forced labor during the summer tourist season, although to a lesser extent during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were no reports of prosecutions or convictions.

Also see the State Department’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 official minimum age for employment is 15. Children younger than 18 may not engage in jobs that require difficult physical labor; overtime; work at night; underground or underwater work; or work that “may have a harmful effect or involve increased risk to their health and lives,” although the law allows employees between ages 15 and 18 to work at night in certain circumstances. The government generally enforced these restrictions in the formal, but not the informal, economy.

Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The Labor Inspectorate investigated compliance with the child labor law only as part of a general labor inspection regime. The Labor Inspectorate reported that few cases of child labor were identified in informal workplaces. In such situations the Labor Inspectorate imposed fines, and inspectors ordered employers to acquire necessary documentation to meet the legal requirements permitting child labor. The government did not collect data specifically on child labor.

Many parents and relatives forced Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children to work at an early age to contribute to their family’s income. They engaged in begging at busy intersections, on street corners, door to door, in restaurants and cafes, or in sifting through trashcans. While many working children were from the country, a large percentage of those between ages seven and 16 were from nearby countries, mainly Kosovo and Serbia. Police generally returned the children they apprehended to their families.

In villages, children usually worked in family businesses and agriculture. Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children worked chiefly during the summer, typically washing car windows, loading trucks, collecting items such as scrap metal, selling old newspapers or car accessories, or working alongside their parents as day laborers. Many internally displaced Romani, Ashkali, and Balkan-Egyptian children were forced to engage in begging or manual labor. Police asserted that begging was a family practice rather than an organized, large-scale activity, but this claim was disputed by several NGOs. Begging was readily observable, particularly in Podgorica and the coastal areas during the summer. During a 2020 operation dubbed “Beggar,” police identified children forced to beg and prosecuted their parents, who faced misdemeanor charges. The children were returned to their families.

Despite Operation Beggar, police seldom pressed charges against adult perpetrators. Authorities placed victims of forced child labor who did not have guardians in the children’s correctional facility in Ljubovic. After leaving the facility, most children returned to forced begging. Romani NGOs tried to raise awareness of the problem and suggested the government did not provide sufficient resources to rehabilitate children begging and living on the street.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children, and section 7.b.). 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 race, color, sex, religion, political opinion or other affiliation, national origin, citizenship, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, pregnancy, marital status, social status or origin, membership in political and trade union organizations, or health conditions, including HIV-positive status and other communicable diseases. The government did not enforce antidiscrimination laws and regulations effectively, and there were instances of discrimination on these bases. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for other crimes related to denials of civil rights.

Persons with disabilities faced significant discrimination in employment, despite affirmative action programs that provided significant financial incentives to employers to hire persons with disabilities. Although the state employment agency did not track the employment rate of persons with disabilities, it reported that 25.6 percent of unemployed persons were persons with disabilities. In addition the NGO Youth with Disabilities reported that approximately 3,021 persons with disabilities were employed in the country. Advocates noted there were too few training programs for persons with disabilities to contribute significantly to their economic integration. Neither governmental entities nor private employers hired many persons with disabilities. NGOs reported employers often chose to pay fines rather than employ a person with a disability.

In 2020 parliament passed several amendments to the Law on Pension and Disability Insurance, one of which changed the previous mandatory retirement age for both men and women from 67 to 66 for men and 64 for women, prompting outcries of gender-based discrimination. The Constitutional Court began proceedings on the initiative of the Association of Judges in Montenegro challenging the amendments, claiming that they violated the constitution and international treaties, which prescribe equality between women and men. Women were also, at times, subjected to discrimination based on their marital status, pregnancy, or physical appearance. Employers did not respect all their legal obligations to pregnant women and sometimes reduced their responsibilities or fired them after they returned from maternity leave. A disproportionate share of women held jobs with lower levels of responsibility than men. Employers promoted women less frequently than men. Some job announcements for women explicitly included discriminatory employment criteria, such as age and physical appearance. Employers at times violated women’s entitlement to a 40-hour workweek, overtime, paid leave, and maternity leave. Societal expectations regarding women’s obligations to the family reduced their opportunities to obtain jobs and advance in the workplace. Nevertheless, an increasing number of women served in professional fields, such as law, science, and medicine. Women accounted for less than 9 percent of personnel in the armed forces and National Police Force. Women were unable to work during the night in the same way men could.

According to the Union of Free Trade Unions, gender-based violence, harassment, and discrimination existed in the workplace, but most victims were discouraged from reporting incidents due to several systemic problems. Very few employed women recognized certain behaviors as gender-based violence and harassment, and often it was very difficult for them to assess whether there was gender discrimination. Even when instances of gender-based violence, harassment, and discrimination were clear, many victims were reluctant to report the violations due to few examples of successful prosecutions and fear of reprisal.

In 2019 the NGO Women’s Right Center published a study in which 34 percent of survey respondents said they had experienced at least one form of sexual harassment at work. Every tenth respondent said that a colleague or superior proposed to have sex with them, and 6 percent said they faced such sexual advances more than once. In addition 5 percent of the respondents said that they had been forced to have sexual intercourse with their colleague or supervisor. In 71 percent of cases, the respondents stated that the person perpetrating the sexual harassment was in a higher position than they. Approximately half of the respondents who had experienced sexual harassment at work said they told someone about the incidents, while the other half said they did not tell anyone due to shame or fear of losing their jobs.

The law does not mandate equal pay for work of equal value. Women were not permitted to work in the same industries as men, as the government designated some jobs too dangerous to have women working in them, and women were not allowed to work the same night hours as men. As mentioned above, women also faced discrimination in access to pension benefits, since the legal age at which men and women could retire and access both full and partial pension benefits were not the same.

As part of COVID-19 health measures, the government decided to close kindergartens and schools, and parents of children younger than age 11 were entitled to take paid leave. Private employers, however, did not respect these measures, and recipients were required to trade days off for holidays if seeking paid time off. Trade unions and NGOs reported that although the government partly subsidized one payment, employees were not receiving the full amount. Employees, especially women, often did not report such violations due to the risk of losing their jobs.

Bosniaks, who accounted for 9 percent of the country’s population, traditionally constituted 6 percent of the government workforce. Roma, displaced persons, refugees, and migrant workers faced employment discrimination. Migrant workers usually came from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, or Albania to work on construction sites and in agriculture. There were also instances of discrimination against unregistered domestic and foreign workers.

In 2020 the Basic Court in Podgorica ruled that, between 2009 and 2019, the Ministry of Defense committed severe forms of prolonged and repeated discrimination against the Trade Union of Defense and the Army of Montenegro. The court forbade any further discriminatory actions against the union. In the explanation of the sentence, the judge indicated that the ministry and general headquarters of the army systematically discriminated against the president of the union and its members for performing work activities related to the union. In 2018 the ombudsman issued an opinion recommending that the discriminator take adequate measures to eliminate uneven treatment within 30 days.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: According to the National Statistics Office, the national monthly minimum wage was slightly above the government’s absolute poverty line. Significant portions of the workforce, particularly in rural areas and in the informal sector, earned less than the minimum wage.

The law limits overtime to 10 hours per week, and total work time cannot exceed 48 work hours per week on average within a four-month period, but seasonal workers often worked much longer. In 2020 new labor laws came into effect that provide new protections for employees regarding required overtime, night work, and the duration of fixed-term employment contracts.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws, although penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other similar crimes.

Many workers, particularly women employed in the commercial, catering, and service industries, worked unpaid overtime, and employers sometimes forced them to work on religious holidays without additional compensation or to forgo their rights to weekly and annual leave. Employers sometimes failed to pay the minimum wage, other employee benefits, or mandatory contributions to pension funds. Employees often did not report such violations due to fear of retaliation. The practice of only formally paying a worker the minimum wage, thus being responsible for lower mandatory contributions, and giving the employee cash payments as a supplement was common. Also common was the practice of signing short-term work contracts or having lengthy “trial” periods for workers instead of signing them to permanent contracts as prescribed by law.

Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals, sometimes taking years. This led to an increase in the number of persons seeking recourse through alternative dispute resolution. Most disputes reviewed by the Agency for Peaceful Resolution of Labor Disputes involved accusations of government institutions violating laws on overtime, night work, holidays, social insurance contribution requirements, or other administrative regulations.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government set occupational health and safety standards that were current and appropriate for the main industries. Regulations require employers and supervisors to supply and enforce the use of safety equipment, conduct risk assessment analysis, and report any workplace deaths or serious injuries within 24 hours.

The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing wage, hour, and occupational health and safety laws. The number of labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance in the formal economy. Resources, remediation efforts, and investigations were not adequate to successfully identify, enforce, or prevent violations in the informal economy. The Union of Free Trade Unions reported that approximately 40,000 persons were employed in the informal economy. Penalties for violations of occupational health and safety standards were generally commensurate with those for other similar crimes in the formal sector. Labor inspectors have the legal authority to close an establishment until it corrects violations or to fine owners who commit repeated violations, although they rarely exercised this authority. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections.

Employment in the construction, energy, wood-processing, transportation, and heavy industries presented the highest risk of injury. During the year two electricians working for the country’s electricity distribution system died, one in Danilovgrad and one in Bar. The electric company confirmed they died on the job while repairing transmission lines. Press reports noted that falling from a significant height was the cause of death of three out of four construction workers in 2020; falling also caused at least a third of serious injuries on construction sites throughout the country. Most of the injuries were among foreign nationals. Common causes of injuries on construction sites were unsecured workstations at a height and lack of use of protective equipment. The most frequent reasons cited for unsafe working conditions were the lenient fines for violations of safety rules, failure to use safety equipment, lack of work-related information and training, inadequate medical care for workers, and old or inadequately maintained equipment.