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Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic is a presidential republic. Voters elected Faustin-Archange Touadera president in a February 2016 run-off. International observers reported the February 2016 presidential and legislative elections were free and fair, despite reports of irregularities. The 2016 constitution established a bicameral parliament, with a directly elected National Assembly and an indirectly elected Senate. The National Assembly convened in May 2016; elections for the Senate were not held, and no date had been announced by year’s end.

Unlike in the previous year, civilian authorities’ control over the security forces improved but remained weak. State authority beyond the capital, Bangui, was limited; armed groups controlled significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing institutions, taxing local populations, providing security services, and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

(Note: This report refers to the “ex-Seleka” for all abuses attributed to the armed factions associated with Seleka, including the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC), the Union for Peace (UPC), and the Patriotic Movement for Central African Republic (MPC), which occurred after the Seleka was dissolved in 2013.)

The most significant human rights issues included reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings by government agents; enforced disappearances; and sexual violence, including rape, committed by ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka groups, among others; arbitrary arrest and detention; delays in holding criminal sessions in the judicial system, resulting in prolonged pretrial detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, particularly in cities not controlled by the government and in illegal detention facilities not operated by government; seizure and destruction of property without due process; use of excessive and indiscriminate force in internal armed conflict; restrictions on freedom of movement; lack of protection and access for internally displaced persons to basic services, especially outside Bangui; widespread corruption; harassment of and threats to domestic and international human rights groups; lack of prosecution and accountability in cases of violence against women and children, including sexual violence and rape; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; forced labor; and use of child soldiers.

The government did not take steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, creating a climate of impunity reinforced by a general lack of citizen access to judicial services. There were allegations that peacekeepers in the UN mission sexually abused children and sexually exploited adults (see section 1.c.).

Armed groups perpetrated serious violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during the internal conflict. Both ex-Seleka and the anti-Balaka committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.

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

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

There were several reports of some government elements or its agents committing arbitrary or unlawful killings while serving as clandestine partisans of the anti-Balaka.

In May the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report documenting patterns of “serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations committed on the territory of the Central African Republic between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2015.” The report documented 620 such incidents.

Armed rebel groups, particularly members of the various factions of ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka, killed civilians, especially persons suspected of being members or sympathizers of opposing parties in the conflict (see section 1.g.). The killings, often reprisals in nature, included summary executions and deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that operated in eastern regions of the country, and other armed groups, including Reclamation, Return, and Rehabilitation (3R), Revolution and Justice, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Democratic Front of the Central African People, were responsible for civilian killings (see section 1.g.).

The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and anti-Balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).

b. Disappearance

There were reports that forces from the ex-Seleka, anti-Balaka, and other armed groups were responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Those abducted included police and civilians (see section 1.g.).

There were many reports of disappearances committed by the LRA for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).

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

Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that soldiers of the Central African Armed Forces, gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture.

Inhuman treatment, akin to torture, by forces from the ex-Seleka, anti-Balaka, LRA, and other armed groups, including abuse and rape of civilians with impunity, resulted in deaths (see section 1.g.).

The United Nations reported it had received 12 allegations (as of August 31) of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), with seven alleged incidents occurring during the year, four in 2016, and one in 2014-15. These allegations involved peacekeepers from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Mauritania, and the Republic of the Congo. Of the 12 allegations, three involved minors, 11 remained pending investigation by the United Nations or the troop- or police-contributing country, and one allegation was substantiated. Officials repatriated one Mauritanian peacekeeper for having a sexually exploitative relationship with an adult.

In June the United Nations announced the withdrawal of the remaining Republic of the Congo peacekeeping forces following a request by the MINUSCA force commander. Republic of the Congo troops had been accused of multiple cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.

There were credible allegations of human rights violations and abuses by members of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) deployed to the country since 2009 as part of the African Union Regional Task Force to counter the LRA. Preliminary investigations found at least 18 women and girls were subjected to sexual violence and harassment by UPDF soldiers. There were an additional 14 reported cases of rape, including of victims who were minors. Several women and girls reported that UPDF members took them from their villages and forced them to become prostitutes or sex slaves or to marry Ugandan soldiers.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) independent expert and international NGOs, detention conditions in the prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.

MINUSCA detained and transferred to government custody several medium and high-level armed group members.

Physical Conditions: The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and the Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, soldiers of the Central African Armed Forces, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons. Three prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bouar, Berberati, and Mbaiki. In other locations, including Bambari, Bossembele, Bossangoa, and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Conditions in other prisons not emptied or destroyed by recent conflict were life threatening and substantially below international standards. Basic necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and often confiscated by prison officials. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.

In 2016 MINUSCA and international donors worked with the National Penitentiary Administration to begin a gradual demilitarization of facilities and a reduction in escapes.

Ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka forces held an unknown number of persons in illegal prisons and detention centers, but neither the government nor humanitarian agencies visited these sites, and their conditions were unknown.

Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender in government prisons. In Bangui men and women were held in separate prisons. In Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and other cities, the small prisons put men and women in separate cells; however, conditions were substantially below international standards. Officials segregated women into three large rooms with no ventilation or electric lighting. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.

No juvenile prison or separate cells in adult prisons for juveniles existed. The Ngaragba Prison housed 34 juveniles. Accusations ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes.

Official prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electric lighting, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Prisoners seldom had access to health care, and disease was pervasive. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prisons were not readily available.

According to MINUSCA’s Corrections Section, in the Bouar Prison, approximately 50 percent of inmates suffered from malnutrition, with 25 percent severely malnourished. There was no running water in the prison because authorities did not pay the water invoice, leading the water company to cut the water supply.

Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely did so, due to lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation by prison officials. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in the prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent observers, including the UNHCR independent expert and international donors in January, February, and July.

Improvements: During the year MINUSCA and international donors began a three-year training program for new civilian prison guards with the objective of demilitarizing the prison guard corps.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law provides protection against arbitrary arrest and detention and accords detainees the right to a judicial determination of the legality of their detention, but the government did not always provide for exercise of these rights. Obtaining and affording a lawyer, and the ability to get courts to act, remained serious impediments to such challenges. In the territories controlled by ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka, arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police and gendarmerie have responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order; however, both largely withdrew from the interior of the country during the violence in 2013 and maintained limited or no presence in many areas. Police and gendarmerie increased the number of towns in which they were present during the year, but deployed officers remained poorly trained, few had functioning arms, and there was little ammunition. Local commanding officers paid for basic necessities (office supplies) out of their own pockets.

Impunity persisted. Contributing factors included insufficient staffing, training, and resources; corruption; unpaid salaries for police, gendarmerie, and judiciary; and threats by local armed groups to any arrest or investigation of their cronies or members.

MINUSCA had a uniformed force, including military, civilian police, and military observers of 11,846, of whom 1,896 were police officers. The role of MINUSCA’s uniformed force was to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA police had the authority to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law stipulates that authorities must inform persons detained in all cases, other than those involving national security, of the charges and bring them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to a lack of recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and a lack of judges.

A bail system exists but it did not function. Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Detainees had access to a lawyer, but the cost was often beyond the ability of a detainee to pay. The law provides a lawyer for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed. Lawyers were not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8.85) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. For individuals detained by ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka and placed in illegal detention centers, legal procedures were not followed and access to lawyers was not provided.

Prosecution of persons subject to sanctions by the UN Sanctions Committee was minimal.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and some ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem, although specific reliable data was not available.

Although recordkeeping of arrests and detentions was poor, the slow investigation and processing of a case was the primary cause of pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained, understaffed, and had few resources, resulting in poorly processed cases with little physical evidence. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. The judges resisted holding sessions out of security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence between the judiciary and political actors. In March the president issued a decree appointing eight members of the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. Courts in Bangui and some prefectures resumed operations, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was limited. Many judges were unwilling to leave Bangui citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office space and housing.

Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, a shortage of trained personnel, salary arrears, and a lack of resources. Authorities, particularly those of high rank, did not always respect court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The penal code presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and consult a public defender. Criminal trials use juries. The law obliges the government to provide counsel for indigent defendants; this process delayed trial proceedings due to the state’s limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and file appeals. The government sometimes complied with these requirements. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals), to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities seldom respected these rights.

With assistance from MINUSCA and international donors, the government began the process of establishing the Special Criminal Court tasked to investigate and prosecute serious human rights violations, with a focus on conflict-related and gender-based crimes. The internationally nominated chief prosecutor for the court took office in May. More than a dozen international and national positions within the court, including judges, prosecutors, and clerks, had also been filled.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Civil courts operated since 2015 and held regular sessions. One international legal NGO was able to assist citizens in filing more than 1,680 civil and penal cases and obtain judgments in more than 175. There is no system for the protection of victims and witnesses, who faced intimidation and insecurity. Victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were often unable to testify against perpetrators, especially since there was no guarantee of a credible judicial process.

Several civil courts were operational in Bangui and prefectures in western parts of the country.

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

The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Serious violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, including unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property, were perpetrated by all armed groups in the conflict, including the ex-Seleka and the anti-Balaka, whose fighters operated freely across much of the country, facilitated by the widespread circulation of small arms.

MINUSCA documented 492 human rights violations or abuses, or violations of international humanitarian law, between February and June, including against 103 women and 172 children. These incidents included arbitrary killings, violations of physical integrity, conflict-related sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and abductions.

Killings: In May self-defense groups reportedly associated with anti-Balaka forces killed 115 persons in the town of Bangassou, Mbomou Prefecture. The conflict displaced several thousand persons, with some fleeing to the nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo. Six UN peacekeepers were also killed. As of September 1, a total of 2,000 Muslim displaced persons were still sheltering at the Catholic seminary in the town.

On May 2, in the town of Niem between Bouar and the Cameroonian border, members of the 3R rebel group reportedly shot nine men in the head in a church, killing them.

Abductions: The LRA, ex-Seleka, anti-Balaka, and other armed groups abducted numerous persons. According to MINUSCA, abductions and hostage taking were used to extort money from relatives, press authorities into releasing incarcerated colleagues, and intimidate populations into allowing armed groups to impose authority.

Kidnappings by the LRA reportedly continued. For example, on February 11, in the village of Derbissaka in the eastern region, the LRA abducted two women, burned their homes, and burned and looted their businesses.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Members of armed groups reportedly continued to rape girls and women with impunity.

The ex-Seleka and forces associated with anti-Balaka groups reportedly mistreated, beat, and raped civilians in the course of the conflict. In an October 5 report, Human Rights Watch documented widespread use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. It reported 305 cases of sexual slavery and rape carried out against 296 women and girls by members of armed groups between early 2013 and mid-2017. Anti-Balaka and Seleka armed groups used sexual violence as revenge for perceived support of those on the other side of the sectarian divide.

There were reports peacekeeping forces, including MINUSCA and international contingents, exploited women and children (see section 1.c.).

Child Soldiers: Reports of unlawful use and recruitment of child soldiers continued during the year. According to estimates by UNICEF, armed groups recruited between 6,000 and 10,000 child soldiers during the latest conflict through 2015; some remained with armed groups. NGOs reported that armed groups sent recruited children to fight, used them for sexual purposes, and as cooks, porters, or messengers. According to the UN independent expert, the LRA forced children to commit atrocities such as killing village residents, abducting or killing other children, and looting and burning villages.

According to the 2016 Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, the United Nations documented 40 cases of child recruitment and use in 2015; more than half the cases were perpetrated by the LRA and more than a quarter by ex-Seleka factions of the UPC. Armed groups forced children to be combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks, and they used girls as sex slaves. In addition the United Nations documented the presence of children manning checkpoints and barricades alongside armed individuals reportedly sympathetic to or affiliated with anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka elements.

During the first phase of the pilot national Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation Consultative Committee plan in September in Bangui, two minors (both age 17) applied to participate. One presented a firearm. UNICEF took both minors into its care.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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: After several postponements, the country held a constitutional referendum in December 2015 followed by the first round of presidential and legislative elections. None of the 30 presidential candidates obtained more than the 50 percent of the votes required to avoid a second round, held in February 2016. In January 2016 the Transitional Constitutional Court annulled the December 2015 legislative elections–due to widespread irregularities and voter intimidation and fraud–and ordered new elections. The rescheduled first-round legislative elections also took place in February 2016, with a second round held in March 2016. The National Assembly convened in May 2016; elections for the Senate were not held, and no date for them was announced. Central African refugees and members of the diaspora in some neighboring states were able to participate in the elections.

The 2015 constitutional referendum led to the adoption of a new constitution with 93 percent of the votes cast in favor; voter turnout was 38 percent.

The first round of presidential and legislative elections took place in December 2015 with a turnout of 62 percent. Refugees located in Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, and Chad were able to vote. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, did not allow the estimated 112,000 Central African refugees in its territory to vote.

A total of 415 appeals were lodged contesting the results of the legislative elections, leading the Transitional Constitutional Court to invalidate the ballot and require a new first round of elections. The appeals were based primarily on allegations of irregularities and fraud, corruption, and intimidation of voters and candidates. The second round of the presidential election and the new first round of the legislative elections took place in February 2016. Observers noted a marked improvement in the conduct of the ballot, as the majority of polling stations opened on time and were properly equipped. The Transitional Constitutional Court announced the final results of the presidential election on March 1, confirming the victory of independent candidate Faustin-Archange Touadera with 62.7 percent of the vote over Anicet-George Dologuele, who had 37.3 percent of the vote. The turnout was 58.9 percent. Dologuele quickly conceded defeat and called upon his supporters to accept the results of the vote. The inauguration of President Touadera took place in March 2016.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Five of the 34 cabinet members were women, as was the senior presidential advisor for national reconciliation. There were 12 women among the 140 members of parliament. Some observers believed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited the ability of women to participate in political life on the same basis as men.

In November 2016 the National Assembly passed a gender equality law. The law outlaws gender discrimination and establishes quotas for women’s representation in elective offices, and public and private institutions. It also establishes an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance.

There were seven Muslim members, including one Fulani member of the cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. In March President Touadera issued a decree appointing members of the High Authority for Good Governance, an independent body mandated by the constitution. It is charged with protecting the rights of minorities and the handicapped, and with ensuring the equitable distribution of natural resource revenues, among other roles.

Corruption: Few cases of corruption were brought to trial or exposed with strong evidence in the media; however, there were widespread rumors and anecdotal stories of pervasive corruption. A report by the foreign NGO Collaborative for Development Action Collaborative Learning Projects utilizing firsthand testimony highlighted the extensive nature of corruption in the criminal justice system, where “extortion/bribery, sexual favors, favoritism, and political interference distort every aspect of the criminal justice system.”

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires senior members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the beginning of their terms to declare publicly their personal assets and income for scrutiny by the constitutional court. The constitution specifies that the law determine sanctions for noncompliance. Declarations are public. The constitution requires ministers to declare their assets upon departing government but is not explicit on what constitutes assets or income.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

In June the Rapid Reaction and Repression of Sexual Violence Mixed Unit received from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) two cars and three motorcycles to carry out its work. The unit, officially established in 2015, consisted of gendarmes, police, and medical and social service personnel whose objective is to reduce the number of incidents of sexual violence against women and children. MINUSCA, UNDP, and the Panel of Experts on the Central African Republic also organized a workshop on cooperation between the unit and the Special Criminal Court.

Between January and October 2015, the UN Population Fund reported the gender-based violence Information Management System, established in 2014, recorded 60,208 victims who received medical or psychosocial care or both. Among those were 29,801 cases of sexual violence, including rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual exploitation and abuse, and sexual aggression.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Domestic violence against women was common, although there are laws and instrument prohibiting violence against women. The government took no known action to punish perpetrators.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls, which is punishable by two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($176 to $1,760), depending on the severity of the case.

For more information, see data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/ .

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government did not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The formal law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but a number of discriminatory customary laws often prevailed. Women’s statutory inheritance rights often were not respected, particularly in rural areas. Women experienced economic and social discrimination. Customary law does not consider single, divorced, or widowed women, including those with children, to be heads of households. By law men and women are entitled to family subsidies from the government, but several women’s groups complained about lack of access to these payments for women.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration could be difficult and less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately. Unregistered children faced restrictions on access to education and other social services. The courts issued more than 7,000 birth certificates. They were not delivered, however, because court clerks demanded payment for printing the certificates. The lack of routine birth registration also posed long-term problems. (For more data, see UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey.)

Education: Education is compulsory from six to 15 years of age. Tuition is free, but students have to pay for items such as books and supplies and for transportation. Human Rights Watch documented the continued occupation of schools for military purposes, such as for barracks or bases. Further, it documented that abuses by fighters in and around schools threatened the safety of students and teachers, and impeded children’s ability to learn. In 2015, according to UNICEF, 38 percent of schools were attacked or looted during the crisis, and one-third of school-age children did not go to school. Girls did not have equal access to primary or secondary education. Few Ba’aka, the earliest known inhabitants of the forests in the south, attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to increase Ba’aka enrollment.

According to an NGO nationwide survey in 2015, between 78 and 88 percent of schools were open. According to the United Nations, an estimated 10,000 children were prevented from attending school during the year, mostly due to schools being occupied by armed groups.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children under age 15. Nevertheless, child abuse and neglect were widespread, although rarely acknowledged. The government did not take steps to address child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. The practice of early marriage was more common in the Muslim community. There were reports during the year of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka members. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage. (For more data, see UNICEF website.)

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no statutory rape or child pornography laws to protect minors. The family code prescribes penalties for the commercial exploitation of children, including imprisonment and financial penalties. The minimum age of sexual consent is 18, but it was rarely observed. A legal aid center in Bimbo for sexual and gender-based crimes reported cases involving minor victims.

During the year NGOs reported the LRA continued to target and abduct children. Abducted girls often were kept as sex slaves.

Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see sections 1.g. and 2.d.).

There were reports of sexual abuse of children and the inappropriate use of force by international and MINUSCA peacekeeping forces during the year (see section 1.c.).

Child Soldiers: Child soldiering was a problem (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: Armed conflict resulted in forced displacement, with the number of persons fleeing in search of protection fluctuating based on local conditions. Observers believed that HIV/AIDS and societal belief in sorcery, particularly in rural areas, contributed to the large number of street children.

The country’s instability had a disproportionate effect on children, who accounted for 60 percent of IDPs. Access to government services was limited for all children, but displacement reduced it further. Nevertheless, according to a humanitarian NGO, an estimated 140,000 displaced and vulnerable children participated in psychosocial activities, armed groups released 3,000 children, and approximately 3,500 survivors of sexual violence received comprehensive support.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities but does not specify other forms of disabilities. It requires that in any company employing 25 or more persons, at least 5 percent of staff must consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities, if they are available. The law states that at least 10 percent of newly recruited civil service personnel should be persons with disabilities. There are no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities.

The government did not enact programs to ensure access to buildings, information, and communications. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection’s Labor Inspectorate has responsibility for protecting children with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Violence by unidentified persons, bandits, and other armed groups against the Mbororo, primarily nomadic pastoralists, was a problem. Their cattle wealth made them attractive targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the North. Additionally, since many citizens viewed them as inherently foreign due to their transnational migratory patterns, the Mbororo faced occasional discrimination with regard to government services and protections. In recent years the Mbororo began arming themselves against attacks from farmers who objected to the presence of the Mbororo’s grazing cattle. Several of the resulting altercations resulted in deaths.

Indigenous People

Discrimination against the Ba’aka, who constituted 1 to 2 percent of the population, remained a problem. The Ba’aka continued to have little influence in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of natural resources. Forest-dwelling Ba’aka, in particular, experienced social and economic discrimination and exploitation, which the government did little to prevent.

The Ba’aka, including children, were often coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were considered slaves by members of other local ethnic groups, and even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far below those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups.

Refugees International reported the Ba’aka were effectively “second-class citizens,” perceived as barbaric and subhuman and excluded from mainstream society.

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

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity. The penalty for “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years or a fine of between 150,000 and 600,000 CFA francs ($265 and $1,060). When one of the participants is a child, the adult could be sentenced to two to five years’ imprisonment or a fine of 100,000 to 800,000 CFA francs ($176 and $1,413); however, there were no reports police arrested or detained persons under these provisions.

While official discrimination based on sexual orientation occurred, there were no reports the government targeted gays and lesbians. Societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons was entrenched due to a high degree of cultural stigmatization. There were no reports of LGBTI persons targeted for acts of violence, although the absence of reports could reflect cultural biases and stigma attached to being an LGBTI individual. There were no known organizations advocating for or working on behalf of LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS were subjected to discrimination and stigma, and many individuals with HIV/AIDS did not disclose their status due to social stigma.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Violent conflict and instability in the country had a religious cast. Many, but not all, members of the ex-Seleka and its factions were Muslim, having originated in neighboring countries or in the remote Muslim north, a region former governments often neglected.

During the worst of the crisis, some Christian communities formed anti-Seleka militias that targeted Muslim communities, presumably for their association with the Seleka. The Catholic archbishop of Bangui, local priests, and an imam worked with communities to defuse tensions by making radio broadcasts urging members of their religious communities to call for tolerance and restraint. Local leaders, including the bishop of Bossangoa, and internationally based academics warned against casting the conflict in religious terms and thus fueling its escalation along religious lines.

Ethnic killings often related to transhumance movements occurred. The major groups playing a role in the transhumance movements were social groups centering on ethnic identity. These included Muslim Fulani/Peuhl herders, Muslim farming communities, and Christian/animist farming communities. These ethnic groups committed preemptive and/or reactionary killings in protection of perceived or real threats to their property (cattle herds or farms). Initial killings generated reprisal killings and counter killings.

According to the UNHCR independent expert, there were numerous credible reports that “persons accused of witchcraft were detained, tortured, or killed by individuals or members of armed groups, particularly in the west of the country.”

The law provides for sentences of between two and 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of between 5,000 and 100,000 CFA francs ($9-$187) for witchcraft. There were no reported arrests or trials for alleged witchcraft reported during the year.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except for senior-level state employees, all security force members, and foreign workers in residence for less than two years, to form or join independent unions without prior authorization. The labor code provides for the right of workers to organize and administer trade unions without employer interference and grants trade unions full legal status. The law requires union officials be full-time, wage-earning employees in their occupation and allows them to conduct union business during working hours if the employer is informed 48 hours in advance and provides authorization. Substantial restrictions, including reciprocity, hampered noncitizens from holding leadership positions in a union, despite amendments to the labor code.

The labor code provides that unions may bargain collectively in the public and private sectors.

Workers have the right to strike in both the public and private sectors, but the law prohibits security forces, including the armed forces and gendarmes, from striking. Requirements for conducting a legal strike are lengthy and cumbersome. For a strike to be legal, the union must first present its demands, the employer must respond to these demands, labor and management must attend a conciliation meeting, and an arbitration council must find that the union and the employer failed to reach agreement on valid demands. The union must provide eight days’ advance written notification of a planned strike. The law states that if employers initiate a lockout that is not in accordance with the code, the employer is required to pay workers for all days of the lockout. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection has the authority to establish a list of enterprises that are required by law to maintain a “compulsory minimum service” in the event of a strike. The government has the power of requisition or the authority to end strikes by invoking the public interest. The code makes no other provisions regarding sanctions on employers for acting against strikers.

The law expressly forbids antiunion discrimination. Employees may have their cases heard in labor court. The law does not state whether employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities, although the law requires employers found guilty of such discrimination to pay damages, including back pay and lost wages.

The government generally enforced applicable laws and respected laws concerning labor actions. Workers exercised some of these rights, but only a relatively small part of the workforce, primarily civil servants, exercised the right to join a union. While worker organizations are officially outside government or political parties, the government exerted some influence over the leadership of some organizations.

Labor unions did not report any underlying patterns of discrimination or abuse. The president of the labor court stated the court did not hear any cases involving antiunion discrimination during the year.

Collective bargaining occurred in the private sector during the year, although the total number of collective agreements concluded was unknown. The government was not generally involved if the two parties were able to reach an agreement. Information was unavailable on the effectiveness of collective bargaining in the private sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor code specifically prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor and prescribes a penalty of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for violations. The labor code’s prohibition of forced or compulsory labor also applies to children, although the code does not mention them specifically. The government did not enforce the prohibition effectively, however, and there were reports such practices occurred, especially in armed conflict zones. The failure of government enforcement was due to a lack of resources, a dysfunctional judicial system, and an inadequate inspection cadre. Employers subjected men, women, and children to forced domestic, agricultural, mining, market or street vending, and restaurant labor, as well as sexual exploitation. Criminal courts sentenced convicted persons to imprisonment and forced labor, and prisoners often worked on public projects without compensation. In Bangui and other large urban areas, however, the practice was rare, partly because of the presence of human rights NGOs or lawyers and because day labor was inexpensive. Ba’aka, including children, often were coerced into labor as day laborers, farm hands, or other unskilled labor and often treated as slaves (see section 6). No known victims were removed from forced labor during the year.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code forbids the employment of children younger than 14 without specific authorization from the Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection, but the law also provides that the minimum age for employment can be as young as 12 for some types of light work in traditional agricultural activities or home services. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing hazardous work or working at night. Although the law defines hazardous work as any employment that endangers children’s physical and mental health, it does not define the worst forms of child labor. The mining code specifically prohibits child or underage labor.

The government did not enforce child labor laws. The government trained police, military, and civilians on child rights and protection, but trainees lacked resources to conduct investigations. The government had numerous policies related to child labor, including those to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, but there was no evidence of programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including its worst forms. Five labor inspectors were specifically trained to investigate child labor. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas. Children continued to perform hazardous work and labored as child soldiers. No known victims were removed from the worst forms of child labor during the year.

Local and displaced children as young as seven frequently performed agricultural work, including harvesting peanuts and cassava and helping gather items subsequently sold at markets, such as mushrooms, hay, firewood, and caterpillars. In Bangui many of the city’s street children worked as street vendors. Children often worked as domestic workers, fishermen, and in mines, often in dangerous conditions. Children also worked in the diamond fields alongside adult relatives, transporting and washing gravel as well as mining gold, digging holes, and carrying heavy loads. Despite the law prohibiting child labor in mining, observers saw many children working in and around diamond mining fields.

Although there were no reports ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka recruited child soldiers during the year, both groups continued using child soldiers (see section 1.g.).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

It is illegal to discriminate in hiring or place of employment based on race, national or social origin, gender, opinions, or beliefs. The government did not effectively enforce the law, however. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on disability, age, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases.

Discrimination against women in employment and occupation occurred in all sectors of the economy and in rural areas, where traditional practices that favor men remained widespread.

Migrant workers experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The labor code states the minister of labor, of employment and social protection must set minimum wages in the public sector by decree. The government, the country’s largest employer, set wages after consultation, but not negotiation, with government employee trade unions. The minimum wages in the private sector are established based on sector-specific collective conventions resulting from negotiations between employers and workers’ representatives in each sector.

The minimum wage in the private sector varied by sector and type of work. While the average monthly minimum wage remained 28,000 CFA francs ($49), it was 26,000 CFA francs ($46) for government workers and 8,500 CFA francs ($15) for agricultural workers.

The minimum wage applies only to the formal sector, leaving most of the economy unregulated in terms of wages. The law applies to foreign and migrant workers as well. Most labor was performed outside the wage and social security system in the extensive informal sector, especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector.

The law sets a standard workweek of 40 hours for government employees and most private-sector employees. Household employees may work up to 52 hours per week. The law also requires a minimum rest period of 48 hours per week for citizen, foreign, and migrant workers. Overtime policy varied according to the workplace. Violations of overtime policy may be referred to the Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection, although it was unknown whether this occurred during the year. There is no legal prohibition on excessive or compulsory overtime. The labor code, however, states employers must provide for the health and security of employees who are engaged in overtime work.

There are general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but the Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection did not precisely define them. The labor code states a labor inspector may force an employer to correct unsafe or unhealthy work conditions.

If information exists about dangerous working conditions, the law provides that workers may remove themselves without jeopardy to their employment. In such instances the labor inspector notifies the employer and requires that conditions be addressed within four working days. The high unemployment and poverty rates deterred workers from exercising this right.

The government did not enforce labor standards, and violations were common in all sectors of the economy. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection has primary responsibility for managing labor standards, while enforcement falls under the Ministry of Interior and Public Safety and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The government did not have an adequate number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance with all labor laws. Penalties were seldom enforced and were insufficient to deter violations. Employers commonly violated labor standards in agriculture and mining. Salary and pension arrears were problems for armed forces personnel and the country’s approximately 24,000 civil servants.

Diamond mines, which employed an estimated 400,000 persons, are subject to standards imposed by the mining code and inspection by the Miners’ Brigade. Nevertheless, monitoring efforts were underfunded and insufficient. Despite the law requiring those working in mines to be at least 18, observers frequently saw underage diggers. Diggers often worked in open pits susceptible to collapse and generally earned a daily wage of 2,000 CFA francs ($3.50), often working seven days a week during the peak season. Diggers were employed by larger mine operators, worked in dangerous conditions at the bottom of open pits, and lacked safety equipment.

Miners, by contrast, had a share in ownership and participated in the proceeds of diamond sales. On average, they earned 186,000 CFA francs ($328) per year via legal sales, but this figure varied considerably based on the scale of the mine. Often miners supplemented these earnings by either illegal diamond sales or wages from other sectors of the economy.

No credible information was available regarding workplace injuries and deaths.

Libya

Executive Summary

Libya is a parliamentary democracy with a temporary Constitutional Declaration, which allows for the exercise of a full range of political, civil, and judicial rights. Citizens elected the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) in free and fair elections in June 2014. The Libyan Political Agreement, which members of the UN-facilitated Libyan political dialogue signed in 2015 and the HoR approved in January 2016, created the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) Presidency Council (PC), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. In March 2016 the GNA PC took its seat in Tripoli. In August 2016 a quorum of HoR members voted against the proposed cabinet, limiting the government’s effectiveness. The proposed ministers, however, led their ministries in an acting capacity. The elected Constitutional Drafting Assembly completed a draft constitution that remains contested.

The government had limited effective control over security forces.

Conflict continued during the year between government-aligned forces and various nonstate actors. The “Libyan National Army” (LNA) under its commander Khalifa Haftar continued operations in the east. Extralegal armed groups filled security vacuums across the country, although several in the West nominally aligned with the government. ISIS maintained a limited presence primarily in the central desert region, areas south of Sirte, and urban areas along the Western coast. Other extremist groups also operate in the country, particularly in the and around Benghazi, Derna, and in the southwest.

The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings, including of politicians and members of civil society, by extralegal armed groups as well as militias affiliated with the government; lethal terrorist attacks by ISIS that led to civilian casualties; forced disappearances; torture perpetrated by armed actors on all sides; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities, some of which were outside of government control; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners held by nonstate actors; unlawful interference with privacy, again often by non-state actors; limits on the freedoms of speech and press, including violence against journalists and authors and criminalization of political expression; corruption; trafficking in persons; criminalization of sexual orientation; and violations of labor rights including forced labor.

Impunity from prosecution was a severe and pervasive problem. The government took limited steps to investigate abuses, but constraints on its reach and resources reduced its ability to prosecute and punish those who committed abuses. Security forces outside government control–to include armed groups in the West and LNA forces in the East–also did not adequately investigate credible allegations of killings and other misconduct by their personnel. Intimidation by armed actors resulted in paralysis of the judicial system, impeding the investigation and prosecution of those believed to have committed human rights abuses, including against public figures and human rights defenders.

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

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

There were numerous reports that pro-GNA militias, anti-GNA militias, LNA units, ISIS fighters, and other extremist groups committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Alliances, sometimes temporary, among elements of the government, nonstate militias, and former or active officers in the armed forces participating in extralegal campaigns made it difficult to ascertain the role of the government in attacks by armed groups. In the absence of an effective judicial and security apparatus, perpetrators remained unidentified, and most of these crimes remained unpunished.

Reports indicated extremist and terrorist organizations, criminal gangs, and militias played a prominent role in targeted killings, kidnappings, and suicide bombings perpetrated against both government officials and civilians. Criminal groups or armed elements affiliated with both the government and its opponents may have carried out others. Shelling, gunfire, airstrikes, and unexploded ordinances killed scores of persons during the year.

Through November the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documented 287 civilian casualties. Airstrikes caused the largest number of deaths, while shelling injured the most victims. For example, on July 4, UNSMIL reported that the shelling of a beach in Tripoli killed five persons and injured six persons, all from the same family.

ISIS fighters committed extrajudicial killings and attacks against the military. On October 4, an ISIS suicide bomber attacked a court complex in Misrata, killing four persons.

Civil society and media reports claimed both pro-GNA, anti-GNA, and nonaligned militia groups committed human rights abuses, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians, kidnapping, torture, burning houses, and forced expulsions based on political belief or tribal affiliation. In February UNSMIL reported that a boy was fatally shot by members of an armed group when the car he was riding in reportedly failed to stop and was fired upon at a checkpoint in Zuwarah.

There were reports of killings of detainees by multiple actors. On April 1, the body of a man arrested by the al-Uruba Police Station in Benghazi the previous day was brought into the Benghazi Medical Center with a gunshot wound, broken ribs, and contusions. On September 4, a 26-year-old detainee of the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council was killed in custody.

b. Disappearance

Government-aligned forces and armed groups acting outside government control committed an unknown number of forced disappearances. The government made few effective efforts to prevent, investigate, or penalize forced disappearances.

Kidnappings were common throughout the year. In November the World Health Organization condemned an attack on health facilities and health-care workers in Sabha and the reported kidnapping of a doctor from one medical center. Also in November, four Turkish nationals from the Ubari power plant were kidnapped by an unidentified armed group.

A Tripoli based activist, Jabir Zain, remained in captivity after an armed group linked to the Interior Ministry of the GNA abducted him in September 2016. Many disappearances that occurred during the Qadhafi regime, as well as many during the 2011 revolution, remained unresolved. Due to the continuing conflict, weak judicial system, legal ambiguity regarding amnesty for revolutionary forces, and the slow progress of the National Fact-finding and Reconciliation Commission, law enforcement authorities and the judiciary made no appreciable progress in resolving high-profile cases reported between 2013 and the end of the year.

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

While the Constitutional Declaration and postrevolutionary legislation prohibit such practices, according to credible accounts, personnel operating both government and extralegal detention centers tortured prisoners. At times during the year, due to its lack of resources and capability, the government relied on militias to manage its incarceration facilities. Furthermore, militias, not police, initiated arrests in most instances. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), militias held detainees at their discretion prior to placing them in official detention facilities. While judicial police controlled many facilities, management of a number of other prisons and detention facilities was under the partial or complete control of extralegal armed groups. Treatment varied from facility to facility and typically was worst at the time of arrest. Reported forms of abuses included beatings with belts, sticks, hoses, and rifles; administration of electric shocks; burns inflicted by boiling water, heated metal, or cigarettes; mock executions; suspension from metal bars; and rape. The full extent of abuse at the hands of extremists or militias remained unknown.

A November 3 article by Le Monde alleged that male detainees were raped systematically as an instrument of war by multiple factions.

UNSMIL documented cases involving deprivation of liberty and torture across the country. On May 20, the body of a man killed by a gunshot wound was brought to a Tripoli hospital. The victim’s hands and legs were bound with metal chains. An armed group reportedly abducted him approximately 40 days earlier in Wershfana. On September 13, the body of a boy age 17 showing signs of torture and bullet wounds was found in Benghazi.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons and detention facilities are often overcrowded, harsh, and life threatening, falling well short of international standards. Many prisons and detention centers were outside government control.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), migrant detention centers, operated by the Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Irregular Migration, also suffered from massive overcrowding, extremely poor sanitation conditions, lack of access to medical care, and significant disregard for the protection of the detainees.

Physical Conditions: In the absence of an effective judicial system or release of prisoners, overcrowding and limited access to health care reportedly continued during the year. Many prison facilities reportedly need infrastructural repairs. Accurate numbers of those incarcerated, including a breakdown by holding agency, were not available. A large number of detainees were foreigners, of whom migrants reportedly comprised the majority. Facilities that held irregular migrants generally were of poorer quality than other facilities.

Additionally, detention centers held minors with adults. There were reportedly separate facilities for men and women. Female judicial police staff reportedly guards female detainees in al-Quafiya prison. UNHCR and the IOM reported an estimated 14,000 migrant detainees in the country’s government-run centers alone as of December, with an unknown, large number of additional migrant detainees held in nongovernment centers.

There were reportedly no functioning juvenile facilities in the country, and authorities held juveniles in adult prisons.

In June unidentified armed groups killed 12 detainees upon their conditional release from al-Baraka prison in Tripoli. All 12 were members of the former Qadhafi government and accused of taking part in the violence against antigovernment protesters in 2011.

There were reports of killings and deaths in detention centers. Due to security conditions that limited monitoring, the exact number of those killed in prisons, jails, pretrial detention, or other detention centers was unknown.

Makeshift detention facilities existed throughout the country. Conditions at these facilities varied widely, but consistent problems included overcrowding, poor ventilation, and the lack of basic necessities. Officials, local militias, and criminal gangs moved migrants through a network of detention centers with little monitoring by the government or international organizations. Reports indicated the conditions in most of these detention facilities were below international standards.

Administration: The Judicial Police Authority, tasked by the Ministry of Justice to run the prison system, operates from its headquarters in Tripoli. It remained administratively split, however, with a second headquarters in al-Bayda near the HoR, reporting to a separate Eastern Ministry of Justice and providing oversight to prisons in eastern Libya and Zintan. During the year the ratio of detainees and prisoners to the generally poorly trained guards varied significantly. Monitoring and training of prison staff by international organizations remained largely suspended, although some training of judicial police resumed during the year.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted some independent monitoring, and, as of November 29, permitted increased access to transit facilities by the IOM and UNHCR. Nevertheless, the lack of clarity regarding who ran each facility and the sheer number of facilities made it impossible to gain a comprehensive view of the system.

Reports also raised questions concerning the capability and professional training of local human rights organizations charged with overseeing prisons and detention centers.

Due to the volatile security situation, few international organizations were present in the country monitoring human rights. While UNSMIL monitored the situation through local human rights defenders, members of the judiciary and judicial police, the absence of a sustained international presence on the ground made oversight problematic.

ctice.

Authorities generally transferred pretrial detainees, after presenting them before the prosecutor, to prisons rather than holding them in separate detention facilities. The government said pretrial detainees were normally held in cellblocks separate from those that housed the general prison population.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local human rights observers to visit prisons and detention centers. ICRC staff visited prisons, police and gendarme stations under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and an administrative detention center operated by the Ministry of Interior. During the year the ICRC hosted training sessions on human rights standards related to arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures for judicial police from the DGSN and National Gendarmerie, as well as for judges.

Improvements: Authorities improved prison conditions to meet international standards. The Ministry of Justice’s Directorate of Penal Affairs and Pardons said that the government alleviated overcrowding by opening new detention centers during the year, including minimum-security centers that permitted prisoners to work. The DGSN announced the creation of a new human rights office in July; one of its functions is to ensure implementation of measures to improve detention conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Nonstate armed groups detained and held persons arbitrarily in authorized and unauthorized facilities, including unknown locations, for extended periods and without legal charges or legal authority.

The prerevolutionary criminal code remains in effect. It establishes procedures for pretrial detention and prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but these procedures were often not enforced. Throughout the year the government had weak control over police and other state and local armed groups providing internal security, and some armed groups carried out illegal and arbitrary detentions unimpeded. The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of arbitrary detainees.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The government had limited control over the national police and other elements of the security apparatus. The national police force, which reports to the Ministry of Interior, has official responsibility for internal security. The military under the Ministry of Defense has as its primary mission the defense of the country from external threats, but it also supported Ministry of Interior forces on internal security matters. The situation varied widely from municipality to municipality contingent upon whether police organizational structures remained intact. In some areas, such as Tobruk, police functioned, but in others, such as Sebha, they existed in name only. Civilian authorities had nominal control of police and the security apparatus, and security-related police work generally fell to disparate militias–sometimes paid by government ministries–that exercised law enforcement functions without training or supervision and with varying degrees of accountability.

Impunity from prosecution was a serious problem. The government’s lack of control led to impunity for armed groups on all sides of the conflict. The killings of Sheikh Mansour Abdelkarim al-Barassi; International Committee of the Red Cross staff member Michael Greub; and human rights activist Salwa Bughaighis, all of which occurred in 2014, remained unresolved. At year’s end authorities had not investigated these attacks, and there had been no arrests, prosecutions, or trials of any alleged perpetrators of these killings.

There were no known mechanisms to investigate effectively and punish abuses of authority, abuses of human rights, and corruption by police and security forces. In the militia-dominated security environment, a blurred chain of command led to confusion regarding responsibility for the actions of armed groups, including those nominally under government control. In these circumstances police and other security forces were usually ineffective in preventing or responding to violence incited by militias. Amid the confusion regarding chain of command and absent effective legal institutions, a culture of impunity prevailed.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates an arrest warrant is required, but authorities may detain persons without charge for as long as six days and may renew detention for up to three months, provided there is “reasonable evidence.” The law also specifies authorities must inform detainees of the charges against them and have a detainee appear before a judicial authority every 30 days to renew a detention order. The law gives the government power to detain persons for up to two months if considered a “threat to public security or stability” based on their “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

Although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right to counsel, the vast majority of detainees did not have access to bail or a lawyer. Government authorities and militias held detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods in official and unofficial detention centers.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities frequently ignored or were unable to enforce the provisions of the criminal code prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention. Quasi-state or nonstate militias arbitrarily arrested and detained persons throughout the year. On August 12, an armed group detained former prime minister Ali Zeidan in Tripoli. On August 22, he was released after international pressure. No information was available on why or under whose authority Zeidan was detained. According to HRW, prison authorities and militias held thousands of detainees without charges or due process.

Pretrial Detention: While authorities must order detention for a specific period not exceeding 90 days, the law in practice results in extended pretrial detention. An ambiguity in the language of the law allows judges to renew the detention period if the suspect is of “interest to the investigation.” In addition, limited resources and capacity of the courts resulted in a severe backlog of cases. According to international NGOs, there were numerous inmates held in government-controlled prisons in pretrial detention for periods longer than the sentences for the minor crimes they allegedly committed. Some individuals detained during the 2011 revolution detainees remained in custody, mostly in facilities in the west.

Militias held most of those they detained without charge and frequently outside the government’s authority. With control of the security environment diffused among various militia groups and a largely nonfunctioning judiciary, circumstances prevented most detainees from accessing a review process.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Affected individuals may challenge the measures before a judge. The law allows a detained suspect to challenge pretrial detention before the prosecutor and a magistrate judge. If the prosecutor does not order release, the detained person may appeal to the magistrate judge. If the magistrate judge orders continued detention following review of the prosecutor’s request, and despite the detainee’s challenge, there is no further right to appeal the assigned detention order. A breakdown in court system functions and security challenges transporting prisoners to the courts limited detainee access to the courts.

Amnesty: The government did not clarify whether it believed there was a blanket legal amnesty for revolutionaries’ actions performed to promote or protect the 2011 revolution.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitutional Declaration provides for an independent judiciary and stipulates every person has a right of recourse to the judicial system. Nonetheless, thousands of detainees lacked access to lawyers and information concerning the charges against them. Judges and prosecutors contended with threats, intimidation, violence, as well as under-resourced courts, and struggled to deal with complex cases. Judges and prosecutors in various parts of the country cited concerns regarding the overall lack of security in and around the courts, further hindering the establishment of the rule of law. Some courts, including in Tripoli and in the east, continued to operate during the year. Throughout the rest of the country, however, courts operated sporadically depending on local security conditions.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The Constitutional Declaration provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent. During the year, state-affiliated and nonstate actors did not respect these standards. There were multiple reports of individuals denied fair and public trials, choice of attorney, language interpretation, the ability to confront plaintiff witnesses, protection against forced testimony or confessions, and the right to appeal.

According to reports from international NGOs, arbitrary detention and torture by militias, including those operating nominally under government oversight, contributed to a climate of lawlessness that made fair trials elusive. Armed groups, families of the victims or the accused, and the public regularly threatened lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.

Amid threats, intimidation, and violence against the judiciary, the government did not take steps to screen detainees systematically for prosecution or release. The courts were more prone to process civil cases, which were less likely to invite retaliation, although capacity was limited due to a lack of judges and administrators.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Armed groups, some of which were nominally under government authority, held persons, particularly former Qadhafi regime officials, internal security organization members, and others accused of subverting the 2011 revolution, in a variety of temporary facilities on political grounds.

The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The Constitutional Declaration provides for the right of citizens to have recourse to the judiciary. The judicial system did not have the capacity to provide citizens with access to civil remedies for human rights violations. The 2013 Law of Transitional Justice provided for fact-finding, accountability, and reparations for victims, but the judicial system had not implemented it in practice. In civil, administrative, family, commercial, and land and property law matters, cases were heard and proceeded through the courts, but authorities were challenged in enforcing judgements due to lack of security, intimidation of armed groups, and intimidation from outside sources.

Impunity for the state and for militias also exists in law. Even if a court acquits a person detained by a militia, that person has no right to initiate a criminal or civil complaint against the state or the militia unless “fabricated or mendacious” allegations caused the detention.

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

The Constitutional Declaration considers correspondence, telephone conversations, and other forms of communication inviolable unless authorized by a court order. Reports in the news and on social media indicated militias, gangs, extremist groups, and government-affiliated actors violated these prohibitions by entering homes without judicial authorization, monitoring communications and private movements, and using of informants.

Invasion of privacy left citizens vulnerable to targeted attacks based on political affiliation, ideology, and identity. Extrajudicial punishment extended to targets’ family members and tribes. Armed groups arbitrarily entered, seized, or destroyed private property with impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The HoR, since its election in 2014 and the GNA, since taking its seat in Tripoli in 2016, did little to change restrictions on freedom of speech. Observers noted civil society practiced self-censorship because armed groups threatened and killed activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.

Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech, particularly in locations such as Tripoli.

In early November the Special Deterrence Force shut down the government-secured Comic Con in Tripoli and arrested the organizers, who were held without charges for almost two months.

Press and Media Freedom: Press freedoms, in all forms of media, are limited. Increased threats by various assailants forced many journalists to practice self-censorship.

There were numerous reports of the closing of media outlets and reports of raids by unidentified actors on organizations working on press freedom. Indirect restrictions on press freedom imposed by both foreign and domestic actors further polarized the media environment. In April Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that security forces had detained photographer Abdullah Doma multiple times while reporting on various events in LNA-controlled Benghazi.

Violence and Harassment: Attacks on media, including harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings reached the point where it was nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict.

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

On October 11, media reports stated LNA-affiliated forces arrested six journalists while covering a cultural event in Hun in the southwest.

In August the publication of an anthology containing a small amount of material deemed “obscene” by conservative members of the local community resulted in death threats against several authors.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The international NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists to prevent publication of information. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing militias or political factions. In addition, journalists practiced self-censorship due to lack of security and intimidation. According to social media reports, the LNA confiscated books they claimed promoted Shi’ism, secularism, and perversion.

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

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

Nongovernmental Impact: Militias, terrorist and extremist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists. For example, the control of Derna by violent extremist organizations restricted freedom of expression. While media coverage focused on the actions of Islamist-affiliated violent extremists, other armed actors also limited freedom of expression.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no credible reports that the government restricted or disrupted internet access or monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority during the year. Nor were there credible reports that the government censored online content.

Facebook pages were consistently hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.

The government did not exercise effective control over communications infrastructure for most of the year. Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial communications. A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to instability, militia intimidation, and the uncertain political situation.

Internet penetration outside urban centers remained low, and frequent electrical outages resulted in limited internet availability in the capital and elsewhere. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 20.3 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Security conditions in the country, however, restricted the ability to practice academic freedom and made cultural events rare.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly; and the government generally respected these rights. The law on guidelines for peaceful demonstrations, however, fails to include relevant assurances and severely restricts the exercise of the right of assembly. The law mandates protesters must inform the government of any planned protest at least 48 hours in advance and provides that the government may notify the organizers that a protest is banned as little as 12 hours before the event.

On September 25, political activist Basit Igtet held a demonstration against the leadership in Tripoli. Although the Ministry of Interior denied Igtet a permit to hold demonstrations, it provided security for the demonstrators and counter demonstrators, while enforcing checkpoints to keep armed groups from participating in the demonstration.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The Constitutional Declaration includes freedom of association for political and civil society groups. The government lacked capacity, however, to protect freedom of association, and the proliferation of targeted attacks on journalists, activists, and religious figures severely undermined freedom of association.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees and migrants faced abuse, principally arbitrary detention, but also killings and gender-based violence. Instability in the country and lack of government oversight made human trafficking profitable. Migrants reported some human smugglers were Libyan nationals.

There were allegations of sexual violence, abuse, and exploitation of migrants and refugees by traffickers, and criminal gangs at unofficial and official detention centers. There were also reports of physical abuse of refugees by the Coast Guard, including beatings with whips and chains. A November media report showed videos where migrants unable to pay smugglers were sold into slavery, including being forced to work as prostitutes or manual laborers, at auctions. There were also numerous media reports during the year suggesting that traffickers had caused the death of migrants. For example, in February traffickers reportedly caused the death of 74 individuals off a beach in Zawiya.

To address the abuse of migrants and refugees and combat trafficking in persons, the government launched an investigation and vowed to bring perpetrators to justice. Starting on November 29, the government also authorized UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies to open offices in the country and to provide assistance to refugees and migrants, repatriate those who wished to return to their home countries, and access detention centers in areas controlled by the GNA. At the November African Union-EU Summit on Migration and a November 28 UN Security Council session, the government strongly condemned allegations of slavery in the country. In December the government committed to setting up a joint commission with Italy to counter human trafficking.

The country was the primary departure point for migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, with more than 90 percent leaving from the country. As of July 22, more than 114,000 migrants arrived in Europe according to the IOM, with 2,471 migrants dying at sea. Conditions on vessels departing for Europe were poor, and human smugglers abandoned many migrants in international waters with insufficient food and water. Boats were heavily overloaded, and there was a high risk of sinking.

In-country Movement: The government did not exercise control over internal movement, although government-aligned groups set up checkpoints in some parts of Western Libya. The LNA established checkpoints targeting extremist movements around Benghazi and Derna. There were reports that militias controlling airports within the country conducted additional checks on citizens wanting to travel to other areas within the country or abroad.

Militias effectively controlled regional movements through armed checkpoints. Militia checkpoints and those imposed by ISIS, Ansar al-Sharia, and other extremist organizations impeded internal movement and, in some areas, prohibited women from moving freely without a male escort.

There were also multiple reports of women who could not depart from the country’s western airports controlled by pro-GNA militias because they did not have “male guardians,” which is not a legal requirement in the country.

Citizenship: The Qadhafi regime revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including many Tebu and some Tuareg minorities, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip to Chad. As a result many nomadic and settled stateless persons lived in the country. Due to the lack of international monitoring, observers could not verify the number of stateless persons.

Additionally, the country’s Nationality Law states that citizens may lose citizenship if they obtain a foreign citizenship without receiving permission beforehand from authorities. Authorities have not established processes to obtain permission, however.

Citizenship may also be revoked if obtained based on false information, forged documents, withheld relevant information concerning one’s nationality, or all three. These actions may lead to revocation of citizenship by authorities. If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. It is not specified if only minor children are susceptible to losing their nationality or if loss of nationality applies to adult children as well.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Limited access for assistance organizations to towns affected by fighting between rival armed groups and to official and unofficial detention centers within the country hampered efforts to account for and assist the displaced. There are 34 official detention centers across the country, which at year’s end housed 6,000 to 8,000 refugees and migrants in centers under the auspices of the Department for Combatting Irregular Migration, under the Ministry of Interior. Due to security concerns in the east, international organizations access was inconsistent.

In September UNHCR estimated there were 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. Most of the citizens displaced were from Sirte or Benghazi. Approximately 40,000 members of the Tawarghan community remained displaced, the largest single IDP population. Because Tawargha served as a base for Qadhafi forces during the revolution, Misratan militias attacked the town following the fall of the regime in 2011, compelling all inhabitants, largely descendants of former slaves of sub-Saharan African origins, to leave their homes. In December the government announced that families displaced from their homes in Tawargha due to events dating back to 2011 would be able to return home in February 2018. This decision followed a reconciliation deal between representatives of the town and the city of Misrata.

IDPs were vulnerable to abuses. The government struggled to promote adequately the safe, voluntary return or resettlement of IDPs. Due to the lack of adequate laws, policies, or government programs, international organizations and NGOs assisted them to the extent possible in view of the security environment.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol, although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The government did not establish a system for providing protection to refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities could detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request refugee status. UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies operate within the country and are allowed to assist refugees and immigrants and repatriate those who wish to return to their countries. UNHCR monitors and publicly reports on the situation of all refugees and migrants in the country, including those detained in government detention centers. In November authorities permitted UNHCR to set up a “transit and departure facility” in Tripoli to facilitate the emergency evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugees to foreign countries. The government allowed only seven nationalities to register as refugees with UNHCR: Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Somalis, Sudanese (Darfuris), Ethiopians (Oromo), and Eritreans. The government did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits. The government cooperated with the refugee task force formed by the African Union, EU and the United Nations.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The IOM estimated that approximately 393,000 migrants and refugees traversed the country throughout the year, with the majority of migrants originating from Niger, Egypt, Chad, Ghana, and Sudan. UNHCR has registered approximately 42,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country.

During the year UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the IOM provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers. Despite safety and security vulnerabilities, humanitarian organizations enjoyed relatively good access, with the exception of Derna and Sirte.

There were reports that hundreds to thousands of sub-Saharan Africans entered the country illegally through the unguarded southern borders. Treatment of detained migrants depended upon their country of origin and the offense for which authorities held them (authorities held some for having improper documents and others for having committed crimes). Migrants and refugees faced abduction, extortion, violent crime, and other abuses, exacerbated by entrenched racism and xenophobia. Government-affiliated and nongovernment militias regularly held refugees and asylum seekers in detention centers alongside criminals or in separate detention centers under conditions that did not meet international standards.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees registered with UNHCR may access basic protection and assistance from UNHCR and its partners; however, during the year the government apparatus, whose health and education infrastructure was limited, did not provide refugees universal access to healthcare, education, or other services.

STATELESS PERSONS

By law, children derive citizenship only from a citizen father. Children born to a citizen father and a noncitizen mother are automatically considered citizens even if they are born abroad. Citizen mothers alone were unable to transmit citizenship to their children, but there are naturalization provisions for noncitizens. The law permits female nationals to confer nationality to their children in certain circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish filiation. In instances where the father is a noncitizen, the children produced from that union are effectively stateless and banned from entering higher education, travelling, and certain educational opportunities.

Without citizenship, stateless persons are unable to obtain legal employment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) successfully administered the election of members to the HoR, an interim parliament that replaced the GNC, whose mandate expired that year. An estimated 42 percent of registered voters went to the polls to choose 200 members from among 1,714 candidates. International and domestic observers, representatives of media, and accredited guests mostly commended the performance of the electoral authorities. The Libyan Association for Democracy, the largest national observation umbrella group, cited minor technical problems and inconsistencies but stated polling was generally well organized. Violence and widespread threats to candidates, voters, and electoral officials on election day affected 24 polling centers, most notably in Sabha, Zawiya, Awbari, Sirte, Benghazi, and Derna. Eleven seats remained vacant due to a boycott of candidate registration and voting by the Amazigh community and violence at a number of polling centers that precluded a final vote.

The UN Action Plan for Libya, announced by the UN special representative of the Secretary-General, Ghassan Salame, on September 20 at the UN General Assembly, calls for presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018. While the exact timing of elections had not been finalized, in December the HNEC began voter registration and was in the process of expanding the number of registration centers throughout the country to increase voter access.

The LNA appointed military figures as municipal mayors in some areas it controlled.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties proliferated following the revolution, although fractious political infighting among party leaders impeded the government’s progress on legislative and electoral priorities. Amid rising insecurity, public ire fell on certain political parties perceived to contribute to instability. The 2013 Political Isolation Law (PIL) prohibits those who held certain positions under Qadhafi between 1969 and 2011 from holding government office. Observers widely criticized the law for its overly broad scope and the wide discretion given to the PIL Committee to determine whom to exclude from office.

The HoR voted to suspend the law in 2015.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The Constitutional Declaration allows for full participation of women and minorities in elections and the political process, but significant social and cultural barriers–in addition to significant security challenges–prevented their proportionate political participation.

The election law provides for representation of women within the HoR; of the 200 seats in parliament, the law reserves 32 for women. There were 21 women in the HoR.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year but, as in 2016, no significant investigations or prosecutions occurred.

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

Corruption: Slow progress in implementing decentralization legislation, particularly with regard to management of natural resources and distribution of government funds, led to accusations of corruption and calls for greater transparency. There were no reports of meetings of or actions taken by the Oil Corruption Committee, formed in 2014 to investigate both financial and administrative means of corruption in the oil industry.

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

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

While the government did not restrict human rights organizations from operating, it was unable to protect organizations from violence that often specifically targeted activists and human rights organizations struggled to operate.

In a July 27 report, HRW claimed that human rights defenders, activists, and social media bloggers faced continuing threats including physical attacks, detention, threats, harassment, and disappearances by armed groups, some of whom were affiliated with the GNA.

The government publicly condemned human rights abuses in Libya, including allegations of the abuse of migrants and human trafficking (see section 2.d).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not comply with injunctions by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to transfer suspected war criminal Saif al-Islam Qadhafi to ICC jurisdiction for trial on grounds that it did not have access to him. The government claimed that it was unable to obtain custody of Qadhafi from Zintani militia forces; to obtain evidence, in particular from witnesses who had been tortured during detention by militias; or to appoint defense counsel. In 2014 the ICC announced it had referred the country to the UN Security Council for violating an obligation to transfer Saif al-Islam Qadhafi for trial. In 2015 a Tripoli court sentenced Saif al-Islam to death. Nevertheless, on June 10, the Zintan-based militia holding Qadhafi reportedly released him from prison. In August the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of LNA member Mahmoud al-Warfalli (see section 1.g.).

Government Human Rights Bodies: Human rights defenders faced continuing threats and danger. The National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights, the UN-recognized national human rights institution, was not able to operate in the country due to security concerns. The council maintained limited international activity with other human rights organizations in Tunis and the UN Human Rights Council. It had a minimal presence in Tripoli. Its ability to advocate for human rights and investigate alleged abuses during the reporting period was unclear.

The former government passed the Transitional Justice Law in 2013 (see section 1.e.), establishing a legal framework to promote civil peace, implement justice, compensate victims, and facilitate national reconciliation. The law further establishes a Fact-finding and Reconciliation Commission charged with investigating and reporting on alleged human rights abuses, whether suffered during the Qadhafi regime or during the revolution. There was no known activity by the commission during the year. International organizations including the UN Development Program have established transitional justice programs throughout the country at the national and subnational levels.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not address spousal rape. The Constitutional Declaration prohibits domestic violence, but it did not contain reference to penalties for conviction of violence against women.

By law a convicted rapist may avoid a 25-year prison sentence by marrying the survivor, regardless of her wishes–provided her family consents. According to UNSMIL, the forced marriage of rape survivors to their perpetrators as a way to avoid criminal proceedings remained rare. In previous years rape survivors who could not meet high evidentiary standards could face charges of adultery.

There were no reliable statistics on the extent of domestic violence during the year. Social and cultural barriers–including police and judicial reluctance to act and family reluctance to publicize an assault–contributed to lack of effective government enforcement.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There was no available information about legislation on FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment, but there were no reports on how or whether it was enforced. According to civil society organizations, there was widespread harassment and intimidation of women by militias and extremists, including accusations of “un-Islamic” behavior.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The Constitutional Declaration states citizens are equal by law with equal civil and political rights and the same opportunities in all areas without distinction on the grounds of gender. Absent implementing legislation, and operating with limited capacity, the government did not effectively enforce these declarations.

Women faced social forms of discrimination, which affected their ability to access employment, their presence in the workplace, and their mobility and personal freedom. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender, there was widespread cultural, economic, and societal discrimination against women. Sharia governs family matters, including inheritance, divorce, and the right to own property. While civil law mandates equal rights in inheritance, women often received less due to interpretations of sharia law that favor men.

On February 16, LNA commander Khalifa Haftar and the military governor of the region that extends from Derna to Ben Jawwad, Abdelrazeq al-Nadhouri, issued an order requiring women who wished to travel abroad by land, air, or sea to be accompanied by a male guardian. On February 23, al-Nadhouri repealed the order and expanded the travel restriction to all men and women ages 18 to 45. The PC issued a statement in response to condemn the travel bans and to state they were in violation of the rights of Libyan citizens and the rights stipulated by the Libyan Political Agreement, the Libyan Constitutional Declaration, and international conventions and treaties.

Children

Birth Registration: By law children derive citizenship only from a citizen father. Citizen women alone were unable to transmit citizenship to offspring. The country’s nationality laws do not allow female nationals married to foreign nationals to transmit their nationality to their children. The law, however, permits female nationals to transmit their nationality to their children in certain circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish filiation. There are also naturalization provisions for noncitizens.

Education: The conflict, teacher strikes, and a lack of security disrupted the school year for thousands of students across the country; many schools remained empty due to lack of materials, damage, or security concerns.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women, although judges may provide permission for those under age 18 to marry.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There was no information available on laws prohibiting or penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of children or prohibiting child pornography. Nor was there any information regarding laws regulating the minimum age of consensual sex. According to UNICEF, 80,000 children were internally displaced and migrant children in the country particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, including in detention centers.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

Most of the Jewish population left the country between 1948 and 1967. Some Jewish families reportedly remained, but no estimate of the population was available. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The Constitutional Declaration addresses the rights of persons with disabilities by providing for monetary and other types of social assistance for the “protection” of persons with “special needs” with respect to employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other government services, but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Arabic-speaking Muslims of mixed Arab-Amazigh ancestry constitute 97 percent of the citizenry. The principal linguistic-based minorities are the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Tebu. These minority groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim but identified with their respective cultural and linguistic heritages rather than with Arab traditions.

The government officially recognizes the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Tebu languages and provides for their teaching in schools. Language remained a point of contention, however, and the extent to which the government enforced official recognition was unclear.

Ethnic minorities faced instances of societal discrimination and violence. Racial discrimination existed against dark-skinned citizens, including those of sub-Saharan African heritage. Government officials and journalists often distinguished between “loyal” and “foreign” populations of Tebu and Tuareg in the south and advocated expulsion of minority groups affiliated with political rivals on the basis they were not truly “Libyan.” A number of Tebu and Tuareg communities received substandard or no services from municipalities, lacked national identity numbers (and thus access to employment), and faced widespread social discrimination.

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

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status remained illegal, and official and societal discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted. Convictions of same-sex sexual activity carry sentences of three to five years’ imprisonment. The law provides for punishment of both parties.

There was little information on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, access to education, or health care. Observers noted that the threat of possible violence or abuse could intimidate persons who reported such discrimination.

There were reports of physical violence, harassment, and blackmail based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Militias often policed communities to enforce compliance with militia commanders’ understanding of “Islamic” behavior, harassing and threatening with impunity individuals believed to have LGBTI orientations and their families.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was no available information on societal violence toward persons with HIV/AIDS. There were reports the government denied persons with HIV/AIDS permission to marry. There were reports the government segregated detainees suspected of having HIV/AIDS from the rest of the detainee population, often in overcrowded spaces, and they were the last to receive medical treatment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, but it provides for the right of workers to bargain collectively and conduct legal strikes, with significant restrictions. The law neither prohibits antiunion discrimination nor requires the reinstatement of workers for union activity. By law, workers in the formal sector are automatically members of the General Trade Union Federation of Workers, although they may elect to withdraw from the union. Only citizens may be union members, and regulations do not permit foreign workers to organize.

The capacity limitations of the central government restricted its ability to enforce applicable labor laws. The requirement that all collective agreements conform to the “national economic interest” restricted collective bargaining. Workers may call strikes only after exhausting all conciliation and arbitration procedures. The government or one of the parties may demand compulsory arbitration, thus severely restricting strikes. The government has the right to set and cut salaries without consulting workers.

Employees organized spontaneous strikes, boycotts, and sit-ins in a number of workplaces. No government action prevented or hindered labor strikes, and government payments to leaders of the strike actions customarily ended these actions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government, however, did not fully enforce the applicable laws due to its limited capacity. The resources, inspections, and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violators. While many foreign workers fled the country due to the continuing conflict, there were reports of foreign workers, especially foreign migrants passing through the country to reach Europe, subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor. According to the IOM, militias and armed groups subjected migrants to forced labor in IDP camps and transit centers that they controlled.

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

Armed groups prevented foreign health-care workers from departing conflict areas such as Benghazi and compelled these workers to perform unpaid work in dangerous conditions.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law stipulates a workweek of 40 hours, standard working hours, night shift regulations, dismissal procedures, and training requirements. The law does not specifically prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. The minimum wage was 450 dinars per month ($328 per the official exchange rate). There is not an official poverty income level.

The law provides occupational health and safety standards, and the law grants workers the right to court hearings regarding violations of these standards. The capacity limitations of the central government restricted its ability to enforce wage laws and health and safety standards.

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

No accurate data on foreign workers were available. Many foreign workers, especially in the health sector, departed the country due to the continuing instability and security concerns.

Mali

Executive Summary

Mali is a constitutional democracy. In 2013 President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won the presidential election, deemed free and fair by international observers. The inauguration of President Keita and the subsequent establishment of a new National Assembly through free and fair elections ended a 16-month transitional period following the 2012 military coup that ousted the previous democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure. The restoration of a democratic government and the arrest of coup leader Amadou Sanogo restored some civilian control over the military.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security forces.

Despite the signing of the Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation in June 2015 between the government, the Platform of northern militias, and the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), violent conflict between CMA and Platform forces continued throughout the northern region. The terrorist coalition Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wa Muslimin (Support to Islam and Muslims, JNIM)–comprised of Ansar al-Dine, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Macina Liberation Front (MLF)–was not a party to the peace process. JNIM carried out attacks on the military, armed groups, UN peacekeepers and convoys, international forces, humanitarian actors, and civilian targets throughout northern Mali and the Mopti and Segou regions of central Mali.

The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary deprivation of life; disappearances; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest; excessively long pretrial detention; denial of fair public trial; female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), which was common and not prohibited by law; the recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups, some of which were affiliated with the government; and trafficking in persons. Authorities and employers often disregarded workers’ rights, and exploitative labor, including child labor, was common.

The government made little or no effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a problem. Widespread impunity for serious crimes committed in the north and center of the country continued.

Despite human rights provisions in the June 2015 peace accord, elements within the Platform–including the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-defense Group (GATIA), the Arab Movement for Azawad-Platform (MAA-PF), and the Coordination of Patriotic Resistance Forces and Movements (CMFPR)–and elements in the CMA–including the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA)–committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and use of child soldiers. Extremist groups, including affiliates of AQIM, kidnapped and killed civilians and military force members, including peacekeepers. The government, in collaboration with French military forces, conducted counterterrorism operations in northern and central Mali leading to the detention of extremists, armed group elements, and other suspects accused of committing crimes. Reports of abuses rarely led to investigations or prosecutions.

Accusations against Chadian peacekeepers from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) who were accused of numerous human rights abuses in Kidal Region, including killings, abductions, and arbitrary arrests in 2016, were under investigation but remain unresolved.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), armed forces personnel committed extrajudicial killings and torture of persons accused of supporting Islamist armed groups, primarily in the Mopti and Segou regions. HRW documented three common graves believed to contain the remains of at least 14 men executed after being detained by soldiers since December. The minister of defense stated that the Ministry of Defense (MOD) had launched an investigation into these allegations, which was not completed at year’s end.

Armed groups who signed the peace accord and violent extremist groups committed numerous arbitrary killings related to internal conflict. Approximately 200 persons, including several civilians, were killed during clashes between the CMA and GATIA. GATIA reportedly received equipment and logistical support from the government during this period. Terrorist elements, including JNIM affiliates, launched frequent attacks, killing civilians as well as national and international security force members.

Attacks by bandits and extremist Islamist groups increasingly expanded from the traditional conflict zone in the north to the Mopti and Segou regions in the central part of the country. These attacks targeted government and international security force members.

In 2016 Chadian members of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) allegedly killed civilians. In May, Chadian soldiers attached to MINUSMA reportedly arrested several civilians after a May 2016 attack by Ansar al-Dine. One of the arrested men, a herder, died in Chadian custody. As of October the MINUSMA investigation into the incident continued.

There was limited progress in the prosecution of suspects, including coup leader Amadou Sanogo, in the 2012 disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets, including former junta member Colonel Youssouf Traore. Sanogo remained under arrest awaiting trial. His trial began in Sikasso in late 2016, but the presiding judge accepted a defense motion to delay the trial. At year’s end, the case was still pending at the Court of Appeals, awaiting results of a DNA analysis.

b. Disappearance

There were several reports of disappearances. For example, on February 3, Ibrahim Barry, who was detained in Mopti by gendarmes, disappeared after his arrest. Barry’s whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end and there was no information on any investigation.

On August 1, following the July clashes between GATIA and CMA around Kidal, two common graves containing seven and two persons, respectively, were discovered in the Anefis area. Investigations were incomplete.

HRW also documented 27 cases of enforced disappearance during the reporting period in central Mali in which the detainees were last seen in the custody of security forces. According to HRW the government had yet to provide families with information on missing relatives who had been detained. The chief of defense announced plans to investigate these incidents and transmitted instructions to comply with the investigation to all commanders in the field in October, one month after the HRW findings were publicized.

Human rights observers were unable to verify the whereabouts of dozens of prisoners purportedly detained in connection with the northern conflict due to possible unreported deaths in custody, alleged surreptitious releases, and suspected clandestine transfer of prisoners to the government’s intelligence service, the General Directorate of State Security (DGSE). Human rights organizations estimated the DGSE held 60 unacknowledged detainees.

There was limited progress in the prosecution of the suspects, including coup leader Sanogo, for the forced disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets, including former junta member Colonel Youssouf Traore, following a mutiny in 2013 (see section 1.a.).

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were reports that soldiers employed them against individuals with suspected links to extremist groups including Ansar al-Dine, al-Murabitoun, and the Macina Liberation Front (see section 1.g.). There were reports that Islamist groups perpetrated sexual violence.

According to HRW, armed forces tortured dozens of men that they suspected of supporting Islamist armed groups. The detainees were hogtied, beaten, lashed with belts, burned, and repeatedly threatened with death. Detainees stated that they were routinely denied food, water, and medical care.

For example, according to HRW, on June 23, army and National Guard units based in and around Boni arrested and tortured three traders whom they accused of supporting armed Islamists. The torturers threatened to kill the traders, severely beat them, and held the head of at least one trader to a truck exhaust pipe, resulting in serious and visible burns.

HRW noted allegations of torture by military forces, particularly against members of the Fulani (Peuhl) ethnic group in the central part of the country. In one incident, military personnel arrested 11 local Fulani following attacks in the Mopti Region during the first half of the year. According to human rights observers, three of the 11 died during detention at the Nampala military base, and others showed signs of torture. As of October authorities had not brought charges against the soldiers reportedly responsible.

The case against a soldier who allegedly raped a 13-year-old girl in August 2014 remained open. The military released the suspect in September 2014 and, at year’s end, had not responded to requests by the civilian prosecutor to produce the suspect for trial. Despite the military’s lack of cooperation, the prosecutor continued to pursue the case. There was one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a Chadian soldier serving in the UN peacekeeping mission.

There was limited progress in investigations into the 2012 disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets (see section 1.a.).

As of November 28, the United Nations received one allegation during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse against a Malian police officer serving with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti between 2010 and 2011. The allegation of an exploitative relationship was substantiated.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The government took steps to improve staff training. In August the government launched a nine billion CFA ($16.5 million) construction project for a new prison in Kenioroba, 30 miles south of Bamako. The prison was designed for 2,500 inmates and to meet international standards for detainees’ human rights.

Physical Conditions: As of October the Bamako Central Prison held 1,964 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 400. Detainees were separated by gender. Detention conditions were better in women’s prisons than in those for men. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Authorities detained 88 persons arrested on charges related to terrorism in the high-security division of Bamako Central Prison and in Koulikoro. Authorities may hold arrested individuals for up to 72 hours in police stations, where there were no separate holding areas for men, women, or children.

As of October, 34 prisoners and detainees had died. The National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH), a semi-independent entity within the Ministry of Justice, attributed the deaths to unhealthy prison conditions. Similar to previous years, approximately half of the 34 died from heart attacks; the remainder died from malaria, HIV/AIDS, and dehydration. Inadequate security mechanisms and a general lack of resources prevented authorities from maintaining control of prisons.

Prison food, when provided, was insufficient in both quality and quantity, and medical facilities were inadequate. Lack of sanitation continued to pose the most significant threat to prisoners’ health. Buckets served as toilets. Not all prisons had access to potable water. Ventilation, lighting, and temperature were comparable with many poor urban homes.

Administration: Authorities did not use alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders.

Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints, either directly or through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic, to judicial authorities without censorship to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Although prisoners voiced verbal complaints during prison inspections by the CNDH, prisoners filed no formal complaints due to illiteracy, lack of knowledge regarding complaint mechanisms, skepticism regarding the utility of making such complaints, and fear of retaliation. The CNDH, charged with visiting prisons and ensuring humane conditions, visited prisoners in Bamako Central Prison within one week of request. The CNDH did not regularly visit prisons outside of Bamako, and its last visit to a military detention center occurred in 2012. The government’s Directorate for National Penitentiary Administration investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Detainees had reasonable access to visitors and could observe their religious practices.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by human rights monitors, and human rights organizations conducted visits during the year. The government required nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other monitors to submit a request to the prison director, who then forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice. The Malian Association for Human Rights visited prisons in Kati, Bamako, and other locations outside the north. Human rights observers with MINUSMA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly visited the centers holding CMA and Platform members. ICRC officials also visited prisons in Bamako, Kayes, Sikasso, Koulikoro, Gao, and Timbuktu.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and statutory law generally prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Nevertheless, government security forces, Platform, and CMA forces detained and arrested numerous individuals in connection with the ongoing northern conflict, particularly in the wake of clashes between CMA and GATIA in Kidal and terrorist attacks in the Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou regions. Security forces also arbitrarily arrested those suspected of supporting Islamist armed groups, primarily in the center of the country (see section 1.g.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces include the National Police, the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA), the National Gendarmerie, National Guard, and the DGSE. FAMA, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard are administratively under the Ministry of Defense, although operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared with the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection. Police officers have responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order in urban areas, while gendarmes have that responsibility in rural areas. The army occasionally performed domestic security operations in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The National Guard has specialized border security units, which were largely ineffective. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The DGSE has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general. It usually did so only in terrorism and national security cases.

The National Police lacked resources and training. Corruption was a problem, and traffic police officers frequently arrested and released drivers in exchange for bribes.

MINUSMA’s mandate includes ensuring security, protecting civilians, assisting the reestablishment of government authority, and the rebuilding of the security sector. The mission worked to expand its presence, including through longer-range patrols, in northern regions beyond key population centers, notably in areas where civilians were at risk. MINUSMA’s mandate also includes providing specific protection for women and children affected by armed conflict and addressing the needs of victims of sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict. MINUSMA’s role extended to anticipating, preventing, mitigating, and resolving issues related to the northern conflict by monitoring violence, assisting in investigations, and reporting to the UN Security Council on abuses or violations of human rights or international humanitarian law committed in the country.

The French military counterterrorism operation Barkhane continued. The operation had a regional focus, undertaking counterterrorism activities in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. Approximately 1,000 French soldiers conducted counterterrorism operations in collaboration with FAMA in northern Mali.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces. Particularly in the north, during the year there were many reports of impunity involving security forces. Mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption by security forces generally were not effective.

A commission of inquiry established in 2014 by the Ministry of Defense investigated security force killings to determine whether they constituted violations of the military code of justice or of criminal law. The commission referred cases involving human rights abuse to the prosecutor general for criminal trial. By year’s end, however, the commission had completed no investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by soldiers redeployed to the north.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires judicial warrants for arrest. The law requires police officers to charge suspects or release them within 48 hours. While police usually secured warrants based on sufficient evidence and a duly authorized official issued the warrant, this did not always occur. The law provides for the transfer of detainees from police stations to the prosecutor’s office within 72 hours of arrest, but authorities sometimes held detainees longer in police stations. Authorities may grant detainees, who have limited rights of bail, conditional liberty, particularly for minor crimes and civil matters. Authorities occasionally released defendants on their own recognizance.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer of their choice or a state-provided lawyer if indigent. Nevertheless, a shortage of lawyers–particularly outside Bamako and Mopti–often prevented access to legal representation.

Arbitrary Arrest: HRW documented the detention of 114 men, primarily ethnic Fulani, by security forces in central Mali between December 2016 and June. The detainees were held because security forces suspected them of supporting Islamist armed groups. Most were released because of insufficient evidence after their cases were reviewed in Bamako by the Special Judicial Cell to Combat Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime.

Human rights organizations reported widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention. In many cases gendarmes detained suspects on DGSE orders and then transferred them for questioning to the DGSE, which generally held suspects for hours or days. The transfer process itself, however, sometimes took more than a week, during which time security services did not inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities did not provide released detainees transport back to the location of their arrest, a trip that often required several days of travel. These detentions often occurred in the wake of attacks by bandits or terrorists and targeted members of the ethnic group suspected of carrying out the raids.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for trial for charged detainees within three months for misdemeanors and one year for felonies, but lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Judicial inefficiency, the large number of detainees, corruption, and staff shortages contributed to the problem. Individuals sometimes remained in prison for several years before their cases came to trial. Approximately 70 percent of inmates awaited trial.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows detainees to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention in court. Individuals were generally released promptly if they won the challenge, but the law does not provide for compensation or recourse against the government.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the executive branch continued to exert influence over the judicial system. Corruption and limited resources affected the fairness of trials. Bribery and influence peddling were widespread in the courts, according to domestic human rights groups.

There were problems enforcing court orders. Sometimes judges were absent from their assigned areas for months at a time. Village chiefs and justices of the peace appointed by the government decided the majority of disputes in rural areas. Justices of the peace had investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial functions. These traditional systems did not provide the same rights as civil and criminal courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. Nevertheless, proceedings often were delayed, and some defendants waited years for their trials to begin. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Except in the case of minors and sensitive family cases, trials generally were public.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or to have one provided at public expense in felony cases and those involving minors). When a court declares a defendant indigent, it provides an attorney at public expense and the court waives all fees. Administrative backlogs and an insufficient number of lawyers, particularly in rural areas, often prevented prompt access. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, access government-held evidence, confront witnesses, and present one’s own witnesses and evidence. The government generally respected these rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt and may appeal decisions to the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees.

According to MINUSMA, authorities used warrants to arrest and detain 89 persons during the year in connection with the conflict in the northern and central parts of the country. As of July 31, 239 individuals arrested on terrorism charges remained in detention in State owned facilities. Some of those detained were believed to be political prisoners. The government typically detained conflict-related prisoners in higher-security facilities within prisons and provided them the same protection as other prisoners. International human rights and humanitarian organizations had access to most of these centers, but not to detainees held in facilities operated by the DGSE.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. They may appeal their cases to the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In cases of traditional slavery, there were reports that civil court orders were sometimes difficult to enforce.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2013 President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won the presidential election, deemed free and fair by international observers. Legislative elections also occurred in 2013, and independent domestic and international observers characterized them as credible and transparent. In the areas where they were conducted, communal elections held in 2016 were largely considered free and fair. Security concerns in some northern and central areas prevented the holding of communal elections in 58 of the country’s 703 communes.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. A law passed in November 2015 requires that at least 30 percent of the slots on party election lists be reserved for female candidates and that 30 percent of high-level government appointees be women. The law was not fully implemented by year’s end. There were only 13 women in the 147-member National Assembly and only eight women in the 34-seat cabinet led by Prime Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga. There were four women on the 33-member Supreme Court and two women on the nine-member Constitutional Court, including the head of the court.

The National Assembly had at least 16 members from historically marginalized pastoralist and nomadic ethnic minorities representing the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. The prime minister’s cabinet included pastoral and nomadic ethnic minority members.

Four members of the National Assembly were members of northern armed groups, including two Tuaregs from Kidal associated with the HCUA, one Tuareg from Kidal associated with GATIA, and one member from Gao associated with the MAA. National Assembly members previously allied with Ansar al-Dine ended their association with the group following the French intervention in 2013.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Corruption in all sectors of the administration was widespread. Authorities did not hold police accountable for corruption. Officials, police, and gendarmes frequently extorted bribes. There were reports of uniformed police or individuals dressed as police directing stopped motorists to drive to dark and isolated locations where they robbed the victims.

President Keita’s office released the general audit of the country’s 2015 report on government waste, fraud, and abuse on October 11. The director general of customs and the head of the government office of petroleum products were among the department heads whose agencies were reported to have lost billions of dollars in taxpayers’ money in 2015. It appears the president released the report only after donors, including the EU and Canada, pressured the government to do so.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires the president, prime minister, and other cabinet members to submit annually a financial statement and written declaration of their net worth to the Supreme Court. The Court of Accounts, a section within the Supreme Court, is responsible for monitoring and verifying financial disclosures. There are no sanctions for noncompliance. The Court of Accounts requires officials to identify all assets and liabilities when they start and complete their terms and provide yearly updates throughout their tenure. Officials are not required to submit disclosures for their spouses or children. The agency responsible for receiving financial disclosures was not operational by year’s end, and few officials had filed. In 2014 President Keita submitted his annual financial statement and written declaration of net worth to the Supreme Court, although he filed no subsequent financial updates. Although the constitution calls for financial filings to be public, they were not released.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides a penalty of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenders, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape was a widespread problem. Authorities prosecuted only a small percentage of rape cases since victims seldom reported rapes due to societal pressure, particularly because attackers were frequently close relatives, and fear of retaliation. No law specifically prohibits spousal rape, but law enforcement officials stated criminal laws against rape apply to spousal rape. Police and judicial authorities were willing to pursue rape cases but stopped if parties reached an agreement prior to trial.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, was prevalent. Most cases went unreported. Spousal abuse is a crime, but the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. Assault is punishable by prison terms of one to five years and fines of up to 500,000 CFA francs ($919) or, if premeditated, up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Police were reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Many women were reluctant to file complaints against their husbands because they feared husbands would interpret such allegations as grounds for divorce, were unable to support themselves financially, sought to avoid social stigma, or feared retaliation or further ostracism. The governmental Planning and Statistics Unit, established to track prosecutions, did not produce reliable statistics.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is legal in the country and, except in certain northern areas, all religious and ethnic groups practiced it widely, particularly in rural areas. Although FGM/C is legal, authorities prohibited the practice in government-funded health centers.

Parents generally had FGM/C performed on girls between the ages of six months and nine years. The most recent comprehensive FGM/C survey, conducted by UNICEF in 2010, indicated 89 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 were excised, and 74 percent of girls and women in the same age group had at least one daughter who was excised. Government information campaigns regarding the dangers of FGM/C reached citizens throughout the country, and human rights organizations reported decreased incidence of FGM/C among children of educated parents.

For more information, see data.unicef.org/resources/female-genital-mutilation-cutting-country-profiles/ .

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which routinely occurred, including in schools, without any government efforts to prevent it.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law does not provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, particularly concerning divorce and inheritance. Women are legally obligated to obey their husbands and are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Women had very limited access to legal services due to their lack of education and information as well as the prohibitive cost.

While the law provides for equal property rights, traditional practices and ignorance of the law prevented women from taking full advantage of their rights. The marriage contract must specify if the couple wishes to share estate rights. If marriage certificates of Muslim couples do not specify the type of marriage, judges presume the marriage to be polygynous.

Women experienced economic discrimination due to social norms that favored men, and their access to education and employment was limited (see section 7.d.).

The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, the Family, and Children is responsible for ensuring the legal rights of women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from either parent or by birth within the country.

The government did not register all births immediately, particularly in rural areas.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free universal education, and the law provides for compulsory schooling from ages six through 15. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, cultural preference to educate boys, early marriage of girls, and sexual harassment of girls.

The conflict resulted in the closure of schools in the regions of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou, and many schools were damaged or destroyed because rebels sometimes used them as bases of operations. Jihadist groups threatened teachers and communities causing, as of April, the closure of 507 schools during the 2016-17 school year. This trend was particularly pronounced in the center of the country, where the number of schools closed in Mopti Region increased from 111 to 266 between May 2016 and June.

Child Abuse: Comprehensive government statistics on child abuse did not exist, but the problem was widespread. Citizens typically did not report child abuse, according to UNICEF. Police and the social services department in the Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action investigated and intervened in some reported cases of child abuse or neglect.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age to marry without parental consent is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. A 15-year-old girl may marry with parental consent if a civil judge approves. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law. According to 2010 data from UNFPA, 55 percent of women between ages 20 and 24 were married by age 18. For additional information, see Appendix C.

According to local human rights organizations, judicial officials frequently accepted false birth certificates or other documents claiming girls below age 15 were old enough to marry. NGOs implemented awareness campaigns aimed at abating child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children occurred. The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children, including prostitution. Penalties for conviction of the sexual exploitation of both adults and children are six months to three years in prison and a fine of between 20,000 and one million CFA francs ($37 and $1,838). Penalties for convicted child traffickers are five to 20 years in prison. Penalties for indecent assault, including child pornography, range from five to 20 years in prison. The country has a statutory rape law that defines 18 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The law, which was inconsistent with the legal minimum marriage age of 15 for girls, was not enforced. The Division for Protection of Children and Morals of the National Police conducted sweeps of brothels to assure that individuals in prostitution were of legal age and arrested brothel owners found to be holding underage girls.

Child Soldiers: See section 1.g.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Some prostitutes and domestic workers practiced infanticide, mainly due to lack of access to and knowledge about contraception. Authorities prosecuted at least two infanticide cases during the year.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were fewer than 50 Jews, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law do not specifically protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or in the provision of other state services. There is no law mandating accessibility to public buildings. While persons with disabilities have access to basic health care, the government did not place a priority on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and few resources were available. Many such individuals relied on begging.

Persons with mental disabilities faced social stigmatization and confinement in public institutions. When an investigative judge believed a criminal suspect had mental disabilities, the judge referred the individual to a doctor for mental evaluation. Based on the recommendation of the doctor, who sometimes lacked training in psychology, the court then either sent the suspect to a mental institution in Bamako or proceeded with a trial.

The Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ministry sponsored activities to promote income-earning opportunities for persons with disabilities and worked with NGOs, such as the Malian Federation of Associations for Handicapped Persons, which provided basic services. Although the government was responsible for eight schools countrywide for deaf persons, it provided almost no support or resources.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Societal discrimination continued against low-caste Tuaregs, often referred to as “Bellah.” Some Tuareg groups deprived low-caste Tuaregs of basic civil liberties due to traditional slavery-like practices and hereditary servitude relationships.

There were continued reports of slave masters kidnapping the children of their Bellah slaves, who had no legal recourse. Slave masters considered slaves and their children as property and reportedly took slave children to raise them elsewhere without permission from their parents. The antislavery organization Temedt organized workshops throughout the country to convince communities to abandon the practice of keeping slaves. The government has taken no action to establish punishment for practicing slavery.

Intercommunal violence led to frequent clashes between members of the Fulani ethnic group and, separately, members of the Bambara and Dogon communities. Self-defense groups representing these communities were reportedly involved in attacks.

For example, on June 17-18, in Koro, Mopti Region, attacks by Dogon and Fulani resulted in 20 to 30 deaths. On August 2, reprisal clashes between Dogon hunters and Fulani herders in Koro resulted in at least 20 deaths. A delegation from the Ministries of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action, National Reconciliation, and Territorial Administration visited the area to encourage dialogue and reconciliation.

According to MINUSMA, conflict in May between Fulani and Bambara communities in the Mopti and Segou regions displaced approximately 800 Fulani civilians.

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

The law prohibits association “for an immoral purpose.” There are no laws specifically prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country, although some NGOs had medical and support programs focusing specifically on men having sex with men. The law prohibits lesbians and gay men from adopting children.

NGOs reported LGBTI individuals experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence, which society viewed as corrective punishment. Family members, neighbors, and groups of strangers in public places committed the majority of violent acts, and police frequently refused to intervene. Most LGBTI individuals isolated themselves and kept their sexual identity hidden. An NGO reported that LGBTI individuals frequently dropped out of school, left their places of employment, and did not seek medical treatment to hide their sexual identity and avoid social stigmatization.

For example, France 24, a French news channel, reported on a social media trend gaining momentum during the summer in which social media groups and web pages posted photos meant to identify and humiliate members of the Malian LGBTI community. Some of the posts also advocated for violence, calling on their followers to kill or assault persons suspected of being gay.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS occurred. The government implemented campaigns to increase awareness of the condition and reduce discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Mob violence remained a problem. For example, in April 2016 a mob destroyed the city of Kidal’s only airport during a protest against the presence of international forces in the city. The attackers were reportedly angered by French arrests of persons accused of terrorism. Violent anti-French protests flared up again in September following more arrests, restricting French forces from entering the city of Kidal. The airport remained closed.

Discrimination continued against albinos. Muslim religious leaders known as marabouts perpetuated the widespread belief that albinos possessed special powers that others could extract by bringing a marabout the blood or head of an albino. The albino rights organization run by prominent Malian singer Salif Keita noted that men often divorced their wives for giving birth to an albino. The lack of understanding of albinism contributed to albinos’ lack of access to sunblock, without which they were highly susceptible to skin cancer.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

All workers–except members of the armed forces, certain civil servants, and public employees such as judges and officials–have the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. There are restrictions imposed on the exercise of these rights. The law provides that workers must be employed in the same profession before they may form a union. A worker may remain a member of a trade union only for a year after leaving the relevant function or profession. Members responsible for the administration or management of a union must reside in the country and be free of any convictions that could suspend their right to vote in national elections. The government may deny trade union registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds.

The minister of labor has the sole authority to decide which union is representative for sectorial collective bargaining and to approve sectorial collective agreements. Employers have the discretionary right to refuse to bargain with representative trade unions. The law allows all types of strikes and prohibits retribution against strikers. For strike action to be lawful, the parties to a dispute must exhaust the mandatory conciliation and arbitration procedures set out in the labor code. Regulations require civil servants and workers in state-owned enterprises to give two weeks’ notice of a planned strike and to enter into mediation and negotiations with the employer and a third party, usually the Ministry of Labor and Public Service. The law does not allow workers in “essential services” sectors to strike, and the minister of labor can order compulsory arbitration for such workers. The law defines “essential services” as being services whose interruption would endanger the lives, personal safety, or health of persons, affect the normal operation of the national economy, or affect a vital industrial sector. For example, the law requires striking police to maintain a minimum presence in headquarters and on the street. The government, however, has not identified a list of essential services. Participation in an illegal strike is punishable by harsh penalties, including dismissal and loss of other rights except wages and leave. Civil servants exercised the right to strike during the year.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The government did not effectively enforce relevant laws. Penalties for violating antiunion discrimination provisions were not sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not have adequate resources to conduct inspections or perform mediation. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities did not consistently respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, although workers generally exercised these rights. The government did not always respect unions’ right to conduct their activities without interference. Although unions and other worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties, they were closely aligned with various political parties or coalitions. The Ministry of Mines intervened to facilitate negotiations between labor and management over the closure of the Loulo gold mine. Officials have not renegotiated some collective agreements since 1956.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor occurred. The law prohibits the contractual use of persons without their consent, and penalties include fines and imprisonment with compulsory hard labor. Penalties can double if a person under age 15 is involved. Penalties were seldom enforced and therefore were not sufficient to deter violations. According to NGOs, the judiciary was reluctant to act in forced labor cases. The government made little effort during the year to prevent or eliminate forced labor, although it did allocate initial funding to its antitrafficking action plan. Following a 2014 national conference on the artisanal mining sector, the government established a commission that met twice monthly to develop measures to more effectively combat violations in the sector, including forced labor.

Most adult forced labor occurred in the agricultural sector, especially rice production, and in gold mining, domestic services, and in other sectors of the informal economy. Forced child labor occurred in the same sectors. Corrupt religious teachers forced boys into begging and other types of forced labor or service (see section 7.c.).

The salt mines of Taoudeni in the north subjected men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, to a longstanding practice of debt bondage. “Employers” subjected many low-caste Tuaregs to forced labor and hereditary servitude, particularly in the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal (see section 6).

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

In June the labor code was revised to set the minimum age for employment at 15. No child may work more than eight hours per day under any circumstance. Although the government’s Hazardous Occupations List prohibits certain activities by children under age 18, the law permits children ages 16 or 17 to perform certain hazardous activities as long as they receive adequate specific instruction or vocational training in the relevant field of activity. The law conflicts with the protections provided in the Hazardous Occupations List, leaving the possibility for children to work in hazardous activities. Girls between ages 16 and 18 may not work more than six hours per day. The law applies to all children, including those who work in the informal economy and those who are self-employed.

Responsibility for enforcing child labor laws is shared between the Ministry for the Promotion of Children and Women through the National Committee to Monitor the Fight against Child Labor, the Ministry of Justice through different courts, the Ministry of Security through the Morals and Children’s Brigade of the National Police, the National Social Security Institute through its health service, and the Ministry of Labor and Public Service through the Labor Inspectorate. Interagency coordinating mechanisms were ineffective, inefficient, and cumbersome. Authorities often ignored child labor laws or did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate, and the penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations.

Child labor, particularly in its worst forms, was a serious problem. Child labor was concentrated in the agricultural sector, especially rice and cotton production, domestic services and other sectors of the informal economy, gold mining, and forced begging organized by Quranic schools.

Approximately half of children between ages seven and 14 were economically active, and employers subjected more than 40 percent of economically active children to the worst forms of child labor. Many were engaged in hazardous activities in agriculture. Armed groups used child soldiers in the north (see section 1.g.). Child trafficking occurred. Employers used children, especially girls, for forced domestic labor. Employers forced low-caste Tuareg children to work as domestic and agricultural laborers.

Child labor in artisanal gold mining was a serious problem. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, at least 20,000 children worked under extremely harsh and hazardous conditions in artisanal gold mines. Many children also worked with mercury and cyanide, toxic substances used in separating gold from its ore. Following a summit on artisanal mining in 2014, the government launched a commission that met twice a month to develop measures to improve conditions in the sector and to mitigate violations, such as child labor.

An unknown number of primary school-age boys throughout the country, mostly under age 10, attended part-time Quranic schools funded by students and their parents. Some Quranic teachers (marabouts) often forced their students, known as “garibouts” or “talibes,” to beg for money on the streets or work as laborers in the agricultural sector; any money earned was usually taken by their teachers.

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service conducted few surprise or complaint-based inspections in the formal sector. Insufficient personnel, low salaries, and lack of other resources hampered enforcement in the informal sector. Prosecutors in Bamako had several pending investigations of potential abuse charges against marabouts that used children solely for economic purposes.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, or ethnicity, but not that based on age, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. The government’s Labor Inspection Agency is responsible for investigating and preventing discrimination based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, or ethnicity, but the law was not effectively enforced. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and ethnicity (see section 6). The government was the major formal sector employer and ostensibly paid women the same as men for similar work, but differences in job descriptions permitted pay inequality. There were cases where employers from southern ethnic groups discriminated against individuals from northern ethnic groups.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage is 40,000 CFA francs ($73) per month, but it did not apply to workers in the informal and subsistence sectors, which included the majority of workers. The minimum wage is above the poverty income level; according to the National Institute of Statistics, the poverty line in the country is 175,000 CFA francs ($319) per year.

The government supplemented the minimum wage with a required package of benefits, including social security and health care. In January the government increased the salaries of public sector workers after coming to an agreement with the largest national workers’ union, the National Workers’ Union of Mali. In August banks and insurance companies also increased their employees’ salaries.

The legal workweek is 40 hours, except for the agricultural sector, where it ranges from 42 to 48 hours, depending on the season. The law requires a weekly 24-hour rest period, and employers must pay workers overtime for additional hours. The law limits overtime to eight hours per week. The law applies to all workers, including migrants and domestics, but it was routinely ignored in the informal sector, which included an estimated 87 percent of workers.

The law provides for a broad range of occupational safety and health standards in the workplace. Workers have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment and to request an investigation by the Social Security Department, which is responsible for recommending remedial action where deemed necessary. Authorities, however, did not effectively protect employees in these situations. With high unemployment, workers often were reluctant to report violations of occupational safety regulations.

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not effectively enforce these standards, and the few inspectors it employed lacked the resources to conduct field investigations. Many employers did not comply with regulations regarding wages, hours, and social security benefits. The ministry did not conduct any inspections in the eastern and northern regions, where the government has suspended services since the 2012 occupation of those regions by terrorist organizations. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations, and no government agencies provided information on violations or penalties. Labor inspectors made unannounced visits and inspections to work sites only after labor unions filed complaints.

Working conditions varied, but the worst conditions were in the private sector. In small, family-based agricultural endeavors, children worked for little or no remuneration. Employers paid some domestic workers as little as 7,500 CFA francs ($14) per month. Violations of overtime laws were common for children working in cities and those working in artisanal gold mines or rice and cotton fields. Labor organizations reported employers used cyanide and mercury in gold mines, posing a public health risk to workers exposed to them. Inspectors lacked the resources to assemble credible data on dangerous workplaces.

Syria

Executive Summary

President Bashar Assad has ruled the Syrian Arab Republic since 2000. The constitution mandates the primacy of Baath Party leaders in state institutions and society, and Assad and Baath party leaders dominate all three branches of government. An uprising against the government that began in 2011 continued throughout the year. The 2014 presidential election and the April 2016 parliamentary elections resulted in the election of Assad and 200 People’s Council (Syrian parliament) seats for the Baath Party-led National Progressive Front, respectively. Both elections took place in an environment of widespread government coercion, and many Syrians residing in opposition-held territory did not participate in the elections. Observers did not consider the elections free or fair.

The government maintained control over its uniformed military, police, and state security forces, but it did not maintain effective control over foreign and domestic military or paramilitary organizations. These included Russian armed forces; Hizballah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; nonuniformed progovernment militias, such as the National Defense Forces; and the Bustan Charitable Association, or “shabiha.”

The most significant human rights abuses included unlawful and arbitrary killings by the government and its allies resulting from atrocities they committed during the conflict, including the repeated use of chemical weapons, including sarin and chlorine, against civilians, widespread “barrel bombing” of civilians and residential areas, systematic attacks on civilian infrastructure, attacks on medical facilities, extrajudicial executions, rape, including of children, as a weapon of war; massacres, starvation and displacement of local civilian populations; mass forced disappearances; thousands of cases of torture, including sexual violence; harsh and life threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers, including deliberate denial of medical care; widespread arbitrary arrest and detention; tens of thousands of political prisoners; pervasive interference with privacy; recruitment and use of child soldiers; severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, including internet access, assembly, association, and movement; denial of humanitarian access to civilians, including displaced persons; rampant corruption; criminalization of same sex sexual activity and violence against LGBTI persons by government and extremist forces; and severe restrictions on workers’ rights.

The government took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights violations or abuses. Impunity was pervasive and deeply embedded in the security forces and elsewhere in the government.

Government-linked paramilitary groups reportedly engaged in frequent violations and abuses, including massacres, indiscriminate killings, kidnapping of civilians, arbitrary detentions, and rape as a war tactic. Government-affiliated militias, including the terrorist organization Lebanese Hizballah, supported by Iran, repeatedly targeted civilians. Armed terrorist groups, such as the al-Qa’ida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), also committed a wide range of human rights abuses, including massacres, bombings, and kidnappings; unlawful detention; torture; unlawful killings; and forced evacuations from homes based on sectarian identity. While the government and its allies were responsible for most of the killings, the Islamic State extremist group ISIS committed massive abuses in territories it controlled in the Raqqa and Deir al-Zour Governorates. Human trafficking and the forcible recruitment and use of children in the conflict increased. There were reports of systematic rape and forced marriages of women and girls for sexual slavery among ISIS fighters. On August 15, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that “ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled. ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.”

There also were reports of Kurdish forces displacing Arab residents after liberating areas from ISIS. During the year reports from local media and Syrian human rights groups indicated that Kurdish authorities arrested local civil council leaders, journalists, and other civilians. There were reports alleging that some members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other minorities that included members of the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG), engaged in forced conscription, to include limited conscription of children, as well as reports alleging isolated incidents of torture and at least one incident of extrajudicial killing of persons suspected of ISIS affiliation by those who appeared to belong to the SDF based on their statements or their uniforms.

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

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

There were numerous reports the government and its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in relation to the conflict (see section 1.g.).

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), as of March the conflict had killed at least 207,000 civilians. The government continued its use of helicopters and airplanes to conduct aerial bombardment and shelling. The SNHR reported that government helicopters dropped at least 5,318 barrel bombs from January through October, resulting in the deaths of at least 110 civilians. Amnesty International (AI) reported that authorities killed between five thousand and 13,000 persons at the Sednaya military prison between September 2011 and December 2015, with no indication that the killing had ceased. In May a foreign government announced that it assessed the Syrian government had probably installed a crematorium within the Sednaya compound to permit its forces to dispose of prisoners’ bodies with little evidence. On October 26, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism issued its seventh report, which concluded that the Assad regime used the chemical weapon sarin in the April 4 attack that killed scores of persons in Khan Shaykhun. The report also determined that ISIS was responsible for using ‎the chemical weapon sulfur mustard in September 2016 in Um-Housh.

Government and progovernment forces reportedly attacked civilians in hospitals, residential areas, schools, and settlements for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugee camps; these attacks included bombardment with improvised explosive devices, commonly referred to as “barrel bombs.” The government continued the use of torture and rape, including of children. It used the massacre of civilians, as well as their forced displacement, rape, starvation, and protracted sieges that occasionally forced local surrenders, as military tactics.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) reported the number of forced disappearances remained high. The majority of disappearances reported by activists, human rights observers, and international NGOs appeared to be politically motivated. In August 2016 the SNHR attributed 96 percent of the estimated 75,000 forced disappearances to the government. The government reportedly targeted critics, specifically journalists, medical personnel, antigovernment protesters, their families, and associates.

In 2012, for example, the government arrested activist Bassel Khartabil, who was widely recognized for assisting citizens to evade the government’s surveillance and online censorship. Bassel’s health and whereabouts remained unknown until August, when his family received confirmation from an undisclosed source in Damascus that the government executed Bassel in October 2015.

The COI 2016 report stated that government forces continued to engage in mass arrests of injured persons attempting to leave besieged areas at checkpoints and in areas that fell under their control. Following the surrender of towns such as Darayaa and Moadimiyah after years of siege and starvation tactics, the government gave civilians the choice of relocating nearby but required opposition fighters to take personal weapons and relocate to Idlib Governorate. The government reportedly arrested men of fighting age, especially Sunni, perceived to be associated with opposition groups. The COI noted that the families of disappeared persons often feared to approach authorities to inquire about the locations of their relatives; those who did so had to pay large bribes to learn the locations of relatives or faced systematic refusal by authorities to disclose information about the fate of disappeared individuals.

As the government took control over eastern Aleppo in late December 2016, reports surfaced of military-age men being forcibly disappeared. There were also reports of the government forcibly conscripting military-age men.

AI reported the government provided no further information on the thousands of individuals who had disappeared since the start of the conflict or the 17,000 persons who disappeared since the 1970s. Human rights groups’ estimates of the total number of disappearances since 2011 varied widely, but all estimates pointed to disappearances as a pervasive and common practice. AI estimated that authorities had forcibly abducted more than 65,000 persons since the start of the conflict, including 58,000 civilians and seven thousand members of armed groups. A number of prominent political prisoners remained missing (see section 1.e.). The SNHR reported that government forces and progovernment militias were responsible for 5,228 cases of arbitrary arrest of men, women, and children from January through November.

Terrorist groups conducted kidnappings, particularly in the northern and eastern areas, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected government affiliates, journalists, and activists. According to the COI, reports of enforced disappearances in territory held by ISIS also increased.

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and provides up to three years’ imprisonment for violations. Activists, the COI, and local NGOs reported thousands of credible cases of government authorities engaging in frequent torture to punish perceived opponents, including during interrogations. Observers reported most cases of torture or mistreatment occurred in detention centers operated by each of the government’s security service branches. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the COI reported regular use of detention and torture of government opponents at checkpoints and facilities run by the air force, Political Security Division, General Security Directorate, and Military Intelligence Directorate. They identified specific detention facilities where torture occurred, including the Mezzeh airport detention facility, Military Security Branches 215, 227, 235, 248, and 291, Adra and Sednaya prisons, the Harasta Air Force Intelligence Branch, Harasta Military Hospital, Mezzeh Military Hospital 601, and Tishreen Military Hospital. The COI also reported the Counterterrorism Court (CTC) and field military courts’ reliance on forced confessions and information acquired through torture to obtain convictions. A large number of torture victims reportedly died in custody; the SNHR reported that 12,679 individuals died due to torture between early 2011 and June 2016; 99 percent of these cases occurred in government facilities (see section 1.a.).

Activists cited thousands of credible cases of security forces abusing and torturing prisoners and detainees and maintained that many instances of abuse went unreported. Some declined to allow reporting of their names or details of their cases due to fear of government reprisal.

The COI noted that torture methods remained consistent. These included beatings on the head, bodies, and soles of feet (“falaqua”) with wooden and metal sticks, hoses, cables, belts, whips, and wires. Authorities also reportedly sexually assaulted detainees; administered electric shocks, including to their genitals; burned detainees with cigarettes; and placed them in stress positions for prolonged periods of time. A substantial number of male detainees reported being handcuffed and then suspended from the ceiling or a wall by their wrists for hours.

Other reported methods of severe physical torture included removing nails and hair, stabbings, and cutting off body parts, including ears and genitals. Numerous human rights organizations reported other forms of torture, including forcing objects into the rectum and vagina, hyperextending the spine, and putting the victim onto the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts. Additionally, officers reportedly continued the practice of “shabeh,” in which they stripped detainees naked, hung them for prolonged periods from the ceiling, and administered electrical shocks. In August 2016 AI and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group published a detailed account of 12,270 documented killings and extensive use of torture in Sednaya Prison.

The use of psychological torture by the government also reportedly increased. One commonly reported practice was detention of victims overnight in cells with corpses of previous victims. The SNHR reported that psychological torture methods included forcing prisoners to witness the rape of other prisoners, threatening the rape of family members (in particular female family members), forcing prisoners to undress, and insulting prisoners’ beliefs.

Various NGOs, including HRW, AI, and the SNHR, continued to report widespread instances of rape and sexual abuse, including of minors. The COI reported receiving reports of interrogators raping and sexually abusing male detainees held in Branch 285 of the General Directorate of Intelligence in Damascus. The COI also reported that government personnel raped and used other forms of sexual violence against women in detention facilities as well as at checkpoints. A COI report noted that authorities subjected prisoners to threats of sexual violence against their female relatives while in custody. A July report from the NGO Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights noted that the government arbitrarily detained and tortured women in government detention centers in a “systematic and widespread pattern” that amounted to crimes against humanity. The report detailed the stories of eight women. One woman described prison guards molesting her during a strip search and then being tied to a bed before being “gang-raped by five men.” During 15 days at the al-Mezzeh Military Airport, she reported being raped and sexually assaulted on at least three other occasions. During one interrogation government security personnel stripped her naked and raped her, while filming the ordeal.

Reports from multiple UN and NGO sources documented the prevalent use of rape and sexual violence, particularly but not exclusively against women, throughout the conflict. According to the COI, the government and affiliated militias systematically perpetrated rape and other inhuman attacks against civilian populations in Deir al-Zour, Dara’a, Hama, Damascus, and Tartus Governorates. Detention centers were the most common location for abuse.

There were widespread reports that government security forces engaged in abuse and inhuman treatment of prisoners. According to the COI, most were civilians initially held at checkpoints or taken prisoner during military incursions. While the majority of accounts concerned male detainees, there were increased reports of female detainees suffering abuse in government custody. The frequency, duration, and severity of the reported abuse suggested victims’ sustained long-term psychological and physical damage.

The COI reported that, beginning in 2011 and continuing throughout the conflict, security forces subjected detainees to mistreatment in military hospitals, often obstructing medical care or exacerbating existing injuries as a technique in abuse and interrogation. There were multiple reports of deaths in custody at the Mezzeh airport detention facility, Military Security Branches 215 and 235, and Sednaya Prison. Authorities consistently directed families of detainees seeking information to the Qaboun Military Police and Tishreen Military Hospital. In most cases authorities reportedly did not return the bodies of deceased detainees to their families. In January 2016 authorities confirmed the death of a paramedic, Amer Safaf, in Sednaya Prison with his body showing signs of torture after government forces arrested him in 2012.

AI’s “Human Slaughter House” report documented that the government denied inmates adequate food, which led to malnutrition and starvation and left them vulnerable to contracting serious illnesses such as tuberculosis. AI’s report included the testimonies of three detainees who reported losing at least half of their body weight during their detention in Sednaya.

There continued to be a significant number of reports of exceptionally brutal cases of abuse of children by the government. The COI noted regular reports of detention and torture of children under the age of 13, in some cases as young as 11, in government detention facilities. Officials reportedly targeted and tortured children because of their familial relations, or assumed relationships, with political dissidents, members of the armed opposition, and activist groups. The UN special representative for children and armed conflict reported that child detainees, largely boys, including those as young as 14, suffered similar or identical methods of torture practiced on adults. According to reliable witnesses, authorities continued to hold a number of children to compel parents and other relatives associated with opposition fighters to surrender to authorities.

Although authorities held fewer women and girls in detention than men, the SNHR estimated the number of female detainees in government prisons between the beginning of the uprising in 2011 and April 2016 to be more than seven thousand. The SNHR estimated that 2,850 women remained in prison.

In 2015 the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom reported that authorities often detained women for use in bargaining with their male family members. Authorities exchanged them for weapons of armed opposition groups. Security officers also subjected women to sexual exploitation while searching for their detained family members.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and in many instances were life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical and psychological abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The government prohibited independent monitoring of prison or detention center conditions. Reports of mistreatment and abuse of prisoners were common. The COI reported that observers most often cited detention centers and prisons as locations for sexual violence and that authorities used the threat of rape as a tool to coerce confessions.

Physical Conditions: The SNHR reported that as of November it possessed a list of no fewer than 117,000 Syrians who remained imprisoned. Moreover, the SNHR estimated that, over the course of the conflict, more than 215,000 persons had been detained; the NGO attributed 99 percent of the detentions to the government. According to HRW, released detainees consistently reported abuse and torture in detention facilities and prison conditions that often led to deaths in custody. According to the COI, government detention facilities lacked food, water, space, hygiene, and medical care. Poor conditions were so consistent that the COI concluded they reflected state policy.

According to local and international NGOs, the government held prisoners and detainees in severely cramped quarters with little or no access to toilets, hygiene, medical supplies, or adequate food. In August 2016 the COI reported that conditions in detention facilities, and specifically those run by intelligence agencies, remained abysmal. Former detainees reported lice infestations, untreated injuries, and a general lack of necessities such as food, water, space, hygiene, and medical care.

Reports from multiple international NGO sources suggested there were also many informal detention sites and that authorities held thousands of prisoners in converted military bases and in civilian infrastructure, such as schools and stadiums, and in unknown locations. Activists asserted the government also housed arrested protesters in factories and vacant warehouses that were overcrowded and lacked adequate sanitary facilities.

Prior to the 2011 protests, the government usually held pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners. During the year authorities commonly held juveniles, adults, pretrial detainees, and convicted prisoners together in inadequate spaces. The COI reported that authorities held children as young as eight in prison with adults.

In some cases authorities transferred detainees from unofficial holding areas to intelligence services facilities. Detention conditions at security and intelligence service facilities continued to be the harshest, especially for political or national security prisoners. Facilities lacked proper ventilation, lighting, access to potable water or adequate food, medical staff and equipment, and sufficient sleeping quarters. According to the COI, most former detainees reported inadequate food, with some losing half their body weight while detained.

Inside prisons and detention centers, the prevalence of death from disease remained high due to unsanitary conditions and the withholding of medical care and medication. Local NGOs and medical professionals reported that authorities denied medical care to prisoners with pre-existing health needs, such as diabetes, asthma, and breast cancer, and denied pregnant women any medical care. Authorities retaliated against prisoners who requested attention for the sick. Released prisoners commonly reported sickness and injury resulting from such conditions. Information on conditions and care for prisoners with disabilities was unavailable.

According to the COI, conditions in detention centers run by nonstate actors such as ISIS violated international law. Detainees in Raqqa Governorate reported that ISIS held them in crowded, insect-infested cells with neither light nor bedding. ISIS reportedly denied prisoners access to adequate food or legal counsel and prevented communication outside the facility.

Conditions in detention centers operated by various opposition groups were not well known, but the COI and local NGOs reported accounts of arbitrary detention, torture, inhuman treatment, and abuse.

Administration: There were no credible mechanisms or avenues for prisoners to complain or submit grievances, and authorities routinely failed to investigate allegations or document complaints or grievances. Activists reported there was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. The law provides for prompt access to family members, but NGOs and families reported inconsistent application of the law, with some families waiting as long as one year to see relatives. The government continued to detain thousands of prisoners without charge and incommunicado in unknown locations.

In areas where government control was weak or nonexistent, localized corrections structures emerged. There were varied reports of control and oversight, and both civilian and religious leaders were in charge of facility administration. Former police forces or members of armed opposition groups operated facilities in areas under the control of opposition forces. Nonstate actors often did not understand due process and lacked sufficient training to run facilities.

Independent Monitoring: The government prohibited independent monitoring of prison or detention center conditions, and diplomatic and consular officials had no greater access than in previous years. AI, for example, attempted to engage Syrian authorities on human rights concerns, including torture and other mistreatment, enforced disappearances, and deaths in custody, through various means since 2011. In January, AI sent a letter to authorities requesting clarifications regarding the allegations documented in “Human Slaughter House.” As of October, AI had not received a response to its January letter or to other requests for information.

Some opposition forces invited the COI to visit facilities they administered and allowed some international human rights groups, including HRW, to visit. The International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent continued to negotiate with all parties, except ISIS, to gain access to detention centers across the country but was unable to gain access to any government-controlled facilities during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, although a 2011 decree allows the government to detain suspects for up to 60 days without charge if suspected of “terrorism” and other related offenses. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not observe this requirement. Arbitrary arrests increased according to local news sources, and several human rights organizations reported detentions in the tens of thousands. In September the SNHR documented more than 85,000 persons forcibly disappeared since March 2011, reporting that the government disappeared 90 percent of them. In February 2016 the COI published a report entitled, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic.” The report stated that “since March 2011, a countrywide pattern emerged in which civilians, mainly males above the age of 15, were arbitrarily arrested and detained by the Syrian security and armed forces or by militia acting on behalf of the government during mass arrests, house searches, at checkpoints, and in hospitals. Arrests targeted civilians perceived to be either supporting the opposition or insufficiently loyal to the government.”

HRW reported the government continued to use counterterrorism law to arrest and convict nonviolent activists on charges of aiding terrorists in trials that violated basic due process rights. Although authorities reportedly brought charges under the guise of countering violent militancy, allegations included peaceful acts such as distributing humanitarian aid, participating in protests, and documenting human rights abuses.

National security forces failed to respond to or protect large regions of the country from violence. AI reported that armed groups detained suspected government supporters, local activists, foreign journalists, aid workers, and others. The COI’s 2016 report also noted that nonstate armed groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and the HTS, took hostages, especially women and children, to force prisoner exchanges with the government or other armed groups or for ransom (see section 1.g.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The government’s multiple security branches traditionally operated autonomously with no defined boundaries between their areas of jurisdiction. Military Intelligence and Air Force Intelligence reported to the Ministry of Defense, the Political Security Directorate reported to the Ministry of Interior, and the General Intelligence Directorate reported directly to the Office of the President. The Interior Ministry controlled the four separate divisions of police: emergency police, traffic police, neighborhood police, and riot police.

Government-affiliated shabiha forces reorganized and in 2013 rebranded themselves as the National Defense Forces (NDF). These groups engaged in armed conflict and arrested, detained, and tortured those suspected of supporting the opposition. The NDF integrated with government-affiliated forces. There also were other progovernment militias in addition to the NDF.

Impunity continued to be a widespread problem. The General Command of the Army and Armed Forces may issue arrest warrants for crimes committed by military officers, members of the internal security forces, or customs police during their normal duties; military courts must try such cases. Security forces operated independently and generally outside the control of the legal system. There were no known prosecutions or convictions of police and security force personnel for abuse or corruption and no reported government actions to reform the security forces or police.

Opposition forces established irregularly constituted courts and detention facilities in areas under their control, which varied greatly in organization and adherence to judicial norms. Some groups upheld the country’s law, others followed a 1996 draft Arab League Unified Penal Code based on sharia (Islamic law), while others implemented a mix of customary law and sharia. The experience, expertise, and credentialing of opposition judges and religious scholars also varied widely, and dominant armed militias in the area often subjected them to their orders.

ISIS claimed that it based administration of justice in the territory it controlled on religious law. ISIS purportedly authorized its police forces, known as “hisbah,” to administer summary punishment for violations of ISIS’s morality code.

Local media sources and human rights groups such as Syrians for Truth and Justice reported that, in areas under its control, the YPG, considered to be the military wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), arrested journalists, human rights activists, opposition party members, and persons who refused to join Kurdish armed forces groups. In some instances the location of the detainees remained unknown.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law generally requires a warrant for arrest in criminal cases, but police often cited emergency or national security justifications for acting without a warrant, permitted under the law. Police usually brought arrested individuals to a police station for processing and detention until a trial date was set. The law stipulates that the length of time authorities may hold a person without charge is limited to 60 days, but according to various NGOs, activists, and former detainees, police held many individuals for longer periods or indefinitely. Civil and criminal defendants have the right to bail hearings and possible release from detention on their own recognizance. The legal system inconsistently applied this right, particularly with pretrial detainees. At the initial court hearing, which can be months or years after the arrest, the accused may retain an attorney at personal expense or the court may appoint an attorney, although authorities did not assure lawyers access to their clients before trial. According to local human rights organizations, denial of access to a lawyer was common.

In cases involving political or national security offenses, authorities reportedly often made arrests in secret with cases assigned in an apparently arbitrary manner to military, security, or criminal courts. The government reportedly detained suspects incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge or trial and denied them the right to a judicial determination of their pretrial detention. In most cases authorities reportedly did not inform detainees of charges against them until their arraignment, often months after their arrest. Security detainees did not have access to lawyers before or during questioning or throughout preparation and presentation of their defense. The number of suspects accused of political and national security offenses reportedly increased compared with previous years.

The government often reputedly failed to notify foreign governments when it arrested, detained, released, or deported their citizens, especially when the case involved political charges. The government also failed to provide consular access to foreign citizens known to be in its prisons and, on numerous occasions, claimed these individuals were not in its custody or even in the country.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued their previous practices and reportedly increased arbitrary arrests, but detainees had no legal redress. Reports continued of security services arresting relatives of wanted persons to pressure individuals to surrender. Police rarely issued or presented warrants or court orders before an arrest. According to reports the security branches secretly ordered many arrests and detentions. Activists and international humanitarian organizations stated that government forces continued to conduct security raids in response to antigovernment protests throughout urban areas. In areas under government control, security forces engaged in arbitrary arrests. The COI reported that authorities arbitrarily arrested men and boys over age 12 at some checkpoints. Often authorities cited no reason for arresting civilians.

Checkpoints operated by the government were a commonly reported location for arbitrary arrests, sometimes resulting in transfer to a long-term detention facility or disappearance. Government military and security forces reportedly arrested men at checkpoints solely for being of military age. According to the COI, there continued to be frequent accounts of enforced disappearances following arrest at checkpoints.

Multiple reports from local and international NGOs stated that the government prevented the majority of those detained from contacting their relatives or obtaining a lawyer. When authorities occasionally released detainees, it was often without any formal judicial procedures. Hundreds of detainees interviewed by human rights groups stated that they had been arrested, detained, questioned, and released after months of detention without seeing a judge or being sentenced.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Authorities reportedly held many detainees incommunicado for years before bringing them to trial. A shortage of available courts and lack of legal provisions for speedy trial or plea bargaining also contributed to lengthy pretrial detentions. There were numerous reported instances when the length of detention exceeded the sentence for the crime. Percentages for prison/detainee population held in pretrial detention and the length of time held were not available during the year.

Syrian human rights groups continued to highlight the plight of detainees and advocate for their release.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and any delay in obtaining judicial process. If the court finds persons to have been detained unlawfully, they are entitled to prompt release and/or compensation. Not all detainees, however, had the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or obtain prompt release and compensation even if found to have been unlawfully detained.

Amnesty: The March 2016 Cessation of Hostilities statement called for the United Nations to form a committee to monitor the release of detainees periodically; however, there was no progress made on release of detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities regularly subjected courts to political influence, and outcomes of cases with political context appeared predetermined.

Government authorities detained without access to fair trial tens of thousands of individuals, including those associated with NGOs, human rights activists, journalists, relief workers, religious figures, and medical providers. Government authorities rigorously denied citizens the right to a fair public trial and the ability to exercise civil liberties and freedoms of expression, movement, peaceful assembly, and association.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but the government did not respect judicial independence.

The law presumes defendants innocent. Defendants have the right to prompt, detailed notification of the charges against them with interpretation as necessary, although authorities did not verifiably enforce this right, and a number of detainees’ families mentioned that the accused were unaware of the charges facing them. Trials are public, except for those involving juveniles or sexual offenses. The law entitles defendants before civil and criminal courts to representation of their choice; the courts appoint lawyers for indigents. It was unknown if attorneys had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Human rights lawyers noted, however, that in some politically charged cases, the government provided prosecution case files to defense lawyers that did not include any evidence. Defendants may present evidence and confront their accusers. Defendants may not legally be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but family members and NGOs reported that torture or intimidation from judges and prosecutors sometimes elicited false confessions. Convicted persons may appeal verdicts to a provincial appeals court and ultimately to the Court of Cassation.

Not all citizens enjoyed these rights equally, in part because interpretations of religious law provide the basis for elements of family and criminal law and discriminate against women. Some personal status laws applied sharia law regardless of the religion of those involved. Additionally, news media and NGO reports suggested the government denied some, and in certain cases all, of these protections to those accused of political crimes or violence against the government. Sentences for persons accused of antigovernment activity tended to be harsh, with violent offenders and nonviolent offenders receiving similar punishments. The Violations Documentation Center reported that the number of cases referred to the CTC exceeded 80,000 by April 2016, two and one-half years after it began accepting cases. According to the SNHR, the majority of those tried received five- to 20-year prison sentences. The government did not permit defendants before the CTC to have legal representation, although activists reported individuals charged under the counterterrorism law could retain attorneys to move their trial date.

In opposition-controlled areas, legal or trial procedures varied by locale. Local human rights organizations reported that local governing structures assumed these responsibilities. HRW reported that civilians administered these processes employing customary sharia laws in some cases and national laws in others. Sentencing by opposition sharia councils sometimes resulted in public executions, without an appeals process or visits by family members.

According to local NGOs, opposition-run sharia councils continued to discriminate against women, not allowing them to serve as judges or lawyers or to visit detainees.

In July the HTS cemented its power in Idlib by defeating Ahrar al-Sham forces and monopolizing key assets in the province, including many of the local sharia courts. Following its military gain in Idlib, the HTS carried out arbitrary arrests of media activists and relief workers who had criticized the HTS’s policy on social media, according to the SNHR. The HTS also subsequently arrested protesters and members of rebel groups at odds with the HTS, and as of December, their status was unknown. The HTS also targeted humanitarian organizations, claiming these organizations were affiliated with rebel groups at odds with the HTS. According to the SNHR, the HTS arrested dozens of their staff and interrogated them before eventually releasing them. The HTS denied those arrested the opportunity to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. The HTS also dissolved local councils in Idlib that were not supporting its objectives.

In the territory it controlled, ISIS purported to establish courts to preside over its interpretation of religious law headed by judges with unknown credentials based on an unknown selection process.

In the territories it controlled (the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria), the Kurdish authorities created a legal code based on the “Social Charter.” Reports described the Social Charter as a mix of Syrian criminal and civil law with laws concerning divorce, marriage, weapons ownership, and tax evasion drawn from EU law. The justice system consisted of courts, legal committees, and investigative bodies. There were reports that the system was robust, well funded, and supported by police in the region. There were also reports that it lacked experienced staff, was too closely aligned with the PYD, and was biased in favor of Kurds.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Under the Assad government, and specifically since the advent of the conflict, the government’s violations against detainees increased dramatically. AI reported the systematic arrest of tens of thousands of citizens since 2011. At greatest risk were those perceived to oppose the government, including peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, and political dissidents. The four intelligence agencies–Air Force Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Political Security, and General Intelligence–largely conducted the arrests.

AI reported that the total number of political prisoners and detainees was difficult to determine in view of the lack of government information and absence of government transparency. Authorities continued to refuse to divulge information regarding numbers or names of persons detained on political or security-related charges. As of September the Violations Documentation Center listed more than 65,000 political prisoners arrested since 2011. AI reported that authorities held them generally without charge or trial and did not inform their families.

Prison conditions for political or national security prisoners, especially accused opposition members, reportedly continued to be much worse than those for common criminals. According to local NGOs, authorities deliberately placed political prisoners in crowded cells with convicted and alleged felons and subjected them to verbal and physical threats and abuse. Political prisoners also reported they often slept on the ground due to lack of beds and faced frequent searches. According to reports from families, authorities refused many political prisoners access to family and counsel. Some former detainees and human rights observers reported the government denied political prisoners access to reading materials, including the Quran, and prohibited them from praying in their cells.

Many prominent civilian activists and journalists detained or forcibly disappeared following the 2011 protests reportedly remained in detention. There were no known developments in the majority of cases of reported disappearances from prior years, including the following persons believed forcibly disappeared by government forces: Abdel Aziz Kamal al-Rihawi; Alawite opposition figure Abdel Aziz al-Khair; Kurdish activist Berazani Karro; Yassin Ziadeh, brother of dissident Radwan Ziadeh; human rights lawyer Khalil Ma’touq and his assistant, Mohamed Zaza; human rights activist Adel Barazi; and peace activist and theater director Zaki Kordillo and his son, Mihyar Kordillo. (See section 1.b. for information on Bassel Khartabil.)

There were no updates in the kidnappings of the following persons believed to have been abducted by ISIS, armed opposition, or unidentified armed groups: activists Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hamada, Samira Khalil, and Nazim Hamadi; religious leaders Bolous Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim; and peace activist Paulo Dall’Oglio. These individuals were among the estimated thousands of disappearances reported by activists and media.

HRW reported that courts continued to detain activists under the counterterrorism law implemented following the lifting of the Emergency Law in 2011. The government established the CTC under the Ministry of Justice to apply the law. Authorities held some detainees under this law at Adra central prison in Damascus pending trial. The amnesties enacted in 2014 and 2015 included some detainees held under counterterrorism charges, but NGOs and activists reported the government released very few such individuals under the amnesties. Authorities later rearrested many of those released.

Local NGOs reported ISIS detained and harassed domestic human rights activists, humanitarian aid workers, and religious figures. The COI reported that in Raqqa Governorate ISIS detained hundreds of persons, including women and community activists, who opposed its rule.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Government civil remedies for human rights violations were functionally nonexistent. In areas under their control, opposition groups did not organize consistent civil judicial procedures. ISIS and other extremist groups had no known civil judicial mechanisms in the territories they controlled.

In the Kurdish-administered parts of northeastern Syria, civilian peace and reconciliation committees reportedly resolved civil disputes before elevating them to a court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Security forces routinely seized detainees’ property and personal items. With the onset of civil unrest, authorities increased confiscation of personal telephones, computers, and electronics. Security forces did not catalog these items in accordance with the law, and although detained individuals had the right to retrieve their confiscated belongings after release, authorities often did not return the property. According to media reports and activists, government forces also seized property left by refugees or internally displaced persons.

The COI reported that the government implemented legislative measures to dispossess of their property persons who opposed the government, including by impeding displaced persons from registering or retaining private property. For example, recent presidential decrees require in-person registration and contestation of land titles, making it all but impossible for the displaced to retain their property.

According to humanitarian aid workers, ISIS seized property from international and local aid workers at checkpoints that ISIS controlled throughout the country.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but they occurred routinely. Police frequently bypassed search warrant requirements in criminal cases by citing security reasons or emergency grounds for entry into private property. Random home raids occurred in large cities and towns of most governorates where the government maintained a presence, usually following large antigovernment protests or opposition attacks against government targets.

The government continued to open mail addressed to both citizens and foreign residents and routinely monitored internet communications, including email (see section 2.a.).

The government continued to bar membership in some political organizations, including Islamist parties, and often arrested their members (see section 3).

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The government, opposition groups, the SDF, and ISIS continued to participate in armed combat throughout the year. The most egregious human rights violations and abuses stemmed from the state’s widespread disregard for the safety and well-being of its citizens. This manifested itself in a complete denial of citizens’ ability to choose their government peacefully, a breakdown in the ability of law enforcement authorities to protect the majority of citizens from state and nonstate violence, and the use of violence against civilians and civilian institutions. Reports indicated that the government arbitrarily and unlawfully killed, tortured, and detained persons on a wide scale. Attacks against schools, hospitals, mosques, churches, water stations, bakeries, markets, civil defense force centers, and houses were common throughout the country.

As of October there were more than 5.2 million Syrian refugees registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in neighboring countries and 6.3 million IDPs. The government frequently blocked access for humanitarian assistance and removed items such as medical supplies from convoys headed to civilian areas, particularly areas held by opposition groups.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that more than 250,000 persons had died since the start of protests in 2011, but the office stopped recording this statistic in 2014. Media sources and human rights groups estimated up to 470,000 persons had been killed since the beginning of the conflict, with estimates of more than 200,000 civilians killed.

In January media outlets widely reported that the government used “surrender or starve” tactics in hard-to-reach and besieged areas of the country. Soldiers surrounding besieged areas set up checkpoints to profit from the limited supply of goods, prices for which rose multiple times in besieged areas. The COI stated that the use of siege warfare “has affected civilians more tragically than any other tactic employed by warring parties in the conflict.” In November in a report called, “We Leave or We Die: Forced Displacement Under Syria’s ‘Reconciliation’ Agreements,” AI reported that the government and its allies offered “reconciliation” agreements to communities “after prolonged sieges and bombardment” that led to “the mass displacement of civilians.” AI claimed some of the sieges amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report stated that some armed opposition groups also besieged populations, which in many cases amounted to war crimes. According to the United Nations, as of the end of September, nearly 420,000 Syrian men, women, and children countrywide remain trapped in besieged locations, with the government responsible for besieging approximately 95 percent.

Government forces, ISIS, and opposition forces reportedly attacked civilian institutions, including schools, hospitals (although the opposition attacked these less frequently), religious establishments, and bakeries.

Killings: The government reportedly committed the majority of killings throughout the year (see section 1.a.).

Government killings and the use of lethal tactics reportedly increased in the beginning of the year but declined subsequently due to de-escalation agreements. The SNHR reported 8,802 civilian deaths from January through October. Government forces killed the plurality of civilians.

Reports from NGOs, including reports cited by the United Nations, indicated that summary killings of civilians took place in the city of Aleppo in December 2016 as government forces retook opposition-held areas. The COI reported that daily Syrian and Russian air strikes “claimed hundreds of lives and destroyed vital civilian infrastructure.” Reports also indicated that government and allied forces targeted members of first-responder groups and that men between the ages of 30 and 50 were either detained by the government or immediately conscripted into the army. Reports cited by the United Nations also indicated that armed rebel groups prevented some civilians from escaping.

Progovernment militias reportedly continued to carry out mass killings. According to the SNHR, government-affiliated sectarian militias perpetrated massacres in the cities of Homs and Aleppo.

The COI reported that in February the armed group Liwa al-Aqsa shot and killed or beheaded at least 128 armed group fighters it had detained near Khazanat Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib. Later that month civilians in the area discovered two mass graves containing corpses of armed group fighters, including at least two of which had been minors.

Extremist and terrorist groups also reportedly committed a large number of abuses and violations. Multiple media outlets reported that ISIS shelled the al-Qusour neighborhood of Deir al-Zour in October, killing at least nine civilians, including five children. The COI reported that in January a fuel truck blast in Azaz believed to be carried out by ISIS killed at least 48 persons and injured another 60. The COI reported ISIS’s continued executions of those perceived to violate its strict religious rules, including the death penalty applied to women accused of adultery and men accused of sodomy. There were isolated allegations that the SDF tortured and in one case killed persons accused of affiliation with ISIS. A video available at the website of the SNHR shows three individuals shooting and apparently killing a handcuffed man. According to the SNHR, one of the shooters speaks to the camera and says this is the fate of anyone who stands in the way of the YPG or sides with ISIS. An SDF statement in July said the SDF would investigate the allegations and hold accountable those found responsible. There were reports suggesting that the SDF generally adheres to its responsibilities under the Law of Armed Conflict.

Abductions: The government was reportedly responsible for the majority of disappearances during the year. Armed extremist groups not affiliated with the government also reportedly kidnapped individuals, particularly in the northern areas, targeting religious leaders, aid workers, suspected government affiliates, journalists, and activists. In September the SNHR documented more than 85,000 persons still forcibly disappeared since March 2011, reporting that the government disappeared 90 percent of them.

According to reliable NGO reports, government forces as well as ISIS routinely kidnapped and detained aid providers and severely restricted humanitarian access to territories under their respective control. Activists reported aid workers in ISIS-controlled territory were at high risk of abduction or violence.

In 2014 ISIS abducted thousands of Yezidi women from Iraq, as well as several Christians, and brought them to Syria for sale as sex slaves in markets or as rewards for ISIS fighters. Fighters held the women as slaves and subjected them and other captured women and girls to repeated sexual violence, systematic rape, forced marriages, and coerced abortions. In interviews with the COI, the women described multiple rapes by several men, including incidents of gang rape. Numerous NGOs and activists also reported that ISIS fighters raped women in ISIS-held areas or forced them to marry ISIS fighters. Thousands of abducted girls and women, however, remained missing.

In June 2016 the COI issued a report called, “They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis” that concluded, “ISIS has committed the crime of genocide as well as multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Yezidis, thousands of whom are held captive in the Syrian Arab Republic where they are subjected to almost unimaginable horrors.”

The location and status of Khalil Arfu and Sukfan Amin Hamza from Derek, al-Hasakah Governorate, and members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party remained unknown. Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi, kidnapped in 2013, remained unaccounted for at year’s end.

The COI reported that a dramatic rise in hostage taking, which was often sectarian in nature, triggered reprisals and fueled intercommunal tension. Opposition armed groups abducted civilians and members of government forces to enable prisoner exchanges and for ransom money to purchase weapons.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to reliable NGO reports, the government and its affiliated militias consistently engaged in physical abuse, punishment, and torture of both opposition fighters and civilians. Government agents allegedly targeted individuals with previous ties to foreign governments that favored the opposition; it also targeted family members and associates of such individuals. Government officials reportedly abused prisoners and detainees, as well as injured and sick persons, and raped women and men as a tactic of war. Activists reported that government detention centers did not provide medical care to women during pregnancy or birth. Additionally, according to the COI, the “Caesar photographs” smuggled out of the country in 2014 by a former government photographer documented the torture and severe malnourishment of more than 11,000 deceased detainees between 2011 and 2013.

AI’s research into the Sednaya military prison determined that the government executed thousands of detainees, mostly Sunni, held in Sednaya. The organization’s report stated that the government tried and sentenced Sednaya prisoners in one of two military field courts in the al-Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus. Prison staff transported detainees to and from court in trucks, where their trials lasted between one and three minutes. AI reported that judges used forced confessions obtained by subjecting prisoners to torture. Prisoners sentenced to death were subsequently transported to an execution room, where they were met by an execution panel that included the director of Sednaya, the military prosecutor of the Military Field Court, and a representative from the intelligence agencies.

According to the report, guards subsequently led blindfolded detainees onto platforms, where prison staff placed nooses around their necks and immediately hanged them. Prison staff left the executed detainees to hang for approximately 15 minutes. Then, AI reported, a doctor determined if any of the detainees exhibited signs of life. Prison assistants pulled downward those believed to be alive to break the necks of the detainees.

According to multiple sources, the government killed as many as 50 detainees per day at Sednaya. In May a foreign government released information indicating that the government probably installed a crematorium within the Sednaya military prison complex to provide the ability to dispose of prisoners with little evidence.

The SNHR, and Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights reported that authorities forced prisoners to witness the rape of other prisoners, threatened them with the rape of family members (in particular female family members), forced them to undress, and insulted their beliefs. According to the COI, the government and affiliated militias systematically perpetrated rape and other attacks on civilian populations in Deir al-Zour, Dara’a, Hama, Damascus, and Tartus Governorates. Detention centers were the most common location for reported abuse, but attacks also occurred during military raids and at checkpoints. Reports included instances in which multiple attackers, usually soldiers and shabiha, gang-raped women in their homes, sometimes in front of family members. Observers believed sexual violence was widespread and underreported. The SNHR noted an increased use by authorities of sexual violence against women before granting permission to depart besieged areas or to return with medical supplies and food.

There were widespread reports that ISIS also engaged in abuses and brutality. According to the COI, ISIS increased brutal treatment of those it captured in Raqqa, Deir al-Zour, and Aleppo Governorates. ISIS frequently punished victims publicly and forced residents, including children, to watch unlawful killings and amputations. Activists, NGOs, and media reported numerous accounts of women in ISIS-held territory facing arbitrary and severe punishments, including execution by stoning. ISIS also committed abuses systematically against captured Free Syrian Army (FSA) and YPG fighters. ISIS fighters reportedly beat captives (including with cables) during interrogations and killed those held in its detention centers in Raqqa and Aleppo Governorates. ISIS also beat persons because of their dress; several sources reported ISIS members beat women for not covering their faces. ISIS justified its use of corporal punishment, including amputations and lashings, under religious law.

The COI also reported in previous years that armed groups, under the banner of the FSA, tortured and executed suspected government agents, members of the shabiha, and collaborators. The COI noted that some opposition groups subjected detainees suspected of being members of progovernment militias to severe physical or mental pain and suffering to obtain information or confessions, or as punishment or coercion. The report also noted instances in which the HTS and ISIS arbitrarily detained and tortured individuals passing through checkpoints along the country’s northern border.

Child Soldiers: Several sources documented the continued recruitment and use of children in combat. The COI reported that progovernment militias enlisted children as young as 13. The COI reported the government sometimes paid children between the ages of six and 13 to be informants, exposing them to danger. In the earlier years of the conflict, most of the children recruited by armed forces and groups were boys between 15 and 17 years old and served primarily in support roles away from the front lines.

HRW reported opposition forces used children under the age of 18 as fighters. According to HRW and the COI, numerous groups and factions failed to prevent the enlistment of minors, while ISIS and the HTS actively recruited children as fighters. The COI reported that armed groups “recruited, trained, and used children in active combat roles.” In Raqqa Governorate, according to the COI, ISIS recruited and enlisted children as young as 10 years old. In March the COI received a report that a 14-year-old boy approached an SDF recruitment center in Tal Abyad voluntarily, was accepted by authorities, and was killed in combat in the Raqqa countryside in early June. Several humanitarian organizations and NGOs working in areas recently liberated from ISIS by the SDF, as well as media organizations including Reuters, alleged that elements of the SDF and the YPG were engaged in forced conscription. There were reports that, in some areas, the SDF worked with tribes and local councils to negotiate approval of and voluntary compliance with local conscription laws in support of the fight against ISIS.

In September the international NGO Geneva Call reported it had conducted training for more than 100 SDF commanders, which included the law of armed conflict and the topic of children in armed conflict. The COI reported in 2014 that the YPG had demobilized child soldiers from its ranks and began monitoring adherence to its commitments to eliminate children from fighting. In March the COI reported that the YPG continued to conscript men and boys forcibly.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Other Conflict-related Abuses: The September COI report documented 25 incidents of chemical weapons use between 2013 and March, of which government forces perpetrated 20 primarily against civilians. The COI reported that during the year government forces further used chemical weapons against civilians in the towns of al-Latamneh and Khan Shaykhun and in eastern Ghouta.

The COI investigated the April 4 attack by government forces on Khan Shaykhun, which the COI determined involved the use of sarin gas or a sarin-like substance, that killed dozens of civilians and injured hundreds more. In addition to its own fact-finding mission, the COI took into account the findings of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The COI reported that Russian and Syrian officials denied Syrian forces used chemical weapons in this incident, claiming that air strikes conducted by Syrian forces struck a terrorist chemical weapons depot.

The COI report stated that a Sukhoi 22 (Su-22) aircraft conducted four air strikes in Khan Shaykhun at approximately 6:45 a.m. Only Syrian forces operated such aircraft. The commission identified three conventional bombs and one chemical bomb. The COI documented that the chemical bomb killed at least 83 persons, including 28 children and 23 women, and injured another 293 persons, including 103 children. The extensive information independently collected by the commission on symptoms suffered by victims was consistent with sarin exposure. Based on the evidence and testimonies collected, the COI found reasonable grounds to believe that Syrian forces committed the war crimes of using chemical weapons and indiscriminate attacks in a civilian inhabited area.

In its August 2016 report, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (established to attribute responsibility for already confirmed chemical warfare incidents) determined responsibility at a “sufficient” level for three of the nine attacks it reviewed. These attacks were a mustard gas attack by ISIS in Marea, Aleppo Governorate (August 2015), and two instances of chlorine used as a weapon by the government, specifically the Syrian Arab Air Force, in Talmenes, Idlib Governorate (April 2014), and Sarmin, Idlib Governorate (March 2015). A report from the Joint Investigative Mechanism in October 2016 found that the government also used weaponized chlorine in 2015 in Qmenas.

Both the government and opposition forces reportedly impeded the flow of humanitarian assistance. According to the UN Office for Humanitarian Assistance, by August approximately 3.47 million persons were living in hard-to-reach and besieged locations.

The COI stated that government forces, opposition forces, and ISIS employed sieges, deliberately restricting the passage of relief supplies and access by humanitarian agencies. According to reports, government forces were responsible for the majority of such activity. According to the United Nations, as of the end of September, nearly 420,000 men, women, and children countrywide remain trapped in besieged locations, with the government responsible for besieging approximately 95 percent. Acute restrictions on food and medicine reportedly caused malnutrition-related deaths, as well as outbreaks of hepatitis, cutaneous leishmaniosis, typhoid, and dysentery.

De-escalation zone agreements reached under the auspices of Iran, Russia, and Turkey called for improved humanitarian access; however, an October report from a humanitarian organization operating on the ground concluded that Astana de-escalation areas had not yet translated into increased cross-line humanitarian access. To the contrary the report recorded a slight reduction in cross-line assistance in northern rural Homs.

In Eastern Ghouta the report noted an increase in interagency cross-line humanitarian convoys, including four convoys successfully reaching previously besieged areas. The four convoys, however, were directed toward areas held by Jaish al-Islam, the opposition group that agreed to the original ceasefire agreement with the government. The convoys did not deliver aid to areas held by Faylaq Ar-Rahman, which at the time was not a signatory to the agreement. The government, with the support of its partners, continued to besiege Faylaq Ar-Rahman-held areas until the opposition group agreed to join the ceasefire agreement on August 18. The report concluded that the government’s refusal to allow for the delivery of aid to Faylaq Ar-Rahman-held territory until it agreed to cease all hostilities against the government was evidence that the government continued to use the denial of humanitarian aid as a weapon of war.

The COI found that the government detained many Red Crescent volunteers and medical staff on the pretext of “having supported terrorists.” According to reliable NGO reports, the government’s continued bombardment, which they characterized as indiscriminate, destroyed and damaged health-care facilities in opposition-held areas, such as the Hama Governorate and Aleppo City. In September 2016 aircraft bombed a UN convoy escorted by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) traveling to Orem al-Kubra in rural Aleppo, killing more than 20 civilians and aid workers. A UN investigative panel concluded in December 2016 that it was highly likely the Syrian air force perpetrated the attack.

Observers and international aid organizations reported that the government specifically targeted health-care workers, medical facilities, ambulances, and patients and restricted access to medical facilities and services to civilians and prisoners, particularly in the Syrian and Russian assault on Aleppo City in 2016. Physicians for Human Rights reported that, from 2011 to July, combatants attacked 478 medical facilities, killing 830 medical personnel throughout the country. The COI also reported that government sniper fire and military assaults on medical facilities intentionally targeted sick and injured persons, including pregnant women and persons with disabilities. According to credible NGO and COI reports, the government deliberately obstructed the efforts of sick and injured persons to obtain help, and many such individuals elected not to seek medical assistance in hospitals due to fear of arrest, detention, torture, or death.

In October 2016 Russian forces in support of the government reportedly dropped cluster bombs on M10, the largest opposition-supported hospital in eastern Aleppo City. It had already suffered heavy bombardment three days earlier, in an assault that former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon denounced as a war crime.

The frequency and location of Russian and Syrian airstrikes on the same hospitals raised questions regarding the intended targets of the attacks and Russian claims that they were not deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure. Between November 2016 and April, for example, observers recorded repeated airstrikes on the Kafr Zeita Specialty Hospital in northern Homs. The hospital was eventually destroyed on April 29 after being targeted in three separate incidents by Russian and Syrian strikes within a 24-hour timespan. The attacks injured one staff member.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that infrastructure damage reduced the number of facilities and health personnel able to provide pregnant women with antenatal and postnatal care and skilled attendance at delivery.

Female victims subjected to sexual violence lacked access to health care. Violence throughout the country made accessing medical care both costly and dangerous, and the COI reported that the government and armed extremists sometimes denied pregnant women passage through checkpoints, forcing them to give birth in unsterile and often dangerous conditions, without pain medication or adequate medical treatment. In January 2016 UNFPA estimated that approximately 540,000 women in the country and in nearby refugee camps were pregnant and needed care. It also estimated that 70,000 would likely experience complications related to pregnancy or delivery. According to numerous sources, government forces deliberately denied medical care to persons in areas controlled by the opposition.

The COI noted mass displacements of communities under ISIS control, where ISIS officials warned residents to conform to ISIS standards or leave. Communities experienced discriminatory sanctions, including specialized religious taxes (“jizya”), forced religious conversions, destruction of religious sites, and expulsion of minority communities. In January 2016 the SNHR reported that YPG forces forcibly displaced tens of thousands of Arab residents in areas liberated by Kurdish forces. When the SDF, which included members of the YPG, began moving to liberate areas from ISIS in August 2016, human rights groups, humanitarian actors, and other observers expressed concern that the forces established local governing bodies not representative of or credible with local communities and hindered the work of independent civil society and humanitarian organizations. SDF-influenced areas were relatively stable and secure in 2017.

The United Nations reported in October that nearly 270,000 persons fled Raqqa due to the SDF’s campaign to defeat ISIS. Earlier, in September the United Nations reported that some humanitarian organizations operating in Raqqa continued to assert concerns about IDP screening procedures carried out by the SDF. According to the allegations, SDF screening procedures in some areas prevented freedom of movement for IDPs, in some instances requiring IDPs to obtain ‘sponsorship’ in order to move further into areas controlled by the Kurdish Autonomous Administration. There were allegations that the SDF used checkpoints to forcibly conscript males into service. Some analyses suggested that SDF measures to restrict movement were most likely due to the continued presence of ISIS, the high threat from IEDs, and the need to direct civilian evacuees away from combat zones.

International media reported widely on government and nongovernment forces attacking and destroying religious as well as UNESCO-listed world heritage sites. The American Academy for the Advancement of Science noted many instances of visible damage to cultural heritage sites. In Aleppo the academy found massive destruction throughout the city, especially within the World Heritage site of the ancient city. Government forces also pillaged and destroyed property, including homes, farms, and businesses of defectors and opposition figures.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government severely restricted these rights, often terrorizing, abusing, or killing those who attempted to exercise these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government routinely characterized expression as illegal, and individuals could not criticize the government publicly or privately without fear of reprisal. The government also stifled criticism by invoking provisions of law prohibiting acts or speech inciting sectarianism. It monitored political meetings and relied on informer networks.

Press and Media Freedom: The government continued to exercise extensive control over local print and broadcast media, and the law imposes strict punishment for reporters who do not reveal their government sources in response to government requests. A number of quasi-independent periodicals, usually owned and produced by individuals with government connections, published during the year. In 2014 the government began allowing very limited use of Kurdish in state-run universities, following a decades-long, mostly ineffective ban prohibiting all Kurdish-language publications (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

The government owned some radio and most local television companies, and the Ministry of Information closely monitored all radio and television news and entertainment programs for adherence to government policies. Despite restrictions on ownership and use, citizens widely used satellite dishes, although the government jammed some Arab networks.

Books critical of the government were illegal.

Extremist organizations such as the HTS, Jund al-Aqsa, and ISIS also posed a serious threat to press and media freedoms.

Violence and Harassment: Government forces reportedly detained, arrested, and harassed journalists and other writers for works deemed critical of the state. Harassment included attempts at intimidation, banning such individuals from the country, dismissing journalists from their positions, and ignoring requests for continued accreditation. According to reliable NGO reports, the government routinely arrested journalists who were either associated with or writing in favor of the political opposition or the FSA and instigated attacks against foreign press outlets throughout the country.

The government and ISIS routinely targeted and killed both local and foreign journalists, according to the COI. During the year the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented the deaths of four journalists: Osama Nasr al-Zoabi, Syrian Medical Organization; al-Khateb, RT; Alaa Kraym, Qaboun Medical Center; and Mohamed Abazied, Nabd Syria Satellite Station.

According to the CPJ, the majority of reporters killed were covering politics and human rights issues. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) estimated 211 journalists and citizen journalists were killed between 2011 and March.

On August 2, a roadside bombing in the southwestern province of Daraa Osama killed Nasr al-Zoabi, a correspondent for the Syrian Media Organization . The CPJ reported al-Zoabi was on his way to report on the humanitarian effects of a government bombing campaign that took place in the Daraa Governorate in June. The car he was driving hit an improvised explosive device. The media organization reported that the explosion also killed al-Zoabi’s brother and a nephew.

The CPJ reported that six journalists remained missing in the country and seven remained imprisoned by the government. The reason for arrests was often unclear.

According to reports from media outlets operating in areas controlled by the PYD, they faced pressure and received online threats demanding they play pro-PYD songs. Reports indicated that members of the YPG detained and/or beat some opposition journalists affiliated with the Kurdish National Council.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to control the dissemination of information strictly, including developments regarding fighting between the government and armed opposition, and prohibited most criticism of the government and discussion of sectarian problems, including religious and ethnic minority rights. The Ministries of Information and Culture censored domestic and foreign publications prior to circulation or importation and prevented circulation of content determined critical or sensitive. The government prohibited publication or distribution of any material security officials deemed threatening or embarrassing to the government. Censorship was usually greater for materials in Arabic.

Local journalists reported they engaged in extensive self-censorship on subjects such as criticism of the president and his family, the security services, or Alawite religious groups. The government required both domestic and foreign journalists who did not observe these guidelines to leave the country or targeted them for arrest, torture, or execution.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although the law prohibits imprisoning journalists for practicing their profession, the government continued to detain and arrest journalists who opposed the government. The government charged some of these individuals with libel.

National Security: The government cited laws protecting national security to restrict media distribution of material that criticized government policies or public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: RSF reported that Syria had become the world’s deadliest country for journalists. According to the SNHR, from January to September, the government and its allied militias killed 15 media activists, ISIS killed seven, Russian forces killed four, armed opposition groups killed three, and the organization known as Fateh al-Sham killed one.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government controlled and restricted the internet and monitored email and social media accounts. According to the 2017 Freedom on the Net Report, the country remained one of the most dangerous and repressive environments for internet users in the world. The reported noted a slight improvement in internet access in areas liberated from ISIS. Individuals and groups could not express views via the internet, including by email, without prospect of reprisal. The government applied the law to regulate internet use and prosecute users. Other key developments reported during the year included that at least 15 citizen journalists remained imprisoned by the government on charges related to their digital activism and that hackers linked to Iran increased cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups in an effort to disrupt reporting on human rights violations.

The government often monitored internet communications, including email, and interfered with and blocked internet service, SMS messages, and two-step verification messages for password recovery or account activation. The government employed sophisticated technologies and hundreds of computer specialists for filtering and surveillance purposes such as monitoring email and social media accounts of detainees, activists, and others. The government did not attempt to restrict the security branches’ monitoring and censoring of the internet. The security branches were largely responsible for restricting internet freedom and access; internet blackouts often coincided with security force attacks. The government censored websites related to the opposition, including the websites for local coordination committees as well as media outlets.

The government also restricted or prohibited internet access in areas under siege. It obstructed connectivity through its control of key infrastructure, at times shutting down the internet and mobile telephone networks entirely or at particular sites of unrest. There was generally little access to state-run internet service in besieged areas unless users could capture signals clandestinely from rooftops near government-controlled areas. Some towns in opposition-held areas had limited internet access via satellite connections. Some activists reportedly gained access independently to satellite internet or through second- and third-generation (3G) cell phone network coverage.

The government meanwhile expanded its efforts to use social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to spread progovernment propaganda and manipulate online content. Government authorities routinely tortured and beat journalists to extract passwords for social media sites, and the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of progovernment computer hackers, frequently launched cyberattacks on websites to disable them and post progovernment material. In addition to promoting hacking and conducting surveillance, the government and groups that it supported, such as the SEA, reportedly planted malware to target human rights activists, opposition members, and journalists. Local human rights groups blamed government personnel for instances in which malware infected activists’ computers. Arbitrary arrests raised fears that authorities could arrest internet users at any time for online activities perceived to threaten the government’s control, such as posting on a blog, tweeting, commenting on Facebook, sharing a photograph, or uploading a video.

Observers also accused the SEA of slowing internet access to force self-censorship on government critics and diverting email traffic to government servers for surveillance.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, 31.9 percent of individuals used the internet and 43.6 percent of households had internet access at home in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities generally did not permit teachers to express ideas contrary to government policy. The Ministry of Culture restricted and banned the screening of certain films.

ISIS and the HTS sought to restrict academic freedom severely and to curtail cultural events considered un-Islamic. Media sources reported that schools in ISIS-controlled Raqqa Governorate banned several academic subjects, including chemistry and philosophy.

During the conflict students, particularly those residing in opposition-held areas, continued to face challenges in taking nationwide exams. The government, however, allowed 360 students from Moadimiyeh and 68 students from Madaya to travel to government-held areas to take exams in May 2016. Moreover, areas previously held by ISIS that SDF and Coalition forces liberated reopened local schools. Children in the city of Tabqa, for example, returned to school in September in buildings ISIS fighters previously used. Many of the school buildings required extensive repair and many administrators required assistance to obtain basic supplies for learning.

Authorities in some Kurdish-controlled areas reportedly forced schools to close if they refused to use an officially sanctioned Kurdish curriculum. Media reports indicated that the SDF proposed teaching Kurdish in Arab-majority Raqqa.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government restricted this right. Even after the 2011 repeal of the emergency law, a subsequent 2011 presidential decree was issued granting the government broad powers over freedom of assembly.

The Ministry of Interior requires permission for demonstrations or any public gathering of more than three persons. As a rule the ministry authorized only demonstrations by the government, affiliated groups, or the Baath Party, orchestrating them on numerous occasions. The government continued to use excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.

The COI reported that residents who previously resided in ISIS-controlled Raqqa noted severe restrictions on assembly (prior to the liberation of Raqqa from ISIS). The HTS’s consolidation of power in Idlib threatened the ability of local actors and community leaders to assemble outside the authority of the HTS.

Syrians for Truth and Justice reported in November that some armed opposition groups in eastern Ghouta repressed local demonstrations calling for a cessation of fighting and the removal of checkpoints. The repression reportedly included the use of live bullets and stone throwing, which injured several demonstrators.

According to allegations by Kurdish activists and press reporting, the PYD and the YPG suppressed freedom of assembly and severely limited freedom of speech in areas under their control by attacking media and targeting political opponents for arrest.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution permits private associations but grants the government the right to limit their activities. The government restricted freedom of association, requiring prior registration and approval for private associations and restricting the activities of associations and their members. The executive boards of professional associations were not independent of the government.

The government often denied requests for registration or failed to act on them, reportedly on political grounds. None of the local human rights organizations operated with a license, but many functioned under organizations that had requisite government registration. The government continued to block the multi-year effort by journalists to form a countrywide media association. The government selectively enforced the 2011 decree allowing the establishment of independent political parties, allowing only progovernment groups to form official parties (see section 3). According to local human rights groups, opposition activists declined to organize parties, fearing the government would use party lists to target opposition members.

Under laws that criminalize membership and activity in illegal organizations as determined by the government, security forces detained hundreds of persons linked to local human rights groups and prodemocracy student groups. The government also searched these individuals’ personal and social media contacts for further potential targets.

According to media reports and reports from former residents of ISIS-controlled areas, ISIS did not permit the existence of associations that opposed the structures or policies of the “caliphate.”

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws.” The government, ISIS, and other armed groups, however, restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Government sieges in Homs, Damascus, rural Damascus, Deir al-Zour, and Idlib Governorates resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition (see section 1.g.). In areas under its control, ISIS restricted the movement of government supporters or assumed supporters, especially the Alawi and Shia populations. Other opponents of the government also restricted the movement of such individuals, but to a lesser extent.

The COI report issued on September 6 documented the government’s use of starvation through the implementation of siege warfare. The report stated that more than 600,000 men, women, and children remained trapped in besieged locations, and often in harsh conditions. Sieges executed by the government and its partners entailed routine denial of delivery of food, medicine, medical equipment, and other essential supplies to besieged enclaves. The government compounded these abuses with aerial targeting of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals.

In November in a report called, “We Leave or We Die: Forced Displacement Under Syria’s ‘Reconciliation’ Agreements,” AI reported that the government and its allies offered “reconciliation” agreements to communities “after prolonged sieges and bombardment and typically result not only in the evacuation of members of nonstate armed groups but also in the mass displacement of civilians.” In Daraya, according to the report, government forces blocked or restricted access to basic necessities to such an extent that one former resident described life in the area as living in “Stone Age-like conditions.”

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Both government and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.

In-country Movement: In government-besieged cities throughout the country, government forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women.

The government inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting IDPs, refugees, and asylum seekers. The government provided some cooperation to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The government relied on security checkpoints to monitor and limit movement and expanded them into civilian areas. The government also barred foreign diplomats from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.

ISIS and opposition groups also controlled movement, including with checkpoints.

Government forces reportedly used snipers to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and in some cases prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. According to the COI, the drive through long desert detour routes exposed passengers and drivers to arbitrary arrest, unlawful search and seizure of property, demands for bribes, and detention and execution at checkpoints administered by ISIS, the government, and other armed actors.

ISIS reportedly did not permit female passengers to traverse territory it controlled unless accompanied by a close male relative.

Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the government denied passports and other vital documents based on the applicant’s political views, association with opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. The government also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. Additionally, the government often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities prevented them from departing the country. The government reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons. The government comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks at airports and border crossings. In June 2016 Turkish border guards killed 11 Syrian refugees when they attempted to flee the country.

There were reports ISIS destroyed Syrian passports and legal records and produced its own passports, not recognized by any country or entity. These policies disproportionately affected children, because many left the country before obtaining a passport or identification card. Additionally, Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. In 2015 the government began allowing Syrians living outside of the country, whose passports expired, to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the government against which they may have protested or feared the government could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.

Women over age 18 have the legal right to travel without the permission of male relatives, but a husband may file a request with the Interior Ministry to prohibit his wife from departing the country.

ISIS explicitly prohibited women from foreign travel.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The government largely did not facilitate humanitarian assistance for IDPs and provided inconsistent protection. During the year violence continued to be the primary reason for citizens to leave the country, with much of the violence attributed to government and Russian aerial attacks. Years of conflict repeatedly displaced persons; each displacement depleted family assets and eroded coping mechanisms.

By the last quarter of the year, the United Nations estimated there were more than 6.3 million IDPs in the country. The government generally did not provide sustainable access for services to the IDP population and did not offer IDPs assistance or protection. UN humanitarian officials reported that most IDPs sought shelter with host communities or in collective centers, abandoned buildings, or informal camps.

In September the United Nations reported that some humanitarian organizations operating in Raqqa continued to assert concerns about IDP screening procedures carried out by the SDF. (see section 1.g.).

The SARC functioned as the main partner for international humanitarian organizations working inside the country to provide humanitarian assistance in both government- and opposition-controlled areas. Access difficulties–including those imposed by the government, ISIS, and opposition groups–hindered the delivery of aid to persons in need. NGOs operating from Damascus faced extensive bureaucratic obstruction when attempting to provide relief to populations in need. The SARC and UN agencies sought to increase the flow of assistance to opposition-held areas to meet growing humanitarian needs. The government routinely disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid to rebel-held areas, particularly medical assistance (see section 1.g.).

The humanitarian response to the country was one of the largest in the world, coordinated through a complex bureaucratic structure. The crisis inside the country continued to meet the UN criteria for a Level 3 response–the global humanitarian system’s classification for response to the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises. Cross-border operations from Turkey and Jordan provided humanitarian assistance for Syrians. Additional assistance came through cross-line operations originating from Damascus. Since the International Syria Support Group’s Humanitarian Task Force began advocating for expanded access in February 2016, the United Nations assisted persons in 17 besieged areas. Assistance reached many besieged and hard-to-reach towns several times. Despite these efforts, however, the Assad government continued to hinder UN access, and many communities continued to suffer and surrender to the government’s tactics.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR and UNRWA were able to maintain limited protection areas for refugees and asylum seekers, although violence hampered access to vulnerable populations. In coordination with both local and international NGOs, the United Nations continued to provide such individuals essential services and assistance.

UNHCR estimated that at least 95,000 persons, mainly Yezidi Iraqis, entered the country following ISIS attacks on Sinjar District in Iraq, beginning in 2014. Many initially fled to Mount Sinjar but managed to evacuate the mountain with the assistance of military strikes led by the Western coalition and support from Syrian Kurdish groups, which transported many Yezidis into the country. The majority of these persons returned to Iraq through the Iraqi Kurdistan Region; however, as of early December, UNHCR had received an estimated 28,000 Iraqis in Syria’s al-Hasakah Governorate.

Employment: The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the government rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, street vendors, and in other manual jobs.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The government also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to those refugees who entered Syria legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 54,000 non-Palestinian refugees in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement. UNHCR reported a rise in sexual- and gender-based violence and child protection concerns among refugees, including child labor, school dropouts, and early marriages.

STATELESS PERSONS

Approximately 190,000 Kurds in the country are not entitled to Syrian nationality under the law. The government considers the Kurds to be foreigners, which denies them access to services. Following the 1962 census, approximately 150,000 Kurds lost their citizenship. A legislative decree had ordained the single-day census in 1962, and the government executed it unannounced with regard to the inhabitants of al-Hasakah Governorate. Anyone not registered for any reason or without all required paperwork became “foreign” from that day onward. In a similar fashion, authorities recorded anyone who refused to participate as “undocumented.” Because of this loss of citizenship, these Kurds and their descendants lacked identity cards and could not access government services, including health care and education. They also faced social and economic discrimination. Stateless Kurds do not have the right to inherit or bequeath assets, and their lack of citizenship or identity documents restricted their travel to and from the country.

In 2011 President Assad decreed that stateless Kurds in al-Hasakah Governorate, who were registered as “foreigners,” could apply for citizenship. UNHCR reported that approximately 40,000 of these remained unable to obtain citizenship. Likewise, the decree did not extend to the approximately 160,000 “unregistered” stateless Kurds. The change from 150,000 to 160,000 reflected an approximate increase in population since the 1962 census.

Children derive citizenship solely from their father. Because women cannot confer nationality on their children, an unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Mothers could not pass citizenship to children born outside the country, including in neighboring countries operating refugee camps.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides the ability for citizens to choose their government periodically through free and fair elections conducted by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, citizens were not able to exercise that ability. Outcomes did not reflect the unimpeded or uncoerced will of the electorate because of the underlying circumstances of elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In April 2016 the country held geographically limited parliamentary elections, the results of which citizens living outside government control rejected. In 2014 Bashar Assad, Hassan al-Nouri, and Maher Hajjar registered as candidates for the 2014 presidential election administered in disparate areas of the country, and the majority of citizens could not access polling places because of violence or displacement. The process, in which Assad received 88.7 percent of the vote, was neither free nor fair by international standards. Voters faced intimidation by security elements, and the government forcibly transported state employees in Damascus to polling centers, according to observers and media. Media reports described low overall voter turnout, even among those living in relatively stable areas with access to polling stations. Authorities allowed only persons in government-controlled territory, certain refugee areas, and refugees who left the country after obtaining official permission to vote. According to a 2014 report of Human Rights First, Hizballah threatened Syrian refugees if they did not vote for Assad. Security forces increased security measures in Damascus and surrounding areas under government control to maximize voter turnout. Nonetheless, violence continued throughout the country, and some armed opposition groups fired missiles at government-controlled areas during the voting period.

On September 22, Kurdish authorities held the first of three planned elections for leaders of regional “communes” in an effort to establish new governing institutions to augment regional autonomy. According to reports the September elections were for members of local communes that oversee political, economic, and social issues in their neighborhoods.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides that the Baath Party is the ruling party and assures that it has a majority in all government and popular associations, such as workers’ and women’s groups. The Baath-led National Progressive Front dominated the 250-member People’s Council, holding 200 of the 250 parliament seats following the April 2016 election. The Baath Party and nine smaller satellite political parties constituted the coalition National Progressive Front. A 2011 decree allows establishment of additional political parties, although it forbids those based on religion, tribal affiliation, or regional interests.

Membership in the Baath Party or close familial relationships with a prominent party member or powerful government official assisted in economic, social, and educational advancement. Party or government connections made it easier to gain admission to better schools, access lucrative employment, and achieve greater advancement and power within the government, military, and security services. The government reserved certain prominent positions, such as provincial governorships, solely for Baath Party members.

The government showed little tolerance for other political parties. The government harassed parties such as the Communist Union Movement, Communist Action Party, and Arab Social Union, and it arrested their members. Police arrested members of Islamist parties. Reliable data on illegal political parties was unavailable.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women and minorities generally participated in the political system without formal restriction, although significant cultural and social barriers largely excluded women from decision-making positions. The government formed after the 2014 election included three female members: Vice President Najah al-Attar, Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Nazira Serkis, and Minister of Social Affairs Rima al-Qadiri. In 2016, 13 percent of members of parliament were women. There were Christian, Druze, and Kurdish members in parliament. Alawites, the ruling religious minority, held greater political power than other minorities in the cabinet as well as greater power than the majority Sunni sect in the cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption continued to be a pervasive problem in police forces, security services, migration management agencies, and throughout the government.

Corruption: Due to the lack of free press and of opposition access to instruments of government and media, there was almost no detailed information about corruption, except petty corruption. Human rights lawyers and family members of detainees stated that government officials in courts and prisons solicited bribes for favorable decisions and provision of basic services.

Financial Disclosure: There are no public financial disclosure laws for public officials.

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

The government restricted attempts to investigate alleged human rights violations and actively refused to cooperate with any independent attempts to investigate alleged violations. The government did not grant permission for the formation of any domestic human rights organizations. Nevertheless, hundreds of such groups operated illegally in the country. There were reports the government harassed domestic human rights activists by subjecting them to regular surveillance and travel bans. The government normally responded to queries from human rights organizations and foreign embassies regarding specific cases by reporting that the case was still under investigation, that the prisoner in question had violated national security laws, or, if the case was in criminal court, that the executive branch could not interfere with the allegedly independent judiciary. The government reportedly sought out members of domestic human rights organizations for property seizures, harassment, detention, arrest, torture, and execution.

The government was highly suspicious of international human rights NGOs and did not allow them into the country. Reports and media interviews with government officials indicated the government denied committing any human rights violations. It denied other organizations access to several locations where government agents launched assaults on antigovernment protesters or allegedly held prisoners detained on political grounds. According to reliable reports, the government also actively restricted the activities of humanitarian aid organizations, especially along supply routes and access points near opposition-controlled areas (see section 1.g.).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government continued to deny access to the UN Commission of Inquiry, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to document and report on human rights violations and abuses in the country. It did not cooperate fully with numerous UN bodies, resulting in restrictions on access for humanitarian organizations, especially to opposition-controlled areas.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a felony, subject to punishment by at least 15 years in prison, but the government did not enforce the law. The law further stipulates that if the rapist marries the victim, the rapist receives no punishment. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape. There are no laws against spousal rape. Observers of the refugee crisis reported women, men, and community leaders consistently identified sexual violence as a primary reason their families fled the country. The COI reported rape was widespread, and government and progovernment forces used rape to terrorize and punish women, men, and children perceived as associated with the opposition (see section 1.g. for additional information, including on abuses committed by extremist groups). The COI concluded that underreporting and delayed reporting of sexual violence was endemic, rendering an assessment of its magnitude difficult. Reports by the SNHR, HRW, and other NGOs included interviews with female former prisoners, who reported that rape by guards and security forces was common in detention facilities.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, and violence against women was extensive and generally went unpunished. Victims did not report the vast majority of domestic violence and sexual assault cases. Security forces consistently treated violence against women as a social rather than a criminal matter. Observers reported that when some abused women tried to file a police report, police did not investigate their reports thoroughly, if at all, and that in other cases police officers responded by abusing the women, including by sexual harassment, verbal abuse, hair pulling, and slapping.

In previous years several domestic violence centers operated in Damascus, and the government licensed and affiliated them with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. Local NGOs reported, however, that many centers no longer operated due to the conflict. There were no known government-run services for women outside Damascus. According to local human rights organizations, local coordination committees and other opposition-related groups offered programming specifically for protection of women; NGOs did not integrate these programs throughout the country, and none reported reliable funding.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permits judges to reduce legal penalties for murder and assault if the defendant asserts an “honor” defense, which often occurred. The government kept no official statistics on use of this defense in murder and assault cases. There were no officially reported honor killings during the year, but local human rights groups asserted the practice continued, reportedly at previous levels, despite or even because of the continuing violence. NGOs working with refugees reported families killed some rape victims inside the country, including those raped by government forces, for reasons of honor. NGOs also reported the conflict led to a significant rise in honor killings due to the pervasive use of rape by government forces and sexual slavery and exploitation by ISIS.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of gender but does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were reports that ISIS transferred some Yezidi women captives from Iraq to Syria (see section 1.g.). There was limited information available regarding their treatment in 2017; however, previous reports from Iraq found that ISIS forced Yezidi women whom they had impregnated to have abortions. There were no reports of involuntary sterilization. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women and the “right of every citizen to earn his wage according to the nature and yield of the work,” the law does not explicitly stipulate equal pay for equal work. Moreover, a number of sections of family and criminal law do not treat men and women equally. Before the conflict began, 16 percent of women participated in the formal labor force, compared with 72 percent of men. Female employment participation decreased as violence and insecurity increased.

The Commission for Family Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor shared responsibility for attempting to accord equal legal rights to women. Governmental involvement in civil rights claims, including cases against sexual discrimination, was stagnant, and most claims went unanswered.

Personal status, retirement, citizenship, and social security laws discriminate against women. By law if a man and a woman separately commit the same criminal act of adultery, the woman’s punishment is double that of the man’s. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses. For Muslims personal status law treats men and women differently. Some personal status laws mirror Islamic law regardless of the religion of those involved in the case. The law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony in some cases, such as if she gave up her right to alimony to persuade her husband to agree to the divorce. Additionally, under the law a divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they reach age 13 and of her daughters at age 15, when guardianship transfers to the paternal side of the family.

The government’s interpretation of Islamic law is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except Christians. Accordingly, courts usually granted Muslim women half of the inheritance share of male heirs. In all communities male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they do not, women have the right to sue.

Women participated in public life and in most professions, including the armed forces, although violence in many regions reduced women’s access to the public sphere. Women and men have equal legal rights in owning or managing land or other property, although cultural and religious norms impeded women’s rights, especially in rural areas. Various sources observed that women constituted a minority of lawyers, university professors, and other professions.

Some opposition groups and extremist elements reportedly banned women from teaching and girls from attending school, particularly in ISIS-controlled areas of Deir al-Zour Governorate. According to activists from Raqqa Governorate, ISIS segregated classrooms and removed women from the local councils in territories it controlled.

According to several groups, including HRW, extremist armed groups placed discriminatory restrictions on women and girls in Aleppo, al-Hasakah, Idlib, and Raqqa Governorates.

In areas under its control, ISIS published a “Civilization Document” with 16 points that a woman must follow or face the death penalty. They included staying at home and not leaving it without an immediate male relative (mahram); wearing a wide cloak, full face veil, and headscarf; closing hair salons; not sitting on chairs in public; and not seeing male doctors. ISIS established the “al-Khanssaa” brigade, an all-female police force in the city of Raqqa, composed mostly of noncitizen women who enforced these regulations, sometimes violently, among women.

According to media reports, the SDF trained 210 women to participate in the battle against ISIS in Raqqa. This was in addition to the 8,000-strong Women’s Protection Units, widely reported on in the media, and originally formed with the aim of defending the Kurdish population from regime oppression, but eventually transitioning to broader anti-ISIS efforts. Volunteers joined this force from Syria and also from Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and other points of origin.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship solely from their father. In large areas of the country where civil registries were not functioning, authorities did not register births. The government did not register the births of Kurdish noncitizen residents, including stateless Kurds (see section 2.d., Stateless Persons). Failure to register resulted in deprivation of services, such as diplomas for high school-level studies, access to universities, access to formal employment, and civil documentation and protection.

Education: The government provided free public education to citizen children from primary school through university. Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six and 12. Noncitizen children could also attend public schools at no cost but required permission from the Ministry of Education.

The conflict increasingly hampered the ability of children to attend school.

According to several reports, ISIS segregated classrooms (including teachers) by gender, dismissed students for dress code violations, imposed its curriculum on teachers, and closed private schools and educational centers. According to local sources, ISIS forces prevented young women in Raqqa Governorate from traveling to complete their university exams. ISIS also banned several basic education subjects, such as chemistry.

While Palestinians and other noncitizens, including stateless Kurds, could generally send their children to school and universities, stateless Kurds were ineligible to receive a degree documenting their academic achievement.

Child Abuse: The country lacked a formal law protecting children from abuse. There were reports of government forces sexually assaulting, torturing, detaining, and killing children (see sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., and 1.g.). HRW reported that government teachers and principals interrogated and, in some cases, beat students who expressed antigovernment sentiments. Additionally, the United Nations, HRW, and local news sources reported that government forces used children as human shields.

ISIS subjected children to extremely harsh punishment, including execution (see section 1.g.).

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women. A boy as young as 15 or a girl as young as 13 may marry if a judge deems both parties willing and “physically mature,” and if the fathers or grandfathers of both parties consent.

ISIS systematically abducted and sexually exploited Yezidi girls in Iraq and transported them to Syria for systematic rape and forced marriage (see section 1.g. and section 6, Women).

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law stipulates penalties for those found guilty of certain forms of child abuse associated with trafficking crimes, including kidnapping and forced prostitution, both of which carry a penalty of up to three years in prison. The law considers child pornography a trafficking crime, but the punishment for child pornography was set at the local level with “appropriate penalties.” It was also unclear if there had been any prosecutions for child pornography or if authorities enforced the law.

The age of sexual consent by law is 15. Premarital sex is illegal, but observers reported authorities did not enforce the law. Rape of a child under the age of 15 is punishable by up to 21 years in prison. There were no reports of government prosecution of child rape cases.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

NGOs estimated fewer than 20 Jews remained in the country. According to media and the Syrian American Council, in 2014 government forces destroyed the Eliyahu Hanabi synagogue, the country’s oldest, in an artillery attack on Jobar, a rebel-held neighborhood in Damascus. Government and opposition forces accused each other of burning and looting the Jobar synagogue.

The national school curriculum did not include materials on tolerance education or the Holocaust.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and seeks to integrate them into the public-sector workforce, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The law protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in education, access to health care, and provision of other state services, and it reserves 4 percent of government-sector jobs and 2 percent of private-sector jobs for persons with disabilities. Private businesses are eligible for tax exemptions after hiring persons with disabilities.

Authorities did not fully document the number of persons with disabilities, but the conflict negatively affected persons with disabilities and increased their numbers through injuries.

The government did not effectively work to provide access for persons with disabilities to buildings, communication, or information.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for assisting persons with disabilities and worked through dedicated charities and organizations to provide assistance.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

As in previous years, the government actively restricted national and ethnic minorities from conducting traditional, religious, and cultural activities. The Kurdish population, citizens and noncitizens, faced official and societal discrimination and repression as well as government-sponsored violence. Government forces arrested, detained, and reportedly tortured numerous Kurdish activists during the year.

The government continued to limit the use and teaching of the Kurdish language. It also restricted publication of books and other materials in Kurdish, Kurdish cultural expression, and at times the celebration of Kurdish festivals. Authorities continued enforcement of a 2009 government rule requiring that at least 60 percent of the words on signs in shops and restaurants be in Arabic (see section 2.a.).

The Alawite community, to which Bashar Assad belongs, enjoyed privileged status throughout the government and dominated the state security apparatus and military leadership. Nevertheless, the government reportedly also targeted Alawite opposition activists for arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, and killing. Extremist opposition groups targeted Alawite communities on several occasions for their perceived progovernment stance.

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

The law prohibits homosexual relations, defined as “carnal relations against the order of nature,” and provides for at least three years’ imprisonment for violations. The law specifically criminalizes any sexual act that is “contrary to nature.” In previous years police used this charge to prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were no reports of prosecutions under the law during the year, although NGO reports indicated the government arrested dozens of gay men and lesbians over the past several years on charges such as abusing social values; selling, buying, or consuming illegal drugs; and organizing and promoting “obscene” parties.

Although there were no known domestic NGOs focused on LGBTI matters, there were several online networking communities, including an online LGBTI-oriented magazine. Human rights activists reported there was overt societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of society. There were also reports of extremist groups threatening LGBTI activists.

Local media reported numerous instances in which security forces used accusations of homosexuality as a pretext to detain, arrest, and torture civilians. The frequency of such instances was difficult to determine, since police rarely reported their rationale for arrests. According to Outright International, in May 2016 ISIS’s media office issued a “photo report about the imposition of sharia punishment” on those suspected of belonging to the LGBTI community. The photographs included images of a boy pushed from the top of a building.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, but human rights activists believed such cases were widely underreported. The government, World Bank, and World Health Organization did not maintain data on the number of persons infected with HIV/AIDS living in the country. Observers expected the HIV/AIDS rate of infection to rise with increased sexual violence in the country.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

While the law provides for the right to form and join unions, conduct legal labor strikes, and bargain collectively, there were excessive restrictions on these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but also allows employers to fire workers at will.

The law requires all unions to belong to the government-affiliated General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). Restrictions on freedom of association also included fines and prison sentences for illegal strikes. The government could impose forced labor as punishment on individuals who caused “prejudice to the general production plan.” The law prohibits strikes involving more than 20 workers in certain sectors, including transportation and telecommunication, or strike actions resembling public demonstrations.

The law requires that government representatives be part of the bargaining process in the public sector, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor could object to, and refuse to register, any agreements concluded. The law and relevant labor protections do not apply to workers covered under civil service provisions, under which employees neither have nor are considered to need collective bargaining rights. The law does not apply to foreign domestic servants, agricultural workers, NGO employees, or informal-sector workers. There are no legal protections for self-employed workers, although they comprised a significant proportion of the total workforce. Foreign workers may join the syndicate representing their profession but may not run for elected positions, with the exception of Palestinians, who may serve as elected officials in unions.

The government did not enforce applicable laws effectively or make any serious attempt to do so during the year. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

The Baath Party dominated the GFTU, and Baath Party doctrine stipulates that its quasi-official constituent unions protect worker rights. The GFTU president was a senior member of the Baath Party, and he and his deputy could attend cabinet meetings on economic affairs. In previous years the GFTU controlled most aspects of union activity, including which sectors or industries could have unions. It also had the power to disband union governing bodies. Union elections were generally free of direct GFTU interference, but successful campaigns usually required membership in the Baath Party. Because of the GFTU’s close ties to the government, the right to bargain collectively did not exist in practical terms. Although the law provides for collective bargaining in the private sector, past government repression dissuaded most workers from exercising this right.

There was little information available on employer practices with regard to antiunion discrimination. Unrest and economic decline during the year caused many workers to lose their private-sector jobs, giving employers the stronger hand in disputes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and such practices existed. For example, authorities may sentence convicted prisoners to hard labor, although according to the International Labor Organization, authorities seldom enforced such a sentence. There was little information available on government efforts to enforce relevant laws during the year.

The YPG reportedly captured unknown numbers of men and women between the ages of 18 and 30 at checkpoints and from residences in Kurdish areas and compelled them to fight for the YPG. Extremist fighters, including ISIS, reportedly forced, coerced, or fraudulently recruited some foreigners, including migrants from Central Asia, children, and western women to join them.

Syria was a destination and transit country for women and children trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. The government did not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and was not making significant efforts to do so.

Following the 2015 ISIS incursion into Assyrian villages in al-Hasakah, ISIS captured approximately 230 Assyrian Christians, forcing several women into sexual slavery. All appeared to have been freed as of February. Starting in 2014 ISIS also abducted thousands of Yezidi women and girls from Iraq and forcibly brought them to Syria, where they experienced systematic rape, forced marriage, domestic servitude, and sexual violence. According to the COI, ISIS restricted medical professionals’ work and in some cases forced doctors to stop working in public hospitals or private clinics and instead work for ISIS to treat its combatants.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace. The minimum age for most types of nonagricultural labor is 15 or the completion of elementary schooling, whichever occurs first, and the minimum age for employment in industries with heavy work is 17. Parental permission is required for children younger than 16 to work. Children under 18 may work no more than six hours a day and may not work overtime or during night shifts, weekends, or on official holidays. The law specifies that authorities should apply “appropriate penalties” to violators. Restrictions on child labor do not apply to those who work in family businesses and do not receive a salary.

There was little publicly available information on enforcement of child labor law. The government generally did not make significant efforts to prevent or eliminate child labor. Independent information and audits regarding government enforcement were not available.

Child labor occurred in the country in both informal sectors, such as begging, domestic work, and agriculture, as well as in positions related to the conflict, such as lookouts, spies, and informants. Conflict-related work subjected children to significant dangers of retaliation and violence. Prior to the start of protests in 2011, there was progress in removing children from bonded agricultural labor organizations and street begging schemes, although the outbreak of armed conflict halted that progress.

The government continued to recruit and use child soldiers forcibly; it also failed to protect and prevent children from recruitment and use by government, armed opposition forces, and designated organizations such as ISIS.

Organized begging rings particularly continued to subject children displaced within the country to forced labor. According to UNICEF six million children were in urgent need of life-saving assistance. UNICEF also reported that fighting destroyed, damaged, or occupied one in every four schools, and more than two million children were out of school. Save the Children and UNICEF reported that more than 75 percent of the country’s households had children working rather than attending school since the armed conflict began.

 

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, or HIV-positive status. Since the government legally prohibits homosexuality (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity), many persons faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation. Discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred in hiring and access to worksites. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to certain ethnic groups (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law divides the public-sector monthly minimum wage into five levels based on job type or level of education, almost all of which fell below the World Bank’s poverty indicator of $1.90 per day. Benefits included compensation for meals, uniforms, and transportation. Most public-sector employees relied on bribery to supplement their income. Private-sector companies usually paid much higher wages, with lower-end wage rates semiofficially set by the government and employer organizations. Many workers in the public and private sectors took additional manual jobs or relied on their extended families to support them.

The public-sector workweek was 35 hours, and the standard private-sector workweek was 40 hours, excluding meals and rest breaks. Hours of work could increase or decrease, based on the industry and associated health hazards. The law provides for at least one meal or rest break totaling no less than one hour per day. Employers must schedule hours of work and rest such that workers do not work more than five consecutive hours or 10 hours per day in total. Employers must provide premium pay for overtime work.

The government set occupational safety and health standards. The law includes provisions mandating that employers take appropriate precautions to protect workers from hazards inherent to the nature of work. The law did not protect workers who chose to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety from losing their employment.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and other regulations pertaining to acceptable conditions of work. The Ministries of Health and of Social Affairs and Labor designated officials to inspect worksites for compliance with health and safety standards. Workers could lodge complaints about health and safety conditions with special committees established to adjudicate such cases. Wage and hour regulations as well as occupational health and safety rules do not apply to migrant workers, rendering them more vulnerable to abuse.

There was little information on government enforcement of labor law or working conditions during the year. There were no health and safety inspections reported, and even previous routine inspections of tourist facilities such as hotels and major restaurants no longer occurred. The enforcement of labor law was lax in both rural and urban areas, since many inspector positions were vacant due to the violence. For example, there were only 20 inspectors for the agricultural sector to cover more than 10,000 workplaces. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Foreign workers, especially domestic workers, remained vulnerable to exploitative conditions. For example, the law does not legally entitle foreign female domestics to the same wages as Syrian domestics. The armed conflict’s violence affected foreign workers, some of whom found it difficult to leave the country. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is in charge of regulating employment agencies responsible for providing safe working conditions for migrant domestic workers, but the scope of oversight was unknown. In large cities Asian domestic workers sometimes overstayed their visas and continued to work in the country for years. The continued unrest resulted in the large-scale voluntary departure of foreign workers as demand for services significantly declined.

Ukraine

Executive Summary

Ukraine is a republic with a semipresidential political system composed of three branches of government: a unicameral legislature (Verkhovna Rada), an executive led by a directly elected president and a prime minister chosen through a legislative majority, and a judiciary. The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2014; international and domestic observers considered both elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces in the territory controlled by the government.

The most significant human rights issues included unlawful killings and politically motivated disappearances in the context of the conflict in the Donbas region; torture; and harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention; and lack of judicial independence. Other abuses included widespread government corruption; censorship; blocking of websites; government failure to hold accountable perpetrators of violence against journalists and anti-corruption activists; and violence against ethnic minorities, and LGBTI persons.

Russia-led forces in the Donbas region engaged in politically motivated disappearances, torture, and unlawful detention; restricted freedom of speech, assembly, and association; restricted movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; and restricted humanitarian aid. The most significant human rights issues in Russian-occupied Crimea included politically motivated disappearances; torture; and restrictions on expression and association.

The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. Human rights groups and the United Nations noted significant deficiencies in investigations into human rights abuses committed by government security forces, in particular into allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other abuses reportedly perpetrated by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The perpetrators of the 2014 Euromaidan shootings in Kyiv have not been held to account.

Investigations into alleged human rights abuses related to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the continuing aggression in the Donbas region remained incomplete due to lack of government control in those territories and the refusal of Russia and Russia-led forces to investigate abuse allegations.

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

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

There was at least one report that the government or its agents committed possible arbitrary or unlawful killings. For instance, on December 6, human rights groups reported that beating(s) by police might have caused the death of 25-year-old Dmytro Lystovnychy in a Lutsk pretrial detention center. Lystovnychy had been arrested four days prior for allegedly stealing a bottle of whiskey. While the State Penitentiary Service initially alleged Lystovnychy had died of “acute hepatitis” and then asserted that he had committed suicide, Lystovnychy’s family publicized photos of his body that showed significant injuries consistent with beatings. After the family filed a complaint, the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) opened a murder investigation, which continued at year’s end.

There were reports of killings by government and Russia-led forces in connection with the conflict in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).

There were reports of apparent politically motivated killings by nongovernment actors. On March 23, former member of the Russian parliament Denis Voronenkov, who had been granted Ukrainian citizenship after fleeing the Russian Federation in 2016, was shot and killed in downtown Kyiv. According to the PGO, Voronenkov had given testimony and “was one of the main witnesses of the Russian aggression against Ukraine and, in particular, the role of [former Ukrainian president] Yanukovych regarding the deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine.” As of year’s end, the investigation remained open, and authorities had made no arrests.

On June 27, Maksym Shapoval, a high-ranking military intelligence official, was killed by a car bomb in Kyiv. He was reportedly investigating Russia’s military aggression in the conflict in Donbas to support the country’s case against Russia in the International Court of Justice. The office of the military prosecutor was investigating the case at year’s end.

On October 30, Amina Okuyeva was shot and killed in Kyiv Oblast. Her husband, Adam Osmayev, was injured in the shooting but survived. Okuyeva and Osmayev were well-known pro-Ukraine volunteer fighters in 2014 to 2015, as well as former Chechen dissidents who had relocated to Ukraine. On June 1, Okuyeva thwarted an attempt against Osmayev’s life in downtown Kyiv when she returned fire, injuring the shooter. Osmayev’s assailant had reportedly presented himself as a French reporter and asked Osmayev for an interview hours before the attack. The Kyiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office designated Okuyeva’s killing and the attempt on her husband as contract killings.

In March 2016 Yuriy Hrabovsky, a lawyer representing a detained Russian special forces soldier, Aleksandr Aleksandrov, disappeared in Odesa. His body was later found in a shallow roadside grave. The Military Prosecutor’s Office arrested two suspects, and their trial began in December 2016. In January the judge ruled that subsequent hearings would be closed. The trial continued at year’s end.

Authorities made no arrests during the year in connection with the 2016 killing of prominent journalist Pavel Sheremet. Human rights and press freedom watchdog groups expressed concern about the lack of progress in the government’s investigation, suggesting high-level obstruction or investigatory incompetence as potential reasons. Independent journalistic investigations of the killing released in May uncovered significant evidence that investigators had apparently overlooked. On May 15, President Poroshenko expressed dissatisfaction with the investigation.

Human rights organizations and media reported deaths in prisons or detention centers due to torture or negligence by police or prison officers (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).

Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. Human rights groups criticized the low number of convictions despite considerable evidence. Human rights groups also criticized prosecutors for focusing on low-ranking officials while taking little action to investigate government leaders believed to have been involved. According to the PGO, as of late July, five individuals had stood trial while 21 had absconded and were on the wanted list, including 15 suspects who had received Russian citizenship and were in Russia and three who had received political asylum in the Russian Federation.

On September 18, the Chornomorsk court in Odesa Oblast acquitted 19 defendants in the 2014 trade union building fire case due to lack of evidence. Two defendants were then rearrested in the courtroom and subsequently charged with attempting to violate the territorial integrity of the state. The case stemmed from violent clashes between Euromaidan and anti-Ukrainian unity demonstrators in downtown Odesa in 2014, during which 48 persons died, including six prounity and 42 pro-Russia individuals. Those who supported autonomy died in a fire at the trade union building; authorities largely failed to investigate their deaths, focusing on alleged crimes committed by individuals seeking more autonomy.

b. Disappearance

There were multiple reports of politically motivated disappearances in connection with the conflict between the government and Russia-led forces in the Donbas region and by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see section 1.g. and the Crimea subsection).

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel and unusual punishment, there were reports that law enforcement authorities engaged in such abuse. While courts cannot legally use as evidence in court proceedings confessions and statements made under duress to police by persons in custody, there were reports that police and other law enforcement officials abused and, at times, tortured persons in custody to obtain confessions.

In the Donbas region, there were reports that government and progovernment forces engaging in military operations at times committed abuses, including torture. There were reports that Russian-led forces in the self-proclaimed “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk systematically committed numerous abuses, including torture, to maintain control or for personal financial gain. According to international organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), abuses included beatings, forced labor, psychological and physical torture, public humiliation, and sexual violence (see section 1.g.).

Abuse of prisoners and detainees by police and prison authorities remained a widespread problem. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) expressed concern about the frequency of allegations of mistreatment by police officers. In most cases police allegedly inflicted the mistreatment while attempting to obtain a confession. For example, police detained 24-year-old Ihor Kozoriz in Terebovlya, Ternopil Oblast, on suspicion of robbery and hooliganism; they then brought him to a police station where they beat, electrocuted, and raped him. At year’s end the local prosecutor’s office had an open investigation into the case.

There were continued reports that authorities had used torture against individuals detained on national security grounds. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Human Rights Monitoring Mission (HRMMU) and human rights groups, most of these abuses were associated with the SBU. The HRMMU noted most related cases occurred during prior years but were only documented during the year. According to a UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) report released in May and based on two 2016 visits to Ukraine, the SPT “received numerous and serious allegations of acts that, if proven, would amount to torture and mistreatment. Persons interviewed by the Subcommittee in various parts of the country have recounted beatings, electrocutions, mock executions, asphyxiations, acts of intimidation and threats of sexual violence against themselves and their family members. In the light of all the work done and experience gained during the visit, the Subcommittee has no difficulty in concluding that these allegations are likely to be true. Many of the above-mentioned acts are alleged to have occurred while the persons concerned were under the control of the State Security Service or during periods of unofficial detention.”

According to Human Rights Watch, on August 15, SBU officers in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast forced 29-year-old Daria Mastikasheva out of her car, pushed her to the ground, beat her, blindfolded her, and took her to a basement facility, where she was interrogated and tortured overnight, including by suffocation, to force her to confess on video to collaborating with Russian security services. She agreed to a video confession only after the officers threatened to harm her family. At year’s end Mastikasheva was awaiting trial on treason and weapons possession charges.

There were reports of sexual violence being committed in the context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine (see section 1.g.).

Reports of hazing in the military continued. The PGO stated it initiated 117 criminal proceedings to investigate alleged hazing in the military that resulted in convictions of 54 service members.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, did not meet international standards, and at times posed a serious threat to the life and health of prisoners. Physical abuse, lack of proper medical care and nutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate light were persistent problems.

Physical Conditions: While authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, there were reports that juveniles and adults were not separated in some pretrial detention facilities.

As of September 1, the Ministry of Internal Affairs registered eight deaths in pretrial facilities, six due to detainees’ preexisting medical conditions, and two suicides. As of October 1, the Ministry of Justice reported 476 inmate deaths, 42 of which were suicides. On September 28, an inmate of the Chernihiv pretrial center was killed in custody by another inmate, a killing reportedly involving negligence and lack of supervision by the facility personnel. The local prosecutor’s office launched a criminal case and charged several law enforcement officers with neglect of official duties. The case continued at year’s end.

Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and pretrial detention facilities were harsher than in low- and medium-security prisons. Despite a reduction in the number of inmates, overcrowding remained a problem in pretrial detention facilities. Temporary detention facilities often lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities.

Physical abuse by guards was a problem. For example, after inmates killed a remand facility guard at an Odesa pretrial facility on August 17, staff members beat inmates. The PGO opened five criminal cases to investigate the incident.

There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. For example, on August 28, staff failure to intervene during a fight between detainees at the Chernihiv pretrial facility resulted in an inmate’s death. The local prosecutor’s office’s investigation into the incident remained open at year’s end.

During visits to detention facilities under the control of Ukrainian authorities, the HRMMU identified systemic problems with the provision of medical care. Bureaucratic and financial impediments prevented the prompt transfer of inmates to city hospitals, resulting in their prolonged suffering, and delayed diagnoses and treatment. In one case, on March 27, two prisoners died in the interregional hospital for convicts at the Lviv remand facility due to inadequate medical care.

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union maintained that life sentences amounted to slow executions of prisoners because of poor prison conditions. In the report on its November 2016 visit to Ukraine, the CPT expressed concerns regarding practices applied to prisoners with life sentences, including routine handcuffing, other excessive and degrading security measures, the lack of organized purposeful activities, segregation from the rest of the prisoner population, and constant surveillance inside the cells.

According to monitors of the National Preventive Mechanism, prisons are often old and in poor condition with inadequate facilities and services. Cells had limited access to daylight and were not properly heated or ventilated. For example, one random reading the temperature in the quarantine station at the Kazankivska correction colony 93 was 57 degrees Fahrenheit. The facility did not have a designated dining area; the inmates had to eat in their cells sitting on chairs. Electricity and water supplies were periodically discontinued, and inmates complained about poor hygienic conditions. Cells in both pretrial facilities and prisons were overrun with insects and rats.

According to the Association of Independent Monitors and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, authorities failed adequately to protect the lives and human rights of prisoners in areas close to the zone of operation against Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine and failed to evacuate staff and inmates in a timely fashion.

As of February approximately 9,500 detainees were in non-government-controlled territory. On September 14, under the auspices of the Ombudsman’s Office, 19 prisoners incarcerated in territories seized by Russia-led forces were transferred to penal facilities on government-controlled territory. Since 2015 a total or 178 inmates were transferred to the penitentiary facilities in government-controlled areas.

The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in areas held by Russia-led forces remained poor. According to the Justice for Peace coalition, there was an extensive network of unofficial places of detention in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts located in basements, sewage wells, garages, and industrial enterprises. In most cases, these places were not suitable for even short-term detention. There were reports of shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care.

Prior to the conflict, more than 5,000 prisoners were held in the part of Luhansk Oblast under the control of Russia-led forces. According to press reports citing information from the Eastern Human Rights Group, prison conditions in the area have deteriorated severely. The group reported systemic abuses, such as torture, starvation, denial of medical care, and solitary confinement, as well as the extensive use of prisoners as slave labor to produce goods that, when sold, provided personal income to the leaders of the Russia-led forces.

Administration: According to the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office, authorities generally respected prisoners’ right to religious observance. Prisoners were permitted to receive visitors.

Although prisoners and detainees may file complaints about conditions in custody with the human rights ombudsman, human rights organizations noted prison officials continued to censor or discourage complaints and penalized and abused inmates who filed them. Rights groups reported that legal norms did not always provide for confidentiality of complaints. According to representatives of the National Preventive Mechanism, an organization that conducted monitoring visits of places of detention, authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of complaints.

Officials generally allowed prisoners, except those in disciplinary cells, to receive visitors. Prisoner rights groups noted some families had to pay bribes to obtain permission for prison visits to which they are entitled by law.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups. On June 19, the SPT published its report on its visit to the country in November 2016. During a 10-month period of the year, the Ombudsperson’s Office together with representatives of civil society conducted 16 monitoring visits to penitentiary facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements.

The HRMMU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other international groups reported numerous arbitrary detentions in areas controlled by Russia-led forces (see section 1.g.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for maintaining internal security and order. The ministry oversees police and other law enforcement personnel. The SBU is responsible for state security, nonmilitary intelligence, and counterintelligence matters. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reports to the Cabinet of Ministers, and the SBU reports directly to the president. The State Fiscal Service exercises law enforcement powers through the tax police and reports to the Cabinet of Ministers. The State Migration Service under the Ministry of Internal Affairs implements state policy regarding border security, migration, citizenship, and registration of refugees and other migrants.

Civilian authorities generally had control over law enforcement agencies but rarely took action to punish abuses committed by security forces.

Impunity for abuses by law enforcement agencies remained a significant problem frequently highlighted by the HRMMU in its reports and by other human rights groups. The HRMMU noted authorities were unwilling to investigate allegations of torture, particularly when victims were detained on grounds related to national security or were seen as proseparatist.

While authorities sometimes brought charges against members of the security services, cases often remained under investigation without being brought to trial while authorities allowed alleged perpetrators to continue their work. In addition, human rights groups criticized the lack of progress in investigations of alleged crimes in areas retaken by the government from Russia-led forces, resulting in continuing impunity for these crimes. In particular, investigations of alleged crimes committed by Russia-led forces in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk in 2014 appeared stalled. Human rights groups believed that many local law enforcement personnel collaborated with Russia-led forces when they controlled these cities.

Under the law members of the parliament have authority to conduct investigations and public hearings into law enforcement problems. The human rights ombudsman may also initiate investigations into abuses by security forces.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated it provides 80 hours of compulsory human rights training to security forces, focusing on the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Law enforcement training institutions also include courses on human rights, rule of law, constitutional rights, tolerance and nondiscrimination, prevention of domestic violence, and freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment.

Security forces generally prevented or responded to societal violence. At times, however, they used excessive force to disperse protests or, in some cases, failed to protect victims from harassment or violence. For example, during the May 9 march to mark Victory Day, activists and representatives of the Socialist Party and Opposition Bloc argued over the use of Soviet-era political symbols (flags) in Dnipro. As a result of these clashes, eight participants in the event and six police officers were injured. The head of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast police department and his deputies were dismissed for failing to ensure a peaceful march. The minister of internal affairs opened an official probe into the clashes.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law authorities may detain a suspect for three days without a warrant, after which a judge must issue a warrant authorizing continued detention. Authorities in some cases detained persons for longer than three days without a warrant.

Prosecutors must bring detainees before a judge within 72 hours, and pretrial detention should not exceed six months for minor crimes and 12 months for serious ones. Persons have the right to consult a lawyer upon their detention. According to the law, prosecutors may detain suspects accused of terrorist activities for up to 30 days without charges or a bench warrant. Under the law citizens have the right to be informed of the charges brought against them. Authorities must promptly inform detainees of their rights and immediately notify family members of an arrest. Police often did not follow these procedures. Police at times failed to keep records or register detained suspects, and courts often extended detention to allow police more time to obtain confessions. Authorities kept suspects under house arrest and occasionally held them incommunicado, in some instances for several weeks.

Under the law the government must provide attorneys for indigent defendants. Compliance was inconsistent because of a shortage of defense attorneys or because attorneys, citing low government compensation, refused to defend indigent clients. According to the Ministry of Justice, more than 400,000 persons received free legal aid since its introduction in 2014. As of September 1, there were 550 points of access to free legal aid throughout the government-controlled areas of the country.

The law provides for bail, but many defendants could not pay the required amounts. Courts sometimes imposed travel restrictions as an alternative to pretrial confinement. Under the law prosecutors need a court order to impose travel restrictions on persons awaiting trial. Prosecutors must prove the restrictions are the minimum needed to ensure that suspects will appear at hearings and not interfere with criminal proceedings.

Arbitrary Arrest: The HRMMU reported a continued pattern of arbitrary detention by authorities, particularly in government-controlled portions of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. For example, in its September report, the HRMMU documented arrests and detentions of individuals for allegedly running businesses and paying taxes in the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic.” The report cited the SBU arrest of four entrepreneurs charged with terrorism for business activities in territory controlled by armed groups. As of August 15, all four individuals remained in pretrial detention in Mariupol.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Under the law citizens have the right to challenge an arrest in court or by appeal to a prosecutor to obtain prompt release in cases of unlawful detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, courts were inefficient and remained vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.

Despite efforts to reform the judiciary and the PGO, corruption among judges and prosecutors remained endemic. Civil society groups continued to complain about weak separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. Some judges claimed that high-ranking politicians pressured them to decide cases in their favor, regardless of the merits. Some judges and prosecutors reportedly took bribes in exchange for legal determinations. Other factors impeded the right to a fair trial, such as lengthy court proceedings, particularly in administrative courts, inadequate funding, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings.

There were reports of intimidation and attacks against lawyers representing defendants considered “pro-Russian” or “proseparatist.” For example, the PGO initiated a criminal case against Oleg Veremiyenko, an attorney representing Ukrainian Army Colonel Ivan Bezyazkov, who had been charged with treason and creating a terrorist organization. The local prosecutor charged Veremiyenko in February with resisting and influencing a law enforcement officer. As part of the investigation, law enforcement officials searched Veremiyenko’s office without an appropriate court warrant and seized two computers.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

A single judge decides most cases, although two judges and three public assessors who have some legal training hear trials on charges carrying the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The law provides for cross-examination of witnesses by both prosecutors and defense attorneys and for plea bargaining.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and they cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess, although high conviction rates called into question the legal presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with interpretation as needed; to a public trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial, to communicate privately with an attorney of their choice (or one provided at public expense); and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also allows defendants to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and the right to appeal.

Trials are open to the public, but some judges prohibited media from observing proceedings. While trials must start no later than three weeks after charges are filed, prosecutors seldom met this requirement. Human rights groups reported officials occasionally monitored meetings between defense attorneys and their clients.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of a small number of individuals that some human rights groups considered to be political prisoners.

On August 1, the SBU detained Vasyl Muravytsky, a reporter and columnist from Zhytomyr. Muravytsky was charged with state treason, infringement of territorial integrity, incitement of hatred, and support for terrorist organizations based on statements some deemed pro-Russian. According to the SBU, he could face up to 15 years of imprisonment. Some domestic and international journalist unions called for Muravytsky’s release, claiming the charges were politically motivated.

On June 1, a higher court overturned a July 2016 appeals court decision reversing the May 2016 conviction of Ivano-Frankivsk blogger Ruslan Kotsaba. Kotsaba had been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison on charges that he had impeded the work of the armed forces with his calls to ignore the military draft. Authorities arrested Kotsaba in 2015, and human rights groups deemed him a political prisoner. At year’s end Kotsaba was not in detention. According to Kotsaba’s defense lawyer, the July 2016 decision was overturned to postpone their planned appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for the right to seek redress for any decisions, actions, or omissions of national and local government officials that violate citizens’ human rights. An inefficient and corrupt judicial system limited the right of redress. Individuals may also file a collective legal challenge to legislation they believe may violate basic rights and freedoms. Individuals may appeal to the human rights ombudsman at any time and to the ECHR after exhausting domestic legal remedies.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports authorities generally did not respect the prohibitions.

By law the SBU may not conduct surveillance or searches without a court-issued warrant. In practice, however, law enforcement agencies sometimes conducted searches without a proper warrant. In an emergency authorities may initiate a search without prior court approval, but they must seek court approval immediately after the investigation begins. Citizens have the right to examine any dossier in the possession of the SBU that concerns them; they have the right to recover losses resulting from an investigation. Because there was no implementing legislation, authorities generally did not respect these rights, and many citizens were not aware of their rights or that authorities had violated their privacy.

There were some reports that the government had accessed private communications and monitored private movements without appropriate legal authority. For example, on October 20, journalist Oleksandr Chernovalov filed a complaint with the police alleging the government had conducted illegal surveillance on him. The Darnytsia district police in Kyiv launched an investigation, which remained underway.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press. Authorities did not always respect these rights, however. The government introduced measures that banned or blocked information, media outlets, or individual journalists deemed a threat to national security or who expressed positions that authorities believed undermined the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Other problematic practices continued to affect media freedom, including self-censorship, so-called jeansa payments (publishing unsubstantiated news articles for a fee), and slanted news coverage by media whose owners had close ties to the government or opposition political parties.

In the Donbas region, Russia-led forces suppressed freedom of speech and the press through harassment, intimidation, abductions, and assaults on journalists and media outlets. They also prevented the transmission of Ukrainian and independent television and radio programming in areas under their control.

Freedom of Expression: With some exceptions, individuals in areas under government control could generally criticize the government publicly and privately and discuss matters of public interest without fear of official reprisal. The law criminalizes the display of communist and Nazi symbols. According to Amnesty International, during a public demonstration on May 9 in Dnipro, several marchers were arrested for carrying Soviet symbols. On May 16, the legislature passed a law banning the manufacture or promotion of the “St. George’s ribbon,” a symbol associated with Russian-led forces in the Donbas region. Several media reports indicated authorities subsequently fined individuals carrying these symbols.

The law prohibits statements that threaten the country’s territorial integrity, promote war, instigate racial or religious conflict, or support Russian aggression against the country, and the government prosecuted individuals under these laws.

Press and Media Freedom: The NGO Freedom House rated the country’s press as “partly free.”

Independent media and internet news sites were active and expressed a wide range of views. Privately owned media, the most successful of which were generally owned by wealthy and influential “oligarchs,” often presented readers and viewers a “biased pluralism,” representing the views of their owners, favorable coverage of their allies, and criticism of political and business rivals. The 10 most popular television stations were owned by businessmen whose primary business was not in media. Independent media had difficulty competing with major outlets that operated with oligarchic subsidies. According to a September 28 report by the Institute for Mass Information (IMI) and Reporters without Borders, the influence of political actors on the country’s media increased during the year, with media holdings remaining nontransparent and used to support political allies of their owners.

As of December 1, IMI recorded 183 cases of alleged violations of freedom of press compared with 133 cases for the same period of 2016.

The practice of jeansa continued to be widespread. IMI’s monitoring of national print and online media for jeansa indicated that a wide range of actors ordered political jeansa, including political parties, politicians, oblast governments, and oligarchs. According to IMI press monitoring, as of September, the highest proportion of jeansa in regional media occurred in print outlets in Zaporizhzhia and Mykolaiv Oblasts, where 16 percent and 15 percent of articles, respectively, were political or commercial jeansa.

Violence and Harassment: Violence against journalists remained a problem. Human rights groups and journalists criticized government inaction in solving these crimes, giving rise to a culture of impunity.

According to IMI, as of December 1, there were 27 reports of attacks on journalists, compared with 29 cases during the same period in 2016. As in 2016, private, rather than state, actors perpetrated the majority of the attacks. As of November 1, there were 37 incidents involving threats against journalists, down from 38 during the same period in 2016. IMI and editors of major independent news outlets also noted online harassment of journalists by societal actors, reflecting a growing societal intolerance of reporting deemed insufficiently patriotic, a development they asserted had the tacit support of the government.

On July 14, law enforcement officials searched the Kyiv office of Vesti media, which observers alleged to have a pro-Russian bias and beneficial owners. According to the company, the search lasted 16 hours, during which time operations of its website and radio station were blocked. According to the chief military prosecutor, the search related to an embezzlement case involving former revenues and taxes minister Oleksandr Klymenko. Authorities asserted that money Klymenko allegedly stole under tax-evasion schemes was used to finance the Vesti media holding company. Journalists wrote an open letter to the president, the prime minister, and other government authorities, stating they considered the search a violation of civil liberties and press freedom, and an attempt to harass and intimidate journalists.

On June 22, Ihor Huzhva, the editor in chief of the media outlet strana.ua, widely considered to have a pro-Russian editorial slant, was arrested in Kyiv on suspicion of large-scale extortion of 270,000 hryvnia ($10,000) in exchange for refraining from publishing compromising material on a politician. A member of the parliament, Dmytro Linko, alleged that Huzhva had demanded money from him. On June 27, Huzhva was released on bail. Huzhva’s lawyers claimed the journalist was arrested because of his professional activities, because his media outlet systematically criticized high-profile state officials. An investigation continued at year’s end.

There were no developments during the year in the July 2016 killing of well-known journalist Pavel Sheremet, who hosted a morning show on Vesti radio and worked for the Ukrainska Pravda online news outlet (see section 1.a.).

On June 27, the investigation of the killing of Oles Busyna, who was killed in 2015 allegedly by members of a right-wing political group, was completed and referred to a court for trial. Court hearings against two suspects were underway as of September.

There were multiple reports of attacks on journalists investigating government corruption. For example, on February 12, a car belonging to Serhiy Guz, editor in chief of the news website 5692.com and the newspaper Gorod 5692, was set on fire in Kamyanske, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. The journalist linked the attack to his professional activity and critical reporting on local authorities. Police opened an investigation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: IMI recorded six incidents of censorship of individual publications. The government at times banned or restricted media content on vague grounds. For example, on April 28, the National State Films Agency prohibited showings of a documentary film about killed journalist Oles Buzina on the grounds the film’s content had “violated the law.”

Both independent and state-owned media periodically engaged in self-censorship when reporting stories that might expose political allies to criticism or that might be perceived by the public as insufficiently patriotic or provide information that could be used for Russian propaganda.

A law adopted by the parliament on May 23 obligates television channels to broadcast at least 75 percent of their content in the Ukrainian language as of October 13.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense. While the law limits the monetary damages a plaintiff can claim in a lawsuit, local media observers continued to express concern over high monetary damages awarded for alleged libel. Government entities, and public figures in particular, used the threat of civil suits, sometimes based on alleged damage to a person’s “honor and integrity,” to influence or intimidate the press and investigative journalists. In early September, the head of the pro-Russian civic movement Ukrainian Choice, Viktor Medvedchuk, filed a lawsuit against member of the parliament and journalist Serhiy Leshchenko for slander over a series of articles allegedly uncovering Medvedchuk’s participation in corrupt schemes in the gas market.

National Security: Authorities took measures to prohibit, regulate, and occasionally censor information deemed a national security threat.

The government continued the practice of banning specific works by pro-Russian actors, film directors, and singers, as well as imposing sanctions on pro-Russian journalists. According to the head of the State Film Agency, Phylyp Ilienko, as of mid-September, more than 500 films and television shows had been banned on national security grounds since August 2014. In May the president signed a decree restricting operations of 468 companies and 1,228 persons that allegedly posed a “threat to information and the cyber security of the state.” Among them were the country’s two most widely used social networks, which were based in Russia, and major Russian television channels. Human rights NGOs criticized the move, and the secretary general of the Council of Europe condemned the decision, stating, “blocking social networks, search engines, postal services, and information websites is contrary to our common understanding of freedom of expression and media [freedom].”

The government continued to block Russian television channels from broadcasting in the country, based on a 2014 decision by the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council taken to counter the perceived dangerous influence of Russian propaganda. On January 12, the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council did not renew the independent Russian television channel Dozhd because it recognized Crimea as part of Russia rather than Ukraine, in violation of Ukrainian law. Dozhd remained available by satellite and internet. As of year’s end, only four Russian channels were permitted to broadcast in the country, compared with 83 Russian channels at the start of 2014. According to the head of the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council, as of November 2, the council had issued 23 warnings to Ukrainian cable providers for violating the ban on certain Russian channels.

Media professionals continued to experience pressure from the SBU and the armed forces when reporting on sensitive issues, such as military losses. For example, on September 14, an SBU agent appeared at the office of the Ukrainska Pravda website demanding that it remove an article highlighting the need for more modern armament for the Ukrainian army and the government’s failure to prioritize upgrading the country’s military capabilities. In the letter the SBU stated it had opened an investigation into the article’s publication, claiming that it referenced state secrets. The editorial staff then presented SBU with an official letter of complaint. The SBU thereafter called the media outlet to apologize and, on September 20, initiated an internal probe into alleged pressure on journalists.

Authorities continued to deport and bar entry to foreign journalists in retaliation for their coverage of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. On August 25, the SBU barred two Spanish journalists from entering the country over their coverage of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Media groups called the move “an attack on free speech.” Human Rights Watch stated, “the Ukrainian government’s practice of accusing journalists of anti-Ukraine bias, then expelling them or denying them entry, is a serious violation of its international human rights commitments.”

On August 30, the SBU in Kyiv detained Anna Kurbatova, a journalist with Russian television Channel One. Kurbatova was expelled and banned from the country for three years for allegedly engaging in anti-Ukrainian propaganda. The expulsion occurred after Kurbatova described events marking the country’s independence day as a “sad celebration” because of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and economic hardship in the country.

Nongovernmental Impact: Russia-led forces in eastern areas of the country harassed, arbitrarily detained, and mistreated journalists (see section 1.g.). According to the HRMMU, “persons living in the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ know that expressing their opinion freely and publicly was not acceptable in armed group-controlled territory.” The HRMMU also noted, “armed groups are directly influencing and shaping the content in local media” and that they require favorable coverage as the cost of retaining registration to operate.

The HRMMU reported that journalists entering territory controlled by armed groups of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” had to inform the “press center” of the “ministry of defense” about their activities on a daily basis, were arbitrarily required to show video footage at checkpoints, and were accompanied by members of armed groups when travelling close to the contact line.

On June 3, Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev (pen name Vasin) went missing in Donetsk. Unofficial sources reported the “ministry of state security” had arrested him. Aseyev had written about life in the “people’s republic” for popular Ukrainian media outlets. On July 17, civil society groups announced that local “authorities” confirmed they had arrested Aseyev and charged him with espionage.

On July 28, a court in the “Luhansk People’s Republic” sentenced blogger Eduard Nedelyaev to 14 years in prison on treason and espionage charges. Nedelyaev was known for his critical reports about life in the territory controlled by Russian-led forces; when he was arrested in November 2016, authorities cited his “extremist” views.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Law enforcement bodies monitored the internet, at times without appropriate legal authority, and took significant steps during the year to ban major Russian-sourced news and social media sites.

On May 17, the president signed Decree 133, requiring internet providers to block access for three years to the Russian social networks VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, the email service Mail.ru, the search engine company Yandex, and several major Russian television channels. Some observers questioned the legality of the measure, noting that the law does not allow blocking access to sites without a court decision.

Human rights groups and journalists who were critical of Russian involvement in the Donbas region and the occupation of Crimea reported their websites were subjected to cyberattacks, such as coordinated denial of service incidents and unauthorized attempts to obtain information from computers, as well as coordinated campaigns of “trolling” and harassment on social media.

In its annual Freedom on the Net report published in November, Freedom House concluded that internet freedom had deteriorated for the second year in a row. It noted in particular that “authorities have become less tolerant of online expression perceived as critical of Ukraine’s position in the conflict, and the government has been especially active this year in sanctioning social media users for ‘separatist’ and ‘extremist’ activities, with many users detained, fined and even imprisoned for such activities. Meanwhile, separatist forces in the east have stepped up efforts to block content online perceived to be in support of Ukrainian government or cultural identity.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were several reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. On April 13, representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office of Crimea, now displaced to Kyiv, searched the premises of the International Center for Policy Studies (ICPS), a research and scientific institution in Kyiv. The search was allegedly to investigate the so-called Artemenko peace plan, which lawyer Andriy Artemenko had presented publicly. The plan suggested formally surrendering Crimea to the Russian Federation for a long-term lease. According to the search warrant, Ideas for Resolving the Conflict in Donbas, authored by ICPS Chairman Vasyl Filipchuk, served as the basis for the “peace plan” and search. The Coalition of Human Rights issued a public statement calling the search “a disproportionate interference of the state in the activities of the think tank and an attempt to monopolize the field of ideas and to impose state doctrine as the only one possible under the threat of prosecution of those offering other approaches.”

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There are no laws, however, regulating the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for the right, and authorities have wide discretion under a Soviet-era directive to grant or refuse permission for assemblies on grounds of protecting public order and safety. Organizers are required to inform authorities in advance of plans for protests or demonstrations.

During the year citizens generally exercised the right to assemble peacefully without restriction in areas of the country under government control. Most assemblies were peaceful and at times accompanied by a very large police presence to maintain order. The HRMMU continued to observe improvement with regard to respect for freedom of peaceful assembly “as illustrated by a decrease in judicial prohibitions of public assemblies and better policing of large public gatherings” throughout the country.

Smaller demonstrations suffered from insufficient security and protection by police, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. There were some reports of violence at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) events during the year, although police protection for such events was more consistent than in previous years. Police failed to prevent a violent attack against individuals participating in a 200-person Equality March in Zaporizhzhia on September 30 which resulted in several injuries requiring hospitalization. Police arrived later and detained several individuals.

Victory Day commemoration events on May 9 were generally peaceful, although skirmishes marred some, including in Dnipro, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odesa, and Zaporizhzhia. The skirmishes resulted in bodily injuries to 32 persons and the detention of 89. Police opened 19 criminal proceedings as a result.

In the territory controlled by Russia-led forces, the HRMMU noted an absence of demonstrations because “people are concerned that they may be ‘arrested’ if they organize protests or assemblies against the policies of the armed groups.” The HRMMU also noted the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local “authorities,” often apparently organized by the armed groups, with forced public participation.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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

Human rights groups and international organizations sharply criticized a law signed by the president on March 28 that introduces vague and burdensome asset-reporting requirements for civil society organizations and journalists working on anticorruption matters. The law was widely seen as an intimidation and revenge measure against the country’s anticorruption watchdogs, which have successfully pushed for increased financial transparency for government officials.

According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces, domestic and international civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, could not operate freely. Residents informed the HRMMU they were being prosecuted (or feared being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation. The HRMMU also noted an increase in civil society organizations run by the armed groups, which appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.

There were claims that officials engaged in politically motivated deportations without adherence to due process. For example, on October 21, officials deported four Georgian citizens whose residence permits had been cancelled, according to the State Migration Service. Human Rights Ombudsman Valeriya Lutkovska stated the deportations occurred without the required court warrants. Some human rights groups claimed the men were hooded and beaten during the deportation process and alleged they were targeted because of their ties to opposition figure Mikhail Saakashvili.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. International and domestic organizations reported the system for protecting asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern did not operate effectively.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval.

In-country Movement: The government and Russia-led forces strictly controlled movement between government-controlled areas and territories in the Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces. Crossing the contact line remained arduous. Public passenger transportation remained prohibited.

While five crossing points existed, only four were in operation for much of the year. According to the HRMMU, between May and August, an average of 36,000 individuals crossed the line daily. People formed long lines at all operating transit corridors and had to wait for up to 36 hours with no or limited access to water, medical aid, toilets, and shelter in case of shelling or extreme weather. Individuals who frequently crossed the line complained of corruption on both sides of the line of contact.

In 2015 the SBU introduced a pass system involving an online application process to control movement into government-controlled territory. Human rights groups were concerned that many persons in non-government-controlled territory did not have access to the internet to obtain such passes. The order imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, in particular those who sought to receive pensions and government benefits, which were not distributed in the territory controlled by Russia-led forces. On April 14, the government amended the temporary order regulating movement of individuals across the line of contact so that crossing permits no longer expire and residents of territory adjacent to the line of contact on the government-controlled side do not need a permit to cross.

The HRMMU repeatedly voiced concern over reports of corruption by checkpoint personnel on both sides, including demands for bribes or goods in exchange for easing passage across the line of contact. Russia-led forces continued to hinder freedom of movement in the eastern part of the country.

The government and Russian occupation authorities subjected individuals crossing between Russian-occupied Crimea and the mainland to strict passport controls at the administrative boundary between the Kherson Oblast and Crimea. Authorities prohibited rail and commercial bus service across the administrative boundary, requiring persons either to cross on foot or by private vehicle. Long lines and insufficient access to toilets, shelter, and potable water remained prevalent. Civil society, journalists, and independent defense lawyers continued to maintain that the government placed significant barriers to their entry to Crimea, including months-long processes to obtain required permissions, thereby complicating their ability to document and address abuses taking place there.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of September 15, more than 1.5 million persons were registered IDPs due to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and occupation of Crimea. Some NGOs and international organizations estimated the number to be lower, since some persons returned to their homes after registering as IDPs, while others registered while still living in the conflict zone. The largest number of IDPs resided in areas immediately adjoining the conflict zones, in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, as well as in the Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in hope they would be able to return home.

The government granted social entitlements only to those individuals who had registered as IDPs. By law IDPs are eligible to receive payments of 880 hryvnias ($33) per month for children and persons with disabilities and 440 hryvnias ($16) per month for those able to work. Families may receive no more than 2,400 hryvnias ($89) per month. According to the law, the government should provide IDPs with housing, but authorities did not take effective steps to do so. Humanitarian aid groups had good access to areas under government control.

In its June report, the HRMMU stated that in March it received information that local departments of the Ministry of Social Policy had received lists of persons registered as IDPs who allegedly had stayed outside government-controlled territory for more than 60 days. The departments were instructed to suspend payment of pensions and benefits pending verification of their recipients’ physical presence in government-controlled territories, ostensibly to combat fraud. A similar verification process initiated in February 2016 created economic problems for IDPs, reportedly forcing some to return to territories controlled by Russia-led forces.

According to the HRMMU, the government applied the IDP verification procedure broadly. The suspensions affected the majority of IDP residents in government-controlled territory, as well as most residents of areas under the control of Russia-led forces; effects were especially acute for the elderly and disabled, whose limited mobility hindered their ability to verify whether they were included in the lists or to prove their residency. The government often suspended payments without notification, and IDPs reported problems having them reinstated.

According to research conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 59 percent of surveyed IDP households relied on government support as one of their main sources of income. More than 20 percent of IDP respondents indicated their social payments had been suspended.

According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a government strategy and the consequent absence of allocation of financial resources, leading to IDPs’ economic and social marginalization. Local civil society organizations and international humanitarian organizations provided the bulk of assistance for IDPs on a temporary basis. NGOs reported their ability to support IDPs was limited and nearing exhaustion. UN agencies reported the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for scarce resources. Critics accused internally displaced men who moved to western areas of the country of evading military service, while competition rose for housing, employment, and educational opportunities in Kyiv and Lviv.

A shortage of employment opportunities and the generally weak economy particularly affected IDPs, forcing many to live in inadequate housing, such as collective centers and other temporary accommodations. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodations, although affordable private accommodations were often in poor condition.

NGOs reported employment discrimination against IDPs. Some IDPs, particularly those in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, lacked sufficient sanitation, shelter, and access to potable water. IDPs continued to have difficulty obtaining education, medical care, and necessary documents. Romani activists expressed concern that some Roma in eastern areas could not afford to flee conflict areas, while others had no choice but to leave their homes.

In 2015 the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal overturned a National Bank decision that Crimean IDPs were nonresidents, which had restricted access to banking and financial services for those fleeing the Russian occupation. Nonetheless, media reports indicated that banks continued to restrict banking services for Crimean IDPs even after the court decision.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not provide for protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers to a country where there was reason to believe their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. UNHCR described refoulement at the border as a “largely hidden phenomenon,” because persons seeking asylum might not receive legal aid or interpretation at border crossing points or temporary holding facilities and were, therefore, unable to apply for asylum before being deported. Human rights groups noted the law offers legal protection against forcible return.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system to protect refugees. Protection for refugees and asylum seekers was insufficient due to gaps in the law and the system of implementation. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of a refugee. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment. In other instances government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without a legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. Asylum seekers have five days to appeal an order of detention or deportation.

A lack of access to qualified interpreters also hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted the government did not provide resources for interpreters, which created opportunities for corruption and undermined the fairness of asylum application procedures.

Employment: Authorities did not provide employment assistance, and most asylum seekers were unable to obtain a work permit as required by law. Authorities provided language instruction for asylum seekers only in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa, although some local NGOs reported that the instruction was provided by NGOs. Some asylum seekers worked illegally, increasing their risk of exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: The national plan on the integration of refugees adopted by the government did not allocate resources for its implementation. Human rights groups reported that authorities did not provide social and economic support or language classes to asylum seekers or assist them. A UNHCR report indicated all newly recognized refugees received a one-time grant of approximately 30 hryvnias ($1.10). However, some reports indicated the government did not always provide payment.

Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421. Asylum seekers living outside a center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly fined them more than 500 hryvnias ($19) because they lacked this registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees and those seeking complementary protection could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.

UNHCR noted a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods. According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; as of July 1 authorities provided it to approximately 674 persons.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to law, a person may acquire citizenship by birth, territorial origin, naturalization, restored citizenship, and adoption.

According to UNHCR, approximately 36,000 persons in the country were either stateless or at risk of statelessness in 2016. These included Roma, homeless persons, current and former prisoners, and persons over 50 who never obtained a Ukrainian personal identification document after the fall of the Soviet Union and are no longer able to obtain one. According to the State Migration Service, as of September 1, there were 4,904 stateless persons residing in the country.

On July 26, the government issued a decree revoking the citizenship of opposition politician Mikhail Saakashvili, who had been granted citizenship in 2015 and who was not in Ukraine when the decree was issued. While some politicians and human rights organizations questioned the move, calling it politically motivated, the government asserted a legal basis for the decision, stating Saakashvili had knowingly made false statements in his citizenship application.

The law requires establishing identity through a court procedure, which demanded more time and money than some applicants had. UNHCR reported Roma were at particular risk for statelessness, since many did not have birth certificates or any other types of documentation to verify their identity. Homeless persons have difficulty obtaining citizenship because of a requirement to produce a document testifying to one’s residence.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 citizens elected Petro Poroshenko president in an election considered free and fair by international and domestic observers. The country held early legislative elections in 2014 that observers also considered free and fair.

In July 2016 citizens in seven constituencies voted in legislative by-elections. According to the OSCE election observer mission, the elections were organized and democratic but influenced by economic interests. According to OPORA, a human rights NGO that monitored elections in the country, some candidates campaigned prematurely, providing unfair advantages for certain candidates and parties. OPORA considered the elections to be free and fair with electoral irregularities that were not systemic.

IDPs were unable to vote in local elections unless they changed their registration to their new place of residence.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Communist Party remains banned.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption. Authorities did not effectively implement the law, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the number of reports of government corruption was low, corruption remained pervasive at all levels in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Independent anticorruption institutions faced political pressure that undermined public trust. For example, the disruption of a high-level corruption investigation, the arrest of officials from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and the seizure of sensitive NABU files raised concerns about the government’s commitment to fighting corruption.

Corruption: While the government publicized several attempts to combat corruption, it remained a serious problem for citizens and businesses alike.

On March 7, the Solomyansky district court in Kyiv ordered the head of the State Fiscal Service, Roman Nasirov, arrested on embezzlement charges. Nasirov was accused of causing damage to the state in the amount of two billion hryvnias ($73.7 million). The charges against Nasirov stemmed from his involvement in an embezzlement scheme during the extraction and sale of natural gas under cooperation agreements with the state-owned company Ukrgazvydobuvannia. The case remained under investigation at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates the filing of income and expenditure declarations by public officials, and a special review process allows for public access to declarations and sets penalties for either not filing or filing a false declaration. In July the NABU served a notice of suspicion to a former judge from Luhansk Oblast for filing a false declaration. According to the investigation, the judge failed to disclose vehicles and real estate assets worth approximately 350,000 dollars. As of mid-August, NABU was actively investigating 66 criminal cases based on e‑declaration reviews, including suspicion of illicit enrichment and filing false declarations.

By law the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption is responsible for reviewing financial declarations and monitoring the income and expenditures of high-level officials. Some observers questioned, however, whether the agency had the capacity and independence to fulfill this function.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views. During the year the government placed burdensome new reporting requirements on NGOs working on anticorruption in apparent retaliation for their activities (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

Authorities in areas controlled by Russian-led forces in eastern Ukraine routinely denied access to domestic and international civil society organizations. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with international organizations, such as the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the HRMMU.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for a human rights ombudsman, officially designated as legislative commissioner on human rights. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office frequently collaborated with NGOs through civic advisory councils on various projects for monitoring human rights practices in prisons and other government institutions.

Valeriya Lutkovska served as the ombudsman for human rights during the year, and observers considered her office an effective promoter of human rights. The office collaborated with leading domestic human rights groups and acted as an advocate on behalf of Crimean Tatars, IDPs, Roma, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and prison inmates.

Lutkovska’s term of office expired in March, although as of mid-September she remained in the role on an acting basis. Human rights organizations criticized the process to choose her successor, asserting that the candidates nominated were not politically impartial and lacked necessary qualifications and that the government failed to consult with civil society or conduct the process in a transparent manner.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men or women but does not explicitly address spousal rape or domestic violence. The courts may use a law against “forced sex with a materially dependent person” as grounds to prosecute spousal rape. Under the law, authorities may detain a person for up to five days for offenses related to domestic violence and spousal abuse. The penalty for rape is three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual assault and rape continued to be significant problems.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. Spousal abuse was common. According to the PGO, 874 cases of domestic violence were registered during the first nine months of the year. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, police issued approximately 41,097 domestic violence warnings and protection orders during the first nine months of the year. Punishment included fines, administrative arrest, and community service. Human rights groups noted the ability of agencies to detect and report cases of domestic violence was limited, and preventive services remained underdeveloped. Human rights groups asserted that law enforcement authorities did not consider domestic violence to be a serious crime but rather a private matter to be settled between spouses.Research showed that most authorities believed that, in domestic violence cases, familial reconciliation was more important than punishing the perpetrator or protecting the victim.

La Strada operated a national hotline for victims of violence and sexual harassment. As of June, more than 15,512 individuals had called the hotline for assistance; 95 percent of the calls concerned domestic or sexual violence while more than one-half the calls involved psychological violence. The NGO reported that expanded public awareness campaigns increased the number of requests for assistance it received each year.

According to the NGO La Strada, the conflict in the Donbas region led to a surge in violence against women across the country. Human rights groups attributed the increase in violence to posttraumatic stress experienced by IDPs fleeing the conflict and by soldiers returning from combat. According to monitoring of conflict-related gender-based violence conducted by the Justice for Peace in Donbas coalition, the situation in eastern Ukraine combined with the general discriminatory policies and lack of access to judicial services in the self-styled “republics” to create an environment conducive to gross violation of women’s rights. IDPs reported instances of rape and sexual abuse; many claimed to have fled areas controlled by Russia-led forces because they feared sexual abuse.

Although the law requires the government to operate a shelter in every major city, it did not do so. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of July 1, government centers provided domestic violence-related services, in the form of sociopsychological assistance, to 8,483 families with 8,529 children. Social services centers monitored families in matters related to domestic violence and child abuse. NGOs operated additional centers for victims of domestic violence in several regions, but women’s rights groups noted that many nongovernment shelters closed due to lack of funding.

Sexual Harassment: The law puts sexual harassment in the same category as discrimination and sets penalties from a fine up to three years in prison, but women’s rights groups asserted there was no effective mechanism to protect against sexual harassment. They reported continuing and widespread sexual harassment, including coerced sex, in the workplace. Women rarely sought legal recourse because courts declined to hear their cases and rarely convicted perpetrators.

While the law prohibits coercing a “materially dependent person” to have sexual intercourse, legal experts stated that safeguards against harassment were inadequate.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides that women enjoy the same rights as men and are entitled to receive equal pay for equal work. In practice, women received lower salaries than men and were prohibited from working in nearly 500 occupations (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Either birth in the country or to Ukrainian parents conveys citizenship. A child born to stateless parents residing permanently in the country is a citizen. The law requires that parents register a child within a month of birth, and failure to register sometimes resulted in denial of public services.

Registration of children born in Crimea or areas in Donbas controlled by Russia-led forces remained difficult. Authorities required hospital paperwork to register births. Russia-backed “authorities” routinely kept such paperwork if parents registered children in territories under their control, making it difficult for the child to obtain a Ukrainian birth certificate. In addition, authorities did not recognize documents issued by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea or “authorities” in territories controlled by Russia-led forces and sometimes refused to issue birth certificates to children born in those areas.

Child Abuse: Human rights groups noted authorities lacked the capability to detect violence against children and refer victims for assistance. Preventive services remained underdeveloped. There were also instances of forced labor involving children (see section 7.c.).

Authorities did not take effective measures at the national level to protect children from abuse and violence and to prevent such problems. The ombudsman for human rights noted the imperfection of mechanisms to protect children who survived or witnessed violence, in particular violence committed by their parents. According to the law, parents were the legal representatives of their children, even if they perpetrated violence against them. There is no procedure for appointing a temporary legal representative of a child during the investigation of alleged parental violence.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. If it finds marriage to be in the child’s interest, a court may grant a child as young as 16 permission to marry. Romani rights groups reported that early marriages involving girls under the age of 18 were common in the Romani community.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The minimum prison sentence for child rape is 10 years. Molesting a child under the age of 16 is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. The same offense committed against a child under the age of 14 is punishable by imprisonment for five to eight years. The age of consent is 16.

Sexual exploitation of children, however, remained significantly underreported. Commercial sexual exploitation of children remained a serious problem.

Domestic and foreign law enforcement officials reported that a significant amount of child pornography on the internet continued to originate in the country. The International Organization for Migration reported that children from socially disadvantaged families and those in state custody continued to be at high risk of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation and the production of pornography.

Displaced Children: The majority of IDP children were from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. According to the Ministry of Social Policy, authorities registered more than 232,000 children as IDPs. Human rights groups believed this number was low. UNICEF estimated the conflict has affected 1.7 million children including non-IDPs who remained in conflict areas.

Children living in areas controlled by Russia-led forces did not receive nutritional and shelter assistance. Human rights groups reported that children who experienced the conflict or fled from territory controlled by Russia-led forces suffered psychological trauma.

Institutionalized Children: The child welfare system continued to rely on long-term residential care for children at social risk or without parental care, although the number of residential-care institutions continued to drop. Government policies to address the abandonment of children reduced the number of children deprived of parental care. In August the government approved a national strategy for 2017-18 that was intended to transform the institutionalized childcare system into one that provides a family-based or family-like environment for children.

Human rights groups and media reported unsafe, inhuman, and sometimes life-threatening conditions in some institutions. Officials of several state-run institutions and orphanages were allegedly complicit or willfully negligent in the sex and labor trafficking of girls and boys under their care.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to census data and international Jewish groups, an estimated 103,600 Jews lived in the country, constituting approximately 0.2 percent of the population. According to the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD), there were approximately 300,000 persons of Jewish ancestry in the country, although the number might be higher. Before the Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, according to VAAD, approximately 30,000 Jewish persons lived in the Donbas region. Jewish groups estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before Russia’s attempted annexation.

According to the National Minority Rights Monitoring Group (NMRMG) supported by the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress and VAAD, one case of suspected anti-Semitic violence was recorded in 2016, compared with one case of anti-Semitic violence in 2015 and four cases in 2014. The NMRMG identified 18 cases of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2016, as compared with 22 in 2015 and 23 in 2014. Graffiti swastikas continued to appear in Kyiv, Lviv, and other cities. On January 13, arsonists damaged a Jewish cemetery in Kolomiya, where there were similar attacks in 2015. Jewish organizations expressed concern about the continued existence of Krakivsky Market and new construction atop a historic Jewish cemetery in Lviv. There were reportedly several anti-Semitic incidents targeting the Babyn Yar memorial during the year.

In other manifestations of anti-Semitism during the year, nationalists in Kyiv chanted “Jews out” in German at a New Year’s Day march celebrating the birthday of Stepan Bandera. In a televised interview in March, Nadiya Savchenko, a member of the parliament, used a derogatory word to describe Jews and stated that Jews possess “80 percent of the power when they only account for 2 percent of the population.”

In line with the country’s 2015 decommunization and denazification law, authorities continued to rename Communist-era streets, bridges, and monuments in honor of 20th century Ukrainian nationalists, some of whom were associated with anti-Semitism. A new monument in Uman honors Ivan Gonta, an 18th century Cossack involved in a massacre of Jews, Poles, and Greek Catholics.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The law requires the government to provide access to public venues and opportunities for involvement in public, educational, cultural, and sporting activities for persons with disabilities. The law also requires employers to take into account the individual needs of employees with disabilities. The government generally did not enforce these laws.

Advocacy groups maintained that, despite the legal requirements, most public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Access to employment, education, health care, transportation, and financial services remained difficult (see section 7.d.).

Authorities often did not integrate students with disabilities into the general student population. Only secondary schools offered classes for students with disabilities.

Government policy favored the institutionalization of children with disabilities over placement with their families. Persons with disabilities in areas controlled by Russia-led forces in the east of the country suffered from a lack of appropriate care. Patients in mental health facilities remained at risk of abuse, and many psychiatric hospitals continued to use outdated methods and medicines.

By law employers must set aside 4 percent of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. NGOs noted that many of those employed to satisfy the requirement received nominal salaries but did not actually perform work at their companies.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Mistreatment of members of minority groups and harassment of foreigners of non-Slavic appearance remained problems. NGOs dedicated to combating racism and hate crimes observed that overall xenophobic incidents declined slightly during the year.

Human rights organizations stated that the requirement to prove actual intent, including proof of premeditation, to secure a conviction made it difficult to apply the laws against offenses motivated by racial, national, or religious hatred. Authorities did not open any criminal proceedings under the laws on racial, national, or religious offenses during the year. Police and prosecutors continued to prosecute racially motivated crimes under laws against hooliganism or related offenses.

Roma continued to face governmental and societal discrimination. Roma experienced significant barriers accessing education, health care, social services, and employment.

There were reports of societal violence against Roma during the year, including instances in which police declined to intervene to stop violence. For example, on May 18, an argument in the village of Olshany, Kharkiv Oblast, between village residents and visiting Romani individuals turned violent. Three Romani men received injuries, and one died. Regional police opened an investigation, which continued at year’s end.

There were several reports during the year that police arbitrarily detained Romani individuals, at times beating or mistreating them.

According to the Romani women’s foundation, Chirikli, local authorities erected a number of barriers to prevent issuing national identification documents to Roma. Authorities hampered access to education for persons who lacked documents and segregated Romani children into special schools or lower-quality classrooms.

During the year many Roma fled settlements in areas controlled by Russia-led forces and moved elsewhere in the country. According to Chirikli, approximately 10,000 Roma were among the most vulnerable members of the country’s IDP population. Because many Roma lacked documents, obtaining IDP assistance, medical care, and education was especially difficult.

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

The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. No law, however, prohibits such discrimination in other areas, and discrimination was reportedly widespread in employment, housing, education, and other sectors.

There was sporadic violence against LGBTI persons, and authorities often did not adequately investigate these cases or hold perpetrators to account. For example, there was no investigation following events on July 9, when the speaker, organizers, and attendees of a Kyiv lecture on transgender problems were attacked by 10 masked individuals. Several lecture attendees pushed the attackers from the room, and one organizer pursued them and caught three individuals at the Khreshchatyk metro station. Police then intervened and detained the perpetrators. Lawyers and two members of parliament came to the police station where the attackers were detained, and they were soon released.

Crimes and discrimination against LGBTI persons remained underreported, and law enforcement authorities opened only 17 cases related to such acts.

The LGBTI rights group Nash Mir stated that extortion remained a problem and that anti-LGBTI groups employed social media to entrap LGBTI persons.

Although leading politicians and ministers condemned attacks on LGBTI gatherings and individuals, local officials sometimes voiced opposition to LGBTI rights and failed to protect LGBTI persons.

Transgender persons continued to face discrimination and stereotyping. In one case a municipal transportation company in Kharkiv fired a transgender woman because of her appearance.

While individuals no longer had to undergo sex reassignment surgery to change their names and genders officially and could do so with counseling and hormone therapy, regulations still prevent reassignment for married individuals and those with minor children. Transgender persons claimed to have difficulty obtaining official documents reflecting their gender.

According to Nash Mir, the situation of LGBTI persons in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts under the control of Russia-led forces was very poor. Most LGBTI persons either fled or hid their gender identity.

Overall, LGBTI groups enjoyed greater freedom to assemble than in past years. In most cases, security forces and local officials deployed adequate security forces to prevent violence and protect conferences and marches. On June 18, for example, security forces provided protection to an equality march in Kyiv. Authorities deployed more than 6,000 security personnel to protect up to 3,500 marchers, including members of parliament and the diplomatic community. Police adequately protected the equality festivals in Kyiv in May, in Dnipro in July, and a flash mob of tolerance in Zaporizhzhia in May.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigma and discrimination in health-care centers were a barrier to HIV-positive individuals’ receiving counseling, testing, and treatment services. UNICEF reported that children with HIV/AIDS were at high risk of abandonment, social stigma, and discrimination. Authorities prevented many children infected with HIV/AIDS from attending kindergartens or schools. Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination in housing and employment. Injection drug users and their sexual partners were also particularly at risk of discrimination.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association as a fundamental right and establishes the right to participate in independent trade unions. The law provides the right for most workers to form and join independent unions, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes. No laws or legal mechanisms prevent antiunion discrimination; union activity is not an acceptable justification for employment termination. While legal recourse is available for reinstatement, back wages, and punitive damages, observers described courts as unpredictable, with damage awards often too low to create incentives for employer compliance.

The law contains several limits to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. A number of laws that apply to worker organizations are complex and occasionally contradictory. Unions reported bureaucratic hurdles in the registration process, entailing the payment of multiple fees and requiring visits to as many as 10 different offices. Efforts to reform registration of legal entities complicated registration specifically for trade unions. Independent unions reported multiple incidents of harassment by local law enforcement officials while navigating the registration process, including nonstandard requests for documentation and membership information.

The legal procedure to initiate a strike was overly complex and effectively prohibited strike action in practice, artificially lowering the numbers of informal industrial actions. The legal process for industrial disputes requires consideration, conciliation, and labor arbitration that parties could draw out for months. Only after completion of this process can workers vote to strike, a decision that courts may still block. The right to strike is further restricted by the requirement that a large percentage of the workforce (two-thirds of general workers’ meeting delegates or 50 percent of workers in an enterprise) must vote in favor of a strike before it may be called. In addition, the government is allowed to deny the right to strike due to national security or to protect the health or “rights and liberties” of citizens. The law prohibits strikes by broad categories of workers, including personnel in the PGO, the judiciary, the armed forces, the security services, law enforcement agencies, the transportation sector, and the public service sector.

Legal hurdles made it difficult for independent unions that were not affiliated with the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU) to take part in tripartite negotiations, participate in social insurance programs, or represent labor at the national and international levels. The legal hurdles resulting from an obsolete labor code hindered the ability of smaller independent unions to represent their members effectively. Authorities did not enforce labor laws effectively or consistently. Inspectors were limited in number and funding (also see section 7.e.). Throughout the year the labor inspection service continued to be functionally suspended due to an incomplete reorganization. Union leaders continued to assert that inspectorate services in general suffered from high levels of corruption and capture by large economic and oligarchic interests.

Independent trade unions alleged that the country’s largest trade union confederation, the FPU, enjoyed a close relationship with employers and members of some political parties. In particular, they alleged that local authorities and employers often operated in collusion with management-controlled trade unions to obstruct the functioning of other independent unions. Authorities denied unions not affiliated with the FPU a share of disputed trade union assets inherited by the FPU from Soviet-era unions, a dispute dating back more than a decade.

Several laws adopted in 2016 weakened protection for freedom of association, including a new requirement that made trade union registration more difficult and a law complicating the tax status of trade unions.

Independent union representatives continued to be subjected to violence and intimidation. Local union representatives reported that in August the local union leader in Pirohovo (Kyiv region), Tamara Taranuschenko, was severely beaten because of her union activities related to reporting corruption.

In addition to local authorities’ interference, top-level government officials in Kyiv continued to make public statements against unions and the freedom of association, including unsupported accusations that particular unions and union leaders supported separatists and that peaceful, legal, union protests sought to destabilize the country. A pattern of officials alleging that peaceful trade union protests were unpatriotic continued.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for violations ranged were sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate to provide for enforcement. In the first six months of the year, the Countertrafficking Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs registered 144 violations under the law.

There are some inconsistencies between labor law in Ukraine and international standards on forced labor. Ukraine is a party to International Labor Organization Convention 105 on the use of compulsory labor for holding or expressing political views or views ideologically opposed to the established political, social or economic system.

In the first six months of the year, the IOM assisted 626 victims of trafficking in the country, of whom 244 were women and 382 men. It assisted 20 students upon completion of reintegration plan. Approximately 89 percent of the victims were subjected to labor exploitation, while 8 percent were sexually exploited, 2 percent forced to beg, and 1.4 percent subjected to other forms of exploitation.

There were reports of trafficking of women, men, and children for labor. Traffickers subjected some foreign nationals to forced labor in construction (46 percent), agriculture (24 percent), manufacturing (18 percent), services (9 percent), the lumber industry (0.7 per cent), nursing, and street begging. Traffickers subjected some children to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

According to trade union activists, child labor in illegal mining operations in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces grew over the year.

According to the IOM, identified victims of trafficking received comprehensive reintegration assistance, including legal aid, medical care, psychological counseling, financial support, vocational training, and other types of assistance based on individual needs.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for most employment is 16, but children who are 15 years old may perform undefined “light work” with a parent’s consent.

As of September 1, the State Service on Labor conducted 2,537 inspections to investigate compliance with child labor laws. The inspections found 64 instances of the use of child labor and 82 violations of the law. The inspections uncovered 136 working minors, two of whom were 14 or 15 years of age while 134 were between 16 and 18 years of age. The inspections indicated that minors were engaged in diverse types of work, with children found to be working in the construction, restaurant, and agricultural sectors.

The law provides for a complex system based on three different minimum ages (16, 15, and 14) for admission to employment or work. The law does not define the light work activities that may be performed by children from the age of 14.

Due to a lack of resources, the government did not always effectively enforce the law. Labor inspections resumed during the year, after being temporarily suspended because of concerns over improper use of the inspection process. Penalties for violations ranged from small fines for illegitimate employment to prison sentences for sexual exploitation of a child; some observers believed these punishments were insufficient to deter violations.

The most frequent violations of child labor laws concerned work under hazardous conditions, long workdays, failure to maintain accurate work records, and delayed salary payments.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic, social, and foreign origin, age, health, disability, HIV/AIDS condition, family and property status, or linguistic or other grounds.

The government did not always enforce the law, and employment discrimination reportedly occurred with respect to gender, disability, nationality, race, minority status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and HIV-positive status. The agriculture, construction, mining, heavy industry, and services sectors had the most work-related discrimination. The law provides for civil, administrative, and criminal liability for discrimination in the workplace. Penalties include a fine of up to 50 tax-free minimum incomes, correctional labor for a term of up to two years, restraint of liberty for up to five years, and restriction on engaging in certain activities for a period of up to three years. When accompanied by violence, employment discrimination violations are punishable by correctional labor for a term of up to two years or imprisonment for a term of up to five years if such actions were committed by an organized group of persons or if they caused death or other grave consequences.

Women received lower salaries due to limited opportunities for advancement and the types of industries that employed them. According to the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, men earned on average 29.5 percent more than women. Women held few elected or appointed offices at the national and regional levels. In addition, the law limits women’s employment opportunities although a ban on women for approximately 500 occupations, including bulldozer operator and bus driver.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage meets the poverty level. Some workers in the informal sector received wages below the established minimum. Authorities checked more than 4,400 employers for minimum wage compliance over the past year.

Wage arrears continued to be a major problem during the year. A lack of legal remedies, bureaucratic wrangling, and corruption in public and private enterprises, blocked efforts to recover overdue wages, leading to significant wage theft. Total wage arrears in the country rose during the year through September 1 to 2.4 billion hryvnias ($88 million). More than half of the debt was in the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts. In September, the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine reported that arrears in the coal sector reached almost 300 million hryvnias ($11.5 million). Arrears and corruption problems exacerbated industrial relations and led to numerous protests.

The labor law provides for a maximum 40-hour workweek, with a minimum 42-hour period of rest per week and at least 24 days of paid vacation per year. It provides for double pay for overtime work and regulates the number of overtime hours allowed. The law requires agreement between employers and local trade union organization on overtime work and limits overtime to four hours during two consecutive days and 120 hours per year.

The law requires employers to provide workplace safety standards. Employers must meet occupational safety and health standards but at times ignored these regulations due to the lack of enforcement or strict imposition of penalties. The law provides workers the right to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardizing their continued employment. According to one NGO, employers in the metal and mining industries often violated the rule and retaliated against workers by pressuring them to quit.

Penalties for violations workplace safety standards ranged from 510 to 1,700 hryvnias ($19 to $63), which were insufficient to deter violations. The State Labor Inspectorate was responsible for enforcing labor laws. Inspectors were limited in number and funding. By 2014, the latest date for which such data were available, the number of inspectors dropped to 457 from 616, in large part due to a 70 percent funding cut that year.

The government did not always enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards. Penalties for these violations included fines of 50 to 100 tax-free minimum incomes, limitations on the right to occupy positions of responsibility or to engage in some activities for three to five years, correctional labor for up to two years, or arrest for up to six months if the actions committed affected a minor or a pregnant woman.

Labor inspections occurred at a company’s request or upon the formal request of the investigator in the framework of criminal proceedings against a company.

Lax safety standards and aging equipment caused many injuries on the job. In addition to wage arrears, the nonpayment of overtime, operational safety problems, and health complaints were common in the mining industry.

Mineworkers, particularly in the illegal mining sector, faced serious safety and health problems. Authorities reported 415 individual injuries to coal miners over the first half of the year, including 17 fatalities; 224 individual injuries in the agro-industrial sector, including 31 fatalities; 105 injuries in construction, including 24 fatalities. Workers were more likely to face unsafe situations in the eastern regions of the country, including the Oblasts of Dnipropetrovsk (349 injuries; 15 fatalities), Donetsk (304 injuries; 15 fatalities) and Zaporizhzhia (148; 10 fatalities) as well as in areas outside government control in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

Despite Russian aggression close to industrial areas in the Donbas region, enterprises involved in mining, energy, media, retail, clay production, and transportation continued to operate. Fighting resulted in damage to mines and plants through loss of electricity, destroyed transformers, physical damage from shelling, and alleged intentional flooding of mines by combined Russia-led forces. Miners were especially vulnerable, as loss of electrical power could strand them underground. The loss of electrical power also threatened the operability of mine safety equipment that prevented the buildup of explosive gases.