Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Attorney General’s Office maintains a military investigation and prosecution office for cases involving entities of the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Defense maintains its own investigation authority as well as prosecution at the primary and appellate level; at the final level, cases are forwarded to the Supreme Court.
In January security forces in Kandahar Province reportedly killed a young girl and later her father, who approached the local army base apparently to condemn the killing. Security forces did not offer an explanation for the killings. Security forces fired upon and wounded at least one of the community members who protested the killings. Authorities committed to investigate the killings, but there was no update available as of October. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported in March that Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) members killed several locals either after they had surrendered or while they were in SAS detention in 2012. Witnesses alleged that in one such incident, SAS members shot and killed an imam and his son following evening prayers. In July the ABC additionally reported SAS members killed unarmed civilians in Kandahar Province in 2012.
During the year unknown actors carried out a number of targeted killings of civilians, including religious leaders, journalists, and civil society advocates (see section 1.g.).
There were no reports of disappearances committed by security forces.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) noted an increase in abductions of civilians carried out by the Taliban in the first six months of the year, compared with the same period in the previous year, and a fivefold increase over the same period of the previous year of casualties resulting from abduction. UNAMA reported seven adult men were abducted from their village in Herat Province on March 6 and subsequently killed by the Taliban.
Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were numerous reports that government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians. Despite legislation prohibiting these acts, independent monitors continued to report credible cases of torture in detention centers. According to local media, lawyers representing detainees in detention centers alleged in July that torture remained commonplace and that detainees were regularly questioned using torture methods.
There were numerous reports of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment by the Taliban, ISIS-K, and other antigovernment groups. UNAMA reported that punishments carried out by the Taliban included beatings, amputations, and executions. The Taliban held detainees in poor conditions and subjected them to forced labor, according to UNAMA.
On January 30, a video was posted showing a woman being stoned to death. The president’s spokesman attributed the attack to the Taliban; the Taliban denied involvement.
Impunity was a significant problem in all branches of the security forces. Despite the testimony of numerous witnesses and advocates that service members were among the most prevalent perpetrators of bacha bazi (the sexual and commercial exploitation of boys, especially by men in positions of power), the government had never prosecuted a security officer for these acts, although eight officers were arrested during the year in connection with bacha bazi incidents.
In July, as a part of a political agreement between President Ghani and Abdullah, the government promoted Abdul Rashid Dostum to the rank of marshal, the country’s highest military rank. Dostum had been accused of gross violations of human rights, including the abduction and rape of a political opponent, but the government did not carry out an investigation.
Prison conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and limited access to medical services. The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Interior Ministry, has responsibility for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate is responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The National Directorate of Security (NDS) operates short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually colocated with its headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense runs the Afghan National Detention Facilities at Parwan. There were credible reports of private prisons run by members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and used for abuse of detainees. The Taliban also maintain illegal detention facilities throughout the country.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem. On April 21, the general director of prisons stated the country’s prisons suffered from widespread abuses, including corruption, lack of attention to detainees’ sentences, sexual abuse of underage prisoners, and lack of access to medical care. Prisoners in a number of prisons occasionally conducted hunger strikes or sewed their mouths shut to protest their detention conditions.
In October inspectors reportedly identified a contaminated drinking water supply at Pul-e Charki Prison. The water was reportedly contaminated by an overflow of sewage at a nearby water treatment plant that was not adequately addressed due to low standards of safety and maintenance.
Authorities generally lacked the facilities to separate pretrial and convicted inmates or to separate juveniles according to the seriousness of the charges against them. Local prisons and detention centers did not always have separate facilities for female prisoners.
According to NGOs and media reports, authorities held children younger than age 15 in prison with their mothers, due in part to a lack of capacity of separate children’s support centers. These reports documented insufficient educational and medical facilities for these minors.
Access to food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care in prisons varied throughout the country and was generally inadequate. The GDPDC’s nationwide program to feed prisoners faced a severely limited budget, and many prisoners relied on family members to provide food supplements and other necessary items.
From March 11 to September 16, a total of 7,237 prisoners and detainees were released from 32 facilities across the country in an effort to protect these individuals from COVID-19 and slow the spread of the virus. At year’s end it was unknown how many were returned to custody. The majority were given reduced sentences or qualified for bail and did not have to return to prison.
As part of an exchange establishing conditions for peace talks between the government and the Taliban, the government released nearly 5,000 Taliban prisoners between March and September. The Taliban released 1,000 government prisoners between March and July as part of its commitments in the agreement.
Administration: Authorities conducted some investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. The law provides prisoners with the right to leave prison for up to 20 days for family visits. Most prisons did not implement this provision, and the law is unclear in its application to different classes of prisoners. Additionally, most prisons did not allow family visits.
Independent Monitoring: The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), UNAMA, and the International Committee of the Red Cross monitored the NDS, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Defense detention facilities. NATO Resolute Support Mission monitored NDS, Afghan National Police (ANP), and Defense Ministry facilities. Security constraints and obstruction by authorities occasionally prevented visits to some places of detention. UNAMA and the AIHRC reported difficulty accessing NDS places of detention when they arrived unannounced. The AIHRC reported NDS officials usually required the AIHRC to submit a formal letter requesting access at least one to two days in advance of a visit. NDS officials continued to prohibit AIHRC and UNAMA monitors from bringing cameras, mobile phones, recording devices, or computers into NDS facilities, thereby preventing AIHRC monitors from documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries.
Improvements: The Office of Prisons Administration dedicated human rights departments at each facility to monitor and address problems.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both remained serious problems. Authorities detained many citizens without respecting essential procedural protections. According to NGOs, law enforcement officers continued to detain citizens arbitrarily without clear legal authority or without regard to substantive procedural legal protections. Local law enforcement officials reportedly detained persons illegally on charges that have no basis in applicable criminal law. In some cases authorities improperly held women in prisons because they deemed it unsafe for the women to return home or because women’s shelters were not available to provide protection in the provinces or districts at issue (see section 6, Women). The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter, but authorities generally did not observe this requirement.
There were reports throughout the year of impunity and lack of accountability by security forces. According to observers, Afghan Local Police (ALP) and ANP personnel were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law, since many were illiterate and lacked training. Accountability of NDS, ANP, and ALP officials for torture and abuse was weak, not transparent, and rarely enforced. Independent judicial or external oversight of the NDS, Major Crimes Task Force, ANP, and ALP in the investigation and prosecution of crimes or misconduct, including torture and abuse, was limited or nonexistent.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
UNAMA, the AIHRC, and other observers reported arbitrary and prolonged detention frequently occurred throughout the country, including persons being detained without judicial authorization. Authorities often did not inform detainees of the charges against them.
Justice-sector actors and the public lacked widespread understanding and knowledge of the penal code, which took effect in 2018 to modernize and consolidate criminal laws.
The law provides for access to legal counsel and the use of warrants, and it limits how long authorities may hold detainees without charge. Police have the right to detain a suspect for 72 hours to complete a preliminary investigation. If police decide to pursue a case, they transfer the file to the Attorney General’s Office. After taking custody of a suspect, the attorney general may issue a detention warrant for up to seven days for a misdemeanor and 15 days for a felony. With court approval, the investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect while continuing the investigation, with the length of continued detention depending on the severity of the offense. The investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect for a maximum of 20 days for a misdemeanor and 60 days for a felony. The prosecutor must file an indictment or release the suspect within those deadlines; there may be no further extension of the investigatory period if the defendant is already in detention. After a case is referred to the court, the court may issue detention orders not to exceed a total of 120 days for all court proceedings (primary, appeal, and Supreme Court stages). Compliance with these time limits was difficult to ascertain in the provincial courts. In addition there were multiple reports that judges often detained prisoners after their sentences were completed because bribes for release were not paid. Incommunicado imprisonment remained a problem, and prompt access to a lawyer was rare. Prisoners generally were able to receive family visits.
The criminal procedure code provides for release on bail. Authorities at times remanded “flight risk” defendants pending a prosecutorial appeal despite the defendants’ acquittal by the trial court. In other cases authorities did not rearrest defendants released pending appeal, even after the appellate court convicted them in absentia.
According to the juvenile code, the arrest of a child “should be a matter of last resort and should last for the shortest possible period.” Reports indicated children in juvenile rehabilitation centers across the country lacked access to adequate food, health care, and education. Detained children frequently did not receive the presumption of innocence, the right to know the charges against them, access to defense lawyers, and protection from self-incrimination. The law provides for the creation of special juvenile police, prosecution offices, and courts. Due to limited resources, special juvenile courts functioned in only six provinces (Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Kunduz). Elsewhere children’s cases went to ordinary courts. The law mandates authorities handle children’s cases confidentially.
Some children in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crime. In the absence of sufficient shelters for boys, authorities detained abused boys and placed them in juvenile rehabilitation centers because they could not return to their families and shelter elsewhere was unavailable. In addition some victims of bacha bazi were charged with “moral crimes” and treated as equally responsible perpetrators as the adult.
There were reports of children being abused while in custody, to include girls who were raped and became pregnant. Following the capture of ISIS-K fighters and family members in 2019, children of ISIS-K fighters (including girls married to ISIS-K fighters) were sometimes detained in special centers. The government registered some of these children in school, but most were not registered and did not receive adequate care. In addition child soldiers pressed into service with ISIS-K, the Taliban, or other groups were imprisoned without regard to their age. There was no established program for their reintegration into society. According to advocates, following their interception by government forces, all child soldiers from militia groups are initially placed into an NDS detention facility and are sometimes transferred to juvenile rehabilitation centers and later to a shelter run by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. An estimated 125 children were held at the detention facility during the year, 30 were held at the shelter, and there was no reliable estimate of how many children were at the juvenile centers. Child soldiers affiliated with ISIS-K remained in the NDS detention facility.
Police and legal officials often charged women with intent to commit zina (sex outside marriage) to justify their arrest and incarceration for social offenses, such as running away from their husband or family, rejecting a spouse chosen by their families, fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping to escape an arranged marriage. The constitution provides that in cases not explicitly covered by the provisions of the constitution or other laws, courts may, in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence (a school of Sunni Islamic law) and within the limits set by the constitution, rule in a manner that best attains justice in the case. Observers reported officials used this article to charge women and men with “immorality” or “running away from home,” neither of which is a crime. Police often detained women for zina at the request of family members.
Authorities imprisoned some women for reporting crimes perpetrated against them and detained some as proxies for a husband or male relative convicted of a crime on the assumption the suspect would turn himself in to free the family member.
Authorities placed some women in protective custody to prevent violence by family members. They also employed protective custody (including placement in a detention center) for women who had experienced domestic violence, if no shelters were available to protect them from further abuse. The 2009 Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW) presidential decree–commonly referred to as the EVAW law–obliges police to arrest persons who abuse women. Implementation and awareness of the EVAW law was limited, however.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention remained a problem in most provinces. Observers reported some prosecutors and police detained individuals without charge for actions that were not crimes under the law, in part because the judicial system was inadequate to process detainees in a timely fashion. Observers continued to report those detained for moral crimes were primarily women.
Pretrial Detention: The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. Many detainees did not benefit from the provisions of the criminal procedure code because of a lack of resources, limited numbers of defense attorneys, unskilled legal practitioners, and corruption. The law provides that, if there is no completed investigation or filed indictment within the code’s 10-, 27-, or 75-day deadlines, judges must release defendants. Judges, however, held many detainees beyond those periods, despite the lack of an indictment.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary continued to be underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.
Judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were often intimidated or corrupt. World Justice Project’s annual report, released in July, found that in 2019 59 percent of those surveyed considered judges or magistrates to be corrupt; corruption was considered by those surveyed to be the most severe problem facing criminal courts.
Bribery and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency impaired judicial impartiality. Most courts administered justice unevenly, employing a mixture of codified law, sharia, and local custom. Traditional justice mechanisms remained the main recourse for many, especially in rural areas. Corruption was common in the judiciary, and often criminals paid bribes to obtain their release or a sentence reduction (see section 4).
There was a widespread shortage of judges, primarily in insecure areas, leading to the adjudication of many cases through informal, traditional mediation. A shortage of women judges, particularly outside of Kabul, limited access to justice for women. Many women are unable to use the formal justice system because cultural norms preclude their engagement with male officials. During the year only 254 of 2,010 judges were women, a slight decrease from 2019. The formal justice system is stronger in urban centers, closer to the central government, and weaker in rural areas. In rural areas, police operated unchecked with almost unlimited authority. Courts and police continued to operate at less than full strength nationwide. The judicial system continued to lack the capacity to absorb and implement the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Some municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of sharia without appropriate reference to statutory law, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. The number of judges who graduated from law school continued to increase. Access to legal codes and statutes increased, but their limited availability continued to hinder some judges and prosecutors.
In major cities courts continued to decide criminal cases. Authorities frequently resolved civil cases using the informal system, the government mediation mechanism through the Ministry of Justice Huquq (civil rights) Office, or in some cases through negotiations between the parties facilitated by judicial personnel or private lawyers. Because the formal legal system often does not exist in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) are the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system. UNAMA and NGOs reported several cases where perpetrators of violence against women that included domestic abuse reoffended after their claims were resolved by mediation.
In areas it controlled, the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments included execution and mutilation. According to UNAMA, in June, Taliban courts convicted two men in Faryab Province of different crimes. In both cases the men were brought before a crowd, and a Taliban member pronounced their death sentences; the men were immediately executed by public hanging.
The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally uses an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and those accused have the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although the judiciary did not always respect these rights. The law requires judges to provide five days’ notice prior to a hearing, but judges did not always follow this requirement, and many citizens complained that legal proceedings often dragged on for years.
Three-judge panels decide criminal trials, and there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly or in detail of the charges brought against them. Indigent defendants have the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. The judiciary applied this right inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers. Citizens were often unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys are entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.
Criminal defense attorneys reported the judiciary’s increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but defendants’ attorneys continued to experience abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.
The criminal procedure code establishes time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when the accused is in custody. The code also permits temporary release of the accused on bail, but this was rarely applied. An addendum to the code provides for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan Province regularly elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the judiciary does not meet the deadlines, the law requires the accused be released from custody. Often courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.
In cases where no clearly defined legal statute applied, or where judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the statutory law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law. This practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women.
In areas controlled by the Taliban, according to Human Rights Watch, the Taliban established courts that rely on religious scholars to adjudicate cases or at times referred cases to traditional dispute resolution mechanisms. Taliban courts include district-level courts, provincial-level courts, and a tamiz, or appeals, court located in a neighboring country.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Taliban justice system is focused on punishment, and convictions often resulted from forced confessions in which the accused is abused or tortured. At times the Taliban imposed corporal punishment for serious offenses, or hudud crimes, under an interpretation of sharia.
There were no reports the government held political prisoners or political detainees.
During the year the Taliban detained government officials, individuals alleged to be spying for the government, and individuals alleged to have associations with the government. For political cases, according to NGOs, there were no official courts; cases were instead tried by Taliban military commanders.
Corruption and limited capacity restricted citizen access to justice for constitutional and human rights abuses. Citizens may submit complaints of human rights abuses to the AIHRC, which reviews and submits credible complaints to the Attorney General’s Office for further investigation and prosecution. Some female citizens reported that when they approached government institutions with a request for service, government officials, in turn, demanded sexual favors as quid pro quo.
The law prohibits arbitrary interference in matters of privacy, but authorities did not always respect its provisions. The criminal procedure code contains additional safeguards for the privacy of the home, prohibiting night arrests, requiring the presence of a female officer during residential searches, and strengthening requirements for body searches. The government did not always respect these prohibitions.
Government officials continued to enter homes and businesses of civilians forcibly and without legal authorization. There were reports that government officials monitored private communications, including telephone calls and other digital communications, without legal authority or judicial warrant.
Media and the government reported the Taliban routinely used civilian homes as shelters, bases of operation, and shields. There were also reports the Taliban, ISIS-K, and ANDSF used schools for military purposes.
Continuing internal conflict resulted in civilian deaths, abductions, prisoner abuse, property damage, displacement of residents, and other abuses. The security situation remained a problem largely due to insurgent and terrorist attacks. According to UNAMA, actions by nonstate armed groups, primarily the Taliban and ISIS-K, accounted for the majority of civilian deaths.
After the signing of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement and the issuance of the U.S.-Afghanistan Joint Declaration on February 29, attacks against U.S. and coalition forces largely stopped, but violence against Afghan security forces and civilians continued, even after the start of intra-Afghan negotiations on September 12.
Killings: UNAMA counted 2,117 civilian deaths due to conflict during the first nine months of the year, compared with 2,683 during the same period in 2019. During this period, UNAMA documented 1,274 civilian casualties resulting from nonsuicide improvised explosive device (IED) attacks perpetrated by antigovernment forces (456 deaths and 818 injured). UNAMA attributed 59 percent of civilian casualties in the first nine months of the year to antigovernment forces, including the Taliban and ISIS-K, 27 percent to progovernment forces, and 14 percent to cross fire and other sources. UNAMA documented a 46 percent decrease in the total number of civilian casualties due to all airstrikes in the first nine months of the year, compared with the same period in 2019, but documented a 70 percent increase in civilian casualties (349) and a 50 percent increase in civilians killed (156) from airstrikes by the Afghan Air Force in the first nine months of the year, compared with the same period in 2019.
The AIHRC stated that an airstrike in Takhar Province by Afghan forces on October 21 killed 12 children and wounded 18 others at a religious school and mosque. The mosque’s imam was among the wounded. The attack reportedly targeted Taliban fighters. First Vice President Amrullah Saleh initially rejected reports of civilian casualties, stating the attack had targeted a Taliban installation, but the Ministry of Defense declared it had assigned an investigation team to assess allegations of civilian casualties.
During the year antigovernment forces carried out a number of deadly attacks against religious leaders, particularly those who spoke out against the Taliban. Many progovernment Islamic scholars were killed in attacks during the year for which no group claimed responsibility. In June, three imams and a number of worshippers were killed in separate attacks on two mosques in Kabul, and seven students were killed by a bomb at a seminary in Takhar Province.
Antigovernment elements continued to attack civilian targets. On April 21 in Nangarhar Province, the Taliban detonated an IED inside a private pharmacy, wounding eight civilians, including a doctor from the local hospital. The owners reportedly had refused to provide the Taliban an extortion payment.
Antigovernment elements continued targeting hospitals and aid workers. In the first six months of the year, UNAMA documented 36 incidents affecting health-care facilities and personnel. UNAMA attributed the majority of these incidents to the Taliban.
On May 12, three gunmen attacked a maternity clinic in a Hazara Shia neighborhood in Kabul run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killing 24 mothers, newborns, and a health-care worker. No group claimed responsibility. In June the MSF announced it would close the clinic.
On May 19, the Afghan Air Force conducted an airstrike in Kunduz Province outside a hospital, killing and wounding Taliban who were seeking medical care, as well as killing at least two civilians at the hospital.
On November 22, gunmen detonated explosives and fired upon students, staff, and others, killing 35 and wounding at least 50, at Kabul University. During the attack students and faculty were taken hostage, according to press reports. The attack was later claimed by ISIS-K.
Antigovernment elements also continued to target government officials and entities, as well as political candidates and election-related activities, throughout the country. Media reported five staff members of the Attorney General’s Office, including two who reportedly had served as prosecutors, were ambushed and killed in their vehicle in Kabul on June 22. No one claimed responsibility, and a Taliban spokesperson denied any involvement, adding that the peace process had many enemies and that the Taliban, too, would “investigate.” On October 3, a car bomb targeting a government administrative building in Nangarhar Province killed at least 15, including at least four children. Most of the casualties were civilians; no group claimed responsibility. On December 15, Kabul deputy governor Mahbubullah Muhibbi was killed in a bomb blast in Kabul. On December 21, at least 10 persons were killed and 52 wounded in an attack on the convoy of lower house of parliament member Khan Mohammad Wardak. No group claimed responsibility for either attack.
Abductions: In January a three-year-old boy was kidnapped for ransom in Kabul. Businesswomen reported they faced a constant threat of having their children abducted and held for ransom. The UN secretary-general’s 2019 Children and Armed Conflict Report, released in June, cited 14 verified incidents of child abduction, all of which were of boys as young as 11. Of the abductions, 12 were attributed to the Taliban and one each to the ANP and a progovernment militia.
Seven reported abductions of currency exchangers in Herat during the year prompted the currency exchangers there to strike in October to protest.
Antigovernment groups regularly targeted civilians, including using IEDs to kill and maim them. Land mines, unexploded ordnance, and explosive remnants of war (ERW) continued to cause deaths and injuries. UNAMA reported 584 civilian casualties caused by unlawful pressure-plate IEDs by antigovernment elements, mostly attributed to the Taliban, during the first nine months of the year, a 44 percent increase compared with the same period in 2019. The state minister for disaster management and humanitarian affairs reported that approximately 125 civilians were killed or wounded by unexploded ordnance per month, and more than 730 square miles still needed to be cleared, which included both previously identified ERW areas as well as newly contaminated ranges. Media regularly reported cases of children killed and injured after finding unexploded ordinance.
UNAMA reported civilian casualties from ERW in the first nine months of the year accounted for 5 percent of all civilian casualties and caused 298 civilian casualties, with 86 deaths and 212 injured. Children comprised more than 80 percent of civilian casualties from ERW.
Child Soldiers: Under the penal code, recruitment of children in military units carries a penalty of six months to one year in prison. UNAMA reported the ANDSF and progovernment militias recruited and used 11 children during the first nine months of the year, all for combat purposes. Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children younger than age 16. NGOs reported security forces used child soldiers in sexual slavery roles. The country remained on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List in the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/. The Taliban and other antigovernment groups regularly recruited and trained children to conduct attacks.
The ANP took steps that included training staff on age-assessment procedures, launching an awareness campaign on underage recruitment, investigating alleged cases of underage recruitment, and establishing centers in some provincial recruitment centers to document cases of attempted child enlistment. The government operated child protection units (CPUs) in all 34 provinces; however, some NGOs reported these units were not sufficiently equipped, staffed, or trained to provide adequate oversight. The difficult security environment in most rural areas prevented oversight of recruitment practices at the district level; CPUs played a limited oversight role in recruiting. Recruits underwent an identity check, including an affidavit from at least two community elders that the recruit was at least 18 years old and eligible to join the ANDSF. The Ministries of Interior and Defense also issued directives meant to prevent the recruitment and sexual abuse of children by the ANDSF. Media reported that in some cases ANDSF units used children as personal servants, support staff, or for sexual purposes. Government security forces reportedly recruited boys specifically for use in bacha bazi in every province of the country.
According to UNAMA, the Taliban and ISIS-K continued to recruit and use children for front-line fighting and setting IEDs. While the law protects trafficking victims from prosecution for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking, there were reports the government treated child former combatants as criminals as opposed to victims of trafficking. Most were incarcerated alongside adult offenders without adequate protections from abuse by other inmates or prison staff.
UNAMA verified the recruitment of 144 boys by the Taliban in the first nine months of the year. In some cases the Taliban and other antigovernment elements used children as suicide bombers, human shields, and to emplace IEDs, particularly in southern provinces. Media, NGOs, and UN agencies reported the Taliban tricked children, promised them money, used false religious pretexts, or forced them to become suicide bombers. UNAMA reported the Taliban deployed three boys in February to conduct a suicide attack against an ALP commander in Baghlan Province. One of the children accidentally detonated his IED before reaching the ceremony, killing all three children. See also the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: The security environment continued to make it difficult for humanitarian organizations to operate freely in many parts of the country. Violence and instability hampered development, relief, and reconstruction efforts. Insurgents targeted government employees and aid workers. NGOs reported insurgents, powerful local individuals, and militia leaders demanded bribes to allow groups to bring relief supplies into their areas and distribute them.
In contrast with previous years, polio vaccination campaigns were not disrupted by the conflict (the Taliban had previously restricted house-to-house vaccination programs). Routine immunization services at health facilities and other immunization campaigns, however, were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and only half of the provinces received vaccination coverage. According to the Ministry of Public Health, there were 46 new reported cases of polio during the year.
The Taliban also attacked schools, radio stations, and government offices. On February 3, the Taliban burned a girls’ school in Takhar Province. In July the Taliban burned a school in the same province after using it as cover to attack ANDSF. On August 20, the Taliban prevented approximately 200 female university applicants in Badakshan Province from taking their university entrance exams by threatening them with fines. Some of these women were ultimately taken to another location in the province to take the exam.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports during the year that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The government completed its investigation into the April 2019 death of Ramzi Yettou, whom police allegedly beat while he was walking home from an antigovernment protest in Algiers. Yettou died one week after the incident. The cause of death was reported as “undetermined,” prompting authorities to order the investigation. The government did not release the investigation conclusions publicly.
The government did not investigate the May 2019 death of Kamel Eddine Fekhar, who died in pretrial detention following a nearly 60-day hunger strike after his arrest in March 2019, despite ongoing requests from NGOs and Fekhar’s family to conduct an investigation.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits torture and prescribes prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for government agents found guilty of torture. Human rights activists reported police occasionally used excessive force against suspects, including protestors that could amount to torture or degrading treatment. The Ministry of Justice did not provide figures about prosecutions of police officers for abuse during the year. Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) asserted that impunity in security forces was a problem.
There were some significant reports of mental and physical abuse in detention centers that raised human rights concerns. Human rights lawyers and activists expressed concern with prisons’ COVID-19 management.
On July 17, Moussa Benhamadi, former minister and member of the National Liberation Front (FLN), died from COVID-19 while imprisoned. Benhamadi had been held in pretrial detention at El-Harrach Prison since September 2019 as part of an investigation into corruption involving the local high-tech firm Condor Electronics. According to Benhamadi’s brother, he contracted the virus on July 4 and was only transferred to a hospital in Algiers on July 13.
Authorities held some pretrial detainees in prolonged solitary confinement. Authorities held Karim Tabbou, leader of the unrecognized political party Union Democratique et Sociale (UDS), in solitary confinement from his arrest in September 2019 until his July release. Authorities charged him with undermining the morale of the army and distributing flyers or other publications that could harm the national interest.
Authorities referred businessman Rachid Nekkaz, president of the Movement for Youth and Change party and former presidential candidate, to the criminal court on July 29. The government held him in solitary confinement at Kolea Prison after his December 2019 arrest. In November 2019 Nekkaz called for the elimination of all parliamentarians who planned to vote for the Hydrocarbons Law “via Kalashnikov.”
The penal code prohibits the detention of suspects in any facilities not designated for that purpose and declared to the local prosecutor, who has the right to visit such facilities at any time.
Physical Conditions: In 2019, four prisons (out of 49 nationwide) had an inmate population that was between 7 and 10 percent above capacity, according to the Ministry of Justice, which also reported a total prisoner population of 65,000 individuals. Convicted terrorists had the same rights as other inmates but were held in prisons of varying degrees of security, determined by the danger prisoners posed. Prison authorities separate vulnerable persons but provide no consideration for sexual orientation. There were no legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in prison, but authorities stated civil protections extend to all prisoners regardless of gender orientation.
The government used specific facilities for prisoners age 27 and younger. The Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate for Prison Administration and Resettlement (DGAPR) maintained different categories of prisons that also separated prisoners according to the lengths of their sentences. The government acknowledged that some detention facilities were overcrowded but reported it used alternatives to incarceration such as releasing prisoners with electronic bracelets, conditional release, and replacing prison terms with mandatory community service to reduce overcrowding. The Ministry of Justice stated cell sizes exceeded international standards under the United Nations’ Nelson Mandela Rules. Some observers, including government-appointed human rights officials, attributed overcrowding in pretrial detention facilities to continued overuse of pretrial detention.
Authorities generally transferred pretrial detainees, after presenting them before the prosecutor, to prisons rather than holding them in separate detention facilities. The government stated pretrial detainees were normally held in cellblocks separate from those that confined the general prison population.
Administration: The General Directorate of National Security (DGSN) reported it conducted investigations into 83 allegations of mistreatment and took administrative actions against officers it deemed to have committed abuses. Religious workers reported they had access to prisoners during the year and authorities allowed detainees access to religious observance. The DGSN reported it conducted 14 human rights-focused training sessions for 1,289 police officers this year.
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. 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 alleviated overcrowding by increasing the use of minimum-security centers that permit prisoners to work and by using electronic monitoring. The National Human Rights Council (CNDH) reported numerous visits to prisons and that prison conditions related to COVID-19 were an important focus of their work. The DGSN’s human rights office, created in 2017, reported it led seminars and workshops with the National Human Rights Council and the NGO International Penal Reform (IPF) to provide additional human rights training to its officers. The DGAPR increased prisoners’ access to medical care by offering specific services for detainees at certain hospitals nationwide, to include tuberculosis and cancer treatments. The DGAPR also increased weekly bank transfer limits from 1,500 ($12.50) to 2,500 dinars ($20.83), permitting prisoners more money to purchase staple goods in the prison.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. A detainee has the right to appeal a court’s pretrial detention order and if released, seek compensation from the government. Nonetheless, overuse of pretrial detention remained a problem. An increase in pretrial detention coincided with the beginning of the popular protest movement in February 2019. The 2017 Universal Period Review, the latest statistics available, reported that 10 percent of the prisoners were in pretrial detention. Security forces routinely detained individuals who participated in unauthorized protests. Arrested individuals reported that authorities held them for four to eight hours before releasing them without charges.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
According to the law, police must obtain a summons from the prosecutor’s office to require a suspect to appear in a police station for preliminary questioning. With this summons police may hold a suspect for no more than 48 hours. Authorities also use summonses to notify and require the accused and the victim to attend a court proceeding or hearing. Police may make arrests without a warrant if they witness the offense. Lawyers reported that authorities usually carried out procedures for warrants and summonses properly.
If authorities need more than 48 hours to gather additional evidence, they may extend a suspect’s time in police detention with the prosecutor’s authorization in the following cases: if charges pertain to an attack on data processing systems, they may extend the time in detention once; if charges relate to state security, they may do so twice; for charges concerning drug trafficking, organized and transnational crime, money laundering, and other currency-related crimes, they may do so three times; and for charges related to terrorism and other subversive activities, they may do so five times for a maximum of 12 days. The law stipulates detainees should immediately be able to contact a family member, receive a visit, or contact an attorney.
The law provides detainees the right to see an attorney for 30 minutes if the time in detention has been extended beyond the initial 48-hour period. In these cases authorities permit the arrested person to contact a lawyer after half of the extended time has expired. Prosecutors may apply to a judge to extend the period before arrested individuals can have access to an attorney. The court appearance of suspects in terrorism cases is public. At the end of the detention, the detainee has the right to request a medical examination by a physician of choice within the jurisdiction of the court. Otherwise, the judicial police appoint a doctor. Authorities enter the medical certificate into the detainee’s file.
In nonfelony cases and in cases of individuals held on terrorism charges and other subversive activities that exceed a 12-day period plus any authorized extension, the law calls for the release of suspects on provisional liberty, referred to as “judicial control,” or release on own recognizance while awaiting trial. Under provisional liberty status, authorities subjected suspects to requirements such as reporting periodically to the police station in their district, stopping professional activities related to the alleged offense committed, surrendering all travel documents, and, in some terrorism-related cases, residing at an agreed-upon address. The law provides that foreigners may be required to furnish bail as a condition of release on provisional liberty status, while citizens may be released on provisional liberty without posting bail.
Judges rarely refused requests to extend pretrial detention, which may be appealed. Should the detention be overturned, the defendant has the right to request compensation. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and reportedly abused them physically and mentally.
Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities used vaguely worded provisions such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations criticized the law prohibiting unauthorized gatherings and called for its amendment to require only notification as opposed to application for authorization. These observers, among others, pointed to the law as a significant source of arbitrary arrests intended to suppress political activism. Police arrested protesters throughout the year for violating the law against unregistered public gatherings.
According to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), at least 44 persons were arbitrarily detained for expressing their opinion, and a number of them were in pretrial detention as of August 25.
On March 1, police arrested human rights activist Ibrahim Daouadji in Algiers. On March 19, Daouadji appeared before a judge in an Algiers court; authorities did not inform his lawyer, and he was placed under warrant by the investigating judge. On April 9, he was sentenced to six months in prison and a 50,000 Algerian dinars (approximately $450) fine for a video he posted online. In the video he criticized his detention conditions after being held in pretrial detention for three months in 2019.
On February 11, authorities released former parliamentarian Louisa Hanoune, president of the Worker’s Party. In May 2019 a military court had convicted Hanoune and sentenced her to 15 years in prison for “conspiracy against the authority of the state.” Human rights organizations criticized the government’s use of military courts to try civilians.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees were a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but did not have specific statistics. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of August 29, approximately 18 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention, an increase from 12 percent in 2019.
The law limits the grounds for pretrial detention and stipulates that before it can be imposed, a judge must assess the gravity of a crime and whether the accused is a threat to society or a flight risk. Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. Human rights activists and attorneys, however, asserted that some detainees were held without access to lawyers.
The law prohibits pretrial detention for crimes with maximum punishments of less than three years imprisonment, except for infractions that resulted in deaths or to persons considered a “threat to public order.” In these cases, the law limits pretrial detention to one month. In all other criminal cases, pretrial detention may not exceed four months. Amnesty International alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals on security-related charges for longer than the 12-day prescribed period.
On January 2, security forces released Lakhdar Bouregaa, an independence-war-era figure, from pretrial detention. Authorities arrested Bouregaa in June 2019 and charged him with “demoralization and contempt for the armed forces.” Authorities held him in pretrial detention for more than six months.
The judiciary was not always independent or impartial in civil matters and lacked independence in some human rights cases. Family connections and status of the parties involved influenced decisions. While the constitution provides for the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government, the executive branch’s broad statutory authorities limited judicial independence. The constitution grants the president authority to appoint all prosecutors and judges. These presidential appointments are not subject to legislative oversight but are reviewed by the High Judicial Council, which consists of the president, minister of justice, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, 10 judges, and six individuals outside the judiciary who the president chooses. The president serves as the president of the High Judicial Council, which is responsible for the appointment, transfer, promotion, and discipline of judges. The judiciary was not impartial, and observers perceived it to be subject to influence and corruption.
In April the National Union of Judges (SNM) criticized the Ministry of Justice’s decision to bypass the SNM before submitting proposed penal code amendments to parliament.
In May the Ministry of Justice summoned SNM president Saadeddine Marzouk to appear before the Court of Justice. Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati did not specify the charges against Marzouk. The ministry issued the summons shortly after Marzouk called for the new draft constitution to address judicial independence and core Hirak demands.
In August, President Tebboune appointed new courts of appeal presidents and attorneys general, a decision affecting 35 out of 48 judges at the courts of appeal, and 36 out of 48 attorneys general. Tebboune replaced 17 court presidents and transferred 18 of them, while he replaced 19 attorneys general and transferred 17. Tebboune did not indicate if the High Judicial Council reviewed his decision. In October 2019 judges paralyzed the judicial system by going on a general strike to protest the government’s decision to relocate 3,000 judges. The judges suspended the strike after the government agreed to reconsider its decision.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but authorities did not always respect legal provisions that protect defendants’ rights. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to be present and consult with an attorney provided at public expense if necessary. Most trials are public, except when the judge determines the proceedings to be a threat to public order or “morals.” The penal code stipulates that defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial but may be tried in absentia if they do not respond to a summons ordering their appearance.
Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The testimony of men and women has equal weight under the law.
On March 24, an appeals court summoned opposition leader Karim Tabbou, who was convicted earlier in March for “harming national unity,” to appear for his appeal, two days before he was due to be released. The court did not notify Tabbou’s lawyers of the proceedings. During the appeal Tabbou suffered a stroke and was taken to the infirmary. After Tabbou left the court, the judge sentenced him in absentia, affirmed his conviction, and increased his prison sentence from six months to one year. Tabbou’s lawyer argued that he did not receive a fair trial. On July 2, authorities released Tabbou on bail.
International and local observers alleged that authorities occasionally used antiterrorism laws and restrictive laws on freedom of expression and public assembly to detain political activists and outspoken critics of the government.
According to the CNLD, 61 political prisoners associated with the Hirak protest movement were in government detention. They included journalists, activists, lawyers, opposition figures, and Hirak protesters. International human rights organizations and local civil society groups repeatedly called on the government to release all political prisoners. On September 8, Minister of Communication and government spokesperson Ammar Belhimer stated there were no political detainees in the country.
On July 10, retired army general and former presidential candidate Ali Ghediri went on a hunger strike to protest his detention. The government arrested Ghediri in June 2019 for “undermining the army’s morale” and imprisoned him on treason and espionage charges. On July 29, the Algiers Court’s Indictments Division dropped the espionage charges. Ghediri claimed that his 13 months in prison had been “a political confinement to keep him away from the political scene and the presidential election.”
In June authorities convicted Amira Bouraoui, founder of two opposition movements (Barakat “Enough” and al-Muwatana “Citizenship”). She received a one-year prison sentence on the charge of “inciting an unarmed gathering, offending Islam, offending the President, publishing content which may harm national unity, publication of fake news that may harm safety and public order, and undermining the lives of others.” After 11 days in prison, authorities released Bouraoui on July 2, and placed her under judicial supervision.
In March the government arrested Slimane Hamitouche, the national coordinator of SOS Disparus (an association advocating for the families of those who disappeared during the Dark Decade, 1991-2002), for “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “harming national unity.” In February authorities released Samir Belarbi, a political activist and Barakat movement founder, from pretrial detention, but arrested him again in March for “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “harming national unity.” The government first arrested Belarbi in September 2019 for “harming national unity” and “advertising that may harm the national interest.” On September 15, authorities released Belarbi and Hamitouche from prison after they completed their sentences.
Individuals may bring lawsuits, and administrative processes related to amnesty may provide damages to the victims or their families for human rights abuses and compensation for alleged wrongs. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, but their decisions cannot be legally enforced.
In August the lawyers’ collective for Hirak detainees released a statement denouncing the abuse of Hirak detainees’ rights. The collective noted that courts were scheduling appeals trials unusually quickly, ultimately preventing Hirakists’ release or precluding their ability to wait for appeals at home after completing their sentences.
The constitution provides for the protection of a person’s “honor” and private life, including the privacy of home, communication, and correspondence. According to human rights activists, citizens widely believed the government conducted frequent electronic surveillance of a range of citizens, including political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists. Security officials reportedly searched homes without a warrant. Security forces conducted unannounced home visits.
An anticybercrime agency is charged with coordinating anticybercrime efforts and engaging in preventive surveillance of electronic communications in the interests of national security. Falling under the Ministry of Justice, the agency has exclusive authority for monitoring all electronic surveillance activities, but did not provide details regarding the limits of surveillance authority or corresponding protections for persons subject to surveillance. The Ministry of Justice stated the agency was subject to all existing judicial controls that apply to law enforcement agencies.
In 2019 the government moved the anticybercrime agency from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of National Defense. A new decree allowed authorities to conduct domestic surveillance and required internet and telephone providers to increase cooperation with the Ministry of National Defense.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
The constitution provides for the rights to life and personal liberty. There were numerous reports, however, that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Law enforcement raids occurred throughout the year, primarily to counter terrorist activity, drugs, and illegal firearms. Suspicious deaths occurred during some raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Security forces frequently accounted for such deaths by claiming–when they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene to recover weapons or identify coconspirators–accomplices fired on police and killed the suspect. The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings.” The media also used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media outlets claimed many of these crossfire incidents actually constituted extrajudicial killings. Human rights organizations claimed in some cases law enforcement units detained, interrogated, and tortured suspects, brought them back to the scene of the original arrest, executed them, and ascribed the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks.
Police policy requires automatic internal investigations of all significant uses of force by police, including actions that resulted in serious physical injury or death, usually by a professional standards unit that reports directly to the Inspector General of Police. The government, however, neither released statistics on total killings by security personnel nor took comprehensive measures to investigate cases. Human rights groups expressed skepticism over the independence and professional standards of the units conducting these assessments. In the few known instances in which the government brought charges, those found guilty generally received administrative punishment.
Domestic human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) reported 196 incidents of alleged extrajudicial killings between January and July 28. According to ASK, many of these killings involved the Rapid Action Battalion–a paramilitary police force–the conventional police force, and Border Guards Bangladesh. In 2019 ASK reported a total of 388 incidents of alleged extrajudicial executions, down from 466 incidents in 2018. Human rights organizations and civil society expressed concern over the alleged extrajudicial killings and arrests, claiming many of the victims were innocent.
In September, Amnesty International said more than 100 Rohingya refugees were victims of extrajudicial killings in the country since 2017. In Cox’s Bazar, the site of Rohingya refugee camps, Rohingya comprised a disproportionate percentage of reported “crossfire” killings. The press reported in July that security forces killed 22 individuals, suspected mostly of conducting drug deals, in reported gunfights with police. At least 10 were Rohingya. In response to these reports, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan refuted characterizations of the Rohingya as “victims” of extrajudicial killings and said they were “armed narcotics smugglers” crossing Myanmar into Bangladesh. After speaking with family members of the deceased, Amnesty International reported several of the killed Rohingya were picked up from their homes by the police and then found dead.
On July 31, police in Cox’s Bazar shot and killed “Sinha” Md Rashed Khan, a retired army major at a police vehicle checkpoint. Police reported Sinha “brandished” a gun, while eyewitnesses said Sinha had left the firearm in the car when he was asked by police to exit the vehicle. Sinha’s killing generated intense public discussion on police, extrajudicial killings, and law enforcement excesses. In August the Ministry of Home Affairs convened a senior investigation committee in response to the killing, suspending 21 police officers and charging nine police officers in connection with Sinha’s death.
Also in August a news outlet released a Facebook video showing the senior police officer arrested, Pradeep Das, openly admitting to killing drug suspects in “crossfires.” In 2019 Das received the highest police award after boasting of his involvement in extrajudicial killings. In September the police administration transferred almost all 1,500 police officers in Cox’s Bazar to other posts. While the police called the transfer an “administrative move,” the media called this action “unprecedented” and observers cited in the report said the action was made as part of a “corrective campaign” in connection with public outcry following Sinha’s death. In October media reported September was the first month since 2009 without a report of an extrajudicial killing.
Human rights groups and media reported disappearances and kidnappings continued, allegedly committed by security services. The government made limited efforts to prevent or investigate such acts. Civil society organizations reported victims of enforced disappearance were mostly opposition leaders, activists, and dissidents. Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested others, found some dead, and never found others. In a 2019 report discussing enforced disappearances, the Paris-based organization International Federation of Human Rights concluded enforced disappearances followed a pattern that included disappeared individuals previously targeted by authorities; witnesses observed similar law enforcement tactics when detaining individuals who later disappeared, and following the disappearance, authorities treated relatives either dismissively or with threats.
The government did not respond to a request from the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to visit the country.
On March 10, photojournalist and news editor Shafiqul Islam Kajol disappeared after leaving his house for work. The previous day a member of parliament filed a case against Kajol and 31 others, claiming a media story covering a crime syndicate involving drugs, money, and prostitution defamed the member of parliament. On May 3, police in the border town Benapole confirmed to the press that Kajol was “rescued” near the border with India border and detained him on trespassing charges. Kajol’s family told the press they believe Kajol was forcibly disappeared and held in government detention from March through May. Kajol spent 237 days in prison on defamation charges and was released on bail on December 25.
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, local and international human rights organizations and media reported security forces, including intelligence services and police, employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. According to multiple organizations, including the UN Committee against Torture (CAT), security forces reportedly used torture to gather information from alleged militants and members of political opposition parties. Security forces reportedly used threats, beatings, kneecappings, electric shock, rape, and other sexual abuse. Numerous organizations also claimed security forces were involved in widespread and routine commission of torture–occasionally resulting in death–for the purpose of soliciting payment of bribes or obtaining confessions. According to these organizations, impunity for government actors committing torture was extensive. Politicization of crimes was a factor in impunity for custodial torture. During the government’s 2019 statement to the CAT, the Bangladesh government has a “zero tolerance” policy against custodial death; however, allegations of law enforcement committing torture and other forms of mistreatment were not investigated. In September a Dhaka court issued a verdict under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act for the first time and sentenced three police officers to life imprisonment and two others to seven years in prison over the 2014 custodial death of Ishtiaque Hossain Jonny. In 2019 the CAT expressed concerns with allegations of widespread use of torture and mistreatment by law enforcement officials to obtain confessions or to solicit the payment of bribes. The CAT report also cited the lack of publicly available information on abuse cases and the failure to ensure accountability for law enforcement agencies, particularly the Rapid Action Battalion.
In June media reported the police’s cruel treatment and extortion of university student Imran Hossain, who suffered kidney damage after an encounter with law enforcement. According to news reports, Hossain was returning home with a friend in June when police from Sajiali camp stopped them and demanded to search their bags. Hossain ran away, leading police to chase and beat him until he lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness, police said he was arrested with cannabis in his possession. Police then released Hossain in exchange for a bribe of 6,000 taka ($71) and threatened to place him in interrogative custody if he told anyone about the incident. When Hossain returned home, his condition deteriorated and he was admitted to Queen’s Hospital in Jashore, where a kidney specialist reported Hossain’s kidneys had stopped working and that he would need regular dialysis. Following news reports of the incident, two Supreme Court lawyers submitted a writ petition to the High Court seeking the government take necessary action against the police responsible for torturing Hossain. In response to the High Court request, the Superintendent of Jashore police submitted an investigative report to the Court, saying three police officers had taken “unethical benefits” from Hossain’s father in exchange for releasing him from custody.
The law contains provisions allowing a magistrate to place a suspect in interrogative custody, known as remand, during which questioning of the suspect can take place without a lawyer present. Human rights organizations alleged many instances of torture occurred during remand.
In September the international organization Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported the release of news editor and journalist Faridul Mostafa after an 11-month detention following news coverage of corruption in connection with local government authorities and drug trafficking. In stories published before his detention, Mostafa’s reporting alleged a connection between Teknaf police officer-in-charge Pradeep Das and local drug cartels. Mostafa was arrested on September 2019 and according to his wife, tortured in custody. When Mostafa appeared in court three days after his arrest, his wife said his hands and legs were broken, and the nails of his fingers and toes were pulled out. His eyesight had been badly affected by red chili powder rubbed in his eyes and he was forced to drink sewage water, causing severe diarrhea. The RSF said police planted drugs, firearms, and alcohol and pretended to discover them as grounds to keep Mostafa in jail. Mostafa was released in August, following the arrest of Das in connection with a retired army major’s killing (see section 1.a.).
Prison conditions were harsh and at times life threatening due to severe overcrowding, inadequate facilities, and a lack of proper sanitation. There were no private detention facilities.
Physical Conditions: According to the Assistant Inspector General of Prisons, in March more than 89,000 prisoners occupied a system designed to hold 41,244 inmates. When the first COVID-19 cases appeared in the country in March, federal authorities instituted a policy requiring prison authorities to screen all incoming inmates for symptoms and keep them in a short quarantine. Superintendents at field prisons said they had no capacity to isolate inmates infected by COVID-19. Authorities often incarcerated pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.
Officials reported only 11 prison doctors provide care to the 89,000 inmates, causing prisons to employ nurses or pharmacists to provide medical care to them.
Conditions in prisons, and often within the same prison complex, varied widely. Authorities lodged some prisoners in areas subject to high temperatures, poor ventilation, and overcrowding. The law allows individuals whom prison officials designated as “very important persons” (VIP) to access “Division A” prison facilities with improved living conditions and food, more frequent family visitation rights, and the provision of another prisoner without VIP status to serve as an aide in the cell.
While the law requires holding juveniles separately from adults, authorities incarcerated many juveniles with adults. Children were sometimes imprisoned (occasionally with their mothers) despite laws and court decisions prohibiting the imprisonment of minors. Authorities held female prisoners separately from men.
In August, three male youths died in a juvenile correction center in Jashore. Officials at the correction center said the boys were killed in a fight with other inmates; however, days after the incident, the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association reported allegations of torture in the correction center and demanded a separate judicial inquiry into the death. A journalist reported juvenile centers made no effort to rehabilitate youths in custody, had appointed officials not trained to handle juvenile delinquency, and treated the youths as criminals as opposed to juveniles with special needs. The investigative report found “huge irregularities” in providing food, medicines, and other essentials and said the youths were tortured for protesting these irregularities. In at least one instance, inmates deemed “loyal” were used to torture defiant inmates.
Although Dhaka’s central jail had facilities for those with mental disabilities, not all detention facilities had such facilities, nor are they required by law. Judges may reduce punishments for persons with disabilities on humanitarian grounds. Jailors also may make special arrangements, for example, by transferring inmates with disabilities to a prison hospital.
Administration: Prisons had no ombudsperson to whom prisoners could submit complaints. Prisons lacked any formal process for offenders to submit grievances. The scope for retraining and rehabilitation programs was extremely limited.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits from governmental inspectors and nongovernmental observers who were aligned with the incumbent party. No reports on these inspections were released.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the law permits authorities to arrest and detain an individual without an order from a magistrate or a warrant if authorities perceive the individual may constitute a threat to security and public order. The law also permits authorities to arrest and detain individuals without an order from a magistrate or a warrant if authorities perceive the individual is involved with a “cognizable offense.” The constitution provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not generally observe these requirements. Media, civil society, and human rights organizations accused the government of conducting enforced disappearances not only against suspected militants but also against civil society and opposition party members. Authorities sometimes held detainees without divulging their whereabouts or circumstances to family or legal counsel, or without acknowledging having arrested them.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The constitution requires arrests and detentions be authorized by a warrant or occur as a result of observation of a crime in progress, but the law grants broad exceptions to these protections.
Under the constitution, detainees must be brought before a judicial officer to face charges within 24 hours, but this was not regularly enforced. The government or a district magistrate may order a person detained for 30 days to prevent the commission of an act that could threaten national security; however, authorities sometimes held detainees for longer periods with impunity.
There is a functioning bail system, but law enforcement routinely rearrested bailed individuals on other charges, despite a 2016 directive from the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division prohibiting rearrest of persons in new cases without producing them in court when they are released on bail.
Authorities generally permitted defense lawyers to meet with their clients only after formal charges were filed in the courts, which in some cases occurred weeks or months after the initial arrest. Detainees are legally entitled to counsel even if they cannot afford to pay for it, but the country lacked sufficient funds to provide this.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests occurred, often in conjunction with political demonstrations or as part of security force responses to terrorist activity, and the government held persons in detention without specific charges, sometimes in an attempt to collect information regarding other suspects. The expansiveness of the 1974 Special Powers Act grants a legal justification for arrests that would often otherwise be considered arbitrary, since it removes the requirement arrests be based on crimes that have occurred previously. Human rights activists claimed police falsely constructed cases to target opposition leaders, workers, and supporters, and that the government used the law enforcement agency to crack down on political rivals.
According to news reports, between July and September government authorities arrested at least 251 returning migrant workers from Southeast Asia and the Middle East with allegations of “tarnishing the image of [Bangladesh].” Amnesty International said the number of arrested workers was at least 370. In response to media queries, the police said the migrant workers’ destination countries had requested authorities to detain the workers once they returned to the country; however, human rights groups characterized these requests as specious and said while some of the returning workers were jailed abroad, they had all either completed their sentences or had their sentences commuted due to COVID-19. Prior to their detention in Bangladesh, several of the jailed returnee migrant workers said they were victims of human trafficking in their destination country. Approximately 80 detained migrant workers received bail in October, while the rest remained in prison. On October 8, the High Court directed a Dhaka police station to appear before the court to explain the legal reason for the migrants’ detention.
Pretrial Detention: Arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention continued due to bureaucratic inefficiencies, limited resources, lax enforcement of pretrial rules, and corruption. In some cases the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption and political interference compromised its independence.
Human rights observers maintained magistrates, attorneys, and court officials demanded bribes from defendants in many cases, or courts ruled based on influence from or loyalty to political patronage networks. Observers claimed judges who made decisions unfavorable to the government risked transfer to other jurisdictions. Officials reportedly discouraged lawyers from representing defendants in certain cases.
Corruption and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system, and the granting of extended continuances effectively prevented many defendants from obtaining fair trials.
In September the High Court ordered BRAC Bank to pay 1.5 million taka ($17,705) to Jahalam, a jute factory worker held for three years and repeatedly misidentified as another man accused of fraud and embezzlement, for his wrongful imprisonment since two of BRAC Bank’s officials supplied a photo of Jahalam instead of the real accused. In delivering the verdict, the High Court cautioned the Anti-Corruption Commission to be careful in investigating inquiries and in appointing investigating officers so that similar incidents did not occur in the future. The court also expressed appreciation to the two media outlets for publishing reports on Jahalam’s wrongful imprisonment.
The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not always protect this right due to corruption, partisanship, and weak human resources.
Defendants are presumed innocent, have the right to appeal, and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants do not have the right to a timely trial. The accused are entitled to be present at their public trial. Indigent defendants have the right to a public defender. Trials are conducted in the Bengali language; the government does not provide free interpretation for defendants who cannot understand or speak Bengali. Defendants have the right to adequate time to prepare a defense.
Accused persons have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They also have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt although defendants who do not confess are often kept in custody. The government frequently did not respect these rights.
Mobile courts headed by executive branch magistrates rendered immediate verdicts that often included prison terms to defendants who were not afforded the opportunity for legal representation. In June the High Court ruled mobile courts could not hold trials against children.
In March a mobile court accompanied by a group of law enforcement officers and magistrates in Kurigram district broke into the home of journalist Ariful Islam, beat him, took him to the deputy commissioner’s office, and sentenced him to one year in prison on charges of possessing narcotics. Within days, the minister for public administration said the deputy commissioner would be removed for “irregularities” in Islam’s case. Legal experts called the mobile court’s actions illegal because the court did not have the authority to break into Islam’s home and beat him. In September the same ministry established an official committee to investigate the incident related to the “illegal arrest, torture, and punishment” of Islam.
There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Political affiliation often appeared to be a factor in claims of arrest and prosecution of members of opposition parties, including through spurious charges under the pretext of responding to national security threats. Police jailed opposition party activists throughout the year for criticizing the government over its actions in managing COVID-19.
In February 2018 former prime minister of Bangladesh and chairperson of the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP), Khaleda Zia, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on corruption and embezzlement charges, which were first filed in 2008 under a nonpartisan caretaker government. In October 2018 the High Court increased her sentence to 10 years. International and domestic legal experts commented on the lack of evidence to support the conviction, suggesting a political ploy to remove the leader of the opposition from the electoral process. The courts were generally slow in considering petitions for bail on her behalf. In March the government suspended Zia’s sentence for six months on humanitarian grounds, and suspended it again in September for another six months. In both instances the government restricted Zia’s travel, saying she would receive medical treatment in Dhaka and could not travel abroad.
On July 3, the court sentenced nine men to death and 25 men to life imprisonment for a 1994 attack on a train carrying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina; at the time she was the leader of the opposition party. The convicted persons were all BNP members. BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir condemned the verdict and said the case was “fake and fabricated,” alleging the Awami League had staged the attack.
Individuals and organizations may seek judicial remedies for human rights violations; however, lack of public faith in the court system deterred many from filing complaints. While the law has a provision for an ombudsperson, one had not been established.
In September a Dhaka court sentenced three police officers to life imprisonment and two others to seven years in prison over the 2014 custodial death of Ishtiaque Hossain Jonny. The convicted were also fined, funds payable to Jonny’s family. This was the first verdict under the Torture and Custodial Death (Prevention) Act, 2013.
The government did not implement a 2001 act to accelerate the process of return of land to primarily Hindu individuals (see section 6). The act allows the government to confiscate property of anyone whom it declares to be an enemy of the state. It was often used to seize property abandoned by minority religious groups when they fled the country, particularly after the 1971 independence war.
Minority communities continued to report land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced minorities, especially in areas near new roads or industrial development zones where land prices had increased. They also claimed local police, civil authorities, and political leaders were sometimes involved in evictions or shielded politically influential land grabbers from prosecution (see section 6). In 2016 the government amended a law which may allow for land restitution for indigenous persons living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), but the disputes have not been resolved (see section 2.d.).
The law does not prohibit arbitrary interference with private correspondence. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies may monitor private communications with the permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs, but police rarely obtained such permission from the courts to monitor private correspondence. Human rights organizations alleged the police, the National Security Intelligence, and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence employed informers to conduct surveillance and report on citizens perceived to be critical of the government.
Between March and September, the government became increasingly active in monitoring social media sites and other electronic communications in order to scan public discussions on COVID-19 and the government’s handling of the virus. In March the Information Ministry announced the formation of a unit to monitor social media and television outlets for “rumors” related to COVID-19.
In September the High Court asserted citizens’ right to privacy and said the collection of call lists or conversations from public or private phone companies without formal approval and knowledge of the individual must stop. In its verdict the court stated, “It is our common experience that nowadays private communications among citizens, including their audios/videos, are often leaked and published in social media for different purposes.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Impunity for some crimes committed during the 1992-95 conflict continued to be a problem, especially for those responsible for the approximately 8,000 persons killed in the Srebrenica genocide and for approximately 8,000 other individuals who remained missing and presumed killed during the conflict. Authorities also failed to prosecute more than a very small fraction of the more than 20,000 instances of sexual violence alleged to have occurred during the conflict.
During the year national authorities did not make sufficient progress in processing of war crimes due to the lack of strategic framework and long-lasting organizational and financial problems. In September, following a two-year delay, the Council of Ministers adopted a Revised National War Crimes Strategy. The Revised Strategy defines new criteria for selection and prioritization of cases between the state and entities, provides measures to enhance judicial and police capacities to process war crime cases, and updates the measures for protection of witnesses and victims. The Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) Council of Ministers adopted the Revised Strategy following prolonged negotiations due to the opposition from the Bosniak victims associations. As a compromise, Annex B was added to the Ministry of Justice draft, which provides for prioritizing the “A” cases and provides additional measures to enhance regional cooperation.
Insufficient funding, poor regional cooperation, lack of personnel, political obstacles, lack of evidence, and the unavailability of witnesses and suspects led to the closure of cases and a significant backlog. Authorities also lacked adequate criteria to evaluate which cases should be transferred from state- to entity-level courts. The mechanism for transfer of legally and factually less complex cases with known suspects from the state-level to entity or Brcko District courts was utilized to a sufficient degree. The Prosecutor’s Office worked on 668 cases with known perpetrators and 1,933 cases with unknown perpetrators. In 2019-20 the Prosecutor’s Office raised 25 indictments against 48 persons. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Prosecutor’s Office continued to focus on less complex war crime cases during this period, misusing resources and failing to act in accordance with the current war crimes strategy. The overall conviction rate in 2019 and 2020 was 79 percent, an increase from 39 percent in 2018.
Some convictions were issued or confirmed during the year. Sretko Pavic was convicted of war crimes against civilians and sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment. The Appeals Chamber of the BiH Court acquitted Ibro Merkez of charges that he committed war crimes against civilians in Gorazde. The Court of BiH sentenced Ivan Kraljevic to one year and three months of imprisonment; Stojan Odak to imprisonment of two years and six months; and Vice Bebek to one year of imprisonment for war crimes against Bosniak civilians from the Stolac, Capljina, Mostar, Prozor, Livno, and Jablanica municipalities.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits such practices. While there were no reports that government officials employed such measures, there were no concrete indications that security forces had ended the practice of severely mistreating detainees and prisoners reported in previous years.
The country has not designated an institution as its national mechanism for the prevention of torture and mistreatment of detainees and prisoners, in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In 2019 the Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman in BiH (Ombudsman Institution) received 129 complaints by prisoners with regard to prisoner treatment in detention and prison facilities. The number of complaints fell by 10 percent compared with 2018; most of the complaints concerned health care, denial of out-of-prison benefits, transfer to other institutions, use of parole, and conditions in prison and detention facilities. A smaller number of complaints referred to misconduct by staff or violence by other prisoners.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces.
Physical and sanitary conditions in the country’s prisons and detention facilities varied depending on location, and they generally met the need for accommodation of prisoners and detainees.
Physical Conditions: In a special 2019 report on the situation in police holding facilities, the Ombudsman Institution reported that the biggest problems in all police administrations were the lack of holding facilities and the limited capacity of existing ones. Several police stations in the same police administrative district had to use the same facilities. Due to lack of space, police did not always separate male, female, and minor detainees in cases where a large number of detainees were accommodated. Some police stations’ detention facilities lacked natural light and had poor ventilation. The material conditions of most police detention facilities were generally below EU standards.
Health care was one of the main complaints by prisoners. Not all prisons had comprehensive health-care facilities with full-time health-care providers. In such instances these institutions contracted part-time practitioners who are obligated to regularly visit institutions and provide services. Prisons in Zenica, Tuzla, Sarajevo, Istocno Sarajevo, Foca, and Banja Luka employed full time doctors. There were no prison facilities suitable for prisoners with physical disabilities.
Administration: Units in both entities and the Brcko District did not always conduct investigations into credible allegations of prisoner or detainee mistreatment.
The country’s prison system was not fully harmonized, nor was it in full compliance with European standards. Jurisdiction for the execution of sanctions was divided between the state, entities, and Brcko District. As a consequence, in some instances different legal regulations governed the same area, often resulting in unequal treatment of convicted persons, depending on the prison establishment or the entity in which they served their sentence.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent human rights observers to visit and gave international community representatives widespread and unhindered access to detention facilities and prisoners. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), the Ombudsman Institution, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to have access to prison and detention facilities under the jurisdiction of the ministries of justice at both the state and entity levels. In 2019 the CPT visited prisons and detention facilities and provided its findings from the visit to the BiH government. The CPT’s report on the visit had not been published as of year’s end.
Improvements: On July 22, the government formally opened the long-awaited maximum-security State Prison with the capacity to hold 348 prisoners, of which 298 cells will be for prisoners and 50 for detainees. On September 4, the first group of prisoners was accommodated in the prison.
The ombudsman’s annual report for 2019 indicated that both Federation and Republika Srpska (RS) Ombudsman Institutions invested significant funds to improve conditions of their prison and detention facilities. In the Federation, this included construction of a new admission ward in the Bihac prison, building a new pavilion in the Zenica prison, and construction of the Orasje Educational Correctional facility for minors. Overcrowding at the Sarajevo detention unit was also resolved by moving some of the detainees to the Zenica prison detention facility and by expanding the capacity of the detention unit of the Sarajevo semiopen prison in Igman, which allows prisoners to leave over the weekend. In the RS, significant investments were made to prisons in Trebinje, Bijeljina, Istocno Sarajevo, and Banja Luka.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police generally arrested persons based on court orders and sufficient evidence or in conformity with rules prescribed by law. The law requires authorities to inform detainees of the charges against them immediately upon their arrest and obliges police to bring suspects before a prosecutor within 24 hours of detention (72 hours for terrorism charges). During this period, police may detain individuals for investigative purposes and processing. The prosecutor has an additional 24 hours to release the person or to request a court order extending pretrial detention by court police. The court has a subsequent 24 hours to make a decision.
Court police are separate from other police agencies and fall under the Ministry of Justice; their holding facilities are within the courts. After 24 or 48 hours of detention by court police, an individual must be presented to a magistrate who decides whether the suspect shall remain in custody or be released. Suspects who remain in custody are turned over to prison staff.
The law limits the duration of interrogations to a maximum of six hours. The law also limits pretrial detention to 12 months and trial detention to three years. There is a functioning bail system and restrictions, such as the confiscation of travel documents or house arrest, which were ordered regularly to ensure defendants appear in court.
The law allows detainees to request a lawyer of their own choosing, and if they are unable to afford a lawyer, the authorities should provide one. The law also requires the presence of a lawyer during the pretrial and trial hearings. Detainees are free to select their lawyer from a list of registered lawyers. In a 2016 report, the CPT noted that, in the vast majority of cases, authorities did not grant detainees access to a lawyer at the outset of their detention. Instead, such access occurred only when the detainee was brought before a prosecutor to give a statement or at the hearing before a judge. It was usually not possible for a detainee to consult with his or her lawyer in private prior to appearing before a prosecutor or judge. The report also noted that juveniles met by the CPT also alleged they were interviewed without a lawyer or person of trust present.
The state constitution provides the right to a fair hearing in civil and criminal matters while entity constitutions provide for an independent judiciary. Nevertheless, political parties and organized crime figures sometimes influenced the judiciary at both the state and entity levels in politically sensitive cases, especially those related to corruption. Authorities at times failed to enforce court decisions.
The law provides defendants a presumption of innocence; the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary; the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay; and the right to be present at their trial. The law provides for the right to counsel at public expense if the prosecutor charges the defendant with a serious crime. Courts are obliged to appoint a defense attorney if the defendant is deaf or mute or detained or accused of a crime for which long-term imprisonment may be pronounced. Authorities generally gave defense attorneys adequate time and facilities to prepare their clients’ defense. The law provides defendants the right to confront witnesses, to have a court-appointed interpreter and written translation of pertinent court documents into a language understood by the defendant, to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and to appeal verdicts. Authorities generally respected most of these rights, which extend to all defendants.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
The law provides for individuals and organizations to seek civil remedies for alleged human rights violations through domestic courts and provides for the appeal of decisions to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The government failed to comply with many decisions pertaining to human rights by the country’s courts. The court system suffered from large backlogs of cases and the lack of an effective mechanism to enforce court orders. Inefficiency in the courts undermined the rule of law by making recourse to civil judgments less effective. In several cases the Constitutional Court found violations of the right to have proceedings finalized within a reasonable period of time. The government’s failure to comply with court decisions led plaintiffs to bring cases before the ECHR.
The four “traditional” religious communities (Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish) had extensive claims for restitution of property nationalized during and after World War II. In the absence of a state restitution law governing the return of nationalized properties, many government officials used such properties as tools for ethnic and political manipulation. In a few cases, government officials refused to return properties, or at least give religious communities a temporary right to use them, even in cases in which evidence existed that they belonged to religious institutions before confiscation.
The government has no laws or mechanisms in place, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government had not made progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. The absence of legislation resulted in the return of religious property on an ad hoc basis, subject to the discretion of local authorities. Due to both the small size of the Jewish population and its lack of political influence, the Jewish community has not received any confiscated communal property since 1995. For example, one Jewish community building in the center of Sarajevo, formerly owned by the Jewish charity La Benevolencija, housed the Cantonal Ministry of Interior offices. In addition, the Stari Grad municipality in Sarajevo used the process of land “harmonization” to list itself as the owner of centrally located land, owned by members of the Jewish community or their heirs, and subsequently authorized construction of commercial real estate on that land. During the year different levels of government made no attempts to begin the process of discussing necessary steps to adopt restitution legislation.
The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law does not specifically prohibit torture. Caning may be ordered for certain offenses under both secular and sharia law, and it is mandatory for some offenses. The Sharia Penal Code (SPC) includes offenses punishable by corporal and capital punishments, including stoning to death, amputation of hands or feet, and caning. The SPC prohibits caning persons younger than 15. Secular law prohibits caning for women, girls, boys younger than eight, men older than 50, and those ruled unfit for caning by a doctor. Juvenile boys older than eight may be caned with a “light rattan” stick. Canings were conducted in the presence of a doctor, who could interrupt the punishment for medical reasons. The government generally applied laws carrying a sentence of caning impartially; the government sometimes deported foreigners in lieu of caning. The sharia court did not hand down any sentences imposing corporal or capital punishments.
There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.
There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.
Administration: A government-appointed committee composed of retired government officials monitored prison conditions and investigated complaints concerning prison and detention center conditions.
The prison system has an ombudsperson’s office through which judicial officials, Legislative Council members, community leaders, and representatives of public institutions visit inmates on a monthly basis. A prisoner may complain to a visiting judge, the superintendent, the officer in charge, or, in the case of female prisoners, the matron in charge. “Spiritual rehabilitation” programs were compulsory for Muslim inmates.
“Spiritual rehabilitation” programs were compulsory for Muslim inmates.
Sharia convicts were kept in the same prison facilities but separated from inmates convicted in the secular courts. Sharia convicts were subject to the same regulations as secular convicts.
Independent Monitoring: There were no reports of independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) monitoring prison conditions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of persons arrested for secular (not sharia) offenses to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these prohibitions but may supersede them by invoking emergency powers.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
A magistrate must endorse a warrant for arrest, except when police are unable to obtain an endorsement in time to prevent the flight of a suspect or when a suspect is apprehended in the act of committing a crime. After an arrest, police may detain a suspect for a maximum of 48 hours for investigation before bringing the suspect before a magistrate or sharia judge. Secular and sharia law enforcement agencies respected and upheld this right. Police stations maintained a policy of no access to detained individuals during the 48-hour investigative period, including by attorneys. Authorities may hold detainees beyond the initial 48 hours with a magistrate’s or sharia judge’s approval.
Authorities reportedly informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities made information on detainees public after the 48-hour investigative period. Police may deny visitor access after the 48-hour investigative period in exceptional cases, such as probable cause to suspect witness tampering.
The law allows for bail at the discretion of the judge overseeing the case. There is no provision to afford pro bono legal counsel to poor defendants, except in capital offenses. In noncapital cases, indigent defendants may act as their own lawyers. Some civil society organizations provided pro bono legal service to indigent defendants in noncapital cases before secular courts. There were no reports of suspects being held incommunicado or without access to an attorney after the initial 48-hour investigative period.
Authorities may detain persons without a hearing in cases of detention or arrest under the Internal Security Act, which permits the government to detain suspects without trial for renewable two-year periods. In these cases, the government convenes an independent advisory board consisting of senior security and judicial officials to review individual detentions and report to the minister of home affairs. The minister is required to notify detainees in writing of the grounds for their detention and of relevant allegations of fact. The advisory board must review individual detentions annually.
Sharia law operates in parallel with the country’s common law-based courts. In cases involving offenses covered by both the SPC and secular law–such as murder, rape, and theft–an “assessment committee” including a secular law prosecutor, a sharia prosecutor, a regular police officer, and a religious enforcement officer determines whether the secular or sharia court system should try the case. If a dispute arises, the attorney general acts as final arbiter.
The law does not provide specifically for an independent judiciary, and both the secular and sharia courts fall administratively under the Prime Minister’s Office, run by the sultan as prime minister and the crown prince as senior minister. The government generally respects judicial independence, however, and there were no known instances of government interference with the judiciary. In both judicial systems, the sultan appoints all higher-court judges, who serve at his pleasure. Deliberations by the assessment committee of secular and sharia officials convened to determine whether specific cases would proceed through secular or sharia court were not public, nor did the government make public the grounds for the committee’s decisions.
Secular law provides for the right to a fair, timely and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The Internal Security Act, which is part of secular law, allows for preventative detention in cases of subversion and organized violence. Sharia procedures do not specifically provide for the right to a fair trial.
Defendants in criminal proceedings are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. Trials are public and conducted by a judge or panel of judges. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, although the law does allow for trial in absentia, and to counsel of their choice. There were no reports of defendants who were not allowed adequate time or facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants had access to an interpreter (if needed) free of charge and have the right to confront accusers, to cross-examine and call witnesses, to present evidence, to not testify or confess guilt, and to appeal. Lawyers have access to the accused, although not during the initial 48-hour investigatory period unless the investigation is concluded and charges are filed.
In general, defendants in sharia proceedings have the same rights as defendants in criminal cases under secular law.
While sharia courts have long had jurisdiction in certain civil matters when at least one party is Muslim, many SPC elements apply to all persons in the country, regardless of nationality or religion; some sections of the law have specific applicability to Muslims. In October the sharia court prosecuted its first case involving a non-Muslim citizen who was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment for theft.
The Internal Security Act establishes significant exceptions to the rights granted in secular law. Individuals detained under the act are not presumed innocent and do not have the right to legal counsel. Those detained are entitled to make representation against a detention order to an advisory board, either personally or through an advocate or attorney.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
The law does not provide for individuals or organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights violations, and there is no provision for judicial review of any action of the government. By customary practice, individuals may present written complaints about rights violations directly to the sultan for review.
The law bans noncitizens (including foreign investors, permanent residents, and stateless individuals) from owning land outright or holding land via a power of attorney or trust deeds, and when implemented retroactively it declared all such contracts null and void. The law does not provide for financial compensation or restitution. These elements of the law, however, were not implemented.
The law permits government intrusion into the privacy of individuals, families, and homes. The government reportedly monitored private email, mobile telephone messaging, and internet chat-room exchanges suspected of being subversive or propagating religious extremism. An informant system was part of the government’s internal security apparatus to monitor suspected dissidents, religious minorities, or those accused of crimes. Persons who published comments on social media critical of government policy, both on public blogs and personal sites such as Facebook, reported that authorities monitored their comments. In some cases, persons were told by friends or colleagues in the government they were being monitored; in other cases, it appeared critical comments were brought to the attention of authorities by private complainants.
Longstanding sharia law and the SPC permit enforcement of khalwat, a prohibition on the close proximity of a Muslim and a member of the opposite sex other than a spouse or close relative. Non-Muslims may be arrested for violating khalwat if the other accused party is Muslim. Not all suspects accused of violating khalwat were formally arrested; some individuals received informal warnings.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports state security forces committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Multiple independent domestic and international human rights groups accused the security forces of committing hundreds of extrajudicial killings of civilians as part of its counterterrorism strategy (see section 1.g.).
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, on April 9, government security forces executed 31 unarmed Fulani men in the town of Djibo in the northern Sahel Region hours after arresting them during a counterterrorism operation. Residents later interviewed regarding the incident attributed the killings to the Groupement des Forces Anti-Terroristes, a mixed counterterrorism force (composed of members of the army and gendarmerie) based nearby. On April 10, the Defense Ministry’s director of military justice announced the opening of an investigation and later recommitted to investigating these and other similar killings on July 3. The president also reiterated this commitment. There were no updates regarding the investigation by year’s end.
On May 11, gendarmes, accompanied by several local members of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (Volontaires pour la defense de la patrie or VDPs), arrested 25 suspected terrorists trading in the market in Pentchangou near Tanwalbougou in Fada N’Gourma Commune (Est Region); 12 of the detainees died later that night, reportedly while in police custody. Local and international human rights advocacy groups claimed that the prisoners, all of whom were ethnic Fulani/Peuhl, were executed and suggested that the security services had profiled members of the Fulani ethnic group. On May 27, the Fada prosecutor declared a preliminary probe could not determine the cause of death of the 12 detainees but stated they were not executed. As of November the case was under investigation by the military tribunal.
In July a security officer was arrested who had headed a June 29 operation in Tanwalbougou (Est Region) that led to the death of seven civilians.
According to a local human rights group, the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights (le Mouvement burkinabe des droits de l’homme et des peuples or MBDHP), on May 4 and 5, VDPs arrested Idrissa Barry, a councilor; Amadou Diande, another councilor; and his son Adama Diande, a community health worker, in the vicinity of Barsalogo, Centre-Nord Region. Their families found them fatally shot and killed.
On March 8, at least 43 Fulani men were killed in the commune of Barga in the Nord Region. While the government blamed the attack on violent extremist organizations, local media and observers reported the attackers were members of government-condoned vigilante groups known as Koglweogo, who reportedly believed the Fulani were harboring terrorists.
Extremists carried out more than 500 attacks that resulted in hundreds of deaths, targeting traditional, religious, and political leaders; humanitarian workers; members of government security forces; VDPs; and civilians. For example, on July 6, extremists killed the mayor of Pensa in Bam Province and later killed six soldiers and three VDPs who deployed in response to the initial attack. On August 7, unidentified armed individuals attacked a cattle market in Namougou village in the Est Region, killing at least 20 persons and wounding many others. On August 8, a truck loaded with animal feed transported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to the city of Djibo was attacked by unidentified armed individuals. On August 11, Souaibou Cisse, Grand Imam of Djibo, was kidnapped by unidentified gunman and was found dead on August 15 in Tibere village, three miles from Djibo. On November 11, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara terrorists ambushed a military convoy in Oudalan Province in the Sahel Region, killing 14 soldiers and injuring others (see section 1.g.).
Ethnic Fulani (Peuhls), who were often recruited by extremist groups, were disproportionately the target of extrajudicial killings by security forces due to their perceived sympathies with Islamic extremist groups.
There were several accounts of criminal groups working in concert with terrorist organizations and drug traffickers killing gendarmes, police, VDPs, and park rangers, especially in the Est Region. Burkinabe security forces also reportedly committed abuses while conducting counterterrorism operations in Mali. In particular, the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Human Rights and Protection Division documented 50 alleged “arbitrary” executions by the Burkinabe Armed Forces between May 26 and 28. As of year’s end, there was no update to these cases.
There were numerous reports of disappearances of civilians suspected by security forces of committing acts of terrorism. For example, Amnesty International reported on the disappearances of 34 persons attributed to security forces in March and April, and HRW reported on the disappearances of at least 180 persons in the area around the town of Djibo in the Sahel Region between November 2019 and June, which HRW said available evidence suggested had been carried out by security forces.
Extremists were also suspected in numerous disappearances (see section 1.g., Abductions).
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Local rights groups alleged numerous accounts of torture committed by the military, gendarmerie, police, VDPs, and members of the Koglweogo. The majority of allegations of torture involved victims suspected of having links to terrorists or persons of Fulani/Peuhl ethnicity.
A human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported that prison guards at the Ouagadougou’s House of Arrest and Correction (MACO) occasionally used excessive physical force, inflicting injuries on prisoners.
In March the MBDHP accused defense and security forces of inflicting acts of torture against offenders of the government’s COVID-19 curfew.
On July 10, a gendarme and a soldier reportedly raped two girls in Ouagadougou during an arrest for lack of identity documents. On July 24, the two were sentenced to four and three years, respectively, in prison.
On August 14, a gendarme reportedly tortured a 16-year-old minor in the Boucle du Mouhoun who refused his advances. The gendarme placed an order at the restaurant where she worked and asked the girl to deliver it to his home, where he handcuffed her, forced her to wear gris-gris (type of amulet common in parts of West Africa), and put chili pepper into her vagina. On October 20, he was given a five-year prison sentence by the Banfora Court (with possibility of parole after two years) and ordered to pay the victim 500,000 CFA francs ($900) in damages within a period of three months.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one open allegation from 2015 of sexual exploitation and abuse by Burkina Faso peacekeepers deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission, allegedly involving 10 peacekeepers who engaged in transactional sex with an adult. As of September the government was still investigating the allegation and had not provided accountability measures taken.
Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and at times life- threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same locations as convicted prisoners. The High Security Prison (HSP) in Ouagadougou, which mostly houses suspected terrorists, was at double its designed capacity, housing more than 900 inmates. Almost all were in pretrial detention.
Female prisoners had better conditions than those of men, in large part due to less crowding. Some infants and children younger than age five accompanied their inmate mothers. There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, who relied on other inmates for assistance.
Food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate in the majority of detention facilities across the country. Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria were the most common health problems among prisoners. For example, at the HSP there were three nurses employed to treat more than 900 detainees and prisoners, with no doctor present on site but available on an on-call basis. Detention conditions were better for wealthy or influential citizens or detainees considered nonviolent.
Prisoners received two meals a day, but diets were inadequate, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. Some prisons lacked adequate ventilation, although some cells had electricity and some inmates had fans. Sanitation was rudimentary.
In April the government released 1,207 prisoners from prisons nationwide in response to COVID-19, an estimated 16 percent reduction of the prison population. Pardons depended on the age and health of prisoners, and only those who had already served at least half of their sentence were eligible. Prisoners convicted of banditry, terrorism, and female genital mutilation (FGM) were excluded from the measure. While this reduction provided relief to sanitary conditions in chronically overpopulated facilities, the facilities continued to operate at more than double their original capacity.
Administration: The government issued a May 20 statement reiterating the local prosecutor’s commitment to a criminal investigation into the May 11 death of 12 detainees who were “suspected terrorists” in Tanwalbougou, Est Region, as well as a government administrative inquiry into the same incident (see section 1.a. and 1.g.).
On August 4, the director of the Ziniare prison, Kalfa Millogo, was arrested for extortion of funds from detainees.
Because of COVID-19, the government suspended visits to all prisons from March 19 until further notice. Parcels and meals coming from outside for inmates, as well as visits by lawyers to their clients, were authorized, subject to compliance with the prevention system against COVID-19 set up in penitentiary establishments by the Ministry of Health in early March.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross was able to visit 2,800 prisoners in eight facilities in Ouagadougou, Fada N’Gourma, and Ouahigouya.
Improvements: As part of the fight against COVID-19, the French government and the Ministry of Justice signed an agreement in late June to strengthen the management of COVID-19 at the MACO and at the HSP.
In October the government completed the construction of a new detention center with a designed capacity for 500 inmates and a new administrative building for prison personnel in the civil prison of Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city of the country. The new detention center has 76 collective cells and 15 individual cells. The cells include showers, toilets, as well as collective visiting rooms and three individual visiting rooms for detainees’ lawyers.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. Arbitrary arrests occurred, however, and a lack of access to defense counsel and inadequate staffing of the judiciary prevented many detainees from seeking pretrial release in court.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
By law police and gendarmes must usually possess a court-issued warrant based on sufficient evidence before apprehending a person suspected of committing a crime, but authorities did not always follow these procedures. Authorities did not consistently inform detainees of charges against them. Detainees have the right to expeditious arraignment, bail, access to legal counsel, and, if indigent, access to a lawyer provided by the government after being charged. In practice, however, attorneys were not appointed until trial began. A judge may order temporary release without bail pending trial. Authorities seldom respected these rights. The law provides detainees access to family members through court-issued authorizations.
The law limits detention without charge for investigative purposes to a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 48-hour period. In terrorism investigations the law allows detention for a 10-day period. In cases not related to terrorism, police did not always comply with the law, and the average time of detention without charge (preventive detention) was one week. Once authorities charge a suspect, the law permits judges to impose an unlimited number of consecutive six-month preventive detention periods while the prosecutor investigates charges. Authorities often detained defendants without access to legal counsel for weeks, months, or even years before the defendant appeared before a magistrate. There were instances in which authorities detained suspects incommunicado.
Arbitrary Arrest: Local independent rights groups alleged that security forces regularly arrested individuals arbitrarily for suspected involvement in terrorism. An official with the Ministry of Justice reported that hundreds of individuals detained at the HSP remained in detention without being charged. Judiciary leaders decried what they saw as a “broad net” cast by security forces in the field, whom they suspected of rounding up large groups of suspects without sufficient cause.
Pretrial Detention: In many cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense; this was especially true in cases involving terrorism. While a pretrial release (release on bail) system existed, the extent of its use was unknown. Authorities estimated 52 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status, but local independent rights groups estimated it to be as high as 70 percent. Local media regularly reported on cases of persons detained more than one year without trial. During the year the courts began ordering the release of suspected terrorists against whom there was insufficient evidence to move to trial on criminal charges, according to reports from HSP officials in Ouagadougou. On February 6, an HSP official reported that during January, 39 adult male terror suspects held at HSP were ordered to be released by the military and civilian courts. Some who were released unconditionally for a lack of evidence were to remain under court supervision pending further investigation of their cases. More than half of the released suspects were from the community of Djibo in the embattled Sahel Region close to the border with Mali.
The HSP population grew steadily, from 550 in October 2018 to more than 900 in pretrial detention as of August, and the government had not yet successfully prosecuted a single terrorism case through to completion. A lack of counsel specialized in criminal law, particularly defense lawyers willing to represent detainees arrested on terrorism charges, greatly contributed to delays in bringing cases to trial.
In September the government completed construction of a second courthouse in Ouagadougou to focus on terrorism cases. The national counterterrorism court (which has jurisdiction over terrorism cases) at this new courthouse was not operational by year’s end. The Superior Council of Magistrates named the judges to sit in the new tribunal and increased the staff to manage a growing caseload of unresolved terrorism cases.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides persons arrested or detained the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Prisoners who did so, however, reportedly faced difficulties due to either judicial corruption or inadequate staffing of the judiciary.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was corrupt, inefficient, and subject to executive influence, according to NGOs. There were no instances in which the trial outcomes appeared predetermined, however, and authorities respected court orders. Legal codes remained outdated, there were not enough courts, and legal costs were excessive. Citizens’ poor knowledge of their rights further weakened their ability to obtain justice. The reluctance of private defense lawyers to represent terrorist suspects in criminal cases was a problem, due to both lack of funds to pay appointed counsel and the social stigma associated with representing accused terrorists.
Military courts try cases involving military personnel charged with violating the military code of conduct. In certain rare cases, military courts may also try cases involving civilian defendants. Rights provided in military courts are equivalent to those in civil criminal courts. Military courts are headed by a civilian judge, hold public trials, and publish verdicts in the local press.
The law presumes defendants are innocent. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Trials are public but may be delayed. Judicial authorities use juries only in serious criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to legal representation, consultation, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to provide evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but a refusal to testify often resulted in harsher decisions. Defendants may challenge and present witnesses, and they have the right of appeal. In civil cases where the defendant is destitute and files an appeal, the state provides a court-appointed lawyer. In criminal cases court-appointed lawyers are mandatory for those who cannot afford one. The government did not always respect these rights, due in part to a continuing shortage of magistrates and court-appointed lawyers.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year, although some arrests and detentions may have been politically motivated.
In January, after diplomatic negotiations, the military prosecutor granted a six-month permission to Djibril Bassole to receive medical care in France. Bassole, former minister of foreign affairs and founder of opposition party New Alliance of the Faso, was sentenced in September 2019 to 10 years’ imprisonment by the Ouagadougou military court for allegedly providing support to the failed 2015 military coup. Bassole signed a declaration of honor in which he pledged “to appear in court as soon as [his] medical treatment is completed.” In addition, the former minister deposited the sum of 30 million CFA francs ($50,000) as a bond. Bassole, who was to return to Burkina Faso on June 29, requested and was granted a temporary extension of his stay in Paris.
There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but it was often seen as inefficient, corrupt, and subject to executive influence. As a result, citizens sometimes preferred to rely on the Office of the Ombudsman to settle disputes with the government.
The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, and both administrative and judicial remedies were available for alleged wrongs. Victims of human rights violations may appeal directly to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, even before going through national courts. For civil and commercial disputes, authorities may refer cases to the ECOWAS Common Court of Justice and Arbitration in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The courts issued several such orders during the year.
There were problems enforcing court orders in sensitive cases involving national security, wealthy or influential persons, and government officials.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In cases of national security, however, the law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of telephones and private correspondence without a warrant. The penal code permits wiretapping in terrorism cases, to be authorized by the president of a tribunal for a limited term. Investigative judges have the authority to authorize audio recording in private places. These investigations techniques were relatively new to the legal framework. The national intelligence service is authorized to use technology for surveillance, national security, and counterterrorism purposes.
In 2018 President Kabore declared a state of emergency in response to growing insecurity from extremist attacks in 14 provinces within seven of the country’s 13 administrative regions. The state of emergency granted additional powers to the security forces to carry out searches of homes and restrict freedom of movement and assembly. The state of emergency was most recently extended in January for an additional 12 months. Authorities in the Sahel and Est Regions also ordered a curfew due to extremist attacks.
According to international and local independent rights groups, the military employed informant systems to generate lists of suspected terrorists based on anecdotal evidence.
The country experienced numerous attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year, such as targeted killings, abductions, attacks on schools and mining sites, and theft of food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and creating significant internal displacement. Security forces also were responsible for killings and other abuses.
Killings: According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, as of November 14, there were more than 2,200 conflict-related fatalities since the beginning of the year, including more than 1,000 civilian deaths perpetrated by both security forces and various armed groups.
HRW issued a report in July documenting 180 civilian deaths, the majority of whom were Fulani men, between November 2019 and June, allegedly at the hands of security forces around Djibo in the Sahel Region.
On June 29, security forces reportedly arrested 12 Fulani men near Tanwalbougou (Est Region). Seven of the 12 were found dead on the outskirts of the village, in the same area where security forces allegedly killed 12 others while in detention the month before (see section 1.a.). The other five were released in a nearby village, after allegedly being tortured to the point of requiring urgent medical care.
In addition to large numbers of attacks against civilians perpetrated by armed groups and security forces alike, there were numerous attacks by extremists against security forces throughout the year (see section 1.a.).
As of August extremists including Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and Ansaroul Islam had conducted 22 attacks against political leaders and village officials in various locales, unlike in prior years when there were few known incidents of apparent targeted assassinations. In March a former mayor, a deputy mayor, three village chiefs, one prince, and two village development councilors were killed in the Est Region. In May, four village development councilors were killed in the Est Region. On June 13, the deputy mayor of the commune of Solhan, Sahel Region, was killed. In July a mayor and two municipal councilors were killed in the Centre Nord Region.
Armed groups also took advantage of poor road maintenance to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in potholes and ditches in efforts to ambush security forces and VDPs, which also led to the deaths of civilians. On January 4, a provincial government-sponsored bus convoy carrying children back to school after winter holidays triggered an IED believed to have been planted by extremists in Sourou Province. The blast killed 14 passengers, including seven schoolchildren. On July 12, Mathias Tankoano, the president of the Higher Council of Communication (CSC), and his security escort escaped an ambush by unidentified armed individuals employing a remotely controlled IED.
Extremists often targeted religious houses of worship and faith leaders. In December 2019 extremists killed 14 worshipers including the pastor during Sunday mass in their church in Hontoukoura village, (Komondjari Province, Est Region). On February 10, extremists abducted seven persons at the home of a pastor in Sebba, Sahel Region; five bodies, including that of the pastor, were found the following day. On February 18, extremists stormed Pansy village (Yagha Province, in the commune of Boundore) killing 24, including a pastor of the International Missionary Society, and they burned a Protestant church. On August 11, extremists kidnapped the imam of Djibo Grand Mosque in the Nord Region, while he was travelling back from Ouagadougou. He was found dead on August 15 in the outskirts of Djibo.
On January 20, extremists killed 36 civilians in Nagraogo and Alamou villages in Barsalogho Commune, Centre-Nord Region. Returned internally displaced persons (IDPs) were among the victims. On January 25, extremists stormed the village of Silgadji (Tongomayel Commune, Soum Province, Sahel Region) and killed 39 civilians of different religious backgrounds. Press and security services reported that on May 29, extremists attacked a convoy of local shopkeepers returning from the local market in Loroum Province’s Titao town, killing 16 civilians. On May 31, extremists fired upon the crowd at the cattle market in Kompienbiga village, near Pama, killing 25 and injuring others.
On June 26, armed attackers ambushed a convoy of merchants, under escort by VDPs, on the Titao-Solle road in Loroum Province (Nord Region). Despite a prompt reaction from the Solle military detachment, six VDPs and one soldier were killed and several others injured.
On July 13, 20 gunmen attacked the villages of Gabougou and Fondjoma in Matiakoali Commune, in the East. They allegedly killed five persons and abducted two others. Two days later the same gunmen reportedly returned to these villages claiming that they had a list of 30 individuals they would execute. Many in the villages fled.
On July 21, the body of a VDP from Peela village in Tangaye, abducted two days earlier by extremists, was discovered by fellow VDPs. They had to move the body from a distance using a rope because the body had been covered in explosives.
Communal tensions, often exploited by extremists, security forces, and VDPs, sometimes resulted in interethnic clashes.
An investigation by the government remained open with no charges made following the January 2019 attack by members of Koglweogo against Fulani herding communities in Yirgou outside the town of Barsalogho that killed 46 civilians. On February 4, authorities provisionally released the Koglweogo vigilante group leader Boureima Nadbanka and one other Koglweogo member, of 13 who had been arrested in December 2019; the releases followed protests by Nadbanka’s supporters who had blocked roads to pressure the government into releasing him.
Abductions: Extremists kidnapped dozens of civilians throughout the year, including international humanitarian aid and medical workers. In August media sources reported the kidnapping of the deputy mayor of Lanfiera (Centre Ouest Region) by unidentified armed individuals. On August 27, extremists kidnapped two retired civil servants on the Namissiguia-Djibo road at an illegal checkpoint and released them on September 5 in the village of Bourro, 19 miles from Djibo (Sahel Region). On September 18, the chief of Djibasso village, in the Boucle du Mouhoun Region, was kidnapped and remained missing at year’s end.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to HRW, the Collective against Communities’ Impunity and Stigmatization, and the MBDHP, on several occasions security force members tortured and beat civilians they suspected of having ties to terrorist groups, and sometimes destroyed their property (see section 1.c.).
In July witnesses said extremists raped two women in a village in the Nord Region.
Child Soldiers: There were no reports of the government recruiting or using child soldiers. Although it was difficult to obtain precise data on groups that recruited and used children, information from the Ministry of Justice reported the presence of a few children, estimated to be 12-14 years old, held in detention centers on terrorism charges, which indicated that armed nonstate groups may have recruited minors. As of September officials from the Ministry of Justice confirmed that eight minors, arrested with alleged terrorists, were detained at the HSP and the MACO. Several minors arrested and detained as terror suspects were released to NGOs and the Red Cross for return to their families.
Other Conflict–related Abuse: According to the Ministry of National Education, as of September 15, 2,300 schools had closed due to attacks or insecurity, negatively affecting almost 350,000 students and more than 11,200 teachers (section 6, Children). In a May report, HRW documented the alleged use of 10 schools by government security forces for military purposes in Centre-Nord and Sahel Regions in 2019, including three occupied as bases for six months to a year. In at least eight cases, the schools had reportedly closed due to insecurity prior to the occupation. In July at least 13 schools were burned in the municipality of Tansarga, in the Est Region; reports indicated that up to 20 armed individuals went from village to village ransacking and burning the schools. On September 15, extremists set fire to the elementary school, communal high school, town hall, and prefecture in Tansarga, Est Region.
Local authorities in the Sahel, Nord, and Est Regions reported that extremists had displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians and limited movement in rural areas. According to the independent nonprofit news organization The New Humanitarian, the number of persons in need of emergency food aid tripled to more than 3.2 million during the year, with an estimated 11,000 suffering from “catastrophic” levels of hunger. The government worked with international and local aid organizations to improve food, water, health services, and protection for affected civilians against abuses and violations, but civilians and civilian services remained extremely vulnerable and in many cases were directly targeted by armed groups.
Throughout the year armed groups attacked medical facilities and hijacked ambulances and official vehicles of humanitarian and medical aid workers. According to UN Population Fund, as of July approximately 113 health centers were closed and 156 were idle due to terrorist activity, depriving 1.5 million persons of access to health care. Multiple sources reported that on June 24, unknown attackers seized a World Food Program (WFP) truck in Soum Province (Sahel Region). The attackers stole the truck’s cargo (35 metric tons of vegetable oil for WFP’s nutrition distribution) and abducted the driver and his apprentice for several hours before releasing them and the vehicle the same night.
On August 27, unidentified armed individuals caused a serious water shortage in Titao after they broke into a sector of the city of Titao, in Loroum Province (Nord Region), and destroyed machinery used to pump water to treatment stations of the National Office for Water and Sanitation. The assailants also stole the battery and starter, reportedly for use in making IEDs.
According to a report commissioned by the government, extremist attacks on gold mining sites gave them access to gold as a source of funding, as well as to explosives for the production of IEDs. The report revealed that since 2016, armed extremist groups had reaped 70 billion CFA francs ($126 million) from attacks on mining sites.
Extremist groups also forced women, predominantly in the North and Sahel Regions, to cover their heads, forced men to wear religious garb, prevented children from going to non-Quranic schools, and prohibited civilians from drinking alcohol, smoking, and frequenting bars at the risk of beatings or death.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see also section 1.g.) of civilians, prisoners, and other persons in their power.
On April 7, seven persons in Paletwa Township, Chin State, were killed when military airstrikes hit the village. Those killed included two children, a mother, and an infant. Eight others were injured. On June 10, Myo Thant, a 43-year-old also from Paletwa Township, was shot and killed by members of military’s 22nd Light Infantry Brigade.
In late June, a 60-year-old farmer named Lone Hsu was killed and a woman was injured when soldiers opened fire on a village in northern Shan State. The incident sparked a protest by more than 10,000 persons in Kyaukme Township, who called for an end to military brutality against civilians. On June 29, the military announced the squadron commander would be court-martialed because the shooter–an infantry soldier–had died in battle. There was no report of action as of November.
There were reports of suspects in custody dying as a result of police mistreatment. On August 10, two 17-year-old boys, sentenced to two years’ incarceration at the Mandalay Community Rehabilitation Centre for robbery, died under suspicious circumstances after a failed escape attempt, according to local media. The families of the deceased noted injuries found on the bodies of both boys.
There were reports of disappearances by security forces.
Khaing Khant Kyaw, a student at the Defense Services Medical Academy in Rangoon, disappeared in late August after he criticized military leaders in an August Facebook post. As of November, his whereabouts were unknown, according to the news service Myanmar Now.
According to the Chin Human Rights Organization, at least 18 persons from Paletwa Township in Chin State and from Rakhine State remained missing as of November, some two years after disappearing. At least three were reportedly abducted by the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army (AA) (see also section 1.g.).
The law prohibits torture; however, members of security forces reportedly tortured and otherwise abused suspects, prisoners, detainees, and others. Such incidents occurred, for example, in prisons and in Rakhine State. Authorities generally took no action to investigate incidents or punish alleged perpetrators.
Human rights groups reported incidents of alleged torture by security forces and some ethnic armed groups in ethnic minority areas. In Rakhine State, hundreds of prisoners reportedly were subject to torture and abuse by state prison and security officials.
Sexual violence by security force members continued. On January 14, a Chin woman was hospitalized after she was reportedly tortured while in the custody of military forces operating under the Western Command in Ann, Rakhine State. She was arrested on suspicion that her husband had been in contact with members of the AA. In another case on June 29, a woman in Rakhine State’s Rathedaung Township was allegedly raped by three military personnel at gunpoint. The 36-year-old woman filed a complaint with Sittwe Police Station, and the police station accepted the complaint and opened cases for rape, abduction with the intent to rape, and aiding and abetting rape. The military was also conducting an internal investigation.
Although there were reports of official investigations into some cases of alleged sexual violence, the government released no information on them.
Security forces reportedly subjected detainees to harsh interrogation techniques designed to intimidate and disorient, including severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep.
There was a widespread impression that security force members enjoyed near complete impunity for abuses committed. Police and military tribunals were often not transparent about investigations, trials, or punishments they claimed to have undertaken. There was no information to suggest that human rights training was a prominent part of overall security forces training or that rights abuses were punished in ways commensurate with the seriousness of crimes committed.
On September 16, the military’s Office of the Judge Advocate General announced that it was “investigating possible wider patterns of violations in the region of northern Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017.” The announcement came after release of a report by a government-appointed commission on violence in the region that found security forces had committed war crimes (see section 5, Government Human Rights Bodies).
On June 30, the military announced that two officers and a soldier had been convicted for “weakness in following the instructions” during the “Gu Dar Pyin incident.” Rakhine State’s Gu Dar Pyin village was the site of a massacre by the military in 2017, part of its campaign of mass atrocities that forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. The military did not provide any other information, such as the names and ranks of those convicted, their role in the massacre, or their sentences.
Conditions in prisons, labor camps, and military detention facilities were reportedly harsh and sometimes life threatening due to overcrowding, degrading treatment, and inadequate access to medical care and basic needs, including food, shelter, and hygiene.
Physical Conditions: There were 46 prisons and 50 labor camps, the latter referred to by the government as “agriculture and livestock breeding career training centers” and “manufacturing centers.” A prominent human rights group estimated there were approximately 70,000 prisoners. Women and men were held separately. Overcrowding was reportedly a serious problem in many prisons and labor camps. In March, before the latest general amnesty, a human rights group reported that occupancy at the country’s largest prison was nearly triple capacity. Some prisons held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. More than 20,000 inmates were serving court-mandated sentences in labor camps located across the country.
Corruption was endemic in the penal system. Some authorities reportedly sent prisoners whose sentences did not include “hard labor” to labor camps in contravention of the law and “rented out” prisoners as labor to private companies for personal financial gain, although official policy prohibited both practices. In spite of reforms in recent years, conditions at the camps remained life threatening for some, especially at 18 labor camps where prisoners worked as miners.
Bedding was often inadequate and sometimes consisted of a single mat, wooden platform, or laminated plastic sheet on a concrete floor. Prisoners did not always have access to potable water. In many cases family members had to supplement prisoners’ official rations, medicine, and basic necessities. Inmates also reportedly paid prison officials for necessities, including clean water, prison uniforms, plates, cups, and utensils.
Medical care was inadequate and reportedly contributed to deaths in custody. Prisoners suffered from health problems, including malaria, heart disease, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, skin diseases, and stomach problems, caused or exacerbated by unhygienic conditions and spoiled food. Former prisoners also complained of poorly maintained physical structures that provided no protection from the elements and had rodent, snake, and mold infestations.
Prison conditions in Rakhine State were reportedly among the worst.
Administration: Prisoners and detainees could sometimes submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or negative repercussions, but there was no clear legal or administrative protection for this right.
Some prisons prevented full adherence to religious codes for prisoners, ostensibly due to space restrictions and security concerns. For example, imprisoned Buddhist monks reported authorities denied them permission to observe holy days, wear robes, shave their heads, or eat on a schedule compatible with the monastic code. For the general prison population, some authorities allowed individual or group worship, but prohibited long beards, wearing robes, or shaved heads.
Independent Monitoring: The ICRC had conditional and limited access to all prisons and labor camps; it did not have access to military detention sites. With prior approval from the Prison Department, it could visit prisons and labor camps twice monthly but could not meet privately with prisoners. The ICRC reported its findings through a strictly confidential bilateral dialogue with prison authorities. These reports were neither public nor shared with any other party.
The Ministry of Home Affairs Department of Corrections operates the prison and labor camp system. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime were able to visit facilities during the past year, although some restrictions on access remain.
The military did not permit access to its detention facilities.
Improvements: The UN Office of Drugs and Crime strengthened its health system program in four prisons by including measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law does not prohibit arbitrary arrest, and the government continued to arrest persons, often from ethnic and religious minority groups, and notably in Rakhine State, on an arbitrary basis. Persons held generally did not have the right to appeal the legality of their arrest or detention administratively or before a court.
The law allows authorities to order detention without charge or trial of anyone they believe is performing or might perform any act that endangers the sovereignty and security of the state or public peace and tranquility. The civilian government and the military continued to interpret these laws broadly and used them arbitrarily to detain activists, student leaders, farmers, journalists, political staff, and human rights defenders.
Personnel from the Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs and police commonly conducted searches and made arrests at will, despite the law generally requiring warrants.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law generally requires warrants for arrest, but this this requirement was not always followed.
By law authorities may hold suspects in pretrial detention for two weeks (with a possible two-week extension) before bringing them before a judge or informing them of the charges against them. According to the Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar, police regularly detained suspects for two weeks, failed to file a charge, and released suspects briefly before detaining them for a series of two-week periods with pro forma trips to the judge in between.
The law grants detainees the right to consult an attorney, but in some cases authorities refused to allow suspects this right. The law provides access to fair and equal legal aid based on international standards and mandates the independence of and legal protection for legal aid workers. The government failed to provide adequate funding and staffing to implement the law fully. Through September the legal aid program handled 300 cases.
There is a functioning bail system, but bribery was a common substitute for bail. Bail is commonly offered in criminal cases, but defendants were often required to attend numerous pretrial hearings before bail was granted.
In some cases the government held detainees incommunicado. There were reports authorities did not inform family members or attorneys of arrests of persons in a timely manner, reveal the whereabouts of those held, and often denied families the right to see prisoners in a timely manner.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrests, including detention by the military in conflict areas.
Amnesty International documented arbitrary detention in several townships in Rakhine State. A villager from Kyauktaw Township witnessed soldiers arresting 10 villagers, including her husband, on March 16. She said soldiers punched, kicked, and used guns to hit those who resisted.
On July 24, land activist Gei Om was taken into custody after a local official sent a letter of complaint to authorities in Mindat Township, Chin State, alleging that Gei Om had spread false news about possible illicit activities, was involved in an illegal land dispute settlement in 2016, and had been collecting illegal taxes from villagers. Prior to his arrest, Gei Om helped local community leaders to monitor the impact of a model farm project to harvest oil seed plants designed by the Management Committee of Mindat Township, according to the International Federation for Human Rights. They reportedly found that those in charge of the model farms had engaged in illegal logging and that the farms had caused environmental damage in Natma Taung National Park.
Pretrial Detention: Judges and police sometimes colluded to extend detentions. According to the Independent Lawyers’ Association, arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detentions resulted from lengthy, complicated legal procedures and widespread corruption. Periods of detention prior to and during trials sometimes equaled or exceeded the sentence that would result from a conviction.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although habeas corpus exists in law, security forces often arrested and detained individuals without following proper procedures, in violation of national law. Arbitrary arrest or detention was sometimes used to suppress political dissent, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
The law calls for an independent judiciary, but the government manipulated the courts for political ends and sometimes deprived citizens of due process and the right to a fair trial, particularly in freedom of expression cases.
The criminal justice system was overburdened by a high number of cases lodged against small-time drug users, who constituted an estimated 50 percent of caseloads in the courts.
Corruption in the judiciary remained a significant problem. According to civil society organizations, officials at all levels received illegal payments at all stages of the legal process for purposes ranging from influencing routine matters, such as access to a detainee in police custody, to substantive decisions, such as fixing the outcome of a case.
The case of political activist Aung That Zin Oo (known as James) illustrates the prolonged delays, procedural irregularities, and political maneuvering that mark the judicial process. On August 25, a township court convicted James of carrying fake identification cards during a 2015 protest and sentenced him to six months at hard labor. James was tried and convicted because the local immigration office refused to drop the charges against him, although all charges against others arrested with him were dropped when the National League for Democracy (NLD) government took office in 2016.
The military and the government directly and indirectly exerted influence over the outcome of cases. Former military personnel, for example, served in key positions, and observers reported that the military pressured judicial officials in cases involving military interests, such as investments in military-owned enterprises.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial but also grants broad exceptions, effectively allowing the government to violate these rights at will. In ordinary criminal cases, the government allowed courts to operate independently, and courts generally respected some basic due process rights such as allowing a defense and appeal. Defendants do not enjoy a presumption of innocence or the rights to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them; to be present at their trial; to free interpretation; or, except in capital cases, to consult an attorney of their choice or have one provided at government expense. There is no right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; defense attorneys in criminal cases generally had 15 days to prepare for trial. There is a fair trial standards manual, but because of the low standard of legal education, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges were often unfamiliar with precedent, case law, and basic legal procedures. While no legal provision allows for coerced testimony or confessions of defendants to be used in court, authorities reportedly accepted both. There were reports of official coercion to plead guilty despite a lack of evidence, with promises of reduced sentences to defendants who did so.
Although the law provides that ordinary criminal cases should be open to the public, members of the public with no direct involvement in a case were sometimes denied entry to courts. Defense attorneys generally could call witnesses and conduct cross-examinations. Prodemocracy activists generally were able to retain counsel, but other defendants’ access to counsel was inadequate.
Local civil society groups noted the public was largely unaware of its legal rights, and there were too few lawyers to meet public needs.
The government continued to detain and arrest journalists, activists, and critics of the government and the military. According to civil society groups who use a definition of political prisoners that includes those who may have engaged in acts of violence and excludes some charges related to freedom of expression and religion, there were 36 convicted political prisoners as of October. Another 584 individuals were facing trial for their political views, of whom 193 were in pretrial detention and the rest were out on bail, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The ICRC had very limited access to political prisoners.
Authorities held some political prisoners separately from common criminals, but political prisoners arrested in land rights disputes were generally held together with common criminals.
On May 18, the Union Election Commission annulled Aye Maung’s status as a lower house lawmaker and barred him from running in future elections due to his treason conviction. In 2019 Aye Maung, then chairman of the Arakan National Party, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for high treason and another two years for defamation of the state after remarks interpreted by the government as expressing and encouraging support for the AA.
Many former political prisoners were subject to surveillance and restrictions following their release, including the inability to resume studies or secure travel, identity, or land ownership documents.
No specific mechanisms or laws provide for civil remedies for human rights abuses; however, complainants may use provisions of the penal code and laws of civil procedure to seek civil remedies. Individuals and organizations may not appeal an adverse decision to regional human rights bodies but may make complaints to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission.
Under the constitution the state owns all land, although there is a limited amount of freehold land and the law allows for registration and sale of private land ownership rights. Most land is held in long-term lease, meaning that while this leasehold land is still owned by the government, it is leased to private parties on a long-term basis with a general expectation that the leasehold will automatically roll over upon its expiration. The law provides for compensation when the government acquires privately held land for a public purpose; however, civil society groups criticized the lack of safeguards in the law and declared that compensation was infrequent and inadequate when offered. The government can also declare land unused or “vacant” and assign it to foreign investors or designate it for other uses. Authorities and private-sector organizations seized land during the year; restitution was very limited. In Mon State, for example, retired military personnel acting as private-sector land agents obtained land use rights to pursue development of rubber plantations, while those displaced received minimal compensation.
The General Administration Department of the Office of the Union Government oversees land restitution. There is no judicial review of land ownership or confiscation decisions, although there are limited administrative processes to manage objections. Administrative bodies subject to political control by the national government make final decisions on land use and registration. Researchers and civil society groups stated land laws facilitated land confiscation without providing adequate procedural protections. In some cases, advance notice of confiscations was not given.
The law does not favor recognition of traditional land-tenure systems (customary tenure). In March the new Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Lands Management Law came into effect, requiring anyone occupying land classified as “vacant, fallow, or virgin” to apply for permits within six months. Continued use of the affected land without applying for permits meant land users would be in trespass and could be sentenced to up to two years in prison. If rigorously enforced, this order could result in millions of persons losing rights of access to their lands. Understanding of the new law and the application process was low in affected communities.
Beginning in September, police began to arrest farmers for violating the new law. Eight farmers were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for farming land in Ayeyarwady Region that the local government seized as vacant and sold to a private company.
Civil society groups argued the new law was unjust and called for its immediate suspension. These groups also called for customary tenure to be defined and included in all land laws since it is included in the National Land Use Policy.
Observers were concerned about official statements suggesting that the new law could also be used to prevent displaced Rohingya from returning to their land or receiving adequate compensation. Officials stated that burned land would revert to the government and posted signs in several venues to that effect. Given that the military bulldozed villages, demolished structures, and cleared vegetation to build security bases and other structures in Rakhine State and given that the land law states that land not used productively within four years reverts to the government, civil society groups saw little progress in returning land confiscated by the government.
In March a group of 41 Karenni farmers and activists who were detained for more than six months for damaging property in a dispute with the army predating the new law were released from prison in Loikaw, Kayah State, after completing their sentences and paying fines. During the year many other farmers were awaiting trial in similar cases.
Neither restitution nor adequate compensation was provided to persons or communities whose land was confiscated under the former military regime.
The law protects the privacy and security of the home and property, but these protections were poorly enforced. The law does not protect the privacy of correspondence or other communications.
Some activists reported the government systematically monitored citizens’ travel and closely monitored the activities of politically active persons, while others reported they did not experience any such invasions of privacy. Special Branch police, official intelligence networks, and other administrative systems (see section 2.d.) were reported agents of such surveillance.
The government and military commonly monitored private electronic communications through online surveillance. Police used Cellebrite technology to breach cell phones. While Cellebrite halted new sales in the country and stopped servicing equipment that was already sold in late 2018, authorities continued to employ the technology.
Authorities in Rakhine State required Rohingya to obtain a permit to marry officially, a step not required of other ethnicities. Waiting times for the permit could exceed one year, and bribes usually were required. Unauthorized marriages could result in prosecution of Rohingya men under the law, which prohibits a man from “deceitfully” marrying a woman, and could result in a prison sentence or fine.
There were reports of regular, unannounced nighttime household checks in northern Rakhine State and in other areas.
There were long-running armed internal conflicts across the country. Reports of killings, disappearances, beatings, torture, forced labor, forced relocations, the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, excessive use of force, disregard for civilian life, sexual violence, and other abuses committed by government forces and armed opposition and rebel groups were common. Within the military, impunity for abuses and crimes continued, although the military took disciplinary action in limited cases.
Conflict continued and escalated between the military and the AA in central and northern Rakhine State and expanded into southern Chin State; clashes between the military and multiple armed groups in northern Shan State took place throughout the year. Heavy fighting between the military and the AA displaced tens of thousands of civilians and resulted in civilian casualties and credible reports of military abuses. Although fighting between the two sides quieted in November and December and some individuals returned home, the situation remained tense and most displaced persons were unable to do so. The military also clashed with the Karen National Union in Karen State, temporarily displacing hundreds in February and March.
Killings: Military officials reportedly killed, tortured, and otherwise seriously abused civilians in conflict areas without public inquiry or accountability. Following ethnic armed groups’ attacks on the military, the military reportedly often directed its attacks against civilians, resulting in deaths. Some ethnic armed groups, most notably the AA, also allegedly committed abuses. The AA allegedly killed off-duty police and military personnel as well as civilians suspected of providing information to the military. Multiple local and international groups reported that the number of dead and injured civilians in the fighting between the military and the AA from January to April alone far surpassed the total for all of 2019–by one accounting, 151 were killed and 394 wounded through the middle of April–as the overall humanitarian situation deteriorated while the geographic scope of fighting grew.
The military blamed the AA for these and other killings of police: a police lieutenant was killed in Kyauktaw, Rakhine State on June 13; a police captain was shot by multiple assailants at the same station on August 12; two off-duty Border Guard Police officers were abducted in Maungdaw, Rakhine State on September 8, one was killed and the other was missing as of October. On September 8, four persons, including two children, were killed and another 10 wounded when the military fired artillery into a village in Myebon Township, Rakhine State, according to local residents and press.
Abductions: Government soldiers and nonstate armed groups abducted villagers in conflict areas.
The AA often abducted officials and others for propaganda purposes. On January 21, the AA released lower house member of parliament Hawi Tin after two months in custody. The AA detained him and several Indian nationals en route from Paletwa, Chin State, to Kyauktaw, Rakhine State. On October 19, the AA claimed responsibility for the October 14 abduction of two NLD candidates who were campaigning in Taungup Township, Rakhine State. The NLD rejected AA demands for the release of students and other protesters in exchange for the candidates.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Nongovernmental organization (NGO) reports provided credible information that the military tortured and beat civilians alleged to be working with or perceived to be sympathetic to ethnic armed groups in Rakhine State. There were also continued reports of forced labor and forced recruitment by the United Wa State Army, the Restoration Council of Shan State, and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army.
In May a video released by Radio Free Asia on social media showed soldiers viciously beating five blindfolded and bound men from Ponnagyun Township, Rakhine State, on April 27 aboard a naval vessel. The five were forced to confess to being AA members, although relatives and local villagers claimed they were civilians from a village the military shelled on April 13. The military released a statement on May 12 admitting that members of the security forces performed “unlawful interrogations” and promising to “take actions.”
Civilians, armed actors, and NGOs operating inside the country and along the border reported continued indiscriminate landmine use by the military and armed groups.
Child Soldiers: Four ethnic armed groups–the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization; the Shan State Army, the armed wing of the Shan State Progress Party; the United Wa State Army; and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army–were listed in the UN secretary-general’s 2020 report on Children and Armed Conflict as perpetrators of the unlawful recruitment and use of children. The military was conditionally delisted by the secretary-general as a perpetrator of unlawful recruitment and use of children due to continued progress on child recruitment, although the secretary-general called for continued progress on use of children.
The penalties imposed for recruiting and using child soldiers in a manner inconsistent with relevant laws were not commensurate with the seriousness of these actions. Most child recruitment or use cases reportedly culminated in reprimands, demotions, relocations, fines, or decreases in pensions, penalties significantly less severe than those prescribed by criminal law. Despite military directives prohibiting the use and recruitment of children, some children were still used by the military for noncombat roles in conflict areas. On child recruitment, reports continued that middlemen fraudulently facilitated enrollment of underage recruits, sometimes at the request of the recruits’ families. The Ministry of Defense undertook to investigate military personnel implicated in unlawfully recruiting child soldiers. There was, however, no evidence that the government prosecuted soldiers in military or civilian courts for recruiting or using child soldiers.
The military generally allowed UN monitors to inspect for compliance with agreed-upon procedures for ending the unlawful use and recruitment of children and identifying and demobilizing those already recruited. There were, however, some delays in securing official permissions, and access to conflict areas was often denied. The government allowed the United Nations to engage ethnic armed groups on the signing of joint plans of action to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers and to demobilize and rehabilitate those already serving.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: The government restricted the passage of relief supplies and access by international humanitarian organizations to conflict-affected areas of Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, and Shan States. The government regularly denied access to the United Nations, international NGOs, and diplomatic missions, asserting the military could not ensure their security or by claiming that humanitarian assistance would benefit ethnic armed group forces. In some cases the military allowed gradual access as government forces regained control over contested areas.
A World Health Organization vehicle with UN markings transporting COVID-19 test samples to Rangoon came under fire in Minbya Township, Rakhine State, on April 20, during heavy fighting in the area. The driver was hit and died of his injuries on April 21. The military and the AA traded blame for the attack. Based on the nature of the attack and the vehicle’s passage through a military checkpoint shortly before coming under fire, most observers believed the AA was responsible, although the attack may have been unintended. The government announced the formation of a four-member committee to investigate the attack.
In a separate incident, a convoy of five clearly marked World Food Program trucks came under fire in southern Chin State on April 29 while transporting food aid to vulnerable communities around Paletwa, the site of numerous recent clashes between the military and the AA. One of the drivers suffered a minor injury, and three of the five trucks were damaged. The World Food Program supplies ultimately reached Paletwa on May 2, traveling the final distance by boat.
Reports continued that the military forced civilians to act as human shields, carry supplies, or serve in other support roles in conflict areas such as northern Shan, southern Chin, and Rakhine States. On October 5, military forces conscripted 14 Rohingya civilians, many of them teenagers, to act as “guides” in the village of Pyin Shae, in Buthidaung Township, according to local civil society, officials, and multiple press reports. The soldiers, anticipating a clash with the AA forced the villagers to walk in front of them–using them, in effect, as human buffers. One press report indicated the military might also have believed the area was mined. When the group came under fire from AA forces, two teenage boys were killed and a man was seriously injured; the others fled.
As of November, an estimated 326,500 persons remained displaced by violence in Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, and Shan States. An increase of 60,000 in 12 months in Rakhine and Chin States was driven by the fighting between the AA and the military. In some cases, villagers driven from their homes fled into the forest, frequently in heavily mined areas, without adequate food, security, or basic medical care.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents, including police, the National Intelligence Service (SNR), military personnel, and elements of the Imbonerakure, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often against perceived supporters of the political opposition or those who exercised their lawful rights. The banned nongovernmental organization (NGO) Ligue Iteka continued operating from outside the country and documented 205 killings by the end of September, as compared with 281 the previous year. Many were allegedly committed by agents of the security services or members of the Imbonerakure. The assessments of Ligue Iteka and other human rights groups differed on the number of killings for which agents of the state or ruling party were likely responsible. Responsibility for arbitrary killings and exact statistics were difficult to determine due to the government’s restrictions on human rights monitors and civil society organizations (CSOs) and refusal to allow international bodies authorization to enter the country. Investigations and prosecutions of government officials and members of the ruling party who allegedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings were rare. Responsibility for investigating such killings lies with the Burundi National Police, which is under the Ministry of Interior and Public Security, while the Ministry of Justice is responsible for prosecution.
In its September report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (COI), whose members were denied access to the country by the government, but who conducted face-to-face or remote interviews with more than 300 victims, witnesses, and other sources living both in the country and in exile, reported that summary executions and arbitrary killings continued. Despite the fact that bodies bearing signs of violence continued to be found in public places, authorities made no attempt to establish the victims’ identities or the circumstances of their death, making it more difficult for the COI and NGOs to document. In addition, the COI reported numerous cases of disappearances, and it was difficult to determine how many of these were cases of forced disappearance or were killings. Some victims were found dead a few days after their disappearance with injuries indicating they had been executed. The COI report concluded that “human rights violations were mainly committed by members of the Imbonerakure and local administrative officials acting alone or jointly with police or the National Intelligence Service.” The COI also reported that, “Acting in place of the authorities, Imbonerakure have killed persons accused of ordinary crimes, including theft and witchcraft, thus arrogating to themselves the right to dispense justice.” Victims were generally perceived as opponents of the government or the ruling party or, first and foremost, members of the new political opposition party, the National Congress for Freedom (CNL), registered in February. Some media outlets reported that Burundian nationals who returned to the country after having sought refuge abroad were also targeted, as were young men following travel abroad, who were accused of belonging to or supporting armed opposition groups. As in past years, the COI report stated that there was reason to believe that abuses committed by Burundian authorities constituted crimes against humanity.
According to the COI report, during the electoral period numerous members of the main opposition party CNL were killed in reprisal for legitimate political activities. Violent clashes between the Imbonerakure and members of the CNL resulted in injuries and deaths on both sides but with primary responsibility attributed to the Imbonerakure, often with tacit support of police and local authorities.
According to a report by the NGO Ligue Iteka, Bosco Ngabirano, a CNL member, was killed on March 29 in Ryansoro commune, Gitega Province, by a group of Imbonerakure. The report indicated Seconde Ndayisenga, the administrator of the commune, ordered the killing. Ngabirano was killed by machete and his tongue was cut out. He was buried on April 1 at the request of the commune administrator and Gitega governor without the presence of his family members who requested an investigation into his killing before burial. As of November, authorities had not initiated an investigation.
On September 17, the rebel group Red Tabara claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Bujumbura Rural, Rumonge, Kayanza, and Bururi Provinces that reportedly killed 28 members of the security forces (police and army) and 15 Imbonerakure, according to the movement’s spokesperson. The spokesperson stated that six members of the movement were killed during the attacks. Local administrations attributed the attack to “unidentified armed groups aiming to disrupt security of the country.”
As of September 21, at least 29 grenade attacks had taken place throughout the country, resulting in at least 17 fatalities and 69 injuries. Although the number of attacks was slightly lower than the previous year, the number of fatalities and injuries increased. The identification of the perpetrators and motives behind the attacks was often unclear. While the apparent motives were presumably political for some of the attacks that specifically targeted members of political parties, police, and other security service members, others were likely motivated by personal or business vendettas.
Following the elections, President Ndayishimiye made efforts to curb the violence and engage the country’s youth in positive economic efforts, including by creating an initiative to lower youth unemployment and establishing a bank that provides loans to young entrepreneurs.
On December 28, the first prosecution and sentencing took place against a high-level member of the Imbonerakure. The former vice president of the Gitega chapter of the Imbonerakure, Aime Irambona, was sentenced to four years in prison for premeditated murder in the slaying of a workman who stole items from his home. Five other plaintiffs were also prosecuted in the case and received sentences that ranged from 18 months to life in prison. Aime Irambona is a close relative of President Ndayishimiye and was prosecuted by the newly elected government, despite his membership in the ruling party’s youth wing that typically has impunity for its actions, including intimidation through violence.
There were numerous reports that individuals were victims of politically motivated disappearances after they were detained by elements of the security forces or in kidnappings where the identities of the perpetrators were not evident. The COI report noted that some victims associated with the opposition or without political affiliation disappeared after refusing to join the ruling political party or the Imbonerakure. A victim’s last sighting was often at the time of abduction by the Imbonerakure or SNR. The NGOs Ligue Iteka and SOS Torture Burundi regularly reported disappearances, which were sometimes later determined to be killings when bodies were discovered. As of mid-September, Ligue Iteka documented 30 disappearances, down from 35 the previous year. It linked six disappearances to the Imbonerakure, two to police, 16 to the SNR, one to the military, and five to unidentified actors. Lack of access to reliable reporting, caused in part by restraints on civil society, limited the ability of human rights organizations and researchers to gather complete data. Disappearances of persons returning from exile were also reported. There were no reports of efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts.
On April 3, military officers under the orders of Major Gilbert Manirakiza, the officer in charge of military intelligence at Mabanda camp, kidnapped Come Niyongabo, a former member of the FAB (the former Burundian army). Niyongabo’s family was unable to locate him, and the military denied detaining him.
The constitution and law prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were numerous reports government officials employed these practices. NGOs reported cases of torture committed by security services or members of the Imbonerakure. As of September, Ligue Iteka reported 103 such cases, down from 201 the previous year, attributing 70 to members of the Imbonerakure, eight to police, five to members of local government, and 20 to the SNR. According to Human Rights Watch, some Burundian refugees in other countries testified they fled the country after they or their family members suffered violence, including rape, torture, and illegal detention by members of the Imbonerakure. The press reported throughout the year that Imbonerakure members arrested, threatened, beat, tortured, or inflicted a combination of the foregoing on members of the CNL party.
The COI report concluded that acts of torture continued to be committed, including sexual and gender-based violence affecting mostly women and girls but also men. Such violence aimed at intimidating, controlling, repressing, or punishing women and men for their supposed or actual political opinions, their refusal to join the ruling party, or their links with an armed movement. According to the COI, assailants beat, kicked, or struck victims with sticks or batons while wounding others with sharp objects.
The COI report linked acts of torture to members of the Imbonerakure, often acting alone but sometimes in concert with or with approval from police or local administrative officials. Imbonerakure were regularly deployed to supplement or replace security forces, particularly in rural areas, at the request of or with the consent of senior officials of the SNR, police, the Office of the President, and local authorities.
On March 1, in Gisuru commune, in Ruyigi Province, a group of Imbonerakure beat Pascal Bizumuremyi, a member of parliament from the CNL party and also a police officer. The group was working to prevent CNL members from opening party offices in the region. The group of Imbonerakure was arrested but released without charges several days later.
There were few reports of investigations or prosecutions for serious abuses of human rights. The extent of impunity was a significant problem in the security forces and their proxies, particularly the Imbonerakure. Factors contributing to impunity included the ruling party’s reliance on the Imbonerakure to repress political opposition. There are no significant mechanisms to investigate human rights abuses. The COI report stated, “Imbonerakure enjoy considerable latitude in carrying out their activities, conferred on them by the Burundian authorities who have the means to control them, as well as almost total impunity.”
The UN Secretary-General’s Strategic Assessment Mission for UN Engagement in Burundi noted, “In July and August 2020, the Government took notable steps to fight impunity. It arrested and prosecuted members of the ruling CNDD-FDD party youth league Imbonerakure, senior police officers and local administrative officers for extortion and other criminal offenses, thus increasing the cautious optimism from civil society and political actors that the new administration will bring about change. However, the prevailing view conveyed by several stakeholders is that more steps need to be taken for Burundi to promote accountability and meet its international human rights obligations.”
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were seven open allegations submitted in previous years of sexual exploitation and abuse by Burundian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including two from 2019, one from 2018, two from 2017, one from 2016, and one from 2015. As of September, the government had not announced whether it had taken any measures to establish accountability in the seven cases that were still open. Four of the cases involved an alleged exploitative relationship with an adult, alleged transactional sex with an adult, the alleged rape of a child, and the alleged solicitation of transactional sex by two peacekeepers with two adults. The other three open cases each involved multiple charges: One of the cases involved the alleged rape of an adult, alleged transactional sex with an adult, and two allegations of rape by two peacekeepers of an adult. A second case involved the alleged rape of two adults, the alleged sexual exploitation with two adults, alleged sexual activity with a child, and alleged transactional sex with an adult. The third case involved two allegations of sexual activity with a child.
Prisons were overcrowded, and conditions remained harsh and sometimes life -threatening. Conditions in detention centers managed by the SNR and in local “lock-ups” managed by police generally were worse than in prisons, and there were allegations that police and members of the SNR committed acts of torture, beating, and mistreatment of detainees. The COI and several other credible organizations also continued to report that the SNR, police, senior government officials, and other security organizations maintained clandestine detention facilities to which no independent monitors were granted access.
Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a severe problem. The Office of Penitentiary Affairs reported that, as of August, there were 12,109 inmates, including 5,168 pretrial detainees, in 13 prisons, the majority of which were built before 1965, with the capacity to accommodate 4,194 inmates. Of the 12,109 inmates, 646 were women and 144 were juveniles. Authorities held 144 juveniles, of whom 129 were convicted and 15 were pretrial detainees, in two juvenile rehabilitation facilities. They were allowed to participate in recreational activities and received psychosocial support and preparation for eventual return to their families and communities. In addition, there were 87 infants and small children living with their incarcerated mothers. The most crowded prisons were Muramvya (30 miles from Bujumbura), where the inmate population was at 771 percent of capacity, and Mpimba (in Bujumbura) which was at 552 percent of capacity. No information was available on the number of persons held in secret detention centers managed by the SNR or in communal jails operated by police. There was a prison for women in Ngozi. Authorities commonly held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. There were reports of physical abuse by government officials, lack of adequate medical treatment, and prolonged solitary confinement.
Prisons did not have adequate sanitation systems (toilets and bathing facilities), drinking water, ventilation, and lighting. Prisons and detention centers did not have accommodations for persons with disabilities.
According to government officials and international human rights observers, many prisoners suffered from intestinal illnesses and malaria. Many died from disease. There were media reports of prisoners presenting COVID-19 symptoms including some who died, particularly in Bujumbura’s Mpimba Central and Ngozi prisons. There was no official information regarding cases of COVID-19 in prisons. Authorities took some measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including suspension of visits in all prisons after April 1, although family members were still permitted to bring prisoners necessities such as food. The International Committee of the Red Cross provided assistance to prison authorities for constructing quarantine sections in prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each inmate received on a daily basis approximately 12 ounces of cassava, 12 ounces of beans, and, on some days, oil and salt. Authorities expected family and friends to provide funds for all other expenses. Each prison was required to employ at least one qualified nurse and received at least one weekly visit by a doctor, but prisoners did not always receive prompt access to medical care; inmates with serious medical conditions were sent to local hospitals. The banned NGO Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT-Burundi) reported a shortage of medicines in prison clinics. It also reported that prisoners, particularly those held on politically motivated charges, had difficulty obtaining permission to seek treatment in hospitals outside prison, and those who did were discharged before they were fully recovered.
Administration: Prison authorities allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but authorities rarely investigated the complaints. There were credible reports of mistreatment of prisoners, but no record that any abusers were held to account or punished.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by some independent nongovernmental observers.
The government permitted visits requested by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the African Union (AU), and the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (CNIDH). Monitors visited known official prisons, communal jails, and known SNR detention centers regularly. Monitoring groups had complete and unhindered access to prisoners held in known detention facilities, but were not able to access clandestine SNR detention sites.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest and detention, but the government did not observe these prohibitions.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Arrests require warrants issued by a presiding magistrate, although police may arrest a person without a warrant by notifying a police supervisor in advance. Police have seven days to finish an investigation and present evidence before a magistrate but may request a seven-day extension for additional investigation. Police rarely respected these provisions.
A magistrate must either order the release of suspects or confirm the charges for continued detention, initially for 14 days, and then for an additional seven days if required to prepare a case for trial. Magistrates routinely failed to convene preliminary hearings, often citing heavy case backlogs or improper documentation by police. Authorities acknowledged that the legal system struggled to process cases in a timely fashion and that lengthy pretrial detentions were common.
Lack of transportation for suspects, police, and magistrates was a frequently cited reason for the failure to convene preliminary hearings. This was a problem in the eight provinces without prisons, where lack of transport prevented the transfer of suspects from the site of detention to the provincial court with jurisdiction over the case.
Judges may release suspects on bail but rarely did so. They did, however, often release suspects on their own recognizance. Suspects may hire lawyers at their own expense in criminal cases, but the law does not require legal representation, and the government did not provide attorneys for those unable to afford one. Detainees who were unable to pay for a lawyer were rarely able to access legal counsel. The SNR denied lawyers access to detainees held at its headquarters in Bujumbura. Prisons have solitary confinement facilities, and detainees were sometimes held in solitary confinement for long periods.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law provides for a token monetary fine and imprisonment for 15 days to one year for any member of the security forces found guilty of involvement in an arbitrary arrest. There were no reports this law was applied. Human rights groups reported numerous arbitrary arrests and detentions, including some involving the Imbonerakure. The COI report described a pattern of arbitrary arrests and detentions, but it did not provide statistics. As of September, Ligue Iteka documented 916 arbitrary arrests, an increase from 598 in the previous year, including 154 by the Imbonerakure, 589 by police, 39 by the military, 81 by local administration officials, and 53 by the SNR. Authorities especially targeted members of the CNL party and their supporters, making a total of 409 arrests. Authorities also arrested members of other opposition parties in connection with legitimate political activities. Authorities often accused them, along with CNL members, of organizing or taking part in “illegal meetings” or seeking to “disrupt the election.” Authorities arrested some opposition members, after they fought with members of the Imbonerakure who were attempting to disrupt their opposition election rallies. Sometimes authorities arrested the relatives of CNL or opposition party members who could not be located.
According to the COI report, most arrests were arbitrary because they were conducted illegally, on vague grounds, or in breach of established judicial procedure, such as when carried out by the Imbonerakure or local administrative authorities who were not authorized to make arrests, other than while a crime is being committed.
On May 4, in Giheta commune, Gitega Province, the manager of Kibimba hospital, Samson Gahungu, was arrested by Alexis Manirakiza, the local administrator of the commune. Gahungu was accused of tearing up a picture of the then National Council for Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) presidential candidate, Evariste Ndayishimiye, posted at the entrance of the hospital.
On July 10, Terence Mushano, vice president of the CSO AC-Genocide Cirimoso, was arrested with journalists from the Iwacu Press group before interviewing them concerning the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the massacre of students at the University of Burundi. They were arrested for planning an interview within the airport premises without prior authorization. The Iwacu journalists were released several hours later but Mushano was transferred to a holding facility of the judicial police, where he was accused of “undermining public security.” He was temporarily released on personal recognizance on July 15, pending trial at a later date.
In May 2019 the duly elected leader of the Adventist Church in Burundi, Pastor Lameck Barishinga, and church administrator Pastor Lambert Ntiguma were arrested at Bujumbura International Airport while trying to fly to Nairobi, Kenya, to attend an executive committee meeting of the East-Central Africa Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. They both remained in prison without charges.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem. By law authorities may not hold a person longer than 14 days without charge. As of August, however, 43 percent of inmates in prisons and detention centers were pretrial detainees, according to the director of prison administration. Authorities held some suspects without formal charges. According to the Office of Penitentiary Affairs, the average time in pretrial detention was approximately one year, but some persons remained in pretrial detention for nearly five years. In some cases, the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inefficiency and corruption among police, prosecutors, and judicial officials contributed to the problem. For example, authorities deprived many persons of their legal right to be released on their own recognizance because public prosecutors failed to open case files or the files were lost. Others remained incarcerated without proper arrest warrants, either because police failed to complete the initial investigation and transfer the case to the appropriate magistrate or because the magistrate failed to convene the required hearing to rule on the charges.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release if found to have been unlawfully detained. Nevertheless, there was no record that any person was able to do so successfully.
Serious irregularities undermined the fairness and credibility of trials. Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, there were instances when authorities bribed or subjected members of the judiciary to political influence to drop investigations and prosecutions or predetermine the outcome of trials or not to seek enforcement of court orders. According to the COI report, the rules of criminal procedure were rarely observed. Warrantless arrests of political opponents were routinely carried out, pretrial detentions were illegally extended, and judges used confessions obtained under torture as a basis for convicting defendants.
The COI report stated that the judiciary continued to be used as a tool of political repression and was biased in favor of the CNDD-FDD party. Imbonerakure involved in clashes with members of CNL were rarely prosecuted or punished. The Ministry of Public Security consistently identified members of the CNL as responsible for “90 percent” of such incidents without carrying out investigations. There were allegations the public prosecutor willfully ignored calls to investigate senior figures within the security services and national police. Prosecutors and members of the security services sometimes ignored court orders for the release of detainees after judges had determined that there were no legal grounds for holding them.
By law defendants are presumed innocent. Panels of judges conduct all trials publicly. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges and free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, if necessary, although these rights were not always respected. Defendants have the right to a fair trial without undue delay and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, although this did not always occur. Defendants have a right to counsel but not at the government’s expense, even in cases involving serious criminal charges. Few defendants had legal representation because few could afford the services of a lawyer. Some local and international NGOs provided legal assistance to some defendants. Defendants have a right to defend themselves, including by questioning prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, calling their own witnesses, and examining evidence against them. Defendants also may present evidence on their own behalf and did so in most cases. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law extends the above rights to all citizens.
All defendants except those in military courts have the right to appeal their cases to the Supreme Court. The inefficiency of the court system extended the appeals process for long periods, in many cases for more than a year.
Procedures for civilian and military courts are similar, but military courts typically reached decisions more quickly. The government does not provide military defendants with attorneys to assist in their defense, although NGOs provided some defendants with attorneys in cases involving serious charges. Military trials generally were open to the public but may be closed for reasons such as national security or when publicity might harm the victim or a third party; for example, in cases involving rape or child abuse. Defendants in military courts are entitled to only one appeal.
While many of the above rights were often violated, no rights were systematically denied to persons from specific groups.
On August 9, the Kayanza High Court sentenced Augustin Manirishura, Christophe Ndayishimiye, and Chadia Mbaririmana to 30 years in prison for an alleged attempt to assassinate the president. They were arrested after a group of persons threw stones at President Ndayishimiye’s motorcade. During the trial the three accused did not have access to lawyers because the trial was held within three days of the incident and the defendants were not able to afford attorneys. The prosecutor initially charged them with “breach of public safety and not alerting the concerned services that the head of state was in danger” and requested a prison sentence of seven years. At the ruling, the judge announced the court reclassified the charge as an attack and plot against the head of state without giving further explanation. Media outlets reported the sentence was politically motivated.
In August, Dieudonne Nsengiyumva, a former representative of the Imbonerakure in Nyabihanga commune in Mwaro Province, and Boris Bukeyeneza, a current Imbonerakure member in the same commune, were sentenced by Mwaro District Court to 15 years in prison for the murder of Richard Havyarimana, a member of the CNL opposition party.
No verifiable statistic was available on the number of political prisoners or detainees; estimates by human rights groups ranged from a few hundred to as many as 4,000. Many of the examples cited in section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest or Detention, qualified also as political prisoners or detainees. The government denied incarcerating persons for political reasons, citing instead acts against state security, participation in a rebellion, or inciting insurrection. Human rights groups stated that these charges were often a pretext for repressing members of political opposition parties and human rights defenders. Throughout the year there were regular arrests and detentions of members of opposition political parties, mainly from the CNL but also other parties, such as Union for Peace and Democracy-Zigamibanga. Others, mainly young men, were arrested or detained under suspicion of having cooperated with armed rebel groups. In many cases alleged political prisoners remained in pretrial detention; in other cases they were released without explanation or, more frequently, after paying a monetary fine.
On October 2, authorities arrested former independent member of parliament Fabien Banciryanino as he was giving a press conference at his home in Bujumbura. Banciryanino was charged with threatening state security, slander, and rebellion. In February, Banciryanino cited numerous human rights abuses when he voted against a bill to give then president Nkurunziza the title of “supreme guide of patriotism.” Banciryanino remained in detention.
In 2017 Germain Rukuki, a former employee of the banned NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture-Burundi, was arrested by SNR officials and subsequently transferred to Ngozi Prison. Rukuki was accused of acts against state security and rebellion. International and local human rights organizations criticized the nature of his detention and the charges against him as politically motivated. In 2018 Rukuki was convicted and sentenced to 32 years’ imprisonment. Rukuki appealed the conviction, and in July 2019 his conviction was upheld by the Bujumbura Court of Appeals. On June 30, the Supreme Court overturned the judgment of the Court of Appeals, stating that “the sentence was a violation of civil and political rights.” The Supreme Court ordered Rukuki’s trial to be reheard by a newly set up Court of Appeals, but no trial date was fixed as of November.
Amnesty: On January 30, four Iwacu journalists were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for “a failed attempt of complicity in undermining the internal security of the state.” Human Rights Watch described the arrest as an “attempt to intimidate and threaten other journalists from doing their work.” On December 24, President Ndayishimiye pardoned the journalists; they were released the same day.
There were credible reports that the government attempted to use international law enforcement tools for politically motivated reprisals against specific individuals located outside of the country. Human Rights Watch reported that authorities collaborated with Tanzanian officials to arrest, torture, forcibly repatriate, and detain without charges refugees and asylum seekers residing in Tanzania for allegedly “attempting to destabilize the country.”
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses and may appeal decisions to an international or regional court. In 2016, five CSOs closed by the government challenged the decision in the East African Court of Justice. As of September the cases remained in process.
In the wake of violence, repression, fear, hunger, insecurity, abuse, and severe economic hardship following the 2015 political crisis and harvest failures in early 2017, more than 420,000 citizens fled to neighboring states, primarily Tanzania. There were reports that, since 2015, government officials and private citizens seized land that was owned or legally occupied by fleeing refugees, which complicated the reintegration of some of those who returned during the year. Some returnees also found that their houses were destroyed, either due to natural conditions or to intentional property destruction. In general, however, government officials prevented others from occupying lands belonging to refugees.
The constitution and law provide for the right to privacy and require search warrants, but authorities did not always respect these rights. A 2018 law provides for warrantless searches when security services suspect acts of terrorism, fraud, trafficking in persons, illegal possession of weapons, trafficking in or consumption of drugs, or “infractions of a sexual nature.” The law requires that security services provide advance notice of warrantless searches to prosecutorial officials but does not require approval. Human rights groups raised concerns that the breadth of exceptions to the warrant requirement and the lack of protections provided in the law created risks of abuse. They also noted that by law warrants may be issued by a prosecutorial official without reference to a judicial authority, limiting judicial oversight of the decisions of police and prosecutors.
Police, SNR agents, and Imbonerakure members–sometimes acting as mixed security committees–set up roadblocks and conducted general vehicle inspections and searches. Members of the security forces also sought bribes in many instances, either during searches or in lieu of a search. They conducted search-and-seizure operations throughout the year, with an increase in reported searches in the weeks leading up to elections. During these searches, security agents seized weapons and household items they claimed could be used to supply an insurgency.
Some media outlets reported their websites and social media platforms were blocked or not accessible to the general public.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There was at least one report that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On January 1, Tuy Sros, one of five persons arrested in a land dispute in Banteay Meanchey Province, died in police custody. Two others arrested with him reported that military police beat Sros unconscious and refused to provide medical treatment. After widespread coverage of the case in local media, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered an investigation, and two police officers were arrested.
Eyewitnesses reported that on June 4, several armed men abducted Thai prodemocracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit outside his Phnom Penh apartment in broad daylight. Several human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGO) accused the Cambodian government of not actively investigating Wanchalearm’s disappearance, and alleged that Thai and Cambodian authorities may have colluded on the case. Authorities initially publicly denied an abduction had taken place, claiming that official records showed Wanchalearm had left the country three years earlier. The government launched an investigation into the case on June 9 after reportedly receiving a request to do so from the Thai embassy. As of year’s end, the Cambodian police investigation had not uncovered any suspects, a possible motive, or the whereabouts of Wanchalearm. A media officer of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva raised concerns that the incident “may now comprise an enforced disappearance.” As of November the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances was conducting an investigation.
The constitution prohibits such practices; however, beatings and other forms of physical mistreatment of police detainees and prison inmates reportedly continued during the year.
There were credible reports military and police officials used physical and psychological abuse and occasionally severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during interrogation. On May 8, the aunt of Orn Tith alleged that prison guards had tortured and murdered her nephew, who was in custody for stealing and damaging a car, and that his body was covered in bruises when she went to retrieve it. In a report released in May, Amnesty International wrote that authorities “routinely subject suspects to torture and other forms of ill-treatment” as part of the nation’s “war on drugs” campaign. According to eyewitnesses, land rights activist Tuy Sros was tortured before his death (see section 1.a.).
Although the law requires police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate all complaints, including those of police abuse, in practice there was impunity for government officials and family members for human rights abuses. Judges and prosecutors rarely conducted independent investigations. Although the law allows for investigations into accusations of government abuse, in practice cases were pursued only when there was a public outcry or they drew the prime minister’s attention. If abuse cases came to trial, presiding judges usually passed down verdicts based only on written reports from police and witness testimony. In general police received little professional training on protecting or respecting human rights.
Prison conditions remained harsh and in many cases life threatening.
Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Interior, as of April authorities held an estimated 39,000 prisoners and detainees in 29 prisons designed to hold a maximum of 11,000 prisoners. The ministry reported the government’s “war on drugs” had exacerbated overcrowding as approximately 22,000 of the prisoners and detainees were held for drug trafficking crimes.
In most prisons there was no separation of adult and juvenile prisoners (including children living with incarcerated mothers) or of persons convicted of serious crimes, minor offenses, or in pretrial detention. According to a local NGO, as of January prisons held 43 pregnant women and 103 children living with their mothers. The General Department of Prisons did not report how many prisoners died in custody. In February a five-month-old baby living with his mother in a prison died. The court had sent the child’s mother, eight months pregnant at the time, into pretrial detention in June 2019 on charges of possessing a small amount of illegal drugs. She was still awaiting trial when her baby died.
Allowances for food and other necessities were inadequate in many cases. Family members often provided these at least in part and sometimes had to pay a bribe to do so. Observers continued to report that authorities misappropriated allowances for prisoners’ food, exacerbating malnutrition and disease. Authorities did not provide updated figures on access to clean water; as of 2016, only 18 of 29 prisons provided clean water. Prisons did not have adequate facilities for persons with mental or physical disabilities. NGOs also alleged prison authorities gave preferential treatment, including increased access to visitors, transfer to better cells, and the opportunity to leave cells during the day, to prisoners whose families could pay bribes. According to a local NGO, groups of inmates organized and directed by prison guards violently attacked other prisoners. NGOs reported significant drug use by prisoners, made possible by bribing guards.
The country had seven government and three private drug rehabilitation centers. Most observers agreed the majority of detainees in such facilities were there involuntarily, committed by police or family members without due process. According to the National Authority for Combating Drugs, no detainee was younger than age 18. Observers noted employees at the centers frequently controlled detainees with physical restraints and subjected them to intense physical exercise.
Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen or other government advocates for prisoners. Prisoners could submit complaints about alleged abuse to judicial authorities through lawyers, but a large number of prisoners and detainees could not afford legal representation. The government stated it investigated complaints and monitored prison and detention center conditions through the General Department of Prisons, which reportedly produced biannual reports on prison management. The prisons department, however, did not release the reports despite frequent requests by civil society organizations.
Authorities routinely allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitors, although rights organizations confirmed families sometimes had to bribe prison officials to visit prisoners. There were credible reports officials demanded bribes before allowing prisoners to attend trials or appeal hearings, before releasing inmates who had served their full term of imprisonment, or before allowing inmates to exit their cells. NGOs reported unequal punishment among the inmates, noting that wealthy prisoners were better treated than others, while greater restrictions such as stricter surveillance and not being allowed to receive gifts from visitors were placed on human right defenders.
Independent Monitoring: The government allowed, subject to preconditions and restrictions, international and domestic human rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Human Rights Commission, to visit prisons and provide human rights training to prison guards. Some NGOs reported limited cooperation from local authorities who, for example, generally made it difficult to gain access to pretrial detainees.
The Ministry of Interior required lawyers, human rights monitors, and other visitors to obtain permission prior to visiting prisoners–often from multiple government agencies depending on the case–and sometimes the government required NGOs to sign a formal memorandum of understanding delineating their roles during prison visits.
Although some local independent monitoring groups were able to meet privately with prisoners, others were not. A local human rights NGO that provides medical care to prisoners reported the government periodically refused requests to visit convicted prisoners who were members of an opposition political party. Another NGO reported the government accused it of harboring political bias and using its visits to embolden political prisoners. Representatives of the UN Human Rights Commission reported they were usually able to visit prisons and hold private meetings when interviewing a particular prisoner of interest.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits pretrial detention to a maximum of 18 months; however, the government in some cases did not respect these prohibitions, notably holding former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha under house arrest arbitrarily and well beyond the legal limit. After 26 months in pretrial detention, in November 2019 the government partially lifted judicial restrictions, effectively releasing him from house arrest, but not allowing him to travel abroad or engage in political activity. In addition the charges of treason against him still stood, and he remained under court supervision.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires police to obtain a warrant from an investigating judge prior to making an arrest, unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. The law allows police to take a person into custody and conduct an investigation for 48 hours, excluding weekends and government holidays, before they must file charges or release a suspect. In felony cases of exceptional circumstances prescribed by law, police may detain a suspect for an additional 24 hours with the approval of a prosecutor. Nevertheless, authorities routinely held persons for extended periods before charging them.
There was a bail system, but many prisoners, especially those without legal representation, had no opportunity to seek release on bail. Authorities routinely denied bail for politically sensitive cases.
Arbitrary Arrest: As of July a local NGO had recorded 16 arbitrary arrests. The actual number of arbitrary arrests and detentions was likely higher, since many victims in rural areas did not file complaints due to the difficulty of traveling to human rights NGO offices or due to concern for their family’s security. Authorities took no legal or disciplinary action against persons responsible for the illegal detentions.
On June 2, Koh Kong provincial authorities seized 18 activists’ bicycles and blocked them from proceeding further after they launched a cycling trip to the capital to draw attention to local environmental issues. Authorities initially claimed the group had to be screened for COVID-19, but after conducting nasal swabs, authorities confiscated their bicycles until the activists agreed to call off their plans rather than face arrest for “incitement.” Local rights NGOs described the government actions as politically motivated, pointing out that the group had not broken any laws.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Vocational Training reported that in 2019 the government rounded up 1,000 homeless persons, beggars, persons with mental disabilities, and persons engaged in prostitution. Authorities placed them in social affairs centers without adequate medical treatment or food. In April the ministry acknowledged it had been unsuccessful in treating or reintegrating these individuals into society.
Pretrial Detention: Under the law police may arrest and detain accused persons for a maximum of 24 hours before allowing them access to legal counsel, but authorities routinely held prisoners incommunicado for several days before granting them access to a lawyer or family members. Government officials stated such prolonged detentions were frequently the result of the limited capacity of the court system. The law allows for a maximum pretrial detention of six months for misdemeanors and 18 months for felonies, but NGOs reported authorities held some accused in pretrial detention for longer than the legal maximums. Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees without legal representation. In April the Ministry of Interior reported holding 13,729 pretrial detainees, approximately one-third of all prisoners.
Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A backlog of court cases and long delays in obtaining judicial rulings interfered with a person’s right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of his or her detention. On May 18, the Justice Ministry launched a six-month campaign to resolve the backlog of nearly 40,000 court cases across the country.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government did not respect judicial independence, exerting extensive control over the courts. Court decisions were often subject to political influence. Judicial officials, up to and including the chief of the Supreme Court, often simultaneously held positions in the ruling party, and observers alleged only those with ties to the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) or the executive received judicial appointments. At times the outcome of trials appeared predetermined. In the continuing treason trial of former political opposition leader Kem Sokha, the government has given conflicting statements, at times insisting the court was acting independently, while at other times insisting the trial will last for “years” or that the outcome will depend on other factors, such as the EU’s partial withdrawal of trade benefits.
Corruption among judges, prosecutors, and court officials was widespread. The judicial branch was very inefficient and could not assure due process.
Observers alleged the Bar Association of Cambodia heavily favored admission of CPP-aligned members at the expense of nonaligned and opposition attorneys and at times admitted unqualified individuals to the bar solely due to their political affiliation. Impartial analysts revealed that many applicants to the bar paid high bribes for admittance. On October 16, Ly Chantola, a supporter of the governing party who had helped draft the law dissolving the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, was elected president of the Bar Association.
A shortage of judges and courtrooms delayed many cases. NGOs also believed court officials focused on cases that might benefit them financially. Court delays or corrupt practices often allowed accused persons to escape prosecution. There were widespread allegations that rich or powerful defendants, including members of the security forces, often paid victims and authorities to drop criminal charges. These allegations were supported by NGO reports and instances of rich defendants appearing free in public after their high-profile arrests were reported in the media without further coverage of court proceedings or final outcomes of the cases. Authorities sometimes urged victims or their families to accept financial restitution in exchange for dropping criminal charges or for failing to appear as witnesses.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary rarely enforced this right.
Defendants are by law required to be promptly informed of the charges against them, presumed innocent, and have the right of appeal, but they often resorted to bribery rather than rely on the judicial process. Trials are not always public and frequently face delays due to court bureaucracy. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and consult with an attorney, confront and question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law, however, allows trials in absentia, and courts have convicted suspects in absentia. In felony cases, if a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the law requires the court to provide the defendant with free legal representation; however, the judiciary was not always able to provide legal counsel, and most defendants sought assistance from NGOs, pro bono representation, or “voluntarily” proceeded without legal representation. In the absence of the defense attorneys required in felony cases, trial courts routinely adjourned cases until defendants could secure legal representation, a process that often took months. Trials were typically perfunctory, and extensive cross-examination usually did not take place. NGOs reported sworn written statements from witnesses and the accused in many cases constituted the only evidence presented at trials. The courts offered free interpretation.
There was a critical shortage of trained lawyers, particularly outside the capital. The right to a fair public trial often was denied de facto for persons without means to secure counsel. A 2017 report by the International Commission of Jurists indicated the high cost of bribes needed to join the bar association was partly responsible for keeping the number of trained lawyers low, which helped raise lawyers’ income whether earned through legal or illegal means.
Authorities sometimes allegedly coerced confessions through beatings or threats or forced illiterate defendants to sign written confessions without informing them of the contents. Courts accepted such forced confessions as evidence during trials despite legal prohibitions against doing so. According to a human rights NGO that observed the appellate court for a year (2017-18), 10 defendants were threatened and 21 defendants were tortured to confess. The only appeals court is in Phnom Penh, and NGOs reported that fewer than half of defendants were present at their appeals because of transport problems from other parts of the country.
As of August a local human rights NGO estimated authorities held at least 40 political prisoners or detainees, 23 of whom were officials or supporters of the dissolved political opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. More than 80 opposition party supporters and activists arrested in 2019 were released on bail with charges still pending and could face re-arrest any time.
On January 15, CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s trial began. Initially, only a limited audience–one diplomat plus interpreter from each embassy–was permitted to observe proceedings. Under public pressure the court relented, also permitting NGO representatives and independent media to attend. Hearings in Sokha’s case were indefinitely postponed in March due to COVID-19 concerns and as of November had not resumed. In July the court warned Sokha that his trips to provinces outside of Phnom Penh could be interpreted as “political activities”–banned under the terms of his court-supervised release from house arrest. On October 16, local government authorities temporarily stopped Sokha from distributing aid to flood victims in Banteay Meanchey Province, deeming it a “political activity.”
The country has a system in place for hearing civil cases, and citizens are entitled to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Some administrative and judicial remedies were available. NGOs reported, however, that public distrust in the judicial system due to corruption and political control deterred many from filing lawsuits and that authorities often did not enforce court orders.
Forced collectivization and the relocation of much of the population under the Khmer Rouge left land ownership unclear. The land law states that any person who peacefully possessed private or state land (excluding public lands, such as parks) or inhabited state buildings without contest for five years prior to the 2001 promulgation of a law on restitution has the right to apply for a definitive title to that property. Most citizens, however, lacked the knowledge and means to obtain formal documentation of land ownership.
Provincial and district land offices continued to follow pre-2001 land registration procedures, which did not include accurate land surveys or opportunities for public comment. Land speculation in the absence of clear title fueled disputes in every province and increased tensions between poor rural communities and speculators. Some urban communities faced forced eviction to make way for commercial development projects.
Authorities continued to force inhabitants to relocate from land in dispute, although the number of cases declined in recent years. Some persons also used the threat of legal action or eviction to intimidate poor and vulnerable persons into selling their land at below-market values. As of July a local NGO reported 44 new cases of land grabbing and forced evictions. Another human rights NGO investigated 33 new cases of land grabbing as of June, affecting 1,327 families across the country.
Although the law provides for the privacy of residence and correspondence and prohibits illegal searches, NGOs reported police routinely conducted searches and seizures without warrants. The government routinely leaked personal correspondence and recordings of telephone calls by opposition and civil society leaders to government-aligned media.
NGOs and international media reported that in May the Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the cabinet published fake videos on social media in an attempt to smear the reputation of internationally renowned activist monk Luon Sovath. The videos of Sovath–known for his work documenting land rights abuses–included doctored recordings of his telephone conversations. The government used the social media postings as the reason for defrocking Sovath and charging him with sexual assault. Sovath subsequently fled the country and applied for political asylum in Switzerland.
Local authorities reportedly entered and searched community-based organizations and union offices.
Central African Republic
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year (see section 1.g.). In a report published by the Human Rights Council in August, the UN’s independent expert stated that state security forces allegedly committed human rights abuses against civilians, including rape, use of minors at checkpoints, theft of cattle from the Peuhls, torture, and killing. Consistent with the code of military justice enacted in March 2017, military tribunals, martial courts, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. The last session of the military court, however, dated back to 2013, and existing practice is for military offenses to be tried at the criminal court, which holds only two session a year.
In August a member of the armed forces stationed in Baoro, west of the country near the town of Bouar, killed a driver and his girlfriend out of jealousy.
In December media reports indicated a group that included Russian private military contractors, invited to the country by the government to assist with election security, and the country’s military elements used excessive force against civilians at a road checkpoint in Grimari, resulting in the death of at least four civilians, including a local employee of an international humanitarian nongovernmental organization (NGO).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. 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 multiple reports of disappearances committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).
Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from NGOs that Central African Armed Forces (FACA) soldiers, gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture (see section 1.g.).
In June an NGO reported that a female employee of a local bank was arrested and tortured by a police unit known as the Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB).
Impunity remained persistent throughout the country. Contributing factors included poorly trained officials, inadequate staffing, and insufficient resources. Additionally, claims of corruption among top government officials, delayed receipt of salaries for law enforcement and judiciary employees, and threats from local armed groups if officials arrested or investigated members persisted. The mechanisms to investigate abuses included the gendarmerie and the court prosecutors. Military tribunals, martial courts, appeal courts, and the court of cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. The last session of the military court dated back to 2013. Consequently, military offenses, such as torture, are tried at the criminal court, which holds only two sessions a year.
The government worked with the EU to provide training on human rights for FACA and gendarme units.
According to an independent expert with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and international NGOs, conditions in prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.
The UN Multidimensional Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (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 Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons.
On April 25, President Touadera signed a decree granting pardon to 227 prisoners to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. The pardon was directed at convicted minors, pregnant or breastfeeding women, prisoners ages 60 and older, and those with a chronic, serious, or contagious disease. Prisoners charged or convicted of murder, war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, attacks against the internal security of the State, burning of a residential house, and rape of minors younger than age 14 were excluded from the pardon.
On June 24, local press reported that Moussa Fadoul, former mayor of the fifth district of Bangui, died at Camp de Roux military prison due to medical neglect. Fadoul was apprehended in April 2019 by the police service from the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) during an attempted theft of a humanitarian vehicle. Following the death of Fadoul, the remaining prisoners protested, demanding better living conditions, medical care, and adequate legal provisions. In a press conference held on September 30, Central African judicial authorities noted that of the 38 prison centers in the country, 13 had been rehabilitated by the partners of the Central African Republic, mainly MINUSCA.
Nine prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bimbo, Bossangoa, Bambari, and Mbaiki. In March detention facilities rehabilitated by MINUSCA in Bangassou and Paoua reopened. In other locations, including Bossembele and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Conditions were life threatening and substantially below international standards. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.
Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender. Smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa segregated male prisoners from female prisoners, but conditions were substantially below international standards. Female prisoners were placed in facilities without ventilation or electricity. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.
There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders. The accusations against detainees ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes. Police and gendarmes held individuals beyond the statutory limits for detention before imposing formal charges.
Prisons were consistently underfunded with insufficient operating resources for the care of prisoners. Additionally, prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors’ unofficial fees. The Central African Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) reported that a prison officer at Ngaragba prison refused to release a prisoner despite the judge’s release order.
Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by UNHCR independent experts and international donors. The government also permitted monitoring by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council’s independent expert on human rights in the CAR.
Improvements: On May 28, the UN Development Program completed renovation on the prison in Camp de Roux. According to MINUSCA, the prison structure met international standards.
On June 23, 149 civilian prison officers from the first phase of initial training at the National School of Administration and Magistracy started their practical training. This training is part of a national strategy for the demilitarization of prisons, one of the priorities of the Ministry of Justice, jointly supported by MINUSCA, the UN Development Program, and UN Women.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Problems included a lack of affordable legal representation and slow, if any, response from the judiciary system.
MINUSCA’s uniformed force of 12,870 military personnel, police officers, and military observers was tasked to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA’s 2,080 police officers were authorized to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law, however, stipulates that authorities must inform detainees of their charges and present them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. The only exceptions are suspects involving national security. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and insufficient number of judges.
Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Many detainees could not afford a lawyer. Although the law provides that a lawyer be provided for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed, lawyers are not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8.80) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. After lawyers protested for higher wages, their remuneration was increased for the 2019-20 criminal sessions to 50,000 CFA francs ($90) per case.
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 did not occur during the year.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.
On June 2, ex-Seleka Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC) forces detained and tortured three men in Bria accused of malfeasance. One of the detainees was subsequently released that day after the local civic leaders intervened.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem; after he visited the prison of Ngaragba in Bangui in September, the magistrate stated that 500 of 700 detainees were in pretrial detention. 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. Judges resisted holding sessions due to security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of affordable legal services and an unresponsive justice system.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence of the judiciary from political actors. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. In 2017 the president issued a decree that appointed eight members to the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. A total of 18 of 27 first instance and appellate courts were operating during the year, including 16 outside of Bangui. The courts in Bangui and some other major cities, notably Bangassou, Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, Mbaiki, Boda, and Bimbo, resumed operation, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was inadequate. 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, shortages of trained personnel, salary arrears, and lack of resources. Authorities, particularly those of high rank, did not always respect court orders.
In 2018 the National Assembly adopted the rules of procedure and evidence for the Special Criminal Court (SCC), and later that year the SCC officially began investigations and publicly launched a prosecutorial strategy. In 2019 the SCC moved into permanent offices. The SCC was established by law in 2015 in the domestic judicial system and operates with both domestic and international participation and support. In August, five national magistrates were sworn in after taking an oath, but the SCC was confronted with serious difficulties in recruiting international judges, delaying the opening of effective trials. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
MINUSCA assisted in setting up the SCC victim and witness protection unit, as provided for by the SCC founding law and the SCC rules of proceedings and evidence. Some victims and witnesses were already under the unit’s protection during ongoing SCC proceedings. Additional unit protection staff were added and more were under recruitment; protection equipment was being delivered and more was in procurement; court procurement; court personnel and other individuals in contact with victims and witnesses were receiving training on protection and other subjects.
In May the SCC accepted the cases of nine members of the armed group UPC arrested for crimes committed in the towns of Obo, Zemio, and Bambouti, located in the southeastern CAR. As of September the SCC received 122 complaints and opened preliminary investigation on one case. Seven cases were being analyzed, and three were ready for preliminary investigations but postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis. Ten cases were transmitted to examining judges, and seven others were referred to ordinary courts.
Operations of the courts of appeals for criminal courts in two of the country’s three judicial districts–the Western District based in Bouar and the Central District based in Bambari–held criminal sessions during the year.
In February parliament passed a bill establishing the Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRRC) to support the 2019 Accord for Peace and Reconciliation. The law includes a wide range of responsibilities for the TJRRC, including establishing truth, determining nonjudicial responsibility for violations, creating a reparations fund, and promoting reconciliation. The TJRRC is further intended to cooperate with the SCC and create a final report with recommendations.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The penal code presumes defendants 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, however, seldom respected these rights.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in order to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. In 2015 the civil courts resumed operations with regular sessions. There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no assurance of their safety and a credible judicial process.
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.
There were serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law by armed groups. The ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed group fighters operated freely across much of the country. Reports of abuses included unlawful killings, torture, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.
UN agencies and NGOs stated that humanitarian actors had not perpetrated any sexual violence during the year.
Killings: In December 2019 clashes between criminal self-defense groups and armed merchants in Bangui’s PK5 district resulted in the deaths of 50 individuals and 72 injured. The minster of public security and MINUSCA stated they opened an investigation on the case. In January judicial authorities investigated with the assistance of MINUSCA and arrested 20 suspects.
Between March and April, a series of intercommunal clashes occurred between the Runga and Goula factions of the ex-Seleka groups in N’dele, Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. Approximately 50 individuals were reported killed, including civilians and a UN employee. The fighting forced 1,200 civilians to flee their homes. In April, after visiting the town of N’dele where violent clashes took place between the Goula and Rounga tribes, Eric Tambo, the general prosecutor of the High Court of Bangui, stated the court would investigate the case and prosecute the perpetrators for the charge of crime against humanity and war crimes.
The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Anti-balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).
On August 24, armed men from the Party of the Rally of the Central African nation attacked and killed 11 civilians, wounded 20, and set fires to homes in the village of Bornou, near the town of Bria, in reprisal of the killing of one of their men. Approximately 400 persons fled their homes, including children, women, and the elderly.
In January, two Anti-balaka leaders, Crepin Wakanam and Kevin Bere-Bere, and 29 combatants were tried before the Criminal Court of Bangui for their responsibility in the 2017 massacre of numerous civilians and the killing of 10 peacekeepers in southeastern region. According to the United Nations, 72 persons were killed, 76 injured, and 4,400 displaced during the attack. They were tried for “crimes against humanity, war crimes, looting and murder.” During the year 20 cases were tried, resulting in more than 40 convictions. The sentences varied from five years to life in prison.
Abductions: The NGO Invisible Children reported that on April 6, an LRA group, composed of men, women, and children, camped near the community of Bougoua, in the prefecture of M’Bomou, and looted food and other items from the community, forcing 15 boys to porter the stolen goods. The boys were released later that day.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Members of armed groups, including the ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, reportedly continued to mistreat, assault, and rape civilians with impunity.
Child Soldiers: Armed militias associated with Anti-balaka, ex-Seleka, the LRA, and other armed groups forcibly recruited and used child soldiers; however, there were no verified cases of the government supporting units recruiting or using child soldiers during the year. Armed groups recruited children and used them as combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks. Girls were often used as sex slaves. The United Nations also documented the presence of children operating checkpoints and barricades.
The MPC, FPRC, and UPC are all signatories to the United Nation’s action plan combatting the use of child soldiers; however, they continued to use child soldiers. The FPRC and UPC issued orders barring the recruitment of children; however, NGOs reported the continued presence of children among these groups.
The country is a party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibit the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In addition, on June 15, President Touadera signed the decree enacting the Child Protection Law. The law prohibits and criminalizes the recruitment and the use of children into armed groups and their exploitation for sexual purposes; perpetrators may be sentenced from 10 years of imprisonment to hard labor. In addition the law provides a child who has served in an armed force or group may not be subject to criminal prosecution on this ground. The child must be considered a victim and not an alleged perpetrator, and the law favors social reintegration mechanisms for children.
During the year the government, UNICEF, and various NGOs worked with the armed groups to combat the exploitation of child soldiers. UNICEF stated that from January to August, 1,125 children left armed groups and registered for reintegration programs. The United Nations estimated the number of children who remained active in armed groups at approximately 5,000. On September 4, President Touadera signed a decree appointing a focal point for children affairs in the Unit in Charge of Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation Program. The focal point is tasked with the mission to promote children rights and facilitate their social reintegration.
See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: On April 22, MPC leader Alkhatim Mahamat stole construction materials sent by a National Assembly member to the town of Kabo for construction of a school.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Human rights groups credibly accused security forces of killing and torturing with impunity. The Ministry of Justice and the National Commission on Human Rights investigate allegations of security force killings.
In March, 44 suspected Boko Haram prisoners died in a gendarmerie prison cell. The National Commission on Human Rights assessed they died from heat, overcrowding, and lack of adequate food and water (see section 1.c., Prison Conditions).
In May 2019 Yaya Awad, arrested for allegedly stealing a motorcycle, died in custody at the seventh police district of N’Djamena after police fatally beat and otherwise injured him during interrogation. In July authorities sentenced three police officers involved in the incident to five years in prison and fines.
On March 23, Boko Haram militants killed 92 soldiers in an attack in Boma, Lake Chad Province.
Interethnic violence resulted in deaths (see section 6, Discrimination).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there was anecdotal evidence the government continued to employ them.
In response to the March Boko Haram attack that killed 92 soldiers, the government launched the Wrath of Boma military operation. Two reputable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) investigated and reported alleged abuses by security forces during the operation.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces due to corruption and poor discipline. Offices that investigated abuses included the Ministry of Justice and the National Commission on Human Rights. Authorities offered training in human rights to its security forces through international partners, such as the United Nations and individual countries.
Conditions in the country’s 41 prisons remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a serious problem. Despite the near doubling of the prison population, no new facilities had been constructed since 2012. Authorities did not separate juveniles from adult male prisoners and sometimes held children with their inmate mothers. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners and did not always separate male and female prisoners. Regional prisons were crumbling, overcrowded, and without adequate protection for women and youth. Prison guards, who were not regularly paid, sometimes released prisoners if bribed.
No estimate of deaths in prisons or detention centers was available. In March the government transferred 58 suspected Boko Haram fighters to a Gendarmerie prison in N’Djamena for processing and investigation of their cases. On April 16, 44 were found dead in their cell. Two reputable NGOs released investigative reports that attributed the deaths to poor prison conditions. On August 7, the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) concluded the 44 prisoners died due to overcrowding in a cell designed for 20 individuals, the oppressive heat of the dry season, and lack of adequate food and water.
Local NGOs reported potable water, sanitation, and health care were inadequate. Provisions for heating, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate or nonexistent. Inmates were vulnerable to diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, COVID-19, and malaria. The law stipulates a doctor must visit each prison three times a week, but authorities did not comply. The few prisons that had doctors lacked medical supplies. Prison authorities provided insufficient food to inmates. Family members of detainees frequently provided them with food, soap, medicine, and other supplies. NGOs reported government officials forced prisoners to work on their private enterprises as a source of free labor. On September 15, the National Assembly questioned Minister of Justice Djimet Arabi on allegations of poor living conditions in detention centers.
Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of prison riots.
Administration: Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. There was no mechanism for prisoners to submit complaints. There were no data available on prisoner access to the requirements of religious observance or practice.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit prisons, and the ICRC conducted such visits. At the maximum-security Koro-Toro Prison, where few families visited due to its distance from N’Djamena, the minister of justice stated in September that the ICRC had a permanent authorization to visit. On November 6, representatives of the Chadian Convention for the Defense of Human Rights (CTDDH) announced the existence of a dozen “secret prisons” of the National Security Agency (ANS). Abbas Alhassan, a CTDDH spokesperson, described “inhuman and cruel” conditions, as did two previous detainees whom Radio France Internationale interviewed. The Ministry of Justice stated there were two ANS-operated prisons, they were not secret, they were monitored by the ministry and ICRC, and their operation was justified on security grounds. In December the CNDH visited ANS detention facilities and assessed prison conditions were adequate.
Improvements: In accordance with a presidential pardon, in August authorities released 538 detainees, including General Mahamat Abdoulkader Oumar, aka Baba Ladehe, a former rebel convicted in 2018 of murder, rebellion, criminal conspiracy, illegal possession of weapons, and armed robbery.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The law does not provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, or to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. In its Freedom in the World 2019 report, Freedom House stated security forces “routinely ignore constitutional protections” regarding detention. There were reports officials held detainees in police cells or in secret detention facilities.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Although the law requires a judge to sign and issue arrest warrants before arrests may take place, this did not always occur. By law detainees must be charged within 48 hours or released, unless the procureur (investigating magistrate) authorizes an extension of detention for investigative purposes. Nevertheless, authorities often did not make judicial determinations promptly. The law allows for bail and access to counsel, but there were cases in which authorities provided neither. In some cases authorities denied detainees visits from doctors. While the law provides for legal counsel for indigent defendants and prompt access to family members, this rarely occurred, according to legal observers. Authorities occasionally held detainees incommunicado.
Arbitrary Arrest: According to local media, security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists, demonstrators, critics of the government, and other individuals.
On February 11, Amnesty International reported the “incommunicado” detention by the National Security Agency of Baradine Berdei Targuio, president of the Chadian Organization for Human Rights. Media reported that two days prior to his arrest, Targuio made Facebook posts regarding the health of the president.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, despite government efforts to address it. According to justice activists, in 2018 at least 20 to 25 percent of inmates were in long-term pretrial detention. According to a Ministry of Justice official, authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees without charge for years, particularly for felonies allegedly committed in the provinces, because the court system only had the capacity to try criminal cases in the capital. The length of detention sometimes equaled or exceeded the possible sentence for the alleged crime. Lengthy pretrial detention was exacerbated by an overworked judiciary susceptible to corruption.
Unlike in previous years, there was no reported release of Boko Haram fighters.
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was overburdened, corrupt, and subject to executive interference. According to representatives of the bar association, members of the judiciary were not always impartial in civil matters, sometimes received death threats or were demoted for not acquiescing to pressure from officials, or were otherwise coerced into manipulating decisions. Government personnel, particularly members of the military, often were able to avoid prosecution. Courts were generally weak and in some areas nonexistent. Judicial authorities did not always respect court orders. Local media and civil society organizations reported members of the Judicial Police of Chad, an office within the Ministry of Justice with arrest authority, did not always enforce domestic court orders against military personnel or members of their own ethnic groups.
A judicial oversight commission has the power to investigate judicial decisions and address suspected injustices. The president appointed its members, increasing executive control of the judiciary.
The constitution provides for a military court system composed of the Military Court and the High Military Court, which acts as an appellate court.
The law provides for a presumption of innocence, and for fair, timely, and public trials. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and to be provided free interpretation. According to local media, however, these rights were seldom respected. Only criminal trials used juries but not in politically sensitive cases. While defendants have the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner, this did not always occur. By law indigent persons have the right to legal counsel at public expense in all cases, although according to legal experts this seldom occurred. Human rights groups sometimes provided free counsel to indigent clients. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and to be present at their trial. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but the government did not always respect this right, according to lawyers. Defendants have the right to appeal court decisions.
The constitution recognizes local customary law in places where it is long established, provided it does not interfere with public order or constitutional provisions for equality of citizens. Courts tended to blend the French language legal code with traditional practices. Local customs often supersede the law. Residents of rural areas and refugee and internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps often lacked access to formal judicial institutions, and legal reference texts were unavailable outside the capital or in Arabic. In minor civil cases, the population often relied on traditional courts presided over by village chiefs, canton chiefs, or sultans. Penalties in traditional courts sometimes depended on the clan affiliations of the victim and perpetrator. Decisions of traditional courts may be appealed to a formal court.
In some areas growing Islamic legal tradition influenced local practice and sometimes influenced legal interpretation. For example, local leaders may apply the Islamic concept of diya, which involves a payment to the family of a crime victim by the perpetrator or the perpetrator’s family. The practice was common in Muslim areas. Non-Muslim groups challenged the practice, asserting it was unconstitutional. In October 2019 the government issued an interministerial order regulating the practice of diya, with the criminal code taking precedence in any conflict with diya practices.
According to the NGO Citizen Action for the Integral Application of Amnesty in Chad, in 2018 there were at least 72 political detainees. Media suggested the September 4 arrest of former oil minister Djerassem Le Bemadjiel was politically motivated because of his ties to an opposition party (see section 4, Corruption). Human rights organizations were not allowed access to these detainees.
Lawsuits for human rights abuses may be brought before a criminal court, but compensation is addressed by a civil court. Administrative and judicial remedies, such as mediation, are available.
Although the constitution provides for the right to privacy and inviolability of the home, the government did not always respect these rights. It was common practice for authorities to enter homes without judicial authorization and seize private property without due process. Security forces routinely stopped citizens to extort money or confiscate goods.
In October security forces encircled the homes of opposition party members seeking to participate in a constitutional forum (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly).
A government decree prohibits possession and use of satellite telephones.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
On June 24, police killed Hansel Hernandez Galiano, an unarmed Afro-Cuban man, in Havana. State media initially refused to acknowledge the case, but news circulated quickly across social media. On June 25, the supposedly independent but in fact state-controlled blog Guerrero Cubano issued a detailed story about how Hansel was killed. Other official media outlets followed suit the morning of June 27 when the Ministry of Interior issued a press release with the same account of events related by Guerrero Cubano that was reprinted across official state media.
The official version of Hernandez Galiano’s death was that in the course of a regular patrol, two members of the National Revolutionary Police discovered and chased a suspected thief. Official media stated the suspect ran from police but then confronted them and threw large rocks, some of which hit the officers. The government stated that as the suspect was throwing rocks, one officer fired two warning shots and then a final killing shot. The press release concluded by lamenting Hansel’s death but denigrated his character, claiming Hansel had been found guilty of threatening persons, “lascivious abuse,” and robbery with violence, for which he served a prison term and was on probation.
Outside observers identified a number of reasons to doubt the accuracy of the government’s account. Photographs of the body circulated on social media by Hernandez Galiano’s family members showed a single bullet wound, entering via Hansel’s back and emerging from his chest, indicating he was running from the officers, not actively confronting them. The photographs also showed bruising to his face and sutures closing a cut to the head (possibly post mortem). Members of his family said his body was reportedly quickly cremated, after pressure from the government. Activists criticized the press release’s emphasis on Hansel’s alleged criminal record, with one lawyer saying it “demonstrates their desire to treat him as a defendant and not as a victim.” Authorities stated they would investigate the death but as of December had not publicly released results of an investigation.
At least eight prisoners died in custody in a variety of suspicious circumstances. Roberto Jimenez del Sol, a manager in an army-owned shoe store, died in military custody after spending one month in solitary confinement as part of an investigation into missing funds. Although authorities told his family he died of natural causes, his body displayed signs of abuse. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Cuba Archive documented at least six other prisoners who died in suspicious circumstances. None of these deaths was reported by official media.
There were confirmed reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were multiple reports of detained activists whose whereabouts were unknown for days or weeks because the government did not register these detentions, many of which occurred at unregistered sites.
There were recurring reports that members of the security forces and their agents harassed, intimidated, and physically assaulted human rights and prodemocracy advocates, political dissidents, and peaceful demonstrators, and that they did so with impunity. Some detainees and prisoners endured physical abuse by prison officials or other inmates at the instigation of guards. Although the law prohibits coercion during investigative interrogations, police and security forces at times used aggressive and physically abusive tactics, threats, and harassment during questioning. Detainees reported officers intimidated them with threats of long-term detention, loss of child-custody rights, denial of permission to depart the country, and other punishments.
State security officials frequently deployed to countries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua, where they trained and supported other organizations in their use of repressive tactics and human rights abuses and sometimes participated in the abuses directly. For instance, Cuban security force members were embedded in the Maduro regime’s security and intelligence services in Venezuela and were instrumental in transforming Venezuela’s Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) from a small organization focused on external threats to a much larger organization focused on surveilling Venezuelans and suppressing dissent. UN reports accused the DGCIM of torture, and many former Venezuelan prisoners said that Cubans, identified by their distinctive accents, supervised while DGCIM personnel tortured prisoners.
A December 2019 report from the Casla Institute, a Czech Republic-based NGO focused on governance in Latin America, stated the Cuban ambassador in Venezuela was personally involved in organizing this training. The Casla Institute report also stated, “Cubans constantly instruct members of the FANB [Venezuelan armed forces] and intelligence in techniques of repression, intimidation, and monitoring, so that they carry out investigation work and spy on their own colleagues and their families and political and social leaders, and directly intervene in social unrest.”
Impunity was pervasive. There were no known cases of prosecution of government officials for any human rights abuses, including torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. There were reports that prison officials assaulted prisoners. Prisons were overcrowded, and facilities, sanitation, and medical care were deficient.
The government did not publish official statistics on its prisons. In January, citing information from two senior Ministry of Interior officials, the Spain-based NGO Cuban Prisoners Defenders claimed more than 90,000 persons were in prison, with another 37,000 in other forms of custody such as labor camps, house arrest, or conditional parole.
Physical Conditions: The government provided no information regarding the number, location, or capacity of detention centers, including prisons, work camps, and other kinds of detention facilities. Cuban Prisoners Defenders claimed the government had more than 200 such facilities.
Prison and detention cells reportedly lacked adequate water, sanitation, light, ventilation, and temperature control. Although the government provided some food and medical care, many prisoners relied on their families to provide food and other basic supplies. Potable water was often unavailable. Prison cells were overcrowded. Women reported lack of access to feminine hygiene products and inadequate prenatal care.
In June political prisoner Walfrido Rodriguez Piloto told independent outlet CubaNet he was denied medical care in El Arco del Chico prison camp in Havana’s La Lisa municipality, where he said prisoners were fed less than two ounces of food per day. He said, “This is a concentration camp; I have been here for six days with nephritic colic and without any medical attention. Between the mosquitoes [which carry dengue], the bed bugs, and hunger, I’m going to die here.” He also complained that he was mistreated by fellow prisoners who did “the dirty work” of authorities in exchange for benefits.
Prisoners, family members, and NGOs reported inadequate health care in prisons, which led to or aggravated multiple maladies. Prisoners reported outbreaks of COVID-19, dengue fever, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and cholera. There were reports of prisoner deaths following official indifference to treatable medical conditions such as asthma, HIV, AIDS, and other chronic medical conditions as well as from suicide. Authorities rarely if ever supplied medicine. In May a member of the opposition group Eastern Democratic Alliance posted on Facebook that one of their members, Sandi Fernandez Ortiz, died in Mar Verde Prison in Santiago de Cuba of sepsis due to poor medical care.
Political prisoners were held jointly with the general prison population. Political prisoners who refused to wear standard prison uniforms were denied certain privileges, such as access to prison libraries, reductions in the severity of their sentence, or transfer from a maximum-security to a medium-security prison.
There were credible reports that prison officials assaulted inmates. Political prisoners also reported that fellow inmates, acting on orders from or with the permission of prison authorities, threatened, beat, intimidated, and harassed them.
In July the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a resolution granting precautionary protection measures to Silverio Portal Contreras, who was arrested and beaten in March 2018 following a protest against unsafe housing in Havana. The IACHR resolution detailed complaints made on behalf of Contreras, including reports that following his July 2018 sentencing, prison authorities severely beat Portal on multiple occasions and placed him in an isolation cell, that he was losing his eyesight because of the beatings, that he was denied medical attention for his multiple chronic medical conditions, and that he was prohibited from contacting his family. In determining the gravity of risk to Portal, the IACHR cited the context faced by human rights defenders in Cuba, which it described as “generally characterized by a climate of hostility, abuse, and harassment, particularly with respect to those who have manifested opposition to the government.” On December 1, Portal was released in poor health.
Prisoners reported solitary confinement was a common punishment for failure to comply with prison regulations, and some prisoners were isolated for months at a time. Some prisoners were held incommunicado, without being able to contact friends or family until they were released.
The government subjected prisoners who criticized the government or engaged in hunger strikes and other forms of protest to extended solitary confinement, assaults, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.
Administration: There were reports that prison officials assaulted prisoners, but authorities did not investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. Prisoners reported government officials refused to accept or respond to complaints.
Prisoners and pretrial detainees had access to visitors, although several political prisoners’ relatives reported prison officials arbitrarily canceled scheduled visits or denied visits altogether.
Authorities allowed prisoners to practice their religion, but there were isolated reports authorities did not inform inmates of their right to religious services, delayed months before responding to such requests, and limited visits by clergy to a maximum of two or three times per year.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit independent international or domestic human rights groups to monitor prison conditions, and it denied access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations. Although the government pledged in previous years to allow a visit by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, no visit occurred during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Although the 2019 constitution adds explicit protections of freedom and human rights, including habeas corpus, authorities did not observe them, nor did the courts enforce them. The government denied a habeas corpus motion on behalf of political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees), the only time it was known to have been filed.
Arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions increased and became a routine government method for controlling independent public expression and political activity. The government frequently detained activists arbitrarily without informing them of any charges against them and often denied them the ability to communicate with their relatives.
The government broadened arbitrary arrest powers under the pretext of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. In December the NGO Human Rights Watch released a report documenting 34 cases in which authorities invoked rules concerning the COVID-19 pandemic to target government critics and others. Documented cases included Keilylli de la Mora Valle, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) political group, who was arrested on April 12 for lowering her mask to smoke a cigarette on the street. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison after protesting her treatment by police. In another incident, on November 26, authorities claiming to be medical personnel entered San Isidro Movement headquarters on the pretext of requiring a COVID-19 test of journalist Carlos Manuel Alvarez who had arrived earlier in the year. They were followed by police wearing medical gowns, who proceeded to arrest the protesters, several of whom later stated they were beaten during the arrests. Officers told the dissidents that a criminal complaint had been filed against them for “spreading an epidemic.”
The law requires that police furnish suspects a signed “report of detention,” noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility and a registry of personal items seized during a police search. Authorities routinely ignored this requirement. Police routinely stopped and questioned citizens, requested identification, and carried out search-and-seizure operations directed at known activists. Police used legal provisions against public disorder, contempt, lack of respect, aggression, and failure to pay minimal or arbitrary fines as ways to detain, threaten, and arrest civil society activists. Police routinely conducted short-term detentions in order to interfere with individuals’ rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, and at times assaulted detainees.
Police and security officials used short-term and sometimes violent detentions to prevent independent political activity and free assembly. Such detentions generally lasted from several hours to several days.
The law allows for “preventive detention” for up to four years of individuals not charged with an actual crime, based on a subjective determination of “precriminal dangerousness,” which is defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms.” Mostly used as a tool to control “antisocial” behaviors such as substance abuse or prostitution, authorities also used such detentions to silence peaceful political opponents. Several of the more than 100 individuals considered to be political prisoners by domestic and international human rights organizations were imprisoned under the “precriminal dangerousness” provision of the law.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Under criminal procedures, police have 24 hours after an arrest to present a criminal complaint to an investigative police official. Investigative police have 72 hours to investigate and prepare a report for the prosecutor, who in turn has 72 hours to recommend to the appropriate court whether to open a criminal investigation.
Within the initial 168-hour detention period, by law detainees must be informed of the basis for the arrest and criminal investigation and have access to legal representation. Those charged may be released on bail, placed in home detention, or held in continued investigative detention. Once the accused has an attorney, the defense has five days to respond to the prosecution’s charges, after which a court date usually is set. Prosecutors may demand summary trials “in extraordinary circumstances” and in cases involving crimes against state security. After the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread in February, the Ministry of Justice regularly invoked “extraordinary circumstances” in order to conduct summary trials.
There were reports that defendants met with their attorneys for the first time only minutes before their trials and were not informed of the basis for their arrest within the required 168-hour period. In the case of summary trials for persons accused of “propagating an epidemic” for allegedly violating COVID-19 restrictions, accused persons were tried and sentenced without representation from legal counsel or the opportunity to present any defense.
Reports suggested bail was available, although bail was typically not granted to persons arrested for political activities. Time in detention before trial counted toward time served if convicted.
Detainees may be interrogated at any time during detention and have no right to request the presence of counsel during interrogation. Detainees have the right to remain silent, but officials do not have a legal obligation to inform them of that right.
By law investigators must complete criminal investigations within 60 days. Prosecutors may grant investigators two 60-day extensions upon request, for a total of 180 days of investigative time. The supervising court may waive this deadline in “extraordinary circumstances” and upon special request by the prosecutor. In the case of the “extraordinary circumstances” waiver, no additional legal requirement exists to complete an investigation and file criminal charges, and therefore authorities may detain a person without charge indefinitely.
Arbitrary Arrest: Officials often disregarded legal procedures governing arrest. They detained suspects longer than the legally mandated period without informing them of the nature of the arrest, without allowing them to contact family members, and without making legal counsel available to them. Police and security officials continued to use short-term and sometimes violent detentions to prevent independent political activity and free assembly. Such detentions generally lasted from several hours to several days. After being taken into custody, these suspects were typically fined and released. The record of the fines frequently lacked information about the law that was broken or the name of the official responsible for the fine, making the fines difficult to contest in court. Sometimes fines formed the basis for preventing persons from leaving the country.
In connection with a planned yearly march on September 8, several activists from UNPACU were arbitrarily detained on September 7. On September 8, immediately after leaving his house with several supporters, UNPACU leader Jose Daniel Ferrer and other supporters were arrested (see also section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly). Human rights NGOs reported at least 70 arrests and arbitrary detentions linked to the September 8 “Sunflower Revolution,” a call for nonviolent protests against the regime.
Pretrial Detention: The government held some detainees for months or years in investigative detention, in both political and nonpolitical cases. In nonpolitical cases, delays were often due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and a lack of checks on police. The percentage of prisoners and detainees in pretrial detention was unknown.
While the constitution recognizes the independence of the judiciary, the judiciary is directly subordinate to the National Assembly and the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), which may remove or appoint judges at any time. Political considerations thoroughly dominated the judiciary, and there was no separation of powers between the judicial system, the PCC, and the Council of State.
Civilian courts exist at the municipal, provincial, and national levels. Special tribunals convene behind closed doors for political (“counterrevolutionary”) cases and other cases deemed “sensitive to state security.” Military tribunals may have jurisdiction over civilians if any of the defendants are active or former members of the military, police, or another law enforcement agency. The government denied admission to trials for observers on an arbitrary basis.
The law provides for the right to a public trial, but politically motivated trials were at times held in secret, with authorities citing exceptions for crimes involving “state security” or “extraordinary circumstances.” Many trials concluded quickly and were closed to the press. In April, on the basis of the COVID-19 pandemic public health emergency, most trials were converted to summary trials, with many defendants accused of poorly defined claims of “propagating an epidemic” or a range of crimes referred to as “illicit economic activity,” such as hoarding scarce goods. According to state media, in summary trials neither prosecutors nor defense counsel need to be present, only a judge. This protocol, however, imposes a limit on the length of the sentence. If the potential sentence exceeds one year, defendants are to be assigned a lawyer. If persons hire a lawyer, they may bring one; however, few persons received legal representation.
Due process rights apply equally to citizens and foreigners, but courts regularly failed to protect or observe these rights. The law provides criminal defendants the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty, but authorities often ignored this, placing the burden on defendants to prove innocence.
The law requires that defendants be represented by an attorney, at public expense if necessary. Defendants’ attorneys may cross-examine government witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Private attorneys are not licensed to practice in criminal courts, forcing defendants to rely on lawyers who work for the very government that is prosecuting them. These attorneys reportedly were often reluctant to defend individuals charged with political crimes or associated with human rights cases and in many cases did not appear to provide adequate counsel.
Criteria for admitting evidence were arbitrary and discriminatory. According to reports, prosecutors routinely introduced irrelevant or unreliable evidence to prove intent or they offered testimony about the defendant’s “revolutionary credentials,” which are demonstrations of loyalty to the PCC or lack thereof.
Defense attorneys have the right to review the investigation files of a defendant unless the charges involve “crimes against the security of the state.” In “state security” cases, defense attorneys were not allowed access to investigation files until charges were filed. Many detainees, especially political detainees, reported their attorneys had difficulties accessing case files due to administrative obstacles. Interpretation was sometimes provided during trials for non-Spanish speakers, but the government claimed limited resources prevented interpreters from always being available.
In trials where defendants are charged with “precriminal dangerousness,” the state must show only that the defendant has a “proclivity” for crime, so an actual criminal act need not have occurred. Penalties may be up to four years in prison. Authorities normally applied this provision to prostitutes, alcoholics, young persons who refused to report to work centers, repeat offenders of laws restricting change of domicile, and political activists who participated in public protests.
The law recognizes the right of appeal in municipal courts but limits the right of appeal in provincial courts to cases involving lengthy prison terms or the death penalty.
The government held political prisoners and detainees but denied it did so. It refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations.
The NGO Cuban Prisoners Defenders estimated there were 134 convicted political prisoners serving sentences as of December 1. Other groups reported different numbers, although figures consistently ranged near 100 or higher. The lack of governmental transparency, along with systemic abuse of due process rights, obscured the true nature of criminal charges, investigations, and prosecutions. This allowed government authorities to prosecute and sentence peaceful human rights activists for criminal violations or “precriminal dangerousness.” The government used the designation of “counterrevolutionary” for inmates deemed to be political opposition, but it did not publicize the number of these inmates. The government closely monitored organizations tracking political prisoner populations, and the organizations often faced harassment from state authorities.
Political prisoners reported the government held them in isolation for extended periods. They did not receive the same protections as other prisoners or detainees. The government frequently denied political prisoners access to home visits, prison classes, telephone calls, and, on occasion, family visits.
The justice system systematically subjected Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of UNPACU, to a wide range of abuses after he was arrested in October 2019 with several colleagues. While he was incarcerated, Ferrer was subjected to routine abuse from fellow prisoners who told him they were being rewarded with special privileges by prison authorities for beating him. During Ferrer’s detention, prison officials at times withheld food and medicine and gave Ferrer only unclean water to drink. Ferrer and his compatriots were convicted of spurious charges of lesiones (inflicting grievous bodily harm) and false imprisonment after a 13-hour trial on February 26 with numerous irregularities.
On the day of Ferrer’s trial, the Ministry of Justice tweeted that Ferrer would get a fair trial but in the same tweet called him “a common criminal” in violation of his right to the presumption of innocence. State media conducted a propaganda campaign against him before his trial that alleged Ferrer was a habitual domestic abuser (which was contradicted by past partners of his). Authorities tightly cordoned off the courthouse and did not allow international observers; most members of the audience were in fact members of the security services. Authorities allegedly attempted to intimidate several defense witnesses. The court ignored evidence (a recorded telephone conversation) from the alleged victim’s wife that suggested the injuries to the alleged victim were the result of a motorcycle accident rather than a beating. The court also ignored evidence that the victim was coerced to testify on behalf of the prosecution.
It is possible to seek judicial remedies through civil courts for violations of administrative decisions, but independent legal experts noted general procedural and bureaucratic inefficiencies often delayed or undermined the enforcement of administrative decisions and civil court orders. Civil courts, like all other courts in the country, lacked independence, impartiality, and effective procedural guarantees. No courts allowed claimants to bring lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations. On December 20, the National Assembly postponed approval of the Law for the Claim of Constitutional Rights before the Courts, which would have allowed for lawsuits related to rights protected in the constitution.
The constitution provides for the protection of citizens’ privacy rights in their homes and correspondence, and the law requires police to have a warrant signed by a prosecutor or magistrate before entering or conducting a search. Officials, however, did not respect these protections. Reportedly, government officials routinely and systematically monitored correspondence and communications between citizens, tracked their movements, and entered homes without legal authority and with impunity.
Security forces conducted arbitrary stops and searches, especially in urban areas and at government-controlled checkpoints at the entrances to provinces and municipalities. Authorities used dubious pretenses to enter residences where they knew activists were meeting, such as “random” inspections of utilities or spurious reports of a disturbance. Authorities also used seemingly legitimate reasons–often health-related–such as fumigating homes as part of an antimosquito campaign or door-to-door COVID-19 checks as a pretext for illegal home searches.
On November 9, musician and activist Denis Solis was arrested for “contempt” after he posted a video of himself verbally sparring with a lone police officer who entered Solis’ home without permission and refused to produce a warrant. Criminal procedure requires that officers may enter persons’ residences only with another officer present, and also requires a warrant or exigent circumstances, neither of which appeared to exist in this case. Solis, who had previously been arrested twice for protesting restrictions on freedom of expression, was sentenced to eight months in prison.
The Ministry of Interior employed a system of informants and neighborhood committees, known as Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, to monitor government opponents and report on their activities. Agents from the ministry’s General Directorate for State Security frequently subjected foreign journalists, visiting foreign officials, diplomats, academics, and businesspersons to surveillance, including electronic surveillance.
Family members of government employees who left international work missions or similar activities (such as medical missions, athletic competitions, and research presentations) without official permission at times faced government harassment or loss of employment, access to education, and other public benefits. Family members of human rights defenders, including their minor children, reportedly suffered reprisals related to the activities of their relatives. These reprisals included reduction of salary, termination of employment, denial of acceptance into university, expulsion from university, and other forms of harassment.
Arbitrary government surveillance of internet activity was pervasive and frequently resulted in criminal cases and reprisals for persons exercising their human rights. Internet users had to identify themselves and agree they would not use the internet for anything “that could be considered…damaging or harmful to public security.” User software developed by state universities gave the government access to users’ personal data and communications.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Military courts had primary responsibility for investigating whether security force killings were justified and pursuing prosecutions.
The state security forces (SSF) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in operations against illegal armed groups (IAGs) in the east and in the Kasai region (see section 1.g.). According to the UN Joint Office of Human Rights (UNJHRO), security forces were responsible for at least 225 extrajudicial killings across the country as of June 30. Many of these extrajudicial killings occurred in the North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri Provinces, where the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) fought the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and other militias, including ethnic militias in the Djugu Territory of Ituri.
The United Nations reported that between March 30 and April 22, Congolese National Police (PNC) officers and members of the military police were responsible for the extrajudicial killing of 66 persons, as well as the injuries of another 74, through excessive use of force related to the crackdown on the political and religious separatist movement Bundu Dia Kongo, also known as Bundu Dia Mayala. In particular UN and other investigators found that on April 22, PNC officers attacked a church in Songololo, Kongo Central Province, filled with Bundu Dia Kongo supporters, killing 15. On April 24, during an operation to arrest Ne Muanda Nsemi, the leader of Bundu Dia Kongo, at his compound in Kinshasa, PNC and Republican Guard clashes with Bundu Dia Kongo supporters resulted in the deaths of at least 33 persons. Following the Kinshasa operations, military prosecutors took steps to investigate whether security forces had committed unjustifiable killings and indicated they would pursue prosecutions. As of October the investigations continued.
Local media reported that on May 21, a PNC officer shot and killed a protester in Beni, North Kivu Province. The victim, Freddy Kambale, a member of the youth activist group “Fight for Change” (LUCHA), was protesting continued insecurity in the region. Police responding to the protest initially stated the march was in violation of national COVID-19-related state of emergency provisions, which prohibited any gatherings larger than 20. Local observers testified that only 20 persons were present at the protest. On July 13, a military court found the police officer in question guilty of murder and sentenced him to life in prison.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the bodies of three men who washed up in the Lubumbashi River after protests on July 9 bore scarring and mutilations that indicated possible torture. At least one man was alleged to have been in military police custody prior to his death. As of September military justice officials were investigating the case.
Although the military justice system convicted some SSF agents of human rights abuses, impunity remained a serious problem. The government maintained joint human rights committees with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and used available international resources, such as the UN-implemented technical and logistical support program for military prosecutors as well as mobile hearings supported by international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Military courts convicted some SSF agents of human rights violations. The United Nations reported that as of July 31, at least 85 FARDC soldiers and 32 PNC officers had been convicted of human rights abuses.
IAGs committed arbitrary and unlawful killings throughout the year (see section 1.g.). IAGs recruited and used children as soldiers and human shields and targeted the SSF, government officials, and others. IAGs, including the Nduma Defense of Congo-Renewal (NDC-R) and other groups, were responsible for at least 1,315 summary executions as of June 30, which the UNJHRO described as a “staggering increase” when compared with the 416 killings recorded during the same period in 2019.
There were reports of disappearances attributable to the SSF during the year. Authorities often refused to acknowledge the detention of suspects and sometimes detained suspects in unofficial facilities, including on military bases and in detention facilities operated by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR). The whereabouts of some civil society activists and civilians arrested by the SSF remained unknown for long periods. Despite President Tshisekedi’s promise to grant the United Nations access to all detention facilities, some ANR prisons remained hidden and thus were impossible to access.
UNJHRO reported that on February 22, PNC agents allegedly arbitrarily arrested and illegally detained two men in Kalemie, the capital of Tanganyika Province. The two were arrested on the grounds that they were fighting in public. On February 24, a family member went to the police station to visit the men and was informed that they had escaped. Since the arrest, however, the family had not heard from the two men.
MONUSCO reported that on June 9, a man in Kinshasa was the victim of an enforced disappearance. Prior to his disappearance, the victim reportedly informed a relative of a dispute between himself and a FARDC officer living in Camp Kokolo, a military facility in Kinshasa. As of September a military justice investigation was underway.
IAGs kidnapped numerous persons, generally for forced labor, military service, or sexual slavery. Many of these victims disappeared (see section 1.g.).
The law criminalizes torture, but there were credible reports the SSF continued to abuse and torture civilians, particularly detainees and prisoners. Throughout the year activists circulated videos of police beating unarmed and nonviolent protesters.
Local media reported that on June 13, an ANR agent in Kalemie, Tanganyika Province, arrested and flogged a businessman accused of counterfeiting U.S. currency. The man was summoned to the ANR office five days after making a purchase in a store in Kalemie. The ANR agent allegedly whipped the man’s lower body to force a confession. A photograph of the man circulated on social media showing him bloody with his pants down. The man was hospitalized due to his injuries. In response Human Rights Minister Andre Lite called for an investigation, noting the government had a policy of zero tolerance for torture. As of November the investigation continued.
On July 28, PNC agents in Kisangani, Tshopo Province, arrested three members of the Filimbi citizen movement after they protested the refusal of Tshopo provincial Governor Walle Lufungula to resign after being censured by the provincial legislature. Filimbi and other civil society groups reported they had followed all appropriate legal requirements for organizing a public march. Local human rights defenders reported police tortured and mistreated the Filimbi activists while they were under arrest, with one sent to the hospital following their release on July 30.
Human Rights Minister Andre Lite publicly condemned the governors of Equateur, Mongala, Sankuru, Haut Uele, and Kasai Central Provinces for ordering the torture of political dissidents.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were 30 open allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by Congolese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including three from 2019, one from 2018, one from 2017, 18 from 2016, and seven from 2015. As of September the government had not yet provided the accountability measures taken for all 30 open allegations: 17 cases of rape of a child, three cases of sexual assault of or sexual activity with a child, one case of rape of an adult, five cases of transactional sex with an adult, three cases of sexual assault of an adult, and one case of an exploitative relationship with an adult. Impunity among the FARDC for such actions was a problem, though the government continued to make progress in holding security forces accountable for human rights violations and abuses. The ongoing conflict in eastern DRC impeded some efforts at accountability for such actions. The United Nations reported that the military justice system investigated human rights abuses and convicted officers for crimes of sexual violence, murder, arbitrary arrest, and torture.
Impunity among the FARDC for such actions was a problem, though the government continued to make progress in holding security forces accountable for human rights violations and abuses. The ongoing conflict in eastern DRC impeded some efforts at accountability for such actions. The United Nations reported that the military justice system investigated human rights abuses and convicted officers for crimes of sexual violence, murder, arbitrary arrest, and torture.
Conditions in most prisons throughout the country were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Even harsher conditions prevailed in small detention centers run by the ANR, Republican Guard (RG), or other security forces, which often detained prisoners for lengthy pretrial periods without providing them access to family or legal counsel.
Physical Conditions: Central prison facilities were severely overcrowded, with an estimated occupancy rate of 200 percent of capacity. For example, Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa, which was constructed in 1958 to house 1,500 prisoners, held as many as 8,200 inmates simultaneously during the year. In August 2019 the National Human Rights Council published findings from visits to prisons in each of the country’s 26 provinces in 2018. The council found that all except four prisons were grossly overcrowded and most buildings used for detention were originally built for other purposes. For example, in Kamina, Upper Lomami Province, 244 prisoners were being held in a former train station. In Isiro, Upper Uele Province, 96 men were detained in a beer warehouse. In Bunia, Ituri Province, 1,144 prisoners were held in a former pigsty.
Following the visit of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in January, the government began an initiative to decongest prisons. That process accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as of June 30, at least 2,843 prisoners had been released.
Authorities generally confined men and women in separate areas but often held juveniles with adults. Women were sometimes imprisoned with their children. Authorities rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners.
Serious threats to life and health were widespread and included violence (particularly rape); food shortages; and inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and medical care. Poor ventilation subjected detainees to extreme heat. Most prisons were understaffed, undersupplied, and poorly maintained, leading to corruption and poor control of the prison population, as well as prison escapes. Local media reported that the Ministry of Justice, which oversees prisons, did not have enough money to pay for food or medical care for inmates. The United Nations reported that through June 30, 89 individuals had died in detention, a 16 percent decrease, compared with 106 deaths recorded in the same period in 2019. These deaths resulted from malnutrition, poor sanitation conditions, and lack of access to proper medical care. Because inmates received inadequate supplies of food and little access to water, many relied exclusively on relatives, NGOs, and church groups to provide them sustenance.
Local human rights organizations reported that during a 30-day period in January, at least 49 inmates in Kinshasa’s Makala Central Prison died of malnutrition and related diseases, with another 69 prisoners in Bukavu, South Kivu Province, and 44 in Goma, North Kivu Province, starving to death between October 2019 and February. On May 3, 20 inmates escaped from the central prison in Watsa, Haut Uele Province, by removing the facility’s roof; in the wake of the incident, the prison director admitted many of the prisoners were suffering from malnutrition.
Directors and staff generally ran prisons for profit, selling sleeping arrangements to the highest bidders and requiring payment for family visits. According to a Deutsche Welle report in May, prisoners in Kasai-Oriental capital Mbuji Mayi’s central prison and at the Ndolo military prison in Kinshasa were subject to gross overcrowding and had to pay prison officials for sleeping space.
IAGs detained civilians, often for ransom. Survivors reported to MONUSCO they were often subjected to forced labor (see section 1.g.).
Administration: Authorities denied access to visitors for some inmates and often did not permit inmates to contact or submit complaints to judicial authorities.
Independent Monitoring: The government regularly allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross, MONUSCO, and NGOs access to official detention facilities maintained by the Ministry of Justice, but it sometimes denied access to facilities run by the RG, ANR, and military intelligence services. COVID-19 prevented internal travel, thus negatively affecting monitoring efforts.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but the SSF routinely arrested or detained persons arbitrarily (see section 1.e.). IAGs also abducted and detained persons arbitrarily, often for ransom. Survivors reported to MONUSCO they were often subjected to forced labor (see section 1.g.).
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
By law arrests for offenses punishable if convicted by more than six months’ imprisonment require warrants. Detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours. Authorities must inform those arrested of their rights and the reason(s) for their arrest, and they may not arrest a family member in lieu of the suspected individual. Authorities must allow arrested individuals to contact their families and consult with attorneys. Security officials, however, routinely violated all of these requirements.
While the law provides for a bail system, it generally did not function. Detainees who were unable to pay for a lawyer were rarely able to access legal counsel. Authorities often held suspects incommunicado, including in unofficial detention centers run by the ANR, military intelligence, and the RG, and refused to acknowledge these detentions.
Prison officials often held individuals longer than their sentences due to disorganization, inadequate records, judicial inefficiency, or corruption. Prisoners unable to pay their fines often remained indefinitely in prison (see section 1.e.).
Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arrested and detained civil society activists, journalists, and opposition party members and sometimes denied them due process (see sections 1.a., 2.a., and 5). Security forces regularly held protesters and civil society activists incommunicado and without charge for extended periods. The United Nations reported the SSF arbitrarily arrested at least 1,327 persons across the country as of June 30, compared with 2,947 persons during the same period in 2019. Human rights defenders continued to be subject to arbitrary arrest and detention without a fair public trial.
On January 20, Joseph Lokondo, a human rights activist, was arrested for criticizing the governor of Equateur Province, Dieudonne Boloko. He remained in pretrial detention until July 7, when, according to HRW, an appeal court sentenced him to six months in prison for “contempt for a member of the government.” On July 8, Lokondo was released due to time served. During his time in prison, he allegedly suffered from severe illnesses due to the prison conditions and from being assaulted by SSF during his arrest.
Police sometimes arbitrarily arrested and detained persons without filing charges to extort money from family members or because administrative systems were not well established.
The UNJHRO reported that on April 11, FARDC soldiers arbitrarily arrested and illegally detained at least 35 persons in Uvira, South Kivu Province, for not participating in scheduled weekly community work on the renovation of a road. The detainees were released after paying a fine.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention, ranging from months to years, remained a problem. A local NGO, the Congolese Association for Access to Justice, estimated that between 75 and 80 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. Judicial inefficiency, administrative obstacles, corruption, financial constraints, and staff shortages also caused trial delays. According to a Deutsche Welle report in May, prisoners in Kasai-Oriental capital Mbuji Mayi’s central prison and at the Ndolo military prison in Kinshasa were often denied their right to a trial.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention; however, few were able to obtain prompt release and compensation.
Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was corrupt and subject to influence and intimidation. Officials and other influential individuals often subjected judges to coercion.
A shortage of prosecutors and judges hindered the government’s ability to provide expeditious trials, and judges occasionally refused transfers to remote areas where shortages were most acute because the government could not support them there. Authorities routinely did not respect court orders. Disciplinary boards created under the High Council of Magistrates continued to rule on cases of corruption and malpractice. Rulings included the firing, suspension, or fining of judges and magistrates.
Military magistrates are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all crimes allegedly committed by SSF members, whether or not committed in the line of duty. Civilians may be tried in military tribunals if charged with offenses involving firearms. The military justice system often succumbed to political and command interference, and security arrangements for magistrates in areas affected by conflict were inadequate. Justice mechanisms were particularly ineffective for addressing misconduct by mid- and high-ranking officials due to a requirement the judge of a military court must outrank the defendant.
The constitution provides for a presumption of innocence, but this was not always observed. Authorities are required to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, but this did not always occur. The public may attend trials at the discretion of the presiding judge. Defendants have the right to a trial within 15 days of being charged, but judges may extend this period to a maximum of 45 days. Authorities only occasionally abided by this requirement. The government is not required to provide counsel in most cases, with the exception of murder trials. While the government regularly provided free legal counsel to indigent defendants in capital cases, lawyers often did not have adequate access to their clients. Defendants have the right to be present and to have a defense attorney represent them. Authorities occasionally disregarded these rights. Authorities generally allowed adequate time to prepare a defense, although there were few resources available. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present evidence and witnesses in their own defense, but witnesses often were reluctant to testify due to fear of retaliation. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal, except in cases involving national security, armed robbery, and smuggling, which the Court of State Security usually adjudicates.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year. In July, however, HRW reported that 11 persons during the year had been arrested for “contempt of authority,” a crime under the law. Of these 11 cases, one was arrested for allegedly insulting the president, while the other 10 were arrested for alleged contempt against provincial authorities or parliamentarians.
Local civil society groups claimed that 23 individuals still imprisoned for the 2001 assassination of former president Laurent-Desire Kabila were political prisoners, because they had yet to be given a fair trial.
While the government permitted international human rights and humanitarian organizations and MONUSCO access to some prisoners, authorities always denied access to detention facilities run by the RG, military intelligence, and ANR (see section 1.c.).
Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations within the civil court system. Most individuals, however, preferred to seek redress in the criminal courts.
Although the law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, the SSF routinely ignored these provisions. The SSF harassed and robbed civilians, entered and searched homes and vehicles without warrants, and looted homes, businesses, and schools. Family members were often punished for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives. The United Nations reported that as of June 30, military and police officers had committed 320 violations of the right to property.
SSF continued fighting hundreds of disparate IAGs in the east of the country.
There were credible reports that the IAGs and SSF perpetrated serious human rights violations and abuses during internal conflicts. On June 30, the UNJHRO reported that IAGs in the country were responsible for a “staggering increase” in human rights abuses, noting that the number of abuses attributed to IAGs had increased by 91 percent during the same period in 2019. The United Nations reported that as of July 31, 41 members of armed groups were convicted of human rights abuses.
Conflicts continued in some of the eastern and northern provinces, particularly North Kivu, South Kivu, Tanganyika, Ituri, Maniema, Upper Uele, and Lower Uele, as well as in the Central Kasai region. IAGs continued to perpetrate violence against civilians; these include: the Nduma Defense of Congo-Renewal (NDC-R), the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), Lord’s Resistance Army, former fighters from the March 23 Movement, various Mai Mai (local militia) groups, and ethnically aligned militia groups in the Djugu area of Ituri Province, including those tied to the Congolese Development Cooperation (CODECO). Many IAGs originated in foreign countries or were predominantly composed of noncitizens.
Conflict among armed groups caused significant population displacement and led to many human rights abuses, especially in Ituri and North Kivu Provinces. In North Kivu Province, the NDC-R, Mai Mai Mazembe, ADF, FDLR, as well as a host of smaller armed groups fought among themselves and caused significant population displacements as they fought over territory. There were reports some elements within the FARDC collaborated with some factions of the NDC-R.
In July the International Crisis Group released a report on the past three years of intercommunal violence between Lendu and Hema groups in the Djugu area of Ituri Province. The report noted that most of the wave of violence had primarily been perpetrated by groups of Lendu youths, including the militia group CODECO, who were not necessarily well organized or supported by the majority of the Lendu community. These groups continued to attack Hema communities, other communal groups in the Djugu area, and the FARDC in increasingly brazen assaults, causing significant loss of life.
In a May report, the Congo Research Group assessed that the NDC-R, under commander Guidon Shimiray Mwissa (Guidon) between 2014 and 2020, emerged as the most dominant and effective rebel group in the country. The report described the NDC-R’s successful development of parallel governance and tax schemes in the large, resource-rich areas under its control. According to the Congo Research Group, the NDC-R’s success battling other major groups, such as the FDLR, allowed it to establish and maintain a collaborative relationship with the FARDC, in which NDC-R was permitted to hold territory, established businesses, and collected taxes, “mimicking the FARDC and the state.” In return, the FARDC supplied NDC-R with ammunition and uniforms and allowed the group unhindered passage through large swaths of the east. In July local media reported the group split after the ousting of the group’s commander, Guidon, and FARDC increased attacks on Guidon’s faction in an attempt to execute the existing warrant for his arrest. Other armed groups took advantage of this instability to move into NDC-R-controlled territory. As of November, Guidon remained at large.
Operational cooperation between MONUSCO and the government continued in the east. The MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade supported FARDC troops in North Kivu and southern Ituri Provinces. MONUSCO forces deployed and conducted patrols to protect internally displaced persons from armed group attacks in North Kivu Province, southern Ituri Province, and South Kivu Province near Minembwe.
Killings: Data from UN reporting shows that on average, eight civilians were killed every day in conflict-affected areas.
As of June 30, the UNJHRO reported the SSF summarily killed 155 civilians in conflict-affected zones, a decrease compared with the 173 killings during the same period in 2019. In July the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report covering violence in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces between January 1, 2019, and January 31, 2020, related to the ADF and FARDC’s campaign against that group. The report identified abuses committed by SSF during the campaign against ADF, especially following a large-scale deployment in October 2019. The report described eight summary executions by the FARDC and the arbitrary arrests of 91 persons, including at least four children.
The United Nations reported that on May 7, during operations against IAGs in the Rutshuru territory of North Kivu, a FARDC soldier in the 3416 regiment killed a three-year-old girl and injured one man and two women during an eviction. The soldier was arrested and detained by the military prosecutor, who subsequently opened an investigation into the killing.
UNJHRO also reported that IAGs killed at least 1,315 civilians, including 129 women, in the first six months of the year, a significant increase from the same period in 2019, during which 416 civilians were killed. As of June 30, violence attributed to various Lendu militias in Ituri Province resulted in at least 636 summary executions and an estimated 1.2 million internally displaced persons. Djugu-based assailants in Ituri Province were responsible for killing at least 525 individuals, largely during ambushes and attacks against villages targeting civilians. Sixty-one civilian deaths were attributed to the NDC-R. MONUSCO reported that on January 6, NDC-R combatants killed two women, wounded one man and another woman with machetes, and abducted two other men, in Masisi territory of North Kivu. The attack was reportedly an act of revenge against the civilian population whom the NDC-R combatants accused of facilitating the arrest of one of their group.
The Mai Mai Nyatura group summarily executed 98 civilians in conflict-affected provinces in the first half of the year, while the FDLR summarily executed at least 66 civilians.
The OHCHR report in July attributed “widespread, systematic, and extremely brutal” human rights violations to the ADF, including at least 496 civilian deaths. In follow-up reporting covering events between February 1 and June 30, OHCHR identified an additional 383 killings attributed to the ADF. For example, on May 18, in Beni territory of North Kivu, ADF combatants killed seven civilians with gunfire and machetes and injured three others. The ADF fighters burned down four houses during the attack.
Abductions: Of the 1,327 persons SSF arbitrarily arrested, many were in conflict-affected areas in the east of the country.
UN agencies and NGOs reported IAGs abducted individuals, generally to serve as porters or guides or to demand ransom for them. As of June 30, the United Nations reported that Djugu-based militias abducted at least 201 civilians, and that in total, IAGs abducted at least 118 children. Mai Mai Mazembe and NDC-R were the greatest perpetrators of child abductions.
On May 18, in Lubero, North Kivu Province, NDC-R fighters detained at least 70 persons, whom they tied up and beat with sticks and a rifle. The assailants took the victims to a camp, where they were held for ransom and forced to build shelters and carry water. The ADF reportedly also abducted individuals to serve as forced labor in camps. The OHCHR’s July report stated that the ADF abducted 508 persons, including 116 children.
As of August 5, Invisible Children’s Crisis Tracker documented 212 abductions, including the abduction of 16 children in Upper Uele and Lower Uele Provinces. The Lord’s Resistance Army was determined to be responsible for 153 of the abductions.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The FARDC, PNC, ANR, IAGs, and civilians perpetrated widespread sexual violence. As of July 31, the United Nations documented 501 adult victims and 64 child victims of sexual violence in conflict. Crimes of sexual violence were sometimes committed as a tactic of war to punish civilians for having perceived allegiances to rival parties or groups. The crimes occurred throughout the country but principally in the conflict zones in North and South Kivu Provinces.
UN agencies and NGOs reported that through June 30, the FARDC arrested, illegally detained, raped, and tortured at least 378 persons in conflict-affected areas. During this period the FARDC forced 46 civilians, including one woman and one child, into labor. The government disputed these numbers.
IAGs also perpetrated numerous incidents of physical abuse and sexual violence. UN data showed that the FDLR, along with Twa militias and Djugu-based assailants, were the most prolific perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence. The UNJHRO reported that most cases of rape committed by the FDLR took place in Nyiragongo territory, when women were on their way to Virunga National Park to collect firewood. MONUSCO reported that on May 2, in North Kivu’s Nyiragongo territory, FDLR combatants raped two women, killing one of them. Twa militia members tended to target women working on farms or on their way to or from farming. For example, in April, Twa militiamen raped 16 women on their farms in Tanganyika Province before forcing them into the forest for the night and releasing them the next morning.
The UNJHRO reported at least 95 adult women were victims of sexual violence perpetrated by the armed group FLDR. At least 30 children were victims of sexual violence perpetrated by NDC-R.
MONUSCO’s Child Protection Section reported that more than 80 percent of women and girls separated from armed group the Patriotic Resistance Forces of Ituri Province reported being victims of sexual violence. On February 14, a military court in Bunia, Ituri Province, convicted three members of the Patriotic Resistance Forces of Ituri of war crimes for rape, looting, and participation in an insurrectional movement. The three were sentenced to 20 years in prison.
On July 28, a military court in Bunia also convicted 15 members of CODECO and FPIC of participation in an insurrection movement, sentencing them each to 20 years in prison and a fine. In an effort to combat impunity for the violence in Ituri Province, the military court held the hearings in public.
On November 23, a military court convicted Nduma Defense of Congo (NDC) founder Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka for war crimes, mass rape, recruitment of child soldiers, murder, and multiple other crimes. Sheka surrendered to MONUSCO in 2017, and his trial started in 2018. While NGO representatives commended the high quality of evidence presented at the trial, they also raised concerns regarding its slow pace, witness intimidation, and the lack of appeals process under the law for war crimes trials.
A January report by OHCHR described mutilations, dismemberment, and other atrocities committed by Lendu militias and noted that the violence “could present at least some elements of the crime of genocide.”
Child Soldiers: There were no incidents of the FARDC using child soldiers. On August 3, the Ministry of Defense issued a decree reinforcing the prohibition on recruitment or use of child soldiers by the FARDC.
According to the United Nations, at least 952 children were separated from IAGs during the first six months of the year. The majority came from the Mai Mai Mazembe militia in North Kivu. The ADF continued to kidnap children and use them as combatants; OHCHR reported that the ADF forcibly recruited at least 56 children from January 2019 through January. NDC-R also recruited and used children. MONUSCO’s Child Protection Section reported 59 cases of child recruitment as of June 30, an all-time low number, and a significant decrease from the 601 children recruited in 2019.
The government continued to work with MONUSCO to engage directly IAGs to end the use of child soldiers. As of June 30, two years into the outreach, a total of 34 armed group commanders had pledged not to use or recruit children. The Ministry of Defense’s August 3 decree noted that any entity, including armed groups, convicted of recruiting or using children would be subject to 10 to 20 years of forced labor under the 2009 child protection law. On August 27, Radio Okapi reported the decree was already being implemented.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Fighting between the FARDC and IAGs as well as among IAGs continued to displace populations and limit humanitarian access, particularly in Ituri Province; Rutshuru, Masisi, Walikale, Lubero, Beni, and Nyiragongo territories in North Kivu Province; South Kivu Province; Maniema Province; and Tanganyika Province.
In North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Kasai Oriental, and Upper Katanga Provinces, both IAGs and elements of the FARDC continued to illegally tax, exploit, and trade natural resources for revenue and power. Clandestine trade in minerals and other natural resources facilitated the purchase of weapons and reduced government revenues. The natural resources most exploited were gold, cassiterite (tin ore), coltan (tantalum ore), and wolframite (tungsten ore) but also included wildlife products, timber, charcoal, and fish.
The illegal trade in minerals financed IAGs and individual elements of the SSF. Both elements of the SSF and certain IAGs continued to control, extort, and threaten remote mining areas in North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Maniema, and Haut Katanga Provinces and the Kasai region (see section 4.).
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On July 23, according to a domestic human rights group, state security forces in Djibouti City destroyed a shantytown in the neighborhood of Arhiba, an area mostly inhabited by the Afar ethnic group, one of the two largest ethnic groups that share political power. The security forces severely injured five persons, and one of the victims subsequently died of his injuries. The government did not publish information regarding the incident or indicate any intent to investigate.
During the year authorities did not take known action to investigate reported cases of arbitrary or unlawful killings from previous years or to put suspected perpetrators on trial.
Authorities arrested and held journalists and political dissidents in unknown locations.
On April 22, air force pilot Lieutenant Fouad Youssouf Ali was arrested after circulating videos critical of President Ismail Omar Guelleh’s government and fleeing the country on March 27 in a military aircraft that the government alleges he was attempting to steal. Lieutenant Fouad’s whereabouts were unknown until May when his lawyer stated that he was detained in Gabode Prison.
Authorities arrested and hid the whereabouts of several journalists covering the story. The disappearances were for a short duration apparently intended to cause emotional distress for the journalists and their family members.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them. Security forces arrested and abused journalists and opposition members.
There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following examples. On April 22, air force Lieutenant Fouad Youssouf Ali circulated videos on social media critical of the government and fled the country in a military plane, which he then crashed. He was extradited back to the country from Ethiopia and held in detention at Gabode Prison under charges of treason and theft of a military airplane. His lawyer received access to him on May 13, weeks after his arrest. His lawyer stated that his client was in poor health and detained in filthy and inhuman cell conditions. On June 3, Lieutenant Fouad released a video of his detention conditions, showing a dirty, windowless isolation cell, largely taken up by a latrine, and revealed a severe skin condition resulting from prison conditions. His descriptions of degrading and inhuman treatment led to social unrest when the video went viral on social media. It triggered protests and confrontations between protesters and law enforcement, resulting in civilian arrests and injuries. Many of those arrested complained of torture and detention in filthy conditions.
On July 15, Charmake Said Darar, a journalist from the Voice of Djibouti, one of the country’s only independent streaming platforms, was arrested after covering the case of Lieutenant Fouad and taking pictures of demonstrations in Djibouti City. On his first night in custody, he was handcuffed for several hours with his hands behind his back. He did not eat for four days, either as a protest against his detention or due to fear of being poisoned. Darar’s house was searched, his family complained of being intimidated and harassed, and his personal and work equipment including his identification documents were taken. On August 4, Darar was released without being charged, but some of his belongings remained in the custody of law enforcement.
International organizations and national human rights organizations reported prison conditions remained harsh. The country had one central prison, Gabode, in the capital and a second, smaller regional prison in Obock, as well as small jails supervised by local police or gendarmes. These jails often served as holding cells before detainees were moved to the Gabode Central Prison.
The Nagad Detention Facility, operated by police, primarily held migrants and was not part of the prison system; however, during the year the facility served as a detention facility for individuals arrested for their participation in demonstrations in support of Lieutenant Fouad. Due to COVID-19, the government shifted migrants from the Nagad Detention Facility to the newly established Ar-Aoussa Camp in the Ali-Sabieh Region. The migrants were tested for COVID-19 and then deported back to their home countries (mostly Ethiopia).
There were reports that police and gendarmes abused prisoners.
Physical Conditions: The prisons exceeded their original planned capacity by almost double. Due to space constraints, there was no formal system to segregate pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, nor were violent offenders always separated from nonviolent offenders. Authorities occasionally segregated opposition supporters.
While prisoners were regularly fed, medical services and their living conditions were poor. The prisons suffered from poor lighting, inadequate sanitation, and other deficient environmental conditions. Potable water and ventilation were limited. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the president allowed the early release of 400 inmates involved in minor felonies to reduce overcrowding.
Conditions in Gabode Prison for women were similar to those for men, although less crowded. Authorities allowed young children to stay with their mothers. The head of the prison initiated, in collaboration with a local association, sewing training for women. Prisoners with mental disabilities represented a growing percentage of the prison population. They were kept in the infirmary, where they regularly received adequate care, including access to psychiatric services through the national health system. These prisoners were segregated from prisoners with serious communicable diseases.
Administration: The National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH) is a government institution with limited independence and a mandate to investigate human rights violations and abuses. It visits state prisons and other law enforcement detention facilities annually but does not make its report public until vetted by the government, sometimes a year later. In reaction to the public outcry and protests in support of Lieutenant Fouad (see section 1.c), the commission made an additional visit to Gabode Prison and released a government-approved report stating it found no inhuman, cruel, or degrading treatment at the prison.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed International Committee of the Red Cross representatives to visit the Nagad Detention Facility and the Gabode Prison quarterly to assess general prison conditions. The government did not allow diplomatic representatives to visit Gabode Prison.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government seldom respected these provisions.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires arrest warrants and stipulates the government may not detain a person beyond 48 hours without an examining magistrate’s formal charge; however, the government generally did not respect the law, especially in rural areas. Authorities may hold detainees another 48 hours with the prior approval of the public prosecutor. The law provides that law enforcement officers should promptly notify detainees of the charges against them, although there were delays. There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. On August 19, teacher and activist Moumin Waberi Miguil was detained without a warrant by the gendarmerie and held for four days and released without charge.
The law requires that all persons, including those charged with political or national security offenses, be tried within eight months of arraignment, but the government did not respect this right. The law contains provisions for bail, but authorities rarely made use of it. Detainees have the right to prompt access to an attorney of their choice, which generally occurred, although there were exceptions. In criminal cases the state provides attorneys for detainees who cannot afford legal representation. In instances of unlawful detention, detainees could be granted court-ordered release but no compensation.
Certain National Police precincts underwent a records digitalization process intended to track arrestees from arrest through judicial proceedings. Phased-in implementation at all precincts continued during the year. The system was expected to decrease time in detention, accurately track violations of the detention law, and increase law enforcement and judicial transparency.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of security officials arbitrarily arresting journalists, bloggers, opposition members, and demonstrators.
On January 22, Vice President Mahamoud Mohamed Daher of the opposition Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development was arrested. Daher is of advanced age and in poor health. He was released two days later without charge.
On February 23, according to a public statement issued by opposition party the Rally for Democratic Action and Ecological Development (RADDE), one of its leading members in the Ali-Sabieh Region, Abdillahi Osman Samrieh, was arrested for communicating with Radio Boukao, an online streaming platform. He was released a week later without charge.
On March 3, police arrested Hassan Mohamed Hassan–also known as Dileita Tourab–a member of the opposition Republican Alliance for Democracy party. After being accosted in front of his residence by four unidentified members of police, Hassan was sequestrated in an unknown location for more than 48 hours, before being brought before a judge and then moved to Gabode for pretrial detention. On March 30, the judge ordered his release without charge. On May 3, police officers arrested Charmake Said Darar, a Voice of Djibouti correspondent, for taking pictures during a small demonstration in Balbala in front of the residence of Lieutenant Fouad.
Between June 7 and June 10, police detained Mohamed Ibrahim Wais and Kassim Nouh Abar of Voice of Djibouti who were reporting on the case of Lieutenant Fouad. They were held for three days and released without charge.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Prisoners often waited two, three, or more years for their trials to begin. Judicial inefficiency and a lack of experienced legal staff contributed to the problem.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: After release, detainees may challenge the lawfulness of their detention. Due to mistrust of the judicial procedure and fear of retaliation, very few pursued this recourse.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary lacked independence and was inefficient. There were reports of judicial corruption. Authorities did not consistently respect constitutional provisions for a fair trial.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not fully enforce this right.
The legal system is based on legislation and executive decrees, French codified law adopted at independence, Islamic law (sharia), and cultural traditions.
The law states the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Trials generally were public. A presiding judge and two associate judges hear cases. Three lay assessors, who are not members of the bench but are considered sufficiently knowledgeable to comprehend court proceedings, assist the presiding judge. The government chooses lay assessors from the public. In criminal cases the court consists of the presiding judge of the Court of Appeals, two lay assessors, and four jurors selected from voter registration lists. The law provides detainees be notified promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Although the law requires the state to provide detainees with free interpretation when needed, such services were not always made available. Detainees have the right to prompt access to an attorney of their choice. Defendants have the right to be present, consult with an attorney in a timely manner, confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Authorities generally respected these rights. The indigent have a right to legal counsel in criminal and civil matters but sometimes did not have legal representation. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right of appeal, although the appeals process was lengthy. The law extends these rights to all citizens.
Traditional law often applied in cases involving conflict resolution and victim compensation. Traditional law stipulates compensation be paid to the victim’s family for crimes such as killing and rape. Most parties preferred traditional court rulings for sensitive issues such as rape, where a peaceful consensus among those involved was valued more than the rights of victims. Families often pressured victims to abide by such rulings.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees; however, there were arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters (see section 1.d.).
In cases of human rights abuses, citizens could address correspondence to the CNDH. On a variety of matters, citizens could also seek assistance from the Ombudsman’s Office, which often helped resolve administrative disputes among government branches. Citizens could also appeal decisions to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Tanzania.
Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before conducting searches on private property, but the government did not always respect the law. Government critics claimed the government monitored their communications and kept their homes under surveillance.
The government monitored digital communications intended to be private and punished their authors (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom).
While membership in a political party was not required for government jobs, civil servants who publicly criticized the government faced reprisals at work, including suspension, dismissal, and nonpayment of salaries.
There were reports the government punished family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives. For example, on April 10, Samira Djama, the wife of air force pilot Lieutenant Fouad, was detained with two of her teenage children and 15 other family members. She was repeatedly questioned regarding her husband’s whereabouts and then released a week later. On August 8, the government ordered Qatar Airways not to transport Fouad’s brother from Montreal, Canada, to Djibouti City.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There was at least one report the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. No specific office investigates the legality of security force killings.
Security forces’ abuse led to the death of a person sent to Black Beach Prison through an extrajudicial process. There were no reports of any investigations.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that both police and military personnel in Malabo and in Bata used excessive force during traffic stops, house-to-house searches, and interrogations, sometimes including sexual assault, robbery, and extortion. Police also tortured opposition members, according to opposition leaders. Security personnel particularly abused persons suspected of plotting against the government.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, citizen activists documented police officers and the military using excessive force, including beating citizens who did not abide by the government’s preventive actions. Authorities later fired, suspended, or arrested some of these officials, and government officials reminded security personnel to treat their fellow citizens with respect. In July security officials attacked a doctor in a hospital for demanding that they wear face masks as a public health measure. The vice minister of health later visited the doctor and apologized for government actions. Media reported that authorities arrested the police officers for their misconduct. In November a video circulated on social media showing police officers beating citizens inside a police station as punishment for not wearing a mask.
Police reportedly beat and threatened detainees to extract information or to force confessions. On March 7, after serving five months in an isolation cell, according to an opposition blog, Felipe Obama Nse was admitted to the General Hospital in Malabo after the head of Black Beach Prison had him tortured. There were no reports of any action taken against the head of the prison. Reportedly incarcerated at the express command of President Obiang, Obama Nse had been a prisoner for five years without trial.
Some military personnel and police reportedly raped, sexually assaulted, or beat women, including at checkpoints. Foreigners recounted being harassed at checkpoints, including having guns pointed at them without provocation. Senior government officials took few steps to address such violence and were themselves sometimes implicated in it.
Impunity was a significant problem within the security forces, due to corruption, politicization of the forces, poor training, and the ability of senior government officials to order extrajudicial acts. In October and November, the government held human rights training in seminars throughout the country for members of the security forces.
Conditions in the country’s three prisons and 12 police station jails were generally harsh and life threatening due to abuse, overcrowding, disease, inadequate food, poorly trained staff, limited oversight, and lack of medical care. In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, these conditions were all the more concerning.
Lawyers and other observers who visited prisons and jails reported serious abuses, including beatings, torture, and inadequate medical care.
Prison cells were overcrowded, dirty, and lacked mattresses. Up to 30 detainees commonly shared one toilet that lacked toilet paper and a functioning door. Inmates rarely had access to exercise. Diseases such as malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS were serious problems. Authorities sporadically provided a limited number of prisoners and detainees with medical care as well as basic meals, but food was generally insufficient and of poor quality. Ventilation and lighting were not always adequate, and rodent infestations were common. Jails did not provide food to detainees, but authorities generally allowed families and friends to deliver meals twice daily, although police did not always pass on the food to detainees. In some cases prisoners were reportedly left in solitary confinement for extended periods.
Statistics on prisoner deaths were unavailable. There were anecdotal accounts of deaths in prison due to injuries sustained from prison staff abuse.
The Ministries of Justice and National Security operated civilian prisons on military installations, with military personnel handling security around the prisons and civilians providing security and other services within them. There were reports that military and police personnel ran the most important prisons and prevented civilian authorities from entering them. There was little information on conditions in those prisons.
Administration: Authorities did not regularly investigate credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors and religious observance were restricted for political prisoners. Visitors had to pay guards small bribes to see detainees and to provide them with food. Since March authorities restricted visitation rights for family members and for legal counsel due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that they visited prisons to report concerns, such as possible victims of trafficking in persons.
Improvements: In 2019 prison authorities acknowledged some problems and sent supervisors for overseas training on better correctional practices. These officials returned to their facilities during the year. The newly constructed prison of Oveng Aseng on the mainland began operations.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government rarely observed these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires arrest warrants unless a crime is in progress or in cases that affect national security. Members of the security forces frequently arrested persons in violation of the warrant requirement. A detainee has the right to a judicial determination of the legality of detention within 72 hours of arrest, excluding weekends and holidays, but this determination often took longer, sometimes several months. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) indicated the majority of detainees were not charged and that judges typically failed to issue a writ of habeas corpus within the legal limit of 36 hours.
Some foreign nationals who did not have legal status complained of detention and deportation without prior notification of the charges against them. Courts rarely approved bail. The bar association supplied public defenders to those who could not afford private counsel but only at the time they were charged. Authorities occasionally denied access to lawyers, particularly in the case of political detainees. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but local police chiefs did not always respect this prohibition.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were numerous reported cases of arbitrary arrests. The government arbitrarily arrested immigrants, opposition members, and others (see also section 1.b). Many detainees complained that bribes had to be paid to obtain release.
Police detained foreign nationals and took them into custody even when they provided proper documentation. Police raided immigrant communities. Reliable sources reported that police abused, extorted, or detained legal and irregular immigrants during raids. Diplomatic representatives in the country criticized the government for the harassment, abuse, extortion, and detention of foreign nationals and for not renewing residence and work permits in a timely manner, making foreign nationals vulnerable to abuse. Starting in March, for several months the government halted production of permits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many foreigners with no way to renew expired documents.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem and was often politically motivated. Inefficient judicial procedures, corruption, lack of monitoring, and inadequate staffing contributed to the problem.
On July 10, authorities arrested officials of the National Treasury and accused them of stealing government financial instruments (see section 4, Corruption). They remained in custody without a judicial hearing.
In February 2019 national security personnel, headed by the deputy director of presidential security, arrested Convergence for Social Democracy Party (CPDS) member and human rights activist Joaquin Elo Ayeto in his home for allegedly planning to assassinate President Obiang. Authorities required him to pay a fine and released him in February after finding him guilty of a lesser charge.
In July 2019 authorities arrested CPDS member Luis Mba Esono in his village in Engo Esaboman along with four other village members. Accused of abetting a suspect in a 2017 coup plot, they were denied access to legal counsel. CPDS pursued complaints with the legislature, the ombudsman, the UN Commission on Human Rights, and international organizations for the defense of human rights. Authorities dropped the charges and released them in February.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law detainees have the right to challenge their detention and obtain release, although there is no provision for compensation if a detainee is found to have been unlawfully detained. Nevertheless, authorities did not respect this right, and detainees could not challenge the validity of the charges against them.
The law does not provide for an independent judiciary. Instead, the president is designated the “first magistrate of the nation” and chair of the Judicial Council responsible for appointing judges and magistrates.
Members of the government often influenced judges in sensitive cases. Judges sometimes decided cases on political grounds; others sought bribes. Authorities did not always respect court orders, and many persons turned to the legislature, the Constitutional Court, or the president as first magistrate for enforcement of civil judgments on matters such as employment, land, and personal injury disputes. Credible reports alleged judges decided in favor of plaintiffs in cases against international companies in return for a percentage of damages awarded.
The military justice system provided defendants with fewer procedural safeguards than the criminal court system. The code of military justice states that a military tribunal should judge any civilian or member of the military who disobeys a military authority or who is accused of committing a crime that is considered a “crime against the state.” A defendant in the military justice system may be tried in absentia, and the defense does not have the right to cross-examine an accuser. Such proceedings were not public, and defendants had no right of appeal to a higher court.
In rural areas tribal elders adjudicated civil claims and minor criminal matters in traditional courts. Traditional courts conducted cases according to customary law that does not afford the same rights and privileges as the formal system. Persons dissatisfied with traditional judgments could appeal to the civil court system.
The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary generally did not enforce this right. The law provides for the presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The courts, however, generally did not respect these rights. Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay, and most trials for ordinary crimes were public. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, but unless they could afford private counsel, they were rarely able to consult promptly with attorneys. A defendant unable to afford a lawyer is entitled to request a government-appointed lawyer but only after first appearing in court, which generally did not occur within the mandated 72 hours. The law provides for defendants to confront and question witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence, but courts seldom enforced this right. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and the right to appeal. Authorities did not respect the law.
During the 2019 trial of the alleged 2017 coup plotters, authorities tried many defendants in absentia, did not consistently provide interpreters for individuals from other African countries, and severely limited defense lawyers’ ability to meet with their clients, ask questions or cross-examine prosecution witnesses. In September 2019 the American Bar Association (ABA), which had observers at the trial, noted the proceedings’ many egregious irregularities. All of the convicted defendants remained in prison, except for those outside the country whom the government considered fugitives. The appeal process ended in November, with the Supreme Court upholding the convictions.
There were reports of political prisoners or detainees, but no data was available on their number or length of detention. They were often held at Black Beach Prison, where they remained without charge or trial and without access to attorneys or human rights or humanitarian organizations for months at a time. Additional persons implicated in the 2017 coup plot were tried by a military tribunal that concluded in March (see section 1.b.).
Authorities removed by extrajudicial means several alleged coup plotters from South Sudan and imprisoned them in the country.
In November 2019 there were multiple reports the government seized several persons, including at least four Equatoguineans and two dual Spanish nationals, in Juba, South Sudan, and brought them back through extrajudicial transfer in coordination with the South Sudanese government. In March the government televised the confessions of the individuals, who were accused of plotting a coup. Several were members of an Equatoguinean opposition movement formed in Spain. As of December the government had yet to allow consular access to the foreign citizens, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as one reason for the delay, although they allowed one telephone call.
Courts ruled on civil cases submitted to them, some of which involved human rights complaints.
The government sometimes failed for political reasons to comply with court decisions pertaining to human rights, including political rights. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse court decisions to the ombudsman or the legislature.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government often did not respect these prohibitions. Search warrants are required unless a crime is in progress or for reasons of national security. Nevertheless, security force members reportedly entered homes without required warrants and arrested alleged criminals, foreign nationals, and others; they confiscated property and demanded bribes with impunity. Many break-ins were attributed to military and police personnel.
In February security officials attempted to arrest former president of the Supreme Court Juan Carlos Ondo Angue. Dozens of officials surrounded his house, blocking nearby streets. They refused to present a warrant or an arrest order and were only deterred by the presence of foreign diplomats.
Authorities reportedly monitored opposition members, NGOs, journalists, and foreign diplomats, including through internet and telephone surveillance. Members of civil society and opposition parties reported both covert and overt surveillance by security services.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were credible reports that Eritrean forces deployed in Tigray committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
An unknown number of persons disappeared during the year and were believed to be in government detention or to have died while in detention. The government did not make efforts to prevent the disappearances or to investigate or punish those responsible. The government did not regularly notify family members or respond to requests for information regarding the status of detainees, including locally employed staff of foreign embassies and foreign or dual nationals. The disappeared included persons presumably detained for political and religious beliefs, journalists, and individuals suspected of evading national service and militia duties, and for others whose offense was unknown.
There were no known developments in the case of the G-15, a group of former ruling party members and officials who called for reforms and journalists whom the government detained in 2001.
The law prohibits torture. Reports of torture, however, continued.
In August 2019 Human Rights Watch published a report documenting that security forces tortured, including by beating, prisoners, army deserters, national service evaders, persons attempting to flee the country without travel documents, and members of certain religious groups.
Former prisoners described two specific forms of punishment by security forces known as “helicopter” and “8.” For “helicopter,” prisoners lie face down on the ground and their hands and legs are tied behind them. For “8,” they are tied to a tree. Prisoners were often forced to stay in either position for 24-48 hours, in some cases longer, and only released to eat or to relieve themselves. Use of psychological torture was common, according to inmates held in prior years. Some former prisoners reported authorities conducted interrogations and beatings within hearing distance of other prisoners to intimidate them.
Lack of transparency and access to information made it impossible to determine the numbers or circumstances of deaths due to torture or other abuse.
Impunity remained a serious problem among security forces. The government did not release any information to indicate it had conducted investigations of alleged abuses, making it difficult to assess the extent of the problem among the different branches of the services.
Detention conditions reportedly remained harsh, leading to serious damage to health and, in some instances, death, but the lack of independent access made accurate reporting problematic.
Physical Conditions: There were numerous official and unofficial detention centers, some located in military camps. The Ministry of Justice oversees prisons run by police, and the Ministry of Defense oversees those run by the military. Unofficial detention centers housed those accused of political crimes. The law requires juveniles be held separately from adults. There is a juvenile detention center in Asmara, but authorities held some juveniles, particularly teenagers, with adults, due to overcrowding in that center. When police arrested mothers, their young children sometimes were held with them. Severe overcrowding was common.
Data on death rates in prison and detention facilities were not available, although persons reportedly died from harsh conditions, including lack of medical care and use of excessive force. There was no available information to determine whether the government took action against persons responsible for detainee deaths.
Authorities are believed to have continued the practice of holding some detainees incommunicado in metal shipping containers and underground cells without toilets or beds. The government did not consistently provide adequate basic or emergency medical care in prisons or detention centers. Food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate, and potable water was sometimes available only for purchase.
Former prisoners described prolonged food shortages, which sometimes led to anemia or even the need for hospitalization. One former prisoner claimed to have been without food for 42 days. Other former prisoners reported no such issues.
Former detainees and other sources reported harsh detention conditions in police stations and in prisons for persons held for evading national service and militia duties.
Authorities placed political prisoners in solitary confinement more often than other detainees.
Administration: Prisoners and detainees could not submit complaints to judicial authorities, and authorities did not adequately investigate or monitor prison or detention center conditions. There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints.
The government did not grant consular access to detained dual-national citizens, whom it considers to be only Eritrean. Authorities generally did not permit family visits with persons detained, arrested, or convicted for national security reasons; they permitted visits with those held for other reasons. Former prisoners reported some religious literature was considered contraband, and its possession could result in torture. International religious organizations claimed authorities interrogated detainees regarding their religious affiliation and asked them to identify members of unauthorized religious groups.
According to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the government released persons imprisoned for their religious beliefs. Between July and December, 101 Muslims arrested in 2018 and 143 Christians held for between two and 26 years were released. Christian Solidarity Worldwide noted the release of the Christians was conditional on the submission of property deeds. There were reports, however, that the government arrested 45 Christians in April and June.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit monitoring of prisoner conditions by independent government or nongovernmental observers or by international bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The government also did not provide the ICRC with information about or access to reported Ethiopian and Djiboutian prisoners of war detained in the country.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not observe these provisions.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law stipulates that, unless a crime is in progress, police must conduct an investigation and obtain a warrant prior to making an arrest, but this seldom occurred. In cases involving national security, police may waive the process. Detainees must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest and may not be held for more than 28 days without being charged with a crime. Authorities generally detained suspects for longer periods without bringing them before a judge, charging them with a crime, or telling them the reason for their detention. Authorities sometimes arbitrarily changed charges during detention. The law provides for a bail system, but bail was often arbitrarily denied, and bail amounts were capriciously set.
Detainees held on national security grounds did not have access to counsel. Other detainees, including indigent persons, often did not have such access either. Incommunicado detention was widespread. Detainees did not have routine access to visitors.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest occurred frequently. Security force personnel detained individuals for reasons that included suspicion of intent to evade national and militia service, criticizing the government, attempting to leave the country, and for unspecified national security threats. Authorities also continued to arrest members of unregistered Christian groups. In April authorities reportedly arrested 15 Christians for attending services, and in June they arrested 30 Christians at a wedding. Many of these individuals, particularly women and children, were reportedly released soon thereafter, but it was unknown how many, if any, remained in detention.
There were unverified reports that security forces arrested at least 20 Muslim men in Mendefera and neighboring localities for unknown reasons in November 2019. Those arrested reportedly included local businessmen, religious teachers, and community leaders, many of whom remain unaccounted for.
Authorities sometimes arrested persons whose papers were not in order and detained them until they were able to provide evidence of their militia status or demobilization from national service. The government contacted places of employment and used informers to identify those unwilling to participate in the militia.
Some persons arrested in previous years for refusing to bear arms on grounds of conscience and for participating in unregistered religious groups remained in detention.
Pretrial Detention: The government held detainees without charge or due process. Detainees were not always told the reason for their arrest. Authorities brought few, if any, persons detained purportedly on national security grounds to trial. The percentage of the prison and detention center population in pretrial detention was not available.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees were not able to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but executive control of the judiciary continued, and the judiciary was neither independent nor impartial. There are special courts charged with handling corruption cases, but there was no clarity on their structure or implementation. The Office of the President served as a clearinghouse for citizens’ petitions to some courts. It also acted as an arbitrator or a facilitator in civil matters for some courts. The judiciary suffered from lack of trained personnel, inadequate funding, and poor infrastructure.
There is no right to a fair, timely, and public trial.
There is no presumption of innocence or right for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of charges in a language they understand. The law does not specifically address the provision of adequate time or facilities to prepare a defense, the right of defendants to confront witnesses, or the provision of free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, although courts generally accorded these rights to defendants in cases courts did not deem related to national security. There is no right of defendants to refuse to testify. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with attorneys or to present their own evidence if they do not wish to have an attorney. Prosecution and defense lawyers have the right to present evidence and witnesses. Defendants can choose their attorney or else they will have one assigned to them.
Courts of first instance are at the regional level. Each party to a case has the right to one appeal. Decisions rendered by any regional court may be appealed to the next appellate court. Should the appellate court reverse a decision of the lower court, the party whose petition was not sustained may appeal to the five-judge upper appellate court. If the lower appellate court upholds the decision of a regional court, there is no second appeal.
Special courts have jurisdiction over both corruption and national security cases. Judges serve as prosecutors and may request that individuals involved in cases testify. Special court judges are predominantly military officials. The special courts report to the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the President. Trials in special courts are not open to the public, and the court’s decisions are final, without appeal.
Community courts headed by elected officials were widely used in rural areas and generally followed traditional and customary law rather than formal law. Local administrators in rural areas encouraged citizens to reconcile outside the court system for less serious cases. Trials in community courts were open to the public and heard by a panel of judges. Judges were elected by the community.
The government continued to hold an unknown number of detainees without charge or trial, including politicians, journalists, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, and persons suspected of not completing national service or evading militia duty (see also section 1.b., Disappearance). Amnesty International estimated there were thousands of “prisoners of conscience and political prisoners.” The government did not permit any access to political detainees.
There are no civil judicial procedures for individuals claiming human rights violations by the government.
The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but the government did not respect these rights.
Many citizens believed the government monitored cell phones. Authorities required permits to use SIM cards.
The government used an extensive informer system to gather information.
Without notice, authorities reportedly entered homes and threatened individuals without explanation. Reports stated that security forces detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country.
Ruling party administration offices and their associated local militia units, composed of persons who had finished their national service but were still required to assist with security matters, reportedly checked homes or whole neighborhoods to confirm residents’ attendance at national service projects.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On June 9, however, prison guards allegedly beat and killed a 25-year-old inmate at the Sidwashini prison when the guards intervened in a gang-related fight among inmates. Several other prisoners were injured. The commissioner general of His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS) referred the case to the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS), where the investigation continued. To investigate whether security force killings were justifiable, civilian security forces (REPS and HMCS) refer cases to REPS for investigation and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions for prosecution. The military conducts its own internal investigations of military security force killings, followed by referrals for prosecution before military tribunals.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were occasional reports that government officials employed them. The law prohibits police from inflicting, instigating, or tolerating torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. It also establishes a disciplinary offense for officers who use violence or unnecessary force, or who intimidate prisoners or others with whom they have contact in the execution of their duties. In February, Bongani Kunene of Moyeni alleged that during an interrogation police beat him and placed a plastic bag over his head. During the year there were scattered reports of police brutality towards those alleged to have violated COVID lockdowns. In one pending case, a police officer was arrested and charged with attempted murder for shooting a teenager in the arm after having fired his weapon to disperse a group of teens who were contravening COVID regulations by playing soccer during the partial lockdown.
There were isolated reports throughout the country of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by “community police”–untrained, volunteer security personnel who exist outside the country’s formal legal structures and are empowered by rural communities to act as vigilantes, patrolling against rural crimes such as cattle rustling. In November 2019 a group of community police severely beat five suspected thieves on their buttocks and paraded them naked through the street as punishment.
Impunity remained a concern but was not a significant problem in the security forces. The HMCS had strong internal mechanisms to investigate alleged wrongdoing and apply disciplinary measures. The reliability of such internal mechanisms within REPS and the military forces remained less clear, although members of these forces have been investigated, prosecuted, and convicted in recent years. Where impunity existed, it generally was attributable more to inefficiency than politicization or corruption, although the latter remained legitimate concerns. In recent years security forces have added training modules to help promote respect for human rights. In October the national commissioner of police publicly condemned police brutality and called on officers to refrain from cruel or degrading treatment.
Prison conditions varied and did not always meet international standards due to overcrowding and, in certain locations, facilities that required repair or modernization.
Physical Conditions: In September the HMCS reported a total prison population of 3,796, exceeding the prison system’s designed capacity by 958 inmates. Facilities were of mixed quality: some were old and dilapidated, while others such as the women’s prison were newer and well maintained. Prisoner-on-prisoner violence remained a concern due to increased gang activity among inmates as prison populations expanded and diversified. In June members of a prison gang attacked a group of prisoners in an effort to force them to join their ranks, resulting in a skirmish in which one inmate died, allegedly after a severe beating by prison guards (see section 1.a.).
Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment and held prison officials accountable through appropriate disciplinary measures–primarily suspensions without pay. During the year the HMCS met quarterly with the Commission on Human Rights and Public Administration Integrity (CHRPAI) to review prison conditions, individual cases, and prisoner needs (such as legal counsel).
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions by independent nongovernmental observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the African Union, local nongovernmental organizations, and diplomatic missions. Independent monitoring groups generally received broad access to prison facilities and were able to conduct unchaperoned interviews of inmates and prison guards.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires warrants for arrests, except when police observe a crime being committed, believe a person is about to commit a crime, or conclude evidence would be lost if arrest is delayed. The law requires authorities to charge detainees with the violation of law within a reasonable time, usually within 48 hours of arrest or, in remote areas, as soon as a judicial officer is present to assume responsibility. Authorities sometimes failed to charge detainees within this time period, sometimes taking up to a week. There is a bail system, and suspects may request bail at their first appearance in court, except in serious cases such as those involving murder or rape charges. In general detainees could consult with lawyers of their choice, to whom they were generally allowed prompt access. Lawyers may be provided to indigent defendants at public expense in capital cases or if conviction of a crime is punishable by life imprisonment.
The director of public prosecutions has the legal authority to determine which court should hear a case. The director delegated this responsibility to public prosecutors. Persons convicted in the traditional courts may appeal to the High Court.
Arbitrary Arrest: In September the Supreme Court held that the arrest and five-week detention of robbery suspect Sibongiseni Khumalo had been unlawful because, shortly after the arrest, police realized that most or all of the allegedly stolen items they seized belonged, in fact, to the suspect. Nevertheless, the government detained the suspect for more than five weeks, even after the suspect was granted bail on the second day of his detention but lacked sufficient funds to pay it. The Supreme Court concluded that the arrest and detention of the suspect had been unlawful and awarded him damages and costs.
Pretrial Detention: CHRPAI stated lengthy pretrial detention was common, with the majority of pretrial detainees incarcerated due to shortages of judges, prosecutors, and courtrooms; a weak case management and coordination system; and a lack of access to legal representation. As of December the 845 pretrial detainees was approximately 21 percent of the total prison and detainee population. A 2018 survey of detainees by CHRPAI concluded that 245 of them had been awaiting or undergoing trial for 12 or more months.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government with some limitations respected judicial independence and impartiality in nonpolitical criminal and civil cases not involving the royal family or government officials. The king appoints Supreme Court and High Court justices on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission, which is chaired by the chief justice and consists of other royal appointees.
Judicial powers are based on two systems: Roman-Dutch law and a system of traditional courts that follows traditional law and custom. Neither the Supreme Court nor the High Court that interprets the constitution have jurisdiction in matters concerning the Offices of the King or Queen Mother, the regency, chieftaincies, the Swati National Council (the king’s advisory body), or the traditional regiments system. Unwritten traditional law and custom govern all these institutions. Traditional courts were unwilling to recognize many of the fundamental rights provided for in the constitution and instead relied on customary laws that often reduce or disregard these rights.
Most citizens who encountered the legal system did so through the 13 traditional courts. Each court has a presiding judicial officer appointed by the king. These courts adjudicate minor offenses and violations of traditional law and custom. Authorities generally respected and enforced traditional, as well as magistrate, High Court, and Supreme Court rulings.
The constitution and law generally provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed of charges promptly, in detail, and with free interpretation if necessary. The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial without undue delay, except when exclusion of the public is deemed necessary in the “interests of defense, public safety, public order, justice, public morality, the welfare of persons younger than 18, or the protection of the private lives of the persons concerned in the proceedings.” Although the judiciary generally enforced rights to a fair public trial, prolonged delays during trials in the magistrate courts and High Court were common. Court-appointed counsel is provided to indigent defendants at government expense with free assistance of an interpreter for any defendant who cannot understand or speak English or SiSwati, and conviction of the crime is punishable by death or life imprisonment. Defendants and their attorneys have access to relevant government-held evidence, generally obtained from the Public Prosecutor’s Office during pretrial consultations. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and prosecutors have the right of appeal up to the Supreme Court. The law extends the foregoing rights to all persons.
The traditional courts operate under traditional authorities, including local chiefs. In general chiefs preside over traditional courts as court presidents. Traditional courts hear both civil and minor criminal matters. By law traditional courts may only impose token monetary fines and no prison sentences longer than 12 months.
Traditional courts are empowered to administer customary law only “insofar as it is not repugnant to natural justice or morality” or inconsistent with the provisions of any civil law in force, but some traditional laws and practices violate civil laws, particularly those involving women’s and children’s rights. Defendants in traditional courts are not permitted formal legal counsel but may speak on their own behalf, call witnesses, and be assisted by informal advisors. Traditional law and custom provide for an appeals process, but the process is long and cumbersome. Under the constitution the High Court has review and appellate jurisdiction over matters decided in traditional courts. Judicial commissioners within the traditional legal system may adjudicate appeals themselves or refer appeals to a court within the civil judicial system on their own volition. Those making or receiving an appeal also have the right to seek High Court review of traditional court decisions.
Military courts are not allowed to try civilians. They do not provide the same rights as civilian criminal courts. For example, military courts may use confessions obtained under duress as evidence and may convict defendants based on hearsay.
There were two reports of persons detained in lengthy pretrial detention for criticism of the king. In May the government withdrew the sole remaining charge against activist Goodwill Sibiya, who was arrested in May 2019 and charged with violating the law after having accused the king of embezzlement and lawlessness. The government dismissed one charge against Sibiya in September 2019 and dismissed the remaining charge against him in May. Sibiya was released on the same day the government dismissed his charge.
Also in May police arrested Ncamiso Ngcamphalala, the president of the political party Economic Freedom Fighters-Swaziland and charged him with violating a section of law that was ruled unconstitutional by the High Court in 2016. Although Ngcamphalala was released on bail in June, his charge remained pending.
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses, including appeal to international courts or bodies. Administrative remedies are also available under civil service rules and regulations.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions except “in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning, use of mineral resources, and development of land in the public benefit.” There were isolated reports of unlawful interference by the government. The wife of a blogger wanted by police in connection with various alleged crimes claimed that police officers visited her home without a warrant, harassed her, and compelled her to accompany them to a police station for questioning regarding her husband’s whereabouts. The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a magistrate before searching homes or other premises, but officers with the rank of subinspector or higher have authority to conduct a search without a warrant if they believe delay might cause evidence to be lost.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year.
Families of individuals detained during the Jammeh regime continued to demand information on their missing relatives and that those responsible for killings, disappearances, and other serious crimes be held accountable. In July and August 2019, the general location of the remains of U.S.-Gambian dual nationals Alhagie Ceesay and Ebrima Jobe–kidnapped by government agents in 2013–was revealed during public testimony by members of former president Jammeh’s “Junglers” hit squad at the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Commission (TRRC). The TRRC was established in 2017 to address human rights abuses during the 22-year rule (1994-2016) of former president Jammeh. According to TRRC testimonies, Ceesay and Jobe are buried at the former president’s expansive farm near Kanilai. The government officially requested and received international forensics assistance to locate and identify their remains, assistance that at year’s end continued to be provided.
The constitution and the law prohibit such practices. There was one report of inhuman and degrading treatment by a police officer of a detainee during the year. The incident was investigated and the officer sanctioned.
According to the online newspaper Gainako, on July 25, Commander Gorgi Mboob of the Police Anti-Crime Unit struck the genitals of detainee Ebrima Sanneh with a hoe at the unit’s prison farm in Bijilo. Sanneh was hospitalized due to genital bleeding. Although police initially refuted media reports of the incident as “false, and intended to mislead the public,” on July 25, he Ministry of Interior ordered an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission and placed Mboob on administrative leave. On October 8, the commission determined that Mboob had assaulted and wounded Sanneh and recommended disciplinary measures be taken against him, his removal from the Anti-Crime Unit, and monetary compensation for Sanneh.
According to the online portal Conduct in UN Field Missions, there is one open allegation (submitted in 2018) of sexual exploitation and abuse by a Gambian peacekeeper deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult in 2013-15. The United Nations completed its investigation and is awaiting additional information from the government. At year’s end authorities had yet to provide the additional information or accountability measures taken.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem, particularly in the remand wing of the state central prison, Mile 2 Prison in Banjul, where detainees were held pending trial. According to the NGO World Prison Brief, authorities in 2019 held 691 prisoners in facilities designed for 650. Food quality and access to potable water, sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and medical care remained inadequate. There were credible reports teenagers as young as age 15 were held with adults in pretrial detention facilities.
Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).
Independent Monitoring: The government granted unrestricted access to all prisons to the Office of the Ombudsman, the TRRC, and local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements; there were no reports of arbitrary arrest during the year.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before arresting a person, but police officers often arrested individuals without a warrant. Military decrees enacted prior to the adoption of the constitution in 1997 give the National Intelligence Agency and the interior minister broad powers to detain individuals indefinitely without charge “in the interest of national security.” Although these detention decrees are inconsistent with the constitution, they were not legally challenged. The government claimed it no longer enforced the decrees.
Periods of detention before being brought before and judicial official and charged generally ranged from two to 72 hours, the legal limit after which authorities are required by law to charge or release detainees; however, there were numerous instances of detentions exceeding the 72-hour limit. There was a functioning bail system; however, two guarantors and advance remittance were generally required to obtain bail.
Officials in some cases did not allow detainees prompt access to a lawyer or family members. The judiciary provided lawyers at public expense only to indigent persons charged with capital crimes such as murder, for which a conviction includes the death penalty. Suspects were not detained incommunicado.
Pretrial Detention: Backlogs and inefficiency in the justice system resulted in lengthy pretrial detentions. Many inmates in the remand wing of Mile 2 Prison awaited trail, in some instances for several years. According to the Gambia Prison Services, approximately one-half of the prison population was in pretrial detention. The introduction of virtual courts, created in June in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was part of the government’s effort to reduce overcrowding, particularly among the remand population.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants were presumed innocent until proven guilty. Officials did not always promptly inform defendants of the charges against them. The law provides for a fair, timely, and public trial without undue delay; however, case backlogs hampered the right to a timely trial. Defendants enjoyed the right to be present at trial and to communicate with an attorney of their choice or if indigent and charged with a capital crime to have a lawyer at public expense. Defendants had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Officials provided free interpretation in defendants’ local languages as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants and their lawyers had the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They may appeal verdicts to a higher court.
On May 3, the Gambia Bar Association and the National Agency for Legal Aid signed a memorandum of understanding to provide free legal services to prisoners. By year’s end it was providing legal services to defendants incarcerated in the country’s three prisons and to remand and juvenile inmates.
The judicial system also recognizes customary law and sharia (Islamic law).
Customary law covers marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, inheritance, land tenure, tribal and clan leadership, and other traditional and social relations. District chiefs preside over local tribunals that administer customary law at the district level. Customary law recognizes the rights of all citizens regardless of age, gender, and religion.
For persons of Muslim faith, sharia applies in domestic matters, including marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Qadi courts (traditional Muslim courts that settle issues of divorce and inheritance) and district tribunals do not involve standard legal representation because lawyers are not trained in Islamic or customary law.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
The High Court hears civil and human rights cases. Individuals may also seek assistance concerning violations of human rights law from the Office of the Ombudsman, which has a mandate to investigate such cases and recommend remedies for judicial consideration.
Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.
The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect those prohibitions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Offices tasked with investigating security force killings include civilian and military security services, civil and military courts, and inspectors general within the Ministry of Security and Civilian Protection. According to the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) opposition political party, security forces killed 99 individuals from the October 18 presidential election through December. The government rejected this figure but did not provide its own estimate of security force killings during this period.
There were multiple reports of killings by security forces in the capital city of Conakry and other major towns related to the March legislative election and constitutional referendum and the October presidential election. The minister of security reported six persons killed, four of whom were shot by security forces. Civil society leaders in the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC), a broad opposition coalition protesting the constitutional referendum and presidential election, reported 10 persons killed in Conakry and four in N’Zerekore. The FNDC accused military units of involvement in the killings. There were no reports of investigations into these incidents.
In April the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Collective of Organizations for the Protection of Human Rights in the Forested Guinea Region reported on the March election violence in the region, noting security forces did not intervene and instead were involved in some of the killings and other abuses exacerbated by longstanding intercommunal and ethnic tensions. The NGO reported 36 persons killed, 129 wounded, 127 arrested, and 83 buildings destroyed. Several local media and other sources, however, reported that the death toll could have been as high as 60, and that local authorities buried the victims in a mass grave. There were no reports of investigations into these incidents.
Since October 2019 the Guinean Organization for the Defense of Human and Citizen’s Rights (OGDH) identified at least 60 killings during FNDC protests, the January Teachers’ Union strike, the March legislative elections and constitutional referendum, and the October presidential election and subsequent violence. The families of 10 victims testified that most of the victims were outside the perimeters of the protests when they were shot and killed by security forces. There were no reports of investigations into these incidents.
Impunity persisted for abuses perpetrated by state actors in past years, including the 2009 Conakry stadium massacre by security forces of the previous military regime. At least 150 opposition demonstrators were killed, and more than 100 women and girls were raped. Since 2011 the judiciary confirmed indictments against 13 individuals. Two of the alleged ringleaders of the massacre, Colonel Claude Pivi and Colonel Moussa Tiegboro Camara, remained in high-level government posts. General Mathurin Bangoura, a person of interest whose indictment was dismissed following a judicial review, remained governor of Conakry.
The steering committee established in 2018 to organize the trial of the accused in the 2009 stadium massacre continued its work. The body did not meet regularly. In January the minister of justice announced that the trial would start in June; however, this was delayed.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, human rights observers reported that government officials continued to employ such practices with impunity.
Abuse of inmates in government detention centers continued. Security officials designated as “judicial police officers” abused detainees to coerce confessions. Human rights activists noted the most egregious abuses occurred during arrests or at detention centers. Human rights associations stated that complainants often presented evidence of abuse, and wardens did not investigate these complaints. These NGOs also alleged that guards abused detainees, including children, and coerced some women into exchanging sex for better treatment.
According to the OGDH, following killings by security forces, some relatives who came to assist victims were subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, violence, and humiliation by individuals wearing security force uniforms.
In January a victim reported security officers beat him and other protesters with batons at a detention center in Conakry following their arrest during a political protest. He reported security forces also demanded 1,100,000 Guinean francs ($115) from the prisoners to avoid transfer to Conakry Central Prison (CCP).
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one allegation submitted in July of sexual exploitation and abuse by Guinean peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult. As of September the United Nations was investigating the allegation.
According to a December 15 Amnesty International report, authorities arrested an elderly person on October 24 for “criminal participation in a gathering with violence” following an attack on a freight train that killed four security officials and a civilian. The person died on November 17 while in custody. Immediately following his death, the government announced that the individual had tested positive for COVID-19 and departed the detention center, then added later that the individual had complained about diabetes complications and died at a hospital. Multiple persons who viewed his body, including medical staff, reported seeing burns, cuts, and other marks on his body, indicating he had been abused while in custody.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly in the gendarmes, police, and military forces. Factors contributing to impunity included corruption, lack of training, politicization of forces, and a lack of transparency in investigations. Offices tasked with investigating abuses included civil and military courts and government inspectors general within the Ministry of Security and Civilian Protection.
Conditions in civilian prisons, which are under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice, remained abusive, with poor sanitation, malnutrition, disease, and lack of medical attention pervasive throughout the prison system. Conditions were allegedly worse in gendarme and police detention facilities designed for short-term detention.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem. According to the NGO World Prison Brief, in 2019 authorities held 3,782 detainees in facilities designed for 2,412 persons. Government-funded rehabilitation programs were underfunded and ineffective, leading some NGOs to try filling the void.
Authorities held minors in separate sections at prisons and detention facilities, where they slept on iron bunk beds with no mattresses, or on the floor because it was too hot on the upper bunks below the building’s metal roof. Prison officials did not separate pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. There were reports the government had trouble tracking the location of pretrial detainees in the justice system.
Although the Ministry of Justice administered civilian prisons, prisoners allegedly controlled cell assignments and provided better conditions at some detention centers to prisoners who were able to pay. In addition prison administrators at detention centers reported receiving directives from their prison service superiors that directly conflicted with orders from the Ministry of Justice. Rumors persisted that guards ignored court orders to free prisoners until bribes were paid.
In July a prisoner was decapitated and mutilated in a gendarmerie detention center. According to authorities, his cellmate killed him, but the victim’s mother suspected the gendarmes, who reportedly threatened her son during arrest. Authorities charged the cellmate with murder, while charging several gendarmes with endangering the lives of others because of their inattention to duty. Since the gendarmerie is under the jurisdiction of the military services, authorities transferred the case to the military courts. As of December the gendarmes awaited trial.
A lack of health-care personnel, medicine, and medical supplies in prisons, combined with malnutrition and dehydration, sometimes made infection or illness life threatening; cases of beriberi were recorded, and of the several reported deaths of prisoners, none were investigated. Only two of the 31 detention centers had a full-time doctor and medical staff. Reports of overcrowding in medical wards at detention centers were common, including at the CCP. Prisoners relied on family members, charities, or NGOs to bring medication, but visitors often had to pay bribes to provide the medicine to prisoners.
Authorities recorded COVID-19 cases in prisons across the country, with 155 positive cases as of September. In May media reported two COVID-19 deaths at the CCP. Since the victims did not receive COVID-19 tests, the National Health Security Agency did not include them in its COVID-19 statistics.
Mismanagement and neglect were prevalent. Toilets reportedly did not function, and prisoners often slept and ate in the same space used for sanitation purposes. Access to drinking and bathing water was inadequate. Many prisons were former warehouses with little ventilation and little access to electricity for air conditioning or other cooling techniques.
NGOs as well as the National Institution for Human Rights reported endemic malnutrition throughout the prison system. Authorities provided food at the CCP, but most prison directors relied on charities and NGOs to provide food for inmates. The CCP claimed it provided two meals a day; however, NGOs reported prisoners in Conakry and elsewhere received only one meal per day and that many relied on food from their families or other outside sources. Guards often demanded bribes for delivering food to prisoners, which they then frequently confiscated.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and NGOs noted that conditions at gendarmerie detention centers, intended to hold detainees for not more than two days while they awaited court processing, were much worse than in prisons. Such “temporary” detention could last from a few days to more than two years, and facilities had no established systems to provide meals or medical treatment. As in the case of prisons, gendarmerie facilities were dank and unsanitary.
An NGO reported that during March election violence the majority of arrestees transited the Fourth Military District’s camp before detention at the N’Zerekore gendarmerie headquarters. Prisoners stated that more than 50 persons were crammed into small cells and were not provided food, water, or other basic necessities for at least two days.
In April the Collective of Organizations for the Protection of Human Rights in the Forested Guinea Region noted that authorities held several persons arrested during the March and October election violence in a military facility in substandard living conditions before being transferred to gendarmerie facilities.
Administration: Prison authorities did not investigate credible allegations of abuse or inhuman prison conditions. Prisoners and detainees have the right to submit complaints but seldom did due to possible reprisals from prison guards. Prisoners must use a lawyer to file a complaint, but lawyers were scarce and expensive. The local NGO Equal Rights for All (MDT) stated religious practice was restricted at prisons other than the CCP. Prisoners complained that they were regularly denied access to visitors, including family members. Visitors were often required to pay bribes to access prisoners.
Independent Monitoring: Local NGOs such as MDT and the Association for the Support of Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Detainees received regular and unimpeded access to the CCP; authorities rarely granted access to other facilities to monitor conditions.
Military prison conditions, managed by the Ministry of Defense, could not be monitored since the government denied access to prison advocacy groups and international organizations. Although military authorities claimed they did not hold civilians at military prisons, previously reported cases contradicted this assertion. Reports indicated a prison continued to exist at a military camp on Kassa Island, and that political prisoners were at times held at a military camp near Kankan.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions.
The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but few detainees chose this option due to the difficulties they might face and fear of retribution.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Although the law requires arrest warrants, police did not always follow this protocol. The law also provides that detainees be charged within 48 hours, renewable once if authorized by a judge. In cases involving national security, the law allows the original length of detention to be increased to 96 hours, renewable once. Many detainees were held for much longer periods before being charged. Authorities held most detainees in the three main prisons indefinitely and without trial.
The law precludes the arrest of persons in their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., but arrests between those times occurred. After being charged the accused may be held until the conclusion of the case, including a period of appeal. Authorities routinely ignored the legal provision entitling defendants to an attorney and did not provide indigent defendants with an attorney at government expense.
Release on bail is at the discretion of the magistrate under whose jurisdiction the case falls. The law allows detainees prompt access to family members, but access was sometimes denied or restricted until families paid bribes to the guards at detention facilities.
Arbitrary Arrest: Many arrests took place without warrants and in violation of other due process protections provided in the law, such as the prohibition on arrests at night. Authorities arrested family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives.
In February authorities arrested without charge more than 30 persons in various Conakry neighborhoods and held them for more than a month at the Soronkoni camp in Kankan, Upper Guinea. The detainees reported they were arrested by police and other security service units, were isolated, and had no contact with family. Some believed they had been held to prevent their protesting a third term for President Conde. Following postelectoral violence in N’Zerekore in March, local sources reported that at least 40 persons were transferred to the same Soronkoni camp. In late September authorities conditionally released 35 individuals.
On September 10, authorities arrested UFDG communications chief and youth activist Roger Bamba on unknown charges and placed him in pretrial detention. Bamba became critically ill on December 16 and was transported to a hospital for emergency treatment where he succumbed to an unknown illness on December 17.
Pretrial Detention: According to an NGO working on prisoners’ rights, a 2016 reform of the justice sector decreased the length of pretrial detention by 65 percent. In September 2019 pretrial detainees constituted 67 percent of the CPP population; 2017 figures cited by World Prison Brief estimated 60 percent of detainees overall were pretrial detainees. Figures were not available for the average length of detentions, or whether detentions exceeded the maximum possible sentence.
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was plagued by corruption. The judicial process often lacked independence and impartiality. Political and social status often influenced decisions. A shortage of qualified lawyers and magistrates, outdated and restrictive laws, nepotism, and ethnic bias limited the judiciary’s effectiveness. Domestic court orders were often not enforced. For example, some prisoners ordered to be freed by courts remained in detention because they failed to pay “exit fees” to guards. On the other hand, politically connected criminals often evaded prosecution.
Many citizens, wary of judicial corruption or with no other choice, relied on traditional systems of justice at the village or urban neighborhood level. Litigants presented their civil cases before a village chief, neighborhood leader, or a council of “wise men.” The dividing line between the formal and informal justice systems was vague, and authorities sometimes referred a case from the formal to the traditional system to assure compliance by all parties. Similarly, a case not resolved to the satisfaction of all parties in the traditional system could be referred to the formal system for adjudication. In the traditional system, evidence given by women carried less weight (see section 6, Women).
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary, although burdened by corruption and limited effectiveness, generally strived to enforce this right.
Trials are public and defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Trials must be timely. The prosecution prepares a case file, including testimony and other evidence, and provides a copy for the defense. Defendants have the right to confront and question prosecution witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law provides for the presumption of innocence of accused persons, the independence of judges, the equality of citizens before the law, the right of the accused to counsel (but only for major crimes), and the right to appeal a judicial decision, but these rights were not consistently observed.
Authorities must inform defendants promptly of charges. Defendants are entitled to free assistance from an interpreter, if necessary. Defendants generally had adequate time but lacked resources, such as access to a lawyer, to prepare a defense. Most cases never came to trial.
Although the government was responsible for funding legal defense costs in serious criminal cases, it rarely disbursed funds for this purpose. The attorney for the defense frequently received no payment. Authorities allowed detainees’ attorneys access to their clients, but often on condition that prison guards or gendarmes be present. The law provides that defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but torture or other harsh treatment and conditions in detention centers undermined this protection.
The government arrested or summoned individuals without cause. Civil society described the actions as “political intimidation.” Local sources estimated the number of such arrestees or summoned individuals to be more than 300. The government permitted access to such persons on a regular basis by the International Committee of the Red Cross or other human rights or humanitarian organizations.
Police arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition members. In April authorities arrested and charged a civil society activist member of the FNDC for “communicating and spreading false information” and for “violence and death threats.” During an interview on a local popular radio show, he had denounced the March 22 postelectoral violence in N’Zerekore and the arbitrary arrest of FNDC members. Authorities released him in August after a court found him not guilty of all charges. In May authorities arrested and charged another FNDC member for “violence, threats, assault and public insults.” As of September, despite two court orders for his release, he remained in detention.
According to Human Rights Watch, in October authorities arrested approximately 325 persons after postelection violence. Amnesty International reported “400 arbitrary arrests targeting opponents and members of civil society after the presidential election.” Lawyers for the detainees reported that authorities made many of the arrests during house-to-house searches at night in neighborhoods considered opposition strongholds. Authorities also reportedly used excessive force in the arrests. The government announced that these individuals were arrested for participating in postelection violence.
In November police arrested and detained five senior-level opposition figures, including members of the UFDG. Authorities charged them with possession and use of military firearms, threats, violating fundamental interests of the nation, and criminal association. Authorities sought two other leading opposition figures on the same charges but they remained at large. Another opposition leader turned himself in after the state prosecutor announced arrest warrants against him. Opposition parties, including the FNDC, and civil society groups believed that the seven individuals were wanted due to their opposition status.
Also in November the government reported that it detained or completed judicial proceedings against more than 137 individuals in Conakry for participating in illegal demonstrations, using weapons, inciting violence, and other crimes during the postelectoral period. Authorities announced they were still looking for “activists” who threatened public security.
The law provides for a judicial procedure in civil matters, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights abuses. There were few lawsuits seeking damages for human rights abuses, in part due to public fear of suing security force members and lack of confidence in the competence and impartiality of the judiciary. NGOs that filed cases for civilians in 2012, 2013, and 2014–ranging from complaints of torture to indefinite detention–claimed their cases had yet to be heard. NGOs subsequently opted to lodge complaints with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice.
Between February and May 2019, the government forcibly evicted persons from four neighborhoods in Conakry. The government alleged the inhabitants were squatters on land long planned as the relocation site of multiple ministries. Authorities demolished an estimated 2,500 buildings, resulting in 20,000 persons evicted, some of whom allegedly had legal ownership of their land. The victims formed a collective and appealed to the ECOWAS Court of Justice for compensation. The hearing, scheduled for November 8, was postponed at the request of the victims’ lawyer, who asked the court to conduct a site visit. The government made no efforts to protect, assist, resettle, or integrate these displaced persons in other areas.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but police reportedly ignored legal procedures in the pursuit of criminal suspects, including when it served their personal interests. Authorities sometimes removed persons from their homes without legal authorization, stole their personal belongings, and demanded payment for the release of the belongings.
The government continued to punish family members for alleged offenses committed by relatives.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings perpetrated by armed gangs allegedly supported and protected by members of the government. The Office of the Inspector General of the Haitian National Police (HNP) was responsible for investigating whether killings by police officers were justifiable and referring cases of allegedly unlawful killings to the government prosecutor.
There were 960 reported homicides between January and the end of September, according to the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH). The Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice blamed most deaths on gang warfare and called on the government to investigate the “hidden forces” behind the killings. In June the Eyes Wide Open Foundation reported there were more than 150 active gangs in the country; it alleged active government support for the gangs.
The National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) reported two gang attacks in the Cite-Soleil neighborhood in May and June that left a total of 34 persons dead. In July gang attacks resulted in 50 deaths, 15 rapes, and 30 persons missing, the organization reported. On August 31, a gang attack in the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince killed at least 12 persons, according to press accounts. According to an RNDDH report, former police officer Jimmy Cherizier led one of the key gangs. Press accounts and human rights advocates reported Cherizier had access to government vehicles and equipment and worked to unite several gangs.
BINUH and numerous civil society organizations reported gang violence in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and Artibonite Department increased as gangs attempted to expand their spheres of control. In June the United Nations reported that arrests of gang members and leaders had risen from 169 in January and February to 232 in March and April. Civil society groups alleged gangs had close ties to political and economic elites who either protected the gangs from arrest or obtained their release if detained.
Attackers killed several prominent public officials and figures, including Port-au-Prince judge Fritz Gerald Cerisierin in June and Monferrier Dorval, president of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, on August 28. Dorval was killed in front of his home by unknown assailants. Authorities stated they were continuing to investigate the Cerisierin killing but did not have a suspect. The Port-au-Prince prosecutor announced the arrest of three suspects in the Dorval killing.
On October 2, student Gregory Saint-Hilaire was allegedly shot and killed by security officials working for the General Security Unit of the National Palace during a protest at the Ecole Normale Superieure. The government stated it had launched an investigation.
While authorities claimed they continued to investigate the 2018 and 2019 attacks in the La Saline and Bel Air neighborhoods that left dozens dead, as of December the government had not brought any perpetrators to justice. Among those implicated in the violence were Jimmy Cherizier, Fednel Monchery, and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan, who were government officials at the time of the La Saline attacks.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
While the law prohibits such practices, several reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged that HNP officers beat or otherwise abused detainees and suspects. Detainees were subject to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in overcrowded, poorly maintained, and unsanitary prisons and makeshift detention centers.
A May 5 video clip showed Patrick Benoit, with hands and feet tied and bloodied clothing, being dragged on the ground by police. The incident took place after magistrate judge Ricot Vrigneau and police officers attempted to enforce what they claimed was a court judgment. Family members said the case was still before the courts, and a final judgment had not been issued. Benoit was taken to the police station in Petionville on obstruction charges, and then released within hours to be taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. The prime minister condemned the incident, and Vrigneau was suspended a few days later.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Between October 2019 and August, according to the United Nations, the HNP Inspector General’s Office opened investigations into 172 accusations of human rights abuses allegedly committed by security forces. The HNP took steps to impose systematic discipline on officers found to have committed abuses or fraud, but some civil society representatives continued to allege widespread impunity. Impunity was alleged to be driven largely by poor training and a lack of police professionalism, as well as rogue elements within the police force allegedly having gang connections. Reportedly more than 150 gangs were active in the country and allegedly received government support. To address impunity, the government provided training to police and investigated and punished allegations of wrongdoing.
Prisons and detention centers throughout the country were life threatening due to being overcrowded, poorly maintained, and unsanitary, and providing insufficient nutrition. BINUH reported that prisons and detention centers had an occupancy rate of 345 percent.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding at prisons and detention centers was severe, especially at the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince and the prison in Cap Haitien, where each prisoner had 8.6 square feet of space. In many prisons detainees slept in shifts due to the lack of space. Some prisons had no beds for detainees, and some cells had no natural light. In other prisons the cells often were open to the elements or lacked adequate ventilation. Many prison facilities lacked adequate basic services such as plumbing, sanitation, waste disposal, electricity, ventilation, and lighting.
Prison conditions generally varied by gender; female inmates had more space per person in their cells than their male counterparts.
As of November approximately 365 prisoners were held in makeshift and unofficial detention centers such as police stations in Petit-Goave, Miragoane, Gonaives, and some parts of Port-au-Prince. Local authorities held suspects in these facilities, sometimes for extended periods, without registering them with the HNP’s Directorate of Prisons.
Authorities in Port-au-Prince maintained separate penitentiaries for adult men, adult women, and minors. In Port-au-Prince all male prisoners younger than 18 were held at the juvenile facility at Delmas 33. Due to the lack of documentation, authorities could not always verify the ages of detainees. At times authorities mistakenly detained minors believed to be 18 or older, whose ages they could not confirm, with adult inmates. Authorities moved the vast majority of these minors to juvenile detention centers within two months of verifying their ages. Outside the capital, due to lack of prison space and oversight, authorities sometimes did not separate juveniles from adult prisoners or separate convicted prisoners from pretrial detainees, as the law requires.
There are specific provisions for juvenile offenders. Children younger than age 13 are not held responsible for their actions. Until age 16, children may not be held in adult prisons or share cells with adults. Juvenile offenders (anyone younger than 18) are placed in re-education centers with the objective of having the offender successfully rejoin society. There were two rehabilitation centers, both in Port-au-Prince, which held offenders up to age 18.
Because of poor security, severe understaffing, and a lack of adequate facilities in some detention centers, prison officials often did not allow prisoners out of their cells for exercise. In the National Penitentiary, prisoners spent approximately one hour per day outside of confinement, but in all other facilities, prisoners had 15-20 minutes to bathe before returning to their cells.
International and local observers said prisoners and detainees suffered from malnutrition. Approximately 1,000 inmates within the penitentiary system were acutely malnourished. Prisoners’ access to adequate nutrition was problematic. The HNP was responsible for the delivery of food to prisons. Human rights observers reported that delays in fund disbursement and payments to contracted food suppliers reduced the number of meals fed to prisoners. Some prisons had kitchen facilities and employed persons to prepare and distribute food. Prison authorities generally gave prisoners one or two meals a day, consisting of broth with flour dumplings and potatoes, rice and beans, or porridge. None of the regular meals provided sufficient calories, according to medical standards. Authorities allowed regular deliveries of food to prisoners from relatives and friends.
International and local observers also reported a lack of basic hygiene, poor health care, and waterborne illnesses within the prison system. The NGO Health through Walls reported that unsanitary conditions and overcrowding led to high rates of tuberculosis and other communicable diseases. Most detention facilities had only basic clinics and lacked medications. Many lacked medical isolation units for patients with contagious illnesses. Few prisons had the resources to treat serious medical situations. Some very ill prisoners were treated at hospitals outside of prisons, but many hospitals were reluctant to accept prisoners as patients since there was no formal arrangement between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Public Health regarding payment for treatment.
Administration: The country’s independent human rights monitoring body, the Office of Citizen Protection (OPC), investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions in prisons. The OPC regularly visited prisons and detention facilities throughout the country and worked closely with NGOs and civil society groups.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted representatives from the United Nations, local human rights NGOs, and other organizations to monitor prison conditions. These institutions and organizations investigated allegations of abuse and mistreatment of prisoners.
Improvements: To decrease the number of inmates in prisons, 415 detainees received a presidential pardon in June and were released. Following special court hearings, the government released an additional 627 detainees to reduce the prison population and avoid mass infection.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but it does not provide for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. The constitution stipulates that authorities may arrest a person only if the person is apprehended during the commission of a crime, or if the arrest is based on a warrant issued by a competent official such as a justice of the peace or a magistrate. Authorities must bring the detainee before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. By routinely holding prisoners in prolonged pretrial detention, authorities often failed to comply with these requirements.
Local human rights groups reported detainees were often held in detention after completing their sentences due to difficulty obtaining release orders from the prosecutor’s office.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
While authorities generally acknowledged the right to counsel, most detainees could not afford a private attorney. By law the National Legal Assistance Program provides free assistance to criminal defendants and victims of crimes who cannot afford a lawyer. In September, President Moise appointed the members of the National Legal Assistance Committee charged with overseeing the program, which was in the process of being implemented. The law has a bail procedure that was rarely used.
Arbitrary Arrest: Independent reporting confirmed instances in which, contrary to law, police without warrants or with improperly prepared warrants apprehended persons not actively committing crimes. Authorities frequently detained individuals on unspecified charges.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem due to the arbitrary application of court rules, court discretion, corruption, and poor record keeping. The judicial system rarely observed the constitutional mandate to bring detainees before a judge within 48 hours. Many pretrial detainees never consulted with an attorney, appeared before a judge, or received a docket timeline. In some cases detainees spent years in detention without appearing before a judge. According to the RNDDH, pretrial detainees constituted 78 percent of the prison population in October, up from 72 percent at the same time in 2019. Prison population statistics did not include the large number of persons held in police stations around the country for longer than the 48-hour maximum initial detention period. Statistics were not available on the average length of stay in pretrial detention.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution stipulates that it is illegal for an individual to be detained more than 48 hours without being seen by a judge. The OPC’s national and 12 regional offices worked to verify that law enforcement and judicial authorities respected the right to due process. When authorities detained persons beyond the maximum allotted 48 hours and OPC representatives learned of the case, the OPC intervened on the detainee’s behalf to expedite the process. The OPC was unable to intervene in all cases of unlawful detention.
Human rights organizations alleged politicians routinely influenced judicial decisions and used the justice system to target political opponents. Detainees reported credible cases of extortion, false charges, illegal detention, physical violence by HNP personnel, and judicial officials refusing to comply with basic due-process requirements.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but senior officials in the executive and legislative branches exerted significant influence on the judicial branch and law enforcement authorities. Local and international NGOs repeatedly criticized the government for attempting to influence judicial officials. Since executive-appointed prosecutors could prevent cases from being seen by judges, judges themselves faced less direct executive pressure in making decisions. Nonetheless, civil society organizations reported judges often feared ruling against powerful interests due to concerns for the judges’ personal security.
The Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSPJ) is responsible for independently overseeing appointments, ethics, transparency, and accountability in the judicial system, and managing the judiciary’s financial resources. Internal political divisions as well as organizational, funding, and logistical problems often hampered the CSPJ. Observers stated the CSPJ was ineffective in providing judicial accountability, transparency, and judicial vetting. The terms of trial judges and investigative judges are renewable by the president, on the recommendation of the CSPJ. As of November the CSPJ had submitted the names of at least 60 judges for renewal of their terms, but the president had not acted on those submissions. Consequently the judges were unable to carry out their duties.
Strikes by essential judicial actors hobbled the right to fair trials. On June 2, the Association of Magistrate Judges launched a one-week strike, requesting better working conditions. Its president, Michel Dalexis, stated the work stoppage would be renewed one week at a time until their demands were met. They were joined one week later by trial judges, who were protesting the judicial budget. The combined strikes lasted until July 2. On July 28, clerks and other court personnel went on strike, also demanding better work conditions.
Judges frequently closed cases without bringing charges and often did not meet time requirements. By law the chief prosecutor generally launches criminal investigations by transferring a case to the chief judge of the jurisdiction, who then assigns it to an investigative judge who takes control of the case. The investigative judge must order a trial or dismiss the case within three months, although this time period was often extended to six months. Judges and other judicial actors frequently did not meet time requirements, resulting in prolonged pretrial detention for many detainees.
The law requires each of the country’s 18 jurisdictions to convene jury and nonjury trial sessions twice per year, usually in July and December, for trials involving major, violent crimes. During a jury trial session, the court may decide for any reason to postpone the hearing to the next session, often because witnesses are not available. In these cases defendants return to prison until the next jury trial session. Human rights groups highlighted poor treatment of defendants during criminal trials, saying defendants in some jurisdictions spent the entire day without food or water.
Corruption and a lack of judicial oversight severely hampered the judiciary. Human rights organizations reported several judicial officials, including judges and court clerks, arbitrarily charged fees to begin criminal prosecutions. These organizations also claimed judges and prosecutors ignored those who did not pay these fees. There were credible allegations of unqualified and unprofessional judges who received judicial appointments as political favors. There were also persistent accusations that court deans, who are responsible for assigning cases to judges for investigation and review, at times assigned politically sensitive cases to judges with close ties to the executive and legislative branches. Many judicial officials reportedly held full-time jobs outside the courts, although the constitution bars judges from holding any other type of employment except teaching.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not uniformly enforce this right. The judiciary follows a civil law system based on the Napoleonic Code, largely unchanged since 1835. The constitution denies police and judicial authorities the right to interrogate suspects unless legal counsel or a representative of the suspect’s choice is present or the suspect waives this right. Authorities widely ignored constitutional trial and due-process rights.
The constitution provides defendants a presumption of innocence, as well as the right to attend their trial and to be informed promptly of their charges. Defendants also have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice. Legal aid programs were limited, and those who could not pay for attorneys were not always provided one free of charge. The law does not clearly provide a defendant time to prepare an adequate defense. Defendants have the right to confront hostile witnesses, call witnesses, and provide evidence on their own behalf. Judges often denied these rights. The perception of widespread impunity discouraged some witnesses from testifying at trials. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right of appeal.
While French and Haitian Creole are both official languages, with Haitian Creole being the most commonly spoken language, all laws and most legal proceedings are in French. Observers noted judges often spoke to defendants in Haitian Creole to facilitate comprehension. Interpreters were used only in cases involving foreigners. Judges generally ensured that defendants fully understood the proceedings.
The functioning of justice of the peace courts, the lowest courts in the judicial system, was inadequate. Judges presided based on their personal availability and often maintained separate, full-time jobs. Law enforcement personnel rarely maintained order during court proceedings, and frequently there was no court reporter. Defendants would often bribe judges to get their cases heard.
In many communities, especially in rural areas, elected communal administrators with no legal judicial authority took on the role of state judges and asserted powers of arrest, detention, and issuance of legal judgments. Some communal administrators turned their offices into courtrooms.
There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Victims of alleged human rights abuses may bring a civil or criminal complaint before a judge. Courts may award damages for human rights abuse claims brought in civil court, but seeking such remedies was difficult and rarely successful.
Human rights cases may be submitted directly through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
In February the El-Saieh family complained that authorities were attempting to confiscate arbitrarily their property in West Department to build a school and that authorities had not followed the appropriate legal procedures. President Moise subsequently declared the property would be confiscated; however, he promised the appropriate legal procedures for expropriation of land would be followed. As of October the situation was not resolved.
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
The government and its agents reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, most commonly by execution after arrest and trial without due process, or for crimes that did not meet the international threshold of “most serious crimes.” Media and human rights groups also documented suspicious deaths while in custody or following beatings of protesters by security forces throughout the year.
As documented by international human rights observers, revolutionary courts continued to issue the vast majority of death sentences and failed to grant defendants due process. The courts denied defendants legal representation and in most cases solely considered as evidence confessions extracted through torture. Judges may also impose the death penalty on appeal, which deterred appeals in criminal cases. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Activists in Iran, the government did not disclose accurate numbers of those executed and kept secret as many as 60 percent of executions. As of October 12, NGOs Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), Human Rights News Activists (HRANA), and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center reported there were close to 200 executions during the year, while the government officially announced only 36 executions in that time period. The government often did not release further information, such as names of those executed, execution dates, or crimes for which they were executed.
On December 12, according to widespread media reporting, authorities executed opposition journalist and activist Ruhollah Zam after sentencing him to death in June on five charges including “corruption on earth.” On December 8, the judiciary announced that the Supreme Court upheld a revolutionary court of Tehran’s death sentence. Zam was editor of a website and a popular channel on the social media platform Telegram called Amad News, which he managed from France, where he lived since 2011 under political asylum. Zam’s Telegram account had more than one million followers, and he used it to post information on Iranian officials and share logistics regarding protests in the country in 2017 and 2018. According to media reports, as part of an Iranian-led intelligence operation, Zam was lured to a business meeting in Iraq in 2019 and captured there by Iranian security agents. Zam appeared on state-affiliated news outlets soon after his detention and purportedly “confessed” to his alleged crimes, before an investigation or the judicial process had commenced. In February, Zam’s initial trial was held without the presence of a defense lawyer.
On September 12, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and widespread media reports, authorities executed professional wrestler Navid Afkari convicted of murdering a sanitation worker, who was also a law enforcement officer, during antigovernment protests in 2018 in Shiraz. Authorities arrested Afkari and his brother Vahid one month after the protests and charged them with taking part in illegal demonstrations, insulting the supreme leader, robbery, and “enmity against God.” In early September the Supreme Court upheld a death sentence imposed upon conviction by a criminal court in Shiraz against Navid and a 25-year prison sentence for Vahid convicted of assisting in the alleged murder, while simultaneously dismissing the brothers’ allegations that security officials obtained their confessions under torture and used as “evidence” against them a forced confession broadcast on state television Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Five UN special rapporteurs condemned the execution as “summary” and concluded that it appeared to have been used by the government “as a warning to its population in a climate of increasing social unrest.” According to HRANA, on December 17, authorities arrested Afkari’s father and a different brother as they sought to clear a site in Fars Province to install a gravestone memorializing Navid Afkari’s death.
In March and April, thousands of prisoners in at least eight prisons across the country, many in provinces home to Ahwazi Arabs, staged protests regarding fears of contracting COVID-19. Prison authorities and security forces responded with live ammunition and tear gas to suppress the protests, killing approximately 35 prisoners and injuring hundreds of others, according to Amnesty International (see sections 1.b., 1.c., and 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
UN human rights experts stated they were disturbed to hear authorities reacted to these prison riots by using “torture and ill-treatment that results in extrajudicial killings, or [through] executions.” In April, NGOs alleged authorities hastily executed political prisoner Mostafa Salimi, following his extradition from Iraq after escaping from prison during riots. Security forces initially arrested Salimi in 2003 and charged him with “enmity against God” for being a member of a Kurdish opposition party and allegedly engaging in armed conflict. On March 27, Salimi escaped during a riot that reportedly broke out due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Saqqez Prison. He crossed the border into the Iraqi Kurdistan Region before being extradited back to Iran without an opportunity to apply for asylum.
The Islamic penal code allows for the execution of juvenile offenders starting at age nine for girls and age 13 for boys, the legal age of maturity. The government continued to execute individuals sentenced for crimes committed before the age 18. In April, UN human rights experts expressed concern for the up to 90 individuals on death row for alleged offenses committed when they were younger than age 18.
According to widespread media, the United Nations, and NGO reports, in April authorities carried out two executions for conviction of crimes committed by juveniles. Majid Esmailzadeh, arrested in 2012 as a minor for allegedly committing murder, convicted, and executed in a prison in Ardabil Province. A few days later, authorities in Saqqez Prison executed by hanging Shayan Saeedpour for conviction of committing murder in 2015 when he was age 17. Saeedpour escaped from Saqqez Prison during COVID-19 related riots in March; he was rearrested a few days later.
On April 22, the UN High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) highlighted the death of Danial Zeinoalebedini, who died early April in prison from abuse while facing execution for a crime committed in 2017 when he was age 17. Security officials allegedly beat Zeinoalebedini to death in Miandoab Prison in West Azerbaijan Province after they transferred him from Mahabad Prison with other prisoners who had rioted because of COVID-19 concerns.
According to Amnesty International, authorities executed four persons in 2019 who were minors at the time of their alleged crimes–Amin Sedaghat, Mehdi Sohrabifar, Amir Ali Shadabi, and Touraj Aziz (Azizdeh) Ghassemi.
According to human rights organizations and media reports, the government continued to carry out some executions by torture, including hanging by cranes. Prisoners are lifted from the ground by their necks and die slowly by asphyxiation. In addition adultery remains punishable by death by stoning, although provincial authorities were reportedly ordered not to provide public information regarding stoning sentences since 2001, according to the NGO Justice for Iran.
Although the majority of executions during the year were reportedly for murder, the law also provides for the death penalty in cases of conviction for “attempts against the security of the state,” “outrage against high-ranking officials,” moharebeh (which has a variety of broad interpretations, including “waging war against God”), fisad fil-arz (corruption on earth, including apostasy or heresy, see section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal Against Individuals located Outside the Country), rape, adultery, recidivist alcohol use, consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and “insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.” Capital punishment applies to the possession, sale, or transport of more than approximately 110 pounds of natural drugs, such as opium, or approximately 4.4 to 6.6 pounds of manufactured narcotics, such as heroin or cocaine. It also applies to some drug offenses involving smaller quantities of narcotics, if the crime is carried out using weapons, employing minors, or involving someone in a leadership role in a trafficking ring or who has previously been convicted of drug crimes and given a prison sentence of more than 15 years.
Prosecutors frequently used “waging war against God” as a capital offense against political dissidents and journalists, accusing them of “struggling against the precepts of Islam” and against the state that upholds those precepts. Authorities expanded the scope of this charge to include “working to undermine the Islamic establishment” and “cooperating with foreign agents or entities.”
The judiciary is required to review and validate death sentences.
In late November the Supreme Court reaffirmed the death sentence of dual national scientist Ahmadreza Djalali, leading observers to believe his execution was imminent. A court initially sentenced Djalali to death in 2017 on espionage charges. According UN experts, Djalali’s trial was “marred by numerous reports of due process and fair trial violations, including incommunicado detention, denial of access to a lawyer, and forced confession.”
On July 19, the Associated Press reported the Supreme Court announced it would suspend the execution of three young men who participated in 2019 protests and review their case. A revolutionary court sentenced Amirhossein Moradi, Mohammad Rajabi, and Saeed Tamjidi to death on charges of “participation in armed conflict,” “illegal exit from the country,” “attending protests,” and “sabotage.” NGOs reported the court denied their lawyers access to them during the investigation phase and that security officials tortured them. Moradi said authorities coerced him into giving a “confession” and broadcast it on state television, using it as evidence to convict them.
In a July report, the UN special rapporteur (UNSR) on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran Javaid Rehman expressed “deep concern” regarding the “lack of independent, transparent and prompt investigations into the events of November 2019.” Estimates from Amnesty International and Reuters found security forces killed between 300 and 1,500 persons across the country in response to demonstrations against a fuel price hike. Authorities reportedly used firearms, water cannons, tear gas, and snipers against the largely peaceful protesters. The United Nations noted that seven months following the protests, authorities had still not announced official death and injury figures.
There continued to be reports the government directly supported the Assad regime in Syria, primarily through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and recruited Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani Shia fighters, which contributed to prolonging the civil war and the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians during the year (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Syria). According to IranWire, in June pro-Iranian militias reinforced Syrian regime forces undertaking operations against opposition groups in southwestern Syria. The Syrian Network for Human Rights attributed 89 percent of civilian deaths in Syria since the beginning of the conflict to government forces and Iranian-sponsored militias. Hackers linked to Iran continued cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups in an effort to disrupt reporting on human rights violations.
The government directly supported certain pro-Iran militias operating inside Iraq, including terrorist organization Kata’ib Hizballah, which reportedly was complicit in summary executions, forced disappearances, and other human rights abuses of civilians in Iraq (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Iraq).
In May the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq reported that none of the “unidentified armed actors” responsible for 99 cases of abductions and disappearances of protesters and activists during protests across Iraq in October and November 2019 had been detained or tried. Activists blamed Iran-backed militia groups operating in Iraq for many of these deaths and abductions. Reuters reported that Kata’ib Hizballah member Abu Zainab al-Lami directed sniper shootings of peaceful Iraqi demonstrators during the 2019 protests.
Since 2015 the government has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support to Houthi rebels in Yemen and proliferated weapons that exacerbated and prolonged the conflict. Houthi rebels used Iranian funding and weapons to launch attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure both within Yemen and in Saudi Arabia (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen).
There were reports of politically motivated abductions during the year attributed to government officials. Plainclothes officials seized lawyers, journalists and activists without warning, and government officials refused to acknowledge custody or provide information on them. In most cases the government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts.
In May, Amnesty International reported on the disappearance of four death row prisoners–Hossein Silawi, Ali Khasraji, and Naser Khafajian, members of the Ahwaz Arab minority, and Hedayat Abdollahpour, a member of the Kurdish minority. Family members feared the government executed them in secret. On March 31, Silawi, Khasraji, and Khafajian were transferred to an undisclosed location from Sheiban Prison in Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province (see sections 1.a., 1.c., and 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). On May 9, Hedayat Abdollahpour was transferred from the central prison in Orumiyeh, West Azerbaijan Province, to an unknown location.
In late June the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported authorities were holding human rights lawyer Payam Derafshan incommunicado at an undisclosed location since his arrest without a warrant at his office in Tehran on June 8. Derafshan’s lawyer told CHRI the court had opened a case against him on an unspecified charge and refused to allow him to select his own counsel. In May, Derafshan received a suspended sentence for charges of “insulting the supreme leader,” but his lawyer said the second arrest was not connected to that case. On July 8, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced him to two and a half years, later reduced to two years, for “propaganda against the state,” “spreading falsehoods,” and “unauthorized disclosure.” As of August he was reportedly in poor health.
Although the constitution prohibits all forms of torture “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information,” use of physical and mental torture to coerce confessions remained prevalent, especially during pretrial detention. There were credible reports that security forces and prison personnel tortured and abused detainees and prisoners throughout the year.
Commonly reported methods of torture and abuse in prisons included threats of execution or rape, forced tests of virginity and “sodomy,” sleep deprivation, electroshock, including the shocking of genitals, burnings, the use of pressure positions, and severe and repeated beatings.
Human rights organizations frequently cited some prison facilities, including Evin Prison in Tehran, Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, Greater Tehran Penitentiary, Qarchak Prison, Adel Abad Prison, and Orumiyeh Prison for their use of cruel and prolonged torture of political opponents, particularly Wards 209 and Two of Evin Prison, reportedly controlled by the IRGC.
In March and April, the suppression of riots by security officials in at least eight prisons led to the deaths of approximately 35 prisoners and left hundreds of others injured (see sections 1.a. and 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
According to a May report by Amnesty International, Hossein Sepanta, a prisoner in Adel Abad Prison in Shiraz, was severely beaten in 2019. Sepanta was already critically ill because authorities denied him proper treatment for his spinal cord disorder (syringomyelia). In July 2019 CHRI reported that in response to his hunger strike, prison authorities transferred Sepanta, a convert from Islam to Zoroastrianism, to the “punishment unit” inside Adel Abad Prison. According to a source inside the prison, an interrogator severely beat Sepanta, after which he trembled and had problems keeping his balance when walking. Sepanta is serving a 14-year sentence since 2013 on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “assembly and collusion against national security.”
According to a September 2 report by Amnesty International, police, intelligence agents, and prison officials used “widespread torture and other ill-treatment against men, women, and children” in detention following protests in November 2019. Methods of torture included severe beatings, forcible extraction of finger and toenails, electric shocks, mock executions, and sexual violence.
One anonymous protester interviewed by Amnesty stated that IRGC intelligence officials arrested him and several of his friends at a protest in November 2019. The security officers put him in the trunk of a car and took him to a detention center in Tehran, where they repeatedly kicked and punched him, suspended him from the ceiling, and administered electroshocks to his testicles. They subjected him twice to mock executions during which they informed him he had been sentenced to death by a court, placed a noose around his neck, and pushed a stool out from under his feet, only to have him fall to the ground instead of hang in the air. He was later convicted of a national security offense and sentenced to prison.
Authorities also allegedly maintained unofficial secret prisons and detention centers, outside the national prison system, where abuse reportedly occurred.
In early October according to media reports, videos posted on social media and apparently filmed in Tehran showed police beating detainees in pickup trucks in the middle of the street and forcing them to apologize for the “mistakes” they committed. On October 15, the judiciary announced a ban on the use of forced confessions, torture, and solitary confinement, and stressed the presumption of innocence and right to a lawyer. The judiciary chief called the public beatings a “violation of civil rights,” and stated measures would be taken to hold the violators responsible, according to online news website Bourse and Bazaar. There was no information on results of any investigation into the incident, and many of the purportedly banned activities continued to be reported after the order.
Judicially sanctioned corporal punishments continued. These included flogging, blinding, stoning, and amputation, which the government defends as “punishment,” not torture. Conviction of at least 148 crimes are punishable by flogging, while 20 may carry the penalty of amputation. According to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, from January 1 to September 24, authorities sentenced at least 237 individuals to amputation and carried out these sentences in at least 129 cases.
According to media and NGO reports, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s sentence ordering the amputation of all fingers on the right hand of four men convicted of theft, Hadi Rostami, Mehdi Sharafiyan, Mehdi Shahivand, and Kasra Karami. As of November 6, the men were held in Orumiyeh Prison in West Azerbaijan Province. There was no information available on whether the sentence was carried out.
According to the NGO Article 18, on October 14, authorities flogged Christian convert Mohammad Reza (Youhan) Omidi 80 times. A court had sentenced him to the flogging in 2016 for drinking wine as part of Holy Communion.
Authorities flogged four political prisoners in prisons across the country in the month of June, according to a report from Iran News Wire. On June 8, authorities flogged Azeri rights activists Ali Azizi and Eliar Hosseinzadeh for “disturbing public order,” by taking part in the November 2019 protests in the city of Orumiyeh. Prison officials at Greater Tehran Penitentiary flogged protester Mohamad Bagher Souri on the same day. Authorities flogged Tehran bus driver and labor activist Rasoul Taleb Moghadam 74 times for taking part in a peaceful Labor Day gathering outside parliament in 2019.
Extrajudicial punishments by authorities involving degrading public humiliation of alleged offenders were also frequently reported throughout the year. Authorities regularly forced alleged offenders to make videotaped confessions that the government later televised. According to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, on August 22, IRGC-affiliated Fars News posted a “documentary” on twin sisters Maryam and Matin Amiri, who had participated in “White Wednesday” demonstrations against mandatory veiling. The segment included a “confession” in which the women called themselves “naive, dumb, and passive” and “of weak personality,” for protesting hijab laws. Days after the segment aired, expatriate women’s rights activist and founder of the movement Masih Alinejad reported via Twitter a court sentenced the twins to 15 years in prison and that they were being held in solitary confinement.
Impunity remained a widespread problem within all security forces. Human rights groups frequently accused regular and paramilitary security forces, such as the Basij, of committing numerous human rights abuses, including torture, forced disappearances, and acts of violence against protesters and bystanders at public demonstrations. The government generally viewed protesters, critical journalists, and human rights activists as engaged in efforts to “undermine the 1979 revolution” and consequently did not seek to punish security force abuses against those persons, even when the abuses violated domestic law. According to Tehran prosecutor general Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, the attorney general is responsible for investigating and punishing security force abuses, but if any investigations took place, the process was not transparent, and there were few reports of government actions to discipline abusers.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Prisoner hunger strikes in protest of their treatment were frequent.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding, long a problem in prisons with many prisoners forced to sleep on floors, in hallways, or in prison yards, became particularly acute following mass arrests during the November 2019 protests, according to comments by local government officials referenced in a July report by UNSR Rehman.
Overall conditions worsened significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report by Amnesty International, which cited letters written by senior prison authorities, prisons had serious shortages of disinfectant products and protective equipment needed to address the spread of virus. The letters reportedly acknowledged many prisons held individuals with underlying health conditions, which increased their risk of complications if infected with COVID-19. Authorities announced that between late February and late May, they had temporarily released around 128,000 prisoners on furlough and pardoned another 10,000 in response to the outbreak. On July 15, as COVID-19 cases spiked again, the judiciary spokesperson announced the government had issued guidelines to facilitate a second round of furloughs. Prisoners of conscience were mostly excluded from these measures, including human rights defenders, foreign and dual nationals, environmentalists, individuals detained due to their religious beliefs, and persons arbitrarily detained in connection with the November 2019 protests.
There were reported deaths in custody and prisoner-on-prisoner violence, which authorities sometimes failed to control. In April, Amnesty International reported at least 35 prisoners were killed and others injured in at least eight prisons across the country when security officials used live ammunition and tear gas to suppress riots because of COVID-19 safety fears. As of December 8, the government had not investigated these events.
According to IranWire and human rights NGOs, guards beat both political and nonpolitical prisoners during raids on wards, performed nude body searches in front of other prisoners, and threatened prisoners’ families. In some instances, according to HRANA, guards singled out political prisoners for harsher treatment.
Prison authorities often refused to provide medical treatment for pre-existing conditions, injuries that prisoners suffered at the hands of prison authorities, or illnesses due to the poor sanitary conditions in prison. Human rights organizations reported that authorities used denial of medical care as a form of punishment for prisoners and as an intimidation tool against prisoners who filed complaints or challenged authorities. Medical services for female prisoners were reported as grossly inadequate.
An October 6 OHCHR statement expressed serious concern regarding a consistent pattern of the government denying medical treatment to detainees, including political prisoners, which was heightened during the year due to the spread of COVID-19 throughout prisons. The statement called for the unconditional release of human rights defenders, lawyers, political prisoners, peaceful protesters and all other individuals deprived of their liberty for expressing their views or otherwise exercising their rights.
The United Nations and NGOs have consistently reported other unsafe and unsanitary detention conditions in prisons, including contaminated food and water, frequent water and food shortages, rodent and insect infestations, shortages of bedding, intolerable heat, and poor ventilation.
There were no updates on the status of Gonabadi Sufi dervish women unjustly detained in Shahr-e Rey Prison on national security-related charges since 2018. The women were routinely denied urgently needed medical care and kept in unsanitary, inhuman conditions.
Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. According to a June 2019 report from IranWire, there was a noticeable increase from the previous two years of the practice of holding political prisoners in wards with allegedly violent and dangerous criminals, with the goal of “breaking” the political prisoners’ wills. A July report by UNSR Rehman noted that prisoners ordinarily held in wards controlled by the IRGC or Ministry of Intelligence were moved to public wards after the sharp increase in detainees following the November 2019 protests. Also, according to HRANA, juvenile detainees were held with adult prisoners in some prisons, including Saghez Central Prison in Kurdistan Province. Male juvenile detainees were held in separate rehabilitation centers in most urban areas, but female juvenile detainees and male juvenile detainees in rural areas were held alongside adults in segregated detention facilities, according to NGO reports.
IranWire reported multiple prisons across the country held older children who lived with their incarcerated mothers without access to medical care or educational and recreational facilities. Following the November 2019 protests, child detainees were reportedly held in the same cells as adults at a facility in Ahvaz due to overcrowding, according to UNSR Rehman.
There were numerous reports of prisoner suicides throughout the year in response to prison conditions or mistreatment. According to a September 27 IranWire report, Mohammad Ghaderi attempted suicide in May to escape continuous torture by IRGC intelligence agents. In June prisoners Farzin Nouri and Hadi Rostrami reportedly attempted suicide at Orumiyeh by consuming poison. In September, 20 prisoners attempted suicide within two weeks in Orumiyeh Central Prison in West Azerbaijan Province due to the horrific conditions in that prison. According to his wife, in May journalist and filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad, imprisoned since 2019 for signing an open letter with 13 others calling for the resignation of the supreme leader, attempted suicide in Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad. Authorities had prevented Nourizad from receiving a temporary furlough, being transferred to a prison closer to his home, and receiving regular telephone calls.
Administration: According to reports from human rights NGOs, prison authorities regularly denied prisoners access to an attorney of their choice, visitors, telephone calls, and other correspondence privileges. Prisoners practicing a religion other than Shia Islam reported experiencing discrimination.
Authorities did not initiate credible investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions or suspicious deaths in custody. Prisoners were able to submit complaints to judicial authorities but often faced censorship or retribution in the form of slander, beatings, torture, and denial of medical care and medication or furlough requests, as well as charges of additional crimes.
On October 23, HRW highlighted the cases of environmentalist Niloufar Bayani and student activist Parisa Rafiee, both of whom authorities charged with “publishing false information,” and “propaganda against the state,” for reporting abuse in detention.
Families of executed prisoners did not always receive notification of their scheduled executions, or if they did, it was often on very short notice. Authorities frequently denied families the ability to perform funeral rites or an impartial autopsy.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions. Prisoners and their families often wrote letters to authorities and, in some cases, to UN bodies to highlight and protest their treatment (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, the practices occurred frequently during the year. President Rouhani’s 2016 Citizen’s Rights Charter enumerates various freedoms, including “security of their person, property, dignity, employment, legal and judicial process, social security, and the like.” The government did not implement these provisions. Detainees may appeal their sentences in court but are not entitled to compensation for detention.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The constitution and law require a warrant or subpoena for an arrest and state that arrested persons should be informed of the charges against them within 24 hours. Authorities, however, held some detainees, at times incommunicado, for prolonged periods without charge or trial and frequently denied them contact with family or timely access to legal representation.
The law obligates the government to provide indigent defendants with attorneys for certain types of crimes. The courts set prohibitively high bail, even for lesser crimes, and in many cases courts did not set bail. Authorities often compelled detainees and their families to submit property deeds to post bail, effectively silencing them due to fear of losing their families’ property.
The government continued to use house arrest without due process to restrict movement and communication. At year’s end former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, as well as Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, remained under house arrest imposed in 2011 without formal charges. Security forces continued to restrict their access to visitors and information. In November it was reported that Mousavi and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19. Concerns persisted regarding Karroubi’s deteriorating health, reportedly exacerbated by his treatment by authorities.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities commonly used arbitrary arrests to impede alleged antiregime activities, including by conducting mass arrests of persons in the vicinity of antigovernment demonstrations. According to Amnesty International, these arrests sometimes included children and bystanders at protests and were conducted in an often violent manner, involving beating detainees. Plainclothes officers arrived unannounced at homes or offices; arrested persons; conducted raids; and confiscated private documents, passports, computers, electronic media, and other personal items without warrants or assurances of due process.
Individuals often remained in detention facilities for long periods without charges or trials, and authorities sometimes prevented them from informing others of their whereabouts for several days. Authorities often denied detainees’ access to legal counsel during this period.
According to a September report by Amnesty International, at least 7,000 persons were arrested in relation to the November 2019 protests, and at least 500 were subjected to criminal investigations on vague and unsubstantiated charges as of August, although Amnesty estimated the number to be “far higher.”
International media and human rights organizations documented frequent detentions of dual nationals–individuals who are citizens of both Iran and another country–for arbitrary and prolonged detention on politically motivated charges. UNSR Rehman continued to highlight cases of dual and foreign nationals who authorities had arrested arbitrarily and subjected to mistreatment, denial of appropriate medical treatment, or both. The UNSR noted most dual and foreign nationals did not benefit from temporary furloughs granted by authorities to many other prisoners. The UNSR previously concluded the government subjected dual and foreign nationals to “sham trials which have failed to meet basic fair trial standards and convicted them of offenses on the basis of fabricated evidence or, in some cases, no evidence at all, and has attempted to use them as diplomatic leverage.” Dual nationals, like other citizens, faced a variety of due process violations, including lack of prompt access to a lawyer of their choosing and brief trials during which they were not allowed to defend themselves.
Authorities continued to detain dual nationals Emad Sharghi and Siamak Namazi in Evin Prison on “espionage” charges following lower court trials with numerous procedural irregularities, according to international media and NGO reports. Sharghi was initially detained in April 2018 and released on bail in December of that year. In December 2019 officials informed Sharghi he had been cleared of all charges, but he was re-arrested in December 2020 after having been convicted and sentenced in absentia. Authorities initially detained Namazi in 2015 along with his father, Baquer, who was granted medical furlough in 2018 but was not allowed to leave the country.
On February 23, the Bahai International Community stated that a Houthi court in Yemen was prosecuting a group of Bahai under “directives from Iranian authorities.” The Bahai prisoners were deported in July without a review of their citizenship status. Bahais continued to face arbitrary detention and harassment in Yemen throughout the year because of their religious affiliation (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Yemen).
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was often arbitrarily lengthy, particularly in cases involving alleged violations of “national security” law. Authorities sometimes held persons incommunicado for lengthy periods before permitting them to contact family members. Instances of unjust and arbitrary pretrial detention were commonplace and well documented throughout the year involving numerous protesters and prisoners of conscience who were not granted furloughs despite the rampant spread of COVID-19 in prison. According to HRW, a judge may prolong detention at his discretion, and pretrial detentions often lasted for months. Often authorities held pretrial detainees in custody with the general prison population.
The constitution provides that the judiciary be “an independent power” that is “free from every kind of unhealthy relation and connection.” The court system, however, was subjected to political influence, and judges were appointed “in accordance with religious criteria.”
The supreme leader appoints the head of the judiciary. The head of the judiciary, members of the Supreme Court, and the prosecutor general were clerics. International observers continued to criticize the lack of independence of the country’s judicial system and judges and maintained that trials disregarded international standards of fairness.
According to the constitution and law, a defendant has the right to a fair trial, to be presumed innocent until convicted, to have access to a lawyer of his or her choice, and to appeal convictions in most cases that involve major penalties. These rights were not upheld.
Panels of judges adjudicate trials in civil and criminal courts. Human rights activists reported trials in which authorities appeared to have determined the verdicts in advance, and defendants did not have the opportunity to confront their accusers or meet with lawyers. For journalists and defendants charged with crimes against national security, the law restricts the choice of attorneys to a government-approved list.
When postrevolutionary statutes do not address a situation, the government advised judges to give precedence to their knowledge and interpretation of sharia (Islamic law). Under this method judges may find a person guilty based on their own “divine knowledge.”
The constitution does not provide for the establishment or the mandate of the revolutionary courts. The courts were created pursuant to the former supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s edict immediately following the 1979 revolution, with a sharia judge appointed as the head of the courts. They were intended as a temporary emergency measure to try high-level officials of the deposed monarchy and purge threats to the regime. The courts, however, became institutionalized and continue to operate in parallel to the criminal justice system. Human rights groups and international observers often identified the revolutionary courts, which are generally responsible for hearing the cases of political prisoners, as routinely employing grossly unfair trials without due process, handing down predetermined verdicts, and rubberstamping executions for political purposes. These unfair practices reportedly occur during all stages of criminal proceedings in revolutionary courts, including the initial prosecution and pretrial investigation, first instance trial, and review by higher courts.
The IRGC and Ministry of Intelligence reportedly determine many aspects of revolutionary court cases. Most of the important political cases are referred to a small number of branches of the revolutionary courts, whose judges often have negligible legal training and are not independent.
During the year human rights groups and international media noted the absence of procedural safeguards in criminal trials, and courts admitted as evidence confessions made under duress or torture. UNSR Rehman expressed concerns regarding allegations of confessions extracted by torture and a lack of due process or a fair trial, including in cases of persons arrested for participating in the November 2019 protests. In a July report, the UNSR cited unofficial reports documenting 75 court verdicts against protesters by April. For example, UNSR Rehman cited the case of Aref Zarei, whom a judge reportedly told not to bother hiring a lawyer because it would not help.
The Special Clerical Court is headed by a Shia Islamic legal scholar, overseen by the supreme leader, and charged with investigating alleged offenses committed by clerics and issuing rulings based on an independent interpretation of Islamic legal sources. As with the revolutionary courts, the constitution does not provide for the Special Clerical Court, which operates outside the judiciary’s purview. Clerical courts have been used to prosecute Shia clerics who expressed controversial ideas and participated in activities outside the sphere of religion, such as journalism or reformist political activities.
Official statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available. According to United for Iran, as of October 18, an estimated 500 prisoners of conscience were held in the country, including those jailed for their religious beliefs.
The government often charged political dissidents with vague crimes, such as “antirevolutionary behavior,” “corruption on earth,” “siding with global arrogance,” “waging war against God,” and “crimes against Islam.” Prosecutors imposed strict penalties on government critics for minor violations.
The political crimes law defines a political crime as an insult against the government, as well as “the publication of lies.” Political crimes are those acts “committed with the intent of reforming the domestic or foreign policies of Iran,” while those with the intent to damage “the foundations of the regime” are considered national security crimes. The court and the Public Prosecutor’s Office retain responsibility for determining the nature of the crime.
The political crimes law grants the accused certain rights during arrest and imprisonment. Political criminals should be held in detention facilities separate from ordinary criminals. Political criminals should also be exempt from wearing prison uniforms, not subject to rules governing repeat offenses, not subject to extradition, and exempt from solitary confinement unless judicial officials deem it necessary. Political criminals also have the right to see and correspond with immediate family regularly and to access books, newspapers, radio, and television.
Many of the law’s provisions have not been implemented, and the government continued to arrest and charge students, journalists, lawyers, political activists, women’s activists, artists, and members of religious minorities with “national security” crimes that do not fall under the political crimes law. Political prisoners were also at greater risk of torture and abuse in detention. They were often mixed with the general prison population, and former prisoners reported that authorities often threatened political prisoners with transfer to criminal wards, where attacks by fellow prisoners were more likely. Human rights activists and international media reported cases of political prisoners confined with accused and convicted violent criminals, being moved to public wards in cases of overcrowding, and having temporary furloughs inequitably applied during the COVID-19 pandemic (see section 1.c., Physical Conditions). The government often placed political prisoners in prisons far from their families, denied them correspondence rights, and held them in solitary confinement for long periods.
The government reportedly held some detainees in prison for years on unfounded charges of sympathizing with real or alleged terrorist groups.
The government issued travel bans on some former political prisoners, barred them from working in their occupations for years after incarceration, and imposed internal exile on some. During the year authorities occasionally gave political prisoners suspended sentences and released them on bail with the understanding that renewed political activity would result in their return to prison. The government did not permit international humanitarian organizations or UN representatives access to political prisoners.
According to CHRI, on September 26, Iran Writers Association members Reza Khandan Mahabahi, Baktash Abtin, and Keyvan Bajan began serving prison sentences for “assembly and collusion against national security,” related to publishing documents objecting to censorship and organizing memorial ceremonies for association members killed by state agents in the 1990s.
Also according to CHRI, authorities arbitrarily extended a five-year prison sentence by two years against activist Atena Daemi, shortly before she was due to be released in July after serving the full term on “national security” charges and for insulting the supreme leader. The additional two-year sentence reportedly stemmed from Daemi singing a song in prison honoring executed prisoners.
On October 7, judicial authorities ordered the release of human rights defender and journalist Narges Mohammadi. Mohammadi was arrested in 2015 and sentenced by a revolutionary court to 16 years in prison for “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” and establishing the illegal Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty organization. During her time in prison, authorities repeatedly denied her telephone contact with her family, as well as appropriate medical treatment related to a major operation she underwent in May 2019.
Lawyers who defended political prisoners were often arrested, detained, and subjected to excessive sentences and punishments for engaging in regular professional activities. The government continued to imprison lawyers and others affiliated with the Defenders of Human Rights Center advocacy group.
In June, CHRI reported that at least five human rights attorneys–Soheila Hejab, Payam Derafshan, Mohammad Nafari, Amirsalar Davoudi, and Nasrin Sotoudeh–were in prison for their human rights work. Hejab and Derafshan (see section 1.b.) were detained during the year. In late May security officials incarcerated Hejab on earlier charges of supporting dissident groups, after she had been temporarily freed in March. In November the Kurdish Human Rights Network reported authorities charged Hejab with additional crimes related to a letter she wrote from prison marking the first anniversary of the November 2019 protests.
On November 7, the judiciary reported it had temporarily released Nasrin Sotoudeh, amid reports her health was rapidly deteriorating. On December 2, she was returned to Qarchak Prison despite continuing health challenges. In March 2019 a revolutionary court sentenced Sotoudeh to a cumulative 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for providing legal defense services to women charged with crimes for not wearing hijab. Sotoudeh was previously arrested in 2010 and pardoned in 2013.
According to HRW, on February 18, a judiciary spokesperson announced a revolutionary court upheld prison sentences against eight environmentalists sentenced to between six to 10 years for conviction of various “national security” crimes. Authorities arrested the environmentalists, including United States-British-Iranian triple national Morad Tahbaz, in 2018 and convicted them following an unfair trial, in which the judge handed down the sentences in secret, did not allow access to defense lawyers, and ignored the defendants’ claims of abuse in detention.
There were credible reports that the government attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as reprisals against specific individuals located outside the country.
In August, Reuters reported Ministry of Intelligence officials detained Jamshid Sharmahd, a member of a promonarchist group “Tondar” (Thunder) or “Kingdom Assembly of Iran” based outside the country, which it accused of responsibility for a deadly 2008 bombing at a religious center in Shiraz and of plotting other attacks. A man who identified himself as Sharmahd appeared on Iranian television blindfolded and “admitted” to providing explosives to attackers in Shiraz. The ministry did not disclose how or where they detained Sharmahd. His son told Radio Free Europe that Sharmahd was likely captured in Dubai and taken to Iran.
In November al-Arabiya reported the former leader of the separatist group for Iran’s ethnic Arab in minority in Khuzestan Province, the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), Habib Asyud also known as Habib Chaab, who also holds Swedish citizenship, was arrested in Turkey and later resurfaced in Iran under unclear circumstances. Neither Turkey nor Sweden officially commented on Asyud’s case. The Iranian government holds ASMLA responsible for a terror attack in 2018 on a military parade that killed 25 individuals including civilians.
In October 2019 France-based Iranian activist Ruhollah Zam was abducted from Iraq. Iranian intelligence later took credit for the operation. Zam was executed in December (see Section 1.a.).
Citizens had limited ability to sue the government and were not able to file lawsuits through the courts against the government for civil or human rights violations.
The constitution allows the government to confiscate property acquired illicitly or in a manner not in conformity with Islamic law. The government appeared to target ethnic and religious minorities in invoking this provision.
The constitution states that “reputation, life, property, [and] dwelling[s]” are protected from trespass, except as “provided by law.” The government routinely infringed on this right. Security forces monitored the social activities of citizens, entered homes, offices, and places of worship, monitored telephone conversations and internet communications, and opened mail without court authorization. The government also routinely intimidated activists and government critics by detaining their family members as a form of reprisal.
On July 13, authorities arrested Manouchehr Bakhtiari for a second time related to activism on behalf of his son, Pouya, killed by security forces in the city of Karaj during the November 2019 demonstrations. The government previously detained 10 other members of Pouya Bakhtiari’s family, including his 11-year-old nephew and two of his elderly grandparents, to prevent them from holding a traditional memorial service for Bakhtiari 40 days after his death. According to media reports, in December Manouchehr Bakhtiari was released on bail.
According to international human rights organizations, the Ministry of Intelligence arrested and intimidated BBC employees’ family members, including elderly family members, based in Iran. The government also froze and seized assets of family members, demoted relatives employed by state-affiliated organizations, and confiscated passports. The government also compelled family members of journalists from other media outlets abroad to defame their relatives on state television.
On July 16, a revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced Alireza Alinejad, brother of expatriate activist Masih Alinejad, to eight years in prison for “national security” crimes, and for insulting the supreme leader and “propaganda against the regime.”
On August 17, security officials detained and questioned human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh’s daughter, Mehraveh, on unspecified charges, according to CHRI. She was later released on bail.
There are currently no comprehensive data-protection laws in place in the country, therefore there are no legal safeguards for users to protect their data from misuse. The online sphere is heavily monitored by the state despite Article 37 of the nonbinding Citizens’ Rights Charter, which states that online privacy should be respected.
The operation of domestic messaging apps is based inside the country, leaving content shared on these apps more susceptible to government control and surveillance. Lack of data protection and privacy laws also mean there are no legal instruments providing protections against the misuse of apps data by authorities.
In January, Certfa Lab reported a series of phishing attacks from an Iranian hacker group known as Charming Kitten, which was allegedly affiliated with Iran’s intelligence services. According to the report, the phishing attacks targeted journalists as well as political and human rights activists.
In March, Google removed a COVID-19 app known as AC19 from the Google Play store. No official reason was provided concerning the app’s removal, although Iranian users raised concerns regarding the app’s security, in light of its collection of geolocation data, and a lack of transparency from the government as to why the data were being collected and how it was being used.
In March, Comparitech reported that data from 42 million Iranian Telegram accounts were leaked online. Telegram released a statement alleging the data came from the two unofficial Telegram apps Hotgram and Telegram Talaei, which became popular after the platform’s ban in the country. There were reports the two client apps have ties to the government and Iranian hacker group Charming Kitten.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Police Inspectorate is responsible for investigating allegations of arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents, and State Prosecution is responsible for prosecuting such cases. Its current mandate renewal extends through June 2021.
The EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) monitors selected criminal and civil cases and trials in the judicial system, advises the Correctional Service, and provides logistics support to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague. It had some executive responsibility for witness protection and served as a secondary security responder supporting police.
As of September the Special Prosecutor of the Republic of Kosovo (SPRK) had 101 war crime cases under formal investigation. During the year, the SPRK issued one ruling for initiation of an investigation.
Two of the cases under SPRK investigation, referred to as the “Drenica” war crimes cases, involved 15 former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) members suspected of war crimes against civilians. The charges include torture, mistreatment of prisoners, and murder, all allegedly committed in a KLA detention center in the village of Likoc/Likovac in the Drenica region in 1998. The cases initially resulted in 11 convictions in 2015. Six of those convicted avoided serving jail time until July 2019, when the court remanded them to prison. Another war crimes case known as the “Drenica I” case was sent for retrial in 2017, but the initial hearing in December 2019 did not take place because the government did not produce its protected witness. The hearing was rescheduled for December 2020, a full year after the initial hearing was cancelled, and as of the end of the year had not been held.
In June the Prizren basic court sentenced Darko Tasic, a displaced Serbian, to 22 years in prison for war crimes committed against ethnic Albanians in 1999 in the village of Krushe e Vogel/Mala Krusa in Prizren municipality. He was also accused of participating in confiscation, robbery, desecration of human remains, and illegal and deliberate destruction of property. According to media reports, a group of Kosovo-Albanian youth attempted to enter the police station behind the court during his sentencing, subsequently clashing with police after a crowd attacked the vehicle transporting Tasic. The NGO Humanitarian Law Center reported that the verdict exceeded legal maximums. In December the appeals court lowered his sentence to 11 years, within the legal maximum.
In June media outlets reported the Supreme Court ruled that verdicts acquitting Milorad Zajic of involvement in killings and expulsions of ethnic Albanians during the war in 1998 were incorrect, but the Supreme Court was unable to order a retrial, as it cannot overturn a final decision to the detriment of the defendant. Zajic was acquitted by the basic court in Peje/Pec in March 2019 of killing two persons and expelling ethnic Albanians from a village during the Kosovo war in 1998 as a member of an armed group. In October 2019 the appeals court upheld the acquittal. An appeals court judge cited trial witnesses’ “contradictory” testimonies as the reason for Zajic’s acquittal.
The Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) and Kosovo Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) are Kosovo institutions, created by Kosovo law and staffed with international judges, prosecutors, and officers. The SPO and the KSC continued to investigate crimes committed during and after the 1999 conflict. The SPO and its predecessor, the EU Special Investigative Task Force, were established following the 2011 release of the Council of Europe report, Inhuman Treatment of People and Illicit Trafficking in Human Organs in Kosovo, which alleged crimes by individual KLA leaders. The SPO interviewed several key figures from the period in question, including then president Hashim Thaci. In June the SPO announced it had filed indictments with the KSC against Thaci and Assembly Speaker Kadri Veseli. In November the KSC confirmed an indictment filed by the SPO charging Thaci, Veseli, and others with crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Leading politicians and civil society leaders, particularly veterans’ organizations, publicly denounced the SPO and the KSC and worked to undermine public support for the work of the SPO and the KSC. These efforts included public protests, a petition drive to abrogate the court, and a legislative initiative proposed by former president Thaci that could have undermined the KSC’s mandate.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
As of September the government’s Missing Persons Commission listed as missing 1,640 persons who disappeared during the 1998-99 conflict and the political violence that followed. By law the government’s missing-persons database does not include the ethnicity of missing persons unless voluntarily reported by their family. The commission suggested approximately 70 percent were ethnic Albanians and 30 percent were Serbs, Roma, Ashkali, Balkan-Egyptians, Bosniaks, Goranis, Montenegrins, and others.
During the year the commission resolved three missing-persons cases pertaining to the Albanian community and handed over the remains of the three persons to their families. In November satellite images available to the International Committee of the Red Cross revealed human remains at the Kizevak mine in Serbia. Forensic teams from Kosovo, Serbia, and the international community began exhumations.
The constitution and laws prohibit such practices, but the laws are inconsistently implemented and there were continuing allegations by some detainees of mistreatment by police and, to a lesser degree, by correctional service personnel.
As of October the Ombudsperson Institution reported receiving 21 registered complaints, seven of which met their admissibility criteria, of mistreatment of prisoners: six complaints against police and one against the correctional service. The police inspectorate investigated three of the cases, while the Ombudsperson Institution reviewed the remaining cases. The Ombudsperson Institution reported the COVID-19 pandemic constrained its ability to follow up on cases.
The National Preventive Mechanism against Torture (NPMT), which operates under the Ombudsperson’s Institution, temporarily suspended its visits to prisons, detention centers, psychiatric facilities, and police stations in March due to COVID-19 mitigation measures. The pandemic also hindered detainees’ contact with the NPMT via lawyers, family members, and international organizations. To ensure detainee protection, the NPMT established four hotline numbers providing round-the-clock access to NPMT officials and used secure drop-boxes for written complaints in detention centers. Only Ombudsperson Institution staff have access to these telephone calls and written complaints. Before suspending its site visits, the NPMT carried out 40 visits to police stations, prison facilities, psychiatric facilities, social care homes and institutions used for quarantine. It received no allegations of torture or mistreatment from persons in police custody during NPMT visits. The NPMT filed reports on its findings, generated investigations, and published follow-up reports on government compliance.
The Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture (KRCT), the country’s leading NGO on torture-related issues, conducted eight visits to detention centers, and reported it received no credible reports of torture during the year, although it reported that mistreatment of prisoners continued to be a problem.
In June the police inspectorate investigated a complaint lodged by an arrestee stating he was punched in the head by police, causing him to bleed. According to the complaint the incident occurred after his arrest and transfer to the police station in Pristina. Following the investigation the officer was suspended by police, placed in detention, and the PIK filed a criminal report for misconduct.
In July the police inspectorate suspended two police officers from the Peja police station following complaints of mistreatment of a 16-year-old boy. The juvenile fled from police and once caught, per the complaint, police abused him by using pepper spray, kicking him in his ribs, punching him in his head and face, handcuffing him and insulting him in the police vehicle.
The government sometimes investigated abuse and corruption, although mechanisms for doing so were not always effective or were subject to political interference. Security forces did not ensure compliance with court orders when local officials failed to carry them out. Although some police officers were arrested on corruption charges during the year, impunity remained a problem.
The police inspectorate is responsible for reviewing complaints about police behavior. As of August it had investigated 360 police officers in connection with 935 citizen complaints regarding police conduct. The inspectorate found disciplinary violations in 545 of these complaints and forwarded them to the police’s Professional Standards Unit. During the year the inspectorate investigated 23 criminal cases from 2019 and filed 29 criminal charges for disciplinary violations.
Prison and detention center conditions met some international standards but problems persisted in penitentiaries, specifically, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, corruption, exposure to radical religious or political views, and substandard medical care.
Physical Conditions: Physical conditions remained substandard in some parts of the Dubrava prison. The KRCT observed a significant decrease in prison population since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and stated overcrowding was no longer a problem in correctional facilities. The population decrease was apparently due to a reduction in convictions due to a COVID-19-related slowdown in judicial proceedings and increased reluctance by judges to send prisoners into detention during the pandemic. Physical conditions in the Peje/Pec detention center do not meet international standards, according to the NPMT, due to a lack of natural light and inadequate ventilation in the cells. Some similar shortcomings continued at the Prizren detention center as well.
The KRCT reported that authorities provided adequate protection for both prisoners and corrections officials. The KRCT received complaints from prisoners alleging verbal harassment, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and some cases of physical mistreatment by correctional officers, mainly at the juveniles’ unit of the Dubrava prison and the Lipjan/Lipljan correctional center. The KRCT reported that Lipjan correctional center officials removed mattresses from several juvenile prisoners in solitary confinement during daytime hours as a disciplinary measure and noted this violates standards for the treatment of minors. The KRCT noted instances of inmates blackmailing and harassing other inmates at the Dubrava prison. It reported prisoners and detainees had difficulty accessing medical care. There were allegations of corruption and the use of transfers between detention facilities as disciplinary measures. The KRCT reported that convicts at times harmed themselves to draw attention to their needs including medical care, transfers, or privileges. The KRCT reported alleged instances of corruption and nepotism, including by correctional and health staff, especially at the correctional center in Dubrava.
As of September the NPMT had received 14 medical reports from prison health authorities of prisoner injuries due to interprisoner violence and four cases of prisoners claiming injuries sustained from correctional officers. The NPMT checked medical files sent by authorities but due to COVID-19 restrictions was unable to visit and interview prisoners involved in the alleged incidents.
Following the delivery of a Swiss forensic report to authorities in late 2019, the chief state prosecutor reopened an investigation into the 2016 prison death of Vetevendosje party activist, Astrit Dehari, and assigned the case to Kosovo’s Special Prosecution. Dehari was arrested on suspicion of involvement in an attack on parliament. Authorities investigated whether Dehari committed suicide but members of his family and Vetevendosje party representatives claimed he was killed due to his political activism. The government requested Swiss assistance in 2018; the 2019 Swiss report noted forensic analysis could not exclude other possible causes of death and recommended further investigation. At the end of the year investigation of this case was ongoing.
Due to poor training and inadequate staffing, authorities did not always exercise control over facilities or inmates. There was a lack of trained staff to facilitate drug treatment programs. There was no drug addiction testing within the correctional service and the classification system of inmates with addiction-related issues was not fully functional. The KRCT reported that drugs, mostly marijuana, were regularly smuggled into these facilities, despite a ban on in-person visitations for prisoners due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One staff member was caught smuggling drugs to prisoners.
The KRCT documented delays and errors in medical care of prisoners as well as a lack of specialized treatment outside the correctional institutions, especially in the Dubrava prison. In many instances these conditions forced prisoners to procure needed medications from private sources. The KRCT observed gaps in the prison health-care system at the Dubrava facility and reported an insufficient number of mental-health professionals. The Ministry of Health is responsible for providing medical care and health personnel in correctional facilities.
Facilities and treatment for inmates with disabilities remained substandard. The Kosovo Forensic Psychiatric Institute provided limited treatment and shelter for detained persons with mental disabilities. While pretrial detainees were held separately from the convicted prisoner population, advocates for persons with disabilities faulted the government for regularly housing pretrial detainees with diagnosed mental disabilities together with other pretrial detainees. The law requires convicted criminals with documented mental health issues to be detained in facilities dedicated to mental health care, but these prisoners were often housed in standard prisons due to overcrowding at mental health institutions. The KRCT reported approximately 30 inmates above the age of 60 who were not properly placed, based on their specific mental disability. Apart from drug therapy and regular consultations with a psychiatrist, inmates with mental health issues were not provided with any occupational or therapeutic activities.
Prison conditions for foreign terrorist fighters and those convicted of terrorist offenses were not significantly different from those of the general prison population.
Administration: Authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of mistreatment. The KRCT noted the internal complaint mechanism (as opposed to the NPMT mechanism) mandated by law did not function effectively, with officials responding too slowly to complaints. In addition, inmates often did not report abuses due to lack of confidentiality and fear of retribution. The KRCT noted, however, that authorities regularly provided inmates with written decisions justifying solitary confinement and information on deadlines for appeals. The KRCT noted a lack of response by the general director of the correctional service regarding inmate transfer requests.
Independent Monitoring: Although all visits were hampered by COVID-19 conditions, the government permitted visits by independent human rights observers, but only the national Ombudsperson Institution and EULEX had unfettered access to correctional facilities throughout the year. The KRCT and the Center for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms were required to provide 24-hour advance notice of planned visits.
Improvements: The KRCT reported improvements in housing conditions due to some renovations in the Dubrava prison and the Pristina high-security prison, as well as the opening of new facilities at the Pristina correctional center. The KRCT noted the Prison Health Department hired additional staff during the year.
Inmates received access to Skype and other video communication applications and permission to communicate with their families. The KRCT reported some convicts received permission for employment outside of correctional facilities, improving the physical, mental, and economic well-being of convicts and their families. The Women’s Correctional Center manufactured anti-COVID facial masks for all correctional facilities.
Administrative improvements included a pilot program to improve the assessment and classification of criminal cases. The KRCT also noted that the correctional service issued disciplinary standards to describe specific disciplinary measures, their length and justification, and give legal advice for inmate appeals.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government, EULEX, and NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) generally observed these prohibitions. EULEX and KFOR personnel were not subject to the country’s legal system but rather to their missions’ and their countries’ disciplinary measures.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
By law, except when a crime is in progress, police may apprehend suspects only with warrants based on evidence and issued by a judge or prosecutor. Within six hours of an arrest, prosecutors must issue the arrested person a written statement describing the alleged offenses and the legal basis for the charges. Authorities must bring arrested persons before a judge within 48 hours and must provide detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or one provided by the state. There is a bail system, but courts seldom used it. They often released detainees without bail, pending trial.
Suspects have the right to refuse to answer questions, except those concerning their identity, at all stages of an investigation. Suspects have the right to the free assistance of an attorney and interpretation, as well as medical and psychological treatment. At all stages of the process, suspects may communicate with their legal representation and have a family member notified of their arrest.
Following an initial ruling, a court may hold individuals in pretrial detention for 30 days from the date of their arrest and may extend pretrial detention for up to one year. After an indictment and until the conclusion of trial proceedings, only a trial judge or a trial panel can order or terminate detention. The law allows a judge to order house arrest, confiscate travel documents, and expand use bail or other alternatives to pretrial detention.
Although in some instances police operated undercover, they generally carried out arrests using warrants. There were no confirmed reports that police abused the 48-hour rule, and prosecutors generally either provided arrested persons with documents describing the reasons for their detention or released them. While officials generally respected the requirement for prompt disposition of cases, the KRCT reported detainees occasionally faced delays when attorneys were temporarily unavailable.
The KRCT reported that authorities did not always allow detained persons to contact attorneys when initially arrested and in some cases authorities permitted consultation with an attorney only once police investigators began formal questioning. In several cases detainees were allowed access to an attorney only after their formal questioning. Some detained persons complained that, despite requests for lawyers, their first contact with an attorney took place at their initial court appearance.
The law limits police use of force only in order “to protect a person’s life, to prevent an attack, to prevent a criminal act, to prevent the flight of a perpetrator, or, when other measures are not successful, to achieve another legitimate police objective.” The law also provides that when using force, police “shall attempt to minimize the intrusion into a person’s rights and freedoms and to minimize any detrimental consequences.”
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy detentions, averaging six months, both before and during judicial proceedings, remained a problem. The law allows judges to detain a defendant pending trial if there is a well-grounded suspicion the defendant is likely to destroy, hide, or forge evidence; influence witnesses; flee; repeat the offense; engage in another criminal offense; or fail to appear at subsequent court proceedings. Judges routinely granted pretrial detention without requiring evidentiary justification. Lengthy detention was also partly due to judicial inefficiency and corruption.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary did not always provide due process. According to the European Commission, NGOs, and the Ombudsperson Institution, the administration of justice was slow and lacked the means to ensure judicial officials’ accountability. Judicial structures were subject to political interference, disputed appointments, and unclear mandates.
Although backlogs once presented a substantial problem, judicial efficiency in resolving pending cases improved markedly. The backlog in basic courts has been reduced by 85 percent since 2016.
The Judiciary Council improved its website by adding a judicial accountability module that includes guidelines on filing a complaint against a judge or a court official. The council issued nonpublic written reprimands or wage reductions for three judges, although these sanctions were considered insufficient to significantly deter future misconduct. The Prosecutorial Council initiated five investigations and rendered five decisions, three of which were findings of guilt. Both councils published these decisions on their respective webpages.
Authorities sometimes failed to carry out court orders, including from the Constitutional Court, particularly when rulings favored minorities, as in numerous Kosovo-Serb property dispute cases. Central and local authorities in Decan/Decani continued to refuse to implement the 2016 decision of the Constitutional Court confirming the Serbian Orthodox Church’s ownership of more than 24 hectares of land adjacent to the Visoki Decani Monastery. None of the officials failing to carry out the court order have been sanctioned.
The law provides for a fair and impartial trial, and while there were severe shortfalls in the judicial system, including instances of political interference, it generally upheld the law. Trials are public and the law entitles defendants to: the presumption of innocence; the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them; a fair, timely, and public trial where they can address the court in their native language; to be present at their trials; to remain silent and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; to confront adverse witnesses; to see evidence; and to have legal representation. Defendants have the right to appeal. These rights extend to all citizens without exception. The country does not use jury trials.
The constitution defines free legal aid as a basic human right, and the law guarantees free legal aid in civil cases, administrative cases, minor offenses, and criminal procedure to individuals who meet certain legal and financial criteria. The government’s Free Legal Aid Agency provides free legal assistance to low-income individuals. During the year it undertook outreach campaigns targeting disadvantaged and marginalized communities and expanded the availability of legal aid information through online platforms.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
There are civil remedies for human rights violations but victims were unable to avail themselves of this recourse due to complicated bureaucratic procedures and a large backlog of cases. Individuals may appeal to courts to seek damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.
Individuals may turn to the Constitutional Court for review of alleged violations by public authorities of their individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution, but only after exhaustion of all other legal remedies.
The Ombudsperson Institution received 12 complaints of nonexecution of court decisions regarding civil, property, or employment disputes. The Ombudsperson Institution recommended that the Judicial Council give priority to readjudication over new cases.
A complex mix of laws, regulations, administrative instructions, and court practices, as well as the illegal reoccupation of properties and multiple claims for the same property, continued to hamper resolution of property restitution cases arising from the war and its aftermath. More than 96 percent of these claims were filed by ethnic Serbs. Private citizens and religious communities were largely unsuccessful in petitioning for the return of properties seized or confiscated during the Yugoslav era.
By law the Kosovo Property Comparison and Verification Agency (KPCVA) has authority to adjudicate claims regarding the extent, value, and ownership of land parcels and to resolve discrepancies between cadastral documents. The absence of cadastral records, which Serbia removed from Kosovo in 1999, however, prevented the KPCVA from fully fulfilling its mandate. Claimants have the right to appeal decisions in the courts.
The KPCVA had difficulty enforcing the eviction of illegal occupants and, in general, failed to remove illegal structures built on land after claimants had their rights confirmed. The majority of the claimants were ethnic Serbs. In April the agency adopted an administrative instruction to expedite removal of illegal structures. As a result one demolition took place in October in Pristina. The agency reported it initiated compensation in 143 cases to those who lost property in the 1990s, mostly ethnic Albanians. As of October the KPCVA had 61 evictions pending, 23 of which were in the Mitrovica/e region, primarily involving property owned by Kosovo Albanians. Reusurpation of property continued to be an issue, although the numbers have reportedly declined. Civil society organizations complained the country lacked an effective system to allow displaced Kosovo Serbs living outside the country to file property claims and receive notification of property claim decisions.
In 2019 the Assembly appointed Naser Shala as head of the KPCVA. Shala was unable to secure appointment from the parliament to this position in 2018 due to widespread views that he was corrupt, unqualified, and under criminal investigation. Shala remained in office despite numerous international calls for his resignation, diminishing the institution’s credibility.
On September 4, Prime Minister Hoti and Serbian President Vucic signed agreements which included pledges to continue restitution of Holocaust-era heirless and unclaimed Jewish property.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports the government, EULEX, or KFOR failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports during the year that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating any killings involving law enforcement. Military prosecutors are responsible for investigating killings involving the military. In cases where there may be a conflict of interest, the Ministry of Internal Affairs can transfer a criminal investigation and prosecution to a military prosecutor, at their discretion.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Nevertheless, physical abuse, including inhuman and degrading treatment, reportedly continued in prisons. Police abuse reportedly remained a problem, notably in pretrial detention.
Defense attorneys, journalists, and human rights monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, and the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch (HRW), reported incidents of torture by police and other law enforcement agencies. Authorities reportedly tortured individuals to elicit confessions during criminal investigations. Through June the Antitorture Coalition reported 54 allegations of torture. The police accounted for 52 of the allegations, while the State Committee on National Security (GKNB) accounted for the remaining two cases. According to the Antitorture Coalition, 21 of the 54 investigations into torture were dropped on administrative grounds. As of the end of 2020, the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) had not brought criminal charges in any of the alleged cases of torture, though investigations continue in 33 cases. NGOs stated that the government established strong torture-monitoring bodies but that influence from some parts of the government threatened the independence of these bodies.
The NGO Golos Svobody (The Voice of Freedom) played a central role in monitoring allegations of torture. Golos Svobody served as the main organizer of the Antitorture Coalition, a consortium of 18 NGOs that continued to work with the PGO to track complaints of torture. The Antitorture Coalition also accepted complaints of torture and passed them to the PGO to facilitate investigations. According to members of the Antitorture Coalition, the cases it submitted against alleged torturers did not lead to convictions.
In cases where prosecutors tried police on torture charges, prosecutors, judges, and defendants routinely raised procedural and substantive objections. These objections delayed the cases, often resulting in stale evidence, and ultimately led to case dismissal.
During the year NGOs reported that courts regularly accepted as evidence confessions allegedly induced through torture. The human rights NGO Bir Duino reported that the police continued to use torture as a means to elicit confessions, and that courts often dismissed allegations of torture, claiming that the defendants were lying in order to weaken the state’s case. Defense lawyers stated that, once prosecutors took a case to trial, a conviction was almost certain. In a report on torture in the country, Bir Duino highlighted ongoing issues, including the implementation of the new legal code creating gaps in an already weak system for investigating torture, and the failure of legal institutions, including investigatory judges, to investigate torture in a timely manner. Bir Duino also reported that ethnic Uzbeks composed 51 percent of torture cases, despite only representing 18 percent of the population. According to Golos Svobody, investigators often took two weeks or longer to review torture claims, at which point the physical evidence of torture was no longer visible. Defense attorneys presented most allegations of torture during trial proceedings, and the courts typically rejected them. In some cases detainees who filed torture complaints later recanted, reportedly due to intimidation by law enforcement officers.
Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to food and medicine shortages, substandard health care, lack of heat, and mistreatment.
Physical Conditions: Pretrial and temporary detention facilities were particularly overcrowded, and conditions and mistreatment generally were worse than in prisons. Authorities generally held juveniles separately from adults but grouped them in overcrowded temporary detention centers when other facilities were unavailable. Experts reported that inmates who had been convicted of crimes involving terrorism or extremism were not adequately separated from the general population. Convicted prisoners occasionally remained in pretrial detention centers while they appealed their cases.
NGOs reported that in some cases prison gangs controlled prison management and discipline, since prison officials lacked capacity and expertise in running a facility. In some instances the gangs controlled items that could be brought into the prison, such as food and clothing, while prison officials looked the other way. According to NGOs, authorities did not try to dismantle these groups because they were too powerful and believed that removing them could lead to chaos. Some prisoners indicated that prison officials left prison order and safety to the prison gangs or prisoners themselves, resulting in instances of violence and intimidation among inmates.
Prisoners reported prison officials did not provide access to appropriate medical care in prisons, including medications, to prisoners. Human rights organizations reported that the government failed to provide prisoners and prison staff with personal protective equipment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Federation for Human Rights, called on the government to respect Mandela Rules regarding vulnerable prisoners during the pandemic and called for the release of imprisoned human rights activist and journalist Azimjan Askarov. Despite complaints from his lawyer and human rights organizations that he was gravely ill, Askarov died in prison in July likely due to COVID-19, and was only moved to the prison hospital two days before his death.
Administration: Authorities did not conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. Prisoners have the right to file complaints with prison officials or with higher authorities. According to Bir Duino, prison staff inconsistently reported and documented complaints. Many observers believed the official number of prisoner complaints of mistreatment represented only a small fraction of the actual cases. Officials running pretrial detention facilities often denied persons held in pretrial detention access to visitors.
The government empowered the National Center to Prevent Torture (NCPT), an independent and impartial body, to monitor detention facilities. NGO representatives stated that NCPT officials made progress monitoring and documenting some violations in detention facilities. They stressed, as they had in previous years that the government needed to implement a standardized approach to identifying torture cases and provide additional resources and staff members to the NCPT to conduct its work.
Independent Monitoring: Most monitoring groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), reported receiving unfettered access to prisons and pretrial detention facilities, except for detention centers the GKNB operates. Some NGOs, including Bir Duino and Spravedlivost, had the right to visit prisons independently as part of their provision of technical assistance, such as medical and psychological care.
The government granted individuals working in NCPT’s seven regional offices the authority to make unannounced, unfettered visits to detention facilities.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
While the law prohibits arbitrary arrest, it continued to occur. Human rights organizations reported that authorities unfairly targeted and arrested ethnic Uzbeks for alleged involvement in banned religious organizations and for alleged “religious extremism activity.” While police have reduced arrests of ethnic Uzbeks for possession of “extremist materials” after a change in the extremism law in 2019, NGOs report that security services have shifted to online monitoring of social media accounts, and arresting ethnic Uzbeks who were alleged to be associated with “extremist groups.” Attorneys reported that police frequently arrested individuals on false charges and then solicited bribes in exchange for release.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
According to the criminal procedure code, only courts have the authority to issue search and seizure warrants. While prosecutors have the burden of proof in persuading a judge that a defendant should be detained pending trial, activists reported detention without a warrant or in contravention of regulatory standards remained common. NGOs reported police targeted vulnerable defendants from whom they believed they could secure a bribe. Authorities could legally hold a detainee for 48 to 72 hours before filing charges. Experts on torture abuse reported police and security services often failed to report that they detained a person in order to prolong harsh interrogation and torture. The law requires investigators to notify a detainee’s family of the detention within 12 hours. The general legal restriction on the length of investigations is 60 days. The law, however, provides courts the discretion to hold a suspect in pretrial detention for as much as one year, depending on the severity of the charges, after which they are legally required to release the suspect. Once a case goes to trial, the law provides courts the authority to prolong detention until the case is closed without limitations on duration of custody. The judicial system operates a functioning bail system. The law allows courts to use alternative measures instead of detention, such as restrictions on foreign travel and house arrest.
Persons arrested or charged with a crime have the right to defense counsel at public expense. By law the accused has the right to consult with defense counsel immediately upon arrest or detention, but in many cases the first meeting did not occur until the trial. As in past years, human rights groups noted incidents in which authorities denied attorneys access to arrested minors, often held the minors without parental notification, and questioned them without parents or attorneys present, despite laws forbidding these practices.
The law authorizes the use of house arrest for certain categories of suspects. Reports indicated law enforcement officers selectively enforced the law by incarcerating persons suspected of minor crimes while not pursuing those suspected of more serious offenses.
Arbitrary Arrest: As in previous years, NGOs and monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, and Spravedlivost, recorded complaints of arbitrary arrest. Most observers asserted it was impossible to know the number of cases because the majority of these individuals did not report their experiences. According to NGOs in the southern part of the country, arrests and harassment of individuals allegedly involved in extremist religious groups–predominantly ethnic Uzbeks–continued.
Press reported arrests of individuals suspected of involvement in the banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir; such arrests continued a trend that began in 2014. According to Bir Duino, however, corruption within the law enforcement system motivated some arrests. Civil society alleged police entered homes falsely claiming to have a search warrant, planted banned Hizb ut-Tahrir material, and arrested the suspect in the hope of extracting a bribe to secure release.
Both local and international observers said the GKNB and law enforcement officers engaged in widespread arbitrary arrests, including some alleged to be politically motivated; detainee abuse; and extortion, particularly in the southern part of the country.
On May 30, the GKNB arrested Kamil Ruziev, head of the Ventus human rights organization, for falsifying documents and fraud. According to a government spokesperson, the GKNB made the arrest after a client claimed that Ruziev had offered to provide legal expertise, despite not having a license to practice law. Human rights organizations immediately called for Ruziev’s release, asserting that his arrest was an attempt to silence a critic of the police and endemic torture. On June 22, the Issyk Kul District Court upheld his arrest as legal, prompting Bir Duino to issue a press release highlighting that the GKNB did not have jurisdiction over forgery and fraud cases under the criminal code, and questioning why the GKNB was involved. Additionally Bir Duino claimed that the court’s decision to put Ruziev under house arrest did not follow normal protocol.
Pretrial Detention: Civil society groups frequently reported lengthy pretrial detention periods for detained individuals. Political machinations, complex legal procedures, poor access to lawyers, and limited investigative capacity often lengthened defendants’ time in pretrial detention beyond the 60-day limit, with some individuals being detained legally for as long as one year. Seven pretrial detention facilities held approximately 2,500 persons.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but judges were subject to influence or corruption. Throughout the year the conduct and outcome of trials appeared predetermined in multiple cases. Numerous sources, including NGOs, attorneys, government officials, and private citizens, asserted that some judges paid bribes to attain their positions. Many attorneys asserted that judges ubiquitously accept bribes. Authorities generally respected court orders.
Numerous NGOs described pervasive violations of the right to a fair trial, including coerced confessions, use of torture, denial of access to counsel, and convictions in the absence of sufficiently conclusive evidence or despite exculpatory evidence. International observers reported threats and acts of violence against defendants and defense attorneys inside and outside the courtroom, as well as intimidation of trial judges by victims’ relatives and friends.
From February to March, the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights monitored the criminal trial of Gulzhan Pasanova as part of the Clooney Foundation’s TrialWatch initiative. Pasanova was convicted of inflicting grievous bodily harm resulting in her husband’s death. Pasanova, who claimed to have been subjected to long-term domestic abuse by her husband, argued that she acted in self-defense. According to the ABA, the proceedings against Pasanova were marred by serious irregularities, including: state-imposed limitations of the right to call and cross-examine witnesses, a lack of an impartial tribunal, significant impediments to the right of appeal, and a failure of the court to act according to a presumption of innocence. Additionally the ABA asserted that the prosecutor and court disregarded the documented history of domestic violence, in contravention of Pasanova’s right to be free from “discrimination.”
While the law provides for defendants’ rights, the customs and practices of the judicial system regularly contradicted the constitutional presumption of innocence, and pretrial investigations focused on the collection of sufficient evidence to prove guilt. The law requires investigators to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them and to provide interpreters as needed. Courts conducted trials in the state language, Kyrgyz, or the official language, Russian. In a majority of trials, courtroom procedure required defendants to sit in caged cells.
Defense attorneys complained that judges routinely returned cases to investigators if the prosecutors did not provide enough evidence to prove guilt, during which time suspects could remain in detention. According to attorneys, judges typically gave defendants at least a suspended sentence instead of finding them not guilty regardless of how little evidence existed to sustain a prison term.
Courts generally opened trials to the public, unless the case allegedly involved state secrets or privacy concerns of defendants. Courts often announced verdicts publicly, even in closed proceedings. State prosecutors submit criminal cases to courts, while judges direct criminal proceedings. Criminal cases feature a single judge, while three-judge panels conduct appellate cases. Judges have full authority to render verdicts and determine sentences. The government granted a limited number of judges the necessary security clearances to access documents deemed secret, further circumscribing defendants’ access to impartial judicial review in cases purporting to relate to national security.
The law provides for unlimited visits between an attorney and a client during trial, but authorities occasionally did not grant permission for such visits. The government provided indigent defendants with attorneys at public expense, and defendants could refuse legal counsel and defend themselves. HRW, domestic NGOs, and local attorneys reported some state-provided criminal defense lawyers were complicit with prosecutors and did not properly defend their clients. Many observers, particularly in the southern part of the country, described these lawyers as “pocket attorneys” who would help secure bribes from their client to pass to police and judges, which would then secure the client’s eventual release. International observers reported that defense attorneys in rural areas provided a lower quality of representation than defense attorneys in the capital. In many cases individuals accused of extremism-related crimes experienced difficulty trying to find an attorney who was not closely connected to police.
The law permits defendants and their counsel to attend all proceedings, question witnesses, present evidence, call witnesses, and access prosecution evidence in advance of trial, but courts frequently did not follow these requirements. Courts typically required witnesses to testify in person. Under certain circumstances courts allowed testimony via audio or video recording. Defendants and counsel, by law, have the right to communicate freely, in private, with no limitation on the frequency. Defendants and prosecutors have the right to appeal a court’s decision. An appellate court can increase a lower court’s sentence against a defendant.
Human rights and civil society NGOs claimed there were a small number of incarcerated political prisoners. Human rights observers noted several high-profile trials for corruption and related crimes appeared to be politically motivated, targeting political opposition and members of former president Atambaev’s administration. NGOs that monitor prison conditions did not report political prisoners were treated differently from other prisoners. The government permitted access to political prisoners by human rights NGOs and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
On July 24, Azimjon Askarov, an ethnic Uzbek human rights activist, died in prison. Askarov, along with seven other codefendants, had a life sentence for allegedly organizing riots that caused the death of a police officer during the 2010 ethnic clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Askarov remained imprisoned until his death. In 2016 the UN Human Rights Committee concluded that Askarov was arbitrarily detained, held in inhumane conditions, tortured, and otherwise mistreated without redress. Supreme Court proceedings in Askarov’s appeal were marred with irregularities and police attempted to bar Askarov’s legal team from the initial hearing in March. Additionally, police initially denied a representative of OSCE’s ODIHR permission to attend the public court proceeding. During his final hearing in May, family members of the slain police officer threatened Askarov’s wife and lawyer, and the court continued proceedings without addressing the threats. After a short hearing, the Supreme Court upheld Askarov’s life sentence.
In the days before his death, media reported that Askarov was gravely ill. According to his lawyer, Askarov’s health was visibly deteriorating at their last face-to-face visit. The lawyer reported that Askarov had lost significant weight and that prison guards had to carry him into the room. The lawyer also said that Askarov was no longer eating, and the prison was giving him glucose intravenously to maintain nutrition. Bir Duino and other NGOs called for Askarov’s release, highlighting ongoing health concerns and a possible COVID-19 infection. The government repeatedly denied that Askarov’s health was failing or that Askarov had COVID-19, and claimed no prisoners in the prison system had the virus. The Office of the Ombudsman released a statement claiming that Askarov refused treatment and displayed no symptoms of COVID-19 during a medical examination. Bir Duino accused the ombudsman of deliberately misrepresenting Askarov’s health. After his death, the government stated that Askarov died from bilateral pneumonia and said Askarov had been placed on an oxygen concentrator. According to the death certificate, Askarov died after removing the tube connecting him to the oxygen concentrator.
In December 2019 Syrgak Kenzhebaev, the husband of Shirin Aitmatova, former member of Kyrgyzstan’s parliament and a prominent anticorruption activist, was detained and deported to Kyrgyzstan from Kazakhstan on the basis of a case lodged on behalf of a Chinese businessman in Kyrgyzstan who accused him of fraud. This came at a time when Aitmatova was heavily involved in protests against the KG government related to new corruption allegations. Aitmatova said the deportation was based on a complaint by one of the individuals implicated in the corruption scandal.
The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. As with criminal matters, observers believed the civil judicial system was subject to influence from the outside, including by the government. Local courts address civil, criminal, economic, administrative, and other cases. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial authority. The constitution provides citizens the right to apply to international human rights bodies seeking protection of violated rights and freedoms in accordance with international treaties. Nonetheless, the decisions of international bodies are nonbinding and therefore not subject to enforcement by the government.
According to the law, wiretaps, home searches, mail interception, and similar acts, including in cases relating to national security, are permitted only with the approval of the prosecutor and based on a court decision. Such actions are permitted exclusively to combat crime. There were reports that the government failed to respect these restrictions, including reports of police planting evidence in cases of extremism investigations. Seven government agencies have legal authority to monitor citizens’ telephone and internet communications.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) investigates allegations of police misconduct and abuse. The PCA, however, was ineffective because it lacked authority to fulfill its mandate: It could only investigate cases referred to it by the police commissioner or minister for police and could act on public complaints only with their approval. The PCA also lacked authority to refer cases directly to the Prosecutor’s Office. The PCA did not publish its findings or recommendations.
There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. On July 22, three police officers of the Flight One Station in Maseru allegedly beat Thabiso Molise to death. According to the chairman of the Ha Jimisi Community Policing Forum, Molise escaped police custody after being arrested on suspicion of theft and fled to Ha Jimisi village, where police captured him and clubbed him to death. According to a family member, autopsy results confirmed his death from the beating. On September 3, the suspects were suspended from duty pending investigation of the incident.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution states that no person shall be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment and the penal code lists torture as one of the crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, there were credible reports police tortured suspects and subjected them to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. On July 8, the Moafrika Community Broadcasting Service reported that Mabote police officers tortured LMPS Special Operations Unit member Lebusa Setlojoane and his relative Lefu Setlojoane with electrical shocks and suffocation to force him to confess to committing arson and homicide. Setlojoane stated he was told he would be killed if he reported the abuse to judicial authorities.
On July 29, Lesotho Television reported the minister of police encouraged harsh treatment of criminals; however, on September 1, the commissioner of police stated, “torture and inhuman treatment is intolerable within the LMPS.”
During the year the government acted to investigate and punish police and military members. The commissioner of police took disciplinary action against 50 police officers and two military members accused of committing human rights abuses. They were charged, appeared before the High Court and released on bail. They had yet to be tried by year’s end.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding; physical abuse and inmate-on-inmate violence, including rape; and inadequate food, sanitary conditions, medical care, ventilation, lighting, and heat.
Physical Conditions: The Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) reported facilities in Maseru, Leribe, and Berea were overcrowded. Former justice minister Mahali Phamotse attributed overcrowding at prisons to high crime rates among the unemployed.
Unlike in 2019 authorities stated no prisoners submitted complaints of physical abuse by correctional officers.
Inmate-on-inmate violence continued to be a problem. In January the newspaper Sunday Express reported that former LCS commissioner Thabang Mothepu called on LCS superintendent Tuoata Makoetje to explain the death of an inmate from physical abuse by prison officers because he sodomized another inmate.
Rape and consensual unprotected sex by prisoners contributed to a high rate of HIV/AIDS infection in correctional facilities. In 2018 the newspaper Lesotho Times quoted Superintendent Limpho Lebitsa’s statement, “A lot happens behind bars and away from the eyes of prison officers.”
All prisons had a nurse and a dispensary to attend to minor illnesses, but health care was inadequate. Prisons lacked medical units that operated 24 hours a day; as a result, guards confined sick prisoners to their cells from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. Although prisons provided potable water, sanitation was poor in the Mokhotlong, Berea, Quthing, and Qacha’s Nek prisons. Prisons generally lacked bedding, lighting, and proper ventilation; heating and cooling systems did not exist.
From June to September, authorities halted prison visits by inmate family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Crime Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration of the Prisoners Association warned of the risk of increased inmate illnesses and deaths due to the interruption in the provision of additional food and medication provided by relatives. The LCS acknowledged food shortages. On August 27, the Minister of Justice Nqosa Mahao stated prison food quality was poor. Restrictions were relaxed in September.
In addition to one death as a result of inmate-on-inmate violence, the LCS reported four deaths that were attributed to natural causes, not malnutrition, lack of food, or other prison conditions.
In August 2019 corporals Motsieloa Leutsoa, charged with the 2014 killing of Police Sub-Inspector Monaheng Ramahloko, and Tsitso Ramoholi, charged with the 2015 killing of Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) Commander Maaparankoe Mahao, petitioned the High Court for release on bail, citing gross overcrowding and generally deplorable prison conditions. They complained that cells designed to hold four to five inmates held as many as 20 inmates at a time. They also stated there were only enough mattresses for one third of the inmate population, tuberculosis and other diseases were rampant, and it took up to a week to access a doctor.
Authorities did not institute safeguards or other measures to protect the rights or accommodate the needs of prisoners with disabilities. Prison buildings lacked ramps, railings, and other features facilitating physical access for prisoners with disabilities.
Administration: The LCS investigated reports of inmate-on-inmate violence and physical abuse by correctional officers. Authorities took disciplinary action. From June to September, authorities instituted COVID-19 restrictions that halted prison visits by inmate family members.
Unlike in 2019 the Office of the Ombudsman stated it received no complaints from prisoners. Prisoners were often unaware they could file complaints, which had to be submitted through prison authorities, creating the possibility of retaliation against complainants.
Independent Monitoring: In June, COVID-19 restrictions halted most prison visits. Prior to June senators, the ombudsman, and representatives of the Lesotho Red Cross, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Transformation Resource Center (TRC), churches, the business community, and the courts visited prisoners. Diplomatic and International Committee of the Red Cross representatives periodically visited foreign nationals detained in the country. Following the relaxation of COVID-19 restriction in September, visitors were allowed limited contact with inmates and to provide them food, medicine, and personal hygiene products.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. In August 2019 Chief Magistrate Matankiso Nthunya stated police often detained individuals improperly and attempted to refer cases for prosecution based on insufficient evidence. Nthunya added that in many cases police sought to punish defendants for unknown reasons unrelated to any substantiated criminal offense.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires police, based on sufficient evidence, to obtain an arrest warrant from a magistrate prior to making an arrest on criminal grounds. Police arrested suspects openly, informed them of their rights, and brought those charged with a crime before a judicial officer. By law police are required to inform suspects of charges against them upon arrest and present suspects in court within 48 hours. According to media, police did not always inform suspects of charges upon arrest and detained them for more than the prescribed 48 hours. By law authorities may not hold a suspect in custody for more than 90 days before a trial except in exceptional circumstances.
The law provides for bail, which authorities granted regularly and, in most cases, fairly.
Defendants have the right to legal counsel. Authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer. The Legal Aid Division under the Ministry of Justice and Law and NGOs offered free legal assistance, but it was insufficient to provide counsel for all indigent detainees.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. Arbitrary arrest and detention was a continuing problem. In August 2019 Chief Magistrate Matankiso Nthunya stated police often detained individuals improperly and attempted to refer cases for prosecution based on insufficient evidence. Nthunya added that in many cases police sought to punish defendants for unknown reasons unrelated to any substantiated criminal offense.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees constituted 29 percent of the prison population. The average length of pretrial detention was 90 days, after which authorities usually released pretrial detainees on bail pending trial. Pretrial detention sometimes lasted for years, however, due to judicial staffing shortages, unavailability of legal counsel, or negligence. In April 2019 acting chief justice Maseforo Mahase visited the Maseru correctional facility and discovered pretrial detainees who had been imprisoned for up to eight years without charge.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but in 2019 the Law Society of Lesotho stated the government did not respect judicial independence. In some cases authorities failed to respect court orders. There were several reports of abuses similar to the following examples. On April 18, Deputy Commissioner Sera Makharilele was appointed acting police commissioner despite a High Court order not to replace the incumbent, Holomo Molibeli. On February 5, acting chief justice Maseforo Mahase intervened in the bail hearing of the spouse of former prime minister Thabane, Maesaisah Thabane, who was indicted for murder. Mahase ordered payment of minimal bail and Thabane’s release. On May 29, the Court of Appeal revoked Thabane’s bail. On June 3, a magistrate court ordered reincarceration. On June 29, High Court Judge Thamsanqa Nomngcongo ordered her release on bail. No date for Thabane’s trial had been set by year’s end, and she remained free on bail.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.
Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. In most cases officials informed defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them with free interpretation as necessary during proceedings at the magistrate and High Court levels but not at other points in the criminal justice process. By law the free assistance of an interpreter is not required for Court of Appeal cases. In some cases interpreters were not readily available, resulting in delays in the filing of charges. Trial delays resulted from a large backlog of cases due to an inadequate number of judges, the failure of defense attorneys to appear in court, defendants changing legal counsel, and motions for recusal of judges. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, to communicate with an attorney of their choice, and have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may confront and question witnesses against them and present witnesses on their own behalf. The law allows defendants to present evidence on their own behalf at a magistrate’s court, but the High Court requires a lawyer present evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may appeal a judgment.
In civil and criminal matters, a single judge normally hears cases. In constitutional, commercial, and appeal court cases, more than one judge is assigned. By law civil and criminal trials are open to the public.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. Although search warrants are required under normal circumstances, the law provides police with the power to stop and search persons and vehicles as well as to enter homes and other places without a warrant if the situation is life threatening or there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect a serious crime has occurred. Additionally, the law states any police officer of the rank of inspector or above may search individuals or homes without a warrant.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were occasional reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On January 26, bodyguards of President George Weah assaulted Zenu Koboi Miller, a local broadcast journalist, as he was leaving the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sport Stadium in Monrovia. On January 27, the case was highlighted in a statement by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), an independent organization for media professionals, and later by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Miller wrote in a Facebook post that he had seen a doctor and was suffering from pains in his legs and chest after the “brutal attack.” Miller filed a complaint with the PUL, which met with police leadership on January 30 and called for a transparent investigation, according to a PUL statement. Miller died in a local hospital on February 15, after complaining of numbness in his left arm and legs, according to local news reports. While a direct link between the assault and death was never established, since an autopsy was not conducted, the family issued a statement saying Miller had died of hypertension and stroke.
On March 8, off-duty Liberia National Police (LNP) Sergeant Sensee Kowo, who was also the deputy commander of LNP Ganta City Detachment in Nimba County, allegedly flogged and choked 18-year-old motorcyclist Samuel Selleh after an argument; Selleh died shortly thereafter. Authorities fired Kowo and opened an investigation into the death. One account of the events suggested Selleh died as a result of stones thrown by friends who came to his defense. Sergeant Kowo (who originally fled the scene) was arrested and charged with murder. At the first hearing of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, during the August Term of Court, the former sergeant’s plea for a change of venue was granted, and the case was pending transfer to Grand Bassa County at year’s end.
In June the Civilian Complaints Review Board, an independent body mandated by law to investigate police acts of violence against innocent persons, began an investigation into circumstances that resulted in the death of a three-year-old child, Francis Mensah, in the Township of West Point. The child died on April 20, reportedly as a result of an injury he sustained after six LNP officers allegedly kicked over a pot of hot water that fell on him. According to a press release issued by the review board chairman, Councilor Tiawan Gongloe, the officers were suspended. An LNP investigation found the death was not caused intentionally, but some LNP officers involved received suspensions due to irregularities in reporting the event.
There were no new developments in the June 2019 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Abraham Tumay by police officers during a protest demanding justice for the mysterious killing of two minors in May 2019. Four police officers were charged with negligent homicide, aggravated assault, and criminal facilitation in connection with Tumay’s death. The officers allegedly fired live ammunition into the air in an attempt to disperse protesters, striking Tumay. The four officers were incarcerated at the Monrovia Central Prison awaiting trial.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports that government authorities allegedly abused, harassed, and intimidated persons in custody as well as those seeking protection.
On April 23, Mohammed Komara, a man reportedly suffering from mental illness, breached the perimeter of the president’s private residence in Paynesville, outside Monrovia. LNP officers and agents of the Executive Protection Service kicked and used sticks to prod the individual while he lay prostrate, shirtless, and handcuffed, according to a widely circulated video of the incident. The Office of the President announced the launch of an investigation into the case.
Impunity was a problem in the security forces. Police and other security officers allegedly abused, harassed, and intimidated persons in police custody, as well as those seeking police protection. The penal code provides criminal penalties for excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and addresses permissible uses of force during arrest or while preventing the escape of a prisoner from custody. An armed forces disciplinary board investigates alleged misconduct and abuses by military personnel. The armed forces administer nonjudicial punishment. As of August the disciplinary board had three active cases. In accordance with a memorandum of understanding between the Ministries of Justice and Defense, the armed forces refer capital cases to the civil court system for adjudication.
Prison conditions were at times harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and poor medical care.
Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding continued to be a problem. The Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported the prison population in the country’s 16 facilities was almost twice the planned capacity. Approximately one-half of the country’s 2,572 prisoners were at the Monrovia Central Prison, which was originally built for 374 detainees but as of December held 1,230. The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Prison Fellowship Liberia reported that overcrowding in Block D of the Monrovia Central Prison required prisoners to sleep in shifts. The majority of juveniles were in pretrial detention. Pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held together. In some cases men and women were held together, and juveniles were held with adults.
According to the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, from January through September, there were 23 prison deaths in the country, including 13 deaths at the Monrovia Central Prison, four deaths each at the Gbarnga Central Prison and the Harper Central Prison, and one death each at the Tubmanburg Central Prison and the Buchanan Central Prison. According to the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, none of the deaths in prisons during the year resulted from prison violence or mistreatment of prisoners. The bureau attributed the deaths to medical reasons–other than COVID-19–including anemia, heart conditions, and infectious diseases. According to Prison Fellowship Liberia, however, Ministry of Health officials working in the prisons did not test the bodies of deceased prisoners for signs of COVID-19 infection.
Access to food and medical care was inadequate, according to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners that “[e]very prisoner shall be provided by the prison administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served,” but improved, relative to the preceding year. Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation administrators acknowledged interruptions to the food supply during the year and blamed poor road conditions and delayed budgetary allotments. Prison Fellowship Liberia reported prisoner diets overall remained poor even though rations had improved from the prior year. The Monrovia Central Prison sometimes served rice alone, with prisoners purchasing oil from vendors at the prison to supplement their diet. In some locations prisoners supplemented their meals by purchasing food at the prison or receiving food from visitors. Some prisoners grew their own rice and vegetables to supplement food rations.
Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials reported six of the country’s 16 prisons had medical clinics while the rest were visited by nurses. Nurses were scheduled to visit each of the prisons without a medical clinic once or twice a week but rarely adhered to the schedule, and facilities often went weeks without medical staff visits. The only location where medical staff was available Monday through Friday was the Monrovia Central Prison, from approximately 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Ministry of Health and county health teams had primary responsibility for the provision of medicines, but the supply chain was weak throughout the country, and prison medical staff often did not have access to necessary medicines. Since replenishment sometimes took weeks or months, inmates often went without medication for lengthy periods. A variety of NGOs, including Serving Humanity for Empowerment and Development and the Rural Human Rights Activities Program, provided some medications for detainees. Prison Fellowship Liberia noted that in some instances family members were not notified when prisoners were seriously ill. There were reports of inadequate treatment for ailing inmates and inmates with disabilities. Authorities determined whether to release an ill prisoner on an ad hoc basis, and most were quarantined after presenting symptoms rather than being released. In June the newspaper Front Page Africa reported the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation had implemented measures, including requiring handwashing and temperature checks of visitors, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the prison population.
In some locations the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation lacked adequate vehicles and fuel and relied on the LNP to provide court and medical escorts.
Conditions for female prisoners were somewhat better than for males. Female inmates were less likely to suffer from overcrowding and had more freedom to move within the women’s section of facilities. According to the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), female detainees often lacked sanitary items unless provided by family; occasionally NGOs donated these items, but stocks ran out quickly.
Administration: The Bureau of Corrections and Administration noted the creation of an investigative board at Monrovia Central Prison to ensure reports of prisoner misconduct were reviewed for appropriate administrative action.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local human rights groups, international NGOs, the United Nations, diplomatic personnel, and media. Some human rights groups, including domestic and international organizations, visited detainees at police headquarters and prisoners in the Monrovia Central Prison. The INCHR and Prison Fellowship Liberia had unfettered access to facilities. According to the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Liberian New Hope Foundation Center, Serving Humanity for Empowerment and Development, Finn Church Aid, Serving Humanity for Development, UN Development Program (UNDP), and Rural Human Rights Activities also visited prisons during the year.
Improvements: Early in the year, the government established the Human Rights in Prison Coordination Platform to ensure the human rights of inmates or persons deprived of their liberty were protected. The coordination platform comprised representatives of the Protection Unit of the Ministry of Justice, Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Ministry of Health, donor partners, and civil society organizations working on access to justice programs and on programs in education, agriculture, and health. The platform acquired and distributed COVID-19 materials and medicine to prisons, through funding from the UNDP and two civil society organizations, Serving Humanity for Empowerment and Dignity and the Rural Human Rights Activist Program.
During the year Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation administrators reported expanding a rehabilitation center in Gbarnga, expanding tailoring and soap-making programs at Monrovia Central Prison, and setting up an investigation board. Prison Fellowship Liberia noted improvements in the provision of psychological counseling for prisoners and the treatment of prisoners by corrections officers. Psychological counseling was extended to 10 prisons across the country.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not always observe these prohibitions and rights. Police officers and magistrates frequently detained citizens for owing money to a complainant. The INCHR reported magistrate court judges continued to issue writs of arrest unilaterally, without approval or submission by the city solicitors.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
In general police must have warrants issued by a magistrate to make arrests. The law allows for arrests without a warrant if the necessary paperwork is filed immediately afterwards for review by the appropriate authority. Nonetheless, arrests often were made without judicial authorization, and warrants were sometimes issued without sufficient evidence. Police sometimes requested money to effect arrests for prosecuting authorities.
The law provides that authorities either charge or release detainees within 48 hours. Detainees generally were informed of the charges against them upon arrest but not always brought before a judge for arraignment within 48 hours. According to the INCHR, a detainee’s access to a hearing before a judge sometimes depended on whether there was a functioning court or available transportation in the area. Those arraigned were often held in lengthy pretrial detention. Some detainees, particularly among the majority who lacked the means to hire a lawyer, were held for more than 48 hours without charge. The law also provides that, once detained, a criminal defendant must be indicted during the next succeeding 90-day term of court after arrest or, if the indicted defendant is not tried within the next succeeding court term and no cause is given, the case against the defendant is to be dismissed; nevertheless, cases were rarely dismissed on either ground. Approximately 50 percent of pretrial detainees nationwide had been incarcerated for more than two terms of court without a hearing.
There is a public defender’s office at the Monrovia Central Prison. The Ministry of Justice assigned 12 public defenders to Montserrado County where Monrovia is located and one or two for each of the other counties. Under the public defender program, each police station is required to maintain an office of court liaison that works with the public defender’s office in each county. According to the national coordinator of the program, the 41 public defenders, up from 39 in 2019, were insufficient to provide adequate access to justice for indigent persons across the country. Magistrates or police officers are responsible for contacting the public defender in cases where individuals are arrested on a warrant. In the instances when a warrantless arrest is made, the court liaison officer is responsible for contacting the public defender. In practice, however, some local public defenders relied on local jailers to provide notification of new arrestees. According to the INCHR, some jurisdictions occasionally lacked both a prosecutor and a public defender, and the magistrate judge proceeded without them.
The law provides for bail for all noncapital or non-drug-related criminal offenses; it severely limits bail for individuals charged with capital offenses or serious sexual crimes. Bail may be paid in cash, property, or insurance, or be granted on personal recognizance. The bail system was inefficient and susceptible to corruption. The INCHR reported judges misused the bail system, viewing it as punitive rather than a way to regulate appearance in court. Some judges used the possibility of bail as a way to solicit bribes. Aside from a few high-profile cases, house arrest was rarely used.
Detainees have the right to prompt access to counsel, visits from family members, and, if indigent, an attorney provided by the state in criminal cases. Public defender’s offices remained understaffed and underfunded, and some allegedly charged indigent clients for their services. The Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) reported logistical support frequently was not provided to public defenders. In Lofa County, for example, there were two public defenders to cover eight court districts. In some cases courts permitted legal apprentices to represent defendants.
Although official policy allows detained suspects to communicate with others, including a lawyer or family member, inadequate provision of telephone services resulted in many inmates being unable to communicate with anyone outside of the detention facility. The Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported that Finn Church Aid provided cell phones to some prisons to allow detainees to contact their families and lawyers.
Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces and the LNP continued to make arbitrary arrests. The Press Union of Liberia reported radio journalist David K. Yango was unjustly arrested, beaten, and jailed while conducting interviews with market sellers on May 7. Yango relayed to the Media Foundation for West Africa through a messaging app that he was taken to the police station and detained on the orders of Elijah Baysah, whom he described as the commander of the LNP Red Light Zone 9 Depot No. 2. Yango reportedly suffered injuries after the police used force. “I lost my recorder during the assault, and the police deleted my videos before returning my seized phone,” Yango said, after his release.
On June 26, National Security Agency authorities arrested and detained the CEO of Orange Liberia, allegedly to investigate whether he was involved in a protest and accused him of “trying to destabilize the country.” Some business leaders viewed the arrest as an attempt to pressure the company to drop its litigation against the government pending before the Supreme Court regarding the imposition of surcharges to tariffs. The company issued a statement denying the CEO was involved in the protests and underscored its corporate policy against political participation. Authorities released the CEO shortly after detention, and he soon departed the country.
Pretrial Detention: Although the law provides for a defendant to receive an expeditious trial, lengthy pretrial and prearraignment detention remained serious problems. As of July pretrial detainees accounted for approximately 63 percent of the prison population across the country and 77 percent in the Monrovia Central Prison. In some cases the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum length of sentence that could be imposed for the alleged crime.
The use of detention as a punitive measure, failure to issue indictments in a timely manner, lack of a functioning bail system, poor court recordkeeping and missing files, failure of judges to assign court dates, failure of defense counsel to file motions to dismiss, and a lack of resources for public defenders all contributed to prolonged pretrial detention. For example, as of October the oldest pretrial detainee case dated to 2014.
In March as the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the country, the LNBA increased its efforts to secure the release of pretrial detainees in order to reduce overcrowding in prisons. Over a two-month period, 200 pretrial detainees were released from the Monrovia Central Prison.
In April, Front Page Africa reported eight pretrial detainees accused of rape and statutory rape, nonbailable offenses, in Bong County were released without trial after spending a year in detention. The court released the suspects to the defense attorney, who said the state failed to provide sufficient evidence against the suspects, so the court had the right to release them. The Bong County Chief Prosecutor was unsuccessful in his plea to the court that releasing the eight individuals violated the law. There was reportedly one individual accused in the case who remained in custody at year’s end on unrelated charges.
From January to July, 200 pretrial detainees had their cases dismissed and were released under the Magistrate Sitting Program.
The corrections system continued to develop its capacity to implement probation. During the year authorities doubled the number of probation officers to 50.
With UNICEF’s support and in coordination with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, the Child Justice Section of the Ministry of Justice worked to remove children from the criminal justice system. During the year 66 children were removed from detention. In addition, another 248 cases, consisting of 182 boys and 66 girls, were mediated to avoid their detention altogether.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: 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 to request prompt release, although in reality few were able to do so because of inaction at the courts and because they lacked adequate counsel.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence and engaged in corruption. Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, award damages in civil cases, or acquit defendants in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors, or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial.
In August the Global News Network reported that Eva Mappy Morgan, chief judge of the Commercial Court and president of the National Trial Judges of Liberia, was the subject of an investigation for alleged malpractice. Judge Morgan was linked to a 2013 communication in which it was alleged the Commercial Court authorized the withdrawal, without the consent of one of the litigating parties, of an amount of $3.4 million at the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment, which was being held in escrow pending final determination of a commercial dispute between Ducor Petroleum Inc. and the Monrovia Oil Trading Company. The court unilaterally ordered the withdrawal of more than three million dollars from the bank. The Judicial Inquiry Commission investigation of the case continued at year’s end. The commission is an auxiliary group established within the judiciary with the exclusive power and authority to receive and investigate complaints against judges for violation of any provision of the judicial canons.
Some judicial officials and prosecutors appeared subject to pressure, and the outcome of some trials appeared to be predetermined, especially when the accused persons were politically connected or socially prominent. In July, Criminal Court C dismissed indictment charges against suspended Andrew Wonplo, the director of passports and visas at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after he was arrested in August 2019 for selling passports to foreign nationals from 2018 to 2019. The case was dismissed on a procedural ruling that the state did not proceed within the statutory period. On September 16, however, the government issued a second writ of arrest against Wonplo and 12 other suspects for fraudulent issuance of more than 4,000 passports, which the government alleged deprived it of more than $30,000 in revenue.
While the Supreme Court made provision through the establishment of the Grievance and Ethics Committee for the review of unethical conduct of lawyers and suspended some lawyers from legal practice for up to five years, the public brought few cases. Both the Grievance and Ethics Committee and the Judicial Inquiry Commission lacked appropriate guidelines to deliver their mandates effectively and were perceived as nontransparent and subject to influence.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence. By law defendants may opt for a jury trial or a trial by judge. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and consult with an attorney (or be provided one at public expense) in a timely manner. Defendants have the right to be informed of charges promptly and in detail. If a defendant, complainant, or witness does not speak or understand English, the court is to provide an interpreter for the trial. The justice system does not provide interpreters throughout the legal process, however. For example, there were no sign language interpreters or other accommodations provided for deaf persons, and rarely is interpretation available unless paid for by the defendant.
Defendants also have the right to a trial without delay and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, although these rights often were not observed. Defendants are generally presumed innocent under the law, and they have the right to confront and question prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, present their own evidence and witnesses, and appeal adverse decisions. These rights were often not observed and were rarely enforced.
Some local NGOs continued to provide legal services to indigent defendants and others who had no representation. The Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia continued to run a legal aid project supported by the UNDP to promote and protect the rights of women, children, and indigent persons in two counties. The LBNA expanded its legal services to the indigent through legal aid clinics in five counties, working on approximately 200 cases.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
The constitution stipulates the creation of a claims court, but it had not occurred by year’s end. There was no specialized court to address lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Individuals or organizations may seek remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts or through administrative mechanisms. Human rights violations are generally reported to the INCHR, which refers cases to relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Justice. In some cases individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies after all domestic redress options have been exhausted. While there is an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice to address human rights violations in member states, few citizens were aware of it or could afford to access this court. In 2019 the ECOWAS court heard a $500 million suit brought on behalf of 823 ethnic Mandingoes who alleged they were displaced from their lands in Nimba County during the civil wars. In June the court heard the case of former supreme court associate justice Kabineh Ja’neh, who asserted that he was wrongfully impeached and removed from office in March 2019. On November 10, the ECOWAS Court of Justice ordered the Republic of Liberia to pay former associate justice Ja’neh $200,000 as reparation for moral prejudice suffered for the violation of his rights. The court further ordered the judge’s reinstatement as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. The court gave the government six months to report on the enforcement of the judgment. At year’s end, however, it was unclear whether the government would choose to recognize the court ruling. In a November 17 statement, the Senate justified its decision to impeached Ja’neh.
The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports that armed groups aligned with both the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) and other nonstate actors, including foreign fighters and mercenaries, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Office of the Attorney General bore responsibility for investigating such abuses and pursuing prosecutions but were either unable or unwilling to do so in most cases due to severe capacity constraints.
Alliances, sometimes temporary, among elements of the government, nonstate actors, 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 July, GNA Coast Guard officials shot and killed three migrants as they attempted to escape from authorities after being disembarked from a vessel intercepted on the Mediterranean.
In June at least eight mass graves were discovered in the city of Tarhouna and in areas of southern Tripoli, which had been under the territorial control of LNA-aligned forces, including the Kaniyat militia, since April 2019. According to Libya’s General Authority for the Search and Identification of Missing Persons (GASIMP), the remains of at least 102 persons, including women and children, had been uncovered as of late October. More than 100 additional bodies were recovered from Tarhouna Hospital, reportedly including many civilians. An additional 270 persons were missing from the area, according to accounts from families. On October 18, GASIMP reported the discovery of an additional five mass graves near Tarhouna containing the remains of at least 12 unidentified persons, six of whom were bound and blindfolded. According to GASIMP officials, their investigation into these mass graves continued.
Eastern authorities reportedly killed one civilian and injured three others during peaceful demonstrations in the city of al-Marj on September 12, according to UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
In some cases foreign mercenaries carried out unlawful killings with support from their home governments. The Russia-linked Wagner Group provided command and control support in the LNA’s offensive on Tripoli, which resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties.
Nonstate armed groups and criminal gangs committed other unlawful killings. In May a trafficking ring in the northwestern city of Mizda massacred 30 migrants and seriously injured several others. The MOI announced an investigation and arrest warrants for suspects shortly after the incident, which was ongoing at year’s end.
Armed groups in Tripoli linked to the GNA used machine guns and vehicle-mounted antiaircraft weapons to disperse largely peaceful anticorruption protests between August 23 and August 29, allegedly killing one protester, according to Human Rights Watch. The armed groups–including the Nawasi Brigade and the Special Deterrence Forces/Rada Group–reportedly arbitrarily detained at least 23 protesters and a journalist covering the event, with additional allegations of torture and disappearances.
In the absence of an effective judicial and security apparatus, most killings were not investigated. Between January and June, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented the deaths of 170 civilians and the injury of 319 others. From June to November, UNSMIL reported at least five civilian deaths and 16 injuries, including to three women and three boys younger than 10.
Between January and June, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented the deaths of 170 civilians and the injury of 319 others. From June to November, UNSMIL reported at least five civilian deaths and 16 injuries, including to three women and three boys younger than 10.
On June 3, drone strikes in support of the GNA struck the Qasr bin Gashir District of southern Tripoli, resulting in the killing of 17 civilians, according to UNSMIL.
In early June, as LNA units withdrew from Tripoli, Russian Wagner Group mercenaries indiscriminately planted land mines, booby traps, and improvised explosive devices around the outskirts of Tripoli, including in heavily residential areas. UNSMIL subsequently determined these devices were responsible for 43 civilian casualties, including the killing of two mine-clearing experts and the injury or maiming of 41 other civilians, including a number of children.
On November 10, unidentified gunmen shot and killed prominent lawyer and anticorruption activist Hanan al-Barassi in the eastern city of Benghazi. Al-Barassi was an outspoken critic of abuses in areas controlled by the LNA. Amnesty International reported al-Barassi had received death threats and had planned to release video exposing corruption within Haftar’s family on social media. The LNA ordered an investigation into the assassination.
GNA and LNA-aligned armed groups, other nonstate armed groups, criminal gangs, and tribal groups committed an unknown number of forced disappearances (see section 1.g.). Due to its limited capacity, the GNA made few effective efforts to prevent, investigate, or penalize forced disappearances.
In March, UNSMIL expressed concern over an increase in abductions and enforced disappearances in towns and cities across the country conducted by armed groups with total impunity. Migrants, refugees, and other foreign nationals were especially vulnerable to kidnapping. UNSMIL received reports that hundreds of migrants and refugees intercepted or rescued at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard went missing after disembarking at Libyan ports, and it was possible they were seized by armed groups engaged in human trafficking or smuggling. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that between January and November, 192 migrants and refugees were confirmed missing and 107 bodies were recovered during search and rescue operations.
Following the LNA’s capture of Sirte in January, UNSMIL received reports of enforced disappearances perpetrated by armed groups perceived as being loyal to the GNA.
In June following the discovery of mass graves in Tarhouna, UNSMIL reported it had received reports of hundreds of crimes, including a significant number of forced disappearances, perpetrated in Tarhouna in recent years. On February 5, it was widely reported that the Tarhouna-based Kaniyat militia abducted several women whose fates remain unknown.
July 17 marked the one-year anniversary of the high-profile disappearance of member of parliament Siham Sergiwa, who was abducted from her home shortly after criticizing the LNA’s Tripoli offensive in a television interview. Her whereabouts remained unknown, and her disappearance reportedly had a chilling effect on women’s political participation.
Libyan and international human rights organizations reported that dozens of civil society activists, politicians, judges, and journalists have been forcibly disappeared by both western and eastern security services or armed groups and detained for making comments or pursuing activities perceived as being disloyal to the GNA or LNA. On February 26, unknown individuals abducted Judge Mohamed bin Amer while he was walking with his wife and children in the western city of al-Khoms. Numerous judges, lawyers, and public prosecutors across western Libya protested publicly to demand his release. His whereabouts remained unknown. On March 2, armed men from the “Security Operations Room” of the LNA in Derna arrested the general manager of al-Harish hospital from his home; he was reportedly subsequently released. On October 21, the head of the GNA Media Corporation, Mohamed Bayou, along with his two sons and the newly appointed head of programs at the Libya al-Wataniya television channel, Hind Ammar, were abducted by the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, a Tripoli-based militia. Bayou’s two sons and Ammar were released soon afterwards.
Many disappearances that occurred during the Qadhafi regime, the 2011 revolution, and the postrevolutionary period remained uninvestigated. Due to the continuing conflict, weak judicial system, and legal ambiguity regarding amnesty for revolutionary forces, law enforcement authorities and the judiciary made no appreciable progress in resolving high-profile cases. Authorities engaged in documenting missing persons, recovering human remains, and reunifying families reported being underfunded. The International Commission on Missing Persons estimated there could be up to 15,000 missing persons in the country dating back to the Qadhafi era.
While the 2011 Constitutional Declaration and postrevolutionary legislation prohibit such practices, credible sources indicated personnel operating both government and extralegal prisons and detention centers tortured detainees (see section 1.g.). While judicial police controlled some facilities, the GNA continued to rely on armed groups to manage prisons and detention facilities. Furthermore, armed groups, not police, initiated arrests in many instances. An unknown number of individuals were held without judicial authorization in other facilities nominally controlled by the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, or in extralegal facilities controlled by GNA-affiliated armed groups, LNA-affiliated armed groups, and other nonstate actors. Treatment varied from facility to facility and typically was worst at the time of arrest. There were reports of cruel and degrading treatment in government and extralegal facilities, including beatings, administration of electric shocks, burns, and rape. In many instances this torture was reportedly initiated to extort payments from detainees’ families.
International and Libyan human rights organizations noted that the GNA-aligned Special Deterrence Force and Nawasi Brigade conducted summary executions, acts of torture, and other abuses at official prisons and unofficial interrogation facilities.
In June following the withdrawal of the LNA-aligned Kaniyat militia from the city of Tarhouna, advancing GNA forces found corpses at Tarhouna Hospital that bore wounds indicative of torture. In July a pro-GNA news network broadcast footage of an extralegal detention facility where it claimed the Kaniyat had tortured victims by confining them in metal cell-like containers and lighting fires on top of the containers.
In addition to individuals held in the criminal justice system, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that 2,565 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were held in migrant detention centers nominally controlled by the Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Illegal Migration (DCIM) as of December. An unknown number of other refugees and migrants were held in extralegal detention facilities, such as smugglers’ camps, controlled by criminal and nonstate armed groups. Persons held in these facilities were routinely tortured and abused, including being subjected to arbitrary killings, rape and sexual violence, beatings, forced labor, and deprivation of food and water according to dozens of testimonies shared with international aid agencies and human rights groups. In January, for example, UNSMIL interviewed 32 migrants who had been arbitrarily detained and subjected to torture or rape for ransom by nonstate criminal groups and state officials, including DCIM and Coast Guard employees.
In June and July, migrants who claimed to have escaped from informal human trafficking camps in Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, appeared at aid organization offices in Tripoli bearing wounds indicative of torture.
Impunity was a significant problem within the security forces, and the GNA lacked the ability seriously to pursue accountability for abuses due to challenges posed by the ongoing civil conflict, political fragmentation, a lack of territorial control over much of the country, and widespread corruption.
Prisons and detention facilities were often overcrowded, and conditions were harsh and life threatening, falling well short of international standards. Many prisons and detention centers were outside GNA control (see section 1.g.).
Physical Conditions: During the year prisons remained overcrowded, were in need of infrastructural repairs, suffered from poor ventilation, lacked adequate hygiene facilities, and experienced power and water outages. Prisons lacked clean drinking water and served low-quality food. UN agencies reported malnutrition was a risk in some prisons and detention centers, notably at DCIM facilities, which did not receive a food budget.
Communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, scabies, and HIV/AIDS, affected detainees in some prisons and detention centers. There were unconfirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in the LNA-controlled Kweifiyah Prison in Benghazi. Most prisons lacked functioning health units, and inmates depended on family members to bring them medicine. Inmates who needed medical attention were sometimes transferred to public hospitals within the jurisdiction of whichever police unit or militia controlled the prison; these transfers often depended on the availability of private vehicles, as most prisons lack ambulances.
There was no centralized record keeping. There were reportedly no functioning juvenile facilities in the country, and authorities held juveniles in adult prisons, although sometimes in separate sections.
UNSMIL estimated there were approximately 500 women detained in Libyan prisons as of May. Women prisoners faced conditions that fell well short of international minimum standards. Although there were often separate facilities for men and women, women remained almost universally guarded by male prison guards. UNSMIL received numerous reports of women who were subjected to forced prostitution in prisons or detention facilities in conditions that amounted to sexual slavery.
According to international and Libyan migration advocates, migrant detention centers suffered from massive overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of access to medical care, food shortages, and significant disregard for the protection of detainees, including allegations of unlawful killing, sexual violence, and forced labor. As of July, the IOM estimated 27 percent of migrants and refugees held in DCIM detention centers were minors. A large number of migrant and refugee detainees were held in extralegal facilities, although numbers were unknown. There were numerous anecdotal reports that officials, nonstate armed groups, and criminal gangs moved migrants through a network of government and extralegal detention facilities with little monitoring by the government or international organizations.
Administration: The Judicial Police Authority, tasked by the GNA-aligned 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 that reports to a rival, eastern “Ministry of Justice” that provides oversight to prisons in eastern Libya. During the year the ratio of detainees and prisoners to guards varied significantly. Monitoring and training of prison staff by international organizations remained largely suspended, although training of judicial police continued during the year.
Units affiliated with the GNA-aligned Ministries of Interior and Defense and rival eastern security forces operated other prisons and detention centers.
As of April, UNSMIL estimated there were 9,000 persons detained in 28 facilities under Ministry of Justice oversight and up to 10,000 individuals in prisons controlled by the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, or nonstate armed groups. As of July, the IOM estimated there were 2,400 persons detained in DCIM facilities and potentially thousands of other migrants held in extralegal and informal facilities.
Independent Monitoring: Multiple independent monitoring organizations reported difficulties gaining access to prison and detention facilities, particularly those in eastern Libya. The GNA permitted some independent monitoring by international organizations, including the ICRC, but these movements were tightly controlled. UN and international aid organization sources reported that DCIM officials repeatedly denied access requests. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created further barriers to humanitarian access. Although some international organizations received permission to visit migrant detention facilities during the year, the responsiveness of GNA authorities and level of access varied widely from visit to visit. As of November, UNHCR and its partners had conducted 250 visits to DCIM facilities to administer aid and register refugees and asylum-seekers.
Improvements: As of May, the GNA reported that it had released nearly 2,000 persons from Ministry of Justice prisons to reduce overcrowding and minimize possible vectors for the spread of COVID-19. The ministry reportedly prioritized the release of persons who had already served more than half their sentences. While international watchdogs welcomed the move, they noted that the vast majority of persons in prisons and detention facilities were being held in pretrial detention. These groups called on the GNA to immediately release vulnerable inmates in pretrial detention, including women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. UNSMIL maintained that all migrant detention facilities should be closed and the detainees released.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
There were continued reports by UNSMIL of prolonged and arbitrary detention for persons held in prisons and detention facilities. Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that a large but indeterminate number of persons held in such prisons and detention centers were arbitrarily detained for periods exceeding one year.
Nonstate actors 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. The government had weak control over police and GNA-aligned armed groups providing internal security, and some armed groups carried out illegal and arbitrary detentions unimpeded. The low level of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of arbitrary detentions.
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 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right to counsel, the vast majority of detainees did not have access to bail or a lawyer. Government authorities and armed groups 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. Various GNA-aligned and nonstate armed groups arbitrarily arrested and detained persons throughout the year. UNSMIL, along with other local and international organizations, reported that a number of individuals arriving in Tripoli from eastern Libya were arbitrarily arrested by armed groups in early November. At least one person was followed to his destination in Tripoli and then arrested, while others were allegedly arrested at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport upon arrival.
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 court capacity resulted in a severe backlog of cases. UNSMIL estimated that 60-70 percent of persons detained in Ministry of Justice prisons were in pretrial detention. According to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), many of these detainees were held for periods longer than the sentences for the minor crimes they allegedly committed. The Ministry of Justice was working to improve practices by training the judicial police on international standards for pretrial detention. The number of persons held in pretrial detention in Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and extralegal detention facilities was not publicly known.
Some individuals detained during the 2011 revolution remained in custody, mostly in facilities in the west. International NGOs called for the release of detainees held for petty charges to mitigate overcrowding and COVID-19 transmission risk in prisons. The GNA-affiliated Office of the Attorney General established a committee in late 2018 to review cases of arbitrary detention and process detainees for potential release, but international watchdogs criticized the committee for acting slowly.
Armed groups held most of their detainees without charge and outside the government’s authority. With control of the security environment divided among various armed 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: 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 the court system, intimidation of judges, and difficulties in securely transporting prisoners to the courts effectively limited detainee access to the courts during the year. For persons held in migrant detention facilities, there was no access to immigration courts or due process.
The 2011 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. In some cases trials were held without public hearings. Judges and prosecutors faced threats, intimidation, violence, and lack of resources. 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 rule of law. Civilian and military courts operated sporadically depending on local security conditions. Court proceedings were limited in areas affected by continuing hostilities and in the country’s south. All judicial sector proceedings in GNA-controlled areas, including court appearances, were suspended in April and May due to COVID-19 concerns. There were reports of some civilian activists tried in LNA military courts in eastern Libya under dubious charges.
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent. During the year GNA-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 and local NGOs, arbitrary detention and torture by armed groups, including those operating nominally under government oversight, contributed to a climate of lawlessness that made fair trials elusive. Armed groups and families of the victims or the accused regularly threatened lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.
Amid threats, intimidation, and violence against the judiciary, the GNA 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.
Armed groups, some of which were nominally under GNA authority, held persons on political grounds, particularly former Qadhafi regime officials and others accused of subverting the 2011 revolution, in a variety of temporary facilities.
The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners.
The 2011 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 Law of Transitional Justice provided for fact-finding, accountability, and reparations for victims, but this was not implemented in practice. Courts did process civil, administrative, family, commercial, and land and property law matters. Lack of security and intimidation by armed groups challenged the ability of authorities to enforce judgements.
Impunity for the state and for armed groups also exists in law. Even if a court acquits a person detained by an armed group, that person has no right to initiate a criminal or civil complaint against the state or the armed group unless “fabricated or mendacious” allegations caused the detention.
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration considers correspondence, telephone conversations, and other forms of communication inviolable unless authorized by a court order. Nonetheless, reports in the news and on social media indicated GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, criminal groups, and other nonstate actors violated these prohibitions by monitoring communications without judicial authorization, imposing roadside checks, and entering private homes.
In August a number of Libyan human rights organizations protested the practice by Libyan authorities of searching cell phones, tablets, and laptops at roadside checkpoints, airports, and border crossings. These organizations noted the practice was widespread across both western and eastern Libya and was used as a means to target activists, lawyers, media professionals, bloggers, and migrants.
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.
Civil society and media reports documented abuses by GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, nonstate groups, foreign actors including mercenaries from various countries, and terrorist organizations. Human rights abuses committed by armed groups reportedly included killings, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, kidnapping, torture, appropriation of property, burning of houses and vehicles, and forced expulsions based on political belief or tribal affiliation.
The largest internal conflict during the year occurred near Tripoli, where LNA-aligned forces fought to take control of the city from GNA-aligned forces. The fighting in Tripoli significantly worsened humanitarian conditions in the area.
Killings: There were numerous reports that GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, foreign actors and mercenaries, and nonstate actors committed arbitrary and unlawful killings of civilians (see section 1.a.).
In June as GNA forces advanced on the western city of Tarhouna, UNSMIL received reports that GNA-aligned units captured and summarily killed members of LNA-aligned units, including members of the Kaniyat militia.
In June when LNA forces and Wagner Group mercenaries withdrew from Tripoli’s southern suburbs, they planted improvised explosive devices and land mines, which injured and killed civilians seeking to return to their homes as well as humanitarian NGO personnel tasked with clearing these deadly devices.
In May, LNA-aligned units engaged in the torture, summary execution, and desecration of corpses of GNA-aligned fighters who had been captured in or near Tripoli, according to HRW.
Wagner Group personnel were deployed on Tripoli frontlines in support of the LNA as snipers and to direct artillery fire from at least September 2019 to May 2020, UNSMIL reported. Russian-directed shelling caused a number of civilian casualties.
In April, HRW determined, based on missile remnants found onsite, that a November 2019 airstrike on a biscuit factory in Tripoli that killed several civilians was directed by the UAE government on behalf of the LNA. The UAE has flown numerous drone missions in Libya on behalf of the LNA since April 2019.
There were reports of communal violence between ethnic and tribal groups. An indeterminate number of civilians were killed and others injured in clashes between tribal and ethnic groups in southern Libya.
Abductions: GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, and other armed groups were responsible for the disappearance of civilians, although few details were available (see section 1.b.). Kidnappings targeted activists, journalists, former government officials, migrants, and the security forces. Kidnappings for ransom remained a frequent occurrence in many cities.
In January, after LNA-aligned groups captured the central Libyan city of Sirte, there were reports that several civilians were abducted and arbitrarily detained by LNA-aligned persons for their perceived loyalty to the GNA.
In April the LNA-aligned Kaniyat militia kidnapped three women, all sisters, from their home in Tarhouna. This was one high-profile example of numerous disappearances reportedly perpetrated by the Kaniyat between January and June.
There were frequent reports of migrants and other expatriate workers abducted for ransom.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Guards at both government and extralegal detention centers reportedly tortured prisoners. The lack of full government control over detention facilities limited information available on conditions within these facilities (see section 1.c.).
The takeover in April of several western Libyan towns by GNA-affiliated groups was accompanied by reports of acts of retribution, including looting, robberies, and torching of public and private properties.
In June, following the advance of GNA-aligned units on Tarhouna, reports emerged–including footage widely circulated on social media–that GNA-aligned units had arbitrarily detained a group of Egyptian laborers and forced them to stand in stress positions.
Prior to their withdrawal from Tarhouna in June, the LNA-aligned Kaniyat militia reportedly tortured numerous civilian victims, notably members of local tribes perceived as opposing the Kaniyat.
Child Soldiers: There were reports of child recruitment and use by armed groups affiliated with both the GNA and LNA, as well as nonstate groups. Although government policy required verification recruits were at least age 18, nonstate armed groups did not have formal policies prohibiting the practice. The GNA did not make credible efforts to investigate or punish recruitment or use of child soldiers.
In June the United Nations reported that Turkey had engaged in large-scale recruitment of Syrian fighters to take part in hostilities in Libya in support of the GNA, including some boys younger than 18. The United Nations expressed concern at reports that both the GNA and LNA were using child soldiers.
In May unverified reports emerged that 20 Syrian children were among Turkish-backed Syrian fighters killed in hostilities in Libya during the year. The United Nations was working to confirm these reports at year’s end.
In the first quarter of the year, UNSMIL verified one instance of child recruitment by LNA-aligned groups.
There were reports that Sudanese and Chadian mercenary groups in southern Libya also engaged in the recruitment or use of children.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Additional abuses stemming from conflict included restrictions on travel and deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructure.
From January through late September, LNA-aligned units and tribes orchestrated a shutdown of the country’s oil production and exports, effectively shuttering the oil and gas sector and causing an estimated loss of $9.8 billion in state revenues according to the National Oil Corporation. This resulted in delayed public-sector salary payments and a steep rise in fuel prices across the country, limiting commerce and causing serious humanitarian harm.
Authorities at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport were forced to suspend operations temporarily several times between January and May due to indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes by LNA-aligned groups that killed several civilians in neighborhoods in the vicinity of the airport. On May 9, one airstrike damaged a civilian aircraft that was being used to repatriate Libyan and foreign nationals stranded as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other civilian infrastructure, including Tripoli Port, was shelled by LNA-aligned forces in the first half of the year.
As of June, the World Health Organization reported there had been 21 registered attacks on health facilities and workers, including attacks on hospitals, field clinics, and ambulances. Between January and November, UNSMIL reported 30 attacks on health-care facilities, resulting in eight deaths and 23 injuries. A significant percentage of the health-care infrastructure in the country was inoperable due to damages from conflict, disrepair, or other factors.
In April, Tripoli’s Khadra Hospital, which was designated for civilian use as a COVID-19 treatment facility, was targeted in four separate LNA-aligned airstrikes. Tripoli’s Royal Hospital was targeted in a separate attack, causing extensive damage to the ICU.
Nonstate armed groups also periodically attacked and shut down power and water stations in western and southern Libya as a pressure tactic in local disputes. In April an armed group in the city of Shweirif shut down a local water pump station, disrupting water flow to up to three million residents on the western seaboard.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings of criminal suspects. Most killings occurred during security force operations to stem cattle rustling by armed criminal groups in the central, west, and southwest areas as well as during police raids to combat insecurity in urban areas.
The gendarmerie and police inspection offices investigated abuses perpetrated by their officers. The office of army command conducted investigations of military personnel. These offices investigated formal complaints and, more often, incidents that were widely covered in traditional and social media and triggered a backlash from the public. There were more investigations related to such incidents than in previous years. In isolated cases these investigations led to arrest, conviction, and jailing of accused security force members.
Between January and September, press reported at least 135 deaths during security force operations, including members of the security forces and ordinary civilians, as well as those suspected of crimes. Usually the security forces involved were composed of police and gendarmes, but occasionally they included military personnel and prison guards. There were reports of security forces executing suspected cattle thieves or bandits after capture; in most cases security forces claimed those killed attempted to escape and refused to respond to warning shots. These statements by security forces often could not be substantiated. In isolated cases the government launched investigations, arrested, and jailed the accused security force members.
On August 7, soldiers from the Second Inter Arms Battalion (BIA2) shot and killed two villagers and injured another in Ampamoriana in the Bongolava region. The army command reported an armed confrontation, but villagers reported to the local gendarmerie that they had not heard any gunshots from the villagers. Media reported on August 10 that the army command launched an investigation and dismissed the commander of the BIA2 battalion, his deputy, and the chief of the contingent that carried out the raid. There was no reported trial as of November.
A mass prisoner escape from Farafangana Prison in August resulted in security forces killing 23 detainees. International organizations, local civil society groups, and human rights activists characterized the incident as showing excessive use of force by the security forces. A preliminary investigation by the Ministry of Justice revealed that acts of violence and corruption by prison staff incited detainees to organize the massive prison break. The resulting investigation led to the replacement of the prefet (administrator) of Farafangana, the regional director of the penitentiary administration, and the manager of the prison. As of September authorities took no other action against those responsible for the killings (see also section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law provide for the inviolability of the person and prohibit such practices, but security forces subjected prisoners and criminal suspects to physical and mental abuse, including torture during coerced confessions, according to the National Independent Human Rights Commission (CNIDH) in 2019.
Security personnel reportedly used beatings as punishment for alleged crimes or as a means of coercion. There were reports that off-duty and sometimes intoxicated members of the armed forces assaulted civilians. Investigations into these incidents announced by security officials rarely resulted in prosecutions.
On August 1, security forces patrolling in Antohomadinika caught two alleged pickpockets and reportedly forced them into a pool of sewage, made them apologize in front of the large crowd of onlookers, and then handed them over to police investigators.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Factors contributing to impunity included corruption and a lack of reporting of abuses. Offices that investigated abuses included inspection bodies within the gendarmerie, police, and army command. The government did not provide human rights training for security forces, but it collaborated with international organizations to build security forces’ capacity on specific law enforcement problems such as trafficking in persons and child protection.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate food, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and insufficient medical care.
Physical Conditions: Lengthy pretrial detentions, inefficiencies in the judicial system, and inadequate prison infrastructure created a serious overcrowding problem. One penitentiary surpassed its official capacity by nearly eightfold. As reported on UNICEF’s website in June, the country’s 82 prisons and detention centers held 27,600 inmates. This population was more than twice the official capacity of 11,000.
Lengthy pretrial detention was pervasive, contributing significantly to overcrowding. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In August 2019 the CNIDH noted worsening conditions during its visits to 23 of 83 facilities.
Authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults, and some children younger than school age shared cells with their incarcerated mothers. According to the Ministry of Justice, 65 percent of the 44 prisons holding juvenile detainees had separate areas for minors in 2018.
Amnesty International stated in April that detainees continued to be affected by problems such as malnutrition, lack of hygiene, and limited access to medical care. Detained persons were crowded in cells without appropriate lighting and ventilation and slept on the ground with no mattress or blanket.
In August the UN High Commission for Human Rights considered the country’s overcrowded detention centers as a “hotbed” for COVID-19 proliferation. Prisons were overcrowded with generally unhygienic conditions, poor food, and no proper access to health care.
The Ministry of Justice recorded 43 deaths between January and October 2019 compiled from all the detention and prison facilities of the country. The most frequent causes of death from physical conditions were tuberculosis, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal problems. Prison authorities took few remedial actions concerning these deaths.
Ministry of Justice officials indicated that overcrowding at Farafangana Prison contributed to the August violent prison break in which 23 detainees were killed (see section 1.a.).
Administration: While a formal process exists to submit complaints to judicial authorities, few detainees used it due to fear of reprisal. Authorities rarely investigated the complaints they received. Officials authorized weekly visits from relatives and permitted religious observance. Visits outside scheduled days were reportedly possible by bribing guards and penitentiary agents. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported bribes could purchase small privileges, such as allowing family members to bring food for prisoners.
In March the government suspended all family and NGO visits to prisons to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, but relatives continued to bring food for detainees without visiting them. Authorities lifted these restrictions in October.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local NGOs and some diplomatic missions.
Improvements: In April, UNICEF began support that included improving nutrition, and providing basic medicines, personal protective equipment, testing kits, sanitary products for women and girls, and disinfection equipment.
Also in April, NGO Grandir Dignement (Grow with Dignity) reported that it set up a detention watch system to protect juvenile detainees, including twice weekly visits.
In June, President Rajoelina announced a pardon of Antanamora Prison detainees to address overcrowding problems, particularly in view of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Prison authorities subsequently released 3,871 detainees. In addition 7,826 detainees had their prison time shortened as part of the pardon announcement but remained in prison to continue serving their reduced sentences.
The prison administration set up specific areas to isolate new inmates and avoid a massive outbreak of COVID-19. In July the minister of justice announced a strengthening of measures to prevent the spread of the disease through testing of all new detainees, 15 days of quarantine, and close monitoring of health conditions.
On September 16, the government replaced the regional director in charge of penitentiary administration and the manager of the prison of Farafangana. The Midi newspaper reported that authorities took this decision after its investigation of the killing of 23 escaped detainees (see section 1.a.).
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but authorities did not always respect these provisions. Authorities arrested persons on vague charges and detained many suspects for long periods without trial.
The law gives traditional village institutions authority to protect property and public order. In some rural areas, a community-organized judicial system known as dina resolved civil disputes between villagers over such problems as alleged cattle rustling. Dina procedures sometimes conflicted with national laws by imposing harsh sentences without due process or by failing to protect the rights of victims.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires arrest warrants in all cases except those involving “hot pursuit” (the apprehension of a suspect during or immediately after a crime is committed), but authorities often detained persons based on accusations and without judicial authorization. The law requires authorities to charge or release criminal suspects within 48 hours of arrest, but they often held individuals for significantly longer periods before charging or releasing them. Defendants have a right to counsel, and the law entitles those who cannot afford a lawyer to one provided by the state. Many citizens were unaware of this right, and few requested attorneys. Defendants have the right to know the charges against them, but authorities did not always respect this right. Authorities frequently denied bail without justification. Magistrates often resorted to a mandat de depot (retaining writ) under which defendants were held in detention for the entire pretrial period. The law limits the duration of pretrial detention to eight months and regulates the use of the writ, although authorities often exceeded this limit.
Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists, political opponents of the government, demonstrators, human rights activists, and other civilians.
On February 15, the gendarmerie of Ihosy arrested a well known human rights activist on fraud and extortion charges. Civil society organizations described these charges as intimidation designed to suppress his denunciations of corruption among security forces and public officials. By early March authorities released the activist from pretrial detention, and he awaited trial.
Pretrial Detention: As of October 2019, approximately 57 percent of inmates nationwide were in pretrial detention. Pretrial detention ranged from several days to several years. Poor recordkeeping, an outdated judicial system, insufficient numbers of magistrates, and too few courts of first instance contributed to the problem. The length of pretrial detention often exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. In August the minister of justice observed that the restrictions to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak resulted in the extension of the pretrial detention period for a number of detainees as tribunals intermittently closed or reduced their working hours. The government took no action to remedy these extensions.
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was susceptible to outside influence at all levels, and corruption remained a serious problem. There were instances in which the outcome of trials appeared predetermined, and authorities did not always enforce court orders. Lack of training and personnel hampered judicial effectiveness, and case backlogs were “prodigious,” according to Freedom House.
The law reserves military courts for trials of military personnel, and they generally follow the procedures of the civil judicial system, except that military jury members must be officers. Defendants in military cases have access to an appeals process and generally benefit from the same rights available to civilians, although their trials are not public. A civilian magistrate, usually joined by a panel of military officers, presides over military trials.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the courts have the authority to direct that a trial be closed to protect the victim or to maintain public order. Trials were often delayed. Prolonged incarceration without charge, denial of bail, and postponed hearings were common. The law provides for the presumption of innocence, but authorities often ignored this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them.
Defendants have the right to legal counsel at every stage of the proceedings. Many citizens were unaware of their right to counsel, however, and authorities did not systematically inform them of it. Defendants who did not request or could not afford counsel generally received very limited time to prepare their cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, to present and confront witnesses, and to present evidence. Authorities generally respected such rights if defendants had legal representation. The law provides the right to an interpreter for the judicial police, examining magistrate, and the defendant’s legal advisor but does not mention any such right for the defendant, nor whether it is a free service. The law stipulates, however, that the defendant has the right to refuse an interpreter. If an interpreter must be hired, it is at the defendant’s expense. Legislation outlining defendants’ rights does not specifically refer to the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal convictions.
There were reports of political prisoners and detainees. Authorities arrested and imprisoned political leaders and activists, ostensibly on charges unrelated to their political positions or for offenses against the public order. Estimates of their number ranged in the single digits. Generally they received the same protections as other prisoners and detainees. The government permitted access to these persons by humanitarian and human rights organizations.
On June 1, the gendarmerie arrested Berija Ravelomanantsoa, a university student leader close to a former administration, for several allegedly insulting posts on social media, charging him with offenses against the public order and the dignity of public officials including the president. On September 30, the Court of Antananarivo sentenced Ravelomanantsoa to 44 months in prison. There were multiple demonstrations and calls from fellow activists and relatives for his release.
On July 16, police arrested former minister of communication Harry Laurent Rahajason, who served under a former president, for a rally on July 13 calling for the release of Berija Ravelomanantsoa. Pending trial he remained in jail despite calls by his wife and daughter for his release for allegedly serious health problems. Opposition leader and President of the Senate Rivo Rakotovao denounced Rahajason’s continued detention as politically motivated. On October 15, the Court of Antananarivo sentenced Rahajason to 44 months in prison for an unauthorized rally and attempted offense against public security.
On April 1, security forces arrested Ny Rado Rafalimanana, a former presidential candidate and well known opposition figure, during a public COVID-19 testing event in Antananarivo while he accompanied a relative trying to receive a test. The Court of Antananarivo charged him the following day with public disorder and “provoking” the security forces. In July the court temporarily released him pending prosecution for this incident and a separate fraud charge.
Amnesty: During an address to the country in May, the president announced a release of journalists in detention to honor Media Freedom Day. The government released an online newspaper journalist and a television presenter whom authorities had charged with defamation and spreading of false news.
The judiciary deals with all civil matters, including human rights cases, and individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic courts. There is no prohibition against appealing to regional human rights bodies, but there was no known case of an appeal. The legal system does not recognize the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
On June 18, inhabitants of a site for a new bypass road in Ankadindramamy, Antananarivo complained of losing their land without receiving promised compensation. The inhabitants stated they turned over part of their property in 2018, and authorities informed them in 2019 that all of their property would be required for the project.
The law prohibits such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these provisions.
The CNIDH reported the continuing arrest and preventive detention of women on the pretext of their supposed complicity in the alleged crimes of male family members being sought by authorities. The CNIDH noted the women were entitled to a presumption of innocence and described the practice as ineffective, because male family members rarely turned themselves in to free the detained women.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
In February 2019 Buleya Lule died while in police custody in Lilongwe, just hours after appearing in court as one of six suspects in the abduction of Goodson Makanjira, a 14-year-old boy with albinism (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination). In a May 2019 report into Lule’s death, the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) found the deceased was tortured, and his immediate cause of death was from torture using electricity. Earlier, police arranged an autopsy that attributed his death to intracranial bleeding and hypertension. The MHRC recommended that the police officers involved be prosecuted. On July 10, 13 officers, including now suspended police commissioner Evalista Chisale, were arrested for their alleged involvement in the death of Lule. On July 31, the officers were released on bail.
Perpetrators of past abuses were occasionally punished administratively, but investigations often were delayed, abandoned, or remained inconclusive.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution prohibits the use of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment; however, police sometimes used excessive force and other unlawful practices, including torture, to extract confessions from suspects. The MHRC stated in its annual report that torture was widespread in prisons.
Reputable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with sex workers reported police officers regularly extracted sexual favors from sex workers under the threat of arrest.
In October 2019 the MHRC opened an independent inquiry into allegations police officers raped women and teenage girls in Msundwe, M’bwatalika, and Mpingu in Lilongwe. The alleged rapes were reportedly in retaliation for the killing of police officer Usuman Imedi by an irate mob in Msundwe. A December 2019 MHRC report stated police officers raped and sexually assaulted 18 women and girls, at least four younger than age 18. On August 13, High Court Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda ordered the government to compensate the women. The judge also ordered police authorities to release the report of the internal investigations within 30 days. As of November the report had yet to be submitted.
One allegation of sexual misconduct by a Malawian peacekeeper deployed to the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reported in 2016 remained pending at year’s end. Two additional allegations of abuses by Malawian peacekeepers with MONUSCO–in 2016 and 2014–were reported during 2019.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were three open allegations, submitted in previous years, of sexual exploitation and abuse by Malawian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including two submitted in 2018 and one submitted in 2016. As of November the government had not yet provided the accountability measures taken for all three open allegations. The 2016 case remained pending a government investigation. For one of the 2018 cases, the United Nations completed its investigation and was awaiting additional information from the government. The United Nations is still investigating the other 2018 case. All three cases allegedly involved exploitation of an adult.
Impunity was a problem in the security forces.
Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding and poor sanitation; inadequate food, potable water, heating, ventilation, lighting, and health care; and torture.
Physical Conditions: An Inspectorate of Prisons report released in September 2019 indicated the Malawi Prison Service was failing to execute its rehabilitative role, while the courts were failing to exercise their sentence review powers in time. A 2018 Inspectorate of Prisons monitoring tour of prisons and police cells across the country found recurrent problems of poor sanitation, poor diet, overcrowding, prisoner abuse, poor ventilation, detention without charge beyond 48 hours, understaffing, prison staff corruption, and insufficient prisoner rehabilitation such as education and vocational training.
Overcrowding and malnutrition remained problems. In December the Malawi Prison Service reported a total prison population of 14,500 in a space with a designed holding capacity of 7,000. Police held detainees in police stations for long periods beyond the legal limit of 48 hours, which contributed to pervasive cell overcrowding.
Authorities held women separately from men but often held pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together. In police detention centers, children were not always held separately from adults. Although inadequate, detention facilities for women and children were generally better than men’s facilities. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), however, noted significant improvements in the treatment of migrants held at prison facilities, including easier access to care for migrants with medical conditions. The IOM also claimed improved channels of communication with prison staff and easier access to detention facilities. As of October, five male migrants, four Nigerians, and one South African were in detention for immigration offenses. They were convicted, fined, and ordered deported.
As of December, according to the prison service, 15 inmates died in prison, all of natural causes.
Basic emergency medical care generally was available in the daytime but unavailable after regular working hours. Daily prison rations were meager. Officials allowed family members to provide food and encouraged inmates to grow vegetables and raise livestock in rural prisons. Malnutrition in the prison population remained a problem, however, particularly in urban prisons.
Inadequate infrastructure remained a serious problem. Prisons and detention centers had no provisions for temperature control other than wood fires.
Administration: Each prison had a designated welfare officer, some of whom had received specialized training, to receive prisoner complaints regarding conditions. The complaints process, however, was primarily verbal and informal, allowed for censorship, and provided little follow-up. Prisoners sometimes had the opportunity to complain to NGOs that recorded cases for inclusion in government advocacy and reports, but this rarely resulted in follow-up on individual cases.
The MHRC and NGOs working in prisons expressed concern regarding the human rights of detained persons. During the year the MHRC released a report that cited overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate food and health care as major problems in prisons and detention centers. It stated torture was widespread and that most prisoners and detainees lived in degrading and inhuman conditions. From January to August, the MHRC received one complaint regarding the rights of prisoners. NGOs attributed the low number of submitted complaints was due to fear of retaliation by authorities.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted domestic and international NGOs and media to visit and monitor prison conditions and donate basic supplies. Domestic NGOs, the Malawi Red Cross Society, and diplomatic representatives had unrestricted access to prisons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court but does not provide for compensation if the person is found to have been unlawfully detained. Lack of knowledge of statutes and of access to representation meant detainees did not challenge the legality of their detention.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police apprehended most suspects without a warrant if they had reasonable grounds to believe a crime was being or had been committed. Only in cases involving corruption or white-collar crime were arrest warrants normally issued by a duly authorized official based on evidence presented. The law provides detainees the right to have access to legal counsel and be released from detention or informed of charges by a court within 48 hours of arrest; however, authorities often ignored these rights. The use of temporary remand warrants to circumvent the 48-hour rule was widespread. Police frequently demanded bribes to authorize bail. Bail was often granted to reduce overcrowding in jails, rather than on the basis of legal merit. Relatives were sometimes denied access to detainees. There were no reports detainees were held incommunicado or held under house arrest.
Detainees who could afford counsel were able to meet with counsel in a timely manner. While the law requires the government to provide legal services to indigent detainees, such aid was provided almost exclusively to suspects charged with homicide. The Legal Aid Bureau is mandated to provide legal assistance to indigent persons. As of December 2019, the bureau had 23 lawyers and 29 paralegals in its three offices, located in the largest cities: Lilongwe, Blantyre, and Mzuzu.
The Center for Human Rights Education, Advice, and Assistance assisted 803 persons detained at police stations and in prisons through its Malawi Bail Project, camp courts, police cell visits, and paralegal aid clinic to expedite their release. During the year the Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (PASI) reached out to 22,499 detainees, for 17,880 of whom it succeeded in obtaining release. PASI and the Center for Legal Assistance, both NGOs that assist prisoners with legal matters, provided limited free legal assistance to expedite trials of detainees. Priority was given to the sick, the young, mothers with infants, persons with disabilities, and those in extended pretrial detention.
Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, or false arrest. Although sections of the penal code pertaining to rogues and vagabonds used in the past to make arbitrary arrests were struck down as unconstitutional, police made arrests based on other provisions, such as conduct likely to cause breach of peace and obstruction of police officers. Although prostitution is legal, living off the proceeds of prostitution is illegal; police regularly harassed sex workers.
Pretrial Detention: Of the total prison population of approximately 14,000 inmates, an estimated 2,500, or 18 percent, were in pretrial detention. Despite a statutory 90-day limit on pretrial detention, authorities held most homicide suspects in detention for two to three years before trial. There was evidence some homicide detainees remained in prison awaiting trial for much longer periods, but reliable information on the number and situation of these detainees was unavailable.
To reduce case backlog and excessive pretrial detention, certain cases were directed to local courts and camp courts organized by civil society groups to expedite cases by having magistrates visit prisons to adjudicate cases. Paralegals gathered cases of pretrial detainees awaiting trial for excessive periods, who were held unlawfully, or who had been granted bail but were unable to meet the terms set by the court. Magistrates, along with the court clerk and police prosecutor, worked through the list, granting bail to some, reducing bail for others, dismissing cases, or setting trial dates.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The judicial system, however, was inefficient and handicapped by serious weaknesses, including poor recordkeeping; a shortage of judges, attorneys, and other trained personnel; heavy caseloads; and corruption. The slow-moving judicial system, including extensive delays due to motion practice (a three-step court order request), a low bar for granting injunctions, judge shopping, prosecutorial delay tactics, recusals, and lawyers and witnesses not being present on trial dates, undermined the government’s ability to dispense justice.
The Malawi Defense Force conducts courts-martial but not military or security tribunals. Used more frequently than courts-martial is a nonjudicial procedure under which cases are dealt with summarily by senior officer