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Colombia

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal suffrage. Active-duty members of the armed forces and police may neither vote nor participate in the political process. Civilian public employees are eligible to vote, although they may participate in partisan politics only during the four months immediately preceding a national election.

As part of the peace accord, the FARC registered a political party composed of former FARC members in 2017 under the name People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Comun), maintaining the same acronym. The FARC political party participated in the March congressional elections and initially nominated a presidential candidate, who withdrew from the race in May. On July 20, FARC political party representatives took up eight of their guaranteed 10 seats in congress.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were no reports of election-related violence during the June 17 presidential runoff, in which the candidate of the Centro Democratico (Democratic Center) party, Ivan Duque, beat the candidate of Colombia Humana (Humane Colombia) Gustavo Petro. The then minister of defense Carlos Luis Villegas described it as the most peaceful election in decades. The leading domestic elections NGO, Electoral Observation Mission, deployed 3,524 nonpartisan volunteers to monitor the elections. International observers included an Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Organized-crime gangs and the ELN threatened and killed government officials (see section 1.g.). As of July 31, the NPU, under the Ministry of Interior, was providing protection to 353 mayors, 17 governors, and 181 other persons, including members of departmental assemblies, council members, judges, municipal human rights officers, and other officials related to national human rights policies. By decree the CNP’s protection program and the NPU assume shared responsibility for protecting municipal and district mayors.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The share of female officials in President Duque’s cabinet was more than 50 percent.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Although prohibited by law, rape of men or women, including spousal rape, remained a serious problem. The law provides for sentences ranging from eight to 30 years’ imprisonment for violent sexual assault. For acts of spousal sexual violence, the law mandates prison sentences of six months to two years. By law femicide is punishable with penalties of 21 to 50 years in prison, longer than the minimum sentence of 13 years for homicide.

Violence against women, and impunity for perpetrators, continued to be a problem. Members of illegal armed groups, including former paramilitary members, and guerrillas also continued to rape and abuse women and children sexually. For example, an August 1 report by the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia of the Organization of American States detailed its “concern about the continuation and, in some cases, exacerbation of violence against women and girls.”

The government continued to employ the Elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit interagency unit in Bogota, which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases. From January to August, the Attorney General’s Office opened 28,942 new investigations for sexual crimes.

The law requires the government to provide victims of domestic violence immediate protection from further physical or psychological abuse. During 2017 more than 70,000 cases of intrafamily violence were reported.

The Ministry of Defense continued implementing its protocol for managing cases of sexual violence and harassment involving members of the military. The District Secretary of Women, in Bogota, and the Ombudsman’s Office offered free legal aid for victims of gender violence and organized courses to teach officials how to treat survivors of gender violence respectfully.

The law augments both jail time and fines if a crime causes “transitory or permanent physical disfigurement,” such as acid attacks, which have a penalty of up to 50 years in prison. Acid attacks remained a problem and predominately targeted women. In August a woman in Cauca attacked her sister-in-law with acid, burning the victim’s eye, face, and neck. There were no updates on advances in this case at year’s end.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, but isolated incidents were reported in several indigenous communities in different parts of the country. Two-thirds of women from the Embera community had undergone FGM/C, according to the UN Population Fund.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides measures to deter and punish harassment in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse or derision, aggression, and discrimination, which carries a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual harassment remained a pervasive and underreported problem in workplaces and in public.

Coercion in Population Control: Coerced abortion is not permitted under the law. The law allows the involuntary surgical sterilization of children with cognitive and psychosocial disabilities in certain cases.

Through August 18, the Attorney General’s Office reported it opened 15 investigations related to cases of forced abortion.

Discrimination: Although women have the same legal rights as men, serious discrimination against women persisted. The Office of the Advisor for the Equality of Women has primary responsibility for combating discrimination against women, but advocacy groups reported that the office remained seriously underfunded. The government continued its national public policy for gender equity.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory in most cases. Most births were registered immediately. If a birth is not registered within one month, parents may be fined and denied public services.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a serious problem. The ICBF reported between January and July 31, there were 8,039 cases of sexual abuse against children. According to the National Council of Economic and Social Policy (CONPES), the government reported in October that the ICBF had undertaken 740 instances to address violations against Venezuelan children.

Early and Forced Marriage: Marriage is legal at age 18. Boys older than age 14 and girls older than age 12 may marry with the consent of their parents. According to UNICEF, 5 percent of girls were married before age 15 and 23 percent before the age of 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children remained a problem. The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor or facilitating the sexual exploitation of a minor and stipulates a penalty of 14 to 25 years in prison, with aggravated penalties for perpetrators who are family members of the victim and for cases of sexual tourism, forced marriage, or sexual exploitation by illegal armed groups. The law prohibits pornography using children younger than age 18 and stipulates a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine. The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for sexual activity with a child younger than age 14 ranges from nine to 13 years in prison. The government generally enforced the law.

According to the ICBF, between January and July 31, there were 151 reported cases of sexual exploitation of children. The Attorney General’s Office reported opening 837 investigations related to cases of child pornography and 334 cases of sexual exploitation of minors, with one conviction reported during the year. In July authorities in Cartagena conducted a three-day operation, arrested 18 persons, and charged them with the sexual exploitation of more than 250 women and girls. According to press reports, the trafficking ring was led by Liliana Campos Puello and retired marine infantry captain Raul Danilo Romero Pabon. Prosecutors alleged that some of the women and girls were tattooed and trafficked for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Media reported authorities conducted several raids to dismantle networks of sexual exploitation of minors in Cartagena and other cities as of December 12. In total, 42 persons were captured and goods valued at Colombian pesos (COP) 154 billion ($49 million) were seized.

Displaced Children: The NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement estimated in 2016 that 31 percent of persons registered as displaced since 1985 were minors at the time they were displaced (see also section 2.d.). According to CONPES, the government reported in October that approximately 27 percent of Venezuelans registered in the government’s yet-to-be-released 2018 census were minors, of whom approximately half had received government services.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community, which had an estimated 5,000 members, continued to report instances of anti-Israeli rhetoric connected to events in the Middle East, accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti near synagogues, as well as demonstrations in front of the Israeli embassy that were sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic comments on social media. In particular the Colombian Confederation of Jewish Communities expressed concern over the presence of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Colombia, which aggressively promotes the boycott of Israeli products, culture, and travel and does not actively counter the conflation of anti-Israeli policies with anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law punishes those who arbitrarily restrict the full exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities or harass persons with disabilities, but enforcement was rare. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with sensory or intellectual disabilities. No law mandates access to information and telecommunications for persons with disabilities.

The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights under the High Counselor for Post-Conflict, Public Security, and Human Rights, along with the Human Rights Directorate at the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. According to Somos Defensores and other NGOs, the law was seldom enforced.

Although children with disabilities attended school at all levels, advocates noted the vast majority of teachers and schools were neither trained nor equipped to educate children with disabilities successfully. Advocacy groups also stated children with disabilities entered the education system later than children without disabilities and dropped out at higher rates. Persons with disabilities were unemployed at a much higher rate than the general population.

In 2013 the State Council ordered all public offices to make facilities accessible to persons with disabilities and asked public officials to include requirements for accessibility when granting licenses for construction and occupancy. The State Council also asked every municipality to enforce rules that would make all public offices accessible to persons with disabilities “in a short amount of time.” It was not clear if much progress had been made.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the 2005 national census, the most recent census available at the time of drafting, approximately 4.5 million persons, or 10 percent of the country’s population, described themselves as being of African descent. A 2011 UN report estimated Afro-Colombians made up 15 to 20 percent of the population, while human rights groups and Afro-Colombian organizations estimated the proportion to be 20 to 25 percent.

Afro-Colombians are entitled to all constitutional rights and protections, but they faced significant economic and social discrimination. According to a 2016 UN report, 32 percent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, but in Choco, the department with the highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents, 79 percent of residents lived below the poverty line.

In 2010 the government approved a policy to promote equal opportunity for black, Afro-Colombian, Palenquera, and Raizal populations. (Palenquera populations inhabit some parts of the Caribbean coast, Raizal populations live in the San Andres archipelago, and Blacks and Afro-Colombians are Colombians of African descent who self-identify slightly differently based on their unique linguistic and cultural heritages.) The Ministry of Interior provided technical advice and funding for social projects presented by Afro-Colombian communities.

The National Autonomous Congress of Afro-Colombian Community Councils and Ethnic Organizations for Blacks, Afro-Colombians, Raizales, and Palenqueras, consisting of 108 representatives, met with government representatives on problems that affected their communities.

Indigenous People

The constitution and law give special recognition to the fundamental rights of indigenous persons, who make up approximately 3.4 percent of the population, and require the government to consult beforehand with indigenous groups regarding governmental actions that could affect them.

The law accords indigenous groups perpetual rights to their ancestral lands, but indigenous groups, neighboring landowners, and the government often disputed the demarcation of those lands. Traditional indigenous groups operated 710 reservations, accounting for approximately 28 percent of the country’s territory. Illegal armed groups often violently contested indigenous land ownership and recruited indigenous children to join their ranks.

The law provides for special criminal and civil jurisdictions within indigenous territories based on traditional community laws. Legal proceedings in these jurisdictions were subject to manipulation and often rendered punishments more lenient than those imposed by regular civilian courts.

Some indigenous groups continued to assert they were not able to participate adequately in decisions affecting their lands. The constitution provides for this “prior consultation” mechanism for indigenous communities, but it does not require the government to obtain the consent of those communities in all cases.

The government stated that for security reasons it could not provide advance notice of most military operations, especially when in pursuit of enemy combatants, and added that it consulted with indigenous leaders when possible before entering land held by the communities.

Despite special legal protections and government assistance programs, indigenous persons continued to suffer discrimination and often lived on the margins of society. They belonged to the country’s poorest population and had the highest age-specific mortality rates.

Killings of members and leaders of indigenous groups remained a problem. According to the NGO National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, since the signing of the peace accord, 46 indigenous persons have been killed.

Despite precautionary measures ordered by the IACHR, ethnic Wayuu children continued to die of malnutrition. The United Nations and the government reported an increase in binational Wayuu families, including children, arriving in Colombia as a result of deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. Several hundred members of the Venezuelan Yukpa tribe crossed into Colombia in April due to deteriorating conditions in Venezuela. The government worked with the United Nations to provide the population basic services.

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

There were no reports of official discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. A 2015 Constitutional Court decision required that the Ministry of Education modify its educational materials to address discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Transgender individuals cited barriers to public services when health-care providers or police officers refused to accept their government-issued identification. Some transgender individuals stated it was difficult to change the gender designation on national identity documents and that transgender individuals whose identity cards listed them as male were still required to show proof they had performed mandatory military service or obtained the necessary waivers from that service. NGOs claimed discrimination and violence in prisons against persons due to their sexual orientation and gender identity remained a problem.

Despite government measures to increase the rights and protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, there were reports of societal abuse and discrimination, as well as sexual assault. NGOs claimed transgender individuals, particularly transgender men, were often sexually assaulted in so-called corrective rape. The Constitutional Court pronounced in 2016 that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection within the LGBTI community and recommended measures to increase respect for transgender identities in the classrooms.

As of September 18, the Attorney General’s Office was investigating at least two alleged homicides of LGBTI individuals. Investigations into crimes committed by members of the security forces did not appear in the Attorney General’s Office system. NGO Colombia Diversa reported six cases, involving eight victims, of police abuse of persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, with the majority of complaints coming from transgender individuals.

NGOs reported several cases of threats against LGBTI human rights defenders, as well as a high level of impunity for crimes against LGBTI persons. Such organizations partially attributed impunity levels to the failure of the Attorney General’s Office to distinguish and effectively pursue crimes against LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. In its most recent demographic and health survey (2010), the government reported the responses of 85 percent of those surveyed indicated discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS, reflecting low levels of social acceptance throughout the country.

Costa Rica

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On April 1, voters elected PAC’s Carlos Alvarado president during a second round of elections, after no candidate achieved 40 percent of the first-round vote. Presidential and legislative elections are simultaneous. In legislative elections, the National Liberation Party (PLN) gained the most seats, but it did not achieve majority in the National Assembly. On May 1, the governing PAC formed a coalition with four other parties–the PLN, Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), Broad Front, and Republican Social Christian Party–to gain control of the presidency of the legislature for one year. In 2016 municipal elections, PLN and PUSC gained control of 62 of 81 municipalities. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women and persons of African descent were represented in government but indigenous persons were not. On May 8, Epsy Campbell Barr became the country’s first woman of African descent to be elected as vice president, and she served concurrently as minister of foreign affairs. In 2016 the Supreme Elections Tribunal imposed strict gender quotas for political parties, reaffirming existing regulations that all political parties must guarantee gender parity across their electoral slates and confirming that gender parity must extend vertically. The electoral code requires that a minimum of 50 percent of candidates for elective office be women, with their names placed alternately with men on the ballots by party slate. As a result, female legislators held 26 of the 57 seats in the National Assembly.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence, and provides penalties from 10 to 18 years in prison for rape. The judicial branch generally enforced the law.

The law prohibits domestic violence and provides measures for the protection of domestic violence victims. Criminal penalties range from 10 to 100 days in prison for aggravated threats and up to 35 years in prison for aggravated homicide, including a sentence of 20 to 35 years for persons who kill their partners.

According to the Ombudsman’s Office, during the first months of the year, the number of femicides increased in spite of the efforts of the government and civil society to fight this problem. The killing of two female tourists on August 4 caused authorities on August 7 to declare the reduction of violence against women as a “national priority” not only to raise awareness, but also to implement coordinated actions among public institutions in areas with a higher incidence of violence.

On July 2, President Alvarado enacted a restorative justice law but simultaneously asked the National Assembly to reform some of its provisions to prevent victims of sex crimes and domestic violence from negotiating with perpetrators and aggressors, after the attorney general and the minister of women’s issues expressed their concern.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and educational institutions, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security generally enforced this prohibition. The law imposes penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to dismissal, with more serious incidents subject to criminal prosecution.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The law prohibits discrimination against women and obligates the government to promote political, economic, social, and cultural equality. The law requires women and men receive equal pay for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is obtained from birth within the country’s territory or can be derived if either parent is Costa Rican. Birth registration was not always automatic, and migrant children were especially at risk of statelessness since they did not have access to legal documents to establish their identity if their parents did not seek birth registration for them.

Child Abuse: The autonomous National Institute for Children reported violence against children and adolescents continued to be a concern, but there was no increase in the number of cases of child violence or abuse. The institute implemented a prevention strategy against child abuse during the year.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age of marriage is 18. The law establishes penalties for sex with minors and prohibits child marriage. The crime carries a penalty of up to three years in prison for an adult having sex with a person under age 15, or under 18 if the age difference is more than five years. The law bans marriage for anyone under 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 years. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and provides sentences of up to 16 years in prison for violations. The law provides for sentences of two to 10 years in prison for statutory rape and three to eight years in prison for child pornography. The government identified child sex tourism as a serious problem.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish Zionist Center estimated there were between 3,000 and 3,500 Jews in the country. There were isolated reports of anti-Semitic comments on social media.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The law also establishes a right to employment for persons with disabilities and sets a hiring quota of 5 percent of vacant positions in the public sector. The government did not effectively enforce the law, however.

Although the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, the government did not enforce this provision, and many buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities. The government policy on education and the national plan for higher education aim to increase educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

The Supreme Elections Tribunal took measures (voting procedures, facilities, materials, and trained personnel) to provide for fully accessible elections for all persons with disabilities. During the February national elections, the Organization of American States Observation Mission lauded the country for facilitating voting for seniors and persons with disabilities, including accessible voting booths and technological tools to promote participation in the electoral process.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution establishes that the country is a multiethnic and multicultural nation. According to the Ombudsman’s Office, however, the country lacked an adequate legal framework to ensure adequate mechanisms to combat discrimination, facilitate the adoption of affirmative action for individuals who suffer discrimination, and establish sanctions for those who commit discriminatory acts. On August 1, Vice President and Foreign Affairs Minister Campbell Barr appointed a presidential commissioner for Afro-Descendant Affairs.

Indigenous People

Land ownership continued to be a problem in most indigenous territories. The law protects reserve land as the collective, nontransferable property in 24 indigenous territories; however, 38 percent of that land was in nonindigenous hands.

On March 6, the government finalized a consultative process in response to a mandate from International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169, requiring governments to engage with indigenous peoples on measures that directly affect them. The consultative mechanism consists of an eight-step process for gathering input from indigenous communities, from project inception through final monitoring. The mechanism recognizes the duty of the government to obtain prior and informed consent for large-scale development projects affecting indigenous communities but does not give them veto power. The executive order authorizing the consultative mechanism was issued in March, but as of October it had not yet been carried out.

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

The constitution establishes that all persons are equal before the law and no discrimination contrary to human dignity shall be practiced. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by a series of executive orders and workplace policies but not by national laws. On May 17, President Alvarado appointed a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) commissioner in charge of coordinating efforts between civil society and the presidency to promote LGBTI issues.

Transgender individuals faced barriers to legal gender recognition until, on June 28, President Alvarado signed an executive order that instructed all public entities to modify records of transgender individuals who requested the change.

There were cases of discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation, ranging from employment, police abuse, and education to access to health-care services. LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination within their own families due to their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics. LGBTI organizations operated freely and lobbied for legal reforms. Reports of discrimination and violence against the LGBTI community increased after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights publication of its advisory opinion on same-sex marriage, which was issued one month before the first round of national elections. By February the LGBTI community reported 32 cases of physical and verbal abuse, and several legislators and political leaders expressed their opposition to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights opinion and its implementation.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on HIV/AIDS in health care, housing, employment, and education, some discrimination was reported.

Labor discrimination towards HIV patients continued; some persons reported losing their jobs due to discrimination, their deteriorating health, or both.

Panama

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot based on universal and equal suffrage. Naturalized citizens may not hold specified categories of elective office, such as the presidency.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 voters chose Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez as president in national elections that independent observers considered generally free and fair. Elected at the same time were 71 national legislators, 77 mayors, 648 local representatives, and seven council members.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires new political parties to meet strict membership and organizational standards to gain official recognition and participate in national campaigns. Electoral reforms passed in May 2017 require that political parties obtain the equivalent of 2 percent of the total votes cast to maintain legal standing, a reduction from 4 percent. The Revolutionary Democratic Party, Panamenista Party, Democratic Change Party, and Popular Party complied with the requirement. During the year the Electoral Tribunal granted legal status to new political groups registered with the Electoral Tribunal, including the Broad Front for Democracy, the Alliance Party (Alianza), and the Independent Social Alternative Party after they demonstrated compliance with electoral requirements. The Electoral Tribunal provided oversight of internal party elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

In August the National Secretariat of Science, Technology, and Innovation released a study in coordination with the Catholic University of Santa Maria Antigua. The study, titled Gender Inequality for Women in Access to Elected Office, showed that female candidates for elected office had only a 2 percent chance to win election. Research showed that from 1945 to 2014, only 67 women were elected to the National Assembly, compared with 764 men. Researchers concluded that contributing factors included cultural barriers, unequal social opportunities, a lack of mechanisms to equalize effectively internal political opportunity, and unequal access to campaign funds.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, with prison terms of five to 10 years. The government generally implemented criminal aspects of the law better than protection aspects. Rapes constituted the majority of sexual crimes investigated by the PNP and its Directorate of Judicial Investigation.

The law against gender violence stipulates stiff penalties for harassment and both physical and emotional abuse. The law states that sentencing for femicide is a mandatory 25 to 30 years in prison. Officials and civil society organizations agreed that domestic violence continued to be a serious crime. In August the PNP initiated the Specialized Unit for Domestic and Gender Violence with 190 agents trained to work these cases. As of June there were 7,773 reported cases of domestic violence nationwide.

The Ombudsman’s Office continued its program Mujer Conoce tus Derechos (Woman, Know Your Rights), which included a wide distribution of flyers. The government, through the National Institute for Women’s Affairs, operated shelters for victims of domestic abuse and offered social, psychological, medical, and legal services. The secretary general of the Ombudsman’s Office and the director of the Panamanian Observatory Against Gender Violence claimed the number of shelters was insufficient.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in cases of employer-employee relations in the public and private sectors and in teacher-student relations. Violators face a maximum three-year prison sentence. The extent of the problem was difficult to determine, because convictions for sexual harassment were rare, pre-employment sexual harassment was not actionable, and there was a lack of formal reports.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, and women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. The law recognizes joint property in marriages. The law mandates equal pay for men and women in equivalent jobs. Although an illegal hiring practice, some employers continued to request pregnancy tests.

The Ministry of Social Development and the National Institute of Women promoted equality of women in the workplace and equal pay for equal work, attempted to reduce sexual harassment, and advocated legal reforms. In February President Varela signed a law prohibiting harassment and racism. The prior law sanctioned sexual harassment but not labor harassment or bullying. The law mandates equal rights for labor and measures to prevent discrimination as well as respect of the norms established in the international human rights conventions signed by the country. It establishes fines for employers or immediate supervisors who fail to follow the law and instructs the Ministries of Education, Social Development, and Labor, in conjunction with the University of Panama, to develop educational programs for the awareness of these rights.

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides citizenship for all persons born in the country, but parents of children born in remote areas sometimes had difficulty obtaining birth registration certificates. The National Secretariat for Children, Adolescents, and the Family estimated the registration level of births at 92 percent.

Child Abuse: The Ministry of Social Development maintained a free hotline for children and adults to report child abuse and advertised it widely. The ministry provided funding to children’s shelters operated by NGOs and continued a program that used pamphlets in schools to sensitize teachers, children, and parents about mistreatment and sexual abuse of children. In March President Varela signed a law amending the penal code to increase sentences for convicted pedophiles. Sentences went from five-10 years to seven-12 years in prison. If the crime is committed by a clergyperson, relative, tutor, or teacher, the penalties increased from eight-12 years to 10-15 years in prison.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. The government prohibits early marriage even with parental permission.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Officials continued to prosecute cases of sexual abuse of children in urban and rural areas, as well as within indigenous communities. Officials believed that commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred, including in tourist areas in Panama City and in beach communities, although they did not keep separate statistics.

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

Anti-Semitism

Jewish community leaders estimated there were 15,000 Jews in the country. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities; however, the constitution permits the denial of naturalization to persons with mental or physical disabilities. The law mandates access to new or remodeled public buildings for persons with disabilities and requires that schools integrate children with disabilities. Despite provisions of the law, persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in a number of these areas.

Most of Panama City’s bus fleet was not wheelchair accessible. Metro elevators were frequently locked and could not be used. A lack of ramps further limited access to the stations. Most businesses had wheelchair ramps and accessible parking spaces as required by law, but in many cases they did not meet the government’s size specifications.

Some public schools admitted children with mental and physical disabilities, but most did not have adequate facilities for children with disabilities. Few private schools admitted children with disabilities, as they are not legally required to do so. The high cost of hiring professional tutors to accompany children to private schools–a requirement of all private schools–precluded many students with disabilities from attending.

In January the National Secretariat for Disabilities Issues publicly admitted a shortfall of 2.5 million balboas to conduct the Second National Census on People with Disabilities, which was two years behind schedule. The first census took place in 2006.

The government-sponsored Guardian Angel program continued to provide a monthly subsidy of 80 balboas for children with significant physical disabilities. To qualify, the parents or guardian of a child must be living in poverty and must submit a medical certification specifying the degree of the disability and the child’s dependency on another person. Authorities conducted home visits to ensure the beneficiaries’ guardians used the funds for the intended purpose.

In June and July the Ministry of Labor hosted weekly job fairs for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Minority groups were generally integrated into mainstream society. Prejudice was directed, however, at recent immigrants, the Afro-Panamanian community, and indigenous Panamanians. Newly arrived Venezuelans noted prejudice in popular culture and in recent laws passed by the legislature restricting labor participation and length of visa stays. Cultural and language differences and immigration status hindered the integration of immigrant and first-generation individuals from China, India, and the Middle East into mainstream society. Additionally, some members of these communities were reluctant to integrate.

The Afro-Panamanian community was underrepresented in positions of political and economic power. Areas where they lived lagged in terms of government services and social investment. The government’s National Secretariat for the Development of Afro-Panamanians focused on the socioeconomic advancement of this community. The secretariat was designed to work with the national census agency to ensure an accurate count in 2020 of Afro-descendant Panamanians.

The law prohibits discrimination in access to public accommodations such as restaurants, stores, and other privately owned establishments; no complaints were filed. The Ombudsman’s Office intervened in several cases before students with Rastafarian braids were permitted entry into public school classrooms.

There were reports of racial discrimination against various ethnic groups in the workplace. Lighter-skinned persons continued to be overrepresented in management positions and jobs that required dealing with the public, such as bank tellers and receptionists.

Indigenous People

The law affords indigenous persons the same political and legal rights as other citizens, protects their ethnic identity and native languages, and requires the government to provide bilingual literacy programs in indigenous communities. Indigenous individuals have the legal right to take part in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation and exploitation of natural resources. Nevertheless, they continued to be marginalized in mainstream society. Traditional community leaders governed comarcas (legally designated semiautonomous areas) for five of the country’s seven indigenous groups. The government also unofficially recognized eight other traditional indigenous government authorities. Government institutions recognized these eight regions were traditionally organized indigenous settlements and territories not included when the original comarcas were created. Government officers continued to meet with traditional organized authorities from the community, and many requested recognition of their land via collective titles.

In March members of the Embera and Wounaan communities protested for collective land titles in front of the Ministry of Environment. To resolve the issue, the ministry granted eight territories, home to more than 5,000 persons, conditional land titles pending inspections by the National Authority of Land Administration. Several indigenous organizations along with NGOs requested a hearing at the IACHR to analyze the collective land title claims and the protection of indigenous communities. Part of the land of the 17 communities still awaiting titles fell within protected areas, which delayed ministerial approval.

Other land-titling conflicts continued to arise. In April the Embera Wounaan demanded the eviction of nonindigenous settlers occupying their land illegally, in compliance with a ruling from the Supreme Court. In July an incident between the indigenous Guna community from the Wargandi comarca in Darien and local settlers left one person dead and one injured. In October the National Assembly’s Indigenous Issues Committee approved a law to create a comarca for the Naso people. In September the Bri submitted a claim to the Supreme Court demanding the protection of their human rights. In 2015 the Bri Bri requested collective title for their lands in Bocas del Toro but as of November had not received a reply. This action was in response to a protest outside the Ministry of Environment’s regional office by local farmers, who contended the Bri Bri land claim included land farmed by approximately 300 local farmers and therefore the title should not be granted. The Bri Bri claim was analyzed in the October IACHR hearing, but the government requested more documentation and clarification of the specifics of the land claim.

The Ngabe and Bugle continued to oppose the Barro Blanco dam project, which became operational in April 2017. There were no plans by the government to halt dam operations. The Ngabe-Bugle and the government continued to negotiate details of the dam’s operation.

Although the country’s law is the ultimate authority in indigenous comarcas, many indigenous persons misunderstood their rights and, due to their inadequate command of the Spanish language, failed to use available legal channels.

In May the Ministry of Government presented its 15-year National Indigenous Peoples Development Plan, backed by a 25-year, $80 million loan from the World Bank. The plan includes goals to increase development investments for indigenous territories and to deliver public services within the comarcas.

In August members of the Guna community protested outside of the Electoral Tribunal against alleged discrimination. According to the group, community members were forced to remove a traditional nose piercing before taking their national identification photograph. After the incident the Electoral Tribunal instructed regional offices that they could not force a citizen to remove the piercing, according to a 2000 law that protects the right to traditional garb.

Societal and employment discrimination against indigenous persons was widespread. Employers frequently denied indigenous workers basic rights provided by law, such as a minimum wage, social security benefits, termination pay, and job security. Laborers on the country’s agricultural plantations (the majority of whom were indigenous persons) continued to work in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. The Ministry of Labor conducted limited oversight of working conditions in remote areas.

Education deficiencies continued in the comarcas, especially beyond the primary grades. There were not enough teachers in these remote and inaccessible areas, with many multigrade schools often poorly constructed and lacking running water. In April teachers and indigenous communities in the Ngabe comarca began periodically protesting the poor roads and education in the comarca by closing the Interamerican Highway as well as other roads. In September a group of Ngabe closed the highway for more than 10 hours to protest the delay in the construction of a road to their communities that would connect the 1,200 inhabitants and 12 schools. Police forcibly removed the protesters from the highway. Nine police officers were injured and 12 Ngabe arrested, some with injuries. This sparked a 60-day strike in 43 of the schools in the comarca as teachers demanded better work conditions, including safety bonuses, better life insurance, and improved roads. Access to health care was a significant problem in the indigenous comarcas, despite government investment in more health infrastructure and staff. This was reflected in high rates of maternal and infant mortality and malnutrition. The government continued to execute the Indigenous Development Plan jointly developed with indigenous leaders in 2013.

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. There was societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which often led to denial of employment opportunities.

The PNP’s internal regulations describe consensual same-sex sexual conduct by its employees as against policy and potentially grounds for dismissal. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) human rights organizations reported harassment of LGBTI persons by security forces as a source of serious concern.

On June 29, LGBTI activists organized the 14th annual Pride Parade without impediment. Unlike in previous years, there was no anti-Pride Parade countermarch.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS in employment and education. Discrimination continued to be common due to ignorance of the law and a lack of mechanisms for ensuring compliance. LGBTI individuals reported mistreatment by health-care workers, including unnecessary quarantines.

In August President Varela signed a law prohibiting labor and other types of discrimination against persons with sexually transmitted diseases and their immediate relatives and mandating employers to follow International Labor Organization (ILO) recommendations on how to manage employees with HIV. Employees are not obligated to disclose their condition to the employer, but if they do so, the employer must keep the information confidential. The law also mandates that persons seeking to wed must submit to the civil court a physician’s note certifying they each had an HIV test recently. The test results are not to be made known to the court, but the judge must ask both parties if they know the results of the other’s test. Marriage cannot be impeded if the results are positive. Several LGBTI activists complained that forcing the disclosure of the results to the other individual violates privacy rights.

The government’s National Network for the Continued Integral Attention of Persons with HIV/AIDS continued during the year. The Ministry of Social Development collaborated with the NGO PROBIDSIDA to conduct HIV/AIDS outreach to students in public junior and high schools.

In a joint effort with LGBTI NGOs, the UN Development Program, and the National Program for HIV/AIDS, the Ministry of Health conducted HIV/AIDS tests within the LBGTI community in several provinces. During the year PROBIDSIDA also worked with the Ministry of Public Security “Barrios Seguros” (Safe Neighborhoods) program to provide HIV/AIDS training and free testing services to at-risk youth from vulnerable communities. Individuals who tested positive received medical treatment.

Peru

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Pursuant to the constitution, in March First Vice President Martin Vizcarra assumed the presidency following the resignation of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Kuczynski had assumed the presidency in July 2016 after a second round of presidential elections. Domestic and international observers declared the nationwide elections–held in April (for president, the National Congress, and the Andean Parliament) and in June (a second round for the presidential race only)–to be fair and transparent, despite controversy over the exclusion of two presidential candidates for administrative violations of election-related laws. President Kuczynski resigned in March, a few days before his impeachment hearing on corruption allegations.

The first round of regional elections for governorships and municipal offices was held on October 7. Domestic and international observers declared the peaceful elections free and fair. The second round of run-off elections for 16 gubernatorial races took place on December 9.

Political Parties and Political Participation: By law, groups that advocate the violent overthrow of the government and express ideologies incompatible with democracy cannot register as political parties.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, with penalties of six to eight years in prison. The law defines femicide as the killing of a woman or girl based on gender. In July the government increased the minimum sentence for femicide to 20 years and to 30 years when the crime includes aggravating circumstances (e.g., crimes against minor, elderly, or pregnant victims). Enforcement of these laws, however, was often ineffective.

The law prohibits domestic violence; penalties range from one month to six years in prison. The law also authorizes judges and prosecutors to prevent a convicted spouse or parent from returning to the family home and authorizes the victim’s relatives and unrelated persons living in the home to file complaints of domestic violence. The law requires a police investigation of domestic violence to take place within five days of a complaint and obliges authorities to extend protection to female victims of domestic violence. Enforcement of these laws, however, was lax.

Violence against women and girls–including rape, spousal abuse, and sexual, physical, and psychological abuse–were serious national problems. A National Institute of Statistics (INEI) survey found 68 percent of women suffered some form of gender-based violence in their lives. The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations reported 43 femicides and 103 attempted femicides between January and April, a 26 percent and 39 percent increase, respectively, for the same period in 2017. In February, Jimena B., an 11-year-old girl, was abducted, raped, and killed in Lima. The alleged perpetrator, Cesar Alva Mendoza, was apprehended, placed in preventative detention, had several hearings, and awaited final trial as of November. He did not know the victim.

The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations continued to operate service centers with police, prosecutors, counselors, and public welfare agents to help victims. NGOs expressed concerns about the program’s quality and quantity, particularly in rural areas. The ministry operated a toll-free hotline and implemented projects to sensitize government employees and the citizenry to domestic violence. Following the abduction, rape, and killing of Jimena B., public protests called for more protection for children. In response, the PNP formed a family violence prevention unit to provide follow-up visits on domestic abuse and other criminal complaints.

The government continued to support temporary shelters, but NGOs and members of Congress stated there were not enough.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a serious problem. Sexual harassment is defined as unsolicited comments, actions, and touching of a sexual nature that is unwanted by the female or male victim. In December 2017 Congress passed a law that criminalized sexual harassment in the workplace. In September Congress revised the law, providing penalties of up to eight years in prison for sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a labor rights violation subject to administrative punishment as well. Government enforcement of laws against sexual harassment were minimally effective.

In October a court sentenced a man to three years in prison for sexual harassment, threats, and indecent proposals to a 15-year-old girl through social media. It was the first prison sentence handed down by a court for sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides for equality between men and women and prohibits discrimination against women with regard to marriage, divorce, pregnancy, pay, and property rights, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. While the law prohibits discrimination in employment and educational opportunities based on gender, there was a persistent underrepresentation of women in high-ranking positions, and the arbitrary dismissal of pregnant women and workplace discrimination was common. The law stipulates that women should receive equal pay for equal work, but women often were paid less than men. The INEI estimated that as of September, women received 71 percent of the average income of men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived either by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. Problems with government registration of births continued in remote areas of the country, although the government made significant progress in promoting registration.

Obtaining a national identity document requires a birth certificate, which was a problem in the most remote rural areas, where many births occurred at home and were not registered. As a result poor indigenous women and children disproportionately lacked identity documents as they were less able than men to travel outside these remote areas to obtain the documents. Undocumented citizens faced social and political barriers to accessing government services, including running for public office or holding title to land. Government representatives and NGOs assessed that undocumented citizens were particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation, human trafficking, and crime.

Child Abuse: Violence against and sexual abuse of children were serious nationwide problems. The country strengthened its laws in 2017 and 2018 to protect minor girls and boys without parents or guardians as well as children living in at-risk, poor households. The law mandates government safeguards for vulnerable children, including access to education, health, and housing at Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations operated residential shelters, to reduce their susceptibility to sexual exploitation, child labor, and human trafficking. The law requires all government authorities, courts, and social service institutions to use the “best interests of the child” standard in all decisions affecting these children. The Peruvian Penal Code imposes stiff prison sentences for promoting child prostitution, abusing minors, and trafficking in children.

The government supported overnight shelters. Provincial or district governments operated approximately one-half of the offices to assist victims, while schools, churches, and NGOs ran the others. Law students continued to staff the units, particularly in rural districts. When these offices could not resolve disputes, officials usually referred cases to the Public Ministry’s local prosecutor offices, whose adjudications had the same force as court judgments.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. The law allows minors older than 16 to marry with civil judge authorization.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits exploiting children in prostitution and penalizes promoters with a minimum of 15 years in prison. The law prohibits child pornography, and the penalty for conviction of involvement in child pornography is four to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Government officials, police, NGOs, civil society leaders, and journalists identified numerous cases of child prostitution during the year. The country remained a destination for child sex tourism.

While the country has strong laws to protect children, it frequently had serious problems with enforcement. Media for example, frequently reported on the sexual exploitation of minor girls in the illicit gold mining sites of the remote Amazonian Madre de Dios region. In one broadly circulated article, Yaneth, a 14-year-old girl, was sent by her aunt to work as a waitress in a mining site’s bar-brothel. Within a few weeks of her arrival, Yaneth was forced into prostitution to pay off the cost of transporting her to the encampment. The police rescued Yaneth and she now resides in a Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations shelter. A local NGO estimated there are approximately 400 brothels in the Madre de Dios mining region, with hundreds of minor girls living in debt bondage and working 13-hour days as prostitutes.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. A conviction of rape of a minor younger than 14 carries penalties ranging from 25 years to life in prison. The law also prohibits adults from using deceit, abuse of power, or the vulnerability of a teenager to have sex with a minor under 18.

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

Anti-Semitism

Estimates of the Jewish population ranged from 3,000 to 4,000 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law establishes infractions and sanctions for noncompliance. The law also provides for the protection, care, rehabilitation, security, and social inclusion of persons with disabilities; mandates that public spaces be free of barriers and accessible to persons with disabilities; and provides for the appointment of a disability rights specialist in the Ombudsman’s Office. The law mandates the government make its internet sites accessible for persons with disabilities and requires the inclusion of sign language or subtitles in all educational and cultural programs on public television and in media available in all public libraries. The government generally did not effectively enforce these laws.

In September the government issued the General Law on People with Disabilities, requiring companies to improve their selection processes to enable persons with disabilities the opportunity to apply for jobs on equal terms. The law requires employers to provide employees up to 56 hours per year to accompany their disabled relatives to medical appointments. In August the Army implemented a pilot program to recruit persons with disabilities for military and civilian positions. The initial military class included 15 soldiers who will receive cyber-security and administrative assignments following their initial training.

The government failed to enforce laws protecting the rights of persons with mental disabilities. NGOs and government officials reported the number of medical personnel providing services in psychiatric institutions was insufficient.

While government officials improved enforcement of the rights of persons with disabilities, the country’s disability community still faced immense challenges due to inaccessible infrastructure, minimal access to education, insufficient employment opportunities, and discrimination, according to government and civil society leaders. The Ombudsman’s Office reported approximately 87 percent of children with disabilities did not attend school and 76 percent of persons with disabilities did not work. One government survey reported that 70 percent of employers stated they would not hire a person with a disability.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law requires the government to treat all citizens equally and prohibits discrimination based on race, national origin, or language, and the government did not enforce the law effectively.

Indigenous People

Indigenous communities remained politically, economically, and socially marginalized. There were reports of threats directed against indigenous leaders with respect to land grabs and illicit gold mining in the Amazon. Indigenous leaders expressed concerns that the national and regional governments did not adequately protect them and their property interests.

While the constitution recognizes indigenous persons have the right to own land communally, indigenous groups often lacked legal title to demarcate the boundaries of their lands. Amazonian indigenous peoples in particular continued to accuse the national government of delaying the final allocation of their land titles. By law, local communities retain the right of unassignability. Some indigenous community members, however, sold land to outsiders without the majority consent of their community.

The national government retains the subsurface mineral rights for land nationwide, which frequently caused disputes between the local indigenous communities, national government, regional governments, and the various extractive interests. The law requires the government to consult with indigenous communities on proposed extractive projects or changes to ongoing extractive projects and to produce a detailed implementation plan to facilitate government and private-sector compliance; implementation of this law was somewhat effective. The law also requires the Ministry of Culture to establish a database of indigenous communities entitled to consultation. As of September the ministry had recognized 55 indigenous groups as being entitled to prior consultation. From 2014 to October the government initiated 24 prior consultations with various indigenous communities, which generated 487 agreements. Ten of the prior consultations had concluded, and 14 were ongoing.

Indigenous NGOs, legal experts, and the Ombudsman’s Office continued to express concerns that indigenous communities did not have sufficient training to engage in consultations with the government and extractive industry.

Indigenous persons continued to face threats from narcotics traffickers and illegal miners and loggers who operated near or within their claimed land holdings.

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

The constitutional procedure code recognizes the right of individuals to file legal claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Four of the regional governments (Piura, La Libertad, Loreto, and San Martin) have regulations that prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals explicitly and provide for administrative relief, but not criminal sanctions.

Government officials, NGOs, journalists, and civil society leaders reported widespread official and societal discrimination against LGBTI persons in employment, housing, education, and health care on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs continued to report that law enforcement authorities repeatedly failed to protect, and on occasion violated, the rights of LGBTI citizens. Police harassed and abused transgender women. For example, the local police in Lima frequently demanded that transgender women working as sex workers pay the police for protection, and physically harmed them if they did not pay.

The law does not provide transgender persons the right to obtain national identity documents that reflect their gender identity. Transgender persons, therefore, often did not have national identification cards, which consequently limited their access to government services.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS faced discrimination and harassment, including societal discrimination for employment, housing, and general social inclusion. The Ministry of Health implemented policies to combat discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status. HIV/AIDS affected transgender women disproportionately, and many of them could not obtain health care because they lacked national identification cards reflecting their gender and appearance.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The Ombudsman’s Office reported 134 active social-conflict cases as of August, compared with 109 in August 2017. The report found most conflicts involved socioenvironmental issues, with mining-related incidents accounting for 68 percent of the cases.

Two potato farmers died and dozens of others were wounded during several February clashes between protesting farmers and police in the Pasco and Huancavelica regions. Three police officers were also injured, and authorities arrested three farmers. The farmers had demanded the national government declare an agricultural emergency to help them sell their crops. After resolving the conflict, the government launched an investigation into the two deaths.

Police opened an investigation in January of the December 2017 killing of environmental activist Jose Napoleon Tarrillo. Media reported that land invaders killed Tarrillo for his efforts to protect the Chaparri Ecological Reserve in the Chiclayo region. Tarrillo’s wife informed police she had received death threats for pursuing her husband’s case with the authorities.

Venezuela

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The 1999 constitution, the country’s 26th since independence in 1811, provides citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair elections, but government interference, electoral irregularities, and manipulation of voters and candidates restricted the exercise of this right in the May 20 presidential elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The CNE executed deeply flawed presidential elections on May 20 that elicited historically low participation and undermined public faith in the democratic process. The elections took place on a remarkably short timeline–announced on February 7, they were originally scheduled for April 22, less than 75 days later–effectively preventing a nationwide opposition campaign. The CNE banned the leading opposition parties, using the ad hoc explanation that they had given up their stature by boycotting December 2017 municipal elections. Furthermore, leading opposition politicians were prohibited from running, including Henrique Capriles (Primero Justicia) and Leopoldo Lopez (Voluntad Popular).

In September the CNE extended its ban to the oldest surviving opposition party, Accion Democratica (AD), declaring it would be prohibited from running candidates in municipal council elections scheduled for December. The ostensible reason the CNE gave for the ban was AD’s decision not to participate in a “recertification” process called abruptly in August. AD leaders noted they had successfully completed a similar process in January and no legal basis existed for the new requirement.

During the May 20 presidential elections, national media noted various irregularities, including financial benefits offered to PSUV voters, government vehicles used to transport PSUV voters to voting centers, opposition party observers blocked from polling centers, media blocked from covering events at polling centers, and distribution of food coupons to progovernment voters. There were no reports the government forced government workers or benefit recipients to vote, as had been customary in the most recent national elections.

Even though there had been no referendum to approve efforts for constitutional reform, in July 2017 at the president’s direction, the CNE held fraudulent and violently protested elections to choose representatives for the ANC that would reportedly rewrite the constitution. Observers claimed the CNE was used to usurp the authority of the National Assembly and legitimize unconstitutional acts of the regime.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Opposition political parties operated in a restrictive atmosphere characterized by intimidation, the threat of prosecution or administrative sanction on questionable charges, and very limited mainstream media access.

During the year the government expanded the carnet de la patria program, introduced in 2017 as a multipurpose identification card, so that it was required to access government-funded social services. In September the government announced gasoline, largely subsidized by the government, would be sold only at higher international prices to those without a carnet de la patria. Cardholders were reportedly also granted exclusive access to educational scholarships, subsidized food, and other government support. The government set up carnet de la patria check-in points outside of voting centers during national elections and urged cardholders to “register” their votes. According to the government, as of October more than 17 million of the 30 million residents had registered for the card. To qualify for the card, applicants must provide proof of political affiliation and respond to a number of questions regarding the social service benefits they receive. Government opponents asserted the card amounted to social control, a tool to leverage access to scarce subsidized consumer products in return for political loyalty.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The ruling party had a number of high-level female politicians and ministers, while the opposition lacked female and minority representation.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, making it punishable by a prison term of eight to 14 years. A man legally may avoid punishment by marrying (before he is sentenced) the person he raped. The law allows authorities to consider alternative forms of punishment, including work release, for those convicted of various crimes, including rape, if they have completed three-quarters of their sentence.

The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological violence in the home or community and at work. The law punishes perpetrators of domestic violence with penalties ranging from six to 27 months in prison. The law requires police to report domestic violence to judicial authorities and obligates hospital personnel to notify authorities when admitting patients who are victims of domestic abuse. Police generally were reluctant to intervene to prevent domestic violence and were not properly trained to handle such cases. The law also establishes women’s bureaus at local police headquarters and tribunals specializing in gender-based violence, and two-thirds of states had specialized courts. The Public Ministry’s Women’s Defense Department employed a team of lawyers, psychiatrists, and other experts who dealt exclusively with cases of femicide, gender-related violence, and other crimes against women.

Many advocates observed there was a lack of public awareness among women regarding resources and support available to prevent and combat domestic violence. The government offered some shelter and services for victims of domestic and other violence, but NGOs provided the majority of domestic abuse support services.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by fines and a prison sentence of one to three years. Although allegedly common in the workplace, sexual harassment cases were rarely reported.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men under the constitution. Women and men are legally equal in marriage, and the law provides for gender equality in exercising the right to work. The law specifies that employers must not discriminate against women with regard to pay or working conditions. According to the Ministry of Labor and the Confederation of Workers, regulations protecting women’s labor rights were enforced in the formal sector, although according to the World Economic Forum, women earned 36 percent less on average than men doing comparable jobs.

The law provides women with property rights equal to those of men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory. According to UNICEF, 81 percent of children younger than age five were registered at birth, based on 2011 statistics provided by the government.

Child Abuse: According to UNICEF and NGOs working with children and women, child abuse, including incest, occurred but was rarely reported. The government made efforts to detain and prosecute some perpetrators of child abuse. Although the judicial system acted to remove children from abusive households, the press reported public facilities for such children were inadequate. According to NGOs, in many cases children were returned to their homes without proper reintegration measures or follow-up.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18 for women and men, but with parental consent, the minimum age is 16.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: By law sexual relations with a minor younger than age 13, with an “especially vulnerable” person, or with a minor younger than age 16 when the perpetrator is a relative or guardian, are punishable with a mandatory sentence of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the forced prostitution and corruption of minors. Penalties range from 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment in the case of sex trafficking of girls, although the law requires force, fraud, or coercion in its definition of sex trafficking of children. The law prohibits the production and sale of child pornography and establishes penalties of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment.

Displaced Children: Children’s rights advocates noted an increase of up to 40 percent in the number of children living on the street, compared with 2017, when leading advocates and the press estimated 10,000 children lived on the streets. As parents fled the country’s economic crisis, many left their children behind with family members, many of whom also struggled with the country’s economic downturn. State-run facilities already filled to capacity were unable to support the influx of children in need. The government did not provide additional resources to support these centers, and at least four centers closed in the first quarter of the year due to a lack of resources. Private institutions denounced the government’s refusal to provide subsidized food benefits to support their population. NGOs noted young girls made up close to half of the children living on the streets, a significant increase. The significant shift posed particular challenges for shelters, which historically managed predominantly male populations. With institutions filled to capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions, such as curfew violations, were confined in inadequate juvenile detention centers.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, including anti-Semitism.

The Confederation of Israelite Associations in Venezuela estimated there were 9,000 Jews in the country. Jewish community leaders expressed concern about anti-Semitic statements made by high-level government officials and anti-Semitic pieces in progovernment media outlets. They said government-owned or -associated media and government supporters again denied or trivialized the Holocaust, citing media reports of President Maduro’s comparing migrant Venezuelans to Jews persecuted by Hitler. The community leaders noted many other anti-Semitic incidents occurred during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, but the government did not make a significant effort to implement the law, inform the public of it, or combat societal prejudice against persons with disabilities. The law requires that all newly constructed or renovated public parks and buildings provide access, but persons with disabilities had minimal access to public transportation, and ramps were almost nonexistent. Many persons with disabilities expressed concerns that public transportation workers often were unwilling to transport them and forced them to find taxis, which were often out of their financial reach and also frequently not equipped to support patrons with disabilities. Parents of children with disabilities also complained they were forced to wait in long lines for services rather than provided preference in line as is afforded by law. Online resources and access to information were generally available to persons with disabilities, although access to closed-captioned or audio-described online videos for persons with sight and hearing disabilities was limited. Separately, leading advocates for persons with hearing disabilities lamented difficult access to public services due to a lack of government-funded interpreters in public courts, health-care facilities, and legal services, as well as a lack of other public accommodations.

The National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, an independent agency affiliated with the Ministry for Participation and Social Development, advocated for the rights of persons with disabilities and provided medical, legal, occupational, and cultural programs. According to the commission, less than 20 percent of persons with disabilities who registered with government health programs were fully employed.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race. The law prohibits all forms of racial discrimination and provides for a maximum of three years’ imprisonment for acts of racial discrimination. As mandated by law, signage existed outside commercial and recreational establishments announcing the prohibition against acts of racial discrimination. Beyond signage the government did little to enforce the laws against discrimination or prosecute cases of discrimination.

There were no reports the government arrested or prosecuted suspects regarding 2017 attacks by demonstrators that killed two Afro-Venezuelan men, despite videos of the attacks circulating widely on social media.

Indigenous People

The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnic origin. The constitution provides for three seats in the National Assembly for deputies of indigenous origin to “protect indigenous communities and their progressive incorporation into the life of the nation,” but some indigenous communities had been without representation in the national legislature since the TSJ annulled the 2015 election of Amazonas State’s indigenous representative.

NGOs and the press reported local political authorities seldom took account of indigenous interests when making decisions affecting indigenous lands, cultures, traditions, or allocation of natural resources. Indigenous groups continued to call for faster implementation of the demarcation process.

Indigenous groups and NGOs expressed concern regarding mining in the growing “Arco Minero,” an area that extends between the states of Bolivar and Amazonas. Indigenous communities reported the government developed and expanded mining zones without consulting those native to the region. Armed groups, including Colombian guerrillas, had a considerable presence in the area, increasing the level of violence and insecurity in the communities. There was also an unprecedented influx of diseases, as well as prostitution and other illegal activities, in the mining areas, putting indigenous communities at risk.

Indigenous groups regularly reported violent conflicts with miners and cattle ranchers over land rights. There were reports of harassment, attacks, and forced evictions against indigenous persons living in areas included as part of government mining concessions.

Border disputes with Colombia affected indigenous groups living in border regions. While the president proclaimed indigenous persons on the border could cross freely, there were many reported cases in which movements of indigenous groups were restricted.

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

The constitution provides for equality before the law of all persons and prohibits discrimination based on “sex or social condition,” but it does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to a TSJ ruling, no individual may be subjected to discrimination because of sexual orientation, but the ruling was rarely enforced.

Credible NGOs reported incidents of bias-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Reported incidents were most prevalent against transgender individuals. Leading advocates noted that law enforcement authorities often did not properly investigate to determine whether crimes were bias-motivated.

Local police and private security forces allegedly prevented LGBTI persons from entering malls, public parks, and recreational areas. NGOs reported the government systematically denied legal recognition to transgender and intersex persons by preventing them from obtaining identity documents required for accessing education, employment, housing, and health care. This vulnerability often led transgender and intersex persons to become victims of human trafficking or prostitution.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law provides for the equal rights of persons with HIV/AIDS and their families. Nevertheless, leading advocates alleged discrimination against such persons.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future