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Bahrain

Executive Summary

Bahrain is a constitutional, hereditary monarchy. King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, the head of state, appoints the cabinet, consisting of 24 ministers; 12 of those ministers were members of the al-Khalifa ruling family. The king, who holds ultimate authority over most government decisions, also appoints the prime minister, the head of government, who does not have to be a member of parliament. Parliament consists of an appointed upper house, the Shura (Consultative) Council, and the elected Council of Representatives, each with 40 seats. The country holds parliamentary elections every four years, and according to the government, 67 percent of eligible voters participated in elections held on November 24. Two formerly prominent opposition parties, al-Wifaq and Wa’ad, did not participate in the elections due to their dissolution by the courts in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The government did not permit international election monitors. Domestic monitors generally concluded authorities administered the elections without significant procedural irregularities.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of torture; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including restrictions on independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from freely operating in the country; significant restrictions on freedom of movement, including bans on international travel and revocation of citizenship; and restrictions on political participation, including the banning of former members of al-Wifaq and Wa’ad from standing as candidates in the elections.

The government occasionally prosecuted low-level security force members accused of human rights abuses, following investigations by government or quasi-governmental institutions. Nonetheless, due to the frequently slow and ineffective nature of investigations, impunity remained a problem.

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

Government officials sometimes met with local human rights NGOs but generally were not responsive to the views of NGOs they believed were politicized and unfairly critical of the government.

Domestic human rights groups operated with government restrictions, with some human rights activists imprisoned, exiled, or coerced into silence, according to reporting by international human rights organizations. Domestic human rights groups included the Bahrain Human Rights Society and Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, the primary independent and licensed human rights organizations in the country; the BCHR, which although dissolved by the government in 2004 continued to operate and maintain an online presence; and the unlicensed Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. The unlicensed umbrella human rights organization Bahrain Human Rights Observatory also issued numerous reports and had strong ties to international human rights NGOs.

Domestic human rights groups faced significant difficulties operating freely and interacting with international human rights organizations. The government sometimes harassed and deprived local NGO leaders of due process. Local NGO leaders and activists also reported government harassment, including the imposition of travel bans (see section 2.c.), police surveillance, delayed processing of civil documents, and “inappropriate questioning” of their children during interviews for government scholarships.

Individuals affiliated with international human rights and labor organizations, or who were critical of the government, reported authorities indefinitely delayed or refused visa applications, or at times refused entry to the country for individuals who possessed a valid visa or qualified for the country’s visa-free entry program.

Government Human Rights Bodies: A 2016 amendment to a royal decree re-established the country’s National Human Rights Organization, now called the NIHR. The decree strengthened the NIHR by giving it the right to conduct unannounced visits to police facilities and increasing its financial independence. Throughout the year the NIHR conducted numerous human rights workshops, seminars, and training sessions, as well as prison visits, and referred numerous complaints to the PPO. It issued its latest annual report in March and contributed to PDRC, ombudsman, and SIU investigations.

The government also maintained the Ombudsman’s Office within the Ministry of Interior, the SIU within the PPO, and the PDRC. These organizations worked with each other throughout the year.

International human rights organizations questioned the independence and effectiveness of government-affiliated oversight institutions. Local and international observers and human rights organizations also continued to express concern the government had not fully implemented BICI recommendations, including dropping charges against individuals engaged in nonviolent political expression, criminally charging security officers accused of abuse or torture, integrating Shia citizens into security forces, and creating an environment conducive to national reconciliation.

Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government, but in fact, most power resides in the Office of the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term in an improbably lopsided December parliamentary election that was not considered free and fair, and was marred by reported irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. During the campaign leading up to the election, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely. International election monitors were not issued accreditation and visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission, and only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved to conduct domestic election observation.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary or unlawful detentions by the government or on its behalf; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organizations (NGO) laws and restrictions on the activities of NGOs; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, where elections have not been found to be genuine, free, or fair; corruption; trafficking in persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual activity; restrictions on independent trade unions, workers’ rights, and use of the worst forms of child labor.

There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses. The government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and killing by security forces.

The United Nations reported three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Bangladesh in 2017; the allegations remained pending.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with some government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their views.

Although human rights groups often sharply criticized the government, they also practiced some self-censorship. Observers commented on the diminished strength of civil society, exacerbated by threats from extremists and an increasingly entrenched leading political party. Even civil society members affiliated with the ruling party reported receiving threats of arrest from the security forces for public criticism of government policies.

The government continued to restrict the funding and operations of the human rights organization Odhikar. Although the ACC dropped a case against Odhikar in 2016, Odhikar representatives continued to report harassment by government officials and security forces, including disruption of their planned events. On June 6, Special Branch (SB) officers entered Odhikar offices demanding information on the organization’s activities. SB also requested the mobile phone numbers of the organization’s officers. On June 25, SB officers entered Odhikar offices again demanding information on the organization’s president. Family members and Odhikar staff reported additional harassment and claimed security officers constantly monitored their telephone calls, emails, and movements.

The government required all NGOs, including religious organizations, to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Local and international NGOs working on sensitive topics or groups, such as religious issues, human rights, indigenous peoples, LGBTI communities, Rohingya refugees, or worker rights, faced both formal and informal governmental restrictions. Some of these groups claimed intelligence agencies monitored them. The government sometimes restricted international NGOs’ ability to operate through delays in project registration, cease-and-desist letters, and visa refusals. Some civil society members reported repeated audits by the National Board of Revenue in contrast with most citizens, who were almost never audited.

Numerous NGOs entered Bangladesh in response to the August 2017 Rohingya influx. During the year the NGO Affairs Bureau imposed restrictions on 41 NGOs related to the Rohingya relief effort. The 41 NGOs were permitted to finish ongoing projects, but they were denied the ability to commence new projects. The government did not disclose the names of the NGOs, nor did the government state why restrictions were imposed on the NGOs.

The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act restricts foreign funding of NGOs and includes punitive provisions for those NGOs that make “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution of the country, its founding history, or constitutional bodies (that is, government institutions and leaders).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government had not responded to a UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances request to visit the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has seven members, including five honorary positions. Observers noted the NHRC’s small government support staff was inadequate and underfunded, limiting the commission’s effectiveness and independence. The NHRC’s primary activity was educating the public about human rights and advising the government on key human rights issues.

Burma

Executive Summary

Burma has a quasi-parliamentary system of government in which the national parliament selects the president and constitutional provisions grant one-quarter of parliamentary seats to active-duty military appointees. The military also has the authority to appoint the ministers of defense, home affairs, and border affairs and one of two vice presidents, as well as to assume power over all branches of the government should the president declare a national state of emergency. In 2015 the country held nationwide parliamentary elections that the public widely accepted as a credible reflection of the will of the people. The National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi was the civilian government’s de facto leader and, due to constitutional provisions preventing her from becoming president, remained in the position of state counsellor. During the year parliament selected NLD member Win Myint to replace Htin Kyaw as president, and the country held peaceful and orderly by-elections for 13 state and national offices.

Under the constitution, civilian authorities have no authority over the security forces; the armed forces commander in chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, maintained effective control over the security forces.

Independent investigations undertaken during the year found evidence that corroborated the 2017 ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Rakhine State and further detailed the military’s killing, rape, and torture of unarmed villagers during a campaign of violence that displaced more than 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh. Some evidence suggested preparatory actions on the part of security forces and other actors prior to the start of violence, including confiscation of knives, tools, iron, and other sharp objects that could be used as weapons in the days preceding attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). An additional 13,764 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh between January and September. The government prevented assistance from reaching displaced Rohingya and other vulnerable populations during the year by using access restrictions on the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies. The military also committed human rights abuses in continuing conflicts in Kachin and Shan States.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful and arbitrary killings by security forces; torture; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; arbitrary arrest and prosecution of journalists and criminalization of defamation; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including arrests of peaceful protesters and restrictions on civil society activity; restrictions on religious freedom; significant restrictions on freedom of movement, in particular for Rohingya; corruption by some officials; unlawful use of child soldiers by the government; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats targeting members of national, ethnic, and religious minorities; and the use of forced and child labor. Consensual same-sex acts among adults remained criminalized, although those laws were rarely enforced.

Although the government took some limited actions to prosecute or punish officials responsible for abuses, the vast majority of such abuses continued with impunity.

Some nonstate groups committed human rights abuses, including killings, unlawful use of child soldiers, forced labor of adults and children, and failure to protect civilians in conflict zones. These abuses rarely resulted in investigations or prosecutions.

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

The government did not fully allow domestic human rights organizations to function independently. Human rights NGOs were able to open offices and operate, but there were some reports of harassment and monitoring by authorities, and that authorities sometimes pressured hotels and other venues not to host meetings by activists or other civil society groups.

Human rights activists and advocates, including representatives from international NGOs, continued to obtain short-term visas that required them to leave the country periodically for renewal. The government continued to monitor the movements of foreigners and interrogated citizens concerning contacts with foreigners.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: As of year’s end, the government had not agreed to the opening of an Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). While formally allowing OHCHR staff to maintain a nominal presence in country, the government delayed visa issuance for some OHCHR staff members and continued to require travel authorization for travel to Rakhine State and conflict areas.

On September 17, the UN Fact-Finding Mission, established by the UN Human Rights Council, published its final report on the country, which detailed atrocities committed by the military in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States, as well as other areas, and characterized the “genocidal intent” of the military’s 2017 operations in Rakhine State. The government denied the Fact-Finding Mission permission to enter the country and publicly disavowed the report.

The government continued not to allow the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to enter the country, but permitted UN special envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener, who was appointed in April, to enter the country on multiple occasions and meet with officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief Minh Aung Hlaing.

The ICRC had full access to independent civilian prisons and labor camps. The government also allowed the ICRC to operate in ethnic-minority states, including in Shan, Rakhine, and Kachin States.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission investigated some incidents of gross human rights abuses. In some prominent cases, it called on the government to conduct investigations into abuses, and in October it called on the government to facilitate the repatriation of Rohingya from Bangladesh. It also conducted investigations into police mistreatment of detainees (see section 1.d., Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees). Its ability to operate as a credible, independent mechanism remained limited. The commission supported the development of human rights education curricula, distributed human rights materials, and conducted human rights training.

On July 30, the government announced the formation of the Commission of Enquiry (COE) for Rakhine State, headed by Rosario Manalo, a former deputy prime minister of the Philippines. The four-person COE did not release any findings as of October. Previous government-led investigations into reports of widespread abuses by security services against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State in 2016 yielded no findings of guilt or accountability and were criticized by international observers as deeply flawed.

The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, established by Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016 and led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, released its final report in August 2017, prior to the ARSA attacks in northern Rakhine State. Observers questioned the government’s claim to have implemented 81 of 88 recommendations in the Advisory Commission’s final report as of October.

Burundi

Executive Summary

The Republic of Burundi is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected government. The 2018 constitution, promulgated in June following a May referendum, provides for an executive branch that reports to the president, a bicameral parliament, and an independent judiciary. In 2015 voters re-elected President Pierre Nkurunziza and elected National Assembly (lower house) members in elections boycotted by nearly all independent opposition parties, who claimed Nkurunziza’s election violated legal term limits. International and domestic observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but deeply flawed and not free, fair, transparent, or credible. There were widespread reports of harassment, intimidation, threatening rhetoric, and some violence leading up to the referendum and reports of compulsion for citizens to register to vote and contribute financially to the management of the elections planned for 2020.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary arrest and politicized detention by the government; prolonged pretrial detention; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; threats against and harassment of journalists, censorship through restrictive legislation, internet site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, including elections that were not found to be genuine, free, or fair; corruption; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence against women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, minority groups, and persons with albinism; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and use of forced or compulsory or worst forms of child labor.

The reluctance of police and public prosecutors to investigate and prosecute and of judges to hear cases of government corruption and human rights abuse in a timely manner resulted in widespread impunity for government and National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) officials.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups struggled to operate in the face of governmental restrictions, harassment, and repression. In January 2017 the government enacted laws governing domestic CSOs that made it difficult for many organizations to conduct their work. The law required registration of CSOs with the Ministry of the Interior, a complex process that includes approval for an organization’s activities from the ministry and other ministries depending on their areas of expertise. Registration must be renewed every two years, and there was no recourse in cases where registration was denied. The law provides for the suspension or permanent closure of organizations for “disturbing public order or harming state security,” which was broadly interpreted.

Many human rights defenders who had fled the country in 2015 remained outside the country at year’s end. Those who remained in the country were subjected to threats, intimidation, and arrest. The cases of Germain Rukuki, Nestor Nibitanga, and three members of PARCEM, who were convicted and sentenced to jail during the year, were emblematic of the judicial threats faced by human rights monitors from both recognized and nonrecognized organizations.

In October 2016 the government banned five CSOs led by opponents to the president having a third term and in January 2017 banned Ligue Iteka. Ligue Iteka and other organizations without official recognition continued to monitor the human rights situation. Members of both recognized and nonrecognized organizations reported being subjected to harassment and intimidation and took measures to protect the identities of their employees and their sources.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: On December 5, the government requested that the OHCHR close its office in Burundi, abrogating the 1995 memorandum of understanding under which the OHCHR worked in the country. The government cited the existence of national institutions as evidence that the OHCHR office was no longer necessary. The OHCHR began preparations for closing the office. The government had suspended cooperation with the office in October 2016 in response to UNIIB’s report that found “reasonable grounds to believe” security forces and Imbonerakure had established multiple detention facilities that were unacknowledged by the prosecutor general, and included allegations that senior leaders were personally complicit in human rights violations. Although the OHCHR maintained its office, it reduced personnel in country. The OHCHR’s monitoring activities were curtailed substantially and its access to government institutions was limited. In September 2017, days before a separate UN body presented a final report on Burundi to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, a group of armed men broke into and began to search the OHCHR’s offices in Bujumbura before departing after a security guard activated an alarm. According to the OHCHR, the men did not take any confidential or otherwise valuable information. The government initially denied the attacks occurred and then announced a police investigation, which had not produced any public results as of December.

The UN Human Rights Council created the three-member UN COI in 2016 to investigate human rights violations since 2015; its mandate was renewed in September 2017 and again in September. The government refused to allow commission members to enter the country following the publication of the 2016 UNIIB report, and did not respond substantively to any requests for information from the commission. In September the commission delivered its annual report, finding there was reason to believe that grave violations of human rights and crimes against humanity continued to be committed in the country, including extrajudicial killings, systematic torture, sexual violence, and political persecution. The UN COI reported these violations were primarily attributable to state officials at the highest level and to senior officials and members of the SNR, police, BNDF, and Imbonerakure. Government officials dismissed the allegations, claimed that the report was “defamatory,” accused the members of the COI of serving foreign interests to undermine the country’s sovereignty, and threatened to file defamation charges against them. In October the country’s ambassador to the United Nations engaged in an ad hominem attack on the chair of the Commission, comparing him to a participant in the slave trade. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared the commission members, who had never had access to the country, persona non grata. Following the release of the report, government officials and CNDD-FDD leaders organized nonviolent protests criticizing Western countries, the United Nations, and commission members, during which participants chanted slogans condemning the COI members.

In September 2017 the Human Rights Council voted to request that the OHCHR send a team of three experts to Burundi for a technical assistance mission, with unclear terms of reference. In March the OHCHR identified a four-person team composed of officials recruited from other UN agencies with expertise on technical assistance in governance and the rule of law. The government granted visas for the experts and all but one member of the team traveled to Bujumbura, where they began preparing to conduct their mission. On April 19, however, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the OHCHR mission that long-term visas for the experts had been cancelled and instructed them to depart the country. The government gave no reason for the decision.

In 2016 the AU announced it would send 100 human rights monitors and 100 military monitors to the country and stated that the Burundian president supported the deployment. Approximately 40 human rights monitors and eight military monitors deployed in 2016 remained in the country until September, when the number was reduced due to a gap in financing. In November the AU Peace and Security Council voted to extend the mission with reduced staffing levels. According to the AU, the monitors were limited in what they could do because the government had yet to agree on a memorandum of understanding for the monitors. The monitors advocated to the government for improvements on human rights and rule of law issues, with particular regard to the cases of jailed human rights defenders, including Germain Rukuki and Nestor Nibitanga; attended court proceedings in sensitive cases; and conducted prison visits. Although no memorandum of understanding on their status in the country was concluded with the government as of September, the monitors had free access to the country. The government did not grant permission for the rest of the monitors to enter the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Parties to the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement of 2000 committed to the establishment of an international criminal tribunal, which had yet to be implemented, and a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was passed into law in April 2014. In 2014 parliament appointed 11 commissioners in a vote boycotted by the opposition. In November the parliament approved a law that extended the TRC’s term for four years, subject to renewal, and expanded the previous 1962-2008 temporal mandate as far back as 1885 and instructed the commission to consider “the role of the colonizer in cyclical violence” in Burundi. The law expanded the commission to 13 members; on November 22, new commissioners were appointed. Between becoming operational in 2016 and November, the TRC has gathered testimony and conducted outreach activities under its mandate to investigate and establish the truth regarding serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations committed in the country. The TRC is also mandated to establish individual responsibilities and those of state institutions, individuals, and private groups.

By September the TRC deployed teams to gather depositions in every province and created an online deposition form, collecting more than 60,000 testimonies. Based on testimony, the commission provisionally identified thousands of mass graves of varying size throughout the country dating from the time of its mandate, as well as numerous allegations of killings, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and violations of due process rights. The TRC also conducted archival research, with open access to the archives of most state institutions except those of the SNR. Following the conclusion of the formal testimony-gathering phase, the TRC conducted a series of workshops to consider questions of legal analysis and historiography as it prepared for the drafting of its reports and for public events featuring witness testimony regarding abuses as well as exemplary stories of courage. Some CSOs and opposition political figures raised concerns that, given ongoing human rights violations, political tensions, a climate of fear and intimidation, fears of retribution for testimony, and restrictions on freedom of expression, conditions were not conducive for an impartial or effective transitional justice process. CSOs cited concerns that the participation of ruling party members in deposition gathering teams could reduce the willingness of some Burundians to testify or share fully their stories. The TRC sought to limit such risks by creating balanced teams and excluding potential members subject to derogatory allegations. The operating environment did not change during the year.

A lack of funding and qualified experts adversely affected the TRC’s ability to operate. Some of the TRC commissioners were perceived by some CSOs as representing the interests of the ruling party and therefore not impartial. The 2014 law creating the TRC provided for the appointment of an advisory board of eminent international persons, but none was appointed; the 2018 law eliminated the advisory board while stating that the commission could seek advice from international experts.

Ombudsman Edouard Nduwimana’s mandate included monitoring prison conditions and encouraging interreligious dialogue. During the year he also focused on dialogue with opposition political parties both inside and outside the country.

The CNIDH, a quasigovernmental body charged with investigating human rights abuses, exercised its power to summon senior officials, demand information, and order corrective action. In 2016 the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) provisionally downgraded CNIDH’s accreditation due to concerns regarding its independence. In February GANHRI confirmed its decision, suspending CNIDH’s right to participate fully in global meetings with counterparts. The CNIDH, which also monitored the government’s progress on human rights investigations, did not regularly release its findings to the public.

Cambodia

Executive Summary

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliamentary government. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won all 125 National Assembly seats in the July 29 national election, having banned the chief opposition party in November 2017. Prior to the victory, Prime Minister Hun Sen had already served for 33 years. International observers, including foreign governments and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and domestic NGOs criticized the election as neither free nor fair and not representative of the will of the Cambodian people.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, which often threatened force against those who opposed Prime Minister Hun Sen and were generally perceived as an armed wing of the ruling CPP.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings carried out by the government or on its behalf; forced disappearance carried out by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary arrests by the government; political prisoners; arbitrary interference in the private lives of citizens, including pervasive electronic media surveillance; censorship and selectively enforced criminal libel laws; interference with the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; pervasive corruption, including in the judiciary; and use of forced or compulsory child labor.

The government did not provide evidence of having prosecuted any officials for abuses, including corruption. A pervasive culture of impunity continued.

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

There were multiple reports of a lack of official cooperation with human rights investigations and, in some cases, intimidation of investigators by government officials.

Domestic and international human rights organizations reported intensifying harassment, surveillance, threats, and intimidation from local officials and persons with ties to the government. Several civil society and labor organizations reported after the July election that police raided their offices and the taxation department investigated their accounts.

Approximately 25 human rights NGOs operated in the country, and a further 100 NGOs focused on other areas included some human rights matters in their work, but only a few actively organized training programs or investigated abuses.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally permitted visits by UN representatives. In March Rhona Smith, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, conducted a 10-day mission to the country. In her meetings with the National Assembly, the NEC, the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC), and NGOs, she raised serious concerns about restrictions on the media, political participation, freedom of expression, and the redistribution of CNRP seats to the ruling party contending that “peace, stability, and development” cannot be separated from human rights obligations. The government often turned down high-level meetings with UN representatives and denied them access to opposition officials, including Kem Sokha. Government spokespersons regularly chastised UN representatives publicly for their remarks on a variety of human rights problems.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There were three government human rights bodies: separate committees for the Protection of Human Rights and Reception of Complaints in the Senate and National Assembly and the CHRC, which reported to the prime minister’s cabinet. The CHRC submitted government reports for participation in international human rights review processes, such as the Universal Periodic Review, and issued responses to reports by international organizations and government bodies, but it did not conduct independent human rights investigations. Credible human rights NGOs considered the government committees of limited efficacy and criticized their role in vocally justifying the government crackdown on civil society and the opposition.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), created in 2006, continued to investigate and prosecute the most senior leaders of the former Khmer Rouge regime who were most responsible for the atrocities committed between 1975 and 1979, when nearly one-quarter of the country’s population was killed. The ECCC is a hybrid tribunal, having both domestic and international jurists and staff, and is governed by both Cambodian domestic law and an agreement between the government and the United Nations. On November 16, the ECCC convicted former Khmer Rouge senior leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan of genocide, crimes against humanity, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The court’s guilty verdicts were the first official acknowledgement that the Khmer Rouge regime’s crimes constituted genocide as defined under international law. As many as two million persons were believed to have died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979.

Cameroon

Executive Summary

Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency.  The country has a multiparty system of government, but the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has remained in power since its creation in 1985.  In practice the president retains the power to control legislation.  On October 7, citizens reelected CPDM leader Paul Biya president, a position he has held since 1982.  The election was marked by irregularities, including intimidation of voters and representatives of candidates at polling sites, late posting of polling sites and voter lists, ballot stuffing, voters with multiple registrations, and alleged polling results manipulation.  On March 25, the country conducted the second senate elections in its history.  They were peaceful and considered generally free and fair.  In 2013 simultaneous legislative and municipal elections were held, and most observers considered them free and fair.  New legislative and municipal elections were expected to take place during the year; however, in consultation with the parliament and the constitutional council, President Biya extended the terms of office of parliamentarians and municipal councilors for 12 months, and general elections were expected to take place in fall 2019 or early 2020.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces, including police and gendarmerie.

The sociopolitical crisis that began in the Northwest and Southwest Regions in late 2016 over perceived marginalization developed into an armed conflict between government forces and separatist groups.  The conflict resulted in serious human rights violations and abuses by government forces and Anglophone separatists.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings by security forces as well as armed Anglophone separatists; forced disappearances by security forces, Boko Haram, and separatists; torture by security forces and Anglophone separatists; prolonged arbitrary detentions including of suspected Anglophone separatists by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; violence and harassment targeting journalists by government agents; periodic government restrictions on access to the internet; laws authorizing criminal libel; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers by the government; restrictions on political participation; violence against women, in part due to government inaction; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by Anglophone separatists, government-supported vigilance committees, and Boko Haram; violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and criminalization of consensual same-sex relations; child labor, including forced child labor; and violations of workers’ rights.

Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses in the security forces and in the public service, it did not often make public these proceedings, and some offenders, including serial offenders, continued to act with impunity.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases.  Overturning an earlier decision not to allow them back in the country, the government issued visas to allow Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch personnel to return to present their reports on human rights abuses to the government and to hear its views.  As in previous years, however, government officials impeded the effectiveness of many local human rights NGOs by harassing their members, limiting access to prisoners, refusing to share information, and threatening violence against NGO personnel.  Human rights defenders and activists received anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and email.  The government took no action to investigate or prevent such occurrences.  The government criticized reports from international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Crisis Group, accusing them of publishing baseless accusations with the intention of discrediting the government and military.  Despite these restrictions, numerous independent domestic human rights NGOs continued operations to the best of their ability, although many reported that government threats and intimidation limited their ability to operate in the country.

There were several reports of intimidation, threats, and attacks aimed at human rights activists, including members of the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC), Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme (NDH), the Mandela Center, and Front Line Fighters for Citizens’ Interests (FFCI), among others.  FFCI executive president Franklin Mowha was reported missing as of August 6 while he was on a business trip to the Southwest Region.  FFCI officials and Mowha’s family members alleged that authorities were informed but failed to investigate the case.  As of late October, his family members did not have any information concerning his whereabouts and feared he might have been killed.

Government Human Rights Bodies:  The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) is an independent, government-funded institution for consultation, monitoring, evaluation, dialogue, concerted action, promotion, and protection of human rights.  The NCHRF was established by a 1990 presidential decree and was subsequently given more powers following the passage of a 2004 law.  The NCHRF, however, is limited to making recommendations to competent authorities and can take no action itself.  The commission publishes yearly reports on the human rights environment and may engage in research, provide education, coordinate actions with NGOs, and visit prisons and detention sites.  NGOs, civil society, and the general population considered the NCHRF dedicated and effective, albeit inadequately resourced and with insufficient ability effectively to hold human rights violators to account.  Its budget was far smaller than that of most other agencies with comparable status, such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission and Election Cameroon.

The National Assembly’s Constitutional Laws, Human Rights and Freedoms, Justice, Legislation, Regulations, and Administration Committee was adequately resourced and reviewed the constitutionality of proposed legislation, but it was not an effective check on the ruling party’s initiatives.  The parliament generally failed to address the Anglophone crisis, resulting in a protest by opposition Social Democratic Front representatives during the March ordinary session of parliament.

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

Executive Summary

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The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the paramount authority. CCP members hold almost all top government and security apparatus positions. Ultimate authority rests with the CCP Central Committee’s 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) and its seven-member Standing Committee. Xi Jinping continued to hold the three most powerful positions as CCP general secretary, state president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Civilian authorities maintained control of security forces.

During the year the government significantly intensified its campaign of mass detention of members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang). Authorities were reported to have arbitrarily detained 800,000 to possibly more than two million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims in internment camps designed to erase religious and ethnic identities. Government officials claimed the camps were needed to combat terrorism, separatism, and extremism. International media, human rights organizations, and former detainees reported security officials in the camps abused, tortured, and killed some detainees.

Human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members; censorship and site blocking; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws that apply to foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); severe restrictions of religious freedom; significant restrictions on freedom of movement (for travel within the country and overseas); refoulement of asylum seekers to North Korea, where they have a well-founded fear of persecution; the inability of citizens to choose their government; corruption; a coercive birth-limitation policy that in some cases included sterilization or abortions; trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing. Official repression of the freedoms of speech, religion, movement, association, and assembly of Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas and of Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang worsened and was more severe than in other areas of the country.

Authorities prosecuted a number of abuses of power through the court system, particularly with regard to corruption, but in most cases the CCP first investigated and punished officials using opaque internal party disciplinary procedures. The CCP continued to dominate the judiciary and controlled the appointment of all judges and in certain cases directly dictated the court’s ruling. Authorities harassed, detained, and arrested citizens who promoted independent efforts to combat abuses of power.

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

The government sought to maintain control over civil society groups, halt the emergence of independent NGOs, and hinder activities of civil society and human rights groups. The government frequently harassed independent domestic NGOs and in many cases did not permit them to openly monitor or comment on human rights conditions. The government made statements expressing suspicion of independent organizations and closely scrutinized NGOs with financial and other links overseas. The government took significant steps during the year to bring all domestic NGOs under its direct regulatory control, thereby curtailing the space for independent NGOs to exist. Most large NGOs were quasigovernmental, and government agencies had to sponsor all official NGOs.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government remained reluctant to accept criticism of its human rights record by other nations or international organizations. The government sharply limited the visits of UN experts to the country and rarely provided substantive answers to queries by UN human rights bodies. A dozen requests for visits to the country by UN experts remained outstanding.

The government used its membership on the UN Economic and Social Council’s Committee on NGOs to block groups critical of China from obtaining UN accreditation and barring accredited activists from participating in UN events. The government also retaliated against human rights groups working with the United Nations, eliciting the criticism of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. In May the government requested the UN NGO Committee remove the accreditation of the German NGO the Society for Threatened Peoples after it assisted Dolkun Isa, the president of the World Uyghur Congress, in attending the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government maintained each country’s economic, social, cultural, and historical conditions determined its approach to human rights. The government claimed its treatment of suspects, considered to be victims of human rights abuses by the international community, was in accordance with national law. The government did not have a human rights ombudsman or commission.

Colombia

Executive Summary

Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty republic. In June voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president in elections that observers considered free and fair and the most peaceful in decades.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; reports of torture and arbitrary detention by both government security forces and illegal armed groups; corruption; rape and abuse of women and children by illegal armed groups; criminalization of libel; violence and threats of violence against human rights defenders and social leaders; violence against and forced displacement of Afro-Colombian and indigenous persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; forced child labor; and killings and other violence against trade unionists.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, although some cases experienced long delays that raised concerns about accountability. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP, or JEP in Spanish)–the justice component of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition–started operations during the year.

As part of the 2016 peace accord, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), formerly the country’s largest guerrilla insurgency group, disarmed and reincorporated as a political party that participated in the March congressional elections and initially nominated a presidential candidate, who withdrew from the race in May. On July 20, FARC representatives took up eight of their guaranteed 10 seats in congress.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) perpetrated armed attacks across the country for much of the year, particularly following the conclusion of a brief bilateral cease-fire, which lasted from October 1, 2017, through January 9. Peace talks between the ELN and Santos government concluded without resolution in August, and the Duque administration suspended talks until the ELN agrees to new preconditions for negotiations. Other illegal armed groups and drug-trafficking gangs continued to operate. Illegal armed groups, as well as narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of human rights abuses and violent crimes and committed acts of extrajudicial and unlawful killings, extortion, and other abuses such as kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, bombings and use of landmines, restriction on freedom of movement, sexual violence, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and intimidation of journalists, women, and human rights defenders.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were typically cooperative and willing to listen to local human rights groups’ concerns.

Several NGOs reported receiving threats in the form of email, mail, telephone calls, false obituaries, and objects related to death, such as coffins and funeral bouquets. The government condemned the threats and called on the Attorney General’s Office to investigate them. Some activists claimed the government did not take the threats seriously.

The government announced advances in the investigations into attacks and killings of human rights defenders and assigned priority resources to these cases.

Through August the Attorney General’s Office reported 37 active investigations, with eight persons charged, and no convictions in cases of threats against human rights defenders.

As of July 31, the NPU’s protection program provided protection to a total of 6,752 individuals. Among the NPU’s protected persons were 780 human rights activists.

To help monitor and verify that human rights were respected throughout implementation of the peace accord, the government formally renewed the mandate of the OHCHR in 2016 for a period of three years. The accord requests that the OHCHR include a “special chapter on implementation of the agreements from the standpoint of human rights” in its annual reports.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman is independent, submits an annual report to the House of Representatives, and has responsibility for providing for the promotion and exercise of human rights. According to human rights groups, underfunding of the Ombudsman’s Office limited its ability to monitor violations effectively. The ombudsman, as well as members of his regional offices, reported threats from illegal armed groups issued through pamphlets, email, and violent actions.

The National System for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law–led by a commission of 18 senior government officials, including the vice president–designs, implements, and evaluates the government’s policies on human rights and international humanitarian law. The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights coordinates national human rights policy and actions taken by government entities to promote or protect human rights.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives have human rights committees that served as forums for discussion of human rights problems.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Executive Summary

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is an authoritarian state led by the Kim family for 70 years. Shortly after Kim Jong Il’s death in late 2011, his son Kim Jong Un was named marshal of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. He is currently the Chairman of the Worker’s Party of Korea. Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, the late Kim Il Sung, remains “eternal president.” The most recent national elections, held in 2014, were neither free nor fair.

Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by authorities; arbitrary detentions by security forces; detention centers, including political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh and life threatening; political prisoners; rigid controls over many aspects of citizen’s lives, including arbitrary interference with privacy; censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; coerced abortion; trafficking in persons; severe restrictions on worker rights, including denial of the right to organize independent unions, and domestic forced labor through mass mobilizations and as a part of the re-education system. DPRK overseas contract workers, working on behalf of the government, also faced conditions of forced labor.

The government took no credible steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity continued to be a widespread problem.

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

There were no independent domestic organizations to monitor human rights conditions or comment on the status of such rights. The government reported many organizations, including the Democratic Lawyers’ Association, General Association of Trade Unions, Agricultural Workers Union, and Democratic Women’s Union, engaged in human rights activities, but observers could not verify the activities of these organizations.

The international NGO community and numerous international experts continued to testify to the grave human rights situation in the country. The government decried international statements regarding human rights abuses in the country as politically motivated interference in internal affairs. The government asserted criticism of its human rights record was an attempt by some countries to cover up their own abuses and that such hypocrisy undermined human rights principles.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government emphasized it had ratified a number of UN human rights instruments, but it continued to refuse to cooperate with UN representatives. The government prevented the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK from visiting the country to carry out his mandate, which it continued to refuse to recognize. The UN special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities visited the DPRK in 2017, but the visit did not focus on allegations of human rights abuses.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s DPRK Association for Human Rights Studies denied the existence of any human rights violations.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a nominally centralized constitutional republic. Voters popularly elect the president and the lower house of parliament (National Assembly). Under the constitution, President Joseph Kabila’s second and final term in office expired in 2016. The government, however, failed to organize elections in 2016 in accordance with constitutional deadlines, and the president remained in office. In 2016 the government and opposition parties agreed to a power-sharing arrangement that paved the way for elections, the release of political prisoners, and an end to politically motivated prosecutions. The government failed to implement the agreement as written, however, and in November 2017 it scheduled presidential, legislative, and provincial elections for December 23, 2018. In August the president announced that he would abide by his constitutionally mandated term limit and not seek an illegal third term. Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30; however, presidential elections were canceled in Beni, Butembo, and Yumbi with those legislative and provincial elections postponed to March 2019. President Kabila did not run as a candidate and announced he would hand power over to the winner, which would mark the first civilian transfer of power resulting from elections. Results of the elections were still pending at year’s end.

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

Armed conflict in eastern DRC and parts of the Kasai regions exacerbated an already precarious human rights situation.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings by government and armed groups; forced disappearances and abductions by government and armed groups; torture by government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, and home; threats against and harassment of journalists, censorship, internet blackouts, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; delayed elections and restrictions on citizens right to change their government through democratic means; corruption and a lack of transparency at all levels of government; violence against women and children, caused in part by government inaction, negligence; unlawful recruitment of child soldiers; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and persons with disabilities or members of other minority groups; trafficking in persons, including forced labor, including by children; and violations of worker rights.

Despite the occurrence of some notable trials against military officials, authorities often took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity for human rights abuses was a problem.

Government security forces, as well as rebel and militia groups (RMGs) continued to commit abuses, primarily in the east and the central Kasai region. These abuses included unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, destruction of government and private property, and sexual and gender based violence. RMGs also recruited, abducted, and retained child soldiers and compelled forced labor. The government took military action against some RMGs but had limited ability to investigate abuses and bring the accused to trial (see section 1.g.).

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

Elements of the SSF continued to kill, harass, beat, intimidate, and arbitrarily arrest and detain domestic human rights advocates and domestic NGO workers, particularly when the NGOs reported on or supported victims of abuses by the SSF or reported on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the east. In 2016 the government declined to renew the work permit of a Human Rights Watch researcher and revoked the visa of Congo Research Group director Jason Stearns, officially for reasons of “undesirability.” During the year the government declined to issue or renew visas for some international journalists and researchers. Representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the ANR met with domestic NGOs and sometimes responded to their inquiries.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated at times with investigations by the United Nations and other international bodies but was not consistent in doing so. For example, the government refused to grant the United Nations access to certain detention centers, particularly at military installations such as military intelligence headquarters, where political prisoners were often detained. In Kasai the government and the SSF provided MONUSCO limited access to suspected mass grave sites, including a site located inside the FARDC officers training school in Kananga, and impeded UN access to individuals arrested in connection with the killing of two UN experts, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan. The government also blocked UNJHRO access to morgues, hospitals, and detention facilities during protests in January and February in Kinshasa.

In March 2017, UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan were killed in Kasai Central Province. Cell phone video footage showed the two being shot and Catalan later being decapitated by a group of militants. The UNGOE called the incident an assassination “in a premeditated setup under hitherto unclear circumstances” and stated the killings constituted “a deliberate attack against the UN Security Council, which is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.” The government accused members of the Kamuina Nsapu militia of killing the experts, and in June 2017 a trial began in Kananga of 18 defendants, 14 of whom, including several individuals who appeared in the video, remained at large. In October 2017 the trial was suspended but resumed in August. On December 6, a DRC Military Intelligence Colonel was arrested, one of four government officials implicated in the murders. In its 2017 annual report, the UNGOE wrote that the evidence it reviewed “does not yet allow the Group to attribute responsibility for the murder.” The available evidence does not preclude the involvement of different actors, however, such as (pro- or antigovernment) Kamuina Nsapu factions, other armed groups, as well as members of state security services. In May media reported the United Nations stated that the government “hampered” investigations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the National Commission on Human Rights made some progress, publishing reports on violence in Beni territory, protests during December 2017, January, and February, and the Kamuina Nsapu phenomenon in the Kasais. It also visited detention centers, followed up on complaints of human rights violations from civilians, and held a meeting on the right to demonstrate. It continued to lack sufficient funding for overhead costs or to have representation in all 26 provinces.

Egypt

Executive Summary

According to its constitution, Egypt is a republic governed by an elected president and unicameral legislature. Presidential elections were held in March. Prior to the presidential elections, challengers to the incumbent president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pulled out, citing personal decisions, political pressure, legal troubles, unfair competition, and in some cases they were arrested for alleged violations of candidacy prohibitions for military personnel. Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression severely constrained broad participation in the political process. Domestic and international observers concluded that government authorities professionally administered parliamentary elections in 2015 in accordance with the country’s laws, while also expressing concern about restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression and their negative effect on the political climate surrounding the elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Since President Sisi requested parliament to approve a state of emergency (SOE) after the April 2017 terrorist attack on Coptic churches, he has requested and parliament has ratified SOEs with one- or two-day gaps between every two SOE periods to meet the legal requirement that SOEs may only be renewed once.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents and terrorist groups; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; undue restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including government control over registration and financing of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); restrictions on political participation; use of the law to arbitrarily arrest and prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; violence targeting LGBTI persons and members of other minority groups, and use of forced or compulsory child labor.

The government inconsistently punished or prosecuted officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government. In most cases the government did not comprehensively investigate allegations of human rights abuses, including most incidents of violence by security forces, contributing to an environment of impunity.

Attacks by terrorist organizations caused arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life. Terrorist groups conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets throughout the country, including places of worship. Authorities investigated terrorist attacks and prosecuted alleged perpetrators.

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

International and local human rights organizations said that the government continued to be uncooperative. On August 8, Minister of Local Development Mahmoud Shaarawy said that rights units were established in 18 governorates to receive complaints and spread the culture of human rights. Government officials publicly asserted they shared the civil society organizations’ goals, but they rarely cooperated with or responded to the organizations’ inquiries. The cabinet established a committee on human rights chaired by the minister of foreign affairs to prepare UN reports and respond to human rights allegations raised against the country. Domestic civil society organizations criticized the government’s consultations with civil society as insufficient. Provisions in the 2017 NGO law and penal code established penalties of up to life imprisonment for requesting or accepting foreign funding to undermine state security (see section 2.b.).

Extended delays in gaining government approvals and an unclear legal environment continued to limit the ability of domestic and international NGOs to operate. State-owned and independent media frequently depicted NGOs, particularly international NGOs and domestic NGOs that received funding from international sources, as undertaking subversive activities. Some NGOs reported receiving visits or calls to staff, both at work and at home, from security service officers and tax officials monitoring their activities, as well as societal harassment.

Human rights defenders and political activists were also subjected to governmental and societal harassment and intimidation, including through travel bans (see section 2.d.). Print and television media published articles that included the names, photographs, business addresses, and alleged meetings held by activists, including meetings held with foreign diplomatic representatives.

Well established, independent domestic human rights NGOs struggled to operate amid increasing pressure from security forces throughout the country. Online censorship (see section 2.a.) diminished the roles of internet activists and bloggers in publicizing information concerning human rights abuses. Authorities sometimes allowed civil society organizations not registered as NGOs to operate, but such organizations often reported harassment, along with threats of government interference, investigation, asset freezes, or closure.

The government continued investigations into the receipt of foreign funding by several human rights organizations (see section 1.b.).

Major international human rights organizations, such as HRW and AI, did not have offices in the country after closing them in 2014 due to “concerns about the deteriorating security and political environment in the country.”

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In October the UN Special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing visited the country, the first rapporteur to visit since 2010. In a December 4 statement, the rapporteur claimed that individuals she met during her trip faced retaliation in the form of forced evictions, housing demolitions, arbitrary arrest, intimidation, and other reprisals

Nine other UN special rapporteurs had pending visit requests; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated it was committed to facilitating their visits by the end of 2019. Authorities did not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisoners and detainees. The Interior Ministry provided some international organizations informal access to some detention centers where authorities detained asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants to provide humanitarian assistance (see section 2.d.).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NCHR monitored government abuses of human rights and submitted citizen complaints to the government. A number of well known human rights activists served on the organization’s board, although some observers alleged the board’s effectiveness was sometimes limited because it lacked sufficient resources and the government rarely acted on its findings. The council at times challenged and criticized government policies and practices, calling for steps to improve its human rights record. For example, the NCHR called for improved prison conditions and for repeal of the protest law.

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

Ethiopia is a federal republic. The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four ethnically based parties, controls the government. In the 2015 general elections, the EPRDF and affiliated parties won all 547 House of People’s Representatives (HPR – parliament) seats to remain in power for a fifth consecutive five-year term. On February 14, former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his resignation to accelerate political reforms in response to demands from the country’s increasingly restive youth. On February 15, the government declared a State of Emergency (SOE) in response to growing unrest and political uncertainty. During the SOE a Command Post under the direction of the minister of defense held broad powers that, while constitutionally granted, infringed upon human rights by expanding authorities to detain individuals, restrict speech, and restrict movement. On April 2, the parliament selected Abiy Ahmed Ali as prime minister to lead broad reforms.

It was widely reported that civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over regional security forces. Rural local police and militias sometimes acted independently and extrajudicially. A strong trend toward increased respect for rule of law began under Abiy.

Abiy’s assumption of office was followed by positive changes in the human rights climate. The government decriminalized political movements that had been accused of treason in the past, invited opposition leaders to return to the country and resume political activities, allowed peaceful rallies and demonstrations, enabled the formation and unfettered operation of new political parties and media outlets, continued steps to release thousands of political prisoners, and undertook revisions of repressive laws. On June 5, the parliament voted to lift the SOE.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by security forces and between citizens; forced disappearances by some government forces; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by security forces; political prisoners; interference with privacy; censorship and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; and significant restrictions on freedom of movement; violence against women and children, in part due to government inaction; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and child labor, including worst forms. Both the number and severity of these human rights issues diminished significantly under Abiy’s administration, and in some cases they were no longer an issue by the end of the year.

The government at times did not take steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, resulting in impunity for violators. The government took positive steps toward greater accountability under Abiy to change the relationship between security forces and the population. In August the federal government arrested former Somali regional president Abdi Mohamoud Omar on human rights grounds. On June 18, the prime minister spoke to the nation and apologized on behalf of the government for decades of mistakes and abuse he said amounted to terrorist acts.

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

Very few domestic human rights groups operated due to significant government restrictions during the first half of the year. The resource-challenged HRCO is the sole local, independent human rights group. It is a membership-based, nonpartisan, nongovernmental, and not-for-profit entity. With more than a hundred reports to date since its inception, HRCO remained the only nongovernmental human rights monitoring and reporting group. Its reports during the year documented ethnically motivated attacks, clashes, and displacement. The government was generally distrustful and wary of domestic and international human rights groups and observers, but that attitude and distrust appeared to be changing. State-controlled media were critical of international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch. On August 16, four local charities and rights organizations launched a new rights group, Consortium of Ethiopian Rights Organizations, which focuses on advocacy for human rights groups and broader space for rights-advocacy groups to operate.

The CSO law prohibits NGOs that receive more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources from engaging in a wide range of activities. Prohibited activities include those that advance human and democratic rights or promote equality of nations, nationalities, peoples, genders, and religions; the rights of children and persons with disabilities; conflict resolution or reconciliation; or the efficiency of justice and law enforcement services. The law severely curtails civil society’s ability to raise questions of good governance, human rights, corruption, and transparency. Either local NGOs must cease advocacy work (so that they may accept funding in excess of the 10 percent limit) or register in a different area of focus not subject to this restriction. There were a few NGOs with waivers of this provision of the CSO law.

The SOE and the accompanying regulations restricted the ability of NGOs to operate. The prohibitions relating to communication and acts that undermine tolerance and unity resulted in broad self-censorship of reports and public statements. The prohibition on unauthorized town hall meetings limited the organization of meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings. The obligation of all organizations to give information when asked by law enforcement officers raised multiple concerns regarding confidentiality of information.

The government denied most NGOs access to federal prisons, police stations, and other places of detention. The government did permit Justice For All – Prison Fellowship Ethiopia to visit prisoners; this organization had an exemption enabling it to raise unlimited funds from foreign sources and to engage in human rights advocacy. Some other NGOs played a positive role in improving prisoners’ chances for clemency.

Authorities limited access of human rights organizations, media, humanitarian agencies, and diplomatic missions in certain areas. The government continued to lack a clear policy on NGO access to sensitive areas and regions, leading regional government officials and military officials frequently to refer requests for NGO access to federal government authorities. Officials required journalists to register before entering sensitive regions and in some cases denied access. There were reports of regional police or local militias blocking NGO access to particular locations for a specific period, citing security risks.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman has the authority to investigate complaints of administrative mismanagement by executive branch offices and officials, including investigation into prison conditions. The office reported it opened investigations into 1,360 complaints from July 2017 to May. The institution determined executive bodies committed poor administrative practices in 714 of the cases. The most serious malpractices related to illegal distribution of basic food items and consumer goods that the government subsidized in Addis Ababa, SNNPR, Amhara, Oromia, and Gambella Regions. The institution also reported mismanagement in the areas of housing and construction as well as land management and compensation.

The institution presented its findings with recommendations to relevant authorities and followed up on those recommendations. While the majority of the agencies followed the recommendations and took corrective measures, 38 offices were reluctant to do so.

The EHRC conducted research on the human rights situation and investigated human rights violations in the Somali and Oromia conflicts, as well as the conflict between west Guji Zone in Oromia and Gedeo Zone in SNNPR. The commission did not publicize the findings of these reports. The EHRC reported to local media that a group of youths and regional security forces attacked its branch office in Jijiga, Somali Region, during the wide-ranging violence the region saw on August 4. EHRC staff suffered direct attacks and their local office was burned. Officials said they believed the attackers were trying to destroy evidence of the commission’s investigation into human rights abuses in the area.

India

Executive Summary

India is a multiparty, federal, parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The president, elected by an electoral college composed of the state assemblies and parliament, is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of government. Under the constitution the 29 states and seven union territories have a high degree of autonomy and have primary responsibility for law and order. Voters elected President Ram Nath Kovind in 2017 to a five-year term, and Narendra Modi became prime minister following the victory of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 general elections. Observers considered these elections, which included more than 551 million participants, free and fair despite isolated instances of violence.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; rape in police custody; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; and reports of political prisoners in certain states. Instances of censorship, the use of libel laws to prosecute social media speech, and site blocking continued. The government imposed restrictions on foreign funding of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including those with views the government stated were not in the “national interest,” thereby curtailing the work of these NGOs. Widespread corruption; lack of criminal investigations or accountability for cases related to rape, domestic violence, dowry-related deaths, honor killings remained major issues. Violence and discrimination based on religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, and caste or tribe, including indigenous persons, also occurred.

A lack of accountability for misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity. Investigations and prosecutions of individual cases took place, but lax enforcement, a shortage of trained police officers, and an overburdened and under-resourced court system contributed to a small number of convictions.

Separatist insurgents and terrorists in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast, and Maoist-affected areas committed serious abuses, including killings and torture of armed forces personnel, police, government officials, and of civilians, and recruited and used child soldiers.

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

Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating, and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In some circumstances, groups faced restrictions (see section 2.b, Freedom of Association). Reportedly more than three million NGOs in the country advocated for social justice, sustainable development, and human rights, but definitive numbers were not available. The government generally met with domestic NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and took action in response to their reports or recommendations. The NHRC worked cooperatively with numerous NGOs, and several NHRC committees had NGO representation. Some human rights monitors in the state of Jammu and Kashmir were able to document human rights violations, but periodically security forces, police, and other law enforcement authorities reportedly restrained or harassed them. Representatives of certain international human rights NGOs sometimes faced difficulties obtaining visas and reported that occasional official harassment and restrictions limited their public distribution of materials.

In July 2017 the Supreme Court rejected the relief plea of activists Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand, and their colleagues from charges of corruption and misappropriation of funds. Additional charges were filed on May 30 for allegedly securing and misusing fraudulently 14 million rupees ($200,000) worth of government funds for educational purposes between 2010 and 2013. The activists claimed authorities filed the case in retaliation for their work on behalf of victims of the 2002 Gujarat riot. The case continued at year’s end.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government continued to decline access by the United Nations to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and limit access to the northeastern states, and Maoist-controlled areas. The June 14 OHCHR publication Report on the Human Rights Situation in Kashmir cited impunity for human rights violations and lack of access to justice as key human rights challenges in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The government rejected OHCHR’s report as “false, prejudicial, politically motivated, and [seeking] to undermine the sovereignty of India.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC is an independent and impartial investigatory and advisory body, established by the central government, with a dual mandate to investigate and remedy instances of human rights violations and to promote public awareness of human rights. It is directly accountable to parliament but works in close coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law and Justice. It has a mandate to address official violations of human rights or negligence in the prevention of violations, intervene in judicial proceedings involving allegations of human rights violations, and review any factors (including acts of terrorism) that infringe on human rights. The law authorizes the NHRC to issue summonses and compel testimony, produce documentation, and requisition public records. The NHRC also recommends appropriate remedies for abuses in the form of compensation to the victims of government killings or their families.

The NHRC has neither the authority to enforce the implementation of its recommendations nor the power to address allegations against military and paramilitary personnel. Human rights groups claimed these limitations hampered the work of the NHRC. Some human rights NGOs criticized the NHRC’s budgetary dependence on the government and its policy of not investigating abuses more than one year old. Some claimed the NHRC did not register all complaints, dismissed cases arbitrarily, did not investigate cases thoroughly, rerouted complaints back to the alleged violator, and did not adequately protect complainants.

Twenty-four of 29 states have human rights commissions, which operated independently under the auspices of the NHRC. In six states the position of chairperson remained vacant. Some human rights groups alleged local politics influenced state committees, which were less likely to offer fair judgments than the NHRC. In the course of its nationwide evaluation of state human rights committees, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) observed most state committees had few or no minority, civil society, or female representatives. The HRLN claimed the committees were ineffective and at times hostile toward victims, hampered by political appointments, understaffed, and underfunded.

The Jammu and Kashmir commission does not have the authority to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by members of paramilitary security forces. The NHRC has jurisdiction over all human rights violations, except in certain cases involving the army. The NHRC has authority to investigate cases of human rights violations committed by Ministry of Home Affairs paramilitary forces operating under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the northeast states and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. According to the OHCHR Report on the Human Rights Situation in Kashmir, there has been no prosecution of armed forces personnel in the nearly 28 years that the AFSPA has been in force in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Iran

Executive Summary

The Islamic Republic of Iran is an authoritarian theocratic republic with a Shia Islamic political system based on velayat-e faqih(guardianship of the jurist or governance by the jurist). Shia clergy, most notably the rahbar (supreme jurist or supreme leader), and political leaders vetted by the clergy dominate key power structures.

The supreme leader is the head of state. The members of the Assembly of Experts are in theory directly elected in popular elections, and the assembly selects and may dismiss the supreme leader. The candidates for the Assembly of Experts, however, are vetted by the Guardian Council (see below) and are therefore selected indirectly by the supreme leader himself. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has held the position since 1989. He has direct or indirect control over the legislative and executive branches of government through unelected councils under his authority. The supreme leader holds constitutional authority over the judiciary, government-run media, and armed forces, and indirectly controls internal security forces and other key institutions. While mechanisms for popular election exist for the president, who is head of government, and for the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament or majles), the unelected Guardian Council vets candidates and controls the election process. The supreme leader appoints half of the 12-member Guardian Council, while the head of the judiciary (who is appointed by the supreme leader) appoints the other half. Candidate vetting excluded all but six candidates of 1,636 individuals who registered for the 2017 presidential race. In May 2017 voters re-elected Hassan Rouhani as president. Restrictions on media, including censoring campaign materials and preventing prominent opposition figures from speaking publicly, limited the freedom and fairness of the elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

In response to nationwide protests that began in late December 2017 and continued throughout the year, the government used harsh tactics against protesters. Human rights organizations reported at least 30 deaths of protesters during the year, thousands of arrests, and suspicious deaths in custody.

The government’s human rights record remained extremely poor and worsened in several key areas. Human rights issues included executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes” and without fair trials of individuals, including juvenile offenders; numerous reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, and torture by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; systematic use of arbitrary detention and imprisonment, including hundreds of political prisoners; unlawful interference with privacy; severe restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminalization of libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; egregious restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on political participation; widespread corruption at all levels of government; unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by government actors to support the Assad regime in Syria; trafficking in persons; harsh governmental restrictions on the rights of women and minorities; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting LGBTI persons; and outlawing of independent trade unions.

The government took few steps to investigate, prosecute, punish, or otherwise hold accountable officials who committed these abuses, many of which were perpetrated as a matter of government policy. Impunity remained pervasive throughout all levels of the government and security forces.

The country materially contributed to human rights abuses in Syria, through its military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hizballah forces there; in Iraq, through its aid to certain Iraqi Shia militia groups; and in Yemen, through its support for Houthi rebels and directing authorities in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen to harass and detain Bahais because of their religious affiliation.

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

The government restricted the operations of and did not cooperate with local or international human rights NGOs investigating alleged violations of human rights. The government restricted the work of domestic activists and often responded to their inquiries and reports with harassment, arrests, online hacking, and monitoring of individual activists and organization workplaces.

By law NGOs must register with the Ministry of Interior and apply for permission to receive foreign grants. Independent human rights groups and other NGOs faced continued harassment because of their activism, as well as the threat of closure by government officials following prolonged and often arbitrary delays in obtaining official registration.

During the year the government prevented some human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, and scholars from traveling abroad. Human rights activists reported intimidating telephone calls, threats of blackmail, online hacking attempts, and property damage from unidentified law enforcement and government officials. The government summoned activists repeatedly for questioning and confiscated personal belongings such as mobile phones, laptops, and passports. Government officials sometimes harassed and arrested family members of human rights activists. Courts routinely suspended sentences of convicted human rights activists, leaving open the option for authorities to arrest or imprison individuals arbitrarily at any time on the previous charges.

In her March report, UNSR Jahangir expressed concern about the arrest, arbitrary detention, and sentencing of human rights defenders, student activists, journalists, and lawyers. She noted acts of intimidation and reprisals in detention, including torture and mistreatment, as well as reports of reprisals against human rights defenders for engaging the UNSR and cooperating with other UN mechanisms.

According to NGO sources, including HRW and Amnesty International, the government’s rights record and its level of cooperation with international rights institutions remained poor. The government continued to deny requests from international human rights NGOs to establish offices in or to conduct regular investigative visits to the country. The most recent visit of an international human rights NGO was by Amnesty International in 2004 as part of the European Union’s human rights dialogue with the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: During the year the government continued to deny repeated requests by the UNSR on the situation of human rights in Iran to visit the country.

On November 15, for the sixth consecutive year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing serious concern about the country’s continuing human rights violations. The resolution repeated its call for the country to cooperate with UN special mechanisms, citing the government’s failure to approve any request from a UN thematic special procedures mandate holder to visit the country in more than a decade. It drew attention to the government’s continued failure to allow the UNSR into the country to investigate human rights abuses despite repeated requests. The most recent visit by a UN human rights agency to the country was in 2005.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The High Council for Human Rights, headed by Mohammad Javad Larijani, is part of the judicial branch of the government and lacks independence. The council continued to defend the imprisonment of high-profile human rights defenders and political opposition leaders, despite domestic and international pressure. Larijani continued to call for an end to the position of the UNSR. There was no information available on whether the council challenged any laws or court rulings during the year.

Iraq

Executive Summary

Iraq is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The 2018 parliamentary elections, while imperfect, generally met international standards of free and fair elections and led to the peaceful transition of power from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to Adil Abd al-Mahdi.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over some elements of the security forces, particularly certain units of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) that were aligned with Iran.

Violence continued throughout the year, largely fueled by the actions of ISIS. The government declared victory over ISIS in December 2017 after drastically reducing the group’s ability to commit abuses and atrocities, but members of the group continued to carry out deadly attacks and kidnappings. The government’s reassertion of federal authority in disputed areas bordering the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), after the Kurdistan Region’s September 2017 independence referendum, resulted in reports of abuses and atrocities by the security forces, including those affiliated with the PMF.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by some members of the Iraq Security Forces (ISF), particularly Iran-aligned elements of the PMF; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; legal restrictions on freedom of movement of women; widespread official corruption; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by Iran-aligned elements of the PMF that operate outside government control; trafficking in persons; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; violence targeting LGBTI persons; threats of violence against internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnee populations perceived to have been affiliated with ISIS; and restrictions on worker rights, including restrictions on formation of independent unions and reports of child labor.

The government, including the Office of the Prime Minister, investigated allegations of abuses and atrocities perpetrated by the ISF, but it rarely made the results of the investigations public or punished those responsible for human rights abuses. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports reviewed charges of Peshmerga abuses, largely against IDPs, and exculpated them in public reports and commentaries, but human rights organizations questioned the credibility of those investigations. Impunity effectively existed for government officials and security force personnel, including the ISF, Federal Police, PMF, Peshmerga, and KRG Asayish internal security services.

ISIS continued to commit serious abuses and atrocities, including killings through suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The government continued investigating and prosecuting allegations of ISIS abuses and atrocities and, in some instances, publicly noted the conviction of suspected ISIS members under the 2005 counterterrorism law.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in most cases with little government restriction or interference, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Due to the ISIS-driven humanitarian crisis, the majority of local NGOs focused on assisting IDPs and other vulnerable communities. In some instances these NGOs worked in coordination with central government and KRG authorities. Still, a number of NGOs also investigated and published findings on human rights cases. There were some reports of government interference with NGOs investigating human rights abuses and violations involving government actors. For example, NGOs reported that police detained some of their staff in September for covering protests in Basrah Governorate; police released them several days later.

NGOs faced capacity-related challenges, did not have regular access to government officials, and did not systematically serve as bulwarks against failures in governance and human rights abuses. Domestic NGOs’ lack of sustainable sources of funding hindered the sector’s long-term development. The government rarely awarded NGOs contracts for services. While the law forbids NGOs from engaging in political activity, political parties or sects originated, funded, or substantially influenced many domestic NGOs.

NGOs were prevented from operating in certain sectors (see section 6, Women).

Many NGOs registered only in Baghdad could not operate in the IKR for the first half of the year, while NGOs registered in Erbil could not operate outside the IKR and KRG-controlled disputed territories (see section 2.b.).

The IKR had an active community of mostly Kurdish NGOs, many with close ties to and funding from the PUK and KDP political parties. Government funding of NGOs legally is contingent upon whether an NGO’s programming goals conform to already-identified KRG priority areas. The KRG NGO Directorate established formal procedures for awarding funds to NGOs, which included a public description of the annual budget for NGO funding, priority areas for consideration, deadlines for proposal submission, establishment of a grant committee, and the criteria for ranking proposals.

As with the central government, there were some reports of KRG interference with NGOs investigating human rights abuses and violations involving KRG actors. In January the Academy of Democratic Thoughts, an Erbil-based NGO, reported that the Asayish closed the organization’s offices in Erbil Governorate and shut down the organization’s cultural and anticorruption events, claiming that the themes of the events were not consistent with its status as a NGO.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government and the KRG sometimes restricted the access of the United Nations and other international organizations to sensitive locations, such as Ministry of Interior-run detention facilities holding detainees suspected of terrorism.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The IHCHR is constitutionally mandated. The law governing the IHCHR’s operation provides for 12 full-time commissioners and three reserve commissioners with four-year, nonrenewable terms; in 2017 new commissioners assumed duties. The law provides for the IHCHR’s financial and administrative independence and assigns it broad authority, including the right to receive and investigate human rights complaints, conduct unannounced visits to correctional facilities, and review legislation. Some observers reported the commissioners’ individual and partisan political agendas largely stalled the IHCHR’s work.

The IHRCKR issued periodic reports on human rights, trafficking in persons, and religious freedom in the IKR. The commission reported KRG police and security organizations generally had been receptive to human rights training and responsive to reports of violations. Both the IHRCKR and local NGO Kurdistan Human Rights Watch conducted human rights training for Peshmerga, although the latter group reported it was unable to obtain permission for a similar program for the Asayish.

Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: ISRAEL AND THE GOLAN HEIGHTS (BELOW) | WEST BANK AND GAZA

Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Although it has no constitution, parliament, the unicameral 120-member Knesset, has enacted a series of “Basic Laws” that enumerate fundamental rights. Certain fundamental laws, orders, and regulations legally depend on the existence of a “state of emergency,” which has been in effect since 1948. Under the Basic Laws, the Knesset has the power to dissolve the government and mandate elections. The nationwide Knesset elections in 2015, which were considered free and fair, resulted in a coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Knesset voted on December 26 to dissolve itself and set April 9, 2019, as the date for national elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security services.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including Palestinian killings of Israeli civilians and soldiers; arbitrary detention; restrictions on Palestinian residents of Jerusalem including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home; and significant restrictions on freedom of movement.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses within Israel regardless of rank or seniority.

This section includes Israel, including Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. In December 2017 the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The Palestinian Authority exercises no authority over Jerusalem.

As stated in Appendix A, this report contains data drawn from foreign government officials; victims of alleged human rights violations and abuses; academic and congressional studies; and reports from the press, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with human rights. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some of those sources have been accused of harboring political motivations. The Department of State assesses external reporting carefully but does not conduct independent investigations in all cases. We have sought and received input from the government of Israel and we have noted responses where applicable.

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

A variety of Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally responsive to their views, and parliamentarians routinely invited NGOs critical of the government to participate in Knesset hearings on proposed legislation. Human rights NGOs have standing to petition the Supreme Court directly regarding governmental policies and may appeal individual cases to the Supreme Court.

Many NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights, viewed the NGO law (see section 2.b.), which came into effect during the year, as an attempt to stigmatize and delegitimize them. Supporters of the NGO law described it as a transparency measure to reveal foreign government influence. Critics noted it targeted only foreign government funding, while leaving organizations receiving the majority of their funding from foreign private donors secret. The NGO Im Tirtzu, which received a majority of its funding from foreign private donors and strongly supported the law, stated that foreign governments should promote their agendas directly through communication with the government and not indirectly through funding civil society.

Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted that the government sought to intimidate and stigmatize them. The Israeli branch of the New Israel Fund (NIF), an NGO that received the majority of its funding from foreign private donors, was the target of negative rhetoric from government officials during the year alleging it was responsible for Rwanda’s withdrawal from an agreement to receive migrants deported from Israel, a charge which the organization denied.

The attorney general notified the Prime Minister’s Office on November 19 that it has no legal authority to collect information on Israeli human rights NGOs and must delete any information already collected on civilian organizations, according to media reports.

In December 2017 the Be’er Sheva municipality ordered NCF’s Mulkata-Mifgash Cultural Center to evacuate the public shelter where they had operated for a decade on the grounds they had conducted “political activity” in the shelter in violation of the terms of their agreement. The Be’er Sheva District Court upheld the eviction on May 15. On December 26, however, the Supreme Court overturned the order, ruling that “political activity” refers only to activity relating to a political party.

On May 7, the government revoked the work permit of a foreign citizen HRW researcher and instructed him to leave the country within 14 days, based on allegations that he supported a boycott of Israel. He appealed the decision, and a court issued an injunction allowing him to remain in Israel until the end of his case. As of the end of the year, the case was continuing. In February 2017 the government accused HRW of spreading “Palestinian propaganda.”

The Ministry of the Interior continued to deny entry into the country to foreign nationals affiliated with certain NGOs that the government stated called for a boycott of the state of Israel, one of its institutions, or entities in areas under its control. (For information about boycotts against Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank, see section 2.a.).

The staffs of Israeli NGOs, particularly those calling for an end to Israel’s military presence in the West Bank, stated they received death threats from nongovernmental sources, which spiked during periods in which government officials spoke out against their activities or criticized them as enemies or traitors for opposing government policy. For example, NIF faced increased threats following PM Netanyahu’s April 3 statement and a video by the NGO Im Tirtzu on April 4 that accused NIF’s then president Talia Sasson of battling against the IDF and supporting terrorists.

The government stated that it makes concerted efforts to include civil society in the legislation process, in developing public policy, and in a variety of projects within government ministries, but did not state whether it participated in any civil society conferences following the attorney general’s recommendation. Media reported on December 25 that PM Netanyahu barred an IDF legal advisor from participating in a course conducted by ACRI and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies. The government continued its policy of nonengagement with the UN Human Rights Council’s “special rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Following a November 2 letter from four UN special rapporteurs requesting clarification about the Nation State Law (see section 6) in preparation for a report to the UN Human Rights Council, media reported that Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon stated, “The Council has no right to demand anything from us until it removes its clear bias against the State of Israel.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state comptroller also served as ombudsman for human rights problems. The ombudsman investigated complaints against statutory bodies that are subject to audit by the state comptroller, including government ministries, local authorities, government enterprises and institutions, government corporations, and their employees. The ombudsman is entitled to use any relevant means of inquiry and has the authority to order any person or body to assist in the inquiry.

Libya

Executive Summary

Libya is a parliamentary democracy with a temporary Constitutional Declaration that allows for the exercise of a full range of political, civil, and judicial rights. Citizens elected the interim legislature, the House of Representatives (HoR), in free and fair elections in 2014. The Libyan Political Agreement, which members of the UN-facilitated Libyan political dialogue signed in 2015, created the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Political mediation efforts led by the United Nations aim to support passing a constitution and holding new elections to replace interim bodies that have governed Libya since the 2011 revolution with permanent state institutions.

The government had limited effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings, including of politicians and members of civil society, by extralegal armed groups, ISIS, criminal gangs, and militias, including those affiliated with the government; forced disappearances; torture perpetrated by armed groups on all sides; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities, some of which were outside government control; political prisoners held by nonstate actors; unlawful interference with privacy, often by nonstate actors; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence against journalists and criminalization of political expression ; widespread corruption; trafficking in persons; criminalization of sexual orientation; and use of forced labor.

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

Conflict continued during the year in the west between GNA-aligned armed groups and various nonstate actors. The Libyan National Army (LNA), under its commander Khalifa Haftar, is not under the authority of the internationally recognized GNA. Haftar controlled territory in the east and parts of south. Extralegal armed groups filled security vacuums across the country, although several in the west aligned with the GNA as a means of accessing state resources. The GNA formally integrated some of the armed groups into the Ministry of Interior during the year. ISIS maintained a limited presence, primarily in the central desert region, areas south of Sirte and in Bani Walid, and in urban areas along the western coast. Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups also operated in the country, particularly in and around Derna and in the southwest.

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

The GNA and affiliated militia groups used legal and nonlegal means to restrict some human rights organizations from operating, particularly organizations with an international affiliation. Presidency Council member Ahmed Hamza circulated a directive to GNA government ministries and executive agencies authorities warning them against registering any NGOs and directing government ministries to forward the files of organizations and their membership to intelligence agencies. The GNA was unable to protect organizations from violence that often specifically targeted activists, and human rights organizations struggled to operate.

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

The United Nations or Other International Bodies:

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights, the UN-recognized national human rights institution, was not able to operate in the country due to security concerns. The council maintained limited international activity with other human rights organizations in Tunis and the UN Human Rights Council. It had a minimal presence in Tripoli. Its ability to advocate for human rights and investigate alleged abuses during the reporting period was unclear. During the year the GNA Ministry of Justice announced the appointment of a new undersecretary for human rights; however, domestic human rights organizations criticized the body for inactivity.

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

Nigeria

Executive Summary

Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). In 2015 citizens elected President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party to a four-year term in the first successful democratic transfer of power from a sitting president in the country’s history.

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

The insurgency in the Northeast by the militant terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued. The groups conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets that resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of approximately 1.8 million persons, and external displacement of an estimated 225,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries, principally Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Widespread violence across rural Nigeria, including conflict over land and other resources between farmers and herders, resulted in an estimated 1,300 deaths and 300,000 persons internally displaced between January and July, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Human rights issues included unlawful and arbitrary killings by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearances by both government and nonstate actors; torture by both government and nonstate actors and prolonged arbitrary detention in life-threatening conditions particularly in government detention facilities; harsh and life threatening prison conditions including civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy or no evidence; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; refoulement of refugees; corruption; progress to formally separate child soldiers previously associated with the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF); lack of accountability concerning violence against women, including female genital mutilation/cutting, in part due to government inaction/negligence; trafficking in persons, including sexual exploitation and abuse by security officials; crimes involving violence targeting LGBTI persons and the criminalization of status and same-sex sexual conduct based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and forced and bonded labor.

The government took steps to investigate alleged abuses but fewer steps to prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. The government did not adequately investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.

The Borno State government provided financial and in-kind resources to the CJTF, a nongovernmental self-defense militia that coordinated and at times aligned with the military to prevent attacks against civilian populations by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. Human rights organizations and press reporting charged the CJTF with committing human rights abuses. The government took few steps to investigate or punish CJTF members who committed human rights abuses.

Boko Haram and ISIS-WA conducted numerous attacks targeting civilians. Boko Haram recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers and carried out scores of suicide bombings, many by young women and girls forced into doing so — and other attacks on population centers in the Northeast and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Abductions by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued. Both groups subjected many women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages, sexual slavery, and rape. The government investigated attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA and took steps to prosecute their members, although the majority of suspected insurgent group supporters were held in military custody without charge.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials sometimes cooperated and responded to their views, but generally dismissed allegations quickly without investigation. In some cases the military threatened NGOs and humanitarian organizations. In April then-Theater Commander for Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Rogers Nicholas, publicly said three UNICEF Child Protection staff were “persona non grata in the North East and suggested they were “enemies of Nigeria and the military” who made “spurious and malicious allegations of human rights violations” as a result of UNICEF’s reporting on various human rights issues including sexual and gender based violence and past use of child soldiers in support roles. In May the army issued a statement regarding AI’s intention to release a “malicious” and “false report on fictitious rape incidents in IDP camps in the North East region of Nigeria.” One day prior, protestors–some of whom were reportedly paid to protest by unknown parties–surrounded AI’s Abuja offices. In June the army issued a press release referring to “the Amnesty International (AI) Barnawi faction of B[oko] H[aram] T[errorists],” an apparent reference to the Abu Musab Al-Barnawi group known as ISIS-WA. No retraction was issued and, as of December, the press release remained accessible on the army’s Facebook page.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The law establishes the NHRC as an independent nonjudicial mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights. The NHRC monitors human rights through its zonal affiliates in the country’s six political regions. The NHRC is mandated to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and publishes periodic reports detailing its findings, including torture and poor prison conditions. The commission, however, served more of an advisory, training, and advocacy role. During the reporting period, there were no reports its investigations led to accountability. The law provides for recognition and enforcement of NHRC awards and recommendations as court decisions, but it was unclear if this happened. In April the Senate confirmed Anthony Ojukwu as executive secretary of the NHRC, which had been without an executive secretary since 2016.

Pakistan

Executive Summary

Pakistan is a federal parliamentary republic. In July the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won the most National Assembly seats in the general elections, and in August PTI’s Imran Khan became prime minister. While independent observers noted technical improvements in the Election Commission of Pakistan’s management of the polling process itself, observers, civil society organizations and political parties raised concerns about pre-election interference by military and intelligence agencies that created an uneven electoral playing field. Some political parties also alleged significant polling day irregularities occurred.

The military and intelligence services nominally reported to civilian authorities but essentially operated without effective civilian oversight.

Human rights issues included credible reports of extrajudicial and targeted killings; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; censorship, site-blocking, and arbitrary restrictions on journalists’ freedom of movement; severe harassment and intimidation of and high-profile attacks against journalists and media organizations; government restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, including overly restrictive nongovernmental organizations (NGO) laws; restrictions on religious freedom and discrimination against members of religious minority groups; restrictions on freedom of movement; corruption within the government; recruitment and use of child soldiers by nonstate militant groups; lack of criminal investigations or accountability for cases related to rape, sexual harassment, so-called honor crimes, female genital mutilation/cutting, and violence based on gender, gender identity and sexual orientation; legal prohibitions of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; forced and bonded labor and transnational trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

There was a lack of government accountability, and abuses often went unpunished, fostering a culture of impunity among the perpetrators, whether official or unofficial. Authorities seldom punished government officials for human rights abuses.

Terrorist violence and human rights abuses by nonstate actors contributed to human rights problems. Military, police, and law enforcement agencies continued to carry out significant campaigns against militant and terrorist groups. Nevertheless, violence, abuse, and social and religious intolerance by militant organizations and other nonstate actors, both local and foreign, contributed to a culture of lawlessness. As of December 23, terrorism fatalities stood at 686, in comparison with 1,260 total fatalities in 2017, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a database compiled by the public-interest advocacy organization Institute for Conflict Management, which collects statistics on terrorism and low intensity warfare in South Asia.

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

Some domestic and international human rights groups operated without significant government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The government increasingly restricted the operating ability of NGOs, however. Some groups that implicated the government, military, or intelligence services in misdeeds or worked on issues related to conflict areas or advocacy reported their operations were at times restricted. These groups faced numerous regulations regarding travel, visas, and registration that hampered their efforts to program and raise funds. International staff members of organizations, including those from the few successfully registered INGOs, continued to face delays or denials in the issuance of visas and no-objection certificates for in-country travel. The domestic NGO registration agreement with the government requires NGOs to “not use controversial terms like Peace and Conflict Resolution, IDPs, etc. in your annual reports or any other documents/correspondence/agreements,” and prevents NGOs from employing individuals of Indian or Israeli nationality or origin. Few NGOs had access to certain parts of KP, the former FATA, and certain areas in Balochistan.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The 2012 National Commission for Human Rights Bill authorized the establishment of an independent committee, the National Commission on Human Rights, and a standalone Ministry of Human Rights was reconstituted in 2015. The Senate and National Assembly standing committees on law, justice, minorities, and human rights held hearings on a range of human rights problems.

Philippines

Executive Summary

The Philippines is a multi-party, constitutional republic with a bicameral legislature. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, elected in May 2016, began his constitutionally limited six-year term in June 2016. The 2016 presidential election was generally seen as free and fair. Barangay (village) and youth council elections originally scheduled for 2016 were twice postponed but ultimately held in May. These, too, were generally free and fair, although there were reports of violence and vote buying.

Civilian control over the Philippine National Police (PNP) continued to improve but was not fully effective.

Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the antidrug campaign in 2016, they continued in the reporting year, albeit at a lower level. From January to September 29, media chronicled 673 deaths in police operations suspected to be connected with the government’s antidrug campaign. The PNP Internal Affairs Service (IAS) is required to investigate all deaths or injuries committed in the conduct of a police operation. IAS claimed it began investigations of all reported extrajudicial killings. There were no reports that civilian control over other security forces was inadequate.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings by security forces, vigilantes, and others allegedly connected to the government, and by insurgents; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; criminal libel; killings of and threats against journalists; official corruption and abuse of power; and the use of forced and child labor.

The government investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its own forces, paramilitaries, and insurgent and terrorist groups. Concerns about police impunity increased significantly following the sharp increase in killings by police in 2016. President Duterte publicly rejected criticism of alleged police killings, but said authorities would investigate any actions taken outside the rule of law. Significant concerns persisted about impunity of civilian national and local government officials and powerful business and commercial figures. Slow judicial processes remained an obstacle to bringing government officials allegedly involved in human rights abuses to justice.

Muslim separatists, communist insurgents, and terrorist groups continued to attack government security forces and civilians, causing displacement of civilians and resulting in the deaths of security force members and civilians. Terrorist organizations engaged in kidnappings for ransom, bombings of civilian targets, beheadings, and the use of child soldiers in combat or auxiliary roles. The government called off negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the political arm of the communist New People’s Army, in June, but continued to explore ways to resume talks.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were under pressure not to cooperate or respond to the views of international human rights organizations. Local human rights activists continued to encounter occasional harassment, mainly from security forces or local officials from areas in which incidents under investigation occurred.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: A number of UN special rapporteur or working group visit requests remained pending. In February the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the opening of a preliminary examination of potential crimes, including extrajudicial and other killings, allegedly committed since July 1, 2016 in the government’s antidrug campaign. In a March speech, President Duterte ordered security forces not to respond to any probe or investigation requests on human rights abuses in the country. In March the country submitted a formal notification of withdrawal from the ICC’s Rome Statute, which will take effect one year after the notification.

In March a list of hundreds of individuals allegedly associated with the communist insurgency was included in a Department of Justice court filing seeking judicial affirmation of the government’s designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines/NPA as a terrorist organization. The list included UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (a Filipina) and some other individuals identified by international NGOs as human rights defenders. In August a Manila regional trial court removed Tauli-Corpuz and three others from the list.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CHR’s constitutional mandate is to protect and promote human rights; investigate all human rights violations, including those reported by NGOs; and monitor government compliance with international human rights treaty obligations. Approximately three-quarters of the country’s 42,000 villages had human rights action centers that coordinated with CHR regional offices. Nevertheless, the CHR lacked sufficient funding and staff to investigate and follow up on all cases presented to its regional and subregional offices.

The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent agency that responds to complaints about public officials and employees. It has the authority to make administrative rulings and seek prosecutions. Many human rights NGOs believed this office’s casework improved under the Ombudsman whose term ended in July, although administrative and institutional weaknesses remained. Samuel Martires, the new Ombudsman, began his nonrenewable seven-year term in July.

The Presidential Human Rights Committee serves as a multiagency coordinating body on human rights problems. The committee’s responsibilities include compiling the government’s submission for the UN Universal Periodic Review. Many NGOs considered it independent but with limited ability to influence human rights policy.

The Regional Human Rights Commission is a constitutionally mandated body tasked with monitoring alleged human rights violations in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (Bangsamoro). The commission’s effectiveness remained unclear.

Russia

Executive Summary

The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lack independence from the executive. The March 18 presidential election and the 2016 State Duma elections were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process, including the exclusion of meaningful opposition candidates.

Except in rare cases, security forces generally reported to civilian authorities. National-level civilian authorities, however, had, at best, limited control over security forces in the Republic of Chechnya, which were accountable only to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

The country’s occupation and purported “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation there significantly and negatively. The Russian government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside forces in eastern Ukraine. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as numerous abuses, to Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region (see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine). Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured.

Human rights issues included extrajudicial killings, including of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in Chechnya by local government authorities; enforced disappearances by government authorities; pervasive torture by government law enforcement personnel that sometimes resulted in death and sometimes involved punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons; arbitrary or unjust arrest and detention; political prisoners; severe arbitrary interference with privacy; severe suppression of freedom of expression and media, including the use of “antiextremism” and other laws to prosecute peaceful dissent; violence against journalists; blocking and filtering of internet content and banning of online anonymity; severe suppression of the right of peaceful assembly; increasingly severe suppression of freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organizations;” severe restrictions on religious freedom; undue restrictions on freedom of movement of those charged with political offenses; credible reports of refoulement; severe limits on participation in the political process, including restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns, and on the ability of civil society to monitor election processes; widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government; trafficking in persons; government decriminalization of domestic abuse, which created an atmosphere of impunity for domestic violence against women; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence against LGBTI persons and members of ethnic minorities.

The government failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their concerns. Official harassment of independent NGOs continued and in many instances intensified, particularly of groups that focused on election monitoring, exposing corruption, and addressing human rights abuses. NGO activities and international humanitarian assistance in the North Caucasus were severely restricted. Some officials, including the ombudsman for human rights, regional ombudsman representatives, and the chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, regularly interacted and cooperated with NGOs.

Authorities continued to use a variety of laws to harass, stigmatize, and in some cases halt the operation of domestic and foreign human rights NGOs (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

High-ranking officials often displayed hostility towards the activities of human rights organizations and suggested that their work was unpatriotic and detrimental to national security. On January 18, hours after masked men had set fire to the office of human rights NGO Memorial, the only remaining human rights NGO in Chechnya, Chechen Republic head Kadyrov stated that human rights activists are “people without kith or kin, without a nation, and without religion” and that “their work won’t fly in our republic.” On August 22, Kadyrov stated the entry of “human rights defenders into Chechnya is to be prohibited” and compared them to armed militants. Subsequently Chechen Republic minister of mass media Djambulat Umarov explained that Kadyrov’s statement also included journalists.

Authorities continued to apply a number of indirect tactics to suppress or close domestic NGOs, including the application of various laws and harassment in the form of prosecution, investigations, fines, and raids (see sections 1.e. and 2.b.).

Authorities generally refused to cooperate with NGOs that were critical of their activities or listed as a foreign agent. International human rights NGOs had almost no presence east of the Ural Mountains. A few local NGOs addressed human rights problems in these regions but often chose not to work on politically sensitive topics to avoid retaliation by local authorities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Some government institutions continued to promote human rights and intervened in selected abuse complaints, despite widespread doubt as to these institutions’ effectiveness.

Many observers did not consider the 126-member Public Chamber, composed of government-appointed members from civil society organizations, to be an effective check on the government.

The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights is an advisory body to the president tasked with monitoring systemic problems in legislation and individual human rights cases, developing proposals to submit to the president and government, and monitoring their implementation. The president selects some council members by decree, and not all members operated independently.

Human rights ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalkova was viewed as a figure with very limited autonomy. The country had regional ombudsmen in 83 of its 85 regions with responsibilities similar to Moskalkova’s. Their effectiveness varied significantly, and local authorities often undermined their independence.

Rwanda

Executive Summary

Rwanda is a constitutional republic dominated by a strong presidency. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led a governing coalition that included four smaller parties. In August 2017 voters elected President Paul Kagame to a third seven-year term with a reported 99 percent of the vote and a reported 98 percent turnout. One independent candidate and one candidate from an opposition political party participated in the presidential election, but authorities disqualified three other candidates. In the September elections for parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, candidates from the RPF coalition and two other parties that supported RPF policies won all except four of the open seats. For the first time, independent parties won seats in the chamber, with the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) and the Social Party Imberakuri (PS-Imberakuri) winning two seats each. In both the 2017 and the 2018 elections, international monitors reported numerous flaws, including irregularities in the vote tabulation process.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over state security forces (SSF).

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by state security forces; forced disappearance by state security forces; torture by state security forces including asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions; arbitrary detention by state security forces; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; threats to and violence against journalists, censorship, website blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; and restrictions on political participation.

The government occasionally took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, including within the security services, but impunity involving civilian officials and some members of the SSF was a problem.

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

Several domestic human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, and international groups also published reports on human rights abuses. The government was often intolerant of public reports of human rights violations and suspicious of local and international human rights observers, and it often impeded independent investigations and rejected criticism as biased and uninformed. Human rights NGOs expressed fear of the government, reported SSF monitoring of their activities, and self-censored their comments. NGOs, such as HRW, working on human rights and deemed to be critical of the government experienced difficulties securing or renewing required legal registration.

The government criticized HRW and other international human rights groups for being inaccurate and biased. In March a Ministry of Justice official stated the government would not renew its cooperation agreement with HRW unless the organization agreed to include the government’s statements regarding the country’s human rights situation in its reports. The official accused HRW of tarnishing the image of the country by fabricating unsubstantiated, politically motivated reports. As of September 12, the government had not renewed its lapsed memorandum of understanding with HRW, and HRW had no representatives operating in the country.

The government conducted surveillance on some international and domestic NGOs. Some NGOs expressed concern that intelligence agents infiltrated their organizations to gather information, influence leadership decisions, or create internal problems.

Individuals who contributed to international reports on human rights reported continued government harassment including short-term detention without charges, questioning, and threats of arrest and prosecution for the contents of their work.

Some domestic NGOs–including the Youth Association for Human Rights Promotion and Development and the Rwandan Association for the Defense of Human Rights–nominally focused on human rights abuses, but self-censorship limited their effectiveness. Most NGOs that focused on human rights, access to justice, and governance issues vetted their research and reports with the government and refrained from publishing their findings without government approval.

A progovernment NGO, the Rwanda Civil Society Platform, managed and directed some NGOs through umbrella groups that theoretically aggregated NGOs working in particular thematic sectors. Many observers believed the government controlled some of the umbrella groups. Regulations required NGOs to participate in joint action and development forums at the district and sector levels, and local government had broad powers to regulate activities and bar organizations that did not comply.

NGOs reported the registration process remained difficult, in part because it required submission of a statement of objectives, plan of action, and detailed financial information for each district in which an NGO wished to operate. NGOs reported the government used the registration process to delay programming and pressure them into supporting government programs and policies.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government sometimes cooperated with international organizations, but it criticized reports that portrayed it negatively as inaccurate and biased. In July the SPT announced it had formally cancelled its visit to the country. The SPT had already suspended its visit in October 2017 due to government-imposed obstructions, such as limiting access to places of detention. In a July 4 statement, the SPT stated there was no realistic prospect of the visit’s successful resumption and conclusion within a reasonable timeframe. In response the government issued a statement declaring the lack of cooperation allegations untrue, unfounded, and in bad faith.

In 2012 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Tanzania, transferred its remaining genocide cases to a Tanzania-based branch of the MICT that continued to pursue genocide suspects. From 1994 through July, the tribunal completed proceedings against 80 individuals; of these, 61 were convicted, and 14 were acquitted. Two cases were dropped, and in the remaining three cases, the accused died before the tribunal rendered judgment. As of August 23, eight suspects remained fugitives. The government cooperated with the MICT, but it also expressed concern regarding the MICT’s practice of granting early release to convicts.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The adequately funded Office of the Ombudsman operated with the cooperation of executive agencies and took action on cases of corruption and other abuses, including human rights cases (see section 4).

The government funded and cooperated with the NCHR. According to many observers, the NCHR did not have adequate resources to investigate all reported violations and remained biased in favor of the government. Some victims of human rights violations did not report the violations to the NCHR because they perceived it as biased and feared retribution by the SSF.

Saudi Arabia

Executive Summary

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is both head of state and head of government. The 1992 Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government, and it provides that the Quran and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) serve as the country’s constitution. It specifies that the rulers of the country shall be male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud). In 2015 the country held its most recent municipal elections on a nonparty basis for two-thirds of the 3,159 seats in the 284 municipal councils around the country. Independent polling station observers did not identify significant irregularities with the elections. For the first time, women were allowed to vote and run as candidates in these municipal elections.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced renditions; forced disappearances; and torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents. There were also reports of arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and movement; severe restrictions of religious freedom; citizens’ lack of ability and legal means to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; violence and official discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were implemented; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and prohibition of trade unions.

Government agents carried out the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2. King Salman pledged to hold all individuals involved accountable, regardless of position or rank. Several officials were removed from their positions, and on November 15, the Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) announced the indictment of 11 suspects. The PPO announced it would seek the death penalty for five of the suspects charged with murder and added that an additional 10 suspects were under further investigation. At year’s end the PPO had not named the suspects nor the roles allegedly played by them in the killing, nor had they provided a detailed explanation of the direction and progress of the investigation. In other cases the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity.

The country continued air operations in Yemen as leader of a military coalition formed in 2015 to counter the 2014 forceful takeover of the Republic of Yemen’s government institutions and facilities by Houthi militias and security forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on a number of occasions, and the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, reported that some coalition airstrikes caused disproportionate collateral damage. Houthi-aligned militias carried out cross-border raids into Saudi territory and fired missiles and artillery into Saudi Arabia throughout the year, killing and injuring Saudi civilians. The coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team, established by the Saudi government and based in Riyadh, investigated allegations of civilian casualties, published recommendations, and in some cases promised to provide compensation to affected families, although no prosecutions occurred.

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

The law provides that “the State shall protect human rights in accordance with Islamic sharia.” The government restricted the activities of domestic and international human rights organizations. The government did not allow international human rights NGOs to be based in the country and restricted access to the country for visits. International human rights and humanitarian NGOs reported that the government was at times unresponsive to requests for information and did not establish a clear mechanism for communication with NGOs on both domestic human rights issues and issues relating to the conflict in Yemen. There were no transparent standards governing visits by international NGO representatives. The HRC stated that the government welcomed visits by legitimate, unbiased human rights groups but added the government could not act on the “hundreds of requests” it received, in part because it was cumbersome to decide which domestic agencies would be their interlocutor.

The government often cooperated with and sometimes accepted the recommendations of the NSHR, the sole government-licensed domestic human rights organization. The NSHR accepted requests for assistance and complaints about government actions affecting human rights.

The government viewed unlicensed local human rights groups with suspicion, frequently blocking their websites and charging their founders with founding and operating unlicensed organizations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRC is part of the government and requires the permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before meeting with diplomats, academics, or researchers with international human rights organizations. The HRC president has ministerial status and reports to the king. The well-resourced HRC was effective in highlighting problems and registering and responding to the complaints it received, but its capacity to effect change was more limited. The HRC worked directly with the Royal Diwan and the cabinet, with a committee composed of representatives of the Consultative Council and the Ministries of Labor and Social Development and Interior, and with Consultative Council committees for the judiciary, Islamic affairs, and human rights.

During the year the HRC and NSHR were more outspoken in areas deemed less politically sensitive, including child abuse, child marriage, prison conditions, and cases of individuals detained beyond their prescribed prison sentences. They avoided topics such as protests or cases of political activists or reformers that would require directly confronting government authorities. The HRC board’s 18 full-time members included four women and at least three Shia; they received and responded to complaints submitted by their constituencies, including problems related to persons with disabilities, religious freedom, and women’s rights. The Consultative Council’s Human Rights Committee also actively followed cases and included women and Shia among its members; a woman served as chairperson of the committee.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

South Sudan is a republic operating under the terms of a peace agreement signed in August 2015 and renewed in September. President Salva Kiir Mayardit, whose authority derives from his 2010 election as president of what was then the semiautonomous region of Southern Sudan within the Republic of Sudan, is chief of state and head of government. International observers considered the 2011 referendum on South Sudanese self-determination, in which 98 percent of voters chose to separate from Sudan, to be free and fair. Since then all government positions have been appointed rather than elected.

Civilian authorities routinely failed to maintain effective control over the security forces.

In 2013 a power struggle within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party erupted into armed conflict. President Salva Kiir accused then first vice president Riek Machar Teny of plotting a coup. The two leaders appealed to their respective ethnic communities, and the conflict spread primarily to the northwest of the country. The parties signed several ceasefire agreements, culminating in the 2015 peace agreement. A ceasefire generally held from 2015 to July 2016, when fighting broke out in Juba, eventually spreading to the rest of the country. The major warring factions signed a “revitalized” peace agreement in September, which was still holding at year’s end.

Human rights issues included government-perpetrated extrajudicial killings, including ethnically based targeted killings of civilians; forced disappearances and the mass forced displacement of approximately 4.4 million civilians; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; violence against, intimidation, and detention of journalists, closure of media houses, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of approximately 19,000 child soldiers; widespread rape of civilians targeted as a weapon of war; trafficking in persons; criminalization of LGBTI conduct, and violence against the LGBTI community.

Security force abuses occurred throughout the country. Despite one successful prosecution, impunity was widespread and remained a major problem.

Opposition forces also perpetrated serious human rights abuses, which, according to the United Nations, included unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and forced recruitment.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published information on human rights cases and the armed conflict, often while facing considerable government resistance. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their views, and were often actively hostile. Reports outlining atrocities furthered tensions between the government and international organizations and NGOs. Government and opposition forces often blamed each other or pointed toward militia groups or “criminal” actors.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government sometimes cooperated with representatives of the United Nations and other international organizations. A lack of security guarantees from the government and opposition on many occasions, as well as frequent government violations of the status of forces agreement, including the restriction of movement of UNMISS personnel, constrained UNMISS’s ability to carry out its mandate, which included human rights monitoring and investigations. Security forces generally regarded international organizations with suspicion.

UNMISS and its staff faced increased harassment and intimidation by the government, threats against UNMISS premises and PoC sites, unlawful arrest and detention, and abduction. The SPLA regularly prevented UNMISS from accessing areas of suspected human rights abuses, especially in Yei State and in the Eastern Equatoria region, in violation of the status of forces agreement that allows UNMISS access to the entire country. Team members of the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts reported generally good access to conduct their work, as did the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The president appoints members of the South Sudan Human Rights Commission (SSHRC), whose mandate includes education, research, monitoring, and investigation of human rights abuses, either on its own initiative or upon request by victims. International organizations and civil society organizations considered the SSHRC’s operations to be generally independent of government influence. The commission cooperated with international human rights advocates and submitted reports and recommendations to the government.

While observers generally regarded the SSHRC to have committed and competent leadership, severe resource constraints prevented it from effectively fulfilling its human rights protection mandate. Salaries and office management accounted for the bulk of its funding, leaving little for monitoring or investigation. In 2015 the commission released a three-year strategy and reported on 700 previously undocumented prisoners; however, it has produced little since, including during the year.

The National Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide remained largely inactive throughout the year.

Sudan

Executive Summary

Sudan is a republic with power concentrated in the hands of authoritarian President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his inner circle. The National Congress Party (NCP) continued approximately three decades of nearly absolute political authority. The country last held national elections (presidential and National Assembly) in 2015. Key opposition parties boycotted the elections when the government failed to meet their preconditions, including a cessation of hostilities, holding of an inclusive “national dialogue,” and fostering of a favorable environment for discussions between the government and opposition on needed reforms and the peace process. Prior to the elections, security forces arrested many supporters, members, and leaders of boycotting parties and confiscated numerous newspapers, conditions that observers said created a repressive environment not conducive to free and fair elections. Only 46 percent of eligible voters participated in the elections, according to the government-controlled National Electoral Commission (NEC), but others believed the turnout was much lower. The NEC declared al-Bashir winner of the presidential election with 94 percent of the vote.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Some armed elements did not openly identify with a particular security entity, making it difficult to determine under whose control they operated.

The government repeatedly extended its 2016 unilateral cessation of hostilities (COH) in Blue Nile and South Kardofan states (the “Two Areas”) and an end to offensive military action in Darfur. Clashes between the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) and government forces resumed, however, in April and continued through July, and there were credible reports that villages in Darfur’s Jebel Marra mountain range were targeted for attack during these clashes, resulting in thousands of newly displaced civilians. Nevertheless, the COH did allow for periods of increased stability and an overall improvement in the human rights situation in Darfur and the Two Areas. As part of its UN Security Council-mandated reconfigurations, the African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) established a Jebel Marra Task Force and a temporary operating base in Golo to monitor the humanitarian and security situation in the area. In Darfur weak rule of law persisted, and banditry, criminality, and intercommunal violence were main causes of insecurity in Darfur.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, torture, and arbitrary detention, all by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arrests and intimidation of journalists, censorship, newspaper seizures, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; restrictions on religious liberty; restrictions on political participation; corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; outlawing of independent trade unions; and child labor.

Government authorities did not investigate human rights violations by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), the military, or any other branch of the security services, with limited exceptions relating to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Impunity remained a problem in all branches of the security forces and government institutions.

In Darfur and the Two Areas, paramilitary forces and rebel groups continued to commit killings, rape, and torture of civilians. Local militias maintained substantial influence due to widespread impunity. There were reports of both progovernment and antigovernment militias looting, raping, and killing civilians. Intercommunal violence spawned from land tenure and resource scarcity continued to result in civilian deaths, particularly in East, South, and North Darfur. The government continued its national arms collection campaign, which began in October 2017, mostly in Darfur.

There were some human rights abuses in Abyei, a region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, generally stemming from tribal conflict between Ngok Dinka and Misseriya. Reports were difficult to verify due to limited access.

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

The government was uncooperative with, and unresponsive to, domestic human rights groups. It restricted and harassed workers of both domestic and international human rights organizations.

According to international NGOs, government agents consistently monitored, threatened, prosecuted, and occasionally physically assaulted civil society human rights activists. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that the government arrested NGO-affiliated international human rights and humanitarian workers.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Government denial of visas continued to undermine UNAMID’s human rights section in particular; it had a vacancy rate of 44 percent, largely as a result of visa denials. International observers alleged the section was targeted to curtail human rights reporting on the Darfur conflict. As of October four visa applications for UNAMID’s human rights section were awaiting government action. In addition to general limitations on UNAMID’s access to Darfur, other limitations remained in place specific to UNAMID human rights reporting, including verification of sexual and gender-based abuse.

The government is a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

During the year the government generally permitted visits by the UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan, Aristide Nononsi. Nononsi, however, was not generally granted meaningful access to the conflict areas. While he met with some independent civil society organizations, most of his meetings were with government officials or government-aligned NGOs. Government officials tightly controlled his schedule, and his opportunities to meet with independent civil society organizations were few.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Human rights defenders regularly filed complaints with the National Human Rights Commission regarding perceived human rights violations.

Syria

Executive Summary

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

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the uniformed military, police, and state security forces but did not maintain effective control over foreign and domestic military or paramilitary organizations. These progovernment forces included Russian armed forces, Hizballah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and nonuniformed progovernment militias, such as the National Defense Forces.

Government and progovernment forces launched a massive assault on the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta, culminating in the government’s recapture in April of an area it had besieged since 2013. The assault by the government and progovernment forces involved use of heavy weapons, likely use of chemical weapons, and deliberate denial of humanitarian aid. Government and progovernment forces launched an assault on opposition-controlled areas of Daraa Province, considered the cradle of the revolution that began in 2011, and reasserted government control in July. The assault killed hundreds of civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government, including those involving the repeated use of chemical weapons, including chlorine and other substances; enforced disappearances; torture, including torture involving sexual violence; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including denial of medical care; prisoners of conscience; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; undue restrictions on free expression, including restrictions on the press and access to the internet, including censorship and site blocking; substantial suppression of the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe suppression of religious freedom; undue restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; high-level and widespread corruption; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by the government and other armed actors; trafficking in persons; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; violence and severe discrimination targeting LGBTI persons; and severe restrictions on workers’ rights.

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

Government-linked paramilitary groups reportedly engaged in frequent violations and abuses, including massacres, indiscriminate killings, kidnapping civilians, arbitrary detentions, and rape as a war tactic. Government-affiliated militias, including the terrorist organization Lebanese Hizballah, supported by Iran, repeatedly targeted civilians.

There were reports that armed opposition groups carried out what were characterized as indiscriminate attacks in the battle in eastern Ghouta and that they arbitrarily arrested and tortured civilians in Douma. Syrian opposition groups supported by the Turkish government reportedly looted and confiscated homes belonging to Kurdish residents in Afrin.

Some Kurdish forces reportedly unlawfully restricted the movement of persons in liberated areas and arbitrarily arrested some local civil council leaders, teachers, and other civilians. Elements affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Syrian Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and other minorities that included members of the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG), reportedly engaged in forced conscription, to include limited conscription of children. In September the SDF issued a military order banning the recruitment of anyone younger than age 18 and ordering their military records office to verify the ages of those currently enlisted.

Armed terrorist groups, such as the al-Qa’ida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), also committed a wide range of abuses, including massacres, unlawful killings, bombings, and kidnappings; unlawful detention; torture; and forced evacuations from homes based on sectarian identity. ISIS lost the majority of territory it once controlled, limiting its ability to subject large populations to human rights violations. Although severely weakened, ISIS attacked members of religious minority groups and subjected women and girls to routine rape, forced marriages, sexual slavery, human trafficking, and murder.

Russian forces were reportedly implicated in the deaths of civilians resulting from air strikes characterized as indiscriminate, particularly during support of the government’s military campaigns in the Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta, including Douma.

Foreign forces fighting ISIS were implicated in civilian casualties reportedly in Afrin and Raqqa.

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

The government restricted attempts to investigate alleged human rights violations, criminalized their publication, and refused to cooperate with any independent attempts to investigate alleged violations. The government did not grant permission for the formation of any domestic human rights organizations. Nevertheless, hundreds of such groups operated illegally in the country.

The government was highly suspicious of international human rights NGOs and did not allow them into the country. The government normally responded to queries from human rights organizations and foreign embassies regarding specific cases by denying the facts of the case or by reporting that the case was still under investigation, the prisoner in question had violated national security laws, or, if the case was in criminal court, the executive branch could not interfere with the judiciary. The government denied organizations access to locations where government agents launched assaults on antigovernment protesters or allegedly held prisoners detained on political grounds. The United Nations reported that the government also actively restricted the activities of humanitarian aid organizations, especially along supply routes and access points near opposition-controlled areas (see section 1.g.).

There were numerous reports the government harassed domestic human rights activists by subjecting them to regular surveillance and travel bans, property seizure, detention, torture, forcible disappearance, and extrajudicial killings. For example, human rights lawyer Khalil Ma’touq and his assistant, Mohamed Zaza, reportedly disappeared from a government checkpoint near Damascus in 2012. HRW reported the government moved the two men among various detention facilities in Damascus, including the Palestine Branch, a detention center run by Military Intelligence. In October the SOHR again called on the government for information on the welfare and whereabouts of Ma’touq and Zaza.

Terrorist groups, including ISIS, violently attacked organizations and individuals seeking to investigate human rights abuses or advocate for improved practices. The SDF and other opposition groups occasionally imposed restrictions on human rights organizations or harassed individual activists.

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

Thailand

Executive Summary

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun as head of state. In a 2014 bloodless coup, military leaders, taking the name National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and led by then army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha, overthrew the civilian government administered by the Pheu Thai political party, which had governed since 2011 following lower house elections that were generally considered free and fair.

The military-led NCPO maintained control over the security forces and all government institutions.

An interim constitution, enacted by the NCPO in 2014 was in place until April 2017, when the king promulgated a new constitution, previously adopted by a popular referendum in 2016. The 2017 constitution stipulates the NCPO remain in office and hold all powers granted by the interim constitution until establishment of a new council of ministers and its assumption of office following the first general election under the new charter. The 2017 constitution also stipulates that all NCPO orders are “constitutional and lawful” and are to remain in effect until revoked by the NCPO, an order from the military-appointed legislative body, the prime minister, or cabinet resolution. The interim constitution granted immunity to coup leaders and their subordinates for any coup or postcoup actions ordered by the ruling council, regardless of the legality of the action. The immunity remains in effect under the 2017 constitution. Numerous NCPO decrees limiting civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press, remained in effect throughout most of the year. NCPO Order 3/2015, which replaced martial law in March 2015, granted the military government sweeping power to curb “acts deemed harmful to national peace and stability.” In December, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha lifted the ban on political activities, including the ban on gatherings of five or more persons. The military government’s power to detain any individual for a maximum of seven days without an arrest warrant remains in effect, however.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; torture by government officials; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; abuses by government security forces confronting the continuing ethnic Malay-Muslim insurgency in the southernmost provinces of Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani, and parts of Songkhla; restrictions on political participation; and corruption.

Authorities took some steps to investigate and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Official impunity, however, continued to be a problem, especially in the southernmost provinces, where the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in the State of Emergency (2005), hereinafter referred to as “the emergency decree,” and the 2008 Internal Security Act remained in effect.

Insurgents in the southernmost provinces committed human rights abuses and attacks on government security forces and civilian targets.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights organizations operated in the country. NCPO orders affected NGO operations, including prohibitions on political gatherings and activities, as well as media restrictions. NGOs that dealt with sensitive political matters, such as political reform or opposition to government-sponsored development projects, faced periodic harassment.

Human rights workers focusing on violence in the southernmost provinces were particularly vulnerable to harassment and intimidation by government agents and insurgent groups. Several NGOs reported pervasive online harassment and threats. The government accorded very few NGOs tax-exempt status, which sometimes hampered their ability to secure funding.

In August the United Nations highlighted the country in a report on reprisals against human rights defenders because of a lack of cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms. In response to the report, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that these cases were not relevant to cooperation with human rights mechanisms and that officials acted in accordance with relevant laws and regulations.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The Working Group on Business and Human Rights visited the country in April. According to the United Nations, there were no developments regarding official visits previously requested by the UN working group on disappearances; by the UN special rapporteur on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association; or by the UN special rapporteur on the situations of human rights defenders, migrants, and internally displaced persons. As of September, 20 official visit requests from UN special procedures were pending.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The independent (NHRCT has a mission to protect human rights and to produce an annual country report. The commission received 225 cases from October 2017 through September. Of these complaints, 36 related to alleged abuses by police. Human rights groups continued to criticize the commission for not filing lawsuits against human rights violators on its own behalf or on behalf of complainants.

The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent agency empowered to consider and investigate complaints filed by any citizen. Following an investigation, the office may refer a case to a court for further review or provide recommendations for further action to the appropriate agency. The office examines all petitions, but it may not compel agencies to comply with its recommendations. From October 2017 through August, the office received 2,062 new petitions, of which 523 related to allegations of police abuses.

Venezuela

Executive Summary

Venezuela is formally a multiparty, constitutional republic, but for more than a decade, political power has been concentrated in a single party with an increasingly authoritarian executive exercising significant control over the legislative, judicial, citizens’ power (which includes the prosecutor general and ombudsman), and electoral branches of government. On May 20, the government organized snap presidential elections that were neither free nor fair for the 2019-25 presidential term. Nicolas Maduro was re-elected through this deeply flawed political process, which much of the opposition boycotted and the international community condemned. His illegitimate next term was scheduled to begin on January 10, 2019. The opposition gained supermajority (two-thirds) control of the National Assembly in the 2015 legislative elections. The executive branch, however, used its control over the Supreme Court (TSJ) to weaken the National Assembly’s constitutional role to legislate, ignore the separation of powers, and enable the president to govern through a series of emergency decrees.

Civilian authorities maintained effective, although politicized, control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included extrajudicial killings by security forces, including colectivos (government-sponsored armed groups); torture by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; and political prisoners. The government restricted free expression and the press by routinely blocking signals, and interfering with the operations of, or shutting down, privately owned television, radio, and other media outlets. Libel, incitement, and inaccurate reporting were subject to criminal sanctions. The government used violence to repress peaceful demonstrations. Other issues included restrictions on political participation in the form of presidential elections in May that were not free or fair; pervasive corruption and impunity among all security forces and in other national and state government offices, including at the highest levels; trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labor, which the government made minimal efforts to eliminate.

The government took no effective action to investigate officials who committed human rights abuses, and there was impunity for such abuses.

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

A variety of independent domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with some government restrictions. Major domestic human rights NGOs conducted investigations and published their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their requests. Domestic NGOs reported fear the government would use the 2017 Law against Hate to justify widespread repression of their activities, jailing of the participants and organizers, and threats against family members. Some domestic NGOs reported government threats and harassment against their leaders, staff, and organizations, in addition to government raids and detentions, but they were able to publish dozens of reports during the year. Some human rights activists reported authorities barred them from traveling abroad or that they feared not being able to return to the country if they traveled. NGOs played a significant role in informing citizens and the international community about alleged violations and key human rights cases.

NGOs asserted the government created a dangerous atmosphere for them to operate. The PSUV first vice president and ANC president, Diosdado Cabello, used his weekly talk show to intimidate NGO staff from Espacio Publico, PROVEA, and Foro Penal. Several organizations, such as the OVP, PROVEA, Foro Penal, and Citizen Control, reported their staffs received both electronic and in-person threats. Human rights organizations claimed they were subject to frequent internet hacking attacks and attempts to violate their email privacy.

The law prohibits domestic NGOs from receiving funds from abroad if they have a “political intent”–defined as the intent to “promote, disseminate, inform, or defend the full exercise of the political rights of citizens” or to “defend political rights.” The government threatened NGOs with criminal investigations for allegedly illegally accepting foreign funds. Various government officials accused human rights organizations on national television and media of breaking the law by receiving funding from international donors.

For violations the law stipulates monetary penalties, a potential five- to eight-year disqualification from running for political office, or both. The law defines political organizations as those involved in promoting citizen participation, exercising control over public offices, and promoting candidates for public office. Although there was no formal application or enforcement of the law, it created a climate of fear among human rights NGOs and a hesitancy to seek international assistance.

In addition to the restrictions placed on fund raising, domestic NGOs also faced regulatory limitations on their ability to perform their missions. The law includes provisions eliminating the right of human rights NGOs to represent victims of human rights abuses in legal proceedings. The law provides that only the public defender and private individuals may file complaints in court or represent victims of alleged human rights abuses committed by public employees or members of security forces.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government was generally hostile toward international human rights bodies and continued to refuse to permit a visit by the IACHR, which last visited the country in 2002. The government also repeatedly refused to grant access to the OHCHR to investigate the human rights situation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Throughout the year the government gave its 2016 human rights plan minimal attention.

The TSJ continued to hold the National Assembly in “contempt” status, which diminished the purview and operational effectiveness of the assembly’s subcommission on human rights.

Yemen

Executive Summary

Yemen is a republic with a constitution that provides for a president, a parliament, and an independent judiciary. In 2012 Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi was chosen by the governing and opposition parties as the sole consensus candidate for president. Two-thirds of the country’s eligible voters went to the polls to confirm Hadi as president, with a two-year mandate. The transitional government he headed sought to expand political participation to excluded groups, including women, youth, and minorities. In 2014 Houthi forces aligned with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh occupied the capital Sana’a, igniting a civil war between Houthi forces and the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) that continued through year’s end.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over all of the security forces. Houthis controlled most of the national security apparatus and some former state institutions. Competing family, tribal, party, and sectarian influences also reduced ROYG authority.

In 2014 the Houthi uprising compelled the ROYG to sign a UN-brokered peace deal calling for a “unity government.” The ROYG resigned after Houthi forces seized the presidential palace in January 2015. In February 2015 Houthi forces dissolved parliament, replacing it with the Supreme Revolutionary Committee, allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party. Hadi escaped house arrest in Sana’a and fled to Aden, where he declared all actions taken by Houthi-Saleh forces in Sana’a unconstitutional, reaffirmed his position as president, pledged to uphold the principles of the 2014 National Dialogue Conference, and called on the international community to protect Yemen’s political process.

In March 2015 Houthi forces launched an offensive in southern Yemen and entered Aden, forcing Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia. In March 2015 a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia initiated Operation “Decisive Storm” on behalf of the ROYG. In December 2017 Saleh publicly split from the Houthis and welcomed cooperation with the coalition; he was killed by Houthi forces two days later. In May the Saudi-led Coalition began a major push in its coastal offensive toward the port city of al-Hudaydah in hopes that military pressure would bring Houthis holding the city to the negotiating table. The Coalition continued air and ground operations against the Houthis throughout the year. In December direct talks between the ROYG and Houthis at UN-led consultations in Sweden led to agreements on a ceasefire and redeployment from Hudaydah, Yemen’s most important commercial port, as well as on prisoner exchanges and addressing the humanitarian situation in Taiz. In other parts of Yemen, hostilities–including Coalition airstrikes–have continued.

Human rights issues in the country included unlawful or arbitrary killings, including political assassinations; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary infringements on privacy rights; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with freedom of assembly and association; the inability of citizens to choose their government through free and fair elections; pervasive corruption; recruitment and use of child soldiers; and criminalization of consensual same sex-sexual conduct.

The ROYG took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses; however, impunity was persistent and pervasive. Houthi influence over government institutions severely reduced the ROYG’s capacity to conduct investigations.

Saudi-led Coalition airstrikes resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on multiple occasions. Non-state actors, including Houthis, tribal militias, militant secessionist elements, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and a local branch of ISIS, reportedly committed significant abuses with impunity.

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

Most human rights groups reported that they were blocked from accessing the country by Coalition forces who closed Sana’a airport and controlled all flight entry and exit through the capital. After publishing negative reports, international human rights groups were targeted by media affiliated with both the ROYG and Houthi forces. Non-state actors, including the Houthis, subjected domestic human rights NGOs to significant harassment during the year (see also section 2.b.).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The Coalition and ROYG worked with the United Nations, particularly through the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen, to process delivery of commercial imports and humanitarian aid. The UN and humanitarian organizations reported Coalition delays and denials obstructed delivery of 80-90 percent of all commercial and humanitarian goods to the population. All parties permitted access to UN humanitarian organizations distributing aid, but obstacles remained in delivery due to blockades, checkpoints, road conditions, bureaucratic impediments, and continuing armed conflict.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2015 Presidential Decree Number 13 established the NCIAVHR as an independent group responsible for investigating all alleged human rights violations since 2011. The commission consists of a chair and eight members with legal, judicial, or human rights backgrounds.

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