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Benin

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

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

There were credible reports from civil society groups that police and military members used disproportionate and lethal force against citizens.

For example, on March 24, police fatally shot University of Abomey Calavi student Theophile Dieudonne Adjaho during a demonstration staged by the National Federation of Beninese Students. The students were demanding cancelation of classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as protesting arrests at previous demonstrations.

Authorities have not investigated this killing or the killings of civilians in connection with the 2019 legislative elections during which civil society groups stated police and military members used disproportionate and lethal force against protesters. During May 2019 postelection clashes between security forces and antigovernment protesters in Cotonou, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported at least two deaths, including a female bystander who was shot when a Beninese Armed Forces member fired to disperse crowds. Although the president acknowledged that four civilian casualties occurred during the protests, he made no further comment. Although investigations of police and military personnel conduct were not generally made public, there was no indication during the year that any were conducted.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but such incidents continued to occur.

The penal code prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following example. On April 28, a video circulated on social media showing a police officer beating a motorbike taxi rider and his female passenger for failing to wear facemasks mandated by COVID-19 enforcement measures. The beating took place on a Cotonou street in the presence of three other officers. On April 19, the Republican Police director general issued a statement deploring the incident and stating that the responsible police officers had been identified and would be punished. On April 30, the officer responsible for the beating and those who witnessed it were arrested but not charged. By ministerial order the officers were administratively sanctioned for use of excessive force.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions web platform, there was one allegation submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Beninese peacekeepers deployed to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There were also three open allegations from prior years of sexual exploitation and abuse by Beninese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including one each from 2019, 2018, and 2016. As of September the government had yet to report on any accountability measures taken in the four cases. All four cases involved accusations of exploitative relationships with adults.

Authorities rarely held police accountable for misconduct, and impunity remained a problem. The Inspectorate General of the Republican Police Investigation Division is responsible for investigating serious cases involving police personnel. There were no reports, however, that any investigations were conducted. The government provided some human rights training to security forces, often with foreign or international donor funding and assistance.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate medical care, food, and sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: According to the Benin Bar Association, conditions in the country’s three prisons and eight jails were inhuman due to overcrowding, malnutrition, and poor sanitation. The 11 facilities held approximately 9,000 inmates, significantly exceeding a capacity of 5,620 inmates. Convicted criminals, pretrial detainees, and juveniles were often held together. There were deaths due to lack of medical care, neglect, and poor ventilation in cramped and overcrowded cells. Prisoners with mental disabilities lacked access to appropriate disability-related support.

During the year the government reduced overcrowding through the administrative release of 1,300 persons. In April and May, authorities released 439 prisoners on parole to reduce COVID-19 transmission. In addition the Beninese Human Rights Commission reported that authorities released a number of pretrial detainees in February after it urged judicial authorities to review cases of pretrial detainees and release those for whom there was insufficient evidence to justify prosecution.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of allegations of mistreatment upon instruction by the Beninese Human Rights Commission. Prison authorities allowed visitors, but according to NGO reports, prison officials sometimes charged visitors a fee that was substantial for the average person.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by human rights monitors. Representatives of religious groups–the Prison Fellowship, Caritas, the Prisons Brotherhood, and Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture–and NGOs–Amnesty International, the Beninese Human Rights Commission (an independent government entity), the Friends of Prisoners and Indigents Clinic, and Prisoners without Borders–visited prisons, although some NGOs complained credentials were not systematically granted when they submitted requests to make visits. The commission also urged prison directors to provide adequate health care to inmates.

Improvements: The Directorate of Prison Administration implemented a centralized record-keeping system for Ministry of Justice officials to enable it to better track remand periods and court hearings and thus facilitate prompt release of prisoners at the end of their sentences. The installation of new generators and solar lighting, the construction of new dormitories and wells, septic tank maintenance, and the purchase of beds and medical supplies improved prison conditions during the year.

The government began implementing a program to provide more permanent health-care assistance to prisoners as opposed to ad hoc health care from NGOs. For example, on October 14, the Beninese Prison Agency deployed seven doctors and three psychologists to provide health-care services to prisoners in all 11 prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, Republican Police occasionally failed to observe these prohibitions. A person arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, is by law entitled to file a complaint with the liberty and detention chamber of the relevant court. The presiding judge may order the individual’s release if the arrest or detention is deemed unlawful.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The constitution requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized judicial official and requires a hearing before a magistrate within 48 hours of arrest, but these requirements were not always observed.

After examining a detainee, a judge has 24 hours to decide whether to continue to detain or release the individual. Under exceptional circumstances, or in arrests involving illegal drugs, a judge may authorize detention beyond 72 hours not to exceed an additional eight days. Warrants authorizing pretrial detention are effective for six months and may be renewed every six months until a suspect is brought to trial. Detainees have the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, which was generally observed. Detainees awaiting judicial decisions may request release on bail and have the right to prompt access to a lawyer. Suspects were not detained incommunicado or prevented access to an attorney.

The government sometimes provided counsel to indigent defendants in criminal cases. Persons in rural areas accused of serious crimes often lacked adequate legal representation because defense attorneys were predominantly based in Cotonou and generally did not work on cases in rural areas.

There were credible reports of individuals held beyond the legal limit of 48 hours of detention before a hearing, sometimes by as much as a week. Authorities often held persons indefinitely “at the disposal of” the Public Prosecutor’s Office before presenting the case to a magistrate.

Arbitrary Arrest: Unlike in 2019 there were no reports of arbitrary arrest. Nevertheless, some NGOs believed the practice might have continued, especially in the rural areas where individuals are not aware of their right to file complaints.

On June 18, the Constitutional Court ruled that the 2017 arrest and detention of Armand Pierre Lokossou–who was charged with criminal breach of trust and held until January–violated the arbitrary arrest and pretrial detention provisions of Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Pretrial Detention: The law defines the maximum length of pretrial detention for felony cases at five years and for misdemeanors three years. Approximately two-thirds of inmates were pretrial detainees. Inadequate facilities, poorly trained staff, and overcrowded dockets delayed the administration of justice. The length of pretrial detention frequently exceeded the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged crime.

Detainees held beyond pretrial limits may obtain recourse from the Constitutional Court. On June 4, the court ruled that judicial officials violated the code of criminal procedure when a Liberty and Detention Court judge failed to order the release of a pretrial detainee after six months’ detention. In February the Beninese Human Rights Commission ordered the release of a Cotonou Prison pretrial detainee held for three years after a court ordered his release pending trial in 2016.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary; however, the president heads the High Council of the Judiciary that governs and sanctions judges. The judicial system was also subject to corruption, although the government continued to make substantial anticorruption efforts, including the dismissal and arrest of government officials allegedly involved in corruption scandals. Authorities respected court orders.

In 2018 the National Assembly passed a bill creating the Court to Counter Economic Crimes and Terrorism (CRIET). Observers within the judicial sector raised concerns that the bill establishing CRIET may have violated judicial impartiality, the right of appeal, and due-process principles. CRIET decisions could not be appealed to intermediate appeals courts–designed to correct errors such as a lack of jurisdiction, failure to provide a legal basis for a decision, or action by a court exceeding its authority–but had to be filed directly with the Supreme Court. Intended in part to quell domestic and international criticism, on April 21, the National Assembly revised the CRIET law to provide for appeals to be filed within the CRIET structure.

Trial Procedures

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, judicial inefficiency and corruption impeded the exercise of this right.

The legal system is based on French civil law and local customary law. A defendant is presumed innocent. Defendants enjoy the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, to a fair, timely, and public trial, to be present at trial, and to representation by an attorney.

By law courts must provide indigent defendants with counsel upon request in criminal cases. Government-provided counsel, however, was rarely available, especially in cases handled in courts located in remote areas. Defendants who cannot understand or speak French are entitled to free interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to confront witnesses; to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf; and to not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

Defendants may appeal criminal convictions to both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, after which they may appeal to the president for a pardon.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. The nongovernmental Organization for the Defense of Human and Peoples’ Rights reported that there were political prisoners at the Cotonou, Parakou, Abomey, and Akpro-Misserete prisons. Additionally, Amnesty International and other NGOs stated that several individuals arrested for involvement in postelection protests in 2019 were detained for politically motivated reasons.

The government permitted access to such persons by human rights or humanitarian organizations such as the Beninese Human Rights Commission.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were credible reports the government attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes against specific individuals located outside the country.

In April 2019 a Spanish court rejected the government’s request for the extradition of former minister of finance Komi Koutche, who had been arrested during a stopover in Madrid in 2018 based on an Interpol (International Police Criminal Organization) Red Notice. The court cited lack of evidence to substantiate the request, potential political motivation for the request, and CRIET’s inability to provide for a fair trial due to its lack of independence from the government. On April 4, CRIET tried Komi Koutche in absentia, found him guilty of embezzlement of public funds and abuse of office while head of the National Fund for Microcredit, and sentenced him to 20 years’ imprisonment. Koutche remained in self-imposed exile at year’s end.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The judiciary exercised independence in civil matters. If administrative or informal remedies are unsuccessful, a citizen may file a complaint concerning an alleged human rights violation with the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court’s ruling is not binding on courts; however, citizens may cite rulings from the Constitutional Court to initiate legal action against offenders in regular courts. Adverse court rulings other than those of the Constitutional Court may be appealed to the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice. Unlike in prior years, appeals may no longer be filed with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. On April 23, the government withdrew its 2016 declaration filed with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights that provided for Beninese citizens and NGOs to file complaints and appeal adverse court rulings to the court. The country’s withdrawal followed an April 14 decision by the court ordering Benin to postpone communal elections after Sebastien Ajavon, a prominent government critic and leader of the opposition party Union Sociale Liberale (Liberal Social Union), filed a complaint alleging that his party had been wrongfully excluded from participation in the elections. In a separate case brought by Ajavon, the court ordered the government to repeal a 2019 amnesty law.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. There were reports the government inhibited freedom of the press through restrictions on and sanctioning of journalists and press outlets.

There were many public and private media outlets, including two public and seven private television stations, three public and 50 private radio stations, and approximately 175 newspapers and periodicals. Many of these refrained from openly criticizing government policy.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The press and media were closely regulated. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasigovernmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual and perhaps inherently contradictory role of providing for press freedom and of protecting the country against “inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing” media reporting.

On January 3, officers from the Central Office for Cybercrime Prevention arrested Aristide Fassinou Hounkpevi, editor of the online media outlet LAutre Figaro as well as correspondent of the newspaper La Nouvelle Tribune, for publishing false information about the minister of foreign affairs on a social media site. On January 9, the prosecutor at the Court of First Instance of Cotonou ordered Hounkpevi’s release without charge. The Union of Benin’s Media Professionals stated there was no material evidence to substantiate the accusations against Hounkpevi.

On July 7, HAAC issued an order for all online media outlets “without authorization” to halt publication or face sanctions. The law states that operation of “a website providing audiovisual communication and print media services intended for the public is subject to the authorization” of HAAC. Three outlets suspended operations temporarily, while remaining outlets ignored the order. On July 10, the National Council of Benin’s Press and Audiovisual Employers issued a statement deploring HAAC’s decision.

In April 2019, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, police arrested Casimir Kpedjo of the newspaper Nouvelle Economie for “spreading false information about the Beninese economy.” Kpedjo was held for five days, charged by CRIET with publishing “false information,” and released. As of December 10, Kpedjo had yet to be tried.

In December 2019 police arrested Benin Web TV journalist Ignace Sossou. He was convicted of “harassment through electronic means” after posting quotes of the Cotonou prosecutor’s comments–recorded during anti “fake news” training organized by the French Media Development Agency–to his personal social media accounts. The Cotonou Court of First Instance sentenced Sossou to 18 months’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine. On May 19, the Court of Appeals reduced his sentence to six months’ imprisonment, and on June 24, he was released. As of November HAAC had yet to honor a May 2019 Court of Appeals ruling rescinding suspension of La Nouvelle Tribune, and the newspaper had not resumed publication.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Public and private media refrained from openly criticizing government policy. Some journalists practiced self-censorship because they were indebted to government officials who granted them service contracts. Other journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear the government would suspend their media outlets. HAAC held public hearings on alleged misconduct by media outlets during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law journalists may be prosecuted for libel and slander. Journalists may also be prosecuted for incitement of violence and property destruction, compromising national security through the press, or a combination of the two. Penalties for conviction include incarceration and fines. By law anyone convicted of “relaying false information against a person using electronic means” may be sentenced to between one and six months in prison and receive a substantial monetary fine.

Internet Freedom

The government censored online content, but it did not restrict public access to the internet or monitor private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law states that operation of “a website providing audiovisual communication and print media services intended for the public is subject to the authorization” of HAAC. On July 7, HAAC issued an order for all online media outlets “without authorization” to halt publication or face sanctions. The National Council of Benin’s Press and Audiovisual Employers issued a statement deploring HAAC’s decision (see section 2.a.).

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of assembly and association and the government respected the right of peaceful association but not that of peaceful assembly. Advance notification is required for demonstrations and other public gatherings. The government frequently restricted freedom of peaceful assembly on political grounds.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Permits are required prior to holding protests, but authorities regularly denied or ignored requests for permits.

Authorities sometimes cited “public order” to prevent demonstrations by opposition groups, civil society organizations, and labor unions.

In June the prefect of Cotonou cited public order concerns as the basis for denying a permit to demonstrate in sympathy with the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States regarding the killings by police of African Americans. Human rights activists and some in the opposition media also reported denials of permits to protest local cases of civilian deaths by security forces (see section 1.a.). On July 16, the Constitutional Court ruled that the mayor of Parakou violated constitutional provisions relating to freedom of assembly and public liberty because his prohibition in February of demonstrations critical of the government was discriminatory.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

In 2018 as part of its effort to reduce corruption, the government banned roadblocks throughout the country. There have been no illegal roadblocks since that time.

Foreign Travel: The government maintained documentary requirements for minors traveling abroad as part of its campaign against trafficking in persons. This was not always enforced, and trafficking of minors across borders continued.

The government regulates the timing and length of seasonal movement of migratory Fulani (Peul) herdsmen and their livestock into and within the country. On February 18, the government reversed a decree issued in December 2019 that had banned Burkinabe, Nigerian, and Nigerien herders from crossing into the country with their cattle.

On March 17, the government closed the country’s land borders to all but specially authorized official travel in an effort to limit the cross-border transmission of COVID-19. Air and sea borders remained open to travelers, however. As of November land borders remained closed.

In July 2019 the government issued a decree barring anyone wanted on criminal charges from obtaining civil documents, including passports, national identity cards, and certificates of citizenship. On July 3, human rights activist Conaide Akouedenoudje filed a complaint with the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights requesting it rule on the decree’s compliance with the country’s human rights obligations. In October the court dismissed the complaint with the explanation that the claimant was not affected by the decree and thus was not an injured party.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Durable Solutions: The government assisted refugees and asylum seekers with obtaining documents from their countries of origin while granting their status as privileged residents. The government also facilitated naturalization of refugees as part of a local integration effort. The government involved civil society, media, and academia in the process. In 2018 the government National Commission of Assistance to Refugees assumed responsibility for refugee issues in the country following closure of the local UNHCR office. The commission cooperates with UNHCR through its regional office in Dakar, Senegal.

g. Stateless Persons

There were large communities of stateless individuals residing in eight villages along the border with Niger and Nigeria. These villages were returned to Benin following the resolution of land disputes among Benin, Niger, and Nigeria. The residents lacked the necessary identification documents to claim citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In April 2019 the government held legislative elections that excluded opposition parties. In 2018 the National Assembly legislated more stringent requirements for parties to qualify to run in elections. In February 2019, two months before the legislative elections, the Constitutional Court declared all parties must possess a “certificate of conformity” with requirements to participate in elections. In February 2019 the independent election commission announced that no opposition party met the requirements, leaving only two progovernment parties on the election ballot. Voter turnout for the elections was an historic low of 27 percent. Although there were incidents of voter interference by opposition demonstrators, election-day voting proceeded calmly in most of the country. Protesters in opposition strongholds in central Benin blocked some roads for much of the day, and media reported demonstrators in Parakou burned ballot materials at polling stations and prevented some citizens from voting. The government implemented an internet blackout on election day that blocked access to social media sites including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and iMessage apps.

In November 2019 the National Assembly, in which two pro-Talon parties hold all 83 seats, passed a constitutional amendment requiring that presidential candidates obtain sponsorship from elected officials. To implement this amendment, the National Assembly adopted changes to the electoral code requiring that presidential candidates obtain endorsements from at least 10 percent of the country’s National Assembly members (83) and mayors (77), thereby giving them a direct role in determining presidential candidates. On May 17, authorities held communal elections to elect 1,815 communal council members. The independent election commission declared several political parties ineligible to participate in the elections for failing to meet registration requirements. All but six of the country’s 77 mayors belonged to the two progovernment political parties in the National Assembly. There were isolated reports of electoral irregularities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. By custom and tradition, women assumed household duties, had less access to formal education, and were discouraged from involvement in politics. There were five female ministers in the president’s 24-member cabinet and one woman among the prefects administering the country’s 12 geographic departments. In November 2019 the National Assembly adopted a constitutional amendment mandating that women fill a minimum of 24 seats in the National Assembly beginning in 2023.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government sometimes implemented the law effectively; however, there were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. It was commonly believed, and acknowledged by some judicial personnel, that the judicial system at all levels was susceptible to corruption.

Corruption: According to the newspaper Matin Libre, traffic police routinely solicited bribes from truckers in exchange for not enforcing the law against overloaded and unsafe vehicles.

The government took several actions during the year to combat corruption. For example, on July 22, the Council of Ministers ordered the dismissal of Port of Cotonou customs officers Zenoudine Ali Yerima and Sedekon Marc Maxime Kanho for fraud. Importers reportedly paid the two officers to undervalue goods listed in customs import declarations and to falsify other customs documents.

Financial Disclosure: On April 20, the National Assembly repealed a legal provision that required all elected and public officials to submit asset disclosure statements to the Supreme Court Audit Chamber upon assuming and departing office. Nevertheless, income and asset disclosure by elected and public officials as determined by the Council of Ministers continued to be required.

The legal provision removing the blanket asset disclosure requirement also removed the penalty for failure to submit an asset disclosure.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views. Nevertheless, the government denied permits to some domestic human rights groups to protest government action. Human rights groups reported they did not share all of their human rights findings publicly due to fear of government reprisal.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2018 the Constitutional Court swore in the first members of the Beninese Human Rights Commission. On January 3, the commission submitted its first report on the human rights situation in the country to the National Assembly. The National Assembly approved the report, and on October 22, the report was published. The country also had an ombudsman responsible for responding to citizen complaints of maladministration who was independent, adequately resourced, and effective.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, but enforcement was weak due to police ineffectiveness, official corruption, and victims not reporting cases due to fear of social stigma and retaliation. Sentences for rape convictions range from five to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law explicitly prohibits spousal rape and provides the maximum penalty for conviction of raping a domestic partner. Because of the lack of police training in collecting evidence associated with sexual assaults, ignorance of the law, and inherent difficulties victims faced in preserving and presenting evidence in court, judges reduced most sexual offense charges to misdemeanors. The primary form of evidence used to prove sexual assault required physician certification. Since physicians were only accessible in large cities, victims in rural areas were effectively precluded from pursuing charges.

Penalties for conviction of domestic violence range from six to 36 months’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, domestic violence against women was common. Women remained reluctant to report cases, and judges and police were reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes.

The Ministry of Social Affairs provided financial support to some victims of abuse. The ministry’s Center for Social Promotion provided mediation services that in some cases resulted in victim restitution. The ministry also organized public outreach campaigns to raise public awareness of violence against girls and women. During the year the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Affairs instituted a services training program for victims of rape, domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence to health clinic and social service first responders.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C and provides penalties for conviction of performing the procedure, including prison sentences of up to 10 years and substantial monetary fines. Nevertheless, FGM/C occurred, and enforcement was rare due to the code of silence associated with this crime. The practice was largely limited to remote rural areas in the north. According to UNICEF, 7 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 underwent FGM/C in 2018.

The government, in conjunction with NGOs and international partners, continued to raise public awareness of the dangers of the practice.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and offers protection for victims, but sexual harassment was common in the workplace and in schools. Persons convicted of sexual harassment face sentences of one to two years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines. The law also provides for penalties applicable to persons who are aware of sexual harassment but do not report it. Victims, however, seldom reported harassment due to fear of social stigma and retaliation; furthermore, police, examining magistrates who conduct pretrial investigations, and prosecutors lacked the legal knowledge and capacity to pursue such cases. Although laws prohibiting sexual harassment were not widely enforced, judges used other provisions in the penal code to address sexual abuses involving minors.

On May 1, Office of Radio and Television Broadcasting health correspondent Angela Kpeidja stated that “rape and moral and sexual harassment” were rampant at the state-owned broadcaster.

On May 4, civil society groups and the Benin Human Rights Defenders Association coalition of human rights NGOs issued a joint statement denouncing sexual harassment and calling on the Ministries of Labor, Communications, Justice, and Social Affairs to enforce laws prohibiting sexual harassment and protecting its victims. On May 5, the president pledged to do more to protect women in the workplace and to encourage them to report incidents of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children. The law limits abortion to safeguarding the life of a girl or woman.

Societal pressures imposed barriers to contraception. Although minors had the legal right to access contraception without parental consent, health-care workers sometimes disrupted access by requiring parental consent. In some areas, notably the Plateau Department bordering Nigeria, traditional leaders used voodoo to threaten women to stay indoors during contraceptive campaigns, according to the Beninese Association for Social Marketing. Roman Catholic churches prohibited the use of modern contraceptives. Anecdotal reports suggested that cultural norms also influenced low rates of contraception.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

According to the government’s 2017-2018 Demographic Health Survey, the maternal mortality rate was 391 deaths per 100,000 live births. Factors contributing to the high mortality rate were deliveries without adequate medical assistance, lack of access to emergency obstetric care, and unhygienic conditions. According to the survey, 84 percent of live births took place in a health center (most of which were public), and 20 percent of girls and women ages 15-19 were either pregnant or had already had one live birth. These rates varied dramatically with higher adolescent birth rates (24 to 38 percent) in northern departments and lower rates (ranging from 8 to 16 percent) in southern departments.

Poor access to reproductive health information in rural areas, poverty, and low levels of formal education contributed to low usage of contraceptives and high pregnancy rates. Only 13 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraception, and 35 percent of women had an unmet need for contraception.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality for women in political, economic, and social spheres, women experienced extensive discrimination in obtaining employment, credit, equal pay, and in owning or managing businesses. There were legal restrictions on women in employment, including limitations on the occupations in which women are allowed to work.

The law bans all discrimination against women in marriage and provides for the right to equal inheritance. The government and NGOs educated the public on women’s inheritance and property rights and their increased rights in marriage, including prohibitions on forced marriage, child marriage, and polygyny. The government did not enforce the law effectively, however.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country to a citizen father. By law the child of a Beninese father is automatically considered a citizen, but the child of a Beninese woman is considered Beninese only if the child’s father is unknown, has no known nationality, or is also Beninese. Particularly in rural areas, parents often did not declare the birth of their children, either from lack of understanding of the procedures involved or because they could not afford the fees for birth certificates. This could result in denial of public services such as education and health care.

A 2018 law authorizes vital records offices to issue provisional birth certificates on an exceptional basis to persons lacking one who were enrolled in the Administrative Census for the Identification of the Population program. According to the UNICEF State of the Worlds Children survey, 86 percent of births were registered in 2018.

Education: Primary education is compulsory for all children between ages six and 11. Public school education is tuition free for primary school students and for female students through grade nine in secondary schools. Girls did not have the same educational opportunities as boys and the literacy rate for women was 18 percent, compared with 50 percent for men. In some parts of the country, girls received no formal education.

Child Abuse: Violence against children was common. According to the Center for Social Promotion of Aplahoue, there were reported cases of rape, abduction, forced marriage, and trafficking of girls during the year. The law bans a wide range of harmful practices and provides for substantial fines and up to life imprisonment for persons convicted of child abuse. Police of the Central Office for the Protection of Minors arrested suspects, referred them to judicial authorities, and provided temporary shelter to victims of abuse. Courts meted out stiff sentences to persons convicted of crimes against children, but many such cases never reached the courts due to lack of awareness of the law and children’s rights, lack of access to courts, fear of police involvement, or a combination of the three.

On March 18, the Ministry of Social Affairs launched a hotline staffed by social workers to report child abuse cases and to facilitate a systematic response to child abuse by police and social workers. On May 26, a hotline operator received a call concerning a badly abused six-year-old boy in Womey-Yenadjro neighborhood in Abomey-Calavi north of Cotonou. The abuser was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits marriage at younger than age 18 but grants exemptions for children ages 14 to 17 with parental consent and authorization of a judge. According to the Benin 2017-2018 Demographic Health Survey, 9 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before age 15. Child, early, and forced marriage included barter marriage and marriage by abduction, in which the groom traditionally abducts and rapes his prospective child bride. The practice was widespread in rural areas, despite government and NGO efforts to end it through information sessions on the rights of women and children. Local NGOs reported some communities concealed the practice. The joint government and UNICEF Zero Tolerance for Child Marriage campaign to change social norms and create a protective environment for children in their communities continued.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides penalties for conviction of rape, sexual exploitation, and corruption of minors, including procuring and facilitating prostitution; it increases penalties for cases involving children younger than age 15. The child trafficking law provides penalties for conviction of all forms of child trafficking, including child commercial sexual exploitation, prescribing penalties if convicted of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Individuals convicted of involvement in child commercial sexual exploitation, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face imprisonment of two to five years and substantial monetary fines. The child code prohibits child pornography. Persons convicted of child pornography face sentences of two to five years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Although concealed from authorities, traditional practices of killing breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, babies considered deformed, and one newborn from each set of twins (because they were considered sorcerers) occurred. Authorities enforced prohibitions and discouraged the practice through door-to-door counseling and awareness raising.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, including physical, sensory, intellectual, psychological, mental, and communication disabilities, against all forms of exploitation and violence.

The Federation of Associations of Persons with Disabilities of Benin reported that persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment, health care, access to education, and access to justice.

The government operated few institutions to assist persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Affairs coordinated assistance to persons with disabilities through the Support Fund for National Solidarity.

The Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act provides for a wide range of social benefits to persons with disabilities, including improved access to health care, education, vocational training, transportation, and sports and leisure activities. It includes provisions regarding the construction or alteration of buildings to permit access for persons with disabilities. It requires schools to enroll children with disabilities. In July the Ministry of Social Affairs conducted a campaign to provide medical care, temporary housing, family reintegration assistance, and social service provider referrals for homeless persons with mental disabilities.

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

The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. A provision related to public indecency in the penal code, however, may be applied to prosecute same-sex sexual conduct by charging individuals with public indecency or acts against nature. The law prohibits all forms of discrimination without specific reference to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Members of the LGBTI community reported police tolerated violence against LGBTI individuals. For example, on July 29, in the northern town of Bohicon, a group of 15 men attacked and severely beat a transgender woman at a bar. Upon seeking assistance at the police station, police required the victim to stay the night, photographed her injuries and genitalia with their mobile phones, and accused the victim of deceiving the men by identifying as a woman. The victim was asked if she had stolen anything or done anything to provoke the beating. The victim did not file a formal complaint, and as of December police had not conducted an investigation of the assault.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Police generally ignored vigilante attacks. Incidents of mob violence occurred, in part due to the perceived failure of local courts to punish criminals adequately. Such cases generally involved mobs killing or severely injuring suspected criminals, particularly thieves caught stealing. For example, on July 28, vigilantes caught a burglar breaking into a shop in the southwestern village of Kinkinhoue. Media reported that the vigilantes burned the victim to death. Police did not conduct a formal investigation of the incident.

Despite government efforts to implement policies to regulate transhumance (the practice of moving livestock seasonally from one grazing area to another), periodic violence between farmers and Fulani herders continued. While several commune-level officials blamed armed Fulani herders from Nigeria for provoking violence by allowing their cattle to eat farmers’ crops, both herders and farmers engaged in violence. There were numerous reported instances of violence similar to the following examples. On January 21, in Ouinhi in the southwest of the country, herders killed two farmers; on May 1, in Woroko in the central part of the country, six persons died and several more were injured in clashes between farmers and herders; on June 3, in the northern town of Malanville bordering Niger, nine individuals died in clashes between farmers and herders; and on August 5, a farmer in the northern town of Bembereke stoned to death a Fulani child age 10 for trespassing.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, except certain civil servants and public employees, to form and join independent unions with some restrictions. Unions must register with the Ministry of Interior, a three-month process, or risk a fine. The law does not establish clear grounds on which registration of a trade union may be denied or approved, and official registration may be denied without the union having recourse to a court. The law provides that a trade union federation must be made up of at least five enterprise-level trade unions in the same sector or branch of activity. Additionally, the law requires that a trade union confederation must be composed of at least three trade union federations of different sectors or branches of activities and that only trade union confederations may have affiliation at a national or international level.

The law provides for the rights of workers to bargain collectively. By law collective bargaining agreements are negotiated within a joint committee including representatives of one or several unions and or representatives of one or several employers’ associations. A labor inspector, a secretary, and one or two rapporteurs preside over the committee. The minister of labor has the authority to determine which trade unions may be represented in the negotiation at the enterprise level. The minister has the power to extend the scope of coverage of a collective agreement. The law imposes compulsory conciliation and binding arbitration in the event of disputes during collective bargaining in all sectors, “nonessential service” sectors included. The National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining, and the Social Sector-based Dialogue Committee were active in each ministry to foster dialogue between the government and unions. Two government decrees of 2017 established the National Social Dialogue Council and appointed its members to replace the National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining. On September 30, the council held its fourth extraordinary session.

The law restricts the maximum duration of a strike to 10 days per year for all employees, except workers who are barred from striking. By law health-sector staff and military, police, customs, and water, forest and game and wildlife officers are barred from striking. Minimum service is required for workers who carry out essential responsibilities such as judges, prison and justice system personnel, and staff of the sectors of energy, water, maritime and air transport, financial administration, and telecommunication.

Authorities may declare strikes illegal for reasons such as threatening social peace and order and may requisition striking workers to maintain minimum services. The government may prohibit any strike on the grounds it threatens the economy or the national interest. Laws prohibit employer retaliation against strikers, except that a company may withhold part of a worker’s pay following an illegal strike.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Employers may not take union membership or activity into account in hiring, work distribution, professional or vocational training, or dismissal. In addition to certain civil servants and public employees, domestic workers, agricultural workers, migrant workers, and those in export processing zones are excluded from relevant legal protections.

The government generally respected the right to form and join independent unions and the right to collective bargaining. The government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the informal sector and with regard to the provisions on antiunion discrimination and reinstatement. There were reports that employers threatened individuals with dismissal for union activity. No violations related to collective bargaining rights were reported. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, with certain exceptions. The law allows for imprisonment with compulsory labor. By law authorities may exact work not of a purely military character from military conscripts. Laws regulating various acts or activities relating to the exercise of freedom of expression allow imposition of prison sentences involving obligation to perform social rehabilitation work. Penalties for conviction of forced labor were generally commensurate with similar crimes.

The government did not consistently enforce the law, particularly in the large informal sector. Forced labor occurred, including domestic servitude and bonded labor by children. Forced labor was mainly found in the agricultural (e.g., cotton and palm oil), artisanal mining, quarrying, fishing, commercial, and construction sectors. Many traffickers were relatives or acquaintances of their victims, exploiting the traditional system of vidomegon whereby a child, usually a daughter, is sent to live as a servant with a wealthier family, despite NGO and government efforts to raise awareness of the risks associated with this practice.

In 2018 the government adopted penal code revisions that criminalized adult trafficking and provided for 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction. The law was not effectively implemented due to lack of agent training on the antitrafficking provisions.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The List of Hazardous Occupations sets the minimum age for employment in hazardous work at age 18. The list identifies 21 trades prohibited for children and defines 74 related hazardous activities. Specific trades noted on the list include mining and quarrying, domestic service, and agriculture.

The labor code prohibits the employment or apprenticeship of children younger than age 14 in any enterprise; children between ages 12 and 14, however, may perform domestic work and temporary or light seasonal work if it does not interfere with their compulsory schooling. Children 14 and older may be employed as an apprentice in a trade if the apprentice has a formal contract with the tradesperson overseeing the apprenticeship. While apprenticeships are common, contracts are rare. The law bans night work for workers younger than age 18 unless the government in consultation with the National Labor Council grants a special dispensation. Workers younger than 18 are entitled to a minimum 12-hour uninterrupted break including the nighttime period.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Labor Office, under the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service, enforced the labor code only in the formal sector. The total number of inspections conducted during the year was unavailable. Penalties for those convicted of violating laws in the formal sector were commensurate with similar crimes.

Despite the government’s limited capacity to enforce child labor laws, the government took steps to educate parents on the labor code and prevent compulsory labor by children, including through media campaigns, regional workshops, and public pronouncements on child labor problems. These initiatives were part of the Labor Office’s traditional sensitization program. The government also worked with a network of NGOs and journalists to educate the population regarding child labor and child trafficking. The Ministries of Justice and Labor supported capacity building for officials and agencies responsible for enforcing child labor laws.

To help support their families, children of both sexes, including those as young as age seven, worked on family farms, in small businesses, on construction sites in urban areas, in public markets as street vendors, and as domestic servants under the practice of vidomegon. Many rural parents sent their children to cities to live with relatives or family friends to perform domestic chores in return for receiving an education.

Host families did not always honor their part of the vidomegon arrangement, and abuse and forced labor of child domestic servants was a problem. Children often faced long hours of work, inadequate food, and sexual exploitation, factors indicative of forced labor and exploitation of children in domestic servitude. Sometimes the child’s parents and the urban family that raised the child divided the income generated by the child’s activities. Up to 95 percent of children in vidomegon were young girls. Several local NGOs led public education and awareness campaigns to decrease the practice.

Most children working as apprentices were younger than the legal age of 14 for apprenticeship, including children working in construction, car and motorbike repair, hairdressing, and dressmaking. Children worked as laborers with adults in quarries, including crushing granite, in many areas. Children were at times forced to hawk goods and beg, and street children engaged in prostitution (see section 6). Children younger than age 14 worked in either the formal or informal sectors in the following activities: agriculture, hunting and fishing, industry, construction and public works, trade and vending, food and beverages, transportation, and other services, including employment as household staff.

Primary education is compulsory for all children between ages six and 11. Children ages 12 to 13 were particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, as they may have completed primary school but were younger than the minimum legal working age of 14.

Some parents indentured their children to “agents” recruiting farm hands or domestic workers, often on the understanding that the children’s wages would be sent to the parents. In some cases these agents took the children to neighboring countries to work, including Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, and Ghana.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at   https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and labor code prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, and disability. The laws, however, do not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV or other communicable disease status. In general the government effectively enforced these laws and regulations in the formal sector. Women, however, experienced extensive discrimination because of legal restrictions on working in certain occupations (see section 6) and societal attitudes. Women’s wages consistently lagged those of men. According to the International Labor Organization Global Wage Report, in 2017 women on average earned 45 percent less per hour than men. Employment discrimination occurred in the private and public sectors. The prohibitions on discrimination did not apply to the large informal sector.

The labor code includes provisions to protect the employment rights of workers with disabilities, but many experienced discrimination in hiring and access to the worksite.

The Office of Labor is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Migrant workers in the formal sector enjoyed the same legal protections, wages, and working conditions as citizens in the formal sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government set minimum wage scales for several occupations in the formal sector that were slightly higher than the poverty level. According to the UN Development Program, 60 percent of the population–predominantly in the informal sector–lives on an income of $1.90 a day or less, a poverty-level income that is less than the minimum wage.

The labor code sets workweek hours at 40 to 60 hours, depending on the type of work, and provides for paid holidays and at least one 24-hour rest period per week. Domestic and agricultural workers frequently worked 70 hours or more per week, above the maximum of 12 hours per day or 60 hours per week provided for by the labor code. The labor code also mandates premium pay for overtime and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The law establishes appropriate occupational safety and health standards (OSH). The government has the authority to require employers to remedy dangerous work conditions but did not effectively do so. Provisions of the law related to acceptable conditions of work apply to all formal-sector workers. Penalties for violating the labor code were commensurate with those for similar violations.

The Ministry of Labor and Civil Service and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Microcredit were responsible for enforcement of the minimum wage, workweek, and OSH standards. The ministries did not effectively enforce these standards, especially in the large informal sector. Significant parts of the workforce and foreign migrant workers working in the informal sector did not benefit from minimum wage scales. Authorities generally enforced legal limits on workweeks in the formal sector but did not effectively monitor or control foreign or migrant workers’ work conditions. Government efforts were impeded by the insufficient number of labor inspectors and lack of resources to implement inspections. Random inspections were conducted in some sectors, but no information was available on the number of violations identified or convictions of persons tried for violations. The law does not provide workers with the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

Many workers supplemented their wages by subsistence farming or informal sector trade. Most workers in the formal sector earned more than the minimum wage; many domestic and other laborers in the informal sector earned less. Violations of OSH standards mostly occurred in informal-sector trades, including hairdressing, dressmaking, baking, mechanics, and carpentry, where workers faced biological, chemical, physical, and psychological risks. Children involved in these trades as apprentices worked long hours and were more vulnerable to hazardous working conditions. In some mechanical and carpentry shops, children worked near dangerous tools and equipment, and some adults and children lacked adequate protective gear. According to various sources, informal workers accounted for more than 90 percent of workers in the country. Informal workers faced numerous challenges and vulnerabilities, including long working hours and no social security coverage. They often endured substandard working conditions and were exposed to occupational risks. No data on workplace fatalities and accidents were available.

Burkina Faso

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

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

There were numerous reports state security forces committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Multiple independent domestic and international human rights groups accused the security forces of committing hundreds of extrajudicial killings of civilians as part of its counterterrorism strategy (see section 1.g.).

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, on April 9, government security forces executed 31 unarmed Fulani men in the town of Djibo in the northern Sahel Region hours after arresting them during a counterterrorism operation. Residents later interviewed regarding the incident attributed the killings to the Groupement des Forces Anti-Terroristes, a mixed counterterrorism force (composed of members of the army and gendarmerie) based nearby. On April 10, the Defense Ministry’s director of military justice announced the opening of an investigation and later recommitted to investigating these and other similar killings on July 3. The president also reiterated this commitment. There were no updates regarding the investigation by year’s end.

On May 11, gendarmes, accompanied by several local members of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (Volontaires pour la defense de la patrie or VDPs), arrested 25 suspected terrorists trading in the market in Pentchangou near Tanwalbougou in Fada N’Gourma Commune (Est Region); 12 of the detainees died later that night, reportedly while in police custody. Local and international human rights advocacy groups claimed that the prisoners, all of whom were ethnic Fulani/Peuhl, were executed and suggested that the security services had profiled members of the Fulani ethnic group. On May 27, the Fada prosecutor declared a preliminary probe could not determine the cause of death of the 12 detainees but stated they were not executed. As of November the case was under investigation by the military tribunal.

In July a security officer was arrested who had headed a June 29 operation in Tanwalbougou (Est Region) that led to the death of seven civilians.

According to a local human rights group, the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights (le Mouvement burkinabe des droits de lhomme et des peuples or MBDHP), on May 4 and 5, VDPs arrested Idrissa Barry, a councilor; Amadou Diande, another councilor; and his son Adama Diande, a community health worker, in the vicinity of Barsalogo, Centre-Nord Region. Their families found them fatally shot and killed.

On March 8, at least 43 Fulani men were killed in the commune of Barga in the Nord Region. While the government blamed the attack on violent extremist organizations, local media and observers reported the attackers were members of government-condoned vigilante groups known as Koglweogo, who reportedly believed the Fulani were harboring terrorists.

Extremists carried out more than 500 attacks that resulted in hundreds of deaths, targeting traditional, religious, and political leaders; humanitarian workers; members of government security forces; VDPs; and civilians. For example, on July 6, extremists killed the mayor of Pensa in Bam Province and later killed six soldiers and three VDPs who deployed in response to the initial attack. On August 7, unidentified armed individuals attacked a cattle market in Namougou village in the Est Region, killing at least 20 persons and wounding many others. On August 8, a truck loaded with animal feed transported by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to the city of Djibo was attacked by unidentified armed individuals. On August 11, Souaibou Cisse, Grand Imam of Djibo, was kidnapped by unidentified gunman and was found dead on August 15 in Tibere village, three miles from Djibo. On November 11, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara terrorists ambushed a military convoy in Oudalan Province in the Sahel Region, killing 14 soldiers and injuring others (see section 1.g.).

Ethnic Fulani (Peuhls), who were often recruited by extremist groups, were disproportionately the target of extrajudicial killings by security forces due to their perceived sympathies with Islamic extremist groups.

There were several accounts of criminal groups working in concert with terrorist organizations and drug traffickers killing gendarmes, police, VDPs, and park rangers, especially in the Est Region. Burkinabe security forces also reportedly committed abuses while conducting counterterrorism operations in Mali. In particular, the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Human Rights and Protection Division documented 50 alleged “arbitrary” executions by the Burkinabe Armed Forces between May 26 and 28. As of year’s end, there was no update to these cases.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of disappearances of civilians suspected by security forces of committing acts of terrorism. For example, Amnesty International reported on the disappearances of 34 persons attributed to security forces in March and April, and HRW reported on the disappearances of at least 180 persons in the area around the town of Djibo in the Sahel Region between November 2019 and June, which HRW said available evidence suggested had been carried out by security forces.

Extremists were also suspected in numerous disappearances (see section 1.g., Abductions).

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Local rights groups alleged numerous accounts of torture committed by the military, gendarmerie, police, VDPs, and members of the Koglweogo. The majority of allegations of torture involved victims suspected of having links to terrorists or persons of Fulani/Peuhl ethnicity.

A human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported that prison guards at the Ouagadougou’s House of Arrest and Correction (MACO) occasionally used excessive physical force, inflicting injuries on prisoners.

In March the MBDHP accused defense and security forces of inflicting acts of torture against offenders of the government’s COVID-19 curfew.

On July 10, a gendarme and a soldier reportedly raped two girls in Ouagadougou during an arrest for lack of identity documents. On July 24, the two were sentenced to four and three years, respectively, in prison.

On August 14, a gendarme reportedly tortured a 16-year-old minor in the Boucle du Mouhoun who refused his advances. The gendarme placed an order at the restaurant where she worked and asked the girl to deliver it to his home, where he handcuffed her, forced her to wear gris-gris (type of amulet common in parts of West Africa), and put chili pepper into her vagina. On October 20, he was given a five-year prison sentence by the Banfora Court (with possibility of parole after two years) and ordered to pay the victim 500,000 CFA francs ($900) in damages within a period of three months.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one open allegation from 2015 of sexual exploitation and abuse by Burkina Faso peacekeepers deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission, allegedly involving 10 peacekeepers who engaged in transactional sex with an adult. As of September the government was still investigating the allegation and had not provided accountability measures taken.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention facilities were harsh and at times life- threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same locations as convicted prisoners. The High Security Prison (HSP) in Ouagadougou, which mostly houses suspected terrorists, was at double its designed capacity, housing more than 900 inmates. Almost all were in pretrial detention.

Female prisoners had better conditions than those of men, in large part due to less crowding. Some infants and children younger than age five accompanied their inmate mothers. There were no appropriate facilities or installations for prisoners or detainees with disabilities, who relied on other inmates for assistance.

Food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate in the majority of detention facilities across the country. Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria were the most common health problems among prisoners. For example, at the HSP there were three nurses employed to treat more than 900 detainees and prisoners, with no doctor present on site but available on an on-call basis. Detention conditions were better for wealthy or influential citizens or detainees considered nonviolent.

Prisoners received two meals a day, but diets were inadequate, and inmates often relied on supplemental food from relatives. Some prisons lacked adequate ventilation, although some cells had electricity and some inmates had fans. Sanitation was rudimentary.

In April the government released 1,207 prisoners from prisons nationwide in response to COVID-19, an estimated 16 percent reduction of the prison population. Pardons depended on the age and health of prisoners, and only those who had already served at least half of their sentence were eligible. Prisoners convicted of banditry, terrorism, and female genital mutilation (FGM) were excluded from the measure. While this reduction provided relief to sanitary conditions in chronically overpopulated facilities, the facilities continued to operate at more than double their original capacity.

Administration: The government issued a May 20 statement reiterating the local prosecutor’s commitment to a criminal investigation into the May 11 death of 12 detainees who were “suspected terrorists” in Tanwalbougou, Est Region, as well as a government administrative inquiry into the same incident (see section 1.a. and 1.g.).

On August 4, the director of the Ziniare prison, Kalfa Millogo, was arrested for extortion of funds from detainees.

Because of COVID-19, the government suspended visits to all prisons from March 19 until further notice. Parcels and meals coming from outside for inmates, as well as visits by lawyers to their clients, were authorized, subject to compliance with the prevention system against COVID-19 set up in penitentiary establishments by the Ministry of Health in early March.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross was able to visit 2,800 prisoners in eight facilities in Ouagadougou, Fada N’Gourma, and Ouahigouya.

Improvements: As part of the fight against COVID-19, the French government and the Ministry of Justice signed an agreement in late June to strengthen the management of COVID-19 at the MACO and at the HSP.

In October the government completed the construction of a new detention center with a designed capacity for 500 inmates and a new administrative building for prison personnel in the civil prison of Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city of the country. The new detention center has 76 collective cells and 15 individual cells. The cells include showers, toilets, as well as collective visiting rooms and three individual visiting rooms for detainees’ lawyers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. Arbitrary arrests occurred, however, and a lack of access to defense counsel and inadequate staffing of the judiciary prevented many detainees from seeking pretrial release in court.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law police and gendarmes must usually possess a court-issued warrant based on sufficient evidence before apprehending a person suspected of committing a crime, but authorities did not always follow these procedures. Authorities did not consistently inform detainees of charges against them. Detainees have the right to expeditious arraignment, bail, access to legal counsel, and, if indigent, access to a lawyer provided by the government after being charged. In practice, however, attorneys were not appointed until trial began. A judge may order temporary release without bail pending trial. Authorities seldom respected these rights. The law provides detainees access to family members through court-issued authorizations.

The law limits detention without charge for investigative purposes to a maximum of 72 hours, renewable for a single 48-hour period. In terrorism investigations the law allows detention for a 10-day period. In cases not related to terrorism, police did not always comply with the law, and the average time of detention without charge (preventive detention) was one week. Once authorities charge a suspect, the law permits judges to impose an unlimited number of consecutive six-month preventive detention periods while the prosecutor investigates charges. Authorities often detained defendants without access to legal counsel for weeks, months, or even years before the defendant appeared before a magistrate. There were instances in which authorities detained suspects incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Local independent rights groups alleged that security forces regularly arrested individuals arbitrarily for suspected involvement in terrorism. An official with the Ministry of Justice reported that hundreds of individuals detained at the HSP remained in detention without being charged. Judiciary leaders decried what they saw as a “broad net” cast by security forces in the field, whom they suspected of rounding up large groups of suspects without sufficient cause.

Pretrial Detention: In many cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense; this was especially true in cases involving terrorism. While a pretrial release (release on bail) system existed, the extent of its use was unknown. Authorities estimated 52 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status, but local independent rights groups estimated it to be as high as 70 percent. Local media regularly reported on cases of persons detained more than one year without trial. During the year the courts began ordering the release of suspected terrorists against whom there was insufficient evidence to move to trial on criminal charges, according to reports from HSP officials in Ouagadougou. On February 6, an HSP official reported that during January, 39 adult male terror suspects held at HSP were ordered to be released by the military and civilian courts. Some who were released unconditionally for a lack of evidence were to remain under court supervision pending further investigation of their cases. More than half of the released suspects were from the community of Djibo in the embattled Sahel Region close to the border with Mali.

The HSP population grew steadily, from 550 in October 2018 to more than 900 in pretrial detention as of August, and the government had not yet successfully prosecuted a single terrorism case through to completion. A lack of counsel specialized in criminal law, particularly defense lawyers willing to represent detainees arrested on terrorism charges, greatly contributed to delays in bringing cases to trial.

In September the government completed construction of a second courthouse in Ouagadougou to focus on terrorism cases. The national counterterrorism court (which has jurisdiction over terrorism cases) at this new courthouse was not operational by year’s end. The Superior Council of Magistrates named the judges to sit in the new tribunal and increased the staff to manage a growing caseload of unresolved terrorism cases.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides persons arrested or detained the right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. Prisoners who did so, however, reportedly faced difficulties due to either judicial corruption or inadequate staffing of the judiciary.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was corrupt, inefficient, and subject to executive influence, according to NGOs. There were no instances in which the trial outcomes appeared predetermined, however, and authorities respected court orders. Legal codes remained outdated, there were not enough courts, and legal costs were excessive. Citizens’ poor knowledge of their rights further weakened their ability to obtain justice. The reluctance of private defense lawyers to represent terrorist suspects in criminal cases was a problem, due to both lack of funds to pay appointed counsel and the social stigma associated with representing accused terrorists.

Military courts try cases involving military personnel charged with violating the military code of conduct. In certain rare cases, military courts may also try cases involving civilian defendants. Rights provided in military courts are equivalent to those in civil criminal courts. Military courts are headed by a civilian judge, hold public trials, and publish verdicts in the local press.

Trial Procedures

The law presumes defendants are innocent. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Trials are public but may be delayed. Judicial authorities use juries only in serious criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and to legal representation, consultation, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to provide evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but a refusal to testify often resulted in harsher decisions. Defendants may challenge and present witnesses, and they have the right of appeal. In civil cases where the defendant is destitute and files an appeal, the state provides a court-appointed lawyer. In criminal cases court-appointed lawyers are mandatory for those who cannot afford one. The government did not always respect these rights, due in part to a continuing shortage of magistrates and court-appointed lawyers.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year, although some arrests and detentions may have been politically motivated.

In January, after diplomatic negotiations, the military prosecutor granted a six-month permission to Djibril Bassole to receive medical care in France. Bassole, former minister of foreign affairs and founder of opposition party New Alliance of the Faso, was sentenced in September 2019 to 10 years’ imprisonment by the Ouagadougou military court for allegedly providing support to the failed 2015 military coup. Bassole signed a declaration of honor in which he pledged “to appear in court as soon as [his] medical treatment is completed.” In addition, the former minister deposited the sum of 30 million CFA francs ($50,000) as a bond. Bassole, who was to return to Burkina Faso on June 29, requested and was granted a temporary extension of his stay in Paris.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but it was often seen as inefficient, corrupt, and subject to executive influence. As a result, citizens sometimes preferred to rely on the Office of the Ombudsman to settle disputes with the government.

The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, and both administrative and judicial remedies were available for alleged wrongs. Victims of human rights violations may appeal directly to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, even before going through national courts. For civil and commercial disputes, authorities may refer cases to the ECOWAS Common Court of Justice and Arbitration in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The courts issued several such orders during the year.

There were problems enforcing court orders in sensitive cases involving national security, wealthy or influential persons, and government officials.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In cases of national security, however, the law permits surveillance, searches, and monitoring of telephones and private correspondence without a warrant. The penal code permits wiretapping in terrorism cases, to be authorized by the president of a tribunal for a limited term. Investigative judges have the authority to authorize audio recording in private places. These investigations techniques were relatively new to the legal framework. The national intelligence service is authorized to use technology for surveillance, national security, and counterterrorism purposes.

In 2018 President Kabore declared a state of emergency in response to growing insecurity from extremist attacks in 14 provinces within seven of the country’s 13 administrative regions. The state of emergency granted additional powers to the security forces to carry out searches of homes and restrict freedom of movement and assembly. The state of emergency was most recently extended in January for an additional 12 months. Authorities in the Sahel and Est Regions also ordered a curfew due to extremist attacks.

According to international and local independent rights groups, the military employed informant systems to generate lists of suspected terrorists based on anecdotal evidence.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The country experienced numerous attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year, such as targeted killings, abductions, attacks on schools and mining sites, and theft of food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and creating significant internal displacement. Security forces also were responsible for killings and other abuses.

Killings: According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, as of November 14, there were more than 2,200 conflict-related fatalities since the beginning of the year, including more than 1,000 civilian deaths perpetrated by both security forces and various armed groups.

HRW issued a report in July documenting 180 civilian deaths, the majority of whom were Fulani men, between November 2019 and June, allegedly at the hands of security forces around Djibo in the Sahel Region.

On June 29, security forces reportedly arrested 12 Fulani men near Tanwalbougou (Est Region). Seven of the 12 were found dead on the outskirts of the village, in the same area where security forces allegedly killed 12 others while in detention the month before (see section 1.a.). The other five were released in a nearby village, after allegedly being tortured to the point of requiring urgent medical care.

In addition to large numbers of attacks against civilians perpetrated by armed groups and security forces alike, there were numerous attacks by extremists against security forces throughout the year (see section 1.a.).

As of August extremists including Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin and the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and Ansaroul Islam had conducted 22 attacks against political leaders and village officials in various locales, unlike in prior years when there were few known incidents of apparent targeted assassinations. In March a former mayor, a deputy mayor, three village chiefs, one prince, and two village development councilors were killed in the Est Region. In May, four village development councilors were killed in the Est Region. On June 13, the deputy mayor of the commune of Solhan, Sahel Region, was killed. In July a mayor and two municipal councilors were killed in the Centre Nord Region.

Armed groups also took advantage of poor road maintenance to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in potholes and ditches in efforts to ambush security forces and VDPs, which also led to the deaths of civilians. On January 4, a provincial government-sponsored bus convoy carrying children back to school after winter holidays triggered an IED believed to have been planted by extremists in Sourou Province. The blast killed 14 passengers, including seven schoolchildren. On July 12, Mathias Tankoano, the president of the Higher Council of Communication (CSC), and his security escort escaped an ambush by unidentified armed individuals employing a remotely controlled IED.

Extremists often targeted religious houses of worship and faith leaders. In December 2019 extremists killed 14 worshipers including the pastor during Sunday mass in their church in Hontoukoura village, (Komondjari Province, Est Region). On February 10, extremists abducted seven persons at the home of a pastor in Sebba, Sahel Region; five bodies, including that of the pastor, were found the following day. On February 18, extremists stormed Pansy village (Yagha Province, in the commune of Boundore) killing 24, including a pastor of the International Missionary Society, and they burned a Protestant church. On August 11, extremists kidnapped the imam of Djibo Grand Mosque in the Nord Region, while he was travelling back from Ouagadougou. He was found dead on August 15 in the outskirts of Djibo.

On January 20, extremists killed 36 civilians in Nagraogo and Alamou villages in Barsalogho Commune, Centre-Nord Region. Returned internally displaced persons (IDPs) were among the victims. On January 25, extremists stormed the village of Silgadji (Tongomayel Commune, Soum Province, Sahel Region) and killed 39 civilians of different religious backgrounds. Press and security services reported that on May 29, extremists attacked a convoy of local shopkeepers returning from the local market in Loroum Province’s Titao town, killing 16 civilians. On May 31, extremists fired upon the crowd at the cattle market in Kompienbiga village, near Pama, killing 25 and injuring others.

On June 26, armed attackers ambushed a convoy of merchants, under escort by VDPs, on the Titao-Solle road in Loroum Province (Nord Region). Despite a prompt reaction from the Solle military detachment, six VDPs and one soldier were killed and several others injured.

On July 13, 20 gunmen attacked the villages of Gabougou and Fondjoma in Matiakoali Commune, in the East. They allegedly killed five persons and abducted two others. Two days later the same gunmen reportedly returned to these villages claiming that they had a list of 30 individuals they would execute. Many in the villages fled.

On July 21, the body of a VDP from Peela village in Tangaye, abducted two days earlier by extremists, was discovered by fellow VDPs. They had to move the body from a distance using a rope because the body had been covered in explosives.

Communal tensions, often exploited by extremists, security forces, and VDPs, sometimes resulted in interethnic clashes.

An investigation by the government remained open with no charges made following the January 2019 attack by members of Koglweogo against Fulani herding communities in Yirgou outside the town of Barsalogho that killed 46 civilians. On February 4, authorities provisionally released the Koglweogo vigilante group leader Boureima Nadbanka and one other Koglweogo member, of 13 who had been arrested in December 2019; the releases followed protests by Nadbanka’s supporters who had blocked roads to pressure the government into releasing him.

Abductions: Extremists kidnapped dozens of civilians throughout the year, including international humanitarian aid and medical workers. In August media sources reported the kidnapping of the deputy mayor of Lanfiera (Centre Ouest Region) by unidentified armed individuals. On August 27, extremists kidnapped two retired civil servants on the Namissiguia-Djibo road at an illegal checkpoint and released them on September 5 in the village of Bourro, 19 miles from Djibo (Sahel Region). On September 18, the chief of Djibasso village, in the Boucle du Mouhoun Region, was kidnapped and remained missing at year’s end.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to HRW, the Collective against Communities’ Impunity and Stigmatization, and the MBDHP, on several occasions security force members tortured and beat civilians they suspected of having ties to terrorist groups, and sometimes destroyed their property (see section 1.c.).

In July witnesses said extremists raped two women in a village in the Nord Region.

Child Soldiers: There were no reports of the government recruiting or using child soldiers. Although it was difficult to obtain precise data on groups that recruited and used children, information from the Ministry of Justice reported the presence of a few children, estimated to be 12-14 years old, held in detention centers on terrorism charges, which indicated that armed nonstate groups may have recruited minors. As of September officials from the Ministry of Justice confirmed that eight minors, arrested with alleged terrorists, were detained at the HSP and the MACO. Several minors arrested and detained as terror suspects were released to NGOs and the Red Cross for return to their families.

Other Conflictrelated Abuse: According to the Ministry of National Education, as of September 15, 2,300 schools had closed due to attacks or insecurity, negatively affecting almost 350,000 students and more than 11,200 teachers (section 6, Children). In a May report, HRW documented the alleged use of 10 schools by government security forces for military purposes in Centre-Nord and Sahel Regions in 2019, including three occupied as bases for six months to a year. In at least eight cases, the schools had reportedly closed due to insecurity prior to the occupation. In July at least 13 schools were burned in the municipality of Tansarga, in the Est Region; reports indicated that up to 20 armed individuals went from village to village ransacking and burning the schools. On September 15, extremists set fire to the elementary school, communal high school, town hall, and prefecture in Tansarga, Est Region.

Local authorities in the Sahel, Nord, and Est Regions reported that extremists had displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians and limited movement in rural areas. According to the independent nonprofit news organization The New Humanitarian, the number of persons in need of emergency food aid tripled to more than 3.2 million during the year, with an estimated 11,000 suffering from “catastrophic” levels of hunger. The government worked with international and local aid organizations to improve food, water, health services, and protection for affected civilians against abuses and violations, but civilians and civilian services remained extremely vulnerable and in many cases were directly targeted by armed groups.

Throughout the year armed groups attacked medical facilities and hijacked ambulances and official vehicles of humanitarian and medical aid workers. According to UN Population Fund, as of July approximately 113 health centers were closed and 156 were idle due to terrorist activity, depriving 1.5 million persons of access to health care. Multiple sources reported that on June 24, unknown attackers seized a World Food Program (WFP) truck in Soum Province (Sahel Region). The attackers stole the truck’s cargo (35 metric tons of vegetable oil for WFP’s nutrition distribution) and abducted the driver and his apprentice for several hours before releasing them and the vehicle the same night.

On August 27, unidentified armed individuals caused a serious water shortage in Titao after they broke into a sector of the city of Titao, in Loroum Province (Nord Region), and destroyed machinery used to pump water to treatment stations of the National Office for Water and Sanitation. The assailants also stole the battery and starter, reportedly for use in making IEDs.

According to a report commissioned by the government, extremist attacks on gold mining sites gave them access to gold as a source of funding, as well as to explosives for the production of IEDs. The report revealed that since 2016, armed extremist groups had reaped 70 billion CFA francs ($126 million) from attacks on mining sites.

Extremist groups also forced women, predominantly in the North and Sahel Regions, to cover their heads, forced men to wear religious garb, prevented children from going to non-Quranic schools, and prohibited civilians from drinking alcohol, smoking, and frequenting bars at the risk of beatings or death.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. In 2019 the National Assembly voted to amend the penal code banning journalists from reporting any security-related news in an effort to preserve national security and prevent the demoralization of the military “by any means.” Attempts to “demoralize” members of the military had previously been a crime.

A 2015 law decriminalized press offenses and replaced prison sentences with substantial monetary fines. Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines. Despite the reform, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.

Freedom of Speech: The 2019 revision of the penal code criminalizes communicating the position or movements of defense forces, or sites of national interest or of a strategic nature, and the publication of any terrorist crime scene without authorization. The amendment significantly increases penalties for the crime of publicly insulting another person if electronic communications are used to publish the insult; the law had previously prohibited persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. Local and international associations of journalists called for the rejection of the amendments as an unacceptable attempt to stifle freedom of speech.

On July 29, the CSC issued a decision banning media coverage of political activities during the period from August 3 to October 30, the precampaign period prior to the November 22 presidential and legislative elections. Media coverage of any activity in support of a political party, candidate, or grouping of political parties or independents was banned. This decision drew criticism from media professionals, civil society organizations, and political leaders. They accused the CSC of supporting the president’s majority coalition, since the president and members of the government could continue their official government activities and be covered by the media. Critics noted that on the pretext of reviewing the status of the National Economic and Social Development Program, a presidential program, ministers toured regions using logistical and financial resources of the state. Following the adoption on August 25 of a new electoral law, the precampaign period was changed to October 1-30.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, albeit with some restrictions. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference.

All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The CSC monitored the content of local radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The CSC may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security.

Violence and Harassment: On January 7, unidentified individuals set the car of journalist Ladji Bama on fire, in front of his home in Ouagadougou. On November 10, in the period preceding the November 22 elections, Bama was the victim of another attack by an unidentified individual when a bullet hit the car he and two others were travelling in during their return trip from Dori (Sahel Region), where he had participated in a panel discussing electoral corruption. Bama, who had won awards for reporting on corruption, was one of the journalists who exposed the “fine coal” scandal in 2018 concerning an attempted fraudulent export to Canada of gold and of silver, disguised as coal residue.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on publishing security-related information and insulting the head of state, the law prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing that publishing blatant criticism of the government could result in arrest or closure of their newspaper.

Libel/Slander Laws: On July 24, five activists on social media networks were sentenced to 12 to 36 months in prison for contempt of court, public insults, incitement to hatred towards magistrates, and violence. This judgment came after these activists were accused of having insulted, in Facebook posts, the chief prosecutor for warning government security forces regarding their alleged acts of torture inflicted against offenders of the government’s COVID-19 curfew.

Internet Freedom

The law permits a judge, at the request of a “public minister” (prosecutor), to block internet websites or email addresses being used to spread “false information” to the public. The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet; however, the CSC and the chief prosecutor monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Extremist groups threatened civilians with beatings or death for listening to music.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government at times restricted these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

On multiple occasions throughout the year, the government denied requests for permits to NGOs and civil society organizations who sought to organize demonstrations and rallies. The government stopped a planned rally by a coalition of civil society organizations and labor unions in March, invoking COVID-19 restrictions. On May 30, police used tear gas to disperse a protest march of nightclub workers advocating for the lifting of a COVID-19-related curfew in Bobo-Dioulasso. On August 8, police broke up an impromptu gathering in Ouagadougou calling for the return of former president Blaise Compaore.

Political parties and labor unions may hold meetings and rallies without government permission, although advance notification and approval are required for public demonstrations that may affect traffic or threaten public order. If a demonstration or rally results in violence, injury, or significant property damage, penalties for the organizers include six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and substantial fines. These penalties may be doubled for conviction of organizing an unauthorized rally or demonstration. Demonstrators may appeal denials or imposed modifications of a proposed march route or schedule before the courts.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: The government required citizens to carry a national identity document, and it authorized officials to request the document at any time. Without a national identity card, citizens could not pass between certain regions of the country and were subject to arrest and fines.

Armed extremists restricted movement of thousands of rural inhabitants throughout the country by planting IEDs on major highways, hijacking vehicles, and setting up checkpoints. In response to dozens of attacks by unknown armed groups presumed to be extremists, local authorities instituted a ban on motorcycle traffic from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in the Est and Nord Regions.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Recurrent armed attacks and interethnic clashes throughout the Nord and Est Regions caused a steep increase in the number of IDPs, from approximately 560,000 registered in December 2019 to almost 1.1 million as of December 2020 (see section 1.g.). According to The New Humanitarian, the number of persons in need of emergency food aid tripled to more than 3.2 million during the year, with approximately 11,000 suffering from “catastrophic” levels of hunger. In July and August, the NGO Davycas, with WFP and UNICEF support, conducted a nutritional survey for the Ministry of Health in 11 communes of the country with a high concentration of IDPs. The survey showed that more than 535,500 children younger than age five suffered from global acute malnutrition, including 156,500 who suffered severe malnutrition.

On August 20, the government revised its humanitarian response plan for conflict-affected areas. The new plan, at a cost of 233 billion CFA francs ($424 million) is intended to help 2.9 million persons in identified areas for intervention. The government worked with international and local aid organizations to improve food, water, health services, and protection of affected civilians against abuses. The government promoted local integration of IDPs by offering limited assistance to host families.

Despite interventions from the government and NGOs, access to lodging, water, and food remained critical problems facing IDPs. Media reported that in the Centre-Nord Region, some IDPs used a former pigsty for shelter in the rainy season due to a lack of tents; before the rainy season, they had been sleeping outside. In an interview, the mayor of Fada N’Gourma Commune (Est Region) revealed that women could sometimes spend all day waiting in line at a local water point in vain. On August 27, IDPs in the Nord-Ouest Region demonstrated to denounce deficiencies in food distribution and the exclusion of some IDPs from government aid.

IDPs were highly vulnerable to attacks and human rights abuses. On October 4, unidentified armed individuals ambushed a convoy of IDPs in the Centre Nord Region, killing 25 men and later releasing the women and children. The IDPs had been returning to their homes from the town of Pissila, where they had hoped to find an improved security situation. The survivors received psychological support from a partner in the region of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

NGOs reported that IDP girls were particularly at risk for abuses. In a June report on girls in the Sahel Region, the NGO Plan International noted that early marriage, forced labor, and physical violence had multiplied in the conflict-affected area. Similarly, a May Oxfam report described women and girls exposed to daily rape, sexual harassment, and assault in fields and at water points; many, facing extreme poverty, were also vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.

Oxfam also described corrupt practices in the registration of IDPs and the misappropriation of aid resources. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the precarious conditions of IDPs, with the WFP reporting a significant increase in household costs linked to the pandemic.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, as well as to returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. UNHCR recorded more than 20,000 refugees as of October 31, the vast majority from Mali.

Recurrent terrorist attacks hampered access by humanitarian workers to deliver lifesaving supplies and assistance to refugees, as well as IDPs.

After almost eight years of relatively undisturbed existence, the Malian refugee camps in Mentao and Goudebou effectively closed down for periods during the year. Goudebou emptied after unidentified armed men attacked the camp on March 2, while refugees in Mentao left after government forces carried out a heavy-handed search operation on May 2 that led to serious injuries.

According to refugee accounts relayed by UNHCR, the March 2 attack occurred when unidentified gunmen entered Goudebou Camp to demand a particular refugee, who was not present. The attackers beat members of the refugee’s family, set fire to the gendarme post, and issued all the camp’s refugees a March 7 ultimatum to leave the camp or face death. As of December the camp stood empty, including the schools, health center, and water infrastructure.

The Mentao Camp effectively closed after government security forces entered the camp on May 2 in search of individuals who had attacked gendarmes, killing one, earlier that day. Alleging the assailants had passed through the camp and could still be there, government forces conducted a thorough search of each shelter. According to contacts, the forces separated men and women and severely beat many of the men. At least 32 refugees were injured, some seriously. Although the government told UNHCR there was no ultimatum forcing them to leave, the refugees fled to the town of Djibo. In a May 5 communique, the government promised to investigate the incident and offered to help find a new site to which the refugees could be relocated. On July 14, the government announced the relocation of the Mentao camp onto the site of the reopened Goudoubo camp, which it said had more space and better security measures.

In early April a dispute in a Sud-Ouest Region gold mine near Diebougou resulted in one death and the flight of more than one thousand Nigerien nationals from the mine site towards the towns of Kokologo and Sabou. They ‎sought their government’s consular assistance to be repatriated while the border was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs, aided by the National Committee for Refugees, is the focal point for coordination of national and international efforts.

Freedom of Movement: According to UNHCR, police arbitrarily arrested Fulani refugees travelling from the Sahel Region to Ouagadougou on multiple occasions, sometimes holding them in detention overnight before releasing them.

Access to Basic Services: According to UNHCR, public institutions such as banks, schools, and hospitals occasionally refused service to refugees on a discriminatory basis.

Durable Solutions: Following the March 2 incident in the Goudebou Camp, many refugees decided the situation was too precarious, and more than 5,000 registered with UNHCR for repatriation assistance. Most of them returned to Mali, although mid-March border closures related to COVID-19 prevented some returns.

Temporary Protection: The government agreed to offer temporary protection to individuals who did not qualify as refugees, but there were no such applicants during the year.

g. Stateless Persons

According to UNHCR, more than 700,000 habitual residents were legally or de facto stateless, mostly due to a lack of documentation. The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Civic Promotion worked with UNHCR to deploy mobile courts to remote villages to issue birth certificates and national identity documents to residents who qualified for citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote in the November 22 national elections. His party, the People’s Movement for Progress, won 56 of the 127 seats in the National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. The Congress for Democracy and Progress, the party of longtime former president Blaise Compaore who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2014, became the largest opposition party with 20 seats. Some leading opposition candidates alleged irregularities and fraud but acknowledged the results and urged a “spirit of political dialogue.” National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity. The government had earlier declared that voting would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.

In the period preceding the November presidential and legislative elections, the National Assembly adopted a bill on August 29 to modify the electoral law. This new electoral law stipulates that in the event of force majeure or exceptional circumstances duly noted by the Constitutional Council, resulting in the impossibility of organizing the elections in a part of the territory, the elections shall be validated on the basis of results from those polling stations open on election day. This modification, which was approved with the support of the ruling coalition as well as key segments of the parliamentary opposition, was nonetheless criticized by part of the political class and civil society organizations, since it allows for the exclusion of a large number of voters living in insecure areas of the country.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties generally operated freely. In a September 3 press release, the minister of territorial administration, decentralization, and social cohesion, in application of the electoral code, made public the list of political parties authorized to participate in the November 22 presidential and legislative elections. According to the communique, 143 political parties and three political formations were legally constituted, and the minister urged other political parties to comply with the regulatory provisions by September 11 if they wished to take part in the elections.

The 2015 electoral code approved by the National Transitional Council stipulated the exclusion of certain members of the former political majority. The code stated that persons who “supported a constitutional change that led to a popular uprising” were ineligible to be candidates in future elections. In 2018 the National Assembly passed a new electoral law that allows all political candidates to run for election and opened the vote to members of the Burkinabe diaspora in possession of a national identity card or passport. At least two candidates who were formerly excluded under this law applied to be presidential candidates in the November elections and were approved by the electoral commission.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Parties and government officials stated women were less engaged in politics due to cultural and traditional factors. Although the gender quota law requires political parties to name women to fill at least 30 percent of the positions on their candidate lists in legislative and municipal elections, no political party met this requirement in the November 22 elections, nor during the 2016 and the May 2017 make-up municipal elections. In March a new law establishing “zebra lists” mandated that electoral lists alternate names of men and women in order to better achieve a 30 percent quota. The law includes positive incentives for political parties respecting the quota but no penalties for those who do not abide by the law. In September the Ministry of Territorial Administration, with the financial support of the UN Development Program, organized a public awareness campaign tour for the law on the gender quota in five regions to improve the participation of women in the November elections.

Monique Yeli Kam, of the Burkina Rebirth Movement, was the only female candidate among 14 certified as eligible for the November 22 presidential election. Following the 2020 legislative elections and the formation of a new government, women held 19 of 127 seats in the National Assembly after the elections (compared to 14 women in the previous National Assembly). Of 18,602 city councilors, 2,359 were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Throughout the year the press reported cases of misappropriation, fraud, or other offenses. The NGO National Network for Anti-Corruption cited the customs, police, and General Directorate of Land and Maritime Transport as the most corrupt entities in the government.

Corruption: Authorities opened an investigation of former minister of defense Jean-Claude Bouda for using government funds to build personal wealth. He was arrested in May 26 and provisionally released on October 22.

On June 14, Judge Narcisse Sawadogo was arrested on corruption allegations, as part of a broader judicial process involving Ouagadougou’s mayor Armand Beouinde. Charging documents stated the magistrate asked for financial compensation to help Beouinde avoid justice. Beouinde was accused of using taxpayer money to buy vehicles worth 4.6 billion CFA francs ($7.9 million) through a company in which he and his family had interests. Sawadogo was released on December 28 after the court ruled the offense of attempted fraud was not constituted.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires government officials–including the president, lawmakers, ministers, ambassadors, members of the military leadership, judges, and anyone charged with managing state funds–to declare their assets and any gifts or donations received while in office. On August 4, the Higher Authority of State Monitoring and the Fight against Corruption launched an electronic platform of declaration of interest and inheritance. The initiative, funded by the World Bank, was made available to government officials as well as members of certain institutions to declare their assets. The Constitutional Council is mandated to monitor and verify compliance with such laws and may order investigations if noncompliance is suspected. Disclosures are not made public, however, and there were no reports of criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance. On the eve of the 2020 presidential and legislative elections, National Assembly members elected in 2015 who had not complied with this law faced no sanctions.

In 2016 the Higher Authority for State Control and the Fight against Corruption extended the requirement to declare assets to include government officials’ spouses and minor children. Infractions are punishable by a maximum prison term of 20 years and substantial fines. The law also punishes persons who do not reasonably explain an increase in lifestyle expenditures beyond the 5 percent threshold set by regulation in connection with lawful income. Convicted offenders risk imprisonment for two to five years and a substantial fine. A 2016 law limits the value of a gift a government official may receive to 35,000 CFA francs ($60).

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and somewhat responsive to their views. In July the minister of defense responded to human rights groups’ allegations on behalf of the government, committing to investigate the numerous allegations; at year’s end there were no significant updates on such investigations.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: During the year the government approved the establishment of an office in Ouagadogou by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; as of year’s end, the office was not yet operational.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2019 President Kabore established the Ministry of Human Rights and Civic Promotion, separating responsibilities from the Ministry of Justice, which had overseen human rights. During the year the Ministry of Human Rights organized several training sessions for security forces on the laws of armed conflict, provided assistance to victims of extremist and gender-based violence, and organized antistigmatization and social cohesion campaigns. The government also assigned gendarmes as provost marshals to accompany deployed troops during military operations to verify detainees were afforded proper treatment and promptly taken before a military magistrate.

The Office of the Ombudsman addresses citizen complaints regarding government entities and other bodies entrusted with a public service mission. The ombudsman, whom the president appoints for a nonrenewable five-year term and who may not be removed during the term, was generally viewed as effective and impartial.

The government-funded National Commission on Human Rights provides a permanent framework for dialogue on human rights concerns. Its members include 15 representatives of human rights NGOs, unions, professional associations, and the government. Although inadequately funded, the commission produced a well documented report, released in June, on intercommunal violence and made recommendations to the government on responding to IDP population needs.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence was prevalent, including rape and domestic violence. According to the penal code, rape is punishable by a prison sentence of 11 to 20 years and a substantial monetary fine when committed against an adult or minor age 13 years or older. The penalty is 11 to 30 years in prison and even higher monetary fines when the victim is younger than 13. Rape was widely underreported in part due to societal taboos and the drawn-out judicial process owing to the overburdened justice system. Media, however, reported on the prevalence of rape cases and subsequent convictions.

In May, Oxfam reported more than one million women and girls in the country faced increased sexual violence, as well as hunger and water shortages, as a result of the conflict and further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic (see sections 1.g. and 2.e.).

On August 12, a man was arrested for having raped and impregnated his 14-year-old daughter who was then repudiated by the family for acts of incest. She was transferred to a shelter for young girls in distress in Ouagadougou.

The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs indicated in a July 8 communique that three girls ages three, five, and eight were raped in the Boucle du Mouhoun Region, and the three-year-old victim died. The communique also revealed that a 17-year-old IDP was seriously injured with a machete by her boyfriend. An investigation was underway into these attacks.

On March 30, a 16-year-old girl was reportedly raped on her hospital bed in the Tanghin-Dassouri Department by the son of a male patient housed in the same room as the victim.

Survivors of domestic violence seldom pursued legal action due to shame, fear, or reluctance to take their spouses to court. For the few cases that went to court, the Ministry of Justice could provide no statistics on prosecutions, convictions, or punishment. A government-run shelter for survivors of gender-based violence housed women and girls regardless of nationality. In Ouagadougou the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs assisted victims of domestic violence at four centers. The ministry sometimes provided counseling and housing for abused women.

The ministry has a legal affairs section to educate women on their rights, and several NGOs cooperated to protect women’s rights. To raise awareness of gender discrimination and reduce gender inequalities, the ministry organized numerous workshops and several awareness campaigns mainly in the Nord, Sahel, Est, and Centre-Ouest Regions.

The law makes conviction of “abduction to impose marriage or union without consent” punishable by six months to five years in prison. Conviction of sexual abuse or torture or conviction of sexual slavery is punishable by two to five years in prison. Conviction of these crimes may also carry substantial monetary fines.

The law requires police to provide for protection of domestic violence survivors and their minor children and mandates the establishment of chambers in the High Court with exclusive jurisdiction over cases of violence against women and girls. The law requires all police and gendarmerie units to designate officers to assist women affected or threatened by gender-based violence and to respond to emergencies; however, some units had not complied by year’s end. It also mandates the creation of care and protection centers in each commune for gender-based violence survivors and a government support fund for their care. The centers receive survivors on an emergency basis, offer them security, provide support services (including medical and psychosocial support), and, when possible, refer them to court.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The practice of FGM/C is prohibited by law, and those found guilty are liable to a prison sentence of one to 10 years with a substantial monetary fine. If a victim of FGM/C dies following the excision, the sentence increases to a term of 11 to 20 years’ imprisonment and an even higher monetary fine. Accomplices are also punishable with penalties. While comprehensive statistics were not available, as of December 2019 the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs had registered 185 FGM/C cases in the Sud-Ouest Region. Some arrests were reported.

Media reported some FGM/C cases. For example, in January, nine girls ages one to five were excised in the village of Tiomboni in Hounde, but no arrests were reported.

The government continued to fund and operate a toll-free number to receive anonymous reports of the practice. The government continued to fund the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for the Fight against the Practice of Excision, which reported that as of August, 3,090 villages had agreed to cease practicing excision. The council strengthened the skills of regional coordinators of women’s associations in the fight against excision through training. The government also provided training to 2,500 health workers to strengthen their skills in caring for FGM/C-related medical complications. On July 14, President Kabore spoke with representatives of youth from the 13 regions of the country engaged in the fight against FGM/C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In the Center-East Region, primarily in rural areas, self-proclaimed traditional healers performed rituals in which participants denounced others as “witches” whom they held responsible for their misfortune. Those accused, often elderly women, and less frequently men, were sometimes tied up, humiliated, beaten, brutalized, banned from their villages, or killed. Widows were disproportionately accused of witchcraft by male relatives, who then claimed their land and other inheritance. The law, which was seldom enforced, makes the conviction of physical or moral abuse of women or girls accused of witchcraft punishable by one to five years in prison, a substantial monetary fine, or both.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides for sentences of three months to one year in prison and a substantial monetary fine or conviction of sexual harassment; the maximum penalty applies if the perpetrator is a relative or in a position of authority, or if the victim is “vulnerable.” The government was ineffective in enforcing the law. Owing to social taboos, victims rarely reported sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: The law entitles couples and individuals to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but individuals often lacked the information and means to exercise these rights.

Government and private health centers were open to all women and offered reproductive health services, skilled medical assistance during childbirth (essential obstetric and postpartum care), and diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Family planning services were free in all public health facilities. Remote villages, however, often lacked these facilities or did not have adequate transportation infrastructure to permit easy access.

According to the UNFPA, 58 percent of women aged 15-49 had their reproductive needs satisfied with modern methods. According to the UNFPA also, in 2018 the adolescent birth rate was 132 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19.

Geographical distance, illiteracy, insufficient capacity of providers, lack of medical supplies, and religious and social beliefs regarding the negative effects of contraceptive methods were the main barriers to access to contraception. Women’s limited decision-making power and men’s lack of support for and understanding of family planning were also barriers to access to contraception.

The government worked with international and local aid organizations to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for Internally Displaced Persons.

The volatile security situation impacted women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health needs, since 12 percent of the health centers in the Nord, Sahel, and Est regions closed due to insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic reduced access to family planning services, as well as overall sexual and reproductive health.

In 2016 according to the National Institute of Statistics and Demography, the maternal mortality rate was 320 deaths per 100,000 live births. According to the UNFPA, between 2014-2019, 80 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel. Among the leading causes of maternal deaths were hemorrhage (30 percent) and infection (23 percent).

The government’s official midwifery curriculum included components on the prevention of FGM/C and care for women and girls affected by it.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Although the law generally provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men–including under family, labor, property, and inheritance laws–discrimination frequently occurred. Labor laws provide that all workers–men and women alike–should receive equal pay for equal working conditions, qualifications, and performance. Women nevertheless generally received lower pay for equal work, had less education, and owned less property. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment under certain working conditions and in the same occupations and industries as men.

Although the law provides equal property and inheritance rights for women and men, land tenure practices emphasized family and communal land requirements more than individual ownership rights. As a result, authorities often denied women the right to own property, particularly real estate. Many citizens, particularly in rural areas, held to traditional beliefs that did not recognize inheritance rights for women and regarded a woman as property that could be inherited upon her husband’s death.

The government conducted media campaigns to change attitudes toward women. It sponsored a number of community outreach efforts and awareness campaigns to promote women’s rights.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives either from birth within the country’s territory or through a parent. Parents generally did not register births immediately, particularly in the rural areas; lack of registration sometimes resulted in denial of public services, including access to school. To address the problem, the government periodically organized registration drives and issued belated birth certificates.

Education: The law provides for compulsory schooling of children until age 16. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Targeted attacks on schools and insecurity forced thousands of schools to close (see section 1.g.). Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included distance to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers and instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, a cultural preference to educate boys, the early marriage of girls, and sexual harassment of girls.

Many children attended Quranic schools. Educators forced some children sent to Quranic schools by their parents to engage in begging (see section 7.c.).

Child Abuse: The penal code provides for a prison sentence of one to three years with a substantial monetary fine for those found guilty of inhuman treatment or mistreatment of children. In 2019 the government launched a National Child Protection Strategy to create a strengthened institutional, community, and family environment to ensure effective protection for children by 2023.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits forced marriage and provides for prison sentences ranging from six months to two years for offenders, and a three-year prison sentence if the victim is younger than age 13.

According to the family code, “marriage can only be contracted between a man older than age 20 and a woman older than 17, unless age exemption is granted for serious cause by the civil court.” Nonetheless, data from UNICEF indicated that 10 per cent of women were married before age 15 and 52 per cent of women before 18. While early marriage occurred throughout the country, the NGO Plan International reported that some of the highest rates of early marriage were 83 percent in the Sud-Ouest Region, 83 percent in the Centre-Nord Region and 72 percent in the Centre-Est Region. In August the Lobbying and Advocacy Action Group (GALOP), an association mainly composed of the wives of senior officials and chaired by the first lady, initiated a training session to counter the practice of child marriage, which was carried by media in Ouagadougou. GALOP set up a network of journalists and communicators to produce and disseminate press articles to raise awareness of the effects of early marriage. During the year the government organized travelling campaigns targeting specific communes for education against the practice.

According to media reports, however, the traditional practice persisted of kidnapping, raping, and impregnating a girl and then forcing her family to consent to her marriage to her violator. NGOs reported that minors, especially girls, were kidnapped on their way to school or to market and forced into early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides penalties for conviction of “child prostitution” or child pornography of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both. The minimum age of consensual sex is 15. The law criminalizes the sale of children, child commercial sexual exploitation, and child pornography. Children from poor families were particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. The government did not report any convictions for violations of the law during the year. The penal code prescribes penalties of 11 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine for sex trafficking involving a victim 15 years or younger. It also prescribes five to 10 years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines for sex trafficking involving a victim older than age 15.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law provides for a sentence of 10 years’ to life imprisonment for infanticide. Newspapers reported several cases of abandonment of newborn babies.

Displaced Children: Recurrent armed attacks displaced hundreds of thousands of children. According to CONASUR, the national emergency relief council, women and children accounted for 60 percent of the IDPs (see section 2.e.).

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. There is legislation to provide persons with disabilities less costly or free health care and access to education and employment. The law also includes building codes to provide for access to government buildings. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination and reported difficulty finding employment, including in government service.

The government had limited programs to aid persons with disabilities, but NGOs and the National Committee for the Reintegration of Persons with Disabilities conducted awareness campaigns and implemented integration programs.

On October 27, President Kabore presided over a national forum on developing more socioeconomic inclusion for persons with disabilities. The government continued to arrange for candidates with vision disabilities to take the public administration recruitment exams by providing the tests in braille. Additionally, authorities opened specific counters at enrollment sites to allow persons with disabilities to register more easily for public service admission tests. According to the Ministry of Education, children with disabilities attended school at lower rates than others, although the government provided for limited special education programs in Ouagadougou.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Long-standing conflicts between Fulani (Peuhl) herders and sedentary farmers of other ethnic groups sometimes resulted in violence. Incidents were commonly triggered by herders allowing their cattle to graze on farmlands or by farmers attempting to cultivate land set aside by local authorities for grazing. Government efforts at dialogue and mediation contributed to a decrease in such incidents.

On April 13, in the western part of the country, media reported that a land dispute along ethnic lines between Karaboro and Mosse communities in the Cascade Region’s Sideradougou Commune resulted in the death of four men.

Allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture, and violations of due process and basic human rights by security forces and VDPs, particularly against the Fulani community, continued to mount. While senior officials, including President Kabore, appeared politically committed to reinforcing respect for human rights and holding abusers accountable, the government lacked capacity to address a growing case load of such allegations.

Many observers, including HRW, noted an ethnic dynamic underscoring the violence in the country. Armed groups often recruited from the Fulani community, while the vast majority of men allegedly killed by security forces were Fulani because of their perceived support of extremist groups.

On January 21, the government passed a law establishing the VDP in an effort to institutionalize civilian support for state counterterrorism efforts. There were reports the VDPs did not incorporate Fulani into their ranks, nor did Fulani seek to be included among the VDPs. This dynamic underscored the precarious situation for the Fulani, who lacked security in their community but were excluded from the state’s security effort, thereby fueling a perception of or actual experience of marginalization among the Fulani. The government conducted media campaigns in an effort to change attitudes toward the Fulani community. It sponsored a number of media outreach efforts and awareness campaigns against the stigmatization of ethnic groups. In what observers understood to be a reference to the Fulani, President Kabore spoke against the “stigmatization of entire communities following armed terrorist acts in certain localities of our country” in his speech during the December 28 inauguration ceremony for his second and final term of office.

Indigenous People

Indigenous persons and their institutions sometimes participated in decisions affecting their land. Exploitation of natural resources near indigenous land endangered the welfare and livelihoods of indigenous communities. A Chinese construction project announced in 2019 to build a hospital in a protected forest in Bobo-Dioulasso sparked a controversial debate and was strongly rejected by the local population. Indigenous communities criticized the government’s decision to permit construction on approximately 38 acres of the forest and suggested that the hospital be built on another site. Following the controversy, the government suspended the project and commissioned an environmental impact study of the site. On August 13, the government announced that in line with the study’s recommendation, the hospital would be built on another site located a few miles from the original one.

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

The country has no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing of bias-motivated crimes against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. NGOs reported police occasionally arrested gay men and transgender individuals and humiliated them in detention before releasing them.

Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was a problem, and it was exacerbated by religious and traditional beliefs. Medical facilities often refused to provide care to members of the transgender community, and LGBTI individuals were occasionally victims of verbal and physical abuse, according to LGBTI support groups. There were no reports the government responded to societal violence and discrimination against LGBTI persons.

LGBTI organizations had no legal status in the country but existed unofficially with no reported harassment. There were no reports of government or societal violence against such organizations.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS continued to be a problem and prohibited some individuals from receiving medical services due to fear of harassment. Families sometimes shunned persons who tested positive and sometimes evicted HIV-positive wives from their homes, although families did not evict their HIV-positive husbands. Some property owners refused to rent lodgings to persons with HIV/AIDS. The government distributed free antiretroviral medication to some HIV-positive persons who qualified according to national guidelines.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers to form and join independent unions, except for public employees and essential workers, such as magistrates, police, military, and other security personnel, who may not join unions. The law provides unions the right to conduct their activities without interference.

The law provides for the right to strike, although it significantly limits that right. For strikes that call on workers to stay home and that do not entail participation in a rally, the union is required to provide eight to 15 days’ advance notice to the employer. If unions call for a march, they must provide three days’ advance notice to the city mayor. Authorities hold march organizers accountable for any property damage or destruction that occurs during a demonstration. The law strictly prohibits all strikes that include occupying the workplace, including nonviolent strikes. The law also gives the government extensive requisitioning powers, authorizing it to requisition private- and public-sector workers to secure minimum service in essential services. The government defined essential services inconsistently with international standards, including services such as mining and quarrying, university centers, and slaughterhouses.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows a labor inspector to reinstate immediately workers fired because of their union activities. Relevant legal protections cover all workers, including migrants, workers in the informal sector, and domestic workers. International organizations reported that contract workers and agency workers faced antiunion discrimination from employers. The law provides for freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government effectively enforced the law. The law lists sanctions for violations, including warnings, penalties, suspension, or dissolution. Penalties consist of imprisonment and fines and vary depending on the gravity of the violation. Penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable offenses. Amendments to the law award a legal existence to labor unions of NGOs, create a commission of mediation, and require that associations abide by the law concerning funding terrorism and money laundering. The law also states that no one may serve as the head of a political party and the head of an association at the same time.

The government generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The government generally respected the right of unions to conduct activities without interference. Unions have the right to bargain directly with employers and industry associations for wages and other benefits. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. There were no reports of strikebreaking during the year. Government resources to enforce labor laws were not sufficient to protect workers’ rights.

There were no reports of government restrictions on collective bargaining during the year. There was extensive collective bargaining in the formal wage sector, which was where many worker rights violations occurred.

Protesting the government’s decision to tax civil servant benefits and allowances (known as the IUTS or Impot Unique sur les Traitements et Salaires), several thousand civil servants marched peacefully on March 7 in Ouagadougou, Bobo Dioulasso, Koudougou, and other key urban centers and went on strike March 16-20. All further union actions were suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions. After COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, the unions rallied on July 4 and went on strike July 8-9. The unions demanded the annulment of the IUTS tax, a reversal of suspensions and cuts in wages, and follow-through on past promises to increase wages.

On September 17, the minister of national education brought Bassolma Bazie to a disciplinary council for refusing to comply with his official working time. In addition to being a teacher, Bassolma Bazie was the general secretary of the General Confederation of Labor of Burkina Faso. He was also the spokesperson for the coalition of trade unions against the application of the IUTS. The unions and the workers he represented saw this disciplinary action as official harassment against the labor activist to undermine trade union freedoms.

On May 27, the Council of Ministers fired three civil servants from the Ministry of the Economy, Finance, and Development for serious acts of indiscipline during the strike by the coalition of unions against the application of the IUTS from March 16-20. These civil servants reportedly assaulted one of their colleagues for not following the call to strike. The Ministry’s Trade Union Coordination body announced a strike from September 9-11 to demand the reinstatement of the three agents. After the administrative court suspended their termination process on September 8, it suspended the strike and declared it was open to dialogue with the government for a final resolution of the reinstatement issue and other concerns contained in the platform of demands from the coalition of unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law considers forced or compulsory any labor or service provided by an individual under the threat of any type of sanction and not freely offered. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government did not have a significant, effective program in place to address or eliminate forced labor. The government continued to conduct antitrafficking advocacy campaigns and operated a toll-free number for individuals to report cases of violence and trafficking. Penalties for forced labor were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

Forced child labor occurred in the agricultural (particularly cotton), domestic labor, and animal husbandry sectors, as well as at gold panning sites and stone quarries. Educators forced some children sent to Quranic schools by their parents to engage in begging (see section 6, Children). Women from other West African countries were fraudulently recruited for employment and subsequently subjected to forced prostitution, forced labor in restaurants, or domestic servitude in private homes.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, child pornography, mining, and jobs that harm the health of a child. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16 and prohibits children younger than age 18 from working at night, except in times of emergency. The minimum age for employment is consistent with the age for completing educational requirements, which is 16. In the domestic labor and agricultural sectors, the law permits children who are 13 and older to perform limited activities for up to four and one-half hours per day. The law did not define the kinds of work appropriate for children younger than 16. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

The government undertook activities to implement the National Action Plan to combat the worst forms of child labor and to reduce significantly exploitative child labor. The plan coordinated the efforts of several ministries and NGOs to disseminate information in local languages, increase access to services such as rehabilitation for victims, revise the penal code to address the worst forms of child labor, and improve data collection and analysis. The government organized workshops and conferences to inform children, parents, and employers of the dangers of exploitative child labor.

The government did not consistently enforce the law, in part due to the insecurity imposed by violent extremist groups. The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security, which oversees labor standards, lacked transportation and access and other resources to enforce worker safety and the minimum age law. No data were available on number of prosecutions and convictions during the year.

Child labor took place in the agricultural sector or in family-owned small businesses in villages and cities. There were no reports of children younger than age 15 employed by either government-owned or large private companies. Children also worked in the mining, trade, construction, and domestic labor sectors. Some children, particularly those working as cattle herders and street hawkers, did not attend school. Many children younger than 15 worked long hours. A study by the International Labor Organization reported that children working in artisanal mining sometimes worked six or seven days a week and up to 14 hours per day. Street beggars often worked 12 to 18 hours daily. Such children suffered from occupational illnesses, and employers sometimes physically or sexually abused them. Child domestic servants worked up to 18 hours per day. Employers often exploited and abused them. Criminals transported Burkinabe children to Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Niger for forced labor or sex trafficking.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. The government did not effectively enforce the laws and regulations. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous or “morally inappropriate” and in industries such as construction. Women were forbidden from doing work that was determined to have a health risk for their health or reproductive capacity.

Discrimination occurred based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, social origin, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. The government took few actions during the year to prevent or eliminate employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law mandates a minimum monthly wage in the formal sector, which does not apply to subsistence agriculture or other informal occupations. The minimum wage was less than the poverty income level.

The law mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours for nondomestic workers and a 60-hour workweek for household employees. The law provides for overtime pay, and there are regulations pertaining to rest periods, limits on hours worked, and prohibitions on excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards. There are explicit restrictions regarding occupational health and safety in the labor law. Employers must take measures to provide for safety, to protect the physical and mental health of all their workers, and to verify that the workplace, machinery, materials, substances, and work processes under their control do not present health or safety risks to the workers.

The law requires every company with 30 or more employees to have a work safety committee. If an employee working for a company with fewer than 30 employees decides to remove himself due to safety concerns, a court rules on whether the employee’s decision was justified.

The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and hours of work standards. Ministry inspectors and labor tribunals are responsible for overseeing occupational health and safety standards in the small industrial and commercial sectors, but these standards do not apply in subsistence agriculture and other informal sectors.

These standards were not effectively enforced. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for comparable offenses. There were no reports of effective enforcement of inspection findings during the year.

Employers often paid less than the minimum wage. Employees usually supplemented their income through reliance on extended family, subsistence agriculture, or trading in the informal sector. Employers subjected workers in the informal sector, who made up approximately 50 percent of the economy, to violations of wage, overtime, and occupational safety and health standards.

Cabo Verde

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In the event of such a killing, the Ministry of Internal Affairs would investigate the National Police, the Ministry of Justice investigates the Judicial Police, and the Ministry of Defense–specifically the Military Judicial Police–investigates the armed forces. The Attorney General’s Office plays an investigative and prosecutorial role in cases involving civilian police, while a military court tries members of the armed forces.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports of violence and sexual abuse by police against detainees and violence by prison guards against prisoners. As of August the National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship reported eight complaints of police abuse during the year and 14 for all of 2019.

According to media reports, a woman who in 2019 had accused three police officers in Santa Catarina on the island of Santiago of rape and cruelty during detention withdrew her complaint upon receiving an 800,000 escudo ($8,200) payment from one of the accused. One officer remained in detention and faced charges of prevarication and abuse of power, while another faced charges of torture and cruel and degrading treatment. In March the National Police announced that its internal investigation had found incongruences that placed the victim’s version of events in question, absolved the accused, and warranted a full determination of the facts to initiate a criminal process against the complainant for making a false accusation. In April, however, a review by the Ministry of Internal Affairs recommended that the two officers stand trial. The Ministry found insufficient evidence for charges against the third officer. An expert report by the Portuguese Judicial Police compiled in June at the request of the country’s authorities concluded on the basis of DNA tests that the rape had occurred. A court issued a three-year suspended sentence to one of the officers in November.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. The National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship follows up with the National Police when it receives information regarding abuses. In January prison officers received training abroad in correctional facility management with a focus on balancing security with human rights.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Although the government took steps to improve prison conditions in some areas during the year, they remained deficient due to overcrowding and inadequate health and sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Of the five prisons in the country, three–in Praia, Sao Vicente, and Fogo–had populations that substantially exceeded capacity. Prisons in Praia, Sao Vicente, and Sal separated inmates by trial status, sex, and age. In Fogo officials established isolation cells that separated youths from adults. In Santo Antao inmates were separated according to trial status and crime but not age. Conditions in general were inadequate for inmates with mental disabilities or substance addictions. Women were not incarcerated in regional prisons because of the lack of separate space for them. In the Praia and Sao Vicente prisons, women generally had more space per person and better sanitary conditions than male prisoners. The Ministry of Justice reported four deaths in prisons during the year and two in 2019, all at the Praia facility.

Inmates at the prison in Sal announced plans in October to stage a hunger strike to protest inadequate medical care and the poor quality of food. Corrections authorities continued to use solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for prisoners. Inmates in isolation had limited access to visitors and prison activities.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints; however, the semi-independent National Commission for Human Rights received prisoners’ complaints through regular prison visits, written communication, social media postings, and telephone calls from prisoners or their relatives. During 2019 and through August, the commission received complaints of inadequate provisions for health and hygiene, physical abuse by prison guards, inadequate access to lawyers, and substandard prison facilities. In addition, semi-independent “Provider of Justice” teams made unannounced visits to prisons to assess conditions. Corrections officials stated the complaints had been investigated. Prison visits were restricted to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Meetings with legal counsel took place under controlled conditions to mitigate spread of the disease. Prison directors stated religious activities were permitted for all religious groups.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted formal visits by international human rights monitors to the prisons and individual prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) made visits to prisons to record conditions.

Improvements: The Ministry of Justice reported completing infrastructure improvements at all five prisons, including to sanitary facilities, sewage systems, water systems, cells, walls, and visiting rooms. Under the government’s National Plan for Social Rehabilitation, the Ministry continued inmate vocational training programs in tailoring, sewing, and house painting.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The National Police may not make arrests without a warrant from the Attorney General’s Office unless police apprehend the suspect in the act of committing a crime. Neither the National Police nor Judiciary Police have the authority to conduct investigations unless mandated by the Attorney General’s Office. The law stipulates a suspect must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. The National Commission for Human Rights reported detainees remanded to preventive detention on islands without prisons waited in police holding cells until they could be transferred to islands with prisons. The law provides a detainee the right to prompt judicial determination of the legality of the detention, and authorities respected this right. Attorneys inform detainees of the charges against them. There is a functioning bail system. Authorities allow detainees prompt access to a lawyer of the detainee’s choice. If a detainee is unable to afford a lawyer, the Cabo Verdean Bar Association appoints one.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Cases nevertheless moved through the judicial system slowly because it lacked sufficient staffing and was inefficient. In 2019 a court issued a two-year suspended prison sentence to a foreign pilot for failure to render assistance in response to a request for a medical air evacuation notwithstanding the pilot’s compliance with national and international aeronautical regulations and expert testimony that air travel would likely have endangered the patient’s life.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges and receive free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. The law provides for the right to a fair and public nonjury trial without undue delay, but cases often continue for years. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Free counsel is provided for the indigent in all types of cases. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to confront or question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and the right to appeal regional court decisions to the Supreme Court of Justice.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. Courts handle civil matters including lawsuits seeking damages for, or injunctions ordering the cessation of, human rights abuses. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Both administrative and judicial remedies are available, although administrative remedies are rare.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Censorship or Content Restriction: Journalists practiced limited self-censorship, partly due to their desire eventually to work for public sector media and because of family and social connections that make investigative journalism difficult.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. The government has ratified but never implemented the 1951 UN Protocol on the Status of Refugees, and no central authority manages the extremely few cases of refugees and asylum seekers. The government has no policy for handling refugees or asylum seekers, and there was no coordination among different agencies on requests for refugee or asylum status. The country coordinates repatriation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) when foreign citizens request such assistance.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has not established legislation or an institutional body for granting asylum or refugee status. Asylum applications were rare. There was one unconfirmed report of an asylum application during the year, but the actual number of asylum seekers was unknown since there is no systematic procedure in place to register and process asylum claims. Because UNHCR does not have an established presence in the country, the IOM refers asylum seekers who request protection and assistance to UNHCR’s regional representation for West Africa in Dakar, Senegal, which conducts refugee status determinations. Temporary protection mechanisms and access to basic services are in place for asylum seekers while they await a decision. Authorities permitted foreign victims of crime to remain in the country legally.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2016 legislative elections, individuals and parties were free to declare their candidacies and candidates for a total of 72 seats. The main opposition party, Movement for Democracy (MpD), won 40 seats in the National Assembly with approximately one-half of the vote, returning the party to power for the first time since 2001. The former governing party, the African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV), won 29 seats with 37 percent, and the Union for a Democratic and Independent Cabo Verde won the remaining three seats with 6 percent of the vote.

The most recent presidential election took place in 2016. Jorge Carlos Fonseca, the MpD candidate, who had the support of the PAICV, won the election with approximately three-quarters of the vote.

Election observers from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States characterized these elections as free, transparent, and credible. Observers noted some irregularities, however, including voters being pressured near polling stations to vote for certain candidates and allegations of vote buying.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups, and they did participate. Women remained underrepresented in positions within the central government and the Supreme Court of Justice, especially in prosecutorial positions. Women held 17 of the 72 National Assembly seats (24 percent) and occupied three of the 11 cabinet-level positions in government ministries. Women filled three of the eight seats on the Supreme Court, including the presidency. In community associations and on city councils, there were fewer women than men and no female mayors. For the 22 municipal elections in October, there were three declared female mayoral candidates and 23 female candidates for municipal assembly president. A commission to monitor compliance with a 2019 gender parity law found that more than 21 percent of candidate lists did not have enough female candidates to meet the law’s requirement that such lists be at least 40 percent male and 40 percent female. The Cabo Verde Institute for Equality and Equity of Gender urged the Constitutional Court to take action to uphold the law.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for conviction of corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively.

Corruption: There were no reports of significant government corruption during the year.

Financial Disclosure: The law sets parameters for public officials to submit declarations of ownership interest, income, and family wealth, and it regulates public discussion of this information. These declarations should include any asset worth more than 500,000 escudos ($5,130). By law failure to submit a declaration is punishable by removal from office. The Supreme Court of Justice must approve public disclosure of financial declarations. When involved in criminal cases of alleged corruption, public officials must declare and prove the source of their income or wealth. The Supreme Court of Justice has responsibility for monitoring compliance with the law.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Commission for Human Rights worked on all nine inhabited islands to protect, promote, and reinforce human rights, rights of citizenship, and international humanitarian law in the country. Although independent, the commission remained inadequately staffed and funded.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Conviction for rape of women and men is punishable by eight to 16 years’ imprisonment, and conviction for domestic violence is punishable by one to five years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is implicitly covered by the law; penalties for conviction range from one to five years’ imprisonment. The law focuses on increasing protection of victims, strengthening penalties for convicted offenders, and raising awareness regarding gender-based violence (GBV). The law calls for establishing several care centers, with financial and management autonomy, but implementation lagged due to inadequate staffing. Violence and discrimination against women remained significant problems. The National Police Annual Report for 2019 reported 1,636 cases of GBV, a figure that represented 23 percent of all reported crimes against persons for that year.

The National Police regularly accompanied victims of sexual violence and GBV to the hospital and escorted them to their homes to collect their belongings. Police officers helped victims go to a location where they believed they would be safe. The Cabo Verdean Institute for Equality and Equity of Gender ran five shelters on four islands–two on Santiago and one each on Fogo, Sao Vicente, and Boa Vista–and planned to launch two more shelters on Sal and in Tarrafal (Santiago).

The government did not always enforce the law against rape and domestic violence effectively. NGO sources lamented the lack of social and psychological care for perpetrators and victims alike.

National Police officers in Santa Catarina faced charges of abuse of power, torture, and cruel and degrading treatment of a female detainee (see section 1.c.).

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment. Penalties for conviction include up to one year in prison and a fine equal to up to two years of the perpetrator’s salary. Although authorities generally enforced the law, sexual harassment was common. In one case an alleged perpetrator fatally stabbed a 17-year-old girl in Santa Cruz on the island of Santiago after stalking her and creating a fake Facebook profile presenting her as his girlfriend. Less than three weeks earlier, the victim had withdrawn a complaint she had filed with prosecutors accusing the man of threatening her.

Reproductive Rights: The civil code provides that all citizens have the freedom to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; the right to manage their reproductive health; and access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. All citizens had access to contraception, including from family planning centers throughout the country. These centers also provided skilled assistance and counseling, both before and after childbirth, and sexual and reproductive health services, including for survivors of sexual violence. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), 92 percent of births were attended by skilled health personnel. Postnatal services included family planning and free oral and injectable contraceptives. According to the UNFPA, modern methods satisfied their need for family planning of 79 percent of women of reproductive age (15 to 49). 

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law, including that related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing business or property, provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and the government enforced the law somewhat effectively. Cultural norms and traditions, however, imposed gender roles that hindered the eradication of gender-based discrimination.

A 2019 law prohibits discrimination based on sex and promotes gender-equality policies.

Women suffered discrimination in equal pay for equal work. A 2019 International Labor Organization survey cited a factor-weighted average wage gap of 14 percent across professions and both formal and informal sectors. Women often worked in informal jobs and lacked access to social security. Women, especially the working poor, struggled to maintain their professional independence when they had children. Fathers were often not present in the nuclear family. Additionally, when girls became pregnant while still in school, they nearly always dropped out and did not resume their education.

Rural school district supervisors and local government officials spoke of “absent men,” lamenting the burden placed on women and noting the damage to existing and future generations from children growing up without male role models or with negative ones.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents or grandparents or by birth within the country if the parents have been legal residents for five years. When those conditions are not met, and if the child does not receive citizenship from the country of at least one of its parents, the parents must obtain a lawyer to petition for an exception. Birth registration was not denied or provided on a discriminatory basis. Failure to register births did not result in denial of public services.

Education: During the year the government extended tuition-free, compulsory, universal education through the 12th grade.

Child Abuse: Laws prohibit physical, psychological, and moral violence against children, including sexual violence, but these remained problems. Penalties for child abuse include two to eight years in prison for sexual abuse of a child younger than age 14, increasing to five to 12 years’ imprisonment if the abuse included penetration. Those found guilty of engaging in transactional sex with a minor younger than age 18 face two to eight years in prison, four to 12 years’ imprisonment if the sex involved penetration. Government efforts to combat child abuse employed a national network that included the child welfare government body Institute for Children and Adolescents, various police forces, the Attorney General’s Office, hospitals, local civil society organizations, and health centers. The government attempted to reduce sexual abuse and violence against children through several programs. The Institute for Children and Adolescents maintained a presence on all inhabited islands.

From January through July, the Institute for Children and Adolescents registered 1,428 cases of violence against and mistreatment of minors, including 107 of sexual abuse, 146 of maltreatment, 28 of parental abandonment, 19 of child labor, and 161 of parental negligence. In 2019 the institute registered an increase in reported cases during the year in each of these categories compared with 2018.

Demonstrators on Sao Vicente, Santo Antao, and other islands called for more intervention from the government and law enforcement authorities in response to child sexual abuse cases. In one of many cases during the year, the Judicial Police detained eight individuals from different parts of the island of Santiago for sexually abusing a 13-year-old adolescent. Medical personnel contacted authorities when the girl sought help at a hospital after aborting a pregnancy in secret.

The Institute for Children and Adolescents provided care for child victims, but perpetrators and alleged perpetrators received minimal interventions or care while awaiting trial or while in prison. Child abuse cases may linger for years in the judicial process, often leaving child victims vulnerable to continued abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law punishes those who foment, promote, or facilitate “prostitution” or sexual exploitation of children younger than age 17 with a penalty if convicted of four to 10 years’ imprisonment. If the victim is age 17 or 18, the penalty is two to six years’ imprisonment, which is commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes such as kidnapping. The law punishes those who induce, transport, or provide housing or create the conditions for sexual exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation of children younger than age 17 in a foreign country with a penalty if convicted of five to 12 years’ imprisonment. If the victim is age 17 or 18, the penalty for conviction is two to eight years’ imprisonment. The law prohibits the exploitation of children younger than age 18 in pornography, with penalties for conviction of up to three years’ imprisonment. The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 16. Sexual relations with a child younger than age 14 are considered a public crime and invoke mandatory reporting from anyone who becomes aware of the crime. By law at ages 14 and 15, sexual relations are a semipublic crime and may be reported by any involved party (the minor or the minor’s parents or guardians). Sexual abuse was widely reported throughout the country.

The government continued efforts to prevent the sexual exploitation of children through a national coordinating committee. The government also continued to enforce the Ethics Code of Conduct for Tourism, which includes provisions countering child sex tourism. The Observatory for Monitoring and Rapid Identification of Trafficking in Persons, which assembles numerous government agencies and partners, continued to hold meetings to advance priorities related to human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.

Displaced Children: The Institute for Children and Adolescents and other organizations provided shelter to children living in the street, ranging from day centers to 24-hour shelters. Officials worked with children, families, and communities to resolve intrafamily problems and return children to the safety of their families. A 2016 effort by local authorities and a partner NGO succeeded in reducing the number of minors living on the street in the city of Mindelo from 44 to the 12 that remained in the organization’s shelter during the year.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced these provisions, although problems remained in areas such as physical accessibility, means of communication, and public transport appropriate for persons with disabilities.

Persons with intellectual or mental disabilities, as determined by the Ministry of Health, are not allowed to vote, according to the National Commission for Elections, if they are deemed not to have the mental capacity to exercise that right.

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

Antidiscrimination laws exist, and state employers may not discriminate based on sexual orientation, family situation, habits and dress, health status, or membership or nonmembership in any organization. Laws prohibit discrimination in the provision of a good or service, engaging in normal economic activities, and employment. The government generally enforced these laws; penalties if convicted were up to two years in prison or a substantial monetary fine. Laws do not prohibit consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults.

Persistent social discrimination existed as the norm for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community and generally took the form of public mockery and appearance-based discrimination.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form or join unions of their choice, to engage in collective bargaining, and to conduct legal strikes. The labor code provides for protection against antiunion discrimination and for the reinstatement of workers.

The code designates certain jobs essential and limits workers’ ability to strike in associated industries. Services provided by telecommunications, justice, meteorology entities, health, firefighting, postal service, funeral services, water and sanitation services, transportation, ports and airports, private security, and the banking and credit sectors are considered indispensable. The law states the government may force the end of a strike when there is an emergency or “to ensure the smooth operation of businesses or essential services of public interest.” The law and custom allow unions to carry out their activities without interference.

The government respected workers’ right of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining and effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector outside of the essential jobs list. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties.

The International Labor Organization worked with local unions and government bodies to provide guidance on conducting a dialogue among parties.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and the government effectively enforced applicable laws in the formal sector. The labor code prohibits forced labor, and the penal code outlaws slavery, with penalties if convicted in line with those for comparable serious crimes. The government continued efforts to reduce vulnerability to exploitation of migrants from West Africa employed in the construction and hospitality sectors and increase their integration into society.

Nonetheless, migrants from China, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Nigeria, and Guinea may receive wages below minimum wage and work without contracts, creating vulnerabilities to forced labor in the construction sector. There were incidents of child labor in the domestic services and agriculture sectors, with children often working long hours in dangerous conditions and at times experiencing abuse (see also section 7.c.).

As of October the case of two Chinese nationals and one citizen charged with labor trafficking in 2019 was still pending trial. The charges were filed following the escape of four Chinese nationals from forced labor on the island of Sal in 2018.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibited all of the worst forms of child labor. The legal minimum age for work is 15. The labor code does not allow children ages 15 to 18 to work more than 38 hours a week or more than seven hours a day but does allow children ages 16 to 18 to work overtime in an emergency, albeit for no more than two overtime hours a day, and these extra hours may not exceed 30 hours per year. The civil code includes a list of light work activities that children age 14 are allowed to perform, but the law does not prescribe the number of hours per week permissible for light work or specify the conditions under which light work may be performed.

Legal penalties for child labor convictions were commensurate with those for comparable serious crimes, but the government did not always effectively or consistently enforce the law, including in the informal sector, estimated to represent 30 percent of the economy. Barriers, many cultural, remained to the effective implementation of these laws. Children continued to work to support their families, especially in small remote communities, in some cases under dangerous conditions.

Children engaged in street work, including water and food sales, car washing, and begging. Some children worked in domestic service, agriculture, animal husbandry, trash picking, garbage and human waste transport, and, to a lesser extent, drug trafficking. In 2019 the Institute for Children and Adolescents reported 33 cases of child labor in the country (up from 24 in 2018), 20 of which involved children between ages seven and 12.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion, ethnic origin, age, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status. The law does not, however, explicitly prohibit discrimination based on national origin. The government did not effectively enforce the law and penalties for violation were commensurate to those for similar laws.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6). Women generally had lower economic status and experienced inequality in political and economic participation. In some sectors of the formal economy, women received lower salaries than men for equal work. Women were also more likely than men to work in the informal economy, where remuneration was generally lower and labor protections not enforced. The International Labor Organization reported that constitutional and labor law protections against gender-based employment discrimination were insufficient and called on the government to pass stronger legal protections and to raise awareness of practices that contravene the principle of these laws.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law stipulates a monthly minimum wage greater than the official estimate of the poverty income level. The law stipulates a maximum of eight hours of work per day and 44 hours per week and requires rest periods, the length of which depends on the work sector.

The law sets minimum occupational and safety standards and gives workers the right to decline work if conditions pose serious risks to health or physical integrity. In specific high-risk sectors, such as fishing or construction, the government may and often does provide, in consultation with unions and employers, occupational safety and health rules. The employer must also develop a training program for workers. The government did not effectively enforce these laws, but the National Commission for Human Rights noted companies generally chose to follow these rules. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The Directorate General for Labor and Inspectorate General for Labor are charged with implementing labor laws. Certain benefits, such as social security accounts for workers, existed in the informal sector, but the government imposed no penalties for violations that included fines or imprisonment during the year. Labor agencies hired additional inspectors during the year and had sufficient personnel to enforce the law. The government effectively enforced occupational safety and health laws during the year, stepping up inspections to ensure workers were protected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections, and initiate sanctions. Although companies tended to respect laws on working hours, many employees, such as domestic workers, health-care professionals, farmers, fishers, and commercial workers, commonly worked for longer periods of time than the law allows. It continued to be common for companies not to honor foreign workers’ rights regarding contracts, especially concerning deductions for social security.

According to the Inspectorate General for Labor 2019 report, most irregularities detected during labor inspections related to nonsubscription to the National Institute for Social Protection, nonsubscription to mandatory insurance for job injury, and some irregularities in complying with health and safety standards. Inspections revealed the most common work violations concerned the right to vacation time and the right to rest periods between work periods.

The majority of work-related accidents reported during the year occurred in food services, the steel industry, and construction sectors. In 2019 the Inspectorate General for Labor registered 238 work-related accidents (compared with 395 in 2018), including five deaths.

Côte d’Ivoire

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

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

There were no confirmed reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses, including killings, perpetrated by members of the security services.

b. Disappearance

There were at least two reports of disappearances carried out by or on behalf of government authorities at the end of 2019 and during the year. The alleged victims both emerged alive after their disappearances. Amnesty International and media reported that, on December 30, 2019, Rigobert Soro, a police officer and the brother of prominent opposition figure Guillaume Soro, was summoned to the National School of Police and arrested. Soro was reportedly held by the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST) but, according to a January 10 Amnesty International report, authorities refused to acknowledge his detention. A February 26 letter from the Human Rights Council of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the government noted that Rigobert Soro had been detained incommunicado by the DST from December 31 to January 10 before being transferred to the country’s main prison.

In January, according to media reports, security authorities allegedly detained Tano Koffi Bouaffo Fabrice, an opposition supporter, without explanation at his place of work and transported the alleged victim to an unknown location. Authorities released him more than a month after his detention and disappearance.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. The government did not provide information regarding reports of abuse within prisons, or mechanisms to prevent or punish such abuses. Human rights organizations reported that prisoners were subject to violence and abuse, including beatings and extortion, by prison officials and that the perpetrators of these acts went unpunished. Human rights organizations reported mistreatment of detainees between arrest and being booked into prison.

Prison authorities acknowledged abuse might happen and go unreported, since prisoners fear reprisals.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces, although members of the security forces reportedly did commit isolated abuses without punishment. Failure to enforce disciplinary action contributed to impunity. The government used military police and the military tribunal to investigate abuses.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and unhealthy due to insufficient food, gross overcrowding, understaffing, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of proper medical care.

Physical Conditions: The government acknowledged prison overpopulation was a problem and that existing facilities, originally built to hold no more than 8,000 prisoners, were insufficient to hold the total prison population of 21,430 as of late August. In at least one prison, the inmates reportedly slept packed head-to-toe on the floor.

Prisons generally held men and women in separate prison wings. The government reported that juveniles were held separately from adults; however, a human rights organization reported that this policy was not always observed. The same organization reported the government was making efforts to open more juvenile-only detention centers. Additionally, prisons often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. The children of female inmates sometimes lived with their mothers in prison. Some human rights organizations reported that prominent prisoners or those who had been politically active sometimes enjoyed slightly better living conditions than other prisoners.

In addition to a daily budget allocation per inmate for food, the government reported it provided an additional allotment for personal hygiene supplies. Human rights organizations reported that wealthier prisoners could buy food and other amenities, as well as hire staff to wash and iron their clothes, while poorer inmates did not receive sufficient food on a regular basis. Families routinely supplemented the rations of relatives in prison if they had the means. Under certain circumstances the government allowed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide prisoners with food and nonfood items, including items to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as masks, isolation tents, and hygiene kits. The government permitted one NGO to construct a 48-patient capacity COVID-19 isolation and treatment center at the country’s main prison and outfit the center with ventilators, tents, toilets, showers, and personal protective equipment.

According to the government, each prison facility had a staffed medical clinic available 24 hours a day. Inmates were required to inform prison guards if they needed medical attention, and guards escorted prisoners to the prison clinic. Inmates with severe medical conditions were transferred to outside hospitals. Each prison clinic had a supply of pharmaceuticals, although human rights organizations reported that clinics often lacked necessary medicines, particularly for chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. In these cases inmates’ families had to acquire the medication from an outside pharmacy. A human rights organization reported, however, that only the country’s main prison had a doctor, while medical care in smaller prisons was provided by nurses, some without the necessary qualifications. The organization further reported prisoners did not have access to these medical professionals at all times. Some human rights organizations reported that no medical staff worked in some prisons at night at all.

Prison health workers went on strike for three days in July to demand COVID-19 hazard pay and better health policies in the country’s prisons. As of July the prison health workers’ union reported that, in the country’s main prison, 91 detainees, 11 prison guards, and two health workers had contracted the virus. A prisoner infected with COVID-19 told media he and others infected were made to sleep in tents between the prison’s medical clinic and morgue. The prisoner stated that prison medical staff did not treat several infected prisoners.

Human rights organizations observed that prisoners sometimes slept without mattresses. Poor ventilation and high temperatures, exacerbated by overcrowding, remained problems in some prisons. While potable water generally was available in prisons and detention centers, water shortages were common.

Within detention facilities unsanitary conditions persisted, including detainees living in close proximity to toilets.

Information on conditions at detention centers operated by the DST was not readily available for the year.

Administration: Inmates may submit complaints of abuse to prison directors; however, the government did not provide information on such cases during the year. Domestic media reported alleged physical abuse and extortion of prisoners by prison officials (see section 2.a., Violence and Harassment). In May tensions between competing factions of prison guards and prisoners at the country’s main prison concerning the informal power wielded by a prison official accused of running a racketeering ring and physically abusing prisoners boiled over into violence. The minister of justice and human rights visited the prison and opened an investigation into the incident. While some media reported that security forces removed the prison official from the premises following the incident, no other information was available about any subsequent legal actions. Prison administrators continued to detain or release prisoners outside normal legal procedures. Authorities generally permitted visitors in prisons on visiting days. Human rights organizations observed that, in detention centers operated by the DST, requests for access to prisoners by their lawyers and families were typically not formally refused but instead made practicably impossible by bureaucratic requirements.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted some local and international NGOs adequate access to prisons, but access to detention centers run by the DST was more restricted. Human rights organizations reported sometimes having access to prisons when they formally requested such access in advance.

Improvements: In April the government released 2,004 prisoners in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. A human rights organization reported, however, that continued overcrowding prevented adequate physical distancing within prison facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but both reportedly occurred. Human rights organizations reported that authorities arbitrarily detained persons, often without charge. Many of these detainees remained in custody briefly at either police or gendarmerie stations before being released or transferred to prisons, but others were detained at these initial holding locations for lengthy periods. The limit of 48 hours’ detention without charge by police was sometimes not enforced. Although detainees have the right to challenge in court the lawfulness of their detention, most detainees were unaware of this right. Public defenders were often overwhelmed by their workloads.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The government revised the law in 2019 to allow the state to detain a suspect for up to 48 hours without charge, subject to renewal only once for an additional 48 hours. The law specifies a maximum of 18 months of pretrial detention for misdemeanor charges and 24 months for felony charges, subject to judicial review every eight months.

Police occasionally arrested individuals and held them without charge beyond the legal limit. While the law provides for informing detainees promptly of the charges against them, human rights organizations reported that this did not always occur, especially in cases concerning state security or involving the DST. A bail system exists but was reportedly used solely at the discretion of the trial judge. Authorities generally allowed detainees access to lawyers, but in national security cases, authorities sometimes did not allow access to lawyers and family members. The government sometimes provided lawyers to those who could not afford them, but other suspects often had no lawyer unless privately retaining one. Public defenders occasionally refused to accept indigent client cases they were asked to take because they reportedly had difficulty being reimbursed by the government as prescribed by law. Human rights organizations reported multiple instances in which detainees were transferred to detention facilities outside their presiding judge’s jurisdiction, in violation of the law.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law does not permit arbitrary arrest, but authorities reportedly used the practice. One human rights organization documented several cases of detainees held for up to 12 days without charge and without access to hygiene supplies. Multiple media sources reported that in September, Justin Koua, the local spokesperson of an opposition political party, was arrested on his way to work. Koua was charged with disturbing the peace, inciting insurrection, and as an accessory to property destruction as a result of his calls for protests against President Ouattara’s candidacy for a third term. Koua’s lawyers told media his arrest violated the law because he was not first served with a summons to appear before authorities. During the week following his arrest, media reported Koua was transferred to four different detention facilities. Koua’s lawyers later told media they were not officially informed of any of these transfers and learned of the transfers from unofficial sources.

Pretrial Detention: According to officials, 6,586 inmates were in pretrial detention as of late August, slightly more than 30 percent of the total inmate population. Prolonged pretrial detention was a major problem. In some cases the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inadequate staffing in the judicial ministry, judicial inefficiency, and authorities’ lack of training or knowledge of legal updates contributed to lengthy pretrial detention. There were reports of pretrial detainees receiving convictions in absentia, with judicial authorities sometimes claiming the presence of the accused at their trial was not necessary, and at other times, not providing sufficient notice and time to arrange transportation to the trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and although the judiciary generally was independent in ordinary criminal cases, the government often did not respect judicial independence. In January various professional associations and civil society organizations complained of continual interference by the executive branch in the judiciary and the government’s refusal to implement several court decisions.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary sometimes did not enforce this right. Although the law provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals), the government did not always respect this requirement. In the past, assize courts (special courts convened as needed to try criminal cases involving felonies) rarely convened. During the year standing criminal tribunal courts established to replace the assize courts to address the backlog of cases began hearing cases.

Although the judicial system provides for court-appointed attorneys for those who cannot afford them, only limited free legal assistance was available; the government had a small legal defense fund to pay members of the bar who agreed to represent the indigent. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, although the government sometimes pursued rapid trials that did not respect such rights (see section 2.a, Libel/Slander Laws). Defendants may present their own witnesses and evidence and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. Lack of a witness protection mechanism was a problem. Defendants cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess guilt, although there were reports they sometimes were. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, but courts may try defendants in their absence.

Those convicted had access to appeals courts, but higher courts rarely overturned verdicts. In March parliament approved constitutional changes that abolished the Supreme Court and elevated three existing courts to serve as courts of last resort: the Cour de Cassation (Court of Appeals), Conseil d’Etat (Council of State), and Cour des Comptes (Court of Auditors). These courts have jurisdiction over different types of legal matters. The Cour de Cassation is the highest court of appeals for criminal and civil matters of law. The Conseil d’Etat is the highest court of appeals with respect to administrative disputes. The Cour des Comptes is the supreme auditing institution, tasked with overseeing matters related to public finances and accounts. In addition to these three courts, the Conseil Constitutionnel (Constitutional Council) determines the eligibility of legislative and presidential candidates, adjudicates electoral disputes, certifies election results, and renders judgment on the constitutionality of laws and treaties.

Military tribunals reportedly did not provide defendants the same rights as civilian criminal courts. Human rights organizations did not report any trials of civilians by military tribunals.

The relative scarcity of trained magistrates and lawyers resulted in limited access to effective judicial proceedings, particularly outside of major cities. The government reported 450 magistrates for an estimated population of 27.5 million. In rural areas traditional institutions often administered justice at the village level, handling domestic disputes and minor land questions in accordance with customary law. Dispute resolution was by extended debate. There were no reported instances of physical punishment following such customary procedures. The law specifically provides for a “grand mediator,” appointed by the president, to bridge traditional and modern methods of dispute resolution.

Human rights organizations and political parties asserted that the government used the judicial system to marginalize various opposition figures. In October 2019 authorities convicted Jacques Mangoua, an opposition-aligned elected official, of illegal possession of munitions after a one-day trial and sentenced him to five years in prison, several months of which he served before being released on bail in March pending his appeal. In April, Guillaume Soro, a prominent opposition figure and then aspiring presidential candidate living abroad in self-exile, was convicted in absentia of embezzlement and money laundering. Soro was also charged in absentia, in December 2019. Soro’s trial followed, by a week, an African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in Tanzania ordered a stay of Soro’s arrest warrant on the grounds that it “could seriously compromise [his] freedom and political rights.” One week after the ACHPR’s decision, Ivoirian authorities then delivered a summons to Soro’s vacant residence, convened a one-day trial without legal representation for Soro, and convicted and sentenced Soro to a 20-year prison sentence and a substantial fine. (Note: In November, Soro called for security forces and the population to overthrow the Ivoirian government. End Note.).

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government denied there were political prisoners, however multiple members of opposition parties were arrested at the end of 2019 and during the year on various criminal charges.

In December 2019 authorities arrested several supporters of Guillaume Soro, including five members of parliament, on charges of publishing false news and undermining public order and the authority of the state. In April the ACHPR in Tanzania ruled that the arrest warrant against those detained be stayed and that those detained be released, on the grounds that their incarceration “exposed them to a serious risk of being deprived of the enjoyment of their rights…and…may lead to irreparable harm.” In September, the government released some of those detained on several conditions, including that all abstain from contacting each other and engaging in cyber activism. Several others remained in detention.

Officials reportedly granted prisoners who were members of opposition parties the same protections as other prisoners, including access by international human rights organizations.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were credible reports the country attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against specific individuals located outside the country. After Guillaume Soro on November 4 called for the armed forces to overthrow the government, the government charged some opposition leaders with sedition and terrorism and issued an international arrest warrant for Soro and three associates living in France (see section 1.e, Denial of Fair Public Trial and section 3, Recent Elections).

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to corruption and outside influence. Citizens may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights abuse, but they did so infrequently. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies such as the ACHPR. In April, however, the government withdrew its recognition of the ACHPR’s jurisdiction in matters brought by Ivoirian nonstate actors, effective April 2021.

Property Restitution

In January the government evicted the residents of more than 600 households living illegally on state-owned land abutting Abidjan’s Felix Houphouet-Boigny International Airport and demolished houses located within 50 yards of the airport’s perimeter. Some evicted persons whose houses were not demolished returned to their homes. Prior to eviction the government declared the land was intended for future airport expansion, and in late 2019 distributed leaflets instructing residents to vacate and marked with paint the houses slated for demolition. A community group stated that residents were warned by authorities several times they were subject to eviction from the land. The local mayor provided each evicted household with 30,000 CFA francs ($52). The government did not provide compensation, stating that no compensation was due because these persons had occupied the land illegally, but promised to provide alternative land for those whose houses had been demolished to construct new homes. As of September the government had not identified a site for resettlement.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. The law requires warrants for security personnel to conduct searches, the prosecutor’s agreement to retain any evidence seized in a search, and the presence of witnesses in a search, which may take place at any time. Human rights organizations alleged that in December 2019 several incarcerated opposition figures’ homes were searched without proper documentation.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted both rights.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, and rebellion, as well as insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government. Sometimes the government took steps to remove such content from social media, including in January when an anonymous Facebook user called for deadly violence against Roman Catholics. Other times the practical application of this law raised questions of political influence. In August, Edith Gbalet Pulcherie, a civil society organization leader, used social media to call for demonstrations against President Ouattara’s intention to seek a third term of office. Several opposition parties and individuals also called for demonstrations for the same purpose. Several demonstrations occurred around the country shortly thereafter, some of which degenerated into riots. Pulcherie and three other members of that organization were arrested and charged with inciting those riots, as well as with disturbing public order, calling for insurrection, violence and assault, and destruction of public and private property. The government cited the accused’s social media posts calling for protests, but no further evidence, to substantiate the charges.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The law bans “detention of journalists in police custody, preventive detention, and imprisonment of journalists for offense committed by means of press or by others means of publication.” The law, however, provides for substantial fines for anybody found guilty of committing offenses by means of press or by others means of publication.

Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published editorials condemning the government. Journalistic standards were flouted by regime and opposition-aligned media outlets, sometimes leading to allegations of defamation, and subsequent counterallegations that opposition media were more likely to be charged for that offense.

The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations and is generally viewed as supportive of the government and more likely to impose sanctions on media close to the opposition. Opposition groups and civil society criticized the government’s control over the main state-owned television station, claiming it gave far more coverage to the ruling party’s political activities. There were numerous independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by community radio stations, but the regulatory authority allows community radio stations to run political programs if they employ professional journalists. The owners of these stations, however, reported they often self-censored and avoided broadcasting political content, such as political debates and interviews with political leaders, because they feared being sanctioned or shut down by the communications authority.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation by authorities due to their reporting.

On March 25, Sindou Cisse and Marc Dossa, two journalists affiliated with Generations Nouvelles, an opposition-aligned newspaper, were found guilty of publishing “fake news” when they reported on the existence of COVID-19 cases in prisons. They were sentenced to substantial fines.

On March 31, a court sentenced Vamara Coulibaly, director of publication of the newspaper Soir Info, and Paul Koffi, director of publication for the newspaper Nouveau Reveil, to substantial fines for spreading false news when they printed a letter on March 29 from lawyers for arrested opposition Member of Parliament Alain Lobognon in which they complained about prison conditions in which their client was being held.

In May media reported security officials had beaten Claude Dasse, a journalist investigating a rumored prisoner extortion scheme by officials at the country’s main prison. When Dasse arrived at the prison for a scheduled interview with the warden, he was instead met by a prison official implicated in the investigation. The official reportedly had guards beat Dasse and hold him in a prison cell for several hours. Before releasing Dasse, the official reportedly warned him he would be killed if he reported the encounter. Although Dasse alleged that an investigation opened by the local prosecutor established that he had been assaulted and held against his will, authorities had taken no further action on the case as of December.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. Both independent journalists and journalists affiliated with the state-owned media said they regularly exercised self-censorship to avoid sanctions or reprisals from government officials. The National Press Authority, the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate. Human rights organizations reported legal intimidation had a chilling effect on media coverage of certain topics, and media often only believed themselves to be secure publishing stories critical of the government after the same reporting had appeared in international publications.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by six months to five years in prison and substantial fines.

In March the gendarmerie summoned Yacouba Gbane and Barthelemy Tehin, two journalists working for an opposition-aligned newspaper, for questioning in connection with an editorial alleging government corruption. The journalists were charged, prosecuted, and found guilty of defaming the state the same day. Each was subjected to a substantial fine.

Internet Freedom

There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, except that the latter were restricted, along with many other public activities, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. The law requires groups that wish to hold demonstrations or rallies in stadiums or other enclosed spaces to submit a written notice to the government at least three days before the proposed event. The organizers must receive the government’s authorization in order to proceed.

Numerous opposition political parties reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permits. Several human rights organizations affirmed the routine unequal treatment of opposition political parties and reported that opposition political party gatherings were sometimes dispersed with excessive force by security personnel.

In December 2019 some local authorities prohibited public demonstrations through early January, shortly before two opposition-planned marches and political gatherings across the country. In August the government suspended demonstrations on public roads through mid-September (later extended through November 1), following a spate of protests opposing President Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term.

Protests in various locations in response to President Ouattara’s candidacy turned violent, and protesters clashed with both police and other civilian supporters. Human rights organizations alleged that, during one anti-Ouattara protest in August, security forces in Abidjan allowed groups of civilian men, some armed with machetes and sticks, to attack demonstrators, seriously injuring one person. Security authorities announced an investigation into those attacks.

On October 19, the Student and Scholastic Federation of Cote d’Ivoire, called a 72-hour strike to protest school fees. At the Abidjan campus of the Felix Houphouet-Boigny University, the strike included violent clashes between student federation members and machete wielding nonstudent youth, leaving several injured.

In mid-November the government reported that several investigations confirmed that, since August, 85 persons had been killed, 484 injured, and 225 arrested in connection with election-related protests or clashes, many of them between groups of supporters of rival political parties. Some of those arrested included protesters marching peacefully but without government authorization.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law do not specifically provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: There were reports of impediments to internal travel. Although some roadblocks set up by security forces served legitimate security purposes, extortion of bribes was sometimes reported.

In March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government declared a state of emergency and implemented a nationwide nightly curfew. During the first week of the curfew, videos of security forces using heavy handed and sometimes physical enforcement tactics circulated widely on social media. In response, the government issued a statement reassuring the population of its intention to enforce the curfew in ways that “respect human rights.” Images later circulating via media sources showed security forces and public officials discussing curfew enforcement and COVID-19 test site construction with the public in various neighborhoods in Abidjan. In April, four soldiers, including a colonel, were arrested and referred to a military tribunal for allegedly harassing and extorting civilians not in compliance with the curfew.

As part of the state of emergency, the government also established a “cordon sanitaire” intended to prevent the spread of the virus by requiring permits for persons to leave or enter Abidjan. There were credible reports of bribery at some of those checkpoints. The state of emergency was lifted on July 15.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

As of mid-December international organizations and the government estimated there were approximately 3,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country as a result of feared or experienced violence associated with the October 31 presidential election. International organizations also reported that the number had been as high as 5,530 persons before IDPs began to return home voluntarily in late November and early December. The government actively coordinated with international organizations to register and deliver services to the IDPs.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government was generally hospitable towards refugees, who enjoyed most rights and freedoms afforded to citizens. Returnees were generally well received by communities and administrative authorities; however, competition over limited resources, the lack of public infrastructure, and property rights disputes in areas of return affected social cohesion between nationals, returnees, and migrants.

Access to Asylum: The constitution, international conventions and treaties the country is party to, and executive orders provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established an administrative system for providing protection to refugees. There is no national asylum law. Asylum seekers awaiting adjudication of their application enjoy a full set of basic rights, including freedom of movement, health care, and education. Asylum seekers are not entitled to work until they receive refugee status.

Freedom of Movement: Refugee documents, including a refugee identity card issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, allowed refugees to move freely in the country, with refugees younger than age 14 included on their parents’ documents.

Durable Solutions: UNHCR reported it is almost impossible for refugees to be naturalized, except through marriage to an Ivoirian national. UNHCR was only aware of one case of nonmarital naturalization: a resident living in the country for more than 20 years who was granted nationality through a presidential decree.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection for individuals who did not qualify as refugees under the relevant UN conventions and were denied asylum. Nationals of members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) may remain in the country with a valid identification document (i.e., a national identity card or passport) from their country of origin. Non-ECOWAS African nationals and nationals of other countries must obtain a residency permit within 90 days of their asylum claim rejection or face deportation. To obtain a residency permit, non-ECOWAS African nations must submit their asylum rejection letter and pay a substantial fee. Residency permit requirements for other nationals are based on reciprocity between the country and the applicant’s country of origin.

g. Stateless Persons

The government did not report the number of persons believed to be stateless during the year. The migrant parents of many children born in the country did not register their children, thus placing these children at risk of statelessness. With birth registration a requirement for citizenship, all unregistered children were at risk of statelessness. UNHCR estimated there were almost 519,000 abandoned children and foundlings (i.e., abandoned children of unknown parentage), who were at risk of statelessness because they could not prove their citizenship through their parents, as required under the law. Such children were deprived of the opportunity to attend high school (which is legally compulsory until the age of 16, but also requires the presentation of identity documents as part of the enrollment process), and, as adults, would be unable to open a bank account, travel abroad freely, or vote or exercise other political rights, such as running for office.

Stateless persons reportedly faced numerous significant additional difficulties, such as in accessing health services, marrying civilly, or receiving an inheritance. Social stigma and harassment can also accompany statelessness.

The government has policies to resolve the status of certain stateless persons. The country has adopted a legal process for identifying and protecting stateless persons. Two regulations signed in September formally establish procedures for some individuals to petition the government for a formal determination of statelessness status. According to UNHCR this determination would pave the way for some stateless persons to receive identity documents and access to other legal processes. As of December the government had not yet begun to adjudicate cases under these new mechanisms.

From 2018 through September 2019, judges in seven cities issued nationality certificates to more than 100 children of unknown parentage. A Catholic parish in Abidjan began a program in March 2019 to help parishioners navigate the cumbersome and costly procedure for obtaining birth certificates for any parishioner’s child born in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election on October 31. The lead-up to the election was marked by intense political maneuvering by the regime and opposition, acrimonious and divisive rhetoric, protests, and largely civilian-on-civilian violence.

The opposition vociferously contested President Ouattara’s decision to seek a third term following the July death of the ruling coalition’s candidate. Although the opposition argued that President Ouattara was precluded from running due to a term limit, the Constitutional Council, which the Ivoirian constitution empowers to validate presidential candidacies, validated Ouattara’s candidacy on September 14 on the grounds that it would be his first term under the 2016 Constitution. The Council also validated the candidacies of three prominent opposition figures but rejected those of 40 other contenders, specifying in each case which eligibility criteria the contender failed to meet. Before and after the election, opposition leaders repeatedly alleged the Council was inherently biased toward the ruling coalition. UN, ECOWAS, and African Union officials visited the country several times during the electoral period to encourage a tension-calming dialogue between the government and the opposition but did not recommend a revision of the Council’s decision on candidacies.

Among those barred from competition were prominent opposition figures Guillaume Soro and former president Laurent Gbagbo, both rejected due to domestic criminal convictions. Following the Constitutional Council’s announcement, the ACHPR issued two separate rulings on September 15 and September 25 ordering the government to permit Soro and Gbagbo to run for election. The government did not respond directly to either ruling but indicated in public statements that it did not consider the ACHPR’s rulings binding given its April announcement that it was withdrawing from the optional protocol that allowed nonstate actors to petition the Court.

Election-related protests and violence escalated immediately before the election, particularly in mid-October after the opposition launched a campaign of “civil disobedience” and an “active boycott” designed to prevent the election from occurring unless the government conceded to opposition demands. In addition to violent clashes between civilians, many criminal acts occurred during the campaign: media reported multiple incidents of vandalism, including the burning of Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) field offices, theft and destruction of voter cards, and construction of crude roadblocks by opposition-aligned youth to obstruct major roads.

Scattered, disruptive, and occasionally deadly unrest continued on election day in several locations in the central and southern parts of the country. Reported incidents included theft and destruction of electoral materials, civilian-on-civilian clashes, ransacked polling stations, and roadblocks around polling stations, which suppressed voter participation. The CEI confirmed that 21 percent of polling stations were not operational on election day–October 31–due to disruptions. International election observers reported the same but also noted that, in some cases, polling sites did not open because election officials failed to deploy necessary voter equipment and materials. At polling sites that did open, voting generally took place without incident although observers noted scattered minor irregularities, such as sites opening late or closing early and election officials struggling, without apparent malicious intent, to tabulate results accurately. In mid-November, the government reported that its investigations confirmed that since August, 85 persons had been killed and 484 injured, including several members of the security forces, in election-related violence.

International election observers differed in their overall assessments of the election. The African Union stated the election “was held in an overall satisfactory manner.” The International Election Observation Mission of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and The Carter Center found that officials “generally adhered to voting procedures in the majority of the polling stations visited,” but criticized the political climate in which the election took place as “not allow[ing] for a genuinely competitive election.” The CEI ultimately reported a voter participation rate of almost 54 percent of registered voters at the polling stations that were able to open. If calculated on the basis of the country’s full list of approximately 7.5 million registered voters, the stated turnout would have been approximately 42.9 percent. On November 9, the Constitutional Council certified that President Ouattara had won re-election with 94.27 percent of the vote. President Ouattara was sworn in for a third term on December 14.

On November 2, the opposition, asserting that President Ouattara was no longer president, announced the establishment of a National Transitional Council. On November 4, via social media from France, Guillaume Soro claimed in his capacity as a member of the transitional council that President Ouattara no longer had the constitutional power to command the armed forces and called for them to overthrow him. The government subsequently announced charges of sedition and terrorism against 20 senior opposition figures involved in the Council’s creation. Although one leading opposition member was provisionally released in late December, several individuals arrested on those charges remained incarcerated. On November 18, the government issued an international arrest warrant for Soro and three of his aides requesting their extradition from France.

Prior to the 2018 senatorial elections, the CEI declared it would restrict observers from remaining in the voting stations throughout the day, but later reversed its decision. Diplomatic observers and local civil society groups judged the elections to be peaceful and credible.

The law requires the national voter registry to be updated annually. The registry was not updated in 2019, but was in June and July. CEI staff generally appeared well prepared to execute that process, although some opposition parties reported their members’ difficulty obtaining documents required to prove their eligibility to vote. The government extended the registration period twice and, midway through the registration process, extended the validity of existing national identity cards so that holders could register and vote in the October presidential election without having to obtain new biometric identity cards before June. The extension had been a key demand of the opposition.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Although the law prohibits the formation of political parties along ethnic or religious lines, there have historically been links between ethnic groups and specific political parties.

Throughout the year, opposition parties reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permits. Following the August government ordinance banning demonstrations in public thoroughfares, and subsequent arrests of opposition supporters participating in unauthorized demonstrations, media broadcast images of ruling coalition supporters marching unimpeded through the streets en route to the formal nomination of President Ouattara as its presidential candidate.

An ACHPR ruling to affect greater political party balance and public confidence in the CEI’s work led the government to overhaul that institution in July 2019. Many opposition parties chose to boycott the overhaul negotiation, were not invited to join the CEI once it was reconstituted, and subsequently appealed against the legality and impartiality of the institution. In July the ACHPR ruled that the CEI was not illegal or fundamentally biased, but that the ruling coalition had controlled the nomination and leadership election process in ways that undermined public confidence in the impartiality of the institution. President Ouattara had by then invited the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, the country’s largest unified opposition party, to join the CEI, and the government announced it would rerun elections for leadership positions at local levels of the CEI organization. As of December, the Democratic Party’s representative had not taken his oath of office due to continued political disagreements. On September 30, the Ivorian Popular Front, the only party previously represented in the CEI that the broader opposition accepted as an authentic opposition party, suspended its participation due to its overall objection to the electoral process.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Of 253 National Assembly (lower legislative body) members, 29 were women, the same number as in 2017-19. Of 99 Senate (upper legislative body) members, 19 were women, including 11 of 33 appointed by President Ouattara in April 2019 and eight of 66 elected in 2018.

Members of the transgender community reported difficulty obtaining identity and voting documents. Electoral staff and fellow voters at polling sites for the October presidential election were observed assisting voters with disabilities, such as those who were unable to walk up stairs or legally blind individuals. The same assistance was offered during the June-July voter registration process due to a lack of government-provided accommodations for individuals with disabilities.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials were reported to engage frequently in corrupt practices with impunity. Human rights organizations reported official corruption, particularly in the judiciary, police, and security forces, but noted that victims of such corruption often did not report it or assist in investigations, fearing retaliation. In September 2019 the High Authority for Good Government (HABG), a government anticorruption authority, issued a communique announcing measures to end unauthorized charges for the delivery of administrative documents. Civil society groups and government officials reported the HABG was not empowered to act independently or to take decisive action. The HABG can make recommendations, but the public prosecutor must decide to take up a case. Additionally, the constitutionally mandated High Court of Justice to judge members of government, including the president and vice-president, for crimes committed during the exercise of their official functions has not been established.

Corruption: Human rights organizations reported government authorities awarded many contracts to persons or businesses without following procurement rules and often with little notice. In July 2019 the government endorsed a new public-procurement code to increase the transparency of the public-procurement process. In August the government’s public procurement regulatory authority launched an EU-funded audit program to investigate more than 200 sole-source public procurements that occurred between 2014 and 2017.

Financial Disclosure: A presidential decree requires the head of state, ministers, heads of national institutions, and directors of administration to disclose their income and assets. The HABG requires public officials to submit a wealth declaration within 30 days of the beginning of their term in office. The declaration is confidential, but the list of those who declared their wealth is publicly accessible in the official government journal. Officials who did not comply or provided a false declaration faced substantial fines. There were no cases during the year when the veracity of a declaration was questioned or sanctions employed. The procedures for reviewing the declaration of assets were not included in the implementing decree. The law requires the HABG to retain declarations of assets for at least 10 years.

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

A number of international and domestic human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials met with some of those groups, sometimes at very senior levels. While the government was somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, depending on the topic or case, it was at other times defensive about more sensitive topics.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is responsible for implementing the government’s policy on human rights. In January 2019 the National Commission for Human Rights, an advisory body that consults on, conducts evaluations of, and creates proposals to promote and defend human rights, became the National Council for Human Rights. The change was intended to provide the council with more financial and operational autonomy. The organization remained nevertheless fully dependent on funding from the government, donors, or both, and human rights organizations continued to question its independence and effectiveness. As of October 2019, the human rights council had 31 regional commissions and seven thematically focused departments. The civilian-controlled Special Investigative Cell within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights investigates persons responsible for human rights abuses committed during the postelectoral crisis of 2010-11. Information on prosecutions against suspects was not readily available.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape and provides for prison terms of five to 20 years for perpetrators. The law does not specifically penalize spousal rape, and there is a rebuttable presumption of consent in marital rape cases. The court may impose a life sentence in cases of gang rape if the rapists are related to or hold positions of authority over the victim, or if the victim is younger than age 15. Media and NGOs reported that rape of schoolgirls by teachers was a problem, but the government did not provide information on charges filed.

A local human rights organization that supports the rights of persons with disabilities reported a man was sentenced to a 20-year prison term for the April 2019 murder of his pregnant girlfriend, a woman with disabilities. The same organization reported that the 2019 rape and killing of another teenage girl with disabilities remained unsolved as of September.

Survivors were often discouraged from pursuing criminal cases, with their families often accepting payment as compensation. A human rights organization cited a recent case in which a rape victim with disabilities’ father brought a complaint against the rapist and then withdrew it upon receiving a private payment from the assailant. The mother of the victim, wanting her own compensation, threatened to file a complaint and then refused to do so after receiving a payment from the assailant. There was at least one report of security forces intervening to persuade a family to file criminal charges rather than accept private compensation for a sexual assault on their minor child.

Although rape victims were no longer legally required to obtain a medical certificate, some human rights organizations reported that victim who did not do so encountered difficulties in moving their cases forward. Obtaining a medical certificate could be costly. In the first half of the year, the government reported authorities accepted 50 rape cases for investigation without a medical certificate.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law specifically forbids FGM/C and provides penalties for practitioners of up to five years’ imprisonment and substantial fines. Double penalties apply to medical practitioners, including doctors, nurses, and medical technicians. Nevertheless, FGM/C remained a problem. The government reported one FGM/C prosecution in the first half of the year. The defendant was fined and sentenced to 24 months in prison. The most recent 2016 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated that the rate of FGM/C nationwide was 36.6 percent, with prevalence varying by region.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Societal violence against women included traditional practices that are illegal, such as dowry deaths (the killing of brides over dowry disputes), levirate (forcing a widow to marry her dead husband’s brother), and sororate (forcing a woman to marry her dead sister’s husband). The government did not provide information regarding the prevalence or rate of prosecution for such violence or forced activity during the year but stated that no deaths were linked to these practices.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes penalties of one-to–three years’ imprisonment and fines. Nevertheless, the government rarely, if ever, enforced the law, and harassment was widespread and routinely tolerated.

Reproductive Rights: The law provides for full and equal access to reproductive health information and services to all men and women ages 15 and older. Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and had access to the information and means to do so, free from coercion, discrimination, or violence. Government policy required emergency health-care services to be available and free to all, but care was not available in all regions, particularly rural areas, and was often expensive.

According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2010-19, 44 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated 82 percent of all women had the autonomy to decide whether to use contraception. Barriers to modern methods of contraception included cost (the government only partially subsidized the cost of some methods of contraception), distance to points of purchase such as pharmacies and clinics, and low or unreliable stocks of certain types of contraception. Other barriers to use included misinformation and hearsay, as well as religious beliefs and biases against marginalized groups.

According to estimates by the WHO, 74 percent of births in 2010-19 were attended by skilled health personnel. Barriers to births attended by skilled health personnel included distance to modern health facilities, cost of prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, and low provider capacity. According to WHO estimates, in 2010-18, the adolescent birth rate was 123 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19.

Health services for survivors of sexual violence existed, but costs of such services were often prohibitive for victims, law enforcement often did not know to refer victims to medical practitioners, and many medical practitioners were not trained in treatment of survivors of sexual violence.

According to estimates by the WHO, UNICEF, the UNFPA, the World Bank, and the United Nations Population Division, in 2017 (the latest year for which data are available), the maternal mortality rate was 617 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 658 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Factors contributing to the high maternal mortality rate were chiefly related to lack of access to quality care. Additionally, local nongovernmental organizations reported women often had to pay for prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, which dissuaded them from using modern facilities and increased the likelihood of maternal mortality. As a result of FGM/C, scarification was common. Scarification can lead to obstructed labor during childbirth, an obstetric complication that is a common cause of maternal deaths, especially in the absence of Caesarean section capability.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men in labor law, although there were also restrictions on women’s employment (see section 7.d.). A 2019 law establishes the right for widows to inherit upon the deaths of their husbands as much as the deceased’s children can. Human rights organizations reported many religious and traditional authorities rejected laws intended to reduce gender-related inequality in household decision-making.

Children

Birth Registration: The law confers citizenship at birth if at least one parent was a citizen when the child was born.

The law provides parents a three-month period to register their child’s birth for a nominal fee. In some parts of the country, the three-month window conflicts with important cultural practices around the naming of children, making birth registration difficult for many families. To register births after the first three months, families must also pay a fine. For older children, authorities may require a doctor’s age assessment and other documents. To continue to secondary school, children must pass an exam for which identity documents are required. As a result children without documents could not continue their studies after primary school. The government, with the support of UNICEF, requires healthcare workers in maternity wards and at immunization sites to complete birth registration forms automatically when providing services. According to UNICEF this service was offered during the year in nearly 62 percent of the country’s health centers and, since the beginning of the program, health workers have completed registration paperwork for 85,779 newborns out of 94,892 live births, a registration rate of 90 percent.

Education: Primary schooling is obligatory, free, and open to all. Education was thus ostensibly free and compulsory for children ages six to 16, but families generally reported being asked to pay school fees, either to receive their children’s records or pay for school supplies. In principle students’ families do not have to pay for books or user fees, but families usually covered some schooling expenses not covered by the government. Parents also often contributed to teachers’ salaries and living stipends, particularly in rural areas. Parents of children not in compliance with the law were reportedly subject to substantial fines or two to six months in jail, but this was seldom, if ever, enforced, and many children did not attend or have access to school.

Girls participated in education at lower rates than boys, particularly in rural areas. Although girls initially enrolled at a higher rate, their participation dropped below boys’ because of a cultural tendency to keep girls at home to care for younger siblings or do other domestic work, and due to reported sexual harassment of female students by teachers and other staff. In April 2019 the Ministry of National Education created a new gender unit to focus on improving education and training for girls and women. The gender unit sponsored several events during the year, including a celebration of International Day of the Girl and a training for community leaders and parents on preventing pregnancy among school-aged girls.

Child Abuse: The penalty for statutory rape, or attempted rape, of a child younger than age 16 is a prison sentence of one to three years and a substantial fine. In March the government published a report detailing the findings of a 2018 study carried out with the support of international donors on violence against children and youth younger than age 18. The study found that 19 percent of girls and 11 percent of boys had been victims of sexual violence and 47 percent of girls and 61 percent of boys had been victims of physical violence. In 2019 the government investigated 59 cases of sexual abuse of minors and 37 child rape cases. In the first half of the year, the government reported two child rape convictions and four pending prosecutions. In February authorities arrested the relatives of a nine-year-old who died while being raped for not reporting the crime and for aiding in the rapist’s escape. To assist child victims of violence and abuse, the government cooperated with UNICEF to strengthen the child protection network in areas such as case management, the implementation of evidence-based prevention programs, and data collection and analysis.

Responsibility for combating child abuse lies with the Ministries of Employment, Social Affairs, and Professional Training; Justice and Human Rights; Women, Families, and Children; Solidarity, Social Cohesion, and the Fight against Poverty; and National Education. International organizations and civil society groups reported that lack of coordination among the ministries hampered their effectiveness.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: A law passed in July 2019 equalized the legal age for marriage for women and men at 18. The law prohibits marriage of women and men younger than 18 without parental consent. The law specifically penalizes anyone who forces a minor younger than 18 to enter a religious or customary matrimonial union. Nevertheless, reports of traditional marriages involving at least one minor spouse persisted.

In 2017 (most recent data available) according to UNICEF, 27 percent of girls were married by age 18 and 7 percent by age 15. In September media reported that a 15-year-old girl had been forced to marry a 29-year-old man in a customary marriage and was subjected to repeated abuse until she stabbed him to death in self-defense. Authorities arrested the girl and she confessed to the homicide; however, the public prosecutor ultimately released her and entrusted her to the Child and Youth Judicial Protection Service.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The law prohibits the use, recruitment, or offering of minors for commercial sex or use in pornographic films, pictures, or events. Violators can receive prison sentences ranging from five to 20 years and substantial fines. Statutory rape of a minor carries a punishment of one to three years in prison and a monetary fine.

The country is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to trafficking in persons, including sex trafficking.

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

Displaced Children: Human rights organizations reported thousands of children countrywide lived on the streets and were frequently subject to harassment by authorities. The government implemented a program to reduce the number of homeless minors. Officials in the Ministry of Youth opened several centers in a few cities where at-risk youth could live and receive training. A charity associated with First Lady Dominique Ouattara broke ground on a shelter to house former juvenile offenders. There was no information on the number of minors assisted in 2020.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html .

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community numbered fewer than 100 persons, including foreign residents and Ivoirian converts. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution contains protections for persons with disabilities. The law requires the government to educate and train persons with physical, mental, visual, auditory, and cerebral motor disabilities; hire them or help them find jobs; design houses and public facilities for wheelchair access; and adapt machines, tools, and work spaces for access and use by persons with disabilities as well as to provide them access to the judicial system. The law prohibits acts of violence against persons with disabilities and the abandonment of such persons. These laws were not effectively enforced.

Political campaigns did not include braille or sign language, undercutting civic participation by persons with vision and hearing disabilities. The CEI did not provide any formal accommodations for persons with disabilities at polling sites for the October presidential election, although observers reported CEI staff assisting persons with disabilities during both the presidential election and the June-July voter registration period on an ad hoc basis, including by physically carrying registration documents down to ground level of a building if the registration center was located on a higher floor.

Persons with disabilities reportedly encountered serious discrimination in employment and education. Prisons and detention centers reportedly provided no accommodations for persons with disabilities. Although the law requires measures to provide persons with disabilities access to transportation and buildings and designated parking spots, human rights organizations reported these provisions were frequently not implemented around the country.

The government financially supported some separate schools, training programs, associations, and artisans’ cooperatives for persons with disabilities, located primarily in Abidjan, but human rights organizations reported these schools functioned primarily as literacy centers and did not offer the same educational materials and programs as other schools. The government made efforts to recruit persons with disabilities for select government positions. Nonetheless, it was difficult for children with disabilities to obtain an adequate education if their families did not have sufficient resources. Although public schools did not bar students with disabilities from attending, such schools lacked the resources to accommodate them. In some instances, provisions were financed by private donations. Homelessness among persons with mental disabilities was reportedly common.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The country has more than 60 ethnic groups; human rights organizations reported ethnic discrimination was a problem. Authorities considered approximately 25 percent of the population foreign, although many within this category were second or third generation residents. Land ownership laws remained unclear and unimplemented, resulting in conflicts between native populations and other groups.

The law prohibits xenophobia, racism, and tribalism and makes these forms of intolerance punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. During the presidential election period, numerous interethnic (referred to as intercommunal in the country) clashes occurred. A particularly violent clash in Dabou between two ethnic groups, Malinke and Adjoukrou claimed 16 lives and injured 67 persons. Government officials found that the violence had been instigated by unidentified outside actors wanting to stoke the conflict, potentially for political gain, but did not say whether the actors were progovernment or opposition. Security forces deployed to the town to restore order and remained on the scene for several days.

In November, brutal intercommunal conflicts broke out in the rural interior towns of Daoukro, between Baoule and Malinke, and in M’Batto, between Agni and Malinke. The government recorded six deaths in Daoukro and three deaths in M’Batto, including two cases of persons burned to death and one beheading, although one opposition party claimed the actual death toll was much higher.

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

Homosexuality is not criminalized, but public heterosexual and same-sex intimate activity is subject to conviction as a form of public indecency that carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment. In July 2019 the government made minor changes to the law, but human rights organizations reported the changes did not prevent tacit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Human rights organizations reported the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community continued to face discrimination and violence. Authorities were at times slow and ineffective in their response to societal violence targeting the LGBTI community. Further, LGBTI persons often did not report violence committed or threatened against them, including assault or homicide, because they did not believe authorities would take their complaints seriously. LGBTI community members reported being evicted from their homes by landlords or by their own families. Familial rejection of LGBTI youth often caused them to become homeless and drop out of school. Members of the LGBTI community reported discrimination in access to health care.

In February a gay man was reportedly severely beaten by family members after presenting his long-term partner publicly at his birthday party. The next day, his uncle told him he would not let his homosexuality tarnish the family’s image and instructed relatives to beat or kill him. After his relatives beat the man, neighbors sheltered him and took him to a health center for treatment. He then took refuge in a church, but congregants demanded the pastor expel him. Information regarding authorities’ response to this incident was not readily available.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no credible reports of official discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status, and the government respected the confidentiality of individuals’ HIV/AIDS status. The government adhered to global standards of patient rights, and a statement of these rights was posted or available at health facilities. The law expressly condemns all forms of discrimination against persons with HIV and provides for their access to care and treatment. The law also prescribes punishment for refusal of care or discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status. Social stigma persists.

The Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene managed a program within the National AIDS Control Program to assist vulnerable populations at high risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS (including but not limited to men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers, persons who inject drugs, prisoners, and migrants). The Ministry of Women, Families, and Child Protection oversaw a program that directed educational, psychosocial, nutritional, and economic support to orphans and other vulnerable children, including those infected or affected by HIV.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the right of workers, except members of police and military services, to form or join unions of their choice, provides for the right to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers or others against union members or organizers. The law prohibits firing workers for union activities and provides for the reinstatement of dismissed workers within eight days of winning a wrongful dismissal claim. The law allows unions in the formal sector to conduct their activities without interference. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. Under the law, for a trade union to be considered representative at the business or establishment level, the union must win at least 30 percent of valid ballots cast representing at least 15 percent of registered electors. For broader organizations the trade union must have the support in one or more enterprises together employing at least 15 percent of the employees working in the occupational and geographical sector concerned. Foreigners are required to obtain residency status, which takes three years, before they may hold union office.

The law requires a protracted series of negotiations and a six-day notification period before a strike may take place, making legal strikes difficult to organize and maintain. Workers must maintain a minimum coverage in services whose interruption may endanger lives, security, or health; create a national crisis that threatens the lives of the population; or affect the operation of equipment. Additionally, if authorities deem a strike to be a threat to public order, the president has broad powers to compel strikers to return to work under threat of sanctions. Illegally striking workers may be subjected to criminal penalties, including forced labor. The president also may require that strikes in essential services go to arbitration, although the law does not describe what constitutes essential services.

Apart from large industrial farms and some trades, legal protections excluded most laborers in the informal sector, including small farms, roadside street stalls, and urban workshops.

Before collective bargaining can begin, a union must represent 30 percent of workers. Collective bargaining agreements apply to employees in the formal sector, and many major businesses and civil service sectors had them. Although the law may allow employers to refuse to negotiate, there were no complaints about this from unions pending with the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes.

There were no complaints pending with the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection of antiunion discrimination or employer interference in union functions.

In March media reported the public health workers’ union threatened to strike if the government did not provide them with personal protective equipment and hazard pay, in view of the risks of contracting COVID-19. The government met the union’s demands to prevent disruption of health services.

In July union members at the government-run center for agricultural research went on strike complaining of delayed salary payments and demanding research premiums; the government refused to meet the union’s demands.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits, and provides criminal penalties for, all forms of human trafficking, including for the purposes of forced labor or slavery. The law grants government officials broad power to requisition labor for “national economic and social promotion,” in violation of international standards. Judges may propose that defendants convicted of certain crimes perform physical labor for the benefit of the state as an alternative to incarceration, but the defendant must accept the terms of such a sentence.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The government did not provide enough resources or conduct enough inspections to enforce compliance. Forced and compulsory labor continued to occur in small-scale and commercial production of agricultural products, particularly on cocoa, coffee, pineapple, cashew, and rubber plantations, and in the informal labor sector, such as in domestic work, nonindustrial farm labor, artisanal mines, street shops, and restaurants.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age for employment is 16 years although the minimum age for apprenticeships is 14. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18 years. Minors younger than 18 may not work at night. Although the law prohibits the exploitation of children in the workplace, the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection did not enforce the law effectively outside the civil service and large national and multinational companies.

The National Monitoring Committee on Actions to Fight Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Labor, chaired by the First Lady, and the Interministerial Committee for the Fight against Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Labor are responsible for assessing government and donor actions on child labor.

The law prohibits child trafficking and the worst forms of child labor. The government took active steps to address the worst forms of child labor. In June 2019 the government launched the 2019-21 National Action Plan for the Fight against the Worst Forms of Child Labor. In July 2019, as part of the National Action Plan, the government reached an agreement with Burkina Faso to prevent unaccompanied minors from entering the country. The budget for the 2019-21 National Action Plan, although higher than the previous plan’s, has not yet been fully funded by its government and international organization partners. Periodic, standardized data collection efforts remain weak. Efforts to counter child labor in sectors besides the cocoa industry, such as palm oil, cotton, and artisanal gold mining, also remain weak. Separately from the National Action Plan, a private foundation led by the First Lady was building a shelter for victims of trafficking in the northern part of the country, after inaugurating a similar center in the southwest.

The Department of the Fight against Child Labor within the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, along with the two antitrafficking committees, led enforcement efforts. The government’s National Action Plan calls for efforts to improve access to education and health care for children and income-generating activities for their families, as well as nationwide surveys, awareness campaigns, and other projects with local NGOs to highlight the dangers associated with child labor. The government engaged in partnerships with the International Labor Organization, UNICEF, and the International Cocoa Initiative to implement these measures.

The List of Light Work Authorized for Children between 13 and 16 Years of Age introduces and defines the concept of “socializing work,” unpaid work that teaches children to be productive members of the society. The list states that a child cannot perform any work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. or during regular school hours, that light work should not exceed 14 hours a week, and that it should not involve more than two hours on a school day or more than four hours a day during vacation. In late 2016 basic education became compulsory for children aged six to 16, increasing school attendance rates and reducing the number of children looking for work.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Child labor remained a problem, particularly in artisanal gold and diamond mines, on agricultural plantations (generally small plots), and in domestic work. Within agriculture, the worst forms of child labor were particularly prevalent in the cocoa and coffee sectors. Inspections during the year did not result in investigations into child labor crimes. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for comparable crimes but were seldom applied. The number of inspectors and resources for enforcement were insufficient to enforce the law.

Children routinely worked on family farms or as vendors, shoe shiners, errand runners, domestic helpers, street restaurant vendors, and car watchers and washers. Some girls as young as nine years old reportedly worked as domestic servants, often within their extended family networks. Children working on farms faced hazardous conditions, including risk of injury from machetes, physical strain from carrying heavy loads, and exposure to harmful chemicals. According to international organizations, child labor was reported increasingly on cashew plantations and in illegal gold mines, although no official studies had been conducted. A study released in July found that child labor in the cocoa sector had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused schools to be closed from March to May.

To help prevent child trafficking, the government regulated the travel of minors into and out of the country, requiring children and parents to provide documentation of family ties, including at least a birth certificate.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equal access to public or private employment and prohibits any discrimination in access to or in the pursuit of employment on the basis of sex, ethnicity, or political, religious, or philosophical opinions.

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The law specifically prohibits workplace discrimination based on HIV/AIDS status but does not address other communicable diseases. The law includes provisions to promote access to employment for persons with disabilities: it stipulates that employers must reserve a quota of jobs for qualified applicants, but does not provide penalties for employment discrimination.

The government did not effectively enforce its antidiscrimination laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes. Human rights organizations continued to report discrimination with respect to gender, nationality, disability, and sexual orientation and gender identity. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in certain occupations and industries, including in mining, construction, and factories, but no known limitations on working hours based on sex. The government indicated that if a woman wanted to carry out any of the work on the “prohibited list,” she needed to contact an inspector at the Ministry of Labor. While women in the formal sector received the same pay and paid the same taxes as men, reports of a reticence to hire women persisted.

While women in the formal sector received the same pay and paid the same taxes as men, reports of a reticence to hire women persisted.

While the law provides the same protections for migrant workers in the formal sector as it does for citizens, most faced discrimination in terms of wages and treatment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage varied by sector. The minimum wage in all sectors exceeded the government’s estimated poverty level. The Ministry of Employment and Social Protection is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. Labor unions contributed to effective implementation of the minimum salary requirements in the formal sector. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of the total labor force worked in the informal economy, in which labor standards were generally not enforced. Labor federations advocated for just treatment under the law for workers when companies failed to meet minimum wage requirements or discriminated between classes of workers, such as women or foreign workers. The government started paying back-wages in 2019 based on a 2017 labor agreement reached with public-sector unions.

The law does not stipulate equal pay for equal work. There were no reports authorities took action to rectify the large salary discrepancies between foreign non-African employees and their African (i.e., both foreign African residents and Ivoirians) colleagues employed by the same companies.

The standard legal workweek is 40 hours. The law requires overtime pay for additional hours and provides for at least one 24-consecutive-hour rest period per week. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards in the formal sector, while the informal sector lacks regulation. The government, through the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, developed a 2019-21 strategic plan for conducting labor inspections in the informal sector. With support from the French government, during the year the government began conducting inspections in several industries in the informal sector, including building construction, carpentry, and hair dressing.

The law provides for the establishment of committees of occupational, safety, and health representatives responsible for verifying protection and worker health at workplaces. Such committees are to be composed of union members. The chair of a committee could report unhealthy and unsafe working conditions to the labor inspector without penalty. By law workers in the formal sector have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. They may utilize the inspection system of the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection to document dangerous working conditions. Authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. This labor law and related standards do not apply in the informal sector. The law does not cover several million foreign migrant workers or workers in the informal sector, who accounted for 70 percent of the nonagricultural economy.

The government did not effectively enforce the law applicable to the formal sector. Human rights organizations reported numerous complaints against employers, such as improper dismissals, uncertain contracts, failure to pay the minimum wage, and the failure to pay employee salaries. The failure to enroll workers in the country’s social security program and pay into it the amount the employer deducted from the worker’s salary was also a problem. Resources and inspection were not sufficient to enforce compliance. Administrative judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

The government enforced labor protections only for salaried workers employed by the government or registered with the social security office. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, but labor inspectors reportedly accepted bribes to ignore violations.

While the law requires businesses to provide medical services for their employees, small firms, businesses in the informal sector, households employing domestic staff, and farms (particularly during the seasonal harvests) did not comply. Excessive hours of work were common. In particular, employees in the informal manufacturing sector often worked without adequate protective gear. Human rights organizations reported that working conditions in illegal gold mines remained very poor, including lack of fencing around mines, as well as large detonations and resulting deadly mudslides.

According to a 2019 government report, there were 6,000 industrial accidents between 2015 and 2017, the most recent data available. According to data provided by government officials, the San Pedro region, the country’s second largest economic hub, had an average of 400 industrial accidents per year between 2016 and 2019 due to insufficient safety oversight.

Gambia

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

Families of individuals detained during the Jammeh regime continued to demand information on their missing relatives and that those responsible for killings, disappearances, and other serious crimes be held accountable. In July and August 2019, the general location of the remains of U.S.-Gambian dual nationals Alhagie Ceesay and Ebrima Jobe–kidnapped by government agents in 2013–was revealed during public testimony by members of former president Jammeh’s “Junglers” hit squad at the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Commission (TRRC). The TRRC was established in 2017 to address human rights abuses during the 22-year rule (1994-2016) of former president Jammeh. According to TRRC testimonies, Ceesay and Jobe are buried at the former president’s expansive farm near Kanilai. The government officially requested and received international forensics assistance to locate and identify their remains, assistance that at year’s end continued to be provided.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices. There was one report of inhuman and degrading treatment by a police officer of a detainee during the year. The incident was investigated and the officer sanctioned.

According to the online newspaper Gainako, on July 25, Commander Gorgi Mboob of the Police Anti-Crime Unit struck the genitals of detainee Ebrima Sanneh with a hoe at the unit’s prison farm in Bijilo. Sanneh was hospitalized due to genital bleeding. Although police initially refuted media reports of the incident as “false, and intended to mislead the public,” on July 25, he Ministry of Interior ordered an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission and placed Mboob on administrative leave. On October 8, the commission determined that Mboob had assaulted and wounded Sanneh and recommended disciplinary measures be taken against him, his removal from the Anti-Crime Unit, and monetary compensation for Sanneh.

According to the online portal Conduct in UN Field Missions, there is one open allegation (submitted in 2018) of sexual exploitation and abuse by a Gambian peacekeeper deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult in 2013-15. The United Nations completed its investigation and is awaiting additional information from the government. At year’s end authorities had yet to provide the additional information or accountability measures taken.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem, particularly in the remand wing of the state central prison, Mile 2 Prison in Banjul, where detainees were held pending trial. According to the NGO World Prison Brief, authorities in 2019 held 691 prisoners in facilities designed for 650. Food quality and access to potable water, sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and medical care remained inadequate. There were credible reports teenagers as young as age 15 were held with adults in pretrial detention facilities.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

Independent Monitoring: The government granted unrestricted access to all prisons to the Office of the Ombudsman, the TRRC, and local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements; there were no reports of arbitrary arrest during the year.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before arresting a person, but police officers often arrested individuals without a warrant. Military decrees enacted prior to the adoption of the constitution in 1997 give the National Intelligence Agency and the interior minister broad powers to detain individuals indefinitely without charge “in the interest of national security.” Although these detention decrees are inconsistent with the constitution, they were not legally challenged. The government claimed it no longer enforced the decrees.

Periods of detention before being brought before and judicial official and charged generally ranged from two to 72 hours, the legal limit after which authorities are required by law to charge or release detainees; however, there were numerous instances of detentions exceeding the 72-hour limit. There was a functioning bail system; however, two guarantors and advance remittance were generally required to obtain bail.

Officials in some cases did not allow detainees prompt access to a lawyer or family members. The judiciary provided lawyers at public expense only to indigent persons charged with capital crimes such as murder, for which a conviction includes the death penalty. Suspects were not detained incommunicado.

Pretrial Detention: Backlogs and inefficiency in the justice system resulted in lengthy pretrial detentions. Many inmates in the remand wing of Mile 2 Prison awaited trail, in some instances for several years. According to the Gambia Prison Services, approximately one-half of the prison population was in pretrial detention. The introduction of virtual courts, created in June in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was part of the government’s effort to reduce overcrowding, particularly among the remand population.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants were presumed innocent until proven guilty. Officials did not always promptly inform defendants of the charges against them. The law provides for a fair, timely, and public trial without undue delay; however, case backlogs hampered the right to a timely trial. Defendants enjoyed the right to be present at trial and to communicate with an attorney of their choice or if indigent and charged with a capital crime to have a lawyer at public expense. Defendants had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Officials provided free interpretation in defendants’ local languages as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants and their lawyers had the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They may appeal verdicts to a higher court.

On May 3, the Gambia Bar Association and the National Agency for Legal Aid signed a memorandum of understanding to provide free legal services to prisoners. By year’s end it was providing legal services to defendants incarcerated in the country’s three prisons and to remand and juvenile inmates.

The judicial system also recognizes customary law and sharia (Islamic law).

Customary law covers marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, inheritance, land tenure, tribal and clan leadership, and other traditional and social relations. District chiefs preside over local tribunals that administer customary law at the district level. Customary law recognizes the rights of all citizens regardless of age, gender, and religion.

For persons of Muslim faith, sharia applies in domestic matters, including marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Qadi courts (traditional Muslim courts that settle issues of divorce and inheritance) and district tribunals do not involve standard legal representation because lawyers are not trained in Islamic or customary law.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The High Court hears civil and human rights cases. Individuals may also seek assistance concerning violations of human rights law from the Office of the Ombudsman, which has a mandate to investigate such cases and recommend remedies for judicial consideration.

Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Nevertheless, on January 26, police closed local radio stations King and Home Digital FM. Police arrested and charged the stations’ owners and managers with broadcasting incendiary messages and inciting violence, and police held them for more than 48 hours before their release on bail. Ministry of Justice prosecutors found no factual basis on which to support the charges and dismissed them. The stations’ broadcasting licenses were suspended for one month.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected the right of peaceful association. Nevertheless, there were restrictions placed on the right of peaceful assembly.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

By law the Gambia Police Force must grant a permit for all public meetings and gatherings. The inspector general of police has the authority to approve or disapprove permits and is required to communicate his decision to the requester in writing. Requests are generally approved unless there is concern regarding the peaceful nature of a proposed protest. Due to training provided by the government of France, security forces’ capability to employ effective, nonviolent crowd-control techniques improved during the year.

Media reported that on January 26, police arrested 137 demonstrators during a protest organized by the Three Years Jotna Movement that began peacefully but turned violent. A total of 131 police and protesters were injured. The Three Years Jotna Movement called for the president to honor the commitment he made during his 2016 campaign to step down after three years, with some persons affiliated with the movement advocating violence to forcibly remove the president from office. Violence erupted when a group of protesters allegedly deviated from the negotiated area approved by authorities for the protest and police moved to disperse protesters. Police used tear gas against stone throwing protesters, a small group of whom set fire to a bus-stop shelter. Most injuries suffered by protesters were respiratory due to tear gas; however, some protesters and police sustained serious lacerations from thrown rocks and debris. On January 26, protest organizers Abdou Njie, Ebrima Kitim Jarju, Sheriff Sonko, Hagi Suwaneh, Fanta Mballow, Karim Touray, Yankuba Darboe, and Muctarr Ceesay were charged with unlawful assembly and rioting. On February 24, the protest organizers were released on bail. At year’s end they had yet to be tried.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: Police and immigration personnel frequently set up security checkpoints. Individuals found to be without proper identification documentation were subject to detention or forced to pay bribes.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The Gambia Commission for Refugees worked with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on protection of refugees.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election in 2016, in which Adama Barrow, the candidate of an opposition coalition, defeated Yahya Jammeh, the incumbent. The election was largely peaceful and considered credible. The defeated incumbent initially accepted the results before declaring them “null and void,” alleging irregularities in the process. This led to a six-week political impasse before Jammeh dropped his claims and went into exile in Equatorial Guinea, bowing to regional and international pressure and the threat of military force from the Economic Community of West African States, the member states of which had massed soldiers on the country’s borders.

The country also held legislative elections in 2017 that were described by domestic and international observers as mostly free and fair. Mama Kandeh, leader of the Gambia Democratic Congress, rejected the results, claiming to have evidence that would expose the unfairness of the entire process. Kandeh, however, did not provide any evidence to substantiate his claim.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Evidence suggested cultural constraints limited women’s participation in the political process; men greatly outnumbered women in the cabinet and parliament. Only five women hold seats in the 58-member National Assembly.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, and the government generally implemented the law.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure statements from both appointed and elected public officials; however, it does not stipulate sanctions for noncompliance. No government agency is mandated to monitor and verify financial disclosures. Declarations are not released to the public.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Among these were the #Jammeh2Justice campaign to have the Ghanaian and Gambian governments try former president Jammeh for the 2005 killings of irregular migrants–among them 44 Ghanaians–and the Victims Center that supports the TRRC and assists victims of Jammeh-era human rights abuses.

Government officials were usually cooperative and responsive to human rights issues raised by human rights groups during the year. The law continues to require NGOs to register with the National Advisory Council that has the authority to deny, suspend, or cancel the right of any NGO (including international NGOs) to operate in the country. The council did not take actions against any NGO during the year.

In September the TRRC resumed hearings after a six-month suspension from March to September due to COVID-19 restrictions. TRRC witnesses testified to multiple instances of human rights abuses by the Jammeh government, including killings, torture, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, and forced disappearances. Witnesses included members of the Junglers hit squad who admitted to committing gross human rights abuses.

The National Human Rights Commission was active in addressing and investigating human rights abuses, and publicly called for government actions to address human rights issues such as the continued criminalization of homosexuality.

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

The constitution and law provide for equality of all persons; no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner because of race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. Legal provisions against discrimination do not apply to adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and inheritance of property. The law prohibits discrimination in employment, access to credit, owning and managing a business, or in housing or education.

There were no reports the government failed to enforce the law.

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of individuals–without reference to gender–and domestic violence. The penalty for conviction of rape is life imprisonment. The maximum penalty for conviction of attempted rape is seven years’ imprisonment. Spousal and intimate-partner rape was widespread and not illegal; police officers generally considered it a domestic issue outside of their jurisdiction. Rape and domestic violence were widespread problems that often went unreported due to victims’ fear of reprisal, unequal power relationships, stigma, discrimination, and pressure from family and friends not to report abuses. Conviction of domestic violence carries a sentence of two years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Children, and Social Welfare operates a shelter and cooperates with UN agencies and civil society organizations to address sexual- and gender-based violence. In November a campaign of inclusive events was conducted to address issues of sexual- and gender-based violence in the country. The vice president led a march to raise awareness of the problem and to encourage victims of sexual- and gender-based violence to report abuse in order for perpetrators to be charged and prosecuted.

FGM/C is a deeply rooted practice in society. FGM/C cases are very seldom reported, either because individuals do not agree with the law or because they are uncomfortable reporting family or community members engaged in the practice to authorities. According to UNICEF and NGOs, 76 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 had been subjected to FGM/C. NGOs, including the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, Wassu Gambia Kafo, Safe Hands for Girls, and Think Young Women, were at the forefront of combatting FGM/C in the country.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a one-year mandatory prison sentence for conviction. Sexual harassment was prevalent but not commonly reported due to discrimination, social stigma, and unwillingness to challenge the offenders due to unequal power relationships and fear of reprisal.

Reproductive Rights: By law couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. They had access to the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Abortion is illegal and criminalized, including in cases of rape. According to the UN Population Fund, 41 percent of married or in-union girls and women ages 15 to 49 made their own decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health, including deciding on their health care, the use of contraception, and whether to have sex. According to UNICEF, 88 percent of births were attended by a skilled health-care professional.

The government provides access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

According to the World Health Organization, the country’s maternal mortality rate in 2020 was 597 per 100,000 live births. It identified hemorrhage, anemia, early pregnancy, and obstructed labor as the main causes of maternal mortality. FGM/C negatively impacted reproductive and maternal morbidity.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equality of all persons, including with regard to race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, and birth. The law prohibits discrimination in employment, access to credit, owning and managing a business, or in housing or education. Nevertheless, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women regarding adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and inheritance of property. During the year there were no reports the government failed to enforce the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the country’s territory or through either parent. Not all parents registered births, but this did not preclude their children from receiving public health and education services. Birth certificates were easily obtained in most cases.

Education: The constitution and law mandate compulsory, tuition-free primary- and lower-secondary-level education. Families often must pay fees for books, uniforms, lunches, school fund contributions, and examination fees. An estimated 75 percent of primary school-age children enrolled in primary schools. Girls comprised approximately one-half of primary school students but only one-third of high school students.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: By law children younger than age 18 may not marry; however under customary or sharia, 34.2 percent of girls younger than 18 were married, and 9.5 percent younger than 15 were married. Government sensitization campaigns in several areas of the country, particularly in remote villages, sought to create awareness of the law.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The penalties for conviction of sex trafficking are 50 years’ to life imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine. The law provides for 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children, depending on the type of offense, 10 years’ imprisonment for conviction of procurement of a child for prostitution, and five years’ imprisonment for conviction of child pornography.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information, see the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against or exploitation of persons with disabilities, although it does not stipulate the kinds of disabilities protected, particularly regarding access to health services, education, and employment. There are no explicit legal provisions that require access to transportation, buildings, and information or communications for persons with disabilities.

There are three separate schools for students with visual, hearing, or learning disabilities. Other students with physical disabilities may attend mainstream schools, but there are no programs or facilities to address specific needs. Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a lower rate than other children.

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

Citing more pressing priorities, the president dismissed homosexuality as a nonissue in the country. In 2018 the country’s delegation to the UN Human Rights Council stated the government did not plan to reverse or change the law. Although the law was rarely enforced, on July 1, local media reported that a Senegalese national was arrested in Kotu for engaging in same-sex relations with another adult. He was initially reported to police for stealing a cell phone of a Gambian man with whom he had sexual relations.

The law does not address discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals (LGBTI) persons in essential goods and services such as housing, employment, and access to government services such as health care. There was strong societal discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although there were no reports to authorities of HIV-related stigma and discrimination in employment, housing, or access to education or health care, it existed. Societal discrimination against persons infected with HIV/AIDS and fear of rejection by partners and relatives sometimes hindered identification and treatment of persons with the disease. The government’s Gambia National Health Strategic Plan 2014-2020 provides for the care, treatment, and support of persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The multisectoral plan includes HIV-prevention programs for high-risk populations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that workers, except for civil servants, domestic workers, court officers and certain other categories of workers, are free to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. A broad range of essential service employees, including in the military, police, health, ambulance, prison, water and electricity services, and radio and telecommunication services sectors, are prohibited from forming unions or going on strike. Additionally, the law authorizes the minister responsible for labor matters to exclude any other category of workers from the protection of the law. Unions must register to be recognized. The law requires a minimum membership of 50 workers for the registration of a trade union, a threshold few workplaces could meet. The law also provides that the registrar of unions may examine without because the financial accounts of workers’ associations.

The law restricts the right to strike by requiring unions to give the commissioner of labor written notice 14 days before beginning an industrial action (28 days for actions involving essential services). Police and military personnel had access to a complaints unit, and civil servants could take union complaints to the public service commission or the government’s personnel management office. An employer may apply for a court injunction to prohibit industrial action deemed to be in pursuit of a political objective. The court also may forbid action judged to be in breach of a collectively agreed procedure for settlement of industrial disputes. The law prohibits retribution against strikers who comply with the law regulating strikes. Employers may not fire or discriminate against members of registered unions for engaging in legal union activities, and the law provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law also sets minimum contract standards for hiring, training, and terms of employment and provides that contracts may not prohibit union membership.

The government did not effectively enforce the law; however, there were no official reports of persistent abuses of workers’ right of freedom of association. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations and were rarely applied. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Although trade unions were small and fragmented, collective bargaining took place. Union members were able to negotiate without government interference; however, they lacked experience, organization, and professionalism and often turned to the government for assistance in negotiations. The Department of Labor registered most collective agreements, which remained valid for three years and were renewable.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including that of children, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law sets forth general employment protections, including contractual rights, freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and disciplinary procedures in the workplace, among other important labor regulations. Domestic laborers were not protected under the national labor law, however, which rendered them vulnerable to exploitation. The penalties for forced labor were commensurate with those for other serious crimes but were seldom applied.

Military service members may be compelled to undertake work that is not purely military in character, including in agriculture, engineering, health, and education. Women and children were subjected to forced labor primarily for domestic labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Contrary to International Labor Organization conventions, the law permits compulsory labor for prisoners convicted of possession of prohibited publications, seditious statements or writings, and publishing rumors or false statements.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The constitution prohibits economic exploitation of children younger than age 16, and regulations prohibit children younger than 18 from engaging in exploitive labor or hazardous employment, including mining and quarrying, going to sea, carrying heavy loads, operating heavy machinery, and working in establishments serving alcohol. The law sets the minimum age at 16 for light work but allows children as young as 12 to apprentice in the informal sector.

The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and conventions on the worst forms of child labor, but it did not effectively do so. The government took few actions to prevent or combat child labor during the year. The penalties for conviction of child labor laws were commensurate with those for similar serious crimes but were seldom applied. The labor commissioner registered employee labor cards, which include a person’s age; the law authorizes the commissioner to enforce child labor laws. Enforcement inspections rarely took place and when they took place, no one was prosecuted.

Child labor occurred primarily in the informal sector and was largely unregulated. Rising school fees combined with stagnating incomes prevented some families from sending their children to school, contributing to the vulnerability of children to child labor. Additionally, many children completed nine years of compulsory schooling at age 14, rendering them vulnerable to child labor. In urban areas some children worked as street vendors, domestic laborers, or taxi and bus assistants. There were instances of children begging on the streets, including cases of forced begging. Children between ages 14 and 17 also worked in carpentry, masonry, plumbing, tailoring, and auto repair. Children in rural areas worked on family farms, often under hazardous conditions.

See also the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, disability, sex, property, or birth. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of HIV/AIDS status, sexual orientation, or gender identity but prohibits discrimination based on other status. The law defines the criteria that prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, and the government enforced the law inconsistently, applying it in the formal sector but not in the large informal sector. Penalties were commensurate with those for other similar violations.

Employment in the formal sector was open to women at the same salary rates as men, and no statutory discrimination existed in other kinds of employment; however, societal discrimination lingered, and women generally worked in such low-wage pursuits as food vending and subsistence farming. The law also prohibits discrimination in private companies certified by the Department of Labor.

During the year the government did not report any cases of discriminatory practices with respect to employment or occupation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Collective bargaining, arbitration, or agreements reached between unions and management determined union members’ wages, and the minimum wage was generally less than the World Bank’s international poverty line, although it was above the government’s national poverty baseline. Employers paid most workers above the minimum wage. Most citizens did not live on a single worker’s earnings and shared resources within extended families. The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for wage and hour violations were rarely enforced. Most workers were employed in the private sector or were self-employed, often in agriculture and other informal sectors where labor laws were not enforced.

The basic legal workweek is 48 hours within a period not to exceed six consecutive days. The government’s workweek consists of four eight-hour workdays Monday through Thursday and a four-hour workday on Friday. The private sector typically operates from Monday through Saturday. Regulations mandate a 30-minute lunch break. Regulations entitle government employees to one month of paid annual leave after one year of service. The government does not pay most government employees overtime compensation. Government workers holding temporary positions and private-sector workers, however, receive overtime pay calculated at time and a half per hour. There is no exception for foreign or migrant workers.

The law specifies appropriate safety equipment an employer must provide to employees working in designated occupations. The law also authorizes the Department of Labor to regulate factory health and safety, accident prevention, and dangerous trades and to appoint inspectors to conduct unannounced inspections, identify unsafe conditions, and issue sanctions to enforce compliance. Workers may demand protective equipment and clothing for hazardous workplaces and have recourse to the Labor Department for violations of occupational safety and health standards. Workers could not remove themselves from unsafe conditions without possible jeopardy to their jobs. The law protects foreign workers employed by the government; however, it provides protection for privately employed foreigners only if they have valid work permits.

The government did not effectively enforce the law on occupational health and safety. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations and were seldom applied. Court remedies were lengthy, expensive, and generally ineffective. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Wage and safety standards were not enforced in the informal sector, which included most workers.

Violations of health and safety standards were common in the service, construction, agricultural, and domestic labor sectors. According to Forbes’ 2020 report, The Worlds Most Dangerous Countries for Workers, 64 percent of Gambian workers stated they had been injured on the job. In February, two sanitation workers died inside a sanitation sewer at a local restaurant.

Ghana

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

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

There were a few reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Offices charged with investigating security force killings include the Special Investigations Branch of the Ghana Armed Forces and the Police Professional Standards Bureau.

In April a soldier enforcing the government’s COVID-19 lockdown killed a man suspected of smuggling. The military issued a statement indicating the soldier accidentally discharged his firearm during a scuffle with the man; witnesses disputed the statement and stated the soldier intentionally killed the man. Military police removed the soldier from his post and placed him in custody. Authorities completed an investigation but did not make public the results.

During a voter registration exercise from June to August, two persons died in violent protests involving ruling and opposition party activists at several registration locations (see section 3, Recent Elections).

The Ghana Police Service reported five persons shot and killed in the December 7 national elections. Subsequently a sixth person died from gunshot wounds. Two of the deaths occurred in Techiman South (Bono East Region) and involved security forces. Media and opposition personalities accused police and military of using intimidation to overturn election results. The minister of defense denied the accusations, and the minister of interior announced the deaths would be investigated.

b. Disappearance

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

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused detained suspects and other citizens. Victims were often reluctant to file formal complaints. Police generally denied allegations or claimed the level of force used was justified.

In April there were multiple accusations of police aggressively enforcing the government’s COVID-19 lockdown measures. In some instances witnesses filmed police beating civilians with horsewhips, canes, and similar implements.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two open allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by Ghanaian peacekeepers deployed to the UN Mission in South Sudan. The United Nations reported authorities had not provided information on actions taken against the alleged perpetrators. A 2019 case involved a staff officer’s allegedly exploitative relationship with an adult. Authorities stated the military judge advocate general division was seeking to court martial the officer, and requested that the United Nations make witnesses available. A 2018 case involved 12 peacekeepers’ alleged transactional sex with an adult. An adjudicating panel acquitted the peacekeepers and discharged the case for lack of evidence in December 2019, stating the United Nations had not made relevant witnesses available.

Impunity remained a significant problem in the Ghana Police Service. Corruption, brutality, poor training, lack of oversight, and an overburdened judicial system contributed to impunity. Police often failed to respond to reports of abuses and, in many instances, did not act unless complainants paid for police transportation and other operating expenses. The Office of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the Police Professional Standards Board investigated claims of excessive force by security force members.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of medical care, physical abuse, and food shortages.

Physical Conditions: The prisons public relations officer reported in September 2019 that prison overcrowding reached more than 55 percent, with a population of 15,461 inmates compared to a total prison capacity of 9,945 inmates. Although authorities sought to hold juveniles separately from adults, there were reports detainees younger than age 18 were held with adults. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicts but generally in separate cells, although due to overcrowding in convict blocks, Nsawam Prison held some convicts in blocks designated for pretrial detainees. The Ghana Prisons Service held women separately from men.

While prisoners had access to potable water, food was inadequate. Meals routinely lacked fruit, vegetables, or meat, forcing prisoners to rely on charitable donations and their families to supplement their diet. The prisons public relations officer identified feeding of inmates as a key problem. The Ghana Prisons Service facilitated farming activities for inmates to supplement their feeding.

Officials held much of the prison population in buildings that were originally colonial forts or abandoned public or military buildings, which despite improvements had poor ventilation and sanitation, substandard construction, and inadequate space and light. The Ghana Prisons Service periodically fumigated and disinfected prisons. There were not enough toilets available for the number of prisoners, with as many as 100 prisoners sharing one toilet, and toilets often overflowed with excrement.

The Ghana Prisons Service largely avoided outbreaks of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases by conducting regular health checks on prisoners and relying on donations of personal protective equipment. Medical assistants provided medical services, but they were overstretched and lacked basic equipment and medicine. At Nsawam Prison a medical officer operated the health clinic. All prison infirmaries had a severely limited supply of medicine. All prisons were supplied with malaria test kits. Prisons did not provide dental care. Doctors visited prisons when required, and prison officials referred prisoners to local hospitals to address conditions prison medical personnel could not treat on site, but the prisons often lacked ambulances to transport inmates off site properly. To facilitate treatment at local facilities, the Ghana Prisons Service continued to register inmates in the National Health Insurance Scheme. The Ankaful Disease Camp Prison held prisoners with the most serious contagious diseases. Religious organizations, charities, private businesses, and citizens often provided services and materials, such as medicine and food, to the prisons.

Although persons with disabilities reported receiving medicine for chronic ailments and having access to recreational facilities and vocational education, a study released in 2016 found that prison facilities disadvantaged persons with disabilities, since they faced problems accessing health care and recreational facilities. No prison staff specifically focused on mental health, and officials did not routinely identify or offer treatment or other support to prisoners with mental disabilities.

Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority to respond to complaints; rather, each prison designated an officer-in-charge to receive and respond to complaints. These officers investigated complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which were independent of government influence. They monitored juvenile confinement and pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures. Local news agencies also reported on prison conditions.

Improvements: The NGO-led Justice for All program with the support of government expedited judicial review for many pretrial (remand) prisoners, reducing their numbers significantly. Paralegals and civil society were heavily involved in the program.

In July, President Akufo-Addo granted clemency to 794 prisoners to curb the spread of COVID-19.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law provide for protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government frequently disregarded these protections.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires detainees be brought before a court within 48 hours of arrest in the absence of a judicial warrant, but authorities frequently detained individuals without charge or a valid arrest warrant for periods longer than 48 hours. Officials detained some prisoners for indefinite periods by renewing warrants or simply allowing them to lapse while an investigation took place. The constitution grants a detained individual the right to be informed immediately, in a language the person understands, of the reasons for detention and of his or her right to a lawyer. Most detainees, however, could not afford a lawyer. While the constitution grants the right to legal aid, the government often did not provide it. The government has a Legal Aid Commission that provides defense attorneys to those in need, but it was often unable to do so. Defendants in criminal cases who could not afford a lawyer typically represented themselves. The law requires that any detainee not tried within a “reasonable time,” as determined by the court, must be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to compel the person’s appearance at a later court date. The definition of “reasonable time,” however, has never been legally determined or challenged in the courts. As a result, officials rarely observed this provision. The government sought to reduce the population of prisoners in pretrial detention by placing paralegals in some prisons to monitor and advise on the cases of pretrial detainees, assist with the drafting of appeals, and by directing judges to visit prisons to review and take action on pretrial detainee cases.

A December 2019 Supreme Court unanimous decision that police could not detain individuals for more than 48 hours without charging them or granting bail had little or no effect on authorities’ behavior.

The law provides for bail, including those accused of serious crimes, but courts often used their unlimited discretion to set bail at prohibitively high levels.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were no specific reports of arbitrary arrests by police, although the general practice of holding detainees without proper warrant or charge continued (see Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Ghana Prisons Service statistics available in July 2019 indicated 1,848 prisoners, approximately 12 percent of all prisoners, were in pretrial status. The government kept prisoners in extended pretrial detention due to police failure to investigate or follow up on cases, case files lost when police prosecutors rotated to other duties every three years, slow trial proceedings marked by frequent adjournments, detainees’ inability to meet bail conditions that were often set extremely high even for minor offenses, and inadequate legal representation for criminal defendants. The length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime in numerous instances.

Inadequate recordkeeping contributed to prisoners being held in egregiously excessive pretrial detention, a few for up to 10 years. Judicial authorities, however, were implementing a case tracking system on a trial basis in seven different regions. The system is designed to track a case from initial arrest to remand custody in the prisons, to prosecution in the courts to incarceration or dismissal. The system is envisioned to be used by all judicial and law enforcement participants, including police, public defenders, prosecutors, courts, prisons, the Legal Aid Commission, the Economic and Organized Crimes Office, and NGOs, with the intention of increasing transparency and accountability. Some commentators believed the tracking system could be used to press for release of remand prisoners held for lengthy periods.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but lack of legal representation for detainees inhibited this right.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, it was subject to unlawful influence and corruption. Judicial officials reportedly accepted bribes to expedite or postpone cases, “lose” records, or issue favorable rulings for the payer of the bribe.

A judicial complaints unit within the Ministry of Justice headed by a retired Supreme Court justice addressed complaints from the public, such as unfair treatment by a court or judge, unlawful arrest or detention, missing trial dockets, delayed trials and rendering of judgments, and bribery of judges. The government generally respected court orders.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair hearing, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal hearings must be public unless the court orders them closed in the interest of public morality, public safety, public order, defense, welfare of persons younger than age 18, protection of the private lives of persons concerned in the proceedings, and as necessary or expedient where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, with free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, but trials were often delayed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, be represented by an attorney, have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, present witnesses and evidence, and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, although generally defendants are expected to testify if the government presents sufficient preliminary evidence of guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected these safeguards.

In his statement following his visit in 2018, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston reported that the constitutional right to legal aid was meaningless in the great majority of cases because of a lack of institutional will to introduce needed far-reaching reforms.

Military personnel are tried separately under the criminal code in a military court. Military courts, which provide the same rights as civilian courts, are not permitted to try civilians.

Village and other traditional chiefs can mediate local matters and enforce customary tribal laws dealing with such matters as divorce, child custody, and property disputes. Their authority continued to erode, however, because of the growing power of civil institutions, including courts and district assemblies.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens had access to courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses.

The constitution states the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal. Defendants, however, may seek remedies for allegations of human rights abuses at the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: There were occasional attacks on journalists by members of security forces as well as by unknown assailants. The NGO Committee to Protect Journalists reported two attacks by security forces on journalists related to reporting on COVID-19. On August 12, a soldier kicked and beat Stanley Nii Blewu, a reporter for the privately owned TV3, as he and a colleague were reporting on a sanitation project in Accra. The soldier also confiscated cell phones and a camera from Blewu and his colleague Joseph Gold-Alorgbey.

In January a court issued a warrant for the arrest of social media commentator Kelvin Taylor, who had made public allegations that a Court of Appeals judge was favoring the government. On October 7, police arrested David Tamakloe, editor in chief of the Whatsup News website, for allegedly publishing false news. Tamakloe had published a report alleging pre-election irregularities in the Ashanti Region. Authorities released Tamakloe on bail October 8; his case remained pending. On December 14, authorities arrested Power FM presenter Oheneba Boamah, after inviting him a police station for questioning over allegedly threatening and insulting the president. He was held just less than 48 hours before being released on bail.

In late 2019 the Ministry of Information launched the Framework for Journalist Safety and Responsible Journalism in partnership with civil society organizations and law enforcement authorities. The National Media Commission, an independent governmental body in charge of setting, monitoring, and enforcing standards for media practitioners and overseeing state-owned media, was charged with the framework’s implementation in January.

National Security: In February the National Communications Authority (NCA) suspended the operation of Radio Tongu in the Volta Region on the grounds of national security, following complaints that the radio station was being used to promote the Western Togoland separatist movement. The Media Foundation for West Africa raised concerns that the NCA had overreached its mandate by sanctioning the station for its content rather than technical infractions.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Police used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets on opposition demonstrators protesting the December election results; the demonstrators had not provided police the required five days’ notice ahead of the demonstrations. Police secured a restraining order against the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), prohibiting protests between December 20 and January 10, 2021.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. In a stated effort to curb human trafficking, however, the government continued its ban on labor recruitment to Gulf countries after continuing reports of abuse endured by migrant workers. Media investigations revealed some recruitment agencies continued their operations despite the ban.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian offices in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Gender-based violence remained a problem. According to UNHCR, there were continuing incidents of sexual and gender-based violence reported from refugee camps. UNHCR worked with Department of Social Welfare personnel and Ghana Health Service psychosocial counselors to provide medical, psychosocial, security, and legal assistance where necessary in all the cases reported. Obstacles to holding perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence accountable for acts conducted in the camps included ineffective access to civil and criminal legal counseling for victims; poor coordination among the Department of Social Welfare, the Legal Aid Commission, and police; and lack of representation for the alleged perpetrators and presumed survivors.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law allows rejected asylum seekers to appeal and remain in the country until an appeal is adjudicated. A four-member appeals committee, appointed by the minister of the interior, is responsible for adjudicating the appeals, but the process continued to be subject to delays.

There were reports of residents of Burkina Faso (called Burkinabe), who fled insecurity, continuing to settle in the Upper West Region and registering as asylum seekers. The government continued security checks of the Burkinabe before commencing the registration process.

Employment: Refugees could apply for work permits through the same process as other foreigners; however, work permits were generally issued only for employment in the formal sector, while the majority of refugees worked in the informal sector.

Durable Solutions: UNHCR assisted in the voluntary repatriation of Ivoirian refugees who originally came due to political instability at home.

UNHCR and the Ghana Refugee Board continued to work with the Liberian government to issue passports to Liberians who seek residency in the country, enabling them to receive residence and work permits. UNHCR Ghana coordinated with the UNHCR office in Liberia to expedite the process. The Ghana Immigration Service also supported the process by issuing reduced-cost residency permits, including work permits for adults, to locally integrating former Liberian refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The law stipulates 10- to 15-year sentences for soliciting or engaging in political vigilante activity. The government and the two main political parties took steps to rein in political vigilante groups, and vigilantism was not a problem in the elections. For example, in June the opposition NDC agreed to a Roadmap and Code of Conduct designed to eliminate political vigilante activities to which the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) had already agreed.

Some opposition parties and civil society organizations reported the Electoral Commission (EC) had politicized a voter registration exercise that took place June 30 to August 8, particularly in view of the president’s earlier placing of allegedly biased members on that body. The exercise rolled out a new biometric voter registration system built for national elections in December. Critics expressed concerns that the exercise was hastily organized, confusing, costly, and unnecessary. In violent protests involving ruling and opposition party activists at several registration locations, two persons died.

Parties and independent candidates campaigned openly and without undue restrictions in the period preceding the national elections in December for the executive and legislative branches. Participants ran largely peaceful campaigns, although there were reports of isolated instances of violence such as a clash between political party supporters on October 25 in Accra. Just prior to the election in December, the two candidates from the largest parties, President Akufo-Addo (NPP) and John Mahama (NDC) agreed to a civil society-sponsored “peace pact” for the electoral cycle.

Domestic and international observers assessed the elections to be transparent, inclusive, credible, and reflecting the will of the people. Some observers noted concerns over the misuse of incumbency, the lack of enforcement of regulations on campaign financing, and unequal access granted to state-owned media during the campaign. There were reports of six deaths (see section 1.a.) and some reports of postelection violence.

The opposition NDC rejected the EC’s December 9 announced results and claimed fraud by both the NPP and the EC in the presidential election and at least five parliamentary seats. Media and civil society groups generally did not give these claims credence.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate, although not in the same numbers as men. Three women ran for president, and there was one woman vice presidential candidate from one of the two largest parties. Women held fewer leadership positions than men, and female political figures faced sexism, harassment, and threats of violence. Cultural and traditional factors limited women’s participation in political life. Research organizations found that insults, concerns regarding physical safety, and overall negative societal attitudes toward female politicians hindered women from entering politics.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption. Corruption was present in all branches of government, according to media and NGOs.

The government took steps to implement laws intended to foster more transparency and accountability in public affairs. Authorities commissioned the Right to Information (RTI) secretariat in July to provide support to RTI personnel in the public sector; however, some civil society organizations stated the government had not made sufficient progress implementing the law.

The country continued use of the national anticorruption online reporting dashboard, for the coordination of all anticorruption efforts of various governmental bodies.

Corruption: In June, President Akufo-Addo directed Auditor General Daniel Yao Domelevo to take accumulated leave and hand over control of the office to his deputy. Domelevo, an outspoken critic of corruption, had clashed with officials and pursued prominent corruption cases. After Domelevo challenged the constitutionality of the order, the president extended the leave. In October a group of nine civil society organizations sued the president to safeguard the independence of the auditor general office. The Audit Service Board investigated Domelevo and in November forwarded a report to the Audit Committee alleging irregularities in Domelevo’s foreign travel.

In October, President Akufo-Addo fired the CEO of the Public Procurement Authority, who had been shown on videotape in 2019 as having conflicts of interest in the award of government contracts. In November, Special Prosecutor Martin Amidu resigned, alleging the government did not provide adequate resources for his office to execute its mandate and complaining that public officials did not cooperate with his work, particularly suspected corruption in the Akufo-Addo administration connection to Agyapa Limited Royalties. Prior to Amidu’s resignation, civil society criticized the structure and positioning of the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) under the attorney general, suggesting the OSP’s reporting structure meant it could not be fully independent. In November the OSP released a report on the Agyapa case, its sole report during Amidu’s tenure. Observers expressed frustration that the OSP did not investigate more cases.

In November, Special Prosecutor Martin Amidu resigned, alleging the government did not provide adequate resources for his office to execute its mandate and complaining that public officials did not cooperate with his work, particularly suspected corruption in the Akufo-Addo administration connection to Agyapa Limited Royalties. Prior to Amidu’s resignation, civil society criticized the structure and positioning of the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) under the attorney general, suggesting the OSP’s reporting structure meant it could not be fully independent. In November the OSP released a report on the Agyapa case, its sole report during Amidu’s tenure. Observers expressed frustration that the OSP did not investigate more cases.

According to the government’s Economic and Organized Crime Office as well as Corruption Watch, a campaign steered by the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, the country lost 9.7 billion cedis ($1.9 billion) to corruption between 2016 and 2018 in five controversial government contracts with private entities. In October 2019 the deputy commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) stated that 20 percent of the national budget and 30 percent of all government procurement were lost to corruption annually.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution’s code of conduct for public officers establishes an income and asset declaration requirement for the head of state, ministers, cabinet members, members of parliament, and civil servants. All elected and some appointed public officials are required to make these declarations every four years and before leaving office. The CHRAJ commissioner has authority to investigate allegations of noncompliance with the law regarding asset declaration and take “such action as he considers appropriate.” Financial disclosures remain confidential unless requested through a court order. Observers criticized the financial disclosure regulation, noting that infrequent filing requirements, exclusion of filing requirements for family members of public officials, lack of public transparency, and absence of consequences for noncompliance undermined its effectiveness.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CHRAJ, which had offices across the country, and which mediated and settled cases brought by individuals against government agencies or private companies, operated with no overt interference from the government; however, since it is itself a government institution, some critics questioned its ability independently to investigate high-level corruption. Its biggest obstacles were low salaries, poor working conditions, and the loss of many of its staff to other governmental organizations and NGOs. Public confidence in the CHRAJ was high, resulting in an increased workload for its staff.

The Police Professional Standards Board also investigated human rights abuses and police misconduct.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women but not spousal rape. Sexual assault on a man may be charged as indecent assault. Prison sentences for those convicted of rape range from five to 25 years, while indecent assault is a misdemeanor subject to a minimum term of imprisonment of six months. Domestic violence is punishable by a fine or a sentence of up to two years imprisonment. Rape and domestic violence remained serious problems. Authorities did not enforce the law effectively.

In November the parent-teacher association of a school in the Volta Region reported to the police and petitioned the Ghana Education Service to investigate allegations of rape and sexual assault against the head teacher. The teacher allegedly tried to convince a pregnant student to have sex with him and threatened and raped her. Media reported the man made sexual advances on six other girls.

The Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service worked closely with the Department of Social Welfare, the Domestic Violence Secretariat, the CHRAJ, the Legal Aid Commission, the Ark Foundation, UNICEF, the UN Population Fund, the national chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, and several other human rights NGOs to address rape and domestic violence. Inadequate logistical capacity in the DOVVSU and other agencies, however, including the absence of private rooms to speak with victims, hindered the full application of the law. Pervasive cultural beliefs in female roles, as well as sociocultural norms and stereotypes, posed additional challenges to combatting domestic violence. For example, media reported that the central regional coordinator for DOVVSU stated that “denying your spouse sex amounted to emotional abuse” and suggested that men whose wives denied them sex could report them to the DOVVSU.

Unless specifically called upon by the DOVVSU, police seldom intervened in cases of domestic violence, in part due to a lack of counseling skills and shelter facilities to assist victims. Few of the cases in which police identified and arrested suspects for rape or domestic abuse reached court or resulted in conviction due to witness unavailability, inadequate training on investigatory techniques, police prosecutor case mismanagement, and, according to the DOVVSU, lack of resources on the part of victims and their families to pursue cases. Police could refer victims to one NGO-operated designated shelter. In cases deemed less severe, victims were returned to their homes; otherwise, the DOVVSU contacted NGOs to identify temporary shelters. Authorities reported officers occasionally had no alternative but to shelter victims in the officers’ own residences until other arrangements could be made.

The DOVVSU continued to teach a course on domestic violence case management for police officers assigned to the unit. It had one clinical psychologist to assist domestic violence victims. The DOVVSU tried to reach the public through various social media accounts. The DOVVSU also addressed rape through public education efforts on radio and in communities, participation in efforts to prevent child marriage and sexual and gender-based violence, expansion of its online data management system to select police divisional headquarters, and data management training.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Several laws include provisions prohibiting FGM/C. Although rarely performed on adult women, the practice remained a serious problem for girls younger than age 18 in some regions. According to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, FGM/C was significantly higher in the Upper East Region with a prevalence rate of 27.8 percent, compared with the national rate of 3.8 percent. According to the 2017 to 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), women in rural areas were subjected to FGM/C three times more often than women in urban areas (3.6 percent compared with 1.2 percent). Intervention programs were partially successful in reducing the prevalence of FGM/C, particularly in the northern regions.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution prohibits practices that dehumanize or are injurious to the physical and mental well-being of a person. Media reported several killings and attempted killings for ritual purposes. In the Northern, North East, Upper East, and Upper West Regions, families or traditional authorities banished rural women and men suspected of “witchcraft” to “witch camps.” According to a local group, there were six witch camps throughout the country, holding approximately 2,000 to 2,500 adult women and 1,000 to 1,200 children. One camp saw its numbers go down significantly due to education, support, and reintegration services provided by the Presbyterian Church. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection has the mandate to monitor witch camps but did not do so effectively.

Most of those accused of witchcraft were older women, often widows. Some persons suspected to be witches were killed. In July several individuals beat to death a woman age 90 suspected of witchcraft in Kafaba, in Savannah Region. Government officials denounced the killing, and police arrested and charged five individuals for murder.

The law criminalizes harmful mourning rites, but such rites continued, and authorities did not prosecute any perpetrators. In the north, especially in the Upper West and Upper East Regions, some widows were required to undergo certain rites to mourn or show devotion for the deceased spouse. The most prevalent widowhood rites included a one-year period of mourning, tying ropes and padlocks around the widow’s waist or neck, forced sitting by the deceased spouse until burial, solitary confinement, forced starvation, shaving the widow’s head, and smearing clay on the widow’s body. In the Northern and Volta Regions along the border with Togo, wife inheritance, the practice of forcing a widow to marry a male relative of her deceased husband, continued.

Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, although authorities prosecuted some sexual harassment cases under provisions of the criminal code.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, but often lacked the information to do so. Some religious groups opposed what they termed “artificial” contraception. The government provided for sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through the National Health Insurance Scheme.

In 2017 the maternal mortality rate was 308 per 100,000 live births, according to the UN Trends in Maternal Mortality report. A lack of skilled birth attendance, especially in rural areas, was a major contributing factor. According to the UN Population Fund, the contraceptive prevalence rate was 27 percent for women ages 15 to 49.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government officials.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. While the government generally made efforts to enforce the law, predominantly male tribal leaders and chiefs are empowered to regulate land access and usage within their tribal areas. Within these areas women were less likely than men to receive access rights to large plots of fertile land. Widows often faced expulsion from their homes by their deceased husband’s relatives, and they often lacked the awareness or means to defend property rights in court.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in the country or outside if either of the child’s parents or one grandparent is a citizen. Children unregistered at birth or without identification documents may be excluded from accessing education, health care, and social security. Although having a birth certificate is required to enroll in school, authorities indicated children would not be denied access to education on the basis of documentation. According to the MICS, birth registration increased with levels of education and wealth and was more prevalent in urban centers than in rural areas. Authorities adjudicated birth registrations in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free, compulsory, and universal basic education for all children from kindergarten through junior high school. The government continued to implement its plan to provide tuition-free enrollment in senior high school, including by rolling out a “double-track” system that helped increase enrollment from 800,000 in the 2016-17 school year to 1.2 million in the 2019-20 school year.

Girls in the northern regions and rural areas throughout the country were less likely to continue and complete their education due to the weak quality of educational services, inability to pay expenses related to schooling, prioritization of boys’ education over girls’, security problems related to distance between home and school, lack of dormitory facilities, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene facilities. In March the government shut down all schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic and reopened some school grades in September.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits sex with a child younger than age 16 with or without consent and sexual abuse of minors. There continued to be reports of male teachers sexually assaulting and harassing both female and male students. Physical abuse and corporal punishment of children were concerns. Local social workers rarely were able to respond effectively to and monitor cases of child abuse and neglect. Media reported several cases of child abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 18. The law makes forcing a child to marry punishable by a fine, one year’s imprisonment, or both. Early and forced child marriage, while illegal, remained a problem, with 34 percent of girls living in the five northern regions of the country marrying before the age of 18. According to the MICS, child marriage was highest in the Northern, North East, Upper East, Savannah, and Volta Regions; it was lowest in the Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Ahafo Regions.

The Child Marriage Unit of the Domestic Violence Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection continued to lead governmental efforts to combat child marriage. The ministry launched the first National Strategic Framework on Ending Child Marriage in Ghana (2017-26). The framework prioritized interventions focused on strengthening government capacity to address neglect and abuse of children, girls’ education, adolescent health, and girls’ empowerment through skills development. The National Advisory Committee to End Child Marriage and the National Stakeholders Forum, with participation from key government and civil society participants, provided strategic guidance and supported information sharing and learning on child marriage among partners in the country. The Child Marriage Unit also created a manual with fact sheets and frequently asked questions, and maintained social media accounts to reach wider audiences.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, although it does not specifically mention sale or offering or procurement of children for prostitution. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16, and participating in sexual activities with anyone younger than 16 is punishable by imprisonment for seven to 25 years. The law criminalizes the use of a computer to publish, produce, procure, or possess child pornography, punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years, a substantial fine, or both.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law bans infanticide, but several NGOs reported that communities in the Upper East Region kill “spirit children” born with physical disabilities who are suspected of being possessed by evil spirits. Local and traditional government entities cooperated with NGOs to raise public awareness concerning causes and treatments for disabilities and to rescue children at risk of ritual killing. Authorities enforced governing prohibitions on infanticide.

Displaced Children: The migration of children to urban areas continued due to economic hardship in rural areas. Children often had to support themselves to survive, contributing to both child sexual exploitation and the school dropout rate. Girls were among the most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation while living on the streets.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community has a few hundred members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and protects the rights of persons with disabilities’ access to health services, information, communications, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law provides that persons with disabilities have access to public spaces with “appropriate facilities that make the place accessible to and available for use by a person with disability,” but inaccessibility to schools and public buildings continued to be a problem. Some children with disabilities attended specialized schools that focused on their needs. Few adults with disabilities had employment opportunities in the formal sector.

In January 2019 the Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations reported that women with disabilities faced multifaceted discrimination in areas of reproductive health care, and because of the mistreatment, they were unwilling in most cases to visit a health facility for medical care.

Persons with both mental and physical disabilities, including children, were frequently subjected to abuse and intolerance. Authorities did not regularly investigate and punish violence and abuses against persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities who lived at home were sometimes tied to trees or under market stalls and were caned regularly; families reportedly killed some of them.

The Ghana Education Service, through its Special Education Unit, supported education for children who are deaf or hard of hearing or have vision disabilities through 14 national schools for deaf and blind students, in addition to one private school for them.

Thousands of persons with mental disabilities, including children as young as seven, were sent to spiritual healing centers known as “prayer camps,” where mental disability was often considered a “demonic affliction.” Some residents were chained for weeks in these environments, denied food for days, and physically assaulted. Officials took few steps to implement the law that provides for monitoring of prayer camps and bars involuntary or forced treatment. International donor funding helped support office space and some operations of the Mental Health Authority.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Municipal authorities closed more than 100 shops owned or operated by Nigerian nationals in the Ashanti Region over several months, for violation of municipal or commercial regulations prohibiting noncitizens from operating certain types of shops. Various Nigerian commercial organizations and the Nigerian government complained of these closures as mistreatment of their members and citizens and abuse of their rights as participants in the Economic Community of West African States.

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law criminalizes the act of “unnatural carnal knowledge,” which is defined as “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.” The offense covers only persons engaged in same-sex male relationships and those in heterosexual relationships. There were no reports of adults prosecuted or convicted for consensual same-sex sexual conduct.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons faced widespread discrimination in education and employment. Following his visit to the country in 2018, UN Special Rapporteur Alston noted that stigma and discrimination against LGBTI persons made it difficult for them to find work and become productive members of the community. According to a 2018 survey, approximately 60 percent of citizens “strongly disagree” or “disagree” that LGBTI persons deserve equal treatment with heterosexuals.

LGBTI persons also faced police harassment and extortion attempts. There were reports police were reluctant to investigate claims of assault or violence against LGBTI persons. While there were no reported cases of police or government violence against LGBTI persons, stigma, intimidation, and the negative attitude of police toward LGBTI persons were factors in preventing victims from reporting incidents of abuse. Gay men in prison were vulnerable to sexual and other physical abuse.

Some activists reported that police attitudes were slowly changing, with community members feeling more comfortable with certain police officers to whom they could turn for assistance, such as the IGP-appointed uniformed liaison officers. Activists also cited improved CHRAJ-supported activities, such as awareness raising via social media. As one example, the CHRAJ published announcements on an LGBTI dating site regarding citizen rights and proper channels to report abuses. Activists also stated they noted fewer discriminatory statements from public figures.

A coalition of LGBTI-led organizations from throughout the country, officially registered in 2018, continued to hold meetings. Its objectives included building members’ capacity, assisting with their access to resources and technical support, and fostering networking. Activists working to promote LGBTI rights noted great difficulty in engaging officials on LGBTI problems because of social and political sensitivity. Media coverage regarding homosexuality and related topics was almost always negative.

LGBTI activists reported that in June, one LGBTI individual was severely beaten in Kasoa in the Central Region. Although police arrested the perpetrator, they requested money from the victim to pursue prosecution, and the victim eventually dropped the case.

LGBTI activists also reported attempts to blackmail LGBTI individuals were widespread and that it remained difficult to attain prosecution due to discrimination. For example, in October a gay man reported to police his landlord’s collaboration with a blackmailer. The police sided with the landlord, forced the victim to unlock his mobile phone, “outed” the victim to his family, and forced the victim’s family to pay money to the landlord.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS remained a problem. Fear of stigma surrounding the disease, as well as a fear that men getting tested would immediately be labeled as gay, continued to discourage persons from getting tested for HIV infection, and many of those who tested positive from seeking timely care. HIV-positive persons faced discrimination in employment and often were forced to leave their jobs or houses. The government and NGOs subsidized many centers that provided free HIV testing and treatment for citizens, although high patient volume and the physical layout of many clinics often made it difficult for the centers to respect confidentiality.

The law penalizes discrimination against a person infected with or affected by HIV or AIDS by substantial fines, imprisonment for 18 months to three years, or both. The law contains provisions that protect and promote the rights and freedoms of persons with HIV or AIDS and those suspected of having HIV or AIDS, including the right to health, education, insurance benefits, employment, privacy and confidentiality, nondisclosure of their HIV/AIDS status without consent, and the right to hold a public or political office.

The Ghana AIDS Commission continued to raise concerns regarding how high levels of stigma and discrimination contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the country.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Chieftaincy disputes, which frequently resulted from lack of a clear chain of succession, competing claims over land and other natural resources, and internal rivalries and feuds, continued to result in deaths, injuries, and destruction of property. According to the West Africa Center for Counter Extremism, chieftaincy disputes and ethnic violence were the largest sources of insecurity and instability in the country. The government generally sought to dampen down violence and encourage dialogue and peaceful resolution of disputes.

Disputes continued among Fulani herdsmen as well as between herdsmen and landowners that at times led to violence. In a conflict between herdsmen in July, a man cut off the hand of a rival who intervened in a dispute.

There were frequent reports of killings of suspected criminals in mob violence. Community members often saw such vigilantism as justified in light of the difficulties and constraints facing judicial and police sectors. There were multiple reports police failed to prevent and respond to societal violence, in particular incidents of “mob justice.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers–except for members of the armed forces, police, the Ghana Prisons Service, and other security and intelligence agency personnel–to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law requires trade unions or employers’ organizations to obtain a certificate of registration and be authorized by the chief labor officer, who is an appointed government official. Union leaders reported that fees for the annual renewal of trade union registration and collective bargaining certificates were exorbitant and possibly legally unenforceable.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but restricts that right for workers who provide “essential services.” Workers in export-processing zones are not subject to these restrictions. The minister of employment and labor relations designated a list of essential services, which included many sectors that fell outside of the essential services definition set by the International Labor Organization (ILO). The list included services carried out by utility companies (water, electricity, etc.), ports and harbors, medical centers, and the Bank of Ghana. These workers have the right to bargain collectively. In these sectors parties to any labor disputes are required to resolve their differences within 72 hours. The right to strike can also be restricted for workers in private enterprises whose services are deemed essential to the survival of the enterprise by a union and an employer. A union may call a legal strike only if the parties fail to agree to refer the dispute to voluntary arbitration or if the dispute remains unresolved at the end of arbitration proceedings.

The law provides a framework for collective bargaining. A union must obtain a collective bargaining certificate from the chief labor officer in order to engage in collective bargaining on behalf of a class of workers. In cases where there are multiple unions in an enterprise, the majority or plurality union would receive the certificate but must consult with or, where appropriate, invite other unions to participate in negotiations. The certificate holder generally includes representatives from the smaller unions. Workers in decision-making or managerial roles are not provided the right to collective bargaining under the law, but they may join unions and enter into labor negotiations with their employers.

The National Labor Commission is a government body with the mandate of requiring employers and unions to comply with labor law. It also serves as a forum for arbitration in labor disputes. The government effectively enforced applicable laws but penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides reinstatement for workers dismissed under unfair pretenses. It protects trade union members and their officers against discrimination if they organize.

The government generally protected the right to form and join independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and workers exercised these rights. Although the law makes specified parties liable for violations, specific penalties are not set forth. An employer who resorts to an illegal lockout is required to pay the workers’ wages. Some instances of subtle employer interference in union activities occurred. Many unions did not follow approved processes for dealing with disputes, reportedly due to the perceived unfair and one-sided application of the law against the unions. The process was often long and cumbersome, with employers generally taking action when unions threatened to withdraw their services or declare a strike. The National Labor Commission faced obstacles in enforcing applicable sanctions against both unions and employers, including limited ability to enforce its mandate and insufficient oversight.

Trade unions engaged in collective bargaining for wages and benefits with both private and state-owned enterprises without government interference. No union completed the dispute resolution process involving arbitration, and there were numerous unsanctioned strikes.

Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) workers went on strike in October, halting all domestic flights, to protest the damage of underground cables at the La wireless station in Accra that allegedly threatened flight safety. The union blamed the government’s lease of an Air Navigation Service plot to a flight-training school and resultant construction, despite there being 27 years remaining on the GCAA lease.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government increased the level of funding and staffing dedicated to combatting human trafficking but did not provide sufficient support to enforce the law fully. The government increased its direct support for protection services for victims of trafficking by training staff and opening and operating a shelter for adult female victims of human trafficking during 2019. The government imposed strict prosecution provisions and penalties. In July authorities sentenced two individuals to 18- and 16-year prison terms for trafficking nine children to work in fishing in Lake Volta; police stated the sentences were the longest that had been issued. Forced labor and trafficking, however, persisted with insufficient investigation and prosecution. NGOs, civil society, and human rights activists reported corruption within police ranks, the justice system, and political authorities that impeded prosecution, with perpetrators accumulating significant wealth from trafficking and forced labor and senior police officers intimidating NGO staff to deter their investigations.

The government imposed strict prosecution provisions and penalties. In July authorities sentenced two individuals to 18- and 16-year prison terms for trafficking nine children to work in fishing in Lake Volta; police stated the sentences were the longest that had been issued. Forced labor and trafficking, however, persisted with insufficient investigation and prosecution. NGOs, civil society, and human rights activists reported corruption within police ranks, the justice system, and political authorities that impeded prosecution, with perpetrators accumulating significant wealth from trafficking and forced labor and senior police officers intimidating NGO staff to deter their investigations.

There were reports of forced labor affecting both children and adults in the fishing sector, as well as forced child labor in informal mining, agriculture, domestic labor, porterage, begging, herding, quarrying, and hawking (see section 7.c.).

Investigations decreased significantly between 2018 and 2019, and suspects were prosecuted using laws with less stringent penalties. Legal counsel encountered difficulties in investigating trafficking and gathering witnesses to testify, especially in cases perpetrated by a family member or involving victims from another country. Due to a lack of training on trafficking, officers did not classify cases as criminal, but issued warnings and freed perpetrators. Police officers who were trained were often sidelined for unknown reasons.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government did not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum employment age at 15, or 13 for light work unlikely to be harmful to a child or to affect the child’s attendance at school. The law prohibits night work and certain types of hazardous labor for those younger than 18 and provides for fines and imprisonment for violators. The law allows for children age 15 and older to have an apprenticeship under which craftsmen and employers have the obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment along with training and tools.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations enforced child labor regulations. Labor inspectors conducted inspections specifically targeting child labor in the informal sector, but the inspections were insufficient to deter child labor, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The ILO, government representatives, the Trades Union Congress, media, international organizations, and NGOs continued efforts to increase institutional capacity to combat child labor.

The government continued to work closely with NGOs, labor unions, and the cocoa industry to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the industry. Through these partnerships the government created several community projects, which promoted awareness raising, monitoring, and livelihood improvement.

In 2018 the government approved the National Plan of Action Phase II on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (NPA2). The NPA2 aims to reduce the prevalence of the worst forms of child labor to 10 percent by 2021, and specifically targets the cocoa, fishing, and mining sectors. The government continued to take action under the framework of the NPA2. The National Steering Committee on Child Labor, for example, carried out a monitoring exercise in seven districts to ascertain the impact of child labor. The Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare established guidelines for Child Labor Free Zones, and began pre-testing the Ghana Child Labor Monitoring System.

Authorities did not enforce child labor laws effectively or consistently. Law enforcement officials, including judges, police, and labor officials, were sometimes unfamiliar with the provisions of the law that protected children.

Employers subjected children as young as four to forced labor in the agriculture, fishing, and mining industries, including artisanal gold mines, and as domestic laborers, porters, hawkers, and quarry workers. NGOs estimated that almost one-half of trafficked children worked in the Volta Region. Starting in 2019 civil society organizations rescued more than 200 children subjected to forced labor and beatings and denied food, education, and safe living conditions at Lake Volta. In the fishing industry, they engaged in hazardous work, such as diving into deep waters to untangle fishing nets caught on submerged tree roots. The government did not legally recognize working underwater as a form of hazardous work. Officials from the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development received training as part of a strategy to combat child labor and trafficking in the fisheries sector.

Child labor continued to be prevalent in artisanal mining (particularly illegal small-scale mining), fetching firewood, bricklaying, food service and cooking, and collecting fares. Children in small-scale mining reportedly crushed rocks, dug in deep pits, carried heavy loads, operated heavy machinery, sieved stones, and amalgamated gold with mercury.

Child labor occurred in cocoa harvesting. Children engaged in cocoa harvesting often used sharp tools to clear land and collect cocoa pods, carried heavy loads, and were exposed to agrochemicals, including toxic pesticides. The government did not legally recognize this type of work in agriculture, including in cocoa, as hazardous work for children.

Employers often poorly paid and physically abused child laborers, and the children received little or no health care. According to the MICS, one in every five children between the ages of five and 17 is engaged in hazardous working conditions, and there were no significant disparities between boys and girls.

Parents or guardians often facilitated child trafficking by selling their children to relatives or others due to poverty. This was especially prevalent with girls sold into domestic service. The mother of a 12-year-old victim paralyzed from injuries due to forced labor and human trafficking refused to report her daughter’s perpetrators to police because the persons involved were her in-laws, and she suspected police would attempt to collect money from her rather than prosecute.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings   and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The government did not effectively enforce prohibitions on discrimination. The law stipulates that an employer cannot discriminate against a person on the basis of several categories, including gender, race, ethnic origin, religion, social or economic status, or disability, whether that person is already employed or seeking employment. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, HIV-positive persons, and LGBTI persons (see section 6). For example, reports indicated few companies offered reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities. Many companies ignored or turned down such individuals who applied for jobs. Women in urban centers and those with skills and training encountered little overt bias, but resistance persisted to women entering nontraditional fields and accessing education. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in the same industries as men, including in factories.

There were not sufficient systems in place to protect women from sexual harassment and other violence in the workplace. Employers often terminated or laid off women who resisted sexual harassment or violence under the guise of restructuring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A national tripartite committee composed of representatives of the government, labor, and employers set a minimum wage. The minimum wage exceeded the government’s poverty line. Many companies did not comply with the law. The maximum workweek is 40 hours, with a break of at least 48 consecutive hours every seven days. Workers are entitled to at least 15 working days of leave with full pay in a calendar year of continuous service or after having worked at least 200 days in a particular year. These provisions, however, did not apply to piece workers, domestic workers in private homes, or others working in the informal sector. The law does not prescribe overtime rates and does not prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. Penalties for violations of minimum wage laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

The government sets industry-appropriate occupational safety and health regulations. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. This legislation covers only workers in the formal sector, which employed approximately 10 percent of the labor force. Few workers felt free to exercise this right. Employers were fined in cases of negligence, and penalties for violations of occupational health and safety laws were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations was unable to enforce the wage law effectively. The government also did not effectively enforce health and safety regulations, which are set by a range of agencies in the various industries, including the Food and Drugs Authority, Ghana Roads Safety Commission, and Inspectorate Division of the Minerals Commission. The law reportedly provided inadequate coverage to workers due to its fragmentation and limited scope. There was widespread violation of the minimum wage law in the formal economy across all sectors. Authorities did not enforce the minimum wage law in the informal sector. Legislation governing working hours applies to both formal and informal sectors. Employers largely followed the law in the formal sector but widely flouted it in the informal sector, and government did not enforce it.

Three teachers’ unions engaged in nationwide strikes over nonpayment of legacy arrears in December 2019 and in January. The unions reported that the Ghana Education Service failed to respond to three letters demanding information on their payments from 2012 to 2016. The Fair Wages and Salaries Commission also failed to respond to the unions’ request for a meeting to discuss a “collective agreement.”

The government did not employ sufficient labor inspectors to enforce compliance. Inspectors were poorly trained and did not respond to violations effectively. Inspectors did have the authority to make unannounced inspections. Inspectors did not impose sanctions and were unable to provide data as to how many violations they addressed. In most cases inspectors gave advisory warnings to employers, with deadlines for taking corrective action. Penalties were insufficient to enforce compliance.

Approximately 90 percent of the working population was employed in the informal sector, according to the Ghana Statistical Service’s 2015 Labor Force Report, including small to medium-scale businesses such as producers, wholesale and retail traders, and service providers made up of contributing family workers, casual wageworkers, home-based workers, and street vendors. Most of these workers were self-employed.

Accidents in the mining sector were common, often in illegal mining. In a January 2019 mine explosion 16 persons died, and in October, five persons died in the collapse of a pit. Civil society organizations stated that corruption and lax enforcement allowed unsafe illegal mining practices to continue.

In March 2019 the High Court in Accra ordered a mining company to pay more than nine million cedis ($1.7 million) in damages in a case concerning the drowning of an employee in 2015. The court found gross negligence on the part of the company for failing to meet health and safety standards.

Guinea

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Offices tasked with investigating security force killings include civilian and military security services, civil and military courts, and inspectors general within the Ministry of Security and Civilian Protection. According to the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG) opposition political party, security forces killed 99 individuals from the October 18 presidential election through December. The government rejected this figure but did not provide its own estimate of security force killings during this period.

There were multiple reports of killings by security forces in the capital city of Conakry and other major towns related to the March legislative election and constitutional referendum and the October presidential election. The minister of security reported six persons killed, four of whom were shot by security forces. Civil society leaders in the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC), a broad opposition coalition protesting the constitutional referendum and presidential election, reported 10 persons killed in Conakry and four in N’Zerekore. The FNDC accused military units of involvement in the killings. There were no reports of investigations into these incidents.

In April the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Collective of Organizations for the Protection of Human Rights in the Forested Guinea Region reported on the March election violence in the region, noting security forces did not intervene and instead were involved in some of the killings and other abuses exacerbated by longstanding intercommunal and ethnic tensions. The NGO reported 36 persons killed, 129 wounded, 127 arrested, and 83 buildings destroyed. Several local media and other sources, however, reported that the death toll could have been as high as 60, and that local authorities buried the victims in a mass grave. There were no reports of investigations into these incidents.

Since October 2019 the Guinean Organization for the Defense of Human and Citizen’s Rights (OGDH) identified at least 60 killings during FNDC protests, the January Teachers’ Union strike, the March legislative elections and constitutional referendum, and the October presidential election and subsequent violence. The families of 10 victims testified that most of the victims were outside the perimeters of the protests when they were shot and killed by security forces. There were no reports of investigations into these incidents.

Impunity persisted for abuses perpetrated by state actors in past years, including the 2009 Conakry stadium massacre by security forces of the previous military regime. At least 150 opposition demonstrators were killed, and more than 100 women and girls were raped. Since 2011 the judiciary confirmed indictments against 13 individuals. Two of the alleged ringleaders of the massacre, Colonel Claude Pivi and Colonel Moussa Tiegboro Camara, remained in high-level government posts. General Mathurin Bangoura, a person of interest whose indictment was dismissed following a judicial review, remained governor of Conakry.

The steering committee established in 2018 to organize the trial of the accused in the 2009 stadium massacre continued its work. The body did not meet regularly. In January the minister of justice announced that the trial would start in June; however, this was delayed.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, human rights observers reported that government officials continued to employ such practices with impunity.

Abuse of inmates in government detention centers continued. Security officials designated as “judicial police officers” abused detainees to coerce confessions. Human rights activists noted the most egregious abuses occurred during arrests or at detention centers. Human rights associations stated that complainants often presented evidence of abuse, and wardens did not investigate these complaints. These NGOs also alleged that guards abused detainees, including children, and coerced some women into exchanging sex for better treatment.

According to the OGDH, following killings by security forces, some relatives who came to assist victims were subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, violence, and humiliation by individuals wearing security force uniforms.

In January a victim reported security officers beat him and other protesters with batons at a detention center in Conakry following their arrest during a political protest. He reported security forces also demanded 1,100,000 Guinean francs ($115) from the prisoners to avoid transfer to Conakry Central Prison (CCP).

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one allegation submitted in July of sexual exploitation and abuse by Guinean peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult. As of September the United Nations was investigating the allegation.

According to a December 15 Amnesty International report, authorities arrested an elderly person on October 24 for “criminal participation in a gathering with violence” following an attack on a freight train that killed four security officials and a civilian. The person died on November 17 while in custody. Immediately following his death, the government announced that the individual had tested positive for COVID-19 and departed the detention center, then added later that the individual had complained about diabetes complications and died at a hospital. Multiple persons who viewed his body, including medical staff, reported seeing burns, cuts, and other marks on his body, indicating he had been abused while in custody.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly in the gendarmes, police, and military forces. Factors contributing to impunity included corruption, lack of training, politicization of forces, and a lack of transparency in investigations. Offices tasked with investigating abuses included civil and military courts and government inspectors general within the Ministry of Security and Civilian Protection.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in civilian prisons, which are under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice, remained abusive, with poor sanitation, malnutrition, disease, and lack of medical attention pervasive throughout the prison system. Conditions were allegedly worse in gendarme and police detention facilities designed for short-term detention.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem. According to the NGO World Prison Brief, in 2019 authorities held 3,782 detainees in facilities designed for 2,412 persons. Government-funded rehabilitation programs were underfunded and ineffective, leading some NGOs to try filling the void.

Authorities held minors in separate sections at prisons and detention facilities, where they slept on iron bunk beds with no mattresses, or on the floor because it was too hot on the upper bunks below the building’s metal roof. Prison officials did not separate pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. There were reports the government had trouble tracking the location of pretrial detainees in the justice system.

Although the Ministry of Justice administered civilian prisons, prisoners allegedly controlled cell assignments and provided better conditions at some detention centers to prisoners who were able to pay. In addition prison administrators at detention centers reported receiving directives from their prison service superiors that directly conflicted with orders from the Ministry of Justice. Rumors persisted that guards ignored court orders to free prisoners until bribes were paid.

In July a prisoner was decapitated and mutilated in a gendarmerie detention center. According to authorities, his cellmate killed him, but the victim’s mother suspected the gendarmes, who reportedly threatened her son during arrest. Authorities charged the cellmate with murder, while charging several gendarmes with endangering the lives of others because of their inattention to duty. Since the gendarmerie is under the jurisdiction of the military services, authorities transferred the case to the military courts. As of December the gendarmes awaited trial.

A lack of health-care personnel, medicine, and medical supplies in prisons, combined with malnutrition and dehydration, sometimes made infection or illness life threatening; cases of beriberi were recorded, and of the several reported deaths of prisoners, none were investigated. Only two of the 31 detention centers had a full-time doctor and medical staff. Reports of overcrowding in medical wards at detention centers were common, including at the CCP. Prisoners relied on family members, charities, or NGOs to bring medication, but visitors often had to pay bribes to provide the medicine to prisoners.

Authorities recorded COVID-19 cases in prisons across the country, with 155 positive cases as of September. In May media reported two COVID-19 deaths at the CCP. Since the victims did not receive COVID-19 tests, the National Health Security Agency did not include them in its COVID-19 statistics.

Mismanagement and neglect were prevalent. Toilets reportedly did not function, and prisoners often slept and ate in the same space used for sanitation purposes. Access to drinking and bathing water was inadequate. Many prisons were former warehouses with little ventilation and little access to electricity for air conditioning or other cooling techniques.

NGOs as well as the National Institution for Human Rights reported endemic malnutrition throughout the prison system. Authorities provided food at the CCP, but most prison directors relied on charities and NGOs to provide food for inmates. The CCP claimed it provided two meals a day; however, NGOs reported prisoners in Conakry and elsewhere received only one meal per day and that many relied on food from their families or other outside sources. Guards often demanded bribes for delivering food to prisoners, which they then frequently confiscated.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and NGOs noted that conditions at gendarmerie detention centers, intended to hold detainees for not more than two days while they awaited court processing, were much worse than in prisons. Such “temporary” detention could last from a few days to more than two years, and facilities had no established systems to provide meals or medical treatment. As in the case of prisons, gendarmerie facilities were dank and unsanitary.

An NGO reported that during March election violence the majority of arrestees transited the Fourth Military District’s camp before detention at the N’Zerekore gendarmerie headquarters. Prisoners stated that more than 50 persons were crammed into small cells and were not provided food, water, or other basic necessities for at least two days.

In April the Collective of Organizations for the Protection of Human Rights in the Forested Guinea Region noted that authorities held several persons arrested during the March and October election violence in a military facility in substandard living conditions before being transferred to gendarmerie facilities.

Administration: Prison authorities did not investigate credible allegations of abuse or inhuman prison conditions. Prisoners and detainees have the right to submit complaints but seldom did due to possible reprisals from prison guards. Prisoners must use a lawyer to file a complaint, but lawyers were scarce and expensive. The local NGO Equal Rights for All (MDT) stated religious practice was restricted at prisons other than the CCP. Prisoners complained that they were regularly denied access to visitors, including family members. Visitors were often required to pay bribes to access prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: Local NGOs such as MDT and the Association for the Support of Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Detainees received regular and unimpeded access to the CCP; authorities rarely granted access to other facilities to monitor conditions.

Military prison conditions, managed by the Ministry of Defense, could not be monitored since the government denied access to prison advocacy groups and international organizations. Although military authorities claimed they did not hold civilians at military prisons, previously reported cases contradicted this assertion. Reports indicated a prison continued to exist at a military camp on Kassa Island, and that political prisoners were at times held at a military camp near Kankan.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but few detainees chose this option due to the difficulties they might face and fear of retribution.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Although the law requires arrest warrants, police did not always follow this protocol. The law also provides that detainees be charged within 48 hours, renewable once if authorized by a judge. In cases involving national security, the law allows the original length of detention to be increased to 96 hours, renewable once. Many detainees were held for much longer periods before being charged. Authorities held most detainees in the three main prisons indefinitely and without trial.

The law precludes the arrest of persons in their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., but arrests between those times occurred. After being charged the accused may be held until the conclusion of the case, including a period of appeal. Authorities routinely ignored the legal provision entitling defendants to an attorney and did not provide indigent defendants with an attorney at government expense.

Release on bail is at the discretion of the magistrate under whose jurisdiction the case falls. The law allows detainees prompt access to family members, but access was sometimes denied or restricted until families paid bribes to the guards at detention facilities.

Arbitrary Arrest: Many arrests took place without warrants and in violation of other due process protections provided in the law, such as the prohibition on arrests at night. Authorities arrested family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives.

In February authorities arrested without charge more than 30 persons in various Conakry neighborhoods and held them for more than a month at the Soronkoni camp in Kankan, Upper Guinea. The detainees reported they were arrested by police and other security service units, were isolated, and had no contact with family. Some believed they had been held to prevent their protesting a third term for President Conde. Following postelectoral violence in N’Zerekore in March, local sources reported that at least 40 persons were transferred to the same Soronkoni camp. In late September authorities conditionally released 35 individuals.

On September 10, authorities arrested UFDG communications chief and youth activist Roger Bamba on unknown charges and placed him in pretrial detention. Bamba became critically ill on December 16 and was transported to a hospital for emergency treatment where he succumbed to an unknown illness on December 17.

Pretrial Detention: According to an NGO working on prisoners’ rights, a 2016 reform of the justice sector decreased the length of pretrial detention by 65 percent. In September 2019 pretrial detainees constituted 67 percent of the CPP population; 2017 figures cited by World Prison Brief estimated 60 percent of detainees overall were pretrial detainees. Figures were not available for the average length of detentions, or whether detentions exceeded the maximum possible sentence.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was plagued by corruption. The judicial process often lacked independence and impartiality. Political and social status often influenced decisions. A shortage of qualified lawyers and magistrates, outdated and restrictive laws, nepotism, and ethnic bias limited the judiciary’s effectiveness. Domestic court orders were often not enforced. For example, some prisoners ordered to be freed by courts remained in detention because they failed to pay “exit fees” to guards. On the other hand, politically connected criminals often evaded prosecution.

Many citizens, wary of judicial corruption or with no other choice, relied on traditional systems of justice at the village or urban neighborhood level. Litigants presented their civil cases before a village chief, neighborhood leader, or a council of “wise men.” The dividing line between the formal and informal justice systems was vague, and authorities sometimes referred a case from the formal to the traditional system to assure compliance by all parties. Similarly, a case not resolved to the satisfaction of all parties in the traditional system could be referred to the formal system for adjudication. In the traditional system, evidence given by women carried less weight (see section 6, Women).

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary, although burdened by corruption and limited effectiveness, generally strived to enforce this right.

Trials are public and defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Trials must be timely. The prosecution prepares a case file, including testimony and other evidence, and provides a copy for the defense. Defendants have the right to confront and question prosecution witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law provides for the presumption of innocence of accused persons, the independence of judges, the equality of citizens before the law, the right of the accused to counsel (but only for major crimes), and the right to appeal a judicial decision, but these rights were not consistently observed.

Authorities must inform defendants promptly of charges. Defendants are entitled to free assistance from an interpreter, if necessary. Defendants generally had adequate time but lacked resources, such as access to a lawyer, to prepare a defense. Most cases never came to trial.

Although the government was responsible for funding legal defense costs in serious criminal cases, it rarely disbursed funds for this purpose. The attorney for the defense frequently received no payment. Authorities allowed detainees’ attorneys access to their clients, but often on condition that prison guards or gendarmes be present. The law provides that defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but torture or other harsh treatment and conditions in detention centers undermined this protection.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government arrested or summoned individuals without cause. Civil society described the actions as “political intimidation.” Local sources estimated the number of such arrestees or summoned individuals to be more than 300. The government permitted access to such persons on a regular basis by the International Committee of the Red Cross or other human rights or humanitarian organizations.

Police arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition members. In April authorities arrested and charged a civil society activist member of the FNDC for “communicating and spreading false information” and for “violence and death threats.” During an interview on a local popular radio show, he had denounced the March 22 postelectoral violence in N’Zerekore and the arbitrary arrest of FNDC members. Authorities released him in August after a court found him not guilty of all charges. In May authorities arrested and charged another FNDC member for “violence, threats, assault and public insults.” As of September, despite two court orders for his release, he remained in detention.

According to Human Rights Watch, in October authorities arrested approximately 325 persons after postelection violence. Amnesty International reported “400 arbitrary arrests targeting opponents and members of civil society after the presidential election.” Lawyers for the detainees reported that authorities made many of the arrests during house-to-house searches at night in neighborhoods considered opposition strongholds. Authorities also reportedly used excessive force in the arrests. The government announced that these individuals were arrested for participating in postelection violence.

In November police arrested and detained five senior-level opposition figures, including members of the UFDG. Authorities charged them with possession and use of military firearms, threats, violating fundamental interests of the nation, and criminal association. Authorities sought two other leading opposition figures on the same charges but they remained at large. Another opposition leader turned himself in after the state prosecutor announced arrest warrants against him. Opposition parties, including the FNDC, and civil society groups believed that the seven individuals were wanted due to their opposition status.

Also in November the government reported that it detained or completed judicial proceedings against more than 137 individuals in Conakry for participating in illegal demonstrations, using weapons, inciting violence, and other crimes during the postelectoral period. Authorities announced they were still looking for “activists” who threatened public security.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for a judicial procedure in civil matters, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights abuses. There were few lawsuits seeking damages for human rights abuses, in part due to public fear of suing security force members and lack of confidence in the competence and impartiality of the judiciary. NGOs that filed cases for civilians in 2012, 2013, and 2014–ranging from complaints of torture to indefinite detention–claimed their cases had yet to be heard. NGOs subsequently opted to lodge complaints with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice.

Property Restitution

Between February and May 2019, the government forcibly evicted persons from four neighborhoods in Conakry. The government alleged the inhabitants were squatters on land long planned as the relocation site of multiple ministries. Authorities demolished an estimated 2,500 buildings, resulting in 20,000 persons evicted, some of whom allegedly had legal ownership of their land. The victims formed a collective and appealed to the ECOWAS Court of Justice for compensation. The hearing, scheduled for November 8, was postponed at the request of the victims’ lawyer, who asked the court to conduct a site visit. The government made no efforts to protect, assist, resettle, or integrate these displaced persons in other areas.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but police reportedly ignored legal procedures in the pursuit of criminal suspects, including when it served their personal interests. Authorities sometimes removed persons from their homes without legal authorization, stole their personal belongings, and demanded payment for the release of the belongings.

The government continued to punish family members for alleged offenses committed by relatives.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but there were multiple reports of government efforts to intimidate the press and restrict press freedom.

In July the National Assembly passed legislation revising the composition and organization of the High Authority of Communication (HAC). Under the old law, the HAC president was elected by a group of peer commissioners, while under the new law the HAC president is appointed by presidential decree. Media criticized the new law and feared the HAC would be subservient to the office of the president.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, allegations against or criticism of the government or ruling party could result in government reprisals, including suspensions, fines, and arrests.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of arbitrary arrests, harassment, and intimidation of journalists by government officials.

On March 6, police arrested and assaulted French journalist Thomas Dietrich while he filmed a police crackdown on an opposition demonstration in Conakry. Police took him immediately to the airport and deported him. The HAC accused him of interfering in domestic political activities.

On July 18, police arrested journalist Habib Marouane Kamara in Conakry and took him to the office of the director of judicial police (DPJ) where he was questioned for several hours. According to his lawyer, Kamara was earlier sued for defamation and blackmail following a complaint by the new director of the water supply company Societe des Eaux de Guinee (Guinea Water Company–SEG). Kamara had criticized the appointments of SEG executives, which included the CEO’s wife, on his Facebook page. The Union of Private Press Professionals denounced his arrest and the lack of a judicial summons. Authorities released Kamara after two nights in police custody.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized media outlets and journalists who broadcasted items criticizing government officials and their actions. Some journalists accused government officials of attempting to influence the tone of their reporting.

On June 29, the DPJ summoned the chairmen of three private radio stations and directed them to stop broadcasting a radio advertisement supporting the FNDC’s opposition to the proposed new constitution and a third term for President Alpha Conde. The DPJ also directed the chairmen to provide information concerning who within FNDC approved the advertisement. The chairmen complied with the decision of the HAC and halted broadcast of the advertisement. According to media sources, a decision by the HAC to ban the advertisements allegedly originated from the Inter-Ministerial Council and the National Assembly president, who claimed that the advertisement would disturb public order.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel against the head of state, slander, and false reporting are criminal offenses subject to imprisonment up to five years and heavy fines. Officials used these laws to harass opposition leaders and journalists. Journalists alleged the defamation lawsuits targeted persons critical of the government to silence dissent.

National Security: Authorities used the law to punish journalists and executives at media outlets critical of the government. In October 2019 authorities detained for several hours two al-Jazeera journalists, Nicolas Haque, al-Jazeera chief of bureau in Dakar, Senegal, and cameraman Hugo Bogaeert, accusing them of spying, endangering state security, and producing ethnocentric reports. Upon their release police forced them to leave the country.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet. It did not censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The government did, however, monitor social media platforms and exploited the law to punish journalists for posting or sharing information critical of the government. In March widespread internet disruptions occurred starting the day before the polls opened for the legislative election and constitutional referendum until the day after the polls closed. The director of internet service provider GUILAB SA, who is appointed by the minister of posts, telecommunications and digital economy, announced the disruption was due to maintenance. The government owned 52.55 percent of GUILAB.

On October 23, authorities suspended all cell phone data and international calling, and blocked various social media platforms. The government stated it suspended these services in response to postelectoral violence. Cell phone data and international calling services were restored several days later. Full social media access was restored in December.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government routinely barred public protests.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government restricted this right. The law bans any meeting that has an ethnic or racial character or any gathering “whose nature threatens national unity.” The government requires a 72-working-hour advance notification for public gatherings. The law permits prohibition of demonstrations or meetings if local authorities believe the events pose a threat to public order. Authorities may also hold event organizers criminally liable if violence or destruction of property occurs.

Authorities demonstrated a lack of impartiality following the March state of emergency ban on large gatherings to counter the spread of COVID-19. Organizations affiliated with the governing party gathered and organized meetings to support the government, while authorities banned opposition protests, particularly in the postelectoral period from October to December.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Police and security forces, however, continued to detain persons at roadblocks to extort money, impeding the free movement of travelers and threatening their safety.

In-country Movement: The government required all citizens older than age 18 to carry national identification cards, which they had to present on request at security checkpoints.

Police and gendarmes regularly established random checkpoints where they routinely asked drivers to pay “tolls” or other illegal fees. Police and gendarmes occasionally robbed and beat travelers at these checkpoints and sometimes threatened them with death.

The March state of emergency to limit the spread of COVID-19 included the closure of international borders and a ban on traffic between Conakry and the rest of the country. Authorities established numerous checkpoints and roadblocks. The state of emergency continued through the end of the year.

In May protests concerning shakedowns by security forces manning COVID-19 checkpoints in the cities of Coyah and Dubreka turned violent. The protesters, largely taxi drivers and truckers, complained of repeated and forced payment of bribes. According to several news reports, security forces shot and killed at least six persons and injured many. The government acknowledged that there were deaths but provided no numbers.

Foreign Travel: International airport authorities denied several opposition figures the right to depart the country. In some instances immigration officials seized travelers’ passports. Authorities did not explain to these travelers why they were not permitted to depart the country

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, stateless persons, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country continued to host refugees from Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

UNHCR provided protection and limited assistance, including medical care and educational support for refugee children, to refugees considered extremely vulnerable in Conakry, Macenta, and the Kouankan Camp. UNHCR and its partners provided sanitation and educational materials as part of its efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.

g. Stateless Persons

There were a few hundred effectively stateless persons, most of whom came from Sierra Leone. These persons did not meet any of the criteria for citizenship. According to UNHCR, these refugees requested neither repatriation nor local integration.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Starting in December 2019 and continuing to December 2020, opposition parties led protests nationwide concerning elections. Legislative elections held in March were coupled with a constitutional referendum that principally sought to extend presidential term limits. Major opposition parties boycotted the election in protest of the referendum’s proposed constitutional changes and problematic voter rolls. According to media sources, the international association of French-speaking countries cast doubt on the credibility of the voter rolls, stating that there were more than 2.4 million “problematic” names, including dead persons, minors, and duplicate names. Due to the significant concerns surrounding the integrity of the election, international observers from ECOWAS, the African Union, and European Union abstained from observing the March elections.

After several delays the legislative election and referendum were held on March 22. Significant violence occurred in multiple locations on election day and after the results were announced. The minister of security stated six persons were killed, four by security forces. Civil society leaders in the FNDC, however, reported 10 persons killed in Conakry and four in N’Zerekore. These leaders also alleged that three elite units of the army were the perpetrators (see section 1.a.).

The election resulted in the ruling party, the Rally for the Guinean People, gaining a supermajority in the National Assembly that allowed for the swift passage of the new constitution granting President Alpha Conde the ability to run for a third term. The results of the election and referendum were rejected by the opposition parties.

For the presidential election in October, ECOWAS determined that voter rolls met legal requirements despite opposition complaints. Opposition parties, however, continued to question the legitimacy of the voter rolls.

Following the October presidential election, and an unsuccessful legal challenge from principal opponent and UFDG candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo, in November the Constitutional Court certified that President Conde won re-election (despite disputed results) with 59.5 percent of the vote. Diallo claimed victory and called on his supporters to protest the election results. Government security forces violently dispersed protesters and surrounded Diallo’s home. Although election day had proceeded relatively smoothly, international and domestic observers raised concerns about unresolved voter roll problems, widespread electoral violence, restrictions on freedom of assembly, the lack of transparency in vote tabulation, insecure ballot transportation, and inconsistencies between the announced results and tally sheet results from polling stations.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no official restrictions on political party formation beyond registration requirements. Parties may not represent a single region or ethnicity. The government in some cases delayed opposition party registration. The Liberal Democratic Movement’s (MoDeL) request was pending with the government since the summer of 2018. As of December MoDeL had not received a formal response from the government. According to sources, the application and certification process normally takes three months. Without accreditation, the party was unable to participate in elections.

Authorities threatened to cut the payments of allowances of some opposition National Assembly members if they did not support the ruling party.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. Observers noted, however, there were cultural constraints on women’s political participation, evidenced by the low rate of women occupying influential political or government positions.

As of June, eight women served in cabinet-level positions (out of 37 such positions), the same as in 2019. In the National Assembly, 18 women were elected as members (out of 114 seats), down from 25 in 2019. In the executive office of the National Assembly, women held two vice presidential positions (out of five), one secretary position (out of six), and one quaestor position (out of two) (quaestors are in charge of the National Assembly’s financial functions).

The law requires that women constitute 50 percent of a candidate list for electoral positions. The law applies to national and local elections, as well as elected positions in public institutions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, but the government but did not implement the law effectively. There were multiple allegations of corrupt practices by public officials that went unpunished.

Corruption: Authorities prosecuted very few cases, and even fewer resulted in convictions. Allegations of corruption ranged from low-level functionaries and managers of state enterprises to ministers and the presidency. Officials allegedly diverted public funds for private use or for illegitimate public uses, such as buying expensive vehicles for government workers. Land sales and business contracts generally lacked transparency.

In August the public prosecutor’s office announced the results of an investigation into the embezzlement of more than $51 million in public funds by two senior civil servants working for the Regulatory Authority for Posts and Telecommunications. The two civil servants, who were arrested and held pending prosecution, created fake service delivery invoices dating back to 2010 for a project managing incoming international calls.

Business leaders asserted regulatory procedures were opaque and facilitated corruption.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are required to file a nonpublic financial disclosure statement, but this requirement was not universally respected. There are sanctions for nondisclosure, but they were not applied.

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

Some domestic and international human rights groups monitored and attempted to disseminate information on human rights abuses. They generally operated without government restriction. Government officials rarely were cooperative and responsive to their views. NGOs are required to renew their permits with the government every three years.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Institution for Human Rights promotes human rights awareness and investigates abuses. The institution was controversial from its inception because it was set up in a manner different than prescribed by law. It continued efforts to establish its credibility by releasing reports on human rights abuses and issuing recommendations to improve human rights practices, but it remained ineffective and lacked independence.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and domestic violence, but both occurred frequently, and authorities rarely prosecuted perpetrators. The law does not address spousal rape or the gender of victims. Rape is punishable by five to 20 years in prison. Victims often declined to report crimes to police due to custom, fear of stigmatization, reprisal, and a lack of cooperation from investigating police or gendarmes. Studies indicated citizens also were reluctant to report crimes because they feared police would ask the victim to pay for the investigation.

In domestic violence cases, authorities may file charges under general assault, which carries sentences of two to five years in prison and fines. Violence against a woman that causes an injury is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine. If the injury causes mutilation, amputation, or other loss of body parts, it is punishable by 20 years of imprisonment; if the victim dies, the crime is punishable by life imprisonment. Assault constitutes grounds for divorce under civil law, but police rarely intervened in domestic disputes, and courts rarely punished perpetrators.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Although the law and new constitution prohibit FGM/C, the country had an extremely high prevalence rate. According to a 2018 UNICEF survey, 94.5 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 had undergone the procedure, which was practiced throughout the country and among all religious and ethnic groups. The rate of FGM/C for girls between the ages of six and 14 dropped 6 percent since 2015.

The law specifies imprisonment of five to 20 years and a fine if the victim is severely injured or dies; if the victim dies within 40 days of the procedure the penalty is up to life in prison or death. The law provides for imprisonment of three months to two years and fines for perpetrators who do not inflict severe injury or death.

The government continued to cooperate with NGOs and youth organizations in their efforts to eradicate FGM/C and educate health workers, government employees, and communities on the dangers of the practice.

A total of 232 communities organized public declaration ceremonies of the abandonment of FGM/C practices and child marriage in 2019. Since January an additional 66 villages declared they abandoned FGM/C and child marriage. In addition, in February the president launched the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM Activities.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits all forms of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment. The constitution prohibits harassment based on sex, race, ethnicity, political opinions, and other grounds. The Ministry of Labor did not document any case of sexual harassment, despite its frequency. The law penalizes sexual harassment. Sentences range from three months to two years in prison and the payment of a fine, depending on the gravity of the harassment. Authorities rarely enforced the law.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children and to manage their reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Many couples and individuals, however, lacked access to the information and the means to enjoy these rights.

No law adversely affected access to conception, but low accessibility and poor quality of family planning services as well as limited contraception choices hindered access. Cultural barriers included a lack of male partner engagement or support for a woman’s decision to use family planning services; lack of decision-making power for women, as women in many cases needed approval from their husbands before using health services, including family planning; and expectations for newlywed couples to have children. Religious beliefs also hindered access. According to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey, modern contraceptive prevalence rate among women aged 15-49 who were married or in a relationship was 11 percent.

According to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey, 55 percent of women gave birth with a skilled healthcare professional present. Lack of quality health care and sociocultural barriers, such as preferring a female health attendant during pregnancy and childbirth, also affected women’s access to skilled health attendants when no midwives were available.

According to the 2016 UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, the maternal mortality rate was 550 per 100,000 live births. Lack of accessible, quality health services, discrimination, gender inequalities, early marriage, and adolescent pregnancy all contributed to the maternal death rate. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the adolescent birth rate was 120 per 1,000 girls age 15-19 years.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Multisectoral committees at the national, regional, and local levels addressed gender-based violence, including sexual violence. Committee participants included health professionals, police, and administrative authorities. Health professionals provided health care, including sexual and reproductive health services, to survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

The prevalence of FGM/C among women aged 15-49 was 95 percent, according to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including in inheritance, property, employment, credit, and divorce. The law prohibits gender discrimination in hiring; the government did not effectively enforce this provision. There were no known limitations on women’s working hours, but there are legal restrictions to women’s employment in occupations and tasks deemed hazardous and in industries such as mining and construction. Traditional practices historically discriminate against women and sometimes took precedence over the law, particularly in rural areas.

Government officials acknowledged that polygyny was common. Divorce laws generally favor men in awarding custody and dividing communal assets. Legal testimony given by women carries less weight than testimony by men, in accordance with Islamic precepts and customary law.

In May 2019 the National Assembly amended the law to make monogamy the standard for marriage, except in the case of an “explicit agreement” with the first wife.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country, marriage, naturalization, or parental heritage. Authorities did not permit children without birth certificates to attend school or access health care. Authorities adjudicated birth registration in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Education: Government policy provides for tuition-free, compulsory primary education for all children up to age 16. While girls and boys had equal access to all levels of primary and secondary education, approximately 56 percent of girls attended primary school, compared with 66 percent of boys. Government figures indicated 11 percent of girls obtained a secondary education, compared with 21 percent of boys.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem, and authorities and NGOs continued to document cases. Child abuse occurred openly on the street, although families ignored most cases or addressed them at the community level.

In December 2019 the National Assembly revised the children’s code to clearly prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of children, including FGM. The revised code entered into force in March. Authorities rarely prosecuted offenders.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law criminalizes early and forced marriage. The legal age for marriage is 18. Ambiguity remains, however, because the law refers to customary marriages for minors who receive consent from both their parents or their legal guardian. According to women’s rights NGOs, the prevalence rate remained high.

In 2017, according to UNICEF, 19 percent of all girls were married by age 15 and 51 percent were married by age 18.

The Ministry of Social Action for the Promotion of Women and Children, with assistance from UNICEF, developed and began to implement a national strategy for the 2020-24 period to promote the abandonment of child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prescribes penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both for all forms of child trafficking, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law prohibits child pornography. The law does not explicitly address the sale, offering, or procuring of children for prostitution. The minimum age of consensual sex is 15. Having sex with someone younger than 15 is punishable by three to 10 years in prison and a fine. These laws were not regularly enforced, and sexual assault of children, including rape, was a serious problem. Girls between ages 11 and 15 were most vulnerable and represented more than half of all rape victims.

Displaced Children: Although official statistics were unavailable, a large population of children lived on the streets, particularly in urban areas. Children frequently begged in mosques, on the street, and in markets.

Institutionalized Children: The country had numerous registered and unregistered orphanages. While reports of abuse at orphanages sometimes appeared in the press, reliable statistics were not available. Authorities institutionalized some children after family members died from the Ebola virus.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://www.travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. Other elements of the law describe the rights of persons with disabilities, such as access to regular and dedicated schools, and access to public transportation. Buildings and transportation, however, remained inaccessible. The law prohibits discrimination in employment against persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Action and the Promotion of Women and Children is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, but it was ineffective. The government provided no support for placing children with disabilities in regular schools.

In December 2019 government representatives and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) inaugurated a trade-skills training facility in Conakry for persons with disabilities. In August the Ministry of Social Action and Vulnerable People, with the technical and financial support of UNDP, hosted a three-day workshop attended by various government representatives that sought to raise awareness of persons living with disabilities and how to support them.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The country’s population was diverse, with three main linguistic groups and several smaller ones. While the law prohibits racial or ethnic discrimination, allegations of discrimination against members of all major ethnic groups occurred in private sector hiring. Ethnic segregation of urban neighborhoods and ethnically divisive rhetoric during political campaigns were common. The government made little efforts to address these problems.

In August a group of 50 to 60 youths, calling themselves the Association of the Young Heirs of Maferinyah and Coyah, attacked two families in Forecariah, leaving several injured and two dead. The families stated that the youths, displaced from local lands, believed that the land the families owned was expropriated from the native inhabitants of the area.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, which is punishable by three years in prison; however, there were no known prosecutions. The Office for the Protection of Women, Children, and Morals (OPROGEM), a part of the Ministry of Security, includes a unit for investigating morals offenses, including same-sex sexual conduct. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals.

Deep religious and cultural taboos existed against consensual same-sex sexual conduct. There were no official or NGO reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although societal stigma likely prevented victims from reporting abuse or harassment. There were no publicly active LGBTI organizations, although some organizations worked to raise awareness concerning HIV and AIDS and prevent human rights abuses among vulnerable communities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Laws exist to protect persons with HIV from stigmatization, but the government relied on donor efforts to combat discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. Government efforts were limited to paying salaries for health-service providers. Most victims of stigmatization were women whose families abandoned them after their husbands died of AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In March the Forested Guinea Region and the town of N’Zerekore saw violence between largely Christian and animist Kpelle people, who supported the opposition and opposed the constitutional referendum, and the Muslim Koniake people who supported the government and the referendum (see section 1.a.). There were no investigations.

Discrimination against persons with albinism occurred, particularly in the Forested Guinea Region, where historically persons with albinism were sought for ritual sacrifice and other harmful practices related to witchcraft. Albino rights NGOs continued to raise awareness of discrimination and violence against persons with albinism. Authorities investigated incidents of violence. For example, in July, OPROGEM arrested six women accused of forcing seven albino children to beg in the street. As of September the women were in custody and awaiting trial. In November police investigated an alleged discovery of two albino bodies in a family compound in Coyah.

Due to a lack of trust and capacity in the local judicial system, mob violence remained a widespread problem nationwide. In November 2019 a man accused of stealing motorcycles was beaten to death by an angry mob in Kankan. In April a man in Boke accused of stealing was tied to a tree by a group of men and beaten to death. Authorities opened investigations into these incidents but the outcomes were unknown.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides most workers the right to organize, bargain collectively, join a union, and engage in strikes. The law also places restrictions on the free exercise of these rights. The law requires unions to obtain the support of 20 percent of the workers in a company, region, or trade in order to strike. The law mandates that unions provide a 10-day notice to the Ministry of Labor before striking, although it allows work slowdowns without notice. Strikes are permitted only for work-related topics; such permission does not extend to government workers, members of the armed forces, or temporary government workers, as these categories do not have the legal right to strike. Despite lacking the right to strike, public school teachers and port workers nevertheless went on strike.

The law protects workers from antiunion discrimination. The law prohibits employers from taking union membership into consideration when considering decisions about an employee’s hiring, firing, and conduct. It also allows workers 30 days to appeal any labor decisions and provides for reinstatement of any employee fired for union activity.

During the January public school teachers’ strike, a communications representative for a local teacher’s union was removed from his position as director of studies and transferred to a new assignment in a different town by local Ministry of Education representatives. After refusing to leave his post and with the intervention of a more prominent union leader, the teacher was reinstated to his position and his blocked salary returned.

The Office of the Inspector General of Labor within the Ministry of Labor manages consensus arbitration, as required by law. Employers often imposed binding arbitration, particularly in “essential services.”

Penalties for various labor violations ranged from fines to imprisonment. The law also defines labor crimes to include workers and employers who subvert national interests or steal trade secrets. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Inspections were not adequate to achieve compliance, and penalties were not enforced.

Worker organizations generally operated independently of government or political party interference. Authorities did not always respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

In January authorities arrested two leaders representing the Union of Teachers and Researchers of Guinea after they failed to suspend their call for national strikes in negotiations with the government. After 10 days authorities dropped the charges of inciting violence and released the two leaders.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor and debt bondage. Prison labor, however, is legal, including for crimes related to political and religious expression. The law prescribes penalties of three to seven years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both for forced labor offenses involving an adult victim, and five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both for those involving a child victim. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes. The government did not effectively enforce this law or prosecute any cases for adult forced labor.

Traffickers exploited men, women, and children in forced labor in agriculture. Traffickers exploited boys in forced labor in begging, mining, fishing, and on coffee, cashew, and cocoa plantations. Some government entities and NGOs alleged forced labor was most prevalent in the mining sector. Women and children were the most vulnerable to trafficking (see section 7.c.). Migrant laborers represented a small proportion of forced labor victims.

In July, 268 workers in a Chinese-owned mosquito-netting factory near the town of Maferenya were held against their will for three months. According to media sources, the manager stated that the workers were detained in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 and prevent possible work stoppages. As of October authorities took no action on the case.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits child labor in the formal sector and sets forth penalties of imprisonment and confiscation of resulting profits. The law does not protect children in the informal sector and authorities are hesitant to pursue cases due to longstanding sociocultural norms. The law does not prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The law allows minors to work below the minimum age for employment, which is 16. Exceptions allow children to work at age 12 as apprentices for light work in the domestic service and agriculture sectors, and at age 14 for other work. The law does not prescribe the number of work hours per week for children, nor does it specify the conditions under which light work may be undertaken. The law does not permit workers and apprentices younger than age 18 to work more than 10 consecutive hours at night or on Sundays; however, these rules were often not respected.

The Ministry of Labor maintained an outdated list of hazardous occupations or activities that may not employ children, but enforcement was limited to large firms in the formal sector. The law does not prohibit hazardous occupations and activities in all relevant child labor sectors, including agriculture. The law increases penalties for forced labor if minors are involved, but penalties did not meet international standards, and enforcement was not sufficient to deter child labor violations. Although the law provides that treaty obligations be regarded by the justice system as lawfully binding, ambiguity concerning this provision’s validity continued due to the government’s failure to pass implementing legislation.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, and it conducted occasional inspections. OPROGEM is responsible for investigating child trafficking and child labor violations. After making an arrest, police transfer all information to the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Security has a unit specifically focused on child trafficking and child labor. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and inspections were not adequate. Boys frequently worked in the informal sectors of subsistence farming, small-scale commerce, street vending, shining shoes, and mining. Girls were subjected to domestic servitude domestically and abroad. Forced child labor occurred primarily in the cashew, cocoa, coffee, gold, and diamond sectors of the economy. Many children between ages five and 16 worked 10 to 15 hours a day in the diamond and gold mines for minimal compensation and little food. Child laborers extracted, transported, and cleaned the minerals. They operated in extreme conditions, lacked protective gear, did not have access to water or electricity, and faced a constant threat of disease. Many children did not attend school and could not contact their parents, which may indicate forced labor.

Many parents sent their children to live with relatives or Quranic teachers while the children attended school. Host families often required such children to perform domestic or agricultural labor, or to sell water or shine shoes on the streets. Some children were subjected to forced begging.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings , and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not address discrimination based on race, color, national origin, citizenship, social origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. The government took no steps to prevent discrimination in employment and occupation. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

Discrimination in employment occurred. Although the law requires equal pay for equal work, women received lower pay for similar work, and there were legal restrictions on women’s employment in some occupations (see section 6). Few persons with disabilities had access to work in the formal sector, although some worked in small family businesses; many survived by begging on the streets.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government set the Guaranteed Minimum Interprofessional Wage at a rate below the poverty level determined by the World Bank. The minimum wage covers all sectors, but was not applied in the large informal sector.

The law mandates that regular work should not exceed 10-hour days or 48-hour weeks, and it mandates a period of at least 24 consecutive hours of rest each week, usually on Sunday. Every salaried worker has the legal right to an annual paid vacation, accumulated at the rate of at least two days per month of work. There also are provisions in the law for overtime and night wages, which are a fixed percentage of the regular wage. The law stipulates a maximum of 100 hours of compulsory overtime a year.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor standards, and its inspectors are empowered to suspend work immediately in situations deemed hazardous to workers’ health. The law contains general provisions regarding occupational safety and health, but the government did not establish a set of appropriate workplace health and safety standards. Moreover, it did not issue any orders laying out the appropriate safety requirements for certain occupations or for certain methods of work as called for in the law. All workers, foreign and migrant included, have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions without penalty.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Inspection and enforcement efforts were insufficient to deter violations. According to the International Labor Organization, inspectors received inadequate training. The reported number of employed labor inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance with the law, although labor inspector vacancies went unfilled. Inspectors lacked computers and transportation to carry out their duties. Penalties for violation of the law were not commensurate with similar crimes.

Authorities rarely monitored work practices or enforced workweek standards or overtime rules. Teachers’ wages were extremely low. Salary arrears were not paid, and some teachers lived in poverty. The informal sector included 60 to 70 percent of all workers. The law applies to the informal sector, but it was seldom enforced.

Violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards were common across sectors. There were, for example, artisanal (small-scale) gold mining communities in the northern section of the country where inspectors found occupational health and environmental hazards.

Despite legal protection against working in unsafe conditions, many workers feared retaliation and did not exercise their right to refuse to work under unsafe conditions. Data was not available on workplace fatalities and accidents, but accidents in unsafe working conditions were common, mostly in construction and artisanal mining. The government banned wildcat gold prospecting and other mining activities during the rainy season to prevent deaths from mudslides. The practices, however, continued near the border with Mali, resulting in recurring accidents.

Guinea-Bissau

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but the number of instances of cruel or degrading treatment increased during the year.

On May 22, unknown assailants abducted a member of parliament, Marciano Indi, outside his residence. Indi is the deputy of the Assembly of the People United–Democratic Party (APU). His APU colleagues publicized the incident on social media and contacted the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and UN representatives in Bissau. He was detained for several hours before being found at a police station in Bissau with a head wound and other bruises. Indi had criticized President Sissoco and Prime Minister Nabiam in a televised interview the day before the assault.

In October members of the Public Order Police beat two members of the political party MADEM-G15, detained them in the prison facilities of the Ministry of Interior in Bissau, and released them soon thereafter. As of November the Ministry of Interior and the Prosecutor’s Office reported that the case was under investigation. Political parties criticized the incident, and the local nongovernmental organization Human Rights League accused the Ministry of Interior of “state terrorism.”

On July 20, the parliament approved the creation of a Parliamentary Investigation Committee to investigate incidents involving three Guinean citizens. Among the cases were the abduction of Marciano Indi and the 2019 death of the Party for Social Renewal’s leader, Demba Balde. The committee was led by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea Cape Verde (PAIGC) and consists of a total of nine members of parliament.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions varied widely but were poor. In the makeshift detention facilities for pretrial detainees, conditions were harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions: Conditions of confinement were poor. Except in the prisons in Bafata and Mansoa, electricity, potable water, and space were inadequate. Pretrial detention facilities generally lacked secure cells, running water, adequate heating, ventilation, lighting, and sanitation. Detainees’ diets were meager, and medical care was virtually nonexistent. At the pretrial detention center in Bissau, detainees relied on their families for food. Officials held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners and juveniles with adults. There were no reported deaths in police custody.

Administration: Authorities did not investigate allegations of inhuman conditions. There was no prison ombudsman to respond to prisoners’ complaints or independent authorities to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. In 2018 the National Commission for Human Rights recommended the closure of four pretrial detention centers (Cacine, Catio, Bigene, and Bissora) due to inhuman conditions, but the government took no action.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of detention conditions by local and international human rights groups.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not observe these prohibitions. Detainees may challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court through a regular appeals process and obtain prompt release as well as compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. Arbitrary arrests by security forces increased during the year.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires arrest warrants, although warrantless arrests often occurred, particularly of immigrants suspected of crimes. By law detainees must be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours of arrest and released if no indictment is filed, but this standard was not always met. Authorities were obligated to inform detainees of charges against them, but they did not always do so. The law provides for the right to counsel at state expense for indigent clients; lawyers did not receive compensation for their part-time public defense work and often ignored state directives to represent indigent clients. There was a functioning bail system. Pretrial detainees had prompt access to family members. Authorities usually held civilian suspects under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police arrested persons arbitrarily and detained them without due process. In May a member of parliament was arrested and severely beaten by public order police for allegedly having offended President Sissoco Embalo. He was released hours later the same day. In June public order police arrested Armando Correia Dias, leader of the PAIGC political party, for allegedly transporting weapons in his vehicle. According to a PAIGC member of parliament, police took an AK-47 weapon from their car, placed it in Dias’ car, and then took him into custody. He was released days later following interventions by the United Nations and civil society after a hearing. In August public order police arrested the former state secretary of the treasury in his Bissau residence for the alleged illegal possession of a government vehicle. He was released two days later without charges.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was subject to political manipulation. Judges were poorly trained, inadequately and irregularly paid, and subject to corruption. A lack of resources and infrastructure often delayed trials, and convictions were extremely rare. Authorities respected court orders, however.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the independent judiciary did not always enforce this right.

The court system did not often provide fair trials and corrupt judges sometimes worked in concert with police. Cases were sometimes delayed without explanation, and occasionally fines were directly taken out of defendants’ bank accounts without their knowledge.

Citizens have the right to a presumption of innocence; to be informed promptly of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals; to a fair trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial; and to communicate with an attorney of choice or have one provided at court expense from the moment charged and through all appeals. The law provides for the right to confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence, not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to admit guilt, and to appeal. Defendants generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; however, most cases never came to trial. There is no trial by jury. Trials in civilian courts are open to the public.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations; however, there was no specific administrative mechanism to address human rights violations.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Police routinely ignored privacy rights and protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press; however, the government did not always respect this right. Since Sissoco’s self-inauguration in late February, the United Nations and media watchdogs reported multiple acts of intimidation against media, including state-owned media outlets.

Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were several private newspapers in addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, but the state-owned printing house published all of them. Journalists working for state-owned media, however, did not operate freely, and internal censorship was common.

Violence and Harassment: The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who threatened journalists. Intimidation and harassment of journalist and media outlets increased during the year. For example, after the Guinea-Bissau Television (TGB) did not broadcast Sissoco’s unofficial inauguration in February, soldiers occupied both TGB and Nacional Broadcast Radio and prevented them from operating until new directors were appointed in March. In July armed men in uniform attacked the private radio station Radio Capital and destroyed equipment. The government and some international organizations such as ECOWAS and the African Union criticized the act, but the government took no steps to find those responsible, which contributed to a de facto restriction on freedom of speech.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were cases of censorship in public media. Political considerations often caused journalists to self-censor news content.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored online communications without appropriate legal authority. President Sissoco announced on July 7 that intelligence services would use equipment acquired from abroad to begin monitoring citizen communications and “call to justice” anyone who insulted or defamed another resident of the country. As of December there was no evidence that government had begun monitoring citizen communications.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; the government, however, failed to respect these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, but the government did not consistently respect the law. Impunity for security forces contributed to an environment of intimidation that restricted freedom of assembly.

In October 2019 opposition parties protested the organization of the presidential election. During the protest a body was found at an opposition party headquarters under unclear circumstances, with protesters claiming the death resulted from police actions. The Ministry of Interior’s investigation found that the body belonged to Demba Balde, leader of the Party for Social Renewal. The Parliamentary Investigation Committee continued investigating the case at year’s end.

In 2018 the Movement of Nonconforming Citizens filed a complaint against the government with the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice for violation of freedom of peaceful protest. The investigation continued as of year’s end.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government through the National Commission of Refugees cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year, citing COVID-19 prevention measures. The UNHCR office in Bissau facilitated the issuance of refugee cards for all refugees who requested them.

The country hosted thousands of long-term refugees and asylum seekers from Senegal’s Casamance Region. Many residents maintained ethnic and family ties on both sides of the country’s poorly marked northern border with Senegal’s Casamance Region, rendering the nationality and status of many individuals in the area unclear.

Durable Solutions: In 2018 President Jose Mario Vaz granted citizenship to more than 7,000 linguistically and culturally assimilated refugees living in the country for more than 25 years. The decree conformed with international agreements on migration and asylum. Most of these refugees were originally from Senegal’s Casamance Region, with minorities from Liberia and Sierra Leone. UNHCR reported that as of September 2019, the country hosted 7,800 refugees. Until the process was suspended in March due to COVID-10 prevention measures, the government had issued official naturalization identification to 5,507 of these individuals.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The first round of the presidential election took place on November 24, 2019. The top two finishers from the first round, Domingos Simoes Pereira and Umaro Sissoco Embalo, met in a runoff election on December 29, 2019. The National Election Commission declared Sissoco the winner. International observers characterized the election as free, fair, and transparent. The opposition party PAIGC launched an appeal, disputing the fairness and accuracy of the results. An institutional stalemate ensued, as the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) did not ratify the electoral results despite the National Election Commission declaring Sissoco the winner. Sissoco assumed the presidency on February 27 after an unofficial inauguration and transfer of power from the previous president Jose Mario Vaz. In support of Sissoco, the military temporarily took over all government institutions, the SCJ, and the national broadcast media. Sissoco appointed Nuno Gomes Nabiam prime minister. In March the prime minister named his new government, which consisted of 32 members including 19 ministers and 13 state secretaries. On April 22, ECOWAS recognized Sissoco as the winner of the 2019 presidential elections. In September the SCJ dismissed the PAIGC’s appeal disputing the election results. The dismissal ended an eight-month long judicial process in which the opposition party’s legal challenges had bounced between the SCJ and the National Elections Committee.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors limited the political participation of women compared with men.

During 2019 legislative elections, no political party complied with the 2018 gender-parity law, which requires 36 percent of candidates to be female. There were 14 women in the 102-member National Assembly, just as there were in the prior legislature. In March 2020, Prime Minister Nuno Nabiam presented the list of the new government’s cabinet members. The 32-member cabinet included seven women, including four ministers and three state secretaries.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties of one month to 10 years in prison for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials in all branches and on all levels of government engaged in corrupt and nontransparent practices with impunity.

Corruption: Members of the military and civilian administration reportedly trafficked in drugs and assisted international drug cartels by providing access to the country and its transportation infrastructure. For example, a Mexican citizen and a Bissau-Guinean remained at large despite having been convicted and sentenced to prison on January 7, reportedly because of assistance from members of the government. In September the Judicial Police arrested the former migration services director for interference in a drug raid in the International Airport Osvaldo Vieira in March. He was at home awaiting trial. Since taking office President Sissoco has dismissed two of the leading figures in the fight against drug trafficking, former minister of justice Rute Monteiro and Judicial Police director Filomena Mendes Lopes. Monteiro fled the country, citing death threats. Sissoco and other members of the government stated their desire to eliminate drug trafficking, but the government did not prosecute cases during the year.

Some military and civilian authorities were also complicit in trafficking in illegally cut timber. In November the Judicial Police seized a large quantity of logs cut illegally in the country’s national forest. The timber had been cut by a company in which Prime Minister Nuno Nabiam allegedly had financial interests. In December the Judicial Police requested that the Prosecutor’s Office question the prime minister regarding his participation in illegal logging and sale of timber. The interior minister and National Guard commander were also reportedly under investigation. As of year’s end, the Prosecutor’s Office had not filed charges.

Financial Disclosure: By law high-level public officials are required to disclose their personal finances before the Court of Audits, and these disclosures are to be made public. The court has no authority to enforce compliance, and penalties are not specified for noncompliance. By year’s end no public officials had disclosed their personal finances.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Commission on Human Rights is a government human rights organization. It was independent but remained inadequately funded and ineffective.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, including spousal rape, and provides penalties for conviction of two to 12 years in prison; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law permits prosecution of rape only when reported by the victim, which observers noted was rare due to victims’ fear of social stigma and retribution.

Although the law prohibits domestic violence, such abuse was widespread. The government did not undertake specific measures to counter social pressure against reporting domestic violence, rape, incest, and other mistreatment of women.

Cases of domestic violence and child abuse were commonly resolved within the household. Limited access to institutions of justice also contributed to the preference for customary law as a way of solving societal problems. Recourse to the formal justice system was poorly understood, expensive, and seldom used.

In September the Judiciary Police arrested a 37-year-old man in Bafata on suspicion of sexual abuse of children younger than age 12. According to police, the suspect also allegedly impregnated one victim. The suspect was detained and presented to the Public Ministry for investigation.

In July parliament and the Guinean Human Right’s League denounced an increase of reported cases of violence against women and children in the eastern and southern parts of the country, including the Bafata, Gabu, and Quinara Regions.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C, without reference to age of the victims. FGM/C was practiced on girls younger than age five. Conviction for its practice is punishable by a fine of up to five million Central African (CFA) francs ($8,680) and five years in prison. Muslim preachers and scholars called for the eradication of FGM/C. The Joint Program on FGM/C of the UN Population Fund and UNICEF worked with the Ministry of Justice to strengthen the dissemination and application of the law by building the capacities of officials responsible for program implementation.

Sexual Harassment: No law prohibits sexual harassment, and it was widespread. The government undertook no initiatives to combat the problem.

Reproductive Rights: Although couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and manage their reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, they often lacked the information and means to do so. The UN Population Fund reported that 114 health centers offered family planning services but that the availability of birth control services they offered varied from center to center. The 2018-2019 UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey reported that 20.2 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception. The Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups discouraged use of modern contraception.

The World Heath Statistics 2020 report estimated that skilled health personnel attended 45 percent of births and that 55.7 percent of women of reproductive age had access to modern methods of family planning. The health system’s obstetric care capacity was insufficient, and emergency care was available only in Bissau. The adolescent birth rate was 103 per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19. There was no information on government assistance to victims of sexual assault.

According to UN estimates, the maternal mortality rate was 667 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020, and the lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 160. Major factors causing high maternal mortality were poor health infrastructure and service delivery as well as high rates of adolescent pregnancy.

UNICEF statistics for 2020 reported that 52 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 had undergone FGM/C causing maternal morbidity, including genital infections, urinary incontinence, increased infertility, and a high risk of contracting HIV and AIDS.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution grants men and women equal rights. Gender discrimination, however, prevailed due to society’s norms based on traditional customs and rules of ethnic groups and religious communities that perpetuated inequalities. The land-tenure law recognizes equal rights for men and women to access the land, yet it also recognizes the customary law that favors men as a way of acquiring tenure rights. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in the same occupations and industries as men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from citizen parents. Birth registration does not occur automatically at hospitals; parents must register births with a notary. Lack of registration resulted in denial of public services, including education.

Education: Most school-age children frequently remained at home because schools opened only intermittently due to teacher strikes. From March to October, children remained at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Public schools did not offer remote classes.

Child Abuse: There are no laws regarding child abuse specifically. Violence against children was thought to be widespread but seldom reported to authorities.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16 for both genders. Child, early, and forced marriage occurred among all ethnic groups. Girls who fled arranged marriages often were trafficked into commercial sex. The buying and selling of child brides also occurred. There were no government efforts to mitigate the problems. According to UNICEF, 6 percent of all girls were married by age 15 and 24 percent by age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 for both boys and girls. A statutory rape law prohibits sex with a person younger than age 16. The rape law carries a penalty for conviction of two to 12 years in prison. The law also prohibits child pornography. The law criminalizes commercial sexual exploitation of children and prescribes penalties of three to 15 years’ imprisonment and the confiscation of any proceeds from the crime. When pedophilia and sexual harassment were reported, police at times blamed victims.

There were reports that girls were victims of commercial sexual exploitation, including in sex tourism, in the isolated Bijagos Islands, and on mainland Guinea-Bissau in bars and hotels.

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

Displaced Children: The national nongovernmental organization Association of the Friends of Children estimated up to 500 children, mostly from neighboring Guinea, lived on the streets of urban centers including Bissau, Bafata, and Gabu. The government provided no services to street children during the year. The government worked with Senegal to return 158 children sent to Quranic schools in Senegal back to Guinea-Bissau. These children usually ended up begging and being mistreated.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were small communities of Jews in the country and no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not counter discrimination against persons with disabilities or provide access for them to buildings, information, and communications. The government made some efforts to assist military veterans with disabilities through pension programs, but these did not adequately address health care, housing, or food needs. Provisions existed to allow voters with disabilities and illiterate voters to participate in the electoral process, but voters with proven severe intellectual disabilities could be prohibited from voting.

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

No laws criminalize sexual orientation. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) individuals. In July a man was attacked because of his sexual orientation, but he reportedly did not press charges due to fear of retaliation.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides the freedom to form and join independent unions without prior authorization. The law excludes the military and police and does not fully cover all other public-sector officials as well as agricultural workers, dock workers and workers in the informal economy.

The law does not provide for the right to bargain collectively; however, the tripartite National Council for Social Consultation conducted collective consultations on salary issues. Workers and employers established most wages in bilateral negotiations.

The law provides for the right to strike, but workers must give 72-hour prior notice. The law also prohibits retaliation against strikers and does not exclude any group of workers from relevant legal protections. Many sectors of the economy were on strike at some time during the year, typically because of low salaries. Workers in the education, media, health, and public sectors went on strike during the year. Public-sector workers demanding an increase in the minimum wage carried out weekly strikes during the year.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. Laws on unions provide protection only for trade union delegates, while the constitution provides for workers’ rights to free speech and assembly. The law prohibits employer discrimination against official trade union representatives. The law requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity. The law does not apply to domestic workers.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable labor laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Authorities generally respected freedom of association in the formal sector. Worker organizations were not independent of government and political parties, employers, or employer associations, which sometimes sought to influence union decisions and actions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the laws. Prescribed penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, but the government did not use these or other relevant laws to prosecute cases of forced labor. Forced child labor occurred (see section 7.c).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The legal minimum age is 14 years for general factory labor and 18 years for heavy or dangerous labor, including labor in mines, but these prohibitions do not apply to work without a contract. Minors are prohibited from working overtime. The law prohibits children younger than age 18 from conducting heavy labor, work in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, work at night, and underground work; however, the government has not established a list of hazardous work.

The Ministries of Justice and of Civil Service and Labor and the Institute of Women and Children did not effectively enforce these requirements, particularly in informal work settings. Resources, inspections, and remedies were inadequate. Penalties usually took the form of minimal fines that have not been adjusted to reflect the 1997 adoption of the CFA franc and were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. The government provided no services of any kind, besides inspections, and did not arrest or prosecute any violators.

Child labor occurred in farming, fishing, domestic work, and street work. Forced child labor occurred in domestic service; begging; agriculture and mining; shoe shining; and selling food on urban streets. Some religious teachers, known as marabouts, deceived boys and their families by promising a Quranic education but then put the boys to work or took them to neighboring countries for exploitation as forced beggars. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6). The small formal sector generally adhered to minimum age requirements, although there were reports minors worked overtime despite the prohibition.

Children in rural communities performed domestic labor and fieldwork without pay to help support their families. Minors in these situations as well as those who received some pay were frequently subjected to violence and sexual assault. According to a nongovernmental organization survey, nine in 10 domestic workers were physically abused by their employers.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution provides for equality for all, but the law does not prohibit discrimination regarding race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social origin.

Women faced considerable pay gaps and were less likely to be hired than men. There were legal restrictions to women’s working hours and employment in occupations and tasks deemed dangerous, jobs in the mining industry, and other work considered detrimental to a woman’s “genetic function.” LGBTI persons faced discrimination in hiring, and persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace. Documented discrimination in the other foregoing categories with respect to employment and occupation was not available.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Council of Ministers annually establishes minimum wage rates for different categories of work but continues to rely on a wage establishment mechanism that the International Labor Organization considers outdated. Although the minimum wage of public-sector workers was above the World Bank’s international poverty line, the lowest minimum wage for private-sector employees was substantially below the poverty line. This minimum wage was not observed in the informal sector, which includes approximately 80 percent of workers. The law provides for a maximum 45-hour workweek and provisions for overtime pay.

In cooperation with unions, the Ministries of Justice and Labor establish legal health and safety standards for workers, which the National Assembly had not adopted into law by year’s end. The standards were current and appropriate for the main industries. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from unsafe working conditions without jeopardizing their employment.

The Labor Ministry inspector general is responsible for enforcing the Labor Law but did not do so effectively. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to detect and deter violations, and they lacked authority to carry out unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Wage and occupational safety and health regulations were not enforced in the informal sector, which included the vast majority of workers. Penalties, which usually take the form of minimal fines that have not been adjusted for inflation, were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. Many persons worked under conditions that endangered their health and safety.

There is no official count of workplace accidents in the country, but numerous unofficial reports indicated the occurrence of workplace accidents. For example, in January, an employee lost his fingers while doing maintenance work. This case was reported to the inspector general of labor and was investigated.

Liberia

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

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

There were occasional reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On January 26, bodyguards of President George Weah assaulted Zenu Koboi Miller, a local broadcast journalist, as he was leaving the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sport Stadium in Monrovia. On January 27, the case was highlighted in a statement by the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), an independent organization for media professionals, and later by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Miller wrote in a Facebook post that he had seen a doctor and was suffering from pains in his legs and chest after the “brutal attack.” Miller filed a complaint with the PUL, which met with police leadership on January 30 and called for a transparent investigation, according to a PUL statement. Miller died in a local hospital on February 15, after complaining of numbness in his left arm and legs, according to local news reports. While a direct link between the assault and death was never established, since an autopsy was not conducted, the family issued a statement saying Miller had died of hypertension and stroke.

On March 8, off-duty Liberia National Police (LNP) Sergeant Sensee Kowo, who was also the deputy commander of LNP Ganta City Detachment in Nimba County, allegedly flogged and choked 18-year-old motorcyclist Samuel Selleh after an argument; Selleh died shortly thereafter. Authorities fired Kowo and opened an investigation into the death. One account of the events suggested Selleh died as a result of stones thrown by friends who came to his defense. Sergeant Kowo (who originally fled the scene) was arrested and charged with murder. At the first hearing of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, during the August Term of Court, the former sergeant’s plea for a change of venue was granted, and the case was pending transfer to Grand Bassa County at year’s end.

In June the Civilian Complaints Review Board, an independent body mandated by law to investigate police acts of violence against innocent persons, began an investigation into circumstances that resulted in the death of a three-year-old child, Francis Mensah, in the Township of West Point. The child died on April 20, reportedly as a result of an injury he sustained after six LNP officers allegedly kicked over a pot of hot water that fell on him. According to a press release issued by the review board chairman, Councilor Tiawan Gongloe, the officers were suspended. An LNP investigation found the death was not caused intentionally, but some LNP officers involved received suspensions due to irregularities in reporting the event.

There were no new developments in the June 2019 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Abraham Tumay by police officers during a protest demanding justice for the mysterious killing of two minors in May 2019. Four police officers were charged with negligent homicide, aggravated assault, and criminal facilitation in connection with Tumay’s death. The officers allegedly fired live ammunition into the air in an attempt to disperse protesters, striking Tumay. The four officers were incarcerated at the Monrovia Central Prison awaiting trial.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports that government authorities allegedly abused, harassed, and intimidated persons in custody as well as those seeking protection.

On April 23, Mohammed Komara, a man reportedly suffering from mental illness, breached the perimeter of the president’s private residence in Paynesville, outside Monrovia. LNP officers and agents of the Executive Protection Service kicked and used sticks to prod the individual while he lay prostrate, shirtless, and handcuffed, according to a widely circulated video of the incident. The Office of the President announced the launch of an investigation into the case.

Impunity was a problem in the security forces. Police and other security officers allegedly abused, harassed, and intimidated persons in police custody, as well as those seeking police protection. The penal code provides criminal penalties for excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and addresses permissible uses of force during arrest or while preventing the escape of a prisoner from custody. An armed forces disciplinary board investigates alleged misconduct and abuses by military personnel. The armed forces administer nonjudicial punishment. As of August the disciplinary board had three active cases. In accordance with a memorandum of understanding between the Ministries of Justice and Defense, the armed forces refer capital cases to the civil court system for adjudication.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were at times harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and poor medical care.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding continued to be a problem. The Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported the prison population in the country’s 16 facilities was almost twice the planned capacity. Approximately one-half of the country’s 2,572 prisoners were at the Monrovia Central Prison, which was originally built for 374 detainees but as of December held 1,230. The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Prison Fellowship Liberia reported that overcrowding in Block D of the Monrovia Central Prison required prisoners to sleep in shifts. The majority of juveniles were in pretrial detention. Pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held together. In some cases men and women were held together, and juveniles were held with adults.

According to the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, from January through September, there were 23 prison deaths in the country, including 13 deaths at the Monrovia Central Prison, four deaths each at the Gbarnga Central Prison and the Harper Central Prison, and one death each at the Tubmanburg Central Prison and the Buchanan Central Prison. According to the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, none of the deaths in prisons during the year resulted from prison violence or mistreatment of prisoners. The bureau attributed the deaths to medical reasons–other than COVID-19–including anemia, heart conditions, and infectious diseases. According to Prison Fellowship Liberia, however, Ministry of Health officials working in the prisons did not test the bodies of deceased prisoners for signs of COVID-19 infection.

Access to food and medical care was inadequate, according to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners that “[e]very prisoner shall be provided by the prison administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served,” but improved, relative to the preceding year. Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation administrators acknowledged interruptions to the food supply during the year and blamed poor road conditions and delayed budgetary allotments. Prison Fellowship Liberia reported prisoner diets overall remained poor even though rations had improved from the prior year. The Monrovia Central Prison sometimes served rice alone, with prisoners purchasing oil from vendors at the prison to supplement their diet. In some locations prisoners supplemented their meals by purchasing food at the prison or receiving food from visitors. Some prisoners grew their own rice and vegetables to supplement food rations.

Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials reported six of the country’s 16 prisons had medical clinics while the rest were visited by nurses. Nurses were scheduled to visit each of the prisons without a medical clinic once or twice a week but rarely adhered to the schedule, and facilities often went weeks without medical staff visits. The only location where medical staff was available Monday through Friday was the Monrovia Central Prison, from approximately 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Ministry of Health and county health teams had primary responsibility for the provision of medicines, but the supply chain was weak throughout the country, and prison medical staff often did not have access to necessary medicines. Since replenishment sometimes took weeks or months, inmates often went without medication for lengthy periods. A variety of NGOs, including Serving Humanity for Empowerment and Development and the Rural Human Rights Activities Program, provided some medications for detainees. Prison Fellowship Liberia noted that in some instances family members were not notified when prisoners were seriously ill. There were reports of inadequate treatment for ailing inmates and inmates with disabilities. Authorities determined whether to release an ill prisoner on an ad hoc basis, and most were quarantined after presenting symptoms rather than being released. In June the newspaper Front Page Africa reported the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation had implemented measures, including requiring handwashing and temperature checks of visitors, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the prison population.

In some locations the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation lacked adequate vehicles and fuel and relied on the LNP to provide court and medical escorts.

Conditions for female prisoners were somewhat better than for males. Female inmates were less likely to suffer from overcrowding and had more freedom to move within the women’s section of facilities. According to the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR), female detainees often lacked sanitary items unless provided by family; occasionally NGOs donated these items, but stocks ran out quickly.

Administration: The Bureau of Corrections and Administration noted the creation of an investigative board at Monrovia Central Prison to ensure reports of prisoner misconduct were reviewed for appropriate administrative action.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local human rights groups, international NGOs, the United Nations, diplomatic personnel, and media. Some human rights groups, including domestic and international organizations, visited detainees at police headquarters and prisoners in the Monrovia Central Prison. The INCHR and Prison Fellowship Liberia had unfettered access to facilities. According to the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Liberian New Hope Foundation Center, Serving Humanity for Empowerment and Development, Finn Church Aid, Serving Humanity for Development, UN Development Program (UNDP), and Rural Human Rights Activities also visited prisons during the year.

Improvements: Early in the year, the government established the Human Rights in Prison Coordination Platform to ensure the human rights of inmates or persons deprived of their liberty were protected. The coordination platform comprised representatives of the Protection Unit of the Ministry of Justice, Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Ministry of Health, donor partners, and civil society organizations working on access to justice programs and on programs in education, agriculture, and health. The platform acquired and distributed COVID-19 materials and medicine to prisons, through funding from the UNDP and two civil society organizations, Serving Humanity for Empowerment and Dignity and the Rural Human Rights Activist Program.

During the year Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation administrators reported expanding a rehabilitation center in Gbarnga, expanding tailoring and soap-making programs at Monrovia Central Prison, and setting up an investigation board. Prison Fellowship Liberia noted improvements in the provision of psychological counseling for prisoners and the treatment of prisoners by corrections officers. Psychological counseling was extended to 10 prisons across the country.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not always observe these prohibitions and rights. Police officers and magistrates frequently detained citizens for owing money to a complainant. The INCHR reported magistrate court judges continued to issue writs of arrest unilaterally, without approval or submission by the city solicitors.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

In general police must have warrants issued by a magistrate to make arrests. The law allows for arrests without a warrant if the necessary paperwork is filed immediately afterwards for review by the appropriate authority. Nonetheless, arrests often were made without judicial authorization, and warrants were sometimes issued without sufficient evidence. Police sometimes requested money to effect arrests for prosecuting authorities.

The law provides that authorities either charge or release detainees within 48 hours. Detainees generally were informed of the charges against them upon arrest but not always brought before a judge for arraignment within 48 hours. According to the INCHR, a detainee’s access to a hearing before a judge sometimes depended on whether there was a functioning court or available transportation in the area. Those arraigned were often held in lengthy pretrial detention. Some detainees, particularly among the majority who lacked the means to hire a lawyer, were held for more than 48 hours without charge. The law also provides that, once detained, a criminal defendant must be indicted during the next succeeding 90-day term of court after arrest or, if the indicted defendant is not tried within the next succeeding court term and no cause is given, the case against the defendant is to be dismissed; nevertheless, cases were rarely dismissed on either ground. Approximately 50 percent of pretrial detainees nationwide had been incarcerated for more than two terms of court without a hearing.

There is a public defender’s office at the Monrovia Central Prison. The Ministry of Justice assigned 12 public defenders to Montserrado County where Monrovia is located and one or two for each of the other counties. Under the public defender program, each police station is required to maintain an office of court liaison that works with the public defender’s office in each county. According to the national coordinator of the program, the 41 public defenders, up from 39 in 2019, were insufficient to provide adequate access to justice for indigent persons across the country. Magistrates or police officers are responsible for contacting the public defender in cases where individuals are arrested on a warrant. In the instances when a warrantless arrest is made, the court liaison officer is responsible for contacting the public defender. In practice, however, some local public defenders relied on local jailers to provide notification of new arrestees. According to the INCHR, some jurisdictions occasionally lacked both a prosecutor and a public defender, and the magistrate judge proceeded without them.

The law provides for bail for all noncapital or non-drug-related criminal offenses; it severely limits bail for individuals charged with capital offenses or serious sexual crimes. Bail may be paid in cash, property, or insurance, or be granted on personal recognizance. The bail system was inefficient and susceptible to corruption. The INCHR reported judges misused the bail system, viewing it as punitive rather than a way to regulate appearance in court. Some judges used the possibility of bail as a way to solicit bribes. Aside from a few high-profile cases, house arrest was rarely used.

Detainees have the right to prompt access to counsel, visits from family members, and, if indigent, an attorney provided by the state in criminal cases. Public defender’s offices remained understaffed and underfunded, and some allegedly charged indigent clients for their services. The Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) reported logistical support frequently was not provided to public defenders. In Lofa County, for example, there were two public defenders to cover eight court districts. In some cases courts permitted legal apprentices to represent defendants.

Although official policy allows detained suspects to communicate with others, including a lawyer or family member, inadequate provision of telephone services resulted in many inmates being unable to communicate with anyone outside of the detention facility. The Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported that Finn Church Aid provided cell phones to some prisons to allow detainees to contact their families and lawyers.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces and the LNP continued to make arbitrary arrests. The Press Union of Liberia reported radio journalist David K. Yango was unjustly arrested, beaten, and jailed while conducting interviews with market sellers on May 7. Yango relayed to the Media Foundation for West Africa through a messaging app that he was taken to the police station and detained on the orders of Elijah Baysah, whom he described as the commander of the LNP Red Light Zone 9 Depot No. 2. Yango reportedly suffered injuries after the police used force. “I lost my recorder during the assault, and the police deleted my videos before returning my seized phone,” Yango said, after his release.

On June 26, National Security Agency authorities arrested and detained the CEO of Orange Liberia, allegedly to investigate whether he was involved in a protest and accused him of “trying to destabilize the country.” Some business leaders viewed the arrest as an attempt to pressure the company to drop its litigation against the government pending before the Supreme Court regarding the imposition of surcharges to tariffs. The company issued a statement denying the CEO was involved in the protests and underscored its corporate policy against political participation. Authorities released the CEO shortly after detention, and he soon departed the country.

Pretrial Detention: Although the law provides for a defendant to receive an expeditious trial, lengthy pretrial and prearraignment detention remained serious problems. As of July pretrial detainees accounted for approximately 63 percent of the prison population across the country and 77 percent in the Monrovia Central Prison. In some cases the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum length of sentence that could be imposed for the alleged crime.

The use of detention as a punitive measure, failure to issue indictments in a timely manner, lack of a functioning bail system, poor court recordkeeping and missing files, failure of judges to assign court dates, failure of defense counsel to file motions to dismiss, and a lack of resources for public defenders all contributed to prolonged pretrial detention. For example, as of October the oldest pretrial detainee case dated to 2014.

In March as the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the country, the LNBA increased its efforts to secure the release of pretrial detainees in order to reduce overcrowding in prisons. Over a two-month period, 200 pretrial detainees were released from the Monrovia Central Prison.

In April, Front Page Africa reported eight pretrial detainees accused of rape and statutory rape, nonbailable offenses, in Bong County were released without trial after spending a year in detention. The court released the suspects to the defense attorney, who said the state failed to provide sufficient evidence against the suspects, so the court had the right to release them. The Bong County Chief Prosecutor was unsuccessful in his plea to the court that releasing the eight individuals violated the law. There was reportedly one individual accused in the case who remained in custody at year’s end on unrelated charges.

From January to July, 200 pretrial detainees had their cases dismissed and were released under the Magistrate Sitting Program.

The corrections system continued to develop its capacity to implement probation. During the year authorities doubled the number of probation officers to 50.

With UNICEF’s support and in coordination with the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, the Child Justice Section of the Ministry of Justice worked to remove children from the criminal justice system. During the year 66 children were removed from detention. In addition, another 248 cases, consisting of 182 boys and 66 girls, were mediated to avoid their detention altogether.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and to request prompt release, although in reality few were able to do so because of inaction at the courts and because they lacked adequate counsel.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence and engaged in corruption. Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, award damages in civil cases, or acquit defendants in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors, or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial.

In August the Global News Network reported that Eva Mappy Morgan, chief judge of the Commercial Court and president of the National Trial Judges of Liberia, was the subject of an investigation for alleged malpractice. Judge Morgan was linked to a 2013 communication in which it was alleged the Commercial Court authorized the withdrawal, without the consent of one of the litigating parties, of an amount of $3.4 million at the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment, which was being held in escrow pending final determination of a commercial dispute between Ducor Petroleum Inc. and the Monrovia Oil Trading Company. The court unilaterally ordered the withdrawal of more than three million dollars from the bank. The Judicial Inquiry Commission investigation of the case continued at year’s end. The commission is an auxiliary group established within the judiciary with the exclusive power and authority to receive and investigate complaints against judges for violation of any provision of the judicial canons.

Some judicial officials and prosecutors appeared subject to pressure, and the outcome of some trials appeared to be predetermined, especially when the accused persons were politically connected or socially prominent. In July, Criminal Court C dismissed indictment charges against suspended Andrew Wonplo, the director of passports and visas at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after he was arrested in August 2019 for selling passports to foreign nationals from 2018 to 2019. The case was dismissed on a procedural ruling that the state did not proceed within the statutory period. On September 16, however, the government issued a second writ of arrest against Wonplo and 12 other suspects for fraudulent issuance of more than 4,000 passports, which the government alleged deprived it of more than $30,000 in revenue.

While the Supreme Court made provision through the establishment of the Grievance and Ethics Committee for the review of unethical conduct of lawyers and suspended some lawyers from legal practice for up to five years, the public brought few cases. Both the Grievance and Ethics Committee and the Judicial Inquiry Commission lacked appropriate guidelines to deliver their mandates effectively and were perceived as nontransparent and subject to influence.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence. By law defendants may opt for a jury trial or a trial by judge. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and consult with an attorney (or be provided one at public expense) in a timely manner. Defendants have the right to be informed of charges promptly and in detail. If a defendant, complainant, or witness does not speak or understand English, the court is to provide an interpreter for the trial. The justice system does not provide interpreters throughout the legal process, however. For example, there were no sign language interpreters or other accommodations provided for deaf persons, and rarely is interpretation available unless paid for by the defendant.

Defendants also have the right to a trial without delay and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, although these rights often were not observed. Defendants are generally presumed innocent under the law, and they have the right to confront and question prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, present their own evidence and witnesses, and appeal adverse decisions. These rights were often not observed and were rarely enforced.

Some local NGOs continued to provide legal services to indigent defendants and others who had no representation. The Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia continued to run a legal aid project supported by the UNDP to promote and protect the rights of women, children, and indigent persons in two counties. The LBNA expanded its legal services to the indigent through legal aid clinics in five counties, working on approximately 200 cases.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution stipulates the creation of a claims court, but it had not occurred by year’s end. There was no specialized court to address lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Individuals or organizations may seek remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts or through administrative mechanisms. Human rights violations are generally reported to the INCHR, which refers cases to relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Justice. In some cases individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies after all domestic redress options have been exhausted. While there is an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice to address human rights violations in member states, few citizens were aware of it or could afford to access this court. In 2019 the ECOWAS court heard a $500 million suit brought on behalf of 823 ethnic Mandingoes who alleged they were displaced from their lands in Nimba County during the civil wars. In June the court heard the case of former supreme court associate justice Kabineh Ja’neh, who asserted that he was wrongfully impeached and removed from office in March 2019. On November 10, the ECOWAS Court of Justice ordered the Republic of Liberia to pay former associate justice Ja’neh $200,000 as reparation for moral prejudice suffered for the violation of his rights. The court further ordered the judge’s reinstatement as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. The court gave the government six months to report on the enforcement of the judgment. At year’s end, however, it was unclear whether the government would choose to recognize the court ruling. In a November 17 statement, the Senate justified its decision to impeached Ja’neh.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights, although with some unofficial limits.

Freedom of Speech: Individuals could generally criticize the government publicly or privately, but government officials used civil libel and slander laws to place limits on freedom of speech, and self-censorship was widespread. Some media outlets avoided criticizing government officials due to fears of legal sanction and potential loss of government advertising, which, according to the PUL, was the largest source of media revenue. Other outlets avoided addressing sensitive human rights issues such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Court decisions against journalists sometimes involved exorbitant fines.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. According to the PUL, civil suits relating to libel, slander, and defamation were sometimes used to curtail freedom of expression and intimidate the press. The PUL also expressed concern that media outlets owned directly by politicians and government officials were crowding out privately owned media and advocated for legislation to prohibit ownership of media by public officials.

Violence and Harassment: Government officials occasionally harassed newspaper and radio station owners, as well as individual journalists, because of their political opinions and reporting.

On January 23, Police assaulted journalist Christopher Walker, a sports editor for Front Page Africa, at a soccer stadium, according to the PUL. Walker told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that he was standing with other journalists in the assigned media area when two police officers approached him and demanded he leave the area despite having the proper press accreditation. The two officers then grabbed and shoved Walker while several other officers, including members of the Police Support Unit wearing helmets and body armor, pushed and shoved him to the ground. According to some media sources, Walker was targeted because of an article he wrote that accused the Youth and Sports Ministry of fixing a soccer match to favor the team from Grand Kru County, President George Weah’s home county. Walker’s article alleged Weah had requested the fix. In February, LNP spokesperson Moses Carter told the CPJ that the names of three implicated officers had been forwarded to the police force’s professional standards division for investigation.

National Security Agency and Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency officials attacked or otherwise intimidated at least four journalists–Charles Bioma Yates, Joel Cholo Brooks, Frank Wornbers Payne, and Molley Trojan Kiazolu–in March and April while they reported on the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the CPJ and the PUL.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although generally able to express a wide variety of views, some journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid harassment. Journalists and media directors also practiced self-censorship to maintain advertising revenue from the government, the largest advertiser in the country. There were several reports that politicians and government agencies offered “transportation fees” to journalists to secure coverage of events. Some media outlets, journalists, and broadcasters charged fees to publish articles or host radio programs.

From approximately February to August 2019, the radio show of government critic Henry Costa was frequently unavailable. On several occasions the broadcast seemed to feature older, progovernment clips, leading to speculation by some that the station was being jammed or otherwise interfered with. In reaction Costa made several comments in his Facebook Live broadcasts about using force to defend himself should any agent of the government try to cause him harm. The government’s reactions to these and other broadcasts from Costa, which the government deemed as inciting violence, included a suspension of Roots FM’s broadcast license due to nonpayment of fees and inciting violence. In October 2019 sheriffs from the Monrovia Magisterial Court, escorted by armed police units with a “search and seizure” writ issued by the court at the request of Solicitor General Saymah Cyrenius Cephus, stormed the Roots FM studio, shut down Costa’s broadcast, and seized the station’s broadcasting equipment. At year’s end Costa was broadcasting via social media from an overseas location.

Following the government’s declaration of a state of emergency on April 8 related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Solicitor General Cephus threatened on April 29 to seize the equipment and revoke the license of any media institution spreading “fake news,” arguing that the state of emergency suspended rights associated with freedom of speech. In April, Eugene Fahngon, deputy minister of information, cultural affairs, and tourism, introduced a new media credentialing system, declared existing credentials void, and stated that any journalists who did not use the new credentials would be subject to action by security services. At the time of the state of emergency, the PUL stated that “using the state of emergency to curtail other freedoms violates constitutional rights.” The required use of new media credentials ended on July 21, when the government lifted the state of emergency.

Libel/Slander Laws: In February 2019 criminal libel and slander laws were repealed with the passage of the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom. Nonetheless, government officials occasionally used the threat of civil suits to intimidate critics. In April 2019 Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Nathaniel McGill filed a $500,000 defamation suit against Roots FM and its radio hosts Henry Costa and Fidel Saydee, alleging the two radio personalities “slandered, badmouthed, vandalized, and vilified” McGill by accusing him of financial impropriety. Both the Media Foundation for West Africa and Center for Media Studies and Peace Building urged Minister McGill to withdraw the suit, which was later dropped.

In July, Sinoe Country Senator J. Milton Teahjay filed a $4.7 million libel suit against the Front Page Africa newspaper for publishing an investigation alleging that Teahjay received a $20,000 bribe to confirm Ndubusi Nwabudike as the chairperson of the National Elections Commission. A recording also emerged in which a voice allegedly belonging to Teahjay stated that he expected the nominees he confirmed to give jobs to one or two of his recommended applicants. According to the newspaper, in October, Civil Law Court Judge Kennedy Peabody mandated that both parties present pretrial memoranda to set the stage for a jury trial, stating it would take a jury to determine whether libel had occurred as alleged in Senator Teahjay’s complaint. The trial was pending at year’s end.

The PUL continued efforts to self-regulate the media and ensure adherence to standards, including investigation and settlement of complaints against or by the press. The union’s National Media Council, launched in 2017 to address court cases against the media, continued to mediate cases during the year.

Internet Freedom

Unlike in the previous year, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet during the year. In July 2019 in the lead-up to and during a planned protest, the government blocked usage of both Orange and Lonestar Cell MTN, the two mobile networks in the country. When protesters dispersed, access was restored.

There were no additional reports the government censored online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were reports of government officials threatening legal action and filing civil lawsuits in attempts to censor protected internet-based speech and intimidate content creators.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

A variety of civil society groups conducted demonstrations throughout the year, including outside the legislature and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In some cases the Ministry of Justice requested that organizers of mass protests apply for permits before assembling in areas that would block traffic. The LNBA and INCHR stated the constitution and law requires prior notification, not application for a permit, to allow the government time to provide sufficient security to protect free assembly, and that a permitting process could restrict freedom of assembly. Many observers said the relevant laws and regulations required clarification.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/. https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government restricted travel between neighboring countries and between counties within the country in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Security officials at road checkpoints throughout the country frequently requested bribes, which may have inhibited domestic travel.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The government promoted the safe, voluntary, dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The government had policies and protections for IDPs in line with the UN Guiding Principle on Internal Displacement. The government did not deny humanitarian NGOs or international organizations access to IDPs.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR, other humanitarian organizations, and donor countries in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Refoulement: The LRRRC and UNHCR reported seven Ivoirian refugees remained in custody in the Monrovia Central Prison, pursuant to a 2013 request for extradition from the government of Cote d’Ivoire that alleged their involvement in “mercenary activities.” The case began in 2013, and bail requests were denied. Three of the seven refugees were brothers, the youngest 16 years old at the time of arrest. The LRRRC and UNHCR continued to provide subsistence allowances, legal support, and medical and psychosocial support to refugees in custody.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

The law forbids the forced return of refugees, their families, or other persons who may be subjected to persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, and the government generally respected those rights for refugees. The government provided a prima facie mode of recognition for Ivoirian refugees, meaning Ivoirian refugees who arrived in Liberia because of the 2011 postelectoral violence in Cote d’Ivoire did not have to appear before an asylum committee to gain refugee status; the status was granted automatically. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in 2019 Liberia was host to 8,101 refugees from Cote d’Ivoire and 98 others of diverse nationalities.

As of December 23, UNHCR reported the arrival of 22,989 new Ivorian refugees who fled anticipated violence following Cote d’Ivoire’s October 31 election. According to the Liberia Refugee Repatriation Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), the prima facie status continued to be automatic for Ivoirian refugees.

Any (non-Ivoirian) refugees denied asylum may submit their case to the appeals committee of the LRRRC. Asylum seekers unsatisfied with the appeals committee ruling may seek judicial review at the Supreme Court. The Alien and Nationality Law of 1974, however, specifically denies many of the safeguards for those wishing to seek asylum in the country under the Refugee Convention.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees enjoyed freedom of movement, since the country did not have a mandatory encampment policy. Government policy stated refugees wishing to receive material assistance should move to one of the three refugee camp locations in Bahn Town, Nimba County; Zwedru, Grand Gedeh; and Harper, Maryland County.

Employment: The law generally prohibits noncitizens from obtaining work permits when Liberian citizens are available to perform the labor, but this law was generally not enforced. As such, the LRRRC and UNHCR worked with partners to implement livelihood programs for Ivoirian refugees who wished to integrate. As an example, in July, five refugees requested work permits from the Ministry of Labor to work in the formal sector, and UNHCR paid the requisite application and processing fee. The work permits for the five refugees were pending at year’s end.

Durable Solutions: During the year the government resettled, offered naturalization, and assisted in the voluntary return of refugees. Voluntary repatriation of Ivoirian refugees from Cote d’Ivoire’s 2011 postelection violence continued. According to UNHCR, as of July, 149 Ivoirian refugees had voluntarily returned to their country. UNHCR and the LRRRC reported providing continuing support to nearly 1,600 refugees who opted for local integration. At year’s end the refugee camps in Bahn Town, Nimba County; Zwedru, Grand Gedeh; and Harper, Maryland County were being transformed into settlements intended for local integration of refugees. In August the government began the naturalization process for five refugees, which continued at year’s end.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government, with UNHCR and other implementing partners, continued to provide protection to Ivoirian refugees who entered the country after November. According to the LRRRC, as of December, 25,700 refugees remained in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Midterm senatorial elections to fill 15 seats, or half of the Senate’s membership, were held on December 8. They were originally scheduled for October but delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) reported 926,380 (37 percent) of the 2,476,356 million registered voters went to the polls in 15 counties. Opposition candidates won 11 of the 15 seats contested, according to election results announced by the NEC on December 21. Also on December 8, the country held a national referendum on whether to amend the 1986 constitution to reduce term limits, allow dual citizenship, and change the date of national elections to avoid the rainy season. Both international and domestic observers noted the Senate midterm elections and referenda overall were largely peaceful, although there were some reported instances of vote tampering, intimidation and harassment of female candidates, and election violence. As of December 31, the results of the referendum were still pending.

The government did not allocate the NEC adequate funds to conduct the midterm senatorial elections. In 2019 the NEC made a request to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning for $26 million, a figure eventually revised to $17.6 million, and again lowered to the final budget of $13.5 million. Six weeks prior to the December 8 elections and referendum, the NEC received tranches of funds totaling only $6.5 million.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were instances of political violence against opposition leaders and candidates around the December Senate elections. On July 30, thugs, including youths throwing stones and wielding machetes and sticks, laid siege on a local entertainment center in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh, where opposition leader Alexander B. Cummings of the Collaborating Political Parties/Alternative National Congress and his entourage, including Montserrado County District#10 Representative Yekeh Kolubah, had spent the night. They threatened to attack Kolubah if he came out of the premises. Local police required back-up from the armed forces to quell the violence and remove Cummings and Kolubah to safety.

On December 5, three days before the midterm senatorial elections, the two-car campaign convoy of opposition Collaborating Political Parties candidate Simeon Taylor was reportedly set ablaze in Porkpar District in Dambala Town, Grand Cape Mount County. According to Front Page Africa, Taylor’s campaign was allegedly confronted by supporters of the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), resulting in a tussle between supporters of the two political parties, and leading to the burning of Taylor’s vehicles. According to published reports, shots were later fired at the home of Grand Cape Mount Representative Bob Sheriff, where Taylor frequently lodged. Unknown assailants then ransacked the residence and set it ablaze.

Following the 2017 presidential election, appointments in the government were created for members and sympathizers of the ruling CDC party as a reward for, or benefit of, party affiliation rather than based on qualification or experience. The appointments were made outside the standard hiring process of the Civil Service Agency. Some technicians and other persons who had tenured positions under the previous administration were initially harassed.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors limited women’s participation in politics as compared with the participation of men. Women participated at significantly lower levels than men as party leaders and as elected officials. Election law requires that political parties “endeavor to ensure 30 percent” female participation. Seven candidates competed for a vacant Senate seat and six competed for a vacant House seat in July 2019 by-elections; of the Senate candidates, three were women (43 percent), and of the House candidates, one was a woman (17 percent). The participation rate by female candidates was an increase from 2018 by-elections, in which only one of 16 candidates was female (6 percent). In the December 8 midterm senatorial election, 20 of the 118 candidates were women–all from opposition parties and none from the ruling party–constituting 17 percent of the candidates. Karnga Lawrence, the incumbent senator from Grand Bassa County, won reelection. At year’s end the final results from Grand Kru and Gbarpolu counties remained pending, with some accusations of gender-related harassment and intimidation of candidate Kanneh in Gbarpolu.

Muslim citizens were active participants in the elections. The Liberian Muslim Women Network reported no incidents of discrimination or harassment during the December 8 Senate elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for bribery, abuse of office, economic sabotage, and other corruption-related offenses committed by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

The mandate of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) is to prevent, investigate, and prosecute cases of corruption among public officials. In March, President Weah appointed the current LACC chairman, Ndubuisi Nwabudike, as chairman of the NEC, ahead of the December 8 midterm senatorial elections. Amid questions surrounding Nwabudike’s Liberian nationality, the president withdrew his nomination to the NEC, but Nwabudike remained the head at the LACC. On June 19, the LNBA) announced it had expelled the LACC chairman after establishing that he fraudulently presented himself as a Liberian to obtain membership with the LNBA.

Corruption: Following an investigation by the LACC, on June 2, a grand jury indicted Senate Secretary Nanborlor Singbeh, as well as former officials of the National Investment Commission, for defrauding two Czech investors of approximately five million dollars in a gravel production business. Singbeh was charged with economic sabotage, theft of property, forgery, and criminal conspiracy. Singbeh allegedly used his position to obtain a government investment incentive package, which he used unlawfully to import vehicles and equipment for personal gain. On June 29, court officers of Criminal Court C arrested Singbeh. The case remained pending before the court at year’s end.

In June 2019 a grand jury indicted 10 persons, including House of Representatives Edward W. Karfiah and Josiah M. Cole, following an investigation by the LACC into corruption related to construction of the Bong County Technical College. According to the press release, the individuals were accused of using fraud to embezzle approximately $2.7 million in county development funds. According to media reports, former speaker of the house Alex Tyler was listed in documents as owning 7.5 percent of the company contracted to build the college; Tyler was Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time of the alleged scheme, and funds from the national budget were allocated to the project despite a lack of visible progress.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government had not implemented most of the recommendations contained in the 2009 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report. The law creating the commission requires that the president submit quarterly progress reports to the legislature on the implementation of TRC recommendations; however, since taking office in 2018, President Weah had failed to submit quarterly reports. In September 2019 the president requested the House of Representatives research the possibility of creating a special war and economic crimes court. In October 2019 various press outlets reported that 51 of the 73 members of the House supported a resolution to establish such a court, more than the two-thirds majority needed to move the bill to the Senate, but the Speaker of the House Bhofal Chambers prevented the petition from being added to the agenda. At year’s end the court was not established, despite continuous efforts by some members of the legislature and civil society groups.

On September 10, the CSO Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, which is a network of more than 40 human rights organizations, wrote a letter to President Weah in which it stated, “We recognize your administration’s efforts in allowing foreign investigators into Liberia to freely conduct investigations in order to prosecute abroad alleged Liberian war crimes suspects, but more is needed.”

In November the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona announced the trial of Alieu Kosiah, a former commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), accused of war crimes during the first Liberian civil war from 1989 to 1996. Due to COVID-19 related concerns, the trial was partially postponed. Nonetheless, the court proceeded with the preliminary questions and the hearing of the defendant from December 3 to December 11.

The INCHR has a mandate to promote and protect human rights; investigate and conduct hearings on human rights violations; propose changes to laws, policies, and administrative practices and regulations; and counsel the government on the implementation of national and international human rights standards. As of year’s end, President Weah, who took office in 2018, had not appointed a commissioner to lead the INCHR, which observers reported hampered its effectiveness. In July the chief justice of the Supreme Court appointed a committee to identify possible candidates for the position, but by year’s end no new commissioner was named. The tenure of two additional commissioners expired during the year.

The Human Rights Protection Unit of the Ministry of Justice (HRPU) convened coordination meetings that provided a forum for domestic and international human rights NGOs to present matters to the government, but the HRPU complained about lack of funding. During the year the HRPU received funding from the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR)-Liberia Office to monitor and document violations and abuses by law enforcement officers during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

OHCHR acted as an independent check on the actions of the government in line with its mission to monitor human rights violations in the country.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of a female or male is illegal, but the government did not enforce the law effectively, and rape remained a serious and pervasive problem, especially under COVID-19 enforced lockdowns. The law’s definition of rape does not specifically criminalize spousal rape. Conviction of first-degree rape–defined as rape involving a minor, rape that results in serious injury or disability, or rape committed with the use of a deadly weapon–is punishable by up to life imprisonment. Conviction of second-degree rape, defined as rape committed without the aggravating circumstances enumerated above, is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

During the year the government increased efforts to combat rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence. In July, in response to concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic had contributed to a rise in rape and other cases of sexual and gender-based violence, President Weah created an interministerial taskforce on sexual and gender-based violence. On September 8-9, the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection convened a national conference on combatting rape and other acts of sexual and gender-based violence, which resulted in a plan to increase government action to address sexual and gender-based violence through victim support functions, the creation of a National Security Task Force on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, the launch of a public awareness campaign, capacity building for relevant ministries, and harsher punishments for perpetrators. As a result, public awareness of the issue increased, but the task force faced logistical challenges, such as a lack of vehicles.

On July 23, Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor called for the arrest of Sense Kaiwu, a high school teacher at the Pejuhum public school in Grand Cape Mount County, Tewor District. Kaiwu allegedly raped and impregnated a 14-year-old girl in October 2019, who gave birth in July. The teacher fled, and no further information on his whereabouts was available at year’s end.

In August a consortium of civil society groups organized three days of protest against what the groups termed “an increasing wave of rape in Liberia.” On the first day of the protest, partisan violence broke out between protesters and persons believed to be supporters of the ruling CDC political party, who objected to the presence of Senator Abraham Darius Dillon on the protest grounds. Stone throwing between rival protesters resulted in injuries to two persons, as reported by news outlets. The protesters demanded that President George Weah personally receive their petition. On the second day of the protest, a group attempted to disperse the crowd of protesters, which again led to stone throwing. On the last day of the protest, LNP officers drove the protesters off the streets and reportedly used tear gas and arrested some of the protesters.

The government operated two shelters for victims of sexual and gender-based violence, victims of trafficking in persons, and others in need of protection–one in Lofa County and one in Nimba County. The government did not operate shelters in Monrovia. The Sexual Pathways Referral Program, a combined initiative of the government and NGOs, improved access to medical, psychosocial, legal, and counseling assistance for victims. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection assigned gender coordinators and staff members to each county office to increase public awareness of sexual and gender-based violence crimes and refer victims to assistance. The ministry also established “buddy clubs” in public schools across the country for children to discuss and report sexual and gender-based violence cases. Police officers received training on sexual and gender-based violence through programs sponsored by the EU Spotlight Initiative and the UNDP.

An overtaxed justice system prevented timely prosecutions, and delays caused many victims to cease cooperating with prosecutors. Victims’ families sometimes requested money from the perpetrators as a form of redress; perpetrators sometimes offered money to prevent matters from going to court. Authorities often dropped cases due to a lack of evidence. The Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the police reported that courts dropped 51 percent of reported domestic violence cases due to lack of evidence. The ability to collect and preserve evidence of sexual and gender-based violence crimes was also lacking.

Although outlawed, domestic violence remained a widespread problem, and the Ministry of Gender stated 16 percent of reported sexual and gender-based violence cases were for domestic violence.

The 2019 Domestic Violence Act reportedly strengthened penalties and provided support for a referral mechanism, although copies of the law, and a simplified version of it, were not widely available to the public due to lack of funding. The maximum penalty for conviction of domestic violence was six months’ imprisonment, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. The WACPS received reports on cases of domestic violence between January and September, which showed a decrease in the cases reported during the same period in 2019. Government and civil society officials attributed the reduced reporting of cases to the COVID-19 pandemic, as movement restrictions delayed official reporting, support services were limited due to the lockdown, and victims were unwilling to identify perpetrators while still living in close proximity under curfews and stay-at-home orders during the government declared state of emergency from April 8 through July 22. Civil society officials suggested that lack of speedy trials led victims to seek redress outside the formal justice system.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): According to the 2019-20 Demographic and Health Survey, 38 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 had undergone FGM/C, with higher prevalence in the country’s northern regions. Although the government routinely decried FGM/C in discussions of violence against women, there were no laws criminalizing it. Political resistance to passing legislation criminalizing FGM/C continued because of the public sensitivity of the topic and its association with particular tribes in populous counties. In 2018 then president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf issued an executive order to prohibit FGM/C of all persons younger than age 18 and of persons older than 18 without their consent, but the order lapsed in early 2019 with no extension announced. NGO representatives reported there was little political will within the legislature to take on the issue of FGM/C.

In June 2019 the National Council of Chiefs and Elders and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, with support from UN Women and the EU Spotlight Initiative, agreed to suspend for one year the activities of “bush schools” or traditional schools, like the Sande Society, in which girls learned farming and household skills but were often subjected to initiation rites, including FGM/C. Although the one-year period ended in June, the suspension reportedly remained in place and largely enforced by the Traditional Council of Chiefs and Elders in collaboration with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Sande (for females) and Poro (for males) societies–often referred to as “secret societies”–combine traditional religious and cultural practices and engage in FGM/C as part of their indoctrination ceremonies. Several human rights organizations reported bush school activities and FGM/C continued, despite the ban. In April, Front Page Africa reported a 25-year-old woman was drugged, abducted, forcibly subjected to FGM/C as part of ritual initiation into the Sande Society, and then held for three weeks. The victim alleged that someone in her family had paid for the initiation and procedure.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Many observers, including the INCHR, the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform, and the human rights office of the United Methodist Church, reported an apparent increase in harmful traditional practices during the year, including ritualistic killings, accusations of witchcraft, and trial by ordeal, although comprehensive data to confirm the increase was unavailable. Commonly called “Sassywood,” trial by ordeal is a way to establish guilt or innocence that takes many forms. Reported incidents of trial by ordeal included drinking a concocted liquid, heating a metal object until it glowed red and then applying it to the accused’s skin, beatings, inserting sharp objects into bodily orifices (including the vagina), and forcing women to parade naked around the community.

It remained difficult to obtain convictions for ritualistic killings in the court system because the justice system does not recognize traditional rites as judicable issues. There were reports of killings in which perpetrators removed body parts from the victims. The online newspaper Bush Chicken reported that on September 8, the body of a three-year-old girl was discovered in Dowein District, Bomi County, with body parts missing, including eyes, genitalia, tongue, and left foot, all indications that the child may have been a victim of ritual murder.

There were multiple cases of life-threatening violence against persons accused of witchcraft. In September 2019 a jury in Buchanan convicted seven men and sentenced each of them to 45 years in prison on charges of murder, aggravated assault, criminal facilitation, and criminal conspiracy for their roles in a 2018 attack against three women accused of witchcraft, in which one woman was raped and another killed.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, but it remained a significant problem at work and in schools. Government billboards and notices in government offices warned against harassment in the workplace. In 2019 the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection and the Ministry of Education trained school administrators, students, and parents from seven of the 15 counties to identify warning signs and report incidents of sexual harassment and violence in schools.

Reproductive Rights: No laws restrict couples and individuals from deciding the number, spacing, and timing of their children or managing their reproductive health, and individuals have the right to seek and acquire information on reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. While the majority of clinics in the country provided family planning counselling and a mix of planning methods, access to these services at times proved challenging, particularly for women living in rural areas or those with limited financial means.

According to the 2019-20 Liberia Demographic Health Survey (LDHS), 25 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 reported using a modern form of contraception. Among sexually active unmarried women, 45 percent used modern family planning, while 23 percent of married women used a modern method. Unmet needs for family planning (defined as the percentage of sexually active women who want to postpone their next birth or limit their number of births but did not use a modern method of contraception) increased slightly from 31 percent in 2013 to 33 percent, according to the 2019-20 LDHS. The highest unmet need was among girls and younger women; almost half (47 percent) of women between the ages of 15 and 19 had an unmet need for family planning, primarily for the spacing of children.

The 2019-20 LDHS estimated the maternal mortality rate for the seven-year period before the survey was 742 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The survey estimated that 84 percent of births were attended by a skilled provider. According to the survey, the birth rate for adolescents was 30 percent. Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) remained a problem and contributed to maternal morbidity.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: By law women may inherit land and property, are entitled to equal pay for equal work, have the right of equal access to education, and may own and manage businesses. By family law, men retain legal custody of children in divorce cases. In rural areas traditional practice or traditional leaders often did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit land. Programs to educate traditional leaders on women’s rights, especially on land rights, made some progress, but authorities often did not enforce those rights in rural areas.

Children

Birth Registration: The nationality law stipulates children of “Negro” descent born in the country to at least one Liberian parent are citizens. Children born outside the country to a Liberian father are also Liberian citizens. Nevertheless, they may lose that citizenship if they do not reside in the country prior to age 21, or if residing abroad they do not take an oath of allegiance before a Liberian consul before age 23. Children born to non-Liberian fathers and Liberian mothers outside of the country do not derive citizenship from the mother.

If a child born in the country is not of “Negro” descent, the child may not acquire Liberian citizenship. “Non-Negro” residents, such as members of the large Lebanese community, may not acquire or transmit citizenship. The law requires parents to register their infants within 14 days of birth, but only 25 percent of children younger than age five had birth certificates.

Education: Only 26.1 percent of children of official primary school age were enrolled in school, and only 34 percent of children completed primary education. On average, children attended school for 4.7 years in Liberia. The law provides for tuition-free and compulsory education in public schools from the primary (grades one to six) through junior secondary (grades seven to nine) levels, but many schools charged informal fees to pay for teachers’ salaries and operating costs the government did not fund. These fees prevented many students from attending school. By law fees are required at the senior secondary level (grades 10 to 12).

Girls accounted for less than half of all students and graduates in primary and secondary schools, with their proportion decreasing progressively at higher levels. Sexual harassment of girls in schools was commonplace, and adolescent girls were often denied access to school if they became pregnant. Nonetheless, the country continued to work on narrowing the gender gap at all levels of education, especially in primary school, where the gender parity index went from 88 girls per 100 boys in 2008 to 95 girls for every 100 boys in school in 2017. Students with disabilities and those in rural counties were most likely to encounter significant barriers to education. Only 14 percent of girls in rural areas completed primary school.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a widespread and persistent problem, and there were numerous cases reported throughout the year, including of sexual violence against children. The government engaged in public awareness campaigns to combat child rape. According to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, more rape victims were reported in the 13 to 17 age group than in any other. In July, Front Page Africa reported that an adolescent girl was sodomized after she was thrown out of her family home in the Omega Tower community for “witchcraft.” The girl was discovered early the next morning lying on the main road between Montserrado and Margibi Counties. Some community members accused the family of the victim of neglect and blamed them for throwing the girl out after relatives alleged she confessed to killing her 25-year-old uncle.

In June police arrested Johnson Chuluty in the Mount Barclay community of Montserrado County for statutory rape for allegedly impregnating his 15-year-old stepdaughter. Police also arrested the wife of the suspect, Mary Chuluty. In a video posted on social media, the victim explained she was living with her mother and stepfather when the rape occurred. The victim relayed that because the rape resulted in pregnancy, her mother sent her to Lofa County to live with her grandmother, where she remained until she gave birth. Police confirmed that the victim was placed in the care of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection.

On November 25, the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection in collaboration with the Office of the First Lady and Partners officially launched the 16-Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence. It sought to ensure nationwide awareness in almost all communities of the country to promote the concept of preventing gender-based violence, advocate for the protection of women’s and girls’ rights in all sectors of the society through media engagement, and re-emphasize the fact that the solution to ending gender-based violence lies with all citizens.

From December 28 to December 31, the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, in collaboration with the Child Protection Network and with support from the EU Spotlight Initiative, held a four-day Child Protection Awareness Campaign in five communities (Peace Island-540, Clara Town, New Kru Town, Soniwehn, and Brewersville Township) within Montserrado County. The awareness campaign focused on curtailing the number of rape cases, child labor, and harsh punishment instituted against children in homes, communities, and public and private locations. The campaign was also geared towards achieving the goals of the Government of Liberia and Partners Roadmap on Ending Sexual and Gender-Based Violence by 2022.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The 2011 National Children’s Act sets the minimum marriage age for all persons at 18, the Domestic Relations Law sets the minimum marriage age at 21 for men and 18 for women, and the Equal Rights of Customary Marriage Law of 1998 permits a girl to marry at age 16. According to UNICEF, 9 percent of girls were married before age 15 and 36 percent before age 18.

With support from the EU Spotlight Initiative and the United Nations, the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection continued efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices such as child marriage. The campaign began in June 2019, when the ministry communicated with traditional leaders and community members in five counties in their local languages to raise awareness of the illegality and harm of child marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities generally enforced the law, although girls continued to be exploited, including in commercial sex in exchange for money, food, and school fees. The law requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore it does not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Additionally, sex in exchange for grades was a pervasive problem in secondary schools, with many teachers forcing female students to exchange sexual favors for passing grades. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Statutory rape is a criminal offense that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The penalty for conviction of child pornography is up to five years’ imprisonment. Orphaned children remained especially susceptible to exploitation, including sex trafficking.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: There were cases of infanticide. On July 15, the 8th Judicial Circuit Court in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, freed 19-year-old Jamesetta Bendu Tour after she spent 10 months in prison without trial. She was accused of throwing her 22-month-old baby into the St. John River in September 2019. According to reports, the court freed Tour because the state prosecutor failed to pursue the case after two successive terms of court. On September 25, Tour admitted that she did throw her child into the river after she was put out by her parents, but she later contradicted that statement by saying the baby fell into the river while she was washing.

According to the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Protection Unit, children with disabilities were often stigmatized, abandoned, neglected, and purposely exposed to risks (including death). Persons with disabilities suffered torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The National Union of the Organization of the Disabled (NUOD) reported families sometimes abandoned or refused to provide medical care to children with mental disabilities because of the taboo associated with the conditions or fear that the community would label children with disabilities as witches.

Displaced Children: Despite international and government attempts to reunite children separated from their families during the civil war, some street children, former child soldiers, and IDPs continued to live on the streets of Monrovia. Now adults, these homeless young individuals, who often suffered from drug addiction and engaged in crime, were referred to as “zogos.”

Institutionalized Children: Regulation of orphanages continued to be very weak, and many lacked adequate sanitation, medical care, and nutrition. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection did not monitor orphanages to ensure provision of basic services. Orphanages relied primarily on private donations and support from international organizations. Many orphans received little to no assistance. The ministry continued to run a temporary shelter capable of accommodating approximately 35 vulnerable children, including abandoned and orphaned children, which provided for basic needs until reunification with relatives.

Since the country did not have a designated facility for their care, juvenile offenders outside the Monrovia Central Prison were routinely held in separate cells in adult offender cellblocks (see section 1.c.). Guidelines existed and steps occasionally were taken to divert juveniles from the formal criminal justice system and place them in a variety of safe homes and “kinship” care situations.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Officials at the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Labor occasionally misapplied the term human trafficking to likely cases of international child abduction.

See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts against the country’s small Jewish community.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but these prohibitions were not always enforced. Most government buildings were not easily accessible to persons with mobility impairment. Sign language interpretation was often not provided for deaf persons in criminal proceedings or in the provision of state services. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection and the National Commission on Disabilities are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and implementing measures designed to improve respect for their rights.

Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in employment, housing, access to all levels of education, and health care. Activists for persons with disabilities reported property owners often refused housing to persons with disabilities. According to NUOD, persons with disabilities were more likely to become victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

Some persons with disabilities suffered inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In April 2019 newspaper Front Page Africa reported that a 13-year-old girl with visual impairment was raped on separate occasions by two individuals, one of them a 17-year-old Braille instructor at the Christian Association of the Blind school, who impregnated her. The first of the alleged perpetrators was arrested in September 2019 at the age of 20. The Ministry of Justice Sexual Crimes Unit recommended that the alleged perpetrator be tried as a juvenile, but the court rejected the recommendation. The second alleged perpetrator was released by the Juvenile Court without the consent of the victim’s family and charged as a minor with corruption of a minor, although he was 20 years old at the time of his arraignment.

Few children with disabilities had access to education. Public educational institutions discriminated against students with disabilities, arguing resources and equipment were insufficient to accommodate them. Some students with disabilities attended a few specialized schools mainly for the blind and deaf–but only through elementary school. Students with more significant disabilities are exempt from compulsory education but may attend school subject to constraints on accommodating them. In reality few such students were able to attend either private or public schools.

The right of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs is legally protected and generally respected. The law requires that the National Election Commission (NEC), to the extent practical, make registration and voting centers accessible to persons with disabilities. Despite educational sessions held by the NEC on the issue, persons with disabilities faced challenges during the voter registration and voting periods, including lack of access ramps, limited transportation to voter registration and polling centers, and limited mobility assistance at polling centers. The NEC, however, offered tactile ballots for the visually impaired.

Voting assistance in the December 8 senatorial elections and national referendum included the use of tactile ballots and permission for a trusted family member to accompany disabled voters, but some voters without a family member or accompanied by children had difficulty voting.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Although the law prohibits ethnic discrimination, racial discrimination is enshrined in the constitution, which restricts citizenship and land ownership to those of “Negro descent.” While persons of Lebanese and Asian descent who were born or who had lived most of their lives in the country may not by law attain citizenship or own land, there were some exceptions.

Indigenous People

The law recognizes 16 indigenous ethnic groups; each speaks a distinct primary language and is concentrated regionally. Long-standing disputes regarding land and other resources among ethnic groups continued to contribute to social and political tensions.

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

The law prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity. “Voluntary sodomy” is a misdemeanor with a penalty for conviction of up to one year’s imprisonment. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) activists reported LGBTI persons faced difficulty obtaining redress for crimes committed against them, including at police stations, because those accused of criminal acts used the victim’s LGBTI status in defense of their crime.

LGBTI persons continued to record instances of assaults, harassment, and hate speech by community members. In October, two members of a group known for beating and humiliating persons suspected to be LGBTI were arrested and referred to the Monrovia City Court at Temple of Justice. Defendant Cheeseman Cole, believed to be the ringleader of the group, along with Emmanuel Tarpeh, were arraigned before Magistrate Jomah Jallah to answer to multiple offenses that included criminal attempt to commit murder and aggravated assault, among others. Cole and Tarpeh were later remanded at the Monrovia Central Prison to await prosecution after they could not secure a lawyer to process bail for their release. Cole, who was dishonorably discharged from the armed forces due to acts of criminality, faced allegations of brutality and torture against numerous young men he lured to his residence via Facebook over unfounded suspicion they were gay.

The Liberian Initiative for the Promotion of Rights, Identity, and Equality reported that in November 2019 an HIV testing drop-in center was stormed by members of the surrounding community who attacked a number of LGBTI persons who had gathered to celebrate a birthday. Reports indicated that approximately 10 persons were injured and five hospitalized, including one person stabbed and another knocked unconscious.

On November 12, OHCHR and UNDP published the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Rights in Africa: Liberia Country Report. The report calls attention to challenges and abuses LGBTI individuals face in Liberia, including arbitrary detention, violence, discrimination, stigma, inequality, social exclusion, as well as the denial of rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. The launch event was organized by the INCHR, with the approval of a number of LGBTI organizations. In the weeks following the report launch, several threats to the LGBTI community were reported, one allegedly emanating from a government official. The threats prompted a number of activists to seek relocation assistance.

LGBTI victims were sometimes afraid to report crimes to police due to social stigma surrounding sexual orientation and rape as well as fear police would detain or abuse them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The HIV/AIDS team of the police and the Solidarity Sisters–a group of female police officers–undertook outreach to key communities, resolved disputes before they escalated, and helped other police officers respond to sensitive cases.

Authorities of the police’s Community Services Section noted improvements in obtaining redress for crimes committed against LGBTI persons due to several training sessions on sexual and reproductive rights. Police sometimes ignored complaints by LGBTI persons, but LGBTI activists noted improvements in treatment and protection from police after officers underwent human rights training.

LGBTI individuals faced discrimination in accessing housing, health care, employment, and education. There were several reports from LGBTI activists that property owners refused housing to members of the LGBTI community by either denying applications or evicting residents from their properties. In 2016 the Liberia Business Registry denied registration to an NGO promoting human rights of LGBTI persons for “activity which is not allowed in Liberia.” The organization was later able to register under an acronym and with a modified scope of work.

There were press and civil society reports of harassment of persons on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, with some newspapers targeting the LGBTI community. Hate speech was a persistent issue. Influential figures such as government officials and traditional and religious leaders made public homophobic and transphobic statements.

The Ministry of Health had a coordinator to assist minority groups–including LGBTI persons–in obtaining access to health care and police assistance. Members of the LGBTI community often called upon trained protection officers to intervene in cases of harassment and violence.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits “discrimination and vilification on the basis of actual and perceived HIV status” in the workplace, school, and health facilities, with conviction of offenses punishable by a small fine.

The most recent demographic and health survey (2019) found no measurable change since 2007 in popular attitudes, which remained broadly discriminatory, toward those with HIV. HIV-related social stigma and discrimination discouraged individuals from testing for their HIV status, thus limiting HIV prevention and treatment services. According to UNAIDS, an estimated 47,000 persons had HIV in the country during the year, with approximately 1,900 new cases reported annually. Children orphaned because of AIDS faced similar social stigma.

Government ministries developed, adopted, and implemented several plans to combat social stigma and discrimination based on HIV status. The Ministry of Health supported training to make health-care facilities more receptive to key populations, held discussions and outreach sessions, and provided services through drop-in centers. The Ministry of Justice and police worked with civil society organizations to engage key populations.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The penal code classifies mob violence as a crime. Nevertheless, mob violence and vigilantism, due in part to the public’s lack of confidence in police and the judicial system, were common and often resulted in deaths and injuries. Although mob violence sometimes targeted alleged criminals, it was difficult to determine underlying reasons, since cases were rarely prosecuted.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers, except public servants and employees of state-owned enterprises, the right to freely form or join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference by employers, parties, or government. The law provides that labor organizations and associations have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules with regard to electing their representatives, organizing their activities, and formulating their programs. Trade and labor unions are registered with the Ministry of Labor. The Bureau of Trade Union Affairs & Social Dialogue is the arm of the ministry that coordinates the activities of the social partners, trade unions, and employer organizations in the labor sector.

Public-sector employees and employees of state-owned enterprises are prohibited under the Civil Service Standing Orders from organizing into unions and bargaining collectively, but they may process grievances through the Civil Service Agency grievance board. Representatives from the Ministry of Labor, Liberia Labor Congress (LLC), and Civil Servants Association continued to argue the Standing Orders conflict with Article 17 of the constitution, which affords the right to associate in trade unions. Some public-sector associations, including those for teachers and public-health workers, declared themselves to be unions, despite the law, and the LLC and Ministry of Labor backed their efforts to unionize.

Under the Decent Work Act of 2015, parties engaged in essential services are also prohibited from striking. The act provides that the National Tripartite Council (comprising the Ministry of Labor, Liberian Chamber of Commerce, and Liberian Labor Union) shall recommend to the minister all or part of a service to be an essential service if, in the opinion of the National Tripartite Council, the interruption of that service would endanger the life, personal safety, or health of the whole or any part of the population. As of year’s end, the National Tripartite Council had not published a list of essential services.

The law provides for the right of workers to conduct legal strikes, provided they have attempted to negotiate to resolve the issue and give the Ministry of Labor 48 hours’ notice of their intent. The law requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law prohibits unions from engaging in partisan political activity and prohibits agricultural workers from joining industrial workers’ organizations. The law prohibits strikes under certain circumstances as follows: if the disputed parties have agreed to refer the issue to arbitration; if the issue is already under arbitration or in court; and if the parties engage in essential services as designated by the National Tripartite Council.

While the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activity, it allows for dismissal without cause if the company provides the mandated severance package. It does not prohibit retaliation against strikers whose strikes comply with the law if they commit “an act that constitutes defamation or a criminal offense, or if the proceedings arise from an employee being dismissed for a valid reason.”

The government inconsistently enforced applicable laws in the formal sector, and workers exercised their rights. Employees enjoyed freedom of association and had the right to establish and become members of organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization or coercion. There were reports during the year of union-led protest actions in a number of concession areas, including plantations, leading to work stoppages or disruptions for days, and by public-sector associations of health workers and teachers. The law, however, does not provide adequate protection, and some protections depended on whether property damage occurred and was measurable. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays or appeals and to outside interference, such as bribes, coercion, and intimidation by politicians.

On September 23, a group of health workers demonstrated peacefully outside of diplomatic missions in Monrovia to advocate for international support in making their case to the government for better working conditions. On September 16, health workers under the banner of the National Health Workers Union of Liberia (NAHWUL) demanded the certification of NAHWUL, payment of outstanding salaries and benefits, and alignment between salaries and qualifications. The government responded with a call to hire replacement health-care workers. In October the health workers called off the strike upon the intervention of the UN resident coordinator and other international partners.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, aside from forced prison labor or work defined as “minor communal service.” The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Criminal penalties were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes involving denial of civil rights.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred. Families living in the interior of the country sometimes sent young women and children to live with relatives, acquaintances, or even strangers in Monrovia or other cities with the promise the women and children would pursue educational or other opportunities. In some instances these women and children were forced to work as street vendors, domestic servants, beggars or in commercial sexual exploitation. There were also reports of forced labor on small rubber plantations and artisanal mines.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. Children were vulnerable to hazardous work because the government had not designated hazardous work categories. Under the Decent Work Act, most full-time employment of children younger than age of 15 is prohibited. Children older than 13 but younger than 15 may be employed to perform “light work” for a maximum of two hours per day and not more than 14 hours per week. “Light work” is defined as work that does not prejudice the child’s attendance at school and is not likely to be harmful to a child’s health or safety and moral or material welfare or development as defined by law. There is an exception to the law for artistic performances, where the law leaves the determination of work hours to the minister of labor. Under the act, children 15 and older are not allowed to work more than seven hours a day or more than 42 hours in a week. There are mandatory rest periods of one hour, and the child may not work more than four hours consecutively. The law also prohibits the employment of children younger than 16 during school hours, unless the employer keeps a registry of the child’s school certificate to illustrate the child attended school regularly and can demonstrate the child was able to read and write simple sentences. The law prohibits the employment of apprentices younger than 16. The compulsory education requirement extends through grade nine or until 15.

Gaps exist, however, in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, including the one-year break between the compulsory education age and the minimum age for work. Additionally, the minimum age for work is not in compliance with international standards because it allows children younger than 16 to engage in work as long as it is outside of school hours, the employer keeps records of the child’s schooling, and the child is literate and attends school regularly. Because of these legal gaps, children of any age may be vulnerable to child labor. Although the Decent Work Act prohibits children younger than 15 from working full time, it does not prevent children below this age from engaging in part-time employment.

The law provides that an employer must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Labor before engaging a child in a proscribed form of labor. The ministry did not provide statistics on whether such permits were either requested or issued.

The government prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in hazardous work but had not yet published a hazardous work list, leaving children vulnerable to hazardous work in certain sectors. The law penalizes employers who violate the minimum age provision of child labor laws and parents or guardians who violate this minimum age provision. According to the law, “a parent, caregiver, guardian, or relative who engages in any act or connives with any other person to subject a child to sexual molestation, prohibited child labor, or such other act, that places the well-being of a child at risk is guilty of a second-degree felony.”

The National Commission on Child Labor (NACOMAL) is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies but did not do so effectively. Labor inspectors were assigned to monitor and address child labor but were understaffed and underresourced. The government charged the National Steering Committee for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (National Child Labor Committee) with investigating and referring for prosecution allegations of child labor. The committee consists of the Ministry of Labor’s Child Labor Secretariat (which includes NACOMAL); the Ministry of Justice’s Human Rights Protection Unit; the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection’s Human Rights Division; and the police’s Women’s and Children’s Protection Section. It was not clear if any inspections or remediation took place. Although the National Child Labor Committee convened regular meetings, coordination of their activities remained a serious problem. In 2019 the government released the National Action Plan on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The government did not identify specific funding to implement its provisions and expected the donor community to contribute 59 percent of the total budget for eliminating child labor.

Child labor was widespread in almost every economic sector. In urban areas children assisted their parents as vendors in markets or hawked goods on the streets. There were reports that children tapped rubber on smaller plantations and private farms, which exposed them to hazardous conditions involving use of machetes and acids. Children also worked in other conditions likely to harm their health and safety, such as rock crushing or work that required carrying heavy loads. Children were engaged in hazardous labor in alluvial diamond and gold mining, which exposed them to heavy loads and hazardous chemicals. Children were also engaged in agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Some children in Monrovia, particularly girls, worked in domestic service after being sent from rural communities by their parents or guardians. There were also reports of children working in auto shops. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity, or HIV/AIDS status. It does not address refugee or stateless status. The law calls for equal pay for equal work. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, HIV-positive status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and women experienced economic discrimination based on cultural traditions discouraging their employment outside the home in rural areas. Anecdotal evidence indicated that women’s pay lagged behind that for men. LGBTI individuals and those with disabilities faced hiring discrimination, and persons with disabilities faced difficulty with workplace access and accommodation (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes minimum wages for unskilled laborers and for formal sector workers. The law allows workers in the informal sector to bargain for a wage higher than the legal minimum.

The minimum wage was greater than the World Bank’s poverty income level. Many families paid minimum-wage incomes were also engaged in subsistence farming, small-scale marketing, and begging.

The law provides for a 48-hour, six-day regular workweek with a one-hour rest period for every five hours of work. The law stipulates that ordinary hours may be extended by collective agreement up to an average of 53 hours during an agreed period, as well as to 56 hours for workers in seasonal industries. The law provides for overtime pay and prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The law provides for at least one week of paid leave per year, severance benefits, and occupational health and safety standards; the standards are up to date and appropriate for the intended industries. Workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in this situation. For certain categories of industries, the law requires employers to employ safety and health officers and establish a safety and health committee in the workplace.

The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. The Ministry of Labor’s Labor Inspection Department is responsible for enforcing government-established wage, hour, and health and safety standards in the formal sector, but there is no system for monitoring and enforcement in the informal sector. The government did not employ a sufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes. In April and September 2019, the Ministry of Labor, Liberia Revenue Authority, Liberia Immigration Service, and National Social Security and Welfare Corporation conducted joint nationwide labor inspections to ensure employers complied with the Decent Work Act and all other labor laws. Observers reported labor inspectors solicited and took bribes to certify compliance with regulations, and the labor inspectorate did not track numbers of individual inspections or violations.

Most citizens were unable to find work in the formal sector and therefore did not benefit from any of the formal labor laws and protections. The vast majority of citizens (estimated at 80 percent) worked in the largely unregulated informal sector, where they faced widely varying and often harsh working conditions. Informal sector workers included rock crushers, artisanal miners, agricultural workers, street sellers, most market sellers, domestic workers, and others. In the diamond and gold mines, in addition to physical danger and poor working conditions, the industry is unregulated, leaving miners vulnerable to exploitive brokers, dealers, and intermediaries. Illegal mining of gold was rampant throughout the country and posed serious safety risks, resulting in the deaths of several persons every year. On December 11, the bodies of three illegal gold miners were retrieved from a collapsed mineshaft at David Dean Town in Kokoyah Statutory District, in Bong County. A local Lands and Mines inspector in Bong County told Front Page Africa that more than 10 illegal miners were feared to have been buried alive at the illicit David Dean Town mining center.

Mali

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.). The gendarmerie is the body responsible for conducting initial investigations into security forces. Cases are then transferred to the Ministry of Justice for investigations into alleged police violence or the Ministry of Defense’s military tribunal for investigations into alleged military abuses. Depending on the infraction and capacity of the military tribunal, some cases related to military abuses may be processed by the Ministry of Justice.

On May 11, in the city of Kayes in the central part of the country, an off-duty police officer allegedly shot and killed a teenager for a traffic infraction, prompting protests during the ensuing days that left at least two more persons dead. There were allegations that security forces killed these additional two civilians, but the Gendarmerie conducted an investigation and concluded that those killings were carried out by a protester.

Between July 10 and 13, a total of 14 persons, including two children, were killed in the course of interventions by security forces during antigovernment demonstrations in the capital, Bamako. In November the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali’s (MINUSMA’s) Human Rights and Protection Division (HRPD) attributed the deaths to actions by the National Gendarmerie, National Police, National Guard, and the Special Anti-Terrorist Force (FORSAT); it noted furthermore that FORSAT, whose actions it concluded were responsible for two of the 14 deaths, not only used disproportionate force but also acted illegally by intervening in law enforcement operations outside of the scope of its counterterrorism mission. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also documented the use of excessive force by security forces and the role of FORSAT during the same protests. On July 15, the then prime minister’s office announced an investigation into the alleged role of FORSAT in the deaths, and on December 3, the transition government’s National Council recommended renewed investigations into the July 10-13 events.

Separately, MINUSMA’s HRPD, tasked with monitoring human rights abuses throughout the country, reported more than 700 civilians killed from January to June. Among these the Malian defense and security forces (MDSF) allegedly committed at least 195 extrajudicial killings during the first six months of the year. Among other cases of extrajudicial killings documented by Amnesty International during the year, on February 16, the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) reportedly committed five killings of unarmed individuals in the village of Belidanedji in the central part of the country. A number of investigations ordered by the Ministry of Defense regarding extrajudicial killings continued.

Terrorist groups, signatory and nonsignatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord, and ethnic militias also committed numerous arbitrary killings related to internal conflict. According to the same HRPD reports covering the first six months of the year, terrorist elements were allegedly responsible for 82 killings, while signatory and nonsignatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord, including the Platform of Northern Militias (Platform) and the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA), were allegedly responsible for at least 18 deaths. The HRPD furthermore reported that intercommunal violence, often by ethnic militias, accounted for the deaths of at least 350 civilians during the same period. The HRPD reports also alleged instances of extrajudicial executions within the country committed by members of the G5 Sahel Joint Force (18), the Nigerien armed forces (34), and the Burkinabe armed forces (50).

Attacks by extremist groups and criminal elements continued to reach beyond the northern regions to the Mopti and Segou Regions in the central part of the country, and to the Kayes Region in the West. Extremist groups frequently employed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to target civilians as well as government and international security forces. For example, on June 7, a civilian transport truck traveling from Jamweli to Douentza, Mopti Region, struck an IED, killing seven persons and injuring at least 24. On March 19, in a non-IED-related attack, armed individuals attacked a military camp in Tarkint, Gao Region, killing at least 29 soldiers and wounding five others. On May 10, a Chadian MINUSMA peacekeeping convoy struck an IED in Aguelhoc, Kidal Region, killing at least three peacekeepers and wounding four others. IEDs were also used repeatedly to target important infrastructure, such as bridges, cutting off communities from humanitarian assistance, important trade routes, and security forces.

There was limited progress in the prosecution of suspects–including the 2012 coup leader Amadou Sanogo–in the disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets (members of FAMa’s 33rd Parachute Regiment) and former junta member Colonel Youssouf Traore. On January 28, the Appeals Court of Bamako granted Sanogo, incarcerated since 2013, conditional release on the grounds his pretrial detention period was unreasonably long.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of forced disappearances believed to have been carried out by extremist groups and, in some instances, by the MDSF in the central and northern regions of the country. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that the MDSF was responsible for 40 disappearances during the first six months of the year while armed groups were responsible for 71 forced disappearances or kidnappings during the same time period. In its June report on human rights abuses by security forces in the Sahel, Amnesty International similarly reported dozens of forced disappearances and possible summary executions at the hands of the MDSF in the course of counterterrorism operations and on other occasions. In December 2019 at least 26 individuals were arrested by a FAMa patrol at the Maliemana market in Segou and never seen again. Bodies were reportedly discovered in a well in the nearby village of N’Doukala seven days later. The government issued a communique 10 days after the arrests announcing an investigation and, as of December, a military prosecution order to investigate formally the allegations was pending the assignment of an investigative judge. The United Nations launched a fact-finding mission into the allegations, but the results of that mission were not made public. In one high-profile instance of kidnapping by armed groups, on March 25, opposition leader and former presidential candidate Soumaila Cisse was abducted while campaigning for legislative elections. The kidnapping was reportedly carried out by Amadou Kouffa’s Macina Liberation Front (MLF), a Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) affiliate. On October 8, Cisse was released along with three foreign hostages in exchange for the release of nearly 200 suspected extremists.

Human rights observers continued to report they were unable to verify the whereabouts of dozens of prisoners purportedly detained in connection with the northern conflict. This might have been due to possible unreported deaths in custody, alleged surreptitious releases, and suspected clandestine transfer of prisoners to the government’s intelligence service, the General Directorate of State Security (DGSE). Limited capacity to keep up accurately with case management exacerbated the difficulty in locating individuals within the country’s penal system. The COVID-19 pandemic was also a contributing factor, since many organizations were either denied access or unable to visit prisons for health-safety reasons. Human rights organizations estimated that the DGSE held at least 60 unacknowledged detainees, but these organizations noted they did not have access to the DGSE’s facilities. Following advocacy from the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH), at least two of these unreported detention cases were transferred to the justice system during the year: one involving a member of the 2012 junta, Seyba Diarra, and the other of civil society leader Clement Dembele.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but reports indicated that FAMa soldiers employed these tactics against individuals with suspected links to extremist groups, including JNIM-affiliated member groups (see section 1.g.). MINUSMA’s HRPD reported 56 instances of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment by the MDSF during the first six months of the year. Other organizations reported extensively on torture allegations. In February, according to reports by Amnesty International and others, an elected official from Kogoni-Peulh, Oumar Diallo, was asked by his community to inquire at a gendarme base in Segou as to the whereabouts of previously arrested villagers. He was allegedly arrested and detained at the military camp in Diabaly where he was reportedly treated poorly. He died while subsequently being transferred to Segou by the military. Amnesty International reported that those who buried him stated, “On his corpse you could see traces of ill treatment.” Leaders of the opposition movement the June 5 Movement-Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP), arrested in the wake of the violent July 10-12 protests, claimed they were tortured or mistreated by the gendarmerie at the Gendarmerie Camp I detention facility in Bamako. Investigations into these allegations by international organizations continued at year’s end.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there remained one open allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse by a peacekeeper from the country deployed to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. The allegation was submitted in 2017 and allegedly involved an exploitative relationship with two adults. As of September the United Nations substantiated the allegation and repatriated the perpetrator, but the government had not disclosed the accountability measures taken.

Impunity was a significant problem in the defense and security forces, including FAMa, according to allegations from Amnesty International, MINUSMA’s HRPD, and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Ministry of Defense reportedly ordered investigations into several of the allegations made against FAMa, but the government provided limited information regarding the scope, progress, or findings of these investigations. The lack of transparency in the investigative process, the length of time required to order and complete an investigation, the absence of security force prosecutions related to human rights abuses, and limited visibility of outcomes of the few cases carried to trial all contributed to impunity within the defense and security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care caused prison conditions to be harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions: As of August the Bamako Central Prison held approximately 2,300 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 400. There were significant rates of overcrowding at other prisons. Detainees were separated by age (adults or minors), gender, and offense type (terrorist or criminal). Detention conditions were better in Bamako’s women’s prison than in prisons for men.

By law authorities may hold arrested individuals for up to 72 hours in police stations, where there were no separate holding areas for women and children. Prisons authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. As of August authorities held 372 persons arrested on charges related to terrorism in the higher security division of Bamako Central Prison and in Koulikoro. The general security situation, together with population growth and overloaded, inefficient courts, exacerbated already poor prison conditions by increasing the number of pretrial detainees and preventing the release of prisoners who completed their sentences. Gendarmerie and police detention centers were at maximum capacity at year’s end.

The country’s prison administration (DNAPES) reported that, as of August, a total of 18 prisoners and detainees died in custody due to heart attacks, brain trauma, and respiratory problems. The CNDH, an independent entity that receives administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice, attributed the deaths to unhealthy prison conditions. Additionally, inadequate security mechanisms and a general lack of resources limited the ability of authorities to maintain control of prisons. On June 5, a mutiny at Bamako Central Prison left four inmates dead and eight others (including one prison guard) injured.

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

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen. Authorities, however, permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints, either directly through the CNDH or through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic, to judicial authorities in order to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Prisoners also made verbal complaints during prison inspections by the CNDH regarding their detention conditions. The CNDH, charged with visiting prisons and ensuring humane conditions, visited prisoners in Bamako Central Prison and other localities. The law allows the CNDH to visit prisons without seeking prior permission from prison authorities. On July 12, the CNDH was denied access to the Bamako Gendarmerie Camp I, where M5-RFP leaders were detained following the July 10 protest and subsequent violence. The United Nations reported that it was eventually allowed access to detained protest leaders. The CNDH frequently visited prisons outside of Bamako, although its last visit to a military detention center occurred in 2012 despite several subsequent requests to visit. The government’s National Penitentiary Administration investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Detainees were generally allowed to observe their religious practices and had reasonable access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by human rights monitors, and human rights organizations conducted visits. The government required NGOs and other monitors to submit a request to the prison director, who then forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice. The Malian Association for Human Rights visited prisons in Bamako. Human rights observers with MINUSMA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly visited detention centers holding CMA and Platform members. During the year ICRC officials visited at least 11 prisons in the country, including in Bamako, Koulikoro, Mopti, Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal, and found that prisoners’ basic needs were regularly being met. The ICRC also assisted DNAPES in preventing the spread of COVID-19 by making recommendations and providing hygiene and sanitary equipment.

Improvements: The government took steps to improve staff training and physical security measures. A nine-billion CFA franc ($15.6 million) prison construction project in Kenieroba, 30 miles south of Bamako, continued; the prison was partially operational. Much of the structure was complete; however, the facility lacked adequate water, electricity, furnishings, and equipment for the intended operations. The prison was designed to hold 2,500 inmates and to meet international standards but as of September confined approximately 400 inmates. As a COVID-19 mitigation measure, in April at least 1,400 prisoners were pardoned and released from national prison facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and statutory law generally prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Nevertheless, government security forces, Platform, CMA forces, and terrorist armed groups detained and arrested numerous individuals in connection with the continued conflict in the northern and central regions (see section 1.g.).

The law allows detainees to challenge the legal basis or the arbitrary nature of their detention in court. Individuals are generally released promptly if their detention is determined to have been arbitrary, but the law does not provide for compensation from or recourse against the government.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires judicial warrants for arrest. It also requires police to charge suspects or release them within 48 hours of arrest. While police usually secured warrants based on sufficient evidence and through issuance by a duly authorized official, these procedures were not always followed. The law provides for the transfer of detainees from police stations to the prosecutor’s office within 72 hours of arrest, but authorities sometimes held detainees longer in police stations. Lack of resources to conduct transfers was often cited as a contributing factor. Authorities may grant conditional release to detainees, who have limited right to bail, particularly for minor crimes and civil matters. Authorities occasionally released defendants on their own recognizance.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer of their choice or, if they cannot afford one, to a state-provided lawyer. Detainees are typically granted prompt access to their lawyers. Nevertheless, a shortage of private attorneys–particularly outside Bamako and Mopti–often prevented access to legal representation. There was also at least one incident in which a high-profile figure, Clement Dembele, was arrested and was not granted prompt access to a lawyer.

Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights organizations reported widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention. In many cases gendarmes detained suspects on DGSE orders and then transferred them for questioning to the DGSE, which generally held suspects for hours or days. Due to the country’s size, long travel times, poor road conditions, and inadequate personnel or resources, however, the transfer process itself sometimes took more than a week, during which security services did not inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities did not provide released detainees transport back to the location of their arrest, trips that often required several days of travel. These detentions often occurred in the wake of attacks by bandits or terrorists and were targeted against members of the ethnic group suspected of carrying out the attacks.

According to MINUSMA, because the CMA gradually replaced the state as a de facto authority in the north of the country, they also illegally detained and pardoned individuals being held at the Kidal remand center. MINUSMA’s HRPD stated that on May 22, as a COVID-19 mitigation measure, the president of the CMA pardoned 21 persons who the HRPD contended were being illegally detained.

On June 23, the Fulani organization, Tabital Pulaaku, denounced the arbitrary arrest of civilians in the town of Niaouro in the circle of Djenne. Fulani organizations also denounced the unlawful arrest of approximately 20 persons in the village of Nema in the circle of Bankass on July 5, following attacks on the Dogon villages of Gouari, Diimto, Diallaye, and Pangabougou which killed at least 32 civilians. The organization alleged these individuals were arrested based solely on their ethnic origin. While many were subsequently released, others were transferred to Bamako.

On August 18, in the wake of the military overthrow of the government, more than a dozen military and government officials, including the president and the prime minister, were arrested and held at the military base at Kati. Following repeated interventions and demands for their release by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the diplomatic community, and human rights organizations, on August 27, the president was released and placed under house arrest. Following hospitalization in Bamako, on September 5, he was permitted to leave the country to seek medical attention. At least 13 members of the former government, including the prime minister, the president of the National Assembly, and military leadership, remained in custody until their release without charge on October 7, following the September 25 swearing in of the president and vice president of the transition government. While some human rights organizations were never permitted access to them, others reported delays before eventually being granted access to the detainees while in custody. One such organization reported that some of the detainees referred to themselves as “hostages” and that the detainees stated their right to information and visits were not respected.

According to local press, on August 18, Boubacar Keita, the son of the deposed former president, was also detained and as of December continued to be held under house arrest at his father’s family home. In a letter attributed to Boubacar Keita, he lamented his conditions, noting, “I would like to remind you that since the confiscation of [my] phones, I have not been able to hear from my wife, my children and the family in general, only orally, sporadically, and only through an intermediary.”

Pretrial Detention: There are three categories of chargeable offenses or crimes: contraventions, misdemeanors, and felonies. The law provides for trial to occur within prescribed periods of time, depending on sentencing tied to conviction of the offense charged. For the contraventions, akin to minor misdemeanors, with a sentencing exposure of one to 10 days or a monetary fine, there is no pretrial detention, since no investigation period is necessary. For serious misdemeanors where sentencing exposure for conviction is less than two years of incarceration, detention is limited to six months, which may be renewed once for a total legal pretrial detention period of one year. For minor felonies with a sentencing exposure ranging from two years to five years or serious felonies with potential sentencing ranging from five years to life (or the death penalty), a defendant may be detained for a year, renewable twice, for a total legal pretrial detention period of three years. Despite these legal restrictions, excessive pretrial detention beyond legal limits remained a problem. Judicial inefficiency, the large number of detainees, corruption, and staff shortages contributed to the problem. Individuals sometimes remained in prison for several years before their cases came to trial. As of September, 69 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention.

On January 28, the 2012 coup leader Amadou Sanogo, first arrested in 2013, was ordered released by the Appeals Court of Bamako. Authorities cited the fact that his detention period exceeded legal limits on pretrial detention as one of the reasons for his release, although many saw his conditional release as politically motivated.

In April, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, convicted felons were granted early release to minimize the spread of the virus, but such measures were not taken for pretrial detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair trial, but the executive branch continued to exert influence over the judicial system. Corruption and limited resources affected the fairness of trials. Bribery and influence peddling were widespread in the courts, according to domestic human rights groups. There were problems enforcing court orders. One judicial employee noted military interference and noncompliance with summons for military members, alleging members of the Gendarmerie refused to support the judiciary in carrying out arrest warrants when requested. Judges were sometimes absent from their assigned areas for months at a time. Village chiefs and justices of the peace appointed by the government decided the majority of disputes in rural areas. Justices of the peace had investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial functions. These traditional systems did not provide the same rights as civil and criminal courts.

Trial Procedures

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally tried to enforce this right, inadequate staffing, logistical support (such as translators), infrastructure (insufficient number of court buildings), as well as undigitized records and case management systems, security concerns, and political pressure sometimes interfered with or hampered trial processes. Proceedings often were delayed, and some defendants waited years for their trials to begin, and in many cases, beyond legal pretrial detention limits before having their case heard. The law presumes that defendants are innocent until declared guilty by a judge. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Except in the case of minors and sensitive family cases where courtrooms were closed to protect the interests of victims or other vulnerable parties to the case, trials generally were public.

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

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. For example, on May 9, security forces arrested Clement Dembele, chairman of the Platform against Corruption and Unemployment, shortly after he released a Bambara language video on social media advocating for large-scale civil disobedience. On May 25, following his release, Dembele recounted in a media interview having a hood placed on his head before being taken into custody. He stated he was held by the DGSE and detained with terrorist suspects before being placed in an underground isolation cell. Following the intervention of the CNDH, Dembele was eventually presented to the Bamako Commune I prosecutor who charged him with using the press to incite the disobedience of the security forces. On September 2, his case was heard, and on September 30, it was dismissed by the tribunal.

According to the National Directorate for Penitentiary Administration, as of August authorities detained 372 persons charged with terrorism in connection with the conflict in the northern and central parts of the country. Some of those detained complained they were political prisoners. Persons found to be fighting for independence or for the creation of an Islamic state were charged with terrorism and claimed this as political detention. At year’s end, however, there was no clear indication they were detained for political reasons or as opponents of the government. The government typically detained conflict-related prisoners in higher-security facilities within prisons and provided them the same protection as other prisoners. International human rights and humanitarian organizations had access to most of these centers but not to detainees held in facilities operated by the DGSE.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

The military; formerly separatist forces, including the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA); northern militias aligned with the government, including the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad and Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (MSA and GATIA); and terrorist and extremist organizations, including the ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), JNIM, MLF, and al-Murabitoun, committed serious human rights abuses in the northern and central parts of the country. Most human rights abuses committed by the military appeared to target Fulani, Tuareg, and Arab individuals and were believed to be either in reprisal for attacks attributed to armed groups associated with those ethnicities or as a result of increased counterterrorism operations.

Government and French troops targeted terrorist organizations–including al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine, MLF, al-Murabitoun, JNIM, and ISGS–that were not party to the peace talks or the resulting accord. These terrorist organizations often maintained links to armed groups participating in the peace pro