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Japan

Executive Summary

Japan has a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy. On September 16, Yoshihide Suga, the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, became prime minister. Upper House elections in 2019, which the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Komeito, won with a solid majority, were considered free and fair by international observers.

The National Public Safety Commission, a cabinet-level entity, oversees the National Police Agency, and prefectural public safety commissions have responsibility for local police forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports of abuses committed by security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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.

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 law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

The government continued to deny death row inmates advance information about the date of execution until that day. The government notified their family members of executions after the fact. The government held that this policy spared prisoners the anguish of knowing when they were going to die.

Authorities also regularly hold prisoners condemned to death in solitary confinement until their execution but allowed visits by family, lawyers, and others. The length of such solitary confinement varied from case to case and may extend for several years. Prisoners accused of crimes that could lead to the death penalty were also held in solitary confinement before trial, according to a nongovernmental organization (NGO) source.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards, although some prisons continued to lack adequate medical care and sufficient heating in the winter or cooling in the summer.

Long-term detention of foreign nationals at immigration centers continued to be a concern. More than 40 percent of the more than 1,000 foreign nationals held in immigration facilities have been detained for more than six months, some as long as seven years, giving rise to an increasing number of protests, including hunger strikes, among detainees. Some facilities imposed forceful control of detainees, including women, and failed to protect detainees’ privacy.

Prisoners and detainees generally have no access to telephones, including to communicate with attorneys or family members.

According to experts, some facilities allowed the provisional release of certain detainees in response to concerns about COVID-19. NGOs noted, however, that released individuals were not granted work permits or health insurance. Legal experts reported that some prisoners expressed concern about the lack of information on the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts also raised concerns about inadequate measures to ensure social distancing among detainees at immigration facilities. The Ministry of Justice announced it implemented guidelines to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in prisons and immigration detention centers.

Physical Conditions: Authorities held women separately from men, and juveniles younger than age 20 separately from adults in prisons, other correctional facilities, and immigration facilities.

From April 2018 through March 2019, third-party inspection committees of prisons and immigration detention centers documented inadequate medical care as a major concern. Inspection committees also raised other issues: the need to give prison officers additional human rights education; some unmet special needs for elderly, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) inmates, or those with disabilities; and insufficient heating and cooling supplies. According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2019 there were 290 doctors working at correctional institutions, approximately 90 percent of the required staffing level. Inspection committees also noted concerns about protecting detainees’ privacy.

Administration: Most authorities permitted prisoners and immigration detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities and to request investigation of alleged problematic conditions. The president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, however, raised concerns in an August statement that authorities controlled the complaint and inspection process at immigration detention centers. Complainants were required to notify detention officers about complaints. Detention officers were also responsible for scheduling on-site inspections by the inspection committees and determining the length of time for the committees to interview detainees. Authorities provided the results of such investigations to prisoners in a letter offering little detail beyond a final determination.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed prescheduled visits by elected officials, NGOs, members of the press, and international organizations. By law the Justice Ministry appointed members to inspection committees for government-run prisons and immigration detention centers from outside of the national government. The police supervisory authorities, prefectural public safety commissions, appointed members of inspection committees for police detention facilities from outside of the police force. Authorities accepted some recommendations by NGOs in selecting inspection committee members. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations president, however, voiced concern that undisclosed selection criteria and the members themselves impeded nongovernment experts’ ability to evaluate if the selected members were appropriately qualified. Authorities permitted the committees, which include physicians, lawyers, local municipal officials, local citizens, and experts, to interview detainees without the presence of prison officers. Their recommendations generally received serious consideration.

NGOs and the UN Committee against Torture continued to raise concerns about the inspection process. For instance, they cited concerns about the requirement to submit previsit notifications to facility authorities. They also raised concerns about a lack of transparency in the selection of committee members.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Police officers may stop and question any person who is suspected to have committed or is about to commit a crime, or to possess information on a crime. Civil society organizations continued to urge police to end ethnic profiling and unjustified surveillance of foreigners.

In May police officers of the Shibuya Ward Police Station in Tokyo questioned a Kurdish man with alleged use of force on a street in Shibuya. The man filed a criminal charge with the Tokyo District Court against two Shibuya police station officers for the injury caused by their alleged assault. The Kurdish man also posted online a video clip showing him being questioned by police, which was filmed by another person who was present. The clip contributed to a protest by some 500 persons against national origin and racial discrimination by Shibuya police in early June. In late June, the Kurdish man filed a civil suit with the Tokyo District Court seeking government compensation from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department for mental suffering caused by the violent police questioning.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities apprehended persons openly with warrants based on evidence and issued by a duly authorized official and brought detainees before an independent judiciary. In urgent cases when there is sufficient basis to suspect that suspects committed specific crimes, including a crime punishable by death, the law allows police to arrest the suspects without obtaining warrants beforehand and requires police to seek to obtain warrants immediately after arrest.

The law allows suspects, their families, or representatives to request that the court release an indicted detainee on bail. Bail is not available prior to indictment. NGOs and legal experts stated bail was very difficult to obtain without a confession. Authorities tended to restrict access to defense counsel for detainees who did not confess. Other elements of the arrest and pretrial detention practices (see below) also tended to encourage confessions. The Public Prosecutors Office reported that in 2019 approximately 67 percent of all criminal suspects who were referred to prosecutors by police did not face indictment. Prosecutors indicted the remaining approximately 33 percent were convicted. The Justice Ministry reported in January that prosecutors indicted suspects only when convictions were highly likely. In most of these cases, the suspects had confessed.

Suspects in pretrial detention are legally required to face interrogation. Police guidelines limit interrogations to a maximum of eight hours a day and prohibit overnight interrogations. Pre-indictment detainees have access to counsel, including at least one consultation with a court-appointed attorney, if required; counsel, however, is not allowed to be present during interrogations.

The law allows police to prohibit suspects from meeting with persons other than counsel (and a consular officer in the case of foreign detainees) if there is probable cause to believe that the suspect may flee or conceal or destroy evidence (see “Pretrial Detention” below). Many suspects, including most charged with drug offenses, were subject to this restriction before indictment, although some were permitted visits from family members in the presence of a detention officer. There is no legal connection between the type of offense and the length of time authorities may deny a suspect visits by family or others. Those held for organized crime or on charges involving other criminals, however, tended to be denied such visits because prosecutors worried that communications with family or others could interfere with investigations.

Police and prosecutors must record the entire interrogation process in cases involving crimes punishable by death or imprisonment for an indefinite period, or punishable by imprisonment for one year or more and in which a victim has died because of an intentional criminal act, or that follow investigations and arrests begun by prosecutors. In such cases, a suspect’s statements to police and prosecutors during an interrogation are in principle inadmissible without a recording. According to legal experts, this is intended to prevent forced confessions and false charges. Police are also required to make best efforts to record the interrogation process when suspects have a mental disability. The Japan Federation of Bar Associations acknowledged the positive effects of these recording practices but noted that interrogations are video recorded in only 3 percent of the country’s criminal cases. Legal experts therefore continued to express concerns about forced confessions, especially in cases involving white-collar crimes.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities routinely held suspects in police-operated detention centers for an initial 72 hours prior to indictment although, by law, such detention is allowed only when there is probable cause to suspect that a person has committed a crime and is likely to conceal or destroy evidence or flee. After interviewing a suspect at the end of the initial 72-hour period, a judge may extend pre-indictment custody for up to two consecutive 10-day periods. Prosecutors routinely sought and received such extensions. Prosecutors may also apply for an additional five-day extension in exceptional cases, such as insurrection, foreign aggression, or violent public assembly.

NGOs and legal experts reported the practice of detaining suspects in pre-indictment detention or daiyou kangoku (substitute prison) continued. Because judges customarily granted prosecutors’ requests for extensions, pre-indictment detention usually lasts for 23 days for nearly all suspects, including foreigners. Moreover, the 23-day detention period may be applied on a per charge basis, so individuals facing multiple charges may be held far longer. NGOs and foreign observers continued to report that for persons in daiyou kangoku, access to persons other than their attorneys was routinely denied.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law 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. Defendants are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty, but NGOs and lawyers continued to suggest that this was not the case because of the pressure on suspects to confess prior to trial. Foreign suspects with time-limited visas often confessed in exchange for a suspended sentence in order to close the case before their visas, which are not extended for trial, expire.

Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them. Each charged individual has the right to a trial without undue delay (although observers noted that trials could be delayed indefinitely for mentally ill prisoners); to access to defense counsel, including an attorney provided at public expense if indigent; and to cross-examine witnesses. There is a lay judge (jury) system for serious criminal cases. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves. Authorities provided free interpretation services to foreign defendants in criminal cases. Foreign defendants in civil cases must pay for interpretation, although a judge may order the plaintiff to pay the charges in accordance with a court’s final decision.

Defendants have the right to appoint their own counsel to prepare a defense, present evidence, and appeal. The court may assist defendants in finding an attorney through a bar association. Defendants may request a court-appointed attorney at state expense if they are unable to afford one.

Trial procedures favor the prosecution. Observers said a prohibition against defense counsel’s use of electronic recording devices during interviews with clients undermined counsel effectiveness. The law also does not require full disclosure by prosecutors unless the defending attorney satisfies difficult disclosure procedure conditions, which could lead to the suppression of material favorable to the defense.

Several defense counsel and defendants called on judges to allow them to take off face masks or use an alternative COVID-19 preventive measure in trials, arguing that facial expressions affect how judges assess testimony and that covering faces could cause prejudice. They also expressed concern that face coverings could make it psychologically easier for hostile witnesses to give intentionally baseless testimony against defendants. In June a chief judge at the Tokyo Regional Court allowed a defendant to testify with a transparent face shield in lieu of a mask at the request of the defense counsel.

NGOs expressed concern about the retrial process for inmates on death row because execution is not stayed for a pending petition of retrial, which the Japan Federation of Bar Associations said calls into question the validity of executions.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. There are both administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs. Individuals may file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation with domestic courts.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these freedoms. The independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to sustain freedom of expression.

Freedom of Speech: There is a hate speech law designed to eliminate hate speech against persons originating from outside the country by developing government consultation systems and promoting government awareness efforts. The law, however, neither penalizes nor prohibits hate speech, so as not to impede freedom of speech. Legal experts acknowledged a continued decrease in hate speech at demonstrations since the law came into effect. In contrast hate speech increased in propaganda, election campaigning, and online, while crimes targeting members of specific ethnicities also continued, according to experts. They called on the government to implement more effective deterrent measures and conduct a survey on hate speech incidents. The government has not conducted such a survey since 2016.

According to legal experts, hate speech and hate crimes against ethnic Koreans, especially against Korean women and students, were numerous, but there were also incidents directed at other racial and ethnic minorities. Legal experts pointed out that hate speech against Chinese and Ainu also increased after the COVID-19 outbreak and the opening of the government-run National Ainu Museum in July, respectively.

As of October, three local governments had ordinances to prevent hate speech–Osaka City, Tokyo Metropolitan, and Kawasaki City. In January a public center for exchange programs with foreign nationals run by the city of Kawasaki received letters threatening the genocide of ethnic Koreans in Japan. This came after the city government became the first municipality to pass an ordinance with a penalty (a fine) for repeat offenders of hate speech in public places. In July, Kawasaki authorities arrested a suspect for violating the ordinance. Moreover, the Kawasaki city government requested in October that Twitter delete two messages the city identified as hate speech against an ethnic Korean woman. This was the first such request the city submitted to a social media company since the ordinance went into effect.

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

While no such cases have ever been pursued, the law enables the government to prosecute those who publish or disclose government information that is a specially designated secret. Those convicted face up to five years’ imprisonment with work and a substantial fine.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Domestic and international observers continued to express concerns that the system of kisha (reporter) clubs attached to government agencies may encourage censorship. These clubs are established in a variety of organizations, including ministries, and may block nonmembers, including freelance and foreign reporters, from covering the organization.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal as well as civil offense. The law does not accept the truthfulness of a statement in itself as a defense. There is no evidence the government abused these laws to restrict public discussion during the year.

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 private online communications without appropriate legal authority. In March the Ministry of Justice reported that the number of human rights violations via the internet increased by 3.9 percent in 2019.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reported incidents of governmental restriction of academic freedom or cultural events.

Using updated education guidelines, the Ministry of Education continues to screen and approve textbooks. As has been the case in the past, the approval process for history textbooks, particularly its treatment of the country’s 20th century colonial and military history, continued to be a subject of controversy.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for freedom of 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, except for travel restrictions implemented by the government from and to the country as COVID-19 infection prevention measures.

In-country Movement: In an effort to prevent COVID-19 infections, the government requested individuals refrain from interprefectural travel for certain periods during the year, but such requests did not carry the force of law.

Foreign Travel: The government’s COVID-19 infection prevention measures restricted entry to the country by all foreign nationals, including re-entry by residents, from April to September 1. Citizens were not subject to foreign travel restrictions.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The government generally provided adequate shelter and other protective services in the aftermath of natural disasters in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. As of January, 709 persons were living in temporary housing as a result of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant disaster in the northeastern part of the country.

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 for and assistance to refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs and civil society groups expressed concern about the indefinite detention of refugees and asylum-seekers and conditions in detention facilities. Legal experts and UNHCR noted that lengthy detention led to detainee protests, including by hunger strikes, generally intended to create a health concern that would warrant medical release. According a March report by the Immigration Services Agency, authorities temporarily released some detainees from immigration facilities when they refused to eat and refused medical intervention. Legal experts reported that as of September, 198 detainees engaged in hunger strikes in immigration facilities around the nation to protest their detention.

In August the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Working Group) concluded that the government’s detention of an Iranian and a Kurdish applicant for refugee status for a cumulative total of nearly five years–until April and June–was “arbitrary.” Although the government argued the detention was in accordance with domestic law, the Working Group maintained the detentions lacked necessity and reasonable grounds.

In June an expert panel appointed by the justice minister to address lengthy detentions and poor conditions in immigration facilities submitted recommendations that took into account recommendations from the UN Working Group and Japan Federation of Bar Associations. Persons under deportation order had the right to refuse deportation and most did, often because of fear of returning home or because they had family in the country. According to Justice Ministry statistics released in June, in 2019 a substantial majority of those under deportation orders refused deportation. Of those who refused deportation, 60 percent in 2019 were in the process of applying for refugee status. By law the government may not deport those who are subject to deportation orders while their refugee applications are pending.

In October the president of the Federation of Bar Associations urged the government to respond seriously to the Working Group’s conclusions and amend the immigration law accordingly. The same month, however, the justice minister commented publicly that the prolonged detention issue would end if those who were subject to deportation orders accepted deportation.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The country’s refugee screening process was, however, strict; in 2019 the government granted 44 applicants refugee status out of 10,375 applications and appeals (vice 42 out of 10,493 in 2018). NGOs and UNHCR expressed concern about the low rate of approval. Civil society and legal groups expressed concern about the restrictive screening procedures that led applicants to voluntarily withdraw their applications and accept deportation, specifically claiming that the government’s interpretation of “fear of persecution” used when adjudicating refugee claims was overly restrictive. Civil society groups reported that it takes an average of three years for an applicant to be recognized as a refugee, and some cases involving multiple appeals have lasted 10 years.

Immigration authorities administered the first round of hearings on whether to grant refugee status. Refugee and asylum applicants were not allowed to have lawyers participate in the first round of hearings, except for applicants in vulnerable positions, including minors age 15 or younger who have no guardians and applicants with disabilities, who may ask for approval for lawyers to participate in their first round of hearings. Yet legal experts reported there had been only one case where the government allowed the participation of a lawyer in the first hearing.

Immigration authorities also conducted hearings to review complaints from applicants about problems with the process.

A panel, the Refugee Examination Counselors, appointed by the justice minister from outside (by law) the ministry, conducted second hearings to review appeals from persons denied refugee status at their first hearing. All persons appearing before the counselors had the right to an attorney. The counselors included university professors, former prosecutors, lawyers, former diplomats, and NGO representatives, according to the Justice Ministry. The minister is obliged to hear, but not to accept, the opinions of the counselors. Legal experts questioned whether the review system delivered fair judgements, citing Justice Ministry statistics showing it granted refugee status to only one of the 8,291 applicants who filed appeals in 2019.

As government-funded legal support was not available for most refugee and asylum-seekers requesting it, the Federation of Bar Associations continued to fund a program that provided free legal assistance to applicants who could not afford it.

While refugee applicants arriving in the country illegally or without a visa allowing for residency are subject to detention, applicants for refugee status increasingly had valid visas before they submitted their asylum applications. The Justice Ministry announced that in 2019, approximately 97 percent (10,073 of the 10,375 applicants) had legitimate visas, including as temporary visitors or temporary workers.

In 2019 the government granted humanitarian-based permission to stay to 37 applicants who were not given refugee status, including to some applicants who were not legally in the country. The remaining applicants were potentially subject to deportation but could re-apply for refugee status. According to the Justice Ministry, in 2019 there were 8,967 voluntary repatriations and 516 involuntary deportations. As of December 2019, 2,217 persons subject to deportation orders were allowed to live outside of immigration facilities; 942 persons under deportation orders were held in immigration detention facilities. There is no legal limit to the potential length of detention. In response to COVID-19, more detainees were permitted to stay outside the facilities to prevent the spread of infections, the justice minister stated.

In addition to the regular asylum application system, the government may accept refugees under a third-country refugee resettlement program. In April the government increased the cap on refugees accepted under this program from 30 to 60, which NGOs applauded, while continuing to voice concern about the low overall numbers of refugees accepted. COVID-19 related concerns delayed implementing the increase. Approximately 300 Rohingya Muslims were also living in the country under special stay permits on humanitarian grounds or temporary stay visas on the basis of ethnic and religious persecution in Burma. Fewer than 20 Rohingya have been granted refugee status; approximately the same number of Rohingya asylum-seekers are out of detention centers on temporary release but are not permitted to work and could be redetained.

The Ministry of Justice, the Federation of Bar Associations, and the NGO Forum for Refugees Japan continued to cooperate to implement the Alternatives to Detention project to provide accommodations, advice on living in the country, and legal services for individuals who arrived at Narita, Haneda, Chubu, and Kansai airports; received temporary landing or provisional stay permission; and sought refugee status. Government-subsidized civil organizations and donations fund the project. NGOs expressed concern about a lack of government statistics on the number of refugee applicants arriving at air and seaports since July 2018.

Freedom of Movement: Asylum applicants granted a residency permit may settle anywhere and travel in the country freely with conditions, including reporting their residence to authorities. Asylum-seekers in detention and under deportation orders may be granted provisional release from detention for illness, if the applicant was a trafficking victim, or in other circumstances as determined on an ad hoc basis by the Ministry of Justice. Provisional release does not provide a work permit and has several restrictions, including an obligation to appear monthly at the Immigration Bureau, report in advance any travel outside the prefecture in which she or he resides, and report any change of residence to the Immigration Office. The system of provisional release also requires a deposit that may amount to three million yen ($28,000) depending on the individual case. Arefugee or asylum-seekerwho does not follow the conditions may be returned to detention and the deposit is subject to confiscation. Lawyers noted that in recent cases those found working illegally were punished with a minimum of three years’ detention.

Persons granted refugee status may travel freely within the country, as well as abroad, contingent upon meeting certain requirements.

Employment: Applicants who have a valid visa at the time of their asylum application and whom authorities have determined may be recognized as refugees may apply for work permits within two months of, or eight months after, the date they were determined to qualify potentially as refugees. An individual must apply for permission to engage in income-earning activities before the visas expire. Individuals must have a work permit in order to work. In the interim before approval, the Refugee Assistance Headquarters, a section of the government-funded Foundation for the Welfare and Education of the Asian People, provided small stipends to some applicants who faced financial difficulties.

Persons granted refugee status have full employment rights.

Access to Basic Services: Excepting those who met right-to-work conditions, applicants for refugee status received limited social welfare benefits, not including health care. This status rendered them dependent on overcrowded government-funded shelters, illegal employment, government financial support, or NGO assistance.

Persons granted refugee status faced the same discrimination patterns often seen by other foreigners: reduced access to housing, education, and employment.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to 37 individuals in 2019 who may not qualify as refugees. Of the 37, 27 were married to Japanese citizens or their children were citizens. The remaining 10 were granted permission to stay on the basis of situations in their home countries, including seven individuals from Syria. They may live and work in the community.

g. Stateless Persons

By law a stateless person age 20 or older is qualified for naturalization when she or he has met certain criteria, including having lived in the country for at least five consecutive years, good conduct, and financial stability.

In January the Tokyo High Court ruled a deportation order for a stateless man who had been denied refugee status was invalid, adding, “it was obvious that the man would have had nowhere to go on this earth.” Further, the court acknowledged that he would not be able to build a life in his home country, Georgia, and declared the order was “defective.”

Japan-born children of ethnic Koreans who had their Japanese citizenship revoked following the end of Japanese colonial rule in Korea at the end of World War II are deemed foreign nationals. They do not have suffrage rights and may not hold positions in government service. Those who did not pledge allegiance to either South or North Korea following the division of the Korean Peninsula fall under the special category of “citizens of the Korean Peninsula (Korea or Chosen).” These Koreans, regarded as de facto stateless by legal experts, may opt to claim South Korean citizenship or to pursue Japanese citizenship. Although they hold no passports, these ethnic Koreans may travel overseas with temporary travel documents issued by the government.

Children born to Rohingya living in the country remain effectively stateless.

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: A snap election for the Lower House of the Diet called by the government in 2017 was free and fair according to international observers. Upper House elections in July 2019, in which the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Komeito, won a solid majority, also were considered free and fair.

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. Women voted at rates equal to or higher than men. In all national elections since the late 1960s, women have made up a majority of voters, according to data by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. Women, however, have not been elected to any level of office at rates reflecting this.

The law calls on political parties to make their best efforts to have equal numbers of male and female candidates on the ballot in national and local elections. Women held 46 of 465 seats in the Diet’s Lower House, down one from the previous year, and continued to hold 56 of 245 seats in the Upper House (unchanged from the previous year). Women held two of 21 seats in the cabinet; none of the four senior posts in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party was held by a woman. At the end of 2019, of 2,668 assembly members across the 47 prefectures, 303 were women. There were two female governors in the 47 prefectures and 35 of 1,740 mayors were women.

Very few individuals with disabilities run as candidates. In the July 2019 election, two wheelchair-bound candidates were elected to the Diet, becoming the first lawmakers in wheelchairs elected since 2005.

Some ethnic minority group members of mixed heritage served in the Diet, but their numbers were difficult to ascertain because they did not self-identify.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were documented cases of corruption by officials.

Independent academic experts stated that ties among politicians, bureaucrats, and businesspersons were close, and corruption remained a concern. NGOs continued to criticize the practice of retired senior public servants taking high-paying jobs with private firms and government subsidized organizations that relied on government contracts. There were investigations into financial and accounting irregularities involving government officials.

Corruption: In March the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force announced the dismissal of an officer on suspicion of breaking the law by leaking classified information and running a prostitution business for the previous 10 years. He later confessed, stating that he wanted extra income.

In June spouses Katsuyuki Kawai, a member of the House of Representatives, and Anri Kawai, a member of the House of Councilors, were arrested and indicted on charges of paying cash for votes in Anri Kawai’s election. They pled not guilty but resigned from the Liberal Democratic Party while announcing their intention to retain their Diet seats. In June an aide to Anri Kawai was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison for illegally paying election campaigners, a ruling that was upheld on appeal.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires members of the Diet to disclose publicly their income and assets (except for ordinary savings), including ownership of real estate, securities, and means of transportation. Local ordinances require governors of all 47 prefectures, prefectural assembly members, mayors, and assembly members of 20 major cities to disclose their incomes and assets; assembly members of the remaining approximately 1,720 municipalities are not required to do the same. There are no penalties for false disclosure. The law does not apply to unelected officials. Separately, a cabinet code provides that cabinet ministers, senior vice-ministers, and parliamentary vice-ministers publicly disclose their, their spouses’, and their dependent children’s assets.

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 usually cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Justice Ministry’s Human Rights Counseling Office has more than 300 offices across the country. Approximately 14,000 volunteers fielded questions in person, by telephone, or on the internet, and provided confidential consultations. Counselling in 10 foreign languages was available in 50 offices. These consultative offices fielded queries, but they do not have authority to investigate human rights abuses by individuals or public organizations without consent from parties concerned. They provide counsel and mediate, and collaborate with other government agencies, including child consultation centers and police. Municipal governments have human rights offices that deal with a range of human rights problems.

According to the Ministry of Justice, regional legal affairs bureaus nationwide initiated relief procedures in 15,420 cases of human rights violations in 2019. Of those, 1,985 were committed online, and 454 were cases of sexual harassment. In one example publicized by the ministry, a regional legal affairs bureau requested that online video-sharing platform companies remove videos of a preteenage boy after it was contacted by his mother, investigated the case, and found that the videos of the boy were filmed and posted without his or his mother’s knowledge. The bureau recognized posting such videos as a violation of his privacy and defamation of his character. The video-sharing companies removed the videos following the request.

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

Discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity is not prohibited.

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes various forms of rape, regardless of the gender of a victim. The law also criminalizes custodial rape of a minor younger than age 18. The law does not deny the possibility of spousal rape, but no court has ever ruled on such a case, except in situations of marital breakdown (i.e., formal or informal separation, etc.). The law mandates a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment for rape convictions. Prosecutors must prove that violence or intimidation was involved or that the victim was incapable of resistance. Domestic violence is also a crime for which victims may seek restraining orders. Convicted assault perpetrators face up to two years’ imprisonment or a modest fine. Convicted offenders who caused bodily injury faced up to 15 years’ imprisonment or a modest fine. Protective order violators faced up to one year’s imprisonment or a moderate fine.

Suicide rates among women rose in July and August by 40 percent as compared with the corresponding months of 2019, according to National Police Agency statistics. In October the Japan Suicide Countermeasures Promotion Center, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare to analyze trends in suicides since July, stated that more severe domestic violence, an increased struggle to raise children, and financial difficulty–all due to COVID-19–along with the impact of a series of celebrity suicides in recent months, were potential factors leading to the increase in suicides among women living with one or more persons, unemployed women, and teenage girls.

On October 1, the Cabinet Office upgraded the office for countering violence between men and women in the Ministry of Gender Equality to a division. Minister Seiko Hashimoto and Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato announced the change as an effort to strengthen government efforts to address sexual crimes and violence, including domestic violence. The division plans to enhance counseling services and collaboration with private supporting organizations.

In October the gender equality bureau director general in the Cabinet Office confirmed that government consultation bodies around the nation received 1.6 times more inquiries about domestic violence in May and June than during the same months in 2019. She expressed concern about the increase in the number and degree of severity of domestic violence cases, attributing the change to stress and anxiety about life in the future stemming from COVID-19. As preparedness measures, in April the Cabinet Office’s Gender Equality Bureau extended hotline services to 24 hours a day and in May launching additional consultation services via social network services in Japanese and 10 foreign languages. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications allowed victims fleeing domestic violence to receive an across-the-board one-time stipend of 100,000 yen ($920) per person as a COVID-19 financial relief measure. NGOs reported, however, that the stringent requirements for the stipend made it difficult for some victims to qualify.

Several acquittals in rape cases in 2019 drew the attention of legislators and the public to the high legal standard and prosecutorial burden in such cases. In March the Nagoya High Court overturned a lower court’s controversial 2019 acquittal of a father accused of raping his 19-year-old daughter. The High Court convicted the father after concluding that she had no option other than to submit and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. The father appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Ministry of Justice launched an expert panel in June to identify potential revisions to criminal legislation on all sexual crimes, as part of the government’s efforts to strengthen measures against sexual crimes and violence. The expert panel includes a survivor of sexual abuse, lawyers, academics, and government officials.

Rape and domestic violence are significantly underreported crimes. Observers attributed women’s reluctance to report rape to a variety of factors, including fear of being blamed, fear of public shaming, a lack of victim support, potential secondary victimization through the police response, and court proceedings that lacked empathy for rape victims.

Victims of abuse by domestic partners, spouses, and former spouses could receive protection at shelters run by either the government or NGOs.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was generally perceived as a workplace issue after a 2007 amendment to equal employment opportunity law required employers to establish preventive measures against sexual harassment in workplaces. Sexual harassment in the workplace persisted (see section 7.d.).

Sexual harassment also persisted in society. One of the most pervasive examples was men groping women on subway trains. Many major train lines have introduced women-only cars to combat chikan, or groping; however, it continued during the year.

In April, Liberal Democratic Party Lower House members toured a facility for teenage survivors of sexual abuse. During the visit, members of the group were accused of sexist behavior and harassment, including an allegation that the former minister of education, culture, sports, science, and technology placed his hands on an underage girl’s waist. He later apologized for “causing [her] discomfort” but added that he had no memory of putting his hands on her waist. Then prime minister Abe, in his capacity as head of the Liberal Democratic Party, also apologized on the former minister’s behalf.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Women had access to contraception and maternal health services, including skilled attendance during childbirth, prenatal care, and essential obstetric and postpartum care.

The government subsidizes sexual or reproductive health care services for survivors of sexual violence when the survivors seek help from the police or government-designated centers supporting sexual violence survivors located in each prefecture. Services subsidized by the government include medical examinations and emergency contraception.

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

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and generally provides women the same rights as men. The Gender Equality Bureau in the Cabinet Office continued to examine policies and monitor developments.

Despite the law and related policies, NGOs continued to allege that implementation of antidiscrimination measures was insufficient, pointing to discriminatory provisions in the law, unequal treatment of women in the labor market (see section 7.d.), and low representation of women in high-level elected bodies.

NGOs continued to urge the government to allow married couples to choose their own surnames. The postwar constitution provides for equality between men and women, and relevant laws state that a husband and wife may choose either spouse’s surname as the legal surname for both of them. Separate surnames for a married couple, however, are not legal. According to the government, 96 percent of married couples adopt the husband’s family name. Experts cited workplace inconveniences and issues of personal identity that disproportionately affect women as a result of the law.

In what became known as the “potato salad controversy,” there was a widespread outcry over perceived pervasive misogyny when an individual posted on social media about overhearing an elderly man admonishing a woman with an infant who was buying prepared potato salad instead of making it from scratch. The man reportedly chided the woman, suggesting that she was not a good mother for choosing not to spend time and labor to make the potato salad herself. Media speculated that the comment prompted so many responses because many women have had similar experiences. One prominent newspaper posited that misogynistic attitudes among men underpin such comments, adding that the notion that women are inferior is a persistent undercurrent in society.

Children

Birth Registration: The law grants citizenship at birth to: a child of a Japanese father who either is married to the child’s mother or recognizes his paternity; a child of a Japanese mother; or, a child born in the country to parents who are both unknown or are stateless. The law also grants citizenship to a person born in the country with no nationality at the time of birth but who has resided in the country for three consecutive years or more since his or her birth. The law requires registration within 14 days after in-country birth or within three months after birth abroad, and these deadlines were generally met. Individuals were allowed to register births after the deadline but were required to pay a nominal fine.

The law requires individuals to specify whether a child was born in or out of wedlock on the birth registration form. The law presumes that a child born within 300 days of a divorce is the divorced man’s child, resulting in the nonregistration of an unknown number of children.

Child Abuse: Reports of child abuse continued to increase, which NGOs attributed in part to stay-at-home COVID-19 policies. Legislators expressed concern about sexual crimes and violence against children. According to official data, police investigated 1,957 child abuse cases in 2019, a 42 percent increase from the previous year. Of the cases, 1,629 involved physical violence; 243 involved sexual abuse; 50, psychological abuse; and 35, neglect.

Reports of sexual abuse of children by teachers continued. Local education boards around the nation imposed disciplinary actions on 280 public school teachers, the highest number on record, for sexual misconduct with children from April 2018 through March 2019, an increase of 70 from the previous period, according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. The ministry dismissed 57 percent of the disciplined teachers from their teaching posts. By law their teaching licenses were invalidated, but they may obtain teaching licenses again after three years. In September a parental group submitted to the ministry approximately 54,000 signatures calling for legislative revisions to prohibit re-issuing teaching licenses to teachers dismissed for sexual misconduct with children.

Known as taibatsu, corporal punishment in sports has been a longstanding concern. In June a report detailed widespread, systemic corporal punishment of child athletes. A law enacted in April established a ban on corporal punishment, which extends to abuse in sports; however, NGOs pointed to broad ignorance of the law among the perpetrators and argued that it does not explicitly state its application to organized sports, undermining its effectiveness. Additionally, government and sports organizations have not taken steps to ensure compliance, and abuse reporting may be limited by requirements to submit claims by post or fax, which are not necessarily available to children.

Children were also subject to human rights violations via the internet. Violations included publishing photographs and videos of elementary school students in public places without their consent. The government requested site operators to remove such images, and many reportedly complied.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates that to marry, the male partner must be age 18 or older and the female partner 16 or older. A person younger than 20 may not marry without at least one parent’s approval. A law creating gender parity in the legal age to marry, 18 for both sexes, comes into force in 2022.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child prostitution is illegal, with penalties including prison sentences or moderate fines. Statutory rape laws criminalize sexual intercourse with a girl younger than age 13, notwithstanding her consent. The penalty for statutory rape is a sentence of not less than three years’ imprisonment with mandatory labor. The law was enforced. Additionally, national law and local ordinances address sexual abuse of minors. Possession of child pornography continues to be a crime. The commercialization of child pornography remains illegal with the penalty of imprisonment with labor for not more than three years or a moderate fine. Police continued to crack down on this crime and noted that instances of sexual exploitation via social networking services continued to rise. NGOs continued to express concern that preventive efforts more frequently targeted victims rather than perpetrators.

The continued practice of enjo kosai (compensated dating) and the existence of websites for online dating, social networking, and “delivery health” (a euphemism for call-girl or escort services) facilitated the sex trafficking of children and other commercial sex industries. NGOs reported that unemployment and stay-at-home orders established because of the COVID-19 crisis fueled online sexual exploitation of children. The government’s interagency taskforce to combat child sex trafficking in joshi kosei (or “JK” businesses)–dating services connecting adult men with underage girls–and in forced pornography continued to strengthen its crackdown on such businesses. In 2019 authorities identified 162 of these operations nationwide, up by 18 percent from the previous year. Eight individuals alleged to have been engaged in unspecified criminal activities surrounding the JK business were arrested, down from 69 in 2018. Seven major prefectures have ordinances banning JK businesses, prohibiting girls younger than age 18 from working in “compensated dating services,” or requiring JK business owners to register their employee rosters with local public safety commissions. NGOs helping girls in the JK business reported a link between these activities and the commercial sexual exploitation of children in prostitution.

The country was a site for the production of child pornography and the exploitation of children by traffickers.

No law addresses the unfettered availability of sexually explicit cartoons, comics, and video games, some of which depicted scenes of violent sexual abuse and the rape of children.

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

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

The total Jewish population is approximately 3,000 to 4,000. 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

A law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, intellectual, mental, or other disabilities affecting body and mind and bars infringement of their rights and interests on the grounds of disability in the public and private sectors. The law requires the public sector to provide reasonable accommodations and the private sector to make best efforts in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other services. The laws do not stipulate remedies for persons with disabilities who experience discriminatory acts, nor do they establish penalties for noncompliance. Advocates reported the COVID-19 outbreak increased unemployment among persons with disabilities; the Ministry of Health reported that from February to June, more than 1,100 persons with disabilities were laid off, an increase of approximately 150 compared with the same period in the previous year (see section 7.d.).

Accessibility laws mandate that construction projects for public-use buildings must include provisions for persons with disabilities. The government may grant low interest loans and tax benefits to operators of hospitals, theaters, hotels, and other public facilities if they upgrade or install features to accommodate persons with disabilities. The government revised a law in May to require accessibility in public elementary and junior high school buildings. Nonetheless, persons with disabilities faced limited access to some public-sector services.

Abuse of persons with disabilities was a serious concern. Persons with disabilities around the country experienced abuse by family members, care-facility employees, and employers. Private surveys indicated discrimination against and sexual abuse of women with disabilities. Legislators expressed concern about sexual crimes and violence, especially against persons with disabilities by their relatives, schoolteachers, sports coaches, or care-facility staff.

NGOs continued to express concern that persons with disabilities tended to be stigmatized and segregated from the general population. Although some schools provided inclusive education, children with disabilities generally attended specialized schools.

Disability rights advocates reported that women with disabilities faced higher unemployment and more abuse and discrimination than men with disabilities, including insufficient access to support, and continued harassment at workplaces. Mental-health-care professionals asserted the government’s efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness and inform the public that depression and other mental illnesses are treatable and biology based were insufficient.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Members of minority groups experienced varying degrees of societal discrimination.

The law specifically addresses discrimination against Buraku (the descendants of feudal-era outcasts). It obligates national and local governments to study discrimination against Buraku, implement awareness education, and enhance the counseling system.

Buraku advocacy groups continued to report that despite socioeconomic improvements achieved by many Buraku, widespread discrimination persisted in employment, marriage, housing, and property assessment. Although the Buraku label was no longer officially used to identify individuals, the family registry system could be used to identify them and facilitate discriminatory practices. Buraku advocates expressed concern that employers who required family registry information from job applicants for background checks, including many government agencies, might use this information to identify and discriminate against Buraku applicants.

Despite legal safeguards against discrimination, foreign permanent residents in the country and nonethnically Japanese citizens, including many who were born, raised, and educated in the country, were subjected to various forms of entrenched societal discrimination, including restricted access to housing, education, health-care, and employment opportunities. Foreign nationals and “foreign looking” citizens reported they were prohibited entry–sometimes by signs reading “Japanese Only”–to privately owned facilities serving the public, including hotels and restaurants. Legal experts noted that there is no legal prohibition on such restrictions.

There was no indication of increased societal acceptance of ethnic Koreans. Representatives of the ethnic Korean community said hate speech against Koreans in public and on social networking sites persisted. In August the Fukuoka Legal Affairs Bureau recognized a 2019 address by Makoto Sakurai, then chairman of the Association of Residents Who Reject Special Privileges of Zainichi Koreans (known as Zaitokkai), as hate speech. In the address he targeted students heading to a school in Kitakyushu run by the North Korean government’s General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, telling them to “get out of Japan.” Sakurai ran in the July Tokyo gubernatorial election, seeking to abolish welfare for foreigners and placing fifth with 178,784 votes. Experts expressed concern that his campaign speech potentially threatened the safety of minority group members and fueled discrimination against them. Ethnic Koreans who chose not to naturalize faced difficulties in terms of civil and political rights and regularly encountered discrimination at work and in access to housing, education, and other benefits.

In June public broadcaster NHK came under fire, and later apologized, for airing a segment about racism that lacked context and used offensive and insensitive caricatures. The voice used in the narrative was one typically used for ruffians in Japanese animation, and images portrayed black men and women as angry, aggressive, and unkempt, while showing white characters as innocent and well dressed. In addition to issuing an apology, NHK removed the video and aired subsequent programming that more appropriately and effectively addressed diversity issues.

Senior government officials publicly repudiated the harassment of ethnic groups as inciting discrimination and reaffirmed the protection of individual rights for everyone in the country.

Indigenous People

The law recognizes Ainu as indigenous people, prohibits discrimination against them, prohibits the violation of Ainu rights, and protects and promotes their culture. The law requires the national and local governments to take measures to support communities and boost local economies and tourism. The law does not provide for self-determination or other tribal rights, nor does it stipulate rights to education for Ainu.

Ainu continued to face poverty and barriers to education. Seeking to restore traditional practices and rights abolished during the Meiji era, in August a group of Ainu filed a lawsuit seeking an exemption from a ban on commercial salmon fishing in rivers. It was the first such lawsuit by Ainu related to their indigenous rights. The state, however, asserted that because Ainu villages disappeared due to the Meiji-era assimilation policy, there are no tribes with land and salmon-fishing rights.

Although the government does not recognize the Ryukyu (a term that includes residents of Okinawa and portions of Kagoshima Prefecture) as indigenous people, it officially acknowledged their unique culture and history and made efforts to preserve and show respect for those traditions.

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

The law requires transgender persons to be without reproductive capacity, effectively requiring surgical sterilization for most persons, in order to have their gender identity legally recognized. They also must meet additional conditions, including undergoing a psychiatric evaluation and receiving a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder,” a disorder not recognized in the International Classification of Diseases; being unmarried and older than age 20; and not having any children younger than age 20.

No law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and there are no penalties associated with such discrimination. LGBTI advocacy organizations reported instances of discrimination, outing, bullying, harassment, and violence. A letter signed by 96 human rights and LGBTI organizations and sent to the prime minister in April urged the Liberal Democratic Party to introduce legislation to protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The parents of a student who fell from a school building in 2015 after his classmates disclosed he was gay appealed the Tokyo District Court’s 2019 dismissal of their civil lawsuit seeking damages from Hitotsubashi University. As of November the case was pending at an appellate court.

In April, two all-women national universities in the country, Ochanomizu University in Tokyo and Nara Women’s University in Nara, started accepting transgender students.

According to a government survey, just more than 10 percent of companies have policies aimed at protecting the rights of sexual minorities. LGBTI rights advocates welcomed an increasing number of municipalities that introduced ordinances to ban discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation and recognized same-sex partnership. The Ministry of Justice received a few inquiries about potential human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2019, providing the inquirers with legal advice.

Stigma surrounding LGBTI persons remained an impediment to self-reporting of discrimination or abuse.

There are two openly LGBTI national legislators, both of whom are members of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

No law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; nonbinding health ministry guidelines state that firms should not terminate or fail to hire individuals based on their HIV status. Courts have awarded damages to individuals fired from positions due to their HIV status.

Concerns about discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with the disease, and fear of dismissal, prevented many persons from disclosing their HIV/AIDS status.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Police arrested a series of individuals who abused senior citizens, and the Health Ministry reported rising rates of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse of senior citizens, as well as nursing-care negligence by families and nursing-care center employees.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements and protects their rights to strike and bargain collectively.

The law restricts the right of public-sector workers and employees of state-owned enterprises to form and join unions of their choice. Public-sector employees may participate in public-service employee unions, which may negotiate collectively with their employers on wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. The International Labor Organization raised concerns that the amended Local Public Service Act, which entered into force on April 1, could further restrict some public-sector employees’ labor rights. Public-sector employees do not have the right to strike; trade union leaders who incite a strike in the public sector may be dismissed and fined or imprisoned. Firefighting personnel and prison officers are prohibited from organizing and collectively bargaining.

Workers in sectors providing essential services, including electric power generation and transmission, transportation and railways, telecommunications, medical care and public health, and the postal service, must give 10 days’ advance notice to authorities before conducting a strike. Employees involved in providing essential services do not have the right to collective bargaining.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for legal union activities.

The government effectively enforced laws providing for freedom of association, collective bargaining, and legal strikes. Government oversight and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. Collective bargaining was common in the private sector.

In the case of a rights violation, a worker or union may lodge an objection with the Labor Committee, which may issue a relief order requiring action by the employer. If the employer fails to act, a plaintiff may then take the matter to a civil court. If a court upholds a relief order and determines that a violation of that order has occurred, it may impose a fine, imprisonment, or both.

The increasing use of short-term contracts undermined regular employment and frustrated organizing efforts.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law, however, does not expressly define what would constitute forced or compulsory labor, allowing for prosecutorial discretion when pursuing such cases.

In general, however, the government effectively enforced the law, but enforcement was lacking in some sectors, especially those in which foreign workers were commonly employed. Legal penalties for forced labor varied depending on its form, the victim(s), and the law used to prosecute such offenses. Some were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes. For example, the law criminalizes forced labor and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, but it also allows for moderate fines in lieu of incarceration. NGOs argued that reliance on multiple and overlapping statutes hindered the government’s ability to identify and prosecute trafficking crimes, especially for cases involving forced labor with elements of psychological coercion.

Indications of forced labor persisted in the manufacturing, construction, and shipbuilding sectors, primarily in small- and medium-size enterprises employing foreign nationals through the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP). This program allows foreign workers to enter the country and work for up to five years in a de facto guest worker program that many observers assessed to be rife with vulnerabilities to trafficking and other labor abuses.

Workers in the TITP experienced restrictions on freedom of movement and communication with persons outside the program, nonpayment of wages, excessive working hours, high debt to brokers in countries of origin, and retention of identity documents, despite government prohibitions on these practices. For example, some technical interns reportedly paid up to one million yen ($9,200) in their home countries for jobs and were employed under contracts that mandated forfeiture of those funds to agents in their home country if workers attempted to leave, both of which are illegal under the TITP. Workers were also sometimes subjected to “forced savings” that they forfeited by leaving early or being forcibly repatriated.

The Organization for Technical Intern Training oversees the TITP, including conducting on-site inspections of TITP workplaces. The organization maintained its increased workforce, including inspectors, but labor organizations continued to cite concerns that it was understaffed, insufficiently accessible to persons who do not speak Japanese, and ineffective at identifying labor rights violations.

To assist workers in the TITP who became unemployed during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government allowed them to find employment with other employers and to switch designated job categories.

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. Children ages 15 to 18 may perform any job not designated as dangerous or harmful, such as handling heavy objects or cleaning, inspecting, or repairing machinery while in operation. They are also prohibited from working late night shifts. Children ages 13 to 15 years may perform “light labor” only, and children younger than age 13 may work only in the entertainment industry.

The government effectively enforced these laws. Penalties for child labor violations included fines and imprisonment and were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

Children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on religion, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or language.

The law prohibits gender-based discrimination in certain circumstances, including recruitment, promotion, training, and renewal of contracts. It does not address mandatory dress codes. The law imposes some restrictions on women’s employment. The law restricts women from performing certain tasks in underground mining as well as work that requires lifting very heavy objects or spraying 26 specified hazardous materials such as PCB. Additional restrictions apply to pregnant women and those who gave birth within the prior year.

In March, Japan Airlines announced that its dress code, which requires women to wear high heels and skirts, would be relaxed, allowing women to choose footwear that “best fits their needs” and to wear pants. The airline was the first major company to relax its dress code in response to a public campaign.

The government established a program for subcontracting freelance workers to receive 4,100 yen ($38) a day if they were unable to work due to school closures related to COVID-19. The government excluded hostesses and sex industry workers from it, a move criticized by the advocates for such workers. The sex industry often employs women struggling financially, and advocates noted that such women were some of the most vulnerable in society. The government cited concerns about past cases of providing subsidies to businesses with potential legal issues, such as possible ties to crime syndicates, but advocates argued that such concerns involve owners and managers, not workers and their children.

The law mandates equal pay for men and women; however, the International Labor Organization viewed the law as too limited because it does not capture the concept of “work of equal value.” Women’s average monthly wage was approximately 74 percent of that of men in 2019. The equal employment opportunity law includes prohibitions against policies or practices that have a discriminatory effect, even if unintended (called “indirect discrimination” in law), for all workers in recruitment, hiring, promotion, and changes of job type. Women continued to express concern about unequal treatment in the workforce, including sexual and pregnancy harassment. The law does not criminalize sexual harassment but includes measures to identify companies that fail to prevent it.

The women’s empowerment law requires national and local governments, as well as private-sector companies that employ at least 301 persons, to analyze women’s employment in their organizations and release action plans to promote women’s participation and advancement. Revisions to this law passed in 2019 increased the number of disclosure items for large companies in April and will expand the reporting requirements to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that employ at least 101 persons in April 2022.

In response to a record number of requests from government employees for consultations about power harassment, the Diet passed a set of labor law revisions in 2019 requiring companies to take preventive measures for power harassment in the workplace and creating additional requirements for companies to prevent sexual harassment. The revisions regarding power harassment went into effect in June, making it mandatory for large companies and an “obligation to make efforts” for SMEs until the end of March 2022. It is scheduled to become mandatory for SMEs from April 2022. The revisions regarding taking additional measures for preventing sexual harassment went into effect in July for all companies regardless of company size.

Media continued to report that sexual harassment targeting students during job-hunting activities was widespread. The government requires companies to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, but the regulations do not apply to students looking for jobs. To address this, universities issued warnings to students, and some companies revised conduct rules for employees interviewing student job applicants. According to a survey conducted by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation in May 2019, 10.5 percent of job seekers said they experienced sexual harassment. In June a revised law went into effect requiring companies to implement counseling, general workplace harassment training, and to investigate harassment complaints. According to a survey of 110 major companies, 67 percent reported they had already taken measures to protect student applicants, 13 percent reported they were planning to take protective steps, and 13 percent reported they had no plans to implement any changes. Some efforts include requiring that one-on-one meetings take place at company facilities, prohibiting alcohol consumption at meetings, and requiring same-sex only meetings. Tokyo Metropolitan Government began to allow job seekers to report sexual harassment using social media during the year.

Workers employed on term-limited contracts, known as “nonregular” workers, continued to receive lower pay, fewer benefits, and less job security than their “regular” colleagues performing the same work. The law was amended to include provisions to obligate employers to treat regular and nonregular workers equally when the job contents are the same and the scope of expected changes to the job content and work location are the same, and prohibit “unreasonable” differences in treatment. The labor law revisions related to equal pay for equal work for regular and nonregular workers went into effect in April for large companies and is scheduled to go into effect in April 2021 for SMEs.

To increase legitimate government hiring of persons with disabilities, as of 2019 the law requires verification of disability certificates to ensure the job candidate’s disability. Health and Labor Ministry statistics showed nearly 40 percent of government institutions missed hiring targets for persons with disabilities in 2019. The law mandates that both government and private companies hire at or above a designated minimum proportion of persons with disabilities (including mental disabilities). The law requires the minimum hiring rate for the government to be 2.5 percent and for private companies to be 2.2 percent. By law companies with more than 100 employees that do not hire the legal minimum percentage of persons with disabilities must pay a moderate fine per vacant position per month. Disability rights advocates claimed that some companies preferred to pay the mandated fine rather than hire persons with disabilities.

There is no penalty for government entities failing to meet the legal minimum hiring ratio for persons with disabilities.

When a violation of equal employment opportunity law is alleged, the Labor Ministry may request the employer report on the matter, and the ministry may issue advice, instructions, or corrective guidance. If the employer fails to report or files a false report, the employer may be subject to a fine. If the employer does not follow the ministry’s guidance, the employer’s name may be publicly disclosed. Government hotlines in prefectural labor bureau equal employment departments handled consultations concerning sexual harassment and mediated disputes when possible.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law establishes a minimum wage, which varies by prefecture but in all cases allows for earnings above the official poverty line. The government effectively enforced the minimum wage.

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek for most industries and, with exceptions, limits the number of overtime hours permitted in a fixed period. The law imposing caps on overtime work on large employers was extended to SMEs in April. Violators may face penalties including fines and imprisonment commensurate with those for similar crimes. Labor unions continued to criticize the government for failing to enforce the law regarding maximum working hours; workers, including those in government jobs, routinely exceeded the hours outlined in the law.

The government sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare is responsible for enforcing laws and regulations governing wages, hours, and OSH standards in most industries. The National Personnel Authority covers government officials. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry covers OSH standards for mining, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism is responsible for OSH standards in the maritime industry.

The government effectively enforced OSH laws, and penalties for OSH violations were commensurate with those for similar crimes. While inspectors have the authority to suspend unsafe operations immediately in cases of flagrant safety violations, in lesser cases they may provide nonbinding guidance. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Government officials acknowledged their resources were inadequate to oversee more than 4.3 million firms and that the number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations.

Reports of OSH violations in the TITP were common, including injuries due to unsafe equipment and insufficient training, nonpayment of wages and overtime compensation, excessive and often spurious salary deductions, forced repatriation, and substandard living conditions (also see section 7.b.).

There were 125,611 major industrial accidents in 2019 resulting in the death or injury of workers requiring them to be absent from work for more than four days (845 deaths). Falls, road traffic accidents, and injuries caused by heavy machinery were the most common causes of workplace fatalities. The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare also continued to grant formal recognition to victims of karoshi (death by overwork). Their former employers and the government paid compensation to family members when conditions were met.

North Korea

Executive Summary

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is an authoritarian state led by the Kim family since 1949. Shortly after Kim Jong Il’s death in 2011, his son Kim Jong Un was named marshal of the country and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. His titles also include chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Worker’s Party of Korea, chairman of the State Affairs Commission, and supreme representative of the Korean People. Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, the late Kim Il Sung, remains “eternal president.” The most recent national elections, held in March 2019, were neither free nor fair.

The internal security apparatus includes the Ministries of Social Security and State Security and the Military Security Command. A systematic and intentional overlap of powers and responsibilities existed between these organizations to prevent any potential subordinate consolidation of power and assure that each unit provides a check and balance on the other. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment by government authorities; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, including in political prison camps; arbitrary arrests and detentions; political prisoners and detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located outside the country; no judicial independence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; severe restrictions on political participation; widespread corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; coerced abortion and forced sterilization; trafficking in persons; the outlawing of independent trade unions; the worst forms of child labor; the use of domestic forced labor through mass mobilizations and as a part of the re-education system; and the imposition of forced labor conditions on overseas contract workers.

The government took no credible steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Furthermore, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country reported that COVID-19 preventive measures limited international presence in the country and reduced escapee arrivals. As of year’s end, the government had not accounted for the circumstances that led to the death of Otto Warmbier, who had been held in unjust and unwarranted detention by authorities, and who died soon after his release in 2017. Impunity continued to be a widespread problem.

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. The government had no functioning investigative mechanism.

Defector reports noted instances in which the government executed political prisoners, opponents of the government, forcibly returned asylum seekers, government officials, and others accused of crimes. The law prescribes the death penalty upon conviction for the most “serious” cases of “antistate” or “antination” crimes. These terms are broadly interpreted to include: participation in a coup or plotting to overthrow the state; acts of terrorism for an antistate purpose; treason, which includes defection or handing over state secrets; providing information regarding economic, social, and political developments routinely published elsewhere; and “treacherous destruction.” Additionally, the law allows for capital punishment in less serious crimes such as theft, destruction of military facilities and national assets, distribution of narcotics, counterfeiting, fraud, kidnapping, distribution of pornography, and trafficking in persons. Defectors and media also reported that the government carried out infanticide or required mothers to commit infanticide if they were political prisoners, persons with disabilities, raped by government officials or prison guards, or forcibly repatriated from the People’s Republic of China.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and press reports indicated that those attempting to leave the country without permission could be killed on the spot or publicly executed, and guards at political prison camps were under orders to shoot to kill those attempting to escape.

The state also subjected private citizens to public executions. A 2016 survey found that 64 percent of defectors had witnessed public executions. Defectors reported going to public executions on school field trips. The 2019 edition of the White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, a report based on interviews with recent escapees and published annually by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), a South Korean government-affiliated think tank, reported that testimonies recounted continued public and secret executions. Escapees declared the purpose of the executions was to punish offenses including drug dealing, watching and disseminating South Korean videos, and violent crimes such as murder and rape. One defector said he witnessed the public execution of a man who shared South Korean movies in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, in 2014. Two others said they saw the execution of another Hyesan man on the same charges and the killing of an estimated 20 South Hwanghae Province residents for drug dealing and distributing South Korean videos in 2017. Testimonies also stated executions were carried out for possession of Bibles, circulating antiregime propaganda material, and superstitious activities. KINU noted, however, that public executions might have become less frequent in recent years.

In March 2019 the Malaysian prosecutor dropped charges against one woman accused of assassinating Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 2017. Later that month a second woman charged in the case accepted a plea deal and received early release in Malaysia. Four government agents, including Ri Ji U and Hong Song Hac, returned to the country from Malaysia immediately following the attack without standing trial.

As of year’s end, the government still had not accounted for the circumstances that led to the death of Otto Warmbier, who had been held in unjust and unwarranted detention by authorities, and who died soon after his release in 2017.

Killings by security forces did not appear to vary depending on race or ethnicity.

b. Disappearance

NGO, think tank, and press reports indicated the government was responsible for disappearances.

South Korean media reported the government dispatched Ministry of State Security agents to cities in China near the country’s border to kidnap and forcibly return refugees. According to international press reports, the government may have also kidnapped defectors traveling in China after relocating to South Korea. In some cases the government reportedly forced these defectors’ family members to encourage the defectors to travel to China in order to capture them. According to the Committee for Human Rights Committee in North Korea (HRNK), as political prison camps in border areas near China closed, thousands of inmates reportedly disappeared in the process of their transfer to inland facilities, amounting to enforced disappearance.

During the year there was no progress in the investigation into the whereabouts of 12 Japanese citizens believed to have been abducted by the government in the 1970s and 1980s.

South Korean government and media reports noted the government also kidnapped other foreign nationals from locations abroad in the 1970s and 1980s. The government continued to deny its involvement in the kidnappings. The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country reported South Korea officially recognized 516 South Korean civilians abducted by regime authorities since the end of the Korean War with thousands more unaccounted for. South Korean NGOs estimated that 20,000 civilians abducted by the government during the Korean War remained in the country or had died.

Authorities took no steps to ensure accountability for disappearances.

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

The penal code prohibits torture or inhuman treatment, but many sources reported these practices continued. Numerous defector accounts and NGO reports described the use of torture by authorities in several detention facilities. Methods of torture and other abuse reportedly included severe beatings; electric shock; prolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such as public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small “punishment cells” in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down; being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods; being hung by the wrists; water torture; and being forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse, including “pumps,” or being forced to repeatedly squat and stand up with their hands behind their back.

Defectors continued to report many prisoners died from torture, disease, starvation, exposure to the elements, or a combination of these causes. Detainees in re-education through labor camps reported the state forced them to perform difficult physical labor under harsh conditions (see section 7.b.).

A report released on July 28 from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) catalogued numerous allegations of beatings, torture, and sexual violations against women who were forcibly repatriated after seeking to flee the country to find work, usually in neighboring China. KINU’s white paper for 2019 reported that children repatriated from China underwent torture, verbal abuse, and violence including beatings, hard labor, and hunger.

Impunity for acts of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by members of the security forces was endemic.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. NGO, defector, and press reports noted the government operated several types of prisons, detention centers, and camps, including forced labor camps and camps for political prisoners. NGO reports documented six types of detention facilities: kwanliso (political penal-labor camps), kyohwaso (correctional or re-education centers), kyoyangso (labor-reform centers), jipkyulso (collection centers for low-level criminals), rodong danryeondae (labor-training centers), and kuryujang or kamok (interrogation facilities or jails). According to KINU’s white paper for 2019, the Ministry of State Security administered kwanliso camps, and either it or the Ministry of Social Security administered the other detention centers.

According to a March report by the HRNK, the government operated six kwanliso–Camps 14, 15, 16, 18, and 25, as well as Choma-bong Restricted Area. According to KINU’s most recent estimate in 2013, there were between 80,000 and 120,000 prisoners in the kwanliso. Defectors claimed the kwanliso camps contained unmarked graves, barracks, worksites, and other prison facilities. KINU identified the five kwanliso facilities as Gaecheon (Camp 14), Yodok (Camp 15), Hwaseong/Myeonggan (Camp 16), Gaechon (Camp 18), and Cheongjin (Camp 25). In addition the HRNK reported that the Choma-bong Restricted Area, constructed between 2013 and 2014, had not been confirmed by eyewitness reports, but it appeared to be operational and bore all the characteristics of a kwanliso.

Kwanliso camps consist of total-control zones, where incarceration is for life, and may include “revolutionary” or re-education zones from which prisoners may be released. Those whom the state considered hostile to the government or who committed political crimes reportedly received indefinite sentencing terms in political prison camps. In many cases the state also detained all family members if one member was accused or arrested. According to KINU’s white paper for 2019, children were allowed to leave the camp after rising numbers of defectors made it difficult to send entire defector families to political prison camps. The government continued to deny the existence of political prison camps.

Reports indicated the state typically sent those sentenced to prison for nonpolitical crimes to re-education prisons, where authorities subjected prisoners to intense forced labor.

Defectors noted they did not expect many prisoners in political prison camps and the detention system to survive. Detainees and prisoners consistently reported violence and torture. Defectors described witnessing public executions in political prison camps. According to defectors, prisoners received little to no food or medical care in some places of detention. Sanitation was poor, and former labor camp inmates reported they had no changes of clothing during their incarceration and were rarely able to bathe or wash their clothing. The South Korean and international press reported that the kyohwaso re-education through labor camps held populations of up to thousands of political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals. A March HRNK report entitled North Koreas Long-Term Prison Labor Facility Kyohwaso Number 1, Kaechon postulated that the government may have operated more than 20 kyohwaso. That report, which relied on extensive analysis of satellite imagery, estimated the population of Kyohwaso Number 1, located near Kaechon in South Pyongan Province, at 2,000 to 6,000 prisoners.

A September report by the HRNK entitled North Koreas Long-Term Prison Labor Facility Kyohwaso Number 12, Jongori stated the kyohwaso held both political and nonpolitical prisoners. According to the HRNK, based on extensive analysis of satellite imagery, Kyohwaso Number 12, located near Hoeryong City in North Hamgyong Province, held approximately 5,000 individuals, the majority of whom were accused of illegal border crossings into China. The HRNK described frequent deaths within Kyohwaso Number 12 from injury, illness, and physical and mental abuse by prison officials, and included first-hand accounts of crematorium operations designed to dispose of prisoners’ bodies surreptitiously.

In both kyohwaso and kwanliso prison camps, conditions were extremely brutal, according to the HRNK’s 2017 report The Parallel Gulag: North Koreas An-Jeon-Bu Prison Camps. The report cited defector accounts of imprisonment and forced labor and the provision of below-subsistence-level food rations “for essentially political crimes.”

Physical Conditions: Physical abuse by prison guards was systematic. Anecdotal reports from the South Korea-based NGO Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) 2019 White Paper on Human Rights stated that in some prisons authorities held women in separate units from men and often subjected the women to sexual abuse. Reports from previous years attributed rape to the impunity and unchecked power of prison guards and other officials. OHCHR reporting noted that, contrary to international human rights standards that require women prisoners to be guarded exclusively by female prison staff to prevent sexual violence, female escapees reported they were overseen almost exclusively by male officers. In the same report, victims alleged widespread sexual abuse at holding centers (jipkyulso) and pretrial detention and interrogation centers (kuryujang) by secret police (bowiseong) or police interrogators, as well as during transfer between facilities.

An October report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) entitled Worth Less Than An Animal: Abuses and Due Process Violations in Pretrial Detention in North Korea stated the pretrial detention system was opaque, arbitrary, violent, and lacked any semblance of due process. Individuals in pretrial detention reportedly endured brutal conditions and to be routinely subjected to systematic torture, sexual violence, dangerous and unhygienic conditions, and forced labor.

Nutrition, hygiene, and the medical situation inside prison camps were dire, according to KINU’s 2019 white paper. There were no statistics for deaths in custody, but defectors reported deaths were commonplace as the result of summary executions, torture, lack of adequate medical care, and starvation. The 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry (UNCOI) report cited an “extremely high rate of deaths in custody,” due to starvation and neglect, arduous forced labor, disease, and executions.

Political prisoners faced significantly harsher conditions than the general prison population. KINU’s 2019 white paper noted political prisoners were often forced into hard labor, which one defector of Camp 18 said led to 10 deaths a year at the camp from overwork. Defectors reported that in Camp 14, prisoners worked 12 hours a day during the summer and 10 hours a day during the winter, with one day off a month. The camps observed New Year’s Day and the birthdays of Kim II Sung and Kim Jong Il. Children ages 12 or older worked, and guards gave light duty to prisoners older than age 65. According to the 2016 HRNK report Gulag, Inc., three political prison camps and four re-education camps contained mines where prisoners worked long hours with frequent deadly accidents. One prisoner reported suffering an open foot fracture and being forced to return to the mine the same day. Prisoners were forced to work even when they were sick. Prisoners who failed to meet work quotas reportedly faced reduced meals and violence. Those caught stealing faced arbitrary and serious violence.

By law the state dismisses criminal cases against a person younger than age 14. The state applies public education in case of a crime committed by a person older than 14 and younger than 17, but little information was available regarding how the law was applied. Authorities often detained juveniles along with their families and reportedly subjected them to torture and abuse in detention facilities.

Administration: There was little evidence to suggest prisoners and detainees had reasonable access to visitors. Refugees reported authorities subjected Christian inmates to harsher punishment than others. According to the NKDB, there was a report in 2016 of disappearances of persons whom prison authorities found were practicing religion within detention facilities. No information was available regarding whether authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of abuse. There was no publicly available information on whether the government investigated or monitored prison and detention conditions. The 2019 HRNK Imagery Analysis of Pokchong-ni Lab noted officials, especially those within the military and the internal security organizations, continued to camouflage and conceal activity at prison camps.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not allow the UN special rapporteur into the country to assess prison conditions. The government did not permit other human rights monitors to inspect prisons and detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but according to defectors, media, and NGO reports, the government did not observe these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law limits detention during prosecution and trial, requires arrest by warrant, and prohibits forced confessions. The application of these provisions was not verified.

Members of the security forces arrested and reportedly transported citizens suspected of committing political crimes to prison camps without trial. According to one South Korean NGO, the Ministry of Social Security handles criminal cases directly without the approval of prosecutors, reportedly to bypass prosecutorial corruption. An NGO reported that, by law, investigators could detain an individual for investigation for up to two months. The HRNK reported Ministry of State Security or Ministry of Social Security units nonetheless interrogated suspects for months on end. No functioning bail system or other alternatives for release pending trial exists.

There were no restrictions on the government’s ability to detain and imprison persons at will or to hold them incommunicado. Family members and other concerned persons reportedly found it virtually impossible to obtain information on charges against detained persons or the lengths of their sentences. According to defector reports, families were not notified of arrest, detention, or sentencing. Judicial review or appeals of detentions did not exist in law or practice. According to an opinion adopted in 2015 by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, family members have no recourse to petition for the release of detainees accused of political crimes, as the state may deem any such advocacy for political prisoners an act of treason against the state and could result in the detention of family members. No information on detainees’ access to a lawyer was available.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests reportedly occurred. According to the 2019 report of the UN secretary-general on the situation of human rights in the country, arbitrary arrests appeared to be carried out in a widespread and systematic manner. According to KINU’s 2019 white paper, arbitrary arrest commonly occurred for political crimes, attempting to enter South Korea, and engaging in religious activities, as well as for watching or distributing foreign media.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to defectors there was no mechanism for persons to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution states courts are independent and must carry out judicial proceedings in strict accordance with the law; however, an independent judiciary did not exist. According to KINU’s white paper for 2019, there were many reports of bribery and corruption in the investigations or preliminary examination process and in detention facilities, as well as by judges and prosecutors in the trial stage. In October, HRW reported treatment of individuals in pretrial detention often depended on access to connections and money.

Trial Procedures

Little information was available on formal criminal justice procedures and practices, and outside access to the legal system was limited to trials for traffic violations and other minor offenses.

The constitution contains elaborate procedural protections, providing that cases should be public, except under circumstances stipulated by law. The constitution also states the accused has the right to a defense, and when the government held trials, they reportedly assigned lawyers. Some reports noted a distinction between those accused of political, as opposed to nonpolitical, crimes and claimed the government offered trials and lawyers only to the latter. The Ministry of State Security conducted “pretrials” or preliminary examinations in all political cases, but the court system conducted the trial. Some defectors testified that the ministry also conducted trials. KINU’s white paper for 2019 cited defector testimony that imprisonment in political prison camps is decided exclusively by the ministry, regardless of trial. There was no indication that independent, nongovernmental defense lawyers existed. There were no indications authorities respected the presumption of innocence. According to the 2014 UNCOI report, “the vast majority of inmates are victims of arbitrary detention, since they are imprisoned without trial or on the basis of a trial that fails to respect the due process and fair trial guarantees set out in international law.”

Political Prisoners and Detainees

While the total number of political prisoners and detainees remained unknown, KINU’s white paper for 2019 reported the state detained between 80,000 and 120,000 in the kwanliso political penal-labor camps. Incarceration in a kwanliso is in most cases for life and in many cases includes three generations of the prisoner’s family. NGOs and media reported political prisoners were subject to harsher punishments and fewer protections than other prisoners and detainees. The government considered critics of the regime to be political criminals. Reports from past years described political offenses as including attempting to defect to South Korea or contacting family members who had defected to South Korea, sitting on newspapers bearing Kim Il Sung’s or Kim Jong Il’s picture, mentioning Kim Il Sung’s limited formal education, or defacing photographs of the Kims. The 2014 UNCOI report noted that many “ordinary” prisoners were, in fact, political prisoners, “detained without a substantive reason compatible with international law.”

Politically Motivated Reprisal Against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There were credible reports that for political purposes the regime attempted to exert bilateral pressure on another country to repatriate refugees. According to the UN secretary-general, several UN member states, as well as OHCHR and the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country, expressed concern that forcibly returned defectors, including children, faced a significant risk of human rights violations, including torture. Additionally, the government attempted to target, harass, and threaten defectors and other perceived enemies resident outside of the country.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

According to the constitution, “citizens are entitled to submit complaints and petitions. The state shall fairly investigate and deal with complaints and petitions as fixed by law.” By law citizens are entitled to submit complaints to stop encroachment upon their rights and interests or seek compensation for the encroached rights and interests. Reports noted government officials did not respect these rights. For example, when individuals submitted anonymous petitions or complaints regarding state administration, the Ministry of Social Security and the Ministry of State Security sought to identify the authors and subject them to investigation and punishment.

Individuals and organizations do not have the ability to appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution provides for the inviolability of person and residence and the privacy of correspondence; however, the government did not respect these provisions. The regime subjected its citizens to rigid controls. According to a December 2019 HRNK report entitled Digital Trenches: North Koreas Information Counter-Offensive, the regime relied upon a massive, multilevel system of informants called inminban, which may be loosely translated as “neighborhood watch unit,” to identify critics or political criminals. Authorities sometimes subjected entire communities to security checks, entering homes without judicial authorization.

The government appeared to monitor correspondence, telephone conversations, emails, text messages, and other digital communications. Private telephone lines operated on a system that precluded making or receiving international calls; international telephone lines were available only under restricted circumstances.

The Ministry of State Security strictly monitored mobile telephone use and access to electronic media in real time. Government authorities frequently jammed cellular telephone signals along the Chinese border to block use of the Chinese network to make international telephone calls. Authorities arrested those caught using cell phones with Chinese SIM cards and required violators to pay a fine, bribe, or face charges of espionage or other crimes with harsh punishments, including lengthy prison terms. An HRNK October report entitled Eroding the Regimes Information Monopoly: Cell Phones in North Korea stated the number of both illegal Chinese-made cell phones and legally registered cell phones had risen sharply in recent years. Mobile networks were said to reach approximately 94 percent of the population, although only 18 percent of the population owned a cell phone. The Ministry of State Security and other organs of the state actively and pervasively surveilled citizens, maintained arresting power, and conducted special purpose nonmilitary investigations.

The government divided citizens into strict loyalty-based classes known as songbun, which determined access to employment, higher education, place of residence, medical facilities, certain stores, marriage prospects, and food rations.

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, but the government prohibited the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Speech: There were numerous instances of persons interrogated or arrested for saying something construed as negative towards the government. In June 2019 Australian citizen Alek Sigley was detained and deported after the government cited “antistate incitement” in articles Sigley published in international publications. In its September 2019 report entitled North Koreas Organization and Guidance Department: The Control Tower of Human Rights Denial, the HRNK asserted that all citizens are required to participate in monitored political meetings and regular self-criticism sessions to demonstrate their loyalty to the Kim family, and that failure to participate enthusiastically may be punished, including through forced labor, internal exile, detention, or denial of food and medical attention. KINU’s 2019 white paper reported that expression of political opinion differing from that of North Korean authorities, negative reference to the Kim family, and positive reference to South Korea constituted “misspeaking” and often resulted in extrajudicial detention in a kwanliso political prisoner camp.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government sought to control virtually all information; independent media do not exist. Domestic journalists had no freedom to investigate stories or report freely. The government tightly controlled print media, broadcast media, book publishing, and online media through the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). Within the department, the Publication and Broadcasting Department controls all media content, including content used on television, in newspapers, and on the radio. The law allows for up to one-year sentences to a labor camp for individuals who access or disseminate unapproved broadcasts or content and up to five years for multiple offenses.

The government carefully managed visits by foreigners, especially journalists, and at times expelled or denied foreign journalists’ entry to the country. During visits by foreign leaders, authorities permitted groups of foreign journalists to accompany official delegations and file reports. In all cases the state strictly monitored journalists. Government officials generally prevented journalists from talking to officials or to persons on the street.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Strict enforcement of domestic media censorship continued, with no toleration for deviation from official messages. The government prohibited listening to foreign media broadcasts except by the political elite, and violators were subjected to severe punishment. Radios and television sets, unless altered, received only domestic programming; radios obtained from abroad were altered for the same end. Elite citizens and facilities for foreigners, such as hotels, had access to international television broadcasts via satellite. The government continued attempts to jam all foreign radio broadcasts, but the HRNK’s Digital Trenches: North Koreas Information Counter-Offensive noted a proliferation of foreign broadcasting transmitters had in recent years begun to overwhelm the jamming effort. Officials imprisoned and punished citizens for listening to foreign radio or watching foreign television broadcasts and, in some cases, for simply owning radio or television sets able to receive nongovernment broadcasts.

National Security: Defector and NGO reports included accounts of individuals detained and punished, including by execution, for antistate crimes such as criticism of the government and Kim Jong Un.

Internet Freedom

Internet access was limited to high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including selected university students. In December 2019 the HRNK reported that the government maintained complete visibility of all network traffic. The Korea Computer Center, which acts as the government’s gatekeeper to the internet, granted access only to information it deemed acceptable, and employees constantly monitored users’ screens.

A tightly controlled and regulated intranet was reportedly available to a growing group of users centered in Pyongyang, including an elite primary school; selected research institutions, universities, and factories; and a few individuals. The NGO Reporters without Borders reported some email access existed through this internal network. Government employees sometimes had limited, closely monitored access to email accounts. The 3G cell phone network was described by the HRNK in an October report as antiquated and limiting users’ access to an internal intranet. The HRNK separately reported that the government installed monitoring programs on every smartphone and tablet that, among other things, log every webpage visited and randomly take undeletable screenshots.

The government continued its attempt to limit foreign influence on its citizens. Individuals accused of viewing or possessing foreign films were reportedly subjected to imprisonment and possibly execution. According to KINU’s white paper for 2019, defectors reported varying penalties for consuming South Korean media ranging from three to 10 years in a correctional labor prison, as well as proclamations stating that those caught would be sentenced to death. According to KINU’s white paper for 2019, the number of persons executed for watching or distributing South Korean video content increased in recent years, with additional reports of correctional labor punishment. In December 2019 the HRNK reported the government’s introduction of a file watermarking system on Android smartphones and on personal computers that adds a user- or device-specific data string to the end of the filename of any media file each time it is shared.

Based on defector interviews conducted in 2015, InterMedia estimated as many as 29 percent of defectors listened to foreign radio broadcasts while inside the country and that approximately 92 percent of defectors interviewed had seen foreign DVDs while in the country. The HRNK reported that younger individuals preferred foreign digital video content to foreign radio broadcasts.

The government maintained efforts to prevent the import of South Korean popular culture, especially television dramas. According to media and NGO reports, police could search homes to enforce restrictions on foreign films. According to the HRNK, the government added a software-based censorship program known as the “signature system” to all domestic mobile telephones. This system makes it impossible to view foreign media on mobile phones. Mobile phones were randomly inspected physically for illegal media, and a history of all activity on the device was available for export upon inspection through monitoring software called TraceViewer. In October 2019 NW News reported that Kim Jong Un created a special police unit to restrict and control the flow of outside information into the country.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled artistic works. School curricula were highly controlled by the state. The government severely restricted academic travel. The primary function of plays, movies, operas, children’s performances, and books was to buttress the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family and support of the regime.

The state carried out systematic indoctrination through the mass media, schools, and worker and neighborhood associations. Such indoctrination involved mass marches, rallies, and staged performances, sometimes including hundreds of thousands of persons.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government severely restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government did not respect this provision and continued to prohibit public meetings not previously authorized and not under government control.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government failed to respect this provision. There were no known organizations other than those created by the government. Professional associations existed primarily to facilitate government monitoring and control over organization members.

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 the “freedom to reside in or travel to any place”; however, the government did not respect this right.

In-country Movement: The government restricted freedom of movement for those lawfully within the state. Those who violated travel regulations were subject to warnings, fines, or forced labor. Only members of a very small elite class and those with access to remittances from overseas reportedly had access to personal vehicles. Security checkpoints on main roads at entry and exit points from every town hampered movement. KINU’s white paper for 2019 reported that individuals were able to move more freely within their own province as the use of bribery as a means to circumvent the law became more widespread. An increasing number of persons traveled without a permit, only to pay a bribe when caught.

The government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food availability, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country. Foreign officials visiting the country observed checkpoints on the highway leading into Pyongyang.

Due to fears regarding the spread of COVID-19, media and NGOs reported the government tightened in-country movement restrictions, making internal movement extremely difficult since March. NGOs, foreign diplomats, and UN agency personnel were not allowed to leave Pyongyang. This severely hampered foreign observers’ already extremely limited ability to monitor human rights and humanitarian aid conditions in the country.

Foreign Travel: The government restricted foreign travel. The government limited issuance of exit visas for foreign travel to officials and trusted businesspersons, artists, athletes, academics, and workers. Short-term exit papers were available on a very limited basis for some residents to visit relatives, undertake short-term work opportunities, or to engage in small-scale trade.

The government did not allow emigration, and media and NGOs reported that due to fears of importing COVID-19, it continued to tighten security on the border, dramatically limiting the flow of persons crossing into China with and without required permits. NGOs reported strict patrols and surveillance of residents of border areas and a crackdown on border guards who may have been aiding border crossers in return for bribes.

The law criminalizes defection and attempted defection. Individuals, including children, who cross the border with the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases the state subjects asylum seekers to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death. According to KINU’s white paper for 2019, most repatriated defectors were detained at kyohwasos in Jeongeori, North Hamgyeong Province, or Gaechon, South Pyeongan Province.

Many would-be refugees who returned involuntarily from foreign states were imprisoned under harsh conditions. OHCHR reporting included the accounts of several forcibly repatriated escapees who said authorities reserved particularly harsh treatment for those who had extensive contact with foreigners or religious groups or who had spent time in South Korea, including those with family members resettled in South Korea.

Media reported in 2018 that Kim Jong Un ordered government agencies to exert greater pressure on family members of defectors to pressure them to return home. Defectors reported that family members in the country contacted them to urge their return, apparently under pressure from government officials. According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification website, the number of defectors leaving the country remained nearly the same from 2017 (188) to 2018 (168), rose slightly in 2019 (204), and fell to 39 as of March.

Past reports from refugees noted the government differentiated between persons who crossed the border in search of food (who may be sentenced only to a few months of forced labor or in some cases merely issued a warning) and persons who crossed repeatedly for “political” purposes (who were sometimes sentenced to harsher punishment), including those who had alleged contact with religious organizations based near the Chinese border. The law stipulates a sentence of up to two years of “labor correction” for illegally crossing the border.

Exile: The government reportedly forced the internal exile of some citizens. In the past it forcibly resettled thousands of persons from Pyongyang to the countryside. Sometimes this occurred as punishment for offenses and included those judged to be politically unreliable based on their family’s songbun, or loyalty-based class.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum. The government had no known policy or provision for refugees or asylum seekers and did not participate in international refugee fora.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens do not have the ability to choose their government peacefully.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections to select representatives to the Supreme People’s Assembly occurred in March 2019. These elections were neither free nor fair. The government openly monitored voting, resulting in a reported 100 percent participation rate and 100 percent approval of the preselected government candidates. Local elections in 2015 were likewise neither free nor fair. The government reported a 99.97 percent turnout, with 100 percent approval for the government candidates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government has created several “minority parties.” Lacking grassroots organizations, the parties existed only as rosters of officials with token representation in the Supreme People’s Assembly.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Although the law affords women equal right to vote and hold political office, few women were elected or appointed to senior government positions. As of 2016 women constituted approximately 3.1 percent of members and 2.8 percent of candidate members of the Central Committee of the WPK and held few key WPK leadership positions. In August media reported the appointment of a woman, Pak Myong Sun, to the WPK Central Committee Political Bureau, the party’s highest-level body, and as director of a WPK Central Committee department. With her appointment, the country had only two women in the 31-member Political Bureau, the other being Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong. Among approximately 20 party departments and offices, only one was headed by a woman. The 2014 UNCOI report indicated only 10 percent of central government officials were women.

The country is racially and ethnically homogenous. There are officially no minorities.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Verifiable information was not available on whether criminal penalties for official corruption were actually applied. International organizations widely reported senior officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Corruption was reportedly widespread in all parts of the economy and society and endemic in the security forces. A 2016 meeting chaired by Kim Jong Un marked the first public recognition of systemic abuse of power and reportedly addressed the practice of senior officials who sought privileges, misused authority, abused power, and manifested “bureaucratism” in the party. Defectors interviewed for the OHCHR 2019 report, The Price Is Rights, said workers paid off guidance officers at government factories so that they would not have to report to work and could engage in outside commercial activity.

Reports of diversion of food to the military and government officials were further indicators of corruption.

Multiple ministries and party offices were responsible for handling issues of corruption.

Financial Disclosure: Information was not publicly available on whether the state subjects public officials to financial disclosure laws and whether a government agency is responsible for combating corruption.

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

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

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

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government emphasized it had ratified a number of UN human rights instruments, but it continued to refuse to cooperate with UN representatives. The government prevented the UN special rapporteur from visiting the country to carry out his mandate, which it continued to refuse to recognize. In October the special rapporteur reported that COVID-19 preventative measures made it impossible for diplomats and international organizations to continue operating inside the country and lamented the resultant decline in the amount of first-hand knowledge available to the international community concerning the human rights situation in the country. He further stated that the number of escapees from the country who arrived in South Korea during the year declined significantly.

The UN special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities has not visited the country since 2017. The visit did not focus on allegations of human rights abuses, and the government continued to resist the special rapporteur’s mandate.

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The government criminalized rape of women. Conviction of Rape is punishable by reform through labor for up to five years; if the assailant “commits a grave offense,” a term of more than 10 years; and if the rape was “particularly grave,” a life term or the death penalty. No information was available on how effectively the law was enforced. The 2014 UNCOI report found the subjugation of inmates and a general climate of impunity created an environment in which guards and other prisoners in privileged positions raped female inmates. This was reconfirmed in OHCHR reporting on women who attempted to flee the country, were forcibly repatriated, and finally escaped for good. The women testified they had been subjected to widespread, systemic sexual violence while detained after repatriation. The 2018 HRW report You Cry at Night but Dont Know Why reported endemic sexual and gender-based violence and detailed cases of sexual assault or coerced sexual acts by men in official positions of authority between 2011 and 2015. When cases of rape came to light, the perpetrator often escaped with mere dismissal or no punishment. For example, HRW reported a 2009 case in which a woman arrested for illegally fleeing the country was raped by a police chief. After she told her lawyer, the lawyer refused to mention it during her trial and said nothing would be done and the woman could be punished more severely for bringing it up. As noted in the KINU white paper for 2019, the law prohibits domestic violence, but the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women expressed concern that the government was not taking any protective or preventive measures against such violence. Defectors continued to report violence against women was a systematic problem both inside and outside the home. According to the KINU white paper, in a survey of defectors conducted from 2013 to 2017, more than 75 percent of respondents believed domestic violence was “common.” It also stated that spousal rape was not considered a crime.

Sexual Harassment: Despite the law defectors reported the populace generally accepted sexual harassment of women due to patriarchal traditions. They reported there was little recourse for women who had been harassed. Defectors also reported lack of enforcement and impunity enjoyed by government officials made sexual harassment so common as to be accepted as part of ordinary life. According to the 2019 KINU white paper, authorities repeatedly stated there was no sexual harassment issue in workplace, suggesting willful ignorance on the part of the government.

Reproductive Rights: Obtaining accurate information regarding reproductive rights was difficult, as data supplied by the government is impossible to verify and international presence in country is severely limited. Although the country’s 2002 report to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women claimed couples and individuals made their own decisions on the spacing of children, independent sources were not able to substantiate this claim.

According to the 2014 Socio-demographic Health Survey, 92 percent of demand for family planning was reportedly satisfied, but contraceptive choice and access to counseling services were limited. According to the UN Fund for Population, the lack of essential medical supplies, equipment, and skills is the main barrier to quality reproductive health services. A 2020 white paper by the South Korean Institute of National Unification reported that, according to health personnel who worked in the department of obstetrics and gynecology, more than half of patients in North Korea sought abortion and the most common cause of maternal death during childbirth was excessive bleeding. There was no information on what sexual and reproductive health services, if any, the government provided to survivors of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: NGOs and defectors reported state security officials subjected women to forced abortions for political purposes, to cover up human rights abuses and rape in particular, and to “protect” ethnic purity, and not population control. KINU’s white paper for 2019 stated that officials had in some cases prohibited live births in prison and ordered forced abortions as recently as 2013. According to a July OHCHR report on women detained who were forcibly returned, detainees were denied maternity protections mandated in legislation to protect women’s rights. Detainees reported being sent for forced abortions as recently as 2015 and that prison officials sought to force abortion through beatings and hard labor. Cases of infanticide were also reported.

Discrimination: The constitution states, “women hold equal social status and rights with men”; however, few women reached high levels of the party or the government, and defectors said gender equality was nonexistent. KINU reported discrimination against women emerged in the form of differentiated pay scales, promotions, and types of work assigned to women, in addition to responsibility for the double burden of labor and housework, especially considering the time and effort required to secure food.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from one’s parents and, in some cases, birth within the country’s territory.

Education: The law provides for 12 years of free compulsory education for all children. Many NGO reports indicated that authorities denied some children educational opportunities and subjected them to punishment and disadvantages as a result of the songbun loyalty classification system and the principle of “collective retribution” for the transgressions of family members. NGO reports also noted some children were unable to attend school regularly because of hidden fees or insufficient food. NGOs reported that children in the total-control zones of political prisons did not receive the same curriculum or quality of education available to those outside the total-control zones.

Foreign visitors and academic sources reported that from the fifth grade, schools subjected children to several hours a week of mandatory military training and that all children received political indoctrination. In its 2019 report The Lost Generation: The Health and Human Rights of North Koreas Children, 1990-2018, the HRNK characterized the national curriculum as prioritizing political indoctrination and unswerving loyalty to the regime, while punishing those who deviate from the curriculum.

Medical Care: There was no verifiable information available on whether boys and girls had equal access to state-provided medical care. Access to health care largely depended on loyalty to the government. In a December 2019 report on broader health and well-being trends in the country, the NKDB, using publicly available data and interviews of defectors who arrived in the South Korea during the year, documented widespread inadequacies in medical care for children.

Child Abuse: Information regarding societal or familial abuse of children remained unavailable. The law states that a man convicted of having sexual intercourse with a girl younger than age 15 shall be “punished gravely.” There was no reporting on whether the government enforced this law.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Because many girls and young women attempted to flee repressive conditions, poverty, and food shortages for their own survival or the betterment of their families, 2019 international media reports and the 2014 UNCOI report noted they were often subjected to sexual exploitation by traffickers. Traffickers promised these young girls jobs in other parts of the country or in China but then exploited them in forced marriages or domestic servitude or made them work in prostitution after being smuggled out of the country. In its November 2019 publication Inescapable Violence: Child Abuse within North Korea, the Seoul-based NGO People for Successful Corean Unification documented endemic child abuse, including child sexual abuse, in schools, homes, camps, orphanages, and detention centers.

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

Displaced Children: According to NGO reports, there were numerous street children. The HRNK reported in 2019 that while not all were orphans, some were abandoned due to economic difficulties or escaped abusive family situations. Displaced children were forced to survive by begging and stealing at local markets or in front of train stations.

Institutionalized Children: Guards subjected children living in prison camps to torture if they or a family member violated the prison rules. Reports noted authorities subjected children to forced labor for up to 12 hours per day and did not allow them to leave the camps. Prisons offered them limited access to education.

Daily NK, a defector-run online newspaper operating in South Korea, reported children at boarding schools for orphans received inadequate nutrition and that staff stole food to pay school debts.

In addition to children in detention facilities, the number of children living in orphanages and other institutions drastically increased following the famines of the 1990s. In 2019 the HRNK reported that Kim Jong Un directed that 40 child-protection facilities, including orphanages, elementary academies, and middle academies, be modernized to accommodate these children. The HRNK’s interviews of those who had lived in these facilities reported substandard conditions, including lack of adequate food, clothing, and shelter. As a result many were malnourished and in poor physical condition. While living in orphanages, children often received only one meal a day, leading them to compete and fight for food or run away from the orphanage to survive. Children living in orphanages were often subjected to forced labor instead of attending school. Several respondents explained how children were forced to perform “simple work” such as carrying stones rather than being cared for and protected in orphanages.

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 population, 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

Although the government claims the law meets the international standards of rights for persons with disabilities, in a 2016 National Human Rights Commission of Korea survey, 89 percent of defectors said there was no consideration for persons with disabilities.

While the law mandates equal access to public services for persons with disabilities, the government did not provide consistent support for them. Traditional social norms condone discrimination against persons with disabilities, including in the workplace (also see section 7.d.). NGO reports, including KINU’s 2019 white paper, stated that while the government on balance treated veterans with disabilities well, escapees often described support for veterans with disabilities as inconsistent and only at a perfunctory level. The government reportedly provided no support to other persons with physical and mental disabilities. In some cases authorities sent persons with disabilities from Pyongyang to internal exile, quarantined them within camps, and forcibly sterilized them. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in accessing public life.

The UN special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities visited the country for the first time in 2017 and noted most infrastructure, including newly constructed buildings, was not accessible to persons with physical disabilities.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child repeatedly expressed concern, most recently in 2017, regarding de facto discrimination against children with disabilities and insufficient measures taken by the state to ensure these children had effective access to health, education, and social services. KINU’s 2019 white paper evaluated the provision of special education to children with disabilities as poor.

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

There are no laws against consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults, but little information was available on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs expressed concern that decency and obscenity laws could be used legally to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2014 the Korean Central News Agency, the state news agency, denied the existence of consensual same-sex sexual activity in the country. According to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights group Equaldex, no legal mechanisms exist for LGBTI individuals to protect against discrimination in housing and employment. Same-sex adoption is illegal. Equaldex characterized legal protections toward same-sex sexual activity, the right to change legal gender, and gay and lesbian persons serving openly in the military as ambiguous.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Workers do not have the right to form or join independent unions, bargain collectively, or strike. There were no known labor organizations other than those created and controlled by the government. While the law stipulates that employees working for foreign companies may form trade unions and that foreign enterprises must provide conditions for union activities, the law does not protect workers who might attempt to engage in union activities from employer retaliation, nor does it provide penalties for employers who interfere in union activities. Unlawful assembly may result in five years of correctional labor.

The WPK purportedly represents the interests of all labor. The WPK Central Committee directly controls several labor organizations in the country, including the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea and the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea. Operating under this umbrella, unions functioned according to a classic Stalinist model, with responsibility for mobilizing workers to support production goals and for providing health, education, cultural, and welfare facilities, and did not provide a vehicle for worker voice.

The government controlled all aspects of the formal employment sector, including assigning jobs and determining wages. Joint ventures and foreign-owned companies were required to hire employees from government-vetted lists. The government organized factory and farm workers into councils, which purportedly afforded a mechanism for workers to provide input into management decisions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Nonetheless, the government mobilized the population for construction and other labor projects. “Reformatory labor” and “re-education through labor,” sometimes of entire families, were common punishments for political offenses. Forced and compulsory labor in such activities as logging, mining, tending crops, and manufacturing continued to be the common fate of political prisoners.

The law requires all citizens of working age to work and “strictly observe labor discipline and working hours.” There were numerous reports that farms and factories did not pay wages or provide food to their workers. Forced labor continued to take place in the brick making, cement manufacturing, coal mining, gold mining, logging, iron production, agriculture, and textile industries. The Walk Free Foundation, in its 2018 Global Slavery Index, estimated that one of every 10 individuals, or approximately 2.6 million persons, in the country were in situations of modern slavery.

According to reports from an NGO, during the implementation of short-term economic plans, factories and farms increased workers’ hours and asked workers for contributions of grain and money to purchase supplies for renovations and repairs. By law failure to meet economic plan goals may result in two years of “labor correction.” In 2019 workers were reportedly required to work at enterprises to which the government assigned them and then the enterprises failed to compensate or undercompensated them for their work. In June women in Hyesan reported that government officials required all women in the area to work daily on construction and other projects. Those physically unable to work had to pay a fine, and security forces arrested evaders.

The May 2019 UN report The Price Is Rights noted work “outside the State system, in the informal sector, has become a fundamental means to survival [but] access to work in the informal sector has become contingent on the payment of bribes.” In addition NGOs and media reported that stricter border and internal travel restrictions, due to government fears concerning the spread of COVID-19, made it extremely difficult for persons to pursue a living through informal trading. The HRNK’s September report entitled Imagery Analysis of Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongno-ri, Update 3 detailed the use of forced labor by prison officials in the production of false eyelashes.

According to Open North Korea’s report Sweatshop North Korea, 16- or 17-year-old individuals from the low-loyalty class were assigned to 10 years of forced labor in military-style construction youth brigades. One worker reportedly earned a mere 120 won (less than $0.15) per month. During a 200-day labor mobilization campaign in 2016, for example, these young workers worked as many as 17 hours per day. State media boasted that the laborers worked in subzero temperatures. One laborer reported conditions were so dangerous while building an apartment building that at least one person died each time a floor was added. Loyalty class status also determines lifelong job assignments, with the lowest classes relegated to dangerous mines.

HRW reported the government operated regional, local, or subdistrict level “labor training centers” and forced detainees to work for short periods doing hard labor, with little food and subject to abuse, including regular beatings. Authorities reportedly sent individuals to such centers if suspected of engaging in simple trading schemes or unemployed. In 2018 the HRNK reported that thousands of citizens including children were detained in prison-like conditions in these centers and suggested that satellite imagery indicated the number and size of such camps were expanding.

The vast majority of North Koreans employed outside the DPRK were located in Russia and China. Workers were also reportedly in the following countries: Angola, Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Iran, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Oman, Qatar, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, South Sudan, and Vietnam. Some of these countries subsequently removed most or all of these workers during the year. Reports suggested several countries either had not taken action or had resumed issuing work authorizations or other documentation, allowing these individuals to resume work.

Numerous NGOs noted workers abroad were subjected to forced labor. NGO reports indicated the government managed these laborers as a matter of state policy and that they were under constant and close surveillance by government security agents. Laborers worked between 12 and 16 hours per day, and sometimes up to 20 hours per day, with only one or two rest days per month. Employers stated the average wage was 270,000 to 900,000 won per month ($300 to $1,000), but in most cases employing firms paid salaries directly to the government, which took between 70 percent and 90 percent of the total earnings, leaving approximately 90,000 won ($100) per month for worker take-home pay. The government reportedly received hundreds of millions of dollars from this system each year. The state reportedly withheld some wages in certain instances until the laborers returned home after the completion of their three-year contracts. Workers reportedly worked in a range of industries, including but not limited to apparel, construction, footwear manufacturing, hospitality, information technology services, logging, medical, pharmaceuticals, restaurant, seafood processing, textiles, and shipbuilding.

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

By law the state prohibits work by children younger than age 16 and restricts children 16 to 17 from working in hazardous conditions. The law criminalizes forced child labor, but there were reports such practices occurred. NGOs reported government officials held thousands of children and forced them to work in labor camps with their parents.

Officials occasionally sent schoolchildren to work in factories or fields for short periods to assist in completing special projects, such as snow removal on major roads or meeting production goals. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted children were also sometimes subjected to mass mobilizations in agriculture away from their families, with long working hours per day, sometimes for periods of a month at a time. HRW previously published students’ reports that their schools forced them to work without compensation on farms twice a year for one month each time. HRW also reported schools required students under the minimum working age to work in order to raise funds for faculty salaries and maintenance costs for school facilities. According to August 2019 media reports, students ages 14 and 15 were required to work in WPK opium fields.

Children ages 16 and 17 were enrolled in military-style youth construction brigades for 10-year periods and subjected to long working hours and hazardous work. Students suffered from physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion, and growth deficiencies as a result of required forced labor.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

While the law provides that all citizens “may enjoy equal rights in all spheres of state and public activities” and all “able-bodied persons may choose occupations in accordance with their wishes and skills,” the law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, religion, ethnicity, or other factors. There is no direct reference to employment discrimination in the law; classification based on the songbun loyalty system has a bearing on equal employment opportunities and equal pay.

Despite the law according women equal social status and rights, societal and legal discrimination against women continued. Labor laws and directives mandate sex segregation of the workforce, assigning specific jobs to women while impeding access of others to these jobs. Women’s retirement age is also set at age 55, compared with age 60 for men, which has material consequences for women’s pension benefits, economic independence, and access to decision-making positions.

Persons with disabilities also faced employment discrimination. Most of the approximately 1,200 workshops or light factories for persons with disabilities built in the 1950s were reportedly no longer operational; there were limited inclusive workplaces.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no legal minimum wage in the country. No reliable data were available on the minimum wage paid by state-owned enterprises. Wages are sometimes paid at least partially in kind rather than in cash.

The law stipulates an eight-hour workday, although some sources reported that laborers worked longer hours, perhaps including additional time for mandatory study of the writings of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The law provides all citizens with a “right to rest,” including one day’s rest per week (Sunday), paid leave, holidays, and access to sanitariums and rest homes funded at public expense. The state’s willingness and ability to provide these services were unknown, however.

The law recognizes the state’s responsibility for providing modern and hygienic working conditions. The law criminalizes the failure to heed “labor safety orders” pertaining to worker safety and workplace conditions but only if the conditions result in the loss of lives or other “grave loss.” Workers themselves do not have a designated right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions. No information is available on enforcement of labor laws.

Mandatory participation in mass events on holidays and practice sessions for such events sometimes compromised leave or rest from work. Workers were often required to “celebrate” at least some part of public holidays with their work units and were able to spend an entire day with their families only if the holiday lasted two days. Failures to pay wages were common and reportedly drove some workers to seek income-generating activity in the informal or underground economy.

Many worksites were hazardous, and the industrial accident rate was high.

South Korea

Executive Summary

The Republic of Korea (South Korea) is a constitutional democracy governed by a president and a unicameral legislature. Observers considered the presidential election in 2017 and the April 15 legislative elections free and fair. Moon Jae-in was elected president in an early election following the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye.

The Korean National Police Agency, under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, is responsible for internal security over land, and the Korea Coast Guard has jurisdiction over the sea. The National Intelligence Service investigates suspected criminal activity related to national security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces, and the government utilized effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse of power.

Significant human rights issues included: restrictions on freedom of expression, including criminalizing the sending of leaflets and other materials into North Korea, and the existence of criminal libel laws; corruption; and laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults in the military.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses.

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. The Supreme Prosecutor’s Office has responsibility for investigating whether killings by civilian security forces are justified and pursuing prosecution when appropriate. Military police investigate killings by military personnel.

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 law prohibits such practices, but there were a few reports that government officials employed them; the Center for Military Human Rights Korea, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported some instances of violence and cruel treatment in the military.

The Ministry of National Defense reported no instances of bullying in the military, although local NGOs believed hazing played a role in suicides in the military. The Center for Military Human Rights noted concern about the increase in suicide among military personnel from 51 deaths in 2017 to 62 in 2019, particularly among lower-ranked field officers, including sergeants and lieutenants.

Reports from NGOs and media of hazing and mistreatment of military personnel by more senior personnel persisted, with credible allegations of sexual and nonsexual harassment and assault. As in previous years, the Center for Military Human Rights’ hotline counselors responded to complaints of physical abuse, verbal abuse, and sex crimes. In June the center published a press release regarding an air force sergeant who allegedly sexually harassed enlisted soldiers verbally and physically, including by making obscene comments and by grabbing the soldiers from behind. According to the center, the harassment continued for months as soldiers did not speak out for fear of repercussions. After the soldiers came forth with their complaints and the center engaged with the air force to assist the soldiers, the air force reassigned the sergeant to another unit. The air force did not publicize whether any disciplinary action was taken against the sergeant.

With support from the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK), the Defense Ministry trains military human rights instructors. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry trained fewer instructors in person than in recent years, but conducted distance education. The ministry also worked with the Defense Media Agency to produce and distribute human rights education television programs to military personnel. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison and detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse in prisons and detention centers.

In May a prisoner who reportedly suffered from an anxiety disorder died in the Busan Detention Center the morning after he had been imprisoned. According to detention center personnel, his feet and hands had been bound because, among other reasons, he was incessantly ringing the bell for assistance. Security camera footage showed that the prisoner, who was awake late into the night, showed signs of decreased movement at approximately 4:00 a.m., fell unconscious at approximately 5:45 a.m., and was taken to a hospital around 7:00 a.m. He died at the hospital around 7:30 a.m. A Ministry of Justice investigation determined that his death had resulted from negligence, improper use of restraints, and lack of medical care during the night. In the aftermath of the incident, the ministry implemented corrective measures, including mandating the removal of restraints during sleeping hours and the establishment of an on-call system for doctors to provide telemedicine services at night and on holidays.

In response to concerns raised in 2019 about discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) prisoners, the Ministry of Justice conducted a campaign to ensure all correctional facilities were aware of and fully implementing the prisoner antidiscrimination law. In April the government disseminated updated guidelines for correctional facilities to improve the treatment of transgender prisoners, to include considering the preference of the prisoner and the guidance of experts when assigning prisoner accommodations.

Administration: According to the Ministry of Justice, inmates have several relief procedures available to them for any perceived violations of their rights. Detainees may petition the minister directly, file a complaint with the Human Rights Violation Hotline Center in the ministry or with the NHRCK, or appeal to the Anticorruption and Civil Rights Commission, to the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea, or to the Administrative Judgment Commission.

Independent Monitoring: There were no reports of problems in accessing prison facilities. The NHRCK and NGOs have access to correctional facilities to investigate reported cases of human rights violations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

The National Security Law (NSL), in effect since 1948, grants authorities the power to detain, arrest, and imprison persons believed to have committed acts intended to endanger the “security of the state.” Domestic and international NGOs continued to call for reform or repeal of the law, contending its provisions do not clearly define prohibited activity and that it is used to intimidate and imprison individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression. By law the National Intelligence Service investigates activities that may threaten national security. Civil society groups argued that the agency’s powers and a lack of oversight enabled it to define its mandate overly broadly.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires warrants in cases of arrest, detention, seizure, or search unless authorities apprehend a person when committing a criminal act, a judge is not available, or if authorities believe a suspect may destroy evidence or flee if not arrested quickly. In such cases a public prosecutor or police officer must prepare an affidavit of emergency arrest immediately upon apprehension of the suspect. Authorities may not interrogate for more than six hours a person who voluntarily submits to questioning at a police station. Authorities must either indict or release an arrested suspect within 20 days. The law allows 10 additional days of detention in exceptional circumstances. The Supreme Prosecutor’s Office issues warrants in 15 foreign languages, including English, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Thai, Khmer, Urdu, and Burmese.

There is a bail system. By law bail is authorized except for repeat offenders; those deemed a flight risk, danger to the public, or likely to attempt to destroy evidence; those charged with committing serious offenses; and those who have no fixed address. Even if one of the above justifications applies, a court may still grant bail if there is a “substantial reason” to do so.

The law provides for the right to representation by an attorney, including during police interrogation. There were no reports of denial of access to counsel. There are no restrictions on access to a lawyer, but authorities may limit a lawyer’s participation in an interrogation if the lawyer obstructs the interrogation or impedes an investigation. During the trial stage, and under certain circumstances during the pretrial stage, an indigent detainee may request that the government provide a lawyer.

Access to family members during detention varied according to the severity of the crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. By law defendants in criminal trials are presumed innocent, enjoy protection against self-incrimination, and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges, with free interpretation as necessary; communicate with an attorney (at public expense if necessary); have a fair and speedy trial; attend the trial; and appeal. Defendants receive adequate time and resources to prepare a defense. They are protected against retroactive laws and double jeopardy, although prosecutors appealed not-guilty verdicts. By law initial trials must begin within six months of arrest.

Trials are generally open to the public, but judges may restrict attendance if they believe spectators might disrupt the proceedings. There is a jury trial system, but jury verdicts are not legally binding. In serious cases such as murder and rape, the judge may consent to a legally binding jury verdict, provided it is reached in consultation with the judge. The defendant must request a jury trial beforehand.

Judges have considerable scope to cross-examine witnesses for both the prosecution and defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The Ministry of Justice stated there were no persons incarcerated or detained because of their political beliefs. Some NGOs, however, argued that individuals arrested for violations of the NSL, for conscientious objection to military service, or for strike activities qualified as political prisoners.

On January 1, the Alternative Service Act took effect, allowing conscientious objectors to fulfill their military service obligations by working for 36 months at correctional facilities. Previously those who refused military service faced up to three years’ imprisonment. The Commission for Examination of Alternative Service began reviewing applications for alternative service on June 30, and as of August had granted 224 applications for alternative service, scheduled to commence in October. Civil society organizations assessed the new law as a clear improvement over the previous system, but still flawed. They noted the new law departs from international norms in several ways, including the length of alternative service, which appears punitive in comparison to the regular military service of less than two years. They also argued that the commission should fall under fully civilian oversight, rather than under the Ministry of National Defense.

Representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that three conscientious objectors from their denomination were sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment during the year because courts determined that they were not sincere in their beliefs. In addition trials continued for 293 conscientious objectors charged with refusing to serve in the military or to participate in reserve forces training before the new law took effect in January. Prosecutors continued to appeal the “not guilty” verdicts in the cases of some conscientious objectors whom they asserted were not sincere in their beliefs. As of August the Commission for Examination of Alternative Service was evaluating the cases.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and there were no problems enforcing domestic court orders. Citizens had court access to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions to domestic human rights bodies, and then to the UN Human Rights Committee. Administrative remedies are also available for alleged wrongs.

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

The law prohibits such interference, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. The law establishes conditions under which the government may monitor telephone calls, mail, and other forms of communication for up to two months in criminal investigations and four months in national security cases. The Security Surveillance Act requires some persons sentenced to prison for breaching the NSL to report their whereabouts, travel plans, family relations, occupation, and financial status to a local police office within seven days of leaving prison and every third month thereafter.

While it does not outright prohibit access to North Korean media content, the NSL forbids citizens from listening to Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) radio programs, viewing DPRK satellite telecasts, or reading books published in the DPRK if the government determines such an action endangers national security or the basic order of democracy. For example, citizens were prohibited from reading the Rodong Sinmun (the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party in the DPRK) or listening to broadcasts by the DPRK’s Korean Central News Agency. Enforcement of these prohibitions was rare, however.

The disease control law allows the government to access personal information such as mobile phone location and credit card transaction data without a warrant to conduct contact tracing to stop the spread of a pandemic. During the government’s COVID-19 response, most citizens accepted these infringements on privacy as necessary to protect public health. The government also published information on the whereabouts of individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 to assist in contact tracing. After a cluster of cases emerged from LGBTI-friendly clubs in Seoul, the government released enough information about persons who had tested positive for COVID-19 that it was possible to identify certain individuals. The government also required some businesses, including nightclubs, to keep a log of persons who had visited the establishments, and some LGBTI individuals were hesitant to provide identifying information. Since many members of the LGBTI community keep their sexual orientation or gender identity secret due to fear of stigmatization, LGBTI rights advocates urged the government to find a balance between respect for individual privacy and the need for disease mitigation for public health and safety. Similarly, some religious groups voiced complaints about government invasion of privacy when clusters of COVID-19 cases arose in their communities.

In December 2019 the general military court sentenced General So Gang-won to one year’s imprisonment for illegal surveillance of civilians affected by the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides 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. Nonetheless, the government’s interpretation and implementation of the NSL and other laws and provisions of the constitution limited freedom of speech and expression, and restricted access to the internet.

On December 14, the National Assembly passed an amendment to the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act criminalizing the act of disseminating or moving leaflets and other materials across the inter-Korean border to North Korea, including items such as cash and digital storage drives with South Korean news, documentaries, and television dramas, without obtaining prior approval. Under the revised law, which was promulgated on December 29 and takes effect on March 30, 2021, violators will face up to three years in prison or a substantial fine. The Ministry of Unification stated the purpose of the amendment was to protect the lives and ensure the safety of residents near the inter-Korean border. Human rights advocates and opposition political leaders criticized the amendment as an infringement of the freedom of expression. Former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon also called on the government to “rectify” human rights concerns raised by the amendment. Senior government officials and ruling-party lawmakers defended the amendment, arguing that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute and must be balanced against national security concerns, pointing to a 2016 Supreme Court decision that permits the restriction of leaflet activities when they present an “imminent and serious threat” to the lives and physical security of residents in the border areas, and to a 2014 incident in which North Korea fired into the country following cross-border leafletting activity. On December 22, the ministry announced it would develop implementation guidelines that would clarify the scope of the law, with a 20-day period for public comment. The ministry stated it would review the comments and if needed, adjust the guidelines before the law goes into effect. (See section 5 on the revocation of operating permits of two leafletting NGOs.).

Freedom of Speech: The law provides for freedom of speech, although under defamation law and the NSL, the government may limit the expression of ideas. In its World Report 2020, Human Rights Watch contended the government maintained “unreasonable restrictions on freedom of expression,” citing the use of defamation laws, the NSL, and other laws.

In June the Daejeon district court in Gyeonggi Province fined a man 500,000 won ($423) for trespassing after he placed posters critical of President Moon in a building at Dankuk University. A university official called to testify against the man stated the poster had caused no physical damage and that he did not want him to be punished, noting that the law guarantees the freedom of expression.

Under the election law, the government may limit the expression of ideas that the National Election Commission deems to be false.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, within the constraints cited above.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government and public figures used libel and slander laws, which broadly define and criminalize defamation, to restrict public discussion and harass, intimidate, or censor private and media expression. The law allows punishment of up to three years in prison for statements found to be “slander” or “libel,” even if factual, and up to seven years for statements found to be false. The law punishes defamation of deceased persons as well; the maximum punishment if convicted is two years’ imprisonment. NGOs and human rights attorneys continued to note cases of politicians, government officials, and celebrities using the libel laws to deter victims of workplace sexual harassment from coming forward or to retaliate against such victims.

In August a Seoul appeals court convicted Ko Young-ju, a critic of President Moon, of defamation and sentenced him to a 10-month suspended sentence and two years’ probation. In 2013 Ko asserted that Moon was a “communist” and that, should he become president, “it’s a matter of time before our country becomes a communist country.” Prosecutors first indicted Ko in 2017 after Moon became president, but the Seoul Central District Court acquitted him in 2018. A conservative NGO criticized the decision reversing Ko’s acquittal as politicized and condemned the outcome as contrary to the law, which recognizes that the freedom to criticize top public figures is the foundation of a strong democracy.

National Security: The NSL criminalizes actions interpreted to be in support of North Korea or otherwise against the state. The government used this law to arrest and imprison civilians and to deport foreigners. The Supreme Court has ruled the NSL constitutional seven times since 1992, most recently in 2015. As of September the Supreme Court was considering a new challenge to the constitutionality of the NSL. Critics decried the law’s limitations on free expression and continued to call for repeal of the law.

According to the Ministry of Justice, prosecutions under the NSL have decreased significantly since 2015, with 40 cases in 2015, 17 in 2016, 14 in 2017, three each in 2018 and 2019, and three cases from January to June during the year. NGOs reported that prosecutions in recent years have not resulted in imprisonment.

Internet Freedom

There were some government restrictions on internet access, and the government monitored email and internet chat rooms with wide legal authority.

The Korea Communications Standards Commission, a government body, blocked 101,139 websites it deemed harmful from January to June, consistent with its total of 206,759 sites blocked in 2019. The majority of blocked sites involved gambling, illegal food or drugs, or pornography. The commission also blocked North Korean propaganda on YouTube and Twitter. Although viewing websites praising the DPRK regime is lawful, disseminating information about those websites, including posting links to those sites, is illegal under the NSL. Other blocked sites included those promoting illegal trade of internal organs, forgery of documents, violating intellectual property rights, or encouraging suicide.

The communications standards commission determines whether posts made on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, or in chat rooms, contain unlawful content, defined as harmful or illegal speech. If the government finds prohibited materials, it has the authority to warn the user. If the prohibited content is not removed, the user’s account may be blocked.

Although persons may use a false name when making online postings to large websites, the election campaign law requires real names for internet postings about upcoming elections.

Freedom House assessed the country’s media as generally free and competitive.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Teachers are subject to the same law on political activities that applies to civil servants. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family monitors song lyrics and may ban content it considers obscene. The Communication Standards Commission governs and maintains ethical standards in broadcasting and internet communications.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The law may be used to prohibit or limit assemblies considered likely to undermine public order and requires advance notification for demonstrations of all types, including political rallies. Police must notify organizers if they consider an event impermissible under the law. Police banned some protests by groups that had not properly registered or that were responsible for violent protests in the past. Police decisions to ban protests were subject to both administrative and judicial appeal. As of August the police received 82,433 assembly requests, of which it refused 1,562. All but one of the refusals were because of restrictions on public gatherings instituted as part of the government’s COVID-19 response.

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 (except to North Korea), emigration, and repatriation; the government generally respected these rights.

Foreign Travel: Citizens traveling to North Korea must obtain prior authorization from the Ministry of Unification. The travelers must demonstrate their trip has no political purpose. Visiting North Korea without prior government authorization is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment under the NSL.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated to a limited extent with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Local NGOs reported cases of abuse against migrant workers, including physical abuse, confiscation of passports, inadequate housing, and sexual harassment.

NGOs and advocates continued to criticize conditions in the “departure waiting area” at Incheon Airport. This area, funded and staffed by airlines, was for travelers (including migrants and asylum seekers) denied entry into the country. They described the living conditions in the waiting area as substandard, lacking privacy, bedding, and medical care, especially for those confined to the area for several months.

Occupants of the waiting area depended on their respective airlines for food. Some received fast-food meals three times a day, while others received nothing and relied on other travelers or their lawyers for sustenance. According to the Ministry of Justice, on average 106 persons used the area at Incheon Airport daily in 2018, the last year for which statistics were available, with 98 percent departing within four days.

In October 2019 authorities allowed an Angolan couple and their four children to enter the country after more than eight months in the departure waiting area of Incheon Airport. They had arrived in December 2018 and requested asylum, alleging torture and sexual abuse at the hands of Angolan police. In January 2019 the Incheon Airport Office of Immigration denied the family’s preliminary petition, stating it believed the family’s motivation for immigration was economic. The family filed a lawsuit to appeal the denial. In June 2019 the National Human Rights Commission of Korea and rights activists cited the Angolan family when calling for better treatment of asylum seekers at the airport. In April media reported that the family lived in an apartment, the children attended school and received psychological and medical treatment, and as of September their asylum applications were pending.

NGOs and advocates for asylum seekers decried the lack of public data on the numbers of refugee applicants turned away after preliminary screening at airports.

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 government considers refugees from North Korea under a separate legal framework and does not include them in refugee or asylum statistics. The government continued its longstanding policy of accepting refugees or defectors from North Korea, who by law are entitled to citizenship.

In recent years the Ministry of Justice increased the number of refugee officers at its 10 immigration offices from 39 in 2018 to 93 as of September. NGOs had previously pointed to understaffing as a major obstacle to accommodating the rising number of refugee and asylum applications, but they said restrictions on international travel resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic had greatly reduced both the number of asylum seekers and also the government’s case-processing time. The government operated asylum application counters at airports and harbors to allow asylum seekers to file applications upon entering the country. These immigration offices screen applications and determine if a case is eligible to proceed for refugee status review. The Justice Ministry operated an immigration reception center in Incheon to receive refugees, asylum seekers awaiting adjudication, and temporary humanitarian stay permit holders. The center had a maximum capacity of 82 persons.

The law protects asylum seekers’ right to an attorney. Asylum seekers may ask for interpretation and legal aid services from the government and for services to adjust to living in the country while their application is pending. Some NGOs and asylum seekers, however, stated applicants faced difficulty finding qualified interpreters. Applicants may receive a work permit six months after submitting an application. The permit is valid for the duration of their lawful stay in the country.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law provides grounds on which an asylum seeker at a port of entry may be denied referral for full asylum procedures. These include arrival “from a safe country of origin or a safe third country, in which little possibility of persecution exists.”

Access to Basic Services: Cultural, linguistic, and social differences made adjustment difficult for refugees and asylum seekers. Many migrants from North Korea and other countries alleged societal discrimination and were not always provided access to basic services. These cases were often underreported.

Temporary Protection: The law offers renewable one-year short-term humanitarian status to those who do not qualify as “refugees” (who have well founded fears of persecution on protected grounds) but nonetheless have reasonable grounds to believe their life or personal freedom may be violated by torture or otherwise egregiously endangered. Temporary humanitarian stay permit holders do not have the same access to basic services as refugees and therefore rely heavily on NGOs for housing and support. Due to the government’s restrictions on the type of jobs humanitarian stay permit holders may hold, many of them faced difficulty in securing jobs. Those who did find jobs were largely limited to poorly paid “3-D” (dirty, difficult, and dangerous) jobs.

As of June there were 675 Yemenis in Korea with humanitarian stay status. In September the Ministry of Justice stated it had renewed the temporary humanitarian stay status of all Yemenis who applied for extensions.

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 presidential election in 2017 and legislative elections on April 15 were considered free and fair. The 2017 presidential election was held early because of the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye. In the April legislative elections, the ruling Democratic Party and its satellite Citizens Party won 180 of 300 seats.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Although persons may generally use an alias when making online postings to websites, the election campaign law requires real names for internet postings about forthcoming elections. Civil society groups continued to call on the National Assembly to repeal that section of the election campaign law, asserting that such laws prohibit the electorate from freely expressing views, imparting information, and supporting campaigns.

In its 2019 annual report, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea recommended the revision of the law that limits the political activities of public officials and teachers. According to the commission, the government rigorously and extensively regulates political expression by public officials and teachers, even in their private lives and regardless of their job duties. Public officials are also prohibited from joining political parties.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws prevent women or members of minority groups from voting, running for office, serving as electoral monitors, or otherwise participating in political life, and they did participate. Women, including the country’s first female deputy speaker (confirmed in June), were elected to 19 percent of seats in the National Assembly in April, an increase from the previous 17 percent.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government, prodded by media and civil society groups, generally implemented the law effectively. Nonetheless, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were numerous reports of government corruption. Ruling and opposition politicians alike alleged that the judicial system was used as a political weapon.

Corruption: According to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, the government was in year three of a five-year anticorruption plan aimed at fighting corruption in both the public and private sectors. Commission members included the Ministry of Justice, the Board of Audit and Inspection, the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, and the Korean National Police Agency, among others. The plan includes establishing a system for avoiding conflicts of interest among public officials, preventing corruption within the military, and curbing corruption in public procurement. The government also operated an anticorruption policy council chaired by President Moon.

In January the government established the independent Corruption Investigation Office for High Ranking Officials to improve the transparency and credibility of investigations of corruption allegations against senior government officials, lawmakers, judges, and prosecutors. In September the ruling Democratic Party established an ethics committee to monitor and inspect legal and ethical issues involving lawmakers, elected public officials, and party staffers. On September 18, the party expelled first-term lawmaker Kim Hong-gul, son of former president Kim Dae-jung, over allegations that he had failed to report all of his real estate assets before taking office.

As of October the investigation into alleged corruption by former justice minister Cho Kuk, his wife Chung Kyung-sim, and others connected to his family continued. In December 2019 prosecutors indicted Cho on charges of receiving bribes, graft, abuse of power, violating the ethics code of public servants, and other crimes. In June a Seoul court sentenced the son of Cho’s cousin to four years’ imprisonment for financial crimes and for concealing and destroying company documents detrimental to Cho’s family. The businessman invested former minister Cho’s family assets in a manufacturing company that had received massive orders from government offices after Cho’s appointment in 2017. The court found that Cho’s cousin’s son colluded with Cho’s wife to destroy evidence after allegations about the family’s corruption emerged in August 2019.

In September the Seoul prosecutor’s office indicted first-term National Assembly lawmaker Yoon Mi-hyang on charges of fraud, embezzlement, dereliction of duty, and other charges relating to the misuse of funds during her tenure as the former head of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, an NGO dedicated to supporting former comfort women. As of September the investigation continued.

Transparency International Korea, an anticorruption advocacy NGO, noted improvement in the country’s level of corruption since 2017, particularly in the government’s capacity to prevent civil servants from abusing their posts, reduction of corruption in the political sector, and ability to handle corruption issues and cases. It found, however, that the degree of corruption in public-sector economic activities had not improved.

Financial Disclosure: By law public servants above a specified rank, including elected officials, must publicly declare their income and assets, including real estate, and report how they accumulated them. Failure to disclose assets fully is punishable by up to one year in prison and a substantial fine.

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

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

Some human rights organizations said the government restricted activities of certain NGOs focused on the DPRK. In July the Ministry of Unification revoked the operating permits of Fighters for a Free North Korea and Keun Saem, two defector-led South Korea-based NGOs that send leaflets across the border to North Korea. The ministry justified the revocations on a number of grounds, arguing that cross-border leafletting is a violation of the 2018 Panmunjon Agreement between the Republic of Korea and the DPRK, and citing national security concerns. It specifically noted that a 2016 Supreme Court ruling permits restriction of leaflet activities when they present an “imminent and serious threat” to the lives and physical security of residents in the border areas; that residents living in border areas must deal with security concerns caused by the leaflets; and that there are ecological concerns, as the majority of leaflets ended up in South Korea or in the ocean, in violation of environmental law. Following suits by two NGOs, as of August the Seoul administrative court stayed the revocation of their permits pending a court determination on the legality of the ministry’s actions.

Separately, in August the Ministry of Unification launched inspections of 25 ministry-registered NGOs, some of which are involved in activities related to DPRK human rights and defector resettlement assistance. The ministry called the administrative inspections overdue routine procedures that had been delayed due to personnel shortages. Critics viewed both actions as suppressing activists’ and defectors’ freedom of expression and disrupting civil society efforts to highlight human rights abuses in the DPRK and improve the lives of North Korean residents.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission of Korea, established as an independent government body to protect and promote the human rights enumerated in the constitution, does not have enforcement power, and its recommendations and decisions are nonbinding. It investigates complaints, issues policy recommendations, trains local officials, and conducts public-awareness campaigns. Within the Korean National Police Agency, a committee of nine members, six of whom are representatives of human rights organizations, investigates alleged police violations of human rights.

The Ombudsman’s Office reports to the independent Anticorruption and Civil Rights Commission and had adequate resources to fulfill its duties. The Ombudsman’s Office issued annual reports and interacted with various government institutions, including the Office of the President, the National Assembly, and ministries.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women; rape not involving vaginal sexual intercourse is considered “imitative rape.” The penalty for rape ranges from a minimum of three years’ to life imprisonment depending on the specific circumstances, while “imitative rape” carries a minimum penalty of two years’ imprisonment. Although no specific statute defines spousal rape as illegal, the Supreme Court acknowledged marital rape as illegal. Rape and “imitative rape” are defined in law as involving the use of violence. The law defines domestic violence as a serious crime and authorizes courts to order offenders to stay away from victims for up to six months. This restraining order may be extended up to two years. Offenders may be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison plus fines for domestic violence offenses. Noncompliance with domestic violence restraining orders may result in a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a substantial fine. Authorities may also place convicted offenders on probation or order them to see court-designated counselors.

When there is a danger of domestic violence recurring and an immediate need for protection, the law allows a provisional order to be issued ex officio or at the victim’s request. This may restrict the subject of the order from living in the same home, approaching within 109 yards of the victim, or contacting the victim through telecommunication devices.

The law allows judges or a Ministry of Justice committee to sentence repeat sex offenders to “chemical castration,” where sex offenders undergo drug treatment designed to diminish sexual urges. No such sentence was carried out between January and September.

Police generally responded promptly and appropriately to reported incidents, and the judicial system effectively enforced the law. Because a rape conviction requires proving that violence was used, and because the country’s defamation laws allow countersuits by alleged perpetrators, rape offenses were underreported and underprosecuted.

The Commission for the Eradication of Sexual Violence and Digital Sex Crimes seeks to coordinate the provision of countermeasures and promote consultation across ministries. It is composed of 24 members, including the minister for gender equality, vice ministers of relevant ministries, and private sector experts. The government also established gender equality positions in eight ministries to place greater emphasis on these issues. The Digital Sex Crime Victim Support Center, launched in 2018 by the Ministry for Gender Equality and Family, assists victims in requesting the deletion of images and videos from websites and supports victims in collecting evidence and filing police reports. It also makes referrals for free legal services and provides financial assistance for medical expenses. (For more on sex crimes facilitated by the internet, see “Sexual Exploitation of Children” below.)

Domestic violence remained a significant and underreported problem. According to official statistics, 240,564 cases of domestic violence were reported in 2019, a 3 percent decrease from 2018.

NGOs and media continued to report on crimes against and mistreatment of foreign brides. Starting in the 1980s, rural local governments began subsidizing private marriage brokers who could connect unmarried men to foreign women, initially ethnic Korean Chinese and in recent years primarily Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Filipina. Civil society advocates argued that the subsidies amounted to “wife buying” and asserted that the brides were particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses because they tended to have a poor grasp of the Korean language, were often significantly younger than their husbands and lacked a support network in the country. According to a 2018 report by the NHRCK, 42 percent of foreign-born brides have experienced domestic violence and 68 percent have experienced unwanted sexual advances. In contrast, 29 percent of women from South Korea surveyed by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in 2019 said that they were victims of domestic violence.

In April a court sentenced a Gyeonggi Province man to 15 years’ imprisonment for the November 2019 murder of his wife, whom he wed in Vietnam the day after they first met. Much younger than her husband and with very limited knowledge of the Korean language, the woman was reportedly in constant conflict with her husband over lifestyle and financial issues after moving to South Korea in August 2019.

In response to violence against migrant brides, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family established five counseling centers for migrant women victims of sexual or domestic violence in 2019. The centers operated shelters for victims needing emergency protection from violence. The Ministry of Justice instituted a “one strike” policy in 2019 to prevent a person convicted of domestic violence from petitioning for a visa for a foreign bride. Observers noted that the addition of a “right to request investigation” policy might make foreign spouses more vulnerable. The policy would allow the South Korean spouse to petition immigration authorities directly to investigate the foreign spouse in the event of separation.

The Gender Equality Ministry operated the Special Center for Reporting Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault. In 2019, a total of 276,122 cases of sexual violence were reported to 170 sexual violence counseling centers nationwide, including 104 centers funded by the central and local governments and 39 government-funded “sunflower centers” that provided counseling, medical care and therapy, caseworkers, and legal assistance. The reported cases represented a 12.6 percent increase since 2018. Civil society advocates attributed the increase in reported cases to women’s increased willingness to speak out about sexual violence after the start of Korea’s #MeToo movement, which began in January 2018. According to NGOs, sunflower centers generally provided adequate support to victims of sexual assault.

Sexual harassment was a significant social problem, and there were numerous allegations of sexual harassment, including high-profile cases involving public officials, reported in media throughout the year.

Seoul mayor Park Won-soon died by suicide July 9, the day after his former secretary filed a complaint to the police alleging that Park had sexually harassed her. According to the complaint, from 2017 onward Park had repeatedly touched the woman without her consent and sent her inappropriate messages and photos, with the harassment continuing even after she transferred offices. In a statement made after Park’s death, the secretary said that Park had sent her photos of him wearing only underwear and called her into a bedroom attached to his office, asking her to embrace him. By law the case terminated after Park’s death. Women’s rights advocates and the complainant’s lawyer, however, continued to press for a complete investigation. Park was known as a champion for women’s rights and was highly regarded for his successful representation in 1993 of the victim in what is seen as the country’s first sexual harassment case.

The mayor of Busan, Oh Geo-don, resigned in April after admitting to “unnecessary physical contact” with a female subordinate. The Busan Counseling Center against Sexual Violence provided assistance to the victim and called on the Busan city government to eliminate its male-centric work culture through gender equality training and other measures. In August the former mayor was indicted on charges of indecent assault. As of September the case continued.

Reproductive Rights: Under the law couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health, and they had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. There were no legal, social, or cultural barriers or any government policy that adversely affected access to contraception or skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth. The government also provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors.

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

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights under the constitution as men. Women, however, experienced societal abuses and employment discrimination (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship requires one parent be a citizen at the time of birth. Authorities also grant citizenship in circumstances where parentage is unclear or if the child would otherwise be stateless. The law requires that all children be registered in family registries and prohibits adoption of children for the first week after birth.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes serious injury and repeated abuse of children and provides prison terms of between five years and life.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare reported a 13.7 percent increase in reported child abuse cases from 2018 to 2019, attributed in part to increased public awareness and expanded child welfare reporting requirements.

The ministry conducted human rights training for case managers and other employees associated with their Dream Start program, a program that provides educational, health, and developmental services for disadvantaged children and their families.

As in previous years, reports of abuse at daycare centers received national attention. In July a court in Gangwon Province sentenced a daycare instructor to 14 months’ imprisonment on charges of physically and emotionally abusing one-year-old children at the daycare center where she worked. The instructor pinched and slapped babies and forced them to stand for long periods, among other abuse. The court also fined the director of the daycare center three million won ($2,585) for failure to properly supervise the employee and prevent the abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for men and women to marry is 18. There were no reported cases of forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: In May the government raised the age of consent from 13 to 16 and introduced stricter punishments for other child sex crimes. It is illegal to deceive or pressure anyone younger than 19 into having sexual intercourse. The penalty for rape of a minor younger than age 13 ranges from 10 years to life in prison; the penalty for rape of a minor age 13 to 19 is five years’ to life imprisonment. Other penalties include electronic monitoring of offenders, public release of their personal information, and reversible hormone treatment.

The law prohibits the commercialization of child pornography. Offenders convicted of producing or possessing child sexual abuse materials for the purpose of selling, leasing, or distributing for profit are subject to a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment, and in May the government increased or established minimum penalties for child pornography crimes. Under the revised law, the minimum sentence for distribution of child pornography for profit is five years’ imprisonment, distribution not for profit is three years’ imprisonment, and possession or purchase of child pornography is one year’s imprisonment.

The May amendments to the law were collectively termed the Nth Room Prevention Act. “Nth Room” refers to online chatrooms whose administrators coerced women and minors into producing degrading and sometimes violent pornographic videos. In March authorities arrested Cho Ju-bin, the operator of one of these chatrooms called the “Doctor’s Room,” where users circulated sexual abuse content. By June authorities had arrested 37 others on charges of organizing, joining, or running a criminal organization. According to prosecutors, the “Doctor’s Room” channel operators blackmailed at least 74 victims, including minors, into sending explicit and humiliating photos and videos. Some victims were allegedly forced to drink out of a toilet or carve their blackmailer’s name into their flesh. Cho sold access to this content via Telegram, a social media application. Police alleged that some coconspirators blackmailed victims, including minors, into having sex with them. The Seoul Central District Court found Cho guilty and on November 26 sentenced him to 40 years’ imprisonment.

On July 6, the Seoul High Court made a final ruling against extraditing the operator of a dark-web child pornography website to the United States. Son Jong-woo had served 18 months in prison after his 2018 conviction for producing and circulating child pornography. Son’s website featured more than eight terabytes of child pornography, including more than 250,000 unique videos, which made it the largest sexual exploitation market in the world by volume of content before it was seized by authorities in 2018. Further investigations resulted in the rescue of dozens of child victims around the world who were actively being abused by users of the site. Women’s and children’s rights activists and NGOs criticized Son’s sentence as far too lenient for the crime, especially since his website had resulted in the abuse of children by encouraging the creation and upload of new content. NGOs assessed that judicial officials lacked a sufficient understanding of the seriousness of digital sexual violence and criticized them for denying the extradition request.

Children, especially runaway girls, were vulnerable to sex trafficking, including through online recruitment.

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

The Jewish community numbered approximately 1,000 individuals, almost all expatriates. 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, or mental disabilities and sets penalties for deliberate discrimination of up to three years in prison and a substantial fine. The law covering rights and support for persons with developmental disabilities created a special task force of prosecutors and police trained to work with persons with disabilities and their families in police investigations.

The government implemented programs to facilitate access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Many establishments, however, continued to disregard the laws, opting to pay fines rather than incurring expenses to make structural adjustments. The Research Institute for Differently Abled Person’s Rights Korea reported that individuals with intellectual disabilities did not receive proper education or sufficient support to achieve self-reliance. Employment rates of adults with disabilities remained low and public support for family care was inadequate.

Many local government ordinances and regulations directly discriminate against persons with disabilities, especially those with intellectual and mental disabilities, according to media reports and NGOs.

In 2019 the government amended the law to eliminate the six-degree scale of disability, and instead sort persons with disabilities into two classes: “severely disabled” and “not severely disabled.” NGOs reported that while they understood the purpose of the revision of the law to be the expansion of services for persons with disabilities, the revision was insufficient. They noted there was no corresponding increase in the government budget and that they had received reports of decreased access to services, rather than an increase.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare continued to implement a comprehensive set of policies that included increasing access for persons with disabilities to public and private buildings and facilities; part-time employment opportunities for persons with disabilities; and introduction of a long-term care system. In January the ministry established a hotline to receive reports of abuse of persons with disabilities, and a new system for tracking and documenting the resulting investigation and other interventions. In June a new law took effect to provide access for persons with visual impairments and deaf-blind persons to information through government provision of communication aids including braille books, audio books, and other tools.

The government operated rehabilitation hospitals in seven regions and a national rehabilitation research center to increase employment opportunities and access for persons with disabilities.

The government provided a pension system for registered adults and children with disabilities, an allowance for children younger than age 18 with disabilities in households with an income below or near the National Basic Livelihood Security Standard, and a disability allowance for low-income persons age 18 and older with mild disabilities.

Children age three to 17 with disabilities had access to a separate public special education school system. All public and private schools, child-care centers, educational facilities, and training institutions were required to provide equipment and other resources to accommodate students with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

As of May more than 2.1 million foreigners (including an estimated 400,000 undocumented migrants) lived in the country, whose otherwise ethnically homogeneous population totaled approximately 51.8 million.

The country lacked a comprehensive antidiscrimination law. In March the National Human Rights Commission stated the country has “failed to take seriously the issue of racial discrimination in our society” and underlined calls by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for the government to take measures to stop racial discrimination. The 2019 committee report cited by the commission urged the government to enact comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation, noting that existing laws do not go far enough to protect minorities, including migrant workers, asylum seekers, and foreign spouses, from discrimination.

Societal discrimination against ethnic and racial minorities was common but underreported. According to a 2019 human rights commission survey, migrants reported discrimination by court workers, workplace supervisors, and immigration office personnel. A large majority of immigrants and naturalized citizens were female spouses, and they were reportedly often the victim of domestic violence. (See also section 6, “Women.”)

While conditions improved for Yemenis who in 2019 received refugee status or humanitarian stay permits that allowed them to stay in the country and work, they continued to experience discrimination, both at work and in the community.

Some children of immigrants suffered from discrimination and lack of access to social resources, such as child-care support available only to Korean children. Some children of non-Korean or multiple ethnicities were also bullied because of their physical appearance.

NGOs, international organizations, and the National Human Rights Commission stated that the government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic discriminated against foreigners. At first, millions of international students, migrant workers, and other foreigners who had not purchased health insurance in country were not allowed to purchase facemasks produced by government-designated suppliers.

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese nationals and Chinese persons of Korean heritage experienced a number of forms of discrimination, including demands that their children withdraw from school, loss of employment, denial of entry to restaurants, and stigmatization in their communities.

The Ministries of Gender Equality and Family and of Employment and Labor implemented programs to promote cultural diversity and assist foreign workers, spouses, and multicultural families to adjust to living in the country.

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

The law that established the National Human Rights Commission prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and authorizes the commission to review cases of such discrimination, although its recommended relief measures are nonbinding. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. The Military Criminal Act’s “disgraceful conduct” clause criminalizes consensual sodomy between men in the military with up to two years’ imprisonment.

Despite the National Human Rights Commission’s repeated calls for the National Assembly to adopt a comprehensive antidiscrimination law that would penalize with imprisonment or fines discriminatory practices on the basis of gender, age, race, religion, or sexual orientation, among others, the bill was stalled in the legislature. More than 88.5 percent of those surveyed in June supported passage of an antidiscrimination law, but politically powerful conservative Christian groups that reject LGBTI rights vehemently opposed such a law.

NGOs noted the Military Service Act’s prohibition on sexual activity between men led to abuse of LGBTI soldiers. In its 2019 report, Amnesty International stated the military code institutionalizes discrimination, reinforces systematic disadvantages for LGBTI persons, and risks inciting or justifying violence against them inside the military and in broader society.

In August the navy discharged a gay service member as a result of what the Center for Military Human Rights Korea called a “crackdown” on LGBTI service members. According to the center, in 2019 the navy sought out LGBTI service members under the pretext of counseling and in at least one case interrogated a person within earshot of other service members. Investigators asked for detailed accounts of sexual interactions between soldiers and searched soldiers’ cell phones for evidence of same-sex relationships. The navy stated it regretted the leaking of sensitive personal information but held that it has the authority to conduct investigations of disorderly conduct under the Military Criminal Act and Defense Ministry policy.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law protects the right to confidentiality of persons with HIV or AIDS and prohibits discrimination against them. According to local NGOs, however, persons with HIV or AIDS continued to suffer from societal discrimination and social stigma.

Correctional facilities staff revealed the HIV-positive status of prisoners by making announcements about the movement of “special patients” before transferring them, and by preventing prisoners with HIV/AIDS from exercising with the rest of the prisoners.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes within strict limits, and bargain collectively, but certain limitations apply to public officials and teachers.

The law recognizes workers’ right to strike; workers in essential services are required to provide “minimum service” during strikes to protect the public interest. Essential services are defined by law to include railroads, air transport, communications, water supply, and hospitals. The trade union law prohibits the use of replacement workers to conduct general business disrupted by strikes, but in essential services employers may hire replacements for up to 50 percent of striking workers.

By law parties involved in a “labor dispute” must first undergo third-party mediation through the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) or seek a labor-management settlement before registering to strike. Strikes initiated following this period are legal if they obtain majority support from union membership. The law narrowly defines “labor dispute,” which makes strikes on many issues falling under managerial control, such as downsizing and layoffs, illegal. Strikes not specifically pertaining to labor conditions, wages, benefits, or working hours are illegal. Stakeholders noted strike procedures were overly burdensome. Participating in strikes deemed to be illegal may result in imprisonment or a fine for the organizers and participants, depending on the offense.

Laws banning education workers from engaging in certain political activities, such as joining a political party or openly endorsing a political party or candidate, also constrained unions’ abilities to advocate for their positions. The law also prohibits dismissed workers from remaining in unions.

The law permits workers to file complaints of unfair labor practices against employers who interfere with union organizing or who discriminate against union members. The NLRC may require employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The law prohibits retribution against workers who strike legally. Labor organizations asserted that the inability of full-time labor-union officials to receive wages and the onerous registration requirements for individuals involved in collective bargaining effectively limited legal protections against unfair labor practices. In June a law took effect that allows employers to assist labor unions with operational expenses. Labor-union activists viewed the law as a step forward because previously employers were prohibited from providing such assistance.

The government generally enforced legislation related to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and collective action, including legal strikes, and the penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. In addition an employer may be penalized for noncompliance with a labor relations commission order to reinstate a worker. The law sets penalties in the form of fines or imprisonment against employers who refuse unions’ legitimate requests for bargaining. In December 2019, 26 Samsung Electronics executives were found guilty of union busting by planning and executing a scheme to break up the Samsung Electronics Service Union. The Seoul Central District Court sentenced Samsung vice president Kang Kyung-hoon to 18 months in prison, and other senior executives also faced imprisonment. The court determined that the executives had masterminded a plan of intimidation intended to thwart unionization in the company and its subcontractors.

Labor organizations generally operated without government interference.

Undocumented foreign workers faced difficulties participating in union activities due to fear of exposing themselves to arrest and deportation. “Dispatched workers” (those on temporary contracts) faced increased risk of nonrenewal of their work contract if they joined unions or engaged in industrial disputes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government generally enforced the law effectively but did not consistently identify cases of forced labor; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

NGOs continued to report that some migrant workers were subject to forced labor, particularly those who had incurred thousands of dollars in debt for payment of recruitment fees, making them vulnerable to debt bondage. Some migrant workers in the agriculture, livestock, and fishing industries faced conditions indicative of forced labor, including deceptive recruiting practices, confiscation of passports, and nonpayment of wages.

NGOs reported harsh conditions for migrant seafarers, many of whom worked more than 18 hours per day. Migrant seafarers, primarily from Southeast Asia, were physically or verbally abused by Korean captains and other crew and were forced to work even when sick. According to NGOs, deep-sea fishing vessels depended heavily on migrant seafarers; 73.3 percent of workers on Korean deep-sea vessels in 2018 were migrants.

The government continued investigations of working conditions for foreign sailors. From May to June, the coast guard conducted enforcement operations for human rights violations against migrant workers in the fisheries industry. Similar operations in 2019 resulted in the arrest by maritime police of 94 individuals for suspected human rights or worker rights abuses. Stakeholders reported that such enforcement activities were limited by jurisdictional disputes between the Ministry of Employment and Labor and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

The government also investigated instances of abuse, including forced labor, against workers with intellectual disabilities in the fisheries industry.

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 employing minors younger than age 15 without an authorization certificate from the Ministry of Employment and Labor, and the government generally enforced the law. Authorities issued few such certificates for full-time employment because education is compulsory through the end of middle school. Children ages 15 to 18 may work with the consent of at least one parent or guardian. Employers in industries considered harmful or hazardous to a minor’s morals or health may not hire them and face fines or imprisonment for violations. The maximum penalty for child labor, two years’ imprisonment, was not commensurate with that for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, which is penalized by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Through September the government reported no violations of child labor laws.

There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children.).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation on the basis of gender, nationality, social status, religion, or disability. No law explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of language or HIV or other communicable disease status. The penalties for employment discrimination were commensurate with laws related to similar violations. The law prohibits companies with more than 30 employees from asking job applicants about family members, place of origin, marital status, age, or property ownership.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work. The government inconsistently enforced the law, and discrimination occurred with respect to gender. The gender pay gap was 32.5 percent in 2019. Workers’ rights groups attributed the gap to women’s childcare and household responsibilities. A higher percentage of women filled lower-paying, low-skilled, contract jobs, and women often faced difficulties returning to the workforce after childbirth. Legal restrictions against women in employment included limits on working hours, occupations, and tasks. In particular the law restricted women’s participation in “hazardous” occupations such as mining.

The government’s Sixth Basic Plan on Equal Employment and Work-Life Balance for 2018 to 2022 provides a roadmap for a policy on women’s employment that consists of three pillars: creating nondiscriminatory working environments, preventing interruptions in women’s careers, and providing re-employment for “career-interrupted” women.

The workplace antibullying law requires employers to take action to fight bullying in the workplace. According to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 70 percent of persons surveyed in 2018 said they had been bullied at work. By law employers convicted of failing to take action to protect bullied employees face a fine and up to three years in prison.

The law prohibits discrimination against subcontracted (also known as “dispatched”) and temporary workers, who comprised approximately one-third of all wage workers and were found especially in the electronics, automotive, and service sectors. Nonetheless, NGOs and local media reported discrimination against informal or irregular workers (those who do not have full-time, permanent employment and who do not receive benefits at the same level as permanent workers). For example, while the law requires the conversion to permanent status of those employed longer than two years, employers often laid off irregular workers shortly before the two-year mark. To address this problem, the government provides subsidies and tax breaks to encourage businesses to hire temporary workers on a permanent basis, according to the labor ministry. The International Labor Organization noted that the disadvantaged status of irregular workers contributed to discrimination against women given that women were overrepresented among these workers.

Discrimination in the workplace occurred against persons with HIV/AIDS, women, persons with disabilities, and migrant workers.

Many migrant workers faced workplace discrimination. The maximum length of stay permitted under the Employee Permit System is four years and 10 months, just under the five years needed to apply for permanent residency. NGOs and civil society groups asserted this policy is designed to exclude foreign workers from permanent residence or citizenship eligibility. NGOs stated it remained difficult for migrant workers to change employers (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.).

The law allows employers to pay foreign workers on South Korean-flagged ships lower wages than South Korean workers. The minimum wage for Korean workers is set by the government while industry and trade union representatives, who do not represent foreign workers, set the minimum wage for foreign employees. According to NGOs, the rate for domestic crewmembers is five times higher than for foreign workers. Further, unlike citizens, foreign sailors are not entitled to profit sharing. Many foreign seafarers reported to NGOs that they received only 600,000 won ($517) in monthly wages.

The law prohibits recruiters, agents, employers, or managers from receiving money or other valuables or benefits from job seekers or employees in exchange for securing employment. Nevertheless, NGOs reported South Korean-flagged vessel owners routinely demanded security deposits from foreign crewmembers to discourage them from transferring jobs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

During the year the minimum wage increased 2.9 percent and was above the official poverty line. NGOs reported that as the minimum wage increased, employers tried to curb expenses by reducing work hours, listing employees as “on-call” at home when they were in fact at work, employing undocumented foreign workers, and charging migrant workers for their accommodations and board.

The law allows a flexible system under which employees may work more than eight hours during certain days and more than 40 hours per week during certain weeks (up to a maximum of 52 hours in a single week), so long as average weekly work hours for any two-week period do not exceed 40 hours and workers have a mandatory day of rest each week. For employers who adopt a flexible system, hours exceeding 80 in a two-week period constitute overtime. Foreign companies operating in export-processing zones are exempt from labor regulations that mandate one day of rest a week. The law limits overtime of ordinary workers to 12 hours a week.

The government generally effectively enforced laws on wages and acceptable conditions of work in most sectors, but migrants faced discriminatory laws and practices. The Labor Ministry was responsible for enforcement of these laws and the number of labor inspectors was sufficient to deter violations in most sectors. Inspectors had the authority to identify unsafe conditions, conduct unannounced visits, and issue corrective orders. Penalties for violations included imprisonment and fines and were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

Regulations outline legal protections for migrant and foreign workers. Inspections covered businesses with foreign workers, particularly in the agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and construction sectors, which generally had poor working conditions. Migrants’ rights advocates noted the government inspected only a small percentage of workplaces that hire migrant workers and asserted that employers were not deterred from violating labor standards because most inspections were perfunctory and, even if violations were found, the typical result was a corrective order.

Migrant workers faced multiple restrictions on employment mobility, which left them vulnerable to exploitation. Migrant workers must obtain the consent of their current employers to switch jobs. The Ministry of Labor stated that migrant workers may apply to change workplaces without the employer’s consent when an employer violates the law, but NGOs argued that violations were hard to prove and vulnerable workers were unlikely to be aware of this right.

In one instance an employer told a migrant worker owed four months’ salary in back wages that he would provide the needed approval only in exchange for a payment that exceeded the back wages. In another case a Cambodian agricultural migrant who had not been paid in three years could not leave her job because she did not have the employer’s approval. The employer told media that paying fines for violating the labor standards law was less expensive than paying the back wages.

In March migrant workers seeking to overturn the restriction on changing workplaces filed a constitutional appeal. As of September the case was pending.

Migrant workers lose their legal status if they lose their job and do not find another employer within three months. Authorities may then cancel the work permit, forcing the worker either to return home or to remain in the country illegally. This caused difficulties for seasonal workers such as those involved in agriculture or construction. Migrant workers did not have access to lists of companies that were hiring when they wanted to change jobs, which made it more difficult for these workers to change jobs freely.

To prevent violations and improve working conditions for migrant and foreign workers, the government provided pre-employment training to newly arrived foreign workers, workplace adaptation training to those who changed workplaces, and training to employers who hired foreign workers. The government funded 44 Foreign Workers Support Centers nationwide to provide foreign workers with counseling services in 16 languages, Korean language and cultural programs, shelter, and free health-care services. It also ran a call center to help foreign workers resolve grievances. The government also funded multicultural family and migrant plus centers to provide foreign workers, international marriage immigrants, and other multicultural families with a one-stop service center providing immigration, welfare, and education services.

The law requires severance payments to migrant workers who have worked in the country for at least one year. Many workers, however, reported difficulty in receiving severance pay prior to their departure and stated they did not receive payments even after returning to their country of origin, due to banking regulations and delinquent employers. NGOs confirmed many departing migrants never received these payments and that the COVID-19 pandemic magnified these difficulties.

Some NGOs reported migrant workers were particularly vulnerable to exploitation because the law excludes regulations on working hours, holidays, and benefits for the agricultural, livestock, and fisheries industries that had large numbers of migrant workers. Foreign laborers sometimes faced physical abuse and exploitation by employers in the form of longer working hours, fewer days off, and lower wages than their local counterparts. According to NGOs, the government only occasionally investigated reports of poor or abusive working conditions for migrants, and court cases were often dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

NGOs reported that although employers were prohibited from providing makeshift accommodations, some violated this prohibition, providing migrant workers with substandard accommodations made of plastic panels. After heavy rain led to the flooding of the Sanyang Reservoir in Gyeonggi Province in August, an estimated 100 persons were displaced, of whom 80 percent were migrant workers living in “plastic houses” while working on farms near the reservoir. Employers justified the accommodations, noting they lived there together with the workers and that the lodgings were only temporary to respond to busy work schedules. Workers’ rights advocates argued the plastic houses were illegal.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards and is responsible for monitoring industry adherence. Under the law workers in every sector have the right to remove themselves from situations of danger without jeopardizing their employment. As of July the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency, responsible for enforcement of these laws, had directly or indirectly inspected 299,081 workplaces. The penalties were commensurate with those for analogous crimes such as gross negligence.

In January broad reforms to the Occupational Safety and Health Act took effect. Some of the revisions included higher fines for workplace fatalities and increased penalties for health and safety violations. The revised regulations also prohibited companies from subcontracting out specific types of dangerous work, such as metal plating, that involve harmful heavy metals such as mercury and lead.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, there were 109,242 work-related accidents in 2019, an increase of 6.8 percent from 2018, and 2,020 occupational deaths, down from 2,142 in 2018. The agency’s director acknowledged that challenges remained in further reducing the level of fatal accidents to that on par with other advanced countries; ensuring the safety of workers vulnerable to occupational accidents and health risks, including older workers, women, migrants, and those working in small workplaces; and reducing safety gaps between large enterprises and small- and medium-sized enterprises, as well as between parent companies and subcontractors. Workers’ rights advocates said that contract or temporary workers were also vulnerable to workplace injury.

From September 2019 until May, five fatal accidents occurred at Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., one of the world’s largest shipbuilders. The Ministry of Employment and Labor determined the company lacked executive support for safety management, failed to abide by basic safety regulations, and did not properly educate employees about risks. After inspections in July, the ministry imposed a nominal fine of 152 million won ($131,000) for 165 safety violations.

Taiwan

Executive Summary

Taiwan is a democracy led by a president and parliament selected in multiparty elections. On January 11, voters re-elected President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party to another four-year term in an election considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. The National Police Agency, under the Ministry of Interior, maintains internal security. The police, military services, Agency of Corrections, and Coast Guard Administration report to the premier, who is appointed by the president. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: the existence of criminal libel laws and serious acts of corruption.

Authorities enforced laws prohibiting human rights abuses and prosecuted officials who committed them, including incumbent and former legislators involved in a high-profile bribery case. There were no reports of impunity.

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 authorities or their agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law stipulates no violence, threat, inducement, fraud, or other improper means should be used against accused persons, and there were no reports officials employed these practices. There were no reports of impunity in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports of prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

Administration: Prison authorities investigated claims of inhuman conditions and released the results of their investigations to judicial authorities and occasionally to the press. Authorities investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

In August, two prison officers surnamed Lee and Chiu were sentenced to 10.5 years and nine years in jail, respectively, for complicity in abuses in October 2019 that led to the death of an inmate.

During the active investigation phase of their cases, authorities deprived a small number of detainees of visitation rights, on court order, although these detainees retained access to legal counsel.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed independent nongovernmental observers to investigate prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and relevant laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of defendants to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, and the authorities generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires a warrant or summons, except when there is sufficient reason to believe the suspect may flee or in urgent circumstances, as specified in the code of criminal procedures. Courts may release indicted persons on bail. Prosecutors must apply to the courts within 24 hours after arrest for permission to continue detaining a suspect. Authorities generally observed these procedures, and trials usually took place within three months of indictment. Prosecutors may apply to a court for approval of pretrial detention of an unindicted suspect for a maximum of two months, with one possible two-month extension. Prosecutors may request pretrial detention in cases in which the potential sentence is five years or more and when there is a reasonable concern the suspect could flee, collude with other suspects or witnesses, or tamper with or destroy material evidence.

The law allows defendants and their lawyers access to case files and evidence while in pretrial detention. The law also stipulates defendants must be assisted by a lawyer while in detention. For those who cannot afford to hire one, a public defender will be appointed. The law also specifies suspects may not be interrogated late at night.

The judicial branch (Judicial Yuan) and the National Police Agency operated a program to provide legal counsel during initial police questioning of indigenous suspects, qualifying indigent suspects who have a mental disability, or persons charged with a crime punishable by three or more years in prison. Detained persons may request the assistance of the Legal Aid Foundation, a publicly funded independent statutory organization that provides professional legal assistance through its 22 branch offices to persons who might not otherwise have legal representation. During regular consultations with police and when participating in police conferences, Legal Aid Foundation officials remind police of their obligation to notify suspects of the existence of such counseling. Authorities can detain a suspect without visitation rights, except for legal counsel, or hold a suspect under house arrest based on a prosecutor’s recommendation and court decision. The law affords the right of compensation to those whom police have unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the authorities generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Some political commentators and academics, however, publicly questioned the impartiality of judges and prosecutors involved in high profile, politically sensitive cases. Judicial reform advocates pressed for greater public accountability, reforms of the personnel system, and other procedural improvements.

The judicial system included options beyond appeal for rectifying an injustice. In a high-profile retrial in May, the death sentence for Hsieh Chih-hung, detained since 2000 for murder and rape, was overturned by the High Court’s Tainan branch due to insufficient evidence after the Taipei High Prosecutors’ Office petitioned for a retrial, citing new evidence of Hsieh’s innocence.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

By law when any authority arrests or detains a person without a court order, any person, including the arrestee or detainee, may petition a court of justice having jurisdiction for a writ of habeas corpus, and the case must be brought before a judge within 24 hours. The law also requires agencies to inform detainees of their right to see a judge for a writ of habeas corpus. Detaining authorities who violate the law may face a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a modest fine.

All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. They also have the right to an attorney and to be present at trial. Trials are public, although court permission may be required to attend trials involving juveniles or potentially sensitive issues that might attract crowds. Judges decide cases; all judges receive appointments from and answer to the Judicial Yuan. A single judge, rather than a defense attorney or prosecutor, typically interrogates parties and witnesses. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of charges, hire an attorney of their choice or have one provided, prepare a defense, confront witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right to free interpretation service, if needed, from the moment charged through all appeals.

By law a suspect may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and a confession may not be the sole evidence used to find a defendant guilty. All convicted persons have the right to appeal to the next two higher court levels. The law extends the above rights to all suspects and convicted persons.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

In July the Transitional Justice Commission, responsible for the investigation of human rights abuses under the Kuomintang regime between 1945 and 1992, unveiled the fifth list of exonerated victims of political persecution during the authoritarian era. Since the 2018 establishment of the commission, 5,861 victims of political persecution have had their convictions overturned. In February the commission published a report on their investigation of the 1981 death of political dissident Chen Wen-chen, declaring he was most likely killed by security agents.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters. Administrative remedies are available in addition to judicial remedies for alleged wrongdoing, including human rights violations.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the authorities failed to respect 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 Taiwan authorities generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

Freedom of Speech: In February the High Court overruled the September 2019 acquittal of a man, Chia-yu Lee, and found him guilty of inciting individuals to burn the Republic of China flag. The lower court had acquitted him on the grounds that his act was a form of constitutionally protected speech.

The law most cited to curb the spread of disinformation was the Law for Maintaining Social Order, which authorities have used to limit or question speech to combat misinformation. For example, in December 2019 police questioned a political science professor for potential violations of this law arising from a video (deemed misleading by authorities) that he posted in 2018 on Facebook criticizing the administration’s policy on the National Palace Museum. Courts ruled in January that the comments constituted protected free speech. In July, two opposition Tainan City councilors were referred to the court for potentially violating that law, after publicly claiming that counterfeit versions of stimulus vouchers were being circulated. In September the Tainan district court concluded that the councilors’ comments fell within the scope of free speech and upheld its ruling that no punishment would be issued, rejecting police claims that the city councilors “spread rumors to disrupt public order.”

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were no credible reports authorities in Taiwan restricted media freedom.

In September the Ministry of Health and Welfare cancelled new regulations that barred media from placing suicide-related articles on front pages, the use of sensational headlines in suicide cases, and the use of photographs of suicides or the inclusion of hyperlinks to such images, as well as repetitive reporting of suicide-related news.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Officials in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) influenced Taiwan media outlets through pressure on the business interests of their parent companies in the PRC. Taiwan journalists reported difficulty publishing content critical of the PRC, alleging that PRC authorities had pressured Taiwan businesses with operations in China to refrain from advertising with Taiwan media outlets which published such material. To punish Taiwan media outlets deemed too critical of PRC policies or actions, the PRC would subject their journalists to heightened scrutiny at Chinese ports of entry or deny them entry to China. PRC actors also targeted the computers and mobile phones of Taiwan journalists for cyberattacks.

In January a new law criminalized receiving direction or funding from prohibited Chinese sources to conduct political activities, with sentences up to five years imprisonment and substantial fines. In response to the passage of this law, Master Chain, a Taiwan-based media group also operating in China, announced plans to suspend its Taiwan operations. Opposition politicians and some media outlets criticized these provisions as overly broad and potentially detrimental to freedom of expression, including for the press.

On November 18, Taiwan’s National Communications Commission (NCC) declined to renew the license of CTi News, the first nonrenewal of a news channel license since the NCC’s establishment in 2006. The independent regulatory agency noted CTi News’ repeated violations of broadcasting regulations for which the channel was fined 23 times for a total of 11.5 million New Taiwan (NT) dollars ($390,000) over the past six years. The NCC also cited CTi News’ failure to implement internal control and self-regulation reforms designed to remedy problems noted during its 2014 license renewal process. Opposition politicians and some academics and commentators claimed NCC’s decision not to renew the license was politically motivated retaliation for CTi News’ criticism of the ruling party. On the other hand, there have been serious allegations that CTi News and its sister publications owned by the Want Want Group took editorial direction from the PRC. CTi News challenged the NCC’s decision in administrative court but ceased broadcasting when its operating permit expired on December 11.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation and public humiliation are criminal offenses. Reporters faced online bullying and the threat of legal action, particularly under the liberal libel laws.

Under the law those who commit the offense of slander or libel by “pointing out or disseminating a fact which will injure the reputation of another” are subject to a sentence of up to two years or a fine. Victims of slander can also claim reasonable financial compensation and require measures for the rehabilitation of their reputations. These provisions allow the subjects of unfavorable press coverage to press criminal and civil charges directly against journalists and media outlets for defamation. Journalists were rarely convicted for criminal defamation, as the law also specifies that a person who makes “fair comment on a fact subject to public criticism” with “bona-fide intent…shall not be punished.” Some legal scholars and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) continued to urge that libel be treated exclusively as a civil matter.

In July 2019 the Want Want Group, which has substantial operations in the PRC, filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against Taiwan-based Financial Times journalist Kathrin Hille in apparent retaliation for a report she authored exposing coordination between Want Want media outlets in Taiwan and the PRC Taiwan Affairs Office. Want Want also filed suit against Taiwan’s state-run Central News Agency for citing the Financial Times report. Reporters without Borders called Want Want Group’s legal action an “abusive libel suit” against a journalist whose reporting was credible. These lawsuits remained pending.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Academic freedom is generally well protected. Some observers said that universities have sought to prevent or restrict speech related to the PRC.

In May a Chung Yuan Christian University professor surnamed Chao accused the university of interfering with academic freedom to appease Chinese students. The professor alleged the university pressured him to apologize for saying that the novel coronavirus likely originated in Wuhan and for identifying himself as “a professor from the Republic of China.”

There were no restrictions on cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and Taiwan authorities generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedoms of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and authorities generally respected these rights.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities imposed border control restrictions. In August the Central Epidemic Command Center barred entry by children of Chinese spouses older than age six, including by those with a valid Taiwan residency permit.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and authorities have not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Due to its unique political status, Taiwan is not eligible to become a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

All PRC citizens unlawfully present are required by law to be returned to the PRC, although Taiwan allows PRC asylum seekers to remain in Taiwan on a case-by-case basis.

On July 1, the Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchanges and Services under the Mainland Affairs Council began to provide humanitarian assistance to Hong Kong permanent residents.

In April Lam Wing-kee of Hong Kong received legal employment status. In April 2019 Lam, former owner of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong, relocated to Taiwan, citing concern that he could be extradited from Hong Kong to the PRC under Hong Kong’s proposed extradition bill.

In July Li Jiabao, a former PRC exchange student, reported he no longer had legal status in Taiwan and was facing deportation to the PRC. In March 2019 Li openly criticized PRC president Xi Jinping on Twitter, and in April 2019 he requested a long-term stay permit on political grounds. His student visa expired in April 2019 but in July 2019 the National Immigration Agency granted him a special six-month visa extension for study purposes.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In January 11 presidential and legislative elections, President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election and her party, the Democratic Progressive Party, maintained a majority in the legislature. Observers regarded the elections as free and fair, although there were allegations of vote buying by candidates and supporters of both major political parties.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.

President Tsai Ing-wen is Taiwan’s first female president. Following January 11 elections, a record 42 percent of lawmakers were women, an increase from 38 percent in 2016, although less than 3 percent of the cabinet were women. Six seats are reserved in the legislature for representatives chosen by Taiwan’s indigenous people. In 2018 local elections, voters elected women to seven of the 22 mayoral and county magistrate seats. The number of women elected to local councils also continued to grow: Women won 307 of the 912 city and county council seats–an increase from 30.7 percent in 2014 with 33.8 percent in 2018.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and authorities generally implemented the law effectively. There were reports of official corruption during the year. In the year to May, nine high-ranking officials, 59 mid-level, 75 low-level, and 18 elected people’s deputies had been indicted for corruption.

Corruption: The Ministry of Justice and its Agency against Corruption are in charge of combating official corruption. The ministry received sufficient resources and collaborated with civil society within the scope of the law. Some legal scholars and politicians said the justice ministry was insufficiently independent and conducted politically motivated investigations of politicians. The Control Yuan, an independent investigative and auditing agency, is responsible for impeaching officials in cases of wrongdoing.

In January the Supreme Court upheld a guilty verdict for bribery against former minister of transportation and communications Kuo Yao-chi, who was sentenced to eight years in prison. Kuo was initially found innocent in two trials by the Taipei district court in 2009 and 2010, before being found guilty in a retrial by the High Court in 2011.

In September the Taipei District Prosecutors Office charged incumbent legislators Su Chen-ching of the Democratic Progressive Party, Liao Kuo-tung and Chen Chao-ming of the Kuomintang, and former New Power Party legislator Hsu Yung-ming with accepting bribes to assist a businessman in regaining control of the ownership of a department store chain. In addition independent legislator Chao Cheng-yu was indicted in a separate bribery case involving two funeral services companies and a plot of land in a national park. These cases were pending trial.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires specific appointed and elected officials and candidates in national and local elections to disclose their income and assets to the Control Yuan, which makes the disclosures public. Those making false declarations with the intent to conceal properties are subject to modest to substantial fines. The law also requires civil servants to account for abnormal increases in their assets and makes failure to do so a punishable offense and there are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

The law stipulates 18 categories of politically exposed persons subject to strict oversight for money-laundering activities. These include the president, vice president, heads of the central and local governments, legislators, and leadership of state-owned enterprises, as well as their family members and close associates.

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 restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Authorities were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

In August the Control Yuan established the National Human Rights Commission in charge of investigating abuses and discrimination, reviewing national human rights policies, publishing annual national human rights status reports, and promoting human rights in collaboration with domestic civil society and international NGOs.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and men, including spousal rape, and domestic violence, and provides protection for rape survivors. Rape trials are not open to the public unless the victim consents. The law allows experts to assist in questioning and appear in court as witnesses when rape victims are minors or have mental disabilities, and authorizes the use of one-way mirrors, video conferencing, or other practices to protect victims during questioning and at trial. The law permits a charge of rape even if the victim chooses not to press charges and allows prosecutors to investigate complaints of domestic violence even if the victim has not filed a formal complaint.

The law establishes the punishment for rape as a minimum of five years’ imprisonment, and courts usually sentenced individuals convicted of rape to five to 10 years in prison. Courts typically sentenced individuals convicted in domestic violence cases to less than six months in prison.

In one prominent case, in August a man surnamed Su was sentenced to 12 years in prison for sexually assaulting a woman.

Many victims did not report the crime for fear of social stigmatization, and NGOs and academic studies estimated the total number of sexual assaults was seven to 10 times higher than the number reported to police. Some abused women chose not to report incidents to police due to social pressure not to disgrace their families.

The law requires all cities and counties to establish violence prevention and control centers to address domestic and sexual violence, child abuse, and elder abuse.

In May the Constitutional Court issued an interpretation decriminalizing adultery. Activists lauded the ruling, asserting the laws had been used to pressure victims of sexual assault to refrain from filing charges.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment (see section 7.d.). In most cases perpetrators were required to attend classes on gender equality and counseling sessions, and when the victims agreed, to apologize to the victims. In 2019 a total of 408 fines were issued, up from 287 fines in 2018, with a combined total of seven million New Taiwan dollars ($238,000), a 40 percent increase from the previous year.

Incidents of sexual harassment were reportedly on the rise in public spaces, schools, the legislature, and in government agencies.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence, although their rights are abridged by the legal requirement that women concerned about the effect of pregnancy or childbirth on their mental health or family life must secure spousal consent before receiving certain forms of reproductive health care.

Contraceptive drugs and services were covered by the comprehensive mandatory health insurance system and readily available through prescription after a medical consultation. Pregnant women received full coverage of related medical expenses, including for 10 prenatal care outpatient visits and hospital or clinic services for labor and delivery. Fertility treatments are limited by law to married couples with a medical diagnosis of infertility or a major hereditary disease and when the wife is medically capable of carrying the pregnancy to term. Surrogacy is not legal. Staff members at designated hospitals were trained to acquire evidence and perform medical examinations for victims of sexual violence and to provide other sexual and reproductive health services.

In 2019, 99.83 percent of births were attended by a physician and 0.08 percent by a midwife. From 2009 through 2019, the adolescent birth rate remained at roughly four per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19.

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. Women experienced some discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).

Gender-biased Sex Selection: The law prohibits sex selection and sex-selective abortion, except for diagnoses of sex-linked inheritance disorders. Even for embryos created via assisted reproductive technology, the fetal sex may not be revealed in any form unless medically required. According to National Health Administration statistics, the ratio of males-to-females for a first child born in 2019 was 1.07. A 2019 survey found 32 percent of respondents preferred a female baby, and 31 percent a male baby. Authorities worked with local health bureaus to monitor the sex ratio at birth and continued to promote gender equality.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from that of either parent. Births must be registered within 60 days; failure to do so results in the denial of national health care and education benefits. Registration is not denied on a discriminatory basis.

Child Abuse: The law stipulates persons learning of child abuse or neglect must notify police or welfare authorities. An official 24-hour hotline accepted complaints and offered counseling. Courts are required to appoint guardians for children of parents deemed unfit. Childcare center owners and teachers who physically abuse or sexually harass children may be fined, and the names of perpetrators and their institutions will be made public. Owners who fail to verify the qualifications of teachers and other employees may be fined.

Children’s rights advocates called on medical professionals to pay attention to infants and young children sent to hospitals with unusual injuries and to take the initiative to report suspected abuse to law enforcement while treating these children. Advocates also called attention to bullying, violence, and sexual assault cases at correctional institutions, while pointing out these facilities were often understaffed and that their personnel were inadequately trained to counsel and manage teenage inmates.

Central and local authorities coordinated with private organizations to identify and assist high-risk children and families and to increase public awareness of child abuse and domestic violence.

In August a couple surnamed Chiu and Wang were convicted of beating their two-year-old son to death in November 2019. They were sentenced to 15 years and eight years and four months in jail, respectively. In June a man surnamed Chang was sentenced to nine years and 10 months in jail for sexual abuse of three minors.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 years for men and 16 for girls.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Under law a perpetrator who films an underage person engaging in sexual intercourse or obscene acts or produces pictures, photographs, films, videotapes, compact discs, electronic signals, or other objects that show an underage person engaging in sexual intercourse or obscene acts, is subject to imprisonment for between one and seven years, and could face a substantial fine.

The minimum age for consensual sexual relations is 16. Persons who engage in sex with children younger than age 14 face sentences of three to 10 years in prison. Those who engage in sex with minors between 14 and 16 receive a mandatory prison sentence of three to seven years. Solicitors of sex with minors older than 16 but younger than 18 face a maximum of one year in prison or hard labor or a substantial fine.

While authorities generally enforced the law domestically, elements of the law that treat possession of child pornography as a misdemeanor rather than a felony hampered enforcement in some cases. Authorities also did not investigate or prosecute any cases of child sexual exploitation committed by citizens while traveling abroad, although the law permits this.

In March a man surnamed Chen was sentenced to two years and two months in jail for distributing intimate photos of a 13-year-old girl through social media, in addition to an earlier sentence of eight years and six months for sexual assault against the same minor.

NGOs raised concerns regarding online sexual exploitation of children and reported sex offenders increasingly used cell phones, web cameras, live streaming, apps, and other new technologies to deceive and coerce underage girls and boys into sexual activity; the NGOs called for increased prosecutions and heavier penalties.

There were reports of minors in prostitution.

International Child Abductions: Due to its unique political status, Taiwan is not eligible to become 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, estimated at 1,000 individuals, predominately foreign residents. 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 and stipulates authorities must provide certain services and programs to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities have the right to vote and participate in civic affairs.

Authorities made efforts to implement laws and programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. NGOs contended the lack of barrier-free spaces and accessible transportation systems continued to limit civic engagement by persons with disabilities, particularly outside Taipei. The Accessible Living Environment Supervisory Task Force under the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for monitoring efforts by local governments to improve the accessibility of public buildings. Authorities release an annual assessment on accessibility in public buildings and areas that serves as a reference for central government budget allocation.

Most children with disabilities attended mainstream schools, but separate primary, secondary, and vocational schools were also available for students with disabilities. NGOs asserted services for students with disabilities remained largely inadequate.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

As of December 2019, spouses born in Southeast Asian countries and the PRC accounted for more than 2.2 percent of the total population. Overseas spouses were reportedly targets of social discrimination or abuse outside and, at times, inside the home.

The law allows non-PRC-born foreign spouses of Taiwan passport holders to apply for Taiwan residency after three years, while PRC-born spouses must wait six years. Unlike non-PRC spouses, however, PRC-born spouses may work in Taiwan immediately on arrival. The status and rights of PRC-born spouses are governed by the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area.

Starting in August 2019, seven Southeast Asian languages–Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, Burmese, Khmer, Malay, and Tagalog–were incorporated into the language curriculum in some elementary schools, reflecting the growing number of children of partial Southeast Asian descent. As of September more than 153,000 second-generation students were enrolled in elementary and junior high schools.

In February the Taiwan Railways Administration imposed a ban on sitting on the floor of the main hall of the Taipei Main Station, a public venue frequently used by foreign migrant workers to socialize, citing social distancing guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic. After facing criticism from migrant worker rights groups, restrictions were lifted in July.

Indigenous People

Authorities officially recognize 16 indigenous tribes, accounting for approximately 2.3 percent of the population. The law provides indigenous people equal civil and political rights and stipulates authorities should provide resources to help indigenous groups develop a system of self-governance, formulate policies to protect their basic rights, and promote the preservation and development of their languages and cultures.

The law designates the languages of the 16 indigenous tribes as national languages and entitles indigenous peoples to use their languages in official settings. In February a foundation was launched to research, preserve, and support the use of indigenous languages. In a program begun in 2018, a total of 32 schools representing 10 ethnic groups were engaged in indigenous experimental education.

The Legal Aid Foundation operated a center in Hualian to provide legal assistance to indigenous persons.

Although the law allows for the delineation of government-owned traditional indigenous territories, some indigenous rights advocates argued a large amount of indigenous land was seized and privatized decades ago, depriving indigenous communities of the right to participate in the development of these traditional territories.

Existing law stipulates authorities and the private sector should consult with indigenous people and obtain their consent to or participation in, as well as share with them the benefits of, land development, resource utilization, ecology conservation, and academic research in indigenous areas. There are, however, no regulations in place for obtaining this consent with respect to private land.

Indigenous people participated in decisions affecting their land through the political process. The law sets aside six of the 113 seats in the legislature for indigenous tribal representatives elected by indigenous voters.

In August the Transitional Justice Commission exonerated Voyue Tosku, an indigenous Tsou tribesman, and Liao Li-chuan, sentenced in 1954 to 17 and 10 years in jail, respectively, for alleged involvement in a treason case during the martial law era. This was the first exoneration by the Transitional Justice Commission of members of indigenous tribes.

In November 2019 authorities announced NT$2.55 billion ($83.6 million) in compensation to residents on outlying Orchid Island, home to the indigenous Tao community, for the operation of a nuclear waste storage facility on the island over the past five decades without their consent. Local community representatives rejected the proposed compensation, reiterating demands that the nuclear waste be removed or relocated.

In June the Asia Cement Corporation announced it would initiate consultations with the local community aimed at achieving a settlement for the continuation of mining operations in Hualien County. The action followed a July 2019 Taipei high administrative court ruling in favor of indigenous Truku residents who protested the renewal of permits for the corporation’s mining operations near their community. The Bureau of Mines renewed the permit without the consent of the Truku community, which the court ruled violated legal requirements for governments or private parties to consult with and obtain consent from indigenous peoples in such cases.

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

The law stipulates employers cannot discriminate against job seekers based on sexual orientation and prohibits schools from discriminating against students based on their gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Activists for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights said due to victims’ reluctance to lodge formal complaints, discrimination against LGBTI persons was more widespread than suggested by the number of court cases. Reported instances of violence against LGBTI individuals were rare, and police response was adequate.

In September several LGBTI advocacy and parents’ groups voiced support for, while other non-LGBTI groups protested against, the Ministry of Education’s selection of a children’s book featuring a same-sex couple for elementary-school readers.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits potential employers from requesting health examination reports from job candidates to prove they do not have HIV or other communicable diseases. There was reported discrimination, including employment discrimination, against persons with HIV or AIDS (see section 7.d.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits discrimination, dismissal, or other unfair treatment of workers for union-related activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for legal trade union activity. Employees hired through dispatching agencies (i.e., temporary workers) do not have the right to organize and bargain collectively in the enterprises where they work.

The Labor Incident Act, which entered into force in January, clearly defines labor disputes and establishes special labor courts in the judicial system to handle all labor cases, including collective disputes involving a union.

According to the law, there are three types of unions: enterprise unions, industrial unions, and professional unions. Enterprise unions must have 30 members to form and there may only be one union per enterprise. Employees in companies with fewer than 30 workers may only join a professional union or an industrial union to exercise their rights. Industrial unions link workers in the same industry. Professional unions must be within the geographic boundaries of local administrative divisions; membership across boundaries is prohibited.

The right to strike remained highly restricted. Teachers, civil servants, and defense industry employees do not have the right to strike. Workers in industries such as utilities, hospital services, and telecommunication service providers are allowed to strike only if they maintain basic services during the strike. Authorities may prohibit, limit, or break up a strike during a disaster. Workers are allowed to strike only in “adjustment” disputes which include issues such as compensation and working schedules. The law forbids strikes related to rights guaranteed under the law.

The law requires mediation of labor disputes when authorities deem them sufficiently serious or involving unfair practices. Most labor disputes involved wage and severance issues. Local labor authorities often settle disputes through mediation or arbitration. Mediation usually resolved most cases within 20 days. Legally binding arbitration generally took between 45 and 79 working days. The law prohibits strikes or other acts of protest during conciliation or arbitration proceedings. Labor organizations stated this prohibition impeded workers’ ability to exercise their right to strike.

Through July the economic impact of COVID-19 increased labor dispute cases by 15 percent, particularly related to wage disputes and improper dismissals.

The Ministry of Labor oversees implementation and enforcement of labor laws in coordination with local labor affairs authorities. Authorities effectively enforced laws providing for the freedom of association and collective bargaining. Ministry arbitration committees reviewed cases of antiunion activities, and authorities subjected violators to fines or restoration of employee’s duties. Such fines were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

Large enterprises frequently made it difficult for employees to organize an enterprise union through methods such as blacklisting union organizers from promotion or relocating them to other work divisions. These methods were particularly common in the technology sector. There was only one enterprise union among the 520 companies in Hsinchu Science Park, where more than 150,000 employees work. The authorities provide financial incentives to enterprise unions to encourage negotiation of “collective agreements” with employers that detail their employees’ immediate labor rights and entitlements.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes penalties for forced labor, and authorities effectively enforced the law, but courts delivered light sentences or fines in most forced labor convictions. Such penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Authorities can terminate brokers’ business operations but did not do so as of October. There is no legal prohibition against reopening a business through a proxy that registers as a new company.

Authorities continued public awareness campaigns, including disseminating worker-education pamphlets, operating foreign-worker hotlines, and offering Ministry of Education programs on labor trafficking as part of the broader human rights curriculum. Forced labor occurred primarily in sectors reliant on migrant workers including domestic services, fishing, farming, manufacturing, meat processing, and construction. Some labor brokers charged foreign workers exorbitant recruitment fees and used debts incurred from these fees in the source country as tools of coercion to subject the workers to debt bondage (see section 7.e.).

Migrant fishermen reported senior crewmembers employ coercive tactics such as threats of physical violence, beatings, withholding of food and water, retention of identity documents, wage deductions, and noncontractual compulsory sharing of vessel operational costs to retain their labor. These abuses were particularly prevalent in Taiwan’s large distant-waters fishing fleet, which operated without adequate oversight (see section 7.e.).

The Employment Services Act requires labor brokers to report mistreatment such as withholding identification documents, restrictions on access to dorms or residences, and excessive work hours violating the general work conditions of foreign workers to law enforcement authorities within 24 hours. Penalties for not doing so include small fines. The Employment Services Act introduced a new article to prohibit brokers from specific acts against migrant workers, including sexual assault, human trafficking, or forced labor with penalties including modest fines and possible criminal charges.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law provides a minimum age for employment of 15, but has an exception for work by children younger than 15 if they have completed junior high school and the appropriate authorities have determined the work will not harm the child’s mental and physical health. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from doing heavy or hazardous work. Working hours for children are limited to eight hours per day, and children may not work overtime or on night shifts. The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor.

County and city labor bureaus effectively enforced minimum age laws by ensuring the implementation of compulsory education. Employers who violate minimum age laws face a prison sentence, fines, or both, which were not commensurate with those of analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, and sexual orientation. The law prohibits potential employers from requesting medical reports from job candidates to prove they do not have HIV or other communicable diseases. The law forbids termination of employment because of pregnancy or marriage. The law does not restrict women’s working hours, occupations, or tasks. The authorities effectively enforced the law and penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Workers who encounter discrimination can file complaints with two independent committees composed of scholars, experts, and officials in city and county departments of labor affairs. Local labor affairs bureaus are empowered to intervene and investigate complaints of employment discrimination. Authorities enforced decisions made by those committees. Employers can appeal rulings to the Ministry of Labor and the administrative court.

The majority of sex discrimination cases reported in 2019 were forced resignations due to pregnancies. Scholars said sex discrimination remained significantly underreported due to workers’ fear of retaliation from employers and difficulties in finding new employment if the worker has a history of making complaints. According to a 2018 survey by the Ministry of Finance, the median monthly income for women was, on average, 87.5 percent of the amount their male counterparts earned.

The law requires 3 percent of the workforce in the public sector and 1 percent of the workforce in the private sector to be persons with disabilities. In 2019, 4.3 percent of the public-sector workforce consisted of persons with disabilities; the private sector continued to fall short of the target. Companies with more than 67 employees failing to meet the target are potentially liable for small fines.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Ministry of Labor’s Basic Wage Committee sets a minimum wage that is adjusted annually. The minimum wage does not cover workers in categories not covered by the law, such as management employees, medical doctors and other healthcare workers, gardeners, bodyguards, self-employed lawyers, civil servants, contractors for local authorities, and domestic household workers. The minimum wage is above the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s poverty level, although foreign fishermen on vessels operating outside Taiwan’s territorial seas earned significantly below the national minimum wage, and NGOs reported that the monthly take-home pay of some domestic workers was as low as 6.7 percent below the official poverty level. Enacted in January, the Labor Incident Act clarified that employers, not workers, bear the burden of proof in wage and hour disputes.

Regular working hours are eight hours per day and 40 hours per week, with overtime limited to 54 hours per month. The law requires a mandatory rest interval for shift work of eight hours or longer in certain sectors and limits the number of working days to 12 days in a two-week period.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the labor laws in conjunction with the labor agencies of local governments. Employees in “authorized special categories” approved by the Ministry of Labor are exempt from regular working hours stipulated in the law. These include security guards, flight attendants, insurance salespersons, real estate agents, media journalists, public transport drivers, domestic workers, and caregivers. Penalties are not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. The ministry effectively enforced is minimum wage and overtime laws.

To respond to concerns from religious leaders that the law did not guarantee a day off for many of the 220,000 foreign caregivers and household workers who wished to attend religious services on a certain day of the week, in September 2019 authorities introduced a “respite care service” to provide substitute caregivers on a per-day basis. Ministry of Labor statistics show employers utilized 23,882 respite-care days in 2019.

The law provides for occupational safety and health standards that are appropriate for the main industries in the economy. A May 2019 Labor Standards Act amendment prescribes to enterprise and dispatching agencies responsibility for occupational injury of temporary workers. The authorities effectively enforced occupational safety and health standards. Workers can remove themselves from a situation that endangers their health and safety and report to their supervisor without jeopardizing their employment. Employers, however, can terminate the employment contract if they can prove the worker abused the right to suspend work and the competent authority has affirmed the employer was in compliance. Employers are subject to civil but not criminal charges when their employees are involved in fatal accidents due to unsafe working conditions. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health standards were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence. The freight and passenger transportation industries saw higher than average accident rates among drivers working overtime. Their employers often tried to make drivers rather than the companies liable for any accidents.

There were an insufficient number of inspectors for the number of workplaces to be inspected, despite the recruitment of additional 325 inspectors in 2019. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections. Authorities can fine employers and revoke their hiring privileges for violations of the law, and the law mandates publicizing the names of offending companies. Employers found to be in violation of labor laws during an inspection are not eligible for certain tax reductions or grants.

More than 700,000 foreign workers were employed, primarily from Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand; most were recruited through a labor broker. The Ministry of Labor is required to inspect and oversee the brokerage companies to ensure compliance. The ministry also operates a Foreign Worker Direct Hire Service Center and an online platform to allow employers to hire foreign workers without using a broker. Foreign workers may change employers in cases of exploitation or abuse.

The Taiwan International Workers’ Association complained, however, that bureaucratic red tape continued to enable brokers to extract profits from foreign workers and prevented the service center from being used more widely.

The Ministry of Labor maintained a 24-hour toll-free “1955” hotline service in six languages (Mandarin, English, Indonesian, Thai, Tagalog, and Vietnamese) where foreign workers can obtain free legal advice, request urgent relocation and protection, report abuse by employers, file complaints about delayed salary payments, and make other inquiries. All reporting cases are registered in a centralized database for law enforcement to track and intervene if necessary. Among the 186,014 calls in 2019, the hotline helped 5,322 foreign workers to reclaim a total of NT$179 million ($5.97 million) in salary payments.

Foreign workers’ associations maintained that, in spite of the existence of the hotline and authorities’ effective response record, foreign workers were often reluctant to report employer abuses for fear the employer would terminate their contract, subjecting them to possible deportation and leaving them unable to pay off their debt to recruiters.

Foreign workers generally faced exploitation and incurred significant debt burdens during the recruitment process due to excessive brokerage fees, guarantee deposits, and higher charges for flights and accommodations. Brokerage agencies often required workers to take out loans for “training” and other fees at local branches of Taiwan banks in their home countries at high interest rates, leaving them vulnerable to debt bondage. NGOs suggested the authorities should seek further international cooperation with labor-sending countries, particularly on oversight of transnational labor brokers.

Foreign fishermen were commonly subjected to mistreatment and poor working conditions. Domestic labor laws only apply to fishermen working on vessels operating within Taiwan’s territorial waters. Fishermen working on Taiwan-flagged vessels operating beyond Taiwan’s territorial waters (Taiwan’s distant-waters fishing fleet) were not afforded the same labor rights, wages, insurance, and pensions as those recruited to work within Taiwan’s territorial waters. For example, regulations only require a minimum monthly wage of $450 for these foreign fishermen in the distant water fleet, significantly below the domestic minimum wage. NGOs reported that foreign fishing crews in Taiwan’s distant-waters fishing fleet generally received wages below the required $450 per month because of dubious deductions for administrative fees and deposits.

Several NGOs, including Greenpeace and the Taiwan International Workers Association, advocated for the abolishment of this separate employment system, under which an estimated 35,000 migrant workers are employed in Taiwan’s distant-waters fishing fleet. The majority of these fishermen are recruited overseas, mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines. The United Kingdom-registered Environmental Justice Foundation conducted a survey between August 2018 and November 2019 and interviewed 71 Indonesian fishermen who had worked on 62 Taiwanese vessels. The results suggested that 24 percent of foreign fishermen suffered violent physical abuse; 92 percent experienced unlawful wage withholding; 82 percent worked overtime excessively. There were also reports fishing crew members could face hunger and dehydration and have been prevented from leaving their vessels or terminating their employment contracts.

The Fisheries Agency has officers in American Samoa, Mauritius, Fiji, Palau, South Africa, and the Marshall Islands since 2007 as well as inspectors in some domestic ports to monitor and inspect docked Taiwan-flagged long-haul fishing vessels. These Taiwan officials used a multilingual questionnaire to interview foreign fishermen and examine their labor conditions on board. The Fisheries Agency acknowledged they need further capacity building as they can currently conduct labor inspections of only 400 vessels per year.

Thailand

Executive Summary

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (Rama X) as head of state. In March 2019 Thailand held the first national election after five years of rule by a junta-led National Council for Peace and Order. The National Council-backed Phalang Pracharath Party and 18 supporting parties won a majority in the lower house, and they retained as prime minister National Council leader Prayut Chan-o-Cha, the leader of the 2014 coup and a retired army general. The election was generally peaceful with few reported irregularities, although observers noted that a restrictive legal framework and selective enforcement of campaign regulations by the Election Commission favored Phalang Pracharath-aligned parties.

The Royal Thai Police and the Royal Thai Armed Forces share responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order within the country. The police report to the Office of the Prime Minister; the armed forces report to the Ministry of Defense. The Border Patrol Police have special authority and responsibility in border areas to combat insurgent movements. While more authority has been returned to civilian authorities following the election, they still do not maintain full control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed a variety of abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by government officials; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal, including allegations of forced disappearance, against individuals located outside the country; political interference in the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including arrests and prosecutions of those criticizing the government, censorship, website blocking, and criminal libel laws; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment against human rights activists and government critics; refoulement of refugees facing threats to their life or freedom; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; trafficking in persons; and significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.

Authorities took some steps to investigate and punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Official impunity, however, continued to be a problem, especially in the southernmost provinces, where martial law remained in effect in Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat provinces while the deep south emergency decree was in effect in all but six districts in those provinces. In each of the six districts where the emergency decree has been lifted since 2011, the 2008 Internal Security Act has been subsequently invoked.

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

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to the Ministry of Interior’s Investigation and Legal Affairs Bureau, from the beginning of October 2019 to the end of September security forces–including police, military, and other agencies–killed 16 suspects during the arrest process, a decrease of 60 percent from the 2018-19 year.

On November 1, police shot and killed Charoensak Rachpumad, suspected of drug and weapons dealing, in Ron Phibun District, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. Witnesses said Charoensak was raising his arms to surrender while surrounded by approximately 10 policemen. The policeman who killed him contended Charoensak was charging at him with a knife. The provincial police chief ordered an investigation.

Earlier cases of arbitrary or unlawful killings remained unsolved. In the shooting of prominent ethnic Lahu student activist Chaiyaphum Pasae in 2017, a Chiang Mai civil court ruled in October that Chaiyaphum was shot in self-defense by a Royal Thai Army soldier and dismissed the case without considering additional evidence, including closed-circuit television footage from the military checkpoint where the incident occurred. Chaiyaphum’s relatives and lawyer denied he acted violently toward the soldier, and petitioned the army to release the closed-circuit television footage and conduct a full, transparent investigation into the incident. In 2018, to determine liability, the Chiang Mai provincial court forwarded the case to the public prosecutor’s office, where it has been stalled for two years.

There were reports of killings by both government and insurgent forces in connection with the conflict in the southernmost provinces (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were no official reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities from January to November (see section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country).

While most cases from prior years remained unresolved, in August the Department of Special Investigation stated it disagreed with (and would ask the attorney general to reconsider) the dropping of murder charges against four Kaeng Krachan National Park employees for the 2014 killing of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a Karen-rights activist. Porlajee disappeared in Petchaburi Province after his detention in the park and questioning regarding unlawful wild-bee honey allegedly found in his possession. In September 2019 the Department of Special Investigation announced it had found Porlajee’s bones. The findings suggested Porlajee was tortured and murdered, and his body burned and placed into an oil tank submerged in the reservoir to conceal the murder. In November 2019 park chief Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn and three park employees were charged with six offenses, including murder and concealing Porlajee’s body. In January prosecutors dropped the most serious charges, including murder, against the four defendants and charged them simply with malfeasance for failing to hand over Porlajee to police after they arrested him.

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

The constitution states, “Torture, acts of brutality, or punishment by cruel or inhumane means shall not be permitted.” Nonetheless, an emergency decree in effect in the southernmost provinces since 2005 effectively provides immunity from prosecution to security officers for actions committed during the performance of their duties. As of September the cabinet had renewed this emergency decree every three months since 2005, and it applied at that point to all but six districts in the three southernmost provinces: Si Sakhon, Su-ngai Kolok, and Sukhirin in Narathiwat Province; Betong in Yala Province; and Mai Kaen and Mae Lan in Pattani Province.

There were reports police abused and extorted prisoners and detainees, generally with impunity. Few complaints alleging police abuse resulted in punishment of alleged offenders, and there were numerous examples of investigations lasting years without resolution of alleged security force abuses.

Representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and legal entities reported police and military officers sometimes tortured and beat suspects to obtain confessions, and newspapers reported numerous cases of citizens accusing police and other security officers of brutality. In April brothers Yutthana and Natthapong Sai Sa were arrested in Nakhon Phanom Province by the army’s northeastern antinarcotics task force and taken to a military base for questioning. Yutthana was later transferred to a hospital where he died, while Natthapong was found seriously injured in a separate location. Seven soldiers confessed to beating the two men during an interrogation to force them to admit to drug trafficking. As of November the case was under investigation by police and the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

There were numerous reports of hazing and physical abuse by members of military units. In March, Amnesty International reported that abuses were a widespread and longstanding pattern in the armed forces, especially against gay and transgender soldiers. There were reports of recruits dying soon after conscription, including Seree Butwong, who died in a Bangkok hospital 10 days after entering military service in September; military authorities attributed his death to an abnormal heartbeat.

The Ministry of Defense requires service members to receive human rights training. Routine training occurred at various levels, including for officers, noncommissioned officers, enlisted personnel, and recruits. The Royal Thai Police requires all cadets at its national academy to complete a course in human rights law.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and various detention centers–including drug rehabilitation facilities and immigration detention centers (IDCs) where authorities detained undocumented migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and foreign nationals who violated immigration laws–were poor, and most were overcrowded. Child refugees and asylum seekers continued to be detained in the IDCs or temporarily in local police stations, despite the government’s previous pledge to end the detention. The Ministry of Justice’s Department of Corrections is responsible for monitoring prison conditions, while the Royal Thai Police Immigration Bureau monitors conditions in the IDCs.

The government continued to hold some civilian suspects at military detention facilities, despite instructions in July 2019 mandating the transfer of all civilian cases from military to civilian courts. According to the Department of Corrections, as of November there were at least six civilians at the 11th Military Circle detention facility in Bangkok.

Physical Conditions: Prison and detention-facility populations were approximately 50 percent larger than designed capacity. As of November authorities held 346,170 persons in prisons and detention facilities with a maximum designed capacity of 210,000 to 220,000 persons.

In some prisons and detention centers, sleeping accommodations were insufficient, and there were persistent reports of overcrowding and poor facility ventilation. Serious problems included a lack of medical care. Authorities at times transferred seriously ill prisoners and detainees to provincial or state hospitals. Authorities took effective measures against the transmission of COVID-19.

Conditions at the IDCs are not subject to many of the regulations that govern the regular prison system, and detainees at some IDCs complained of overcrowding and unhealthy conditions such as poorly ventilated rooms and lack of outdoor time. During the year the Immigration Bureau transferred dozens of detainees from the Suan Phlu IDC in Bangkok to the IDCs in other provinces to alleviate overcrowding. Refugee advocates reported that this reduced overcrowding in the Suan Phlu IDC, but overcrowding remained a problem in multiple IDCs throughout the country. In May authorities confirmed that at least 60 detainees in the Sadao IDC in Songkhla Province had tested positive for COVID-19.

Pretrial detainees were approximately 17 percent of the prison population. Prison officers did not segregate these detainees from the general prison population. The government often held pretrial detainees under the emergency decree in the southernmost provinces in military camps or police stations rather than in prisons.

NGOs reported that authorities occasionally held men, women, and children together in police station cells, particularly in small or remote police stations, pending indictment or immigration processing. In the IDCs authorities occasionally placed juveniles older than 14 with adults.

By law authorities may hold aliens without legal authorization to stay in the country, including refugees and asylum seekers or those who otherwise have violated immigration law, in the IDCs for years unless they are bailed out or pay a fine and the cost of their transportation home. The Immigration Bureau mostly held migrant mothers and children in separate, more spacious facilities, but continued to restrict their freedom of movement. NGOs urged the government to enact legislation and policies to end detention of children who are out of visa status and adopt alternatives, such as supervised release and noncustodial, community-based housing while resolving their immigration status. Other NGOs reported complaints, especially by Muslim detainees in the IDCs, of inadequate halal food.

Prison authorities sometimes used solitary confinement, as permitted by law, to punish male prisoners who consistently violated prison regulations or were a danger to others. Authorities also used heavy leg irons on prisoners deemed escape risks or potentially dangerous to other prisoners.

According to the Ministry of Interior’s Investigation and Legal Affairs Bureau, 713 persons died in official custody from the beginning of October 2019 to September 30, including 24 deaths while in police custody and 689 in the custody of the Department of Corrections. Authorities attributed most of the deaths to natural causes.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners or their representatives to submit complaints without censorship to ombudspersons but not directly to judicial authorities. Ombudspersons in turn may consider and investigate complaints and petitions received from prisoners and provide recommendations to the Department of Corrections, but they are not empowered to act on a prisoner’s behalf, nor may they involve themselves in a case unless a person files an official complaint.

Independent Monitoring: The government facilitated monitoring of prisons by the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, including meetings with prisoners without third parties present and repeat visits. According to human rights groups, no external or international inspection of the prison system occurred, including of military facilities such as Bangkok’s 11th Military Circle.

Representatives of international organizations generally had access to detainees in the IDCs across the country for service delivery and resettlement processing. Access to individual IDCs varied from province to province and was subject to COVID-19-related restrictions throughout the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

One week before its dissolution in July 2019, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) junta government repealed 76 orders, restoring some civil and community rights. Other NCPO orders, however, remained in force, and the military retains the authority to detain persons without charge or trial for a maximum of seven days.

The deep south emergency decree that gives the government authority to detain persons without charge for a maximum of 30 days in unofficial places of detention remained in effect (see section 1.g.).

Provisions from the deep south emergency decree make it very difficult to challenge a detention before a court. Under the decree, detainees have access to legal counsel, but there was no assurance of prompt access to counsel or family members, nor were there transparent safeguards against the mistreatment of detainees. Moreover, the decree effectively provides broadly based immunity from criminal, civil, and disciplinary liability for officials acting under its provisions.

In March the prime minister announced a nationwide COVID-19-related emergency decree that was renewed every month as of November. Critics claimed the decree was used as a pretext to arrest antigovernment protesters.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

While the law requires police and military officers to obtain a warrant from a judge prior to making an arrest, an NCPO order allows the detention of any individual for a maximum seven days without an arrest warrant. The courts tended to approve automatically all requests for warrants. By law authorities must inform persons of likely charges against them immediately after arrest and allow them to inform someone of their arrest.

The law provides for access to counsel for criminal detainees in both civilian and military courts, but lawyers and human rights groups claimed police sometimes conducted interrogations without providing access to an attorney.

Both the court of justice and the Justice Fund of the Ministry of Justice assign lawyers for indigent defendants. For the year ending September 30, the court of justice assigned 21,254 attorneys to adult defendants and 5,405 to juvenile defendants. During that period the Ministry of Justice provided 1,699 lawyers for needy defendants.

The law provides defendants the right to request bail, and the government generally respected this right.

Arbitrary Arrest: Under an NCPO order, the military has authority to detain persons without charge for a maximum of seven days without judicial review. Under the deep south emergency decree, authorities may detain a person for a maximum of 30 days without charge (see section 1.g.).

Pretrial Detention: Under normal conditions the law allows police to detain criminal suspects for 48 hours after arrest for investigation. Lawyers reported police mostly brought cases to court within the 48-hour period. They raised concerns, however, about the simultaneous use of laws applicable in national-security cases that may result in lengthy detentions for insurgency-related suspects in the far southern part of the country. Other laws allow civilian personnel from the Ministry of Justice’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board to detain without charge individuals suspected of committing drug-related crimes for up to three days before handing them over to police.

Laws and regulations place offenses for which the maximum penalty is less than three years’ imprisonment under the jurisdiction of district courts, which have different procedures and require police to submit cases to public prosecutors within 72 hours of arrest.

Before charging and trial, authorities may detain individuals for a maximum of 84 days (for the most serious offenses), with a judicial review required for each 12-day period. After formal charges and throughout the trial, depending on prosecution and defense readiness, court caseload, and the nature of the evidence, detention may last from three months to two years before a verdict, and up to six years before a Supreme Court appellate review.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Portions of the 2014 interim constitution left in place by the 2017 constitution’s transitory provisions, however, provide the government with power to intervene “regardless of its effects on the legislative, executive, or judiciary” to defend the country against national-security threats. Human rights groups continued to express concern about the government’s influence on independent judicial processes, particularly the use of the judicial process to punish government critics.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, except in certain cases involving national security, including lese majeste (royal insult) cases.

The law provides for the presumption of innocence. A single judge decides trials for misdemeanors; two or more judges try more serious cases. Most trials are public; however, the court may order a closed trial, particularly in cases involving national security, the royal family, children, or sexual abuse.

In ordinary criminal courts, defendants enjoy a broad range of legal rights, including access to a lawyer of their choosing, prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, free assistance of an interpreter as necessary, the right to be present at trial, and the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the rights not to be compelled to testify or to confess guilt, to confront witnesses, to present witnesses, and to appeal. Authorities did not always automatically provide indigent defendants with counsel at public expense, and there were allegations authorities did not afford defendants all the above rights, especially in small or remote provinces.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

As of November the Department of Corrections reported approximately 23 persons were awaiting trial or imprisoned under lese majeste laws that outlaw criticism of the monarchy (see section 2.a.). Human rights groups claimed the prosecutions and convictions of several lese majeste offenders were politically motivated. After public criticism of the monarchy escalated at protests in September, October, and November, authorities issued summons warrants for more than 30 protesters and protest supporters to face lese majeste charges. In December the criminal court dismissed a four-year-old lese majeste case against Patnaree Chankit, mother of political activist Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat, determining that her one-word reply of “yes” during a Facebook chat critical of the monarchy was not an intentional insult to the royal institution.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

There continued to be allegations that Thai authorities took politically motivated reprisals against activists and critics outside the country.

International and local human rights organizations alleged government authorities were complicit in the disappearance of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit, who was reportedly abducted by masked gunmen in Cambodia in June. Thai authorities had issued an arrest warrant for Wanchalearm, who had lived in exile in Cambodia since the 2014 coup, for inciting unrest through his Facebook page. Cambodian authorities began an investigation, reportedly in response to a Thai government request, and in September released preliminary findings that there was no evidence an abduction had occurred. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern that Wanchalearm’s reported abduction “may now comprise an enforced disappearance.” NGOs alleged that at least eight exiled Thai dissidents had been victims of such disappearances since the 2014 coup. In November, Wanchalearm’s sister traveled to Phnom Penh to give evidence in the case.

There were no further developments in the reported arrests in 2019 of activists Chucheep Chivasut, Siam Theerawut, and Kritsana Thapthai by Vietnamese authorities and their forcible return to Thailand.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for access to courts and administrative bodies to sue for damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. The government generally respected this right, but the emergency decree in force in the southernmost provinces expressly excludes administrative-court scrutiny or civil or criminal proceedings against government officials. Victims may seek compensation from a government agency instead.

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

Provisions of an NCPO order along with the deep south emergency decree give government security forces authority to conduct warrantless searches. Security forces used this authority regularly, particularly in the southernmost provinces and other border areas. Other legislation allowing the search and seizure of computers and computer data, in cases where the defendant allegedly entered information into computer systems that is “likely to cause damage to the public,” is “false,” or is “distorted,” continued to be extensively utilized (see section 2.a.). The law gives the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society authority to request and enforce the removal of information disseminated via the internet.

The government monitored social media and private communications with limited oversight. Government agencies used surveillance technologies, including imported computer monitoring software and licenses to import telecommunications interception equipment, from European companies. The country lacks accountability and transparency mechanisms for government surveillance. Some legislation exempts data from privacy safeguards that are otherwise stipulated in law, does not protect individual privacy, and provides broad powers to the government to access personal information without judicial review or other forms of oversight.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital economy ministry introduced a mobile app to track and monitor individuals returning to the country from high-risk countries. The app required submission of information such as name, address, telephone number, and passport number, and it was made mandatory for all foreign arrivals. Observers noted uncertainty about how the data was used and by whom.

There were numerous reports of security forces harassing citizens who publicly criticized the government, including by visiting or surveilling their residences or places of employment. In July, Tiwagorn Withiton claimed that he was interrogated repeatedly by police and members of the military at his house after posting a picture of himself online wearing a T-shirt critical of the monarchy. He was later taken by six hospital personnel and a soldier from Internal Security Operations Command to a psychiatric hospital for 14 days of treatment. In June, Mahidol University student Bunkueanun “Francis” Paothong was reportedly visited at home by four police officers who warned him of possible legal problems related to protests he had organized, and asked him to identify other protest leaders. In October he and two other protesters were charged with attempted violence against the queen, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, for their participation in an incident that delayed the queen’s motorcade as it proceeded near a protest site.

The Cross Cultural Foundation issued a report in January on forced DNA collection from Muslim males by military personnel in the southernmost regions, a practice that critics said was discriminatory.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Internal conflict continued in the ethnic Malay-Muslim-majority southernmost provinces. Frequent attacks by suspected insurgents and government security operations stoked tension between the local ethnic Malay-Muslim and ethnic Thai-Buddhist communities.

The emergency decree in effect in the southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat (except for six exempted districts) provides military, police, and some civilian authorities significant powers to restrict some basic rights and delegates certain internal security powers to the armed forces. The decree also provides security forces broad immunity from prosecution. Moreover, martial law, imposed in 2006, remained in effect and significantly empowered security forces in the southernmost provinces.

Killings: Human rights groups accused government forces of extrajudicial killings of persons suspected of involvement with the insurgency. According to the NGO Deep South Watch, there were eight incidents of extrajudicial killings by security forces as of September, resulting in the deaths of 22 suspected insurgents. Government officials insisted the suspects in each case resisted arrest, necessitating the use of deadly force, a claim disputed by the families of the suspects and human rights groups.

In August government security officials killed seven suspects while searching for the perpetrators of twin bomb attacks that killed two soldiers in Pattani and Narathiwat provinces. Colonel Pramote Prom-in, a spokesman for the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 Forward Command, stated authorities carried out lawful operations, enlisting the help of community and religious leaders to facilitate a surrender, before taking fire from the suspects. Authorities seized a number of weapons, and some of the bombings suspects killed in the raid were later identified as suspects in other violent incidents in the deep south.

According to Deep South Watch, violence resulted in 107 deaths and 155 injuries in 285 incidents as of November, a decrease compared with 2019. As in previous years, suspected insurgents frequently targeted government representatives, including district and municipal officials, military personnel, and police, with bombings and shootings.

In January a group of armed men hurled pipe bombs and launched grenades before storming a subdistrict defense operation base in Narathiwat Province. A Muslim territorial defense volunteer was killed and seven others wounded in the attack. Approximately an hour later, territorial defense volunteers responding to the assault on the base were themselves attacked by a bomb and gunfire. No further casualties were reported. Two bombs were found buried under the road near the bombing scene.

In February a motorcycle bomb targeting a deputy district chief and a group of territorial defense volunteers went off on a road outside a school in Songkhla. The blast wounded 10 persons: the deputy district chief, three volunteers, four villagers, and two students.

In March a pickup truck bomb exploded outside the Southern Border Provinces Administration Center located in Yala Province. The blast wounded 28 persons, including police officers, journalists, and villagers.

Some government-backed civilian defense volunteers received basic training and weapons from security forces. Human rights organizations continued to express concerns about vigilantism by these defense volunteers and other civilians.

Although suspected insurgents carried out numerous attacks on civilians, the numbers of both violent incidents and related casualties were lower in the first half of the year than in the same period in 2019, according to data from Deep South Watch.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The local NGO Muslim Attorney Center received a complaint alleging torture of an insurgent suspect by security forces while in custody. The same NGO noted it was difficult to substantiate allegations due to the lack of cooperation from government officials in carrying out credible investigations and providing access to suspects in detention. According to the NGO Duai Jai, at least 77 persons were detained as of August. Human rights organizations maintained the detention of suspects continued to be arbitrary and excessive, and they criticized overcrowded conditions at detention facilities.

Martial law in the southernmost provinces allows detention for a maximum of seven days without charge and without court or government agency approval. The emergency decree in effect in the same areas allows authorities to arrest and detain suspects for an additional 30 days without charge. After this period authorities must begin holding suspects under normal criminal law. Unlike under martial law, detentions under normal criminal law require judicial consent, although human rights NGOs complained courts did not always exercise their right of review.

The Southern Border Provinces Police Operation Center reported through August that authorities arrested 20 persons via warrants issued under the emergency decree, a significant decrease compared with 2019. Of these, authorities released six, prosecuted 13, and held one in detention pending further investigation. Sources at the Southern Border Provinces Police Operation Center attributed the decrease in part to reduced suppression operations compared with 2019 and greater emphasis on preventive measures to curb violence. The Muslim Attorney Center attributed the decrease to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The government frequently armed both ethnic Thai-Buddhist and ethnic Malay-Muslim civilian defense volunteers, fortified schools and temples, and provided military escorts to monks and teachers.

Military service members who deploy in support of counterinsurgency operations in the southernmost provinces continued to receive specific human rights training, including training for detailed, situation-specific contingencies.

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. This right, however, was restricted by laws and government actions. For example the government imposed legal restrictions on criticism of the government and monarchy, favored progovernment media organizations in regulatory actions, harassed antigovernment critics, monitored media and the internet, and blocked websites.

Freedom of Speech: The lese majeste prohibition makes it a crime, punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment for each offense, to criticize, insult, or threaten the king, queen, royal heir apparent, or regent. The law also allows citizens to file lese majeste complaints against one other.

In November, Royal Thai Police issued summons warrants to 12 protest leaders to face charges of lese majeste, the first such charges since 2018. Prior to that, human rights activists reported that although lese majeste prosecutions declined, the government increasingly turned to computer-crime and “sedition” legislation to restrict free speech, including speech critical of the monarchy.

As of September, according to the local NGO Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), 15 persons remained imprisoned for lese majeste charges, while as of August, the court of justice reported that there were 23 pending lese majeste cases in criminal courts nationwide.

The government continued to conduct some lese majeste trials from previous years in secret and prohibited public disclosure of the alleged offenses’ contents. International and domestic human rights organizations and academics expressed concern about the lese majeste prohibition’s negative effect on freedom of expression.

The Constitutional Court may take legal action against individuals deemed to have distorted facts, laws, or verdicts related to the court’s adjudication of cases, or to have mocked the court.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active but faced significant impediments to operating freely.

Although the constitution requires owners of newspapers and other mass media organizations to be citizens, government officials publicly welcomed content-sharing agreements between Chinese state-run news agencies and domestic state-run outlets, contending that Chinese media offers an alternative perspective to that offered by Western media. The Royal Thai Government owns all spectrum used in media broadcast and leases it to private media operators, allowing the government to exert indirect influence on the media landscape. Media firms are known to practice self-censorship regularly.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Laws remain in effect empowering the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to suspend or revoke the licenses of radio or television operators broadcasting content deemed false, defamatory to the monarchy, harmful to national security, or unnecessarily critical of the government. As of October there were no known cases of authorities revoking licenses. Authorities monitored media content from all media sources, including international press. Local practice leaned toward self-censorship, particularly regarding anything that might be critical of the monarchy or members of the royal family.

The emergency decree in the conflict-affected southernmost provinces empowers the government “to prohibit publication and distribution of news and information that may cause the people to panic or with an intention to distort information.” It also authorizes the government to censor news it considers a threat to national security.

In October media organizations and academics criticized a leaked order from the Royal Thai Police to investigate four online news outlets and the Facebook page of a prominent antigovernment protest group for possible violations under the October “severe emergency decree,” which prohibits dissemination or publication of information that affects state security or the public order. A court ultimately overturned petitions to shut down these four outlets and the Facebook page, and they remained operational. Separately, in September the minister of digital economy and society issued an order to the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to notify internet providers and cellular operators to suspend the accounts of users associated with the protest movement. The minister also announced that 300,000 Uniform Resource Locators could be in violation of the decree.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by a fine and two years’ imprisonment. Military and business figures filed criminal defamation and libel cases against political and environmental activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and politicians.

In June, 10 months after poultry firm Thammakaset dropped its civil defamation case against human rights activist Sutharee “Kratik” Wannasiri, the company lost its criminal defamation suit against her. Thammakaset argued that her social media posts in 2017 had damaged its reputation.

In October the Lopburi court of appeals overturned the conviction of Suchanee Cloitre, a television reporter, for criminal defamation and libel in a case initiated by Thammakaset. In December 2019 the Lopburi provincial court had sentenced Suchanee to two years in prison for her 2017 post on Twitter about the company’s labor rights violations.

On October 26, 12 international human rights organizations called on the government to decriminalize defamation and “take immediate steps to end frivolous criminal proceedings against journalists, human rights defenders, and whistleblowers including those accused by Thammakaset.” In recent years Thammakaset has filed at least 39 cases against human rights activists and journalists for criticizing their labor practices, alleging civil and criminal defamation.

National Security: Various NCPO orders continue to provide authorities the right to restrict distribution of material deemed to threaten national security.

Internet Freedom

The government continued to restrict internet access and penalize those who criticized the monarchy or shared unverified information about the spread of COVID-19. The government also monitored social media and private communications for what it considered false content and “fake news.” There were reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

By law the government may impose a maximum five-year prison sentence and a substantial fine for posting false content on the internet found to undermine public security, cause public panic, or harm others, based on vague definitions. The law also obliges internet service providers to preserve all user records for 90 days in case authorities wish to access them. Any service provider that gives consent to or intentionally supports the publishing of illegal content is also liable to punishment. By law authorities must obtain a court order to ban a website, although officials did not always respect this requirement. Media activists criticized the law, stating it defined offenses too broadly and that some penalties were too harsh.

Although individuals and groups generally were able to engage in peaceful expression of views via the internet, there were numerous restrictions on content. Civil society reported the government used prosecution or the threat of prosecution as a tool to suppress speech online. Authorities targeted for prosecution individuals posting a range of social-media commentary, from discussion of COVID-19 dispersion to lese majeste, criticism of the government’s operations, reporting on government scandals, and warning of government surveillance.

In January police arrested Thitima Kongthon and Ritthisak Wongthonglueang for spreading misinformation related to COVID-19 infected individuals; they could face five years in prison. In February officials from the digital economy ministry and provincial authorities raided houses in four provinces and arrested four suspects for posting on social media that COVID-19 had spread to Chiang Mai.

In February a university student from Chonburi Province known as Niranam (anonymous in Thai) was arrested by police and charged for “introducing information of national security concern into a computer system” after posting content deemed insulting towards King Rama X. Seven more counts of cybercrime violations were added to his list of charges after trial was postponed in June. He faced a maximum of 40 years in prison.

In April the Technology Crime Suppression Division announced plans to charge the administrator of a Facebook page, Mam Pho Dum, following her report on a mask-hoarding scandal involving an aide of Thammanat Prompow, deputy minister of agriculture and cooperatives. Mam Pho Dum claimed that the information she published was taken from the aide’s own Facebook page before it was deleted.

In August courts fined and sentenced 10 persons to one year in prison for sharing what the government stated was fake news about Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan. The offending post accused Prawit of procuring more than 90 billion baht (THB) (three billion dollars) worth of satellite technology to monitor citizens. The punishment was later reduced to two years’ probation.

Also in August the Digital Economy Ministry filed a complaint with police against exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun for creating and serving as administrator of the antimonarchy Facebook page, Royalist Marketplace. The ministry also asked Facebook to take down the website, which Facebook did on August 24. In September, Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta stated his ministry had lodged complaints with police against Facebook and Twitter because those companies had not yet blocked access to some websites as previously requested by the ministry through the courts. The ministry also filed complaints with police against social media users who disseminated messages critical of the monarchy during the antigovernment protest on September 19 and 20, alleging these social media users committed sedition and put false information into a computer system.

The government closely monitored and blocked websites and social media posts and accounts critical of the monarchy. Prosecutions of journalists, political activists, and other internet users for criminal defamation or sedition for posting content online further fostered an environment of self-censorship. Many political online message boards and discussion forums closely monitored discussions and self-censored to avoid being blocked. Newspapers restricted access to their public-comment sections to minimize exposure to possible lese majeste or defamation charges. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission also lobbied foreign internet content creators and service providers to remove or censor locally lese majeste content. The government asked foreign governments to take legal action against Thai dissidents in their countries. Human rights observers reported that police sometimes asked detained political activists to reveal passwords to their social media accounts.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

University authorities reported the regular presence of security personnel on campus, monitoring lectures and attending student events. There were numerous accounts of authorities arresting students for exercising freedom of speech and expression. Universities reported self-censorship continued.

In June the Thai Enquirer news outlet reported several cases of harassment and intimidation of university students and faculty, including a student who claimed that police contacted the deputy dean at his university, who then took him to the police station where he was interrogated, had his electronic devices seized, and was forced to reveal his passwords to social media accounts. They also reported that faculty at an unnamed university in Bangkok were approached by government authorities and asked to identify protest leaders and monitor their activities.

In September, Thammasat University officials denied permission for student demonstrators to use university grounds for their protests. Thammasat had allowed a rally in August and declared it was appropriate for students to state their political demands, but Thammasat later apologized for allowing the university to be used as a venue for students to call for reform of the monarchy.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The country experienced large-scale peaceful protests from July through November.  That said, the government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association and arrested and brought charges against dozens of protest leaders under the COVID-19 emergency decree, sedition legislation, and other laws.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution grants the freedom to assemble peacefully, subject to restrictions enacted to “protect public interest, peace and order, or good morals, or to protect the rights and liberties of others.” The government continued to prosecute prodemocracy and other human rights activists for leading peaceful protests.

In February student protesters and democracy activists began staging antigovernment rallies to protest the Constitutional Court’s decision to dissolve the Future Forward Party. In March, Prime Minister Prayut declared a state of emergency in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 and renewed the COVID-19 emergency decree every succeeding month of the year. In June police arrested Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapaikitseri, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul for violating the COVID-19 emergency decree by holding two rallies to protest the disappearance of activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit and to commemorate the 1932 revolution that ended the country’s absolute monarchy. A July demonstration at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok led to sedition and other charges against more than 30 protest leaders.

Although the government eased restrictions related to public assembly under the COVID-19 emergency decree effective August 1, police continued to arrest protest leaders on charges of sedition and violations of other legislation. An August protest that called for reform of the monarchy led to computer-crime and sedition charges against protest leaders.

In September protest leaders Arnon Nampa and Panupong “Mike” Jadnok were detained for five days after a ruling that they had violated the terms of bail conditions from a prior arrest by continuing to participate in antigovernment protests.

On October 15, after a brief confrontation between a group of protesters and the queen’s motorcade, the government issued a “severe emergency decree” that limited gatherings to no more than five persons. On October 16, police deployed water cannons laced with skin irritants to disperse protesters who had gathered in violation of the decree. On October 22, Prime Minister Prayut cancelled the decree as protests continued unabated. Dozens of protesters were charged for participating in demonstrations during that period, and protest leaders Penguin, Rung, and Mike were arrested and detained for three weeks before their release on bail.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, authorities filed charges against approximately 175 protesters in October and November for their participation in antigovernment demonstrations. Three activists faced the possibility of life imprisonment for the incident related to the queen’s motorcade. More than 30 protesters, including a high school student, age 16, were issued summons warrants to face lese majeste charges, which carry a three- to 15-year prison sentence, and more than 10 protest leaders have two or more lese majeste charges against them. At least 45 individuals, including a high school student, age 17, faced sedition charges which carry a maximum of seven years in prison. Many protest leaders faced multiple charges connected to various protest events.

Freedom of Association

The constitution grants individuals the right to free association subject to restrictions by law enacted to “protect public interest, peace and order, or good morals.”

The law prohibits the registration of a political party with the same name or logo as a legally dissolved party.

On February 21, the Constitutional Court dissolved the opposition Future Forward Party, ruling that the party took an illegal loan from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, and banned the party’s executives, including Thanathorn, from participating in politics until 2030 (see section 3).

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; the government enforced some exceptions, which it claimed were for “maintaining the security of the state, public order, public welfare, town and country planning, or youth welfare.”

In-country Movement: The government restricted the internal movement of members of hill tribes and members of other minority groups who were not citizens but held government-issued identity cards, including those registered as stateless persons. Authorities prohibited holders of such cards from traveling outside their home provinces without permission from the district chief. Offenders are subject to fines or a jail term of 45 to 60 days. Persons without cards may not travel at all. Human rights organizations reported that police at inland checkpoints often asked for bribes in exchange for allowing stateless persons to move from one province to another. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that COVID-19 restrictions in place during part of the year played a significant role in restricting in-country movement. For example, provincial governments instituted COVID-19-related movement restrictions that affected all individuals and not just stateless persons.

Foreign Travel: Local authorities required resident noncitizens, including thousands of ethnic Shan and other non-hill-tribe minority group members, to seek permission from the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Interior for foreign travel.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government usually cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although with many restrictions.

The government’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers remained inconsistent. Nevertheless, authorities hosted significant numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, generally provided protection against their expulsion or forced return, and generally allowed persons fleeing fighting or other incidents of violence in neighboring countries to cross the border and remain until conflict ceased. Moreover, authorities permitted urban refugees and asylum seekers recognized by UNHCR and registered Burmese refugees in the nine camps on the border with Burma to resettle to third countries.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: As of August, 231 Rohingya and self-declared “Myanmar Muslim” individuals remained in detention, 143 in the IDCs and 88 in shelters.

The government continued to permit registered Burmese refugees in nine camps along the border with Burma to remain in the country temporarily and continued to refer to these refugee camps as “temporary shelters” even though they have been operated for decades. Authorities continued to treat all refugees and asylum seekers outside of these camps who do not have valid visas or other immigration permits as illegal migrants. Persons categorized as illegal migrants were legally subject to arrest, detention, and deportation. Authorities permitted bail only for certain categories of detained refugees and asylum seekers, such as mothers, children, and persons with medical conditions. Immigration authorities applied the criteria for allowing bail inconsistently, and NGOs, refugees, and asylum seekers reported numerous instances of immigration authorities demanding bribes in connection with requests for bail.

Humanitarian organizations reported concerns that migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers faced overcrowded conditions, lack of exercise opportunities, limited freedom of movement, and abusive treatment by authorities in the IDCs.

As part of an overall policy to reduce the number of illegal immigrants and visa overstayers in the country, immigration police in Bangkok sometimes arrested and detained asylum seekers and refugees, including women and children. As of August there were approximately 320 refugees and asylum seekers residing in the IDCs. In addition, 50 Uyghurs have been detained in the country since 2015.

Refoulement: Persons from Burma, if arrested without refugee status or legal permission to be in the country, were often escorted back to the Burmese border. Authorities sometimes provided preferential treatment to members of certain Burmese ethnic minority groups such as ethnic Shan individuals, allowing them greater leeway to remain in Thailand without formal authorization. Outside the nine camps along the border, government officials did not distinguish between asylum-seeking Burmese and other undocumented Burmese, regarding all as illegal migrants. If caught outside of camps without permission, authorities generally allowed registered and verified Burmese refugees to return to their camps.

Authorities generally did not deport persons of concern holding valid UNHCR asylum-seeker or refugee status. In one notable case, however, authorities forcibly returned Radio Free Asia blogger and Vietnamese national Truong Duy Nhat from Thailand to Vietnam in January 2019 after he applied for refugee status with UNHCR. In December 2020 he was tried and sentenced by a Vietnamese court to 10 years’ imprisonment on charges of “abusing his position and power while on duty.”

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government did not establish a system for providing protection to refugees. The government began to implement a regulation (referred to as the “National Screening Mechanism” by UNHCR and NGOs) that provides individuals whom the government determines to be protected persons with temporary protection from deportation.

UNHCR’s ability to provide protection to some groups of refugees outside the official camps remained limited. Its access to asylum seekers in the IDCs to conduct status interviews and monitor new arrivals varied throughout the year, in part due to COVID-19-related restrictions on visiting the IDCs. Authorities generally allowed resettlement countries to conduct processing activities in the IDCs, and humanitarian organizations were able to provide health care, nutritional support, and other humanitarian assistance. Access to specific asylum-seeker populations varied, reportedly depending on the preferences of each IDC chief, as well as central government policies restricting UNHCR and NGO access to certain politically sensitive groups.

The government allowed UNHCR to monitor the protection status of, and pursue solutions for, approximately 92,000 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers living in nine camps along the border with Burma. NGOs funded by the international community provided basic humanitarian assistance in the camps, including health care, food, education, shelter, water, sanitation, vocational training, and other services.

The government facilitated third-country refugee resettlement or private sponsorship to five countries for nearly 600 Burmese refugees from the camps as of September. Refugees residing in the nine camps along the border with Burma who were not registered with the government were ineligible for third-country resettlement unless they had serious medical or protection concerns and received special approval from a government committee. Separately the government coordinated with Burmese authorities to document and return to Burma registered camp residents who elected to participate in a voluntary repatriation program. During the 2016 to 2019 period, 1,039 registered refugees voluntarily returned to Burma in four tranches under the program. There were no voluntary repatriations under this program during the year in part due to border closures related to COVID-19.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees residing in the nine refugee camps on the border with Burma had no freedom of movement outside their camps. A refugee apprehended outside the official camps is subject to possible harassment, fines, detention, deregistration, and deportation. Authorities sometimes allowed camp residents limited travel outside of the camps for purposes such as medical care or travel to other camps for educational training.

For certain foreign victims of trafficking, including Rohingya refugees, the law permits the issuance of temporary stay permits while trafficking investigations are underway. The majority of such victims, however, were restricted to remaining in closed, government-run shelters with little freedom of movement.

Refugees and asylum seekers were not eligible to participate in the official nationality-verification process, which allows migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos with verified nationality and passports to travel throughout the country.

Employment: The law prohibits refugees from working in the country. The government allowed undocumented migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos to work legally in certain economic sectors if they registered with authorities and followed a prescribed process to document their status (see section 7.d.). The law allows victims of trafficking and witnesses who cooperate with pending court cases to work legally during their trial and up to two years (with possible extensions) after the end of their trial involvement. Work permits must be linked to a specific employer. For certain foreign victims of trafficking, including Rohingya, the government did not identify suitable employment opportunities for the issuance of work permits, citing a lack of local opportunities and immigration policy considerations. Registration, medical check-up, and health-insurance fees remained a deterrent for prospective employers of victims of trafficking.

Access to Basic Services: The international community provided basic services for refugees living inside the nine camps on the border with Burma. For needs beyond primary care, a medical referral system allows refugees to seek other necessary medical services. For the urban refugee and asylum-seeker population living in and around Bangkok, access to government-funded basic health services was minimal. Three NGOs funded in part by the international community provided or facilitated primary and mental health-care services and legal assistance. A UNHCR-led health panel coordinated referrals of the most urgent medical cases to local hospitals. The government announced during the year that it would provide free COVID-19 testing and treatment to all individuals, including migrants and refugees, who met specific case criteria. Implementation at the provincial and district levels remained uneven, however, according to NGOs. For example, the governor of Mae Hong Son Province decided that provincial hospitals would not provide COVID-19 testing or treatment to refugees living in the four camps in the province.

By law government schools must admit children of any legal status who can speak, read, and write Thai with some degree of proficiency, including refugee children. NGOs reported access to education for refugee children varied from school to school and often depended on the preferences of individual school administrators. Some refugee communities formed their own unofficial schools to provide education for their children. Others sought to learn Thai with support from UNHCR and other NGOs to prepare for admission to government schools. Since Burmese refugee children living in the camps generally did not have access to the government education system, NGOs continued to support camp-based community organizations in providing educational opportunities, and some were able to coordinate partially their curriculum with the Ministry of Education.

Temporary Protection: Authorities generally did not deport persons of concern holding valid UNHCR asylum-seeker or refugee status. The government continued to protect from deportation the majority of Rohingya refugees detained by authorities, including those who arrived in the country irregularly during the mass movement in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea in 2015. The government continued to implement a policy of screening all Rohingya migrants apprehended transiting Thailand for victim-of-trafficking status. As of September authorities had not granted such status to any Rohingya. Authorities determined 74 individuals were illegal migrants but placed 30 mothers and children into shelters run by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security as an alternative to detention in the IDCs. Other Rohingya determined to be illegal migrants were placed in the IDCs. UNHCR had access to the provincial shelters while authorities conducted formal screenings of the migrants’ eligibility for benefits as victims of trafficking. These Rohingya migrants, however, were in some cases confined to shelters without freedom of movement or access to work permits.

g. Stateless Persons

The government continued to identify stateless persons, provide documentation to preclude statelessness, and open paths to citizenship for longtime residents and students. As of June an estimated 480,000 persons, mainly residing in the northern region, were registered as stateless persons by the government, including ethnic minorities registered with civil authorities and previously undocumented minorities. From January to June, the government granted citizenship to 3,594 stateless persons and permanent residency to 87 others. In September the cabinet approved access to government health insurance for 3,042 registered stateless students. Authorities excluded Rohingya and Muslims from Burma, including individuals whose families had lived in Mae Sot near the Burmese border for multiple generations, from the statelessness recognition process. Without legal status, unregistered and undocumented stateless persons were particularly vulnerable to various forms of abuse including threat of deportation (see section 6, Children and Indigenous People).

A 2016 government resolution to end statelessness and provide a pathway to Thai nationality for approximately 80,000 stateless children and young adults covers persons born in the country whose parents are ethnic minorities, who are registered with the government, and who have resided in the country for a minimum of 15 years. It also applies to stateless youths certified by a state agency to have lived in the country for 10 years whose parentage is unknown. In 2019 the government enacted an amendment to the Civil Registration Act providing a pathway for foundlings to apply for a birth certificate and obtain a Thai national identification card. If the person proves continuous residence in the country for 10 or more years and meets other qualifications, the person is eligible to apply for Thai nationality.

Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship. The law grants citizenship at birth to children with at least one citizen parent. Individuals may also acquire citizenship by means of special government-designated criteria implemented by the Ministry of Interior with approval from the cabinet or in accordance with nationality law (see section 6, Children). Ethnic Thai stateless persons and their children who meet the added definition of “displaced Thai” may apply for the status of “Thai nationality by birth.”

By law stateless members of hill tribes may not vote, and their travel is restricted to their home province. As noncitizens, they are unable to own land. Stateless persons are legally permitted to work in any occupation, but licenses for certain professions (including doctors, engineers, and lawyers) are provided only to Thai citizens. Stateless persons had difficulty accessing credit and government services, such as health care. The law permits undocumented migrant and stateless children to enroll in schools alongside Thai national children, although access to education was uneven. There were reports that school administrators placed the term “non-Thai citizen” on these students’ high school certificates, severely limiting their economic opportunities. Stateless persons were permitted to enroll in tertiary education but did not have access to government educational loans.

Humanitarian organizations reported that village heads and district officials routinely demanded bribes from stateless persons to process their applications for official registration as stateless persons or to obtain permanent residency or citizenship. Police also demanded bribes from stateless persons at inland checkpoints in exchange for allowing them to move from one province to another.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution largely 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. In March 2019 the country held national elections after five years of rule by the military-led NCPO following a 2014 coup. The campaign season was mostly peaceful with many political parties competing for seats and conducting political rallies for the first time in five years. A restrictive legal framework and selective enforcement of campaign regulations by the Election Commission, however, impacted the final outcome in favor of the parties aligned with the Phalang Pracharath Party.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held national elections in March 2019, following five years of military rule. In June 2019 parliament voted to return Prayut Chan-o-Cha to the premiership and in July 2019 Prayut’s cabinet was sworn in, officially disbanding the junta NCPO. On December 20, the government held local elections for the first time since the 2014 coup.

There were few reports of election irregularities during the March 2019 national elections, although there were frequent reports of vote buying by both government and opposition parties. The NGO Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)–the only global organization allowed by the government to observe the election–found the election “partly free, not fair.” ANFREL noted many positive aspects of the election primarily related to election-day activities, including high voter turnout, free access to the polls, and peaceful conditions during the campaign and on election day. ANFREL found, however, that a restrictive and biased legal framework and lack of transparency by the Election Commission meant authorities “failed to establish the healthy political climate that lies at the heart of free and fair electoral process.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Critics complained that police and courts unfairly targeted opposition parties for legal action. In February the Constitutional Court dissolved the opposition Future Forward Party (FFP), citing an illegal loan to the party from its leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, and banned all members of the party’s 16-person executive committee from politics for 10 years. Prodemocracy activists alleged the decision was part of a politically motivated effort to weaken a key opposition party. Thanathorn and other former FFP leaders remained under indictment in more than 20 other cases, many of which carry jail terms.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process; however, their participation was limited. There were 76 female members of parliament in the elected lower house out of 489 members and 26 female senators out of 250 members. There were four women in the 35-member cabinet, all in deputy minister positions. There were four lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals in parliament and one member of the Hmong ethnic group.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In February opposition members of parliament accused Prime Minister Prayut of corruption involving land sold by Prayut’s father to a private company before he became prime minister. The parliamentarians alleged the land was significantly overvalued and noted that the purchasing company–created just seven days before the transaction–subsequently received a 50-year contract to manage the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center.

Also in February a soldier who claimed he had been swindled in a land deal by his commanding officer and the officer’s mother-in-law killed them both and then went on a shooting spree in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima, killing 29 individuals. The army removed two high-ranking officers to inactive posts and took measures to reduce the opportunity for corruption related to housing and land deals among soldiers.

In March, Sergeant Narongchai Intarakawi, known as “Sergeant Arm,” fled the army after alleging his name was used by other soldiers to receive bogus reimbursements. He reported back to military authorities in June and was granted bail. An army spokesman stated that Narongchai faced punishment solely for leaving his post, not for exposing financial wrongdoing. An army investigation supported the allegations of corruption, which were referred to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).

In May, six former officials of the National Buddhism Bureau were sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to 56 years after their convictions for embezzlement.

In August an NACC subcommittee summoned former natural resources and environment minister Anongwan Thepsuthin to testify on charges of corruption related to a THB 770 million ($25.7 million) soil and forest renewal project implemented under her tenure in 2008. Anongwan is the wife of Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsuthin, who publicly complained that the NACC was reinvestigating the case as political retaliation.

After Thai Airways was forced into a bankruptcy-court-managed restructuring process in September, a Ministry of Transport probe into the causes of the airline’s insolvency found that “corruption had definitely occurred” in the procurement of 10 Airbus A340 aircraft in 2003 and 2004. The investigation found that Thai Airways officials accepted bribes to ensure the aircraft procurements proceeded over the objections of the National Economic and Social Development Council, which questioned the suitability of these aircraft for Thai Airways routes. The Ministry of Transport referred the case to the NACC for further investigation.

Also in September politician Watana Muangsook was sentenced to 99 years’ imprisonment after his conviction for demanding bribes from developers of a low-cost housing project when he was minister of social development and human security in 2005-06.

Petty corruption and bribe taking were widespread among police, who were required to purchase their own uniforms and weapons. In July media and activists criticized the announcement that all charges had been dropped against Vorayit “Boss” Yoovidhya, the heir to the Red Bull beverage company, who struck and killed a police officer with his Ferrari in 2012. Prime Minister Prayut ordered a probe into the case, which found that corruption and conspiracy among police and prosecutors likely helped Yoovidhya escape charges. In August a new arrest warrant was issued for Yoovidhya with charges of reckless driving causing death, failing to help a victim after a crash, and drug abuse, and police announced legal action against 21 officers accused of mishandling the case. The NACC also conducted an investigation. In December the Office of the Attorney General announced that public prosecutors could not proceed with the indictment of Yoovidhya on drug charges until police arrested him and brought him to trial.

Financial Disclosure: Financial disclosure law and regulations require elected and appointed public officials to disclose assets and income publicly according to standardized forms. The law penalizes officials who fail to submit declarations, submit inaccurate declarations, or conceal assets. Penalties include a five-year political activity ban, asset seizure, and discharge from position, as well as a maximum imprisonment of six months, a nominal fine, or both.

In August 2019 the NACC indicted its own deputy secretary general, Prayat Puangjumpa, for concealing his assets on his mandatory disclosure. Prayat was found to have concealed foreign assets–a London townhouse that the NACC, citing the value in terms of foreign currency, said was worth $6.9 million and $400,000 in other assets held abroad–by listing them in his wife’s name. He later claimed that his wife was holding the assets for a third party. As of August the case was with the Office of the Attorney General pending indictment to the Supreme Court of Justice’s Criminal Division for Persons Holding Political Position.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights organizations operated in the country. NGOs that dealt with sensitive political matters, such as political reform or opposition to government-sponsored development projects, faced periodic harassment.

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

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: According to the United Nations, there were no developments regarding official visits previously requested by the UN working group on disappearances; by the UN special rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, and on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; or by the UN special rapporteurs on the situations of human rights defenders, migrants, internally displaced persons, torture, indigenous peoples, and sexual identity and gender orientation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The independent National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRCT) has a mission to protect human rights and to produce an annual country report. The commission received 472 complaints during the year ending September 30. Of these, 74 were accepted for further investigation and 30 related to alleged abuses by police. Human rights groups continued to criticize the commission for not filing lawsuits against human rights violators on its own behalf or on behalf of complainants. The government did not complete the process of selecting permanent NHRCT members, which was intended to occur in 2017 following the promulgation of the new constitution. The seven acting commissioners of the NHRCT remained in place with the exception of Chairman What Tingsmitr, who reached mandatory retirement age in September.

The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent agency empowered to consider and investigate complaints filed by any citizen. Following an investigation, the office may refer a case to a court for further review or provide recommendations for further action to the appropriate agency. The office examines all petitions, but it may not compel agencies to comply with its recommendations. During the year ending September 30, the office received 3,140 new petitions, of which 744 related to allegations of police abuses.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women is illegal, although the government did not always enforce the law effectively. The law narrowly defined rape as acts in which male sex organs were used to physically violate victims, thereby leaving victims assaulted by perpetrators in other ways without legal remedies. The law permits authorities to prosecute spousal rape, and prosecutions occurred. The law specifies penalties for conviction of rape or forcible sexual assault ranging from four years’ imprisonment to the death penalty as well as fines.

NGOs said rape was a serious problem and that victims underreported rapes and domestic assaults, in part due to a lack of understanding by authorities that impeded effective implementation of the law regarding violence against women.

According to NGOs, agencies tasked with addressing the problem were underfunded, and victims often perceived police as incapable of bringing perpetrators to justice.

Domestic violence against women was a significant problem. The Ministry of Public Health operated one-stop crisis centers to provide information and services to victims of physical and sexual abuse throughout the country. The law establishes measures designed to facilitate both the reporting of domestic violence complaints and reconciliation between the victim and the perpetrator. Moreover, the law restricts media reporting on domestic-violence cases in the judicial system. NGOs expressed concern the law’s family unity approach put undue pressure on a victim to compromise without addressing safety problems and led to a low conviction rate.

In May the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security reported a doubling of reports of domestic violence after the COVID-19 emergency decree in April. In response the ministry added more staff to its hotline section to manage the increasing number of calls.

Authorities prosecuted some domestic-violence crimes under provisions for assault or violence against a person, where they could seek harsher penalties. The government operated shelters for domestic-violence victims, one in each province. The government’s crisis centers, located in all state-run hospitals, cared for abused women and children.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): No specific law prohibits this practice. NGOs and international media reported Type IV FGM/C occurred in the Muslim-majority south, although statistics were unavailable. There were no reports of governmental efforts to prevent or address the practice.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal in both the public and private sectors. The penal code specifies a fine and a jail term of one month for sexual harassment, while abuse categorized as an indecent act may result in a fine and a maximum 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual harassment in the workplace may be punished by modest fines. The law governing the civil service also prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates five levels of punishment: probation, docked wages, salary reduction, suspension, and termination. NGOs claimed the legal definition of harassment was vague and prosecution of harassment claims difficult, leading to ineffective enforcement of the law.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The publicly funded medical system provided access to contraceptive services and information, prenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth, and essential obstetric and postpartum care. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated more than 98 percent of women could access prenatal and postnatal care and reported that skilled health-care personnel attended approximately 99 percent of births in 2019. The UNFPA estimated the birth rate during the year for those ages 15 to 19 was 18 births per 1,000, down from 29 per 1,000 the previous year. The Ministry of Education provided sex education in schools, and in 2019 the Ministry of Public Health announced that women and adolescent girls from age 10 could receive modern contraceptives free of charge and without parental consent. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and the Ministry of Public Health established one-stop service centers in all public hospitals to assist victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

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

Discrimination: The constitution provides that “men and women shall enjoy equal rights and liberties. Unjust discrimination against a person on the grounds of differences in origin, race, language, sex, age, disability, physical or health condition, personal status, economic or social standing, religious belief, education or political view, shall not be permitted.”

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security took steps to implement legislation mandating gender equality by allocating funding to increase awareness about the law and promote gender education and equality, and by hearing from complainants who experienced gender discrimination. Since 2016 the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security has received 58 complaints and issued judgment in 44 cases; gender discrimination was ruled in 23 cases. The majority of cases related to transgender persons facing discrimination (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). Human rights advocates expressed concern about lengthy delays in reviewing individual discrimination complaints and a lack of awareness among the public and within the ministry’s provincial offices.

Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men but sometimes experienced discrimination, particularly in employment. The law imposes a maximum jail term of six months, a fine, or both, for anyone convicted of gender discrimination. The law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender and sexual identity in policy, rule, regulation, notification, project, or procedure by government, private organizations, and any individual, but it also stipulates two exceptions criticized by civil society groups: religious principles and national security.

Women were unable to confer citizenship to their noncitizen spouses in the same way as male citizens.

Women comprised approximately 12 percent of the country’s military personnel. Ministry of Defense policy limits the percentage of female officers to not more than 25 percent in most units, with specialized hospital or medical, budgetary, and finance units permitted 35 percent. Military academies (except for the nursing academy) refused admission to female students, although a significant number of instructors were women.

Since 2018 women have been barred from applying to the police academy. Activists criticized this as contrary to the aims of legislation promoting gender equality and formally petitioned the Office of the Ombudsman to urge the decision be revisited. The police academy continues to accept only male applicants. The Royal Thai Police listed “being a male” as a requirement in an employment announcement for police investigators and other positions; the NHRCT and the Association of Female Police Investigators objected publicly to this requirement. The Committee Examining Gender Discrimination, an agency under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, filed a petition to the Office of the Ombudsman, which responded that the committee did not have standing to file the petition. Despite this, the Royal Thai Police did accept some female police investigators in 2019.

Children

Birth Registration:  Citizenship is conferred at birth if at least one parent is a citizen.  Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship, but regulations entitle all children born in the country to birth registration, which qualifies them for certain government benefits regardless of citizenship (see section 2.g.).  The law stipulates every child born in the country receive an official birth certificate regardless of the parents’ legal status.  In remote areas some parents did not obtain birth certificates for their children due to administrative complexities and a lack of recognition of the importance of the document.  In the case of hill-tribe members and other stateless persons, NGOs reported misinformed or unscrupulous local officials, language barriers, and restricted mobility made it difficult to register births.

Education:  An NCPO order provides that all children receive free “quality education for 15 years, from preschool to the completion of compulsory education,” which is defined as through grade 12.  NGOs reported children of registered migrants, unregistered migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers had limited access to government schools.

Child Abuse:  The law provides for the protection of children from abuse, and laws on rape and abandonment carry harsher penalties if the victim is a child.  The penalties for raping a child younger than age 15 range from four to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines.  Those convicted of abandoning a child younger than age nine are subject to a jail term of three years, a fine, or both.  The law provides for protection of witnesses, victims, and offenders younger than age 18 in abuse and pedophilia cases.  Advocacy groups stated police often ignored or avoided child-abuse cases.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage:  The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 17, while anyone younger than 21 requires parental consent.  A court may grant permission for children younger than 17 to marry.

In the Muslim-majority southernmost provinces, Islamic law used for family matters and inheritance allows the marriage of young girls after their first menstrual cycle with parental approval.  In 2018 the Islamic Committee of Thailand raised the minimum age for Muslims to marry from ages 15 to 17.  A Muslim younger than 17 may marry with a written court order or written parental consent, which is considered by a special subcommittee of three members, of which at least one member must be a woman with knowledge of Islamic law.

Sexual Exploitation of Children:  The minimum age for consensual sex is 15.  The law provides heavy penalties for persons who procure, lure, compel, or threaten children younger than 18 for the purpose of prostitution, with higher penalties for persons who purchase sexual intercourse with a child younger than 15.  Authorities may punish parents who allow a child to enter into prostitution and revoke their parental rights.  The law prohibits the production, distribution, import, or export of child pornography.  The law also imposes heavy penalties for sexually exploiting persons younger than 18, including for pimping, trafficking, and other sexual crimes against children.

Child sex trafficking remained a problem, and the country continued to be a destination for child sex tourism, although the government continued to make efforts to combat the problem.  Children from migrant populations, ethnic minority groups, and poor families remained particularly vulnerable, and police arrested parents who forced their children into prostitution.  Citizens and foreign sex tourists committed pedophilia crimes, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and production and distribution of child pornography.

There were numerous reported cases of rape and sexual harassment of girls, often in school environments.  In May police arrested five teachers and two alumni of a school in Mukdahan Province for repeatedly raping a student, age 14, over the course of one year.  Another student, age 16, subsequently alleged being raped by the same group of teachers and alumni.  The teachers were fired from their jobs and had their teaching licenses revoked.  They were charged with sexual assault and released on bail as the investigation continued.  In August the parents of a fifth-grade student at a school in Kalasin Province filed a complaint against a teacher, age 57, for molesting their child.  In October, five eighth-grade students filed complaints against the director of a school in Khon Kaen Province for sexual assault.  Investigations into both cases continued.

The government made efforts throughout the year to combat the sexual exploitation of children.  In July the Ministry of Education opened a center to protect students from sexual exploitation by teachers and other educational personnel.  The center developed a set of measures to prevent and suppress sexual assaults against students, and provided protection and compensation to the victims.  In its first month the center handled at least 16 cases, leading to the revocation of teaching credentials, suspension from duty of perpetrators, or both.

Displaced Children:  Authorities generally referred street children to government shelters located in each province, but foreign undocumented migrants avoided the shelters due to fear of deportation.  As of November the government estimated 30,000 street children sought shelter nationwide.  In November the NGO Foundation for the Better Life of Children reported approximately 50,000 children were living on the streets, 20,000 of them foreign born.  The government generally sent citizen street children to school, occupational training centers, or back to their families with social-worker supervision.  The government repatriated some street children who came from other countries.

Institutionalized Children:  There were limited reports of abuse in orphanages or other institutions.

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

The resident Jewish community is 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 constitution prohibits discrimination based on disability and physical or health conditions. The law provides tax benefits to employers employing a certain number of persons with disabilities, such as special income-tax deductions to promote employment of such persons.

The government modified many public accommodations and buildings to accommodate persons with disabilities, but government enforcement was not consistent. The law mandates persons with disabilities have access to information, communications, and newly constructed buildings, but authorities did not uniformly enforce these provisions. The law entitles persons with disabilities who register with the government to free medical examinations, wheelchairs, and crutches.

The government’s Community-based Rehabilitation Program and the Community Learning Center for Persons with Disabilities project operated in all provinces. The government provided five-year, interest-free, small-business loans for persons with disabilities.

The government maintained dozens of separate schools and education centers for children with disabilities and operated occupational and career development centers for adults with disabilities. The law requires all government schools nationwide to accept students with disabilities, and a majority of schools taught students with disabilities during the year. The government also operated shelters and rehabilitation centers specifically for persons with disabilities, including day care centers for autistic children.

Organizations for persons with disabilities reported difficulty in accessing information about a range of public services.

Some disability rights activists alleged that government officials, including from the National Office for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, and private companies often contracted with organizations for persons with disabilities to recruit employees with disabilities, an arrangement that could allow dishonest officials and the staff of such organizations to keep a portion of the wages intended for those workers.

Indigenous People

Stateless members of hill tribes faced restrictions on their movement, were not permitted to own land, had difficulty accessing bank credit, and faced discrimination in employment. Although labor law gives them the right to equal treatment as employees, employers often violated those rights by paying them less than their citizen coworkers and less than minimum wage. The law further bars them from government welfare services but affords them limited access to government-subsidized medical treatment.

The law provides citizenship eligibility to certain categories of hill tribes who were not previously eligible (see section 2.g.). The government supported efforts to register citizens and educate eligible hill-tribe members about their rights.

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

No law criminalizes expression of sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

The LGBTI community reported that police treated LGBTI victims of crime the same as other persons except in the case of sexual crimes, where there was a tendency to downplay sexual abuse or not to take harassment seriously.

The law does not permit transgender persons to change their gender on identification documents, which, coupled with societal discrimination, limited their employment opportunities.

The UN Development Program (UNDP) and NGOs reported that LGBTI persons experienced discrimination, particularly in rural areas. The UNDP also reported media represented LGBTI persons in stereotypical and harmful ways resulting in discrimination.

Legislation mandating gender equality prohibits discrimination “due to the fact that the person is male or female or of a different appearance from his or her own sex by birth” and protects transgender students from discrimination. The country’s Fourth National Human Rights Plan, covering the period 2019-22, was approved by the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board in March and by the cabinet in June. The plan includes LGBTI persons as one of 12 groups in its action plan.

NGOs and the United Nations reported transgender persons faced discrimination in various sectors, including in the military conscription process, while in detention, and because of strict policies in place at most schools and universities that require students to wear uniforms that align with their biological gender. Some universities relaxed dress codes during the year, partly in response to student-led protests that called for reforms in the educational system. In June, Thammasat University announced it would allow students to wear uniforms that match their chosen sexual identity while also outlining a code of conduct that prohibits bullying, insulting, discriminating, or intimidating behavior by faculty or students towards LGBTI students.

In May 2019 the Ministry of Education introduced a new curriculum incorporating discussion of sexual orientation and gender diversity for grades one to 12; this followed two years of advocacy by the LGBTI community. NGOs continued to encourage the Ministry of Education to make the curriculum compulsory, and continued to work with the ministry on curriculum development and to organize training courses to prepare teachers to teach it effectively.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Some social stigma remained for persons with HIV/AIDS, despite intensive educational efforts by the government and NGOs.  There were reports some employers fired or refused to hire persons who tested positive for HIV.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides that a person shall enjoy the liberty to unite and form an association, cooperative, union, organization, community, or any other group. The law provides for the right of workers in certain private-sector and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to form and join independent trade unions. The law does not allow public-sector and migrant workers to organize trade unions. Civil servants may assemble as a group, provided that such assembly does not affect the efficiency of national administration and continuity of public services and does not have a political objective. The law provides for the right of certain workers to bargain collectively and to conduct legal strikes, although these rights come with some restrictions.

By law only workers with the same employer or in the same industry may form a union. Subcontract workers, even if working in the same factory and doing the same job as full-time workers, may not join the same union because they are classified as belonging to the service industry while full-time workers come under the “manufacturing industry.” Nevertheless, the law makes subcontract workers eligible for the same benefits as those enjoyed by union members. The inability of subcontract workers and full-time workers to join the same union limits the unions’ ability to bargain collectively as a larger group. In addition short-term contract workers are less likely to join unions, fearing antiunion retaliation in the form of nonrenewal of their contracts. Labor advocates claimed that many companies hire subcontract workers to undermine unionization efforts. A survey of the auto parts and electronics industries found that more than 45 percent of the workforce consisted of subcontract workers, approximately half on short-term contracts.

The law does not protect union members against antiunion discrimination by employers until their union is registered. To register a union, at least 10 workers must submit their names to the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare (DLPW). The verification process of vetting the names and employment status with the employer exposes the workers to potential retaliation before registration is complete. Moreover, the law requires that union officials be full-time employees of the company or SOE and prohibits permanent union staff. The law allows one union per SOE. Banks, trains, airlines, airports, marine ports, and postal services are among those industries owned by SOEs. If an SOE union’s membership falls below 25 percent of the eligible workforce, regulations require dissolution of the union. The law restricts formal links between unions of SOEs and their private-sector counterparts because they are governed by two separate laws.

The law requires unions to have 20 percent membership to bargain collectively. The law allows employees at workplaces without a union to submit collective demands if at least 15 percent of employees are listed as supporting that demand.

Employees in private enterprises with more than 50 workers may establish “employee committees” to represent workers’ interests in employment benefits; employees may also form “welfare committees” to represent workers’ interests in welfare benefits and nonfinancial interests. Employee and welfare committees may offer employers suggestions but are barred from submitting labor demands or going on strike.

The law prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against workers for their participation in these committees and from obstructing the work of the committees. Union leaders often join employee committees to avail themselves of this legal protection. Within 29,305 enterprises which have more than 50 workers in the country, there are 1,486 labor unions and 687 employee committees. NGOs reported that welfare committees were uncommon in the border regions where the majority of workers are migrants.

The law provides workers with the right to strike if they notify authorities and employers 24 hours in advance and if the strike does not include a demonstration on public roads. The government may block private-sector strikes with national security implications or with negative repercussions on the population at large. Strikes and lockouts are prohibited at SOEs, and penalties for violations include imprisonment, fines, or both.

The law prohibits termination of employment of legal strikers but permits employers to hire temporary workers or use subcontract workers to replace strikers. The legal requirement to call a general meeting of trade-union members and obtain strike approval by at least 50 percent of union members constrained strike action since many factories use shift workers, making it difficult to attain a quorum.

In May the minister of labor issued an order prohibiting employer lockouts and employee strikes while the emergency decree to contain the COVID-19 outbreak was in effect. The decree required any labor dispute to be arbitrated by a Labor Relations Committee in order to maintain public safety and ease industrial relations conflicts during the COVID-19-induced recession. NGOs criticized the order for violating the rights of workers to bargain collectively, while the government and certain union leaders viewed the decree as a means to promote negotiations to find ways to prevent business closures and mass layoffs.

Labor courts or the Labor Relations Committee may make determinations on complaints of unfair dismissals or labor practices and may require compensation or reinstatement of workers or union leaders with wages and benefits equal to those received prior to dismissal. The Labor Relations Committee consists of representatives of employers, government, and workers groups, and there are associate labor court judges who represent workers and employers.

Noncitizen migrant workers, whether registered or undocumented, do not have the right to form unions or serve as union officials. Migrants may join unions organized and led by Thai citizens. Migrant-worker participation in unions is low due to language barriers, weak understanding of legal rights, frequent changes in employment status, membership fees, restrictive union regulations, and segregation of citizen workers from migrant workers by industry and by zones (particularly in border and coastal areas) as well as due to migrants’ fears of losing their jobs due to their support for a union.

Unregistered associations, community-based organizations, and religious groups often represent the interests of migrant workers. In workplaces where the majority of workers are migrants, migrant workers are sometimes elected to the welfare committees and employee committees. Migrant workers are allowed to make collective demands if they obtain the names and signatures of at least 15 percent of employees. NGOs reported few cases, however, where migrant workers’ collective demands were successful in effecting change, particularly along the border areas.

The law protects employees and union members from criminal or civil liability for participating in negotiations with employers, initiating a strike, organizing a rally, or explaining labor disputes to the public, except where such activities cause reputational harm. The law does not protect employees and union members from criminal charges for reputational damage, and reputational damage charges have been used to intimidate union members and employees. The law does not prohibit lawsuits intended to censor, intimidate, or silence critics through costly legal defense. The law provides some protection to defendants in frivolous libel cases from prosecution. By law a court may dismiss a defamation lawsuit if it is considered dishonest. In June the Supreme Court upheld the appeals court not-guilty verdict in the case of a British worker rights activist who had been charged in 2013 for reporting on migrant workers’ rights.

Labor law enforcement was inconsistent and in some instances ineffective in protecting workers who participated in union activities. There were reports of workers dismissed for engaging in union activities, both before and after registration. Rights advocates reported that judges and provincial-level labor inspectors often attempted to mediate cases, even when labor rights violations requiring penalties had been found. In some cases labor courts ordered workers reinstated, although the court orders were not always complied with by employers. There were reports from unions and NGOs that employers attempted to negotiate terms of reinstatement after court orders were issued, offering severance packages for voluntary resignation, denying reinstated union leaders access to work, or demoting workers to jobs with lower wages and benefits.

In some cases judges awarded compensation in place of reinstatement when employers or employees claimed they could not work together peacefully; however, authorities rarely applied penalties against employers found guilty of labor violations. Penalties include imprisonment, a fine, or both and were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights.

Unions and NGOs reported that employers used various techniques to weaken labor-union association and collective-bargaining efforts. These included replacing striking workers with subcontractors, which the law permits as long as strikers continue to receive wages; delaying negotiations by failing to show up at Labor Relations Committee meetings or sending non-decision-makers to negotiate; threatening union leaders and striking workers; pressuring union leaders and striking workers to resign; dismissing union leaders, ostensibly for business reasons, violation of company rules, or negative attitudes toward the company; prohibiting workers from demonstrating in work zones; inciting violence, then using a court order to clamp down on protests; transferring union leaders to other branches, thus making them ineligible to participate in employee or welfare committees; transferring union leaders and striking workers to different, less desirable positions or stripping them of management authority; and supporting the registration of competing unions to circumvent established, uncooperative unions.

The unionization rate among wage and salary workers was estimated at 3.4 percent, and only 34 of 77 provinces had any labor unions.

Labor groups reported that employers exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to discriminate against union members during the year. In May, 93 of the 94 workers dismissed from Sunstar Engineering, an auto supplier, were members of the sectoral Thailand Auto Parts and Metal Workers Union. Another 800 workers from Body Fashion Factory in Nakhon Sawan Province, an undergarment and lingerie manufacturer, were dismissed without compensation after the workers gathered to demand that the company pay the previously agreed wages and bonuses.

Employers sometimes filed lawsuits against union leaders and strikers for trespass, defamation, and vandalism.

Private companies also continued to pursue civil and criminal lawsuits against NGOs and journalists as well as workers (see section 2.a., Libel/Slander Laws). Since 2016 and continuing into May, Thammakaset, a poultry farm owner in Lopburi Province, filed 13 criminal and civil cases against 14 former employees, labor rights activists, and journalists on various charges such as criminal defamation, theft of timecards, and computer crime. Authorities and courts dismissed most of these complaints and ordered Thammakaset to pay THB 1.7 million ($56,900) in compensation for back wages, overtime, and holiday pay to 14 former employees for labor-law violations. As of September some of these cases remained pending.

NGOs and labor advocates reported incidents where their staff members were followed or threatened by employers after they had been seen advocating for labor rights.

In October the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases found 13 State Railway Workers’ Union leaders guilty of “committing an official act of omission of the official duty or…to disrupt work or to cause damage by doing so together with five or more persons” and sentenced them to three years in prison. This case concerned the union’s role in organizing a strike in 2009 to protest against unsafe conditions following a train derailment that killed seven persons. The International Labor Organization (ILO) found that the union leaders’ actions were in line with international standards. In 2018 the Supreme Court ordered seven railway union leaders to pay a fine of THB 15 million ($500,000) plus accrued interest in connection with the same incident; the government then started to garnish the wages and seize the assets of union leaders. Various labor organizations and unions viewed these penalties as an effort to send a signal chilling freedoms of expression and association.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, except in the case of national emergency, war, martial law, or imminent public calamity.  Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.  The government enforced the law with mixed results.

In 2019 the government amended the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act for the third time in five years.  The new amendment added a separate provision specifically addressing “forced labor or services” and prescribed penalties of up to four years’ imprisonment.  More severe penalties can be pursued under the previously existing human trafficking statute or if victims were seriously injured.  Government agencies and nongovernmental groups worked on revisions of subordinate regulations, victim-identification guidelines, and standard operating procedures.

The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Ministry of Labor, and the Office of Attorney General organized training workshops for law enforcement and multidisciplinary teams to understand changes to the law.

There were reports that forced labor continued in fishing, shrimp, garment production, agriculture, domestic work, and begging.  The government did not effectively enforce the law.  Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.  NGOs acknowledged a decline in the most severe forms of labor exploitation in the fishing sector.  Some NGOs, however, pointed to inconsistencies in enforcing labor law, particularly around irregular or delayed payment of wages, illegal wage deductions, illegal recruitment fees, withholding of documents, and not providing written contracts in a language that workers understand.

Labor rights groups reported that some employers utilized practices indicative of forced labor, such as seeking to prevent migrant workers from changing jobs or forcing them to work by delaying wages, burying them in debt, or accusing them of theft.  NGOs reported cases where employers colluded to blacklist workers who reported labor violations, joined unions, or changed jobs.

The government and NGOs reported trafficking victims among smuggled migrants, particularly from Burma.  Most of those cases involved transnational trafficking syndicates both in Thailand and in the country of origin.  Many victims were subjected to deception, detention, starvation, human branding, and abuse during their journey.  Traffickers sometimes destroyed the passports and identity documents of victims.  Some victims were sold to different smugglers and subjected to debt bondage.

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 of the worst forms of child labor.  The law protects children from child trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, use in illicit activities, and forced labor, but it does not meet the international standard for prohibiting military recruitment of children by nonstate armed groups.  The law regulates the employment of children younger than age 18 and prohibits employment of children younger than 15.  Children younger than 18 are prohibited from work in any activity involving metalwork, hazardous chemicals, poisonous materials, radiation, extreme temperatures, high noise levels, toxic microorganisms, operation of heavy equipment, and work underground or underwater.  The law also prohibits children younger than 18 from workplaces deemed hazardous, such as slaughterhouses, gambling establishments, places where alcohol is sold, massage parlors, entertainment venues, sea-fishing vessels, and seafood processing establishments.  As such, children ages 15 to 17 may legally engage in hazardous “homework” (work assigned by the hirer representing an industrial enterprise to a homeworker to be produced or assembled outside of the workplace).  The law provides limited coverage to child workers in some informal sectors, such as agriculture, domestic work, and home-based businesses.  Self-employed children and children working outside of employment relationships, defined by the existence of an agreement or contract and the exchange of work against pay, are not protected under labor law, but they are protected under laws on child protection and trafficking in persons.  Children participating in paid and nonpaid Muay Thai (Thai boxing) competitions, however, are not protected under labor law, and it was unclear whether child-protection legislation sufficiently protects child Muay Thai participants.

Penalties for violations of the law may include imprisonment or fines.  These penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.  Parents of victims whom the court finds were “driven by unbearable poverty” may be exempt from penalties.  The government effectively enforced law related to the worst forms of child labor but was less effective enforcing laws on the minimum age of work and hazardous work.

Government and private-sector entities used bone-density checks and dental examinations to identify potentially underage job applicants.  Such tests, however, were not always conclusive.  Labor inspectors used information from civil society to target inspections for child labor and forced labor.

Civil society and international organizations reported they rarely saw cases of child labor in manufacturing, fishing, shrimping, and seafood processing.  They attributed the decline to legal and regulatory changes both in 2014 that expanded the number of hazardous-job categories in which children younger than 18 were prohibited from working and in 2017 that increased penalties for the use of child laborers.

NGOs, however, reported that some children from within the country, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and ethnic minority communities were working in informal sectors and small businesses, including farming, home-based businesses, restaurants, street vending, auto services, food processing, construction, domestic work, and begging.  Some children were forced to work in prostitution, pornography, begging, and the production and trafficking of drugs (see section 6, Children).  In 2019 the Thailand Internet Crimes against Children Task Force investigated 26 cases of child sex trafficking, three cases of forced child begging, and 31 cases of possession of child-pornographic materials.

The DLPW is the primary agency charged with enforcing child labor law and policies.  NGOs reported child labor violations found by the DLPW’s labor inspectors were usually referred to law enforcement officers for further investigation and prosecution.  NGOs reported families whose children suffered from trafficking or forced labor received some support, but little support was provided to children found working in violation of other child labor laws (minimum working age, hazardous work limits).

In 2019 the government reported a slight increase in the number of labor inspectors and interpreters directly employed by the Ministry of Labor.  During the year labor inspections were targeted at fishing ports and high-risk workplaces, including garment factories, shrimp and seafood processing, poultry and pig farms, auto repair shops, construction sites, and in service-sector businesses like restaurants, karaoke bars, hotels, and gas stations.  The DLPW reported 43 violations related to child labor, including the employment of underage children, failure to notify the government about the employment of child workers, and employing children younger than 18 to work in hazardous conditions or during the night.

Observers noted several limiting factors in effective enforcement of child-labor law, including insufficient labor inspectors, insufficient interpreters during labor inspections, ineffective inspection procedures (especially in hard-to-reach workplaces like private residences, small family-based business units, farms, and fishing boats), and a lack of official identity documents among young migrant workers from neighboring countries.  NGOs also reported insufficient protection for child-labor victims, including lack of legal assistance for claiming compensation and restitution, inadequate protection and counseling mechanisms, and a lack of safe repatriation (especially for migrant children).  They alleged that while there were clear mechanisms for the protection and repatriation of child trafficking victims, there was no such mechanism for child-labor victims.  A lack of public understanding of child-labor law and standards was also an important factor.

In June 2019 the government published its first national working-children survey, using research methodology in line with international guidelines.  This survey was the product of cooperation among the Ministry of Labor, the National Statistical Office, and the ILO.  The survey revealed that 3.9 percent of 10.47 million children ages five to 17 were working children, including 1.7 percent who were child laborers (exploited working children)–1.3 percent in hazardous work and an additional 0.4 percent in nonhazardous work.  The majority of child laborers were doing hazardous work in household or family businesses (55 percent), in the areas of agriculture (56 percent), service trades (23 percent), and manufacturing (20 percent).  Boys were in child labor more than girls, and more than half of child laborers were not in school.  Of the top three types of hazardous work which children performed, 22 percent involved lifting heavy loads, 8 percent working in extreme conditions or at night, and 7 percent being exposed to dangerous chemicals and toxins.

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

Labor law does not specifically prohibit discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, or HIV status. The law imposes penalties of imprisonment or fines for anyone committing gender or gender-identity discrimination, including in employment decisions. Penalties for gender discrimination were commensurate with those for laws related to civil rights, but the government did not effectively enforce its limited discrimination law. The law requires workplaces with more than 100 employees to hire at least one worker with disabilities for every 100 workers.

Women are prohibited from work underground, in mining, or in underwater construction; on scaffolding higher than 33 feet; and in production or transportation of explosive or inflammatory material.

Discrimination with respect to employment occurred against LGBTI persons, women, and migrant workers (see section 7.e.). Government regulations require employers to pay equal wages and benefits for equal work, regardless of gender. Union leaders stated the wage differences for men and women were generally minimal and were mostly due to different skills, duration of employment, and types of jobs, as well as legal requirements which prohibit the employment of women in hazardous work. Nonetheless, a 2016 ILO report on migrant women in the country’s construction sector found female migrant workers consistently received less than their male counterparts, and more than half were paid less than the official minimum wage, especially for overtime work (see section 6, Women). There were reports many companies intentionally laid off pregnant women during the year.

In 2018 the police cadet academy announced it would no longer admit female cadets. This decision was widely criticized as discriminatory and detrimental to the ability of the police force to identify some labor violations against women. Discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred in employment, access, and training. In April advocacy groups for the rights of persons with disabilities filed a complaint on embezzlement and illegal deduction of wages from workers with disabilities. The case was transferred from the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission to the National Anti-Corruption Commission because it involves senior government officials, and remains under investigation.

Members of the LGBTI community faced frequent discrimination in the workplace, partly due to common prejudices and a lack of protective law and policies on discrimination. Transgender workers reportedly faced even greater constraints, and their participation in the workforce was often limited to a few professions, such as cosmetology and entertainment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was three times higher than the government-calculated poverty line. It does not apply to employees in the public sector, SOEs, domestic work, and seasonal agricultural sectors.

The maximum workweek by law is 48 hours, or eight hours per day over six days, with an overtime limit of 36 hours per week. Employees engaged in “dangerous” work, such as the chemical, mining, or other industries involving heavy machinery, may work a maximum of 42 hours per week and may not work overtime. Petrochemical industry employees may not work more than 12 hours per day but may work continuously for a maximum period of 28 days.

The law requires safe and healthy workplaces, including for home-based businesses, and prohibits pregnant women and children younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions. The law also requires the employer to inform employees about hazardous working conditions prior to employment. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Legal protections do not apply equally to all sectors. For example, the daily minimum wage does not apply to employees in the public sector, SOEs, domestic work, and seasonal agricultural work. Ministerial regulations provide household domestic workers some protections regarding leave, minimum age, and payment of wages, but they do not address minimum wage, regular working hours, social security, or maternity leave. According to government statistics, 54 percent of the labor force worked in the informal economy, with limited protection under labor law and the social security system.

The DLPW enforces laws related to wages, hours of work, labor relations, and occupational safety and health. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and issue orders to employers to comply with the law. If an employer fails to comply with the order within a specified period, inspectors have a duty to refer the case for criminal law enforcement actions. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. The law subjects employers to fines and imprisonment for minimum-wage noncompliance, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with or greater than those for similar crimes such as fraud.

The DLPW issued orders to provincial offices in 2018 prohibiting labor inspectors from settling cases where workers received wages and benefits less than those required by law; however, there were many reports during the year of minimum-wage noncompliance that went to mediation, where workers settled for owed wages lower than the daily minimum wage. NGOs reported contract workers in the public sector received wages below minimum wage as they were governed by separate law.

Labor inspections increasingly focused on high-risk workplaces and information received from civil society partners. Labor inspections, however, remained infrequent, and the number of labor inspectors and resources were inadequate. Trade-union leaders suggested that inspectors should move beyond perfunctory document reviews toward more proactive inspections. Rights advocates reported that provincial-level labor inspectors often attempted to mediate cases, even when labor rights violations requiring penalties had been found.

Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, union leaders estimated almost one million workers were laid off, and many workers, particularly subcontract workers and migrant workers, were laid off without receiving severance payment or advance notice as required by law.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, overtime, and holiday-pay laws in small enterprises, in certain geographic areas (especially rural or border areas), or in certain sectors (especially agriculture, construction, and sea fishing). In 2019 labor unions estimated 5-10 percent of workers received less than the minimum wage; the share of workers who received less than minimum wage was likely higher among unregistered migrant workers and in the border region. Unregistered migrant workers rarely sought redress under the law due to their lack of legal status and the fear of losing their livelihood.

The law subjects employers to imprisonment and fines for violations of occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations. Penalties were commensurate with or greater than those for similar crimes such as negligence. The numbers of OSH experts and inspections were insufficient, however, with most inspections only taking place in response to complaints. The government did not effectively enforce OSH law.

Union leaders estimated 20 percent of workplaces, mostly large factories owned by international companies, complied with government OSH standards. Workplace safety instructions as well as training on workplace safety were mostly in Thai, likely contributing to the higher incidence of accidents among migrant workers. Medium-sized and large factories often applied government health and safety standards, but overall enforcement of safety standards was lax, particularly in the informal economy and among smaller businesses. NGOs and union leaders noted that ineffective enforcement was due to insufficient qualified inspectors, an overreliance on document-based inspection (instead of workplace inspection), a lack of protection against retaliation for workers’ complaints, a lack of interpreters, and a failure to impose effective penalties on noncompliant employers.

The country provides universal health care for all citizens, and social security and workers’ compensation programs to insure employed persons in cases of injury or illness and to provide maternity, disability, death, child-allowance, unemployment, and retirement benefits. Registered migrant workers in both the formal and informal labor sectors and their dependents are also eligible to buy health insurance from the Ministry of Public Health.

NGOs reported that many construction workers, especially subcontracted workers and migrant workers, were not in the social security system or covered under the workers’ compensation program because their employers failed to register them or did not transfer the payments to the social security system.

In March 2019 the Ministry of Labor issued regulations for a workers compensation plan for workplace accidents and injuries; however, the regulations do not cover vendors and domestic workers. Labor-union leaders reported that compensation for work-related illnesses was rarely granted because the connection between the health condition and the workplace was often difficult to prove.

In November 2019 a new labor-protection law for workers in the fishing industry came into effect. It required workers to have access to health-care and social security benefits and, for vessels with deck size more than 300 tonnage gross or which go out more than three days at a time, to provide adequate living conditions for workers. Social security benefits and other parts of the law, however, were not enforced pending approval of subordinate laws by the Council of State. The existing government requirements are for registered migrant fishery workers to buy health insurance and for vessel owners to contribute to the workers’ compensation fund. Since 2019 fishery migrant workers holding a border pass have been eligible for accident compensation. The lack of OSH inspections, first aid kits, and OSH training in the migrant workers’ language increased the vulnerability of fishery workers. During the year NGOs reported several cases where the navy rescued fishery workers who had been in accidents at sea.

Firms used a “subcontract labor system” under which workers sign a contract with labor brokers. By law businesses must provide subcontract laborers “fair benefits and welfare without discrimination.” Employers, however, often paid subcontract laborers less and provided fewer or no benefits.

Department of Employment regulations limit the maximum charges for recruitment fees, but effective enforcement of the rules was hindered by worker unwillingness to provide information and the lack of documentary evidence regarding underground recruitment, documentation fees, and migration costs. Exploitative employment-service agencies persisted in charging citizens working overseas illegal recruitment fees. NGOs reported that workers would often borrow this money at exorbitant interest rates from informal moneylenders.

In 2019, the latest year for which data were available, there were 94,906 reported incidents of accidents or work-related diseases. Of these, 2 percent resulted in organ loss, disability, or death. The Social Security Office reported most serious workplace accidents occurred in manufacturing, wholesale retail trade, construction, transportation, hotels, and restaurants. Observers said workplace accidents in the informal and agricultural sectors and among migrant workers were underreported. Employers rarely diagnosed or compensated occupational diseases, and few doctors or clinics specialized in them.