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Argentina

Executive Summary

Argentina is a federal constitutional republic. Mauricio Macri was elected president in 2015 in elections generally considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included torture by federal and provincial police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; interference in judicial independence; corruption at all levels of government; gender-based killings of women; and forced labor despite government efforts to combat it.

Judicial authorities indicted and prosecuted a number of current and former government officials who committed abuses during the year, as well as officials who committed dictatorship-era crimes.

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 Committee against Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission reported 121 deaths in 2017 due to unwarranted or excessive force by police in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires. A credible domestic nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported there were 258 deaths in 2017 as a result of unwarranted or excessive force by police in the country.

On June 20, 18 police officers were indicted for tampering with the official autopsy to hide signs of violence in the case of Franco Casco, who allegedly died in police custody in 2014, and for failing to register Casco’s original detention in police reports. At year’s end 10 of those officers remained in pretrial detention. Federal prosecutors removed charges against the remaining police officers. The case remained ongoing at year’s end.

On March 8, police fatally shot 12-year-old Facundo Ferreira in Tucuman Province. Ferreira’s family alleged two provincial police officers fired without cause. Criminal proceedings against the officers began on July 3. One officer remained employed on the police force in an administrative capacity, and the other was dismissed for unrelated reasons. The case against the two officers was ongoing at year’s end.

b. Disappearance

On November 29, a federal judge ruled the death of activist Santiago Maldonado was not a forced disappearance and that there are no criminal penalties applicable in the case. Maldonado was allegedly last seen during a protest on August 1, 2017, and an official autopsy stated that Maldonado died of drowning and hypothermia. His family announced their intent to appeal the ruling.

Authorities continued to investigate and prosecute individuals implicated in disappearances, killings, and torture committed during the 1976-83 military dictatorship and the 1974-76 government of Isabel Peron. On August 13, oral hearings began in a trial encompassing more than 800 cases of kidnapping, torture, and murder. The trial against two former Ford Motor executives charged with allegedly helping the military kidnap and torture workers, which began in December 2017 continued at year’s end. The case represented the first time private-sector defendants had faced trial for dictatorship-era crimes.

On December 12, the Supreme Court ruled against a reduced sentence for Rufino Batalla, convicted in 2014 for murder, torture, and kidnapping during the military dictatorship, that counted the time Batalla served in prison before conviction as double the time served toward his sentence. The retroactive application of a controversial 1994-2001 “2×1” law in a separate Supreme Court case in 2017 prompted the congressional passage in May 2017 of a new law preventing the “2×1” sentencing benefit to crimes against humanity.

On March 16, the Federal Cassation Court–the nation’s highest federal appellate court–rescinded house arrest for 88-year-old Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz, based on medical testimony concluding Etchecolatz was fit to remain in jail. Etchecolatz, one of the country’s most egregious human rights violators, was convicted five times, most recently in 2016, for kidnapping, torture, and murder as chief of police investigations in Buenos Aires Province from 1976 to 1977, when he oversaw 29 clandestine detention centers.

Judicial authorities continued to investigate cases of kidnapping and illegal adoption of children born to detained dissidents by members of the former military dictatorship. On August 3, the NGO Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo reported that the 128th missing grandchild of the estimated 500 persons born to detained and missing dissidents during the dictatorship and illegally adopted by former military officials had been identified and made aware of his background.

The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team continued to provide technical support and assistance in the identification of remains of victims of the military junta.

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and provides penalties for torture similar to those for homicide. NGOs, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the Prosecutor General’s Office, the National Penitentiary Prosecutor’s Office (an independent government body that monitors prison conditions), and the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission’s Committee against Torture (an autonomous office established by the provincial government) reported complaints of torture perpetrated by provincial and federal prison officials.

The Buenos Aires Provincial Criminal Court of Cassation’s Office of Public Defenders reported that in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, there were 733 complaints of torture and mistreatment by law enforcement officers during arrest or institutional confinement.

No unified registration system to record acts and victims of torture existed at the federal level. On April 23, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment ratified observations by the UN Committee Against Torture in 2017 that there was excessive and arbitrary use of force by police; prison overcrowding and related institutional violence including torture; uneven implementation of torture prevention laws between provinces; politicization and unclear mandates of various torture prevention institutions; and the lack of an ombudsman against torture since 2008.

According to the Penitentiary Prosecutors Office, 274 cases of torture and mistreatment were registered in the Federal Penitentiary Service during the first half of the year; however, only 84 complaints resulted in criminal investigations.

On May 17, a federal prosecutor in Tierra del Fuego Province filed a motion deposing 26 former military officers for human rights abuses by the armed forces against their own soldiers during the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War. Prosecutors argued the officers were implicated in more than 20 cases of alleged torture of army conscripts and a subsequent cover-up, both classified as crimes against humanity. Defendants included a brigadier general, a lieutenant, and two deceased colonels to be tried in absentia. The case, which marked the first legal action against regime officials for allegedly torturing their own troops during the Falklands/Malvinas military campaign, continued at year’s end.

On September 20, a Buenos Aires City criminal court sentenced six Naval Prefecture officers to between eight to 10 years imprisonment for the 2016 torture of minors Ivan Navarro and Ezequiel Villanueva. The officers were found guilty of torture, illegal detention, and armed robbery.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions often were harsh due to overcrowding, poor medical care, and unsanitary conditions. Particularly in the province of Buenos Aires, which held more than half the country’s total prison population, there were reports of forced transfers and the recurrent use of solitary confinement as a method of punishment. On April 23, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment highlighted deteriorating and excessively harsh prison conditions and expressed concern about detention practices for juveniles and marginalized communities.

Physical Conditions: While prison capacity in federal penitentiaries was marginally adequate, prison overcrowding remained a problem. Prisoners in Buenos Aires provincial penitentiaries exceeded facility capacity by an estimated 91 percent, while prisoners in provincial police holding facilities exceeded capacity by more than 200 percent, according to CELS and the Committee against Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission. In June, NGOs reported a record number of approximately 45,000 detainees in Buenos Aires Province, a 12.5 percent increase over 2017 and an increase of more than 30 percent during the last six years. Many pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.

Inmates in many facilities suffered from overcrowding; poor nutrition; inadequate medical and psychological treatment; inadequate sanitation, heating, ventilation, and light; limited family visits; and frequent degrading treatment, according to reports by human rights organizations and research centers.

Overcrowding in juvenile facilities often resulted in minors being held in police station facilities, although some NGOs and the national prison ombudsman noted the law prohibited doing so.

Women’s prisons were generally less violent, dangerous, and crowded than men’s prisons. Pregnant prisoners were exempted from work and rigorous physical exercise and were transferred to the penitentiary clinic prior to their delivery date. Children born to women in prison may remain in a special area of the prison with the mother until the age of four and receive daycare.

In the first six months of the year, the Federal Penitentiary Service reported 22 inmate deaths in federal prisons, six of which were violent. The Committee of Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission stated that 134 prisoners died in the province of Buenos Aires in 2017, 60 from health problems and lack of medical attention. The Ministry of Justice had not published official statistics on prisoner deaths since 2016.

On May 12, the chief of Police Station No. 1 in Pergamino, Buenos Aires Province, turned himself over to federal authorities for charges related to a March 2017 fire that killed seven detainees. The police chief and five other police offers remained under arrest at year’s end.

On November 15, four inmates died in a fire at a Buenos Aires Province police station. Ten other detainees were injured.

Administration: Authorities sometimes conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. According to local NGOs, prisoners occasionally did not submit complaints to authorities due to fear of reprisal.

Independent Monitoring: The government usually permitted monitoring by independent local and international human rights observers.

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, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the federal and provincial police forces, the armed forces, and other federal police authorities including the airport security police, the Gendarmerie, the Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Prisons. The federal police generally have jurisdiction for maintaining law and order in the federal capital and for federal crimes in the provinces. All federal police forces fall under the authority of the Ministry of Security. Each province, including the city of Buenos Aires, also has its own police force that responds to a provincial (or municipal) security ministry or secretariat. Individual forces varied considerably in their effectiveness and respect for human rights. The armed forces fall under the Ministry of Defense. The federal security forces have authority to conduct internal investigations into alleged abuses and to dismiss individuals who allegedly committed a human rights violation.

On July 24, President Macri issued a presidential decree to expand the role of the armed forces to combat transnational criminal networks, such as drug trafficking organizations, and international terrorism. Local NGOs expressed concern over the possible future domestic implications of this decree and demonstrated against it on July 26.

The federal government can file complaints about alleged abuses with the federal courts, and provincial governments can do the same for provincial security forces. Members of security forces convicted of a crime were subject to stiff penalties. Authorities generally administratively suspended officers accused of wrongdoing until their investigations were completed. While authorities investigated and in some cases detained, prosecuted, and convicted the officers involved, impunity at the federal and provincial level remained a problem. International organizations and NGOs reported that authorities carried out investigations unevenly while slow judicial processes hampered timely resolution of complaints.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police generally apprehended individuals openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police may detain suspects for up to 10 hours without an arrest warrant if authorities have a well founded belief they have committed or are about to commit a crime or police are unable to determine the suspect’s identity. Human rights groups reported that police occasionally arrested persons arbitrarily and detained suspects longer than 10 hours.

The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt determination of the legality of their detention by a lower criminal court judge, who determines whether to proceed with an investigation. In some cases there were delays in this process and in informing detainees of the charges against them.

The law provides for the right to bail except in cases involving flight risk or risk of subornation of justice.

Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to counsel and provided public defenders if they were unable to afford counsel. In some cases such access was delayed due to an overburdened system.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police on occasion arrested and detained citizens arbitrarily.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for investigative detention of up to two years for indicted persons awaiting or undergoing trial; the period may be extended by one year in limited circumstances. The slow pace of the justice system often resulted in lengthy detentions beyond the period stipulated by law. The National Penitentiary Prosecutors Office reported that 60 percent of prisoners were awaiting trial during the first three months of the year.

On August 18, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of house arrest for Tupac Amaru social activist Milagro Sala, revoking an August 7 decision by a federal judge to return Sala to prison. Sala was arrested in January 2016 during a protest against a provincial government’s reforms to social spending. In December 2016 a judge convicted her for aggravated material damages and civil disturbance. Despite a three-year suspended sentence on that conviction, Sala remained in detention due to pending charges for financial crimes, assault, and fraud. In December 2017 the Supreme Court directed Jujuy Province to allow house arrest in Sala’s case while affirming the legal rationale for her continued detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the government did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. According to local NGOs, judges in some federal criminal and ordinary courts were subject at times to political manipulation. NGOs also criticized all three branches of the government for use of inappropriate procedures for selecting judges and for manipulating the assignment of judges to specific cases. The judiciary continued to investigate a number of these alleged irregularities.

A law enacted in 2015 allowed the Magistrates’ Council to designate “substitute judges” from congressionally approved lists of judges, attorneys, and court secretaries, circumventing the normal qualifying and order of merit criteria reserved for permanent appointments. Media reported that the government selected substitute judges sympathetic to its interests. In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional. Nonetheless, the civil society organization Fores reported that almost 25 percent of judges remained “substitute” or temporary judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

In federal and provincial courts, all defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to legal counsel and free assistance of an interpreter, to remain silent, to call defense witnesses, and to appeal. If needed, a public defender is provided at public expense. During the investigative stage, defendants can submit responses to questions in writing. If an investigating judge determines sufficient evidence exists to proceed with a trial, the investigating judge refers the case to a panel of judges, who decide guilt or innocence in a separate oral trial proceeding. During the oral trial, defendants can present witnesses and provide expert witness reports, in addition to the defendant’s own evidence. Defendants have the right to be present at their hearings, and there is no trial in absentia.

Lengthy delays, procedural logjams, long gaps in the appointment of permanent judges, inadequate administrative support, and general inefficiency hampered the judicial system. Judges’ broad discretion on whether and how to pursue investigations contributed to a public perception that many decisions were arbitrary.

Provincial courts in Catamarca, Salta, Cordoba, Chubut, La Pampa, Buenos Aires, Neuquen, Rio Negro, Entre Rios, Buenos Aires City, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero, Chaco, Mendoza, Jujuy, and Tucuman continued the transition to trials with oral arguments in criminal cases, replacing the old system of written submissions. Neuquen, Salta, Chaco, and Buenos Aires Provinces provide defendants accused of certain serious crimes the right to a trial by jury. Full implementation of trial by jury procedures was pending in Chaco, Rio Negro, Mendoza, and San Juan.

In 2014 congress enacted supplementary legislation implementing a new code of criminal procedure for the federal courts, but the government suspended its implementation. The 2014 code would transform the country’s hybrid federal inquisitive system into a full accusatory system, with expanded prosecution under the authority of the attorney general and trial by jury. The new criminal code would impose time limitations on prosecutions (most cases under the new system must be disposed of in three years), expand victims’ rights, and provide for expedited deportations of foreigners in lieu of prosecution. The code would create direct interaction between security forces and prosecutors, who would assume prosecutorial responsibilities exercised by investigating magistrates. During the year the government and congress worked on a new bill to update the 2014 code, including by incorporating legislation passed in the interim, such as a law authorizing the use of cooperating witnesses in cases of corruption. As of November the federal courts had not implemented the 2014 code of criminal procedure, and congress had not finished debating the bill to update it.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to the courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages or the protection of rights provided by the constitution.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. In 2016 the National Administration for Social Security (ANSES) and the Secretariat of Public Communications under the Chief of Staff’s Office officially announced an interagency information-sharing agreement. The agreement sought to make the ANSES database of citizen personal information available to facilitate government public-service communications to the population. A group of citizens, including some opposition legislators, filed the criminal complaint; on September 6, a federal court ruled such an information-sharing procedure would be a violation of the right to privacy.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were reports of media outlet shutdowns and staff dismissals during the year, primarily due to economic concerns. Media observers noted the closures mainly affected outlets that were maintained artificially through public funding mechanisms from the previous administration. On June 26, 350 employees of state news agency Telam were terminated, representing approximately 40 percent of the organization’s workforce. Some viewed the dismissals as a political attempt to shape the outlet’s editorial line, as the agency cited the alleged political polarization of employees hired under prior administrations as one of the reasons for the downsizing.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks, threats, and harassment against journalists in relation to their reporting, most of which covered protests.

On October 11, unknown assailants set fire to the car of in radio journalist Enrique Nicolini in La Rioja Province. Nicolini believed the attack was related to his coverage of financial corruption. No arrests had been made in the case, and an investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

The Argentine Journalism Forum reported 29 physical attacks against journalists as of October, a decline compared with the previous year.

On March 8, a criminal court in the city of Cordoba sentenced a former police chief to two and one-half years’ imprisonment for repeated threats against journalist Dante Leguizamon in 2014. Press organizations characterized the sentence as an important judicial validation of press freedoms.

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. The International Telecommunication Union reported that 76 percent of citizens used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Local NGOs, including CELS, expressed concerns that security-related protocols the Ministry of Security implemented informally beginning in 2016 imposed restrictions on the right to peaceful protest and assembly.

Amnesty International reported that authorities violently suppressed a public protest in La Plata, Buenos Aires Province on August 21. Violent confrontations with police occurred after some protesters attempted to break into a provincial government building. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to halt the demonstration. Five protesters were arrested and dozens were injured, including one protester who was hit by a police patrol car.

The government filed charges against approximately 20 civilians for the violence that occurred during December 2017 demonstrations against pension reform, which injured 160, including 88 police officers. On May 23, the Ministry of Security offered a monetary award for information leading to the arrest of one of the fugitive protesters. On August 31, a federal court ordered one protester to pretrial detention. Additional defendants were at liberty while awaiting trial. The cases were ongoing at year’s end. Local and international NGOs, including CELS and Amnesty International, stated that law enforcement had violently suppressed the protests and called for official investigation into actions by security forces.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

Local NGOs continued to express concern that government reforms to immigration law, passed in January 2017, introduced barriers to migrant admission, complicated obtaining legal residency, accelerated deportation procedures, and restricted access to citizenship.

On June 30, the National Migration Office reported 70,000 Venezuelan migrants arrived in the country over the first semester of the year, constituting 25 percent of total residence permits granted by immigration authorities, an increase of 320 percent over 2016.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Decisions on asylum petitions may take up to two years to adjudicate.

The National Migration Office reported that under a humanitarian visa program for Syrians inaugurated in 2016, as of the end of 2017, authorities had resettled 318 Syrians in the country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Mauricio Macri was elected president in 2015 in elections generally considered free and fair. The country held legislative elections in October 2017. Voters elected more than one-half of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, representing all of the provinces and the city of Buenos Aires, and one-third of the members of the Senate, representing eight provinces. Local and international observers considered the legislative elections generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Local NGOs pointed to a lack of female representation at higher ranks, particularly in the executive and legislative branches. Two of 10 cabinet ministers were women. In December 2017 a gender parity law came into force, requiring any electoral list of candidates for national legislative office to contain equal percentages of male and female candidates. In 2016 the provinces of Buenos Aires, Salta, Chubut, and Neuquen enacted gender parity laws pertaining to candidates for provincial and municipal bodies; Santa Fe Province approved a similar bill on May 22. The law states that gender is determined by the national identity document, in which persons may register gender of preference regardless of their biological sex. It also states that in the case of resignation, temporary absence, or death of an elected official, the replacement must be the same gender.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; nonetheless, multiple reports alleged that executive, legislative, and judicial officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, suggesting a failure to implement the law effectively. Weak institutions and an often ineffective and politicized judicial system undermined systematic attempts to curb corruption.

Corruption: Cases of corruption occurred in some security forces. The most frequent abuses included extortion of, and protection for, those involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, and the promotion of prostitution. Allegations of corruption in provincial as well as in federal courts were also frequent.

On August 1, federal authorities arrested 12 former government officials and business executives on corruption-related charges based on handwritten notebooks in which a former government chauffeur allegedly chronicled cash payments he delivered to the official and private residences of former presidents Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as kickbacks for public works contracts from 2008 to 2015. Prosecutors alleged the bribery scheme totaled approximately $160 million. On September 17, a federal court indicted Fernandez de Kirchner for her role in the notebooks corruption scheme. A sitting senator, Fernandez de Kirchner had immunity from arrest but not from prosecution.

Former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her children faced five other separate financial corruption cases. On September 3, a federal judge confirmed Fernandez de Kirchner and two former government ministers would face oral trial beginning on February 26, 2019, on charges of illicit association and fraudulent administration of public construction contracts. On September 18, a federal judge officially questioned Fernandez de Kirchner on charges of international money laundering. On October 3, a federal judge ordered Fernandez de Kirchner and her children, Maximo and Florencia, to stand oral trial for money laundering and criminal association related to real estate dealings. On October 8, a federal court confirmed on appeal the indictment of Fernandez de Kirchner and her children for money laundering related to hotel properties in a separate case. A federal judge ordered Fernandez de Kirchner and 14 former government officials to stand oral trial on charges of manipulating currency exchange future markets in March 2017; a trial date had not been set at year’s end.

On August 7, former vice president Amado Boudou was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison on charges of bribery and criminal conduct incompatible with public office. Boudou served as economy minister and then vice president under Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and was the highest-level official in her administration to be convicted for corruption. Boudou also faced charges of illicit association and enrichment in a separate judicial case, which was ongoing at year’s end.

On September 25, national deputy and former national planning minister Julio de Vido was arrested and placed in pretrial detention due to corruption charges after the Chamber of Deputies voted to revoke his legislative immunity. On October 10, de Vido was sentenced to five years and eight months’ imprisonment for fraudulent administration, misuse of funds, and lack of oversight, which contributed to a 2012 train accident that killed 52 individuals. The sentence was under appeal by prosecutors seeking a harsher conviction.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights’ anticorruption office is responsible for analyzing and investigating federal executive branch officials, based on their financial disclosure forms. The law provides for public disclosure, but not all agencies complied, and enforcement remained a problem. The anticorruption office is also responsible for investigating corruption within the federal executive branch and in matters involving federal funds, except for funds transferred to the provinces. As part of the executive branch, the office does not have authority to prosecute cases independently, but it can refer cases to other agencies or serve as the plaintiff and request a judge to initiate a case.

On July 7, the Anti-Corruption Office reported that approximately 10 percent of all national public officials failed to comply with financial disclosure and transparency laws in 2016.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government has a human rights secretariat within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Its main objective is to coordinate within the ministry and collaborate with other ministries and the judiciary to promote policies, plans, and programs for the protection of human rights. During the year it published leaflets and books on a range of human rights topics. The post of national ombudsman has been vacant since 2009, which NGOs claimed undermined the office’s mandate to protect human rights.

The prosecutor general’s Office of Crimes against Humanity investigated and documented human rights violations that occurred under the 1976-83 military dictatorship.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men and women, including spousal rape, is a crime. The penalties range from six months’ to 20 years’ imprisonment. There were anecdotal reports of police or judicial reluctance to act on rape cases; women’s rights advocates claimed that the attitudes of police, hospitals, and courts toward survivors of sexual violence sometimes victimized them again.

The law prohibits domestic violence, including spousal abuse. Survivors may secure protective measures. The law imposes stricter penalties on those who kill their spouses, partners, or children as a consequence of their gender. According to local NGOs, lack of police and judicial vigilance often led to a lack of protection for victims.

On October 17, a criminal court in Entre Rios Province sentenced Sebastian Wagner to life imprisonment for the April 2017 kidnapping, rape, and killing of Micaela Garcia. Nestor Pavon, Wagner’s former employer, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for serving as a material accessory to the crime. Wagner, who confessed to Garcia’s killing, was previously convicted and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment on two counts of sexual abuse and rape but was released on parole in 2016. The judge who approved Wagner’s parole release, who had been under investigation and faced calls to resign, was cleared of charges of judicial impropriety on July 30 and reinstated.

The National Register of Femicides, maintained by the Supreme Court’s Women’s Office, recorded that 251 women died as a result of domestic or gender-based violence during 2017. A local NGO reported 101 femicides from January to May 31. The same source reported 18 percent of these victims had filed a police report and that 10 percent had active protection orders from authorities.

The Supreme Court’s Office of Domestic Violence provided around-the-clock protection and resources to victims of domestic violence. The office received approximately 3,400 cases of domestic violence in the city of Buenos Aires during the first three months of the year, an estimated 76 percent of which involved violence against women. The office also carried out risk assessments necessary to obtain a restraining order.

Public and private institutions offered prevention programs and provided support and treatment for abused women. Nine shelters were fully operational during the year, with one other shelter under construction. More than 2,800 officials and service providers received training in preventing gender-based violence.

On July 4, the National Congress passed legislation to provide financial reparations to children nationwide whose mothers were victims of femicide. The law came into effect on October 1, and children up to 21 years of age are eligible to apply for the financial benefit, which totaled approximately 11,400 pesos ($300) monthly. The city of Buenos Aires passed an equivalent law in August 2017 and launched the reparations program in January.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the public sector and imposes disciplinary or corrective measures. In some jurisdictions, such as the city of Buenos Aires, sexual harassment might lead to the abuser’s dismissal, whereas in others, such as Santa Fe Province, the maximum penalty is five days in prison. In September 2017 a poll by the city of Buenos Aires ombudsman’s office reported that 80 percent of women suffered from harassment or violence in the street at least once during the year and that 97 percent of these abuses were not reported to authorities. Under a 2016 law against street harassment in the city of Buenos Aires, violators may be fined or given court-ordered public service for making catcalls and other forms of street harassment.

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

Discrimination: Although women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men, they continued to face economic discrimination and held a disproportionately high number of lower-paying jobs. Women also held significantly fewer executive positions in the private sector than men, according to several studies. Although equal payment for equal work is constitutionally mandated, women earned approximately 27 percent less than men earned for similar or equal work.

The Supreme Court’s Office of Women trained judges, secretaries, and clerks to handle court cases related to gender issues and to ensure equal access for women to positions in the court system. The office also trained judges, prosecutors, judicial staff, and law enforcement agents to increase awareness of gender-related crimes and develop techniques to address gender-related cases and victims.

Children

Birth Registration: The government provides universal birth registration, and citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Parents have 40 days to register births, and the state has an additional 20 days to do so. The Ministry of Interior and Transportation may issue birth certificates to children under the age of 12 whose births were not previously registered.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was common; the Supreme Court’s Office of Domestic Violence reported that 30 percent of the complaints it received involved children as of the first trimester of the year. The government launched a 24/7 hotline staffed by professional child psychologists for free consultations and advice; 81 percent of the complaints involved abuse by a father or stepfather.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for men and women is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children, including in prostitution, was a problem. The minimum age of consensual sex is 13, but there are heightened protections for persons ages 13 to 16. A statutory rape law provides for penalties ranging from six months to 20 years in prison, depending on the age of the victim and other factors.

On March 21, a young player with the soccer club Independiente FC revealed to his psychologist that he and 20 other trainees in the soccer minor league were victims of a prostitution ring. On April 2, a civil society organization filed a judicial complaint against River Plate FC for child sex abuse in the club from 2008 to 2011. Seven individuals were detained in relation to the two investigations. Both cases were ongoing at year’s end.

On September 6, police raided the headquarters of the Antonio Provolo Institute for the hearing impaired in the city of La Plata after seven victims accused three clergymen of sexually abusing up to 28 deaf children from 1982 to 2002. The case remained ongoing at year’s end.

The law prohibits the production and distribution of child pornography, with penalties ranging from six months to four years in prison. While the law does not prohibit the possession of child pornography by individuals for personal use, it provides penalties ranging from four months to two years in prison for possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute it. The law also provides penalties ranging from one month to three years in prison for facilitating access to pornographic shows or materials for minors under the age of 14.

During the year prosecutors from the nationwide Point of Contact Network against Child Pornography on the Internet pursued cases of internet child pornography. The network reported improvements on the national level in the ability to punish offenders.

On June 20, local authorities and Interpol dismantled an international network of child pornography that produced and distributed illicit material from the country to other countries in Latin America. Four arrests were made during the operation, and investigations were ongoing at year’s end.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community consisted of approximately 250,000 persons. Sporadic acts of anti-Semitic discrimination and vandalism continued. According to the most recent statistics available, the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations received 404 complaints of anti-Semitism in 2017, compared with 351 in 2016, with more than 88 percent occurring online. The most commonly reported anti-Semitic incidents were slurs posted on various websites, graffiti, verbal slurs, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries.

On September 27, President Macri in his address to the UN General Assembly called on all countries to respect the Interpol Red Notices on five Iranians, one Lebanese, and one Colombian suspected in the 1994 bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 persons. He also requested improved judicial and investigatory cooperation from Iran.

On March 6, a federal court ruled that former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and 11 other officials in her administration, including former foreign minister Hector Timmerman, should face trial for complicity and false testimony to cover up the 1994 AMIA bombing.

On June 1, a federal court ruled that the 2015 death of Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor in charge of the AMIA bombing investigation, was a homicide and a direct consequence of his work. The federal judge named former Nisman employee Diego Lagomarsino as a suspect in the murder.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law also mandates access to buildings by persons with disabilities. According to media reports, the ombudsman of the city of Buenos Aires reported that only 33 percent of the metropolitan subway stations had elevators or escalators and that only 29 percent of the stations were equipped with bathrooms for persons with disabilities.

While the federal government has protective laws, many provinces had not adopted such laws and had no mechanisms to ensure enforcement. An employment quota law reserves 4 percent of federal government jobs for persons with disabilities, but NGOs and advocacy groups claimed the level of disability employment achieved during the year was less than 1 percent.

Congress proposed and passed a budget cut to the National Disability Agency, which provides a range of services and subsidies for disabled persons.

Indigenous People

The constitution recognizes the ethnic and cultural identities of indigenous peoples and states that congress shall protect their right to bilingual education, recognize their communities and the communal ownership of their ancestral lands, and allow for their participation in the management of their natural resources.

The lack of trained teachers hampered government efforts to offer bilingual education opportunities to indigenous peoples.

Indigenous people were not fully consulted in the management of their lands or natural resources, particularly lithium mining, in part because responsibility for implementing the law is delegated to the 23 provinces, the constitutions of only 11 of which recognize indigenous rights.

Projects carried out by the agricultural and extractive industries displaced individuals, limited their access to traditional means of livelihood, reduced the area of lands on which they depended, and caused pollution that in some cases endangered the health and welfare of indigenous communities. Conflict occurred when authorities evicted indigenous peoples from ancestral lands then in private ownership.

On July 16 and 17, indigenous Mapuche activists occupied an inactive hotel, staged a sit-in at a government office, and blocked a major roadway in the city of Bariloche. Protesters advocated for the release of Facundo Jones Huala, founder of the militant Mapuche Ancestral Resistance. On August 24, the Supreme Court approved the extradition of Jones Huala to Chile, where he faced terrorism charges.

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

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons generally enjoyed the same legal rights and protections as heterosexual persons. No laws criminalize consensual same-sex conduct between adults. LGBTI persons could serve openly in the military.

The law gives transgender persons the right legally to update their name and gender marker on identity documents to reflect their gender identity without prior approval from a doctor or judge.

National antidiscrimination laws do not specifically include the terms “sexual orientation or gender identity” as protected grounds, only “sex.” There was no official discrimination, however, based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care. Media and NGOs reported cases of discrimination, violence, and police brutality toward LGBTI individuals, especially transgender persons.

On May 18, the National Observatory of Hate Crimes registered 103 official complaints of discriminatory or violent acts against LGBTI individuals in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, compared with only 31 complaints in 2016. These complaints included 13 hate-crime-related homicides. The transgender population made up 58 percent of reported cases and 90 percent of reported homicides of LGBTI persons.

On June 18, a criminal court sentenced Gabriel David Marino to life imprisonment for the killing of influential LGBTI activist Diana Sacayan in 2015. The ruling was the first to apply aggravated penalties for a hate crime based on gender identity. Sacayan’s case remained open, as a second unknown assailant, believed by law enforcement to have acted as an accomplice, was still at large.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes; the government generally respected these rights. The law prohibits discrimination against unions and protects workers from dismissal, suspension, and changes in labor conditions. It also prohibits military and law enforcement personnel from forming and joining unions. The government effectively enforced the law. Complaints of unfair labor practices can be brought before the judiciary. Violations of the law may result in a fine being imposed on the employer or the relevant employers’ association, where appropriate. Penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations. There were cases of significant delays or appeals in the collective bargaining process.

The law allows unions to register without prior authorization, and registered trade union organizations may engage in certain activities to represent their members, including petitioning the government and employers. The law grants official trade union status to only one union deemed the “most representative,” defined by law as the union that has the highest average proportion of dues-paying members to number of workers represented, per industrial sector within a specific geographical region. Only unions with such official recognition receive trade union immunity from employer reprisals against their officials, are permitted to deduct union dues directly from wages, and may bargain collectively with recourse to conciliation and arbitration. The most representative union bargains on behalf of all workers in a given sector, and collective agreements cover both union members and nonmembers in the sector. The law requires the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security to ratify collective bargaining agreements. The Argentine Workers Central (CTA Autonoma) Observatory of Social Rights claimed a decrease in the Labor Ministry’s ratifications of bargaining agreements in 2017. The International Labor Organization (ILO) requested that the government improve procedures to register trade unions and grant trade union status.

In 2015 officers from the Buenos Aires provincial police attempted to unionize. The national Labor, Employment, and Social Security Ministry, whose status the government changed in September from an independent ministry to a secretariat within the Ministry of Production and Labor, rejected the police petition. The officers appealed the ministry’s decision, but the Supreme Court affirmed the ministry’s decision in April 2017, ruling the Buenos Aires provincial police did not have the right to form a union under the country’s constitution and applicable laws.

The CTA Autonoma and other labor groups not affiliated with the General Confederation of Labor continued to contend that the legal recognition of only one union per sector conflicted with international standards, namely ILO Convention No. 87, and prevented these unions from obtaining full legal standing. In 2013 the Supreme Court reaffirmed the need for more than one official union per sector and for amendments to the legislation. The ILO urged the government to bring the legislation into conformity with international labor standards.

Civil servants and workers in essential services may strike only after a compulsory 15-day conciliation process, and they are subject to the condition that unspecified “minimum services” be maintained. Once the conciliation term expires, civil servants and workers in essential services must give five days’ notice to the administrative authority and the public agency which they intend to strike. If “minimum services” are not previously defined in a collective bargaining agreement, all parties then negotiate which minimum services will continue to be provided and a schedule for their provision. The public agency, in turn, must provide clients two days’ notice of the impending strike.

Workers exercised freedom of association. Employers generally respected the right to bargain collectively and to strike. The CTA Autonoma claimed a decrease in the Labor Ministry’s ratifications of bargaining agreements in 2017.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced the law. Penalties for violations were sufficient to deter violations.

Despite these mechanisms, forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security carried out 184,440 inspections in 2017 and found 32 cases of forced labor, all of which became formal judicial complaints. Efforts to hold perpetrators accountable continued during the year. In February a federal court overruled a prior ruling to acquit three individuals who recruited, transported, and lodged nine Bolivian individuals for forced labor in rural activities in Sierra de los Padres, Buenos Aires Province. Employers subjected a significant number of Bolivians, Paraguayans, and Peruvians, as well as Argentines from poorer northern provinces, to forced labor in the garment sector, agriculture, construction, domestic work, and small businesses (including restaurants and supermarkets). There was a report that Chinese citizens were victims of forced labor in supermarkets in the city of Cinco Saltos. Men, women, and children were victims of forced labor, although victims’ typical gender and age varied by employment sector (see section 7.c.).

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 minimum age for employment is 16. In rare cases labor authorities may authorize a younger child to work as part of a family unit. Children between the ages of 16 and 18 may work in a limited number of job categories and for limited hours if they have completed compulsory schooling, which normally ends at age 18. Children under 18 cannot be hired to perform perilous, arduous, or unhealthy jobs. The law requires employers to provide adequate care for workers’ children during work hours to discourage child labor.

Provincial governments and the city government of Buenos Aires are responsible for labor law enforcement. Penalties for employing underage workers were generally sufficient to deter violations.

While the government generally enforced applicable laws, observers noted some inspectors were acquainted or associated with the persons they inspected, and corruption remained an obstacle to compliance, especially in the provinces.

Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, and illicit activities such as the transport and sale of drugs. In 2017 authorities completed the Survey of Activities of Boys, Girls, and Adolescents to understand better child labor in the country. Preliminary findings indicated 9.4 percent of children between the ages of five and 15 and 30.6 percent of adolescents ages 16 and 17 engaged in some form of labor during the 2016-17 survey period. Principal activities were helping in a business or office; repair or construction of homes; cutting lawns or pruning trees; caring for children, the elderly, or the infirm; helping in a workshop; making bread, sweets, or other food for sale; gathering paper, boxes, cans, and other recyclables in the street; handing out flyers or promotional materials for a business; cleaning homes and businesses or washing and ironing clothes for others; and cultivating or harvesting agricultural products.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The most prevalent cases of workplace discrimination were based on disability, gender (see section 6, Women), and age. Discrimination also occurred on the basis of HIV-positive status (see section 6, HIV/AIDS and Social Stigma) and against individuals of indigenous origin. In 2016 the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security issued a resolution promoting progressive actions in the workplace and prohibited companies from screening blood for HIV when conducting employment-related medical screening.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In August the government announced increases to the national monthly minimum wage for the June 2018 to June 2019 term, but the minimum wage remained below the official poverty income level for a family for four.

Federal law sets standards in the areas of hours and occupational safety and health. The maximum workday is eight hours, and the maximum workweek is 48 hours. Overtime pay is required for hours worked in excess of these limits. The law prohibits excessive overtime and defines permissible levels of overtime as three hours a day. Labor law mandates between 14 and 35 days of paid vacation, depending on the length of the worker’s service.

The law sets premium pay for overtime, adding an extra 50 percent of the hourly rate on ordinary days and 100 percent on Saturday afternoons, Sundays, and holidays. Employees cannot be forced to work overtime unless work stoppage would risk or cause injury, the need for overtime is caused by an act of God, or other exceptional reasons affecting the national economy or “unusual and unpredictable situations” affecting businesses occur.

The government sets occupational safety and health standards, which were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country. The law requires employers to insure their employees against accidents at the workplace and when traveling to and from work. The law requires employers either to provide insurance through a labor-risk insurance entity or to provide their own insurance to employees to meet requirements specified by the national insurance regulator. In 2016 Congress amended the Labor Risks Law to limit the worker’s right to file a complaint if he or she does not exhaust compulsory administrative proceedings before specified medical committees.

Laws governing acceptable conditions of work were not enforced universally, particularly for workers in the informal sector. The Ministry of Production and Labor has responsibility for enforcing legislation related to working conditions. The ministry continued inspections to ensure companies’ workers were registered and formally employed. The ministry conducted inspections in various provinces during the year, but the Labor Inspectorate employed well below the number of inspectors recommended by the ILO, given the size of the workforce. The National Statistics and Census Institute reported approximately 34 percent of the workforce worked informally as of the fourth quarter of 2017. The Superintendence of Labor Risk served as the enforcement agency to monitor compliance with health and safety laws and the activities of the labor risk insurance companies.

Most workers in the formal sector earned significantly more than the minimum wage. The minimum wage generally served to mark the minimum pay an informal worker should receive, although formal workers’ pay was usually higher.

Workers could not always recuse themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect employees in these circumstances.

Bolivia

Executive Summary

Bolivia is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and a bicameral legislature. In 2014, in a process deemed free but whose fairness was questioned by international observers, citizens re-elected President Evo Morales Ayma, leader of the Movement Toward Socialism Party (MAS), for a third term. In 2016 the government held a referendum to allow the president to seek a fourth term in office. Citizens voted the measure down in a process that international observers deemed mostly fair and free. In November 2017 the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal struck down the constitution’s ban on term limits, in a controversial ruling that stated term limits violate an article of the American Convention on Human Rights that guarantees a right to political participation. On December 4, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal approved Morales’ petition to run for a fourth consecutive term in 2019.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings and torture by government officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; lack of judicial independence; political prosecutions; arbitrary detention; reports of censorship and physical attacks on journalists by state security forces; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; corruption in all levels of government; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; mob violence; and forced labor and use of child labor.

The government took steps in some cases to prosecute members of the security services and other government officials who committed abuses, but inconsistent application of the law and a dysfunctional judiciary led to 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 reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

During May 24 protests to increase the university budget, Bolivian National Police Second Lieutenant Cristian Casanova Condori shot and killed Jonathan Quispe, a student at the Public University of El Alto. After initially denying government responsibility for the shooting and blaming protesters, Minister of Government Carlos Romero eventually acknowledged police culpability, stating the officer acted autonomously to modify his shotgun and introduced a marble as a projectile in the weapon. On June 1, Casanova Condori was dismissed from his police duties and detained under preventive detention. Many observers doubted the officer acted on his own accord.

In May the prosecution formally accused 16 miners and a lawyer of the 2016 murder of then vice minister of the interior Rodolfo Illanes, who was tortured and killed after an incident in which police killed four miners during a protest. In addition, two police chiefs were placed under house arrest after formal charges were brought against them for the deaths of the four miners. As of October neither case had a final sentence.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits all forms of torture, coercion, and physical and emotional violence, but there were credible reports that government officials employed them. The penal code carries only minimum penalties for those found guilty of torture, but no public official had ever been found guilty of violating these provisions.

An antitorture nongovernmental organization (NGO) noted that 20 cases of state torture were reported to them from January to November. NGOs charged that the Ministry of Justice’s Service to Prevent Torture failed to consistently denounce torture by police and military, where it occurred most frequently. NGO reports indicated police investigations relied heavily on torture to try to procure information and extract confessions. The majority of abuses reportedly occurred while officials were transferring detainees to police facilities or holding them in detention. According to reports from NGOs engaged with prison populations, the most common forms of torture for detainees included sensory deprivation, use of improvised tear gas chambers, and the use of tasers, asphyxiation, verbal abuse, and threats of violence.

An NGO that works with prisoners reported that in August prison guards handcuffed five prisoners together, locked them in a small room without ventilation, and sprayed the room with teargas and pepper spray for hours. The NGO reported that weeks after the incident, the prisoners’ eyes remained burned and that they suffered from chronic respiratory pain.

On September 17, Jorge Paz, the representative of the ombudsman in Santa Cruz, stated he had witnessed torture in the prison system.

As of September the case continued regarding a La Paz municipal guard accused of sexually assaulting two trafficking victims ages 11 and 17 in 2017. Also pending was the 2017 case regarding allegations that police officers employed torture as an “investigation technique” against a rape suspect to extract his confession.

Within the military, torture and mistreatment occurred both to punish and to intimidate trainees into submission. Military officials regularly verbally abused soldiers for minor infractions and perceived disobedience.

There were no reported developments in the investigation regarding the suspected hazing of a 17-year-old soldier in training in the city of La Paz in 2017.

A study released in March 2017 by the human rights ombudsman found that police officials sometimes abused sex workers. The study noted the rights of the sex workers were easy to violate because no specific law protects them, even though prostitution is legal.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons were overcrowded, underfunded, and in poor physical condition, resulting in harsh and life-threatening conditions. Violence was pervasive due to inadequate internal security.

Physical Conditions: The prison population was more than three times the capacity. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of June 19, there were 18,195 prisoners in facilities designed to hold 5,000 persons. For example, built to accommodate 70 individuals, Montero Prison held 430, including 33 women. The 430 inmates shared three bathrooms. Approximately 80 detainees slept in rotating six-hour shifts in the open-air “patio” portion of the facility. Men and women shared sleeping quarters in some facilities.

Approximately 70 percent of all prisoners were being held in pretrial (preventive) detention. In Montero Prison, 85 percent of the detainees had yet to be tried. In addition, many prisoners remained incarcerated beyond the maximum sentence allowed for the crime for which they had been convicted.

Women’s prisons operated in La Paz (two), Trinidad, and Cochabamba. Men and women shared sleeping facilities in Morros Blancos Prison in Tarija, Montero Prison in Santa Cruz, Riberalta Prison in Beni, and Oruro Prison in Oruro. In other facilities men and women had separate sleeping quarters but comingled daily. Female inmates experienced sexual harassment and assault on a regular basis, mostly by other incarcerated persons, and some were forced to pay antirape extortion fees. While observers noted that violence against women reportedly was rampant, they reported a culture of silence that suppressed reporting of gender-based violence for fear of reprisal.

Although the law permits children up to the age of six to live with an incarcerated parent under “safe and regulated conditions,” children as old as 12 resided in detention centers with incarcerated parents, despite unsafe conditions, often because the parents lacked viable alternative living arrangements due to poverty or family constraints. According to the government, approximately 550 children were living in prison with their mothers; an independent news source indicated at least 1,000 children were living with one or both of their parents in prison. In May Deputy Minister of the Interior Jose Luis Quiroga announced that minors six years and under would be allowed only in women’s prisons. Due to repeated incidents of sexual violence, Quiroga stated minors were no longer allowed to live in male detention centers.

The law sets the juvenile detention age from 16 to 14 and requires juvenile offenders be housed in facilities separate from the general prison population in order to facilitate rehabilitation. Children younger than age 14 years are exempt from criminal liability but may be subject to civil liability. Adult inmates and police reportedly abused juvenile prisoners. Rehabilitation programs for juveniles or other prisoners remained scarce.

Violence was ubiquitous due to inadequate internal security. Abuses perpetrated by penitentiary officials included systematic intimidation, psychological mistreatment, extortion, torture, and threats of death. There were reports of rape and sexual assault by authorities and other inmates. Corruption exacerbated these problems and hindered their exposure and resolution. Prisoner-on-prisoner violence was endemic. On March 14, police shot and killed eight persons during an operation to regain control of Palmasola Prison in Santa Cruz. According to media reports, police were conducting a search for contraband in the prison when prisoners began shooting at the police officers. Police responded with firearms, killing eight inmates during the confrontation.

The state budget allocated only eight bolivianos ($1.17) per day per prisoner for meals. The ability to exercise varied greatly depending on the security situation in the prison. According to some contacts, prisoners may be arbitrarily confined to their cells for a long period of time or placed in solitary confinement by guards without explanation. Prisoners with independent means could purchase a transfer to the rehabilitation center, a newly built detention facility with better living conditions. One doctor attended to prisoners in each prison twice a month. Although medical services were free, prisons rarely had medications on hand. Skin disease and tuberculosis were widespread due to the cramped sleeping quarters and lack of medicine to manage contagion. Incarcerated women lacked access to obstetric services.

Corruption was persistent. A prisoner’s wealth often determined his or her physical security, cell size, visiting privileges, ability to attend court hearings, day-pass eligibility, and place and length of confinement. Inmates and NGOs both alleged there were an insufficient number of police officers to escort inmates to their hearings, and prison directors often refused to intervene, exacerbating delays. Police sometimes demanded bribes in exchange for granting inmates the right to attend their own hearings.

On August 16, the director general of the penitentiary system, Jorge Lopez, announced that 36 prison security personnel were being prosecuted for acts of corruption. Independent media reported corruption complaints against police for collections inside were common. Prison inmates stated guards extorted money for the entry of goods.

Administration: Authorities generally did not conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, prisoners could submit complaints to a commission of district judges for investigation, but due to fear of retaliation by prison authorities, inmates frequently did not do so.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent nongovernmental observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, local NGOs, judges, religious authorities, legislators, and media.

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, and the government generally observed these requirements.

The government sometimes used the judicial system for political purposes, taking legal action against several opposition members and critics of the government. For example, the government threatened charges against former president Carlos Mesa (2003-05) of “damage to the state” for the loss of $42.6 million related to the arbitration won by the Chilean mining company Quiborax. During Mesa’s term as president, the government initiated the process of rescinding the mining concession with Quiborax. Mesa was accused of beginning the process improperly in 2004. The Quiborax case was still open during Evo Morales’ first term in office. During that time Quiborax representatives offered a settlement of three million dollars. In 2016 Quiborax again offered to settle the case, this time for $27 million. The government rejected both offers, which led to prolonged international arbitration and ultimately a $42.6 million dollar judgement against Bolivia. On July 26, the vice president announced that charges against Mesa would not proceed during the year but left open the possibility they would be renewed thereafter.

Criminal proceedings remained pending against various former government officials, which the Attorney General’s Office began in 2016. Media reported 40 open cases targeting the mayor of La Paz, Luis Revilla; 30 against Ernesto Suarez, the former prefect of Beni; and multiple cases against the governor of Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas; the governor of La Paz, Feliz Patzi; the mayor of El Alto, Soledad Chapeton; former presidents Jorge Tuto Quiroga and Carlos Mesa; the mayor of Tarija, Rodrigo Paz; and the leader of the National Unity opposition party, Samuel Doria Medina. In addition, on January 29, the government opened an investigation of the mayor of El Alto, Soledad Chapeton, for mishandling municipal land that was transferred to the private sector by the then mayor of El Alto in 1990. Although Chapeton was 10 years old at the time the land transfer occurred, her supposed transgression was the failure to recuperate the land from the private owner.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the Ministry of Government’s authority, have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order within the country, but military forces that report to the Ministry of Defense may be called to help in critical situations. Migration officials report to the Ministry of Government, and police and military share responsibilities for border enforcement.

The law to investigate and punish internal police abuse and corruption remained suspended and unenforced as a result of national police strikes in 2012, when the government agreed to revise it. There was no progress in negotiations between the Ministry of Government and the National Police Association on this problem. Congress did not act on the Constitutional Court’s 2012 ruling to adjust the military criminal code and the military code of criminal procedure to stipulate that human rights violations be judged by the ordinary justice system, in compliance with the constitution. Inconsistent application of the laws and a dysfunctional judiciary further exacerbated the impunity of security forces in committing abuses.

As of September there were no developments in the case of five female police officers in the city of Potosi who filed a formal complaint in March 2017 of “psychological abuse and extreme work pressure.”

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires that police obtain an arrest warrant from a prosecutor and that a judge substantiate the warrant within eight hours of an arrest. Police did not strictly adhere to these time restrictions, except in cases in which the government specifically ordered adherence. The law also mandates that a detainee appear before a judge within 24 hours (except under a declared state of siege, during which a detainee may be held for 48 hours) at which time the judge must determine the appropriateness of continued pretrial detention or release on bail. The judge is to order the detainee’s release if the prosecutor fails to show sufficient grounds for arrest. The government allows suspects to select their own lawyers and provides a lawyer from the Public Defender’s Office if the suspect requests one. The public defenders were generally overburdened and limited in their ability to provide adequate, timely legal assistance. While bail is permitted, most detainees were placed in pretrial detention or could not afford to post bail. Several legal experts noted pretrial detention was the rule rather than the exception.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always respect the law.

On August 28, following the shooting death of police lieutenant Daynor Sandoval during a skirmish with coca growers, police arrested Franclin Gutierrez, a coca grower leader in the Yungas region of the department of La Paz opposed to the government, and placed him in preventive detention. The Prosecutor’s Office charged Gutierrez with five crimes–murder, attempted murder, attacks against public services, attacks against transportation services, and unlawful possession of arms–although numerous observers argued there was little evidence to support those charges. As of November the case against Gutierrez was pending.

Pretrial Detention: The law affords judges the authority to order pretrial detention if there is a high probability that a suspect committed a crime, if evidence exists that the accused seeks to obstruct the investigation process, or if a suspect is considered a flight risk. If a suspect is not detained, a judge may order significant restrictions on the suspect’s movements.

The law states no one shall be detained for more than 18 months without formal charges. If after 18 months the prosecutor does not present formal charges and conclude the investigatory phase, the detainee may request release by a judge. The judge must order the detainee’s release, but the charges against the detainee are not dropped. By law the investigatory phase and trial phase of a case cannot exceed 36 months combined. The law allows a trial extension if the delays in the process are due to the defense. In these circumstances pretrial detention may exceed the 36-month limit without violating the law.

Despite the legal limits on pretrial detention, denial of justice due to prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Complex legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, executive interference, corruption, a shortage of public defenders, and inadequate case-tracking mechanisms contributed to trial delays that lengthened pretrial detention and kept many suspects detained beyond the legal limits for the completion of a trial or the presentation of formal charges. Many defense attorneys intentionally did not attend hearings in order to delay trial proceedings and ultimately avoid a final sentencing. According to the Ministry of Justice, approximately 70 percent of persons accused of a crime were being held under preventive detention. Some NGOs estimated 85 percent were in preventive detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary remained overburdened, vulnerable to undue influence by the executive and legislative branches, and plagued with allegations of corruption. Authorities generally respected court orders, but on several occasions they pressured judges to change verdicts. Judges and prosecutors sometimes practiced self-censorship when issuing rulings to avoid becoming the target of verbal and legal harassment by the government.

Physician Jhiery Fernandez was detained and imprisoned in December 2014 for the alleged rape and death of “baby Alexander,” who died in November 2014 while at the hospital where Fernandez was on duty. On March 27, after nearly four years of preventive detention, during which he suffered from what local NGOs characterized as “biological torture” that included sensory deprivation and solitary confinement, a court sentenced Fernandez to 20 years in prison for rape, homicide, and failure to perform medical duties. The president of the court, Patricia Pacajes, admitted in secretly recorded audio, however, she had known Fernandez was innocent. Nevertheless, she convicted him to cover up a mistake made by the forensic doctor, Angela Mora. According to her own account, Pacajes knew the baby was never a victim of rape and that an incorrect autopsy was made public due to a forensic diagnostic error. After the president of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights and other human rights groups called for an investigation of the case, the president of the Council of Magistrates, Gonzalo Alcon, stated there were indications of criminal responsibility against Pacajes. On September 24, Pacajes was dismissed from her duties as a judge, and on October 29, the Court of Anticorruption and Violence ordered that Pacajes be held in prison under preventive detention for discussing the Fernandez case with friends, which the court qualified as a breach of duty. On October 10, Fernandez was released from prison and placed under house arrest. On November 16, a sentencing court granted Fernandez “pure and simple liberty,” meaning his movement was not restricted and he was no longer under arrest. The court simultaneously stated the judges and prosecutors involved in the case were corrupt, but authorities had not announced official judicial punishment for their actions. Fernandez was to undergo a process to have the initial sentence annulled.

The judiciary faced a myriad of administrative and budgetary challenges. NGOs asserted the amount of funds budgeted for the judiciary was insufficient to guarantee equal and efficient justice and that underfunding overburdened public prosecutors had led to serious judicial backlogs. As a result, justice officials were vulnerable to bribery and corruption, according to credible observers, including legal experts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants are entitled to be informed of charges promptly and in detail and to a presumption of innocence and trial by a panel of judges. They have the right to avoid self-incrimination and to consult an attorney of their choice, receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and confront adverse witnesses, present witnesses and evidence, and file an appeal. Defendants who cannot afford an attorney have the right to a public defender or private attorney at public expense.

Corruption, influence by other branches of government, and insufficient judicial coverage undermined these constitutional rights. Free translation and interpretation services are required by law. Officials did not always comply with the law.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law permits individuals and organizations to seek criminal remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. At the conclusion of a criminal trial, the complainant can initiate a civil trial to seek damages. The human rights ombudsman can issue administrative resolutions on specific human rights cases. The ombudsman’s resolutions are nonbinding, and the government is not obligated to accept his or her recommendations.

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.

There were credible reports that the ruling MAS party required government officials to profess party loyalty to the government or register formally as party members to obtain/retain employment or access to other government services.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government frequently carried out reprisals against media outlets that expressed dissenting opinions. Government actions to curb criticism created a climate of hostility towards independent journalists and media and resulted in self-censorship of many news sources. Some media sources reported the government pressured and intimidated them to report favorably about its policies, particularly by withholding of government advertising and imposing steep taxes.

Freedom of Expression: The government continued to denounce press critics and independent media sources. In February National Press Association President Marcelo Miralles Iporre told the Inter-American Court of Human Rights the country suffered from “censorship caused by state publicity, law, the financial asphyxiation of the media, and intolerance of those with critical points of view.” He said these factors put at risk “freedom of the press and expression, and democracy.”

In its 2017 annual report, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights highlighted several limitations placed by the government on media, including the use of the term “the Cartel of Lies” to discredit journalists or pressure journalists who criticized the government, in addition to the discriminatory use of state advertising. The report noted verbal attacks by national and local officials against the press. Progovernment demonstrators and security forces physically attacked journalists during protests, and the justice system allowed “preventive imprisonment” of journalists with little evidence.

Press and Media Freedom: According to the Inter American Press Association, the government regularly attempted to disqualify the independent press by claiming it acted on behalf of the political opposition and spread fake news to generate social tension. According to Supreme Decree 181, the government should provide goods and services to all media outlets in a nondiscriminatory manner, but in practice it did not purchase advertisements in media outlets considered adversarial.

Media outlets alleged the government pressured news organizations to report favorably on government policies and retaliated against news organizations that did not comply. The National Press Association (ANP) and several journalists alleged the government’s retaliatory tactics included withdrawing advertisements and conducting excessive tax audits, which forced companies to spend significant time and resources to defend themselves. Government entities such as the National Tax Service, National Delivery Service, Business Authority, Telecommunications and Transport Regulation and Control Authority, Gaming Control Authority, Departmental Labor Directorates, and Vice Ministry for Communication Policies, which is responsible for monitoring free advertising, carried out inspections and applied fines many observers claimed were unwarranted. The ANP expressed concern that the government attacked independent news outlets and attempted to “economically suffocate” media entities that did not cater to the government. The allocation of state advertising often excluded media that questioned the actions of government, to the extent that some media fired several investigative journalists due to fear of losing official advertising.

Violence and Harassment: From 2010 to 2017, the ANP reported 136 physical aggressions against journalists and other media members, as well as 155 cases of verbal aggressions and threats.

On August 9, military security forces beat two female journalists during the inauguration of the new presidential palace in La Paz and prevented other reporters from entering the location where President Morales was speaking.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reported various cyberattacks against media outlets in 2017. For example, the websites of Sol de PandoAgencia de Noticias FidesLa Razon, and Pagina Siete, which sometimes published articles critical of the Morales administration, were rendered unavailable by cyberattacks executed by unknown actors.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government censored journalists, and journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of losing their jobs, fear of prosecution, and fear of losing access to government sources. Human rights organizations reported many reporters were dismissed for reporting on controversial topics that conflicted with the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. On November 28, in a widely circulated recording, purportedly of a briefing for President Morales, Police Commander Faustino Mendoza stated police officers systematically monitored journalist and opposition politicians on social networks. In the audio recording, Mendoza revealed that police had 84 social media accounts specifically used for this purpose. The National Association of the Press of Bolivia, which represented the main print media of the country, expressed its “deep concern for the police control and surveillance of the informative work of journalists.” The government sharply criticized the release of the recording but did not deny its authenticity.

Government employees faced reprisal for expressing support for initiatives, ideas, and events critical of the MAS administration online and on social media. Reprisals included termination of employment.

The number of fake accounts on social media such as Facebook and Twitter sharply increased, particularly those favoring the government and ruling party, during the year. The accounts regularly criticized social media posts made by opposition leaders while expressing support for content produced by the government. The government openly admitted to funding “cyberwarriors” who targeted opposition leaders on social media through fake accounts.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 44 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although political considerations allegedly influenced academic appointments.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, civil society groups, especially, but not limited to, those critical of the government, faced harassment from government officials.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the law requires a permit for most demonstrations, the government rarely enforced the provisions, and most protesters demonstrated without obtaining permits. Most demonstrations were peaceful, but occasionally demonstrators carried weapons, including clubs, machetes, firearms, firecrackers, and dynamite. Security forces at times dispersed protest groups carrying weapons or threatening government and private facilities.

There were several demonstrations during the year defending the “21F” movement, which opposed Morales’ candidacy for president and rejected the constitutional change that ended presidential term limits. On May 29, during the South American Games in Cochabamba, a group of 21F supporters began shouting “Bolivia said no” and wore T-shirts with “21F” printed on the front. Police asked the protesters to cover their 21F shirts. After the incident the police subcommander, General Agustin Moreno, warned he would not allow 21F demonstrations during patriotic celebrations on the country’s national day in Potosi on August 6. In Potosi on August 6, police did not permit access to public space for those critical of the government. In September police in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba did not allow 21F supporters access to the main plaza and other public spaces.

On July 21, a small group of persons arrived at the Plaza Murillo in La Paz with 21F T-shirts. Within minutes a police contingent pushed the protesters out of the plaza and ended the protest.

According to the NGO UNIR Bolivia Foundation, on average there were approximately three different types of protests per day throughout the country between January and March. These demonstrations, radical protest actions, and confrontations with police resulted in one person dead and more than 100 injured.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not consistently respect this right. NGOs continued to be targets of government officials, including the president, vice president, and government ministers, if they operated in a manner perceived as adversarial to the government. Some NGOs alleged government registration mechanisms were purposefully stringent in order to deter an active civil society.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The law prohibits travel on election days and on census days and restricts foreign and domestic travel for up to three months as a penalty for persons who do not vote. A number of opposition politicians with legal cases against them were prohibited from leaving the country and were required to turn in their passports.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees through the National Commission on Refugees. The country has a legal structure and framework to accommodate those seeking refuge and has a registry of refugees and stateless persons.

Employment: Refugees have the right to work once authorities grant their residency status but not while waiting on pending applications.

Durable Solutions: By law refugees have a path to naturalization, and the government assumes 90 percent of the fees associated with this process.

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: In December 2017 the government held judicial elections for the Supreme Justice Tribunal, Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal, Magistrate Council, and Agroenvironment Tribunal. These elections were the second held under the 2009 constitution, and for the second time, more than 60 percent of voters cast nulo (spoiled) or blanco (blank) ballots. In 2016 the government held a referendum to allow the president to seek a fourth term in office. Citizens voted the measure down in a process that international observers deemed mostly free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: On April 18, the UN Human Rights Committee found that Bolivia violated the human rights of two former members of parliament by disqualifying them as candidates for the positions of mayors of their respective cities in the 2015 subnational elections. The committee concluded that the political rights of former parliamentarians Rebeca Elvira Delgado Burgoa and Eduardo Humberto Maldonado Iporre were violated after examining the individual complaints they filed under the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Delgado and Maldonado were disqualified based on Circular 71/2014, issued by the Supreme Electoral Court, which establishes that national parliamentarians (deputies and senators) of the 2010-15 term may not run as candidates for various municipal and regional government positions, including that of mayor. The committee concluded the disqualification of the former parliamentarians constituted a “restriction of their political rights, which was not based on reasonable and objective criteria that were clearly established by law, in violation of article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

In November 2017 the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal struck down the constitution’s ban on term limits, in a controversial ruling that stated term limits violate an article of the American Convention on Human Rights that guarantees a right to political participation. On December 4, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal approved Morales’ petition to run for a fourth consecutive term in 2019.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law mandates gender parity in the candidate selection process at national, regional, and municipal legislative level.

While women had a substantial amount of representation on the legislative level with 86 of 175 legislative seats, they remained significantly underrepresented in executive positions. Candidates for mayor, governor, vice president, and president were not chosen from party lists, and the majority of executive political positions remained male dominated. Women participating in politics faced violence and harassment (see section 6, Women). According to the Association of Female Mayors and Councilwomen, from January to June, there were 70 reported cases of political harassment against female politicians.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: In April the opposition mayor of Cochabamaba, Jose Maria Leyes, was placed under house arrest and suspended from his official duties on charges of corruption. Authorities accused him of purchasing 91,300 backpacks for nearly $1.8 million, when the backpacks were worth approximately $300,000. Some media reports alleged the judicial system was processing corruption cases involving members of the political opposition such as this one much more quickly than cases involving MAS leadership. Leyes was suspended from office and brought to court within hours of being accused of corruption, whereas cases involving MAS authorities often took years to proceed.

Police corruption remained a significant problem, partially due to low salaries and lack of training. The Ministry of Anticorruption and Transparency and the Prosecutor’s Office are responsible for combating corruption, but most corrupt officials operated with impunity. Since 2006 at least 12 former police chiefs were prosecuted for corruption, drug trafficking, and breach of duty, but as of September none had received a sentence.

Cases involving allegations of corruption against the president and vice president require congressional approval before prosecutors may initiate legal proceedings, and congress rarely allowed cases against progovernment public officials to proceed. The government ignored court rulings that found unconstitutional the awarding of immunity for corruption charges.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to report potential personal and financial conflicts of interest and to declare their income and assets. The law mandates that elected and appointed officials disclose their financial information to the auditor general, but their declarations are not available to the public. By law noncompliance results in internal sanctions, including dismissal.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. NGOs and human rights groups working on problems deemed sensitive by the government were subject to verbal attacks and criticism by the president, vice president, and government ministers.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes a human rights ombudsman subject to confirmation by both houses of the Legislative Assembly to serve a six-year term. The ombudsman is charged with overseeing the defense and promotion of human rights, specifically defending citizens against government abuses. The constitution also affords the ombudsman the right to propose new legislation and recommend modifications to existing laws and government policies. The ombudsman operated with adequate resources. Civil society groups and several political figures contended the ombudsman lacked independence from the central government, in part because the MAS supermajority in congress allowed for his confirmation without meaningful debate.

Both houses of congress have human rights committees that propose laws and policies to promote and protect human rights. Congressional deputies and senators sit on the committees for one-year terms.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law establishes penalties of imprisonment for 15 to 20 years for the rape of an adult (man or woman). Domestic abuse resulting in injury is punishable by three to six years’ imprisonment, and the penalty for serious physical or psychological harm is a five- to 12-year prison sentence. Despite these legal provisions, the NGO Community of Human Rights reported two-thirds of domestic violence cases were closed without action, and the conviction rate of the remaining cases was less than 1 percent.

In 2013 the government passed a law against domestic violence, but lack of training on the law and slow judicial processes, among other factors, continued to prohibit the law’s full implementation, according to the UN Entity on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and human rights groups. Domestic violence was the most frequently committed crime in the country, according to the National Observatory of Public Safety. According to a survey conducted by the local NGO Coordinator of Women, 50 percent of women were victims of a violent crime some time in their lives; two-thirds of these women suffered violence in their own home. A 2017 UN Women report affirmed that 92.7 percent of women suffered psychological abuse at some point in their lives.

The law criminalizes femicide, the killing of a woman based on her identity as a woman, with 30 years in prison. Activists said corruption, lack of adequate crime scene investigation, and a dysfunctional judiciary hampered convictions for femicide.

Victor Hugo Soria, director of a police unit, the Special Force of the Fight Against Violence, reported on a femicide that occurred in July in which a 19-year-old girl was raped and beaten to death by her partner in Coroico. Women’s rights organizations reported police units assigned to the special force did not have sufficient resources and that frontline officers lacked proper training about their investigatory responsibilities. Women’s organizations also reported domestic violence victims received poor representation from public defenders and generally abandoned their cases after they languished in the justice system for years. On average it took three years for a domestic violence case to conclude. Once the case was closed, the victim was often responsible for the legal fees. The lack of public services, lengthy judicial process, and financial burden discouraged most women from reporting domestic abuse by their spouses.

The law calls for the construction of women’s shelters in each of the country’s nine departments. The municipalities of La Paz and Santa Cruz both had temporary shelters for victims of violence and their children. Human rights specialists explained the shelters for domestic violence survivors were not well staffed, did not promise anonymity, and could not provide protection from abusers.

Sexual Harassment: The law considers sexual harassment a civil offense. There were no comprehensive reports on the extent of sexual harassment, but observers generally acknowledged it was widespread.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but women generally did not enjoy a social status equal to that of men. While the minimum wage law treats men and women equally, women generally earned less than men for equal work. Additionally, antidiscrimination laws were not uniformly or effectively implemented to protect women from harassment and political violence.

The rate of female participation in government was high, but there were reports female policymakers faced discrimination, violence, and harassment. According to a poll conducted by the Association of Female Mayors and Councilwomen of Bolivia, 59 percent of councilwomen polled had suffered some type of violence or political harassment in their municipality, and 39 percent did not complete their term due to the severity of the threats and hostility they received.

The Law of Political Organizations, passed in September, provides political organizations with the authority to punish political harassment. According to the law, each political party must have a member whose duty is to promote parity and follow up on complaints of harassment and political violence with appropriate sanctions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both through birth within the country’s territory (unless the parents have diplomatic status) and from parents. The 2015 civil registry–the most recent available–indicated that 56 percent of citizens were registered within one year of their birth and 97 percent by age 12.

Child Abuse: Rape of a child younger than 14 carries a penalty of 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for consensual sex with an adolescent 14 to 18 years old is two to six years’ imprisonment. The Attorney General’s Office reported at least 37 cases of infanticide between January and June. The penal code defines infanticide as the killing of a child younger than 13 years old.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 14 for girls and 16 for boys. Minors’ parents or guardians must approve marriages between adolescents younger than 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children is punishable with 15- to 20-year prison sentences but remained a serious problem. The law also prohibits child pornography, punishable with 10- to 15-year sentences.

Displaced Children: UNICEF reported in 2015 that 20,000 to 32,000 minors lived in shelters after their parents abandoned them.

Institutionalized Children: Child advocacy organizations reported abuse and negligence in some government-run shelters. The La Paz Department Social Work Service confirmed that, of the country’s 380 shelters, including centers for abuse victims, orphans, and students, only 30 had government accreditation for meeting minimal standards.

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 Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population numbered fewer than 500. Jewish leaders reported the public often conflated Jews with Israelis. There were no reports of anti-Semitism.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law requires access for wheelchair users to all public and private buildings, duty-free import of orthopedic devices, and a 50 percent reduction in public transportation fares for persons with disabilities. The law also requires communication outlets and government agencies to offer services and publications in sign language and braille. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

A national law to protect the rights of persons with disabilities exists, but it lacked full implementation. No official action was taken to investigate or punish those responsible for violence against persons with disabilities.

Architectural and infrastructure barriers prohibited ease of movement in urban areas for individuals with physical disabilities. There were advances, however, in the public transportation sector in the city of La Paz. The city bus and gondola system was substantially expanded during the year and provided accommodations for persons with disabilities.

A 2017 law stipulates that persons with “serious and severe” disabilities are entitled to 250 bolivianos ($37) per month. The law requires both public and private institutions to employ a certain percentage of workers with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The 2012 census established the existence of 23,300 Afro-Bolivians. Afro-Bolivians in rural areas experienced the same type of problems and discrimination as indigenous persons who lived in those areas. Afro-Bolivian community leaders reported employment discrimination was common and that public officials, particularly the police, discriminated in the provision of services. Afro-Bolivians also reported the widespread use of discriminatory language. The government made little effort to address such discrimination.

Indigenous People

In the 2012 census, approximately 41 percent of the population older than the age of 15 self-identified as indigenous, primarily from the Quechua and Aymara communities. The government facilitated major advances in the inclusion of indigenous peoples in governmental posts and in society writ large.

Indigenous communities were well represented in government and politics, but they continued to bear a disproportionate share of poverty and unemployment. Government educational and health services remained unavailable to many indigenous groups living in remote areas.

Indigenous lands were not fully demarcated, and land reform remained a central political problem. Historically, some indigenous persons shared lands collectively under the ayllu system, which did not receive legal recognition during the transition to private property laws. Despite laws mandating reallocation and titling of lands, recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands were not completed.

On July 16, the indigenous people of Beni Department stated the government was unlawfully developing land they hold sacred. Persons from Trinidadcito, an indigenous community with 42 families in rural Beni, gave testimony regarding the negative effects of the construction of the road through Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park. According to their complaint, the government was promoting policies that would lead to the dispossession of their ancestral lands and failed to respect the constitution.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The law allows transgender individuals to update their name, gender marker, and photograph to reflect their gender identity on all legal identity cards and birth certificates.

The human rights ombudsman reported in May 2017 that the government registered 64 killings of LGBTI individuals in the previous 10 years. Authorities investigated 14 cases, but the courts had not sentenced anyone for these crimes.

According to activists in the LGBTI community, violence against transgender persons decreased due in part to better community awareness of LGBTI issues. For example, the Santa Cruz police commander regularly received updates from LGBTI activists about the violence and social problems the community faced. Moreover, the commander allowed transgender individuals who were incarcerated to be held in areas in accordance with their gender identity.

LGBTI persons faced discrimination in the work place, at school, and when seeking to access government services, especially in the area of health care. Transgender individuals remained particularly vulnerable to abuse and violence. The Bolivian Coalition of LGBT Collectives reported in 2016 that 72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination. Transgender activists said a majority of the transgender community was forced to turn to sex work because of discrimination in the job market and unwillingness on the part of employers to accept their identity documents and professional licensures. Activist reported police targeted transgender individuals who were sex workers.

Elderly LGBTI persons faced high rates of discrimination when attempting to access health-care services. There were no legal mechanisms in place to transfer power of attorney to a same-sex partner.

According to LGBTI activists, “biological women” often failed to include transgender women in advocacy efforts when fighting for greater rights for women in society.

On July 3, Minister of Communication Gisela Lopez presented a manual titled Communicate to Live with Diversity. According to LGBTI organizations, this was created with the goal of generating dialogue between communicators and journalists on appropriate terminology when reporting on or discussing LGBTI issues to avoid bias or discriminatory language.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, pervasive discrimination persisted. Ministry of Health authorities reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS was most severe in indigenous communities, where the government was also least successful in diagnosing cases.

Activists reported discrimination forced HIV-positive persons to seek medical attention outside the country.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Mob violence in lieu of justice was a consequence of an inefficient judicial system, among other factors. Supporters of mob violence claimed limited policing and lack of faith in the justice system properly to punish criminals justified their actions. Although official statistics did not exist, media reports suggested mob violence in lieu of justice led to 30-40 deaths each year. The government took no formal action to combat acts of mob violence couched as “vigilante justice.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, and the right to strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The constitution provides for protection of general and solidarity strikes and for the right of any working individual to join a union.

Workers may form a union in any private company of 20 or more employees, but the law requires that at least 50 percent of the workforce be in favor. The law requires that trade unions register as legal entities and obtain prior government authorization to establish a union and confirm its elected leadership, permits only one union per enterprise, and allows the government to dissolve unions by administrative fiat. The law also requires that members of union executive boards be Bolivian by birth. The labor code prohibits most public employees from forming unions, including the military, police, and public security forces. Some public-sector workers (including teachers, transportation workers, and health-care workers) were legally unionized and actively participated without penalty as members of the Bolivian Workers’ Center, the country’s chief trade union federation. The government enforced applicable laws, but the enforcement process was often slow due to bureaucratic inefficiency.

The National Labor Court handles complaints of antiunion discrimination, but rulings took a year or more to be issued. The court ruled in favor of discharged workers in some cases and required their reinstatement. Union leaders stated problems often were resolved or no longer relevant by the time the court ruled. Government remedies and penalties–including fines and threats of prosecutorial action for businesses that violate labor laws–were often ineffective and insufficient to deter violations for this reason.

The ineffectiveness of labor courts and the lengthy time to resolve cases and complaints limited freedom of association. Moreover, the 20-worker threshold for forming a union proved an onerous restriction, since an estimated 72 percent of enterprises had fewer than 20 employees.

Labor inspectors may attend union meetings and monitor union activities. Collective bargaining and voluntary direct negotiations between employers and workers without government participation was common. Most collective bargaining agreements were restricted to addressing wages.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, yet they remained serious problems. Labor exploitation, forced labor, and other forms of servitude are punishable with 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for exploitation of adults, and 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for exploitation of children.

The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. Ministry of Labor officials were not effective in enforcement efforts or provision of services to victims of forced labor. The ministry held various workshops to educate vulnerable workers of their rights, levied penalties against offending employers, and referred cases of suspected forced labor and human smuggling to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. Penalties against employers found violating forced labor laws were insufficient to deter violations, in part because they were generally not enforced.

Men, women, and children were victims of forced labor in domestic service, mining, ranching, and agriculture as well as sex trafficking. Indigenous populations were especially vulnerable to forced labor in the agriculture sector.

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

In February the Constitutional Tribunal declared unconstitutional provisions in the 2014 Child and Adolescent Code that allowed children as young as 10 years old to work. Gaps remained in the code, however, as it permits children ages 12-13 years old to engage in light work but does not specify the conditions or hours in which light work may be undertaken.

Ministry of Labor inspectors are responsible for identifying situations of forced child labor. When inspectors suspect such situations, they refer the cases to the municipal offices of the child and adolescent advocate for further investigation in coordination with the Prosecutor’s Office. The law states that work should not interfere with a child’s right to education and should not be dangerous or unhealthy. Dangerous and unhealthy work includes work in sugarcane and Brazil nut harvesting, mining, brick making, hospital cleaning, selling alcoholic beverages, and working after 10 p.m., among other conditions. The municipal offices of the child and adolescent advocate must answer a request for an underage work permit within 72 hours. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for authorizing work activity for adolescents older than age 14 who work for a third-party employer. Municipal governments, through their respective offices of the child and adolescent advocates, are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, including laws pertaining to the minimum age and maximum hours for child workers, school completion requirements, and health and safety conditions for children in the workplace. The ministry is responsible for identifying such cases through inspections and referring them to the offices of the child and adolescent advocates.

Labor Ministry officials stated inspectors conducted investigations throughout the year. Ministry officials did not have statistics on the number of children they had removed from hazardous situations. The ministry dedicated six inspectors to investigate child labor and report instances of forced labor and trafficking in persons.

Beginning in 2016 the ministry collaborated with the Inter-American Development Bank to implement a program that identifies and employs unemployed parents who have children in the workforce. A ministry official stated that while there were varying reasons why children as young as 10 chose to work, one main reason was because their parents could not find steady employment. This program intended to secure jobs for underemployed parents on the condition that their children stop working. The ministry also provided the parents’ salaries for the first three months to avoid burdening the businesses that provided employment.

The government did not consistently enforce the law in all areas, and child labor remained a serious problem. Government officials admitted instances of child labor violations occurred throughout the country, especially in the mining sector. Officials acknowledged adolescents ages 15-17 were working in the mining sector unregulated, because it was hard for inspectors to detect these individuals in the mines since they conducted inspections only in the formal sector.

The Ministry of Labor received funds to conduct a national survey on child labor in 2016. Although the ministry stated the study was conducted, the results had not been published. Preliminary government estimates indicated 740,000 children were employed, with 60 percent engaged in “familial work,” either in family businesses or alongside their parents, in often hazardous conditions.

Authorities did not provide information on the penalties for violation of child labor laws or the effectiveness of such penalties, nor did courts prosecute individuals for violations of child labor law during the year, although ministry inspectors referred cases for prosecution.

Among the worst forms of child labor were instances of children working in the sugarcane harvest, the Brazil nut harvest, brick production, hospital cleaning, domestic labor, transportation, agriculture, and vending at night. Children were also subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. A 2013 study estimated 3,000 to 4,000 children and adolescents worked in the Brazil nut harvest in Beni Department; indigenous groups confirmed a majority of these children were indigenous. Researchers also found that some children worked in Brazil nut processing factories, including at night.

There was little progress in removing children from mining activities. Media reported that minors younger than age 14 worked in brick manufacturing in the cities of El Alto and Oruro, and their parents sometimes contracted them to customers who needed help transporting the bricks.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors, and discrimination with respect to employment and occupation occurred. Women in office faced high levels of political violence and harassment. Civil society leaders reported credible instances of employment discrimination against indigenous peoples, women, Afro-Bolivians, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTI community. Employers charged with discriminatory practices must offer affected employees restitution, but no cases were reported.

In 2017 UN Women reported that women in the informal sector on average earned 19 percent less than their male counterparts. Women in the informal sector were not protected by formal-sector labor laws, which afford maternity benefits, breast-feeding hours, permission to work fewer hours, and more holidays than their male counterparts. According to UN Women, men in the formal sector earned between 1.5 and four times more than women for the same work. Critics contended these laws encouraged companies to give preference to men in hiring.

The former human rights ombudsman for Santa Cruz Department reported many women were fired due to their pregnancies, in violation of labor law.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage was 2,060 bolivianos ($300), greater than the government’s official poverty income level of 733 bolivianos ($107) per month. An estimated 45 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. The law establishes a maximum workweek of 48 hours and limits the workday to eight hours for men. The law also sets a 40-hour workweek for women, prohibits women from working at night, mandates rest periods, and requires premium pay for work beyond a standard workweek. The law stipulates a minimum of 15 days of annual leave. The Ministry of Labor sets occupational health and safety standards and monitors compliance. The law mandates that the standards apply uniformly to all industries and sectors. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

The Ministry of Labor’s Bureau of Occupational Safety has responsibility for the protection of workers’ health and safety, but the relevant standards were poorly enforced. The 97 inspectors were insufficient to provide effective workplace inspection. The law provides for penalties for noncompliance, but enforcement was not effective, and the fines of 1,000 to 10,000 bolivianos ($146 to $1,460) were insufficient to deter violations. A national tripartite committee of business, labor, and government representatives is responsible for monitoring and improving occupational safety and health standards and enforcement. The Ministry of Labor maintained offices for worker inquiries, complaints, and reports of unfair labor practices and unsafe working conditions, but it was unclear if the offices were effective in regulating working conditions.

The law prohibits firing employees for removing themselves from work conditions they deem hazardous and provides for the Ministry of Labor to mandate they be rehired following an inspection.

While the government did not keep official statistics, there were reports workers died due to unsafe conditions, particularly in the mining and construction sectors. Labor experts estimated an average of five individuals who worked in construction in La Paz died each year; most were employed by small businesses. There were no significant government efforts to improve occupational safety and health conditions. Working conditions in cooperative-operated mines remained poor. Miners worked with no scheduled rest for long periods in dangerous, unhealthy conditions.

Workers in informal part-time and hourly jobs did not have labor protections. Many companies and businesses preferred workers hired on an hourly or part-time basis to avoid paying required maternity and pension benefits. According to labor-law experts, the informal sector comprised approximately 65-75 percent of the economy. They claimed labor regulations meant to protect employees actually promoted the large informal sector because the regulations reportedly resulted in employers not hiring full-time employees due to the higher costs they entailed.

NGOs documented the growing role of Chinese companies, which expanded their presence in the mining, hydrocarbon, and infrastructure sectors over the last 10 years. In 2017 the director of CooperAccion, Julia Cuadros, stated a lack of respect for labor laws accompanied this expansion. NGOs noted Chinese companies imported their own workers and typically followed Chinese labor laws, which are less stringent than Bolivian labor laws; the government reportedly permitted flexibility in compliance with the national law.

Brazil

Executive Summary

Brazil is a constitutional, multiparty republic. On October 28, voters elected Federal Deputy Jair Bolsonaro as the next president in a runoff election. International observers reported the elections were free and fair.

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

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by state police; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; violence against journalists; corruption by officials; societal violence against indigenous populations and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; killings of human rights defenders; and slave labor that may amount to human trafficking.

The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem, and an inefficient judicial process delayed justice for perpetrators as well as victims.

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

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

There were reports that state police committed unlawful killings. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The extent of the problem was difficult to determine because comprehensive, reliable statistics on unlawful police killings were not available. Official statistics showed police killed numerous civilians but did not specify which cases may have been unlawful. For instance, the Rio de Janeiro Public Security Institute, a state government entity, reported that from January to July, police killed 890 civilians in “acts of resistance” (similar to resisting arrest) in Rio de Janeiro State, a 39 percent increase over the same period in 2017. Government and police authorities attributed the rise to increased law enforcement engagement as part of the federal public security intervention in the state that began on March 16.

Most of the deaths in the city of Rio de Janeiro occurred while police were conducting operations against narcotics trafficking gangs in the 1,018 favelas (poor neighborhoods or shantytowns), where an estimated 1.5 million persons lived. A disproportionate number of the victims were Afro-Brazilians under age 25. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all of the victims actually resisted arrest, suggesting police often employed unnecessary force. On August 20, the armed forces conducted an operation targeting crime in the poor communities of Complexo do Alemao, Mare, and Penha that resulted in the death of five civilians and three military personnel. The operation involved 4,200 military personnel and 70 civil police officers backed by armored cars and helicopters. On the same day, military police officers killed six other civilians on the bridge connecting the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Niteroi. Military police officials stated the civilians were fleeing the neighborhoods where the military operations were taking place.

According to the Sao Paulo State Secretariat of Public Security, on- and off-duty military and civil police officers were responsible for 205 deaths in the state in the first half of the year, compared with 459 during the same period in 2017. According to civil society organizations, the victims of police violence in Sao Paulo State were overwhelmingly Afro-Brazilian youth. In June David Wayot Soares de Freitas died in the city of Sao Paulo from a gunshot fired by a military police officer. The police officer stated he fired the shot accidentally while approaching Freitas and his friend, who were on a motorbike. The officer stated he had received a report of cell phone theft by persons on a motorbike and was suspicious of the backpack worn by Freitas. Officials subsequently discovered the backpack contained a pizza, which Freitas was helping his friend deliver. The police report stated the two men held their hands up in surrender and were not carrying illegal items.

During national elections in October, politically motivated violence, especially against journalists, Afro-Brazilians, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons, was reported throughout the country. Media reported 50 attacks perpetrated by supporters of leading presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, including the killing of a supporter of the Workers Party (PT) in Bahia State after he declared his vote for the PT. High-profile leaders, including Superior Electoral Court President Rosa Weber, and Bolsonaro himself also were victims of violence and threats. On September 6, while campaigning in Minas Gerais State, Bolsonaro was the victim of a knife attack that left him in serious condition.

Police officers Fabio de Barros Dias and David Gomes Centeio of the 41st Military Police Battalion of Iraja, accused of killing two men in Rio de Janeiro in March 2017, were free and awaiting trial as of November.

In the first three months of the year, seven politicians were killed. In March unknown gunmen killed Rio de Janeiro council member Marielle Franco and her driver. On December 13, state police in Rio arrested a number of suspects. The crime was allegedly carried out by local organized-crime groups with ties to local politicians.

The NGO Global Witness reported 57 activists were killed in 2017, leading it to classify the country as extremely lethal for social, human rights, and environmental activists.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them.

In October the ombudsman for the Rio de Janeiro Public Defender’s Office released a report of findings on 15 neighborhoods affected by the federal military intervention, which began in March. The report documented 30 types of violations, including cases of rape, physical aggression, robberies, and home invasions perpetrated by federal law enforcement officials.

In November the press reported claims that federal military officers tortured three male favela residents in Rio de Janeiro in August. The men alleged the military held them for 17 hours, during which they were beaten, electrically shocked, and sprayed in the face with pepper spray.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening, mainly due to overcrowding. Abuse by prison guards continued, and poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.

Physical Conditions: Endemic overcrowding was a problem. According to the National Council of the Public Ministry, in August the overall occupation rate was 175 percent of capacity. The northern region had the worst situation, with three times more prisoners than designed capacity.

Reports of abuse by prison guards continued. Multiple reports filed with the Sao Paulo Public Defender’s Office, the National Penitentiary Department, and members of the National Council of Justice detailed abuse at the Unidade Prisional de Avare I, in the state of Sao Paulo, including suffocation with bags filled with urine and feces. Another prisoner claimed prison guards at the Complexo Medico-Penal prison in the state of Parana slammed his head against the wall and punched and kicked him.

Prisoners convicted of petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required placing convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. In many prisons, including those in the Federal District, officials attempted to separate violent offenders from other inmates and keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were held with adults in poor and crowded conditions. In many juvenile detention centers, the number of inmates greatly exceeded capacity.

The National Council of Justice found that, as of the end of 2017, there were 373 pregnant and 249 breastfeeding inmates in the prison system. In February the Supreme Court ruled that women who are pregnant or have children age 12 months and younger have the right to wait for the start of their trials under house arrest as opposed to preventive detention.

Prisons suffered from insufficient staffing and lack of control over the prison population. Violence was rampant in several prison facilities in the Northeast. In addition to overcrowding, poor administration of the prison system, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence within the penitentiary system. Media reports indicated most leaders of major criminal gangs were incarcerated and were controlling their expanding transnational criminal enterprises from inside prisons.

Multiple prison riots throughout the year led to the deaths of inmates, including a January riot in Ceara State in which 10 prisoners were killed and a September riot in Para State in which seven prisoners were killed. In February inmates at a prison in Japeri, a metropolitan area of the city of Rio de Janeiro, took prison guards hostage during a riot following a failed escape attempt. Three persons were wounded in the disturbances. Approximately 2,000 inmates were held in the Japeri facility, built for fewer than 900.

General prison conditions were poor. There was a lack of potable water for drinking and bathing, inadequate nutrition, rat and cockroach infestations, damp and dark cells, and beatings of inmates. According to the Ministry of Health, prisoners were 28 times more likely to contract tuberculosis, compared to the general public. In November the Organization of American States’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited prisons in the states of Maranhao, Roraima, and Rio de Janeiro, declaring the Jorge Santana Prison in Rio de Janeiro as one of the worst prisons commission members had seen and denouncing the Monte Cristo Agricultural Penitentiary Center in Roraima for subjecting prisoners to serious diseases and without the minimum right to food.

Administration: State-level ombudsman offices and the federal Secretariat of Human Rights monitored prison and detention center conditions and conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers.

Improvements: In May the National Council of Justice launched the National Registry of Prisoners, designed to contain basic data about all prisoners in the penitentiary system, including prisoner biographic data, the reason for the detention, the location of the prisoner, and the court order under which the prisoner was incarcerated.

In June the Pernambuco state government transferred the first inmates to Unit I of the newly constructed Itaquitinga Prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits arrests to those caught in the act of committing a crime or called for by order of a judicial authority; however, police at times did not respect this prohibition. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police force, operating under the Ministry of Public Security, is primarily an investigative entity and plays a minor role in routine law enforcement. Most police forces are under the control of the states. There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, charged with maintaining law and order. Despite its name, the military police does not report to the Ministry of Defense. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Police personnel often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers, although independent investigations increased. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem. In October the Ombudsman’s Office of the Rio de Janeiro Public Defender published the report Favela Circuit for Rights, which documented the complaints from the city’s favela residents of home invasion, robbery, destruction of personal property, and sexual assault perpetrated by law enforcement officials under the jurisdiction of the federal public security intervention that began in the state in March. A survey released in August conducted by the Ombudsman’s Office of the Sao Paulo Military Police showed the use of excessive force in 74 percent of civilian deaths caused by the military police in 2017. The agency analyzed 756 of the 940 deaths due to police intervention in 2017, which represented 80 percent of the total.

In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, so-called militia groups, often composed of off-duty and former law enforcement officers, reportedly took policing into their own hands. Many militia groups intimidated residents and conducted illegal activities such as extorting protection money and providing pirated utility services. The groups also exploited activities related to the real estate market and the sale of drugs and arms.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Officials must advise persons of their rights at the time of arrest or before taking them into custody for interrogation. The law prohibits use of force during an arrest unless the suspect attempts to escape or resists arrest. According to human rights observers, some detainees complained of physical abuse while being taken into police custody.

Authorities generally respected the constitutional right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. Detainees were informed promptly of the charges against them. The law permits provisional detention for up to five days under specified conditions during an investigation, but a judge may extend this period. A judge may also order temporary detention for an additional five days for processing. Preventive detention for an initial period of 15 days is permitted if police suspect a detainee may flee the area. Defendants arrested in the act of committing a crime must be charged within 30 days of arrest. Other defendants must be charged within 45 days, although this period may be extended. In cases involving heinous crimes, torture, drug trafficking, and terrorism, pretrial detention could last 30 days with the option to extend for an additional 30 days. Often the period for charging defendants had to be extended because of court backlogs. The law does not provide for a maximum period for pretrial detention, which is decided on a case-by-case basis. Bail was available for most crimes, and defendants facing charges for all but the most serious crimes have the right to a bail hearing. Prison authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer. Indigent detainees have the right to a lawyer provided by the state. Detainees had prompt access to family members. If detainees are convicted, time in detention before trial is subtracted from their sentences.

Pretrial Detention: Approximately 40 percent of prisoners nationwide were in prison provisionally (without a sentence from a judge), according to former minister of justice Alexandre de Moraes. A study conducted by the Ministry of Justice’s National Penitentiary Department found that more than half of the pretrial detainees in 17 states had been held in pretrial detention for more than 90 days. The study found 100 percent of pretrial detainees in Sergipe State, 91 percent in Alagoas State, 84 percent in Parana State, and 74 percent in Amazonas State had been held for more than 90 days.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Local NGOs, however, cited that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, was a concern.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although NGOs reported that in some rural regions–especially in cases involving land rights activists–police, prosecutors, and the judiciary were perceived to be more susceptible to external influences, including fear of reprisals. Investigations, prosecutions, and trials in these cases often were delayed.

After an arrest a judge reviews the case, determines whether it should proceed, and assigns the case to a state prosecutor, who decides whether to issue an indictment. Juries hear cases involving capital crimes; judges try those accused of lesser crimes. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be present at their trial, to be promptly informed of charges, not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, to confront and question adverse witnesses, to present their own witnesses and evidence, and to appeal verdicts. Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense but do not have the right to free assistance of an interpreter.

Although the law requires trials be held within a set time, there were millions of backlogged cases at state, federal, and appellate courts, and cases often took many years to be concluded. To reduce the backlog, state and federal courts frequently dismissed old cases without a hearing. While the law provides for the right to counsel, the Ministry of Public Security stated many prisoners could not afford an attorney. The court must furnish a public defender or private attorney at public expense in such cases, but staffing deficits persisted in all states.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may submit lawsuits before the courts for human rights violations. While the justice system provides for an independent civil judiciary, courts were burdened with backlogs and sometimes subject to corruption, political influence, and indirect intimidation. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

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

Although the law and constitution prohibit such actions, NGOs reported police occasionally conducted searches without warrants. Human rights groups, other NGOs, and media reported incidents of excessive police searches in poor neighborhoods. During these operations, police stopped and questioned persons and searched cars and residences without warrants.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with minimal restriction, but nongovernmental criminal elements subjected journalists to violence due to their professional activities. National laws prohibit politically motivated judicial censorship, but some local-level courts engaged in judicial censorship. In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during massive demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations. There were also cases of protesters attacking journalists.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subject to harassment, physical attacks, and threats as a result of their reporting. From January to April, the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters recorded the deaths of two journalists as well as 14 physical attacks, 11 threats, and nine acts of vandalism against journalists. On January 18, Jefferson Pureza Lopes, host of the radio program A Voice of the People, was killed in his home in Goias State. He had received death threats for years, and both his home and radio station office were burned down in response to denunciations of city irregularities made on his radio show. According to the international organization Reporters without Borders, a third Brazilian journalist was killed on August 16.

In August media outlets reported physical attacks against journalists by demonstrators in the states of Ceara and Sao Paulo as journalists were covering protests against the decision by the Federal Court of Parana on the imprisonment of former president Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The 2014 Marco Civil law, considered an internet “bill of rights,” enshrines net neutrality and freedom of expression online and provides for the inviolability and secrecy of user communications online, permitting exceptions only by court order. Nevertheless, several legal and judicial rulings citing the Marco Civil law had the potential to threaten freedom of expression on the internet. Anonymous speech is explicitly excluded from constitutional protection, which left little privacy protection for those who used the internet anonymously through a pseudonym. Police and prosecutors may obtain data pursuant to three main statutes: the Wiretapping Act, Secrecy of Financial Data Act, and Money Laundering Act. In August President Temer approved a new data protection law regulating the use, protection, and transfer of personal data. NGOs praised the new law, with the NGO Article 19 calling it “an important advancement in the right to privacy and freedom of expression.” The local NGO Intervozes said the new law “creates an important legal framework that guarantees privacy and protection of fundamental rights” and puts the country in line with other international legislation in the field of data protection.

The electoral law regulates political campaign activity on the internet. The law prohibits paid political advertising online and in traditional media. During the three months prior to an election, the law also prohibits online and traditional media from promoting candidates and distributing content that ridicules or could offend a candidate.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 65 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected the right of freedom of peaceful assembly, but police occasionally intervened in citizen protests that turned violent.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The National Committee for Refugees cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. By law refugees are provided official documentation, access to legal protection, and access to public services. The migration law signed by President Temer in May 2017 went into effect in November 2017, with implementing regulations developed during 2018. The law codifies protections for asylum claimants but overall made few changes to existing practices. It creates a new humanitarian visa as well as a new residency status that serves as an alternative to refugee claims for some categories of regional migrants, particularly from Venezuela.

During the year increasing numbers of Venezuelan economic migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees arrived in Roraima State in the north. As of August, 75,000 Venezuelans had applied for asylum or temporary residency in Brazil. The influx of Venezuelans into the small state of Roraima aggravated relations between local residents and the migrants and refugees, leading to some incidents of violence. On August 18, an anti-Venezuelan riot broke out in the border town of Pacaraima after a group of Venezuelans allegedly assaulted a local restaurant owner. While no deaths were reported, 1,200 Venezuelans were temporarily forced to return to their country.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In national elections held in October, citizens elected Federal Deputy Jair Bolsonaro as the next president. His inauguration was set for January 1, 2019. An observer mission from the Organization of American States considered the elections free and fair.

The law provides for the freedom to contest elections, except for certain enumerated ineligible acts. A 2010 electoral law amendment bars candidates who have been impeached or convicted of corruption crimes or who have renounced office to avoid impeachment. The law does not require a final and unappealable conviction, and it was contested as being counter to the constitution’s article concerning the presumption of innocence. On August 31, former president Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva was ruled ineligible by the Superior Electoral Court to run in the 2018 presidential election under this clause. Da Silva contested the finding in the Supreme Court, arguing among other points that the ruling on his ineligibility before all appeals were exhausted was a violation of his constitutional rights. On September 6, the Supreme Court rejected his appeals.

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

By law, 20 percent of the political television and radio advertising must be used to encourage female participation in politics. Parties that do not comply with this requirement may be found ineligible to contest elections. In August the Social Liberal Party was banned from fielding candidates in the state of Sergipe for failure to abide by the gender minimums. Some parties also fielded the minimum number of female candidates but reportedly did not provide sufficient support for them to campaign effectively. In May the Superior Electoral Court ruled parties must provide a minimum of 30 percent of campaign funds to support the election of female candidates. Women remained underrepresented in elected positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials and stipulates civil penalties for corruption committed by Brazilian citizens or entities overseas. There were numerous reports of corruption at various levels of government, and delays in judicial proceedings against persons accused of corruption were common, often due to constitutional protections from prosecution for sitting members of Congress and government ministers. This often resulted in de facto impunity for those responsible.

Corruption: The investigation of the Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal (Operation Carwash, or Lava Jato), which began in 2014, continued and led to arrests and convictions of money launderers and major construction contractors and also to the investigation, indictment, and conviction of politicians across the political class. Information gained through collaboration and plea bargains with suspects launched a widening net of new investigations. Through October courts handed down 215 convictions related to the investigations, including that of former president Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva.

On November 29, federal police agents arrested Rio de Janeiro Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao on charges of corruption and money laundering. He allegedly received $40 million in bribes from 2007 to 2015, while serving as the vice governor to former governor Sergio Cabral, who was in prison serving a 14-year sentence for corruption and money laundering connected to Operation Carwash.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and officials generally complied with these provisions. Not all asset declarations are made public, but federal employees’ salaries and payment information are posted online and can be searched by name.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Federal officials were cooperative and responsive to their views. Federal and state officials in many cases sought the aid and cooperation of domestic and international NGOs in addressing human rights problems.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Some local human rights organizations were critical of the Ministry of Human Rights, re-established by President Temer in 2017, stating their long-time contacts had been removed, many positions were unfilled, and the role of civil society in policy discussions had been severely reduced.

The Chamber of Deputies and the Senate had human rights committees that operated without interference and participated in several activities nationwide in coordination with domestic and international human rights organizations. Most states had police ombudsmen, but their accomplishments varied, depending on such factors as funding and outside political pressure.

A National Council for Human Rights, composed of 22 members–11 from various government agencies and 11 from civil society–met regularly. Other councils using this mixed government and civil society model included the National LGBT Council, National Council for Religious Freedom, National Council for Racial Equality Policies, National Council for Rights of Children and Adolescents, and National Council for Refugees.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The Maria da Penha Law criminalizes physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women, as well as defamation and damage to property or finances by someone with whom the victim has a marriage, family, or intimate relationship. Persons convicted of killing a woman or girl in cases of domestic violence may be sentenced to 12 to 30 years in prison.

In July Parana state officials accused Luis Felipe Manvailer of killing his wife, Tatiane Spitzner. Security camera footage showed Manvailer hitting and choking his wife and dragging her body into an elevator of their apartment building. As of November 30, he was in detention and awaiting trial.

The federal government maintained a toll-free nationwide hotline for women to report instances of intimate partner violence. Hotline operators have the authority to mobilize military police units to respond to such reports and follow up regarding the status of the case.

Each state secretariat for public security operated police stations dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. State and local governments also operated reference centers and temporary women’s shelters, and many states maintained domestic violence hotlines. Despite these protections, allegations of domestic violence were not always treated as credible by police; a study in the state of Rio Grande do Sul found 40 percent of femicide victims had previously sought police protection.

On October 4, Claudecir Kuster dos Soares shot his ex-wife Celia Oliveira on a public bus in Lages, in the state of Santa Catarina. Soares then shot himself. Both were taken to a hospital for emergency surgery and were expected to recover. Oliveira had a restraining order against Soares and had reported receiving a death threat from him in September. As of November 30, Soares was in police custody.

The law requires health facilities to contact police regarding cases in which a woman was harmed physically, sexually, or psychologically and to collect evidence and statements should the victim decide to prosecute.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in prison. NGOs reported sexual harassment was a serious concern, and perpetrators were frequently not held accountable.

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

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all circumstances. The government did not enforce the law effectively. According to the recruitment agency Catho, women received 62 percent of the amount men received for equal work as of March.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth in the country or from birth to a Brazilian citizen parent. The National Council of Justice, in partnership with the Secretariat of Human Rights, acted to reduce the number of children without birth certificates by registering children born in maternity wards.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and negligence. Abuse and neglect of children and adolescents were problems. Child pornography carries a prison sentence of up to eight years and a fine.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (16 with parental or legal representative consent). According to 2017 data from UNICEF, 11 percent of women ages 20-24 were married by age 15, and 36 percent of women ages 20-24 were married by age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual exploitation of children, adolescents, and other vulnerable persons is punishable by four to 10 years in prison. The law defines sexual exploitation as child sex trafficking, sexual activity, production of child pornography, and public or private sex shows. The government enforced the law unevenly. The law sets a minimum age of 14 for consensual sex, with the penalty for statutory rape ranging from eight to 15 years in prison.

In August police arrested former civil police officer Alzemar da Conceicao dos Anjos for running a child sex ring in the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area. A joint telephone wiretap investigation by the Public Ministry and civil police revealed that dos Anjos notified staff about the arrival of police and instructed that girls younger than age 18 be removed from the home where they were kept.

While no specific laws address child sex tourism, it is punishable under other criminal offenses. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. In addition girls from other South American nations were exploited in commercial sex in the country.

The law criminalizes child pornography. The penalty for possession of child pornography is up to four years in prison and a fine.

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 Abductiontravel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to the Jewish Federation, there were approximately 120,000 Jewish citizens, of whom approximately 50,000 were in the state of Sao Paulo and 30,000 in Rio de Janeiro State.

Several leaders of the Jewish and interfaith communities stated overt anti-Semitism was limited. Small neo-Nazi groups existed in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, and Parana.

In September the Israeli Federation of Rio de Janeiro reported that in Zona Sul, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, individuals spray-painted a swastika on a wall of a residence decorated with a mezuzah. Police were investigating the incident.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, and the federal government generally enforced these provisions. While federal and state laws mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities, states did not enforce them effectively.

The Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities Act, a legal framework on the rights of persons with disabilities, seeks to promote greater accessibility through expanded federal oversight of the City Statute (a law intended to foster the safety and well-being of urban citizens, among other objectives). The act also includes harsher criminal penalties for conviction of discrimination based on disability and inclusive health services with provision of services near residences and rural areas.

The National Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the National Council for the Rights of the Elderly have primary responsibility for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. The lack of accessible infrastructure and schools significantly limited the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce.

Civil society organizations acknowledged monitoring and enforcement of disability policies remained weak and criticized a lack of accessibility to public transportation, weak application of employment quotas, and a limited medical-based definition of disability that often excludes learning disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public or private facilities, employment, or housing to anyone based on race. The law also prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination or prejudice and the dissemination of racially offensive symbols and epithets, and it stipulates prison terms for such acts.

Approximately 52 percent of the population identified themselves as belonging to categories other than white. Despite this high representation within the general population, darker-skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, encountered discrimination. Afro-Brazilians were underrepresented in the government, professional positions, and middle and upper classes. They experienced a higher rate of unemployment and earned average wages below those of whites in similar positions. There was also a sizeable education gap. Afro-Brazilians were disproportionately affected by crime.

The 2010 Racial Equality Statute continued to be controversial, due to its provision for nonquota affirmative action policies in education and employment. In 2012 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial quota systems at universities. The 2010 law requires 20 percent of federal public administration positions be filled by Afro-Brazilians.

The Ministry of Planning requires government ministries to create internal committees to validate the self-declared ethnicity claims of public-service job applicants by using phenotypic criteria, assessing “blackness” in an attempt to reduce abuse of affirmative action policy and related laws. Universities also had race evaluation committees.

In April the Supreme Court ruled that 20 percent of vacancies for the military services must be filled by Afro-Brazilians, either men or women.

Indigenous People

According to data from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) and the 2010 census, there were approximately 897,000 indigenous persons, representing 305 distinct indigenous ethnic groups that spoke 274 distinct languages. The law grants the indigenous population broad protection of their cultural patrimony, exclusive use of their traditional lands, and exclusive beneficial use of their territory.

According to the constitution, all aboveground and underground minerals as well as hydroelectric power potential belong to the government. Congress must consult with the tribes involved when considering requests to exploit mineral and water resources, including ones with energy potential, on indigenous lands. Human rights groups expressed concerns that most of the requirements for indigenous consultation were not met.

Illegal logging, drug trafficking, and mining, as well as changes in the environment caused by large infrastructure projects, forced indigenous tribes to move to new areas or make their demarcated indigenous territories smaller than established by law. In some areas of Maranhao State, there were nightly curfews that applied only to indigenous persons.

According to FUNAI, the federal government established rules for providing financial compensation following the occupation in good faith of indigenous areas, as in the cases of companies that won development contracts affecting indigenous lands. Various indigenous groups protested the slow pace of land demarcations. In a case that lasted more than 30 years, during the year a court ordered the return of 20,000 acres of land to the Pankararu indigenous community in the municipalities of Tacaratu, Petrolandia, and Jatoba in the state of Pernambuco.

On August 11, indigenous leader Jorge Guajajara was killed in Maranhao. Police were investigating the case.

The Quilombola population–descendants of escaped African slaves–was estimated to include 6,000 communities and approximately five million individuals, although the government had no official statistics. The constitution recognizes Quilombola land ownership rights. In February the Supreme Court rejected the president’s attempt to apply “marco temporal” to Quilombola land claims, which would have prevented claims to lands the Quilombolas did not physically occupy in 1988, when the constitution was promulgated. In March the governor of Para State concluded a 23-year land dispute by signing over titles for more than 543,000 acres of Amazon forest to the Quilombola community in Cachoeira Porteira.

Of the 70 land-conflict deaths recorded by the NGO Pastoral Land Commission in 2017, 11 victims were Quilombola leaders. In April Quilombola leader Nazildo dos Santos Brito was killed in Para State, following threats to his physical safety after protesting a palm oil plantation’s alleged illegal deforestation and pollution practices.

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

Federal law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, but several states and municipalities have administrative regulations that prohibit such discrimination and provide for equal access to government services. The criminal code states offenses subject to criminal prosecution fall under federal statutes, leaving hate crimes subject to administrative, not criminal penalties. Sao Paulo was the only state to codify punishments for hate-motivated violence and speech against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. In the state of Rio de Janeiro, the law penalizes commercial establishments that discriminate against individuals on the basis of their LGBTI status. In Brasilia the law penalizes both individuals and businesses for discrimination against LGBTI persons. In both Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, sanctions vary from warnings and fines to the temporary suspension or termination of a business license.

Violence against LGBTI individuals was a serious concern. Through June there were 85 killings of LGBTI individuals. On April 5, five persons accused of the 2017 murder of a transgender woman, Dandara dos Santos, in Fortaleza, Ceara State, were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment ranging from 14 years and six months to 21 years.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS is punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine. Civil society organizations and the press reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In August and September, unknown perpetrators committed acts of arson, vandalism, and destruction of sacred objects against seven Afro-Brazilian temples or places of worship (terreiros) on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. The state secretary of human rights said the incidents were likely the work of an unidentified “religious militia.” There were eight similar incidents in the state of Sao Paulo in September. In another case an individual entered a terreiro during a meeting of practitioners and stabbed four persons, including one minor.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for freedom of association for all workers (except members of the military, military police, and firefighters), the right to bargain collectively with some restrictions, and the right to strike. The law limits organizing at the enterprise level. By law the armed forces, military police, or firefighters may not strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, including the dismissal of employees who are candidates for, or holders of, union leadership positions, and it requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activity.

New unions must register with the Ministry of Labor, which accepts the registration unless objections are filed by other unions. The law stipulates certain restrictions, such as unicidade (in essence one union per occupational category per city), which limits freedom of association by prohibiting multiple, competing unions of the same professional category in a single geographical area. Unions that represent workers in the same geographical area and professional category may contest registration.

The law stipulates a strike may be ruled “disruptive” by the labor court, and the union may be subjected to legal penalties if the strike violates certain conditions, such as if the union fails to maintain essential services during a strike, notify employers at least 48 hours before the beginning of a walkout, or end a strike after a labor court decision. Employers may not hire substitute workers during a legal strike or fire workers for strike-related activity, provided the strike is not ruled abusive. In April the Supreme Court ruled against the right of civil police to strike, stating all public security organs are prohibited from striking, including civil police, military police, federal police, fire brigades, railway police, and highway police. Civil police officials filed a grievance with the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The law obliges a union to negotiate on behalf of all registered workers in the professional category and geographical area it represents, regardless of whether an employee pays voluntary membership dues. The law permits the government to reject clauses of collective bargaining agreements that conflict with government policy. A July 2017 law includes collective bargaining changes, such as the ability to negotiate remuneration for the commute to and from work, working remotely, and a flexible hours schedule.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Collective bargaining was widespread in establishments in the private sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. The Ministry of Labor suspended union registration processes for a period of 90 days beginning on July 23 after a police investigation uncovered evidence that nonexistent unions were being registered fraudulently.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits “slave labor,” defined as “reducing someone to a condition analogous to slavery,” including subjecting someone to forced labor, debt bondage, exhausting work hours, and labor performed in degrading working conditions.

Many individuals in slave labor, as defined by the country’s law, were victims of human trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation. The government took actions to enforce the law, although forced labor occurred in a number of states. Violations of forced labor laws are punishable by up to eight years in prison, but this was often not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides penalties for various crimes related to forced labor, such as illegal recruiting or transporting workers or imposing onerous debt burdens as a condition of employment. Every six months the Ministry of Labor publishes a “Dirty List” of companies found to have employed forced labor. Inclusion on the list prevents companies from receiving loans from state-owned financial institutions. The Labor Prosecutor’s Office, in partnership with the ILO, maintained an online platform that identified hotspots for forced labor.

The National Commission to Eradicate Slave Labor coordinated government efforts to combat forced and exploitative labor and provide a forum for input from civil society actors. The commission’s members included representatives from 10 government agencies or ministries–including Human Rights, Justice, Federal Police, Agriculture, Labor, and Environment–and 20 civil society groups and the private sector. The ILO was also a member.

The Ministry of Labor’s Mobile Inspection Unit teams conducted impromptu inspections of properties where forced labor was suspected or reported, using teams composed of labor inspectors, labor prosecutors from the Federal Labor Prosecutor’s Office, and federal police officers. Mobile teams levied fines on landowners who used forced labor and required employers to provide back pay and benefits to workers before returning the workers to their municipalities of origin. Labor inspectors and prosecutors, however, could apply only civil penalties; consequently, many cases were not criminally prosecuted. Workers removed by mobile units were entitled to three months’ salary at the minimum wage. In early August ministry investigators rescued 18 workers who were laboring on coffee plantations in conditions analogous to slavery.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, was reported in jobs such as clearing forests to provide cattle pastureland, logging, producing charcoal, raising livestock, and other agricultural activities. Forced labor often involved young men drawn from the less-developed northeastern states–Maranhao, Piaui, Tocantins, and Ceara–and the central state of Goias to work in the northern and central-western regions of the country. In addition there were reports of forced labor in the construction industry. News outlets reported cases that amounted to forced labor in production of carnauba wax. Cases of forced labor were also reported in the garment industry in the city of Sao Paulo; the victims were often from neighboring countries, particularly Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay, while others came from Haiti, South Korea, and China.

According to Global Slavery Index 2018 data, an estimated 369,000 persons were living in modern slavery. These individuals were concentrated in areas that had experienced rapid economic development, mainly in the agricultural sector.

In January labor inspectors rescued 10 men working in “slave-like conditions” in a salt production company in the municipality of Araruama in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The laborers were living in filthy and makeshift accommodations and did not have appropriate equipment to work. The Labor Prosecutor’s Office required employers to terminate their contracts, compensate the victims, and pay unemployment insurance for the rescued workers.

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 minimum working age is 16, and apprenticeships may begin at age 14. The law bars all minors younger than age 18 from work that constitutes a physical strain or occurs in unhealthy, dangerous, or morally harmful conditions. Hazardous work includes an extensive list of activities within 13 occupational categories, including domestic service, garbage scavenging, and fertilizer production. The law requires parental permission for minors to work as apprentices.

According to the Ministry of Labor, in the last two decades, the number of underage working children declined from eight million to 2.7 million. The remaining cases were the most difficult to identify because they often took place in inaccessible rural areas or within a family home.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for inspecting worksites to enforce child labor laws. Penalties for violations range from 402 reais to 1,891 reais ($105 to $500), doubling for a second violation and tripling for a third, and were generally enforced; however, observers asserted fines were usually too small to serve as an effective deterrent. Most inspections of children in the workplace were driven by complaints brought by workers, teachers, unions, NGOs, and media. Due to legal restrictions, labor inspectors remained unable to enter private homes and farms, where much of the child labor allegedly occurred.

In May a study published by Abrinq Foundation, a Sao Paulo-based entity devoted to the protection of children’s rights, found that 3.3 million children and adolescents (ages five to 17) were in a situation of child labor, including in activities involving bananas, cacao, coffee, corn, fish, hogs, poultry, sheep, and sugarcane. The Ministry of Labor’s National Committee for the Eradication of Child Labor continued to implement the country’s National Plan to Combat Child Labor and maintained a database on the worst forms of child labor occurring in the country.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, natural origin or citizenship, age, language, and sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination against individuals who are HIV positive or suffer from other communicable diseases is also prohibited. The government generally enforced the laws and regulations, although discrimination in employment occurred with respect to Afro-Brazilians, women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and transgender individuals. The Ministry of Labor implemented rules to integrate promotion of racial equality in its programs, including requiring race be included in data for programs financed by the ministry. According to the ILO, women not only earned less than men but also had difficulties entering the workplace: 78 percent of men held paid jobs, compared with 56 percent of women. Although the law prohibits gender discrimination in pay, professional training, and career advancement, the law was not enforced and discrimination existed.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum wage. The minimum wage was greater than the official poverty income level. According to 2016 Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) data, however, the per capita income of approximately 40 percent of workers was below the minimum wage. IBGE data also revealed 6.8 percent of workers (12.9 million) were considered “extremely poor” or earning less than 70 reais ($18.40) per month. The Ministry of Labor verified enforcement of minimum wage laws as part of regular labor inspections. Penalties alone were not sufficient to deter violations.

The law limits the workweek to 44 hours and specifies a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours, preferably on Sundays. The law also provides for paid annual vacation, prohibits excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to two hours per workday, and stipulates that hours worked above the monthly limit must be compensated with at least time-and-a-half pay; these provisions generally were enforced for all groups of workers in the formal sector. The constitution also provides for the right of domestic employees to work a maximum of eight hours of per day, a maximum of 44 hours’ work per week, a minimum wage, a lunch break, social security, and severance pay.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational, health, and safety standards that are consistent with internationally recognized norms, although unsafe working conditions were prevalent throughout the country, especially in construction. The law requires employers to establish internal committees for accident prevention in workplaces. It also provides for the protection of employees from being fired for their committee activities. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although those in forced labor situations without access to transportation were particularly vulnerable to situations that endangered their health and safety.

In March the regional labor court in Sao Paulo upheld the conviction of M5 Industria e Comercio, owner of the M.Officer brand, under the state’s antislavery law for dumping. The court found M5 had been contracting its production out to firms that hired immigrant persons, who were forced to work beyond the legal maximum number of hours and in unsafe conditions. The court also confirmed the fine of six million reais ($1.6 million).

The Ministry of Labor addressed problems related to acceptable conditions of work such as long workdays and unsafe or unhygienic work conditions. Penalties for violations include fines that vary widely depending on the nature of the violation; the fines were generally enforced and were sometimes sufficient to deter violations. The National Labor Inspection School held various training sessions for labor inspectors throughout the year. The Ministry of Labor reported the number of labor inspectors (2,367) in the country was insufficient to enforce full compliance nationwide. Inspections continued to take place despite reduced funding, leading to fewer inspectors and inspections.

According to the IBGE, 33.3 million persons were employed in the formal sector as of May 2017. The IBGE also reported 22.9 million persons were working in the informal economy, an increase of 5 percent, compared with 2016.

Chile

Executive Summary

Chile is a constitutional multiparty democracy. In November 2017 the country held presidential elections and concurrent legislative elections, which observers considered free and fair. Former president (2010-14) and center-right candidate Sebastian Pinera won the presidential election and took office in March.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of torture by law enforcement officers; abuse of minors under the state’s care; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and violence, including police abuse, against indigenous populations.

The government took steps to investigate and 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.

b. Disappearance

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

In March 2017 the 1985 disappearance case of U.S. citizen Boris Weisfeiler was placed on schedule for an appeals court hearing. There were no developments in the case during the year.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports of excessive force, abuse, and degrading treatment by law enforcement officers. During the year the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) filed seven criminal accusations that members of law enforcement had committed acts of torture during detention of student protesters, or for criminal arrests, or at prisons. On May 28, Carabineros special forces allegedly beat and strangled a Swiss Confederation High School student to the point of unconsciousness while removing student protesters from the school. On June 1, the INDH filed a criminal accusation for the case; the investigation was pending at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Independent auditors determined that conditions in some prisons were considered below generally accepted standards, as promulgated by the Organization of American States, due to antiquated and overpopulated prisons that typically had substandard sanitary infrastructure and an inadequate water supply. Human rights organizations reported violence, including torture, occurred, as did violence among inmates.

Physical Conditions: The prison population was unevenly distributed across the prison system, with approximately 50 percent of prisons operating beyond maximum capacity, while others were underpopulated. Overpopulation and antiquated, inadequate facilities led to comingling of pre- and post-trial prisoners as a common practice. An independent magistrate’s report stated prisoners were often confined to their cells for the majority of the day, a practice that did not allow sufficient time for participation in rehabilitation and readjustment programs.

Administration: Independent government authorities, including the INDH, generally investigated credible allegations of mistreatment. The government usually investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits took place at both government and privately operated facilities. Prisoner and human rights groups continued to investigate alleged abuse or use of excessive force against detainees, and media covered some of the allegations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution 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, and the government generally observed those requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Carabineros and the Investigative Police (PDI) have legal responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order, including migration and border enforcement, within the country. The Ministry of the Interior and Public Security oversees both forces. The INDH monitors complaints and allegations of abuse.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the Carabineros and the PDI, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Only public officials expressly authorized by law may arrest or detain citizens, and they generally did so openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence brought before an independent judiciary. Authorities must immediately inform a prosecutor of an arrest and generally did so.

The prosecutor must open an investigation, receive a statement from the detainee, and ensure that the detainee is held at a local police station until the detention control hearing. Detention control hearings are held twice daily, allowing for a judicial determination of the legality of the detention within 24 hours of arrest. Detainees must be informed of their rights, including the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent until an attorney is present. Public defenders are provided for detainees who do not hire their own lawyer. Authorities must expedite notification of the detention to family members. If authorities do not inform detainees of their rights upon detention, the judge can declare the process unlawful during the detention control hearing.

The law allows judges to set bail, grant provisional liberty, or order continued detention as necessary for the investigation or the protection of the prisoner or the public.

The law affords detainees 30 minutes of immediate and subsequent daily access to a lawyer (in the presence of a prison guard) and to a doctor to verify their physical condition. Regular visits by family members are allowed.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced that right.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have a right of appeal. They have the right to be informed promptly of charges, to have time to prepare their defense, and not to be compelled to testify or admit guilt. Three-judge panels form the court of first instance. The process is oral and adversarial, defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and judges rule on guilt and dictate sentences. Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter. Court records, rulings, and findings were generally accessible to the public.

The law provides for the right to legal counsel, and public defenders’ offices across the country provided professional legal counsel to anyone seeking such assistance. When human rights organizations or family members requested, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Corporation for the Promotion and Defense of the Rights of the People and other lawyers working pro bono assisted detainees during interrogation and trial. Defendants may confront or question adverse witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf, although the law provides for secret witnesses in certain circumstances.

For crimes committed prior to the implementation of the 2005 judicial reforms, criminal proceedings are inquisitorial rather than adversarial. As of December 1, one inquisitorial criminal court remained open and had an extensive wait for trials.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

In civil matters there is an independent and impartial judiciary, which permits individuals to seek civil remedies for human rights violations; however, the civil justice system retained antiquated and inefficient procedures, which resulted in civil trials lasting years if not decades. Administrative and judicial remedies are available for alleged wrongs. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies including fair compensation to the individual injured.

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

The constitution 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 Speech and Press

The constitution 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.

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. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 82 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected those rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Durable Solutions: In April the government announced a Democratic Responsibility Visa for Venezuelans fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Under the government’s immigration reform, the Democratic Responsibility Visa is the primary means for Venezuelans to work or establish legal residency in Chile. On November 7, the government facilitated the voluntary repatriation of 160 Haitians to Port-au-Prince under its Humanitarian Plan for Orderly Returns program. Haitians wishing to participate must sign a declaration that they will not return to Chile within the next nine years.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held concurrent presidential and legislative elections in November 2017, both of which observers considered free and fair. The center-right candidate, Sebastian Pinera, won the December 2017 runoff election against the center-left independent candidate Senator Alejandro Guillier.

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

The Mapuche minority, which represents approximately 9 percent of the population, have historically been underrepresented in government. In November 2017 two candidates from the Mapuche indigenous group were elected to congress–one to the current 43-seat Senate and one to the 155-seat Chamber of Deputies (see section 6, Ethnic Minorities).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented those laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On March 1, the Public Ministry summoned for questioning the former general director of the Carabineros, Eduardo Gordon, for misappropriation of funds in excess of 25 billion pesos ($37 million). Gordon was also under investigation for the use of more than 14 billion pesos ($21 million) in representation expenses by the Public Relations Department of the Carabineros while serving as general director between 2010 and 2011. As of November the Public Ministry’s investigation remained open.

Financial Disclosure: Law and regulation require income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials. Declarations are made available to the public, and there are administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The INDH operated independently and effectively, issued public statements and an annual report, and proposed changes to government agencies or policies to promote and protect human rights. During the year the INDH examined the inner workings of 101 of 119 National Service for Minors (SENAME) centers around the country, focusing on mental-health services available, violence in the centers, and alleged sexual abuse of vulnerable minors.

The Senate and Chamber of Deputies have standing human rights committees responsible for drafting human rights legislation.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. Penalties for rape range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment, and the government generally enforced the law when violations were reported.

The law criminalizes both physical and psychological domestic violence and protects the privacy and safety of the victim making the charge of rape or domestic violence.

Family courts handle cases of domestic violence and penalize offenders with fines up to 720,000 pesos ($1,065). Additional sanctions include eviction of the offender from the residence shared with the survivor, restraining orders, confiscation of firearms, and court-ordered counseling. Cases of habitual psychological abuse and physical abuse cases in which there are physical injuries are prosecuted in the criminal justice system. Penalties are based on the gravity of injuries and range from 61 days’ to 15 years’ imprisonment. Murder in the context of domestic violence is defined as femicide in the criminal code, and penalties range from 15 years to life in prison. The government generally enforced the laws against domestic violence effectively.

As part of its 2014-18 national action plan against violence against women, the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality ran a victims’ assistance and protection program that operated psychological, legal, and social assistance centers and shelters throughout the country and maintained an emergency hotline.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not a criminal offense, but it is classified as a misdemeanor, with penalties outlined exclusively in the labor code. By law sexual harassment in the workplace is cause for immediate dismissal from employment. The law requires employers to define internal procedures, or a company policy, for investigating sexual harassment, and employers may face fines and additional financial compensation to victims if it is shown the company policy on sexual harassment was not followed. The law provides protection to those affected by sexual harassment by employers and coworkers. The law provides severance pay to individuals who resign due to sexual harassment if they have completed at least one year with the employer.

At the local government level, the Municipality of Las Condes passed a municipal resolution allowing the placement of warning signs in 63 strategic locations, including bus stops and construction sites, aimed at reducing verbal harassment of women in public places. The municipal resolution also prescribes fines for this type of harassment, reaching up to 233,000 pesos ($345).

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

Discrimination: Although women possess most of the same legal rights as men, the government did not enforce the law effectively, since discrimination in employment, pay, ownership and management of businesses, and education persisted. Certain laws defining the marital relationship enable discrimination. The default and most common marital arrangement is “conjugal society,” which provides that a husband has the right to administer joint property, including his wife’s property, without consultation or written permission from his spouse, but a wife must demonstrate that her husband has granted his permission before she is permitted to make financial arrangements. Legislation remained pending years after a 2007 agreement with the IACHR to modify the conjugal society law to give women and men equal rights and responsibilities in marriage. The commercial code provides that, unless a woman is married under the separate-estate regime or a joint-estate regime, she may not enter into a commercial partnership agreement without permission from her husband, while a man may enter into such an agreement without permission from his wife.

Despite a law providing for equal pay for equal work, the average woman’s annual income was 32 percent less than that of men, according to the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality. The ministry is in charge of protecting women’s legal rights and is specifically tasked with combatting discrimination against women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents or grandparents. There were no reports that birth registration was denied on a discriminatory basis.

Child Abuse: There are laws against child abuse, but it remained a persistent problem. The law renders persons convicted of child sexual abuse permanently ineligible for any position, job, career, or profession in educational settings requiring direct and habitual contact with children under age 18. The law also includes a public registry of these sex offenders.

In June President Pinera convened a bipartisan National Agreement on Childhood Parliamentarians, ministers, and experts from civil society developed measures to promote child development, safeguard children’s rights, and ensure the physical protection and rehabilitation of child abuse victims. The measures also include mechanisms to put an end to the abuses that occurred in some SENAME centers and foster-care facilities.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (16 with parental consent).

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescents was a problem, and children were victims of sex trafficking with and without third-party involvement. The law prohibits all forms of human trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from five years and one day to 15 years in prison, plus fines, for trafficking offenses. Nevertheless, internal child sex trafficking cases were often prosecuted under a different law, Article 367 of the penal code, which provides lesser penalties. Due to sentencing guidelines for first-time offenders or those sentenced to less than five years’ confinement, many convicted traffickers were given weak and inadequate sentences for the crime, which hampered efforts to deter and hold traffickers accountable.

Heterosexual sexual relations with minors between the ages of 14 and 18 may be considered statutory rape depending on the circumstances; sex with a child under age 14 is considered rape, regardless of consent or the victim’s gender. Penalties for statutory rape range from five to 20 years in prison. Child pornography is a crime. Penalties for producing child pornography range from 541 days to five years in prison.

Institutionalized Children: In June 2017 the second special congressional committee in five years investigated allegations of abuse at SENAME centers and issued a report that claimed widespread lack of oversight of its child protective programs at centers for orphans and children who had been removed from the care of their parents by the family courts. The report also found the service had long waiting lists for its programs, lack of training for its personnel, and “an [organizational] culture lacking in the protection of [children’s] rights.”

In July 2017 the INDH released the results of a yearlong study of 171 SENAME child-service centers. Among the 405 children interviewed, 195 reported negligent treatment by child-services workers; physical, mental, or psychological abuse; and sexual abuse or exploitation.

In July the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released the final report containing the analysis by two experts following a January visit to SENAME centers. The visit was scheduled in response to a congressional inquiry filed before the Committee on the Rights of the Child following the 2016 death of Lisette Villa in a SENAME center.

According to local media, the report points out “serious negligence on the part of personnel responsible for the care of minors” as well as cases of “sexual abuse, torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment” in SENAME centers.

The new administration has implemented procedural changes to the SENAME, including the creation of an early warning system, working groups across a range of ministries with the Judiciary, and stricter requirements for foster families that would like to house children. As of July the government began the closure and replacement of the SENAME centers where deaths and abuse were reported, closing a center at Playa Ancha in late July and scheduling the closures of the Pudahuel and Galvarino centers.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbers approximately 18,000 persons. Jewish community leaders reported concern over the tone of social media postings they perceived as threatening. The commentary leaders found offensive primarily referenced frustration with Israeli government policies and did not specifically mention either Jewish individuals or Chilean Jews.

Several Jewish organizations expressed concern when in June the mayor of Valdivia announced the town would join the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement. The measure prohibits the city from working with any business that benefits or is linked to Israel’s “occupation of Palestine” or “Israel’s apartheid policy that targets Palestinians.” The vote to adopt the boycott at the city level was taken unanimously by the local government after the initiative was personally introduced by the city’s mayor; central government authorities were exploring the constitutionality of the move.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, and the government mostly enforced these provisions. Persons with disabilities suffered forms of de facto discrimination. The law provides for universal and equal access to buildings, information, and communications. Most public buildings did not comply with legal accessibility mandates. The public transportation system, particularly outside Santiago, did not adequately provide accessibility for persons with disabilities. In recent years, however, TranSantiago, the main system of public transportation within Santiago, instituted changes to improve compliance with the law, including new ramp systems and elevators at certain metro stations as well as improved access to some buses. Nevertheless, many metro stations and most buses remained inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Development’s National Service for the Disabled (SENADIS) reported that children with disabilities attended primary and secondary school but noted difficulties in ensuring equal access to schooling at private institutions. SENADIS also reported that persons with disabilities had fewer opportunities to continue their education beyond secondary school.

The government, along with SENADIS, worked to expand access to legal justice for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Equal treatment and nondiscrimination are explicitly protected in the constitution, and the labor code specifically prohibits discrimination. In its annual report, the INDH published survey results regarding racial discrimination, where 76 percent of those surveyed reported having witnessed discriminatory actions against immigrants, most of whom were from other Latin American countries or from the Caribbean, including Afro-descendants. There were reports of discrimination against racial minorities and immigrants in the public-health and education systems. The government implemented training programs for public officials on assisting immigrants and incorporated interpreters into offices, and provided information in languages other than Spanish, specifically Haitian Creole. The government implemented a plan for assistance to migrants in public services, Chile Receives You, with a special focus on improving access to public immigration services outside of the Santiago metropolitan region through increased infrastructure and staffing and training for public servants.

Indigenous People

Although the constitution does not specifically protect indigenous groups, indigenous people have the right to participate in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, and traditions, including the exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, or other natural resources on indigenous lands. In its annual report on human rights, the University of Diego Portales reported indigenous people encountered serious obstacles to exercising these civil and political rights, including regarding natural resource use in their territories and the right to nondiscrimination and equal access to justice. Indigenous persons experienced societal discrimination, including in employment; there were reports of incidents in which they were attacked and harassed. In its annual report, the INDH published racial discrimination survey results, where between 65 and 83 percent of citizens reported agreeing with a series of discriminatory statements regarding indigenous groups.

There were numerous reports of police abuse against Mapuche individuals and communities, including against children. The INDH brought petitions to protect the constitutional rights of Mapuche individuals, including children and adolescents, in cases of excessive use of force by security forces. Amnesty International’s annual report reiterated there were continuing reports of excessive use of force and arbitrary detention during police operations in Mapuche communities. In November 2017 the Supreme Court reopened the case of Alex Lemun, who was killed by a police officer in Ercilla in 2002. The case had been tried in the military justice system and closed without prosecution. As of November there were no further updates on the case.

Indigenous lands are demarcated, but some indigenous Mapuche communities demanded restitution of privately and publicly owned traditional lands.

The law recognizes nine indigenous groups in the country and creates an administrative structure to provide specialized programs and services to promote economic, social, and cultural development of these peoples.

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

The law sets the age of consent at 18 for consensual same-sex sexual activity; heterosexual activity is permitted, under some circumstances, at age 14. Antidiscrimination laws exist and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment, and access to government services. In March the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (MOVILH), a leading gay rights NGO, reported it tracked 484 cases of discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity during 2017, a 69 percent increase over 2016, including an increase of 245 percent in hate speech incidents. The most common discriminatory acts reported to MOVILH were verbal abuse and discrimination in the workplace, such as difficulty obtaining promotions.

Violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals continued. On June 23, the night of Santiago’s Pride Parade, MOVILH reported that its founder, LGBTI activist Rolando Jimenez, was subjected to verbal and physical abuse and arbitrary arrest and detention for defending a same-sex couple being subjected to verbal discrimination, harassment, and physical abuse by Carabineros at a restaurant. One of the victims filmed the incident with a cell phone, but police confiscated the phone and did not return it. The couple and Jimenez were held for eight hours in Santiago Police Precinct Number One before being informed of the accusations against them and read their rights. The couple was released, while Jimenez was formally charged with attacking a police officer and making death threats, as well as with theft of the officer’s watch. MOVILH alleged the police accusations were false and that Jimenez was attacked because he had been a constant critic of alleged homophobic actions by Police Precinct Number One. On August 7, the INDH sued the police for arbitrary detention and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. The case was pending at year’s end.

Law enforcement authorities appeared reluctant to use the full recourse of a 2012 antidiscrimination law, including charging assailants of LGBTI victims with a hate crime, which would elevate criminal penalties as permitted under the law.

In September, Congress passed the Gender Identity Law, which grants transgender Chileans starting at age 14 the ability to change gender markers on government-issued identity documents, including national identity cards and university diplomas, to reflect their gender identity.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons based on their HIV status and provides that neither public nor private health institutions may deny access to health-care services based on a person’s serological status.

The majority of citizens with HIV and AIDS were men, and NGOs reported government-sponsored outreach campaigns were oriented to a male audience, particularly men who have sex with men.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Revised labor standards came into effect in April 2017. The legislation was designed to modernize labor relations, strengthen unions, and facilitate labor agreements. The law provides for the rights of workers, with some limitations, to form and join independent unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law also prohibits antiunion practices and requires either back pay or reinstatement for workers fired for union activity.

Police, military personnel, and civil servants working for the judiciary are prohibited from joining unions. Union leaders are restricted from being candidates or members of congress. The Directorate of Labor has broad powers to monitor unions’ financial accounts and financial transactions. The law prohibits public employees from striking, although they nevertheless frequently did. While employees in the private sector have the right to strike, the law places some restrictions on this right. For example, an absolute majority of workers must approve strikes. The law also prohibits employees of 101 private-sector companies, largely providers of services such as water and electricity, from striking, and it stipulates compulsory arbitration to resolve disputes in these companies. In addition workers employed by companies or corporations whose stoppage would cause serious damage to the health, economy, or security of the country do not have the right to strike. In a change from the previous labor code, employers may not dismiss or replace employees involved in a strike. Unions must provide emergency personnel to fulfill the company’s “minimum services.” Those include the protection of tangible assets and of the company’s facilities, accident prevention, service of the population’s basic needs, ensuring the supply of essential public services, and ensuring the prevention of environmental and sanitary damages.

The labor reform extended unions’ rights to information, requiring large companies to disclose annual reports including balance sheets, statements of earnings, and audited financial statements. Large companies must provide any public information required by the Superintendence of Securities and Insurances within 30 days following the date when the information becomes available. Smaller companies must provide information necessary for the purposes of preparing the collective bargaining process.

While the law prior to the labor reform provided for collective bargaining rights only at the company level, the reform extends such rights to intercompany unions, provided they represent workers at employers having 50 or more employees and falling within the same economic rubric or activity. Intercompany unions for workers at micro or small businesses (i.e., with fewer than 50 workers) are permitted to bargain collectively only when the individual employers all agree to negotiate under such terms. The law does not provide for collective bargaining rights for workers in public institutions or in a private institution that receives more than 50 percent of its funding from the state in either of the preceding two years or whose budget is dependent upon the Defense Ministry. It also does not provide for collective bargaining in companies whose employees are prohibited from striking, such as in health care, law enforcement, and public utilities. Whereas the previous labor code excluded collective bargaining rights for temporary workers or those employed solely for specific tasks, such as in agriculture, construction, ports, or the arts and entertainment sector, the recently revised labor standards eliminate these exclusions, extending bargaining rights to apprentices and short-term employees. Executives, such as managers and assistant managers, are prohibited from collective bargaining.

The government generally enforced labor laws effectively. Nevertheless, the Labor Directorate under the Ministry of Labor commented on the need for more inspectors and noted financial penalties did not always deter companies from repeating offenses. Companies are generally subject to sanctions for violations to the labor code, according to the severity of each case. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions, which include antiunion practices. NGOs reported cases in labor tribunals took on average three months to resolve. Cases involving fundamental rights of the worker often took closer to six months. NGOs continued to report it was difficult for courts to sanction companies and order remedies in favor of workers for various reasons, including if a company’s assets were in a different name or the juridical entity could not be located.

Freedom of association was generally respected. Employers sometimes did not respect the right to collective bargaining. Despite being prohibited by law, public-sector strikes occurred throughout the year. According to Freedom House, IndustriALL Global Union, and the International Trade Union Confederation, antiunion practices, including a threat of violence, continued to occur. NGOs and unions reported companies sought to inhibit the formation of unions and avoid triggering collective bargaining rights, especially among seasonal agricultural workers, by using subcontracts and temporary contracts as well as obtaining several fiscal registration or tax identification numbers when increasing the size of the workforce.

The revised labor code provides that the labor court can require workers to resume work upon a determination that a strike, by its nature, timing, or duration, causes serious risk to health, national security, and the supply of goods or services to the population, or to the national economy. Generally, a back-to-work order should apply only where a prolonged strike in a vital sector of the economy might cause a situation endangering the public’s safety or health, and where applied to a specific category of workers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. In general the government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties of five to 15 years’ imprisonment for violations were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. NGOs reported many government officials responsible for identifying and assisting victims had limited resources and expertise to identify victims of labor trafficking. In addition, judges often suspended or commuted sentences. The government worked to prevent and combat forced labor through its antitrafficking interagency taskforce of government agencies, which included international organizations and local NGOs. The task force developed and adopted a 2015-18 national action plan.

Labor trafficking continued to occur. Some foreign citizens were subjected to forced labor in the mining, agriculture, domestic service, and hospitality sectors. Some children were forcibly employed in the drug trade (see section 7.c.).

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 country conforms to international standards, which dictate the minimum age for employment or work should be no less than 15 years. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 18, although it provides that children between 15 and 18 may work with the express permission of their parents or guardians as long as they attend school. They may perform only light work that does not require hard physical labor or constitute a threat to health or the child’s development.

Ministry of Labor inspectors effectively enforced regulations in the formal economy but did not inspect or enforce such regulations in the informal economy. Infractions included contracting a minor under 18 without the authorization of the minor’s legal representative, failure to register a minor’s contract with the ministry, and contracting a minor under age 15 for activities not permitted by law. Penalties and inspections were not generally seen as sufficient to deter grave violations that mostly occurred clandestinely or in the informal economy.

The government devoted considerable resources and oversight to child labor policies. With accredited NGOs, SENAME operated programs to protect children in vulnerable situations. SENAME, in coordination with labor inspectors, identified and assisted children in abusive or dangerous situations. SENAME continued to work with international institutions, such as the International Labor Organization, and with other ministries to conduct training on identifying and preventing the worst forms of child labor. SENAME also implemented public education programs to raise awareness and worked with the International Labor Organization to operate rehabilitation programs for children withdrawn from child labor.

Multisector government agencies continued to participate in the National Advisory Committee to Eradicate Child Labor. The committee met regularly throughout the year and brought together civil society organizations and government agencies in a coordinated effort to raise awareness, provide services to victims, and protect victims’ rights. The Worst Forms of Child Labor Task Force, a separate entity, maintained a registry of cases and developed a multisector protocol for the identification, registration, and care of children and adolescents who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The government also created a technical secretariat to design and implement the Third Action Plan against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents for the 2017-19 period. The government also published a guide to coordinate interagency efforts to address trafficking in persons. In 2015 SENAME worked with the National Tourism Service (SERNATUR) to include strict norms in hotel certification procedures for preventing the commercial sexual exploitation of children. This included special training for SERNATUR staff charged with assessing and certifying hotels.

Child labor continued to be a problem in the informal economy and agriculture, primarily in rural areas. Higher numbers of violations occurred in the construction, industrial manufacturing, hotels and restaurants, and agriculture sectors.

In urban areas it was common to find boys carrying loads in agricultural loading docks and assisting in construction activities, while girls sold goods on the streets and worked as domestic servants. Children worked in the production of ceramics and books and in the repair of shoes and garments. In rural areas children were involved in caring for farm animals as well as harvesting, collecting, and selling crops, such as wheat. The use of children in illicit activities, which included the production and trafficking of narcotics, continued to be a problem. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also continued to be a problem (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination based on race, sex, age, civil status, union affiliation, religion, political opinion, nationality, national extraction, social origin, disability, language, sexual orientation, or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, refugee or stateless status, ethnicity or social status. The government and employers do not discriminate on the basis of refugee, stateless status or ethnicity, but workers must have a work permit or be citizens to hold contracted jobs. The law also provides civil legal remedies to victims of employment discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic situation, language, ideology or political opinion, religion or belief, association or participation in union organizations or lack thereof, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, marriage status, age, affiliation, personal appearance, and sickness or physical disability. In June 2017 Congress passed a law to address matters related to persons with disabilities. For all public agencies and for private employers with 100 or more employees, the law requires a 1 percent quota of jobs reserved for persons with disabilities.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws and regulations prohibiting employment discrimination. Authorities generally enforced the law in cases of sexual harassment, and there was no evidence of police or judicial reluctance to act. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions such as denying maternity leave. Such penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Nevertheless, discrimination in employment and occupation continued to occur. Persons with disabilities often faced discrimination in hiring; they constituted approximately 7.6 percent of the working-age population but only 0.5 percent of the workforce. Indigenous persons continued to experience societal discrimination in employment. Statistics regarding rates of discrimination faced by different groups were not available.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

As of November, the national minimum wage exceeded the poverty level. The law sets the legal workweek at six days or 45 hours. The maximum workday is 10 hours (including two hours of overtime pay), but the law provides exemptions for hours of work restrictions for some categories of workers, such as managers; administrators; employees of fishing boats; restaurant, club, and hotel workers; drivers; airplane crews; telecommuters or employees who work outside of the office; and professional athletes. The law mandates at least one 24-hour rest period during the workweek, except for workers at high altitudes, who may exchange a work-free day each week for several consecutive work-free days every two weeks. Annual leave for full-time workers is 15 workdays, and workers with more than 10 years of service are eligible for an additional day of annual leave for every three years worked. Overtime is considered to be any time worked beyond the 45-hour workweek, and workers are due time-and-a-half pay for any overtime performed.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards, which are applicable to all sectors. Special safety and health norms exist for specific sectors, such as mining and diving. The National Service for Geology and Mines is further mandated to regulate and inspect the mining industry. The law does not regulate the informal sector. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The Labor Directorate under the Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing minimum wage and other labor laws and regulations, and it did so effectively in the formal economy. The Ministries of Health and Labor administered and effectively enforced occupational safety and health standards. The law establishes fines for noncompliance with labor regulations, including for employers who compel workers to work in excess of 10 hours a day or do not provide adequate rest days. Companies may receive “special sanctions” for infractions such as causing irreversible injuries to an employee. An estimated 25 percent of the labor force worked in the informal sector, according to a 2015 Rand report. Workers in the informal economy were not effectively protected in regard to wages or safety.

The Labor Directorate employed labor inspectors during the year. Both the Labor Directorate and NGOs reported the number of inspectors was not sufficient to enforce labor laws throughout the country, particularly in remote areas. NGOs commented inspectors and labor tribunal judges needed more training and that a lack of information and economic means generated an inequality between parties in cases before the tribunals. Fines were not considered to have a deterrent effect with larger employers. The Labor Directorate worked preventively with small and medium-sized businesses to assist in their compliance with labor laws.

Minimum wage violations were most common in the real estate and retail sectors. The sectors with the most infractions in safety and health standards were construction, retail, industrial manufacturing, and commerce. The service sector suffered the most accidents during the year. Immigrant workers in the agricultural sector were the group most likely to be subject to exploitative working conditions.

Colombia

Executive Summary

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

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Colombia Europe United States Coordination (Coordinacion Colombia Europa Estados Unidos, CCEEU), from January 1 through August, there were 27 cases of “intentional deaths of civilians committed by state agents” that included 34 victims.

For example, the Attorney General’s Office reported October 23 that eight members of the 29th Army Land Battalion attached to the Army’s Third Buffalo Company had been arrested and were under investigation for alleged crimes of aggravated homicide and attempted aggravated homicide in relation to the March killing of a peasant named Ciro Alfonso Manzano Ariza and attempted killing of Andres Fabian Salcedo Rincon in Arauca. An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office Special Investigations Unit, in conjunction with the army, revealed the killing was unrelated to a supposed confrontation. In a press release, the Attorney General’s Office stated its commitment to investigate and prosecute crimes of this type “so that these forms of violence do not continue to present themselves.”

Illegal armed groups including the ELN committed numerous unlawful or politically motivated killings, often in areas without a strong government presence (see section 1.g.).

Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly. From January 1 through July, the Attorney General’s Office registered one new case of alleged aggravated homicide by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally accused 123 members of the security forces of aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian, almost all for crimes that occurred prior to 2017, and made one arrest. The Attorney General’s Office reported that through August, it obtained six new convictions of security force members in cases involving homicide of a “protected person” (i.e., civilians and others accorded such status under international humanitarian law), four new convictions in cases involving aggravated homicide, and 14 new convictions in cases involving “simple homicide” committed by security force members. Of these sentences, 23 corresponded to cases that took place before 2018.

For instance, on August 14, Jose Miguel Narvaez, deputy director of the disbanded Administrative Department of Security, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the 1999 killing of journalist Jaime Garzon.

There were developments in efforts to hold officials accountable in false positive extrajudicial killings, in which thousands of civilians were killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants in the late 1990s to late 2000s. During 2017 and through May 20, the Attorney General’s Office reported 246 members of the security forces were convicted in cases related to “false positives,” 716 cases were in the prosecution phase, and 10 new investigations were opened. In total, the government had convicted 1,176 members of the security forces in cases related to false positives as of May, including at least eight colonels, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

The Attorney General’s Office reported there were open investigations of 19 retired and active-duty generals related to false positive killings as of May. The Attorney General’s Office also reported there were 2,504 open investigations related to false positive killings or other extrajudicial killings as of May 20.

Additionally, the JEP reviewed some investigations related to false positive or extrajudicial killings. For example, on July 10, the JEP began to review the case against retired general William Henry Torres Escalante. Retired general Mario Montoya Uribe also chose to bring his pending case to the JEP. On August 10, after the JEP received his case, Colonel Gabriel Rincon publicly apologized for his involvement in false positive killings in 2008 in Soacha. More than 1,900 members of the armed forces signed a commitment to participate in the JEP’s processes.

In January media reports indicated the Attorney General’s Office intended to file charges of aggravated homicide against two members of the security forces in relation to the October 2017 events in the southwestern municipality of Tumaco, Narino Department, that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported resulted in the killing of at least seven persons, including two members of the Awa indigenous people and the wounding of 20 others.

Illegal armed groups, including the ELN and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).

Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized-crime gangs, which included some former paramilitary members. According to the Attorney General’s Office, between January and August 10, 83 members of government security forces were arrested for ties with illegal armed groups.

According to a December 26 UN report, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported 163 verified killings of social leaders and human rights defenders since the signing of the peace accord in November 2016 and a total of 454 cases reported. According to the Attorney General’s Office, 28 persons in 19 cases have been convicted in the killings of human rights defenders and social leaders. According to the Centro Nacional de Consultoria and the NGO Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement, 70 percent of the killings occurred in eight of the country’s 32 departments: Antioquia, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Narino, Norte de Santander, Choco, Cordoba, and Putumayo. The motives of the killings varied, and it was often difficult to determine the primary or precise motive in individual cases.

For example, on January 27, Temistocles Machado, a prominent human rights activist and Afro-Colombian community leader, was killed in Buenaventura in Valle Del Cauca. Former president Juan Manuel Santos requested the Elite Corps of the National Police to prioritize the investigation of the case, and authorities instituted proceedings against five persons as of year’s end.

On November 19, President Duque created the Commission of the Timely Action Plan for Prevention and Protection for Human Rights Defenders, Social and Communal Leaders, and Journalists (Comision del Plan de Accion Oportuna para Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Lideres Sociales, Comunales y Periodistas, PAO) to strengthen coordination including efforts to investigate and prevent attacks against social leaders and human rights defenders. Additionally, the minister of interior reported to the UN Human Rights Council in May that the government established an elite corps of the National Police, a specialized subdirectorate of the National Protection Unit, a special investigation unit of the Attorney General’s Office responsible for dismantling criminal organizations and enterprises, and a unified command post, which the minister stated shared responsibility for protecting human rights defenders from attack and investigating and prosecuting these cases.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year. According to the National Institute of Forensic and Legal Medicine, from January 1 through August 30, 3,643 cases of disappearances were registered. During 2017 the National Institute of Forensic and Legal Medicine reported 6,670 cases of disappearances. The government did not provide information on the number of victims of disappearances who were located or a disaggregation of the number found alive or dead.

For example, on October 3, unknown organized criminal groups abducted Cristo Jose Contreras, a five-year-old boy, in the municipality of El Carmen. After a large search and rescue operation, the boy was released one week later. In the context of the peace process, the government took steps to establish a new search commission to investigate disappearances (see section 1.g.).

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that government officials employed them. The NGO Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP) reported that through October, security forces were allegedly involved in six cases of torture. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts.

For example, media reported Colombian National Police officers in Bogota allegedly forced several youth to strip to their underwear and beat them with a blunt object, while verbally abusing them in an incident caught on video that later became public. Authorities stated the incident occurred on September 28 after an escape attempt at the El Redentor Detention Center in which a scuffle led to the injuries of two police officers. Media reported that authorities had initiated criminal and disciplinary investigations into the case, which a prosecutor said met the legal definition of torture.

Between January 1 and August 10, the Attorney General’s Office charged 64 members of the military and police force with torture; in each case the alleged torture occurred prior to 2018.

CINEP reported organized-crime gangs and illegal armed groups were responsible for six documented cases of torture through June 30. Three of those cases were allegedly committed by FARC dissidents not participating in the peace process.

According to NGOs monitoring prison conditions, there were numerous allegations of sexual and physical violence committed by guards and other inmates.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

With the exception of some new facilities, prisons and detention centers were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitation, poor health care, and lack of other basic services. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.

Physical Conditions: The National Prison Institute (INPEC), which operated the national prisons and oversaw the jails, estimated in 2017 there were 119,126 persons incarcerated in 135 prisons. A total of 69,276 persons were in pretrial detention. Overcrowding existed in men’s and in women’s prisons. INPEC cited several prisons in Cali, Santa Marta, Valledupar, Itagui, and Apartado that were more than 200 percent overcrowded. According to the Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar (ICBF), from 2006 until November, more than 234,000 minors had entered the criminal justice system through the Criminal Responsibility System for Adolescents. Between January and July, 64 children younger than age three were reported to be in prison with their incarcerated mothers.

The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although this sometimes occurred. Juvenile detainees are held in a separate juvenile detention center. The Superior Judiciary Council stated the maximum time that a person may remain in judicial detention facilities is three days. The same rules apply to jails located inside police stations. These regulations were often violated.

The practice of preventive detention, in combination with inefficiencies in the judicial system, continued to exacerbate overcrowding. The government continued to implement procedures introduced in 2017 that provide for the immediate release of some pretrial detainees, including many accused of serious crimes such as aggravated robbery and sexual assault.

Physical abuse by prison guards, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and authorities’ failure to maintain control were problems. The Inspector General’s Office continued to investigate allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. The Inspector General’s Office reported 139 disciplinary investigations against prison guards, including 126 for physical abuse and 13 for sexual crimes.

During the year there were 501 deaths in prisons, jails, pretrial detention, or other detention centers, including 476 attributed to natural causes, 10 attributed to suicide, 10 in which the cause was unknown, and five attributed to accidental causes.

Many prisoners continued to face difficulties receiving adequate medical care. Nutrition and water quality were deficient and contributed to the overall poor health of many inmates. Inmates stated authorities routinely rationed water in many facilities, which officials attributed to city water shortages.

INPEC’s physical structures were generally in poor repair. The Inspector General’s Office noted some facilities had poor ventilation and overtaxed sanitary systems. Prisoners in some high-altitude facilities complained of inadequate blankets and clothing, while prisoners in tropical facilities complained that overcrowding and insufficient ventilation contributed to high temperatures in prison cells. Some prisoners slept on floors without mattresses, while others shared cots in overcrowded cells.

Administration: Authorities investigated credible prisoner complaints of mistreatment and inhuman conditions, including complaints of prison guards soliciting bribes from inmates, but some prisoners asserted the investigations were slow.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups. INPEC required a three-day notice before granting consular access. Some NGOs complained that authorities, without adequate explanation, denied them access to visit prisoners.

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; however, there were allegations that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. CINEP reported 13 cases of arbitrary detention committed by state security forces through June 30.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Colombian National Police (CNP) is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The Migration Directorate, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the immigration authority. The CNP shares law enforcement investigatory duties with the Technical Investigation Body. In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. The government continued to expand education and training of the armed forces in human rights and international humanitarian law.

Some NGOs complained that military investigators, not members of the Attorney General’s Office, were sometimes the first responders in cases of deaths resulting from actions of security forces and might make decisions about possible foul play. By law the Attorney General’s Office is the main entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by security forces. The government made improvements in investigating and trying abuses, but claims of impunity for security force members continued. This was due in some cases to obstruction of justice and opacity in the process by which cases are investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system. Inadequate protection of witnesses and investigators, delay tactics by defense attorneys, the judiciary’s failure to exert appropriate controls over dockets and case progress, and inadequate coordination among government entities that sometimes allowed statutes of limitations to expire–resulting in a defendant’s release from jail before trial–were also significant obstacles.

The military functions under both the old inquisitorial and a newer accusatory system. The military had not trained its criminal justice actors to operate under the accusatory system, which they were to begin to implement in 2017. The military also had not developed an interinstitutional strategy for recruiting, hiring, or training investigators, crime scene technicians, or forensic specialists, which is required under the accusatory system. As such, the military justice system did not exercise criminal investigative authority; all new criminal investigations duties were conducted by judicial police investigators from the CNP and Corps of Technical Investigators.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities must bring detained persons before a judge within 36 hours to determine the validity of the detention, bring formal charges within 30 days, and start a trial within 90 days of the initial detention. Public defenders contracted by the Office of the Ombudsman assisted indigent defendants. Detainees received prompt access to legal counsel and family members as provided for by law. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, this requirement was not always respected. NGOs characterized some arrests as arbitrary detention: arrests allegedly based on tips from informants about persons linked to guerrilla activities, detentions by members of the security forces without a judicial order, detentions based on administrative authority, detentions during military operations or at roadblocks, large-scale detentions, and detentions of persons while they were “exercising their fundamental rights.”

Pretrial Detention: The judicial process moved slowly, and the civilian judicial system suffered from a significant backlog of cases, which led to large numbers of pretrial detainees. The failure of many local military commanders and jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made accounting for all detainees difficult. INPEC estimated that 33 percent of the country’s prison inmates were held in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees were released without a trial because they had already served more than one-third of the maximum sentence for their charges.

Civil society groups complained that authorities subjected some community leaders to extended pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, however, and subornation, corruption, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial functioning.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. While the government began implementing an accusatory system of justice in 2008, the use of delay tactics by defense lawyers to slow or impede proceedings, prosecutors’ heavy caseloads, and other factors diminished the anticipated increased efficiencies and other benefits of adopting the adversarial model. Under the criminal procedure code, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and have the right to confront the trial evidence and witnesses against them, present their own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense). Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal their proceedings. Although defendants have the right to an interpreter, the court system lacked interpreters for less commonly encountered languages. Crimes committed before 2008 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor is a magistrate who investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. In those cases the trial consists of the presentation of evidence and finding of guilt or innocence to a judge for ratification or rejection.

In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most fact finding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at courts-martial.

Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatory systems. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government declared that it did not hold political prisoners; nevertheless, authorities held some members of human rights advocacy groups on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as government harassment against human rights advocates. According to INPEC, the government held 776 persons on charges of rebellion or of aiding and promoting insurgency. The government provided the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regular access to these prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may sue a government agent or entity in the Administrative Court of Litigation for damages resulting from a human rights violation. Although critics complained of delays in the process, the court generally was considered impartial and effective. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the IACHR, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) continued to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to persons, including victims of government abuses, but the government admitted that the pace of restitution was slow. The government did not provide information on the number of those registered who received some form of assistance. The Land Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict.

The Land Restitution Unit reported it had reviewed 276 requests for collective restitution of ethnic territories, covering an area of 17.1 million acres, including 99,754 families, and 114,768 individual restitution claims, of which 15,899 were awaiting final judicial decision. The claims encompassed more than 12 million acres benefitting 52,017 families.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but there were allegations the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Government authorities generally need a judicial order to intercept mail or email or to monitor telephone conversations, including in prisons. Government intelligence agencies investigating terrorist organizations sometimes monitored telephone conversations without judicial authorization; the law bars evidence obtained this way from being used in court.

NGOs continued to accuse domestic intelligence or security entities of spying on lawyers and human rights defenders, threatening them, and breaking into their homes or offices to steal information.

On August 4, the Attorney General’s Office arrested government agents, including three retired army officers, for illegal monitoring activities. Semana magazine alleged the agents illegally wiretapped government and private individuals. According to the Attorney General’s Office, six criminal investigations against state agents had been initiated for surveillance and illegal monitoring of private individuals.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Violence and harassment, as well as the criminalization of libel, inhibited freedom of the press, and the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), through August 30, there were 153 threats against journalists, doubling the 61 threats registered throughout 2014 and exceeding the 129 documented in 2017. FLIP also reported that between January and August, one journalist was illegally detained, 13 were physically assaulted, and 26 were victims of judicial harassment based on defamation and slander. As of July the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 51 active cases of crimes against journalists and had obtained eight sentences.

As of June 30, the National Protection Unit (NPU) provided protection services to 168 journalists. Some NGOs raised concerns about perceived shortcomings in the NPU, such as delays in granting protection and the appropriateness of measures addressing specific threats.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: FLIP alleged some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being physically attacked, mostly by nongovernment actors. FLIP argued the high degree of impunity for those who committed aggressions against journalists was also a factor.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. There is no specific law against slandering public officials, and the government did not use prosecution to prevent media from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, publicly threatened to sue journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported 66 cases were filed against journalists for libel or slander as of August 30, including two new cases filed during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Members of illegal armed groups sought to inhibit freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups.

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. Due to the general climate of violence and impunity, self-censorship occurred both online and offline, particularly within rural communities.

The 2016 investigation continued into past abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit (see section 1.f.).

The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 62 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Some NGOs alleged that riot police (Esmad) used excessive force to break up demonstrations. For example, on December 14, media reported eight students were injured as a result of confrontations between student protesters and the Esmad in Popayan. An unknown number of police officers were also injured.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Freedom of association was limited by threats and acts of violence committed by illegal armed groups against NGOs, indigenous groups, and labor unions.

Although the government does not prohibit membership in most political organizations, membership in organizations that engaged in rebellion against the government, espoused violence, or carried out acts of violence, such as FARC dissidents, the ELN, and other illegal armed groups, was against the law.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, although there were exceptions. Military operations and armed conflict in certain rural areas restricted freedom of movement.

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

According to media reports, on August 31, the navy intercepted a vessel with 22 migrants from Bangladesh, Cameroon, Cuba, Gambia, India, and Pakistan, in the Gulf of Uraba, adjacent to the country. The migrants, who allegedly were bound for Central America, were turned over to the Migration Directorate, the government’s migration monitoring and control authority. The Migration Directorate reported that during 2017, 2,254 Indian citizens, 567 Nepalese, and 510 Bangladeshis were identified as being illegally in Colombia; 554 came from Africa.

In-country Movement: There were no government restrictions on movement within the country. Organized-crime gangs, ELN guerrillas, and other illegal armed groups continued to establish illegal checkpoints on rural roads.

International organizations also reported that illegal armed groups confined rural communities through roadblocks, curfews, car bombs at egress routes, and IEDs in areas where narcotics cultivation and trafficking persisted. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between January and October, more than 1,037,491 persons faced mobility restrictions that limited their access to essential goods and services due to armed incidents and geographical factors. This reflected a 750 percent increase compared with the same period in 2017. Additionally, OCHA identified 56 events in which humanitarian actors and international organizations faced restrictions in access to communities by armed groups.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

There were approximately 7.6 million IDPs in the country, largely a result of the armed conflict. Threats posed by illegal armed groups drove internal displacement in remote areas as well as urban settings. In some areas the FARC withdrawal resulted in a struggle for control by other illegal armed groups causing violence and internal displacement. The government, international organizations, and civil society groups identified various factors driving displacement, including threats, extortion, and physical, psychological, and sexual violence by illegal armed groups against civilian populations, particularly women and girls. Competition and armed confrontation among and within illegal armed groups for resources and territorial control and confrontations between security forces, guerrillas, and organized-crime gangs, in addition to forced recruitment of children or threats of forced recruitment, were also drivers of displacement. Drug trafficking, illegal mining, and large-scale commercial ventures in rural areas also contributed to displacement. Local institutions lacked the capacity in many areas to protect the rights of, and provide public services to, displaced persons and communities at risk of displacement, and as such the government struggled to provide adequate protection or humanitarian assistance to IDPs.

OCHA reported that 30,068 persons had been affected in 103 displacement events between January and October. Approximately 45 percent of the individuals affected were of Afro-Colombian and indigenous origin. Departments with the highest rate of mass displacements included Antioquia, Cordoba, Choco, Narino, and Norte de Santander.

As of July the NPU was providing protection services to 330 land-restitution leaders.

The Victims’ Unit maintained the Single Victims Registry as mandated by law. Despite improvements in the government registration system, IDPs experienced delays in receiving responses to their displacement claims because of a large backlog of claims built up during several months, lack of the unit’s presence in territory, and other constraints. Government policy provides for an appeals process in the case of refusals.

The ELN and organized-crime gangs continued to use force, intimidation, and disinformation to discourage IDPs from registering with the government. International organizations and civil society expressed concern over urban displacement caused by violence stemming from territorial disputes between criminal gangs, some of which had links to larger criminal and narcotics-trafficking groups.

The Victims’ Unit cited extortion, recruitment by illegal armed groups, homicides, and physical and sexual violence as the primary causes of intraurban displacement. UNHCR reported that in some departments displacement disproportionately affected indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups.

According to OCHA, 15 percent of the 30,068 persons affected by displacements were indigenous.

The NGO National Association of Displaced Afrodescendants (AFRODES) stated that threats and violence against Afro-Colombian leaders and communities continued to cause high levels of forced displacement, especially in the Pacific Coast region. OCHA reported that approximately 29 percent of the individuals affected by displacement events were Afro-Colombian. AFRODES and other local NGOs expressed concern that large-scale economic projects, such as agriculture and mining, contributed to displacement in their communities.

By law 52 government agencies are responsible for assisting registered IDPs.

Dozens of international organizations, international NGOs, and domestic nonprofit groups, including the International Organization for Migration, World Food Program, ICRC, UNHCR, and Colombian Red Cross, coordinated with the government to provide emergency relief and long-term assistance to displaced populations.

International organizations and NGOs remained concerned about the slow and insufficient institutional response to displacement. As a result, NGOs took responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to recently displaced individuals. International organizations and civil society reported that a continuing lack of local capacity to accept registrations in high-displacement areas often delayed assistance to persons displaced individually or in smaller groups. Humanitarian organizations attributed the delays to a variety of factors, including the lack of personnel, funding, declaration forms, and training. Insecurity in communities affected by the conflict, including areas in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Choco, Narino, and Norte de Santander, sometimes delayed national and international aid organizations from reaching newly displaced populations.

Despite several government initiatives to enhance IDP access to services and awareness of their rights, in many parts of the country municipalities did not have the resources or capacity to respond to new displacements and provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Many IDPs continued to live in poverty in unhygienic conditions and with limited access to health care, education, shelter, and employment.

Displaced persons also sought protection across international borders. UNHCR previously stated that Colombia was the country of origin for 360,000 refugees and persons in a refugee-like situation, the majority in Ecuador, with additional populations in Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Panama. UNHCR estimated that between 400 and 500 Colombians crossed into Ecuador every month. The governments of Colombia and Ecuador continued to meet throughout the year regarding the situation of Colombian refugees and asylum seekers in Ecuador, and the Colombian government offered a program to assist Colombians abroad who returned to Colombia. Additionally, the government estimated that 300,000 Colombians, many of whom were displaced by the conflict in Colombia and registered as refugees in Venezuela, returned to Colombia from Venezuela during the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to the government, it had approved 47 applications for refugee status since 2009. Between January 1 and October 2, the government reported it received 1,258 new asylum-seeker cases for refugee status, of which three cases were approved. Venezuelans represented approximately 95 percent of applications during the year. Authorities stated that the asylum process took at least one year, during which solicitants were given a permit to stay in the country but were not allowed to work.

During the year there was a large increase in migration flows from Venezuela. According to the Migration Directorate, as of October the country hosted more than one million Venezuelans. While the government generally provided access to the asylum process for persons who requested international protection, many opted for alternative migration status, due to the slow processing time of asylum applications.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary residence permits (PEP) to Venezuelans who met certain eligibility requirements. Approximately 180,000 Venezuelans who entered with passports legally were granted PEPs prior to February, when the program was discontinued. In June the government announced that 442,462 irregular Venezuelans who participated in the government’s census exercise would be eligible for PEPs until December 2. As of November approximately 255,000 of the 442,462 Venezuelans eligible for PEPs had requested the residence permit, and other Venezuelans were in the registration process. A new registration period for the PEP was announced December 27. PEPs provide access to work permits, access to the social insurance system, and the ability to open bank accounts. The temporary residency permit is valid for up to two years.

 

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices without punishment. The World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators reflected that government corruption was a serious problem. Revenues from transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, exacerbated corruption.

Corruption: On March 7, the Supreme Court sentenced former top anticorruption official Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivera to four years and 10 months in prison on corruption charges. Related reporting led the Attorney General’s Office to more than 25 criminal investigations and unveiled a corruption network throughout the justice system, other government bodies, and Congress. From August 1, 2016, to year’s end, the Attorney General’s Office had undertaken approximately 2,330 corruption investigations.

Financial Disclosure: By law public officials must file annual financial disclosure forms with the tax authority. The information is not made public. The law states that persons who intend to hold public office or work as contractors for the government for more than three months shall submit a statement of assets and income, as well as information on their private economic activity. The Administrative Department of Public Service is in charge of preparing the required forms, and the human resources chief in each entity is responsible for verifying the information submitted. Congress maintained a website on which members could voluntarily post their financial information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

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

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

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

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

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

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

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

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

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

Indigenous People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

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

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 unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, and it prohibits antiunion discrimination. Members of associated workers’ cooperatives are not allowed to form unions, since the law recognizes members of a cooperative as owners. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police from forming or joining unions. The law provides for automatic recognition of unions that obtain 25 signatures from potential members and that comply with a registration process. Public-sector employees legally have the right to bargain collectively. The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining in practice. Workers faced some obstacles to exercising those rights, and the government faced numerous challenges effectively enforcing applicable laws governing those two rights.

The law permits associated workers’ cooperatives (CTAs), collective pacts, and union contracts. Under collective pacts employers may negotiate accords on pay and labor conditions with workers in workplaces where no union is present or where a union represents less than one-third of employees. Law and regulations prohibit the use of CTAs and collective pacts to undermine the right to organize and bargain collectively, including by extending better conditions to nonunion workers through such pacts. Through a union contract, a company may contract a union, at times formed explicitly for this purpose, for a specific job or work; the union then in essence serves as an employer for its members. Workers who belong to a union that has a union contract with a company do not have a direct employment relationship with either the company or the union. Labor disputes for workers under a union contract may be decided through an arbitration panel versus labor courts if both parties agree.

The law does not permit members of the armed forces, police, and persons performing “essential public services” to strike. Before conducting a strike, unions must follow prescribed legal procedures, including entering into a conversation period with the employer, presenting a list of demands, and gaining majority approval in the union for a strike. The law limits strikes to periods of contract negotiations or collective bargaining and allows employers to fire trade unionists who participate in strikes or work stoppages ruled illegal by the courts.

The government has the authority to fine labor-rights violators. The government sought to enforce most applicable labor laws, but a lack of an inspection strategy, as well as an overburdened judicial system, inhibited speedy and consistent application. The maximum penalty for violations of law, including those that prohibit the misuse of CTAs, is 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage, or COP 3.4 billion ($1.07 million), which is sufficient to deter violations if levied consistently. The law also stipulates that offenders repeatedly misusing CTAs or other labor relationships shall receive the maximum penalty and may be subject to losing their legal status to operate. Employers who engage in antiunion practices may also be imprisoned for up to five years, although government officials admitted a fine was more likely than imprisonment. Prohibited practices include impeding workers’ right to strike, meet, or otherwise associate, and extending better conditions to members of collective pacts than to union members. Through the first nine months of the year, the government reported finalizing 55 fines on certain subcontracting entities for abusive forms of subcontracting at a value of COP 8.24 billion ($2.6 million).

The Ministry of Labor’s Special Investigations Unit continued to exercise its power to investigate and impose sanctions in any jurisdiction. The vice minister for labor relations decides on a case-by-case basis whether to assign the Special Investigations Unit or the regional inspectors to investigate certain sites. The unit was reportedly overburdened with cases, resulting in denials of recent union requests for review by the unit.

The Ministry of Labor leads a tripartite Inter-Institutional Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Workers, with participation by the government, organized labor groups, and business community. The commission met three times during the year, in the departments of Valle del Cauca and Cauca.

As part of its commitments under the 2011 Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights (Labor Action Plan), the government continued to take steps to protect internationally recognized labor rights. Labor inspections by the Ministry of Labor for abusive subcontracting in the five priority sectors of palm oil, sugar, ports, mines, and cut flowers remained infrequent, however. Critics claimed inspections lacked necessary rigor, assessed fines were not collected, and abusive subcontracting continued. In the first nine months of the year, there appeared to be no fines collected for illegal labor intermediation in any of the five priority sectors, and only one new fine was imposed for this violation in each of the cut flower and mining sectors. The government continued to engage in regular meetings with unions and civil society groups.

The Ministry of Labor, in collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO), continued a virtual training program to prepare labor inspectors to identify antiunion conduct. It also implemented methods, including contract and process maps, as strategic planning tools to prioritize interventions. The ministry continued to employ a telephone- and internet-based complaint mechanism to report alleged labor violations. Union members complained that existing systems did not allow citizens to register anonymous complaints and noted that complaints registered through the telephone and internet systems do not result in action.

Judicial police, the Technical Investigation Body, and prosecutors investigating criminal cases of threats and killings are required to determine during the initial phase of an investigation whether a victim is an active or retired union member or is actively engaged in union formation and organization, but it was unclear whether they did so. It could take several months to transfer cases from regional field offices of the Attorney General’s Office to the Attorney General’s Human Rights Directorate, and cases are transferred only with the approval of the attorney general in response to direct requests, instead of automatically.

The government continued to include in its protection program for labor activists persons engaged in efforts to form a union, as well as former unionists under threat because of their past activities. Through July the NPU provided protection to 377 trade union leaders or members (others protected included 168 journalists, 780 human rights advocates, and 330 land restitution claimants). Approximately 8.6 percent of the NPU’s budget was dedicated to unionist protection. Between January 1 and July, the NPU processed 306 risk assessments of union leaders or members; 100 of those cases were assessed as posing an “extraordinary threat,” and the NPU provided them protection measures. The NPU reported that during the year the average time needed to implement protection measures upon completion of a risk analysis was 65 days in regular cases or five days for emergency cases. NGOs, however, complained about slow processing times.

The protection and relocation of teachers falls under the Ministry of National Education and the departmental education secretaries, but the NPU retains some responsibilities for the risk analysis and protection of family members. Through July 31, the NPU evaluated 341 threat cases against teachers and found 74 to be of extraordinary risk.

In cases of unionist killings from previous years, the pace of investigations and convictions remained slow, and high rates of impunity continued. Labor groups stated more needed to be done to address impunity for perpetrators of violence against trade unionists and the large number of threat cases. The Attorney General’s Office indicated it prioritized cases in order of severity and had a backlog of lower-priority cases. As of July 31, the Attorney General’s Office reported 765 sentences against 626 persons in cases of violence against unionists since 2006 that were filed in the Human Rights Directorate.

Violence, threats, harassment, and other practices against trade unionists continued to affect the exercise of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. According to the Attorney General’s Office, through September 19, 10 teachers were registered as victims in cases of homicide.

The Attorney General’s Office reported the killing of 18 trade unionists during the year. There was progress in the investigation of several of these cases, with one case already receiving a sentence and four cases in the prosecution phase. The National Union School (ENS), a labor rights NGO and think tank, reported 28 trade unionists were killed. ENS and other labor groups stated that focusing on killings alone masked the true nature and scope of the violence against labor activists. Labor groups noted that in some regions nonlethal violations continued to increase. ENS reported 136 death threats, six nonlethal attacks, two cases of forced displacement, four cases of harassment, and one illegal raid.

Unions cited multiple instances in which companies fired employees who formed or sought to form new unions. Some employers continued to use temporary contracts, service agencies, and other forms of subcontracting, including cooperatives, to limit worker rights and protections. Fines assessed by the government did little to dissuade violators because fines were often not collected. Formalization agreements in firms with illegal subcontracting increased during the year. In the first nine months of the year, the government reported 2,606 workers benefited from 29 formalization agreements that the Ministry of Labor reached with employers in key sectors, including agriculture, mining, manufacturing, education, and transport. Labor rights groups expressed concern that previously signed formalization agreements were not sufficiently monitored by the ministry.

Labor confederations and NGOs reported that business owners in several sectors used “simplified stock corporations” (SAS), union contracts, foundations, or temporary service agencies in attempts to circumvent legal restrictions on cooperatives. While in theory SAS workers may exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively with SAS management, it appeared that in some cases the SAS had little or no control over the conditions of employment. The Ministry of Labor stated that an SAS, like any corporate structure, may be fined for labor violations if they occurred. Labor confederations and NGOs reported these enforcement actions did not address the scope of abusive subcontracting and illegal labor intermediation in the country.

According to ENS, Indupalma, a large employer in the palm sector located in the municipality of San Alberto, Cesar Department, previously fined for employing more than 1,200 workers through illegal cooperatives, formalized 592 workers in October through a formalization agreement reached with the Ministry of Labor.

Metal and mineworkers’ union SINTRAIME reported that inspections for abusive subcontracting carried out by the Ministry of Labor at the Drummond coalmines were ineffective in safeguarding the freedom of workers to organize.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases, and there continued to be reports that such practices occurred. The law prescribes punishments of 13 to 23 years’ imprisonment plus fines for forced labor violations.

There were reports ELN guerrillas and organized-crime gangs used forced labor, including forced child labor, in coca cultivation and illegal mining in areas outside government control as well as forced criminality, such as extortion, in urban areas. The ICBF indicated that between November 16, 1999, and July 31, the number of children and adolescents who had demobilized was 6,512, of whom 709 were indigenous and 482 Afro-Colombian. As part of a temporary bilateral cease-fire between the government and the ELN from October 1, 2017, to January 9, the ELN committed to stop the recruitment of minors. High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos, however, indicated the ELN continued to recruit minors during the year.

Forced labor in other sectors, including organized begging, mining, agriculture, forced recruitment by illegal armed actors, and domestic service, also remained a serious problem. Afro-Colombians, indigenous Colombians, and inhabitants of marginalized urban areas were at the highest risk of forced labor, domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced recruitment. In September authorities in Bogota sentenced Claudia Maritza Castiblanco Parra to 12 years in prison on conviction for the forced labor of an indigenous woman hired as a domestic servant. This was the first conviction for labor trafficking of an individual in domestic servitude.

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 sets the minimum age for employment at 15 and for hazardous work at 18. Children 15 and 16 years of age may work no more than 30 hours per week, and children age 17 may work no more than 40 hours per week. Children younger than age 15 may work in arts, sports, or recreational or cultural activities for a maximum of 14 hours per week. In all these cases, working children and adolescents must have signed documentation filed by their parents and approved by a labor inspector or other local authority.

The law prohibits child workers from working at night or where there is a risk of bodily harm or exposure to excessive heat, cold, or noise. During the year the government updated its hazardous work regulations in consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations to include an extensive list of 36 kinds of activities that are prohibited to children, including in agriculture, hunting and forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying, manufacturing, construction, transport and storage, health services, and defense.

The law authorizes inspectors to issue fines of up to 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage for labor law violations, including child-labor violations, which would be sufficient to deter violations, but the government did not enforce the law effectively in all cases. A violation deemed to endanger a child’s life or threaten moral values may be punished by temporary or permanent closure of the establishment. Nationwide, labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing child labor laws and supervising the formal sector through periodic inspections. An estimated 80 percent of all child labor, however, occurred in the informal sector of the economy.

Government agencies carried out several activities to eradicate and prevent exploitative child labor. With ILO assistance the government continued to improve cooperation among national, regional, and municipal governments on child labor issues. It also continued to employ a monitoring system to register working children, although the system was not always regularly updated. The government also sought to reduce demand for child labor through public awareness and training efforts, often working with international and civil society organizations.

The government, through the Ministry of Labor, followed the National Policy to Prevent and Eliminate Child Labor and Protect the Young Worker, adopted in 2017. It also continued its roundtable discussion group, which included government representatives, members of the three largest labor confederations, and civil society. The group concentrated its efforts on formalizing an integrated registration system for information on child labor that would permit public and private entities to register information about child workers.

The government continued to combat illegal mining and formalize artisanal mining production, with goals including the elimination of child labor and forced labor. Regional ICBF offices were charged with leading efforts to combat child labor in mining at the local level, working with the Ministry of Labor and other government agencies to coordinate responses. The Department for Social Prosperity continued to implement the More Families in Action program to combat poverty through conditional cash transfers; it included a specific focus on addressing child labor. In interagency child labor meetings, the Ministry of Labor reported that whichever government presence was available in the area–whether police, the ICBF, teachers, or the Administrative Department for Social Prosperity–attended to children found working in illegal mining operations. While all agencies had directives on how to handle and report child labor cases, it was unclear whether all cases were referred to the ICBF.

The ICBF continued to implement several initiatives aimed at preventing child labor, including producing an extensive section of its website designed specifically for young audiences to educate children on child labor, their rights, and how to report child labor. The Ministry of Labor continued its work with the Network against Child Labor, in which the ministry operates alongside member businesses that pledged to work within the network to prevent and eradicate child labor.

Child labor remained a problem in the informal and illicit sectors. Although the government does not publish data on child labor, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) collects and publishes information on the economic activities of children ages five to 17 through a module in its Comprehensive Household Economic Survey during the fourth quarter of each calendar year. According to DANE’s 2017 survey, 7 percent of children were working, with 44 percent engaged in agriculture, livestock raising, fishing, and hunting, and 30 percent in commerce, hotels, and restaurant work. To a lesser extent, children engaged in the manufacturing and transport sectors. Children also routinely performed domestic work, where they cared for children, prepared meals, tended gardens, and carried out shopping duties.

Significant rates of child labor occurred in the production of clay bricks, coal, emeralds, gold, coca, and pornography. Children were also engaged in child labor in street vending, domestic work, begging, and garbage scavenging. There were also reports that children engaged in child labor in agriculture, including coffee production and small family production centers in the unrefined brown sugar market, as well as selling inexpensive Venezuelan gasoline. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children).

Prohibitions against children working in mining and construction were reportedly largely ignored. Some educational institutions modify schedules during harvest seasons so that children may help on the family farm. Children worked in artisanal mining of coal, clay, emeralds, and gold under dangerous conditions and in many instances with the approval or insistence of their parents. The government’s efforts to assist children working in illegal mining focused on the departments of Antioquia and Boyaca.

There continued to be instances of child trafficking with the purpose of forced labor in mines, quarries, and private homes. According to government officials and international organizations, illegal drug traders and other illicit actors recruited children, sometimes forcibly, to work in their illegal activities. The ELN and organized-crime gangs forced children into sexual servitude or criminality to serve as combatants or coca pickers (see section 1.g.). Children working in the informal sector, including as street vendors, were also vulnerable to labor trafficking. The ICBF identified children and adolescents who qualified for and received social services.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, ethnicity, sex, religion, political preference, national origin or citizenship, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or infection with other communicable diseases, or social status. Complaints of quid pro quo sexual harassment are filed not with the Ministry of Labor but with the criminal courts. The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases.

Unemployment disproportionately affected women, who faced hiring discrimination and received salaries that generally were not commensurate with their education and experience. Sisma Mujer reported on average women were paid 28 percent less than men. In a previous year, a senior government official estimated that 85 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. Afro-Colombian labor unions reported discrimination in the port sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal minimum monthly wage is roughly twice the amount of the poverty line; however, almost half of the total workforce earned less than the minimum wage.

The law provides for a regular workweek of 48 hours and a minimum rest period of eight hours within the week. Exceptions to this may be granted by the Ministry of Labor and were frequently granted in the mining sector. The law stipulates that workers receive premium compensation for nighttime work, hours worked in excess of 48 per week, and work performed on Sundays. The law permits compulsory overtime only in exceptional cases where the work is considered essential for the company’s functioning.

The law provides for workers’ occupational safety and health in the formal sector. The legal standards were generally up to date and appropriate for the main formal industries. The law does not cover informal-sector workers, including many mining and agricultural workers. In general the law protects workers’ rights to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although some violations of this right were reported during the year. In cases of formal grievances, authorities generally protected employees in this situation.

The Ministry of Labor is required to enforce labor laws in the formal sector, including occupational safety and health regulations, through periodic inspections by labor inspectors. The government reported that as of April, the ministry employed 868 inspectors countrywide, although not all conducted worksite inspections; 778 of them were in provisional appointments. In April the Civil Service Commission held a national exam that produced a list of eligible candidates for permanent appointment as labor inspectors and other civil servant positions. The exam was challenged, potentially delaying appointments. Individual labor violations can bring fines of up to 5,000 times the minimum monthly wage, but infractions for occupational safety and health can trigger fines of only up to 1,000 times the minimum monthly wage. Unionists stated that more fines needed to be collected to impact occupational safety and health issues.

While the government’s labor inspectors undertook administrative actions to enforce the minimum wage in the formal sector, the government did not conduct any action to do so in the informal sector.

The Ministry of Labor continued to promote formal employment generation. As of the third quarter of the year, DANE reported that 8.6 million, or 39 percent, of the 22 million workers employed nationwide pay into the pension system. The proportion of informal workers in cities and metropolitan areas was 48 percent, according to DANE. The government continued to support complementary social security programs to increase the employability of extremely poor individuals, displaced persons, and the elderly.

Nonunion workers, particularly those in the agricultural and port sectors, reportedly worked under hazardous conditions because they feared losing their jobs through subcontracting mechanisms or informal arrangements if they criticized abuses. Some unionized workers who alleged they suffered on-the-job injuries complained that companies illegally fired them in retaliation for filing workers compensation claims. Only the courts may order reinstatement, and workers complained the courts were backlogged, slow, and corrupt. The Ministry of Labor may sanction a company found to have broken the law in this way, but it may offer no other guarantees to workers.

Security forces reported that illegal armed actors, including FARC dissidents, the ELN, and organized-crime groups, engaged in illegal mining of gold, coal, coltan, nickel, copper, and other minerals. Illegal mines were particularly common in the departments of Antioquia, Bolivar, Cauca, Cordoba, Choco, Narino, and Tolima.

According to the National Mining Agency, through August 23, a total of 61 workers died as a result of accidents in the mines, the majority due to cave-ins.

Ecuador

Executive Summary

Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. In April 2017 voters elected President Lenin Moreno from the ruling party Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland) and chose members of the National Assembly in elections that were generally free and fair, marking a successful democratic transfer of power after the two-term presidency of Rafael Correa.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of torture and abuse by police officers and prison guards; harsh prison conditions; official corruption at high levels of government; criminalization of libel, although there were no reported cases during the year; violence against women; and the use of child labor.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, as it engaged in efforts to strengthen democratic governance and promote respect for human rights.

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

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

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

On July 3, the National Assembly announced the creation of a temporary committee to investigate the conclusions reached by a 2012 government panel convened by former president Correa to investigate the 2010 killing of air force general Jorge Gabela. The panel had concluded the act was perpetrated by “common criminals” and was not part of a larger plot. General Gabela was an outspoken critic of the Correa administration’s plan to purchase Indian-made Dhruv helicopters in 2007 and 2008. Multiple Dhruv helicopters crashed due to mechanical failure, killing several persons.

b. Disappearance

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

On July 3, the National Court of Justice ordered former president Rafael Correa’s pretrial detention and extradition after he failed to appear before the court in Quito, as required under the terms of the court’s June 18 decision to include him in the investigation of the 2012 kidnapping of former opposition legislator Fernando Balda. On November 7, the court ordered Correa, his top intelligence chief, and two former police agents to stand trial. Since the crime of kidnapping cannot be tried in absentia, proceedings against Correa were suspended until his return to the country, either voluntarily or by extradition. Correa continued to live in Belgium at year’s end and contested the court’s decision.

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

While the law prohibits torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment, there were a few reports police officers and prison guards tortured and abused suspects and prisoners.

On November 14, the Criminal Court of Azuay Province found 37 police officers guilty of the excessive use of force against inmates during a 2016 raid on Turi prison and sentenced them to 106 days in prison. The court also fined the officers $500 each (the official currency is the U.S. dollar) and ordered the state to provide medical and psychological services to the affected prisoners. The court found four police officers not guilty and allowed one to complete her sentence later due to health concerns.

In August nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported they continued to receive new allegations of torture involving inmates at Turi prison, separate from the 2016 case. Prisoners claimed they were tortured and subjected to other forms of degrading treatment, including arbitrary beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures, and electric shocks. The daily newspaper La Hora reported in August 2017 that a doctor confirmed a prisoner’s claims of torture and other forms of degrading treatment during an examination. The government continued to investigate these claims at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to food shortages, overcrowding, harassment by security guards against prisoners and visitors, physical and sexual abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: The 2016 earthquake, which damaged the penitentiary facility in the town of Portoviejo, exacerbated overcrowding in some prisons, causing relocation of prisoners to other facilities that were already over capacity. In an August 23 article in the daily newspaper El Comercio, Rosana Alvarado, then minister of justice, human rights, and worship, reported the prison population was 37 percent above designated capacity.

Prisoners and human rights activists complained of lack of resources for inmates. Relatives of the inmates reported public officials expected prisoners to buy provisions from the prison centers on a monthly basis and that prison officials did not allow families of inmates to provide basic supplies purchased outside the prison, including clothing and toiletries.

In some facilities health measures were sufficient only for emergency care. Prisoners complained of a lack of medicine and access to dental care; harsh living conditions, including sanitary problems; insufficient food and the poor nutritional quality of the food; and lack of heating and hot water.

Protecting the health and safety of prisoners remained a problem. NGOs expressed concern about mixing prisoners from various criminal gangs in prison units. On March 9, then justice minister Alvarado opened an investigation into the shooting of an inmate in Turi prison two days earlier during an arms control operation carried out by the police intelligence unit. The Ecumenical Commission for Human Rights, a local NGO, reported that as of August 22, it had received information concerning deaths due to prisoner-on-prisoner violence.

On February 15, a preliminary trial hearing was held on the 2017 allegations regarding a criminal extortion network at the Turi prison. Public Prosecutor Maria Belen Corredores accused the former director of Turi prison and two inmates of running a network that extorted at least 67 individuals inside the prison. Former minister of interior Diego Fuentes reported in 2017 that a criminal network in Turi prison had extorted relatives of inmates by demanding payments between $200 and $800 in exchange for the inmates’ physical safety. According to local NGOs, prison authorities threatened family members of prisoners who died or suffered serious injuries to prevent them from making public complaints.

On August 6, human rights activist Anunziatta Valdez reported female visitors to prisons continued to be subject to degrading treatment, including being forced to remove their clothing and have their genitalia illuminated by flashlights, despite 2016 guidelines that prohibit bodily searches of visitors and allow the use of body scanners. While law enforcement officials denied the accusations by Valdez, they noted body scanners might not be working in all prisons.

As part of a government reorganization and downsizing plan to reduce public spending, in August the government announced the elimination of the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Worship, whose responsibilities in prison administration were to be transferred to another entity. In October Minister of Interior Maria Paula Romo announced a technical secretariat would assume responsibility for managing the prison system within 90 days of the signing of a new decree in November.

Administration: Authorities sometimes conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. Public defenders assisted inmates in filing complaints and other motions. Some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and corruption.

Independent Monitoring: NGOs continued to report restrictions to monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. According to the human rights NGO Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, authorities failed to respond to many requests by independent observers to visit prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but there were reports that provincial and local authorities did not always observe these provisions. According to NGOs, illegal detentions continued to occur during the year.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police maintains internal security and law enforcement and is under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. The military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense and is responsible for external security. The military also had some domestic security responsibilities until August 1, when the Constitutional Court repealed a 2015 constitutional amendment authorizing the armed forces to provide comprehensive support to the domestic security of the state. Police and military share responsibility for border enforcement. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Interior. The Internal Affairs Unit of the National Police investigates killings by police and can refer cases to the courts. An intelligence branch within the military has a role similar to the police internal affairs unit. The law states that the State Prosecutor’s Office must be involved in all investigations concerning human rights abuses, including unlawful killings and forced disappearance.

Insufficient training and poor supervision continued to impair the effectiveness of the National Police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and the armed forces. The government has mechanisms as outlined in the constitution to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.

Police received required human rights instruction in basic training, after promotions, and in training academies for specialized units. The police academy integrated human rights training throughout a four-year training program for cadets.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires authorities to issue specific written arrest orders prior to detention, and a judge must charge a suspect with a specific criminal offense within 24 hours of arrest. Authorities generally observed this time limit, although in some provinces initial detention was often considerably longer. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them. By law, if the initial investigation report is incriminating, the judge, upon the prosecutor’s request, may order pretrial detention. Judges at times ordered a detainee’s release pending trial with the use of ankle bracelets.

Detainees have a constitutional right to an attorney. Those without financial means to pay for an attorney have the right to request a court-appointed attorney from the Public Defenders’ Office. Although there were many available court-appointed defenders, the number of cases and limited time to prepare for the defense continued to represent a disadvantage during trials.

The law entitles detainees prompt access to lawyers and family members, but NGOs continued to report delays depending on the circumstances and the willingness of local courts and prison guards to enforce the law.

Pretrial Detention: Corruption and general judicial inefficiency caused trial delays. Police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges did not receive adequate training. In September 2017 then justice minister Alvarado reported that 36 percent of inmates awaited sentencing. The length of pretrial detention did not usually exceed the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, outside pressure and corruption impaired the judicial process. Legal experts, bar associations, and NGOs reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. In April the independent Transition Council on Citizen Participation and Social Control (T-CPCCS) began its evaluation of judicial entities, as mandated by a February 4 national referendum. On June 4 and August 31, respectively, the T-CPCCS announced a unanimous decision to remove the leading members of the Judicial Council and Constitutional Court from their positions for failing to carry out their duties and responsibilities. The T-CPCCS cited examples of the arbitrary appointment and removal of judges based on political criteria.

On September 30, media reported 222 individuals had been found guilty of charges stemming from their involvement in the 2010 protest, known as 30-S, against austerity measures imposed by former president Correa’s government. Seventy-four investigations of law enforcement and military officers continued. On February 20, law enforcement and military officers previously indicted for participating in 30-S demanded an investigation into former government and intelligence officials whom they accused of manipulating and altering evidence during their trial preparation. This request followed public statements made by the former comptroller, General Carlos Polit, that officials had contracted “services” to alter evidence in the 30-S investigations. The families of the five persons killed during 30-S (two police officers, two military members, and a university student) continued to demand the government provide them full access to information and conduct a transparent investigation.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, although delays occurred frequently. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges in detail. The accused have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided and to appeal. Defendants have the right to free assistance from an interpreter, but some defendants complained about the lack of an interpreter at court hearings. Defendants have the right to adequate time and resources to prepare their defense, although in practice this was not always the case, and delays in providing translation services made this difficult for some foreign defendants. Foreigners also often faced a language barrier with their public defenders, which impaired their ability to present a defense. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. The accused may also present evidence and call witnesses, invoke the right against self-incrimination, and confront and cross-examine witnesses.

Judges reportedly rendered decisions more quickly or more slowly due to political pressure or fear in some cases. There were reported delays of up to one year in scheduling some trials.

Criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing congested dockets in criminal cases produced “simplified” proceedings in pretrial stages, resulting in faster resolution of cases. Prisoners reported that after cases reached a higher court, they had lengthy delays in receiving dates for preliminary hearings.

The regular court system tried most defendants, although some indigenous groups judged members independently under their own community rules for violations that occurred in indigenous territory.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil courts and the Administrative Conflicts Tribunal, generally considered independent and impartial, handle lawsuits seeking damages for, or immediate ending of, human rights violations. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically and to regional human rights bodies.

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

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

On March 19, President Moreno announced the National Secretariat of Intelligence would be restructured and renamed in response to criticism that it had engaged in physical surveillance of human rights, environmental and labor activists, and opposition politicians during the Correa administration. On September 21, President Moreno issued a decree establishing the Center for Strategic Intelligence to oversee and coordinate the production of intelligence information that contributes to the public security of the state.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but other laws restrict this right. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported the 2013 communication law “institutionalized repressive mechanisms, established state regulation of editorial content, and gave authorities the power to impose arbitrary sanctions and censor the press.” During a visit in August, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) rapporteur for freedom of expression, Edison Lanza, highlighted improvements in freedom of expression but said the 2013 law would remain a “freedom of expression guillotine” unless adequately reformed. The rapporteur also noted the need for reforms to the criminal code’s treatment of “slander” and “insult,” which do not meet international standards. A Constitutional Court ruling in August to repeal 2015 constitutional amendments re-established communication as a right and not a public service.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could usually discuss matters of general public interest publicly or privately without reprisal, although various civil society groups, journalists, and academics argued the law limited their freedom of expression and restricted independent media. Under the 2013 law, media outlets are legally responsible for the opinions of their contributors. The 2014 criminal code prohibits citizens from threatening or insulting the president or executive branch, and penalties for violators range from six months’ to two years’ imprisonment or a fine of $16 to $77. There were no reports the government invoked these laws to restrict freedom of expression during the year.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, including those critical of the government.

On January 16, independent watchdog organization Freedom House classified the country as partially free. Although the 2013 law remains in place, journalists reported attacks on the media decreased and that government-aligned public media outlets were more objective and balanced in both their news reporting and editorial pages. The domestic freedom of expression watchdog group Fundamedios registered 156 attacks on freedom of expression from May 2017 to May 2018. This was down from 499 and 491 attacks on freedom of expression reported in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

The law limits the ability of media to provide election coverage during the official campaign period. A constitutional court ruling in 2012 affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but it left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

The law includes the offense of inciting “financial panic” with a penalty of imprisonment for five to seven years for any person who divulges false information that causes alarm in the population and provokes massive withdrawals of deposits from a financial institution that places at risk the institution’s stability.

The law mandates the broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet free of charge. President Moreno reduced the amount of time required for presidential broadcasts to one 15-minute weekly program from the three- to four-hour weekly program by his predecessor. In July 2017 President Moreno replaced the general editor of the state-owned newspaper El Telegrafo, which traditionally strongly advocated for the Correa administration and its policies.

The law calls for the redistribution of broadcast frequencies to divide media ownership between private media (33 percent), public media (33 percent), and community media (34 percent). In August 2017 the redistribution of frequencies was suspended following protests by opposition groups about the lack of transparency in the government-run tendering process for airwaves. On May 28, the Office of the Comptroller General annulled the awarding of broadcast frequencies from 2016 to August 2017, citing multiple irregularities. During a visit in August, the IACHR freedom of expression rapporteur noted that under former president Correa there were obvious irregularities in the awarding of broadcast frequencies and emphasized that the state did not need one-third of the available frequencies to inform the public.

Violence and Harassment: On July 20, two reporters from online political news blog La Posta began to receive threatening telephone calls and online attacks against their website following their announcement of a crowdfunding campaign for a trip to Belgium to investigate former president Correa. The harassment included the posting of pictures of their residences and personal telephone numbers in addition to threats of harm against them and their family members. On July 24, the reporters filed a complaint with the Office of the Public Prosecutor.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In contrast with 2017, the government did not penalize those who published items counter to government guidelines described by the law. There also were no reports of direct or indirect government censorship of media. On May 14, President Moreno announced the elimination of the Superintendence of Information and Communication (SUPERCOM). This control entity issued 429 monetary fines against media outlets and reporters between 2014 and 2017. On March 7, the T-CPCCS unanimously dismissed the former head of SUPERCOM, Carlos Ochoa, based on a December 2017 ruling by the Comptroller General’s Office that found Ochoa guilty of improper use of public resources and fined him $115,810 for his purchase of a private vehicle with funds from a state television station.

The law requires the media to “cover and broadcast facts of public interest” and defines the failure to do so as a form of prior censorship. The law also imposes local content quotas on the media, including a requirement that a minimum of 60 percent of content on television and 50 percent of radio content be produced domestically. Additionally, the law requires that advertising be produced domestically and prohibits any advertising deemed to be sexist, racist, or discriminatory in nature. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Health must approve all advertising for food or health products.

Libel/Slander Laws: In contrast with 2017, there were no reports the government used libel laws against media companies, journalists, and private individuals. Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. The law includes a prohibition of “media lynching,” described as the “coordinated and repetitive dissemination of information, directly or by third parties through the media, intended to discredit a person or company or reduce its public credibility.” The exact terms of this rule remained vaguely defined but threatened to limit the media’s ability to conduct investigative reporting.

Nongovernmental Impact: On April 13, President Moreno confirmed the deaths of three members of a local news team who were kidnapped on March 26 by a narcoguerrilla group called the Oliver Sinisterra Front, led by Walter Arizala, alias “Guacho.” The team was kidnapped while reporting on drug-related violence in Esmeraldas Province along the northern border with Colombia. President Moreno requested the IACHR’s technical support for investigation of the incident. In July the IACHR established a special mechanism, with the support of the government, that provided access to information and facilitated discussions with security personnel and the families of the victims. Some journalists expressed concern actions by organized-crime groups on the northern border could lead to self-censorship.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: President Moreno publicly highlighted the important role the press plays in fighting corruption. He promoted a national dialogue between civil society representatives and government agencies to address differences in opinion regarding the 2013 communications law. On July 12, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a press release underscoring the government’s efforts “in working to improve relations with the press, encouraging investigative journalists, and vowing to reform the repressive communication law.”

President Moreno invited IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Edison Lanza to visit the country to verify the country’s compliance with its international obligations on promoting and protecting the right to freedom of expression. This was the first visit by the IACHR special rapporteur in more than a decade. The IACHR’s 2014 request to visit the country had been denied by the previous government. Following an August 23 meeting between President Moreno and Lanza, the government announced the creation of a Committee for the Protection of Journalists, charged with drafting security protocols, providing training, and ensuring that threats against journalists are investigated. Lanza noted the IACHR put in place a special mechanism with the support of the government to investigate the kidnapping and killing of the El Comercio team.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

A government regulation requires that internet service providers comply with all information requests from the superintendent of telecommunications, allowing access to client addresses and information without a judicial order. The law holds a media outlet responsible for online comments from readers if the outlet has not established mechanisms for commenters to register their personal data (including national identification number) or created a system to delete offensive comments. The law also prohibits media from using information obtained from social media unless they can verify the author of the information.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 57 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

Early in the year, the Pichincha Provincial Prosecutor’s Office recommended the closure of the Ministry of Interior’s investigation into Luis Vivanco, former editor in chief of La Hora, for his tweets that “attempt[ed] to disparage the actions carried out by the government in its permanent fight against corruption.” As of October 31, authorities had not informed Vivanco if they would close the case.

Following his October visit, UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression David Kaye noted the Moreno administration appeared to have turned away from the previous administration’s efforts to restrict and punish online activity.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In August the National Assembly passed a set of reforms effectively repealing a 2016 law that had eliminated public funding for research at universities operating under international agreements.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Public rallies require prior government permits, which authorities usually granted.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association. In October 2017 President Moreno issued Decree 193 to replace executive Decrees 16 and 739 that regulated freedom of association. NGOs claimed former president Correa used the latter two decrees–which required all social organizations, including NGOs, to reregister in a new online registration system within one year of the decree or face dissolution–to stymie opposition and limit foreign influence. Following implementation of the new decree, the government allowed the reincorporation of two organizations Correa had dissolved.

Decree 193 simplifies the application process to obtain and maintain legal status for NGOs and social groups by relaxing and eliminating some bureaucratic hurdles. The decree closes loopholes exploited by the former government to infiltrate and fracture NGOs, including the elimination of a clause forcing groups to provide membership to any person, even against the will of the other members. International NGOs faced fewer restrictions on working in the country under the new decree. It ends the policy requiring government entities to collect information through the country’s diplomatic missions abroad on the “legality, solvency, and seriousness” of foreign NGOs before they are allowed to work in the country. Civil society representatives said the new decree was a step in the right direction but lamented that it leaves in place some Correa-era policies, including the right of the government to dissolve organizations for poorly defined reasons.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The 2017 Human Mobility Law codifies protections guaranteed to migrants in the constitution, advances the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, and establishes provisions such as equal treatment before the law for migrants, nonrefoulement, and noncriminalization of irregular migration. As of September the government was developing regulations to implement the law. During the year large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers, and the country’s economic slowdown, strained the government’s immigration and social services, which worked closely with local, international, and civil society organizations to cover assistance gaps. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Migrants and refugees, especially women and children, occasionally experienced sexual and gender-based violence. UNHCR and local NGOs reported that refugee women and children were susceptible to violence and trafficking in persons for the purposes of sex trafficking and forced labor. They also reported the forced recruitment of adolescents into criminal activity, such as drug trafficking and robbery, on the northern border, particularly by organized-crime gangs that also operated in Colombia. Government authorities provided basic protection for vulnerable populations; however, the influx of migrants and refugees during the year placed a significant strain on the government’s capacity to address and prevent abuses against migrants and refugees.

The government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to migrants, internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other vulnerable persons of concern.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

From January to April, a series of attacks by a narcoguerrilla group against military and police personnel and installations in Esmeraldas Province, including the bombing of a police station, led persons to leave the area for security concerns. The Catholic Church provided shelter to the internally displaced families, with local government assistance. On April 17, Economic and Social Inclusion Minister Berenice Cordero reported that 158 families displaced by the attacks received government assistance.

On July 8, government officials reported the closure of the last shelter for families affected by the 2016 earthquake in the province of Manabi. The government noted all families had a place to live due to reconstruction efforts and the housing assistance provided by the Ministry of Urban Development.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

The country’s population of recognized refugees and asylum seekers, mostly Colombians, numbered more than 64,300. During the first 10 months of the year, the Ministry of Interior registered more than 700,000 Venezuelans entering the country, more than double the number (288,000) who entered in all of 2017. As of September authorities estimated that 250,000 Venezuelans were residing in Ecuador and had issued more than 100,000 Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) temporary residency visas to Venezuelans, with 50,000 more being processed.

UNHCR reported an increase in Colombians seeking asylum during the year. Venezuelans were the second-highest nationality of asylum seekers, with approximately 9,000 Venezuelan asylum cases recorded during the first nine months of the year, according to UNHCR. An international organization reported many Venezuelans did not apply for asylum because they were unfamiliar with the process or did not know how long they would stay.

Access to Basic Services: Of refugees and asylum seekers, 40 percent resided in isolated regions with limited basic services, primarily along the northern border, or in poor urban areas of major cities such as Quito and Guayaquil. According to UNHCR and NGOs, refugees encountered discrimination in employment and housing. A 2016 agreement between UNHCR and the Directorate General of Civil Registry enables recognized refugees to receive national identification cards that facilitate access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. A nonprofit organization reported the Civil Registry began issuing national identification cards for refugees in November 2017 but offered this service in only three cities, which resulted in refugees incurring additional expenses for travel. The Civil Registry also requires authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, and often refugees were required to return to the ministry if the information on their records contained errors.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement and offered naturalization to refugees, although few refugees were able to naturalize as citizens or gain permanent resident status due to an expensive and lengthy legal process. Discrimination, difficulty in obtaining adequate documentation, and limited access to formal employment and housing affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population.

Temporary Protection: While there is no legal provision for temporary protection, the government and NGOs provided humanitarian aid and additional services, such as legal, health, education, and psychological assistance, to individuals recorded as having crossed the border during the year.

As a member of UNASUR and an associate member of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), Ecuador issues temporary visas to citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and the government waived the visa application fee for Colombian and Paraguayan citizens. Foreigners in an irregular migratory status in the country were eligible to apply for the visa. While the UNASUR and MERCOSUR visas do not provide a safeguard against forced repatriation, UNHCR noted that many persons opted for these visas, since the procedure was faster than the refugee process and carried less social stigma. Visa recipients are able to work and study for two years. The visas are renewable based upon the same guidelines as the initial application, with only the additional requirement that the applicant provide an Ecuadorian Criminal Records Certificate.

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. On February 4, a national referendum restored term limits for all elected positions, including the presidency, which had been eliminated through a 2015 constitutional amendment.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 4, 82 percent of citizens voted in a national referendum that consisted of seven questions related to corruption, environmental rights, child abuse, real estate capital gains, elimination of indefinite reelection, and institutional reforms of oversight bodies. The “yes” vote won an average of 68 percent on all seven questions. International observers from the Organization of American States, UNASUR, Association of World Election Bodies, Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms, and Council of Electoral Specialists of Latin America concluded the electoral process was orderly and peaceful, and they did not note any significant incidents.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took steps to implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The government launched or continued multiple investigations, judicial proceedings, and legislative audits of officials accused of corruption related to state contracts and commercial endeavors that reached the highest levels of government, including former vice president Jorge Glas, sentenced in December 2017 to six years in prison for committing illicit association in relation to the Odebrecht case.

In September local media outlets reported on accusations by former National Assembly staffers that legislators exchanged staff positions for personal financial benefits, including contributions to political movements, free meals, and loans. Accusations were leveled against members of various political parties, including Alianza PAIS, Creating Opportunities, Pachakutik, and Partido Social Cristiano. In response National Assembly president Elizabeth Cabezas signed agreements with the Financial Analysis Unit, Comptroller General’s Office, and Attorney General’s Office to conduct a full investigation of the accusations. On November 13, the National Assembly voted to remove National Assembly member Norma Vallejo from her position.

On May 9, the National Court of Justice sentenced former minister of hydrocarbons Carlos Pareja Yannuzzelli to 10 years in prison for the crime of illicit enrichment in relation to state oil company Petroecuador. This sentence was in addition to the sentence of five years’ imprisonment that Pareja and Alex Bravo, the former manager of Petroecuador, received in February 2017 for bribery, and the six-year sentence Pareja, former general manager of Petroecuador Marco Calvopina, and Petroecuador’s operations submanager Diego Tapia received in October 2017 for illicit association. The Second Criminal Court of Pichincha sentenced 14 other individuals to prison for bribery in relation to the Petroecuador corruption case and noted an additional 23 cases of corruption related to Petroecuador were under investigation. Trials related to the Petroecuador case continued.

As part of the February 4 national referendum called by President Moreno, citizens approved a constitutional amendment ending the statute of limitations on corruption charges and prohibiting those sentenced for crimes related to the mismanagement of public resources from running for public office or contracting with the state. In April the T-CPCCS began its evaluation of independent state bodies, as mandated by the referendum, ordering the dismissal of the leading members of the Judicial Council and National Electoral Council, among others, citing failures to perform their duties according to the law and irregularities in their decision making. As of October the T-CPCCS had dismissed 28 of the 29 individuals who were evaluated.

Financial Disclosure: Government officials are required to declare their financial holdings upon taking office and, if requested, during an investigation. All agencies must disclose salary information monthly through their web portal. The constitution requires public officials to submit an affidavit regarding their net worth at the beginning and end of their term, including their assets and liabilities, as well as an authorization to lift the confidentiality of their bank accounts. Public officials are not required to submit periodic reports, except in the case of legislators, who must also present a declaration at the midpoint of the period for which they were elected. All the declarations must be filed online with the comptroller general, whose website provides general information on the declarations and contains a section where the public can conduct a search of officials to see if officials complied with the disclosure requirements of income and assets. Access to the entire declaration requires a special application, and the comptroller has the discretion to decide whether to provide the information. There are no criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance, but a noncomplying official cannot be sworn into office.

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

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

In October 2017 President Moreno issued decree 193 to replace executive decrees 16 and 739 that regulated freedom of association. Domestic and international human rights organizations are subject to the NGO regulations in the decree. Civil society representatives said the new decree was a step in the right direction but noted it leaves in place some Correa-era policies, including the right of the government to dissolve organizations for imprecise reasons (see section 2.b.).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office is an administratively and financially independent body under the Transparency and Social Control Branch of government, focused on human rights. The Ombudsman’s Office regularly presented cases to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

On May 2, the T-CPCCS voted unanimously to dismiss Ombudsman Ramiro Rivadeneira after he refused to submit to an official evaluation by the control body. In 2016 several NGOs issued a joint press release stating that the Ombudsman’s Office “had failed in fulfilling its role of defending the rights of the people, and focused more on protecting its image and the [Correa] government.”

A special unit within the Prosecutor’s Office has responsibility for investigating crimes revealed in the 2010 Truth Commission report on alleged human rights abuses that occurred between 1984 and 2008. On June 11, then justice minister Alvarado participated in a signing ceremony of 25 reparation agreements for victims of human rights abuses reported by the 2010 Truth Commission, bringing the total number signed under President Moreno to 101, in contrast with one signed during Correa’s decade in power.

On September 13, the National Anticorruption Commission requested the creation of a joint working group with the Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether former president Correa, military officers, and other public officials were criminally liable for the abuses reported in the 2010 protest, known as 30-S. Anticorruption Commission Chairman Jorge Rodriguez stated that a thorough investigation was required to determine who was behind the “persecution of more than 300 citizens who lost their jobs and in some cases even their lives.”

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. Rape is punishable with penalties of up to 22 years in prison. The criminal code includes spousal rape under crimes against sexual and reproductive integrity. The penalty for rape where death occurred is 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence is punishable with penalties ranging from four days to seven years in prison and a fine for “damages, pain, and suffering” ranging from $350 to $5,300, depending on the severity of the crime. The law stipulates penalties for physical, psychological, and sexual violence.

On February 5, the Comprehensive Law to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women went into effect. The law seeks to prevent and provide reparation to victims of gender-based violence. It also advocates for the re-education of aggressors. The law defines rape, including spousal rape or incest, forced prostitution, sex trafficking, sexual harassment and other analogous practices, as forms of sexual violence. It also entitles victims to immediate protective measures designed to prevent or cease violence, such as police surveillance, placement in shelters, and awareness programs for the victim and family.

The Office of the Public Prosecutor reported 202 killings of women between January 2017 and July 2018. A report by four civil society organizations indicated there were 64 cases of femicide between January 1 and October 2. According to local experts, reporting rapes and other forms of violence continued to be a traumatic process, particularly for female minors. For example, a rape victim must file a complaint at the Public Prosecutor’s Office and submit to gynecological evaluations akin to rape kits administered by medical experts. Many individuals did not report cases of rape and sexual assault because of fear of retribution from the perpetrator or social stigma.

During the year the government offered installation of emergency buttons in the homes of potential gender-based violence victims and established toll-free telephone lines with personnel trained to support victims of gender-based violence. The Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion, together with some local and provincial governments and NGOs, also provided psychosocial services to victims of sexual and domestic violence. The ministry subsidized shelters and other initiatives, including medical services at care centers and private clinics. Based on 2016 statistics, there were 50 judicial units and 78 courts specializing in gender-based violence. The judicial units have responsibility for collecting complaints and assisting victims in ordering arrest warrants for up to 30 days of detention against the aggressor. Victims and NGOs expressed concern the court system was insufficiently staffed to deal with the caseload and that judges lacked specialized training for dealing with gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of one to five years in prison. The Comprehensive Law to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women defines sexual harassment and other analogous practices as forms of sexual violence and mandates that judges prohibit contact between the aggressor and the victim to prevent revictimization and intimidation. Despite the legal prohibition of sexual harassment, women’s rights organizations described harassment in public spaces as common. The Office of the Public Prosecutor received 739 complaints of sexual harassment during the first trimester of the year. Of the 2,067 complaints received in 2017, as of July officials were investigating 48 cases and the courts had convicted and sentenced 12 perpetrators.

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

Discrimination: The constitution affords women the same legal status and rights as men. Nevertheless, discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. On March 8, El Universo cited figures by the National Institute of Statistics and Census that in 2017 the average monthly income of an employed man was 20 percent more than a woman working under the same conditions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through birth in the country, birth to an Ecuadorian mother or father abroad, or by naturalization. According to media reports, ethnic minority families and those with limited economic resources continued to show registration rates significantly lower than those of other groups. Government brigades occasionally traveled to remote rural areas to register families and persons with disabilities. While the law prohibits schools from requesting civil registration documents for children to enroll, some schools, mostly public schools, continued to require them. NGOs reported the problem particularly affected refugee children. Other government services, including welfare payments and free primary health care, require some form of identification.

Education: According to the constitution, education is obligatory through ninth grade and free through 12th grade. Nonetheless, costs for school-related items, such as uniforms and books, as well as a lack of space in public schools, continued to be an impediment to adolescents attending school.

Child Abuse: The penal code criminalizes child abuse and provides penalties of 30 days to 90 years in prison depending on the severity of the abuse.

The Office of the Public Prosecutor received 4,800 complaints of rape, sexual harassment, and abuse against minors between 2015 and September 2018. At least 714 of these alleged crimes took place in elementary and secondary schools. NGOs reported that children living in the streets or in rural parts of the country, many of whom came from poor indigenous families, suffered from exploitative conditions. Throughout the year the Ministry of Education sent officials to investigate reported cases of child abuse in educational establishments. In October the National Assembly’s special legislative committee to investigate the judicial handling of child abuse complaints met to review its final draft report. Since its creation in 2017, the committee had issued several reports on the efficiency of government institutions in processing child abuse cases.

Bullying remained a problem in schools and increasingly occurred on social media. On June 22, officials from the Ministry of Education launched a campaign to combat the problem. Antiviolence teams visited 251 public schools in the coastal region to identify bullying and reviewed cases of students with repetitive violent conduct. In the city of Guayaquil, officials reported 175 cases of bullying in the 12 months preceding October.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriage in indigenous communities, particularly in instances in which girls became pregnant following an instance of rape. A Plan International study cited the testimony of public officials who reported that in many cases sexual aggressors compensated violence with payment or exchange of animals, but in some cases victims were forced to marry their aggressors.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, with penalties of 22 to 26 years’ imprisonment. The age of consent is 14. The penalty for commercial sexual exploitation of children under the age of 18 is 13 to 16 years in prison. Child sex trafficking remained a problem, despite government enforcement efforts.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is a small Jewish community, including an estimated 250 families in Quito and 82 families in Guayaquil, according to local synagogues. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The National Council on Disability Equality oversees government policies regarding persons with disabilities.

President Moreno promoted social initiatives to raise awareness about disability rights. In October 2017 the president replaced procedural regulations that went into effect in 2013 with executive decree 194, which broadens the defined legal recognition of a disability and increases tax benefits for persons with disabilities; however, human rights activists noted that much work remained. Although the law mandates access to buildings and promotes equal access to health, education, social security, employment, transport, and communications for persons with disabilities, the government did not fully enforce it. According to a December 2017 article in El Telegrafo, the National Council on Disability Equality reported there were not enough ramps for persons with disabilities that used public transport in Quito and that architectural barriers used in constructions in public spaces were obstacles.

The law stipulates rights to health facilities and insurance coverage, increases access and inclusion in education, and creates a new program for scholarships and student loans for persons with disabilities. The law provides for special job security for those with disabilities and requires that 4 percent of employees in all public and private enterprises with more than 25 employees be persons with disabilities. The law also gives the Ombudsman’s Office responsibility for following up on alleged violations of the rights of persons with disabilities and stipulates a series of fines and punishments for lack of compliance with the law.

The law directs the electoral authorities to provide access to voting and to facilitate voting for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The constitution declares the state to be plurinational and affirms the principle of nondiscrimination by recognizing the rights of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio (an independent ethnic group of persons with a mixture of Afro-Ecuadorian, indigenous, and Spanish ancestry) communities. It also mandates affirmative action policies to provide for the representation of minorities. In 2009 the government began implementing a national plan to eradicate racial discrimination and exclusion based on ethnic and cultural differences. From 2013 to 2017, the government implemented a national agenda to promote the equality of indigenous peoples and nationalities.

Afro-Ecuadorian citizens, who accounted for approximately 7 percent of the population according to the 2010 census, suffered pervasive discrimination, particularly with regard to educational and economic opportunity. Afro-Ecuadorian organizations noted that, despite the absence of official discrimination, societal discrimination and stereotyping in media continued to result in barriers to employment, education, and housing. Afro-Ecuadorian activist Antonio Ayovi reported in September 2017 that “racism, discrimination, and intolerance affect almost all sectors of the Ecuadorian population ….”

Indigenous People

The constitution strengthens the rights of indigenous persons and recognizes Kichwa and Shuar as “official languages of intercultural relations.” The law provides indigenous persons the same civil and political rights as other citizens. The constitution grants indigenous persons and communities the right to prior consultation before the execution of projects that affect their rights. It also provides for their right to participate in decisions about the exploitation of nonrenewable resources located on their lands and that could affect their culture or environment. The constitution also allows indigenous persons to participate in the economic benefits natural resource extraction projects may bring and to receive compensation for any damages that result.

In the case of environmental damage, the law mandates immediate corrective government action and full restitution from the responsible company, although some indigenous organizations asserted a lack of consultation and remedial action. The law recognizes the rights of indigenous communities to hold property communally, although the titling process remained incomplete in parts of the country.

Throughout the year indigenous groups engaged in a national dialogue with the government in which they raised issues related to community development, intercultural education, respect for the application of indigenous law, and environmental rights and extractive industries. The National Council on the Equality of Peoples and Nationalities reported on January 22 that almost 23 percent of indigenous women were underemployed, 36 percent were illiterate, and political participation of indigenous woman continued to lag behind the rest of the population. During the February 4 national referendum, voters approved two constitutional amendments relevant to indigenous communities, prohibiting mining in urban and protected areas and limiting oil drilling in Yasuni National Park.

On July 17, legislator Encarnacion Duchi reported that in 2017 the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador filed 180 petitions for amnesty related to convictions of indigenous protesters during the Correa administration. Human rights activists claimed that under Correa the government forcibly evicted indigenous communities from their ancestral territory, without respecting their constitutional rights, to facilitate the establishment of Chinese mining projects, leading to clashes between the Shuar community and local security forces. Duchi said the National Assembly’s Administrative Council had deemed only 33 cases merit-worthy and approved only one case.

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

The constitution includes the principle of nondiscrimination and the right to decide one’s sexual orientation as a right. The law also prohibits hate crimes. Although the law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons continued to suffer discrimination from both public and private entities, particularly in education, employment, and access to health care. LGBTI organizations reported that transgender persons suffered more discrimination because they were more visible.

On May 31, the Constitutional Court ordered the Civil Registry Office to register a seven-year-old girl parented by a female same-sex couple with their last names. Human rights activists said the decision set a precedent favoring LGBTI rights by officially recognizing same-sex couples and their children as a family unit.

The government, led by the Ombudsman’s Office, was generally responsive to concerns raised by the LGBTI community. Nevertheless, LGBTI groups claimed police and prosecutors did not thoroughly investigate deaths of LGBTI individuals, including when there was suspicion that the killing was motivated by anti-LGBTI bias.

LGBTI persons continued to report that the government sometimes denied their right of equal access to formal education. LGBTI students, particularly transgender students, sometimes were discouraged from attending classes (particularly in higher education). LGBTI students, particularly transgender individuals, were more susceptible to bullying in schools, and human rights activists argued the Ministry of Education and school administrators were slow to respond to complaints. LGBTI persons involved in the commercial sex trade reported abusive situations, extortion, and mistreatment by security forces.

LGBTI organizations and the government continued to report that private treatment centers confined LGBTI persons against their will to “cure” or “dehomosexualize” them, although such treatment is illegal. The clinics reportedly used cruel treatments, including rape, in an attempt to change LGBTI persons’ sexual orientation. According to a local LGBTI organization, law enforcement officials closed at least two such clinics in Guayaquil in 2017.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, with some exceptions, provides for the rights of workers to form and join trade unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits the dismissal of union members from the moment a union notifies the labor inspector of its general assembly until the formation of its first executive board, the first legal steps in forming a union. Employers are not required to reinstate workers fired for union activity but are required to pay compensation and fines to such workers. According to a May 1 article in El Universo, the country’s 2,569 labor unions represented 4 to 8 percent of all public and private workers.

The Ministry of Labor reported the registration of 52 new labor organizations as of May 1. Companies that dismiss employees attempting to form a union or that dismiss union members exercising their rights face a fine of one year’s annual salary for each individual wrongfully let go. Individual workers still employed may take complaints against employers to the Labor Inspection Office. Individuals no longer employed may take their complaints to courts charged with protecting labor rights. Unions may also take complaints to a tripartite arbitration board established to hear these complaints. These procedures often were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

All private employers with a union are required to negotiate collectively when the union so requests. The law requires a minimum of 30 workers for the creation of an association, work committee, or labor union, and it does not allow foreign citizens to serve as trade union officers. On April 12, the Ministry of Labor authorized, through ministerial resolutions, eight new types of labor contracts, with specific provisions for the flower, palm, fishing, livestock, and construction sectors.

The law provides for the right of private-sector employees to strike on their own behalf and conduct three-day solidarity strikes or boycotts on the behalf of other industries. The law also establishes, however, that all collective labor disputes be referred to courts of conciliation and arbitration. In 2014 the International Labor Organization (ILO) called on the government to amend this provision by limiting such compulsory arbitration to cases where both parties agree to arbitration and the strike involves the public servants who exercise authority in the name of the state or who perform essential services. As of July 30, the government had not taken any action.

In most industries the law requires a 10-day “cooling-off” period from the time a strike is declared before it can take effect. In the case of the agriculture and hospitality industries, where workers are needed for “permanent care,” the law requires a 20-day “cooling-off” period from the day the strike is called, and workers cannot take possession of a workplace. During this time workers and employers must agree on how many workers are needed to ensure a minimum level of service, and at least 20 percent of the workforce must continue to work to provide essential services. The law provides that “the employer may contract substitute personnel” only when striking workers refuse to send the number of workers required to provide the minimum necessary services.

The law prohibits formation of unions and restricts the right to collective bargaining and striking of public-sector workers in “strategic sectors.” Such sectors include workers in the health, environmental sanitation, education, justice, firefighting, social security, electrical energy, drinking water and sewage, hydrocarbon production, fuel processing, transport and distribution, public transportation, and post and telecommunications sectors. Some of the sectors defined as strategic exceed the ILO standard for essential services. Workers in these sectors attempting to strike may face charges with penalties of between two and five years’ imprisonment. The government effectively enforced the law. There were no reports of strikes by workers from strategic sectors during the year. All unions in the public sector fall under the Confederation of Public Servants. Although the vast majority of public-sector workers also maintained membership in labor-sector associations, the law does not allow such associations to bargain collectively or strike. In 2015 the National Assembly amended the constitution to specify that only the private sector could engage in collective bargaining.

Government efforts to enforce legal protections of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining often were inadequate and inconsistent. Employers did not always respect freedom of association and collective bargaining. Although independent, unions often had strong ties to political movements.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including all forms of labor exploitation; child labor; illegal adoption; servile marriage; and the sale of tissues, fluids, and genetic materials of living persons. Penalties under this article range from 13 to 16 years’ imprisonment. The law penalizes forced labor and other forms of exploitative labor, including all labor of children younger than age 15. Penalties for forced or exploitative labor are 10 to 13 years’ imprisonment.

Limited resources, limited presence in parts of the country, and inadequate victim services hampered the effectiveness of police and prosecutors. NGOs and media outlets continued to report that children were being subjected to forced criminality, particularly drug trafficking. On June 1, the Ministry of Justice confirmed there were 1,100 underage offenders in the country, many of whom were recruited by organized-crime groups to participate in drug trafficking and gang activity.

Reports of forced labor of children (see section 7.c.) and women persisted. Observers most frequently reported women as victims of sex trafficking or of working in private homes under conditions that may amount to human trafficking. On July 30, Ministry of Interior officials reported law enforcement agents rescued 40 victims of sex trafficking in the first seven months of the year.

Indigenous Afro-Ecuadorians, as well as Colombian refugees and migrants (see section 7.d.), were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. Traffickers often recruited children from impoverished families under false promises of employment; these children were then forced to beg or to work as domestic servants, in sweatshops, or as street and commercial vendors within the country or in other South American countries. Women and children were exploited in forced labor and sex trafficking abroad, including in other South American countries, the United States, and Europe. The country is a destination for Colombian, Peruvian, Paraguayan, and Cuban women and girls exploited in sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced begging.

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 prohibits the worst forms of child labor. It sets the minimum working age for minors at 15 for all types of labor and the maximum hours a minor may work at six hours per day, five days per week. The law requires employers of minors who have not completed elementary school to give them two additional hours off from work to complete studies. The law requires employers to pay minors the same wages received by adults for the same type of employment and prohibits minors under the age of 18 from working in “dangerous and unhealthy” conditions. A 2015 ministerial accord lists 27 economic activities that qualify as dangerous and unhealthy. Other illegal activities, including slavery, prostitution, pornography, and drug trafficking, are punishable. The law identifies work that is “likely to harm the health, safety, or morals of a child,” which includes work in mines, garbage dumps, slaughterhouses, livestock, fishing, textiles, logging, and domestic service, as well as any work environment requiring exposure to toxic or dangerous substances, dust, dangerous machinery, or loud noises.

The law establishes penalties for violations of child labor laws, including fines and closure of the business. Fines range from $50 to $300 for parents or guardians and $200 to $1,000 for employers hiring children younger than age 15. Although penalties were enforced, they were not sufficient to deter violations. If an employer commits a second child labor violation, inspectors may close the business temporarily. The law authorizes labor inspectors to conduct inspections at factories, workshops, and any other location when they consider it appropriate or when an employer or worker requests an inspection.

The Ministries of Labor and of Economic and Social Inclusion and the Minors’ Tribunal are responsible for enforcing child labor laws.

Statistics from the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) and the National Survey of Employment, Unemployment, and Underemployment reported in March 2017 a total of 522,656 children and adolescents between the ages of five and 17 working in the country. According to the newspaper El Tiempo, the provinces of Azuay, Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo had the highest child labor rates. In a 2015 INEC study, more than 73 percent of child laborers up to age 14 worked in agriculture, while trade and manufacturing represented 12.2 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively, of the overall child labor rate.

Several labor organizations and NGOs reported child labor in the formal-employment sectors continued to decline. According to these groups, it was rare in virtually all formal-sector industries due to an increased number of government inspections, improved enforcement of government regulations, and self-enforcement by the private sector. For example, in the past several years, banana producers working with the Ministry of Agriculture and unions on a plan to eliminate child labor formed committees to certify when plantations used no child labor. These certification procedures do not apply to the informal sector.

Child labor remained a problem in the informal sector. In rural areas children were most likely found working in family-owned farms or businesses, including banana and rose farms. Labor organizations reported children were largely removed from the most heavy and dangerous work. Additionally, there were reports of rural children working in small-scale, family-run brick-making and gold-mining operations. In urban areas many children under age 15 worked informally to support themselves or to augment family income by peddling on the street, shining shoes, or begging.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The law prohibits employers from using discriminatory criteria in hiring, discriminating against unions, and retaliating against striking workers and their leaders. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations.

Employment discrimination against women was prevalent, particularly with respect to economic opportunities for older women and for those in the lower economic strata. On October 4, El Telegrafo reported the Ministry of Labor received 347 complaints from employees about workplace harassment between 2015 and 2017. On August 24, the National Assembly approved a series of labor reforms for employees in the public and private sectors to prevent workplace harassment.

Afro-Ecuadorians continued to demand more opportunities in the workforce and complained that employers often profiled them based on their job application photographs. Indigenous and LGBTI individuals also experienced employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a minimum monthly wage, which was set at $394 as of December. Additional benefits mandated by law correspond to 40 percent of this salary. The official poverty level was $85.58 per month, and the official extreme poverty level was $48.23 per month.

The law limits the standard work period to 40 hours a week, eight hours a day, with two consecutive days of rest per week. Miners are limited to six hours a day and may only work one additional hour a day with premium pay. Premium pay is 1.5 times the basic salary for work done from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Work done from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. receives twice the basic salary, although workers whose standard shift is at night receive a premium of 25 percent instead. Premium pay also applies to work on weekends and holidays. Overtime is limited to no more than four hours a day and a total of 12 hours a week. Mandatory overtime is prohibited. Workers are entitled to a continuous 15-day annual vacation, including weekends, plus one extra day per year after five years of service. Different regulations regarding schedule and vacations apply to live-in domestic workers. The law mandates prison terms for employers who do not comply with the requirement of registering domestic workers with the Social Security Administration.

The law provides for the health and safety of workers and outlines health and safety standards, which were current and appropriate for the country’s main industries. These regulations and standards were not applied in the informal sector, which employed more than 45 percent of the working population.

The Ministry of Labor reported there were 150 labor inspectors responsible for enforcing all labor laws. According to the ministry, the inspectors completed six general and comprehensive inspections each month. The government, the ILO, and civil society organizations all agreed that the number of inspectors was insufficient to ensure adequate coverage of the entire country. According to the ILO’s technical advice of a ratio of approximately one inspector for every 15,000 workers in developing economies, the country should employ approximately 535 inspectors.

Authorities may conduct labor inspections by appointment or after a worker complaint. If a worker requests an inspection and a Ministry of Labor inspector confirms a workplace hazard, the inspector then may close the workplace. Labor inspections generally occurred because of complaints, not as a preventive measure, and inspectors could not make unannounced visits. In some cases violations were remedied, but other cases were subjected to legal challenges that delayed changes for months. Penalties were limited to monetary fines between $950 and $6,360; they were not sufficient to deter violations and were often not enforced.

The Ministry of Labor continued its enforcement reforms by increasing labor inspections and increasing the number of workers protected by contracts, minimum wage standards, and registration for social security benefits.

Most workers worked in the large informal sector and in rural areas. They were not subject to the minimum wage laws or legally mandated benefits. Occupational health and safety problems were more prevalent in the large informal sector. The law singles out the health and safety of miners, but the government did not enforce safety rules in informal small-scale mines, which made up the vast majority of enterprises in the mining sector. Migrants and refugees were particularly vulnerable to hazardous and exploitative working conditions.

Workers in the formal sector could generally remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Workers in the informal sector received far fewer labor protections, and they were less likely to be able to remove themselves from dangerous health or safety situations without jeopardy to their employment.

Guyana

Executive Summary

The Cooperative Republic of Guyana is a multiparty democracy. National and regional elections took place in 2015, and the APNU+AFC coalition parties won both the presidency and a majority of representational seats. The largest APNU+AFC components were A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)–itself a coalition of the major People’s National Congress/Reform party and other minor parties–and the Alliance for Change (AFC) party. Former opposition leader David Granger led the election coalition and became president. International and local observers considered the 2015 elections free, fair, and credible.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful killings; harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity between men, although the law was not enforced during the year; and child labor.

Government officials did not enjoy impunity for human rights abuses. There were independent and transparent procedures for handling allegations of abuses by security forces.

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

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

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

In January police shot and killed Marlon Fredericks, a mentally ill man. Police alleged Fredericks was killed as he attempted to escape custody. The officer was charged, and the prosecution was in progress as of November.

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. There were allegations, nonetheless, that prison officials mistreated inmates as well as claims that police tortured suspects and detainees.

In July, Jameek Hakim alleged police tortured him during an interrogation. The government’s investigation of Hakim’s allegations continued as of October.

In January the government charged a police officer for raping a minor in August 2017. The minor was in police custody at the time of the incident. The case against the police officer was in progress as of November.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and jail conditions, particularly in police holding cells, were reportedly harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: In October the Guyana Prison Service reported there were 2,216 prisoners in eight facilities with a combined design capacity of 1,505. Overcrowding was in large part due to a backlog of pretrial detainees, who constituted approximately 30 percent of the total prison population.

In May the government released the findings of a 2017 independent study funded by the Inter-American Development Bank that found prison officers physically abused prisoners. The government reported the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent found that prison conditions at the Lusignan Prison were appalling and cells were unfit for human habitation. Prisoners reported unsanitary conditions and a lack of potable water, and they also complained of lengthy confinement in their cells with limited opportunities for sunlight.

The adult prison population contained individuals 16 years of age and older. In most cases, however, offenders under the age of 16 were held in a juvenile correctional center that offered primary education, vocational training, and basic medical care.

Administration: Authorities stated they investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions monthly, and committees prepared reports after each visit. Prisoners often circumvented procedures for submitting complaints of inhuman conditions or mistreatment by passing letters addressed to government officials through family members.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted outside groups to monitor prison conditions independently. During the year the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent visited the Lusignan Prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police commissioner heads the Guyana Police Force, which reports to the Ministry of Public Security and is responsible for maintaining internal security. The Guyana Defense Force is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The defense force, headed by a chief of staff, falls under the purview of the Defense Board, which the president of the country chairs.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police and military, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

An arrest requires a warrant issued by a court official unless an officer who witnesses a crime believes there is good cause to suspect a crime or a breach of the peace has been or will be committed. The law stipulates that a person arrested cannot be held for more than 72 hours unless brought before a court to be charged. Authorities generally observed this requirement. Bail was generally available except in cases of capital offenses and narcotics trafficking.

Although the law provides criminal detainees prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and to family members, authorities occasionally did not fully respect these rights. The state provides legal counsel for indigent persons only when such persons are charged with a capital offense. The Legal Aid Clinic, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), provides legal counsel at a reduced fee in certain circumstances, as determined by the clinic. Police routinely required permission from the senior investigating officer, who was seldom on the premises, before permitting counsel access to a client.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem, due primarily to judicial inefficiency, staff shortages, and cumbersome legal procedures. The average length of pretrial detention was three years for those awaiting trial at a magistrates’ court or in the High Court. This was often beyond the maximum possible sentence for the crime for which they were charged.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Delays and inefficiencies undermined judicial due process. Shortages of trained court personnel, postponements at the request of the defense or prosecution, occasional allegations of bribery, poor tracking of cases, and police slowness in preparing cases for trial caused delays.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. Cases in magistrates’ courts are tried without jury, while cases involving more serious crimes are tried by jury in the High Court. The constitution provides that a person shall be informed in detail of the nature of the offense charged as soon as reasonably practicable. Defendants have the right to a timely trial and free assistance of an interpreter. The constitution also provides for persons charged with a criminal offense to be given adequate time and facilities for the preparation of a defense. Authorities routinely granted trial postponements to both the defense and prosecution. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and confront adverse witnesses, and they may present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal.

While the law recognizes the right to legal counsel, it was limited to those who could afford to pay, except in cases involving capital crimes. Although there is no formal public defender system, a defendant in a murder case that reaches the High Court may receive a court-appointed attorney. The Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic, with government and private support, provided advice to persons who could not afford a lawyer, particularly victims of domestic violence and violence against women.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and the government generally respected this provision. Individuals can access the court system to initiate lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The magistrates’ courts deal with both criminal and civil matters. Delays, inefficiencies, and alleged corruption in the magistrates’ court system affected citizens’ ability to seek timely remedies in civil matters, and there was a large backlog of civil cases. Citizens have the right to appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Caribbean Court of Justice.

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

The law generally 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 Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and at times expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: A 2015 directive from the prime minister determines that all headlines in state-owned print media be approved by the Office of the Prime Minister before publication.

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.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 37 percent of citizens used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: NGOs reported some displaced Venezuelan women experienced rights violations, including sexual exploitation, by government officials. NGOs also reported displaced Venezuelans received a lower standard of health and social care, but the government denied these reports.

In-country Movement: The law requires that local village councils grant permission in advance for travel to indigenous areas, but most individuals traveled in these areas without a permit.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for protection of asylum seekers. Although the government is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Refugees, the government reported that it did not prosecute or deport Venezuelans seeking refuge. In the absence of national legislation and requisite government capacity, UNHCR assumed the main responsibility for determination of refugee status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Elections also take place within indigenous communities, where members elect indigenous leaders every 33 to 36 months.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: National and regional elections were held in 2015. The APNU+AFC, a coalition of parties formed by the APNU and the AFC, won by a slim margin against the People’s Progressive Party/Civic. The coalition leader and former opposition leader, David Granger, was elected president. The general elections resulted in the first change of the ruling party in 23 years. International observers concluded the elections were free, fair, and credible. Local government elections were held in 2016 in all eligible communities throughout the country and were considered free, fair, and credible by international observers. New local government elections were scheduled to take place in November.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year, and administration officials responded to the reports. There remained a widespread public perception of corruption involving officials at all levels, including the police and the judiciary.

Corruption: Corruption by police officers was frequent. There were no reports the government prosecuted any members of the police force during the year.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to declare their assets to an integrity commission and sets out both criminal and administrative sanctions for nondisclosure. If a person fails to file a declaration, the daily newspapers and the official gazette can publish that fact. Failure to comply with the law can lead to a summary conviction, fines, and imprisonment for six to 12 months. If property is not disclosed as required, the magistrate convicting the defendant must order the defendant to make a full disclosure within a set time. Although the integrity commission was reconstituted in February after a 12-year hiatus, it did not appear to be fully functional. No publications or convictions occurred during the first nine months of the year.

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

A number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. These groups at times complained government officials were uncooperative and unresponsive to their requests and stated that when officials responded, it was generally to criticize the groups rather than to investigate allegations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The law provides for an ombudsperson to investigate official government actions or actions taken by government officials in exercise of their official duties. Observers reported the ombudsperson operated independently of government interference.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape and domestic violence. The law provides stringent penalties for rape, with life imprisonment as the maximum penalty. Successful prosecution of cases of rape and domestic violence was infrequent.

Domestic violence and violence against women, including spousal abuse, was widespread. The law prohibits domestic violence and allows victims to seek prompt protection, occupation, or tenancy orders from a magistrate. Penalties for violation of protection orders include fines up to 10,000 Guyanese dollars (GYD) ($47) and 12 months’ imprisonment. There were reports of police accepting bribes from perpetrators and of magistrates applying inadequate sentences after conviction.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and provides for monetary penalties and award of damages to victims. The law does not cover harassment in schools. Acts of sexual harassment involving physical assault are prosecuted under relevant criminal statutes. While reports of sexual harassment were common, no cases had been filed as of October.

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

Discrimination: Although women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, gender-related discrimination was widespread and deeply ingrained. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, but there was no meaningful enforcement against such discrimination in the workplace. Job vacancy notices routinely specified that the employer sought only male or only female applicants, and women earned approximately 61 percent less than men for equal work.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or by birth to a Guyanese citizen abroad. The law requires that births be registered within 14 days but also provides for registration of births after the 14-day period. Births at hospitals and health facilities were registered within a day of delivery.

Child Abuse: There were frequent reports of physical and sexual abuse of children, which was a widespread and serious problem. As with cases of domestic abuse, NGOs alleged some police officers could be bribed to make cases of child abuse “go away.”

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 years, but boys and girls may marry at age 16 with parental consent or judicial authority. UNICEF reported that 23 percent of women were married before the age of 18, and 6 percent of girls were married before age 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of sexual consent is 16 years. By law a person who has sexual relations with a child under 16 may be found guilty of a felony and imprisoned for life. There were continued reports of children being exploited in prostitution. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children 18 and younger. Laws related to pornography and pornographic performances do not prohibit the use, procuring, and offering of a child for each of these purposes. The law also regulates selling, publishing, or exhibiting obscene material, defined as anything that could deprave or corrupt those open to immoral influences.

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.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, perhaps fewer than 20 members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution mandates that the state “take legislative and other measures” to protect disadvantaged persons and persons with disabilities. The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but civil society groups stated the law was not regularly enforced. The law provides for a National Commission on Disabilities to advise the government, coordinate actions on problems affecting persons with disabilities, and implement and monitor the law. The commission focused its attention on sensitizing the public about the law and on compliance, as well as performing sensitization workshops with the Ministries of Social Protection, Education, and Health.

There were segregated schools for the blind and for persons with other disabilities in the most populous regions of the country. As a result, children with disabilities rarely attended mainstream schools, since these lacked the curriculum and infrastructure necessary to accommodate children with disabilities. Lack of appropriate transportation and infrastructure to provide access to both public and private facilities made it difficult for persons with disabilities to be employed outside their homes.

Indigenous People

Various laws protect the rights of the indigenous community, and members have some ability to participate in decisions affecting them, their land, and resources. Rules enacted by village councils require approval from the minister of indigenous peoples’ affairs before entering into force. Indigenous lands were not effectively demarcated.

According to the 2012 census, the indigenous population constituted 10.5 percent of the total population. There were nine recognized tribal groups. Ninety percent of indigenous communities were in the remote interior. The standard of living in indigenous communities was lower than that of most citizens, and they had limited access to education and health care. A UN study found that pregnant women in indigenous communities were not receiving mandatory HIV tests.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity among adult men is illegal under the law and is punishable by up to two years in prison. Anal intercourse is punishable with a maximum sentence of life in prison, regardless of whether the intercourse is between persons of the same sex. These laws were not enforced during the year; however, activists reported it was more common for police to use the law to intimidate men who were gay or perceived to be gay than to make arrests. The law also criminalizes cross-dressing. Despite this, the government permitted the first gay pride parade in June.

No antidiscrimination legislation exists to protect persons from discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, and NGOs reported widespread discrimination of persons in this regard. Reports noted official and societal discrimination in employment, access to education and medical care, and in public space. According to a 2014 survey, approximately 12 percent of men who had sex with men experienced stigma daily, while approximately 30 percent of transgender youth and adults encountered stigma every day or regularly.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

A 2014 UNICEF survey reported only 23 percent of persons ages 15 to 49 expressed accepting attitudes towards individuals with HIV.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of association and allows workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law bars military and paramilitary members from forming a union or associating with any established union. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers but does not specifically require reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The Ministry of Social Protection is required to certify all collective bargaining agreements. Individual unions directly negotiate collective bargaining status.

Unions must have 40 percent support of workers under the law. The government may declare strikes illegal if the union leadership does not approve them or if the union does not meet the requirements specified in collective bargaining agreements. Public employees providing essential services may strike if they provide a one-month notice to the Department of Public Service and leave a skeleton staff in place. The International Labor Organization noted that not all sectors deemed essential by the government adhered to international definitions, including the services provided by the Transport and Harbors Department and the National Drainage and Irrigation Board. Arbitration is compulsory for public employees, and such employees engaging in illegal strikes are subject to sanctions or imprisonment.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties for violation of labor laws are small fines the government frequently did not impose. These penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial proceedings regarding violations often were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Some public-sector employee unions continued to allege antiunion discrimination by the government, asserting the government violated worker rights and did not effectively enforce the law. The unions were concerned that employers used hiring practices, such as contract labor and temporary labor, to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government in general did not effectively enforce the law despite an increase in awareness and inspection programs. Penalties for forced labor under trafficking-in-persons laws include forfeiture of property gained as a result of the forced labor, restitution to the victim, and imprisonment. Administrative labor law penalties are small monetary fines, deemed insufficient to deter violations and rarely enforced.

Country experts reported that forced and compulsory labor occurred in the gold-mining, agriculture, and forestry sectors, as well as domestic servitude. Children were particularly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking (see section 7.c.).

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 prohibits the employment of children younger than 15 years old, with some exceptions, but it does not sufficiently prohibit the worst forms of child labor. Technical schools may employ children as young as age 14, provided a competent authority approves and supervises such work. No person under 18 may be employed in industrial work at night. Exceptions are for those ages 16 and 17 whose work requires continuity through day and night, including certain gold-mining processes and the production of iron, steel, glass, paper, and raw sugar. The law permits children under 15 to be employed only in enterprises in which members of the same family are also employed. The law prohibits children under 15 from working in factories and stipulates that those under 18 may be removed from factory work if authorities determine they are engaged in activities hazardous to their health or safety.

The government did not always enforce laws effectively. The Ministry of Social Protection collaborated with the Ministry of Education, Geology and Mines Commission, Guyana Forestry Commission, National Insurance Scheme, and Guyana Police Force to enforce child labor laws. Fines for child labor offenses are low and were not sufficient to deter violations. The government did not prosecute any employers for violations relating to child labor.

Child labor occurred and was most prevalent in farming, bars and restaurants, domestic work, and street vending. Small numbers of children also performed hazardous work in the construction, logging, farming, and mining industries. NGOs reported that incidences of the worst forms of child labor occurred, mainly in gold mining, prostitution (see section 6), and forced labor activities, including domestic servitude. According to local NGOs, children who worked in gold mines operated dangerous mining equipment and were exposed to hazardous chemicals, including mercury.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, social status, and national origin or citizenship. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations, and the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women and to persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and workplace access was limited for persons with disabilities (see section 6). Newspapers frequently carried advertisements asking gender-specific or age-specific applicants to fill positions in the retail, cosmetology, or security sectors.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage for private-sector employees. Minimum wages for regular working hours of all full-time, private-sector employees are set nationally for hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly workers. The national minimum wage for regular working hours of full-time, public-sector employees was 55,000 GYD ($260) per month. A normal workweek is 40 hours, distributed over no more than five days per week. The law prohibits compulsory overtime, and overtime work must be paid according to rates set in the law or according to any collective bargaining agreement in force where workers are unionized. The law establishes workplace safety and health standards. These standards were current and appropriate for the country’s main industries and were effectively enforced.

The law provides that some categories of workers have the right to remove themselves from unsafe work environments without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in these situations.

The Ministry of Social Protection is charged with enforcement of the labor law, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. Labor inspections carried out during the year targeted all sectors, including agriculture, mining, and construction. Ministry follow-up of labor inspection findings varied, and compliance among employers was also inconsistent.

According to local trade unions and NGOs, enforcement of minimum wage legislation was not effective. Although specific data were unavailable, a significant number of workers were employed in the informal economy. Unorganized workers, particularly women in the informal sector, were often paid less than the minimum wage. Local trade unions and NGOs also reported the Ministry of Social Protection lacked sufficient resources to enforce occupational safety and health laws adequately. In 2017, 207 workplace accidents were reported, of which 153 were investigated.

Paraguay

Executive Summary

Paraguay is a multiparty, constitutional republic. In April, Mario Abdo Benitez of the Colorado Party, also known as the National Republican Association (ANR), won the presidency in elections recognized as free and fair. Legislative elections took place at the same time.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Critics asserted the government did not deploy or monitor forces effectively, particularly in the northeastern section of the country.

Human rights issues included reports of torture by government officials; harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; corruption of prosecutors and judges, and police involvement in criminal activities; violent intimidation of journalists by organized crime groups and government officials; legal impunity and widespread corruption in all branches and all levels of government; widespread and sometimes lethal violence against women and indigenous persons, despite government efforts to curtail such acts, as well as police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and child labor, particularly in domestic service and informal agricultural sectors.

The executive branch took steps to prosecute and punish low- and mid-ranked officials who committed abuses, but general impunity for officials in the police and security forces continued to be widely reported.

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

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

In contrast with the previous year, as of October 1, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On July 2, a court convicted police officer Gustavo Florentin of homicide for the March 2017 shooting of Liberal Party official Rodrigo Quintana following protests that resulted in the partial burning of the congressional building. The judge sentenced Florentin to 12 years in prison.

On July 26, the Supreme Court annulled the convictions of all 11 defendants found responsible for the 2012 Marina Cue confrontation near Curuguaty that resulted in the deaths of 11 farmers and six police officers. Senate President Fernando Lugo did not follow up on the Senate-appointed independent commission report on the role of the police in the Marina Cue events during his tenure as senate president, which ended on July 1. As of August 24, Senate President Silvio Ovelar, who began his term on July 1, had not followed up on the report. Authorities had not prosecuted any members of the police involved in the incident.

b. Disappearance

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

The Special Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office investigated cases of forced disappearance and kidnapping.

On February 5, the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), a rebel guerilla group, released hostages Franz Hiebert Wieler and Bernhard Blatz Friessen, kidnapped in August and September 2017, respectively. The EPP released the two farmers after their families paid a ransom of $500,000 for Hiebert Wieler and $750,000 for Blatz Friessen.

On January 11, the government found the remains of Abraham Fehr, a Paraguayan-Mexican farmer kidnapped by the EPP in 2015. The EPP had previously communicated to Fehr’s family the location of the remains. An autopsy confirmed Fehr’s identity and determined he died soon after his abduction.

On April 11, authorities informed the family of Eladio Edelio Morinigo, a police officer kidnapped by the EPP in 2014, that they believed Morinigo was deceased. Authorities relied on a note found in an alleged EPP camp with instructions on how to dispose of Morinigo’s corpse. It was the first time the government provided this type of information without having located the victim’s remains. Morinigo’s death was not definitively confirmed.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions, but there were credible reports that some government officials employed such practices. The Attorney General Office’s Special Human Rights Unit opened 18 torture investigation cases during the year, but there were no convictions, and all investigations were pending as of September 5. Unlike other criminal cases, torture charges do not have a statute of limitations or a defined period within which charges, an investigation, or the oral trial must be completed. The unit was investigating more than 100 open cases as of September 5, including many from the 1954-89 Stroessner dictatorship.

In October 2017 the government’s quasi-independent watchdog agency, the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture (NMPT), filed a report alleging that officials at the Villarica penitentiary tortured inmates Esteban Villasanti, Fidel Villasanti, and Alicio Caceres. The Attorney General’s Human Rights Unit continued to take witnesses’ sworn statements throughout the year.

Several civil society groups publicly criticized, and called for, the disbandment of the Joint Task Force (FTC) for human rights violations and corruption in the northeastern region of the country. The FTC operated in the region with the principal goal of eliminating the EPP and included personnel from the armed forces, National Police, and National Anti-Narcotics Secretariat (SENAD).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and, at times, life threatening due to inmate violence, mistreatment, overcrowding, poorly trained staff, deteriorating infrastructure, and unsanitary living conditions.

Physical Conditions: According to the NMPT, prisons were overcrowded, with inmates at some facilities forced to share bunks, sleep on floors, and sleep in shifts. As of August 13, the Ministry of Justice reported the country’s 18 penitentiaries held 52 percent more inmates than their design capacity allowed. The NMPT also reported that four of the eight facilities for juveniles had exceeded their design capacity. Penitentiaries did not have adequate accommodations for inmates with physical disabilities. The Justice Ministry’s Directorate for the Care of Convicted Juveniles assigned minors convicted of juvenile crimes to one of eight youth correctional facilities, one of which was dedicated to young women.

Prisons and juvenile facilities generally lacked adequate temperature control systems, of particular concern during hot summer months. Some prisons had cells with inadequate lighting, in which prisoners were confined for long periods without an opportunity for exercise. Although sanitation and medical care were generally considered adequate, some prisons lacked sufficient medical personnel. Adherence to fire prevention norms was lacking.

Government authorities in the northeastern region of the country along the border with Brazil continued to report inmate recruitment within the prisons by members of the Brazilian First Capital Command gang.

Administration: Authorities conducted some investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment, but the NMPT stated authorities failed to conduct sufficient investigations, particularly into prison directors with previous accusations of mistreatment. During the year the Justice Ministry’s Internal Affairs Office continued random, unannounced visits to several prisons. Visitors reportedly needed to offer bribes frequently to visit prisoners, hindering effective representation of inmates by public defenders. Although married and unmarried heterosexual inmates were permitted conjugal visits, the ministry prohibited such visits for homosexual inmates.

Independent Monitoring: The government granted the media, independent civil society groups, and diplomatic representatives access to prisons with prior coordination. Representatives of the media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) conducted regular prison visits. Government agencies, such as the NMPT, the Public Defender’s Office, and representatives of the judicial branch, also conducted independent visits.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements. In some cases police ignored requirements for a warrant by citing obsolete provisions that allow detention if individuals are unable to present personal identification upon demand (although the law does not obligate citizens to carry or show identity documentation).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, are responsible for preserving public order, protecting the rights and safety of persons and entities and their property, preventing and investigating crimes, and implementing orders given by the judiciary and public officials. The constitution charges military forces with guarding the country’s territory and borders. By law civilian authorities are in charge of the security forces.

The law authorizes the president to mobilize military forces domestically against any “internal aggression” endangering the country’s sovereignty, independence, or the integrity of its democratic constitutional order. The law requires the president to notify congress within 48 hours of a decision to deploy troops. By law the president’s deployment order must define a geographic location, be subject to congressional scrutiny, and have a set time limit. As of August 24, the government continued to maintain a deployment of more than 1,200 personnel from the FTC, of whom approximately 1,000 were military, to the departments of Concepcion, San Pedro, and Amambay.

The Ministry of National Defense, also under the president’s authority but outside the military’s chain of command, handles some defense matters. The ministry is responsible for the logistical and administrative aspects of the armed forces, especially the development of defense policy.

The law authorizes SENAD and units within the National Police, all under the president’s authority, to enforce the law in matters related to narcotics trafficking and terrorism. The law provides for SENAD to lead operations in coordination with the Attorney General’s Office and the judiciary. To arrest individuals or use force, SENAD must involve members of the National Police in its operations, but reportedly it often did not do so.

The Special Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office and the Disciplinary Review Board of the National Police are responsible for determining whether police killings legitimately occurred in the line of duty. The military justice system has jurisdiction over active military personnel.

Several human rights NGOs and media reported incidents of police involvement in homicides, rape, arms and narcotics trafficking, soliciting bribes, robbery, extortion, and kidnapping, with reported abuses particularly widespread in Ciudad del Este, Pedro Juan Caballero, and other locations on the border with Brazil.

Hundreds of cases of excessive use of force, torture, and other abuses by security forces remained unresolved and open with the Special Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office. No information was available whether any of these cases resulted in convictions or penalties during the year.

Although the National Police reportedly struggled with inadequate training, funding, and widespread corruption, it continued to investigate and punish members involved in crimes and administrative violations.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police may arrest individuals with a warrant or with reasonable cause. The law provides that after making an arrest, police have up to six hours to notify the Attorney General’s Office, at which time that office has up to 24 hours to notify a judge if it intends to prosecute. The law allows judges to use measures such as house arrest and bail in felony cases. According to civil society representatives and legal experts, in misdemeanor cases judges frequently set bail too high for many poor defendants to post bond, while politically connected or wealthy defendants pay minimal or no bail or receive other concessions, including house arrest.

The law grants defendants the right to hire counsel, and the government provides public defenders for those who cannot afford counsel. According to the NGO Paraguayan Human Rights Coordinator (CODEHUPY) and the NMPT, heavy caseloads adversely affected the quality of representation by public defenders. Detainees had access to family members.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. During the year NGOs reported several cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of persons without a warrant.

Pretrial Detention: The law permits detention without trial for a period equivalent to the minimum sentence associated with the alleged crime, a period that could range from six months to five years. Some detainees were held in pretrial detention beyond the maximum allowed time. According to the NMPT, 76 percent of male prisoners and 69 percent of female prisoners awaited trial and sentencing as of August 13.

The NMPT alleged the high number of prisoners in pretrial detention was principally a result of legislation that disproportionately affects low-level drug offenders. Specifically, it claimed the legislation prohibits judges from applying alternative measures to pretrial detentions for crimes with a potential sentence of five or more years. It also said the legislation sets overly strict guidelines on preventive detention for suspects in drug cases. As of July 13, 63 percent of all female detainees were low-level drug offenders.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Undue external influence, however, often compromised the judiciary’s independence. Interested parties, including politicians, routinely attempted to influence investigations and pressure judges and prosecutors. Judicial selection and disciplinary review board processes were often politicized. The law requires that specific seats on the board be allocated to congressional representatives, who were reportedly the greatest source of corrupt pressure and influence.

Courts were inefficient and subject to corruption, and NGOs and government officials alleged that some judges and prosecutors solicited or received bribes to drop or modify charges against defendants. Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, which the judiciary nominally provided, albeit through a lengthy trial process exacerbated by legal defense tactics that remove or suspend judges and prosecutors working on cases. Impunity was common due to politicization of and corruption within the judiciary and regular manipulation of the judicial process by defense attorneys who pushed statutes of limitations to expire before trials reached conclusion.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and a right of appeal. Both defendants and prosecutors may present written testimony from witnesses and other evidence. Defendants may confront adverse witnesses, except in cases involving domestic or international trafficking in persons, in which case victims may testify remotely or in the presence of the defendant’s lawyers, in lieu of the defendant. Defendants have the right to prompt information and detail of the indictments and charges they face, but some defendants received notification only when they faced arrest charges or seizure of their property.

Defendants have the right to access free interpretation services as necessary, including translation to Guarani–the country’s second official language. Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay, although trials were often protracted, as well as the right to be present at the trial. Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or one provided at public expense. Defendants have the right to a reasonable amount of time to prepare their defense and to access their legal files. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and may choose to remain silent.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to the courts to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. There are administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs, and authorities generally granted them to citizens. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the injured party; however, the government experienced problems enforcing court orders in such cases. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government generally enforced court orders with respect to seizure, restitution, or compensation for taking private property. Systemic inadequacies within the land registry system, however, prevented the government from compiling a reliable inventory of its landholdings. Registered land far exceeded the size of the country, and there were allegations of corruption within local government and the National Institute for Rural Development and Land, the government agency charged with implementing land reform, and reports of forced evictions.

The dispute between Brazilian-Paraguayan families claiming title to 555,436 acres of land and farming families occupying 222,965 acres of the disputed land in Colonia Guahory, Caaguazu Department, continued throughout the year. Police attempted to conduct several eviction operations, but the farming families remained in place. Legal counsel for the small-scale farming families alleged the Brazilian-Paraguayan families illegally purchased titles to the land. The case was pending as of October 15.

Despite the government’s acceptance of the donation of the disputed land on which the 2012 Curuguaty/Marina Cue confrontation occurred, the Public Registry refused to register the property. Officials explained they could not act until lawsuits establishing previous ownership were resolved.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions, but there were reports that members of the security forces failed to respect the law in certain instances. NGOs, local Roman Catholic Church organizations, and some national legislators alleged FTC personnel in the departments of Concepcion, San Pedro, and Amambay searched homes and schools without warrants. Catholic priests accused FTC personnel of sexual harassment against women living in the area of FTC operations. The Special Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office did not receive reports of any new cases of unlawful interference with private correspondence during the year, but it continued to investigate cases from previous years.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law and constitution provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press for the most part, although widespread corruption in the judiciary hindered protections in court.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists occasionally suffered harassment, intimidation, and violence, primarily from drug-trafficking gangs and criminal groups, but also from politicians and police. Media and international NGOs reported several such incidents against journalists.

On March 22, a prosecutor with the Attorney General’s Office summoned ABC Color journalist Mabel Rehnfeldt to testify regarding a case of corruption, seeking to compel her to reveal the identity of the source who had secretly recorded a number of audiotapes relevant to the case. The audiotapes, which Rehnfeldt made public, exposed massive political interference and corruption in the Justice Tribunal, which ostensibly provides disciplinary oversight for judges and prosecutors. Journalist associations protested the prosecutor’s decision, claiming it constituted an affront to a journalist’s right to protect her sources, a right safeguarded by the constitution.

Brazilian drug trafficker Felipe “Baron” Escurra Rodriguez, who had reportedly planned to kill well known journalist Candido Figueredo Ruiz, remained at large despite Paraguayan police efforts to recapture him. In 2012 Brazilian police intercepted a call involving Escurra in which he discussed killing Figueredo for reporting on Escurra’s illicit activities along the Paraguay-Brazil border. Escurra had been in custody since his arrest after a shootout with SENAD agents in 2016. In September 2017 Judge Leonjino Benitez released Escurra, but the order was subsequently revoked.

Authorities continued to search for Wilson Acosta Marques, whom they accused of participating in the 2014 assassination of ABC Colorjournalist Pablo Medina and his assistant Antonia Chaparro. Flavio Acosta Riveros, the alleged assassin (and Wilson’s nephew), remained in a Brazilian prison awaiting extradition.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The International Telecommunication Union reported 68 percent of inhabitants used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms 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 www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. The government’s National Commission of Refugees cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The NGO Committee of Churches for Emergency Aid acted as the local legal representative of UNHCR.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Durable Solutions: Authorities permitted persons whose asylum or refugee status cases were refused to seek other migration options, including obtaining legal permanent residency in the country or returning to the most recent point of embarkation. The government did not assist in the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes but rather relied on UNHCR assistance to facilitate such returns.

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: On April 22, the country held general elections to elect a president, vice president, department governors, members of both houses of congress, and Mercosur Parliament members. ANR’s Mario Abdo Benitez won the presidential election. ANR also won a plurality in the Senate and a majority in the lower house of congress. Election observation missions from the Organization of American States and the EU characterized the elections as free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ANR and the Liberal Party maintained long-standing control of the political process. The parties politicized the Supreme Court, lower courts, and the selection and disciplining of judges and prosecutors, including the nomination and selection process for the attorney general. On July 4 and 5, both chambers of congress changed their respective members of the eight-member Council of Magistrates for two politically connected politicians. The Council of Magistrates helps choose the attorney general, judges, prosecutors, and public defenders throughout the judicial system.

New, small, and nontraditional political parties faced hurdles in securing sizable congressional representation due to seat allocation formulas in the electoral code that favor larger parties.

The electoral code requires voters to select slates of candidates that party leaders, rather than individual candidates, draw up. Candidates running for executive office run on individual ballots but with strong and direct party affiliations aligned with lists of congressional candidates. In the country’s list-based voting system whereby winners are decided via their ranking in a popular vote, voters do not select individual congressional representatives. Independent candidates for any office face obstacles in setting up and running campaigns, since by law they must form a movement or political party and present a minimum number of candidates in a slate in order to compete.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The electoral code requires that at least 20 percent of each party’s candidates in internal party primaries be women. Although the parties met this requirement, they placed the majority of female candidates towards the end of the closed party lists, effectively limiting their chances of being elected. Women served in both the legislature and the Supreme Court; however, there were only 19 women in the congress (eight of 45 senators and 11 of 80 national deputies). There were no female governors.

Although there were no legal impediments to participation by minorities or indigenous persons in government, no clearly identifiable individuals from those groups served as a governor or in the cabinet, legislature, or Supreme Court.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Corruption in all branches and at all levels of government remained widespread, with investigative journalists and NGOs reporting on hundreds of cases of embezzlement, tax evasion, illicit enrichment, breach of public confidence, falsifying documents, and criminal association. Criminal cases typically spent several years in the courts. Under a law that prohibits court cases from lasting longer than four years, politicians and influential individuals convicted in lower courts routinely avoided punishment by filing appeals and motions until reaching the statute of limitation or by successfully requesting the removal or suspension of judges and prosecutors working on their cases. Although indictments and convictions for corruption of low- and mid-level public officials occurred more frequently, high-ranking public officials enjoyed a high degree of impunity. Sometimes such officials were indicted or forced to resign or repay embezzled funds, but formal complaints rarely led to active prosecutions or convictions. Public protests forced the resignation of three legislative officials, but the congress raised the minimum number of votes to invoke a sanction against a corrupt member of congress from a simple majority to a two-thirds supermajority, making already rare sanctions even more unreachable.

Politicization and corruption were pervasive throughout the judicial branch, hampering the institution’s effectiveness and undermining public trust. As of September 5, the Supreme Court had not ruled on outstanding cases concerning the recusals of the 13 prosecutors working on the Megalavado money-laundering case, more than one year after their recusal. In the first eight months of the year, the Justice Tribunal, which ostensibly provides disciplinary oversight for judges and prosecutors, ruled to apply sanctions in only seven of 476 cases brought before it. NGOs, legal associations, government officials, and the press reported repeated instances in which the Justice Tribunal refused to discipline judges and prosecutors who had released or absolved defendants with ties to narcotics trafficking and financial crime. Although the new president of the tribunal began to make meeting agendas public, voting records for individual tribunal members were not available to the public.

Corruption: Impunity was endemic for former and current high-level government officials accused of crimes. There were no convictions of high-profile officials during the year, but NGOs and the press continued to report on several former government ministers, mayors, governors, and current elected officials accused of, and indicted for, corruption and other crimes who had avoided prosecution in the justice system. As of September 5, there were unresolved cases involving four indicted former ministers and nine indicted current members of congress.

On August 28, a court convicted Ruben Quesnel, former president of the National Institute of Indigenous Persons, of misappropriation of public funds and breach of public trust.

In December 2017 prosecutors opened investigations of two members of congress and the Justice Tribunal, Oscar Gonzalez Daher and Jorge Oviedo Matto, for influence peddling, bribery, and criminal association. The Senate removed Gonzalez Daher from his position but allowed Oviedo Matto to resign. Both returned to the congress in the new period, which began on July 1, as a result of being placed on the respective parties’ fixed candidate list. Following large-scale public pressure, Gonzalez Daher resigned in August and Oviedo Matto in September. In January prosecutors opened an investigation of Carlos Portillo, a member of congress, for influence peddling, bribery, and criminal association. During the year prosecutors opened an investigation of Enrique Garcia, former comptroller general, for use of fraudulent documents. All four cases were pending as of August 24.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires all public employees, including elected officials and employees of independent government entities, to disclose their income and assets within 15 days of taking office or receiving an appointment and again within 15 days of finishing their term or assignment. Public employees must also disclose assets and income of spouses and dependent children. There is no requirement to make similar disclosures during a person’s appointment, and it was common for public officials to serve for years without updating their disclosure statement.

The law mandates the Comptroller’s Office monitor and verify disclosures; the comptroller may make income and asset disclosures public only at the request of the executive branch, congress, the Attorney General’s Office, or judicial authorities. The Attorney General’s Office opened several investigations for inconsistencies related to these disclosures.

The law bars public employees from holding government positions for up to 10 years for failure to comply with financial disclosure laws and imposes monetary fines of up to 19.1 million guaranies (Gs.) ($3,240), but this was generally not enforced. Legislators generally ignored the law with impunity, using political immunity to avoid investigation or prosecution. The Comptroller’s Office did not investigate cases with incriminating financial information.

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

More than 50 domestic and international human rights groups operated, generally without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally cooperated with domestic NGOs and international organizations and met with domestic NGO monitors and representatives, but they often did not take action in response to their reports or recommendations. There were a number of reports that anticorruption protesters were attacked while demonstrating, although police rarely identified assailants.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Human Rights Ombudsman Miguel Godoy Servin continued overhauling his office after 10 years of inactivity prior to his term, including launching outreach campaigns and investigations into misuse of public money and abuse of authority by public officials. Godoy filed a formal complaint leading to the indictment of former ombudsman Manuel Paez Monges for misusing approximately Gs. 1.375 billion ($233,000) of funds set aside as reparation funds for victims of the 1954-89 Stroessner dictatorship and their families. Paez Monges’ case was pending as of August 24.

Several human rights NGOs complained there was no single, reliable point of contact within the government to discuss human rights issues. They stated they were not approached for consultations on human rights policies, planning, and legislation. Although several government ministries had human rights offices to monitor compliance with human rights legislation, there was no coordinator to serve as the point of contact with civil society.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and provides penalties of up to 10 years in prison for rape or sexual assault. If the victim is a minor, the sentence ranges from a minimum of three years to 15 years in prison. According to the Attorney General’s Office, rape continued to be a significant and pervasive problem, with many rapes going unreported. The government generally prosecuted rape allegations and sometimes obtained convictions.

Although the law criminalizes domestic violence, including psychological abuse, and stipulates a penalty of two years in prison or a fine if convicted, it requires the abuse to be habitual and the aggressor and victim to be “cohabitating or lodging together.” Judges typically issued fines, but in some cases they sentenced offenders to jail to provide for the safety of the victim. In some instances the courts mediated domestic violence cases. According to NGOs and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, domestic violence was widespread, and thousands of women received treatment for injuries sustained in domestic altercations. The ministry promoted a national 24-hour telephone hotline for victims. The ministry also operated a shelter and coordinated victim assistance efforts, public outreach campaigns, and training.

In February the Ministry of Women’s Affairs launched Ciudad Mujer in Asuncion, an integrated service center for women, focusing on prevention of domestic violence, reproductive health, economic empowerment, and education. The ministry indicated the center had served 24,000 visitors as of July 31.

As of August the National Police had 17 specialized units to assist victims of domestic violence, and 137 officers were assigned to these stations.

Femicide remained a serious problem. A 2016 law criminalizes femicide and mandates a sentence of between 10 and 30 years in prison upon conviction. In 2017 there were 53 cases of femicide, an increase of 15 from 2016, according to the Supreme Court’s gender office. As of August 24, the office reported 32 cases of femicide.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a penalty of two years in prison or a fine, although sexual harassment remained a widespread problem for many women, especially in the workplace environments. Prosecutors found sexual harassment and abuse claims difficult to prove because of victims’ fear of workplace retaliation and societal pressures against victims. Many dropped their complaints or were unwilling to continue cooperating with prosecutors.

In July the Civil Service Secretariat approved a protocol for addressing sexual misconduct involving government workers. This protocol streamlines the filing of complaints for misconduct and harassment. To facilitate the enforcement of the protocol, the Civil Service Secretariat trained public servants and adopted guidance to include gender perspective in all public agencies’ internal resolutions.

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

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. There is no comprehensive law against discrimination and thus no legal basis for enforcement of the constitutional clause against discrimination.

Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. Nonetheless, gender-related discrimination was widespread. Women experienced more difficulty than men in securing employment and occupation.

Children

Birth Registration: Nationality derives from birth within the country’s territory, from birth to government employees in service abroad, or from birth to a citizen residing temporarily outside the country. Hospitals immediately register births, but this is not the case for many children born in rural areas and in indigenous communities with limited access to health-care facilities. Birth certificates and national identity documents are a prerequisite to access government services, including obtaining a passport.

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal from kindergarten through secondary school, although in many parts of the country parents had to pay fees to make sure the school could pay operational expenses. According to the government, girls from rural families tended to leave school at a younger age than did boys. Approximately 10 percent of children from poor families did not have access to schooling, due to economic hardship, geographic isolation, or early entry into the workforce.

Child Abuse: The NGO Coalition for the Rights of Children and Adolescents and the Ministry of Children and Youth, formerly the Secretariat of Children and Adolescents, stated that violence against children was widespread and equally prevalent among rural and urban families.

On August 21, a criminal court convicted priest Felix Miranda Gamarra of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy. Rather than sentencing Miranda to jail time, the court ordered him to donate Gs. five million ($850) to a local hospital.

The government does not have a shelter exclusively for child victims of sexual abuse; victims are usually assigned to an extended family member or referred to other general-purpose youth shelters. Several general-purpose youth shelters existed, including a shelter comanaged by the government and a Roman Catholic organization. In many cities the municipal council for children’s rights assisted abused and neglected children. An insufficient number of orphanages operated in the country.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, but the law permits marriage for those ages 16 to 18 with parental consent, and for those younger than age 16 only with judicial authorization under exceptional circumstances. There were no reports of forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: According to the Ministry of Children and Youth, child trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or forced domestic servitude remained problematic. The law provides penalties of up to eight years of imprisonment for persons responsible for pimping or brokering victims younger than 17 years of age.

The minimum age of consent is 14 when married and 16 when not married. A December 2017 amendment to the penal code establishes mandatory sentences for sexual abuse of children. The amendment increases the penalty for sexual abuse in cases involving violence or intercourse to at least 15 years in prison if the victim is under 18 and to 20 years in prison if the victim is under 10 years old. The penal code also provides for fines or up to three years in prison for the production, distribution, and possession of pornography involving children or adolescents younger than age 18. Authorities can increase this penalty to 10 years in prison depending on the age of the child and the child’s relationship to the abuser. A 2018 law prohibits the publication of names, images, or audios of underage sexual abuse victims or witnesses and stipulates fines and one year in prison for offenders.

In the first nine months of the year, the Ministry of Children and Youth received more than 2,000 reports of sexual abuse against children. In early September a prosecutor with the Attorney General’s Office placed in pretrial detention 13 navy officers who had sexually abused a 13-year-old girl at a navy garrison.

Child Soldiers: While the government as well as NGOs, including the Coordinator for the Rights of Infants and Adolescents and the Peace and Justice Service, alleged in previous years that the EPP recruited children into logistical support roles that later grew into combatant roles, there were no such reports during the year. The entire size of the EPP was estimated to be 20 to 50 members.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community has fewer than 1,000 members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law nominally prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law mandates accessibility in all public offices, but it does not specifically provide for access to information or communications, and most of the country’s buildings remained inaccessible, although some municipalities made progress.

Many persons with disabilities faced significant discrimination in employment; others were unable to seek employment because of a lack of accessible public transportation. The law mandates the allocation of 5 percent of all available public-employee positions to persons with disabilities; in practice less than 1 percent were so employed. The Ministry of Education and Sciences estimated more than 50 percent of children with disabilities did not attend school because of lack of access to public transportation capacity.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Anecdotally, ethnic minorities faced discrimination in finding employment, accessing credit, receiving equal pay, owning or managing businesses, accessing education, and accessing housing.

Indigenous People

The law provides indigenous persons the right to participate in the economic, social, political, and cultural life of the country, but the law was not effectively enforced. Discrimination, coupled with a lack of access to employment, education, health care, shelter, and sufficient land, hindered the ability of indigenous persons to progress economically while maintaining their cultural identity.

Indigenous workers engaged as laborers on ranches typically earned low wages, worked long hours, received pay infrequently, and lacked medical or retirement benefits. This situation was particularly severe in the Chaco region.

The National Institute for Indigenous Affairs (INDI), the Attorney General’s Office; the Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security; the Social Action Secretariat; and the Ombudsman’s Office are responsible for protecting and promoting indigenous rights. The law mandates that INDI negotiate, purchase, and register land on behalf of indigenous communities who claim lack of access to their ancestral lands. In some instances INDI claimed it lacked sufficient funding to purchase land on behalf of indigenous persons or required them to register land in the Asuncion office rather than locally.

The law authorizes indigenous persons to determine how to use communal land. There were insufficient police and judicial protections from encroachments on indigenous lands. This often resulted in conflict between indigenous communities and large landowners in rural areas, which at times led to violence.

CODEHUPY and other NGOs documented widespread trafficking in persons, rape, sexual harassment, and physical abuse of women in indigenous communities. Perpetrators were often workers and employers from neighboring ranches and farms. NGOs also alleged agribusiness operations in the Chaco exploited and violated the rights of indigenous workers.

The cases of Marcos Torales, Javier Torales, Robert de Souza, and Ismael Barrios were pending as of September 5. In 2017 the Attorney General’s Office charged them for organizing and participating in the May 2017 eviction of 20 families of the Ava Guarani indigenous community from 740 acres on the disputed Colonia Colorado’i property near Itakyry, Alto Parana Department.

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

No laws explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons, and discrimination occurred frequently. Several NGOs, including SomosGay, the Center for Studies and Documentation, and Aireana, reported police harassment and discrimination against LGBTI persons.

According to press and NGO reporting, during the year police officers beat, robbed, and implicated transgender individuals as suspects in serious crimes, including drug trafficking and armed robbery.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV-positive status and protects the privacy of medical information. The law also specifically prohibits employers from discriminating against or harassing employees based on their HIV-positive status. Labor ministry regulations forbid employers from requiring HIV testing prior to employment, but many companies reportedly still did so.

NGOs, CODEHUPY, and the HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Counseling and Reporting Center noted that persons with HIV/AIDS who sought access to health care, education, and employment opportunities faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation, demand for HIV testing, or gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions (with the exception of the armed forces and police), bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits binding arbitration or retribution against union organizers and strikers. There are several restrictions on these rights. The law requires that industrial unions have a minimum of 20 members to register. All unions must register with the Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security, a process that often takes more than a year. The ministry, however, typically issued provisional registrations within weeks of application to allow labor unions to operate. Unions with provisional registrations had the same rights and obligations as other unions. Workers cannot be members of more than one union, even if they have more than one part-time employment contract. Strikes are limited to purposes directly linked to workers’ occupations. Candidates for trade union office must work for a company and be active members of the union.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security is responsible for enforcing labor rights, registering unions, mediating disputes, and overseeing social security and retirement programs. Penalties, fines, and remedies associated with discrimination against unions were generally ineffective. Investigations of antiunion discrimination to protect labor rights were rare, lacked sufficient resources, and reportedly occurred only if requested by an aggrieved party. The ministry does not have jurisdiction to initiate or participate in antiunion litigation. Employers who fail to recognize or to bargain collectively with a registered union face fines of 50 days’ wages, or approximately Gs. 3.5 million ($595). Employers who blacklist employees face fines of only 30 days’ wages, or approximately Gs. 2.1 million ($350). These penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The government often did not prevent retaliation by employers who took action against strikers and union leaders. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays, mishandling of cases, and corruption.

The government did not always respect unions’ freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain. Employers and professional associations heavily influenced some private-sector unions. The leadership of several unions representing public-sector employees had ties to political parties and the government.

While union workers from the steel and maritime industries were unionized and often received relevant legal protections, most workers, including farmers, ranchers, and informal-sector employees, did not participate in labor unions. Many of these workers were members of farmworker movements.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security lacked adequate resources to conduct inspections, especially in remote areas where forced labor was reportedly more prevalent. The Special Directorate to Fight the Trafficking of Persons and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, however, increased child and forced labor investigations in the Chaco region, where the worst forms of child labor, human trafficking, and debt bondage were most prevalent. Penalties for violations include up to 20 years in prison, but enforcement was minimal and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

During the year the labor ministry’s regional office in the Chaco received complaints for unjustified firings, nonpayment of wages, and other labor violations. The ministry did not confirm instances of debt bondage in the Chaco but would not dismiss the possibility that it continued to exist. In that region there were reports children worked alongside their parents in debt bondage on cattle ranches, on dairy farms, and in charcoal factories. The government continued antitrafficking law enforcement and training efforts and provided limited protective services to female and child trafficking victims. The labor ministry began an antichild-labor information campaign specific to the Chaco in August.

Child labor and trafficking, particularly in domestic service, was a significant problem (see section 7.c.). Reports of criadazgo continued throughout the year. Criadazgo is the practice where middle- and upper-income families informally “employ” child domestic workers, often from impoverished families, and provide them with shelter, food, some education, and a small stipend. Although not all children in situations of criadazgo were victims of trafficking, it made them more vulnerable. The government did not oversee implementation of the practice nor specifically safeguard the rights of children employed through the criadazgo system. While the practice is not legally prohibited specifically, the National Child and Adolescent Secretariat continued to denounce it as illegal under child labor laws.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, with the exception of slavery-like practices that do not include trafficking involving physical movement of the victim. The minimum age for full-time employment is 18. Children 14 to 17 years old may work with written parental authorization, if they attend school and do not work more than four hours a day (14-15 years old) or six hours (16-17 years old), and do not work more than a maximum of 24 hours per week.

The government did not effectively enforce laws protecting children from exploitation in the workplace. The maximum administrative penalty for employing a child under age 14 is a fine of Gs. 3.78 million ($640). The law stipulates those who employ adolescents between ages 14 and 17 under hazardous conditions must pay the maximum administrative penalty, serve up to five years in prison, or both, but penalties were insufficient to deter violations due to lax enforcement.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security is responsible for administratively enforcing child labor laws, and the Attorney General’s Office prosecutes violators. The Ombudsman’s Office and the Child Rights Committee receive complaints and refer them to the Attorney General’s Office. In the first nine months of the year, the ministry received 17 complaints regarding child and adolescent workers. Most worked as metalworkers, cashiers, sales clerks, helpers, and in other service jobs.

Child labor continued to occur in retail; sugar, brick, and limestone production; domestic service; and small-scale agricultural sectors. Children, primarily boys, also worked in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors and in the restaurant and other service industries. According to both the government and the NGO community, 45,000-47,000 children, primarily girls, worked as domestic servants and received little or no pay under the criadazgo system. In exchange for work, employers promised child domestic servants room, board, and financial support for school. Some of these children were victims of human trafficking for the purposes of forced child labor, did not receive pay or the promised benefits in exchange for work, suffered from sexual exploitation, and often lacked access to education.

The 2017 case against Rosa Delvalle and Anderson Rios for serious bodily damage, attempted homicide, sexual abuse, and torture for forcing a 15-year-old minor to drink caustic soda while working as a domestic servant under the criadazgo system remained pending as of August 24.

The worst forms of child labor occurred where malnourished, abused, or neglected children worked in unhealthy and hazardous conditions selling goods or services on the street, working in factories, or harvesting crops. Children were used, procured, and offered to third parties for illicit activities, including commercial sexual exploitation (see also section 6, Children), sometimes with the knowledge of parents and guardians, who received remuneration. Some minors were involved in forced criminality, acting as drug smugglers for criminal syndicates along the border with Brazil. Children reportedly work in debt bondage alongside their parents in the Chaco region (see section 7.b.).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, age, religion, political opinion, disability, HIV-positive status, or social origin. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The fines for discrimination range from 10 to 30 daily wages per affected worker.

The press and civil society reported on employment discrimination based on sex, race, disability, age, language, weight, sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, and pregnancy.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The mandatory national minimum wage was Gs. 2.12 million ($355) per month. The mandatory minimum wage for domestic employees is set at 60 percent of the national minimum wage. Both were above the official estimate for the poverty income level. The law stipulates that domestic employees work a maximum of eight hours per day. The law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours (42 hours for night work) with one and one-half days of rest. There are no prohibitions of, or exceptions for, excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets appropriate occupational health and safety standards stipulating conditions of safety, hygiene, and comfort. Although these standards were current and appropriate for light-manufacturing and construction industries, enforcement was inadequate.

The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security did not effectively enforce provisions for overtime pay, the minimum wage, or limitations on hours of work in the formal or the informal sector. It launched public awareness campaigns, however, aimed at employers and workers to raise awareness of labor laws and worker rights. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance with all labor laws, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

During the first eight months of the year, the labor ministry’s Department of Mediation of Private Conflicts received 5,571 labor complaints and mediation requests. Men filed the majority of these complaints, which involved illegal dismissals or the failure of employers to pay the legally mandated end-of-year bonuses. Many formal and informal employers violated provisions requiring overtime pay, particularly in the food and agricultural sectors and for domestic services. From January to September 30, the labor ministry received 100 complaints of occupational safety and health violations, some associated with workplace accidents or fatalities. Most workplace accidents or fatalities occurred in the construction and light-manufacturing industries.

Employers are obligated to register workers with the labor ministry. As of October 13, however, approximately 2,160 employers had registered 7,090 workers with the ministry, which was very low compared with the country’s population of approximately 6.7 million.

According to the labor ministry and NGOs, many domestic workers suffered discrimination, routinely worked 12-hour workdays (when eight is the maximum), were not paid for overtime work (as required by law), were allowed to rest less than the 36 hours mandated by law, were not entitled to publicly provided retirement benefits, and did not routinely attain job stability after 10 years, unlike other workers covered by the labor code. Domestic workers were eligible for government-sponsored medical care and retirement programs through small payroll and employer contributions.

Peru

Executive Summary

Peru is a constitutional, multiparty republic. Pursuant to the constitution, in March First Vice President Martin Vizcarra assumed the presidency following the resignation of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Kuczynski, leader of the Peruanos Por el Kambio (Peruvians for Change) party, had won the 2016 national elections in a vote widely considered free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included isolated cases of torture; government corruption, including in the judiciary; violence against women and girls; and forced labor (human trafficking) at illegal gold mining sites.

The government took steps to investigate and in some cases prosecute or otherwise punish public officials accused of 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 the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

There were no significant developments in the investigation into allegations members of the Peruvian National Police (PNP) committed the extrajudicial killings of more than 27 criminal suspects during at least nine separate police operations from 2012 to 2015 as part of a scheme to obscure police corruption as well as a means to receive awards and promotions. Fourteen PNP regular police officers remained in preventive detention, eight in prison and six under house arrest, awaiting trial for their roles in one of the operations.

The Shining Path domestic terrorist group conducted several terrorist acts during the year that caused the injury and death of security force members and civilians, including the August 21 killing of a husband, wife, and adult son in a small town located in the remote region of Junin. Shining Path terrorists conducted two separate attacks on police and military contingents in June, killing four police officers and wounding several others.

On September 11, the National Criminal Court sentenced 10 former leaders of the Shining Path to life in prison for committing the 1992 Tarata Street bombing that killed 25 persons in Lima. The court postponed sentencing an 11th leader, Moises Limaco, who fled the country in 2014, and cleared a 12th, Elizabeth Cardenas.

b. Disappearance

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

The Ministry of Justice’s Directorate for Disappeared Persons oversees the recovery, identification, and return of remains of the approximately 13,000-20,000 persons who disappeared during the internal conflict of 1980-2000. To expedite this effort, President Vizcarra signed a law on September 7 to create a genetic database to identify and recover disappeared victims’ remains.

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

The law prohibits such practices. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), however, and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office reported that torture by police occurred and stated the government did not effectively prevent and punish those who committed such abuses. In a June report, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office identified 174 cases of police-related torture and abuse between March 2017 and April 2018. The incidents occurred nationwide, across all police units, but without any apparent pattern and were not found to be the result of a government policy.

According to the local NGO Human Rights Commission, many victims did not file formal complaints about their alleged torture, and those who did so purportedly had difficulty obtaining judicial redress and adequate compensation. Transgender women reported to NGOs that municipal police in metropolitan Lima committed acts of extortion, violence, and degrading treatment against them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The law prohibits such practices. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), however, and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office reported that torture by police occurred and stated the government did not effectively prevent and punish those who committed such abuses. In a June report, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office identified 174 cases of police-related torture and abuse between March 2017 and April 2018. The incidents occurred nationwide, across all police units, but without any apparent pattern and were not found to be the result of a government policy.

According to the local NGO Human Rights Commission, many victims did not file formal complaints about their alleged torture, and those who did so purportedly had difficulty obtaining judicial redress and adequate compensation. Transgender women reported to NGOs that municipal police in metropolitan Lima committed acts of extortion, violence, and degrading treatment against them.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. The government constitutionally suspended the right to freedom from arrest without warrant in designated emergency zones.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNP is responsible for all areas of law enforcement and internal security, including migration and border security. The PNP functions under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. The armed forces are responsible for external security under the authority of the Ministry of Defense. The armed forces have limited domestic security responsibilities, particularly in the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) emergency zone.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the military and police forces, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuses. Corruption and a high rate of acquittals, however, in civilian courts for military personnel accused of crimes remained serious problems. The Public Ministry conducted investigations, although access to evidence held by the Ministry of Defense was not always forthcoming. The Ombudsman’s Office can also investigate cases and submit conclusions to the Public Ministry for follow-up.

The Ministries of Interior and Defense employed internal mechanisms to investigate allegations of security force abuse. The Ministry of Interior’s Office of Inspector General reported it disciplined approximately 1,400 police officers from January to September, compared with over 33,000 in the first eight months of 2017. Analysts attributed the apparent dramatic decrease in PNP disciplinary actions during the year to the fact that there were an unusually high number of disciplinary actions the previous year, which were the result of reforms the Interior Ministry implemented in 2017.

Police continued operating under a use-of-force doctrine adopted in 2015. When a police action causes death or injury, the law requires an administrative investigation and notification to the appropriate oversight authorities. The law is applicable to all police force members and defines the principles, rules, situations, and limitations for police use of force and firearms.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires a written judicial warrant based on sufficient evidence for an arrest, unless authorities apprehend the alleged perpetrator of a crime in the act. Only judges may authorize detentions. Authorities are required to arraign arrested persons within 24 hours, except in cases of suspected terrorism, drug trafficking, or espionage, for which arraignment must take place within 15 days. In remote areas, arraignment must take place as soon as practicable. Military authorities must turn over persons they detain to police within 24 hours. Police must file a report with the Public Ministry within 24 hours after an arrest. The Public Ministry, in turn, must issue its own assessment of the legality of the police action in the arrest, and authorities respected this requirement.

The law permits detainees access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. Police may detain suspected terrorists incommunicado for 10 days.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. As of June, judicial authorities had sentenced 52,966 of the 87,995 detainees held in detention facilities and prisons. The length of pretrial detention occasionally equaled, but did not exceed, the maximum sentence of the alleged crime. Delays were due mainly to judicial inefficiency, corruption, and staff shortages. In accordance with the law, courts released prisoners held more than nine months (up to 36 months in complex cases) whom the justice system had not tried and sentenced. The courts factored pretrial detention into final sentences.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Some NGOs and other advocates alleged the judiciary did not always operate independently, was not consistently impartial, and was sometimes subject to political influence and corruption.

In July the media released audiotaped phone conversations of judges implicating themselves in influence peddling, which included court decisions. Immediately following the scandal, President Vizcarra implemented measures to address judicial corruption.

Authorities generally respected court orders from the judiciary.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right, although reports of corruption in the judicial system were common. The government continued the implementation, begun in 2006, of the transition from the inquisitorial to the accusatory legal system and the application of a new criminal procedure code designed to streamline the penal process. As of October the government had initiated the transition and introduced the code in 31 of the 34 judicial districts, although implementation in the largest judicial districts–Lima and South Lima–remained pending.

The law presumes all defendants are innocent. The government must promptly inform defendants in detail of the charges against them and provide defendants a trial without undue delay. Defendants also have the right to be present at their trial and to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense. State-provided attorneys, however, often had poor training. Although the law grants citizens the right to trial in their own language, interpreting and translation services for non-Spanish speakers were sometimes unavailable. This deficiency primarily affected indigenous persons living in the highlands and Amazon regions.

The law gives all defendants the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare for their defense. Defendants have the right to confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The government cannot compel defendants to testify or confess to a crime. Defendants may appeal verdicts to a superior court and ultimately to the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Tribunal may rule on cases involving issues such as habeas corpus or the constitutionality of laws.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, but court cases often take years to resolve. Press reports, NGOs, and other sources continued to allege that persons outside the judiciary frequently corrupted or influenced judges.

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. The government’s continued declaration of an emergency zone in the VRAEM, due to drug trafficking and criminal activity, suspended the right to home inviolability.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system generally promoted freedom of expression, including for the press.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists alleged police, protesters, and company personnel assaulted and threatened them while covering various protests and incidents of social unrest. The Press and Society Institute reported the most common type of threat was made against local radio and television broadcast journalists who investigated local government authorities for corruption. The institute alleged the aggressors were often local and regional government officials, such as mayors and regional governors.

Police continued to investigate the 2016 killing of radio journalist Hernan Choquepata Ordonez in the coastal province of Camana, Arequipa Region. Reports suggested Choquepata was killed after he criticized mayors of the municipalities of Camana and Mariscal Caceres.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: NGOs continued to report that some media, most notably in the provinces outside of Lima, practiced self-censorship due to fear of local government reprisal.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some media reported narcotics traffickers and persons engaged in illegal mining activities threatened press freedom by intimidating journalists who reported information that undermined their operations.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

The International Telecommunication Union reported that 49 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law does not require a permit for public demonstrations, but organizers must report the type of demonstration planned and coordinate its intended location to the appropriate regional representative. The government continued to suspend freedom of assembly in the VRAEM emergency zone, where armed elements of the Shining Path and drug traffickers operated, as well as in regions suffering from crime and public health crises.

The government may restrict or prohibit demonstrations in specific times and places to assure public safety or health. Police used tear gas and occasional force to disperse protesters in various demonstrations. Although most demonstrations were peaceful, protests in some areas turned violent, resulting in two deaths and multiple injuries in February (see section 6, Other Societal Violence and Discrimination).

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: The government maintained an emergency zone in the VRAEM and parts of four regions, where it restricted freedom of movement in an effort to maintain public peace and restore internal order.

Narcotics traffickers and Shining Path members at times interrupted the free movement of persons by establishing roadblocks in sections of the VRAEM emergency zone. Individuals protesting against extractive industry projects also occasionally established roadblocks throughout the country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The situation of former IDPs was difficult to assess. According to UNHCR, the number of IDPs was unknown, since officials registered relatively few.

The governmental Reparations Council continued to assist victims of the 1980-2000 internal conflict with the Shining Path and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement terrorist groups. The Quechua and other Andean indigenous populations were disproportionately represented among IDPs, since the conflict took place primarily within the Andean region. The council continued to compile a registry of victims and identify communities eligible for reparations. Some victims and family members lacking proper identity documents experienced difficulties registering for reparations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government, UNHCR, IOM, and civil society organizations estimated nearly 100,000 foreigners, mostly Venezuelans, resided in the country under irregular circumstances. The number of Venezuelans entering the country continued to increase, reaching more than 600,000 as of November, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015. The government created temporary residence permits for Venezuelans, enabling them to reside and work in the country legally. The government had granted temporary residence permits to approximately 92,000 Venezuelans who entered between February 2017 and September 2018. Local authorities reported approximately 694,000 Venezuelans entered from Ecuador between January and October. Of these Venezuelan entrants, 71 percent declared (over 491,000) their final destination was Peru and the remainder (over 202,000) departed for Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government cooperated with UNHCR and recognized the Catholic Migration Commission as the official provider of technical assistance to refugees. The commission also advised citizens claiming a fear of persecution who sought asylum. The government provided protection to refugees on a renewable, year-to-year basis, in accordance with commission recommendations. Asylum requests continued to grow, from approximately 400 cases in 2015 to more than 130,000 as of September. Approximately 97 percent of the asylum requests during the year came from Venezuelan citizens.

Durable Solutions: The government does not have a resettlement program, but it received persons recognized as refugees in other nations and provided some administrative support toward their integration. UNHCR provided such refugees humanitarian and emergency aid, legal assistance, documentation, and, in exceptional cases, voluntary return and family reunification.

Temporary Protection: As of September, the government provided temporary protection to more than 130,000 individuals awaiting a decision on their refugee status. The government provided these individuals temporary residence permits and authorization to work.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of corruption by government officials during the year. Citizens continued to view corruption as a pervasive problem in all branches of national, regional, and local governments.

Corruption: Several high-profile political figures were under investigation for corruption. Released from pretrial detention in April, former president Ollanta Humala and first lady Nadine Heredia remained under investigation on money-laundering and corruption charges. The government requested the extradition of former president Toledo from the United States for allegedly accepting bribes during his administration. The Public Ministry opened an investigation into former president Kuczynski’s alleged involvement in buying votes to avoid impeachment as well as his ties to bribery by Brazilian construction firms seeking local public works contracts. A judge ordered former presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori to pretrial detention in October for allegedly managing the laundering of illegal campaign contributions.

There were allegations of widespread corruption in the judicial system. The government launched an investigation following July media reports of a judicial scandal involving allegations of influence peddling and graft by various judges at all levels. The president of the judiciary resigned in July because he failed to identify and respond to the corruption. President Vizcarra proposed new constitutional and legislative reforms to combat corruption, including a new system for selecting judges. In October Congress approved Vizcarra’s corruption reform agenda. The electorate overwhelmingly supported the president’s agenda in a December 9 referendum, voting in favor of reform of the National Council of Magistrates to select judges in a public process based on merit, more transparent political party financing, and ending immediate re-election of legislators, and against a question on a return to a bicameral Congress. Although the new criminal procedure code was not fully implemented in Lima, the government applied the code to corruption cases in all the judicial districts.

PNP officials at all levels were implicated in corruption scandals during the year. In September authorities arrested PNP General Jose Antonio Figueroa, who was accused of receiving bribes in exchange for the protection of an organized criminal group in Lima. Four other PNP generals were suspected of supporting the same group in exchange for monthly bribes.

In August a superior criminal court sentenced a former National Penitentiary Institute vice president and two other high-level officials to 13 years in prison for bribing judges on behalf of a criminal gang and providing favors to imprisoned gang members, including early releases.

Financial Disclosure: Most public officials must submit personal financial information to the Office of the Comptroller General prior to taking office and periodically thereafter. The comptroller monitors and verifies disclosures, but the law was not strongly enforced. Administrative sanctions for noncompliance range from 30-day to one-year suspensions, include bans on signing government contracts, and culminate with a ban from holding government office. The comptroller makes disclosures available to the public. A 2016 law enabled the Superintendency of Banks’ Financial Intelligence Unit to access individual or corporate tax records and bank accounts for public officials under investigation for money laundering and other crimes. As of October the government, however, had not implemented this law. The comptroller reported only 22 audits were conducted for the 50,000 public official disclosures in 2017.

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

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

Human rights activists continued to express concern for their safety while working in areas with social unrest, including in the regions of Cajamarca, Cusco, Madre de Dios, and Arequipa, where social conflicts existed, particularly over natural resource extractive activities. They also alleged locally elected government authorities harassed activists, especially in areas where officials faced corruption charges and links to criminal activities. The activists claimed the slow, ineffective process for sanctioning harassers essentially supported accusations of impunity.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, and in particular the Vice Ministry of Human Rights and Access to Justice, oversees human rights issues at the national level. The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations also have significant human rights roles. These government bodies were generally considered independent and effective.

The independent Office of the Ombudsman (Defensoria del Pueblo) operated without government or party interference, and NGOs, civil society organizations, and the public considered it effective.

Congressional committees overseeing human rights included Justice and Human Rights; Women and the Family; Labor and Social Security; Andean, Amazonian, Afro-Peruvian Peoples and Environment and Ecology; Health and Population; and Social Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities.

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

Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

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

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

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

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

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

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

Indigenous People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

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

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

With certain limitations, labor laws and regulations provide freedom of association, the right to strike, and collective bargaining. The law prohibits employer intimidation and other forms of antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, unless they opt to receive compensation instead. Regulations allow workers to form unions without seeking prior authorization. The minimum membership required by law to form a union is 20 employees for a workplace-level union and 50 employees for a sector-wide union, which some labor activists viewed as prohibitively high in some instances, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises. The use of consecutive short-term contracts in some nontraditional export sectors, such as textiles and apparel, made the exercise of freedom of association and collective bargaining difficult.

The law allows unions to declare a strike in accordance with their governing documents. Private-sector workers must give advance notice of at least five working days, and public-sector workers must give at least 10 days’ notice. The law also allows nonunion workers to declare a strike with a majority vote as long as the written voting record is notarized and announced at least five working days prior to a strike. Unions in essential services are permitted to call a strike but must provide 15 working days’ notice, receive the approval of the ministry, obtain approval of a simple majority of workers, and provide a sufficient number of workers during a strike to maintain operations. Private enterprises and the public institutions cannot fire workers who strike legally.

The law requires businesses to monitor their contractors with respect to labor rights and imposes liability on businesses for the actions of their contractors. The law governing the general private-sector labor regime sets out nine categories of short-term employment contracts that companies may use. The law sets time limits for each of the categories and contains a five-year overall limit on the consecutive use of short-term contracts. A sector-specific law covering the textile and apparel nontraditional export sectors exempts employers from this five-year limit and allows employers to hire workers on indefinite short-term contracts, without requiring a conversion to the permanent workforce.

Although the Ministry of Labor and its National Superintendency of Labor Inspection (SUNAFIL) received budget increases in 2017 and 2018, resources remained inadequate to enforce freedom of association, collective bargaining, and other labor laws. In July Congress passed a law to merge the regional labor inspectors and Ministry of Labor inspectors with SUNAFIL. As of September SUNAFIL reported having 636 labor inspectors and to have budgeted for the hiring of an additional 216 inspectors by the end of the year. SUNAFIL opened a new labor inspection office in Puno in May. As of October SUNAIFL had offices in 16 of the 24 regions.

Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining range from 7,400 to 74,000 soles ($2,280 to $22,800). Such penalties were insufficient to deter violations and, according to labor experts and union representatives, were rarely enforced. Workers continued to face prolonged judicial processes and lack of enforcement following dismissals resulting from trade union activity.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate for effective enforcement of the law. The law prescribes penalties of eight to 25 years’ imprisonment for labor trafficking, although the government did not report statistics on convictions and sentences for forced labor during the year. Financial penalties for violations range from 7,400 to 74,000 soles ($2,280 to $22,800) but were insufficient to deter violations.

SUNAFIL officials conducted inspections to identify forced labor. The Ministry of Labor and SUNAFIL provided training sessions to SUNAFIL and regional labor inspectors around the country to raise awareness of forced labor and the applicable law. The government continued to implement the 2013-17 national plan to combat forced labor during the year. The government approved a new National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons 2017-21 in June 2017. The plan addresses forced labor as human trafficking with an emphasis on the needs of victims through a dedicated Victim Reintegration Plan.

Thousands of persons remained subject to conditions of forced labor, mainly in mining, forestry, agriculture, brick making, and domestic service. There were reports that men and boys were subjected to bonded labor in mining (including gold mining), forestry, and brick making, while women were most often found working under conditions of domestic servitude. Both men and women reportedly worked in bonded labor in agriculture.

In July a court sentenced the husband and wife who operated a workshop to preventive detention. As of October the husband remained in jail, and his wife was under house arrest, pending trial. A fire in June 2017 in downtown Lima exposed the informal counterfeit lightbulb workshop, which allegedly engaged in human trafficking for forced labor exploitation. Two workers were locked in the workshop; one, a 17-year-old minor, died in the fire.

In September the PNP reported it rescued 1,077 human trafficking victims (sexual exploitation and forced labor) during multiple police operations from January to September. The rescued victims included 130 foreign women, mostly Venezuelans with some Ecuadorians and Bolivians. The police conducted the operations in Madre de Dios, Piura, Tumbes, and Lima.

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 legal minimum age for employment is 14, although children between the ages of 12 and 14 may work in certain jobs for up to four hours per day. Adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17 may work up to six hours per day, if they obtain special permission from the Ministry of Labor and certify that they are attending school. In certain sectors of the economy, higher age minimums existed: 15 in nonindustrial agriculture; 16 in industry, commerce, and mining; and 17 in industrial fishing. The law specifically prohibits the hiring of minors in a number of occupations considered hazardous for children, including working underground, lifting or carrying heavy weights, accepting responsibility for the safety of others, and working at night. The law prohibits work that jeopardizes the health of children and adolescents; puts their physical, mental, and emotional development at risk; or prevents regular attendance at school.

A permit from the Labor Ministry is required for persons under 18 to work legally. Parents must apply for the permits, and employers must have a permit on file to hire a minor.

The Ministry of Labor and SUNAFIL are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but enforcement was not effective, especially in the informal sector in which the majority of child labor occurred. The ministry and SUNAFIL lacked the resources needed to execute necessary inspections, and inter-ministerial coordination was often lacking. Inspectors conducted visits without notice to areas where persons or organizations had reported child labor problems. By law the penalties for illegal child labor include fines from 192,500 soles ($59,400) for microbusiness to 385,000 soles ($118,800) for small and medium-sized businesses and 770,000 soles ($237,600) for larger enterprises. In addition to these fines, violators are subject to civil and criminal legal proceedings.

The Labor Ministry continued its “Vamos Peru” (Let’s Go, Peru) program, focused on job training, technical assistance to entrepreneurs, and job placement, and the “Peru Responsable” (Responsible Peru) program, aimed at fostering corporate social responsibility and creating formal employment for youth. The ministry continued to implement its national strategy to combat child labor, including projects in Junin, Huancavelica, Pasco, Carabayllo, and Huanuco, which focused on reducing child labor by improving educational services, providing mechanical tools, and providing cash transfers to families in rural areas.

The Office of the Ombudsman for Children and Adolescents (DEMUNA) worked with the Labor Ministry to document complaints regarding violations of child labor laws. DEMUNA operated a decentralized child labor reporting and tracking system. The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations administered a program that sent specialized teachers to the streets to provide education and support to minors involved in begging and street vending. The ministry continued to implement the Yachay program, which assists homeless children ages six to 17 with workshops, health care, education, legal services, and scholarships.

A 2016 government child labor report found more than two million children in the five-to-17 age group worked, a rate of more than 26 percent. The report noted child labor rates tracked closely with high poverty rates, with several of the rural highland regions having child labor rates above 50 percent: 67 percent for Huancavelica, 63 percent for Cajamarca, 54 percent for Cusco, and 51 percent for Puno. Some coastal regions had child labor rates below 10 percent, such as Callao with 4 percent, Lima with 6 percent, and Ica with 9 percent. The report also found child labor predominately occurred in rural, agricultural areas (46 percent), in contrast to urban centers (13 percent). The report noted that children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including mining and in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking.

Representatives from the Labor Ministry, NGOs, and labor unions reported counterfeit U.S. currency cases that involved child labor. The ministry, NGOs, and labor activists reported the use of child labor in rice production on plantations in the Tumbes Region.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, disability, age, language, or social status. The law does not specifically identify discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The law prohibits discrimination against domestic workers and any requirement by employers for their domestic workers to wear uniforms in public places. The law establishes the following employment quotas for persons with disabilities: 3 percent for private businesses with more than 50 employees and 5 percent for public-sector organizations. The National Council for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities oversees compliance with employment quotas for persons with disabilities.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment, but they were not sufficient to deter violations. NGOs and labor rights advocates noted that discrimination cases often went unreported to authorities.

Societal prejudice and discrimination led to disproportionate poverty and unemployment rates for women. Women were more likely to work in the informal sector or in less secure occupations, such as domestic service, factory work, or as street vendors, and they were more likely to be illiterate due to lack of formal education.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In April the government increased the statutory monthly minimum wage for formal workers from 850 soles ($265) to 930 soles ($290) per month. The INEI estimated the poverty line to be 315 soles ($97) a month per person, although it varied by region. The average monthly income, set in September 2016, was 1,640 to 1,867 soles ($505-$575) for men and 1,352 soles ($415) for women. The INEI reported the average monthly income in 2017 for Lima was 1,667.30 soles ($521).The government did not effectively enforce wage laws and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations of minimum wage standards.

The law provides for a 48-hour workweek for formal workers and one day of rest. There is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, nor does the law limit the amount of overtime that a worker may work. The law stipulates 15 days of paid annual vacation.

The Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Standards are appropriate for the main industries. SUNAFIL is responsible for the enforcement of OHS standards. The government did not devote sufficient resources and personnel to enforce OHS standards.

Fines for labor violations were last increased in April 2014. Noncompliance with the law is punishable by fines of 7,400 to 74,000 soles ($2,280 to $22,800). In July 2014, however, the government enacted a three-year decree that reduced fines on employers for labor violations to no more than 35 percent of the maximum fine established by law. The government renewed that decree in 2017 for another three years. The reduction is limited to fines for occupational safety and health violations that did not result in death or permanent injury of the worker and violations of laws related to freedom of association and workplace discrimination determined not to be “very serious.” The reduction does not apply to violations that “very seriously affect” freedom of association, union formation, and workplace discrimination; violations related to child labor or forced labor; violations of occupational and safety norms that result in death or permanent disability of the worker; actions that impede labor inspections; and recidivist conduct, defined as repeat violations within a six-month period from the time a final decision on the first infraction was issued. The reductions, however, do not apply to violations of fundamental labor rights. Many fines went uncollected, in part because the government lacked an efficient tracking system and at times due to a lack of political will, according to a local labor NGO and labor experts.

The law provides for fines and criminal sanctions for occupational safety and health violations. In cases of infractions, injury, or deaths of workers or subcontractors, the penalty is one to four years’ imprisonment. Criminal penalties are limited to those cases where employers “deliberately” violated safety and health laws and where labor authorities had previously notified employers who chose not to adopt measures in response to a repeated infraction. The law requires that a worker prove an employer’s culpability to obtain compensation for work-related injuries.

Representatives of labor, business, and the government reported that the majority of companies in the formal sector generally complied with the law. Many workers in the informal economy, approximately 70 percent of the total labor force, received less than the minimum wage, although most were self-employed.

Suriname

Executive Summary

Suriname is a constitutional democracy with a president elected by the unicameral National Assembly. Elections for the National Assembly took place in 2015. International observers considered the legislative elections to be free and fair. In 2015 the assembly elected Desire (Desi) Delano Bouterse to a second consecutive term as president.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included corruption, trafficking in persons, violence and abuse against women and children, use of child labor, and criminal defamation laws, although there were no prosecutions during the year.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Observers nonetheless expressed concern that high public officials and security officers had impunity from enforcement.

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.

There were developments in the trial of former military dictator and current President Bouterse and codefendants for the 1982 extrajudicial killing of 15 political opponents. The prosecution recommended 20-year sentences for nine defendants, including lead suspect Bouterse, a 10-year sentence for one defendant, and acquittal for nine defendants. Both prosecution and defense provided final rebuttals, arguments, and statements. At year’s end the case awaited the verdict and sentencing by the judges.

There was no progress made on establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as mandated by the amnesty law.

b. Disappearance

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

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

While the law prohibits such practices, human rights groups, defense attorneys, and media continued to report instances of mistreatment by police, including unnecessary use of force during arrests and beatings while in detention.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards, but there were numerous problems in the country’s 26 detention centers.

Physical Conditions: In prisons there were no major reports of conditions that raised human rights concerns. Nonetheless, prisons were understaffed, with high prisoner-to-guard ratios. Facilities lacked adequate emergency exits. Cells were closed with individual padlocks. There were no emergency evacuation drills.

Overcrowding was a problem in the detention centers connected to police stations and operated by police. Older buildings lacked adequate lighting and ventilation, with limited functioning sanitation facilities. Hygienic conditions were poor. Bad drainage led to flooding problems in some facilities. Police had no standard operating procedures for management of detention facilities. Each facility had its own rules. Police officers were assigned to detention facilities without any specialized training. Facilities lacked adequate guards, relying instead on regular duty police officers when additional assistance was necessary. Officers did not have adequate medical protective gear to handle detainees in need of medical attention. There were reported cases of communicable diseases in detention facilities.

Outside vendors were responsible for providing food. Throughout the year vendors threatened to suspend services due to lack of payment by the government.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. Government officials continued regular monitoring of prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The armed forces are responsible for national security and border control, with the military police having direct responsibility for immigration control at the country’s ports of entry. All elements of the military are under the control of the Ministry of Defense. Civilian police bear primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order and report to the Ministry of Justice and Police. Police effectiveness was hampered by a lack of equipment and training and by low salaries. Police and military personnel continued to conduct regular joint patrols as part of the government’s overall efforts to combat crime, and both also served jointly on special security teams.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the military and police. Although the government continued to take steps to prosecute abusers in the security forces, observers nonetheless expressed concern that high-ranking public officials and security officers had impunity from enforcement.

The Personnel Investigation Department (OPZ), an office within the Police Department, investigated complaints filed by citizens against members of the police force. The Internal Affairs Unit (ITZ) investigated allegations of misconduct by members of the police force. Military police and the judge advocate investigated offenses committed by soldiers.

As of September the OPZ received 94 complaints from private citizens against members of the police force, 21 of which contained allegations of threats, firearm violence, abuse of authority, and sex crimes. By the same date, the ITZ conducted investigations in 140 cases involving various forms of misconduct. Three cases resulted in the firing of police officers.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police apprehended individuals openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and brought them before an independent judiciary. The law provides that detainees be brought before a judge within seven days to determine the legality of their arrest. Courts generally met the seven-day deadline. Authorities promptly informed detainees of the charges against them. An assistant district attorney or a police inspector may authorize incommunicado detention. If additional time is needed to investigate the charge, a judge may extend the detention period in 30-day increments up to a total of 150 days. There is no bail system. Release pending trial is dependent on the type of crime committed and the judge handling the case. Detainees received prompt access to counsel of their choosing, but the prosecutor may prohibit access if the prosecutor believes access could harm the investigation. Legal counsel was provided at no charge for indigent detainees. Detainees were allowed weekly visits from family members.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem, caused by an insufficient number of judges available to hear cases. While some progress was made in bringing criminal cases to trial, detainees often served the majority, if not all, of their sentences, before trial was completed.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The dependence of the courts on the Ministry of Justice and Police and Ministry of Finance, both executive agencies, for funding was a threat to judicial independence. Some progress was reportedly made towards financial independence of the Court of Justice, when the two agreed to allow the court to manage a budget of its own for smaller expenditures.

Human rights activists complained that there was no effective remedy for constitutional violations, as a succession of governments failed to install a constitutional court as mandated by the constitution.

According to the interim president of the Court of Justice, the country had only 19 of the 40 judges needed for the proper functioning of the judicial system. The government approved the appointment of seven new judges, who were to be sworn in in January 2019. Despite the shortage of judges, the court made significant progress in processing of cases, including appeals cases.

The judiciary hired additional court clerks and administrative staff to improve its administrative functioning. In January a newly renovated court building opened, and all three court buildings were operating at full capacity. The court launched an automation project intended to include the digitizing of all rulings and the launch of a website for educational purposes and publishing rulings. The Attorney General’s Office launched a training course for additional assistant prosecutors during the year.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants have the right to trial without undue delay and the right to counsel. There were court-assigned attorneys for both the civil and penal systems. All trials are public except for indecency offenses and offenses involving children. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to appeal. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants’ attorneys may question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on the defendant’s behalf. The courts assign private-sector lawyers to defend indigent detainees. If necessary, free interpretation is also provided. The law protects the names of the accused, and authorities do not release those names to the public or media prior to conviction.

Legal assistance to indigent detainees continued to come under pressure as lawyers threatened to cease legal assistance due to lack of payment by the government. Cases concerning non-Dutch-speaking detainees continued to experience delays on numerous occasions as interpreters suspended their services to the court due to a backlog in payments by the government. Cases requiring psychological or psychiatric evaluations were also repeatedly postponed as this group of experts also ceased court services during the year due to the government’s failure to pay them. There was no notable progress during the year to alleviate these problems.

There are parallel military and civilian court systems, and military personnel generally are not subject to civilian criminal law. The military courts follow the same rules of procedure as the civil courts. There is no appeal from the military to the civil system.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations in local courts. Individuals and organizations have the right to appeal decisions to regional human rights bodies; most cases are brought to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The IACHR ruled against the country in several cases, but the government only sporadically enforced court rulings or took no action (see section 6, Indigenous People).

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 Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. While there are no formal restrictions on the press, actions by government and nongovernment actors impeded the ability of the independent media to conduct their work.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without formal restriction. Multiple media outlets published materials critical of the government. Ownership affiliations, either pro- or antigovernment, influenced the overall tone of reporting.

Agents of the government used state media, particularly the state-run radio station, as a tool to criticize and attack those with views opposing the government. In certain instances the attacks directly threatened democracy and rule of law.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported intimidation by government and nongovernment actors. To protect the identity of journalists, two of four leading daily newspapers intermittently printed only the initials of writers instead of their full names. Another newspaper printed articles without an author’s name.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media members reported continued self-censorship in response to alleged pressure from government officials or government-affiliated entities on journalists who published negative stories about the administration. Nonetheless, the press carried articles critical of the government on a daily basis. Additionally, many news outlets retained affiliations with particular political parties that could bias reporting.

The generally low wages for journalists made them vulnerable to bias and influence, which further jeopardized the credibility of reporting. Independent media faced competition for qualified journalists. The government’s media office, as well as the private sector, hired jounalists away from independent media outlets, offering them higher wages. This practice made it difficult for independent media to retain qualified staff and impeded their ability to report adequately on government activities.

In May the Suriname Association of Journalists expressed its concerns about the centralization of information by the government, which limited the press in its ability freely and independently to gather news. Following the introduction of the centralized system in 2017, government officials and entities avoided direct contact with the press.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported the selective awarding of advertising by the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: The country’s criminal defamation laws carry harsh penalties, with prison terms between three months and seven years. The harshest penalty is for expressing public enmity, hatred, or contempt towards the government. There were no reports of cases involving defamation during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no government restrictions on access to the internet, and the government asserted that it did not monitor private online communications without appropriate legal oversight. Nevertheless, journalists, members of the political opposition and their supporters, and other independent entities perceived government interference or oversight of email and social media accounts.

Internet access was common and widely available in the major cities but less common in remote areas, with limited bandwidth and often limited or no access to electricity. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 49 percent of citizens used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

In contrast with 2017, there were no violations of the freedom to peaceful assembly during the year.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country relies on UNHCR to assign refugee or asylum seeker status. Once status is confirmed, refugees or asylum seekers obtain residency permits under the alien legislation law.

The Red Cross Suriname was the local point of contact for those filing for refugee status with UNHCR.

In March the Ministry of Justice and Police passed a resolution that sets forth procedures for the formal processing of aliens filing for protective or refugee status and formalizes cooperation with the Red Cross as the UNHCR representative.

STATELESS PERSONS

A 2014 amendment to the Citizenship and Residency Law grants citizenship through place of birth to a child who is born in the country to non-Surinamese parents, but it does not automatically confer citizenship of one of the parents. The amended law aims to eliminate the possibility of statelessness among children but does not apply retroactively, so a person born before September 2014 continues to be subject to the previous citizenship rules. Thus, children born before September 2014 in undocumented Brazilian-national mining communities or to foreign women in prostitution become eligible to apply for citizenship only at the age of 18.

While officially the government does not limit services such as education to stateless children, the bureaucratic requirements of registering children for these services proved obstacles to obtaining services.

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 constitution provides for direct election of the 51-member National Assembly no later than five years after the prior election date. The National Assembly in turn elects the president by a two-thirds majority vote. After legislative elections in 2015, the National Assembly re-elected Desire Bouterse as president in 2015. Observers from the Organization of American States and the Union of South American States judged that the elections were well organized and generally free and fair.

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

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. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports that officials engaged in corrupt practices, including accusations from political opponents and official investigations of graft.

Corruption: Allegations of corruption remained prevalent as the economy stabilized. Allegations included government contracting to political party insiders and supporters. There continued to be questions regarding the transparency of government decisions to issue mineral and timber concession rights. There was a continuing widespread perception that officials used public power for private gain. Civil society, media, and other nongovernmental parties particularly scrutinized and criticized the Ministries of Public Works, Social Affairs, Public Health, Finance, Regional Development, and Physical Planning, alleging widespread corruption and favoritism.

In July the attorney general announced that his office was investigating six suspected corruption cases, including an after-school program in which numerous close allies of the government were alleged to have overcharged the government for food delivered to schools. A 2015 case involving corruption at the Electricity Company of Suriname, a state-owned entity, continued before the court. Five persons were on trial in that case.

Financial Disclosure: The anticorruption legislation approved in 2017, but yet to be signed into force, includes financial disclosure requirements for certain groups of government officials.

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

A number of independent domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. NGOs reported generally positive relationships with government officials, although officials were not always responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Office of the Ministry of Justice and Police is responsible for advising the government on regional and international proceedings against the state concerning human rights. It is also responsible for preparing the state’s response to various international human rights reports. Its independence is limited as a ministerial office exclusively under executive branch control and it does not solicit or investigate public complaints. The National Assembly has a commission dealing with issues related to human rights.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape, and prescribes penalties for rape or forcible sexual assault of between 12 and 15 years’ imprisonment and fines up to 100,000 Surinamese dollars (SRD) ($13,300). The government enforced the law effectively, including applying its provisions in cases involving rape of men. Police received 513 reports of sexual abuse as of September. Authorities investigated and prosecuted all reported cases.

Violence against women remained a serious and pervasive problem. The law imposes sentences of four to eight years’ imprisonment for domestic violence. Through September police reported to have received 102 cases of domestic abuse, compared with 421 for the same period in 2017. Domestic abuse played a role in four of the 18 homicides committed through September; prosecutions were pending.

The Victim Assistance Bureau of the Ministry of Justice and Police provided resources for victims of domestic violence and continued to raise awareness about domestic violence through public television programs. There were victims’ rooms in police stations in Paramaribo and Nickerie. Authorities trained police units in dealing with survivors and perpetrators of sexual crimes and domestic violence. The Victim Assistance Bureau managed a shelter for female victims of domestic violence and children up to age 12 and served an average of 40 clients per year. The Office for Gender Affairs of the Ministry of Home Affairs launched an awareness campaign in May against domestic violence nationwide.

Sexual Harassment: There is no specific legislation on sexual harassment, but prosecutors cited various penal code articles in filing sexual harassment cases. There were no reported court cases involving sexual harassment in the workplace.

Stalking is a criminal offense, and police may investigate possible cases of stalking without the filing of a formal complaint. Pending investigation, police may issue temporary restraining orders limiting contact between victim and suspect for up to 30 days. If found guilty, offenders can receive prison sentences ranging from four to 12 years and fines from SRD 50,000 to SRD 150,000 ($6,650 to $19,950).

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

Discrimination: The law provides for protection of women’s rights to equal access to education, employment, and property. Nonetheless, women experienced discrimination in access to employment and in rates of pay for the same or substantially similar work. In August the National Assembly passed labor legislation that protects pregnant women from being fired.

Children

Birth Registration: The law on citizenship and residency provides that citizenship transmits to a child when either the father or mother has Surinamese citizenship at the time of birth, when the parent is Surinamese but has died before birth, or if the child is born in the country’s territory and does not automatically acquire citizenship of another country. Births must be registered with the Civil Registry within one week. Failure to do so within the mandated period results in a more cumbersome process of registration.

Child Abuse: Police registered 47 cases of physical abuse and 256 cases of child sexual abuse as of September. Subject-matter experts believed the actual number of abuse cases was significantly higher than reported. To avoid intimidation by perpetrators, there were arrangements for children to testify in special chambers at legal proceedings. The Youth Affairs Office continued to raise awareness about sexual abuse, drugs, and alcohol through a weekly television program. The government operated a telephone hotline for children and provided confidential advice and aid to children in need. Authorities reported an average of 80 calls per day.

UNICEF continued cooperating with the government in providing training to officials from various ministries dealing with children and children’s rights. The Ministry of Justice and Police operated three child protection centers in different parts of the country.

Early and Forced Marriage: Parental permission to marry is required until the age of 21. The marriage law sets the age of marital consent at 15 for girls and 17 for boys, provided parents of the parties agree to the marriage. Children in certain tribal communities often marry at an age below that set forth by the law.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for child prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Authorities prosecuted all reported violations. While the legal age of sexual consent is 14, trafficking-in-persons legislation makes illegal the sexual exploitation of a person younger than age 18. Criminal law penalizes persons responsible for recruiting children into prostitution and provides penalties of up to six years’ imprisonment and a fine of SRD 100,000 ($13,300) for pimping. The law also prohibits child pornography, which carries a maximum penalty of six years’ imprisonment and maximum fine of SRD 50,000 ($6,650). Violations are punishable by prison terms of up to 12 years.

Lack of economic opportunities led to an increasing number of adolescent boys and girls entering prostitution to support family or to pay for education. One NGO reported commercial sexual exploitation of children as young as 14. While not generally marketed as a destination for child sex tourism, cases were reported of tourists involved in sexual exploitation of children. Cases were also reported of parents forcing their young children into prostitution.

Several cases of sexual exploitation, sexual and physical abuse, and neglect came to trial. Victims included both boys and girls. Sentences range up to 10 years in prison.

Institutionalized Children: A lack of financial support from the Ministry of Social Affairs for orphanages and other shelters for children significantly affected these institutions’ ability to care for children adequately. There were reported cases of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in some shelter facilities.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a declared Jewish community of approximately 150 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts or discrimination.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

No laws specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities are eligible to receive general health benefits, but the process can be cumbersome. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination when applying for jobs and services. Authorities provided some training programs for persons with impaired vision or other disabilities. No laws or programs provide that persons with disabilities have access to buildings. A judge may rule to deny a person with a cognitive disability the right to vote, take part in business transactions, or sign legal agreements. Primary education was available for persons with disabilities and, depending on the type of disability, secondary and higher education were also available. There was secondary and technical education for deaf and hard-of-hearing persons but not for those with visual disabilities. Persons with disabilities are eligible to receive a stipend from the government until they marry or turn 60. The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

In October the Ministry of Social Affairs supported an NGO-led workshop on developing awareness for the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as well as identifying issues of concern.

Indigenous People

The law affords no special protection for, or recognition of, indigenous peoples. The IACHR identified the Maroons (descendants of escaped slaves who fled to the interior–approximately 22 percent of the population) as tribal peoples and thus entitled to the same rights as the indigenous Amerindian communities (approximately 4 percent of the population).

Maroons and Amerindians living in the remote and undeveloped interior had limited access to education, employment, and health and social services. Both groups participated in decisions affecting their tradition and culture, but they had limited influence in decisions affecting exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, and other natural resources on their lands. Both Maroons and Amerindians took part in regional governing bodies, as well as in the National Assembly, and were part of the governing coalition.

The government recognizes the different Maroon and indigenous tribes, but they hold no special status under national law, and there was no effective demarcation of their lands. Because authorities did not effectively demarcate or police Amerindian and Maroon lands, these populations continued to face problems with illegal and uncontrolled logging and mining. No laws grant indigenous peoples the right to share in the revenues from the exploitation of resources on their traditional lands. Organizations representing Maroon and Amerindian communities complained that small-scale mining operations, mainly by illegal gold miners, some of whom were themselves tribal or supported by tribal groups, dug trenches that cut residents off from their agricultural land and threatened to drive them away from their traditional settlements. Mercury runoff from these operations as well as riverbank erosion also contaminated sources of drinking water and threatened traditional food sources, especially freshwater fish.

Maroon and Amerindian groups complained about the government granting land within their traditional territories to third parties, who sometimes prevented the villages from engaging in their traditional activities on those lands.

In July the government translated and published the summary of the Kalina and Lokono Peoples vs. Suriname Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling announced in 2015. The court declared the state responsible for violating the rights to recognition of juridical personality, to collective property, to political rights, and to cultural identity, and reminded the state of its duty to adopt appropriate domestic legal provisions. The court ordered the government to recognize the Kalina and Lokono collective juridical personality legally; delimit, demarcate, and title the territory to the peoples; establish a community development fund; and rehabilitate areas affected by mining by third parties. The court also ordered similar legislative changes to be made for recognizing the rights of all indigenous and tribal peoples and to have this effective legal recognition and protection within three years. As of October the government had not taken action to carry out the court’s orders. The final deadline for the government to implement the ruling was January 2019.

The government also took no action to implement precautionary measures requested by the IACHR in 2016 regarding a 2009 petition from the Kalina Indigenous Community of Maho. In 2014, despite the continuing litigation, the government continued to grant concession rights to third parties in the area of the Maho community. In 2016 the Maho community requested that the IACHR forward the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Throughout the year the community continued to report infringements on its lands.

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

The constitution prohibits many forms of discrimination but does not address sexual orientation or gender identity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals could associate freely, were socially very active, and advocated within society under the same laws that pertain to the assembly and association of other groups. The law prohibits discrimination and hate speech based on sexual orientation, specifically protecting the LGBTI community. Violations are punishable by a fine or prison sentence of up to one year. The law does not set standards for determining what constitutes such discrimination or hate speech. The law was in effect but had not been used in any case.

The LGBT Platform, a collective of NGOs, reported improvements in acceptance of the LGBTI community by society. Despite legal protections, the government itself discriminated against same-sex couples, since 2014 legislation on retirement benefits specifically excludes same-sex couples from benefits granted to heterosexual couples. Among the LGBTI community, the transgender community faced the most stigmatization and discrimination. Transgender women arrested or detained by police were placed in detention facilities for men, where they faced harassment and other violence from other detainees.

There were few official reports of violence against LGBTI persons, primarily due to fear of retribution and because authorities reportedly did not take seriously complaints filed by members of the LGBTI community. There were reports of societal discrimination against the LGBTI community in areas of employment and housing.

An appeals case involving the Civil Registration Office concerning the ability of transgender individuals to update legal documents to reflect their gender identity in the public registry was ongoing.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS continued to experience discrimination in employment and medical services. Medical treatment is free for HIV/AIDS patients covered under government insurance, but private insurers did not cover such treatment. NGOs reported discriminatory testing, and subsequent denial, when applying for housing assistance from the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Chinese shop owners continued to be targets of violent armed robberies. Violence in the gold-mining areas of the interior occurred primarily among and within the Brazilian community, where the government exercised little authority.

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 unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, the right to bargain collectively, and the right to strike. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, requires that workers terminated for union activity be reinstated, and prohibits employer interference in union activities. Labor laws do not cover undocumented foreign workers.

The government is effectively responsible for enforcing laws related to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties for violations of these rights range from six months’ imprisonment to fines of SRD 100,000 ($13,300) and were generally sufficient to deter violations.

Workers formed and joined unions freely and exercised their right to strike. During the year there were several strikes of government workers to either force implementation of contracts already agreed upon with the government or to demand wage increases.

The majority of trade unions have some affiliation with a political party. Some trade union leaders held high-level positions in the coalition government, while another trade union was associated with an opposition party.

In isolated cases private employers refused to bargain or recognize collective bargaining rights, but the unions usually pressured the employers to negotiate. There were some reports that companies exploited legislative gaps and hired more contract employees than direct-hire staff to perform core business functions in order to cut costs.

The government passed several laws to protect employees from various forms of discrimination and set restrictions on the ability to fire employees. The government itself (the largest employer in the country) was not bound by these laws, however, since it deemed labor laws applicable only to private employees, not civil servants.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Administrative penalties for violations include imprisonment and fines insufficient to deter violations. Criminal penalties for violations range from five to 20 years’ imprisonment. Labor inspectors received training on detecting forced labor. During the year the Labor Inspectorate reported that it investigated at least three alleged forced labor cases. Labor inspectors trained to identify trafficking victims were legally authorized to conduct inspections outside formal workplaces but lacked the manpower and capacity to do so.

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 prohibits the worst forms of child labor and sets the minimum age for most types of employment at 14 and restricts working hours for minors younger than 14 to day shifts, but it does not limit the number of hours minors can work. The law permits children younger than 14 to work only in a family-owned business, small-scale agriculture, and special vocational work. The law requires children to attend school until they are at least age 12, but this leaves children between ages 12 and 14 particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, as they are no longer required to attend school, but they are not yet legally permitted to work. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from doing hazardous work, defined as work dangerous to life, health, and decency. The law does not permit children younger than 15 to work on boats. Authorities may prosecute parents who permit their children to work in violation of labor laws. Employing a child younger than 14 is punishable by fines and imprisonment. While such penalties generally were sufficient to deter violations, authorities rarely enforced them, typically responding only when a report was filed with Youth Police.

The Ministry of Labor’s Department of Labor Inspection did not identify any cases of child labor in the formal business sector during the year. The police are responsible for enforcement in the informal sector and enforced the minimum working age law sporadically. Resources, such as vehicles and manpower, to enforce the laws also remained inadequate.

Child labor remained a problem in the informal sector and, according to newspaper reports, grew during the year due to lack of economic opportunities in the country. Historically, child labor occurred in agriculture, logging, fisheries, and the construction sector, as well as in street vending. Isolated cases of child labor occurred in the informal gold-mining sector in the interior, informal urban sectors, and in commercial sexual exploitation (see also section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on birth, sex, race, language, religious origin, education, political beliefs, economic position, or any other status. The penal code prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Enforcement of the law was selective as there was reported discrimination in employment with regard to disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV/AIDS status. Women’s pay lagged behind men’s pay. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in access to the workplace and LGBTI persons faced discrimination in hiring.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage. The minimum wage was SRD 6.14 ($0.82), which was below the World Bank poverty income level. In the private sector, most unions were able to negotiate wage increases.

Approximately 41,000 of the estimated 133,000 total formal workforce were employed by the government. Government employees frequently supplemented their salaries with second or third jobs, often in the informal sector.

Work in excess of 45 hours per week on a regular basis requires special government permission, which was routinely granted. The law requires premium pay for such overtime work, prohibits excessive overtime, requires a 24-hour rest period per week, and stipulates paid annual holidays. Overtime is generally limited to four hours per day, for a maximum 12-hour workday. During the holiday season, the retail sector has a blanket permit allowing for work up to 15 hours a day, including seven hours of overtime. The government sets occupational health and safety standards, which generally are current and appropriate for the main industries in the country.

Laws were effectively enforced only in the formal sectors. Inspectors in the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the Ministry of Labor are responsible for enforcing occupational safety and health regulations, but they did not make regular occupational safety and health inspections. The Department of Labor Inspection is responsible for enforcing labor laws. Penalties for violating the labor laws vary from fines to suspension of business licenses, depending on the severity of the case, and were sufficient to deter the worst violations.

An estimated 15 percent of the working-age population worked in the informal economy, where there was limited enforcement of labor laws. Workers in the informal sector, particularly in small-scale mining, often were exposed to dangerous conditions and hazardous substances, such as mercury.

Limited data were available on workplace accidents. The International Labor Organization, however, noted an increasing number of serious or fatal occupational accidents, as well as steps by labor inspectors to begin occupational safety and health training in mines, construction, and public service. The majority of fatal occupational accidents took place in the mining sector.

Workers in the formal sector can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. Workers in the informal sector did not enjoy the same protection.

Uruguay

Executive Summary

The Oriental Republic of Uruguay is a constitutional republic with a democratically elected president and a bicameral legislature. In 2014 in a free and fair runoff election, Tabare Vazquez won a five-year presidential term, and his Frente Amplio (Broad Front) coalition won a majority in parliament. Legislative elections were also held in 2014.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included harsh conditions in some prisons.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, and there were no reports of impunity during the year.

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

In contrast with 2017, there were no allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse during the year against Uruguayan peacekeeping personnel. In 2017 an allegation of transactional sex was made against eight Uruguayan troops serving as UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After an investigation the case was found to be unsubstantiated due to insufficient evidence and was subsequently closed. The Ministry of Defense established a protocol on Conduct Related to Reports of Abuse, Sexual Exploitation, and Paternity, and peacekeepers are required to pass a course on human rights and gender issues prior to deployment.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions continued to be poor and inhuman in some facilities due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, inadequate socioeducational programming, and high levels of violence among inmates.

Physical Conditions: In November the prisons held 10,243 inmates, compared with 10,735 in 2017. The average prison population density (total number of inmates per spaces available) was 103 percent in 2017, with 18 of the 29 prisons surpassing 100 percent; however, two prisons were above 200 percent capacity. Parliament’s special rapporteur on the prison system reported overcrowding affected sections of prisons in several of the 19 departments (provinces). The special rapporteur stated 30 percent of inmates suffered from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and that 30 percent of inmates experienced insufficient conditions for social reintegration. The worst prison conditions were in units with high overpopulation rates and the largest overall prison populations. The National Human Rights Institute (INDDHH) reported prisoners sometimes spent 23 hours of the day in their cells, specifically naming Unit 4 and Unit 13. Certain prisons had a lack of hygiene, insufficient access to water, insufficient food and poor quality of food, and very few socioeducational and labor activities. Inmates were sometimes exposed to electrical, sanitary, and other risks due to poor infrastructure.

In its annual report, the INDDHH reported a lack of medical care in prisons, especially in Unit 13 and Unit 26. Medical services were available only for emergencies and did not always include preventive care and routine medical care. The lack of prison personnel limited the ability of inmates to have outside medical appointments. Mental health services were not adequately available to tend to the population that required attention, monitoring, and treatment. Administrative delays sometimes affected the issuance of medications.

The INDDHH and the special rapporteur reported high levels of institutional and interpersonal violence in many prisons. Of 47 prisoner deaths in 2017, 17 were due to prisoner-on-prisoner violence; 10 prisoner deaths were suicides. Overpopulation, isolation, and a lack of socioeducational activities led to high risk of violence. Shortages in personnel and basic elements of control, such as security cameras, made prevention, control, and the clarification of facts in security incidents difficult. Shortages of prison staff to securely transport and accompany inmates affected prisoners’ ability to participate in workshops, classes, sports, and labor-related activities.

The situation for female inmates, who made up 5 percent of the prison population, varied around the country. Children accompanying their mothers in prison lived in facilities with problems such as poor planning and design, security concerns due to a lack of prisoner classification, health and environmental concerns, a lack of specialized services and facilities, and undefined and unclear policies for special-needs inmates. In some cases pregnant women were not given house arrest as an option due to bureaucratic obstacles. Women were located in some of the worst parts of prisons, leading to difficulties in access to food, intimate spaces, and visits with family members as well as difficulties obtaining information and technical and human resources.

Some juvenile offenders were imprisoned at age 17 and remained in prison for up to five years. According to the INDDHH, the prison situation for some adolescents violated human rights, due to verbal and physical abuse by officials. Prisons increased educational services but they remained insufficient, with only three to four hours per week for inmates. Security constraints at prison facilities often interfered with or altogether eliminated educational, recreational, and social activities for juvenile inmates. In some cases socioeducational programs were scarce, fragile, or replaced with confinement.

Juvenile facilities had deficiencies in physical conditions, including sites with crumbling infrastructure and prisons that were not designed or conducive to rehabilitation activities. The INDDHH specifically pointed to the Center for Intake, Study, Diagnostics, and Referrals and the Belloni Complex as prison centers with serious infrastructure problems. In response to recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the National Institute for Adolescent Social Inclusion closed the intake center in September. High turnover of staff and leadership in the juvenile prison system, as well as a lack of trained and specialized staff, were causes for concern.

In April the INDDHH reported an abuse case at a juvenile prison facility. The INDDHH issued a habeas corpus petition for a 16-year-old male inmate in a grave medical state and without access to the necessary services. The INDDHH and the government-funded University of the Republic intervened, citing violations of the rights to health, individual security, and physical integrity. The juvenile inmate was then transferred to a medical facility for treatment.

Detention centers suffered from poor lighting, ventilation, and hygiene. Centers had inadequate or incomplete records related to the rights and guarantees of detainees. Detention centers lacked basic supplies for detainees, including personal hygiene articles, food, warm clothing, and potable water.

Administration: Independent authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, local human rights groups, media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and international bodies. Parliament’s special rapporteur on the prison system and the INDDHH were also allowed to monitor prisons.

Improvements: The National Institute for Rehabilitation (INR) improved intake and monitoring procedures, including establishing an intake form, carrying out an initial entry interview, and starting files to track the activities and progress of individual inmates. The INR also developed and distributed clear guidelines on inmate treatment, education goals, and rehabilitation and looked into reports of mistreatment or irregularities.

The INR began providing specialized attention to vulnerable prison populations, including inmates who were disabled or transgender, or who committed sexual crimes. The special rapporteur indicated that the Center for Penitentiary Training was an innovative, best practice model for prison reform, responding with creativity and sensitivity to prison management problems and incorporating human rights principles. Model prisons, such as Unit 6, Unit 10, Unit 18, Unit 28, and Unit 20, served as positive examples for the corrections system.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, maintain internal security. The National Directorate for Migration, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for migration and border enforcement. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and have some domestic responsibilities as guardians of the outside perimeter of six prisons. As of October the law authorized the armed forces to patrol the country’s borders and support agencies that worked along the borders. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the National Police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

During the year the country hosted a regional training course for national investigation officers to familiarize participants with the processes, procedures, and techniques to improve the effectiveness of conduct and discipline investigations in UN peacekeeping.

The judiciary continued to investigate human rights violations committed during the 1973-85 military dictatorship, which the law classifies as crimes against humanity.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police apprehended suspects with warrants issued by a duly authorized official and brought them before an independent judiciary. Arrests may be made without a judge’s order when persons are caught in the commission of a crime. The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention and requires that the detaining authority explain the legal grounds for the detention. For a detainee who cannot afford a defense attorney, the court appoints a public defender at no cost to the detainee. The apprehended suspect must be brought before a judge within 24 hours. If no charges are brought, the case is closed, but the investigation may continue and the case reopened if new evidence emerges.

The possibility of bail exists but is an unusual and little-developed procedure and was seldom used. Most persons facing lesser charges were not jailed. Officials allowed detainees prompt access to family members. Confessions obtained by police prior to a detainee’s appearance before a judge and without an attorney present are not valid. A prosecutor leads the investigation of a detainee’s claim of mistreatment.

Pretrial Detention: The new criminal procedure code reduced the problem of lengthy pretrial detention, since cases were processed with greater speed. According to the special rapporteur, in late 2017, 69 percent of inmates had not been sentenced for a crime and were subject to lengthy pretrial detentions. By October that figure had decreased to 47 percent. All criminal cases originating before January were processed under the old criminal code and remained subject to long periods of pretrial detention. After judicial reforms to the new criminal procedure code, pretrial detention was limited to cases of recidivism, risk of flight, grave crimes, or if an individual poses a risk to society. Prosecutors were required to request pretrial detention, and a judge determined whether to grant it in each case. The INDDHH reported that an individual’s presumption of innocence was undermined by the fact that pretrial detention was linked to previous crimes and recidivism.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the executive branch of the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. If judicial officials received threats from organized crime groups, the government assigned police protection to them.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges brought against them. In addition they have the right to a trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice, or have one provided at public expense if they are unable to afford one; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to receive free assistance of an interpreter; to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses; to present one’s own witnesses and evidence; and to appeal. Juries are not used.

During the year the government transitioned from an inquisitorial system to an accusatory system of criminal justice to address inefficiency, opacity, and the overuse of pretrial detentions, as well as to establish a more fair and transparent judicial system that provides greater advocacy to victims. The Prosecutor General’s Office went from prosecuting approximately 400 cases per month in November 2017 to prosecuting more than 1,000 cases per month in August. Of the approximately 8,300 cases processed since the switch to the accusatory system through August, 79 percent went through alternative dispute resolution processes.

A few months after the new criminal procedure code legislation passed, the code was again reformed through legislation that amplified police discretion in the first moments of detention and in the investigations phase and suspended precautionary measures. These changes, according to the INDDHH, undermined human rights guarantees at the moment of detention relating to the right to liberty, right to due process, presumption of innocence, and use of pretrial detention. The second wave of changes to the criminal procedure code also limited the application of conditional release.

With revisions to the Children and Adolescents Code in late 2017, human rights monitoring agencies expressed concern that the changes reduced judicial guarantees for juvenile offenders. According to the INDDHH, the new law reduces medical checks and increases pretrial detention from 90 days to 150 days.

The government continued to train police, prosecutors, and judicial personnel. The government also carried out numerous interagency training sessions with support from civil society and international organizations to train legal and judicial officials on the new code.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There are transparent administrative procedures to handle complaints of abuse by government agents. An independent and impartial judiciary handles civil disputes, but its decisions were sometimes ineffectively enforced. Local police lacked the training and staff to enforce restraining orders, which often were generated during civil disputes related to domestic violence. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions filed by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies including fair compensation to the individual injured.

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 Speech and 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.

Freedom of Expression: In February an individual called President Vazquez a “liar,” after he and other representatives from the Un Solo Uruguay workers’ organization had consultations with the president. Shortly afterward, the President’s Office posted a communique on its official website with embarrassing, personal information about the individual, which he claimed caused him public ridicule. The President’s Office received a formal complaint from the INDDHH in April stating that the communique violated the individual’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest. As a result, the President’s Office removed the information from its website.

Violence and Harassment: The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ) reported some cases of harassment and intimidation against journalists. Journalists were subjected to lawsuits and legal threats, sometimes by government officials or associations to discourage them from doing investigative reporting on certain issues. Journalists were also bullied on social media channels. The local NGO CAInfo reported a journalist from the city of Carmelo was brought to trial in March after being charged with defamation and injury by a businessman in the health sector. The journalist reported on suspicions involving public contracts associated with the Artigas Hospital. The judge ultimately dismissed the case. CAInfo also reported some cases of violence against journalists.

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.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 68 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. SERPAJ reported some increased efforts by the government to delegitimize social movements. According to SERPAJ, the government’s “antipicketing decree” had direct consequences on the forms of popular mobilization by limiting protesters’ ability to block streets and highways. The government responded that the decree did not affect the right to strike as defined in the constitution. SERPAJ also claimed that the “essential services” decree was being used to stifle protests and union activity. In August the umbrella union organization PIT-CNT organized a general strike against the government’s alleged overuse of the essential services decree.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Through its refugee commission, the government has a system for adjudicating asylum claims, providing protection to refugees, and finding durable solutions, including resettlement.

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: In 2014 Tabare Vazquez of the Frente Amplio coalition won a five-year presidential term in a free and fair runoff election. The runoff followed a series of party primaries and a free and fair first-round election involving seven political parties. In parliamentary elections in 2014, the Frente Amplio won 15 of 30 seats in the Chamber of Senators and 50 of 99 seats in the Chamber of Representatives.

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

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. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices, and the government addressed them with appropriate legal action. Authorities sometimes lacked sufficient enforcement resources and mechanisms to adequately identify and address acts of administrative misconduct. The presidentially appointed Transparency and Ethics Board (JUTEP) lacked the permanent staff needed to operate effectively as an anticorruption agency. Overall, the country was considered to have a low level of corruption.

Corruption: Following former vice president Raul Sendic’s resignation from office in September 2017, he was charged in May with the crimes of abuse of authority and embezzlement. Sendic’s lawyers appealed the charge, since he was still under a separate investigation by the state-owned oil company ANCAP for allegedly making personal expenditures on an official credit card and mismanaging funds.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials. Each year JUTEP lists the names of government officials expected to file a declaration on its website and informs the individuals’ organizations of those expected to comply. The government official, the judiciary, a special parliamentary committee, or the board may access the information in the declarations (by majority vote of the board). The board may direct an official’s office to withhold 50 percent of the employee’s salary until the declaration is presented, and it may publish the names of those who fail to comply in the federal register. There is a requirement for filing, but there is no review of the filings absent an allegation of wrongdoing.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views. Some local NGOs were highly dependent on government resources and often refrained from criticizing the government to avoid jeopardizing that link. According to the Institute for Communication and Development, in 2016 NGOs received 65 percent of their funding from the government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The INDDHH, an autonomous agency that reports to parliament, is composed of five board members proposed by civil society organizations and approved by a two-thirds vote in parliament for a period of five years (renewable one time). It is tasked with the defense, promotion, and protection of the gamut of human rights guaranteed by the constitution and international law. The INDDHH had six thematic reference teams to cover human rights issues on gender, children’s issues, historical human rights abuses, race or ethnicity, environment, and migrants. The INDDHH received, investigated, provided resolutions, and did monitoring and evaluations for formal complaints of human rights abuse. The INDDHH was effective in its human rights objectives.

Parliament’s special rapporteur on the prison system advises lawmakers on monitoring compliance with domestic legislation and international conventions. The special rapporteur oversees the work of the institutions that run the country’s prisons and the social reintegration of former prisoners. The special rapporteur provided in-depth, independent analysis of the prison situation and carried out his role effectively and constructively.

The Secretariat for Human Rights of the Office of the President is the lead agency for the human rights components of public policy within the executive. The secretariat is led by a governing board composed of the secretary of the Office of the President of the Republic, who acts as chair, and the ministers for foreign affairs, education and culture, interior, and social development. The Secretariat for Human Rights for the Recent Past of the Office of the President has the responsibility to examine and ascertain the truth about human rights violations that occurred between June 1968 and March 1985 under the responsibility or with the acquiescence of the state.

The Honorary Committee Against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Other Forms of Discrimination is tasked with analyzing the situation with regard to racism and discrimination. The committee includes government, religious, and civil society representatives. The committee had not been allocated a budget since 2010 but received economic support from the government for some activities.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and domestic violence. The law allows for sentences of two to 12 years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of rape, and authorities effectively enforced the law. The law criminalizes domestic violence and allows sentences of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of committing an act of domestic violence or making continued threats of violence. Civil courts decided most domestic cases, and judges in these cases often issued restraining orders, which were difficult to enforce.

The government began implementation of a new gender-based violence law passed in December 2017, which builds on existing legislation on domestic violence. The new law includes abuse that is physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, based on prejudice for sexual orientation, economic, related to assets, symbolic, obstetric, labor-related, educational, political, or related to media presence; it also includes street sexual harassment and femicide. The law aims to create an institutional response system and establishes specialized courts. It sets minimum standards of support and assistance to be provided by the government, to include shelters for the victims and immediate family members. The law attempts to avoid revictimization in social and legal procedures and seeks to make the judicial process more agile. According to civil society contacts, the comprehensive, gender-based violence law was not being fully implemented due in part to logistical barriers, particularly in the judicial branch. According to civil society representatives, law enforcement and social services for victims were inadequate.

A separate femicide law modifies aggravating circumstances from a homicide to include whether the crime “caused the death of a female due to motive of hate or contempt.” The law describes femicide as a structural inequality between women and men that uses gender-based violence as a mechanism to oppress women. In May a judge gave two individuals the maximum sentence of 45 years in prison for the rape and murder of a girl in Rivera Department. The government trained officials on aspects of gender-based violence and sexual assault.

The Ministry of Interior reported 191 cases of rape from January to July 2017, a 22 percent increase from the same period in 2016. The government reported 28,927 cases of domestic violence from January to October, a 10 percent increase from the 26,648 cases from January to October 2017. In 2017, 29 women died due to domestic violence perpetrated by their partners or family members, an increase of 21 percent compared with 2016. In 2017 the judiciary investigated 626 police officers implicated in gender-based violence cases. The government applied the electronic bracelet program in 1,657 cases, compared with 526 in the previous year, to address domestic violence. In November the government launched a Gender-Based Violence Observatory to monitor, collect, register, and analyze data on gender-based violence.

The Ministry of Social Development, some police stations in the interior, the National Institute for Children and Adolescent Affairs (INAU), and NGOs operated shelters where abused women and children could seek temporary refuge. Civil society reported that shelters for victims were often full and that there was a lack of immediate services and first responders. Services for victims in the interior of the country were even more scarce. The Montevideo municipal government and the state-owned telephone company Antel funded a free nationwide hotline operated by trained NGO employees for victims of domestic violence. Victims can also file a report online or at a police station.

The government’s 2016-19 action plan to combat gender-based violence provided for interagency coordination on violence prevention, access to justice, victim protection and attention, and punishment of perpetrators. It also promoted social and cultural awareness and provided training for public servants. The Prosecutor General’s Office had a specialized gender unit that incorporated a greater awareness of gender as it relates to matters of justice, promoted greater respect for women’s rights, combatted gender-based violence, and enhanced interagency coordination. The Ministry of Interior also had a gender policy unit that designed, evaluated, and monitored policies with a gender perspective incorporated. The unit ensured a clear policy on gender-based violence in the police force and trained police staff to handle and respond to cases.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace and punishes it by fines or dismissal. The law establishes guidelines for the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as in student-professor relations, and provides damages for victims. The Ministry of Labor receives reports of sexual harassment, its labor inspectors investigate claims of sexual harassment, and the ministry issues fines as necessary.

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

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women, however, faced discrimination in employment, pay, credit, education, housing, and business ownership. According to the United Nations, women’s employment was concentrated in a relatively small number of specific occupations and sectors, including services, sales, unskilled labor, domestic work, social services, health services, and education.

The law does not require equal pay for equal work. The Ministry of Labor’s Tripartite Equal Employment Opportunities Commission promoted the inclusion of gender equality clauses in the negotiations conducted by the wage boards, emphasizing equal pay for equal work of value, equal access to quality jobs and training, elimination of discrimination in selection and promotion processes, and guarantees and protections for maternity and responsibility sharing. According to the local consulting firm CPA Ferrere, the salary of women in the labor market was 23.9 percent below that of men.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. The government immediately registered all births.

Child Abuse: A total of 3,155 cases of violence against children and adolescents were recorded in the INAU information system in 2017, an increase of 43 percent compared with 2016. INAU provided a free, nationwide hotline. The System for the Protection of Childhood and Adolescence Against Violence (SIPIAV) and NGOs implemented awareness campaigns. SIPIAV coordinated interagency efforts regarding the protection of children’s rights.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 16, but the law requires parental consent through age 18. In late 2017 INAU reported that one in seven marriages were between persons ages 14 to 19 years. According to the United Nations, 15 percent of women were formally or informally married before age 18, and 7.4 percent of adolescents between age 15 and 19 were married. In June a legislator reported forced marriages were a regular practice in Arab communities on the border with Brazil.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography; some children were victims, and authorities made efforts to enforce the law. The law does not specifically criminalize prostitution of children as child sex trafficking. The law establishes the minimum age for consensual sex as 12. When a sexual union takes place between an adult and a minor under age 15, violence is presumed and statutory rape law, which carries a penalty of two to 12 years in prison, may be applied. Penalties for child sex trafficking range from four to 16 years in prison. The penalty for child pornography ranges from one to six years in prison, and the law was effectively enforced.

The National Committee for the Eradication of the Commercial and Noncommercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents continued to implement its national action plan for 2016-21.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Central Jewish Committee reported that the Jewish community had an estimated population of 20,000.

Jewish leaders reported acts of anti-Semitism, including verbal harassment and aggressive behavior toward Jewish individuals. In January, two young Jewish travelers were denied entry into a youth hostel in Barra de Valizas, Rocha Department, due to their Israeli origins. The hostel owner said they were not welcome in his home because he was opposed to the political situation in Israel. The Central Israeli Committee of Uruguay said it was a case of discrimination based on both nationality and religion. In October unknown individuals vandalized areas of the city of Melo’s Constitution Plaza in the department of Cerro Largo. Offenders painted swastikas on structures and on national symbols within the plaza. Local authorities took immediate measures to clean up the anti-Semitic graffiti.

As in previous years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported activities to commemorate the Holocaust. The parliament organized a special session in January to honor Holocaust victims. Also in January the government issued a nationally broadcast message commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The “Shoa Project,” an online educational tool on the Holocaust, launched a contest during the year for high school students to raise awareness of Holocaust resistance fighters.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other state services. The law prohibits abuse of persons with disabilities in educational and mental facilities. According to the INDDHH, persons with disabilities continued to experience human rights abuses. Persons with disabilities living in facilities were unprotected and vulnerable due to lack of effective mechanisms for supervision. One particular center, Aldea de la Bondad, was reported to have poor and sometimes unsafe living conditions, and during the year all of the patients were transferred. There were some cases of sexual abuse of persons with disabilities in institutions by government officials, but the government enforced the law in these cases. In one particular case of human rights abuse, an employee of a center for youth with disabilities in Paysandu was investigated and prosecuted for abusing two children.

The government in general did not monitor compliance and did not effectively enforce provisions or promote programs to provide for access to education, employment, buildings, information, public transportation, health services, and communications. Civil society representatives said there was a general lack of services for persons with disabilities in the country’s interior.

PRONADIS is the governmental entity responsible for developing actions, programs, and regulations to provide building and facilities access; cultural, sports and recreational opportunities; education; and employment to persons with disabilities. The government’s interagency National Honorary Committee on Disabilities (CNDH) developed, studied, evaluated, and implemented policies for the promotion, development, and integration of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Development continued to train government employees on dealing with persons with disabilities.

The law reserves no less than 4 percent of public-sector jobs for persons with physical and mental disabilities. In October a report of the National Office of Civil Service of the Presidency of the Republic stated that persons with disabilities filled 4.1 percent of government job vacancies during the year. In October the government passed a new law to reserve 4 percent of private-sector jobs for persons with disabilities in businesses with more than 25 workers. In July, PRONADIS published a guide, Labor Inclusion for Disabled Persons, to give companies information on the legal framework on disability rights and guidance on how to implement activities to promote labor inclusion of persons with disabilities. According to PRONADIS, 37 percent of persons with disabilities were able to work. The CNDH reported that 80 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. A disabled member of parliament was unable to enter the Chamber of Representatives with disability support staff in order to perform her duties.

Government decrees certify and regulate the use of canes and establish provisions for extending adequate training in their use. Guide dogs legally have full access to public and private premises and transportation. Most public buses did not have provisions for passengers with disabilities other than one reserved seat, although airports and ports offered accessibility accommodations. The local government in Montevideo began implementation of its first accessibility plan with 180 goals to improve living and accessibility conditions for citizens with disabilities. The plan included creating specialized taxi vehicles to transport passengers with disabilities, more brochures with braille and subtitled information campaigns, and an increase of accessibility features in recreational spaces such as beaches, parks, and Carnival parade sites. The law provides tax benefits to private-sector companies and grants priority benefits to small and medium-sized companies owned by persons with disabilities.

The law grants children with disabilities the right to attend school (primary, secondary, and higher education). The state-funded University of the Republic offered sign-language interpreters for deaf students. Ramps built at public elementary and high schools facilitated access, but some government buildings, commercial sites, movie theaters, and other cultural venues lacked access ramps. NGO representatives reported that hospitals and medical services were not always accessible to patients with disabilities. Medical staff often lacked training to deliver primary care and attention to these patients. Plan Ceibal continued to offer specially adapted laptops to children with disabilities. By law open television channels are required to have simultaneous sign-language interpretation or subtitles on informational and some other programs by year’s end, or else they could be fined. The National Sports Secretariat, local government, and the Lifeguard Association hosted the third annual Inclusive Surfing Festival. In August the Ministry of Tourism signed an agreement with the Uruguayan Gas Vendors Union to install more disability-accessible bathrooms along highways around the country.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country’s Afro-Uruguayan minority continued to face societal discrimination, high levels of poverty, and lower levels of education. The interagency antidiscrimination committee and the National Institution of Human Rights continued to receive complaints of racism. NGOs reported “structural racism” in society and noted that the percentage of Afro-Uruguayans working as unskilled laborers was much higher than for other groups.

In July, as head of the government’s ethnic and racial equality efforts, the Ministry of Social Development, in conjunction with NGOs, commemorated the third annual month of Afrodescendant heritage with cultural and awareness activities. The ministry launched a National Plan for Racial Equality in December. The committee managing the System for the Protection of Victims of Racism and Racial Discrimination developed a strategic plan for 2018-19. The government issued countrywide seed funding for projects centered on Afrodescendant culture and society. In August the government hosted the third annual Academic Conference on Afrodescendant Issues, with a focus on education, and racial and ethnic equality. The National Police Academy, National School for Peacekeeping Operations of Uruguay, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ School of Diplomacy included discrimination awareness training as part of their curricula. The Ministry of Interior organized workshops to review police protocols and procedures involving ethnicity issues for police around the country. The Ministry of Social Development and the interagency antidiscrimination committee held awareness-raising workshops for their staff.

Afro-Uruguayans were underrepresented in government (two representatives in the 130-seat parliament and the president of the National Postal Service were Afro-Uruguayan), academia, and in the middle and upper echelons of private-sector firms. The law grants 8 percent of state jobs to Afro-Uruguayan minority candidates who comply with constitutional and legal requirements. The National Office of the Civil Service oversees compliance with the Afro-Uruguayan employment quota requirements and submits an annual report to parliament. Afro-Uruguayans accounted for 2 percent of all hires during the year. Although the quota was not reached, more organizations had issued compliant vacancy announcements and hired individuals of African descent. In addition the percentage of women of African descent hired was higher than in previous years. The National Employment Agency is required to include Afro-Uruguayans in its training courses. The law requires all scholarship and student support programs to include a quota for Afro-Uruguayans, and it grants financial benefits to companies that hire them. Nonetheless, UN reports described it was difficult to ensure the ethnoracial perspective was included in all scholarship programs to meet the quotas.

A judge sentenced four gasoline station employees to four to six months of probation for physically and psychologically attacking a learning-disabled colleague in June on racial and religious grounds. The victim was beaten and positioned in a crucifixion pose; his attackers said, “This is how we treat black people in Uruguay.” Civil society organizations criticized the sentence as being too lenient for the crime. The four individuals were fired and charged with aggravated violence and hate crimes after they confessed in an abbreviated trial. The complaint was filed by the gasoline station owner, after he saw viral footage of the attack on social media.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Leaders of civil society organizations reported that despite the legal advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues, societal discrimination remained high. In October the government approved a comprehensive transgender law, which outlines several new rights for transgender persons. The new law provides for access to work (a 1 percent quota for public-sector jobs), housing, and health; prohibits discrimination; allows persons to self-identify their gender and update their legal name through an administrative–not judicial–process; creates transgender scholarships; and offers payment for transgender persons born before 1975 in an effort to make reparations for those targeted during the dictatorship.

Authorities generally protected the rights of LGBTI persons, although civil society representatives asserted that government mechanisms for protection were weak and ineffective. According to Amnesty International, the country did not have any comprehensive, antidiscrimination policy that protected LGBTI citizens from violence in schools and public spaces or provided for their access to health services. The Latin America and Caribbean Transgender Persons Network (REDLACTRANS) presented a study showing that human rights violations against transgender women included discrimination, violence and aggression, theft, violation of the right to access justice, harassment, and homicide, among others. Discrimination toward transgender women was typically worse in the interior of the country, which tended to be more conservative and had smaller populations.

REDLACTRANS described that most transgender women worked in the informal sector, where their social rights (social security and other benefits) were not always guaranteed. They tended to be more vulnerable to dangerous and uncomfortable situations in sexual work and were less likely to file a report on any kind of threat or attack. The government reported that 30 percent of transgender persons were unemployed, only 25 percent worked in the formal sector, 70 percent were sex workers, and the majority had low levels of education. Transgender individuals claimed to have experienced difficulty accessing or using bathroom facilities, mainly in the workplace and in education centers.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were isolated reports of societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutory instruments, protects the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The government and employers respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in practice. Civil servants, employees of state-run enterprises, private-enterprise workers, and legal foreign workers may join unions. The law regulates collective bargaining and grants the government a significant role in adjudicating labor disputes. The law also designates trade unions to negotiate on behalf of workers whose companies are not unionized. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities and pay them an indemnity. In addition, if an employer contracts employees from a third-party firm, the law holds the employer responsible for possible labor infringements committed by the third-party firm. Workers in the informal sector were excluded from these protections. The government respected and effectively enforced labor laws.

The Labor and Social Security Inspection Division of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security investigates discrimination and workplace abuse claims filed by union members. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor received 318 labor-related claims, including 247 claims of harassment in the workplace, 28 claims of sexual abuse in the workplace, and 28 claims of antiunion discrimination. Information on government remedies and penalties for violations was not available. There were generally effective, albeit lengthy, mechanisms for resolving workers’ complaints against employers. The law establishes a conciliatory process before a trial begins and requires that the employer be informed of the reason for a claim and the alleged amount owed to the worker.

Worker organizations operated free of government and political intervention. The governing Frente Amplio coalition provided strong political support to labor unions in general. Labor union leaders were strong advocates for public policies and even foreign policy issues. They remained very active in the political and economic life of the country. In November the International Labor Organization issued a report to the government regarding a complaint by local business chambers of commerce requesting the government change collective bargaining laws.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. The law establishes penalties of two to 12 years in prison for forced labor crimes. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor investigated two cases of forced labor in 2017 involving a total of 21 victims and one case during the year involving one victim. Information on the effectiveness of inspections and governmental remedies was not available. Foreign workers, particularly from Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Argentina, were vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture, construction, domestic service, cleaning services, elderly care, wholesale stores, textile industries, agriculture, fishing, and lumber processing. Migrant women were the most vulnerable as they were often exposed to sexual exploitation. Furthermore, North Korean laborers, a population particularly vulnerable to forced labor, were identified as having transited Uruguay to board fishing vessels that operated in international waters off the coast.

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 prohibits the worst forms of child labor and provides for a minimum age of employment, limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions for children. The law sets the minimum age for employment at 15, but INAU may issue work permits for children ages 13 to 15 under circumstances specified by law. In 2017 INAU issued 2,619 of these work permits, of which 57 percent were for work in the country’s interior. Minors ages 15 to 18 must undergo physical exams prior to beginning work and renew the exams yearly to confirm that the work does not exceed the physical capacity of the minor. Children ages 15 to 18 may not work more than six hours per day within a 36-hour workweek and may not work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18, and the government maintains a list of hazardous or fatiguing work that minors should not perform and for which it does not grant permits.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for overall compliance with labor regulations, but INAU is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Due to a lack of dedicated resources, enforcement was mixed and particularly poor in the informal economy, where most child labor occurred. Violations of child labor laws by companies and individuals are punishable by fines determined by an adjustable government index. Parents of minors involved in illegal child labor may receive a sentence of three months to four years in prison, according to the penal code. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The main child labor activities reported in the interior of the country were work on small farms, maintenance work, animal feeding, fishing, cleaning milking yards, cattle roundup, beauty shops, at summer resorts, and as kitchen aids. In Montevideo the main labor activities were in the food industry (supermarkets, fast food restaurants, and bakeries) and in services, gas stations, customer service, delivery services, cleaning, and kitchen aid activities. Informal-sector child labor continued to be reported in activities such as begging, domestic service, street vending, garbage collection and recycling, construction, and in agriculture and forestry sectors, which were generally less strictly regulated and where children often worked with their families.

INAU worked with the Ministry of Labor and the state-owned insurance company BSE to investigate child labor complaints and worked with the Prosecutor General’s Office to prosecute cases. INAU reported 32 complaints of child labor incidents, a decrease from 55 in the previous year. The government had 22 trained child-labor inspectors (15 at the Ministry of Labor and seven at INAU). INAU completed 2,649 inspections in 2016, the last period for which information was available. INAU continued its efforts to prevent and regulate child labor and provided training on child labor matters.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. The government in general effectively enforced applicable law and regulations, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred mostly with respect to sex, race, and nationality. Foreign workers, regardless of their national origin or citizenship status, were not always welcome and continued to face challenges when seeking employment. The government took steps to prevent and eliminate discrimination (see sections 5 and 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage, and the monthly minimum wage for all workers was 13,430 pesos ($415). The official per capita poverty income level was approximately 14,550 pesos ($450) per month in the capital and approximately 9,350 pesos ($290) per month in the interior, according to the National Institute of Statistics. The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Formal-sector workers, including domestic and migrant workers and workers in the agricultural sector, are covered by laws on minimum wage and hours of work. These laws do not cover workers in the informal sector, who accounted for 24 percent of the workforce. Workers in construction and agricultural sectors were more vulnerable to labor rights violations.

The law stipulates that persons cannot work more than eight hours a day and the standard workweek for those in the industrial and retail sectors may not exceed 44 or 48 hours, with daily breaks of 30 minutes to two and one-half hours. The law requires that workers receive premium pay for work in excess of regular work schedule hours. The law entitles all workers to 20 days of paid vacation after one year of employment and to paid annual holidays, and it prohibits compulsory overtime beyond a maximum 50-hour workweek. Employers in the industrial sector are required to give workers either Sunday off or one day off every six days of work (variable workweek). Workers in the retail sector are entitled to a 36-hour block of free time each week. Workers in the rural sector cannot work more than 48 hours in a period of six days.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum monthly wage for both public- and private-sector employees and for enforcing legislation regulating health and safety conditions. The ministry had 120 labor inspectors throughout the country, which was sufficient to enforce compliance. The number of penalties imposed for labor violations was unavailable.

The government monitored wages and other benefits, such as social security and health insurance, through the Social Security Fund and the Internal Revenue Service. The Ministry of Public Health’s Bureau of Environment and Occupational Work is responsible for developing policies to detect, analyze, prevent, and control risk factors that may affect workers’ health. In general authorities effectively enforced these standards in the formal sector but less so in the informal sector.

The Labor Ministry’s Social Security Fund monitored domestic work and may obtain judicial authorization to conduct home inspections to investigate potential labor law violations. Conditions for domestic workers improved, including labor rights, social security benefits, wage increases, and insurance benefits. Although 37 percent of domestic workers were employed in the informal sector, it was half the percentage of 10 years ago.

By law workers may not be exposed to situations that endanger their health or safety and may remove themselves from such situations without jeopardy to their employment. Government authorities and unions protected employees who removed themselves from such activities. The Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for carrying out safety and health inspections in the agricultural sector.

The Ministry of Labor sets occupational safety and health standards, and the standards were current and appropriate for the main industries in the country.

The state-owned insurance company BSE reported 31,622 labor accidents and 25 labor-related deaths in 2017, compared with 33,000 accidents and 14 deaths in 2016. A total of 3,218 accidents were related to construction work. The National Employment and Professional Development Institute had trained 10,000 workers on occupational safety and labor accident prevention. In some cases workers were not informed of specific hazards or employers did not adequately enforce labor safety measures.

The press reported on a case involving nine construction workers who were injured from a fall into a pit at a site in Montevideo in September. One day prior, the Ministry of Labor had issued an order for the work area to be closed. Neither the closure nor the hazards of the area were communicated to the construction workers. The construction workers union filed a formal complaint. The Ministry of Labor was investigating the incident and reported it would apply the necessary penalties.

Venezuela

Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although the government did not release statistics on extrajudicial killings, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported national, state, and municipal police entities, as well as the armed forces and government-supported colectivos, carried out such killings during the year.

There was also no official information available on the number of public officials prosecuted or sentenced to prison for involvement in extrajudicial killings, which, in the case of killings committed by police, were often classified as “resistance to authority.” The NGO Committee for the Families of Victims of February-March 1989 (COFAVIC) continued to report there was no publicly accessible national registry of reported cases of extrajudicial killings.

On January 15, approximately 400 government security forces, including the National Guard (GNB), Special Actions Force (FAES), Venezuelan National Police (PNB), National Antiextortion and Kidnapping Command, and Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), raided a home in El Junquito, a residential community less than an hour from the nation’s capital, and killed seven persons, including Oscar Perez, a former officer in the National Police Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigative Corps (CICPC). Perez, according to government reports, had stolen a military airplane and dropped four hand grenades at a government building in July without causing structural damage or injury. According to information presented in the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) June report on human rights violations in the country, “[a]lthough the group had initiated negotiations with commanders of the GNB to surrender, officers received counterorders from the Strategic Operational Command to use lethal force and execute all members of the group once they had been subdued.” Perez had released a series of videos on social media during the siege in which the group’s negotiations with security forces could be heard. Death certificates revealed all seven individuals were shot in the head and killed. Many local NGOs termed the raid a massacre.

According to investigative journalists, 147 individuals younger than age 20 were killed in the Caracas metropolitan area between January and August. Of those deaths, 65 were committed by police. FAES, a specialized CICPC unit created by President Maduro in 2017 to quash “terrorist gangs” participating in large-scale countrywide protests, continued to be one of the deadliest. Between May and November 2017, FAES committed 31 percent of homicides by security forces. FAES tactics resembled the government’s nationwide anticrime strategy begun in 2015, the Operation for the Liberation and Protection of the People (OLP), which was characterized by large-scale raids conducted by hundreds of government security agents in neighborhoods allegedly harboring criminals. NGOs reported that during OLP operations, officials committed grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, blackmail, torture, and destruction of property.

There were no developments in the cases of protesters killed in 2017. Government and NGO sources estimated at least 125 persons were killed in protests from April through July 2017. The Public Ministry reported 65 percent were victims of government repression. The NGO Foro Penal put the number at 75 percent, with colectivos responsible for half the deaths and the remainder divided between PNB and GNB forces. The NGO Venezuelan Program for Human Rights Action and Education (PROVEA) estimated that 83 percent of regime victims died from gunshot wounds. On numerous occasions security forces also used nonlethal ammunition at close range, severely injuring and in some cases killing protesters. Following the four months of antiregime protests, in September 2017 the government appointed a new attorney general, Tarek William Saab, who reopened investigations conducted during his predecessor’s tenure to undo the previous findings that held government security forces and colectivos responsible for widespread, violent repression.

According to NGOs, prosecutors occasionally brought cases against perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, but prosecutions often resulted in light sentences, and convictions were often overturned on appeal.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there were credible reports that security forces tortured and abused detainees. There were no reports of any government officials being charged under the law.

The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman did not publish statistics regarding allegations of torture by police during the year. Several NGOs detailed cases of widespread torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Human rights groups reported the government continued to influence the attorney general and public defenders to conduct investigations selectively and subjectively. No data was available on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in cases of alleged torture. Foro Penal maintained that hundreds of cases were not reported to government institutions because victims feared reprisal.

Press and NGO reports of beatings and humiliating treatment of suspects during arrests were common and involved various law enforcement agencies and the military. Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners were reported during the year. Cruel treatment frequently involved authorities denying prisoners medical care and holding them for long periods in solitary confinement. The latter practice was most prevalent with political prisoners. NGOs also published reports that authorities generally mistreated, sexually abused, and threatened to kill detainees.

NGOs detailed reports from detainees whom authorities allegedly sexually abused, threatened with death, and forced to spend hours on their knees in detention centers. Foro Penal reported multiple instances of political prisoners denied adequate medical treatment while in government custody. Foro Penal noted instances in which authorities transferred detainees to a medical facility, where instead of receiving treatment, detainees were interrogated by security officials. The executive director of the Casla Institute for the Study of Latin America, Tamara Suju, and human rights lawyer Juan Carlos Gutierrez denounced 357 cases of physical abuse, alleged torture, and violence by security forces against political prisoners before the International Criminal Court. Among the 357 cases, there were 190 allegations of rape or sexual abuse.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Most prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, systemic violence, and poor infrastructure. Armed gangs effectively controlled some prisons in which they were incarcerated. Conditions were most acute in pretrial detention facilities such as police station jails.

Physical Conditions: The Ministry of Penitentiary Services reported there were 51,693 inmates in the country’s 41 prisons and penitentiaries and an estimated 33,000 inmates in police station jails in 2017. NGOs reported records for detainees were not properly maintained and often contained incomplete information. According to the NGO A Window to Liberty (UVL), the capacity was approximately 19,000 inmates for penitentiaries and 5,000 for police station jails. Overcrowding was 172 percent for penitentiaries and 415 percent for police station jails on average, although the NGO Venezuelan Observatory for Prisons (OVP) noted that in some jails the overcrowding ranged from 800 to 1,200 percent.

There were two women’s prisons, one in Miranda State and the other in Zulia State. The law stipulates women in mixed prisons must be held in annexes or separate women’s blocks. A local NGO reported that in practice male and female prisoners intermingled. Security forces and law enforcement authorities often held minors together with adults, even though separate facilities existed. Because institutions were filled beyond capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions were confined in juvenile detention centers, where they were reportedly crowded into small, unsanitary cells.

The CICPC and police station jails and detention centers also were overcrowded, causing many police station offices to be converted into makeshift prison cells. Prisoners reportedly took turns sleeping on floors and in office chairs, and sanitation facilities were inadequate or nonexistent. A 2017 UVL study of 89 facilities holding pretrial detainees revealed 432 percent overcrowding. According to the study, more than 80 percent of facilities provided no medical services, recreational areas, designated visiting areas, or laundry facilities. More than 60 percent did not have potable water, and more than 50 percent did not have regular trash collection or proper restrooms.

The GNB and the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace have responsibility for prisons’ exterior and interior security, respectively. The government failed to provide adequate prison security. The OVP estimated a staffing gap of 90 percent for prison security personnel, with only one guard for every 100 inmates, instead of one for every 10 as recommended by international standards. The OVP reported 173 prisoner deaths and 268 serious injuries in 2016, the most recent year for which information was available. The OVP assessed that 90 percent of prison deaths were violent, resulting from prisoner-on-prisoner altercations, riots, and fires. The OVP reported some inmates also succumbed to the generally unsanitary and unsafe conditions prevalent in prisons. During the March 2017 renovation of Guarico State’s central prison, the construction team discovered 14 bodies in a shallow grave. The case remained under investigation at year’s end but highlighted uncertainty over the true number of annual prison deaths.

During the year prison and detention center riots resulted in inmate deaths and injuries. For example, on March 28, a fire erupted in an overcrowded police station in Valencia, Carabobo State, killing 66 male prisoners and two female visitors; more than 100 persons received burns in the fire. Media reported that after an argument with a guard, a group of prisoners lit their bed linens on fire. Many NGOs called the fire a massacre, noting some prisoners died from the fire itself, while others died of physical trauma or gunshot wounds.

A 2016 law limiting cell phone and internet availability inside prisons to prevent inmates from using the technology to engage in criminal activity remained unimplemented. Minister of Penitentiary Affairs Iris Varela admitted communicating with inmates by cell phone immediately before and during the 2017 Puente Ayala prison riot. There were credible reports that Varela may have had a hand in directing the violence, including her own admission to that effect during a media interview.

The UVL reported authorities required family members to provide food for prisoners at police station jails throughout the country due to inadequate provisioning of food by the prison administration. According to a UVL report, in 2017 at least 28 inmates died from complications associated with malnutrition and preventable disease such as tuberculosis. The OVP reported that due to inadequate nutrition plans and lack of potable water, stomach illnesses were common among inmates.

On February 24, Vista Hermosa prison inmate Alejandro Manuel Mago Coraspe was admitted into a local Bolivar state hospital after he fell ill, apparently from eating poisoned rodents. Vista Hermosa prisoners customarily ate wild birds and rodents to survive, according to Mago Coraspe. After undergoing surgery, he explained to journalists that he customarily killed and cooked rats but had most recently eaten rats he found in the prison garbage that were potentially poisoned. According to reports from Mago Coraspe’s family, prison guards beat him severely upon his return to the prison, allegedly for having spoken to media members. According to media reports, a judge ordered Mago Coraspe to serve out the remainder of his sentence under house arrest. Prison authorities disregarded the order, and Mago Coraspe died in prison on April 24.

The government restricted information regarding deaths in prisons from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases or from lack of medical care. A study by the NGO Solidarity Action found prison rules regarding the classification of inmates resulted in the isolation of those with HIV/AIDS in “inadequate spaces without food and medical attention.” The OVP reported a generalized lack of medical care, drugs, equipment, and physicians for prisoners. Inmates often received the same pills regardless of their symptoms, and pregnant women lacked adequate facilities for their medical attention.

Administration: The Ministry of Penitentiary Services did not respond to requests from the OVP, UVL, other human rights organizations, inmates, or families regarding inmates or investigations of the harsh conditions that led to hunger strikes or violent uprisings.

Prisoners and detainees generally had access to visitors, including some with overnight privileges, but in some cases prison officials harassed or abused visitors. Prison officials imposed significant restrictions on visits to political prisoners. When allowed access, visitors were at times subjected to strip searches.

Independent Monitoring: Human rights observers continued to experience lengthy delays and restrictions in gaining access to prisons and detention centers. Authorities had not approved requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit penitentiary centers and interview inmates in confidentiality since 2013. More than 300 lay members from the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference of the Roman Catholic Church volunteered in 40 prisons. Although prohibited from formally entering prisons, Catholic laity visited prisoners on family visitation days.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits the arrest or detention of an individual without a judicial order and provides for the accused to remain free while being tried, but judges and prosecutors often disregarded these provisions. The law provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but the government generally did not observe this requirement. While NGOs such as Foro Penal, COFAVIC, the Institute for Press and Society, Espacio Publico, and PROVEA noted at least 2,000 open cases of arbitrary detentions, authorities rarely granted them formal means to present their petitions. Authorities arbitrarily detained individuals, including foreign citizens, for extended periods without criminal charges.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The GNB–a branch of the military that reports to both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace–is responsible for maintaining public order, guarding the exterior of key government installations and prisons, conducting counternarcotics operations, monitoring borders, and providing law enforcement in remote areas. The Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace controls the CICPC, which conducts most criminal investigations, and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), which collects intelligence within the country and abroad, and is responsible for investigating cases of corruption, subversion, and arms trafficking. SEBIN maintained its own detention facilities separate from those of the Ministry of Penitentiary Services. Police include municipal, state, and national police forces. Mayors and governors oversee municipal and state police forces. The PNB reports to the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace. According to its website, the PNB largely focused on policing Caracas’s Libertador municipality; patrolling Caracas-area highways, railways, and metro system; and protecting diplomatic missions. The PNB maintained a minimal presence in seven of the country’s 23 states.

Corruption, inadequate police training and equipment, and insufficient central government funding, particularly for police forces in states and municipalities governed by opposition officials, reduced the effectiveness of the security forces. There were continued reports of police abuse and involvement in crime, including illegal and arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and the excessive use of force.

Impunity remained a serious problem in the security forces. The Public Ministry is responsible for initiating judicial investigations of security force abuses. The Office of Fundamental Rights in the Public Ministry is responsible for investigating cases involving crimes committed by public officials, particularly security officials.

According to the Public Ministry’s 2016 annual report (the most recent one available), the Office of Fundamental Rights cited 13,343 specific actions taken to “process claims” against police authorities for human rights abuses and charged 320 with violations. Neither the Attorney General’s Office nor the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman provided information regarding alleged human rights violations committed by police and military personnel.

State and municipal governments also investigated their respective police forces. By law the national, state, and municipal police forces have a police corps disciplinary council that takes action against security officials who commit abuses. The National Assembly also may investigate security force abuses.

The government at both the local and national levels took few actions to sanction officers involved in abuses. According to the NGO Network of Support for Justice and Peace, the lack of sufficient prosecutors made it difficult to prosecute police and military officials allegedly involved in human rights abuses. In addition NGOs reported the following problems contributed to an ineffective judicial system: long procedural delays, poor court administration and organization, lack of transparency in investigations, and impunity of government officials. In June 2017 Human Rights Watch reported the then attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz had opened investigations in more than 600 cases of injury caused during the protests that began in April 2017. In at least 10 cases, her office charged security forces with unlawful killings of demonstrators or bystanders. After her removal, her successor did not pursue the cases.

NGOs and police noted that many victims did not report violent crimes to police or other authorities due to fear of retribution or lack of confidence in the police and that the actual occurrence was likely far higher than what was reported.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

While a warrant is required for an arrest, detention is permitted without an arrest warrant when an individual is apprehended in the act of committing a crime or to secure a suspect or witness during an investigation. Police often detained individuals without a warrant. The law mandates that detainees be brought before a prosecutor within 12 hours and before a judge within 48 hours to determine the legality of the detention; the law also requires that detainees be informed promptly of the charges against them. Authorities routinely ignored these requirements.

Although the law provides for bail, it is not available for certain crimes. Bail also may be denied if a person is apprehended in the act of committing a crime or if a judge determines the accused may flee or impede the investigation. The law allows detainees access to counsel and family members, but that requirement was often not met, particularly for political prisoners. The constitution also provides any detained individual the right to immediate communication with family members and lawyers who, in turn, have the right to know a detainee’s whereabouts. A person accused of a crime may not be detained for longer than the possible minimum sentence for that crime or for longer than two years, whichever is shorter, except in certain circumstances, such as when the defendant is responsible for the delay in the proceedings.

Arbitrary Arrest: Foro Penal reported 498 cases of arbitrary detention between January 1 and November 15, compared with 5,462 protest-related cases of arbitrary detention from April through December 2017. Opposition politicians and human rights NGOs attributed the reduction largely to a significant decrease in large-scale protests following National Constituent Assembly (ANC) elections in July 2017.

Caracas municipal councilmember Fernando Alban died on October 8 while in SEBIN custody. SEBIN officials had arrested Alban upon his return from a foreign trip on October 5 and held him in detention as a suspect in the August 4 drone attack believed to have been a presidential assassination attempt. Attorney General Tarek William Saab reported via social media and press statements that Alban jumped from a 10th-floor bathroom window, while Minister of Interior Nestor Reverol stated Alban jumped from a 10th-floor waiting room. NGOs and members of the opposition denounced these conflicting stories and alleged Alban was murdered.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention remained an egregious problem. According to the OVP, approximately 79 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. According to the Public Ministry, in 2016 only 21 percent of trials concluded or reached sentencing. The NGO Citizen Observatory of the Penal Justice System attributed trial delays to the shortage of prosecutors and penal judges (4.7 penal judges per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010, the latest date for which information was available).

Despite constitutional protections that provide for timely trials, judges reportedly scheduled initial hearings months after the events giving rise to the cause of action. An automated scheduling system was ineffective at streamlining case logistics. Proceedings were often deferred or suspended when an officer of the court, such as the prosecutor, public defender, or judge, failed to attend.

According to the Public Ministry’s 2015 annual report (the most recent available), the ministry pressed charges in 9.7 percent of the 556,000 cases involving common crimes. The ministry reported the closure of the remainder of the complaints but did not indicate final outcomes. Prisoners reported to NGOs that a lack of transportation and disorganization in the prison system reduced their access to the courts and contributed to trial delays.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detained individuals may challenge the grounds for their detention, but proceedings were often delayed and hearings postponed, stretching trials for years. Courts frequently disregarded defendants’ presumption of innocence. Authorities often failed to allow detainees to consult with counsel or access their case records when filing challenges. Some detainees remained on probation or under house arrest indefinitely.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary lacked independence and generally judged in favor of the government at all levels. There were credible allegations of corruption and political influence throughout the judiciary. According to reports from the International Commission of Jurists, 66 to 80 percent of all judges had provisional appointments and were subject to removal at will by the TSJ Judicial Committee. Provisional and temporary judges, who legally have the same rights and authorities as permanent judges, allegedly were subjected to political influence from various ministries and the newly appointed attorney general to make progovernment determinations. There was a general lack of transparency and stability in the assignments of district attorneys to cases and a lack of technical criteria for assigning district attorneys to criminal investigations. These deficiencies hindered the possibility of bringing offenders to justice and resulted in a 90 percent rate of impunity for common crimes and a higher percentage of impunity for cases of alleged human rights violations.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with oral proceedings for all individuals. By law defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty. The law requires that detainees be informed promptly of the charges against them, but the requirement was often ignored and, even when respected, involved dubious allegations, according to human rights organizations. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney. According to the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, there were approximately 1,500 public defenders in 2017, but indigent defendants’ right to free counsel was often not respected because of attorney shortages. Free interpretation was often not available to defendants. Some NGOs provided pro bono counsel to defendants.

Defendants may request no fewer than 30 days and no more than 45 days to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to question adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses. By law defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and plaintiffs have the right of appeal.

Trial delays were common. Trials “in absentia” are permitted in certain circumstances, although opponents of the procedure claimed the constitution prohibits such trials. The law also states that, in the absence of the defense attorney, a trial may proceed with a public defender that the court designates. The law gives judges the discretion to hold trials behind closed doors if a public trial could “disturb the normal development of the trial.”

At the January 31 hearing of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, the judge did not set a date for the next phase of her trial, when it was expected a verdict would be announced. Afiuni was accused of corruption and abuse of authority for her 2009 decision conditionally to release a businessman who had been held in pretrial detention beyond the maximum time prescribed by law. Afiuni continued to be subjected to protective measures in place since her release to house arrest in 2011 that mandate she may not leave the country, talk to media, or use social media, although the law states such measures may not last more than two years.

The law mandates that municipal courts handle “less serious” crimes, i.e., those carrying maximum penalties of imprisonment of less than eight years. Municipal courts may levy penalties that include three to eight months of community service. Besides diverting some “less serious” crimes to the municipal courts, this diversion also permits individuals accused of “lesser crimes” to ask the courts to suspend their trials conditionally in exchange for their admission of responsibility, commitment to provide restitution “in a material or symbolic form,” community service, or any other condition imposed by the court.

The law provides that trials for military personnel charged with human rights abuses after 1999 be held in civilian rather than military courts. In addition, under the Organic Code of Military Justice, an individual may be tried in the military justice system for “insulting, offending, or disparaging the national armed forces or any related entities.” NGOs and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern with the government’s practice of trying civilians under the military justice system for protests and other actions not under military jurisdiction. According to Foro Penal, military courts processed at least 35 civilians between January 1 and August 1.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government used the judiciary to intimidate and selectively prosecute individuals critical of government policies or actions. The regime reportedly continued the policy it began in 2012 of denying the ICRC access to prisons. Foro Penal reported 286 political prisoners in government custody as of November 18, down from 676 political prisoners reported at the height of 2017’s wave of political protests but well above averages recorded in 2015 and 2016. The government routinely held political prisoners in SEBIN installations or the Ramo Verde military prison without an explanation of why they were not being held in civilian detention facilities.

On June 2, the government provisionally released opposition coalition leader Roberto Picon and former San Cristobal mayor Daniel Ceballos. The two, like many others released immediately following the May 20 elections, were prohibited from leaving the country or speaking to media, and they were required to appear before a judge on a monthly basis. Ceballos was released from the Ramo Verde military detention facility, where prison authorities routinely held him in solitary confinement and denied him visitation. Picon was released from house arrest, which the government granted in December 2017, as part of a larger “good will” pardon. According to media reports and NGO representatives, SEBIN arrested Picon in June 2017 without an arrest warrant. At a military hearing on charges of rebellion and theft of items belonging to the military, NGO representatives claimed the prosecution entered evidence that included a paperweight and a reference to the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

The government increased its attack against civil liberties after an alleged failed presidential assassination attempt on August 4. On August 7, masked men abducted National Assembly Deputy Juan Requesens from his home during a nationally televised presidential address in which Maduro accused Requesens of involvement in the alleged August 4 attack. On August 9, the government released a video of a disheveled Requesens admitting he had information on one of the assassination plotters. On August 10, a second video appeared on social media showing Requesens, visibly weak and naked aside from his notably soiled underwear. Despite daily requests from his lawyer and family members, government authorities granted Requesens only two visits–September 21 and October 7–following his detention on August 7. According to reports, Requesens was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. As of December 6, his detention conditions had improved slightly under new SEBIN leadership. Nevertheless, Requesens was not receiving medical attention in a timely fashion, and due process had yet to be afforded in his case.

As of October 1, jailed opposition party leader and former Chacao municipality mayor Leopoldo Lopez remained under house arrest and barred from communicating with individuals outside his home.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

While there are separate civil courts that permit citizens to bring lawsuits seeking damages, there are no procedures for individuals or organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights violations.

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

The constitution provides for the inviolability of the home and personal privacy, but the government generally did not respect these prohibitions. In some cases government authorities searched homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization, seized property without due process, or interfered in personal communications. FAES and other security forces regularly conducted indiscriminate household raids.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the combination of laws and regulations governing libel and media content as well as legal harassment, physical intimidation of individuals and media, and executive influence on the judiciary resulted in significant repression of these freedoms. National and international groups, such as the IACHR, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the Inter American Press Association, Reporters without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, condemned government efforts throughout the year to restrict press freedom and create a climate of fear and self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: The law makes insulting the president punishable by six to 30 months in prison without bail, with lesser penalties for insulting lower-ranking officials. In November 2017, however, the ANC gave final approval to the Constitutional Law against Hate, for Political Coexistence and Tolerance, which stipulates prison sentences of up to 20 years. While the government stated the purpose of the law was to “promote peace and tolerance,” NGOs observed the vaguely written law could be used to silence political parties, activists, and civil society leaders as well as media outlets and journalists. Comments exposing another person to public contempt or hatred are punishable by prison sentences of one to three years and fines.

On September 16, DGCIM officers detained Merida state firefighters Ricardo Prieto Parra and Carlos Varon Garcia on charges of “instigating hate” after a satirical video they produced of a donkey depicted as President Maduro received wide publicity on social media. Prieto Parra and Varon Garcia faced up to 20 years in prison for the alleged crime.

Hospital worker Lenny Josefina Martinez Gonzalez remained in prison as of October 8, awaiting trial after SEBIN arrested her in October 2017 for photographing women giving birth in a hospital waiting room. The photographs, captured in Lara State, illustrated the country’s medical crisis and were widely viewed on social media.

Press and Media Freedom: The law provides that inaccurate reporting that disturbs the public peace is punishable by prison terms of two to five years. The requirement that media disseminate only “true” information was undefined and open to politically motivated interpretation. Human Rights NGO Espacio Publico counted 92 acts of censorship between January and June, as well as 73 attacks on journalists and reporters. Meanwhile, the local journalists’ union (SNTP) counted 26 “closures, sanctions, and blockings” of outlets and 87 attacks on journalists during the same period.

The law prohibits all media from disseminating messages that incite or promote hate or intolerance for religious, political, gender-related, racial, or xenophobic reasons; incite, promote, or condone criminal acts; constitute war propaganda; foment anxiety in the population or affect public order; do not recognize legitimate government authorities; incite homicide; or incite or promote disobedience to the established legal order. Penalties range from fines to the revocation of licenses. The threat of nonrenewal of operating licenses systematically led to self-censorship on the part of several media outlets.

Despite such laws President Maduro and the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) used the nearly 600 government-owned or -controlled media outlets to insult and intimidate the political opposition throughout the year. ANC president Diosdado Cabello continued to use his weekly television program to denounce individual journalists and media outlets, according to observers.

The law declares telecommunications a “public interest service,” thereby giving the government authority to regulate the content and structure of the radio, television, and audiovisual production sectors. The law provides that the government may suspend or revoke licenses when it judges such actions necessary in the interests of the nation, public order, or security. The law empowers the government to impose heavy fines and cancel broadcasts for violations of its norms; the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) oversees the law’s application.

The government continued legal actions against high-profile independent media outlets Tal CualEl NacionalEl Nuevo PaisLa PatillaEl Pitazo, and Globovision. In May a court found El Nacional, the nation’s largest independent daily newspaper, guilty of “moral damage” against Cabello for republishing a critical article from the Spanish newspaper ABC and ordered the newspaper to pay a fine of one billion bolivares fuertes ($10,400).

The NGO Espacio Publico reported 219 violations of freedom of expression between January and June. This represented a 72 percent decline from the historically high numbers of 2017, but an 11 percent increase over the 2013-16 averages. The most common violations were aggressions against journalists and censorship. State-owned and -influenced media provided almost continuous progovernment programming. In addition private and public radio and television stations were required to transmit mandatory nationwide broadcasts (cadenas) throughout the year, including a daily 15-minute news broadcast that provided reports and summaries of government achievements. Both Maduro and other ruling-party officials utilized mandatory broadcast time to campaign for progovernment candidates. Opposition candidates generally did not have access to media broadcast time.

The law requires practicing journalists to have journalism degrees and be members of the National College of Journalists, and it prescribes jail terms of three to six months for those practicing the profession illegally. These requirements are waived for foreigners and opinion columnists.

Violence and Harassment: Senior national and state government leaders continued to harass and intimidate privately owned and opposition-oriented television stations, media outlets, and journalists by using threats, property seizures, administrative and criminal investigations, and prosecutions. Government officials, including the president, used government-controlled media outlets to accuse private media owners, directors, and reporters of fomenting antigovernment destabilization campaigns and coup attempts.

Government officials also harassed foreign journalists working in the country. No charges were filed against GNB officers who allegedly attacked Elyangelica Gonzalez, a reporter for Univision Noticias and the Colombian-based station Caracol Radio, while she reported outside the Supreme Court in March 2017.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In its 2016 report, the Venezuelan Institute of Press and Society (IPYS) noted the government’s preference for using legal proceedings, financial sanctions, and administrative actions against unfavorable news outlets instead of shutting them down outright. Members of the independent media stated they regularly engaged in self-censorship due to fear of government reprisals. This resulted in many journalists posting articles to their personal blogs and websites instead of publishing them in traditional media.

The government also exercised control over content through licensing and broadcasting requirements. CONATEL acted selectively on applications from private radio and television broadcasters for renewal of their broadcast frequencies. According to Nelson Belfort, former president of the Venezuelan Radio Chamber, and NGO reports, approximately 80 percent of radio stations were in “illegal” status throughout the country due to CONATEL’s not having renewed licenses for most radio stations since 2007.

According to the SNTP, during the year 25 print news outlets closed due to the government’s economic policies, which made it difficult for independent newspapers to access foreign currency, preventing many from purchasing critical supplies and equipment necessary for day-to-day business operations. During the first half of the year, five regional newspapers went out of print for lack of supplies, especially newsprint: Diario El Tiempo in Anzoategui State, El Impulso in Lara, El Oriental in Monagas, La Prensa de Barinas in Barinas, and La Region del Oriente in Sucre.

The government controlled a large portion of the country’s businesses and paid for advertising only with government-owned or government-friendly media.

Libel/Slander Laws: Government officials engaged in reprisals against individuals who publicly expressed criticism of the president or government policy. As of October 1, President Maduro had not acted on his June 2017 announcement that he would use slander laws to “defend his honor” in court against opposition leaders’ allegations that he was responsible for protest-related deaths.

National Security: The law allows the government to suspend or revoke licenses when it determines such actions necessary in the interests of public order or security. The government exercised control over the press through a public entity, the Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Homeland (CESPPA), established in 2013, which is similar to the governmental entity Center for National Situational Studies (CESNA) established in 2010. CESNA and CESPPA have similar mandates and are responsible for “compiling, processing, analyzing, and classifying” both government-released and other public information with the objective of “protecting the interests and objectives of the state.”

During the year President Maduro renewed three times the “state of exception” he first invoked in 2016, citing a continuing economic emergency, and granted himself the power to restrict rights otherwise provided for in the constitution. The 60-day emergency decree, which by law is renewable only once and requires National Assembly endorsement to be effective, allows the president to block any action he deems could “undermine national security” or could “obstruct the continuity of the implementation of economic measures for the urgent reactivation of the national economy.” The National Assembly continued systematically to refuse to ratify each renewal, and the Supreme Court annulled each refusal, reasoning that the assembly’s “contempt” status made its failure to endorse the renewal “unconstitutional.” According to Human Rights Watch, the “state of exception” negatively affected the rights to freedom of association and expression.

Nongovernmental Impact: Widespread violence in the country made it difficult to determine whether attacks on journalists resulted from common criminal activity or whether criminals or others targeted media members.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. The executive branch exercised broad control over the internet through the state-run CONATEL. Free Access, an NGO focused on freedom of expression and social justice, reported that CONATEL supported monitoring of private communications and repression of internet users who expressed dissenting opinions online. According to media reports, users of social networks accused CONATEL of monitoring their online activity and passing identifying information to intelligence agencies, such as SEBIN. According to Free Access, CONATEL provided information to SEBIN, including internet protocol addresses, which assisted authorities in locating the users.

The law puts the burden of filtering prohibited electronic messages on service providers, and it allows CONATEL to order service providers to block access to websites that violate these norms and sanctions them with fines for distributing prohibited messages. IPYS reported that from 2017 to November, local internet providers following CONATEL orders blocked access to eight online outlets, including El NacionalLa PatillaRunrunesCronica UnoArmando.Info, and El Pitazo.

CONATEL’s director, Jorge Elieser Marquez Monsalve, reiterated the claims of his predecessors that CONATEL’s role is to enforce the law and prevent dissemination of illegal information or material unsuitable for children and adolescents. Nevertheless, the government continued to block internet sites that posted dollar- and euro-to-bolivar currency exchange rates differing from the government’s official rate. The government-owned internet service provider CANTV facilitated blockages.

Intelligence agencies, which lacked independent oversight, conducted surveillance for political purposes. Courts relied on evidence obtained from anonymous patriotas cooperantes (cooperating patriots) to harass perceived opponents of the government, and senior government officials used personal information gathered by patriotas cooperantes to intimidate government critics and human rights defenders.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 64 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no substantive reports of government restrictions on cultural events, but there were some government restrictions on academic freedom. Aula Abierta (Open Classroom), a local human rights NGO focused on academic freedoms, reported the government retaliated against opposition-oriented autonomous universities by providing insufficient funding and failing to adjust budgetary allocations to inflation. According to some university leaders, the 2018 budget allocation would not take them through the first semester. In September 2017 the National University Council, the government regulating body for university education, relinquished its functions to the ANC, disregarding the law requiring university autonomy. The government continued gradually increasing its control over local universities, including the admissions process. In 2015 the Ministry of Education began selecting at least 70 percent of those offered university seats using criteria based 50 percent on academic achievement, 30 percent on socioeconomic conditions, 15 percent on residency, and 5 percent on involvement in social service activities. University leaders complained the student selection process unfairly advantaged ruling-party supporters and usurped authority from the universities.

In May the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Technology announced a nationwide university scholarship program that would reportedly benefit more than 50,000 university students. According to the ministry, students must have a carnet de la patria (homeland card, a government-issued social benefits card provided primarily to government supporters; see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation) to qualify. In June the government similarly announced a financial incentive called the “student bonus” for cardholders with school-age children.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for this right, but the government generally repressed or suspended it. The law regulates the right to assembly. Human rights groups continued to criticize the law as enabling the government to charge protesters with serious crimes for participating in peaceful demonstrations. Ambiguous language in the law also allowed the government to criminalize organizations that were critical of the government. Protests and marches require government authorization in advance and are forbidden within designated “security zones.”

Citizens organized sporadic and often spontaneous small-scale protests throughout the year to demand basic services such as water and electricity. The government generally refrained from using the widespread, violent, and in some cases fatal responses they used to quash the 2017 protests, but NGOs reported cases of arbitrary detention and heavy-handed police tactics to quell protests.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association and freedom from political discrimination, but the government did not respect these rights. Although professional and academic associations generally operated without interference, a number of associations complained that the TSJ and the National Electoral Council (CNE), which is responsible for convoking all elections and establishing electoral dates and procedures, repeatedly interfered with their attempts to hold internal elections.

A 2016 presidential decree called on the Foreign Ministry to suspend international funding to NGOs when “it is presumed” that the funding is used with “political purposes or for destabilization.” There were no reports the government implemented the decree during the year.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government did not respect these rights.

On October 5, the government announced the creation of a special migration police unit. Although some NGOs expressed concern the government would use the unit to restrict international travel of select individuals, the government asserted the force would essentially be customs and border patrol units. The government declared the migration police would provide citizen security at migration points and established 72 points of control to monitor the border situation and dispel what it called myths regarding a supposed Venezuelan migratory crisis.

The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: With the refugee status determination process centralized at the National Refugee Commission (CONARE) headquarters in Caracas, asylum seekers often waited for years to obtain a final decision. During this period they had to continue renewing their documentation every three months to stay in the country and avoid arrest and deportation. While traveling to the commission, particularly vulnerable groups, such as women with young children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, faced increased personal risks, such as arrest and deportation, extortion, exploitation, and sexual abuse by authorities at checkpoints and other locations.

On September 24, CONARE announced it would approve refugee applications for 54 Colombians who were awaiting approval. CONARE president Juan Carlos Aleman remarked the commission had more than 1,100 active requests for refugee status and that CONARE would respond to all of the requests in the next few months.

Arbitrary detentions continued but were reduced during the year. Security forces often used excessive force to control residents in states along the border with Colombia.

While no official statistics were available, a women’s shelter reported recurring problems with gender-based violence and trafficking of refugee women.

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

In-country Movement: The government restricted the movement of certain opposition leaders, preventing them from traveling on government-controlled airlines and refusing to allow them to board some domestic flights.

Foreign Travel: Obtaining a passport became increasingly difficult during the year. Prospective applicants waited overnight in lines and often did not receive passports even after years of delays. Some applicants reportedly paid several thousands of U.S. dollars to obtain a passport. The government repeatedly seized passports from journalists, members of the opposition, and National Assembly deputies at ports of entry without explanation as they attempted to depart the country.

Exile: There were new cases of citizens denied the right to return during the year. For example, the government released jailed University of Los Andes student leader Villca Fernandez on June 14, requiring that he leave the country as a condition of his release. SEBIN officials had arrested Fernandez in 2016 after he sent a tweet defending himself after then PSUV first vice president Diosdado Cabello threatened Fernandez on his weekly televised show. SEBIN officials reportedly tortured Fernandez, refused him medical attention, and kept him in solitary confinement, releasing him for less than 15 minutes at a time to use the bathroom.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, the vast majority of asylum seekers came from Colombia. UNHCR estimated there were 7,860 recognized refugees and 173,000 persons in need of international protection in the country in 2017. The majority of such persons remained without any protection. Despite the increased migration of Venezuelans to neighboring countries, NGOs supporting displaced Colombians noted many chose to remain in Venezuela despite the economic crisis, citing a cost of living comparatively lower than in Colombia, fear of violence, or the ease with which they could travel between the two nations without relocating. Most of the Colombians had not accessed procedures for refugee status determination due to the inefficiency of the process. UNHCR reported that few persons in need of international protection were legally recognized as refugees.

Access to Basic Services: Colombian asylum seekers without legal residency permits had limited access to the job market, education, and health systems. The lack of documentation created significant challenges to achieving sufficient protection and long-term integration. Authorities permitted Colombian children to attend school but inconsistently granted them diplomas or certificates of completion without residency documentation, resulting in high dropout rates for Colombian children.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Some officials explicitly acknowledged corruption as a major problem. The government frequently investigated, prosecuted, and detained political opponents on corruption charges to harass, intimidate, or imprison them. According to Transparency International, among the main reasons for the country’s widespread corruption were impunity, weak institutions, and a lack of transparency in the management of government resources.

Corruption: On August 4, Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced the Public Ministry’s reportedly successful efforts to fight corruption during his first year in office. According to Saab, 616 persons were convicted of corruption-related charges; however, the government did not provide information regarding the alleged cases or persons convicted.

Corruption was a major problem in all police forces, whose members were generally poorly paid and minimally trained. There was no information publicly available about the number of cases involving police and military officials during the year, although the Public Ministry publicized several individual cases against police officers for soliciting bribes and other corrupt activities.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials, as well as all directors and members of the boards of private companies, to submit sworn financial disclosure statements. By law the Public Ministry and competent criminal courts may require such statements from any other persons when circumstantial evidence arises during an investigation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Semitism

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

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

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

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

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

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

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

Indigenous People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides that all private- and public-sector workers (except members of the armed forces) have the right to form and join unions of their choice, and it provides for collective bargaining and the right to strike. The law, however, places several restrictions on these rights, and the government deployed a variety of mechanisms to undercut the rights of independent workers and unions. Minimum membership requirements for unions differ based on the type of union. Forming a company union requires a minimum of 20 workers; forming a professional, industrial, or sectoral union in one jurisdiction requires 40 workers in the same field; and forming a regional or national union requires 150 workers. Ten persons may form an employees association, a parallel type of representation the government endorsed and openly supported.

The law prohibits “any act of discrimination or interference contrary to the exercise” of workers’ right to unionize. The law requires all unions to provide the Ministry of Labor a membership roster that includes the full name, home address, telephone number, and national identification number for each union member. The ministry reviews the registration and determines whether the union fulfilled all requirements. Unions must submit their registration application by December 31 of the year the union forms; if not received by the ministry or if the ministry considers the registration unsatisfactory, the union is denied the ability to exist legally. The law also requires the presence of labor inspectors to witness and legitimize unions’ decisions before the Ministry of Labor. The International Labor Organization (ILO) raised concerns about the ministry’s refusal to register trade union organizations.

By law employers may negotiate a collective contract only with the union that represents the majority of its workers. Minority organizations may not jointly negotiate in cases where no union represents an absolute majority. The law also places a number of restrictions on unions’ ability to administer their activities. For example, the CNE has the authority to administer internal elections of labor unions, federations, and confederations. By law elections must be held at least every three years. If CNE-administered and -certified elections are not held within this period, the law prohibits union leaders from representing workers in negotiations or engaging in anything beyond administrative tasks. The ILO repeatedly found cases of interference by the CNE in trade union elections, and in 1999 it began calling for the CNE to be delinked from the union election process.

The law recognizes the right of all public- and private-sector workers to strike, subject to conditions established by law. By law workers participating in legal strikes receive immunity from prosecution, and their time in service may not be reduced by the time engaged in a strike. The law requires that employers reincorporate striking workers and provides for prison terms of six to 15 months for employers who fail to do so. Replacement workers are not permitted during legal strikes. The law prohibits striking workers from paralyzing the production or provision of essential public goods and services, but it defines “essential services” more broadly than ILO standards. The ILO called on the government to amend the law to exclude from the definition of “essential services” activities “that are not essential in the strict sense of the term…so that in no event may criminal sanctions be imposed in cases of peaceful strikes.”

The minister of labor may order public- or private-sector strikers back to work and submit their disputes to arbitration if a strike “puts in immediate danger the lives or security of all or part of the population.” Other legal provisions establish criminal penalties for exercising the right to strike in certain circumstances. For example, the law prohibits specified actions and makes punishable with five to 10 years in prison anyone who “organizes, supports, or instigates the realization of activities within security zones that are intended to disturb or affect the organization and functioning of military installations, public services, industries and basic [mining] enterprises, or the socioeconomic life of the country.” The law also provides for prison terms of two to six years and six to 10 years, respectively, for those who restrict the distribution of goods and for “those…who develop or carry out actions or omissions that impede, either directly or indirectly, the production, manufacture, import, storing, transport, distribution, and commercialization of goods.” There was no information on whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The government restricted the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining through administrative and legal mechanisms.

The ILO raised concerns about violence against trade union members and government intimidation of the Associations of Commerce and Production of Venezuela. ILO member countries voted to establish an ILO Commission of Inquiry against Venezuela to investigate longstanding complaints first lodged in 2015 of labor rights violations of ILO Conventions No. 26, 87, and 144, which pertain to minimum-wage fixing, freedom of association and protection of the right to organize, and tripartite consultation, respectively. The ILO had recommended that the government allow a tripartite delegation to provide technical assistance to mediate unresolved complaints between the government, employers, and workers. The government continued to refuse access to the ILO High-Level Tripartite delegation to address complaints of labor rights violations.

Organized labor activists continued to report that the annual requirement to provide the Ministry of Labor a membership roster was onerous and infringed on freedom of association. They alleged the ministry removed member names from the rosters for political purposes, particularly if members were not registered to vote with the CNE. Labor leaders also criticized the laborious and costly administrative process of requesting CNE approval for elections and subsequent delays in the CNE’s recognition of such union processes. In addition there reportedly was a high turnover of Ministry of Labor contractors, resulting in a lack of timely follow-through on union processes. Labor unions in both the private and public sectors noted long delays in obtaining CNE concurrence to hold elections and in receiving certification of the election results, which hindered unions’ ability to bargain collectively.

The government continued to support many “parallel” unions, which sought to dilute the membership and effectiveness of traditional independent unions. In October, Labor Minister Eduardo Pinate announced the expansion of the ministry’s Youth Worker Program (Chamba Juvenil), which independent union leaders claimed was a government mechanism to displace independent workers with government-aligned workers and also to suppress wages, since youth are paid less than experienced workers. In general these government-supported unions were not subject to the same government scrutiny and requirements regarding leadership elections. The government excluded from consideration other, independent union federations, including the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, General Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, Confederation of Autonomous Unions of Venezuela, and National Union of Workers.

The government continued to refuse to adjudicate or otherwise resolve the cases of 19,000 employees of the state oil company (PDVSA) who were fired during and after the 2002-03 strike. The Ministry of Labor continued to deny registration to the National Union of Oil, Gas, Petrochemical, and Refinery Workers.

The concept of striking, demonized since the 2002 national security law, was used periodically as a political tool to accuse government opponents of coup plotting or other destabilizing activities. Some companies, especially in the public sector, had multiple unions with varying degrees of allegiance to the ruling party’s version of the “socialist revolution,” which could trigger interunion conflict and strife. In August striking regional union leaders of Corpoelec (a state-owned electricity operator) complained national union leaders failed to negotiate in good faith on behalf of striking workers demanding wage increases. Corpoelec regional union leaders alleged national union leaders were progovernment “chavistas” and therefore beholden to the government for political reasons.

In June Maduro provisionally released former University of Carabobo professor Rolman Rojas, former president of the Carabobo College of Nurses Julio Garcia, former president of Fetracarabobo Omar Escalante, and former secretary general of the National Federation of Retirees and Pensioners Omar Vasquez Lagonel but required weekly reports to a judge as a condition of their release. SEBIN detained the group in August 2017 for their participation in the national labor strike against the ANC election.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits some forms of forced or compulsory labor but does not provide criminal penalties for certain forms of forced labor. The law prohibits human trafficking by organized crime groups through its law on organized crime, which prescribes 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment for the human trafficking of adults carried out by a member of an organized-crime group of three or more individuals. The organized-crime law, however, fails to prohibit trafficking by any individual not affiliated with such a group. Prosecutors may employ other statutes to prosecute such individuals. The law increases penalties from 25 to 30 years for child trafficking with the purpose of forced labor. There was no comprehensive information available regarding the government’s enforcement of the law. The labor group Autonomous Front in Defense of Employment, Wages, and Unions (FADESS) reported that public-sector worker agreements included provisions requiring service in the armed forces’ reserves.

There were reports of children and adults subjected to human trafficking with the purpose of forced labor, particularly in the informal economic sector and in domestic servitude (see section 7.c.). According to FADESS, more than 60,000 Cubans worked in government social programs (such as the Mission Inside the Barrio) in exchange for the government’s provision of oil resources to the Cuban government. FADESS noted Cubans worked in the Ministries of Education, Registrar, Notary, Telecommunications, and Security. FADESS also cited that the G-2 Cuban security unit was present in the armed forces and in state enterprises. Indicators of forced labor reported by some Cubans included chronic underpayment of wages, mandatory long hours, limitations on movement, and threats of retaliatory actions against workers and their families if they left the program. According to the Global Slavery Index, the estimated absolute number of victims in the country was 174,000.

The law does not sufficiently prohibit the trafficking of boys and requires proof of the use of deception, coercion, force, violence, threats, abduction, or other fraudulent means to carry out the offense of trafficking of girls, including for commercial sexual exploitation.

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 sets the minimum employment age at 14. Children younger than 14 may work only if granted special permission by the National Institute for Minors or the Ministry of Labor. Such permission may not be granted to minors who are younger than the legal age for work in hazardous occupations that risk their life or health or could damage their intellectual or moral development. According to the ILO, the government had not made publicly available the list of specific types of work considered hazardous. Children ages 14 to 18 may not work without permission of their legal guardians or in occupations expressly prohibited by law, and they may work no more than six hours per day or 30 hours per week. Minors younger than age 18 may not work outside the normal workday.

Anyone employing children younger than age eight is subject to a prison term of between one and three years. Employers must notify authorities if they hire a minor as a domestic worker.

No information was available on whether or how many employers were sanctioned for violations. The government continued to provide services to vulnerable children, including street children, working children, and children at risk of working. There was no independent accounting of the effectiveness of these and other government-supported programs.

Most child laborers worked in the agricultural sector, street vending, domestic service, or in small and medium-size businesses, most frequently in family-run operations. There continued to be isolated reports of children exploited in domestic servitude, mining, forced begging, and commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits employment discrimination for every citizen. The law prohibits discrimination based on age, race, sex, social condition, creed, marital status, union affiliation, political views, nationality, disability, or any condition that could be used to lessen the principle of equality before the law. No law specifically prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV/AIDS status. Media and NGOs, such as PROVEA and the Human Rights Center at the Andres Bello Catholic University, reported the government had a very limited capacity to address complaints and enforce the law in some cases and lacked political will in some cases of active discrimination based on political motivations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Nominal wages increased 43,273 percent through the first nine months of the year, but accumulated inflation over the same period reached 81,043 percent, according to a monthly study conducted by the National Assembly Finance Committee, which conducted its work without official Central Bank data.

In January workers in the health, petroleum, transportation, and electricity began holding protests, work stoppages, and strikes denouncing “hunger salaries”–wages insufficient to afford the basic food basket and unable to keep pace with hyperinflation. Additionally, they decried the lack of adequate equipment, supplies, and safe working conditions. Emblematic was the nurses’ strike, which began in June and continued as of October. Nurses demanded a salary increase on par with those of military officials: Nurses earned 2.2 million, compared with military officials earning 240 million bolivares, a 100-fold salary disparity. Striking nurses also demanded hospital supplies and medicines to counteract severe shortages, rendering them unable to provide adequate patient care. In response President Maduro unilaterally issued a decree in August raising the national minimum wage to 1,800 bolivares soberanos ($11), a 60-fold increase from the previous minimum wage. Labor experts noted the unilateral nature of the decision countered ILO Convention No. 26 requiring the government to consult with employers and workers prior to enacting wage increases. Legislators noted the decree violated the law, since it supplanted collective bargaining agreements. Union leaders from the petroleum, health, telecommunications, and electricity sectors highlighted that the decree did not include wage adjustments to keep up with hyperinflation and thus remained insufficient to afford the basic food basket. It also violated the law by nullifying previously signed collective bargaining agreements, including wage tables that scaled salaries accounting for seniority and merit pay.

The president of CONINDUSTRIA, the trade union of the industrial sector, stated that of the 15,000 industries existing in 2000, only 3,500 remained as of October.

The law sets the workweek at 40 hours (35 hours for a night shift). The law establishes separate limits for “shift workers,” who may not work more than an average of 42 hours per week during an eight-week period, with overtime capped at 100 hours annually. Managers are prohibited from obligating employees to work additional time, and workers have the right to two consecutive days off each week. Overtime is paid at a 50 percent surcharge if a labor inspector approves the overtime in advance and at a 100 percent surcharge if an inspector does not give advance permission. The law establishes that, after completing one year with an employer, a worker has a right to 15 days of paid vacation annually. A worker has the right to an additional day for every additional year of service, for a maximum of 15 additional days annually.

The law provides for secure, hygienic, and adequate working conditions. Workplaces must maintain “protection for the health and life of the workers against all dangerous working conditions.” The law obligates employers to pay workers specified amounts for workplace injuries or occupational illnesses, ranging from two times the daily salary for missed workdays to several years’ salary for permanent injuries. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The law covers all workers, including temporary, occasional, and domestic workers. There was reportedly some enforcement by the Ministry of Labor of minimum wage rates and hours of work provisions in the formal sector, but 40 percent of the population worked in the informal sector, where labor laws and protections generally were not enforced. The government did not enforce legal protections on safety in the public sector. According to PROVEA, while the National Institute for Prevention, Health, and Labor Security required many private businesses to correct dangerous labor conditions, the government did not enforce such standards in a similar manner in state enterprises and