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Executive Summary

Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and the leading force of society and of the state. The government postponed October municipal elections due to recovery efforts related to Hurricane Irma but conducted them in November, although they were neither free nor fair. A CP candidacy commission prescreened all candidates, and the government actively worked to block non-CP approved candidates.

The national leadership, including members of the military, maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included torture of perceived political opponents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; politically motivated, sometimes violent, detentions and arrests; a complete absence of judicial independence; arbitrary arrest and detention that was politically motivated and sometimes violent; trial processes that effectively put the burden on the defendant to prove innocence; and political prisoners. There was arbitrary interference with privacy, including search-and-seizure operations in homes and monitoring and censoring private communications. Freedom of expression was limited to expression that “conforms to the goals of socialist society,” with strict censorship punishing even distribution of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There were bans on importation of informational materials; strict control of all forms of media; restrictions on the internet, including severely limiting availability and site blocking; restrictions on academic freedom, including punishment for any deviation from the government line; criminalization of criticism of government leaders; and severe limitations on academic and cultural freedom, including on library access. There were restrictions on rights of assembly to those that the government deemed to be “against the existence and objectives of the socialist state”; criminalization of gatherings of three or more not authorized by the government, and use of government-organized acts of repudiation in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully; denial of freedom of association, including refusal to recognize independent associations; restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement; restriction of participation in the political process to those approved by the government; official corruption; outlawing of independent trade unions; compulsory labor; and trafficking in persons.

Government officials, at the direction of their superiors, committed most human rights abuses. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.

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

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

There were no confirmed reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities, but there were several reports of detained activists whose whereabouts were temporarily unknown because the government did not register these detentions.

On October 23, police detained civil society activist Roberto Jimenez, a leader of the youth organization Active Youth, United Cuba, along with Cesar Ivan Mendoza Regal. Authorities did not permit Jimenez to contact family or friends during his 16-day detention and reportedly beat him and refused to tell him where he was being held. The international human rights organization Freedom House publicized Mendoza and Jimenez’s case and called on the government to provide information about their status. Authorities released Jimenez on November 8 after charging him for “illicit association, meetings, and protest,” a crime that can carry a three- to 12-month sentence. In the case of Mendoza, although no longer incommunicado, his family was still unaware of any charges brought against him more than two months after his detention.

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

The law prohibits abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners. There were reports, however, that members of the security forces intimidated and physically assaulted human rights and prodemocracy advocates, political dissidents, and other detainees and prisoners during detention and imprisonment, and that they did so with impunity. Some detainees and prisoners also endured physical abuse by other inmates with the acquiescence of guards.

There were reports of police assaulting detainees or being complicit in public harassment of and physical assaults on peaceful demonstrators (see section 2.b.).

State security forces held graffiti artist and political dissident Danilo Maldonado from November 26, 2016 to January 21 for spray-painting “se fue” (he’s gone) on a building the night of Fidel Castro’s death. According to Maldonado, prison authorities stripped him naked and held him in solitary confinement on International Human Rights Day, laced his food with sedatives, beat and gagged him on at least one occasion, and perpetuated a rumor that he would be shot and killed in a staged escape attempt. He said authorities moved him to six different prisons over the eight-week period to make it difficult for his family and girlfriend to visit him; routinely cancelled, denied, or changed visits; and did not provide adequate medical treatment.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions continued to be harsh. Prisons were overcrowded, and facilities, sanitation, and medical care were deficient. There were reports of prison officials assaulting prisoners.

Physical Conditions: The government provided no information regarding the number, location, or capacity of detention centers, including prisons, work camps, and other kinds of detention facilities.

Prison and detention cells reportedly lacked adequate water, sanitation, space, light, ventilation, and temperature control. Although the government provided some food and medical care, many prisoners relied on family for food and other basic supplies. Potable water was often unavailable. Prison cells were overcrowded. Women also reported lack of access to feminine hygiene products and inadequate prenatal care.

Prisoners, family members, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported inadequate health care, which led to or aggravated multiple maladies. Prisoners also reported outbreaks of dengue, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and cholera. There were reports of prisoner deaths from heart attacks, asthma, HIV/AIDS, and other chronic medical conditions, as well as from suicide.

Political prisoners were held jointly with the general prison population. Political prisoners who refused to wear standard prison uniforms were denied certain privileges, such as access to prison libraries and standard reductions in the severity of their sentence (for example, being transferred from a maximum-security to a medium-security prison). Political prisoners also reported that fellow inmates, acting on orders from or with the permission of prison authorities, threatened, beat, intimidated, and harassed them.

Prisoners reported that solitary confinement was a common punishment for misconduct and that some prisoners were isolated for months at a time.

The government subjected prisoners who criticized the government or engaged in hunger strikes and other forms of protest to extended solitary confinement, assaults, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.

Administration: A legal department within the Attorney General’s Office is empowered to investigate allegations of abuse in the prison system. The results of these investigations were not publicly accessible. By law prisoners and detainees may seek redress regarding prison conditions and procedural violations, such as continued incarceration after a prison sentence has expired. Prisoners reported that government officials refused to accept complaints, or failed to respond to complaints.

Prisoners and pretrial detainees had access to visitors, although some political prisoners’ relatives reported that prison officials arbitrarily canceled scheduled visits. Some prisoners were able to communicate information about their living conditions through telephone calls to human rights observers and family members.

The Cuban Council of Churches, the largest Protestant religious organization, reported that it organized weekly chaplain services for all prisons in the country; the Roman Catholic Church also engaged in a prison chaplain program. Persons of other faiths were also allowed to practice their religion. There were isolated reports that prison authorities did not inform inmates of their right to access religious services, delayed months before responding to such requests, and limited visits by religious groups to a maximum of two or three times per year.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit monitoring of prison conditions by independent international or domestic human rights groups and did not permit access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations. Although the government pledged in previous years to allow a visit by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, no visit occurred during the year.

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/her arrest or detention in court. Nevertheless, arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions continued to be a common government method for controlling independent public expression and political activity. Challenges of arrests or detentions were rarely successful, especially regarding detentions alleged to be politically motivated.

By law police have wide discretion to stop and question citizens, request identification, and carry out search-and-seizure operations. Police used laws against public disorder, contempt, lack of respect, aggression, and failing to pay minimal or arbitrary fines as ways to detain, threaten, and arrest civil society activists. Police officials routinely conducted short-term detentions, at times assaulting detainees. The law provides that police officials furnish suspects a signed “report of detention,” noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility and a registry of personal items seized during a police search, but this law was frequently not followed. Arbitrary stops and searches were most common in urban areas and at government-controlled checkpoints at the entrances to provinces and municipalities.

Police and security officials continued to use short-term and sometimes violent detentions to prevent independent political activity or free assembly. Such detentions generally lasted from several hours to several days. The NGO Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) counted more than 4,800 detentions through November, compared with 9,940 in all of 2016. Members of the Todos Marchamos campaign, which included Damas de Blanco, reported weekly detentions of members to prevent demonstrations. Long-term imprisonment of peaceful government critics, while rare, sometimes occurred. In March the largest human rights and political opposition group, Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), published a list of 54 political prisoners throughout the country serving more than one month in prison for crimes such as contempt, “precriminal dangerousness,” failure to pay fines, and assault. According to UNPACU these individuals were in prison because they participated in peaceful protests and assemblies or otherwise defied the government.

The law allows a maximum four-year preventive detention of individuals not charged with an actual crime, with a subjective determination of “precriminal dangerousness,” defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms.” Mostly used as a tool to control “antisocial” behaviors, such as substance abuse or prostitution, authorities also used such detention to silence peaceful political opponents. Multiple domestic human rights organizations published lists of persons they considered political prisoners, and at least five individuals appearing on these lists remained imprisoned under the “precriminal dangerousness” provision of the law as of December.


The Ministry of Interior exercises control over the police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police is the primary law enforcement organization. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The police supported these units by carrying out search-and-seizure operations of homes and headquarters of human rights organizations, arresting persons of interest to the ministry, and providing interrogation facilities.

The police routinely violated procedural laws with impunity and at times failed or refused to provide citizens with legally required documentation, particularly during arbitrary detentions and searches. Security force members also committed civil rights and human rights abuses with impunity.

Although the law on criminal procedure prohibits the use of coercion during investigative interrogations, police and security forces at times relied on aggressive and physically abusive tactics, threats, and harassment during questioning. Detainees reported that officers intimidated them with threats of long-term detention, loss of child custody rights, denial of permission to depart the country, and other punishments.

There were no official mechanisms readily available to investigate government abuses.

Undercover police and Ministry of Interior agents were often present and directed activities to disrupt efforts at peaceful assembly (see section 2.b.).

According to independent reports, state-orchestrated “acts of repudiation” directed against independent civil society groups and individuals, including the Damas de Blanco and other organizations, were organized to prevent meetings or to shame participants publicly (see section 2.a.). In August the human rights group Estado de SATS leaked a video of First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel giving a lecture in February to CP leadership during which he instructed party members to use such “acts of repudiation” as a tool to silence members of civil society who attempt to criticize the government during public forums or town hall events.


Under criminal procedures police have 24 hours after an arrest to present a criminal complaint to an investigative police official. The investigative police have 72 hours to investigate and prepare a report for the prosecutor, who in turn has 72 hours to recommend to the appropriate court whether to open a criminal investigation.

Within the initial 168-hour detention period, detainees must be informed of the basis for the arrest and criminal investigation and have access to legal representation. Those charged may be released on bail, placed in home detention, or held in continued investigative detention. Once the accused has an attorney, the defense has five days to respond to the prosecution’s charges, after which a court date usually is set. Prosecutors may demand summary trials “in extraordinary circumstances” and in cases involving crimes against state security.

There were reports that defendants met with their attorneys for the first time only minutes before their trials and were not informed of the basis for their arrest within the required 168-hour period.

Reports suggested bail was available, although typically not granted to those arrested for political activities. Time in detention before trial counted toward time served if convicted.

Detainees may be interrogated at any time during detention and have no right to request the presence of counsel during interrogation. Detainees have the right to remain silent, but officials do not have a legal obligation to inform them of that right.

By law investigators must complete criminal investigations within 60 days. Prosecutors may grant investigators two 60-day extensions upon request, for a total of 180 days of investigative time. The supervising court may waive this deadline in “extraordinary circumstances” and upon special request by the prosecutor. In that instance no additional legal requirement exists to complete an investigation and file criminal charges, and authorities may detain a person without charge indefinitely.

Arbitrary Arrest: Officials often disregarded legal procedures governing arrest, detaining suspects longer than 168 hours without informing them of the nature of the arrest, allowing them to contact family members, or affording them legal counsel.

Pretrial Detention: The government held detainees for months or years in investigative detention, in both political and nonpolitical cases. In nonpolitical cases, delays were often due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and a lack of checks on police.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution recognizes the independence of the judiciary, the judiciary is directly subordinate to the National Assembly and the CP, which may remove or appoint judges at any time. Political considerations thoroughly dominated the judiciary, and there was virtually no separation of powers between the judicial system, the CP, and the Council of State.

Civilian courts exist at the municipal, provincial, and national levels. Special tribunals convene behind closed doors for political (“counterrevolutionary”) cases and other cases deemed “sensitive to state security.” Officials denied entry to some observers to trials during the year. Military tribunals may also have jurisdiction over civilians if any of the defendants are active or former members of the military, police, or other law enforcement agency.


The law provides for the right to a public trial, but politically motivated trials were at times held in secret, with authorities citing exceptions for crimes involving “state security” or “extraordinary circumstances.” Many cases concluded quickly and were closed to the press.

Due process rights apply equally to all citizens as well as foreigners, but courts regularly failed to protect or observe these rights. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty, but authorities often ignored this, placing the burden on defendants to prove innocence. The law provides criminal defendants the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

The law requires that defendants be represented by an attorney, at public expense if necessary. Privately hired attorneys were often reluctant to defend individuals charged with political crimes or associated with human rights cases. Defendants’ attorneys may cross-examine government witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Only state attorneys are licensed to practice in criminal courts.

Criteria for admitting evidence were arbitrary and discriminatory. According to reports, prosecutors routinely introduced irrelevant or unreliable evidence to prove intent or testimony about the revolutionary credentials of a defendant.

Defense attorneys have the right to review the investigation files of a defendant, but not if the charges involve “crimes against the security of the state.” In these cases defense attorneys were not allowed access until charges were filed. Many detainees, especially political detainees, reported their attorneys had difficulties accessing case files due to administrative obstacles. Interpretation was sometimes provided during trials for non-Spanish speakers, but the government claimed that limited resources prevented interpreters from always being available.

In trials where defendants are charged with “precriminal dangerousness” (see section 1.d.), the state must show only that the defendant has “proclivity” for crime, so an actual criminal act need not have occurred. Penalties may be up to four years in prison. Authorities normally applied this provision to prostitutes, alcoholics, young persons who refused to report to work centers, repeat offenders of laws restricting change of domicile, and political activists who participated in public protests.

The law recognizes the right of appeal in municipal courts but limits it in provincial courts to cases involving lengthy prison terms or the death penalty.


The government continued to hold political prisoners, but denied it did so and refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations.

The exact number of political prisoners was difficult to determine, though independent human rights organizations estimated there were 65 to 100 political prisoners. The government continued to deny holding any political prisoners and refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations. This lack of governmental transparency, along with systemic violations of due process rights, obfuscated the true nature of criminal charges, investigations, and prosecutions, allowing government authorities to prosecute and sentence peaceful human rights activists for criminal violations or “precriminal dangerousness.” The government used the designation of “counterrevolutionary” for inmates deemed to be political opposition, but it did not publicize those numbers. The government closely monitored organizations tracking political prisoner populations, which often faced harassment from state police.

On March 20, authorities sentenced Eduardo Cardet, director of the human rights organization Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), to three years in prison for assaulting a police officer. Amnesty International called Cardet a prisoner of conscience and stated that he was arrested because he spoke critically of Fidel Castro and the government. According to MCL and witness reports, authorities quickly and violently restrained Cardet after stopping him on his bicycle. Authorities claimed that Cardet shoved one of the officers when they stopped him. Cardet’s arrest took place five days after the death of Fidel Castro and two days after Cardet criticized the forced period of mourning, the prohibitions on music and alcohol, and other government actions during a radio interview with a Spanish news organization.

Political prisoners reported the government held them in isolation for extended periods. They did not receive the same protections as other prisoners or detainees. The government also frequently denied political prisoners access to home visits, prison classes, telephone calls, and, on occasion, family visits.


It is possible to seek judicial remedies through civil courts for violations of administrative determinations, but independent legal experts noted that general procedural and bureaucratic inefficiencies often delayed or undermined the enforcement of administrative determinations and civil court orders. Civil courts, like all courts in the country, lacked independence and impartiality as well as effective procedural guarantees. No courts allowed claimants to bring lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations.


In November 2016 the government passed a regulation governing the process by which nonprofit organizations, including religious organizations, may petition to reclaim property confiscated by the government at the beginning of the revolution. It was unclear if any organizations applied this procedure to reclaim property during the year.

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

The constitution protects citizens’ privacy rights in their homes and correspondence, and police must have a warrant signed by a prosecutor or magistrate before entering or conducting a search. Nevertheless there were reports that government officials routinely and systematically monitored correspondence and communications between citizens, tracked their movements, and entered homes without legal authority and with impunity.

The Ministry of Interior employed a system of informants and neighborhood committees, known as “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution,” to monitor government opponents and report on their activities. Agents from the ministry’s General Directorate for State Security subjected foreign journalists, visiting foreign officials and diplomats, academics, and businesspersons to frequent surveillance, including electronic surveillance.

The CP is the only legally recognized political party, and the government actively suppressed attempts to form other parties (see section 3). The government encouraged mass political mobilization and favored citizens who actively participated (see section 2.b.).

Family members of government employees who left international work missions without official permission at times faced government harassment or loss of employment, access to education, or other public benefits. Family members of human rights defenders, including their minor children, reportedly suffered reprisals related to the activities of their relatives. These reprisals included reduced salaries and termination of employment, denial of acceptance into university, expulsion from university, and other forms of harassment.

On April 11, the University of Marta Abreu in Las Villas expelled university professor Dalila Rodriguez Gonzalez for having “a social and ethical attitude that undermines the teaching process and the instruction of students.” According to Rodriguez, university authorities did not tell her what specific attitude or behavior was inappropriate and did not offer her the opportunity to defend herself or appeal the decision. Rodriguez stated she believed authorities expelled her, in part, because her father was a human rights defender.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, only insofar as it “conforms to the aims of socialist society.” Laws banning criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda carry penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.

Freedom of Expression: The government had little tolerance for public criticism of government officials or programs and limited public debate of issues considered politically sensitive. State security regularly harassed the organizers of independent fora for debates on cultural and social topics to force them to stop discussing issues deemed controversial. Forum organizers reported assaults by state security, video surveillance installed outside of venues, and detention of panelists and guests on the days they were expected to appear.

Government workers reported being fired, demoted, or censured for expressing dissenting opinions or affiliating with independent organizations. Several university professors, researchers, and students reported they were forced from their positions, demoted, or expelled for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms. In April the University of Marta Abreu in Las Villas expelled first-year journalism student Karla Maria Perez for “counterrevolutionary projections, actions, membership in organizations, and online publishing.” The university’s government-affiliated student group, the Federation of University Students, supported this decision in an open letter, stating that Perez was a “known member of an illegal and counterrevolutionary organization that is against the principles, objectives, and values of the Cuban revolution,” and quoted Fidel Castro’s famous dictum, “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing.”

During the year some religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, although most members of the clergy continued to exercise self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and the country’s leadership without reprisals. The Catholic Church operated a cultural and educational center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants expressing different opinions about the country’s future. Reverends Mario Travieso and Alain Toledano, both affiliated with the Apostolic Movement, reported frequent police harassment, including surveillance, threats, intimidation, and arbitrary fines. Both Travieso and Toledano claimed that the government was harassing them because of their outspoken criticism of certain government policies during their sermons.

Press and Media Freedom: The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information. News and information programming was generally uniform across all outlets, with the exception of broadcasts of Venezuelan government news programming. The government also controlled nearly all publications and printing presses. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government also limited the importation of printed materials. Foreign correspondents in the country had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. They also struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, official journalists who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government barred official journalists from working for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties.

Violence and Harassment: The government does not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists sometimes faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions involved independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of Todos Marchamos activists or otherwise attempted to cover politically sensitive topics. Two journalists were detained, had their equipment confiscated, and were harassed for covering the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Some independent journalists reported interrogations by state security agents for publishing articles critical of government institutions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered “counterrevolutionary” or critical of the government. Foreign newspapers or magazines were generally unavailable outside of tourist areas. Distribution of material with political content–interpreted broadly to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, foreign newspapers, and independent information on public health–was not allowed and sometimes resulted in harassment and detention.

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and cell phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable, such as those taken during arrests and detentions. Activists reported interrogations and confiscations at the airport when arriving from the United States. On April 6, airport authorities detained Eliecer Avila, leader of the human rights organization Somos+, for six hours upon his return from a human rights conference in Colombia. Authorities reportedly confiscated Avila’s laptop computer, training materials, memory drives, and other personal belongings.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government uses defamation of character laws to arrest or detain individuals critical of the country’s leadership.


The government restricted access to the internet, and there were credible reports that the government monitored without appropriate legal authority citizens’ and foreigners’ use of email, social media, internet chat rooms, and browsing. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small but increasing number of underground networks.

While the International Telecommunication Union reported that 39 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016, that number included many whose access was limited to a national intranet that offered only government-run email and government-generated websites, at a fraction of the price of open internet. Other international groups reported lower internet penetration, stating approximately 15 percent of the population had access to open internet.

The government selectively granted in-home internet access to certain areas of Havana and sectors of the population consisting mostly of government officials, established professionals, some professors and students, journalists, and artists. Others could access email and internet services through government-sponsored “youth clubs,” internet cafes, or Wi-Fi hot spots approved and regulated by the Ministry for Information, Technology, and Communications. Users were required to purchase prepaid cards in order to access the internet.

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots to more than 500 countrywide and lowered the cost to one convertible peso (CUC) ($1) per hour, still beyond the means of some citizens, whose average official income was approximately 29 CUC ($29) per month. The cost of access to the national intranet was 10 cents per hour. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored email, and blocked access to at least 41 websites considered objectionable. In addition to internet access at public Wi-Fi hot spots, citizens and foreigners could buy internet access cards and use hotel business centers. Access usually cost between five and 10 CUC ($5 to $10) an hour, a rate well beyond the means of most citizens.

While the law does not set specific penalties for unauthorized internet use, it is illegal to own a satellite dish that would provide uncensored internet access. The government restricted the importation of wireless routers, actively targeted private wireless access points, and confiscated equipment.

The use of encryption software and transfer of encrypted files are also illegal. Despite poor access, harassment, and infrastructure challenges, a growing number of citizens maintained blogs in which they posted opinions critical of the government, with help from foreign supporters who often built and maintained the blog sites overseas. The government blocked local access to many of these blogs. In addition a small but growing number of citizens used Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media to report independently on developments in the country, including observations critical of the government. Like other government critics, bloggers faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse.

Human rights activists reported frequent government monitoring and disruption of cell phone and landline services prior to planned events or key anniversaries related to human rights. The government-owned telecommunications provider ETECSA often disconnected service for human rights organizers, often just before their detention by state security, or to disrupt planned activities.


The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing “revolutionary ideology” and “discipline.” Some academics refrained from meeting with foreigners, including diplomats, journalists, and visiting scholars, without prior government approval and, at times, the presence of a government monitor. Those permitted to travel abroad were aware that their actions, if deemed politically unfavorable, could negatively affect them and their relatives back home. During the year the government allowed some religious educational centers greater space to operate.

Outspoken artists and academics faced some harassment and criticism orchestrated by the government.

Public libraries required citizens to complete a registration process before the government granted access to books or information. Citizens could be denied access if they could not demonstrate a need to visit a particular library. Libraries required a letter of permission from an employer or academic institution for access to censored, sensitive, or rare books and materials. Religious institutions organized small libraries. Independent libraries were illegal but continued to exist, and owners faced harassment and intimidation.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.


Although the constitution grants a limited right of assembly, the right is subject to the requirement that it may not be “exercised against the existence and objectives of the socialist state.” The law requires citizens to request authorization for organized meetings of three or more persons, and failure to do so could carry a penalty of up to three months in prison and a fine. The government tolerated some gatherings, and many religious groups reported the ability to gather without registering or facing sanctions.

Independent activists faced greater obstacles, and state security forces often suppressed attempts to assemble, even for gatherings in private dwellings and in small numbers.

On August 19, more than 100 state security agents reportedly used force to break up a family-themed event organized by the political and human rights organization UNPACU. According to UNPACU president Jose Daniel Ferrer, approximately 50 activists, family members, and neighbors had gathered for a picnic on the banks of a river before authorities arrived and used violence and intimidation, including against minors, women, and elderly attendees, to disperse the gathering. Authorities reportedly severely beat five UNPACU members, with some suffering broken noses and at least one requiring stitches.

The government also continued to organize acts of repudiation in the form of mobs organized to assault and disperse those who assembled peacefully. Participants arrived in government-owned buses or were recruited by government officials from nearby workplaces or schools. Participants arrived and departed in shifts, chanted revolutionary slogans, sang revolutionary songs, and verbally taunted those assembled peacefully. The targets of this harassment at times suffered physical assault or property damage. Government security officials at the scene, often present in overwhelming numbers, did not arrest those who physically attacked the victims or respond to victims’ complaints and instead frequently orchestrated the activities or took direct part in physical assaults.

The government did not grant permission to independent demonstrators or approve public meetings by human rights groups or others critical of any government activity.


The government routinely denied citizens freedom of association and did not recognize independent associations. The constitution proscribes any political organization not officially recognized. A number of independent organizations, including opposition political parties and professional associations, operated as NGOs without legal recognition.

Recognized churches (including the Roman Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas), the Freemason movement, and a number of fraternal and professional organizations were the only associations legally permitted to function outside the formal structure of the state or the CP. Religious groups are under the supervision of the CP’s Office of Religious Affairs, which has the authority to deny permits for religious activities and exerted pressure on church leaders to refrain from including political topics in their sermons.

Groups must register through the Ministry of Justice to receive official recognition. Authorities continued to ignore applications for legal recognition from new groups, including several new religious groups as well as women’s rights and gay rights organizations, thereby subjecting members to potential charges of illegal association.

The government continued to afford preferential treatment to those who took an active part in CP activities and mass demonstrations in support of the government, especially when awarding valued public benefits, such as admissions to higher education, fellowships, and job opportunities.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

There continued to be restrictions on freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, and migration with the right of return. The government also controlled internal migration from rural areas to Havana.

Individuals seeking to migrate legally stated they faced police interrogation, fines, harassment, and intimidation, including involuntary dismissal from employment. Government employees who applied to migrate legally to the United States reportedly sometimes lost positions when their plans became known. Some family members of former government employees who emigrated from the island lost public benefits or were denied passports to travel and join their family members abroad.

The law provides for imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of 500 nonconvertible pesos (CUP) ($20) for first-time “rafters” (those who attempted to depart clandestinely, commonly using homemade vessels). Most persons caught attempting unauthorized departures via sea were detained briefly. In the case of military or police defectors, or those traveling with children, the punishment could be more severe. Prison terms were also more common for persons attempting to flee to the United States through the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station.

Under the terms of the 1994-95 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, the government agreed not to prosecute or retaliate against migrants returned from international or U.S. waters, or from the Guantanamo U.S. Naval Station, after attempting to emigrate illegally if they had not committed a separate criminal offense. The government prevented independent trips to monitor repatriated Cubans outside of Havana. Some would-be migrants alleged harassment and discrimination, such as fines, expulsion from school, and job loss.

In-country Movement: Although the constitution allows all citizens to travel anywhere within the country, changes of residence to Havana were restricted. The local housing commission and provincial government authorities must authorize any change of residence. The government may fine persons living in a location without authorization from these bodies and send them back to their legally authorized place of residence. There were reports that authorities limited social services to illegal Havana residents. Police threatened to prosecute anyone who returned to Havana after expulsion.

The law permits authorities to bar an individual from a certain area within the country, or to restrict an individual to a certain area, for a maximum of 10 years. Under this provision, authorities may internally exile any person whose presence in a given location is determined to be “socially dangerous.” Dissidents frequently reported that authorities prevented them from leaving their home provinces or detained and returned them to their homes even though they had no written or formal restrictions placed against them.

Foreign Travel: The government continued to require several classes of citizens to obtain permission for emigrant travel, including highly specialized medical personnel; military or security personnel; many government officials, including academics; and many former political prisoners and human rights activists. It also used arbitrary or spurious reasons to deny permission for human rights activists to leave the island to participate in workshops, events, or training programs. For example, the CCDHRN reported that authorities denied at least 12 human rights defenders permission to leave during August alone.


Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the granting of asylum to individuals persecuted for their ideals or actions involving a number of specified political grounds. The government has no formal mechanism to process asylum for foreign nationals.

Temporary Protection: On the small number of cases of persons seeking asylum, the government worked with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance, pending third-country resettlement. In addition the government allowed foreign students who feared persecution in their home countries to remain in the country after the end of their studies, until their claims could be substantiated or resolved.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While a voting process to choose candidates exists, citizens do not have the ability to choose their government through the right to vote in free and fair elections or run as candidates from political parties other than the CP, and the government retaliated against those who sought peaceful political change.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Government-run bodies prescreened all candidates in the November municipal elections, and once approved by the CP, candidates ran for office mostly uncontested. There were reports that a municipal-level electoral commission denied at least one candidate from competing in municipal elections because she lacked “commitment to the goals of the revolution.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Government-run commissions had to preapprove all candidates for office and rejected certain candidates without explanation or the right of appeal. Dissident candidates reported the government organized protests and town hall meetings to besmirch their names. The government routinely used propaganda campaigns in the state-owned media to criticize its opponents. Numerous opposition candidates were physically prevented from presenting their candidacies or otherwise intimidated from participating in the electoral process.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women constituted 23 percent of the Council of Ministers, 42 percent of the Council of State, 49 percent of the National Assembly, and more than half of the provincial presidents. Women remained underrepresented in the most powerful decision-making bodies; there were no women on the executive committee of the Council of Ministers or in senior positions of military leadership.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, and the government was highly sensitive to corruption allegations and often conducted anticorruption crackdowns.

Corruption: The law provides for three to eight years’ imprisonment for “illegal enrichment” by authorities or government employees. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of law enforcement and other official corruption in enforcement of myriad economic restrictions and provision of government services. Multiple sources reported that when searching homes and vehicles, police sometimes took the owner’s belongings or sought bribes in place of fines or arrests.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require appointed and elected officials to disclose their assets.

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

The government did not recognize domestic human rights groups or permit them to function legally. Several human rights organizations continued to function outside the law, including the CCDHRN, UNPACU, MCL, the Assembly to Promote Civil Society, and the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights. The government subjected domestic human rights advocates to intimidation, harassment, periodic short-term detention, and long-term imprisonment on questionable charges.

No officially recognized NGOs monitored human rights. The government refused to recognize or meet with any unauthorized NGOs that monitored or promoted human rights. There were reports of explicit government harassment of individuals who met with unauthorized NGOs.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government continued to deny international human rights organizations, including the United Nations, its affiliate organizations, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, access to prisoners and detainees. In September the United Nations issued a report describing Cuba as a country of concern related to intimidation and reprisals against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate or having cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives, and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

The UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons visited in April, and the UN independent expert on human rights and international solidarity visited in July. The government tightly controlled the visits of both UN experts, and neither representative met with independent individuals or organizations not approved by the government.

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


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law specifically criminalizes rape of women, including spousal rape, and separately criminalizes “lascivious abuse” against both genders. The government enforced both laws. Penalties for rape are at least four years’ imprisonment.

The law does not recognize domestic violence as a distinct category of violence but prohibits threats and violence, including those associated with domestic violence. Penalties for domestic violence range from fines to prison sentences of varying lengths, depending on the severity of the offense.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides penalties for sexual harassment, with potential prison sentences of three months to five years. The government did not release any statistics on arrests, prosecutions, or convictions for offenses related to sexual harassment during the year.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .

Discrimination: The law accords women and men equal rights, the same legal status, and the same responsibilities with regard to marriage/divorce, parental duties, home maintenance, and professional careers.


Birth Registration: Citizenship is normally derived by birth within the country’s territory, and births were generally registered promptly. Those who emigrate abroad and have children must request a Cuban passport for the child before re-entering Cuba.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of consent for marriage is 18. Marriage for girls as young as 14 and for boys as young as 16 is permitted with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Prostitution is legal for those age 16 and older. There is no statutory rape law, although penalties for rape increase as the age of the victim decreases. The law imposes seven to 15 years’ imprisonment for involving minors under 16 in pornographic acts. The punishment may increase to 20 to 30 years or death under aggravating circumstances. The law does not criminalize the possession of pornography, but it punishes the production or circulation of any kind of obscene graphic material with three months’ to one year’s imprisonment and a fine. The offer, provision, or sale of obscene or pornographic material to minors under 16 is punishable with two to five years in prison. Child trafficking across international borders is punishable with seven to 15 years’ imprisonment.

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


There were between 1,000 and 1,500 members of the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

No known law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is in charge of the Employment Program for Persons with Disabilities. The law recommends that buildings, communication facilities, air travel, and other transportation services accommodate persons with disabilities, but these facilities and services were rarely accessible to persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Afro-Cubans often suffered racial discrimination, and some were subject to racial epithets while undergoing unlawful beatings at the hands of security agents in response to political activity. Afro-Cubans also reported employment discrimination, particularly in sought-after positions within the tourism industry and at high levels within the government.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care.

Throughout the year the government promoted the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, including nonviolence and nondiscrimination, in regional and international fora. Several unrecognized NGOs promoted LGBTI rights and faced government harassment, not for their promotion of such topics, but for their independence from official government institutions.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The government operated four prisons exclusively for inmates with HIV/AIDS; some inmates were serving sentences for “propagating an epidemic.” Special diets and medications for HIV patients were routinely unavailable.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutes, severely restricts worker rights by recognizing only the CP-controlled Central Union of Cuban Workers (CTC) as the paramount trade union confederation. All trade groups must belong to the CTC to operate legally. The law does not provide for the right to strike. The law also does not provide for collective bargaining, instead setting up a complicated process for reaching collective agreements. The International Labor Organization continued to raise concerns regarding the trade union monopoly of the CTC, the prohibition on the right to strike, and restrictions to collective bargaining and agreements, including that government authorities and CTC officials have the final say on all such agreements.

The government continued to prevent the formation of independent trade unions in all sectors. The CP chose the CTC’s leaders. The CTC’s principal responsibility is to manage government relations with the workforce. The CTC does not bargain collectively, promote worker rights, or advocate for the right to strike.

Several small, independent labor organizations operated without legal recognition, including the National Independent Workers’ Confederation of Cuba, the National Independent Laborer Confederation of Cuba, and the Unitarian Council of Workers of Cuba; together they comprise the Independent Trade Union Association of Cuba. These organizations worked to advance the rights of workers by offering an alternative to the state-sponsored CTC and purported to advocate for the rights of small-business owners and employees. Police reportedly harassed the independent unions and government agents reportedly infiltrated them, limiting their capacity to represent workers effectively or work on their behalf.

The government may determine that a worker is “unfit” to work, resulting in job loss and the denial of job opportunities. The government deemed persons unfit because of their political beliefs, including their refusal to join the official union, and for trying to depart the country illegally. The government also penalized professionals who expressed interest in emigrating by limiting job opportunities or firing them.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit forced labor explicitly. It prohibits unlawful imprisonment, coercion, and extortion, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment, but there was no evidence that these provisions were used to prosecute forced labor cases. The use of minors in forced labor, drug trafficking, prostitution, pornography, or organ trade is punishable by seven to 15 years’ incarceration. The government enforced the laws, and the penalties appeared sufficient to deter violations.

Compulsory military service of young men was occasionally fulfilled by assignment to an economic entity controlled by the military or by assignment to other government services. Allegations of forced or coerced labor in foreign medical missions persisted, although the government denied these allegations.

The government continued to use high school students in rural areas to harvest agricultural products (also see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The legal minimum working age is 17, although the law permits the employment of children ages 15 and 16 to obtain training or fill labor shortages with parental permission and a special authorization from the municipal labor director. The law does not permit children ages 15 and 16 to work more than seven hours per day or 40 hours per week or on holidays. Children ages 15 to 18 cannot work in specified hazardous occupations, such as mining, or at night.

There were no known government programs to prevent child labor or remove children from such labor. Anti-truancy programs, however, aimed to keep children in school. Inspections and penalties appeared adequate to enforce the law, as inspections for child labor were included in all other regular labor inspections. The government reported 346 such inspections of state-run and private sector enterprises from November 2016 through February. The government penalizes unlawful child labor with fines and suspension of work permits. There were no credible reports that children under the age of 17 worked in significant numbers.

The government used some high school students in rural areas to harvest agricultural products for government farms during peak harvest time. Student participants did not receive pay but received school credit and favorable recommendations for university admission. Failure to participate or obtain an excused absence reportedly could result in unfavorable grades or university recommendations, although students were reportedly able to participate in other activities (instead of the harvest) to support their application for university admission. There were no reports of abusive or dangerous working conditions.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits workplace discrimination based on skin color, gender, religious belief, sexual orientation, nationality, “or any other distinction harmful to human dignity,” but it does not explicitly protect political opinion, social origin, disability, age, language, gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. No information was available on government enforcement of these provisions during the year.

Discrimination in employment occurred with respect to members of the Afro-Cuban population. Leaders within the Afro-Cuban community noted that some Afro-Cubans could not get jobs in sectors such as tourism and hospitality because they were “too dark.” Afro-Cuban leaders explained that fairer-skinned citizens filled jobs in sectors that deal with tourists, and these jobs were often among the best-paying positions available. Afro-Cubans more frequently obtained lower-paying jobs, including cleaning and garbage disposal, which prevented them from interacting with tourists, a major source of hard currency.

There were no statistics stating whether the government effectively enforced applicable laws.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage was fixed at 225 CUP ($9). The minimum wage requirement does not apply to the nonstate sector, including the self-employed. The government supplemented the minimum wage with free education, subsidized medical care (daily wages are reduced by 40 percent after the third day of a hospital stay), housing, and some food. Even with subsidies, the government acknowledged that the average wage of 700 CUP ($29) per month did not provide a reasonable standard of living.

The standard workweek is 44 hours, with shorter workweeks in hazardous occupations, such as mining. The law provides workers with a weekly minimum 24-hour rest period and 24 days of paid annual vacation. These standards apply to state workers as well as to workers in the nonstate sector, but not to the self-employed. The law does not provide for premium pay for overtime or prohibit obligatory overtime, but it generally caps the number of overtime hours at 12 hours per week, or 160 per year. The law provides few grounds for a worker to refuse to work overtime. Refusal to work overtime can result in a notation in the employee’s official work history that could imperil subsequent requests for vacation time. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS) has the authority to establish different overtime caps as needed. Compensation for overtime is paid in cash at the regular hourly rate or in additional rest time, particularly for workers directly linked to production or services, and it does not apply to management. Workers complained that overtime compensation was either not paid or not paid in a timely manner.

The government set workplace safety standards and received technical assistance from the International Labor Organization to implement them. The MTSS enforced the minimum wage and hours-of-work standards through offices at the national, provincial, and municipal levels, but the government lacked mechanisms to enforce occupational safety and health standards adequately. There was no information available about the number of labor inspectors. Reports from recent years suggested there were very few inspectors and that health and safety standards frequently were ignored or weakened by corrupt practices.

According to government statistics, 567,982 workers (33 percent of whom were female) were self-employed at the end of June, a 5 percent increase from 2016. The percentage of the total workforce in the private sector increased from approximately 25 percent in 2012 to 29 percent at the end of 2016. The government maintained a list of fewer than 200 trades in which citizens were allowed to operate privately, including hiring labor. Self-employed and private sector workers obtained licenses by applying to the MTSS and were subject to inspection by the government. In August the government suspended the issuance of new licenses for certain activities in the lucrative hospitality sector. Despite criminal penalties for doing so, a significant number of workers participated in the informal economy, including individuals who actively traded on the black market or performed professional activities not officially permitted by the government. There were no reliable reports or statistics about the informal economy.

Foreign companies operated in a limited number of sectors, such as hotels, tourism, and mining. Such companies operated via a joint venture in which the government contracted and paid company workers in pesos an amount that was a small fraction of what the company remitted to the state for labor costs. Most formal employment took place only through government employment agencies. Employers, including international businesses and organizations, were generally prohibited from contracting or paying workers directly, although many reportedly made supplemental payments under the table. The MTSS enforces labor laws on any business, organization, or foreign governmental agency based in the country, including wholly owned foreign companies operating in the country, joint-stock companies involving foreign investors operating in the country, the United Nations, international NGOs, and embassies. Cuban workers employed by these entities are subject to labor regulations common to most state and nonstate workers, and to some regulations specific to these kinds of entities. Government bodies, including the tax-collecting agency, the Ministry of Finance and Prices, enforced regulations. There were no reports about protections for migrant workers’ rights.

Official government reports cited 3,576 workplace accidents in 2016 (an increase of 92 compared with 2015) and 89 workplace deaths (an increase of 18 compared with 2015). The CTC provided only limited information to workers about their rights and at times did not respond to or assist workers who complained about hazardous workplace conditions. It was generally understood that workers could not remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities did not effectively protect workers facing this dilemma.


Executive Summary

Ecuador is a constitutional, multiparty republic with an elected president and unicameral legislature. On April 2, 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.

The most significant human rights issues included instances of arbitrary arrest or detention; corruption and progovernment bias on the part of judges that affected the right to fair public trial; unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence; restrictions on freedom of expression, including for the press; censorship and the use of criminal libel against media companies and journalists, although the situation improved during the second half of the year; limits on freedom of association; official corruption at high levels of government; and children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, sometimes as a result of human trafficking.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, although in cases of public interest, political interference often resulted in 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 police committed arbitrary or unlawful killings typically involving excessive use of force during routine law enforcement activities. A human rights nonprofit organization reported that on June 15 in Las Lajas, two police officers shot and killed Daniel Elias Jumbo Quizhpe while conducting an antismuggling operation. The two officers are under criminal investigation.

b. Disappearance

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

On March 17, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances called on the government to treat all pending cases of disappearances as forced disappearances. On June 14, a court held a hearing on the 2003 case known as “Las Dolores” in which 11 police officers were accused of the forced disappearance and extrajudicial killing of eight individuals, including Johnny Gomez Balda and Cesar Mata. The decision to move to trial came after a 14-year investigation; however, the judge decided to prosecute the defendants for the crime of kidnapping, which carries a punishment of five to seven years, instead of treating the crime as forced disappearance, which carries a punishment of 22 to 26 years.

In 2016 the Office of the Attorney General determined that law enforcement officers committed arbitrary detention in all 18 of the forced disappearance cases from 1984-2005 that were reported by the 2008-10 Truth Commission. On October 16, President Moreno signed compensation agreements for 24 of the remaining 119 victims of human rights abuses with pending cases documented by the Truth Commission.

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

While the constitution and law prohibit torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment, there were a few reports that police officers and prison guards reportedly tortured and abused suspects and prisoners. The Ombudsman’s Office conducted random inspections of sites where freedom of movement was restricted, including prisons, mental health facilities, and treatment clinics, among others, and investigated alleged cases of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and punishment.

On September 4, local media and human rights organizations reported new allegations of torture involving prisoners in the Turi prison center. Prisoners claimed they were tortured and subjected to other forms of degrading treatment including arbitrary beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures, and electroshock. According to daily newspaper La Hora, in August a doctor stated that an examination of a prisoner confirmed the prisoner’s claims of torture and other forms of degrading treatment. On August 15, Judge Alfredo Serrano acquitted 15 law enforcement officers and dismissed charges against another 32 officers who were under criminal investigation for cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners after conducting a raid in Turi prison center in Cuenca in May 2016. Both the Ombudsman’s Office and the public defender, David Ayala, criticized the judge’s decision. Local human rights organizations, including the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU) and the Regional Human Rights Advisory Foundation, called the prosecutor’s decision unjustified due to the extent of the injuries suffered by the prisoners.

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 April 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. On June 29, the UN Latin American Institute for Crime Prevention and the Treatment of Offenders reported that the prison population was 73.5 percent above the designed capacity. In a July 10 article in the newspaper El Comercio, Minister of Justice, Human Rights, and Worship Rosana Alvarado reported that the country had 10,000 inmates beyond capacity in 37 prisons.

Prisoners and human rights activists complained of a lack of resources for inmates. Relatives of the inmates reported that 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 of the prison, including clothing and toiletries.

In some facilities, health measures were sufficient only for emergency care. Prisoners reported that medicines often were not available and they had no access to dental care. Prisoners also complained of harsh living conditions, including sanitary problems, a lack of food, poor nutritional quality of the food, and lack of heating and hot water.

Protecting the health and safety of prisoners remained a problem. Human rights organizations remained concerned about the mixing of prisoners from various criminal gangs in prison units. On January 4 and October 4, local media reported fights between rival groups of prisoners resulted in serious injury to 10 inmates in each instance. CEDHU reported that as of August 25, it had received information concerning the killing of eight prisoners in their cells in the cities of Guayaquil, Santo Domingo, Tulcan, and Latacunga. On October 11, police raided a prison in Guayas as part of a law enforcement investigation called “Fortaleza 145.” During the raid, police arrested 22 prisoners for involvement in ordered killings and drug dealing.

On March 8, police detained 51 individuals in connection with the extortion of 67 inmates. The then minister of interior, Diego Fuentes, stated a criminal network extorted relatives of inmates by demanding payments between $200 and $800 (country’s official currency is U.S. dollar) in exchange for the inmates’ physical safety. According to local human rights organizations, prison authorities threatened family members of prisoners who died or suffered serious injuries to prevent them from making public complaints. On July 10, Minister Alvarado noted that searches and raids in prisons were necessary because “mafias” continued to operate in prison centers.

On September 20, a member of the National Assembly’s Justice Committee, Lourdes Cuesta, reported that she had received information of rape cases, the transmission of HIV, and beatings of prisoners in detention centers.

Administration: Public defenders assisted inmates in filing complaints and other motions. Some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and corruption. It was extremely difficult to obtain a firm release date from prison authorities, and the onus was often on inmates to schedule their own review boards.

Independent Monitoring: Independent nongovernmental monitors complained that their access to prisoners was limited. According to the human rights nonprofit Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDH), prison authorities placed strict limits on who could visit prisoners and monitor prison conditions, which led to a “progressive isolation of prisoners.” Independent observers must submit in writing their reasons for visiting a prison, specifying general and specific objectives of the visit, as well as other information required by an administrative order. The CDH reported that many requests never received a response, which effectively prevented independent monitors from accessing prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and other laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but there were reports that national, provincial, and local authorities in some cases did not observe these provisions.


The National Police maintain internal security and law enforcement. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities, including combating organized crime. Both police and military are in charge of border enforcement. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Interior. The National Police are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, and the military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense. The National Police’s internal affairs unit investigates killings by police and examines whether they were justified. The unit 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, poor supervision, and a lack of resources continued to impair the effectiveness of the National Police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and the armed forces. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, although not all cases were fully investigated.

Police receive required human rights instruction in basic training and in training academies for specialized units. In the police academy, human rights training is integrated throughout a cadet’s four-year instruction. Additionally, there is a mandatory human rights training regimen concerning preservation of life and human rights, along with a human rights handbook. Authorities offered other human rights training intermittently.


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.

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 independent Public Defenders’ Office. Although the number of available court-appointed defenders was higher than in previous years, the high number of cases and limited time they had to prepare for the defense of the detainees continued to represent a disadvantage during trials.

Although the law entitles detainees prompt access to lawyers and family members, human rights organizations continued to report delays depending on the circumstances and officials’ willingness to enforce the law.

Arbitrary Arrest: On April 27, public officials released indigenous leader Jimpikit Agustin Wachapa after four months of arbitrary detention. In December 2016 police officers and military officials entered Wachapa’s house without a judicial order and transferred him to a maximum-security prison in the town of Latacunga. The Office of the Public Prosecutor later charged Wachapa with “instigation of discord,” and then deputy interior minister Diego Fuentes reported that the leader was seeking to incite public discord through a message posted on Facebook.

Pretrial Detention: Corruption and general judicial inefficiency caused trial delays. The country also lacked resources to train police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges. On September 20, Justice and Human Rights Minister Alvarado reported to the National Assembly’s Justice Committee that 36 percent of inmates had not yet been sentenced.

Amnesty: On June 14, President Moreno pardoned environmentalist Patricio Marcelo Meza, who was arrested on June 6 and sentenced to six months in prison for assault and resistance during the 2015 indigenous demonstrations.

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 human rights organizations reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. Some judges reached decisions based on media influence or political and economic pressures in cases where the government expressed interest. Delays often occurred in cases brought against the government, whereas cases brought by the government moved quickly through the courts. There were credible reports that the outcome of many trials appeared predetermined. According to human rights lawyers, the government also ordered judges to deny all “protective measures,” i.e., legal motions that argued the government had violated an individual’s constitutional rights to free movement, due process, and equal treatment before the law. Lawyers and human rights activists stated the government initiated disciplinary action based on “inexcusable error” against judges who allowed protective measures against the government. On August 21, 40 judges filed a complaint against their removal from office as ordered by the Judicial Council, the governmental oversight entity for the judicial branch. The Judicial Council declared the dismissals were based on charges leveled by private parties. The affected former judges claimed they were removed from office for unjust cause. On August 22, private defense attorney Hernan Ulloa representing the affected judges alleged that the Judicial Council committed “crimes of influence peddling, illicit enrichment, and organized crime, following interference in the independence of the judicial branch.” The former judges demanded the resignation of the Judicial Council’s president Gustavo Jalkh, through the National Committee of Judges against Corruption. On August 28, Jalkh told media outlets the initiative was an attempt to destabilize the judicial branch before the partial renewal of the National Court of Justice.


The constitution and law provide 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. They 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. They also 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, in some cases, the payment of bribes. 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 summary proceedings against defendants with few, if any, due process protections.

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. On September 12, members of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and officials from the Judicial Council discussed the application of indigenous justice and expressed willingness to work together in strengthening the administration of justice in all spheres.

On July 13, media outlets reported that 121 Cuban citizens deported from Ecuador in June and July 2016 suffered mistreatment, illegal detention, and rushed deportation proceedings, allegations the government denied.


There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.


Civil courts and the Administrative Conflicts Tribunal, generally considered independent and impartial, handle lawsuits seeking damages for, or immediate ending of, human rights violations. Civil lawsuits seeking damages for alleged wrongdoings by the government rarely were filed, since such suits were difficult to prosecute and time-consuming, with some judges taking up to a decade to rule on the merits of a case.


Human rights groups denounced forced evictions by government authorities without due process or timely relocation to other housing. The evictions mostly affected Afro-Ecuadorian families in urban areas or indigenous families living near natural resource extraction projects. The government claimed that many of those evicted either were squatters or had purchased their land illegally. On October 12, local media reported that a joint operation by police and the Technical Secretariat for the Prevention of Irregular Human Settlements could result in the eviction of up to 200 families from their homes in southern Guayaquil within 48 hours if they could not produce proof of ownership. On July 7, indigenous organizations appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to report human rights violations that led to forced displacement of their communities in 2016. According to human rights organizations, in some cases the government failed to provide timely restitution or compensation to evicted families.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Human rights, environmental, and labor activists and opposition politicians reported physical surveillance by authorities, including monitoring of their private movements and homes. According to some human rights activists, the physical surveillance was an act of intimidation intended to silence any potential criticism of the government. In the two weeks before the April presidential elections, representatives of a Catholic church reported detecting surveillance of their facility and religious services and receiving threatening telephone messages from unidentified callers warning the parish priest there would be consequences if he continued to politicize his sermons. In September, local media sources reported they obtained documents dating from 2010-14 detailing efforts by the National Intelligence Secretariat to spy on opposition parties, businesspersons, journalists, social movements, ecological groups, and indigenous organizations. The media sources claimed that public funds were used to record persons of interest and hack into personal email accounts in direct contravention of the penal code.

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 the government restricted this right. The government continued to use the communications law to limit the independence of the press.

Freedom of Expression: Generally, individuals could discuss matters of general public interest publicly or privately without reprisal, although various civil society groups, journalists, and academics argued that the law limited their freedom of expression and restricted independent media. Under the 2013 communication law, media outlets are also legally responsible for the opinions of their contributors. Independent of this law, 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 from $16 to $77.

Article 176 of the criminal code establishes a prison sentence of up to three years for those who “disseminate, practice, or incite any distinction, restriction, or preference on grounds of nationality, ethnicity, place of birth, age, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation, cultural identity, marital status, language, religion, ideology, socioeconomic status, immigration status, disability, or health status with the aim of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise of equal rights.” According to some legal experts, the article could restrict freedom of speech.

Press and Media Freedom: Freedom House continued to rate the country’s press status as “not free.” Regulatory bodies created under the communication law monitored and disciplined the media through a combination of legal and administrative sanctions. The domestic freedom of expression watchdog group Fundamedios reported 210 “attacks on freedom of expression” through June 30, including sanctions of media outlets under the communications law, cases of restrictions on digital rights, and the “abusive use of State power,” including the withdrawal of official publicity, forced correction, cancellation of frequencies and programs, and arbitrary dismissals of employees. Fundamedios noted that the number of attacks were unusually high during the first semester of the year, especially during the presidential campaign season (between January and April), compared with 2016. Fundamedios also reported that during the first three months of Moreno’s presidency, attacks on the media decreased and the government-aligned public media outlets became more objective and balanced both in their news reporting and in editorial pages. President Moreno encouraged dialogue with the media and specifically called on journalists to report on corruption. Although the communication law remains in place, media outlets reported a reduction in government attacks on the media.

Independent media remained active and expressed a wide variety of views, including those critical of the government, although many analysts and journalists noted the 2013 law had led to self-censorship in private media, pointing to a decrease in investigative reporting under the Correa administration.

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. Some analysts viewed this as a warning to the media in their reporting on the country’s financial problems. Media outlets reported privately that they refrained from some financial reporting due to concern over possible legal consequences.

The government administered an estimated 30 media outlets and used its extensive advertising budget to influence public debate. The law mandates the broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet free of charge. During the Correa administration, the government increasingly required media stations to broadcast statements by the president and other leaders, thereby reducing the stations’ private paid programming. President Moreno reduced the amount of time required for presidential broadcasts to one 15-minute broadcast weekly. President Moreno replaced the general editor of the state-owned newspaper, El Telegrafo, which traditionally strongly advocated for the government and its policies, with former journalist Fernando Larenas.

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). Observers claimed this redistribution of frequencies would reduce the private media by almost 50 percent. Government officials asserted in public statements that the redistribution of frequencies guaranteed a more inclusive and diverse media environment. In the previous year, the Agency for Regulation and Control of Telecommunications and the Council for Regulation and Development of Information and Communication (known by its Spanish acronym CORDICOM) initiated a process to adjudicate 1,472 radio and television frequencies. In January well established, private radio outlets Radio Democracia and Radio Vision, among others, were told that they were at risk of losing their frequencies to government-associated community media outlets due to the government adjudication process. Opposition groups protested the government-run tendering process of airwaves for its lack of transparency and for taking place during an election year. As of August 26, the redistribution of frequencies was suspended.

Violence and Harassment: On February 16, media outlets reported that authorities found explosive devices targeting two female journalists, Janeth Hinostroza of Teleamazonas television station and Estefani Espin of Ecuavisa, three days prior to the 2017 general elections. Former president Correa and other high-level government officials criticized journalists and media outlets. In his last national televised address on May 21, Correa tore up a copy of the newspaper La Hora, labeled the media as his “greatest opponent” in his 10-year administration, and asked his followers to promote awareness in citizens to avoid being cheated by the “mercantilist press.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists working at private media companies reported instances of indirect censorship. On May 25, the Superintendence of Information and Communication (Supercom) fined a radio station $3,750 for insulting former president Correa. The director of the radio station, Luis Almeida, asserted that no infractions were committed, as analyst Jaime Verduga was exercising his freedom of thought and expression. Almeida also noted that Verduga repeated Correa’s own words, which were published by the government-owned digital media outlet El Ciudadano.

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. Supercom decides prior censorship cases and can impose fines. Many private media complained that the government could decide what is of “public interest” and thus unduly influence their independent reporting. On April 27, three media outlets received a warning in writing from Supercom for transmitting results of exit polls that projected the opposition candidate as winner of the 2017 national elections on April 2. On April 21, Supercom fined seven outlets $3,750 for “prior censorship” due to their decision not to publish a series of articles by Argentine newspaper Pagina 12, alleging that opposition presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso had dozens of offshore accounts. Representatives of the affected media outlets argued that the original story was poorly reported and that the publishing of unverified allegations would have violated the law. The ruling remained in effect as of September 15. On August 24, a district administrative court nullified a $90,000 fine originally levied in 2014 against political cartoonist Bonil (Xavier Bonilla) of the daily newspaper El Universo. The court ruled that “opinions are not meant to inform” and that the constitution guarantees freedom of expression. The head of Supercom, Carlos Ochoa, announced that Supercom would contest the ruling.

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: 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 provision remained vaguely defined but threatened to limit the media’s ability to conduct investigative reporting. Supercom has the authority to determine if a media outlet is guilty of media lynching and to apply administrative sanctions. On June 5, former president Correa filed a complaint against journalist Martin Pallares for an article he published on April 21, alleging that Pallares uttered expressions in disrepute or dishonor against him, a crime punishable by 15 to 30 days’ imprisonment. On July 3, Judge Fabricio Carrasco found Pallares innocent of the charges of discrediting the president. On July 19, Judge Maximo Ortega de Ferrer accepted Correa’s appeal to review the July 3 ruling.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for the Media: On inauguration day President Moreno announced that his government would end former president Correa’s practice of holding multihour, mandatory press events on Saturdays (often used by Correa to attack his opponents, particularly the media). Moreno subsequently highlighted the important role the press plays in the fight against corruption. Moreno invited civil society representatives and government agencies to address differences in opinion regarding the 2013 communication law through a national dialogue. Supercom officials participated in roundtable discussions on communication law reforms. Fundamedios noted in September that reported attacks against freedom of expression dropped more than 50 percent in the first three months of the Moreno administration, compared with the final three months of the Correa administration, adding, “The drastic drop in the number of attacks on freedom of expression reflects a new reality that could translate into an improvement in the exercise of this fundamental right in Ecuador.” Supercom issued fewer sanctions during the first three months of the Moreno administration.


The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, but there were credible reports that the government censored online content and 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. Freedom House evaluated the internet as partly free. The International Telecommunication Union reported a 54 percent internet usage rate in 2016.

While individuals and groups could generally engage in the expression of views via the internet, the government increasingly monitored Twitter and other social media accounts for perceived threats or alleged insults against the president and government officials. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media outlets reported cyberattacks by unknown perpetrators that appeared politically motivated since they occurred during coverage of the 2017 general elections and when content was perceived as critical of the government. On August 25, Fundamedios reported attacks on its digital portal for two consecutive weeks. On May 22, Usuarios Digitales, an internet watchdog organization, reported 160 internet attacks on social networks and digital platforms between April 2016 and March 2017. The website of the national private media group El Comercio was hacked on a regular basis. The organization had a team of digital experts tracking internet attacks on a daily basis.

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 the media from using information obtained from social media unless they can verify the author of the information. On April 17, the Ministry of Interior’s legal office filed a case against Luis Eduardo Vivanco, former editor in chief of La Horanewspaper, based on his tweets that “attempt to disparage the actions carried out by the government in its permanent fight against corruption.” On May 18, Vivanco appeared before the Office of the Public Prosecutor to render his testimony.


While there were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, academics reported that concerns over the process of awarding government contracts intimidated academics into practicing self-censorship. In December 2016 the National Assembly passed legislation eliminating public funding for research at universities that operate under international agreements. According to human rights organization Freedom House, “The legislation has the potential to undermine the sustainability of two graduate universities, Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar and Universidad Latinoamericana de Posgrado Lider en Ciencias Sociales (commonly referred to as FLACSO Ecuador.)”

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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


The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Public rallies require prior government permits that usually are granted. The government often deployed a large security presence at demonstrations, and security forces generally respected the rights of participants.


The law provides for freedom of association, but the government took steps to limit this right. On October 23, President Moreno issued decree 193 to replace executive decrees 16 and 739 that regulated freedom of association. Human rights organizations claimed former president Correa used decrees 16 and 739, 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.

Decree 193 simplified the application process to obtain and maintain legal status for NGOs and social groups by relaxing and eliminating some bureaucratic hurdles. The decree closed loopholes that Correa exploited to infiltrate and divide NGOs, including the elimination of a clause forcing groups to provide membership to any person, even against the will of the other members. The government also ended the requirement that a state entity 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 that 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 ill defined reasons.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. On January 28, then president Correa signed the Human Mobility Law, which codifies the legal 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. The law entered into force on February 6. Large numbers of refugee seekers and the country’s economic slowdown strained the government’s immigration and social services, and it worked closely with local, international, and civil society organizations to cover assistance gaps when necessary.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees, especially women and children, experienced sexual and gender-based violence. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and local NGOs reported that refugee women and children remained susceptible to violence, human trafficking, labor exploitation in 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 criminal gangs that also operated in Colombia.

The government cooperated with 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.


Following an earthquake on April 16 that struck the Pacific coast, the government declared a state of emergency in the provinces of Esmeraldas, Guayas, Los Rios, Manabi, Santo Domingo, and Santa Elena. According to the final status report from the Secretariat of Risk Management on May 18, the earthquake claimed 663 lives and injured 6,274 persons. More than 40,000 persons were internally displaced following the earthquake, and approximately 29,000 were sheltered in public spaces, including sports stadiums. According to the International Organization for Migration, as of October 21, at least 12,000 persons remained in official and informal shelters.


Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law’s implementing regulation establishes a two-step procedure for asylum seekers to apply for refugee status with a right to appeal rejections in the second stage of the process. The government limits applications for asylum to persons who enter the country within the previous 90 days. While an improvement over the previous 15-day time limit, experts noted that the admissibility procedure and a lack of qualified staff still hampered the granting of protection to deserving cases and remained the main challenges to refugee protection in the country.

The Human Mobility Law establishes a maximum of 120 days for the application process. During this process an applicant receives a humanitarian visa until the refugee status is adjudicated and all appeals are exhausted. Once the government grants refugee status to an individual, that person becomes a temporary resident. An individual with refugee status may apply for a visa renovation within two years or apply for permanent residence. An international NGO reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was in the process of implementing the new legal provisions, including the issuance of humanitarian visas. An international organization stated that a significant number of Venezuelan migrants were arriving in the country. The government noted an increase in the entry and exit of Venezuelans across the border. On August 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Ecuador hosted 60,560 refugees, 98 percent of whom were Colombian and that an average of 418 persons entered the country each month seeking asylum.

Access to Basic Services: Forty percent of refugees and asylum seekers 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 providing social services to refugees, refugees continued to encounter discrimination in employment and housing. In September 2016 UNHCR and the Civil Registry signed an agreement that would enable recognized refugees to receive national identification cards that facilitate their access to education, employment, banking, and other public services. As of October, however, the Civil Registry had not started to issue national identification cards to recognized refugees. UNHCR reported that technical issues with the software and system to produce these cards led to delays.

Durable Solutions: The main durable solution was local integration, although there were many obstacles to achieve sustainable local integration. Discrimination; difficulty in obtaining adequate documentation; and limited access to formal employment, services, and housing with basic services affected refugees’ ability to assimilate into the local population. Few refugees were able to naturalize as citizens or gain permanent resident status, due to the expensive and lengthy legal process required.

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 refugees recorded as having crossed the border during the year. Most government assistance ended after denial of official refugee status.

As an associate member of Mercosur (Southern Common Market), Ecuador issues temporary visas to citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, 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 Mercosur visa does not provide any safeguard against forced repatriation, UNHCR noted that many persons opted for the visa, since it was faster than the refugee process and carried less social stigma. Visa recipients are able to work and study for two years. The visa is renewable, but the requisites for such renewal were unclear to refugee advocates.

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. In 2015 the National Assembly approved a constitutional amendment to eliminate term limits for all elected positions, including the president, starting after the 2017 national elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 19, the government held general elections for national offices, including the presidency and the National Assembly. On April 2, the government held a presidential runoff election between the top two tickets, Alianza PAIS (AP) and Creating Opportunities-United Society Movement More Action (CREO-SUMA) alliance. The Organization of American States (OAS), Union of South American Nations, Association of World Election Bodies, Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms, and domestic observers deemed both election rounds as open, free, and well organized, despite limited local irregularities. Although the international and domestic observation teams reported no fraud, some reports of premarked ballots and of counting and vote-tabulation irregularities resulted in challenges filed with the National Electoral Council (CNE) and the Electoral Contentious Court (TCE), the appeals body for electoral matters. Political organizations challenged the legitimacy of 11.2 percent of total votes, with CREO requesting a total vote recount. The request was denied because the law does not allow for a recount of 100 percent of the votes. The OAS reported that in the precampaign period, “representatives of opposition parties and civil society organizations objected to unequal access to the media.” Furthermore, during the campaign period, there was unequal coverage of parties and candidates in news reports, depending on the ownership of the media. According to media monitoring by the local NGO Participacion Ciudadana, private and public media outlets gave opposition and government party presidential candidates more equitable access to media than in the 2013 election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Electoral laws require political parties to register with the CNE. To receive authorization to participate in elections, parties and movements need to show the support of at least 1.5 percent of the electoral rolls by collecting voters’ signatures. The law requires registered parties to obtain minimum levels of voter support to maintain registration. Voters are restricted to registering with only one political group.

The OAS reported an active presence of then president Correa in the precampaign and campaign periods, stating that “…political organizations complained of the lack of sanctions against the then-president of the republic for promoting the ticket of the official party during the government-funded Enlaces Ciudadanos,” a weekly program broadcast nationwide during the Correa administration. During the postelection period, citizens gathered outside the CNE to protest alleged fraud in the election results. On April 2, Ecuavisa TV channel reported the polling company Cedatos’ exit poll results, which identified the opposition presidential candidate as the winner. Participacion Ciudadana conducted a quick count and announced on national television a “statistical tie” between the two presidential candidates. Shortly thereafter their results were leaked on social media. On April 7, police raided the offices of Cedatos. The OAS considered that “the raid was excessive and deepened existing tensions following the elections.” On April 8, then president Correa accused Participacion Ciudadana, TV channel Ecuavisa, and Cedatos of attempting to manipulate the outcome of the runoff election to favor opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso.

On March 29, the Attorney General’s Office opened a preliminary investigation against Cedatos for falsifying data and using false documents, after the then vice president of the National Assembly, Rosana Alvarado, filed a complaint against Cedatos on March 22.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and/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. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The Correa administration took some steps to address official corruption. It continued a process to increase the efficiency of judicial services, which improved the judiciary’s ability to remove corrupt or ineffective judges. Many civil society activists noted, however, that judges on the higher courts appeared more closely aligned with the former administration, and many questioned the independence of those courts, especially in politicized cases. Media reports alleged police corruption and corruption in public contracts and procurement, including in state-owned companies. Labor leaders and business owners reported corruption among labor inspectors.

Corruption: On February 16, the Attorney General’s Office sentenced Carlos Pareja Yannuzzelli, former minister of hydrocarbons, in absentia, and Alex Bravo, former manager of the public oil company Petroecuador, to five years in prison for committing bribery. Pareja Yannuzzelli returned to the country in September and was under investigation for embezzlement, money laundering, organized crime, and illicit enrichment. The Attorney General’s Office sentenced 14 other individuals to prison for committing bribery in relation to the Petroecuador corruption case. On August 17, El Universo reported that more than 140 persons were under investigation in the Petroecuador corruption case. As of September the Petroecuador cases continued.

In December 2016 unnamed officials were cited among those taking bribes from the Brazilian construction and engineering company Odebrecht. Odebrecht admitted to making more than $33.5 million in corrupt payments to government officials in Ecuador between 2007 and 2016. On April 21, police arrested Alecksey Mosquera, former minister of electricity, for allegedly accepting $924,000 in bribes from Odebrecht for the construction of the Toachi-Pilaton hydroelectric dam in 2007. On April 21, police placed under house arrest Mosquera’s uncle-in-law Marcelo Endara for allegedly accepting $80,000 in bribes from Odebrecht. On June 2, police arrested six suspects, including Ricardo Rivera, Vice President Glas’ uncle, for allegedly having committed illicit association. On July 3, the National Assembly censured Carlos Polit, former comptroller general, for breaching his official duties and having ties to the Odebrecht corruption scheme. On August 25, the National Assembly voted unanimously to authorize the judicial hearing of Vice President Glas for illicit association. On August 29, the National Court of Justice officially included Vice President Glas and 10 other suspects within the illicit association investigation in relation to the Odebrecht corruption case. On October 2, the National Court of Justice ordered the preventive imprisonment of Vice President Glas and on November 14 ruled that Vice President Glas will stand trial (with 12 other suspects). Vice President Glas will remain in prison until the conclusion of his trial and could face up to five years in prison if convicted.

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 annually. The constitution requires civil servants to present a sworn statement regarding their net worth at the beginning and end of their term of office, including their assets and liabilities, as well as an authorization to lift the confidentiality of their bank accounts. All declarations are filed in the offices of public notaries and are entered as a public document. The comptroller general’s website contains a section where the public can conduct a search on officials to see if the officials complied with the income and asset disclosure requirement. There are no criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance, except for the inability to assume office. Public officials are not required to submit periodic reports, even when changes occur in their holdings.

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 somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Civil society organizations expressed concern about the government’s discretion to dissolve NGOs per Decrees 16 and 739 (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association). Decree 16 created the National Secretariat of Policy Management, an authority responsible for regulating the fulfillment of the objectives and activities of social and civic organizations. Civil society representatives argued that the vague and overly broad grounds for dissolution led to self-censorship among NGOs. Additionally, NGOs contended that challenging an order of dissolution via the judicial process might take several years.

International NGOs are also subject to the NGO regulations in Decree 739. Government officials continued to claim many NGOs were tools of foreign governments that sought to destabilize the government. Government officials, including former president Correa during his weekly television and radio addresses, also criticized the credibility of specific international and local NGOs and their findings.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the country’s human rights record on May 1. The government refused to appear at the hearings of the IACHR that focused on harassment the threat of extractive industries to indigenous peoples. The then foreign affairs minister, Guillaume Long, expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome of the reports issued by these bodies, claiming that the observations and criticisms were based on false information provided by NGOs.

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 problems. The Ombudsman’s Office regularly presented cases to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

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.

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


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.

A 2011 government study found that 60 percent of women suffered from gender-based violence at some point during their lifetimes. Domestic violence is punishable with penalties ranging from four days to seven years in prison. The law provides penalties for physical violence, psychological violence, and sexual violence. According to the law, a prosecutor must investigate the victim’s complaint of domestic abuse before issuing a restraining order. There were reports that, in some cases, victims waited 10 days or more for a response from the Prosecutor’s Office. The law requires public hospitals to provide “first reception halls” to handle cases of sexual violence and domestic violence. The specialized halls–under the supervision of the Ministry of Health and staffed by physicians, psychologists, and social workers–offer immediate attention to the victim.

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. The units forward serious abuse cases to prosecutors for criminal prosecution. Human rights activists stated that 16,000 cases of domestic violence were pending in the court system. They argued that the court system was insufficiently staffed to deal with the caseload.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of one to five years in prison. Despite the legal prohibition of sexual harassment, women’s rights organizations described harassment in public spaces as common.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .

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.


Birth Registration: Citizenship is acquired through birth in the country, birth to an Ecuadorian mother or father abroad, or by naturalization. A 2013 study by the vice presidency revealed that 5.5 percent of the population was not registered at birth.

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 prevent many adolescents from attending school.

Child Abuse: On October 12, the Ministry of Education reported it received 882 complaints of sexual assault in schools between 2014 and 2017, with approximately 64 percent of the cases perpetrated by persons associated with the education system. On June 1, citing UNICEF, El Comercio reported that one of 10 women was sexually abused during childhood.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriage in indigenous communities, particularly in cases of sexual abuse. 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 the 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. Commercial sexual exploitation of minors 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


There is a small Jewish community, including an estimated 250 families in Quito and 120 families in Guayaquil, according to local synagogues. Isolated instances of anti-Semitism occurred.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

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. 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. The law requires that 4 percent of employees in all public and private enterprises with more than 25 employees be persons with disabilities.

The law stipulates rights to health facilities and insurance coverage. The law provides for special job security for those with disabilities or those who care for a person with disabilities, and it entitles employees who acquire a disability to rehabilitation and relocation. 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 government continued a campaign to create jobs for persons with disabilities, provide funding to municipalities to improve access to public buildings, and open training and rehabilitation centers.

The law directs the electoral authorities to provide access to voting and to facilitate voting for persons with disabilities, and international observers commended the government’s accommodations for persons with disabilities in the 2014 local elections. The CNE initiated a program to allow in-home voting for those with more significant 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

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-Ecuadorians continued to assert that they are more frequently stopped by police for document checks than are other citizens.

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 that 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.

On September 5, the Ombudsman’s Office reported that it monitored economic activity that may harm local communities, particularly Afro-Ecuadorians and indigenous peoples.

In November 2016 Shuar members attacked a Chinese-owned mining camp in Morona Santiago. In December 2016 members of the indigenous Shuar community Nankints attacked police officers and military who were patrolling the mining camp La Esperanza in Morona Santiago Province, killing one police officer and injuring five other police officers and two servicemen. Then-coordinating minister of security Cesar Navas announced a 30-day state of emergency in the Amazon province of Morona Santiago, declaring that a police officer died during an attack by “illegal armed groups.” The Ministry of Interior extended the December 14, 2016, state of emergency until February 15. The Shuar attack followed months of militarization of canton San Juan Bosco and police and military forcibly evicting the indigenous community from their ancestral territory to facilitate the establishment of Chinese company Explorcobres S.A. mining project.

On January 27, approximately 100 police officers raided the indigenous radio station La Voz de Arutam in Morona Santiago after it broadcast on January 26 a message by the president of the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centers. According to a statement from the federation, police officers seized communications equipment and shut down the station.

On May 2, civil society and indigenous groups led by CONAIE launched the “Amnesty First” campaign and presented a proposal to then president-elect Moreno to pardon 111 indigenous protesters. On May 25, newly inaugurated President Moreno suggested the potential for amnesty for indigenous protesters charged with criminal offenses during the Correa administration. CONAIE claimed that the convictions against the indigenous protesters violated their rights to freedom of expression. On May 30, a group of indigenous persons led by CONAIE marched to the National Assembly, where they asked National Assembly President Jose Serrano to pardon 177 imprisoned indigenous protesters. Serrano stated that a committee of legislators would review each case on an individual basis. As of July 5, President Moreno had pardoned five imprisoned indigenous protesters, including indigenous leader Tomas Jimpikit.

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 bodies, particularly in education, employment, and access to health care. LGBTI organizations reported that transgender persons suffered more discrimination because they were more visible.

In August 2016 a law allowing individuals to select gender on their identity cards entered into force. In August a local LGBTI organization reported that 270 individuals had successfully changed their gender on their identity cards but explained that the law further perpetuated discrimination and social stigma against transgender individuals, since the identity cards revealed their decision to substitute sex with gender on their identity cards.

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 because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBTI persons continued to report that the government sometimes denied their right of equal access to formal education. LGBTI students, particularly in the transgender community, 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 that the Ministry of Education and school administrators were slow to respond to complaints. The LGBTI population 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 during the year.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The constitution specifically prohibits discrimination directed at persons with HIV/AIDS. There was limited societal violence against such persons.

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 the Ministry of Labor, 2,969 labor unions represented 879,000 workers. The Center for Labor Policy Studies estimated that labor organizations represented 4 percent of all public and private workers.

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. The process to register a union often took weeks or longer and was complicated, inhibiting union registration. 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. The law prohibits employers from using domestic outsourcing, including subcontracting, third party, and hourly contracts, to avoid providing employees the right to form a union and to receive employee benefits.

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 August 17, 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 in order 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. 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.

During the year labor organization reported several cases of labor abuse and illegal dismissal of workers. There were no reports of workers being fired for union activities. On August 25, bus owners and drivers voted to suspend all municipal transit service in Quito, following negotiations with the municipal council to raise fares. Quito Mayor Mauricio Rodas announced legal action against the Pichincha Chamber of Transport, the union representing bus owners, based on a law prohibiting strikes of providers of public transportation services. The daylong strike resulted in 10 persons detained and four injured. On August 26, leaders from Quito’s municipal transportation service announced an end to the strike following meetings with municipal officials to seek agreement on a resolution. On September 6, Mayor Rodas said that municipal transportation employees had 30 days to demonstrate improved service in order to secure a five-cent fare increase. During this period the Metropolitan Transit Agency conducted random inspections and recorded 495 sanctions and 14 major infractions committed by transportation employees. They also received close to 800 complaints for poor service. Mayor Rodas said that all of the data collected during the 30-day period would be taken into account when evaluating a possible fare increase.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law does not require the means of force, fraud, or coercion for cases of forced labor and includes 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. As of October human rights organizations and media outlets continued to report that children were being subjected to forced criminality, particularly drug trafficking. The government identified and assisted 75 potential child trafficking victims, at least 11 of whom were victims of forced labor. A report issued during the year stated that the antitrafficking and human smuggling police unit arrested 56 suspected traffickers and conducted 52 antitrafficking operations in 2016.

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 April 12, El Telegrafonewspaper reported a 25-year prison sentence against a man who forced a 12 year-old female into prostitution. Forensic tests revealed that the perpetrator drugged the minor. 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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law 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,” including 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 for violations of child labor laws range from $50 to $300 for parents or guardians and $200 to $1,000 for employers hiring children younger than age 15. These penalties 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 workplaces including 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 enforce child labor laws.

Statistics from the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC) and the National Survey of Employment, Unemployment, and Underemployment (ENEMDU) reported in March a total of 522,656 children and adolescents between the ages of five and 17 working in the country. This was a significant increase compared with NGO reporting in 2016. As reported in local press on May 1, statistics by the Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion also indicated that the province with the highest rate of child labor was Cotopaxi, with 25.1 percent of children working, followed by Bolivar, Chimborazo, Canar, Loja, and Azuay. The two provinces with the lowest rate of child employment were Manabi (4.4 percent) and Santa Elena (4.9 percent). 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 that 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 that 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 street peddling, shining shoes, or begging.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, and/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 that 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.

On May 7, El Comercio newspaper reported the average income of women was 27 percent lower than that of men. In December 2016 Los Andes online media outlet cited a study by the Ipsos Ibid Consultancy noting that only “one in 10 general managerial positions was occupied by a woman in Ecuador, while in positions such as vice presidencies the percentage was 20 percent.” On March 1, INEC published the results of an ENEMDU survey that reported nationally 5.5 percent of women in the economically active population were unemployed, while among men, unemployment was 3.6 percent. On June 20, El Telegrafo reported that Afro-Ecuadorians continued to demand more opportunities in the workforce and complained that employers often would profile them based on their job application photographs. Indigenous and LGBTI individuals also experienced employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum monthly wage was $375. Additional benefits mandated by law correspond to 40 percent of this salary. The official poverty level was $85.58 per month, and official extreme poverty level was $48.23 per month. According to official statistics published in June, 23.7 percent of the population lived at or below the poverty level, and 8.6 percent lived at or below the extreme poverty level.

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 53 percent of the population.

The 2016 Organic Law for the Promotion of Youth Work, Exceptional Regulation to the Working Day, Severance, and Unemployment Insurance provides that Social Security contributors who lose their job may opt for withdrawing their individual severance funds. Alternatively, the law provides the option of using the government’s unemployment insurance, which includes a monthly payment for five months’ equivalent to between 50 and 70 percent of the contributor’s monthly average salary over the 12 months prior to the contributor’s dismissal.

Enforcement of labor laws is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labor and the Social Security Administration. The government’s 134 inspectors enforced all labor laws, including those for child labor.

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 labor rights 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.


Executive Summary

Guatemala is a multiparty constitutional republic. In January 2016 Jimmy Morales of the National Convergence Front party was sworn into office for a four-year term as president. International observers considered the presidential election held in 2015 as generally free and fair.

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

The most significant human rights issues included: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; corruption and intimidation of judges; threats against journalists, including by criminal organizations and corrupt public officials, resulting in significant self-censorship; widespread government corruption; violence against persons with disabilities in public care; cases of killing of women because of their gender, which authorities were prosecuting; police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; trafficking in persons; children engaged in the worst forms of child labor; and violence and threats against trade unionists and labor activists.

Corruption and inadequate investigation made prosecution difficult, and impunity continued to be widespread. Parts of the government collaborated with the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to strengthen the rule of law and prosecute officials who committed abuses. On August 27, however, President Jimmy Morales declared CICIG commissioner Ivan Velasquez persona non grata, negatively affecting domestic and international confidence in the administration’s commitment to anti-impunity and anticorruption efforts. The Constitutional Court blocked the expulsion order, and Commissioner Velasquez remained in his position.

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. As of August 31, the National Civil Police (PNC) and its Office of Professional Responsibility (ORP), the mechanism for investigating security force abuses, reported no complaints of homicide.

On August 16, Mara Salvatrucha criminal gang members entered one of the largest public hospitals and killed five civilian bystanders and two prison guards. The assailants freed a fellow gang member who was being treated at the hospital. The PNC arrested five suspects and the Public Ministry linked four to the case, which was under investigation at year’s end.

The case regarding the 2015 killing of Hector Donaldo Contreras Sanchez was in the intermediary pretrial phase at year’s end. In 2016 authorities arrested 13 members of the San Juan Sacatepequez military brigade for the alleged extrajudicial killing.

In January 2016 the Public Ministry arrested 14 high-ranking former military officers on charges of human rights violations for hundreds of extrajudicial killings during the 1960-96 internal armed conflict. The charges were based on the discovery of mass graves in Coban, Alta Verapa, at the Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations (CREOMPAZ), formerly the Military Zone 2 base during the conflict. Known as the CREOMPAZ case, it was assigned to a special high-risk court created in 2009 with competence to hear cases that posed a serious risk to the security of judges, the prosecutor, the defense, or any other individual involved in the case. In 2016 the court found sufficient evidence to send eight individuals to trial, but the Public Ministry appealed the exclusion of a number of charges in the proceedings. At year’s end the trial was pending resolution of the various appeals by the Public Ministry, joint complainants in the case, and defense lawyers. In March the Supreme Court ruled to remove the immunity of Congressman Edgar Ovalle, one of the suspects in the case. Ovalle disappeared before authorities were able to arrest him and remained a fugitive at year’s end.

On October 13, two separate trials began against former head of state Efrain Rios Montt and former intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez in the case of genocide involving the Maya Ixil community. In 2013 Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity during his presidency (1982-83) and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The Constitutional Court later overturned the conviction on procedural grounds and returned the case to be retried. In 2015 a high-risk court determined Rios Montt was mentally unfit for public trial but ordered the trial be held behind closed doors and with a guardian present. It also ruled any verdict could be used only to determine reparations to the victims and that Rios Montt could not be sentenced to prison. In May the Center for Human Rights Legal Action filed a complaint against former constitutional court magistrates for breach of legal duty after obtaining videos of their deliberations during the decision to annul Rios Montt’s genocide sentence. At year’s end the Public Ministry had not moved the case forward for an initial hearing.

In 2016 a high-risk court dismissed a motion in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre case by the defense team to suspend criminal prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity. The defense argued that Rios Montt was mentally unfit to stand trial. The case remained in the intermediary pretrial phase, and a date for the next hearing had not been set by year’s end.

As of August the government had paid approximately 23.9 million quetzales ($3.26 million) in individual reparations to families affected by the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. The government also appropriated 121.3 million quetzales ($16.5 million) for collective reparations, which government authorities believed could be delayed until early 2018 due to the fact the proposed community projects were undergoing feasibility studies. During the dam’s construction from 1975 to 1985, more than 400 individuals died and thousands were displaced. As part of a 2014 reparations agreement, the government agreed to pay 1.15 billion quetzales ($156 million) over 15 years in individual and community reparations.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports during the year of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government took actions to investigate and prosecute cases of forced disappearances from the internal armed conflict period. In 2016, four high-ranking retired army officers were arrested for the 1981 forced disappearance of minor Marco Antonio Molina Theissen. The Attorney General’s Office presented additional charges against retired army general Benedicto Lucas Garcia, who was also charged in the CREOMPAZ mass graves case. In July the final phase of the preliminary hearings concluded. The trial date for the case was set for March 2018.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, there were credible reports of abuse and other mistreatment by PNC members.

On September 18, trial proceedings began for PNC agents Carlos Baten Perez, Rogelio Perez Hernandez, Nancy Evelia Rodriguez Alai, and Cesar Augusto Funes Morales for the torture and illegal detention of four suspects in 2015 in the Villa Nueva suburb of Guatemala City.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening, with multiple instances of inmates killing other inmates. Sexual assault, inadequate sanitation and medical care, and gross overcrowding placed prisoners at significant risk.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding was a problem. As of August 25, according to the prison system registry, there were 22,660 inmates, including 2,240 women, held in facilities designed to hold 6,800 persons. Physical conditions including sanitation and bathing facilities, dental and medical care, ventilation, temperature control, and lighting were wholly inadequate. Prisoners had difficulty obtaining potable water, complained of inadequate food, and often had to pay for additional sustenance. Illegal drug sales and use was widespread. Prison officials reported safety and control problems, including escape attempts, gang fights, inability to control the flow of contraband goods into prisons, and the fabrication of weapons. Prisoners conducted criminal activity both inside and outside of prisons. From January through August 25, at least 13 inmates died of unnatural causes while in prison.

Media reported that transnational criminal gangs and drug trafficking groups controlled major prison centers. In 2016 prisoner Byron Lima Oliva, a former army captain charged with the murder of human rights defender Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi, was killed along with 13 others in the Pavon prison. On August 2, the PNC arrested six suspects. On November 23, a judge indicted 17 individuals arrested in the case. At year’s end the Public Ministry, with CICIG support, moved the case forward to preliminary hearings.

Conditions for male and female prisoners were generally comparable throughout the country. Media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported female and juvenile inmates faced continuing physical and sexual abuse. Female inmates reported unnecessary body searches and verbal abuse by prison guards. Children under age four could live in prison with their mothers, although the penitentiary system provided inadequate food for young children and many suffered from illness. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights groups stated that other prisoners often sexually assaulted LGBTI individuals and that there were insufficient facilities to protect LGBTI individuals in custody. The Ministry of Government approved initial admittance procedures for LGBTI prisoners in 2015. NGOs claimed, however, the protocols were not being implemented and noted particular concern regarding admittance procedures for transgender individuals. Frequent leadership turnover in the prison system exacerbated these problems. Occasionally authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and male with female detainees.

Media reported similar conditions of abuse and overcrowding at the four juvenile detention centers administered separately by the Secretariat of Social Welfare. Crowding led to nonviolent juvenile offenders being held with violent adult offenders. On July 3 and July 24, riots occurred at the Las Gaviotas juvenile detention facility, resulting in injuries to dozens of prisoners. The riots were sparked by the killing of two inmates. The facility received citations in 2016 for housing 460 inmates in a facility designed for 250 and for dangerous and inhuman conditions.

Administration: The government’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the National Office for the Prevention of Torture (NOPT), both independent entities, are responsible for prisoner rights, receiving complaints, and conducting oversight of the prison system. The PDH and NOPT may submit recommendations to the prison system based on complaints. No independent agency or unit, however, has a mandate to change or implement policy or to act on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Congress delayed the election of NOPT rapporteurs by more than six months, while the PDH and civil society reported former rapporteurs were inactive and ineffective in their oversight mandate.

While the law requires authorities to permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities failed to investigate most allegations of inhuman conditions and treatment or to document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by local and international human rights groups, the Organization of American States, public defenders, and religious groups. The PDH and the NOPT also periodically visited prison facilities. The PDH reported it was sometimes difficult to gain access to the juvenile detention centers administered by the Secretariat of Social Welfare.

Improvements: During the year authorities implemented a correctional model to address corruption and overcrowding as well as the lack of personnel, equipment, and infrastructure in the penitentiary system. The model provided opportunities for the rehabilitation, education, and social reintegration of inmates and improved recruitment, selection, and training of staff. In March the first model correction center opened; it housed 63 female inmates by year’s end.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but there were credible reports of extrajudicial arrests, illegal detentions, and denial of timely access to a magistrate and hearing as required by law. Suspects are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. If successful, their release usually took several days. There was no compensation for those ruled unlawfully detained.


The PNC, which is overseen by the Ministry of Government and headed by a director general appointed by the ministry, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country. The Ministry of National Defense oversees the military, which focuses primarily on operations in defense of the country, but the government also used the army in internal security and policing as permitted by the constitution.

Civilian authorities in some instances failed to maintain effective control over the PNC, and the government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. At times the PNC struggled to deploy its resources effectively across the country.

There were reports of impunity involving security forces. In cases involving police forces, the ORP is responsible for internal investigations and the Public Ministry is responsible for external investigations. Authorities arrested approximately 210 police officials from January through September, compared with 376 in all of 2016. A police reform commission, established by a previous administration, has a legal mandate to make necessary changes to reform police forces. The commission’s infrastructure unit provided design support for the establishment of model police precincts throughout the country.

The ORP reported that from January through August, there were 17 complaints of police extortion and 290 for abuse of authority, compared with 747 and 206, respectively, in all of 2016, according to the Public Ministry’s Strategic Planning Office. The PNC routinely transferred officers suspected of wrongdoing rather than investigating them.

Critics accused police of indiscriminate and illegal detentions when conducting antigang operations in some high-crime neighborhoods. For example, security officials allegedly arrested and imprisoned suspected gang members without warrants or on fabricated drug charges. The local press also reported police involvement in kidnappings for ransom.

In September, Guilber Josue Barrios, a soldier who allegedly drugged and raped a 14-year-old student at a civil military institute administered by the Ministry of Defense in March 2016, was captured in Mexico. On October 9, he was indicted.

The ORP conducted internal investigations of misconduct by police officers. During the first eight months of the year, the ORP reported receiving 1,222 complaints alleging misconduct by police.

All new PNC and soldiers receive some training in human rights and professional ethics. During the year the Ministry of Defense increased its Human Rights Directorate personnel from eight to 13 staff members and incorporated a gender integration unit.


The law requires presentation of a court-issued warrant to a suspect prior to arrest unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. Police may not detain a suspect for more than six hours without bringing the case before a judge. Authorities did not regularly respect this right and did not promptly inform some detainees of the charges against them. After arraigning suspects, the prosecutor generally has three months to complete the investigation if the defendant is in pre-trial detentions, and six months to complete the investigation if the defendant is granted house arrest. The law prohibits the execution of search warrants between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless the government has declared a state of siege. Judges may order house arrest for some suspects. The law provides for access to lawyers and bail for most crimes. The government provides legal representation for indigent detainees, and detainees have access to family members. A judge has the discretion to determine whether bail is permissible for pretrial detainees.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were no reliable data on the number of arbitrary detentions. Most accounts, however, indicated that police ignored writs of habeas corpus in cases of illegal detention, particularly during neighborhood antigang operations.

Pretrial Detention: As of August 25, prison system records indicated 50.6 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention. The law establishes a one-year maximum for pretrial detention, regardless of the stage of the criminal proceeding, but the court has the legal authority to extend pre-trial detention without limits as necessary. Authorities regularly held detainees past their legal trial or release dates. Lengthy investigations and frequent procedural motions by both defense and prosecution often led to lengthy pretrial detentions, delaying trials for months or years. Authorities did not release some prisoners after completing their full sentences due to the failure of judges to issue the necessary court order or other bureaucratic delays.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and the law provide for an independent judiciary. The judicial system failed to provide fair or timely trials due to inefficiency, corruption, insufficient personnel, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses.

Judges, prosecutors, plaintiffs, and witnesses continued to report threats, intimidation, and surveillance, most often from drug trafficking organizations. By the end of August, the special prosecutor for crimes against judicial workers received 129 complaints of threats or aggression against workers in the judicial branch, compared with 192 through September 2016.

The CICIG assisted the Ministry of Government and Public Ministry with the investigation of cases including allegations of extrajudicial executions, extortion, trafficking in persons, improper adoptions, corruption, and drug trafficking.

The Supreme Court continued to pursue the suspension of judges and conduct criminal investigations of improprieties or irregularities in cases under its jurisdiction. From January through October 6, the Judicial Disciplinary Board investigated 573 complaints against judges of wrongdoing, held hearings on 105 complaints, and applied sanctions in 20 cases. During the same period, the Judicial Disciplinary Unit investigated 1,167 complaints of wrongdoing against technicians and judiciary administrative staff, held hearings on 519 complaints, and applied sanctions in 360 cases, including disciplinary suspension without pay (277 cases) and recommending dismissal (34 cases).


The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, the presumption of innocence, the defendant’s right to be present at trial, and the right to legal counsel in a timely manner. The law requires the government to provide attorneys for defendants facing criminal charges if the defendant cannot find or afford an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys may confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for plea bargaining and the right of appeal. Three-judge panels render verdicts. The law provides for oral trials and mandates free language interpretation for those needing it; however, interpreters were not always available. Officials conduct trials in Spanish, the official language, although many citizens only speak one of the 23 officially recognized indigenous languages.

The Public Ministry, acting semi-independently of the executive branch, may initiate criminal proceedings on its own or in response to a complaint. Private parties may participate in the prosecution of criminal cases as plaintiffs.


There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.


Individuals and organizations have access to administrative and judicial remedies to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation or other alleged wrongs. While the judiciary was generally impartial and independent in civil matters, it suffered from inefficiencies, excessive workload, and a legal system that often permits time-consuming but spurious complaints.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. In September 2016 President Jimmy Morales dismissed Jorge Lopez, the secretary of administrative and security matters of the president, and his deputy, Cesar Sagastume, for alleged illegal surveillance. At year’s end the case was under investigation by the Public Ministry. Media sources reported that former presidential advisor and member of congress Herbert Melgar’s name also appeared in the criminal complaint filed with the Public Ministry. Melgar was not charged, however, and continued to serve in congress.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including of the press, and the government generally respected these rights. The intimidation of journalists resulted in significant self-censorship, however.

Press and Media Freedom: There were no legal restrictions on the editorial independence of the media. Reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship, recognizing the danger investigative journalism posed to them and their families. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

Violence and Harassment: Members of the press continued to report violence and impunity impaired the practice of free and open journalism. Members of the press reported numerous threats by public officials, and criminal organizations increased journalists’ sense of vulnerability.

According to the Public Ministry, 40 complaints were filed for attacks or threats against journalists, and three journalists were killed from January through the middle of September, compared with 87 complaints and eight killings in all of 2016.

The investigation remained open at year’s end regarding the 2016 killing of radio journalist Alvaro Alfredo Aceituno Lopez.

On November 7, the Supreme Court lifted the parliamentary immunity of congressman Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez based on allegations from the Public Ministry and CICIG that he ordered the killing of journalist Danilo Efrain Zapon Lopez in 2015 in Mazatenango, Suchitepequez. Journalist Federico Benjamin Salazar Geronimo was also killed in the attack and reporter Marvin Tunches was injured. On October 12, Sergio Waldemar Cardona Reyes and German Morataya were convicted and sentenced to 30 and two years in prison, respectively, for their involvement in the Lopez killing.

The Public Ministry employed a unit dedicated to the investigation of threats and attacks against journalists. The NGO Center for Reporting in Guatemala noted that the unit had few resources.

Civil society organizations reported that sexual harassment of female journalists was widespread but rarely reported.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from various public officials regarding the content of their reporting. Some owners and members of media also accused the government of following a discriminatory advertising policy that penalized or rewarded print and broadcast media based on whether the government perceived the news or commentary as supportive or critical.

The online newsmagazine Nomada reported threats against individual reporters and magazine leadership. Editors used armored vehicles due to fear of attack. After reporting on undisclosed bonuses given by the Ministry of Defense to President Morales, Nomada’s website was targeted in a denial-of-service attack for several days. Nomada published the story on its Facebook account until service was restored. Nomada had experienced similar attacks previously.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized crime exerted influence over media outlets and reporters, frequently threatening individuals for reporting on criminal activities.


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.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 35 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.


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.


The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. There were reports, however, of significant barriers to organizing in the labor sector (see section 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. An immigration law passed in September 2016 overhauled the country’s migration system and defined the term “refugee” as well as listing refugees’ rights in accordance with international instruments. The preparation of regulations to implement the law, including on the refugee application process and refugee rights, was underway at year’s end.

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


The country does not have laws in place to protect internally displaced persons in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNHCR expressed concern regarding violence against IDPs and strengthened its efforts to monitor the problem and provide assistance to the displaced. The country does not officially recognize the existence of IDPs within its borders, with the exception of those displaced by climate change. In June the government evicted an estimated 400 farmers for illegally settling within the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) characterized the evictees as IDPs. Media and civil society reported that the evictees did not receive government assistance in a timely manner.


Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country approved 39 refugee applications from January through September. The number of asylum applications from El Salvador increased between 2016 and 2017. UNHCR, however, reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate. Both migration and police authorities lacked awareness of the rules for establishing refugee status.

UNHCR reported that access to education for refugees was challenging due to the country’s sometimes onerous requirements for access to formal education, including documentation from the country of origin.

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 nearly universal and equal suffrage for those ages 18 and older. Members of the armed forces, police, and incarcerated individuals are not eligible to vote.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 Jimmy Morales of the National Convergence Front (FCN) party defeated National Unity of Hope candidate Sandra Torres in a second round of voting and was sworn in as president in January 2016. An Organization of American States international election observation mission characterized the elections as generally free and fair. The Attorney General’s Office continued to investigate allegations of illicit campaign financing in the 2015 elections and petitioned for immunity reviews against three parties’ secretaries general, including Morales. In July the Supreme Electoral Tribunal imposed a fine of 441,000 quetzales ($60,000) on the FCN for campaign finance irregularities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Traditional and cultural practices, in addition to discrimination and institutional bias, however, limited the political participation of women and members of indigenous groups.

While the indigenous population constituted 44 percent of the population, according to the latest 2002 government census, indigenous representation in national government was minimal. There was one indigenous female member of the cabinet, one on the Constitutional Court, and one on the Supreme Court. There were approximately 20 indigenous members of Congress. Indigenous individuals comprised a larger share of elected local government officials, filling 113 of the 333 mayoral seats elected in 2015.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, many of which the Public Ministry and CICIG investigated and prosecuted on charges including money laundering, illegal political party financing, and bribery.

Corruption: On July 17, the CICIG and Public Ministry brought charges against Julio Ligorria, former ambassador to the United States, and Alejandro Sinibaldi, former communications minister, in connection with a wide-reaching corruption investigation of jailed former president Otto Perez Molina. According to the investigators, Ligorria and Sinibaldi organized a network of construction companies to funnel two million dollars from a telecommunications company to support the election campaigns of Perez Molina’s Patriotic Party. Sinibaldi was linked with several additional cases of bribery and influence trafficking during the Perez Molina administration. Spanish authorities arrested Ligorria in Madrid in September. Sinibaldi remained a fugitive.

On February 2, at the request of the Public Ministry and CICIG, congress revoked the immunity of Supreme Court Justice Blanca Aida Stalling Davila. On February 8, she was arrested on influence peddling charges for pressuring the judge overseeing a criminal case against her son. Since May 2016, three Supreme Court justices were removed from office to face criminal charges.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials who earn more than 8,000 quetzales ($1,090) per month or who manage public funds are subject to financial disclosure laws overseen and enforced by the Comptroller General’s Office. The financial disclosures were available to the public upon request. Administrative and criminal sanctions apply for inadequate or falsified disclosures of assets.

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 often cooperative and responsive to their views.

A number of NGOs, human rights workers, and trade unionists, however, reported threats, violence, and intimidation. Local human rights NGO Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA) reported 49 killings of human rights defenders from January through August, compared with 14 killings in all of 2016 (Note: The 41 girls who perished in the Hogar Seguro government shelter fire were included in the 2017 figure). The NGO also reported 282 attacks against human rights defenders from January through August, compared with 263 attacks in all of 2016. According to various human rights NGOs, many of the attacks related to land disputes and exploitation of natural resources. NGOs asserted the government did little to investigate the reports or prevent further incidents.

NGOs also reported the government, fringe groups, and private entities used threats of legal action as a form of intimidation. UDEFEGUA reported 126 cases of criminalization of human rights defenders from January through August. On February 4, authorities arrested land rights defender Abelino Chub Caal on charges of aggravated usurpation, arson, coercion, illicit association, and belonging to multiple illicit armed groups. In June a local court ruled that Chub Caal must remain in detention, despite the prosecutor’s request to suspend the criminal case for 12 months and release Chub Caal in the absence of evidence against him.

Lack of resources prevented the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights from investigating the majority of complaints in a timely manner. Other cases languished in the court system.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) monitors the human rights set forth in the constitution and reports to Congress. The ombudsman operated with government cooperation and issued public reports and recommendations, including an annual report to congress on the fulfillment of its mandate. The office lacked adequate resources.

The President’s Commission on Human Rights (COPREDEH) has responsibility to formulate and promote the government’s human rights policy. COPREDEH also led coordination of police protection for various human rights and labor activists. COPREDEH generally benefited from the administration’s cooperation and operated without political or party interference. Resources for the commission were not adequate for compliance with IACHR recommendations and reparation rulings. The COPREDEH budget steadily decreased during the past five years from 43.7 million quetzales ($5.94 million) in 2013 to 31.2 million quetzals ($4.24 million) during the year.

The lack of PDH and COPREDEH resources significantly limited their ability to operate outside of Guatemala City and engage effectively with marginalized communities, particularly on land conflict issues.

The Congressional Committee on Human Rights drafts and provides advice on legislation regarding human rights. The law requires all political parties represented in Congress to have a representative on the committee. NGOs did not consider the committee to be an effective public forum for promoting and protecting human rights during the year.

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


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and sets penalties between five and 50 years in prison. Police had minimal training or capacity to investigate sexual crimes or assist survivors of such crimes, and the government did not enforce the law effectively.

Rape and other sexual offenses remained serious problems. The government took steps to combat femicide and violence against women. The judiciary maintained a 24-hour court in Guatemala City to offer services related to violence directed toward women, including sexual assault, exploitation, and trafficking of women and children. The judiciary also operated specialized courts for violence against women throughout the country, but not in every department. On November 22, the Public Ministry established a special prosecutor for femicide.

The law establishes penalties for femicide of 25 to 50 years in prison without the possibility of reducing the sentence; however, femicide remained a significant problem.

Violence against women, including sexual and domestic violence, remained serious problems. The law establishes penalties of five to eight years for physical, economic, and psychological violence committed against women because of their gender. The PNC often failed to respond to requests for assistance related to domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: No single law, including laws against sexual violence, deals directly with sexual harassment, although several laws refer to it. Human rights organizations reported sexual harassment was widespread.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .

Discrimination: Although the law establishes the principle of gender equality and criminalizes discrimination, women faced discrimination and were less likely to hold management positions.


Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from their parents. UNICEF described low birth registration as a “serious problem,” and UNHCR reported problems in registering births were especially acute in indigenous communities due to inadequate government registration and documentation systems. Lack of registration restricted children’s access to some public services and created conditions that could lead to statelessness.

Education: While primary education is compulsory through age 14, access was limited in many rural areas; education through the secondary level is not obligatory.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. A unit under the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Children and Adolescents handled child abuse cases. The Public Ministry reported 2,571 reports of minor abuse of all types and 16 convictions from January through August.

As of September, 520 children and adolescents lived in shelters run by the Secretariat for Social Welfare (SBS). Overcrowding was common in shelters.

On several occasions in 2016, groups of adolescent girls escaped from Hogar Seguro shelter, alleging abuse and mistreatment. On March 7, approximately 60 adolescent girls escaped and, according to media reports, some were apprehended and returned to Hogar Seguro. They were locked in a room and guarded by police. On March 8, one of the girls started a fire inside the room in protest, resulting in the deaths of 41 girls and severe burns to 14 others.

At year’s end seven persons had been charged in relation to the deaths of the 41 girls, including former SBS secretary Carlos Rodas, former deputy secretary for protection and shelter Anahi Keller, and former shelter director Santos Torres. On April 7, they were charged with murder, abuse of authority, breach of duty, abuse against minors, and serious injury. On April 28, the SBS announced the closure of the shelter and plans to renovate it into a facility to house juvenile offenders.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18. There were reports of early and forced marriages in some rural indigenous communities. UNICEF reported 30 percent of women ages 20 to 24 years were first married or in union by age 18 (7 percent of them by age 15) between 2008 and 2014.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides sentences ranging from 13 to 24 years in prison, depending on the victim’s age, for engaging in sex with a minor. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18.

The law prohibits child pornography and establishes penalties of six to 10 years in prison for producing, promoting, and selling child pornography and two to four years’ imprisonment for possessing it. The Public Ministry and PNC conducted several raids against alleged online child pornography networks. The commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child sex tourism, remained a problem.

Displaced Children: Criminals and gangs often recruited street children, many of them victims of domestic abuse, for purposes of stealing, transporting contraband, prostitution, and conducting illegal drug activities. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported 683 minors suffered violent deaths nationwide from January through August. NGOs dealing with gangs and other youth reported youth detained by police were subject to abusive treatment, including physical assaults.

The SBS, responsible for the care of both returned migrant children and unaccompanied foreign migrant children, reported seven cases of sexual abuse of children under its care during the year.

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


The Jewish population numbered approximately 1,500 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

In April a court found the former mayor of San Juan La Laguna, Antonio Adolfo Perez y Perez, guilty of forcing out a community of ultraorthodox Jews in 2014 and sentenced him to one year in prison.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution contains no specific prohibitions against discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law, however, mandates equal access to public facilities and provides some other legal protections. In many cases, however, the law was not enforced. The law does not mandate that persons with disabilities have access to information or communications.

The National Council for Persons with Disabilities reported few persons with disabilities attended educational institutions or held jobs. The council, composed of representatives of relevant government ministries and agencies, is the principal government entity responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Most schools and universities did not have facilities accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Federico Mora National Hospital for Mental Health, the only public health-care provider for persons with mental illness, lacked basic supplies, equipment, hygienic living conditions, and adequate professional staff. Media reported mistreatment of residents, including physical, psychological, and sexual violence by other residents, guards, and hospital staff, especially with respect to women and children with disabilities. Multiple legal actions were pending against the hospital.

Indigenous People

The government’s National Institute of Statistics estimated indigenous persons from 22 ethnic groups comprised 44 percent of the population. The law provides for equal rights for indigenous persons and obliges the government to recognize, respect, and promote the lifestyles, customs, traditions, social organizations, and manner of dress of indigenous persons. The government does not recognize particular indigenous groups as having a special legal status provided by national law.

Indigenous representatives claimed actors in a number of regional development projects failed to consult meaningfully with local communities. In some cases indigenous communities were not regularly or adequately consulted or able to participate in decisions affecting the exploitation of resources in their communities, including energy, minerals, timber, rivers, or other natural resources. They also lacked effective mechanisms for dialogue with the state to resolve conflicts. During the year courts suspended the operating licenses of several hydroelectric and mining projects for not complying with requirements for consultations with indigenous communities prior to project implementation as required by International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169, recognizing the convention’s requirement that the government must play a role in the process. Previously, businesses carried out consultations independently without government oversight.

Indigenous communities were underrepresented in national politics and remained largely outside the political, economic, social, and cultural mainstream. This was mainly due to limited educational opportunities (contrary to law), limited communication regarding their rights, and pervasive discrimination. These factors contributed to disproportionate poverty among most indigenous populations.

Indigenous lands lacked effective demarcation, making the legal recognition of titles to the land problematic. Indigenous rights advocates asserted that pervasive ignorance by security authorities of indigenous norms and practices engendered misunderstandings. PNC and indigenous leaders in the village of Salacuim, Alta Verapaz, worked together to establish a model police precinct to better serve the 100 percent indigenous community, prevent and reduce violence, and establish rule of law.

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

The country’s antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTI individuals. LGBTI rights groups stated that police officers regularly engaged in extortion and harassed male and transgender individuals they believed to be sex workers. There was general societal discrimination against LGBTI persons in access to education, health care, employment, and housing. The government undertook minimal efforts to address this discrimination. Sandra Moran, the first openly lesbian member of Congress, was harassed and intimidated based on her sexual orientation. Online campaigns calling for her removal from congress based solely on her orientation were constant and increased in September after her vote to remove immunity from President Morales.

According to LGBTI rights groups, gay and transgender individuals often experienced police abuse.

LGBTI groups claimed women experienced specific forms of discrimination such as forced marriages and forced pregnancies through “corrective rape,” although these incidents were rarely, if ever, reported to authorities. In addition transgender individuals faced severe discrimination.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law does not expressly include HIV/AIDS status among the categories prohibited from discrimination. There was societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Forms of discrimination included being required by government authorities to reveal HIV/AIDS test results to receive certain public benefits or from employers in order to be hired. In addition HIV/AIDS patients experienced discrimination from medical personnel when receiving treatment in public hospitals and had their right to confidentiality violated by disclosure of their status. Discrimination against LGBTI persons with HIV/AIDS was common and affected their access to HIV-prevention programs.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Several times vigilante mobs attacked and killed those suspected of crimes such as rape, kidnapping, theft, or extortion. The NGO Mutual Support Group reported nine persons were killed in public lynchings and 38 were injured through May.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of security force members, to form and join trade unions of their choice, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law, however, places some restrictions on these rights. For example, legal recognition of an industrywide union requires the membership constitute a majority of the workers in an industry and restricts union leadership to citizens. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union activities and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for organizing union activities. A strike must have the support of the majority of a company’s workforce.

The president and cabinet may suspend any strike deemed “gravely prejudicial to the country’s essential activities and public services.” The government defined “essential services” more broadly than international standards, thus denying the right to strike to a large number of public workers, such as those working in education, postal services, transport, and the production, transportation, and distribution of energy. Public employees may address grievances by means of conciliation for collective disputes and arbitration directly through the labor courts. For sectors considered essential, arbitration is compulsory if there is no agreement after 30 days of conciliation.

The law prohibits employer retaliation against workers engaged in legal strikes. If authorities do not recognize a strike as legal, employers may suspend or terminate workers for absence without leave. A factory or business owner is not obligated to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement unless at least 25 percent of workers in the factory or business are union members and request negotiations.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Government institutions, such as the Ministry of Labor and the labor courts, did not effectively investigate, prosecute, or punish employers who violated freedom of association and collective bargaining laws or reinstate workers illegally dismissed for engaging in union activities. In addition the Public Ministry was ineffective in responding to labor court referrals for criminal prosecution in cases where employers refused to comply with labor court orders. Inspectors often lacked vehicles or fuel to carry out inspections, and in some cases they failed to take effective action to gain access to worksites in response to employers’ refusal to permit labor inspectors access to facilities, including failing to seek police assistance as required. Penalties for labor law violations range from two to 18 minimum monthly salaries ($665 to $6,000), but the penalties were inadequate and rarely enforced.

The Labor Ministry lacked the capability to impose fines or otherwise sanction employers for labor law violations discovered during inspections until June, when sanction authority was restored via the passage of law 07-2017. Until that point, the Labor Ministry had to refer the cases to the labor court. Employers frequently refused to respect court decisions favorable to workers and were rarely sanctioned for doing so. Reinstatement proceedings were frequently prolonged due to appeals and employers’ widespread use of tactics such as reincorporation as a different entity. For example, courts faced difficulties in providing notification of their orders when employers listed incorrect addresses or refused access to the court official delivering notification. The length of time to process cases for the reinstatement of workers and other labor law violations was excessive, often taking two to four years and sometimes longer.

The Special Prosecutor’s Unit for Crimes against Unionists within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights in the Public Ministry was responsible for investigating attacks and threats against union members as well as for noncompliance with judicial orders in labor cases. Staffing for the unit increased from 12 in 2016 to 19. According to Public Ministry statistics, the unit won two convictions in cases involving violence against union members. The CICIG highlighted several factors that negatively affected investigations, including a lack of methodological planning and continuity among prosecutors, delays in conducting the criminal investigation, and witnesses’ fear of making declarations. In cases of noncompliance with labor court orders, the government reported that, of 2,312 cases referred (including a backlog from previous years), only four resulted in convictions, with the vast majority of cases still under investigation.

The Ministry of Government operated a personal protection program that included some trade unionists. The ministry reported two union members received personal security protection measures during the year, and 28 received perimeter security measures. In October 2016 the ministry revised a 2014 Protocol for the Implementation of Immediate and Preventive Security Measures for Human Rights Activists, with input from the trade unions, but union confederations indicated the protocol had not been applied, and there was minimal progress toward ensuring the protection of threatened trade union officials and members. The unions and the ILO called for increased personal security for union leaders and members, ensuring the beneficiaries of such protection did not have to bear any costs related to their protection. Local unions and the ILO urged authorities to more effectively investigate the killings of 87 trade unionists since 2004, including consideration of antiunion motives. This included more effective application of General Instruction No. 1-2015, adopted in 2015 to improve the effectiveness of such investigations.

In 2013 the government and the unions signed a Memorandum of Understanding and developed a roadmap to implement it. An ILO special representative monitored the roadmap, which includes indicators on increased compliance with reinstatement orders, increased prosecution of perpetrators of violence against trade unionists, reforms to national legislation to conform to Convention 87, and unimpeded registration of trade unions. The instruments were developed for each indicator to avoid the establishment of an ILO Commission of Inquiry based on a complaint filed in 2012 that stated the government had not complied with ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association. In 2015, in part due to the lack of progress in implementing the roadmap, there was tripartite agreement between the government, unions, and employers to develop a set of key indicators to measure progress on the roadmap. During the year the government took some steps to implement the roadmap. In November the government submitted two legislative proposals related to the ILO roadmap to Congress (i.e., legislation to restore sanction authority to the Ministry of Labor and legislation to address long-standing ILO recommendations related to freedom of association and the right to strike). The Public Ministry increased the personnel for the Special Prosecutor’s Unit for Crimes against Unionists, and the Ministry of Government convened the Interagency Committee to Analyze Attacks Against Human Rights Defenders (INSTANCIA), including trade unionists on a regular basis.

Despite these efforts, the country did not demonstrate measurable progress in the effective enforcement of its labor laws, particularly those related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The ILO noted the need for additional urgent action in several areas related to the roadmap, including investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of trade union violence; the adoption of protection measures for union officials; passage of legislative reforms to remove obstacles to freedom of association and the right to strike; and raising awareness of the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, particularly in the apparel and textile industries. The ILO also called for greater compliance with reinstatement orders in cases of antiunion dismissals. During its most recent session in November, based in large part on the submission of the above-referenced legislative initiatives, the ILO Governing Body deferred a decision on establishing a commission of inquiry until March 2018.

Violence and threats against trade unionists and labor activists remained serious problems, with three killings of trade unionists and two violent attacks with a firearm reported in 2016. Authorities did not thoroughly investigate most acts of violence and threats, and by often discarding trade union activity as a motive from the outset of the investigation, allowed these acts to go unprosecuted. Several labor leaders reported death threats and other acts of intimidation.

Procedural hurdles, union formation restrictions, and impunity for employers refusing to receive or ignoring court orders limited freedom of association and collective bargaining. Government statistics on attempted union registrations indicated most registrations were initially rejected, and when they were issued, it was done outside the legally established timeframes. In addition credentials of union leaders were regularly rejected and delayed. As a result union members were left without additional protections against antiunion retaliation.

Employers routinely resisted union formation attempts, delayed or only partially complied with agreements resulting from direct negotiations, and ignored judicial rulings requiring the employer to negotiate with recognized unions. There were credible reports of retaliation by employers against workers who tried to exercise their rights, including numerous complaints filed with the Ministry of Labor and the Public Ministry alleging employer retaliation for union activity. Common practices included termination and harassment of workers who attempted to form unions, creation of illegal company-supported unions to counter legally established unions, blacklisting of union organizers, and threats of factory closures. If workers joined a union or refused to disaffiliate, employers threatened not to renew their contracts or offer subcontracted workers permanent employment.

There were reports that management or its agents harassed and threatened workers who did not accept employer dismissals or refused to forfeit their right to reinstatement. According to government statistics, employers failed to comply with 62 percent of labor courts’ reinstatement orders issued in 2014-16, and in 18 percent of cases, the labor court could not carry out the reinstatement, at times due to incorrect addresses. In some cases employers did not reinstate workers to their prior positions and often failed to pay the back wages owed to them, as well as court-ordered fines. Local unions reported businesses used fraudulent bankruptcies, ownership substitution, and reincorporation of companies to circumvent legal obligations to recognize newly formed or established unions, despite legal restrictions on such practices.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government failed to enforce the law effectively in some cases. Reports persisted of men and women subjected to forced labor in agriculture and domestic service. Penalties ranging from two to 18 minimum monthly salaries ($665 to $6,000) were inadequate and rarely enforced. Criminal penalties for forced labor range from eight to 18 years’ imprisonment. The government lacked sufficient resources (e.g., labor inspectors, vehicles, equipment) to conduct effective and regular inspection or to pursue remediation for forced labor cases. The government had specialized police and prosecutors handle cases of human trafficking, including forced labor, although local experts reported some prosecutors lacked adequate training. In July the Public Ministry arrested two sisters who forced six children to beg in the streets for money. The case remained pending at year’s end. There were also other reports of forced child labor (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law bars employment of minors below age 14, although it allows the Ministry of Labor to authorize children below 14 to work in exceptional cases. The ministry’s inspectorate reported it did not authorize any exceptions during the year. The law prohibits persons under age 18 from working in places that serve alcoholic beverages, in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, at night, or overtime. The legal workday for persons under age than 14 is six hours; for persons ages 14 to 17, the legal workday is seven hours.

The Ministry of Labor’s Child Worker Protection Unit is responsible for enforcing restrictions on child labor and educating minors, their parents, and employers on the rights of minors. Penalties are not sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce these laws, a situation exacerbated by the weakness of the labor inspection and labor court systems. The government devoted insufficient resources to prevention programs.

Child labor was a widespread problem. The NGO Conrad Project Association of the Cross estimated the workforce included approximately one million children ages five to 17. Most child labor occurred in rural indigenous areas of extreme poverty. The informal and agricultural sectors regularly employed children below 14, usually in small family enterprises, including in the production of broccoli, coffee, corn, fireworks, gravel, and sugar. Indigenous children also worked in street sales and as shoe shiners and bricklayer assistants.

An estimated 39,000 children, primarily indigenous girls, worked as domestic servants and were often vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. In the Mexican border area, there were reports of forced child labor in municipal dumps and in street begging.

Also see the Department of Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law explicitly prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, age, and disability. The government did not effectively enforce the law and related regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred. Anecdotally, wage discrimination based on race and sex occurred often in rural areas.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets national minimum wages for agricultural and nonagricultural work and for work in garment factories. The minimum wage for agricultural and nonagricultural work and for work in export-sector-regime factories did not meet the minimum food budget for a family of five. Minimum wage earners are due a mandatory monthly bonus of 250 quetzales ($34), and salaried workers receive two mandatory yearly bonuses (a Christmas bonus and a “14th month” bonus), each equivalent to one month’s salary.

The legal workweek is 48 hours with at least one paid 24-hour rest period. Workers are not to work more than 12 hours a day. The law provides for 12 paid annual holidays and paid vacation of 15 days after one year’s work. Daily and weekly maximum hours limits do not apply to domestic workers. Workers in the formal sector receive the standard pay for a day’s work for official annual holidays. Time-and-a-half pay is required for overtime work, and the law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime.

The government sets occupational health and safety standards that were inadequate, not current for all industries, and poorly enforced. The law does not provide for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections to monitor compliance with minimum wage law provisions but often lacked the necessary vehicles or fuel to enable inspectors to enforce the law, especially in the agricultural and informal sectors. The ministry employed a sufficient number of labor inspectors to deter violations, although many of them performed conciliation or administrative duties rather than clearly defined inspection duties.

Labor inspectors reported uncovering numerous instances of overtime abuses, but effective enforcement was undermined due to inadequate fines and labor courts’ reluctance to use compulsory measures, such as increased fines and referrals to the criminal courts, to obtain compliance. Other factors contributing to the lack of effective enforcement included labor court inefficiencies, employer refusal to permit labor inspectors to enter facilities or provide access to payroll records and other documentation, and inspectors’ lack of follow-up inspections in the face of such refusals. Labor inspectors were not authorized to sanction employers but had to refer alleged violations to the labor courts. Due to inefficient and lengthy court proceedings, the resolution of cases was often delayed, in many instances for several years. Employers failing to provide a safe workplace were rarely sanctioned, and legislation requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide onsite medical facilities for their workers was not enforced.

Trade union leaders and human rights groups reported employers required workers to work overtime without legally mandated premium pay. Management often manipulated employer-provided transportation to worksites to force employees to work overtime, especially in export processing zones located in isolated areas with limited transportation alternatives. Noncompliance with minimum wage provisions in the agricultural and informal sectors was widespread. Advocacy groups estimated the vast majority of workers in rural areas who engaged in daylong employment did not receive the wages, benefits, or social security allocations required by law. Many employers in the agricultural sector reportedly conditioned payment of the minimum daily wage on excessive production quotas that workers generally were unable to meet. In order to meet the quota, workers felt compelled to work extra hours, sometimes bringing family members, including children, to help with the work. Because of having to work beyond the maximum allowed hours per day, workers received less than the minimum wage for the day and did not receive the required overtime pay. According to ILO statistics, 74 percent of the workforce worked in the informal sector and outside the basic protections afforded by law.

Local unions highlighted and protested violations by employers who failed to pay employer and employee contributions to the national social security system despite employee contribution deductions from workers’ paychecks. These violations, particularly common in export and agricultural industries, resulted in limiting or denying employees’ access to the public health system and reducing or underpaying workers’ pension benefits during their retirement years.


Executive Summary

Honduras is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country held national and local elections in November. Voters elected Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party as president for a four-year term to begin in January 2018. International observers generally recognized the elections to be free, but disputed the fairness and transparency of the results.

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

The most significant human rights issues included alleged arbitrary and unlawful killings; a complaint of torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; unlawful interference with privacy; killings of and threats to media members by criminal elements and criminalization of libel; widespread government corruption, including in the judiciary; threats and violence against indigenous and Afro-descendent communities; and societal violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons..

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses. Impunity existed in many cases, however, as evidenced by lengthy judicial processes, few convictions of perpetrators, and failures to prosecute intellectual authors of crimes. Perpetrators in emblematic cases dating back many years, such as the 2009 killing of the antidrug czar Julian Aristides Gonzalez, continued to enjoy impunity.

Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of murder, extortion, kidnapping, torture, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence directed against human rights defenders, judicial authorities, lawyers, the business community, journalists, bloggers, and women and other members of vulnerable populations.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In general the killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to other criminal activity by government agents. Civilian authorities investigated and arrested members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings. The Violence Observatory of the Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) reported 11 deaths involving security forces during the first six months of the year. These included nine deaths involving the Honduran National Police (HNP) and two involving the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP). Following the November 26 elections, protests, looting, and clashes between protesters and security forces occurred through the end of the year. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claimed security forces used excessive force to break up protests and killed between 16 and 22 individuals. Additional deaths were reported not at the hands of security forces but possibly related to postelectoral violence. An improvised explosive device killed at least one police officer during the violence. Authorities publicly stated they would investigate alleged human rights abuses and hold accountable members of the security forces who committed such abuses. They were also investigating individuals not part of the security forces for acts of violence and other criminal activity.

On February 20, authorities arrested Lelis Wilfredo Aguilar Fernandez, an HNP officer assigned to the Police Intelligence Unit, for the February 20 killing of Josue Matias Deras. Witnesses claimed that Aguilar shot Matias in the back at close range during a search operation and then planted a weapon at the crime scene in an attempt to claim the killing occurred in self-defense. On February 24, a judge ordered Aguilar held in custody pending trial.

The government continued to investigate the March 2016 killing of environmental and indigenous activist Berta Caceres. On January 12, a seventh suspect was arrested in Mexico in a joint operation between Honduran and Mexican officials and returned to Honduras. On February 8, Honduran authorities arrested an eighth suspect. On June 13, a judge found sufficient evidence against the first four suspects, arrested in May 2016, to retain them in custody and continue to criminal trial. This included a suspect who was an active-duty military officer at the time of the killing. On November 20, authorities arrested one current and one former Honduran National Police officer for tampering with evidence in the case.

On February 28, a court convicted military intelligence officers Elmer Eliazar Mejia Aguilar and Jose Luis Melgar Deras, members of the Office of the Director General for Military Intelligence (C-2), of the 2014 premediated killings of siblings Ramon Eduardo Diaz Rodriguez and Zenia Maritza Diaz Rodriguez. A judge ordered two other suspects on trial released.

On February 13, prosecutors and investigators from the Public Ministry and its Technical Criminal Investigation Agency arrested Wilmer Samuel Alvarez Pagoada as a suspect in the 2013 killing of chief money-laundering prosecutor Orlan Arturo Chavez. Authorities also issued an arrest warrant for former police commissioner Mario Guillermo Mejia Vargas on suspicion of organizing the killing. In 2013 two men on motorcycles fatally shot Chavez. Alvarez, a lawyer and computer expert, and Luis Alejandro Castro Nunez, formerly chief of security monitoring for the Supreme Court and a member of the military, were the suspected shooters. Castro was already in prison on other charges. The Police Purge Commission removed Mejia from the police in 2016. He surrendered to foreign authorities in 2016 for drug trafficking and was on trial in a foreign country. A judge ordered Castro and Alvarez detained in a maximum-security prison pending trial.

On September 8, a court sentenced Marvin Noe Andino Mascareno to 17 years’ imprisonment for the attempted murder of Hilda Emperatriz Caldera, widow of murdered antidrug official Alfredo Landaverde. Andino was sentenced in January 2016 to 22 years in prison for Landaverde’s murder. Caldera was wounded in that attack, which occurred in 2011, but attempted murder charges against Andino were dismissed by the trial court. The Public Ministry appealed the dismissal, which the Supreme Court overturned, and the attempted murder case was returned to the lower court.

There continued to be reports of violence related to land conflicts and criminal activity in the Bajo Aguan region, but the overall level of violence in the area was far below its 2012 peak. Beginning on August 27, several agricultural worker groups occupied at least seven African palm plantations in the Bajo Aguan region. During the occupations one worker was reportedly shot and injured by a plantation security guard. Following the eviction on August 28 of a worker group from a plantation owned by the Dinant Corporation, two Dinant security guards were found dead. An agricultural worker was found killed on September 20. Two security guards were detained for possible involvement in the killing but were released following forensic tests. Authorities carried out several peaceful evictions of agricultural workers in August and September. As of September 25, authorities continued to investigate the new killings. Denis Ramon Mejia Castillo was arrested in September for the killings of Manuel Milla Ruiz and Allan Reynery Perez in 2016. No members of the security forces were reported to have been responsible for deaths related to the land conflict.

Organized criminal elements, including drug traffickers and local and transnational gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, committed killings, extortion, kidnappings, human trafficking, and intimidation of police, prosecutors, journalists, women, and human rights defenders. Major urban centers and drug trafficking routes experienced disproportionate rates of violence. The UNAH Violence Observatory reported that as of September, 84 individuals working in the transportation sector had been killed during the year, often for failing to make extortion payments. This represented a 52 percent reduction from 2016.

According to the UNAH Violence Observatory, as of September there was a significant reduction in the overall annual homicide rate compared with 2016, dropping from approximately 60 per 100,000 to an estimated 46.5 per 100,000. Reports linked many of these homicides to organized crime and gangs.

As of November the Public Ministry’s Bajo Aguan Task Force (created in 2014 to investigate cold homicide cases related to land conflicts), had obtained five convictions and four new arrest warrants, made five arrests, and referred six new cases for prosecution. The task force performed 20 exhumations. Since its inception, the task force obtained 44 arrest warrants, made 23 arrests for homicides related to the land conflict, and secured 11 homicide convictions.

b. Disappearance

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

The government continued to make significant advances in combatting kidnappings by criminals. On September 23, authorities rescued journalist and opposition Liberal Party political candidate Victor Manuel Pineda, whose family reported him kidnapped on September 4. The HNP reported 22 kidnappings in 2016, a 45-percent decrease from 2015 and 76-percent decrease from 2013. The HNP reported that in 2016 it rescued 18 victims of the 22 kidnapped. Three more were freed through negotiations, and one was killed while a hostage. The HNP estimated that it prevented more than 56 million lempiras ($2.37 million) in ransom payments to kidnappers in 2016.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, government officials received complaints and investigated alleged abuse by members of the security forces on the streets and in detention centers. As of September the NGO Center for the Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Families (CPTRT) reported one complaint against security forces for torture.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to pervasive gang-related violence and the government’s failure to control criminal activity within the prisons. Prisoners suffered from overcrowding, insufficient access to food and water, violence, and abuse by prison officials.

Physical Conditions: Prisoners suffered from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of adequate sanitation and medical care, and, in some prisons, lack of adequate ventilation and lighting. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that, as of August 21, the total prison population was 18,950 in 27 prisons, a 10-percent increase over August 2016. According to the ministry, the system had designed capacity for approximately 10,600 inmates. This included two prisons that were opened in late 2016 with capacity for 1,600 inmates. In October and November, the government closed the San Pedro Sula prison and the Santa Barbara prison, two of the most overcrowded facilities and both located in city centers, and transferred the inmates to other facilities. Family members and NGOs complained that transfer to prisons farther away increased cost of visits and made it more difficult for prisoners to maintain family relationships. Local authorities were concerned about additional overcrowding and limited rehabilitation resources.

The National Prison Institute (INP) reported that as of August 28, 23 male inmates had died in prison, 16 from natural causes, and seven from violence. The INP reported no deaths involving prison officials. In contrast, the quasi-governmental National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CONAPREV) reported that 19 prisoners died in altercations between inmates, three committed suicide, and four died from illness. In August and September, authorities discovered clandestine graveyards in the Tamara prison in areas controlled by MS-13 gang members following the transfer of gang leaders to a new high-security prison. Forensic authorities reported that some of the bodies had been buried more than four years.

As of August the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that the country’s four pretrial detention centers held 49 individuals. Three of these centers were on military installations, and the other was located at the HNP’s Special Operations Command (known as COBRAS). The government used pretrial detention centers to hold high-profile suspects and those in need of additional security. The military provided some support services to the three detention centers located on military bases, but neither administered them nor provided guards for the facilities. Instead, the INP oversaw them, as it did other prisons.

Due to overcrowding and lack of adequate training for prison staff, prisoners were subjected to serious abuse. Prisons lacked trained personnel to safeguard the psychological and physical well-being of inmates, and some prisons lacked sufficient security personnel.

There was pervasive gang-related violence, and the government failed to control criminal activity within the prisons. Many prisoners had access to weapons and other contraband, inmates attacked other inmates with impunity, escapes were frequent, and inmates and their associates outside prison threatened prison officials and their families. These conditions contributed to an unstable, dangerous environment in the penitentiary system. Media reported multiple prison riots and violent confrontations between gang members in prisons throughout the year.

The government took steps to control violence by transferring the highest-security detainees–primarily gang members and violent convicts–to two newer maximum-security prisons. High-security detainees complained that authorities confined them to their cells for long periods and restricted their access to family members and legal representation.

The government held approximately one-half of its estimated 355 female prisoners at a facility for mothers with young children and pregnant women. Others were housed in separate areas of men’s prisons. In the San Pedro Sula prison, for instance, approximately 70 women resided in their own wing of the prison but shared communal space with upwards of 2,900 men. Children up to age three could stay with their mothers in prison.

Authorities did not segregate those with tuberculosis or other infectious diseases from the general prison population; there was only limited support for persons with mental illnesses or disabilities. On September 21, officials reported that 201 prisoners were being treated for tuberculosis, including three inmates with drug-resistant tuberculosis under treatment at the national cardio-pulmonology institute. The officials also stated that tuberculosis-positive inmates received a monthly stipend to pay for special food. CONAPREV reported that every prison had a functioning health clinic with at least one medical professional, except for the National Penitentiary in Francisco Morazan Department. Basic medical supplies and medicines, particularly antibiotics, were in short supply throughout the prison system. In most prisons only inmates who purchased bottled water or had water filters in their cells had access to potable water.

As of August the NGO Casa Alianza reported there were 574 minors (506 boys and 68 girls) in five juvenile detention centers, segregated by gender. This represented a 16-percent increase from 2016. NGOs expressed their concern that 45 minors, all of whom were gang members, were housed in the HNP COBRAS pretrial detention center. Casa Alianza reported 259 youths benefited from alternative sentencing outside the juvenile detention system (see section 6, Institutionalized Children). On June 1, one youth died due to injuries from a fire following a riot on May 23. On July 3, a 23-year-old prisoner was killed by fellow inmates after passing himself off as a minor. Civil society reported difficulty accessing some youth detention centers due to confrontations between inmates and authorities.

Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and could submit requests for the investigation of inhuman conditions to the director of the prison in which they were incarcerated. Directors could then transfer the complaints to the INP director. Prisoners also could file complaints with the INP’s Human Rights Protection Unit, the Public Ministry’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, and the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization. The National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH) also accepted complaints and conducted investigations. The results of investigations by NGOs and government officials were available to the public. As of August the INP reported receiving no formal complaints for mistreatment of detainees. The Public Ministry reported receiving 22 complaints of excessive force, two for mistreatment, and four for torture by prison officials. The ministry conducted 36 investigations in 2016 and 16 as of September. CONAPREV reported there were three complaints of torture and mistreatment in detention centers as of September. NGOs reported that some prisoners were reluctant to file official complaints because they did not trust the authorities and there was no effective system for witness protection (see also section 1.c.).

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent local and international human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. CONAPREV made more than a dozen visits to juvenile detention facilities as of the end of August. The judicial system was legally responsible for monitoring prison conditions and guaranteeing the rights of prisoners.

Improvements: In January the congress passed legal reforms to the INP in an effort to professionalize the prison guard system. On September 27, the congress passed a law to allow some nonviolent pretrial detainees to use electronic monitoring systems to reduce the overcrowding of prisons. The government reported refurbishing six existing penal facilities, including maintenance and improvements to kitchens, libraries, workshops, and administrative facilities.

During the year the government improved health services for prisoners. As of August the government had 18 general practitioners, seven specialists, 49 nurses, and a budget of 54 million lempiras ($2.29 million) to provide health services in prisons. In addition CONAPREV reported an increase in technical personnel, including public defenders, psychologists, and social workers, available to assist prisoners.

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/her arrest or detention in court. Human rights NGOs reported that authorities at times failed to enforce these requirements effectively and used a policy of arbitrary detentions or arrests to inhibit protest. CONADEH reported 12 cases of arbitrary arrest as of September. The Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras reported 23 illegal or arbitrary arrests: five by the PMOP, 13 by the HNP, and five by municipal police.


The HNP maintains internal security and reports to the Secretariat of Security. The Technical Agency for Criminal Investigations at the Public Ministry (Attorney General’s Office) has legal authority to investigate 21 types of crimes and make arrests. The armed forces, which report to the Secretariat of Defense, are responsible for external security but also exercise some domestic security responsibilities. Some larger cities have independent police forces that supplement the HNP and report to municipal authorities. The PMOP reports to military authorities but conducts operations sanctioned by civilian security officials as well as by military leaders. As of August the PMOP had approximately 4,000 personnel organized into eight of 10 planned battalions and was present in all 18 departments. The National Interinstitutional Security Force (FUSINA) coordinates the overlapping responsibilities of the HNP, PMOP, National Intelligence Directorate, Public Ministry, and national court system. FUSINA reports to the National Security and Defense Council. The president chairs the council, which includes representatives of the Supreme Court, National Congress, Public Ministry, and Secretariats of Security and Defense.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. The government took steps to investigate and punish abuses, but corruption and inefficiency resulted in impunity in many cases. The armed forces surrendered members accused of human rights violations to civilian authorities. The armed forces sometimes dishonorably discharged such individuals, even before a criminal trial. The Public Ministry, primarily through the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life, is responsible for investigating cases in which a government agent is allegedly responsible for killing a civilian. Prosecutors try such cases in civilian courts. Prosecutors and judges attached to FUSINA prosecute and hear cases related to FUSINA operations. A unit within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life manages some cases of homicides committed by members of the security forces and government officials. The human rights office of the joint staff of the armed forces investigated allegations of human rights abuses by members of the armed forces.

The human rights office of the joint staff of the armed forces reported that in 2016 more than 7,000 members of the armed forces, including army, navy, air force, PMOP, and others, received training on human rights and use of force. More than 3,000 received gender training. The armed forces and various NGOs provided the training. As of August the Vice Ministry of Human Rights and Justice had trained more than 3,500 members of the armed forces on human rights.

Corruption and impunity remained serious problems within the security forces. Some members of the HNP committed crimes, including crimes linked to local and international criminal organizations. As of August the CPTRT reported 55 cases of corruption linked to members of the security forces, including 33 prison officials.

As of November 30, the Police Purge Commission reported that, since its creation in April 2016, it had reviewed the conduct of approximately 14,000 HNP officers and removed 4,445.


The law provides that police may make arrests only with a warrant, unless they make the arrest during the commission of a crime, there is strong suspicion that a person has committed a crime and might otherwise evade criminal prosecution, they catch a person in possession of evidence related to a crime, or a prosecutor has ordered the arrest. The law requires police to inform persons of the grounds for their arrest and bring detainees before a competent judicial authority within 24 hours. It stipulates that a prosecutor then has 24 additional hours to decide if there is probable cause for indictment, whereupon a judge has 24 more hours to decide whether to issue a temporary detention order. Such an order may be effective for up to six days, after which the judge must hold a pretrial hearing to examine whether there is probable cause to continue pretrial detention. The law allows persons charged with some felonies to avail themselves of bail and gives prisoners a right of prompt access to family members. The law allows the release of other suspects pending formal charges, on the condition that they periodically report to authorities. The government generally respected these provisions. Persons suspected of any of 22 specific felonies must remain in custody, pending the conclusion of judicial proceedings against them. Some judges, however, ruled that such suspects may be released on the condition that they continue to report periodically to authorities. The law grants prisoners the right to prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to government-provided counsel, although authorities did not always abide by these requirements.

Arbitrary Arrest: The Public Ministry reported 35 cases of illegal detention or arbitrary arrest as of October.

Pretrial Detention: Judicial inefficiency, corruption, and insufficient resources delayed proceedings in the criminal justice system, and lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem. According to the UNAH’s Violence Observatory, as of July, 55 percent of the prison population had not been convicted. For crimes with minimum sentences if convicted of six years’ imprisonment, the law authorizes pretrial detention of up to two years. The prosecution may request an additional six-month extension, but many detainees remained in pretrial detention much longer, including for more time than the maximum period of incarceration for their alleged crime. Pretrial detainees were often held with convicted prisoners. The law does not authorize pretrial detention for crimes with a maximum sentence of five years or less. The law mandates that authorities release detainees whose cases have not yet come to trial and whose time in pretrial detention already exceeds the maximum prison sentence for their alleged crime. Even so, many prisoners remained in custody after completing their full sentences, and sometimes even after an acquittal, because officials failed to process their releases expeditiously.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the justice system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and subject to intimidation, corruption, politicization, and patronage. Low salaries and a lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery. Powerful special interests, including organized criminal groups, exercised influence on the outcomes of some court proceedings. The Supreme Court approved a National Plan to Eradicate Judicial Delay, aimed at reducing wait times for court cases. As part of that plan, the court established three new mobile justices of the peace in July and inaugurated new courts: one in July, two in August, and two in October.

On June 30, Teodoro Bonilla, former vice president of the Judicial Council, was found guilty of influence peddling for using his position in the judiciary to obtain dismissal of charges against two relatives facing criminal prosecution for engaging in organized criminal activities. On September 11, Bonilla was sentenced to serve six years in prison and to pay a fine of 200,000 lempiras ($8,470), the first ever conviction for influence peddling by a government official. The Public Ministry had requested the maximum sentence of nine years’ imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 lempiras ($12,700).


The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not always enforce this right.

The law presumes an accused person is innocent. The accused has the right to an initial hearing before a judge, to ask for bail, consult with legal counsel in a timely manner, have a lawyer provided by the state if necessary, and request an appeal. Defendants can receive free assistance of an interpreter, and the Supreme Court created a new public registry of interpreters in November to ensure that defendants had access to free interpretation. The law permits defendants to confront witnesses against them and offer witnesses and evidence in their defense. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Credible observers noted problems in trial procedures such as a lack of admissible evidence, judicial corruption, widespread public distrust of the legal system, witness intimidation, and an ineffective witness protection program.


There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.


The law establishes an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to seek damages for human rights violations. Litigants may sue a criminal defendant for damages if authorized by a criminal court. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Inter-American Human Rights system.

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

Although the constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, a legal exception allows government authorities to enter a private residence to prevent a crime or in case of other emergency. There were credible complaints that police occasionally failed to obtain the required authorization before entering private homes. As of June the judicial system reported three convictions in 10 alleged cases of illegal entry by government officials. The CPTRT reported five cases of illegal entry into homes by members of the security forces as of August. There were also complaints that security forces entered private homes without the required authorization during a 10-day state of emergency and curfew imposed in December.

Ethnic minority rights leaders and farmworker organizations continued to claim that the government failed to redress actions taken by the security forces, government agencies, and private individuals and businesses to dislodge farmers and indigenous peoples from lands over which they claimed ownership based on land reform laws or ancestral land titles (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and laws provide for freedom expression, including for the press, with some restrictions, and the government generally respected this right. A small number of powerful business magnates with intersecting commercial, political, and family ties owned most of the major news media.

Freedom of Expression: The penal code includes a provision to punish persons who directly, or through public media, incite discrimination, hate, contempt, repression, or violence against a person, group, or organization for reasons of gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity.

Media associations and NGOs expressed concerns about revisions to the penal code in January that criminalize certain speech, including on social media, regarding terrorism.

Violence and Harassment: There were continued reports of harassment and threats against journalists and social communicators (including social and political commentators, talk-show hosts, and bloggers). Reports linked most of these instances of harassment and threats to organized criminal elements and gangs.

Government officials at all levels publicly denounced violence and threats of violence against members of the media and social communicators. UNAH’s Violence Observatory reported two killings of journalists and social communicators during the first six months of the year. For example, on January 17, journalist Igor Abisai Padilla Chavez was shot and killed. There were also many reports of intimidation and threats against members of the media and their families, including from members of the security forces and from organized crime. It was usually unclear whether violence and threats against journalists were linked to their work or were products of generalized violence.

Human rights defenders, including indigenous and environmental rights activists, political activists, labor activists, and representatives of civil society working to combat corruption, reported threats and acts of violence. Civil society organizations, including students, agricultural workers groups, and indigenous rights groups, criticized the government and its officials for allegedly criminalizing and stigmatizing social protest (see section 2.b.). Several senior state officials made public comments that local and international civil society organizations interpreted as threatening towards their members. This included the minister of environment, who in January suggested police should arrest members of international NGOs reporting on corrupt activities, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court at the midterm review of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, who stated domestic and international civil society acted in their own interests and presented false information that indirectly incited violence. Members of the Police Purge Commission, National Anti-Corruption Council, and Organization of American States’ Mission against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) reported receiving threats. Among others, Olivia and Berta Zuniga, the daughters of killed activist Berta Caceres, reported being targets of multiple threatening incidents. The AFL-CIO’s International Solidarity Center reported threats against several labor leaders, including public sector union leaders (also see section 7.a.). On April 13, melon-sector union leader Moises Sanchez Gomez reported being attacked by several individuals who warned him to cease his union activities. His brother Hermes Misael Sanchez Gomez was injured by a machete in the attack.

The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization continued to strengthen implementation of the 2015 Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Justice Operators. A key part of this law was the creation of a national mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders and others protected by law. Some NGOs continued to express concern about weak implementation of the law and limited resources available for the protection of human rights defenders. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the government’s failure to investigate threats against activists and journalists adequately.

The government allocated a budget of 10 million lempiras ($424,000) in 2016, and 15.2 million lempiras ($644,000) in 2017–10 million lempiras ($424,000) from the National Budget for the operation of the mechanism, and an additional 5 million lempiras ($212,000) for protective measures from the Security Tax for the protection mechanism. By June 30, it had 27 permanent and contract staff. As of June 30, the mechanism had received 81 new requests for protection, of which 62 met the requirements of the law and were accepted. This increased the total requests for protection since the law’s approval in 2015 to 168. Of these, it had accepted 118, and from these, 14 cases were closed because the beneficiaries had left the country or had rejected the protection measures. The remaining 104 cases included 73 human rights defenders, 19 journalists, three social communicators, and nine justice-sector workers. Of these requests, 17 were from persons who were already beneficiaries of protection measures mandated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that the Human Rights Office of the Ministry of Security continued to implement. As of June 30, the Ministry of Security had transferred eight cases to the protection mechanism of 66 outstanding IACHR orders for protection in the country.

The HNP’s Violent Crimes Task Force (VCTF) investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including judges, journalists, human rights activists, and members of the LGBTI community. As of October 2, the VCTF had remitted 25 cases to the Public Ministry, carried out 34 raids with judicial orders, executed 12 warrants for capture, detained 26 persons involved in crimes, and obtained six judicial sentences.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of media and NGOs said the press self-censored due to fear of retaliation from organized crime or corrupt government officials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Citizens, including public officials, can initiate criminal proceedings for libel and slander. On September 7, indigenous Garifuna community activist Miriam Miranda issued an alert that police were attempting to arrest her following charges of slander brought by international businessmen over land disputes between the businessmen and Garifuna communities.

A health ministry official charged a union activist with slander after the activist filed charges with the Public Ministry that the official had paid to have him killed following his public statements about corrupt activities in a regional hospital. The Public Ministry conducted an investigation and brought charges against the official, but a judge found insufficient evidence to continue to trial. The official subsequently brought charges of slander against the union leader. A judge dismissed a request by the union leader to dismiss the charges and ordered the case to proceed to trial.

National Security: Reporters without Borders and other civil society organizations continued to express concerns about potential abuse of the law for the Classification of Public Documents Related to Defense and National Security. Beginning in the third quarter of 2015, the government made available to the public some information about activities that the security tax and other trust funds support, and it incorporated trust fund numbers into the current budget. In June MACCIH issued a report detailing the necessity of changing the law to effectively combat corruption.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some journalists and other members of civil society reported threats from members of organized crime. It was unclear how many of these threats were related to the victims’ professions or activism. Several anonymous social media sites, possibly linked to political parties, criticized activists, civil society organizations, and journalists who were critical of the government or opposition party policies.


The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2016 approximately 30 percent of the population used the internet.


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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law requires a judge to issue an eviction order for individuals occupying public and private property if security forces had not evicted the individuals within a specified period of the occupation. Some local and international civil society organizations, including students, agricultural workers groups, political parties, and indigenous rights groups, alleged that members of the security forces used excessive force to break up peaceful demonstrations. As results were delayed in the close presidential election, protests related to perceived fraud and manipulation of results broke out in late November and early December. Human rights organizations alleged that members of the security forces used excessive force in postelection violence and killed between 16 and 22 individuals. Some protesters were violent, attacking security forces and members of the media with weapons such as rocks and Molotov cocktails, killing at least one member of the security forces in December, damaging public and private property, and limiting access to public and private facilities. On several occasions police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse violent protesters. Authorities temporarily detained protesters wielding rocks, machetes, and other dangerous items and would sometimes press charges.

On August 15, during a protest over a hydroelectric project in the community of Pajuiles, police used tear gas to disperse the protesters and arrested five individuals for instigating violence. Protesters claimed they became violent only after police arrested the peaceful protest leaders and allegedly assaulted a pregnant woman in the process.

Many civil society leaders and organizations condemned a decision by UNAH leaders authorizing police to evict protesters on September 8 from the Tegucigalpa UNAH campus. During the eviction civil society organizations criticized police for excessive use of force against a group of students and human rights activists. The students claimed university security personnel locked them in a campus building when police ordered everyone to leave the campus. Police attempted to detain the students after they escaped from the locked building, at which point they locked themselves in a vehicle with human rights defenders who claimed they had arrived to monitor the situation. A video surfaced showing police pepper-spraying the group as they left the vehicle. Several of the individuals required medical attention, and police reportedly failed to provide it. The police claimed they used appropriate force and only acted following aggressive actions by some of the students. The Police Purge Commission called for the police officers involved to be suspended and the launch of a formal investigation. On September 26, a judge upheld charges of trespassing against the students and charges of attacking state security for three human rights activists.

Law enforcement evictions of protesters, land rights activists, and others were generally conducted peacefully, although injuries were occasionally reported. As with the UNAH students, the government charged some individuals with trespassing after they occupied disputed land or public buildings and required them to present themselves to judicial authorities periodically while legal proceedings against them were pending. Civil society organizations claimed that by doing so, the government was criminalizing social protest and favoring powerful business and political elites that had acquired resources through corruption and other criminal activity.


The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The penal code prohibits illicit association, defined as gatherings by persons bearing arms, explosive devices, or dangerous objects with the purpose of committing a crime, and prescribes prison terms of two to four years and a fine of 30,000 to 60,000 lempiras ($1,270 to $2,540) for anyone who convokes or directs an illicit meeting or demonstration. There were no reports of such cases during the year, although authorities charged some protesters with sedition. Public sector unions expressed concern over some officials refusing to honor existing bargaining agreements and firing union leaders. The law prohibits police from unionizing (see section 7.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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 to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Transiting migrants were vulnerable to abuse by criminal organizations.

In-country Movement: In practical terms there were areas where authorities could not assure freedom of movement because of criminal activity and a lack of significant government presence.


In 2016 UNHCR estimated there were approximately 174,000 IDPs in the country. In 2016 CONADEH identified 87 new cases of forced displacement and 370 cases of individuals at risk of forced displacement. The CPTRT reported 166 new cases of forced displacement as of September. Internal displacement was generally caused by violence, national and transnational gang activity, human trafficking, and migrant smuggling. Official data on forced internal displacement was limited in part because gangs controlled many of the neighborhoods that were sources of internal displacement (see section 6, Displaced Children).

The government maintained an interinstitutional commission to address the problem of persons displaced by violence, which focused on policy development to address IDPs. In 2016 the commission presented a draft law to the cabinet for the prevention of internal displacement and protection of internally displaced persons that would clarify the role and presence of the commission and the types of government assistance provided to IDPs. In 2016 CONADEH also created a Forced Internal Displacement Unit (UDFI), in cooperation with UNHCR. The UDFI responded to claims of forced displacement with a focus on humanitarian assistance to victims and documentation of incidents and trends. Observers criticized the government for focusing on IDPs from a security standpoint, and not protection, and noted the commission and government response were hampered by limited budgetary resources, which prevented the law’s passage or the development or implementation of a holistic government response to internal displacement. On September 12, the government authorized the creation of an independent Secretariat for Human Rights effective January 1, 2018. The secretariat is to have a directorate to address IDP rights. The government hosted the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework conference in October and volunteered to be part of a UNHCR pilot program to respond to displacement.


The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law allows for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system to provide protection to refugees, but at times there were significant delays in processing provisional permits for asylum applicants. As of April authorities had received 14 applications for asylum, of which they approved three and continued to process the remainder.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the right to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal and equal suffrage. The law does not permit active members of the military or the civilian security forces to vote. The constitution prohibits practicing clergy from running for office or participating in political campaigns.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In December, Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party was declared the winner in the November 26 elections. International observers generally agreed the elections were free but disputed the fairness and transparency of the results. The Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union (EU) both fielded observer teams for the November 26 elections, and agreed that the margin of victory separating incumbent President Hernandez from challenger Salvador Nasralla was extremely close. The OAS mission found that this small margin, combined with numerous irregularities in vote processing, left it unable to say with certainty who won the presidential election. The EU electoral observation mission agreed that there were serious irregularities in the process, but concluded that the safeguards built into the system, including posting of voting results forms on a public website, helped ensure transparency. NGOs reported irregularities, including problems with voter rolls, the buying and selling of electoral workers’ credentials, and lack of transparency in campaign financing.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Civil society and opposition parties accused officials of using government resources to attract voters. A new law passed in January aims to help address this issue (see section 4, Financial Disclosure).

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women, however, suffered political violence, which ranged from harassment for voting against party lines to receiving death threats for their political participation.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but authorities did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The government took steps to address corruption at high levels in government agencies, including arresting and charging members of congress, judges, prosecutors, current and former senior officials, mayors and other local authorities, and police officers. The quasi-governmental National Anticorruption Council had an investigative unit of 15 persons. The council receives government funding, which obliges it to disclose the names of its investigators, making them vulnerable to reprisals. Council staff reported credible personal threats and attempts at intimidation. NGOs said that some individuals who reported public corruption also received threats.

The MACCIH began operations in the country in April 2016 with a mandate to prevent and combat corruption, reform the criminal justice system, reform aspects of the political and elections legal framework, and improve public security.

Corruption: Prosecutions of public-sector corruption predominantly targeted low-level officials and focused on charges of abuse of authority and misconduct in public office, which were easier to prove but carried lower penalties than illicit enrichment, fraud, and money laundering. There were reports that the government’s anticorruption institutions did not take sufficient steps to contain high-level corruption and were unwilling or lacked the professional capacity and resources to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those involved. On September 11, new anticorruption courts staffed with 11 judges and magistrates began operating in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. In May 2016 the Supreme Court ordered the creation of these special courts in order to investigate crimes including corruption, bribery, misuse of public office, misappropriation of public funds, and falsification of documents. Funded by the security tax, the courts were initially provided an approximately 6.5 million lempira ($275,000) budget, and in January judges were selected by a commission that included representatives from the NGO Association for a Better Society and the MACCIH.

On June 19, a tribunal of judges returned guilty verdicts against five former public officials for using shell companies to divert more than 290 million lempiras ($12.3 million) from the Social Security Institute. The tribunal also found defendant Mario Zelaya Rojas, the former director of the institute, guilty on charges of abuse of authority and fraud, and defendants Jose Ramon Bertetty and Vivian Melissa Juarez Fiallos guilty of violation of duties of public officials and fraud. This was the fourth conviction obtained by the Public Ministry against Zelaya and brought total convictions obtained in the case to 15. One of the convictions against Zelaya resulted in a sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment, the longest on corruption charges for a former public official in the history of the country.

On July 13, the MACCIH announced the start of an investigation into the private energy company Desarrollos Energeticos, SA (DESA), partially owned by the Atala family. Civil society long maintained that DESA, parent company of the controversial Agua Zarca hydroelectric plant, had ties to the killing of environmental activist Berta Caceres and that government corruption contributed to the climate of impunity surrounding her death. One DESA employee and one former DESA employee were among eight suspects being prosecuted for her killing.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws but did not always comply. The law mandates that the Supreme Auditing Tribunal monitor and verify disclosures. The tribunal published its reports on its website and published the names of public officials who did not comply with disclosure laws. In January the congress passed a Campaign Finance Law that created a Financing, Transparency, and Accountability Unit to improve political campaign fiscal transparency. On May 30, the congress elected and swore in three magistrates to oversee the unit, which falls under the purview of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. The new law and unit require political candidates and parties to open bank accounts and report all expenditures in an effort to increase transparency for elected government officials.

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 somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Human rights organizations criticized government officials for lack of access and responsiveness. Some human rights organizations claimed that government officials made statements about activists and organizations that constituted threats or harassment (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Some civil society organizations criticized the government for failing to comply with, or inadequately complying with, rulings by the Inter-American Human Rights Court and protection measures ordered by the court and the IACHR.

Government Human Rights Bodies: A semiautonomous commissioner for human rights served as an ombudsman and investigated complaints of human rights abuses. A vice ministry of human rights and justice resided in the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization. On September 12, the government officially authorized the creation of an independent Secretariat for Human Rights effective January 1, 2018. The Public Ministry’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights handled cases involving charges of human rights abuses by government officials. The congress had a Human Rights Committee. The Ministries of Security and Defense both had human rights offices.

The government continued to implement 37 recommendations from a Truth and Reconciliation Commission created after the 2009 political crisis.

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


Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The government considers rape a crime of public concern, and the state prosecutes rapists even if victims do not press charges. The penalties for rape range from three to nine years’ imprisonment, and the courts enforced these penalties.

The law provides penalties of up to four years in prison for domestic violence; however, if a victim’s physical injuries do not reach the severity required to categorize the violence as a criminal act, the only legal penalty for a first offense is a sentence of one to three months of community service. Female victims of domestic violence are entitled to certain protective measures. Abusers caught in the act may be detained for up to 24 hours as a preventive measure. The law provides a maximum sentence of three years in prison for disobeying a restraining order connected with the crime of intrafamilial violence.

In cooperation with the UN Development Program, the government operated consolidated reporting centers in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula where women could report crimes, seek medical and psychological attention, and receive other services. These reporting centers were in addition to the 298 government-operated women’s offices–one in each municipality–that provided a wide array of services to women, focusing on education, personal finance, health, social and political participation, environmental stewardship, and prevention of gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: Both the penal and labor codes criminalize various forms of sexual harassment. Violators face penalties of one to three years in prison and possible suspension of their professional licenses, but the government did not effectively enforce the law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .

Discrimination: Although the law accords women and men the same legal rights and status, including property rights in divorce cases, many women did not fully enjoy such rights. Most women in the workforce engaged in lower-status and lower-paying informal occupations, such as domestic service, without the benefit of legal protections. By law women have equal access to educational opportunities.


Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the country, from the citizenship of their parents, or by naturalization. Although birth registration was widely available in 2015, UNICEF reported that, according to the National Population and Housing Census of 2013, an estimated 65,000 children did not have birth registration documents. The largest numbers of unregistered children were in indigenous and Afro-Honduran communities.

Education: Education is tuition-free, compulsory, and universal through the 12th grade, although high school students had to pay fees.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. The law establishes prison sentences of up to three years for child abuse.

The Violence Observatory reported the homicides of 326 children as of August. As of July Casa Alianza reported there were no arrests in 80 percent of homicide cases of individuals age 23 and under. While there were some improvements in the overall security situation, there were reports that police committed acts of violence against poor youths.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Early and Forced Marriage: On July 12, the congress amended the law to raise the minimum legal age of marriage for both boys and girls to 18 with parental consent. It was previously 16 for girls with parental consent. According to government statistics, 10 percent of women married before age 15 and 37 percent before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The commercial sexual exploitation of children, especially in sex trafficking, continued to be a problem. The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The legal age of consent is 18. There is no statutory rape law, but the penalty for rape of a minor under age 12 is 15 to 20 years in prison, or nine to 13 years in prison if the victim is age 13 or older. Penalties for facilitating child sex trafficking are 10 to 15 years in prison, with fines ranging from one million to 2.5 million lempiras ($42,400 to $106,000). The law prohibits the use of children under 18 for exhibitions or performances of a sexual nature or in the production of pornography.

Displaced Children: Many children lived on the streets. Casa Alianza estimated 15,000 children were homeless and living on the streets, primarily in major cities. Casa Alianza assisted 596 street children as of August.

One civil society organization reported that common causes of forced displacement for youth included death threats for failure to pay extortion, attempted recruitment by gangs, witnessing criminal activity by gangs or organized crime, domestic violence, attempted kidnappings, family members’ involvement in drug dealing, victimization by traffickers, discrimination based on sexual orientation, sexual harassment, and discrimination for having a chronic illness.

Institutionalized Children: Between January 2015 and September 2016, at least 10 juveniles were killed while in detention in government facilities, nine of them in the Renaciendo juvenile detention center. CONAPREV reported four incidents at Renaciendo as of August, including violence between members of the 18th Street gang and another gang, Los Chirizos, resulting in the deaths of two minors affiliated with Los Chirizos and injuries to 11 other detainees.

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


The Jewish community, located primarily in San Pedro Sula, numbered several hundred. Leaders of the Jewish community reported frequent expressions of anti-Semitism in political discourse and events, ranging from swastikas spray painted on public buildings to hate speech in political speeches and on social media.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The Public Ministry is responsible for prosecuting violations. The law requires that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, but few buildings were accessible, and the national government did not effectively implement laws or programs to provide such access.

The government had a disabilities unit in the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion.

Indigenous People

In the 2013 census, approximately 8.5 percent of the population identified themselves as members of indigenous communities, but other estimates were higher. Indigenous groups included the Miskito, Tawahkas, Pech, Tolupans, Lencas, Maya-Chortis, Nahual, Bay Islanders, and Garifunas. They had limited representation in the national government and consequently little direct input into decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources.

Indigenous communities continued to report threats and acts of violence against them and against community and environmental activists. Violence was often rooted in a broader context of conflict over land and natural resources, extensive corruption, lack of transparency and community consultation, other criminal activity, and limited state ability to protect the rights of vulnerable communities.

Communal ownership was the norm for most indigenous land, providing land-use rights for individual members of the community. Documents dating to the mid-19th century defined indigenous land titles poorly. Communities complained of lost, stolen, illegally sold, and otherwise contested historical titles. The government continued its efforts to recognize indigenous titles. Lack of clear land titles provoked land use conflicts with nonindigenous agricultural laborers, businesses, and government entities interested in developing lands that indigenous and other ethnic minority communities traditionally occupied or used.

Persons from indigenous and Afro-descendent communities continued to experience discrimination in employment, education, housing, and health services.

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

The law states that sexual orientation and gender identity characteristics merit special protection from discrimination and includes these characteristics in a hate crimes amendment to the penal code. Nevertheless, social discrimination against LGBTI persons was widespread. As of October the special prosecutor for human rights was investigating nine formal complaints of discrimination by LGBTI individuals in previous years. Representatives of NGOs that focused on the right to sexual diversity alleged that the PMOP and other elements of the security forces harassed and abused LGBTI persons. As of August APUVIMEH, an NGO that works with LGBTI persons, reported eight violent deaths of LGBTI persons in the central areas of the country. The UNAH Violence Observatory reported five homicides as of August. NGOs also documented multiple instances of assaults and discrimination against LGBTI persons, leading to forced displacement of some individuals.

LGBTI rights groups asserted that government agencies and private employers engaged in discriminatory hiring practices. LGBTI groups continued working with the VCTF, Ministry of Security, and Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights to address concerns about intimidation, fear of reprisals, and police corruption. From September 2016 through July 2017, the VCTF made arrests in four cases.

Transgender women were particularly vulnerable to employment and education discrimination; many could find employment only as sex workers, substantially increasing their risk of violence. Transgender individuals noted their inability to get identity documents with their chosen gender.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Access to employment, educational opportunities, and health services continued to be major challenges for persons with HIV/AIDS. The law provides persons with HIV the right to have access to, and remain in, employment and the education system. The law also defines administrative, civil, and criminal liability and penalties for any violation of the law, which includes denial or delay in care for persons with HIV.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law grants workers the right to form and join unions of their choice, bargain collectively, and strike. It prohibits employer retribution against employees for engaging in trade union activities. The law places a number of restrictions on these rights, such as requiring that a recognized trade union represent at least 30 workers, prohibiting foreign nationals from holding union offices, and requiring that union officials work in the same substantive area of the business as the workers they represent. In 2016 the STSS administratively ruled that seasonal workers could not hold leadership positions in a union. Labor unions criticized this decision, saying it violated labor rights and international standards. The law prohibits members of the armed forces and police, as well as certain other public employees, from forming labor unions.

The law requires an employer to begin collective bargaining once workers establish a union, and it specifies that if more than one union exists at a company the employer must negotiate with the largest.

The law allows only local unions to call strikes, prohibits labor federations and confederations from calling strikes, and requires that a two-thirds majority of both union and nonunion employees at an enterprise approve a strike. The law prohibits workers from legally striking until after they have attempted and failed to come to agreement with their employer, and it requires workers and employers to participate in a mediation and conciliation process. Additionally, the law prohibits strikes in a wide range of economic activities that the government has designated as essential services or that it considers would affect the rights of individuals in the larger community to security, health, education, and economic and social well-being.

The law prohibits certain public service employees from striking. The law permits workers in public health care, social security, staple food production, and public utilities (municipal sanitation, water, electricity, and telecommunications) to strike as long as they continue to provide basic services. The law also requires that public-sector workers involved in the refining, transportation, and distribution of petroleum products submit their grievances to the STSS before striking. The International Labor Organization (ILO) expressed concerns that restricting strikes in so many sectors was excessive. The law permits strikes by workers in export processing zones and free zones for companies that provide services to industrial parks, but it requires that strikes not impede the operations of other factories in such parks.

The STSS has the power to declare a work stoppage illegal, and employers may discipline employees consistent with their internal regulations, including firing strikers, if the STSS rules that a work stoppage is illegal. The ILO expressed concerns about the government’s authority to end disputes in several sectors, including oil production and transport, because such authority is vulnerable to abuse.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. A new law passed during the year substantially increases fines for labor law violations and updates the authorities of Ministry of Labor inspectors. Under the new law, the STSS can fine companies that violate the right to freedom of association. The law permits a fine of 300,000 lempiras ($12,700) per violation. If a company unlawfully dismisses founding union members or union leaders, the law stipulates that employers must also pay a fine equivalent to six months of the dismissed leaders’ salaries to the union itself. As of October 13, every fine imposed under the new law was under appeal, and no case had been resolved. The new law streamlines the process so that when the STSS imposes fines, inspectors no longer have to clear them through the Central Office of the Inspector General, a requirement that added a year or more to the time between an inspection and a fine. Both the STSS and the courts may order a company to reinstate workers, but the STSS lacked the means to ensure compliance. The reinstatement process in the courts was unduly long, lasting from six months to more than five years.

Workers had difficulty exercising the rights to form and join unions and to engage in collective bargaining, and the government failed to enforce applicable laws effectively. Public-sector trade unionists raised concerns about government interference in trade union activities, including its suspension or ignoring of collective agreements and its dismissals of union members and leaders.

Although there is no legal requirement that they do so, STSS inspectors generally accompanied workers when they notified their employer of their intent to form a union. In some cases STSS inspectors, rather than workers, directly notified employers of workers’ intent to organize. Workers reported that the presence and participation of the STSS reduced the risk that employers would dismiss the union’s founders and later claim they were unaware of efforts to unionize.

Civil servants frequently engaged in illegal work stoppages without experiencing reprisals. Medical professionals and others continued to hold strikes throughout the year to protest arrears in salary and overtime.

Some employers either refused to engage in collective bargaining or made it very difficult to do so. Some companies also delayed appointing or failed to appoint representatives for required STSS-led mediation, a practice that prolonged the mediation process and impeded the right to strike. There were allegations that companies used collective pacts, which are collective contracts with nonunionized workers, to prevent unionization and collective bargaining because only one collective contract can exist in each workplace. Unions also raised concerns about the use of temporary contracts and part-time employment, suggesting that employers used these mechanisms to prevent unionization and avoid providing full benefits. A Supreme Court ruling requires that both unions and employers notify the STSS of new collective agreements before they go into effect. There were some complaints that employers delayed making such notifications.

Antiunion discrimination continued to be a serious problem. The three major union federations and several civil society groups noted that many companies paid the fines that government authorities imposed but continued to violate the law. Some failed to remedy violations despite multiple visits by STSS inspectors. Employers often threatened to close unionized factories and harassed or dismissed workers seeking to unionize. Local unions, the AFL-CIO’s International Solidarity Center, and other organizations reported that some employers dismissed union leaders in attempts to undermine union operations. Civil society organizations regularly raised concerns about practices by agricultural companies, particularly in the south. As of August the Solidarity Center reported that it was aware of 25 cases of individuals fired for union activism. In 2015 the STSS levied 650,000 lempiras ($27,500) in fines on 134 companies for labor rights violations. As part of a bilateral Monitoring and Action Plan signed by the minister of labor in 2015, in March the government increased fines for violations of labor laws through the new labor inspection law.

Employers often failed to comply with STSS orders requiring them to reinstate workers fired for engaging in union activities. The International Solidarity Center reported threats against several labor leaders, including public-sector labor union leaders. Civil society groups reported three labor activists or union leaders had been violently attacked as of August. As of September NGOs documented eight cases of threats or violence against union leaders during the year, including leaders in the agricultural and public sectors.

There was credible evidence that some employers in the manufacturing industry continued to blacklist employees who sought to form unions. Labor activists highlighted one export factory, Petralex, that allegedly closed operations in response to unionization and reopened under a new name, blacklisting former union members. Some companies in other sectors, including the banana industry, established employer-controlled unions that prevented the formation of independent unions because of legal restrictions on the number of unions and collective bargaining agreements allowed per company.

Several companies in export processing zones had solidarity associations that functioned similarly to company unions for the purposes of setting wages and negotiating working conditions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced labor, but the government did not effectively implement or enforce these laws. Administrative penalties of up to 100,000 lempiras ($4,240) were insufficient to deter violations and were rarely enforced. Penalties for forced labor under antitrafficking laws range from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment, but authorities often did not enforce them. The government investigated several cases of labor trafficking, including forced begging and domestic service.

Forced labor occurred in street vending, domestic service, the transport of drugs and other illicit goods, and other criminal activity. Victims were primarily impoverished men, women, and children in both rural and urban areas (also see section 7.c.). The 2015 prison labor law requiring prisoners to work at least five hours a day, six days a week, took effect in January 2016. Regulations for implementing the law were still under development as of September. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization said it was taking every precaution to protect prisoners’ rights and assure that the work provided opportunities for prisoners to develop skills they could use in legal economic activities after their release.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law regulates child labor, sets the minimum age for employment at 14, and regulates the hours and types of work that minors up to age 18 may perform. By law all minors between 14 and 18 must receive special permission from the STSS to work, and the STSS must perform a home study to verify that there is an economic need for the child to work and that the child will not work outside the country or in hazardous conditions, including in offshore fishing. The STSS approved 132 such authorizations between 2014 and August. The vast majority of children who worked did so without STSS permits. If the STSS grants permission, children between 14 and 16 may work a maximum of four hours a day, and those between 16 and 18 may work up to six hours a day. The law prohibits night work and overtime for minors under the age of 18, but the STSS can grant special permission for minors ages 16 to 18 to work in the evening if such employment does not adversely affect their education.

The law requires that individuals and companies that employ more than 20 school-age children at their facilities provide a location for a school.

The government did not devote adequate resources or sufficient inspectors to monitor compliance with child labor laws or to prevent or pursue violations. Fines for child labor are 100,000 lempiras ($4,240) for a first violation, and as high as 228,000 lempiras ($9,660) for repeat violations. These fines are higher than those for other violations of the labor code. The law also imposes prison sentences of three to five years for child labor violations that endanger the life or morality of a child. The STSS did not effectively enforce child labor laws, except in the apparel assembly sector, and there were frequent violations. The STSS issued 35 fines in 2015 for child labor violations. As of September the STSS had identified 14 small businesses that employed children and fined seven of them.

Estimates of the number of children under age 18 in the country’s workforce ranged from 370,000 to 510,000. Children often worked on melon, coffee, okra, and sugarcane plantations as well as in other agricultural production; rummaged at garbage dumps; worked in the forestry, hunting, and fishing sectors; worked as domestic servants; peddled goods such as fruit; begged; washed cars; hauled goods; and labored in limestone quarrying and lime production. Most child labor occurred in rural areas. Children often worked alongside family members in agriculture and other work, such as fishing, construction, transportation, and small businesses. Some of the worst forms of child labor occurred, including commercial sexual exploitation of children, and NGOs reported that gangs often forced children to commit crimes, including murder (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinion or affiliation, marital status, race or national origin, language, nationality, religion, family affiliation, family or economic situation, disability, health, physical appearance, or any other characteristic that would offend the victim’s human dignity. Penalties include prison sentences of up to five years and monetary fines. The law prohibits employers from requiring pregnancy tests as a prerequisite for employment; violators are subject to a 5,000 lempira ($212) fine. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations.

Many employers discriminated against women. According to a 2013 study by the National Institute for Women, employers paid women an average of 16 percent less than they paid men for comparable work. Female workers in some export-oriented industries and the agricultural sector continued to report being required to take pregnancy tests as a condition of employment. Persons with disabilities, indigenous and Afro-Honduran persons, LGBTI persons, and persons with HIV/AIDS also faced discrimination in employment and occupation (also see section 6, Children). As of August the STSS reported that it had received no formal complaints of work discrimination. The International Solidarity Center reported that the STSS had received 12 complaints of discrimination based on disability.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There are 42 categories of monthly minimum wages, based on the industry and the size of a company’s workforce; the minimums range from 5,869 lempiras ($250) to 10,168 lempiras ($430). The law does not cover domestic workers.

The law applies equally to citizens and foreigners, regardless of gender, and prescribes a maximum eight-hour shift per day for most workers, a 44-hour workweek, and at least one 24-hour rest period for every six days of work. It also provides for paid national holidays and annual leave. The law requires overtime pay, bans excessive compulsory overtime, limits overtime to four hours a day for a maximum workday of 12 hours, and prohibits the practice of requiring workers to complete work quotas before leaving their place of employment. The law does not protect domestic workers effectively.

In 2015 the government approved a new social security law. As part of the new law, employers must deposit at least 50 percent of the severance pay to which an employee is entitled into a bank account in the employee’s name. This provision, however, remained suspended as of September, pending the resolution of several court cases and further clarification of how the law will be implemented.

Occupational safety and health standards were current but not enforced. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing continued employment. Under the new inspection law, the STSS has the authority temporarily to shut down workplaces where there is an imminent danger of fatalities.

The STSS is responsible for enforcing the national minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety laws, but it did so inconsistently and ineffectively. An inspection law (see 7.a., Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining) was passed by the congress, and was in force, but at year’s end the implementing regulations had not been finalized. The new law permits fines of up to 25 percent of the economic damage suffered by workers, 1,000 lempiras ($42) for failing to pay the minimum wage or other economic violations, and 100,000 lempiras ($4,240) for violating occupational safety or health regulations and other labor code violations. As part of the Monitoring and Action Plan, the government nearly doubled the budget for inspectors, from 31.1 million lempiras ($1.32 million) to 59.5 million lempiras ($2.52 million). As of August inspectors had conducted 11,494 inspections, including 3,163 at work sites and 8,331 at STSS offices. As of December the STSS had 148 labor inspectors.

Because labor inspectors continued to be concentrated in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, full labor inspections and follow-up visits to confirm compliance were far less frequent in other parts of the country. Many inspectors asked workers to provide them with transportation so that they could conduct inspections, since the STSS did not have sufficient resources to pay for travel to worksites. Credible allegations of corruption among labor inspectors continued. Inspectors reportedly failed to respond to requests for inspections to address alleged violations of labor laws, conduct adequate investigations, impose or collect fines when they discovered violations, or otherwise abide by legal requirements.

Authorities did not effectively enforce worker safety standards, particularly in the construction, garment assembly, and agricultural sectors, as well as in the informal economy. The STSS conducted 31 reinspections of companies identified as labor rights violators under a Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement complaint filed in 2012 by labor unions. Employers rarely paid the minimum wage in the agricultural sector and paid it inconsistently in other sectors. Employers frequently penalized agricultural workers for taking legally authorized days off.

There were reports of violations of overtime limits, with agricultural workers allegedly working seven days a week for many months. There were credible allegations of compulsory overtime at apparel assembly factories–particularly for women, who made up approximately 65 percent of the sector’s workforce–as well as in the private security sector and among domestic workers. Employers frequently denied workers mandatory benefits, including vacation pay and 13th- and 14th-month bonuses. As of August the STSS had recovered 26.9 million lempiras ($1.14 million) in unpaid severance from four companies and was working with an additional three companies to complete collection of outstanding severance payments from them. There were reports that both public- and private-sector employers failed to pay into the social security system.

Human rights organizations continued to report that workers in the private security and domestic sectors were typically obliged to work more than 60 hours a week, but were paid for only 44. Domestic workers often lacked contracts and received salaries below a living wage. Since many lived in on-site quarters, their work hours varied largely based on the will of individual employers. Private security guards also often worked for salaries below the minimum wage. Many guards worked every two days on 24-hour shifts, in violation of the law. Civil society organizations also reported that employers often forced workers in cleaning services and the fast food industry to work shifts of 12 hours or more, violating the legal limit. The STSS regularly received complaints of failure to pay agreed overtime, especially in the security and cleaning service sectors. As of August the STSS had received 85 formal complaints of failure to pay overtime and fined 57 companies for not doing so. The STSS estimated that more than 60 percent of workers were employed in the informal economy.

There continued to be reports of violations of occupational health and safety laws affecting the approximately 3,000 persons who made a living by diving for seafood such as lobster, conch, and sea cucumber, most from the Miskito indigenous community and other ethnic minority groups in Gracias a Dios Department. These violations included lack of access to appropriate safety equipment. In 2014 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised similar concerns, calling the working conditions “deplorable.” Civil society groups reported that most dive boats held more than twice the craft’s capacity for divers and that many boat captains sold their divers marijuana and crack cocaine to help them complete an average of 12 dives a day, to depths of more than 100 feet. In 2014 the government banned compressed air diving for sea cucumbers because of deaths in the dive fisheries. The STSS inspected 45 fishing boats at the opening of the season. As of September 20, the Honduran Miskito Association of Crippled Divers (AMHBLI) reported five deaths and 15 injuries. AMHBLI reported the deaths of 455 divers and the crippling of 1,750 others since 1988.


Executive Summary

Mexico, which has 32 states, is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. In 2012 President Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party won election to a single six-year term in elections observers considered free and fair. Citizens elected members of the Senate in 2012 and members of the Chamber of Deputies in 2015. Observers considered the June 2016 gubernatorial elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included involvement by police, military, and other state officials, sometimes in coordination with criminal organizations, in unlawful killings, disappearances, and torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions in some prisons; arbitrary arrests and detentions; intimidation and corruption of judges; violence against journalists by government and organized criminal groups; violence against migrants by government officers and organized criminal groups; corruption; lethal violence and sexual assault against institutionalized persons with disabilities; lethal violence against members of the indigenous population and against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; and lethal violence against priests by criminal organizations.

Impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem, with extremely low rates of prosecution for all forms of 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 reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. Organized criminal groups also were implicated in numerous killings, acting with impunity and at times in league with corrupt federal, state, local, and security officials. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported 24 complaints of “deprivation of life” between January and December 15.

In May the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) arrested and immediately transferred to civilian authorities a military police officer accused of the May 3 unlawful killing of a man during a confrontation in Puebla between soldiers and a gang of fuel thieves. No trial date had been set at year’s end.

The civilian trial that started in 2016 continued for the commander of the 97th Army Infantry Battalion and three other military officers who were charged in 2016 for the illegal detention and extrajudicial killing in 2015 of seven suspected members of an organized criminal group in Calera, Zacatecas.

A federal investigation continued at year’s end in the 2015 Tanhuato, Michoacan, shooting in which federal police were accused of executing 22 persons after a gunfight and of tampering with evidence. An August 2016 CNDH recommendation stated excessive use of force resulted in the execution of at least 22 individuals. The CNDH also reported that two persons had been tortured, police gave false reports regarding the event, and the crime scene had been altered. Security Commissioner Renato Sales claimed the use of force by police at Tanhuato was justified and proportional to the threat they faced and denied the killings were arbitrary executions. The CNDH called for an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office, expanded human rights training for police, and monetary compensation for the families of the 22 victims. No federal police agents were charged.

Authorities made no additional arrests in connection with the 2015 killing of 10 individuals and illegal detentions and injury to a number of citizens in Apatzingan, Michoacan.

On August 1, a judge ordered federal authorities to investigate whether army commanders played a role in the 2014 killings of 22 suspected criminals in Tlatlaya, Mexico State. In his ruling the judge noted that the federal Attorney General’s Office had failed to investigate a purported military order issued before the incident in which soldiers were urged to “take down criminals under cover of darkness.” In January a civilian court convicted four Mexico State attorney general’s office investigators on charges of torture, also pertaining to the Tlatlaya case. In 2016 a civilian federal court acquitted seven military members of murder charges, citing insufficient evidence. In 2015 the Sixth Military Court convicted one soldier and acquitted six others on charges of military disobedience pertaining to the same incident. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concerns regarding the lack of convictions in the case and the perceived failure to investigate the chain of command.

On October 17, the Federal Police developed a use of force protocol. The protocol instructs federal police to use force in a “rational, proportional manner, with full respect for human rights.”

Criminal organizations carried out human rights abuses and widespread killings throughout the country, sometimes in coordination with state agents.

As of November 20, according to media reports, families of disappeared persons and authorities had discovered more than 1,588 clandestine mass graves in 23 states. For example, in March, 252 human skulls were found in a mass grave in Colinas de Santa Fe, Veracruz. From January 2006 through September 2016, the CNDH reported that more than 850 mass graves were identified throughout the country. Civil society groups noted that there were few forensic anthropology efforts underway to identify remains.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of forced disappearances–the secret abduction or imprisonment of a person–by security forces and of many forced disappearances related to organized criminal groups, sometimes with allegations of state collusion. In its data collection, the government often merged statistics on forcibly disappeared persons with missing persons not suspected of being victims of forced disappearance, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.

Federal law prohibits forced disappearances, but laws relating to forced disappearances vary widely across the 32 states, and not all classify “forced disappearance” as distinct from kidnapping.

Investigation, prosecution, and sentencing for the crime of forced disappearance were rare. The CNDH registered 19 cases of alleged forced disappearances through December 15.

There were credible reports of police involvement in kidnappings for ransom, and federal officials or members of the national defense forces were sometimes accused of perpetrating this crime. The government’s statistics agency (INEGI) estimated that 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated and that underreporting of kidnapping may have been even higher.

In January, five sailors were charged by civilian prosecutors for illegal detention of a man in Mexico State. No trial date had been set at year’s end. In July the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR) arrested and transferred to civilian authorities seven sailors for their alleged involvement in a series of kidnappings.

On November 16, the president signed into law the General Law on Forced Disappearances after three years of congressional debate. The law establishes criminal penalties for persons convicted, stipulating 40 to 90 years’ imprisonment for those found guilty of the crime of forced disappearance, and provides for the creation of a National System for the Search of Missing Persons, a National Forensic Data Bank, an Amber Alert System, and a National Search Commission.

The CNDH registered 19 cases of alleged forced disappearances through December 15. In an April report on disappearances, the CNDH reported 32,236 registered cases of disappeared persons through September 2016. According to the CNDH, 83 percent of cases were concentrated in the following states: Tamaulipas, Mexico State, Sinaloa, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Sonora, Guerrero, Puebla, and Michoacan.

As of April 30, according to the National Registry of Missing Persons, 31,053 individuals were recorded as missing or disappeared. Tamaulipas was the state with the most missing or disappeared persons at 5,657, followed by Mexico State at 3,754 and Jalisco with 2,754. Men represented 74 percent of those disappeared, according to the database.

As of August the deputy attorney general for human rights was investigating 943 cases of disappeared persons. The federal Specialized Prosecutor’s Office for the Search of Missing Persons had opened cases for 747 victims; the Unit for the Investigation of Crimes against Migrants had opened cases for 143 victims; the Iguala Case Investigation Office had opened cases for 43 victims; and the special prosecutor for violence against women and trafficking in persons had opened cases for 10 victims.

At the state level, in March, Jalisco state authorities announced the creation of the specialized attorney general’s office for disappeared persons. As of May 31, the Jalisco Amber Alert system for missing minors had been used 964 times (since its inception in 2013). As of May 31, a separate Jalisco Alba Alert system to report the disappearance of a woman or girl had been employed more than 1,200 times since its inception in April 2016.

In June the state government of Chihuahua announced the creation of a specialized attorney general’s office for grave human rights violations, including enforced disappearances. According to a local NGO, the Center for Women’s Human Rights (CEDEHM), Chihuahua was one of the states with the highest numbers of enforced disappearances, with more than 1,870 victims as of May 2016. During the year the state also signed a memorandum of understanding with a group of independent forensics experts from Argentina to analyze human remains found in the municipalities of Cuauhtemoc, Carichi, and Cusihuiriachi and to gather DNA.

The Coahuila governor’s office and state attorney general’s office formed a joint working group early in the year to improve the state’s unit for disappearances, collaborating with the local NGO Fray Juan de Larios to build the first registry of disappeared persons in Coahuila. The governor met monthly with families of the disappeared. Coahuila state prosecutors continued to investigate forced disappearances between 2009 and 2012 by the Zetas transnational criminal organization. These disappearances, carried out in collusion with some state officials and municipal police, occurred in the border towns of Piedras Negras, Allende, and Nava. State prosecutors executed 18 arrest warrants in the Allende massacre, including 10 for former police officials. Separately, they issued 19 arrest warrants for officials from the Piedras Negras state prison accused of allowing a transnational criminal organization to use the prison as a base to kill and incinerate victims.

Local human rights NGOs criticized the state’s response, saying most of those arrested were set free by courts after the state erred by filing kidnapping charges against the accused rather than charges of forced disappearance. A coalition of Coahuila-based human rights NGOs, many of them backed by the Roman Catholic diocese of Saltillo, filed a communique with the International Criminal Court in the Hague stating that state-level government collusion with transnational criminal organizations had resulted in massive loss of civilian life between 2009 and 2012, during the administration of then governor Humberto Moreira. They further stated that between 2012 and 2016, during the administration of then governor Ruben Moreira (brother of Humberto), state security authorities committed crimes against humanity in their fight against the Zetas, including unjust detention and torture. In July the state government disputed these findings and produced evidence of its investigations into these matters.

In a study of forced disappearances in Nuevo Leon released in June, researchers from the Latin American Faculty of Social Science’s Observatory on Disappearance and Impunity, the University of Minnesota, and Oxford University found that the 548 documented forced disappearances in the state between 2005 and 2015 were almost equally divided between those ordered by state agents (47 percent) and those ordered by criminal organizations (46 percent). Of the state agents alleged to be behind these disappearances, 35 were federal or military officials, 30 were state-level officials, and 65 were municipal officials. The study relied primarily on interviews with incarcerated gang members and family members of disappeared persons.

In May the Veracruz state government established an online database of disappearances, documenting 2,500 victims, and began a campaign to gather samples for a DNA database to assist in identification.

In 2016 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) launched the follow-up mechanism agreed to by the government, the IACHR, and the families of the 43 students who disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. The government provided funding for the mechanism to continue the work of the group of independent experts (GIEI) that supported the investigation of the disappearances and assisted the families of the victims during their 2015-16 term. At the end of the GIEI mandate in April 2016, the experts released a final report critical of the government’s handling of the case. The federal government reported it had complied with 923 of the experts’ 973 recommendations. In December the government extended the GIEI mandate for an additional year.

According to information provided by the Attorney General’s Office in August, authorities had indicted 168 individuals and arrested 128, including 73 police officers from the towns of Cocula and Iguala, and 55 alleged members of the Guerrero-based drug trafficking organization Guerreros Unidos connected to the Iguala case. Authorities held many of those arrested on charges related to organized crime rather than on charges related to the disappearance of the students, according to the GIEI. In 2016 authorities arrested the former police chief of Iguala, Felipe Flores, who had been in hiding since the 2014 disappearances. A 2016 CNDH report implicated federal and local police officers from nearby Huitzuco in the killings. Representatives from the Attorney General’s Office, Foreign Ministry, and Interior Ministry met regularly with the families of the victims to update them on progress being made in the case. Both federal and state authorities reported they continued to investigate the case, including the whereabouts of the missing students or their remains.

In April the Follow-Up Mechanism expressed its “concern about the slow pace in the search activities and in the effective clarification of the various lines of investigation indicated by the GIEI.” The commission also noted, “Not a single person has been prosecuted in this case for the crime of forced disappearance, and no new charges have been filed since December 2015.” The commission noted progress in “the administrative steps taken to contract the Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) surveying technology to be used in the search for the students, the progress made in the investigation of telephone communications, and the establishment of a timeline for taking statements from those arrested and other individuals. It also values the progress made in the investigations into possible involvement of police officers from Huitzuco.” In July the IACHR Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression expressed concern regarding alleged spying that targeted “at least one member of the GIEI” along with human rights defenders and journalists.

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 confessions obtained through illicit means are not admissible as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports of torture and other illegal punishments.

As of November 30, the CNDH registered 85 complaints of torture. NGOs stated that in some cases the CNDH misclassified torture as inhuman or degrading treatment.

Fewer than 1 percent of federal torture investigations resulted in prosecution and conviction, according to government data. The Attorney General’s Office conducted 13,850 torture investigations between 2006 and 2016, and authorities reported 31 federal convictions for torture during that period. Congress approved and the president signed the General Law to Prevent, Investigate, and Punish Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment that entered into force on June 26. Human rights groups and the OHCHR commended the law, which establishes an “absolute prohibition” on the use of torture “in any circumstance,” assigns command responsibility, sets a sentence of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for convicted government officials and of up to 12 years’ imprisonment for convicted nonofficials, stipulates measures to prevent obstruction of internal investigations, and envisions a national mechanism to prevent torture and a national registry maintained by the Office of the Attorney General.

The law also eliminates the requirement that formal criminal charges be filed before a complaint of torture may be entered in the national registry, adds higher penalties for conviction of torturing “vulnerable” classes of victims (women and persons with disabilities), permits federal investigation of state cases of torture when an international body has ruled on the case or if the victim so requests, and eliminates requirements that previously prevented judges from ordering investigations into torture.

In 2015 the Attorney General’s Office created the Detainee Consultation System website to allow the public to track the status of detainees in the federal penitentiary system, including their physical location, in real time. The office collaborated with all 32 states on implementation of the system at the state and federal level, and the site was visited on average 476 times a day. The states that were farthest along in implementing the system were Campeche, Mexico City, Coahuila, Mexico State, Jalisco, Nuevo Leon, Michoacan, Puebla, Queretaro, and Tlaxcala.

On March 30, the Quintana Roo attorney general’s office apologized to Hector Casique, who was tortured and wrongly convicted of multiple counts of homicide in 2013 during a previous state administration. In September 2016 Casique was released from prison. On June 9, he was killed by unknown assailants.

On August 22, a state judge acquitted and ordered the release of Maria del Sol Vazquez Reyes after nearly five years of imprisonment for conviction of crimes that the court found she was forced to confess under torture by the former investigation agency of the Veracruz state police. The officers who tortured her had not been charged by year’s end.

In May in Chihuahua, prosecutor Miguel Angel Luna Lopez was suspended after a video from 2012 became public that showed him interrogating two suspects with bandaged faces. Luna was reinstated as a police agent while the investigation continued. Also in Chihuahua, in January a former municipal police officer, Erick Hernandez Mendoza, was formally charged with torturing a housekeeper who was suspected of stealing from her employer. Two other police officers who allegedly took part in her torture were not charged.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers could be harsh and life threatening due to corruption; overcrowding; abuse; inmate violence; alcohol and drug addiction; inadequate health care, sanitation, and food; comingling of pretrial and convicted persons; and lack of security and control.

Physical Conditions: According to a CNDH report, state detention centers suffered from “uncontrolled self-government in aspects such as security and access to basic services, violence among inmates, lack of medical attention, a lack of opportunities for social reintegration, a lack of differentiated attention for groups of special concern, abuse by prison staff, and a lack of effective grievance mechanisms.” Some of the most overcrowded prisons were plagued by riots, revenge killings, and jailbreaks. Criminal gangs often held de facto control inside prisons.

Health and sanitary conditions were often poor, and most prisons did not offer psychiatric care. Some prisons were staffed with poorly trained, underpaid, and corrupt correctional officers, and authorities occasionally placed prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely. Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted criminals. The CNDH noted the lack of access to adequate health care was a significant problem. Food quality and quantity, heating, ventilation, and lighting varied by facility, with internationally accredited prisons generally having the highest standards.

A CNDH report in June noted many of the prisons, particularly state-run correctional facilities, were unsafe, overcrowded, and understaffed. It surveyed conditions at more than 190 state, local, and federal facilities and found inmates often controlled some areas of prisons or had contraband inside. The report cited insufficient staff, unsafe procedures, and poor medical care at many facilities. Inmates staged mass escapes, battled each other, and engaged in shootouts using guns that police and guards smuggled into prison. A report released in March by the National Security Commission stated that 150 federal and state prisons were overcrowded and exceeded capacity by 17,575 prisoners.

On July 31, INEGI released its first National Survey on Population Deprived of Freedom 2016, based on a survey of 211,000 inmates in the country’s 338 state and federal penitentiaries. The survey revealed that 87 percent of prison inmates reported bribing guards for items such as food, making telephone calls, or obtaining a blanket or mattress. Another survey of 64,000 prisoners revealed that 36 percent reported paying bribes to other inmates, who often controlled parts of penitentiaries. Fifty percent of prisoners said they paid bribes to be allowed to have appliances in their cells, and 26 percent said they paid bribes to be allowed to have electronic communications devices, including cell phones, which were banned in many prisons.

The CNDH reported conditions for female prisoners were inferior to those for men, due to a lack of appropriate living facilities and specialized medical care. The CNDH found several reports of sexual abuse of inmates in the State of Mexico’s Nezahualcoyotl Bordo de Xochiaca Detention Center. Cases of sexual exploitation of inmates were also reported in Mexico City and the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Guerrero, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.

The CNDH reported 86 homicides and 26 suicides in state and district prisons in 2016. Fourteen states did not report information regarding homicides and suicides to the CNDH. The CNDH noted in its 2016 report on prisons that in general prisons were not prepared to prevent or address violent situations such as suicides, homicides, fights, injuries, riots, and jailbreaks.

The state government in Tamaulipas struggled to regain control of its prisons after decades of ceding authority to prison gangs, according to media and NGO reports. Criminal organizations constantly battled for control of prisons, and numerous riots claimed more than a dozen prisoners’ lives, including three foreign prisoners in the past year (two in Nuevo Laredo, one in Ciudad Victoria). On April 18, an inspection at the prison in Ciudad Victoria uncovered four handguns, two AK-47s, one hand grenade, and 108 knives. On June 6, a riot at the same facility claimed the lives of three state police officers and four inmates. On July 31, the official in charge of the prisons in Tamaulipas, Felipe Javier Tellez Ramirez, was killed in Ciudad Victoria reportedly in retaliation for challenging the criminal gangs in the state’s prison system.

Prisoner outbreaks or escape attempts also plagued Tamaulipas’ prisons. On March 22, 29 prisoners escaped through a tunnel from a prison in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. On June 19, eight inmates escaped from the youth detention center in Guemez. On August 10, nine inmates were killed and 11 injured in an inmate fight at a prison in Reynosa where a tunnel had previously been discovered. Guards fired live ammunition to control the situation, which occurred during family visiting hours.

In June, 28 inmates were killed by their rivals at a prison in Acapulco. Three prison guards were arrested for having allowed the attackers to exit their cells to kill their rivals.

On October 9, a riot at Nuevo Leon’s Cadereyta state prison was initially contained but flared up again the next day as inmates set fires. Press reports indicated one prisoner died in the fires. After three prison guards were taken hostage, state police were sent into the prison to control the situation. Official sources reported that at least 16 inmates died during the riot, some because of police action to reclaim control of the prison. This was the fifth lethal riot at a Nuevo Leon prison since 2016.

Civil society groups reported abuses of migrants in some migrant detention centers. Human rights groups reported many times asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle of Central America held in detention and migrant transitory centers were subject to abuse when comingled with other migrants such as MS-13 gang members from the region. In addition migration officials reportedly discouraged persons potentially needing international assistance from applying for asylum, claiming their applications were unlikely to be approved. These conditions resulted in many potential asylum seekers and persons in need of international protection abandoning their claims (see also section 2.d.).

Administration: While prisoners and detainees could file complaints regarding human rights violations, access to justice was inconsistent, and authorities generally did not release the results of investigations to the public.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the CNDH, and state human rights commissions. Independent monitors were generally limited to making recommendations to authorities to improve conditions of confinement.

Improvements: State facilities continued to seek international accreditation from the American Correctional Association, which requires demonstrated compliance with a variety of international standards. As of August 20, an additional 12 correctional facilities achieved accreditation, raising the total number of state and federal accredited facilities to 70.

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/her arrest or detention in court, but the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements.


The federal police, as well as state and municipal police, have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order. The federal police are under the authority of the interior secretary and the National Security Commission, state police are under the authority of the state governors, and municipal police are under the authority of local mayors. SEDENA and SEMAR also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combatting organized criminal groups. Article 89 of the constitution grants the president the authority to use the armed forces for the protection of internal and national security, and the courts have upheld the legality of the armed forces’ role in undertaking these activities in support of civilian authorities. The National Migration Institute (INM), under the authority of the Interior Ministry, is responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants.

On December 21, the president signed the Law on Internal Security, which provides a more explicit legal framework for the role the military had been playing for many years in public security. The law authorizes the president to deploy the military to the states at the request of civilian authorities to assist in policing. The law subordinates civilian law enforcement operations to military authority in some instances and allows the president to extend deployments indefinitely in cases of “grave danger.” Upon signing the law, President Pena Nieto publicly affirmed he would not seek to implement it until the Supreme Court had the opportunity the review any constitutional challenges to the new law. At years end, no challenges had been submitted to the Supreme Court. The law passed despite the objections of the CNDH, the Catholic archdiocese, some civil society organizations, the IACHR, and various UN bodies and officials, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who argued that it could further militarize citizen security and exacerbate human rights abuses. The government argued the law would in fact serve to limit the military’s role in law enforcement by establishing command structures and criteria for deployments. Military officials had long sought to strengthen the legal framework for the domestic operations they have been ordered by civilian authorities to undertake. Proponents of the law also argued that since many civilian police organizations were unable to cope with public security challenges unaided, the law merely clarified and strengthened the legal framework for what was a practical necessity. Many commentators on both sides of the argument regarding the law contended that the country still had not built civilian law enforcement institutions capable of ensuring citizen security.

The law requires military institutions to transfer all cases involving civilian victims, including human rights cases, to civilian prosecutors to pursue in civilian courts. There are exceptions, as when both the victim and perpetrator are members of the military, in which case the matter is dealt with by the military justice system. SEDENA, SEMAR, the federal police, and the Attorney General’s Office have security protocols for the transfer of detainees, chain of custody, and use of force. The protocols, designed to reduce the time arrestees remain in military custody, outline specific procedures for handling detainees.

As of August the Attorney General’s Office was investigating 138 cases involving SEDENA or SEMAR officials suspected of abuse of authority, torture, homicide, and arbitrary detention. Military tribunals have no jurisdiction over cases with civilian victims, which are the exclusive jurisdiction of civilian courts.

Although civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces and police, impunity, especially for human rights abuses, remained a serious problem. The frequency of prosecution for human rights abuse was extremely low.

Military officials withheld evidence from civilian authorities in some cases. Parallel investigations by military and civilian officials of human rights violations complicated prosecutions due to loopholes in a 2014 law that granted civilian authorities jurisdiction to investigate violations committed by security forces. Of 505 criminal proceedings conducted between 2012 and 2016, the Attorney General’s Office won only 16 convictions, according to a November report by the Washington Office on Latin America citing official figures, which also indicated that human rights violations had increased in tandem with the militarization of internal security. The Ministry of Foreign Relations acknowledged the report, stated that the problems stemmed from the conflict with drug-trafficking organizations, as well as the proliferation of illegal weapons, and emphasized that the military’s role in internal security was only a temporary measure.

On November 16, women of the Atenco case testified before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and called for the court to conduct an investigation into the case. The 2006 San Salvador Atenco confrontation between local vendors and state and federal police agents in Mexico State resulted in two individuals being killed and more than 47 women taken into custody, with many allegedly sexually tortured by police officials. In 2009 an appeals court reversed the sole conviction of a defendant in the case.

SEDENA’s General Directorate for Human Rights investigates military personnel for violations of human rights identified by the CNDH and is responsible for promoting a culture of respect for human rights within the institution. The directorate, however, has no power to prosecute allegations of rights violations or to take independent judicial action.


The constitution allows any person to arrest another if the crime is committed in his or her presence. A warrant for arrest is not required if an official has direct evidence regarding a person’s involvement in a crime, such as having witnessed the commission of a crime. This arrest authority, however, is only applicable in cases involving serious crimes in which there is risk of flight. Bail is available for most crimes, except for those involving organized crime and a limited number of other offenses. In most cases the law provides for detainees to appear before a judge for a custody hearing within 48 hours of arrest during which authorities must produce sufficient evidence to justify continued detention, but this requirement was not followed in all cases, particularly in remote areas of the country. In cases involving organized crime, the law allows authorities to hold suspects for up to 96 hours before they must seek judicial review.

The procedure known in Spanish as “arraigo” (a constitutionally permitted form of detention, employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established) allows, with a judge’s approval, for certain suspects to be detained for up to 80 days prior to the filing of formal charges. Under the new accusatory system, arraigo has largely been abandoned.

Some detainees complained of a lack of access to family members and to counsel after police held persons incommunicado for several days and made arrests arbitrarily without a warrant. Police occasionally failed to provide impoverished detainees access to counsel during arrest and investigation as provided for by law, although the right to public defense during trial was generally respected. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Allegations of arbitrary detentions persisted throughout the year. The IACHR, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and NGOs expressed concerns regarding arbitrary detention and the potential for arbitrary detention to lead to other human rights abuses.

A July report by Amnesty International reported widespread use of arbitrary detention by security forces.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, although NGOs such as the Institute for Economics and Peace credited the transition to the accusatory justice system (completed in 2016) with reducing its prevalence. A 2015 IACHR report showed that 42 percent of individuals detained were in pretrial detention. The law provides time limits on pretrial detention, but authorities sometimes failed to comply with them, since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system. Violations of time limits on pretrial detention were also endemic in state judicial systems.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons who are arrested or detained, whether on criminal or other grounds, may challenge their detention through a writ of habeas corpus. The defense may argue, among other things, that the accused did not receive proper due process, suffered a human rights abuse, or had his or her basic constitutional rights violated. By law individuals should be promptly released and compensated if their detention is found to be unlawful, but authorities did not always promptly release those unlawfully detained. In addition, under the criminal justice system, defendants apprehended during the commission of the crime may challenge the lawfulness of their detention during their court hearing.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, court decisions were susceptible to improper influence by both private and public entities, particularly at the state and local level, as well as by transnational criminal organizations. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders, and arrest warrants were sometimes ignored. Across the criminal justice system, many actors lacked the necessary training and resources to carry out their duties fairly and consistently in line with the principle of equal justice.


In 2016 all civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatory trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. In some states alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.

Under the accusatory system, all hearings and trials are conducted by a judge and follow the principles of public access and cross-examination. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to attend the hearings and to challenge the evidence or testimony presented. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law also provides for the rights of appeal and of bail in many categories of crimes. The law provides defendants with the right to an attorney of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings. By law attorneys are required to meet professional qualifications to represent a defendant. Not all public defenders were qualified, however, and often the state public defender system was understaffed and underfunded. Administration of public defender services was the responsibility of either the judicial or executive branch, depending on the jurisdiction. According to the Center for Economic Research and Economic Teaching, most criminal suspects did not receive representation until after their first custody hearing, thus making individuals vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements prior to appearing before a judge.

Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter if needed, although interpretation and translation services into indigenous languages at all stages of the criminal process were not always available. Indigenous defendants who did not speak Spanish sometimes were unaware of the status of their cases and were convicted without fully understanding the documents they were instructed to sign.

The lack of federal rules of evidence caused confusion and led to disparate judicial rulings.


There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.


Citizens have access to an independent judiciary in civil matters to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. For a plaintiff to secure damages against a defendant, authorities first must find the defendant guilty in a criminal case, a significant barrier in view of the relatively low number of convictions for civil rights offenses.

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

The law prohibits such practices and requires search warrants. There were some complaints of illegal searches or illegal destruction of private property.

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. Most newspapers, television, and radio stations had private ownership. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained the main source of advertising revenue, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, could constrain freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subject to physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) due to their reporting. This created a chilling effect that limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. During the year more journalists were killed because of their reporting than in any previous year. The OHCHR recorded 15 killings of reporters, and Reporters Without Borders identified evidence that the killing of at least 11 reporters was directly tied to their work.

Perpetrators of violence against journalists acted with impunity, which fueled further attacks. According to Article 19, a press freedom NGO, the impunity rate for crimes against journalists was 99.7 percent. The 276 attacks against journalists in the first six months of the year represented a 23 percent increase from the same period in 2016. Since its creation in 2010, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Journalists (FEADLE), a unit of the Attorney General’s Office, won only two convictions in more than 800 cases it pursued. During the year there was only one conviction for the murder of a journalist at the local level. In February a court in Oaxaca convicted and sentenced a former police officer to 30 years’ imprisonment for the 2016 murder of journalist Marcos Hernandez Bautista. The OHCHR office in Mexico publicly condemned the failure to prosecute crimes against journalists.

Government officials believed organized crime to be behind most of these attacks, but NGOs asserted there were instances when local government authorities participated in or condoned the acts. An April report by Article 19 noted 53 percent of cases of aggression against journalists in 2016 originated with public officials. Although 75 percent of those came from state or local officials, federal officials and members of the armed forces were also suspected of being behind attacks.

In April the government of Quintana Roo offered a public apology to journalist Pedro Canche, who was falsely accused by state authorities of sabotage and detained for nine months in prison.

According to Article 19, 11 journalists were killed between January 1 and October 15. For example, on March 23, Miroslava Breach, correspondent for the daily newspapers La Jornada and El Norte de Chihuahua, was shot eight times and killed as she was preparing to take her son to school in Chihuahua City. Many of her publications focused on political corruption, human rights abuses, attacks against indigenous communities, and organized crime. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), she was the only national correspondent to cover the troubled Sierra Tarahumara indigenous region. On December 25, federal police made an arrest in the case of an individual linked to a branch of the Sinaloa cartel who they stated was the mastermind of the crime. Breach’s family told La Jornada newspaper they did not believe the suspect in custody was behind the killing, which they attributed to local politicians who had previously threatened the reporter.

On May 15, Javier Valdez, founder of Riodoce newspaper in Sinaloa, winner of a 2011 CPJ prize for heroic journalism and outspoken defender of press freedom, was shot and killed near his office in Culiacan, Sinaloa.

During the first six months of the year, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received 214 requests for protection, an increase of 143 percent from 2016. Since its creation in 2012 through July, the mechanism accepted 589 requests for protection. On August 22, a journalist under the protection of the mechanism, Candido Rios, was shot and killed in the state of Veracruz. Following the wave of killings in early May, the president replaced the special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression at the Attorney General’s Office and held a televised meeting with state governors and attorneys general to call for action in cases of violence against journalists. NGOs welcomed the move but expressed concern regarding shortcomings, including the lack of an official protocol to handle journalist killings despite the appointment of the special prosecutor. NGOs maintained that the special prosecutor had not used his office’s authorities to take charge of cases in which state prosecutors had not produced results.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported state and local governments in some parts of the country worked to censor the media and threaten journalists. In June the New York Times newspaper reported 10 Mexican journalists and human rights defenders were targets of an attempt to infiltrate their smartphones through an Israeli spyware program called Pegasus that was sold only to governments, citing a forensic investigation by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. Officials at the Attorney General’s Office acknowledged purchasing Pegasus but claimed to have used it only to monitor criminals.

Journalists reported altering their coverage in response to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of the media and newsrooms, false charges of “publishing undesirable news,” and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship because of threats from criminal groups and of government officials seeking to influence or pressure the press, especially in the states of Tamaulipas and Sinaloa.

Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal laws against defamation, libel, or slander, but local laws remain in eight states. Five states have laws that restrict the use of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized criminal groups exercised a grave and increasing influence over media outlets and reporters, threatening individuals who published critical views of crime groups. Concerns persisted regarding the use of physical violence by organized criminal groups in retaliation for information posted online, which exposed journalists, bloggers, and social media users to the same level of violence faced by traditional journalists.


The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. Freedom House’s 2016 Freedom on the Net report categorized the country’s internet as partly free, noting an increase in government requests to social media companies to remove content.

Some civil society organizations alleged that various state and federal agencies sought to monitor private online communications. NGOs alleged that provisions in secondary laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing authorities to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. Furthermore, the law does not fully define the “appropriate authority” to carry out such actions. Despite civil society pressure to nullify the government’s data retention requirements and real-time geolocation provisions passed in 2014, the Supreme Court upheld those mechanisms. The court, however, noted the need for authorities to obtain a judicial warrant to access users’ metadata.

In June the government stated it was opening a criminal investigation to determine whether prominent journalists, human rights defenders, and anticorruption activists were subjected to illegal surveillance via sophisticated surveillance malware.

INEGI estimated 59 percent of citizens over age five had access to the internet.


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. There were some reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators. Twelve states have laws that restrict public demonstrations.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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 refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

The government and press reports noted a marked increase in refugee and asylum applications during the previous year. UNHCR projected the National Refugee Commission (COMAR) would receive 20,000 asylum claims by the end of the year, compared with 8,788 in 2016. COMAR projected lower numbers, noting that as of June 30, it had received 6,816 petitions.

At the Iztapalapa detention center near Mexico City, the Twenty-First Century detention center in Chiapas, and other detention facilities, men were kept separate from women and children, and there were special living quarters for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. Migrants had access to medical, psychological, and dental services, and the Iztapalapa center had agreements with local hospitals to care for any urgent cases free of charge. Individuals from countries with consular representation also had access to consular services. COMAR and CNDH representatives visited daily, and other established civil society groups were able to visit the detention facilities on specific days and hours. Victims of trafficking and other crimes were housed in specially designated shelters. Human rights pamphlets were available in many different languages. In addition approximately 35 centers cooperated with UNHCR and allowed it to put up posters and provide other information on how to access asylum for those in need of international protection.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police and immigration officers and customs officials. Government and civil society sources reported Central American gang presence spread farther into the country and threatened migrants who had fled the same gangs in their home countries. An August report by the independent INM Citizens’ Council found incidents in which immigration agents had been known to threaten and abuse migrants to force them to accept voluntary deportation and discourage them from seeking asylum. The council team visited 17 detention centers across the country and reported threats, violence, and excessive force against undocumented migrants. The INM responded to these allegations by asserting it treated all migrants with “absolute respect.”

There were media reports that criminal groups kidnapped undocumented migrants to extort money from migrants’ relatives or force them into committing criminal acts on their behalf.

In March the federal government began operating the Crimes Investigation Unit for Migrants and the Foreign Support Mechanism of Search and Investigation. The International Organization for Migration collaborated with municipal governments to establish offices along the border with Guatemala to track and assist migrants.

In-country Movement: There were numerous instances of armed groups limiting the movements of migrants, including by kidnappings and homicides.


The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that as of 2016, there were at least 311,000 IDPs who had fled their homes and communities in response to criminal, political, and religiously motivated violence as well as natural disasters. In 2016 the CNDH released a report stating 35,433 IDPs were displaced due to drug trafficking violence, interreligious conflicts, and land disputes. At approximately 20,000, Tamaulipas reportedly had the highest number of IDPs followed by 2,165 in Guerrero and 2,008 in Chihuahua. NGOs estimated hundreds of thousands of citizens, many fleeing areas of armed conflict among organized criminal groups, or between the government and organized criminal groups, became internally displaced. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, made efforts to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.


Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status and complementary protection, and the government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protection to refugees. As of August COMAR had received 8,703 petitions, of which 1,007 had been accepted for review, 1,433 were marked as abandoned, 1,084 were not accepted as meeting the criteria, and 385 were accepted for protection. According to NGOs, only one–third of applicants was approved and the remaining two-thirds classified as economic migrants not meeting the legal requirements for asylum; applicants abandoned some petitions. NGOs reported bribes sometimes influenced the adjudication of asylum petitions and requests for transit visas.

The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to asylum and the asylum procedure, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, and integration (access to school and work) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status. UNHCR also doubled the capacity of COMAR by funding an additional 36 staff positions.

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: Observers considered the June gubernatorial races in three states; local races in six states; and the 2016 gubernatorial, 2015 legislative, and 2012 presidential elections to be free and fair.

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 provides for the right of indigenous persons to elect representatives to local office according to “uses and customs” law rather than federal and state electoral law.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption at the most basic level involved paying bribes for routine services or in lieu of fines to administrative officials or security forces. More sophisticated and less apparent forms of corruption included funneling funds to elected officials and political parties by overpaying for goods and services.

Although by law elected officials enjoy immunity from prosecution while holding public office, state and federal legislatures have the authority to waive an official’s immunity. As of August more than one-half of the 32 states followed this legal procedure to strip immunity, and almost all other states were taking similar steps.

By law all applicants for federal law enforcement jobs (and other sensitive positions) must pass an initial vetting process and be recleared every two years. According to the Interior Ministry and the National Center of Certification and Accreditation, most active police officers at the national, state, and municipal levels underwent at least initial vetting. The press and NGOs reported that some police officers who failed vetting remained on duty. The CNDH reported that some police officers, particularly at the state and local level, were involved in kidnapping, extortion, and providing protection for, or acting directly on behalf of, organized crime and drug traffickers.

On July 19, the National Anticorruption System, signed into law by the president in 2016, entered into force. The law gives autonomy to federal administrative courts to investigate and sanction administrative acts of corruption, establishes harsher penalties for government officials convicted of corruption, provides the Superior Audit Office (ASF) with real-time auditing authority, and establishes an oversight commission with civil society participation. Observers hailed the legislation as a major achievement in the fight against corruption but criticized a provision that allows public servants an option not to declare their assets. A key feature of the system is the creation of an independent anticorruption prosecutor and court. The Senate had yet to appoint the special prosecutor at year’s end.

Corruption: In July the Attorney General’s Office took custody of former governor of Veracruz Javier Duarte, who had gone into hiding in Guatemala and was facing corruption charges. The government was also seeking the extradition from Panama of former governor of Quintana Roo Roberto Borge and issued an arrest warrant for former governor of Chihuahua Cesar Duarte. The ASF filed criminal charges with the Attorney General’s Office against 14 state governments for misappropriating billions of dollars in federal funds. The ASF was also investigating several state governors, including former governors of Sonora (Guillermo Padres) and Nuevo Leon (Rodrigo Medina), both of whom faced criminal charges for corruption. The Attorney General’s Office also opened an investigation against Nayarit Governor Sandoval for illicit enrichment as a result of charges brought against him by a citizens group, which also included some opposing political parties.

The NGO Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity and media outlet Animal Politico published a report accusing Attorney General Raul Cervantes of involvement in fraud, revealing that he had registered a Ferrari vehicle valued at more than $200,000 to an unoccupied house in an apparent effort to avoid taxes. Cervantes’ attorney attributed improper registration to administrative error. On October 16, Cervantes resigned, stating the reason for his resignation was to preserve the political independence of the new prosecutor’s office that was to replace the current Attorney General’s Office as part of a constitutional reform.

Financial Disclosure: In 2016 the Congress passed a law requiring all federal and state-level appointed or elected officials to provide income and asset disclosure, statements of any potential conflicts of interests, and tax returns, but the law includes a provision that allows officials an option to withhold the information from the public. The Ministry of Public Administration monitors disclosures with support from each agency. Regulations require disclosures at the beginning and end of employment, as well as annual updates. The law requires declarations be made publicly available unless an official petitions for a waiver to keep his or her file private. Criminal or administrative sanctions apply for abuses. In June the Supreme Court declined a petition by opposition political parties to overturn the provision for a privacy waiver.

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 mostly cooperative and responsive to their views, and the president or cabinet officials met with human rights organizations such as the OHCHR, the IACHR, and the CNDH. Some NGOs alleged that individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders sometimes acted with tacit support from officials in government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is a semiautonomous federal agency created by the government and funded by the legislature to monitor and act on human rights violations and abuses. It may call on government authorities to impose administrative sanctions or pursue criminal charges against officials, but it is not authorized to impose penalties or legal sanctions. If the relevant authority accepts a CNDH recommendation, the CNDH is required to follow up with the authority to verify that it is carrying out the recommendation. The CNDH sends a request to the authority asking for evidence of its compliance and includes this follow-up information in its annual report. When authorities fail to accept a recommendation, the CNDH makes that failure known publicly and may exercise its power to call before the Senate government authorities who refuse to accept or enforce its recommendations.

All states have their own human rights commission. The state commissions are funded by the state legislatures and are semiautonomous. The state commissions did not have uniform reporting requirements, making it difficult to compare state data and therefore to compile nationwide statistics. The CNDH may take cases from state-level commissions if it receives a complaint that the commission has not adequately investigated.

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


Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and conviction carries penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Twenty-four states have laws criminalizing spousal rape.

The federal penal code prohibits domestic violence and stipulates penalties for conviction of between six months’ and four years’ imprisonment. Twenty-nine states stipulate similar penalties, although in practice sentences were often more lenient. Federal law does not criminalize spousal abuse. State and municipal laws addressing domestic violence largely failed to meet the required federal standards and often were unenforced.

According to the law, the crime of femicide is the murder of a woman committed because of the victim’s gender and is a federal offense punishable if convicted by 40 to 60 years in prison. It is also a criminal offense in all states. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence against Women and Trafficking in Persons of the Attorney General’s Office is responsible for leading government programs to combat domestic violence and prosecuting federal human trafficking cases involving three or fewer suspects. The office had 12 federal prosecutors dedicated to federal cases of violence against women.

In addition to shelters, there were women’s justice centers that provided more services than traditional shelters, including legal services and protection; however, the number of cases far surpassed institutional capacity.

Sexual Harassment: Federal labor law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for fines from 250 to 5,000 times the minimum daily wage. Sixteen states criminalize sexual harassment, and all states have provisions for punishment when the perpetrator is in a position of power. According to the National Women’s Institute (INMUJERES), the federal institution charged with directing national policy on equal opportunity for men and women, sexual harassment in the workplace was a significant problem.

Coercion in Population Control: There were few reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods; however, forced, coerced, and involuntary sterilizations were reported, targeting mothers with HIV. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men and “equal pay for equal work performed in equal jobs, hours of work, and conditions of efficiency.” Women tended to earn substantially less than men did. Women were more likely to experience discrimination in wages, working hours, and benefits.


Birth Registration: Children derived citizenship both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Citizens generally registered the births of newborns with local authorities. Failure to register births could result in the denial of public services such as education or health care.

Child Abuse: There were numerous reports of child abuse. The National Program for the Integral Protection of Children and Adolescents, mandated by law, is responsible for coordinating the protection of children’s rights at all levels of government.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum marriage age is 18. Enforcement, however, was inconsistent across the states, where some civil codes permit girls to marry at 14 and boys at 16 with parental consent. With a judge’s consent, children may marry at younger ages.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and authorities generally enforced the law. Nonetheless, NGOs reported sexual exploitation of minors, as well as child sex tourism in resort towns and northern border areas.

Statutory rape constitutes a crime in the federal criminal code. If an adult is convicted of having sexual relations with a minor ages 15 to 18, the penalty is between three months and four years in prison. Conviction of the crime of sexual relations with a minor under age 15 carries a sentence of eight to 30 years’ imprisonment. Laws against corruption of a minor and child pornography apply to victims under age 18. For conviction of the crimes of selling, distributing, or promoting pornography to a minor, the law stipulates a prison term of six months to five years and a fine of 300 to 500 times the daily minimum wage. For conviction of crimes involving minors in acts of sexual exhibitionism or the production, facilitation, reproduction, distribution, sale, and purchase of child pornography, the law mandates seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 800 to 2,500 times the daily minimum wage.

Perpetrators convicted of promoting, publicizing, or facilitating sexual tourism involving minors face seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 800 to 2,000 times the daily minimum wage. For those convicted of involvement in sexual tourism who commit sexual acts with minors, the law requires a 12- to 16-year prison sentence and a fine of 2,000 to 3,000 times the daily minimum wage. Conviction of sexual exploitation of a minor carries an eight- to 15-year prison sentence and a fine of 1,000 to 2,500 times the daily minimum wage.

Institutionalized Children: Civil society groups expressed concerns regarding abuses of children with mental and physical disabilities in orphanages, migrant centers, and care facilities.

International Child Abductions: The country is 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


The 67,000-person Jewish community experienced low levels of anti-Semitism. While an Anti-Defamation League report described an increase in anti-Semitic attitudes in the country from 24 percent of the population in 2014 to 35 percent of the population in 2017, Jewish community representatives reported low levels of anti-Semitic acts and good interreligious cooperation both from the government and civil society organizations in addressing rare instances of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law requires the Ministry of Health to promote the creation of long-term institutions for persons with disabilities in distress, and the Ministry of Social Development must establish specialized institutions to care for, protect, and house persons with disabilities in poverty, neglect, or marginalization. NGOs reported authorities had not implemented programs for community integration. NGOs reported no changes in the mental health system to create community services nor any efforts by authorities to have independent experts monitor human rights violations in psychiatric institutions.

Public buildings and facilities did not comply with the law requiring access for persons with disabilities. The education system provided special education for students with disabilities nationwide. Children with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than those without disabilities. NGOs reported employment discrimination.

Abuses in mental health institutions and care facilities, including those for children, were a problem. Abuses of persons with disabilities included lack of access to justice, the use of physical and chemical restraints, physical and sexual abuse, trafficking, forced labor, disappearances, and illegal adoption of institutionalized children. Institutionalized persons with disabilities often lacked adequate medical care and rehabilitation, privacy, and clothing and often ate, slept, and bathed in unhygienic conditions. They were vulnerable to abuse from staff members, other patients, or guests at facilities where there was inadequate supervision. Documentation supporting the person’s identity and origin was lacking, and there were instances of disappearances.

As of August 25, the NGO Disability Rights International (DRI) reported that most residents had been moved to other institutions from the privately run institution Casa Esperanza, where they were allegedly victims of pervasive sexual abuse by staff and, in some cases, human trafficking. Two of the victims died within the first six months after transfer to other facilities, and the third was sexually abused. DRI stated the victim was raped repeatedly during a period of seven months at the Fundacion PARLAS I.A.P. and that another woman was physically abused at an institution in another state to which she was transferred.

Voting centers for federal elections were generally accessible for persons with disabilities, and ballots were available with a braille overlay for federal elections. In Mexico City, voting centers for local elections were also reportedly accessible, including braille overlays, but these services were inconsistently available for local elections elsewhere in the country.

Indigenous People

The constitution provides all indigenous peoples the right to self-determination, autonomy, and education. Conflicts arose from interpretation of the self-governing “uses and customs” laws used by indigenous communities. Uses and customs laws apply traditional practices to resolve disputes, choose local officials, and collect taxes, with limited federal or state government involvement. Communities and NGOs representing indigenous groups reported the government often failed to consult indigenous communities adequately when making decisions regarding the development of projects intended to exploit the energy, minerals, timber, and other natural resources on indigenous lands. The CNDH maintained a formal human rights program to inform and assist members of indigenous communities.

The CNDH reported indigenous women were among the most vulnerable groups in society. They often experienced racism and discrimination and were often victims of violence. Indigenous persons generally had limited access to health-care and education services.

Thousands of persons from the four indigenous groups in the Sierra Tarahumara (the Raramuri, Pima, Guarojio, and Tepehuan) were displaced, and several indigenous leaders were killed or threatened, according to local journalists, NGOs, and state officials.

For example, on January 15, Isidro Baldenegro Lopez was killed in Chihuahua. Lopez was a community leader of the Raramuri indigenous people and an environmental activist who had won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2005.

On June 26, Mario Luna, an indigenous leader of the Yaqui tribe in the state of Sonora, was attacked with his family by unknown assailants in an incident believed to be harassment in retaliation for his activism in opposition to an aqueduct threatening the tribe’s access to water. Luna began receiving formal protection from federal and state authorities after he was attacked.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and against LGBTI individuals.

In Mexico City the law criminalizes hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Civil society groups claimed police routinely subjected LGBTI persons to mistreatment while in custody.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was prevalent, despite a gradual increase in public tolerance of LGBTI individuals, according to public opinion surveys. There were reports that the government did not always investigate and punish those complicit in abuses, especially outside Mexico City.

On April 18, media reported LGBTI activist Juan Jose Roldan Avila was beaten to death on April 16 in Calpulalpan, Tlaxcala. His body showed signs of torture.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The Catholic Multimedia Center reported criminal groups targeted priests and other religious leaders in some parts of the country and subjected them to extortion, death threats, and intimidation. As of August the center reported four priests killed, two foiled kidnappings, and two attacks against the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Mexican Bishops Office in Mexico City.

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, to bargain collectively, and to strike in both the public and private sectors; however, conflicting law, regulations, and practice restricted these rights.

The law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive official recognition from the government, unions must file for registration with the appropriate conciliation and arbitration board (CAB) or the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. For the union to be able to perform its legally determined functions, its leadership must also register with the appropriate CAB or the ministry. CABs operated under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives. Outside observers raised concerns that the boards did not adequately provide for inclusive worker representation and often perpetuated a bias against independent unions, in part due to intrinsic conflicts of interest within the structure of the boards exacerbated by the prevalence of representatives from “protection” (unrepresentative, corporatist) unions.

By law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own bylaws. Before a strike may be considered legal, however, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate CAB, which may find that the strike is “nonexistent” or, in other words, it may not proceed legally. The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for reinstatement of workers if the CAB finds the employer fired the worker unfairly and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also provides for broad exemptions for employers from such reinstatement, including employees of confidence or workers who have been in the job for less than a year.

Although the law authorizes the coexistence of several unions in one worksite, it limits collective bargaining to the union that has “ownership” of a collective bargaining agreement. When there is only one union present, it automatically has the exclusive right to bargain with the employer. Once a collective bargaining agreement is in place at a company, another union seeking to bargain with the employer must compete for bargaining rights through a recuento (bargaining-rights election) administered by the CAB. The union with the largest number of votes goes on to “win” the collective bargaining rights. It is not mandatory for a union to consult with workers or have worker support to sign a collective bargaining agreement with an employer. The law establishes that internal union leadership votes may be held via secret ballot, either directly or indirectly.

The government, including the CABs, did not consistently protect worker rights. The government’s common failure to enforce labor and other laws left workers with little recourse regarding violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor problems. The CABs’ frequent failure to impartially and transparently administer and oversee procedures related to union activity, such as union elections and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise freely their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

On February 24, labor justice revisions to the constitution were enacted into law. The constitutional reforms replace the CABs with independent judicial bodies, which are intended to streamline the labor justice process. Observers contended that additional changes to the labor law were necessary to provide for the following: workers are able to freely and independently elect union representatives, there is an expedited recount process, unions demonstrate union representativeness prior to filing a collective bargaining agreement, and workers to be covered by the agreement receive a copy prior to registration–thus eliminating unrepresentative unions and “protection” contracts.

By law penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws range from 16,160 pesos ($960) to 161,600 pesos ($9,640). Such penalties were rarely applied and were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and/or judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Workers exercised their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining with difficulty. The process for registration of unions was politicized, and according to union organizers, the government, including the CABs, frequently used the process to reward political allies or punish political opponents. For example, it rejected registration applications for locals of independent unions, and for unions, based on technicalities.

The country’s independent unions and their legal counsel, as well as global and North American trade unions, continued to encourage the government to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 98 on collective bargaining, which it delayed doing despite removal of the main obstacle to compliance in the 2012 labor law reform, the exclusion clause for dismissal. By ratifying the convention, the government would subject itself to the convention’s oversight and reporting procedures. Ratification would also contribute, according to the independent unions, to ensuring that the institutions that are established as a result of the labor justice reform are, in law and practice, independent, transparent, objective, and impartial, with workers having recourse to the ILO’s oversight bodies to complain of any failure.

Companies and protection unions (unrepresentative, corporatist bodies) took advantage of complex divisions and a lack of coordination between federal and state jurisdictions to manipulate the labor conciliation and arbitration processes. For example, a company might register a collective bargaining agreement at both the federal and the local level and later alternate the jurisdictions when individuals filed and appealed complaints to gain favorable outcomes. Additionally, union organizers from several sectors raised concerns regarding the overt and usually hostile involvement of the CABs when organizers attempted to create independent unions.

Protection unions and “protection contracts”–collective bargaining agreements signed by employers and these unions to circumvent meaningful negotiations and preclude labor disputes–was a problem in all sectors. The prevalence of protection contracts was due, in part, to the lack of a requirement for workers to demonstrate support for collective bargaining agreements before they took effect. Protection contracts often were developed before the company hired any workers and without direct input from or knowledge of the covered workers.

Independent unions, a few multinational corporations, and some labor lawyers and academics pressed for complementary legislation, including revisions to the labor code that would prohibit registration of collective bargaining agreements where the union could not demonstrate support by a majority of workers or where workers had not ratified the content of the agreements. Many observers noted working conditions of a majority of workers were under the control of these contracts and the unrepresentative unions that negotiated them, and that the protection unions and contracts often prevented workers from fully exercising their labor rights as defined by law. These same groups advocated for workers to receive hard copies of existing collective bargaining agreements when they are hired.

According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced procedural obstacles, violence, and intimidation around bargaining-rights elections perpetrated by protection union leaders and employers supporting them, as well as other workers, union leaders, and vigilantes hired by a company to enforce a preference for a particular union. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of pseudo employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union.

Other intimidating and manipulative practices were common, including dismissal of workers for labor activism. For example, there were reports that a garment factory in Morelos failed to halt workplace sexual harassment and sexual violence and instead fired the whistleblowers that reported the problem to management.

Independent labor activists reported the requirement that the CABs approve strikes in advance gave boards power to show favoritism by determining which companies to protect from strikes. Few formal strikes occurred, but protests and informal work stoppages were common.

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. Penalties for conviction of forced labor violations range from five to 30 years’ imprisonment and observers generally considered them sufficient to deter violations.

Forced labor persisted in the agricultural and industrial sectors, as well as in the informal sector. Women and children were subject to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor. In November authorities freed 81 workers from a situation of forced labor on a commercial farm in Coahuila. In June federal authorities filed charges against the owner of an onion and chili pepper farm in Chihuahua for forced labor and labor exploitation of 80 indigenous workers. The victims, who disappeared following the initial complaint to state authorities, lived in unhealthy conditions and allegedly earned one-quarter of the minimum wage.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The constitution prohibits children under age 15 from working and allows those ages 15 to 17 to work no more than six daytime hours in nonhazardous conditions daily, and only with parental permission. The law requires that children under age 18 must have a medical certificate in order to work. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18. The law prohibits minors from working in a broad list of hazardous and unhealthy occupations.

The government was reasonably effective in enforcing child labor laws in large and medium-sized companies, especially in the maquila sector and other industries under federal jurisdiction. Enforcement was inadequate in many small companies and in agriculture and construction and nearly absent in the informal sector, in which most child laborers worked.

At the federal level, the Ministry of Social Development, Attorney General’s Office, and National System for Integral Family Development share responsibility for inspections to enforce child labor laws and to intervene in cases in which employers violated such laws. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for carrying out child-labor inspections. Penalties for violations range from 16,780 pesos ($1,000) to 335,850 pesos ($20,000) but were not sufficiently enforced to deter violations.

In December 2016 the CNDH alerted national authorities to 240 agricultural workers, including dozens of child laborers, working in inhuman conditions on a cucumber and chili pepper farm in San Luis Potosi after state authorities failed to respond to their complaints.

According to the 2015 INEGI survey, the most recent data available on child labor, the number of employed children ages five to 17 remained at 2.5 million, or approximately 8.4 percent of the 29 million children in the country. Of these children, 90 percent were engaged in work at ages or under conditions that violated federal labor laws. Of employed children 30 percent worked in the agricultural sector in the harvest of melons, onions, cucumbers, eggplants, chili peppers, green beans, sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, and tomatoes. Other sectors with significant child labor included services (25 percent), retail sales (23 percent), manufacturing (14 percent), and construction (7 percent).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation regarding “race, nationality age, religion, sex, political opinion, social status, handicap (or challenged capacity), economic status, health, pregnancy, language, sexual preference, or marital status.”

The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties for violations of the law included administrative remedies, such as reinstatement, payment of back wages, and fines (often calculated based on the employee’s wages), and were not generally considered sufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred against women, indigenous groups, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and migrant workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

On November 21, the single general minimum wage rose from 80.04 pesos per day ($4.76) to 88.36 pesos per day ($5.26), short of the official poverty line of 95.24 pesos per day ($5.67). Most formal-sector workers received between one and three times the minimum wage. The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission, whose labor representatives largely represented protection unions and their interests, is responsible for establishing minimum salaries but continued to block increases that kept pace with inflation.

The law sets six eight-hour days and 48 hours per week as the legal workweek. Any work over eight hours in a day is considered overtime, for which a worker is to receive double pay. After accumulating nine hours of overtime in a week, a worker earns triple the hourly wage. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The law provides for eight paid public holidays and one week of paid annual leave after completing one year of work. The law requires employers to observe occupational safety and health regulations, issued jointly by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Institute for Social Security. Legally mandated joint management and labor committees set standards and are responsible for overseeing workplace standards in plants and offices. Individual employees or unions may complain directly to inspectors or safety and health officials. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws and conducting inspections at workplaces. In 2015, the most recent year for which data were available, there were 946 inspectors nationwide. This was sufficient to enforce compliance, and the ministry carried out inspections of workplaces throughout the year, using a questionnaire and other means to identify victims of labor exploitation. Penalties for violations of wage, hours of work, or occupational safety and health laws range from 17,330 pesos ($1,030) to 335,940 pesos ($20,020) but generally were not sufficient to deter violations. Through its DECLARALAB self-evaluation tool, the ministry provided technical assistance to almost 4,000 registered workplaces to help them meet occupational safety and health regulations.

According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach–requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting hours when it is light–to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This was a common practice in the maquila sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and obliged them to work in peak seasons, including the Christmas holiday period, without the corresponding triple pay mandated by law for voluntary overtime on national holidays. Additionally, many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers informally or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. In 2013, the latest year for which such data are available, INEGI estimated 59 percent of the workforce was engaged in the informal economy.

Observers from grassroots labor rights groups, international NGOs, and multinational apparel brands reported that employers throughout export-oriented supply chains were increasingly using methods of hiring that deepened the precariousness of work for employees. The most common practice reported was that of manufacturers hiring workers on one- to three-month contracts, and then waiting for a period of days before rehiring them on another short-term contract, to avoid paying severance and prevent workers from accruing seniority, while maintaining the exact number of workers needed for fluctuating levels of production. This practice violates Federal Labor Law and significantly impacted workers’ social and economic rights, including elimination of social benefits and protections, restrictions on worker’s rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and minimal ability for workers, especially women, to manage their family responsibilities. Observers noted it also increased the likelihood of work-related illness and injury. Combined with outsourcing practices that made it difficult for workers to identify their legally registered employer, workers were also more likely to be denied access to justice.

Private recruitment agencies and individual recruiters violated the rights of temporary migrant workers recruited in the country to work abroad, primarily in the United States. Although the law requires these agencies to be registered, they often were unregistered. The Labor Ministry’s registry was outdated and limited in scope. Although a few large recruitment firms were registered, the registry included many defunct and nonexistent midsized firms, and few if any of the many small, independent recruiters. Although the government did not actively monitor or control the recruitment process, it reportedly was responsive in addressing complaints. There were also reports that registered agencies defrauded workers with impunity. Some temporary migrant workers were regularly charged illegal recruitment fees. According to a 2013 study conducted by the Migrant Worker Rights Center, 58 percent of 220 applicants interviewed had paid recruitment fees; one-half did not receive a job contract and took out loans to cover recruitment costs; and 10 percent paid fees for nonexistent jobs. The recruitment agents placed those who demanded their rights on blacklists and barred them from future employment opportunities.

News reports indicated there were poor working conditions in some maquiladoras. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, the lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and the lack of freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse. Most maquilas hired employees through outsourcing with few social benefits.


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’, and electoral branches of government. The Supreme Court determined Nicolas Maduro to have won the 2013 presidential elections amid allegations of pre- and postelection fraud, including government interference, the use of state resources by the ruling party, and voter manipulation. The opposition gained super majority 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.

Democratic governance and human rights deteriorated dramatically during the year as the result of a campaign of the Maduro administration to consolidate its power. On March 30, the TSJ annulled the National Assembly’s constitutional functions, threatened to abolish parliamentary immunity, and assumed significant control over social, economic, legal, civil, and military policies. The TSJ’s actions triggered large-scale street protests through the spring and summer in which approximately 125 persons died. Security forces and armed progovernment paramilitary groups known as “colectivos” at times used excessive force against protesters. Credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported indiscriminate household raids, arbitrary arrests, and the use of torture to deter protesters. The government arrested thousands of individuals, tried hundreds of civilians in military tribunals, and sentenced approximately 12 opposition mayors to 15-month prison terms for alleged failure to control protests in their jurisdictions.

On May 1, President Maduro announced plans to rewrite the 1999 constitution, and on July 30, the government held fraudulent elections, boycotted by the opposition, to select representatives to a National Constituent Assembly (ANC). On August 4, the ANC adopted a “coexistence decree” that effectively neutralized other branches of government. Throughout the year the government arbitrarily stripped the civil rights of opposition leaders to not allow them to run for public office. On October 15, the government held gubernatorial elections overdue since December 2016. The ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) maintained it won 17 of the 23 governors’ seats, although the election was fraught with deficiencies, including a lack of independent, credible international observers, last-minute changes to polling station locations with limited public notice, manipulation of ballot layouts, limited voting locations in opposition neighborhoods, and a lack of technical audit for the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) tabulation. The regime then called for mayoral elections on December 10, with numerous irregularities favoring government candidates.

The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial killings by security forces, including government sponsored “colectivos”; torture by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; widespread arbitrary detentions; and political prisoners. The government unlawfully interfered with privacy rights, used military courts to try civilians, and ignored judicial orders to release prisoners. The government routinely blocked signals, interfered with the operations, or shut down privately owned television, radio, and other media outlets. The law criminalized criticism of the government, and the government threatened violence and detained journalists critical of the government, used violence to repress peaceful demonstrations, and placed legal restrictions on the ability of NGOs to receive foreign funding. Other issues included interference with freedom of movement; establishment of illegitimate institutions to replace democratically elected representatives; pervasive corruption and impunity among all security forces and in other national and state government offices, including at the highest levels; violence against women, including lethal violence; 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 combat impunity that pervaded all levels of the civilian bureaucracy and the 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

Although the government did not release statistics on extrajudicial killings, NGOs reported that 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 government described antigovernment protesters as terrorists, and the president granted security forces emergency powers to control demonstrations. 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.

The National Police Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigative Corps (CICPC) reportedly committed 30 percent of extrajudicial killings, with others committed by regional and municipal police. According to NGOs, prosecutors occasionally brought cases against such perpetrators, but prosecutions often resulted in light sentences, and convictions were often overturned on appeal. Before her August 5 dismissal, then attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz denounced the government’s failure to pursue officers suspected of committing human rights abuses. Ortega and her husband fled the country on August 17.

Government and NGO sources estimated at least 125 persons were killed in antiregime protests from April 1 to July 31. 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 the Venezuelan National Police (PNB) and National Guard (GNB) forces. The 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.

According to a Public Ministry investigation, in April a GNB officer shot and killed Juan Pablo Pernalete with a tear gas canister fired at point-blank range. Government and security officials rejected then attorney general Luisa Ortega’s findings and refused to apprehend potential suspects. On September 7, the newly appointed attorney general, Tarek William Saab, stated that this and other cases implicating government forces would be reopened. Saab’s appointment and subsequent decision to reopen investigations conducted during his predecessor’s tenure were widely criticized by local and international NGOs.

Protesters were also responsible for some deaths that occurred during and on the margins of demonstrations. On April 19, a protester in an apartment building threw a frozen water bottle at security forces but missed and killed a passerby.

The government continued its 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 documented a number of operations that were carried out without court orders. OLP operations often resulted in civilian deaths; NGOs reported that at least 560 persons were killed as a result of OLP exercises between July 2015 and June, with illegal raids and violent attacks on homes becoming more widespread and far reaching. The Public Ministry reported that security forces killed 241 citizens during OLP exercises in 2016. The victims were largely considered to have been “resisting authority,” and only 17 security officials were formally charged for their involvement. The Public Ministry reported that authorities detained 2,310 persons during OLP operations between July and February 2016. Based on victim testimony, NGOs reported OLP operations were characterized by grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture, blackmail, and destruction of personal property.

The Public Ministry continued to investigate the killings of 331 individuals during the 1989 “Caracazo.” In October 2016 the TSJ ruled that the 1988 El Amparo massacre case, in which government security forces allegedly killed 14 persons, would be reopened and tried before a military tribunal. NGOs appealed to the TSJ to hear the case in civilian court, but the TSJ denied their appeal, and the case remained open in military court.

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 security forces tortured and abused detainees.

There were no reports of any government officials being charged under the law that states an agent or public official who inflicts pain or suffering–whether physical or mental–on another individual to obtain information or a confession or seeks to punish an individual for an act the individual has committed, may be imprisoned for a maximum of 25 years, dismissed from office, and barred from holding public office for a maximum of 25 years. Prison and detention center officials who commit torture may face a maximum of five years in prison and a maximum fine of 90.6 million bolivars ($34,300 at the Dicom exchange rate). The law also includes mechanisms for reparations to victims and their families and creates a special National Commission for Torture Prevention composed of several government ministries.

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 that 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.

On July 27, GNB officers arrested protester and musician Wuilly Moises Arteaga during antiregime protests in Caracas. GNB officers repeatedly beat Arteaga, a frequent target for playing the violin, on the head with their helmets, causing him to lose hearing in one ear. They also burned his hair with lighters. An 18-year-old viola player, Armando Canizales, a graduate of the Simon Bolivar Musical Foundation, was shot in the neck at a May 3 protest and died from the wound.

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 where authorities transferred detainees to a medical facility, where instead of receiving treatment, detainees were interrogated by security officials.

On November 4, Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) officials released jailed opposition leader Yon Goicoechea 11 months after a judge ordered his release in October 2016 due to insufficient evidence. In April Goicoechea reported being tortured while in SEBIN custody. Goicoechea said he was held in solitary confinement without a toilet or proper ventilation and that the cell was covered in maggots and excrement from previous prisoners. He also reported officials used electric shock and other forms of torture against him.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Most prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. 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 government had not updated prison statistics since 2015, and NGOs reported records for detainees were not properly maintained and often contained incomplete information. The Ministry of Penitentiary Services reported there were 50,791 inmates in the country’s 59 prisons and penitentiaries and an estimated 33,000 inmates in police station jails. According to the NGO Venezuelan Observatory for Prisons (OVP), the capacity was 22,459 inmates for penitentiaries and 5,000 for police station jails. Overcrowding was 154 percent for penitentiaries and 415 percent for police station jails on average, although the 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, with a 150-detainee capacity, and the other in Zulia State, designed for 450. 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 to 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 study by the NGO A Window to Liberty (UVL) of 89 facilities housing 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 that 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 renovation of Guarico State’s central prison, the construction team discovered 14 bodies in a shallow grave. The case remained under investigation but highlighted uncertainty over the true number of annual prison deaths.

During the year prison riots resulted in inmate deaths and injuries. On April 25, at least 14 persons were killed and 15 injured during a riot in Jose Antonio Prison, better known as Puente Ayala, in Anzoategui State. NGOs attributed the prisoner-on-prisoner clash to a gang turf war. There were credible reports that high-ranking government officials may have had a hand in directing the violence.

A 2016 law limiting cellphone and internet availability inside prisons to prevent inmates from using the technology to engage in criminal activity remained unimplemented. A high-level government official admitted communicating with inmates immediately before and during the Puente Ayala riot.

The UVL reported that 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. At least eight prisoners died during the year from complications associated with malnutrition. The OVP reported that due to inadequate nutrition plans and lack of potable water, stomach illnesses were common among inmates.

The government restricted information regarding deaths in prisons from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases or due to 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 accessing prisons and detention centers. Authorities have rejected 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 individual 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, Public Space, and PROVEA noted at least 2,000 open cases of arbitrary detentions, authorities rarely granted them formal platforms to present their petitions. Authorities arbitrarily detained individuals, including foreign citizens, for extended periods without criminal charges.


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 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. The PNB, in coordination with the GNB, took a leading role in repressing antigovernment protests between April 1 and July 31.

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 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. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman did not provide information regarding alleged human rights violations committed by police and military personnel, nor did the Attorney General’s Office release data.

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.

During the year 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. On June 15, Human Rights Watch reported that then attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz had opened investigations in more than 600 cases of injury caused during the protests that began in April. 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.

The National Experimental University for Security (UNES), tasked with professionalizing law enforcement training for the PNB and other state and municipal personnel, had centers in Caracas and five other cities. UNES requires human rights training as part of the curriculum for all new officers joining the PNB, state, and municipal police forces. Members of the PNB and state and municipal police also enrolled for continuing education and higher-learning opportunities as part of the Special Plan of Police Professionalization at UNES.

Societal violence was high and continued to increase. In the absence of official data, media outlets compiled violent death statistics using information from hospitals and morgues. According to media reports, there were at least 5,486 homicides in the first quarter of the year. The NGO Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV) reported approximately 28,479 homicides, a rate of 91.8 per 100,000 residents in 2016, while the Public Ministry cited 21,752 violent deaths. NGOs and police noted that many victims did not report kidnappings 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.


While a warrant is required for an arrest, detention is permitted without an arrest warrant when an individual is caught 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 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 5,462 protest-related cases of arbitrary detention between April 1 and December 31.

Several cases remained pending related to a series of arbitrary detentions the government carried out against opposition activists in the weeks before a planned opposition rally in September 2016. On May 24, authorities released independent journalist Braulio Jatar to house arrest after he had served eight months in SEBIN custody for reporting on an impromptu protest against President Maduro; a date for his next hearing had not been set by year’s end.

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 guaranteeing 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 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 were postponed, stretching trials for years. Courts frequently disregarded defendants’ presumption of innocence. Authorities often failed to allow detainees to consult with counsel or to 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, between 66 and 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 subject 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.


The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with oral proceedings for all individuals. 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 sources. 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, but indigent defendants’ right to free counsel was often not respected because of attorney shortages. Free interpretation was often not available to defendants. COFAVIC and Foro Penal noted that, in trials related to the 2014 student protests, the government pressured defendants into using public defenders instead of private defense attorneys with the promise of receiving more-favorable sentences. Several 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 April 7 hearing of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, the five remaining witnesses refused to appear for the prosecution. Afiuni was accused of corruption and abuse of authority for her 2009 decision to conditionally release a businessman who had been held in pretrial detention beyond the maximum time prescribed by law. Afiuni continued to be subject to protective measures in place since her release to house arrest in 2011 that mandate she may not leave the country, talk to the media, or use social media, although the law states that 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 for 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 expressed concern with the government’s practice of trying civilians under the military justice system for protests and other actions not under military jurisdiction. During nationwide spring and summer protests, NGOs estimated at least 500 civilians were tried before military tribunals.


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 International Committee of the Red Cross access to Venezuelan prisons. The number of political prisoners skyrocketed compared with 2016. Foro Penal reported 213 political prisoners were incarcerated as of December 31, down from 676 prisoners in late summer but well above the number at the beginning of the year. Many of those were detained for participating in protests, with the government deliberately engaging in a campaign to “catch and release” individuals. In some cases, political prisoners were held in SEBIN installations or the Ramo Verde military prison without an explanation of why they were not being held in traditional facilities. On December 24, the government said it would release 80 political prisoners as a “good will” gesture, releasing 44 individuals as of December 26, although many of those released were still under house arrest.

On June 22, SEBIN arrested opposition coalition leader Roberto Picon. Media reports and NGO contacts claimed SEBIN operated without an arrest warrant. At a military hearing on charges of rebellion and theft of items belonging to the military, NGO sources claimed the prosecution entered evidence that included a paperweight and a reference to the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Picon remained in custody at year’s end.

On July 8, the Attorney General’s Office called for the immediate release of former San Cristobal mayor Daniel Ceballos, but the government failed to comply. On October 20, his lawyer reported that Ceballos had been held in solitary confinement for 14 days.

On August 1, SEBIN detained former metropolitan Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma in his home, where he was under house arrest, and returned him to Ramo Verde military prison. Ledezma’s return to prison occurred after he released a video calling on citizens to support antiregime protests. On August 4, SEBIN officials returned Ledezma to house arrest. On November 17, Ledezma escaped from house arrest and fled to Spain.

On August 1, SEBIN returned opposition party leader and former Caracas Chacao municipality mayor Leopoldo Lopez to prison for allegedly violating his house arrest conditions by posting a video in support of antigovernment protests. The TSJ had released him on July 8 to house arrest, allegedly due to health concerns. On August 5, SEBIN officials returned Lopez to house arrest, and the TSJ ordered him to cease outside communications.


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. From April to October, government-sponsored raids on private property increasingly targeted opposition-controlled areas.

On May 22, more than 100 security officers invaded an apartment complex in Miranda State, allegedly in search of terrorists. Residents reported that masked officers using tear gas, rubber bullets, and other weapons destroyed the building’s security cameras and went door to door, threatening to kill anyone who did not grant them access. The officers interrogated residents about protest activity, stole valuables, damaged vehicles, and physically assaulted several residents.

The 60-day “states of exception” first declared by President Maduro in 2015 continued in 23 municipalities bordering Colombia in Zulia, Tachira, Apure, and Amazonas States, thereby suspending the constitutional requirement for authorities to obtain a court order prior to entering a private residence or violating the secrecy of a person’s private communications, among other constitutional rights.

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 the media, and executive influence on the judiciary resulted in significant repression of these freedoms. National and international groups, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the UN Human Rights Committee, 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. Comments exposing another person to public contempt or hatred are punishable by prison sentences of one to three years and fines. PSUV officials threatened violence against opposition figures and supporters, in particular during the four months of antiregime protests that began on April 1. On October 2, SEBIN arrested Lenny Josefina Martinez Gonzalez, a worker at Pastor Oropeza hospital in the city of Barquisimeto in Lara State, who, according to the local human rights group Funpaz, photographed women giving birth while in the hospital waiting room. The photographs–indications of the medical crisis–were widely viewed on social media. As of year’s end, authorities had not charged her with crimes.

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 the media disseminate only “true” information was undefined and open to politically motivated interpretation. An August report issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) highlighted that the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) shut down 24 radio stations and ordered internet service providers to block certain digital outlets during the April-July protests.

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 PSUV used the nearly 600 government-owned or controlled media outlets to insult and intimidate the political opposition throughout the year. Maduro regularly referred to Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles as insane on live television, while PSUV first vice president and ANC member Diosdado Cabello continued to use his weekly television program to bully journalists and media outlets.

The law declares telecommunications a “public interest service,” thereby giving the government greater 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; CONATEL oversees the law’s application. Minister of Communications and Information Ernesto Villegas highlighted this power during an August 30 interview, declaring that “operating licenses are not a right” and that the government may elect to deny them without providing justification.

The government continued legal actions against high-profile independent media outlets Tal CualEl NacionalEl Nuevo PaisLa Patilla, and Globovision. A court found the online newsource La Patilla responsible for moral damage and ordered it to pay the equivalent of $500,000 in bolivars to Diosdado Cabello. The remaining outlets were awaiting trial at the end of the year.

The government’s economic policies made it difficult for newspapers to access foreign currency, preventing many newspapers from purchasing critical supplies and equipment necessary for day-to-day business operations. Ultima Hora, a regional news outlet, and Tal Cual, a national newspaper, stopped printing in August and November, respectively, the latest nongovernment-owned media outlets to cease production due to lack of access to dollars to purchase newsprint from the government. Other sources, such as regional newspaper La Prensa, opted to print fewer pages or to print weekly rather than daily publications. The National Press Workers Union (SNTP) estimated that, of 115 print news outlets that operated in the country in 2013, 93 remained in operation.

The NGO Public Space reported 887 cases of violations of freedom of expression between January and September–a nearly three-fold increase over 2016. The most common violations were aggressions against journalists and censorship. State-owned and state-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. According to the online tracking program Citizens Monitoring, run by the civil society network Legislative Monitor, between January and October the government implemented more than 160 hours of national cadenas featuring President Maduro, interrupting regular broadcasts. 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.

The Venezuelan Institute of Press and Society (IPYS) reported 539 violations and assaults on media offices, press equipment and tools, journalists, and media employees from January to August. The report also stated that IPYS recorded at least 280 cases of journalists affected by state-sponsored violence from January to August. On February 25, the Public Ministry charged Santiago Guevara, a University of Carabobo professor, with “betrayal of the homeland” after he published a series of editorials on the nation’s economic crisis.

According to IPYS, during the four months of antiregime protests, journalists reported 108 assaults against journalists by security forces, 40 injuries due to tear gas canisters, and 11 gunshot injuries. The August OHCHR report on the protests noted that authorities arrested an estimated 60 journalists, deleting their video footage before releasing them within a few hours, and conducted a smear campaign against journalists, including death threats, that caused a number of them to leave the country.

Government officials also harassed foreign journalists working in the country. On March 31, GNB officers attacked Elyangelica Gonzalez, a reporter for Univision Noticias and the Colombian-based station Caracol Radio, while she reported outside the Supreme Court.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In its 2016 report, 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 NGO Public Space reported 50 cases involving censorship as of September.

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 having not renewed licenses for most radio stations since 2007.

On February 17, CONATEL banned the international news network CNN En Espanol, labeling its coverage “war propaganda” after the station broadcast a story about Venezuelan visa fraud allegations. On August 23, CONATEL forced two Colombian television stations, Caracol TV and RCN, off the air after they reported on former attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz’s corruption allegations against President Maduro. On August 25, CONATEL shut the nationally broadcast radio stations 92.9 Tu FM and Magica 99.1 FM, immediately replacing them with progovernment outlets. According to SNTP statistics, using this method CONATEL closed 49 radio stations and six television stations through August.

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. In June President Maduro announced he would use slander laws to “defend his honor” in court against opposition leaders’ allegations he was responsible for protest-related deaths. As of December Maduro had not acted on these threats.

National Security: The law allows the government to suspend or revoke licenses when it determines such actions to be necessary in the interests of public order or security. The government exercised control over the press through the public entity known as the Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Homeland (CESPPA), established in 2013, which is similar to the government 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 11 times the “state of exception” he first invoked in January 2016, citing a continuing economic emergency, and granted himself the power to restrict rights otherwise guaranteed 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 right 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 members of the media.


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 reported that CONATEL supported monitoring of private communications and persecution 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. Free Access cited arrests of Twitter users during the April-July protests.

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. In 2016 IPYS reported that local internet providers following CONATEL orders blocked at least 42 internet domains.

CONATEL’s director, Andres Eloy Mendez, appointed in October 2016, repeatedly declared in press statements that the government did not block websites, although officials ordered internet service providers to block certain digital outlets. Mendez reiterated the claims of his predecessor that CONATEL’s role was 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. The government used Twitter hashtags to attain “trending” status for official propaganda and employed hundreds of employees to manage and disseminate official government accounts. At least 65 official government accounts used Twitter to promote the ruling PSUV party.

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 cooperating patriots to intimidate government critics and human rights defenders.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 60 percent of the population used the internet in 2016, the latest figure available.


There were some government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. University leaders and students alleged the government retaliated against opposition-oriented autonomous universities by providing government subsidies significantly below the annual inflation rate to those universities. Autonomous universities, which are partially funded by the government, received considerably less than the amounts they requested. Furthermore, budgetary allocations were based on figures not adequately adjusted for inflation and covered expenses only through March. On September 26, the National University Council, the government regulating body for university education, relinquished its functions to the ANC, disregarding the law requiring university autonomy.

On August 9, University Education Minister Hugbel Roa announced that the “carnet de la patria,” a new government-issued social benefits card provided primarily to government supporters, would be required for enrollment in public universities, affecting approximately 305,000 students.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association


The constitution provides for this right, but the government generally repressed or suspended it. The Law on Political Parties, Public Gatherings, and Manifestations and the Organic Law for Police Service and National Bolivarian Police Corps regulate the right to assembly. Human rights groups continued to criticize such laws that enable the government to charge protesters with serious crimes for participating in peaceful demonstrations. Ambiguous language in the laws 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.”

As part of the “states of exception” in place throughout the year in municipalities bordering Colombia and imposed via an economic emergency decree, the government ordered the suspension of the constitutional right to meet publicly or privately without obtaining permission in advance as well as the right to demonstrate peacefully and without weapons.

The political opposition organized frequent nationwide protests from April 1 to July 31 demanding elections, respect for constitutional norms, freedom for political prisoners, and effective government action to relieve severe economic and humanitarian crises. Demonstrations, which involved marches, sit-ins, and at times coordinated blockages of the country’s infrastructure, frequently attracted thousands of participants. According to Foro Penal, security forces arrested more than 5,000 persons during protests between April 1 and July 31; of those detained, 1,381 remained in custody at the end of December.

Violent security force repression, often coordinated with armed “colectivos,” resulted in thousands of injuries and more than 125 deaths. On April 5, GNB officers attacked student protesters at the University of Carabobo in Carabobo State and injured dozens of students, including one who was shot in the back.

The government blamed the protest violence and deaths on opposition “terrorists.” On July 30, several PNB officers were injured when a pyrotechnic/gasoline device detonated in Caracas. The device appeared placed and timed to ignite while a column of PNB on motorcycles was passing. Video of the explosion was similar to that of a July 10 pyrotechnic explosion that also targeted security forces. The opposition did not denounce the attack.


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. In February the TSJ suspended all elections at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), citing a complaint submitted to them by four students and their attorney. According to credible sources, the students were regime supporters seeking to halt processes that were almost certain to elect students politically inclined toward the country’s opposition. On February 17, UCV student leaders nonetheless held elections, electing vocal opposition supporter Rafaela Requesens as head of the student government.

The president’s 2016 “state of exception” 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 that the government implemented the decree.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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.

The government did not comply 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 travelling 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.

In addition to arbitrary deportations, Colombians expelled from the country complained of abuses by security forces. The IACHR reported that many deported Colombians alleged Venezuelan security forces used excessive force to evict them from their homes, which were subsequently destroyed, and that security agents subjected them to physical abuse and forceful separation from their families. The government implemented OLP security measures and increased the presence of security forces in Tachira State on the Colombian border.

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

In-country Movement: The government systematically deployed thousands of security forces and crowd control vehicles to hinder movement and restrict access to designated protest rally points in Caracas during spring and summer protests. The government also restricted the movement of certain opposition leaders from moving around the country and traveling internationally. Others were effectively forced into self-exile.


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 approximately 7,860 recognized refugees and 173,000 persons in need of international protection in the country. The majority of such persons remained without any protection. 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 did not grant them diplomas or certificates of completion without residency documentation, resulting in high dropout rates for Colombian children. According to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, an NGO dedicated to providing assistance to refugees, Colombian asylum seekers said nationwide antigovernment, antiregime protests further hindered their access to basic services and movement to and from service centers.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The 1999 constitution, the country’s 26th since independence, 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 July 30 ANC elections, the October 15 gubernatorial elections, and the December 10 mayoral elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Even though there had been no referendum to approve efforts for constitutional reform, the president directed, and on July 30 the CNE held, fraudulent and violently-protested elections to choose representatives for the ANC that would rewrite the constitution.

The ANC was composed of 500 government-aligned representatives chosen in a bifurcated process, with 200 to 250 chosen by “classes” of workers, indigenous persons and persons with disabilities, and farmers through direct votes in factories and offices. The other half was composed of “community leaders” chosen by direct, anonymous vote at the municipal level. President Maduro announced his intention, among other things, to use the ANC to incorporate government social welfare programs into the fabric of the constitution. During its first three weeks in office, the ANC dismantled the Attorney General’s Office, granted itself unchecked governing powers, moved up elections for governors, usurped legislative power, and stripped a parliamentarian of his immunity.

On August 5, the ANC unanimously voted to dismiss Attorney General and Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz. Ortega, formerly a Maduro government insider, began dissenting from the administration in March after the TSJ took formal measures to usurp the opposition-controlled National Assembly’s powers. She publicly described the TSJ’s decision as a “rupture of the constitutional order.” During the four months of antigovernment protests between April and July, Ortega also vocally denounced and investigated alleged human rights violations committed by government security officials. The International Commission of Jurists called for Ortega’s immediate reinstatement, describing the ANC’s decision “politically motivated.” Tarek William Saab, former human rights ombudsman and a government supporter, replaced Ortega and immediately moved to reopen cases investigated under his predecessor and remove all evidence of the investigations from the Public Ministry’s official website and social media accounts.

In the period preceding the ANC elections, PROVEA reportedly received 212 complaints from public workers whose employers threatened to fire them if they did not participate in the July 30 polling. The government reportedly fired a number of civil servants for failing to vote.

During the December 10 municipal 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, forced mobilization of government workers and benefit recipients, and distribution of food coupons to progovernment voters.

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. On November 9, the ANC gave final approval to the “Constitutional Law against Hate, for Political Coexistence and Tolerance.” While the government stated that the purpose of the law was to “promote peace and tolerance,” media observed that the vaguely written law could be used to silence political parties, activists, and civil society leaders as well as media outlets and journalists.

On August 12, the newly elected ANC usurped the CNE’s role and called for gubernatorial elections, overdue since December 2016, to be held October 15. Opposition candidates decried several electoral irregularities, including: a short period for candidate registration, campaigning, and coordination of election monitoring; a reduction in the number of voting machines in opposition neighborhoods; manipulation of ballot layouts, leading to a large number of invalid votes; a lack of official international election observers; the use of state resources to promote ruling party candidates; and a lack of a technical audit for CNE tabulation. The opposition won five of the 23 gubernatorial races. President Maduro demanded that opposition candidates submit to ANC authority by being sworn in before the body or be disqualified. The opposition governors-elect initially refused to recognize the ANC as constitutional, but on October 23, four of the governors were sworn in before the ANC president. The fifth candidate, Juan Pablo Guanipa, was disqualified, and on November 2, the CNE announced a new round of gubernatorial elections would be held in Zulia State on December 10.

In January the government began issuing a new, multipurpose identification card, the “carnet de la patria” (homeland card), required to access government-funded social services. Many applicants reported being required to provide proof of PSUV affiliation during the registration process to obtain the critical document. Government opponents said the card amounted to social control, a tool to leverage access to scarce subsidized consumer products in return for political loyalty.

Beginning on March 4, according to a new CNE mandatory registration process, political parties that won less than 0.5 percent of the 2015 legislative vote were required to participate in the CNE recertification process in order to participate in future elections. The CNE assigned each party a two-day period to register its supporters using biometric voting machines in a handful of locations across the country. Both opposition and progovernment parties described the process as punitive and biased against smaller political parties.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and/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, 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.

Corruption: In July then attorney general Luisa Ortega released a Public Ministry investigation report that at least a dozen high-ranking officials and their relatives received bribes in exchange for contracts with the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. Ortega said the government paid approximately 30 billion dollars for 20 infrastructure projects that were never finished. Ortega also claimed that Odebrecht provided campaign funding to politicians. On September 7, the newly appointed attorney general, Tarek William Saab, announced that the Public Ministry would not pursue investigations into Odebrecht infrastructure projects, including allegations that President Maduro was involved.

According to Transparency International, the main reasons for the country’s widespread corruption were the government’s anticorruption program, impunity, weak institutions, and lack of transparency in the management of government resources.

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 generally were not cooperative or responsive to their requests. Some domestic NGOs reported government threats and harassment against their leaders, staff, and organizations, in addition to government raids and detentions, but were able to publish dozens of reports during the year. Some human rights activists reported that 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. PSUV first vice president and ANC member Diosdado Cabello used his weekly talk show to intimidate NGO staff from Public Space, PROVEA, and Foro Penal. Several organizations, such as OVP, PROVEA, Foro Penal, and Citizen Control, reported that their staff 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 that seek 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 the 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 Organization of American States (OAS) openly urged President Maduro to adopt reforms to avoid a humanitarian crisis in the country, and OAS secretary general Luis Almagro wrote a series of statements highly critical of President Maduro and his government’s actions on elections and political protests. Almagro also drafted several reports on the political crisis, including abuses by the government.

The OAS held a series of briefings by the country’s civil society leaders, activists, and former government officials to determine whether alleged government abuses should be referred to the International Criminal Court. On April 27, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it would initiate the two-year process to withdraw from the OAS. On August 5, MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market) determined that there was a breakdown in democratic order in the country and suspended its membership in the organization. The government withdrew from the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights in 2013, but the IACHR continued to receive complaints from citizens and civil society. The government also refused to grant access to the OHCHR to investigate the human rights situation. In August and September, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights warned that, as a result of “systematically using excessive force to deter demonstrations,” the government may have committed crimes against humanity.

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

The TSJ’s continuing to hold the National Assembly in “contempt” status diminished the purview and operational effectiveness of the Assembly’s subcommission on human rights, which suspended its regular meetings in order to attend to more pressing matters, most notably restoring the National Assembly’s status.

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


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.

Some 108 individuals were charged and 50 convicted for 122 femicides and 57 attempted femicides.

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 a prison sentence of one to three years. The law establishes a fine between 5,400 bolivars ($2.04 at the Dicom exchange rate) and 10,800 bolivars ($4.09 at the Dicom rate) for employers convicted of sexual harassment. Although allegedly common in the workplace, sexual harassment cases were rarely reported.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .

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.


Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory. According to UNICEF, 81 percent of children under the age of five were registered at birth.

Child Abuse: According to UNICEF and NGOs working with children and women, child abuse, including incest, occurred but was rarely reported. According to a National Institute for Statistics survey, 5 percent of victims of sexual abuse were children. Although the judicial system acted to remove children from abusive households, the press reported that public facilities for such children were inadequate.

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 under the age of 13, with an “especially vulnerable” person, or with a minor under the age of 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: Leading advocates and the press estimated that 10,000 children lived on the streets. With institutions filled to capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions, such as curfew violations, were confined in inadequate juvenile detention centers.

On March 19, 12 children, ranging in age from six to 15, robbed two soldiers in civilian clothing. The soldiers chased the boys, who in turn attacked them and stabbed them to death. The case received widespread media attention and raised concerns regarding Caracas’s influx of street children.

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


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

The Confederation of Jewish Associations in Venezuela estimated there were 7,000 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. The community leaders noted that many other anti-Semitic incidents occurred during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at

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. 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 (CONAPDIS), 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 CONAPDIS, fewer than 20 percent of persons with disabilities who registered with government health programs were fully employed. Beginning in May monthly subsidies of 70,000 bolivars ($26.50 at the Dicom exchange rate) were provided by Mission Hogares de la Patria, a government social service program, to heads of households for each child or adult with disabilities they supported.

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.

On May 18, demonstrators in a neighborhood in Caracas known as a rally point for antiregime activities surrounded Afro-Venezuelan Jose Rafael Noguera and his sister, accusing them of being government sympathizers based on their race. They beat Noguera, doused him with gasoline, and set him ablaze, causing severe burns over much of his body. In a similar incident later that month, demonstrators set on fire another Afro-Venezuelan man who was also accused of being “chavista” based on his race; the man died two weeks later.

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.

On May 7, the governor of Amazonas, Liboro Guarulla, stated the government had administratively barred him from political participation for 15 years, allegedly for corrupt practices. Guarulla stated that the disqualification was in response to his accusations of fraud in previous regional elections.

NGOs and the press reported that 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 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 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 subject to discrimination because of sexual orientation, but the ruling was rarely enforced. On January 5, the TSJ ruled that children born of same-sex couples should be granted full rights of citizenship under the law as children of heterosexual parents.

Media and leading advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons noted that since the law does not define a hate crime, official law enforcement statistics do not reflect LGBTI-related violence. Incidents of violence were most prevalent against members of the transgender community. Leading advocates noted that law enforcement authorities did not properly investigate to determine the motives for such crimes.

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 persons with HIV/AIDS.

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 armed forces’ members) 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 that all unions must 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.

Under the law, employers may negotiate a collective contract only with the union that represents the majority of their 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 laws establish criminal penalties for the exercise of the right to strike in certain circumstances. For example, the law prohibits and punishes with a five- to 10-year prison sentence 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.” In addition, the law 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.”

The government restricted the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining through administrative and legal mechanisms. Organized labor activists reported 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 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, the General Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, the Confederation of Autonomous Unions of Venezuela, and the National Union of Workers (UNETE). The ILO expressed continuing concern that the government did not consult with representative worker organizations or accredit their members to the ILO. In contrast, the Labor and Trade Union Action Unit, an independent organization of labor federations and other labor groups and movements, was able to meet freely to coordinate interventions for the July meeting, analyze conclusions from the meeting, and discuss follow-up actions.

According to the labor group Autonomous Front in Defense of Employment, Wages, and Unions (FADESS), the ministry did not send labor inspectors to opposition-leaning union meetings to witness and legitimize unions’ decisions, as required by law, thus rendering moot decisions by many unions.

In March the ILO urged the government without success to establish a tripartite roundtable with labor unions, FEDECAMARAS (business and producers association), and ILO experts.

Workers were systematically threatened, dismissed, or arrested based on their political affiliations. As a condition of employment, the government required that federal employees attend political rallies in support of the regime. Several public workers received threats or were dismissed for abstaining from the July 30 ANC election or for participating in the opposition’s July 16 ANC straw poll.

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 (UNAPETROL), a union composed of these workers.

Union leaders were also subjected to harassment and verbal attacks. The ILO raised concerns about violence against trade union members and government intimidation of the Associations of Commerce and Production of Venezuela (FEDECAMARAS).

In practice the concept of striking had been demonized since 2002 and periodically used as a political tool to accuse government opponents of coup plotting or other destabilizing activities. Legal provisions on the right to strike were used to target company management as well as labor leaders. 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 July the Central Federation of Petroleum Workers and the National Union of Workers (UNETE) led a 72-hour general strike against the July 30 ANC election. The Confederation of Workers of Venezuela, the National Union of Workers, the General Confederation of Labor, and the Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions also participated. According to UNETE, 85 percent of the nation’s transportation, oil, commercial, health, food, education, and electricity sector workers participated in the strike. Following elections, the ANC agreed to uphold President Maduro’s threats to fire workers who abstained from voting in the July 30 ANC elections.

In August SEBIN officials arrested Rolman Rojas, a professor at University Carabobo (Aragua) and Voluntad Popular regional coordinator for Aragua State; Julio Garcia, president of the Nurses College (Carabobo State); Omar Escalante, president of Fetracarabobo; Rosemary Di Pietro, president of the College of Accountants; and Omar Vasquez Lagonel, secretary general of the National Federation of Retirees and Pensioners, for their participation in the national labor strike against the ANC election. Their cases were heard before military tribunals, and the government charged each with instigating rebellion, transporting illicit arms, and/or disobeying authority. As of December 8, Roman Rojas and Omar Escalante remained in custody; no trial date had been set.

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 criminal 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 criminal group of three or more individuals. The organized crime law, however, fails to prohibit trafficking by any individual not affiliated with an organized criminal group. Prosecutors could 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. FADESS reported that public-sector worker agreements included provisions requiring serving in the armed forces’ reserves.

In July 2016 the Ministry of Labor published Resolution 9855 requiring public- and private-sector businesses to provide male and female workers for 60 to 120 days in order to increase agricultural production. Amnesty International criticized the resolution as effectively amounting to forced labor. The resolution noted that the government would pay workers their normal salary while they participated in the program and that workers would not be fired from their ordinary jobs. The government did not implement the resolution during the year.

There were isolated 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.). There were also reports of Cubans working 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. 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.

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

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 under 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 who are 14 to 18 years of age may not work without permission of their legal guardians or in occupations expressly prohibited by the law, and they may work no more than six hours per day or 30 hours per week. Minors under 18 may not work outside the normal workday.

The law establishes fines on employers between 6,420 bolivars ($2.43 at the Dicom exchange rate) and 12,840 bolivars ($4.86 at the Dicom rate) for each child employed under the age of 12 or for adolescents between the ages of 12 and 14 employed without proper authorization. Anyone employing children under the age of 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.

The Ministry of Labor and the National Institute for Minors enforced child labor laws effectively in the formal sector of the economy but less so in the informal sector. In 2015 the governmental statistics agency estimated that 41 percent of persons who were employed worked in the informal sector and 59 percent in the formal sector.

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 of children (see section 6).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits employment discrimination for every citizen. Labor 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 on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV/AIDS status. The 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.

On January 3, President Maduro signed a presidential decree to protect government workers and shield them against arbitrary dismissals until 2018. Nevertheless, there were numerous reports that public workers who voted in the opposition’s July 16 “national consultation” were dismissed for their participation. Reports also surfaced that employees were fired for abstaining from the July 30 ANC elections. PROVEA reported that many public-sector employers forced their employees to recruit voters and to take photographs of themselves at voting centers as proof of their participation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In September President Maduro raised the monthly minimum wage by 40 percent to 136,544 bolivars ($51.70 at the Dicom exchange rate) and the food ticket benefit by 25 percent to 89,000 bolivars ($71.60 at the Dicom rate). The simultaneous increases–the fourth for the year–brought the combined minimum monthly income to 325,544 bolivars ($123 at the Dicom rate, or less than $15 per month when calculated at the widely referenced “parallel rate” quoted in December). According to the NGO Workers’ Center for Documentation and Analysis, the monthly food basket for a family of five for July cost 2,043,083 bolivars ($773.90 at the Dicom rate), or 14.9 times the minimum wage.

Nominal wages increased 212 percent through the first eight months of the year, but accumulated inflation over the same period reached 366 percent, according to a monthly study conducted by the National Assembly Finance Committee, which conducted its work without official Central Bank data.

According to FADESS, serial minimum wage increases affected company margins and drove the private sector to adjust by reducing worker hours or cutting employees. FADESS estimated 1,500,000 jobs were lost due to scarcity of investment capital to revitalize the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, as the executive government allocated most investment capital to buying imports to supply the country’s food program known by the Spanish acronym CLAP.

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 entities. There was no publicly available information regarding the number of inspectors or the frequency of inspections to implement health and safety, minimum wage, or hours of work provisions. Ministry inspectors seldom closed unsafe job sites. Employers may be fined between 12,840 bolivars ($4.86 at the Dicom rate) and 38,520 bolivars ($14.59 at the Dicom rate) for failing to pay the minimum wage or provide legally required vacation time. Employers are required to report work-related accidents within 24 hours or face fines between 8,132 bolivars ($3.08 at the Dicom rate) and 10,700 bolivars ($4.05 at the Dicom rate). There was no information on whether penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Official statistics regarding workplace deaths and injuries were not publicly available.