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Burkina Faso

Executive Summary

Burkina Faso is a constitutional republic led by an elected president. In November 2020 the country held presidential and legislative elections. President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote, and his party – the People’s Movement for Progress – won 56 seats in the 127-seat National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” with credible results, while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity. The government had previously declared that elections would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.

The Ministry of Security and the Ministry of Defense are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Security oversees the National Police. The army, air force, and National Gendarmerie, which operate within the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but sometimes assist with missions related to domestic security. In January 2020 the government passed legislation formalizing community-based self-defense groups by establishing the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland, a civilian support corps for state counterterrorism efforts with rudimentary oversight from the Ministry of Defense. By year’s end the government registered approximately 2,700 Volunteers. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, but there were credible reports members of state-sponsored militias committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by security forces and state-sponsored militias and extremist groups; forced disappearance by security forces and extremist groups; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by extremist groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including widespread civilian harm, abductions, torture, and physical abuses or punishment, and unlawful recruitment of child soldiers by extremist groups; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government investigated and punished some cases of abuse, but impunity for human rights abuses and corruption remained a problem.

The country experienced deadly attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year. Terrorist groups Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims), the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and other armed groups, such as the homegrown Ansaroul Islam, perpetrated numerous attacks that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths as well as scores of deaths among government security forces and state-sponsored militias. Security incidents included improvised explosive device attacks; targeted killings; kidnappings; attacks on mining sites (especially gold mines); burning of schools, medical centers, and homes; and theft of cattle, vehicles, and food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and the internal displacement of more than 1.5 million persons. The government detained several hundred suspected violent extremists, including several children. Some detainees had been awaiting trial for several years. In August the Specialized Antiterrorism Court held the first criminal trials of terrorist suspects.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were reports that the state security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year (see section 1.g., Killings).

There were reports that state-sponsored militias, known as the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g., Killings).

There were numerous reports that violent extremist groups committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Multiple sources reported that extremists killed hundreds of civilians, members of the security forces, and members of state-sponsored militias (see section 1.g., Killings). There were several accounts of criminal groups working in concert with terrorist organizations and drug traffickers killing gendarmes, police, state-sponsored militias, and park rangers, especially in the Est Region.

On June 4, an unidentified group of assailants attacked and destroyed a settlement adjacent to a gold mine on the outskirts of the village of Solhan, approximately 30 miles from the country’s border with Niger, resulting in the killing of 132 civilians, according to the government, although international media sources reported the number of victims was closer to 160 or even 200. The attack was the deadliest in the country’s more than five-year fight against terrorism.

On October 11, the trial of 14 individuals accused of complicity in the 1987 assassination of then president Thomas Sankara began in Ouagadougou. The court announced that former president Blaise Compaore, who fled the country in 2015 following a popular uprising, would be tried separately in absentia for his alleged role in the assassination.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of security forces and state-sponsored militias during the year (see section 1.g., Abductions).

There were numerous reports of disappearances of civilians by violent extremist groups (see section 1.g., Abductions).

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Local rights groups alleged numerous accounts of torture committed by state-sponsored militias and members of the community-based armed groups known as the Koglweogo. Most allegations of torture involved victims suspected of having links to extremists or persons of Fulani/Peuhl ethnicity (see section 1.g., Physical Abuse, Torture, and Punishment).

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, during the year there were two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by Burkina Faso peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both concerning alleged transactional sex with an adult. In both cases UN payments were suspended pending the results of the investigation, which continued at year’s end. Two previous allegations, both dating to 2015, were found to be unsubstantiated and closed without any action.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights’ most recent report on prison statistics, covering 2020, indicated the country had 7,401 persons incarcerated nationwide, an occupancy rate of 142 percent. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same locations as convicted prisoners. The High Security Prison in Ouagadougou, which mostly housed suspected extremists, was at more than double its designed capacity. Almost all were in pretrial detention.

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

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

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

On March 24, President Kabore granted pardons to 796 prisoners. A similar mass pardon was granted on December 30.

Administration: The government did not provide information on investigations into allegations of mistreatment in prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights (le Mouvement burkinabe des droits de lhomme et des peuples) were able to visit prisoners in some facilities throughout the country. The ICRC visited more than 4,400 inmates in 16 detention facilities during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. Arbitrary arrests occurred, however, and a lack of access to defense counsel and inadequate staffing of the judiciary prevented many detainees from seeking pretrial release in court. The ICRC received more than 600 new reports of persons reported missing by their families during the year.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

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

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

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

Pretrial Detention: In many cases authorities held detainees without charge or trial for longer periods than the maximum sentence for conviction of the alleged offense; this was especially true in cases involving terrorism and included children detained for alleged association with armed groups. While a pretrial release (release on bail) system existed, the extent of its use was unknown. Authorities estimated 52 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial status, but local independent rights groups estimated it to be as high as 70 percent. Local media regularly reported on cases of persons detained more than one year without trial. Some terrorism suspects were held for years awaiting trial.

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Nearly six years after the government’s first arrests of persons implicated in extremist violence and after multiple delays, the country held its first criminal terrorism trials in the week of August 9-13 at the new courthouse in the capital city. The court acquitted one defendant, while five others were convicted and sentenced to between 10 and 21 years in prison. International observers raised concerns with the conduct of the trials, including a lack of legal representation for the accused. Two convicted defendants appealed their convictions.

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

Trial Procedures

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

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to international and local independent rights groups, the military employed informant systems to generate lists of suspected extremists based on anecdotal evidence. Violent extremist groups were widely reported to employ similar systems to identify civilians accused of aiding security forces; some of those identified suffered violence or death at the hands of extremists.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The country experienced numerous attacks by violent extremist organizations during the year, such as targeted killings; abductions; attacks on schools, health centers, and mining sites; and theft of food assistance, contributing to a humanitarian crisis and creating significant internal displacement. Extremists including Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims), the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and Ansaroul Islam committed numerous killings and other abuses. Security forces and state-sponsored militias also were implicated in killings and other abuses.

Killings: Both security forces and state-sponsored militias were implicated in or credibly accused of abuses against civilians, including arbitrary or unlawful killings. Human rights defenders reported that in late November security forces were implicated in at least 22 unlawful killings in the Sud-Ouest and Cascades Regions. Media reported that in May state-sponsored militias kidnapped Fulani community leaders from an internally displaced persons (IDP) site outside Koumbri, near the Malian border in the country’s Nord Region. The bodies of two of the kidnapping victims were later found outside the village. According to the Armed Conflict and Location Event Data project, state-sponsored militias killed at least 95 civilians from January 2020 to August.

According to a local think tank that specializes in security, violent extremists committed more than one terrorist incident per day on average during the year, with 91 incidents resulting in 89 civilian deaths in the month of July alone. Between April and June, suspected extremists killed 298 civilians, an increase of almost 250 percent compared with the first trimester of the year. Since January more than 20,000 persons fled to neighboring countries, almost doubling the total number of refugees (38,000) in just six months, according to United Nations High Commission for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Global Focus Update for 2022.

Violent extremist groups perpetrated numerous attacks against government security forces and state-sponsored militias throughout the year (see section 1.a.). Violent extremist groups killed hundreds of members of state-sponsored militias, including more than 120 persons between February and April. Extremist groups frequently targeted state-sponsored militias, often demanding communities disband or expel the militias as a condition of ceasing attacks on the population. Local sources indicated extremist groups also targeted villagers suspected of collaborating with state-sponsored militias.

On August 18, extremists attacked a military convoy escorting civilians in the village of Boukouma, in Soum Province, Sahel Region, killing 80 persons, including 65 civilians and 15 gendarmes.

Improvised explosive device (IED) attacks sharply increased during the year. Armed groups took advantage of poor road maintenance to plant IEDs in potholes and ditches in efforts to ambush security forces and state-sponsored militias, which also led to the deaths of civilians. On March 2, an ambulance from the Djibo medical center hit an IED on the road between Djibo and Namssiguia, Sahel Region, while transporting a patient, killing six civilians. On May 20, security forces ran over an IED while on a mission in Tialbonga, Est Region. The explosion killed one soldier and wounded two others.

Extremists killed civilians to coerce local populations into following their ideology. On July 29, extremists entered the village of Ouroudjama, Sahel Region, with two hostages they had previously kidnapped. After publicly executing one of the hostages, they demanded that the local population submit to their ideology or face repercussions.

An investigation by the government continued into the 2019 attack by members of a community-based armed group (the Koglweogo) against Fulani herding communities in Yirgou outside the town of Barsalogho, an attack that killed 46 civilians.

Abductions: Extremists kidnapped dozens of civilians throughout the year, including international humanitarian aid and medical workers. The extremists sometimes kidnapped health workers for a temporary period to obtain medical assistance. They also kidnapped IDPs and local leaders.

On March 18, extremists abducted six health workers, including two women on the Sebba-Mansila road, in Yagha Province, Sahel Region. The extremists reportedly freed the two women and disappeared with the four men.

On the night of July 29, extremists kidnapped two IDPs from the IDP camp in Barsalogho, located 30 miles from Kaya, in Sanmatenga Province, Centre-Nord Region. One of the two was believed to be the leader of the IDP community. The next day extremists returned to the camp and abducted more than 40 additional individuals. In response, IDPs fled the camp.

On August 29, extremists kidnapped the town councilor of Manzourou village in Tin-Akof commune, Sahel Region. His body was found on August 30 in a field near the town. According to local sources, he was suspected by extremists for collaborating with a state-sponsored militia.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to the Collective against Communities’ Impunity and Stigmatization and the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights, on several occasions state-sponsored militias tortured and beat civilians they suspected of having ties to terrorist groups, and sometimes destroyed their property (see section 1.c.).

Media reported that in July a young man accused of livestock theft was bound so tightly by the militias that doctors were later forced to amputate his hands.

Extremists also used physical abuse to coerce local populations to adopt their ideology. In December 2020 a dozen extremists armed with Kalashnikov-type rifles and whips raided the village of Doubare, approximately 12 miles from the town of Thiou, on the border with Mali, Nord Region. They whipped women who were not wearing veils at several water distribution points.

Child Soldiers: There were no reports of the government recruiting or using child soldiers. Although it was difficult to obtain precise data on groups, including extremist groups, that recruited and used children, the minister of women, national solidarity, family, and humanitarian action announced on September 13 that 374 child victims of trafficking had been rescued by the government between January and March. The minister also reported that, since the beginning of the country’s security crisis in 2015, 58 children had been arrested during military operations and handed over to social services. The government continued to detain minors for alleged association with violent extremist groups, some of whom may be trafficking victims, in a high-security prison. The number of minors detained during the year was estimated to be between five and 15.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: According to the Ministry of National Education, as of May 28, 2,244 schools were closed, affecting more than 304,500 students in several regions of the country (see section 6, Children). On January 2, extremists reportedly set fire to the primary school of Libouli, a cultural hamlet in the village of Pori, in the commune of Botou, southeast of Kantchari, Est Region.

Extremist groups also stole livestock, vehicles, and food. They attacked humanitarian convoys, looted and burned villages, and disrupted cellular telephone services to prevent local communities from calling for protection in the event of an attack. On January 18, extremists stole approximately 35 head of cattle in Wiboria, a village located 12 miles from Falagountou, Sahel Region. According to local sources, the extremists moved the cattle east towards the border with Niger. On the night of January 19, extremists allegedly entered Niaptana, a village in the commune of Sebba, Sahel Region, without causing any casualties. They reportedly fired several sporadic shots, looted, burned shops, and stole livestock. On February 10, extremists carjacked two public transport vehicles that were transporting traders on the Markoye-Tin-Akof road, in Oudalan Province, Sahel Region. After removing cell phones and cash from the passengers, assailants left with the two vehicles, including a truck full of merchant goods. A UNHCR team was attacked on May 19 as they attempted to reach Dori from the Malian refugee camp of Goudebo. Six armed assailants fired on the team’s vehicle, which was armored. The group escaped and safely reached its destination. On July 16, extremists intercepted commercial vehicles carrying food on the Dori-Gorgadji road, in Seno Province, Sahel Region. They killed one civilian, set a vehicle on fire, and stole foodstuffs. On August 5, extremists sabotaged mobile network installations in Mansila commune, Sahel Region, reportedly to disrupt telephone calls and prevent the local population from alerting state-sponsored militias in the event of an attack.

Sustained insecurity displaced approximately 1.5 million persons, according to the United Nations. Protracted displacement exacerbated food insecurity, and more than 2.9 million persons were likely to require emergency food assistance during the lean season, with displaced and inaccessible populations at increased risk. Displaced populations also lacked access to basic services, such as health care, water and sanitation, and adequate shelter, and faced protection risks. In an August 6 announcement, the governor of the Sahel Region prohibited the cultivation of certain crops, including millet, sorghum, and maize, in the main towns and near security checkpoints of the region during the rainy season. The governor claimed that these crops provided cover for extremists to hide and ambush state security forces. Media also reported that extremists also banned populations from planting crops.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

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

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

On August 9, police detained and questioned activist Zakaria Sana regarding a Facebook post he had written that appeared to encourage a coup d’etat. Sana was released and received a six-month suspended jail sentence.

On the morning of August 13, judicial police arrested Pascal Zaida, a civil society activist, accusing him of “attempting to compromise state security, inciting a rebellion, and making subversive statements.” The arrest followed an August 12 press conference in which Zaida claimed “all the conditions are in place to bring down the government.” Members of the media condemned his arrest as an example of government restrictions on freedom of expression. The police dropped the charges and released Zaida on August 17.

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

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

Violence and Harassment: On March 15, investigative journalist Yacouba Ladji Bama was fined two million CFA francs ($3,500) after he lost a defamation suit brought against him by the ruling party. The defamation case against Bama, former editor in chief of the biweekly newspaper Courrier Confidentiel, originated from a December 2020 incident in which he claimed an attempt had been made on his life by the ruling party, allegedly in retaliation for Bama’s public assertions that the party had violated the electoral code when it distributed branded items at a campaign event in the period preceding the November 2020 presidential elections.

In March, four media organizations released a declaration expressing concern that six cases of violent attacks or other acts of intimidation against journalists in 2020 remained pending before the courts.

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

Internet Freedom

The law permits a judge, at the request of a “public minister” (prosecutor), to block internet websites or email addresses being used to spread “false information” to the public. The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet; however, the Conseil Superieur de la Communication and the chief prosecutor monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations. Claiming national security interests, the government disabled the mobile data network providing access to the internet via mobile devices on several occasions, including in November for a period of one week.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

On November 27, protests in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso organized by civil society activists turned violent. Dozens of persons reportedly were injured as security forces used tear gas to disperse the protesters, and protesters threw rocks at security forces and ransacked public buildings, including the ruling party’s headquarters and Ouagadougou’s city hall. On November 24, Ouagadougou’s mayor released a statement cautioning would-be protesters that they did not have a permit and security forces could be called in to respond to the illegal protest. Protest organizers disputed the mayor’s statement, noting they submitted their application to demonstrate within the 72-hour deadline mandated by law. On November 29, authorities arrested Pascal Zaida, a civil society activist who helped organize protests. Authorities arrested additional participants in the following days. At year’s end all protesters had been released.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

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

Of the country’s 13 regions, 96 percent of registered IDPs were in six regions: Nord, Boucle du Mouhoun, Centre-Nord, Nord, Est, and Centre-Est. The Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs publicly stated that IDPs could not register in Ouagadougou, and humanitarian actors were prevented from providing assistance to IDPs in the capital city.

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Recurrent armed attacks and interethnic clashes throughout the country resulted in the displacement of more than 1.42 million persons as of August 31, up from approximately 560,000 registered IDPs in December 2019 (see section 1.g.). The country registered more than 56,000 new IDPs in July. As of August 31, 60 percent of the internally displaced persons were children, 23 percent were women, and 16 percent were men. Protracted displacement and vulnerability exacerbated the conditions that caused food insecurity. More than 2.9 million persons were estimated to require emergency food assistance during the June-to-August lean season, when household food supplies are lowest, according to the World Food Program. IDPs were concentrated in urban areas, leading to overcrowding, pressure on basic services, and growing social tensions between IDPs and host communities. There were reports of sexual exploitation of IDPs by host community leaders in exchange for food.

The government promoted the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs. The government had policies and protections for IDPs in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

At times the government denied humanitarian NGOs or international organizations access to IDPs. During a September 13 press conference, the minister of humanitarian affairs criticized international NGOs that had criticized the government’s humanitarian response. The minister’s comments were a response to complaints by NGOs, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, that the government’s “slow and insufficient humanitarian response” was endangering IDPs and other vulnerable individuals. The Norwegian Refugee Council claimed local authorities did not have sufficient capacity to register IDPs in a timely manner, which prevented relief organizations from providing needed assistance. The minister responded that her ministry had “sole responsibility for the registration of IDPs.” In a September 22 letter, the minister suspended the Norwegian Refugee Council’s access to IDP sites for “discrediting the government.” The government lifted the suspension on October 21 following a public apology by the group.

Humanitarian partners continued to respond to the crisis with life-saving assistance targeting 2.9 million persons, or 14 percent of the country’s population. The government, through its National Council for Emergency Assistance and Rehabilitation, operated with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and its partners to assess, plan, and respond to the crisis.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, as well as to returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. UNHCR recorded approximately 25,000 refugees as of December, the vast majority from Mali.

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

Access to Basic Services: According to UNHCR, public institutions such as banks, schools, and hospitals occasionally refused service to refugees on a discriminatory basis. Refugee camps in Mentao effectively closed down in 2020 following attacks by violent extremist organizations. The government and UNHCR provided support to relocate the refugees to Goudebou camp, which officially reopened in December 2020 but was forced to close in November due to security concerns in the region. Approximately 13,000 refugees fled the camp, and most resettled in the area around Dori, where UNHCR provided them limited services.

Durable Solutions: In August, UNHCR reported that the number of Malian refugees who intended to repatriate dropped from more than 3,500 persons in 2020 to only five persons in July due to insecurity and unsuitable conditions in Mali. The government, UNHCR, and the Malian government engaged in tripartite discussions and established frameworks to pursue durable solutions for Malian refugees in the country.

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

g. Stateless Persons

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote in the November 2020 national elections. His party, the People’s Movement for Progress, won 56 of the 127 seats in the National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. The Congress for Democracy and Progress, the party of longtime former president Blaise Compaore, ousted in a popular uprising in 2014, became the largest opposition party with 20 seats. Some leading opposition candidates alleged irregularities and fraud but acknowledged the results and urged a “spirit of political dialogue.” National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity, including the majority of IDPs of voting age. The government had earlier declared that voting would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.

The National Assembly adopted a bill in August 2020 to modify the electoral law. This new electoral law stipulates that in the event of force majeure or exceptional circumstances duly noted by the Constitutional Council, resulting in the impossibility of organizing the elections in a part of the territory, the elections shall be validated on the basis of results from those polling stations open on election day. This modification, which was approved with the support of the ruling coalition as well as key segments of the parliamentary opposition, was nonetheless criticized by part of the political class and civil society organizations, since it allows for the exclusion of many voters living in insecure areas of the country.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties generally operated freely. In September 2020 the Minister of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Social Cohesion, in application of the electoral code, made public the list of political parties authorized to participate in the November 2020 presidential and legislative elections. According to the communique, 143 political parties and three political formations were legally constituted.

The 2015 electoral code approved by the National Transitional Council stipulated the exclusion of certain members of the former political majority. The code stated that persons who “supported an anti-constitutional change that led to a popular uprising” were ineligible to be candidates in future elections. The electoral law allows all political candidates to run for election and opened the vote to members of the Burkinabe diaspora in possession of a national identity card or passport.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Parties and government officials stated women were less engaged in politics due to cultural and traditional factors. Although the gender quota law requires political parties to name women to fill at least 30 percent of the positions on their candidate lists in legislative and municipal elections, no political party met this requirement in the November 2020 elections. In March 2020 a new law establishing “zebra lists” mandated that electoral lists alternate names of men and women to better achieve a 30 percent quota. The law includes positive incentives for political parties respecting the quota but no penalties for those who do not abide by the law. Monique Yeli Kam, of the Burkina Rebirth Movement, was the only female candidate among 14 certified as eligible for the November 2020 presidential election. Following the 2020 legislative elections and the formation of a new government, women held 19 of 127 seats in the National Assembly after the elections (compared with 14 women in the previous National Assembly). Of 18,602 city councilors, 2,359 were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Authorities opened an investigation of Seydou Zagre, the president’s chief of staff, for money laundering. He answered the summons of the investigating judge of the Ouagadougou Court on June 18. The investigation continued at year’s end.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and somewhat responsive to their views. In September the minister of humanitarian affairs suspended the activities of the Norwegian Refugee Council in IDP sites for criticizing the government’s humanitarian response (see section 2.d.).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: On October 6, the minister of foreign affairs and the UN country representative for human rights signed a Memorandum of Understanding for opening a UN Human Rights Office, which the government had originally approved in May 2020.

Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights organized several training sessions for security forces on the laws of armed conflict, provided assistance to victims of extremist and gender-based violence, and organized antistigmatization and social cohesion campaigns. The government sometimes assigned gendarmes as provost marshals to accompany deployed troops during military operations to verify detainees were afforded proper treatment and promptly taken before a military magistrate.

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

The government-funded National Commission on Human Rights provides a permanent framework for dialogue on human rights concerns. Its members include 15 representatives of human rights NGOs, unions, professional associations, and the government. In March the National Assembly adopted a bill that gives the commission the authority to act in matters regarding torture, strengthens the independence of commissioners, and, for the first time, sets aside funds to guarantee commissioners’ salaries. The bill also authorizes funds to reimburse commissioners for the previous three years’ salaries, which had not been paid.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

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

Two women were killed by their spouses on May 2 and May 9 in the Nord Region. Following these deaths hundreds of women marched on the local headquarters of the gendarmerie, where the men had taken refuge. Carrying tree branches and threatening to whip any man in their path, the protesters demanded justice for the two women, both of whom had been pregnant. The minister of women joined the demonstrations to show solidarity with the women but urged the crowd to allow the cases to work their way through the justice system.

On August 31, a man was sentenced to 48 months in prison plus a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($177) for forcing a European woman, in May in a park in Ouagadougou, to perform oral sex on him under threat of stabbing her.

Survivors of domestic violence seldom pursued legal action due to shame, fear, or reluctance to take their spouses to court. For the few cases that went to court, the Ministry of Justice could provide no statistics on prosecutions, convictions, or punishment. On International Women’s Day, the Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Affairs launched a toll-free number for survivors of domestic abuse. According to the head of the center, more than 425 calls were received in the hotline’s first two months of operation and 30 survivors received care. A government-run shelter for survivors of gender-based violence housed women and girls regardless of nationality. In Ouagadougou the ministry assisted survivors of domestic violence at four centers. The ministry sometimes provided counseling and housing for abused women.

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

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

The law requires police to provide for protection of domestic violence survivors and their minor children and mandates the establishment of chambers in the High Court with exclusive jurisdiction over cases of violence against women and girls. According to the minister of women, in 2020 the High Court of Ouagadougou heard more than 120 rape cases, 43 cases of assault, and 18 abduction cases of young girls. The law requires all police and gendarmerie units to designate officers to assist women affected or threatened by gender-based violence and to respond to emergencies; however, some units had not complied by year’s end. It also mandates the creation of care and protection centers in each commune for gender-based violence survivors and a government support fund for their care. The centers receive survivors on an emergency basis, offer them security, provide support services (including medical and psychosocial support), and, when possible, refer them to court.

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

Media reported some FGM/C cases. For example, on May 4, five girls ages between one and three years were excised in the village of Masbore, Nord Region. On June 29, the Ouahigouya Court held a criminal hearing on the case and sentenced four defendants to 24 months’ imprisonment with a suspended sentence and a fine of 100,000 CFA francs ($177). In July, 10 girls ages seven to 11 were excised in the village of Sideratougou in Banfora, but no arrests were reported.

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

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

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

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

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

According to a March survey, modern contraceptive prevalence among women in union increased from 28 percent in February 2020 to 32 percent in March. The survey revealed an increase in unavailability for certain methods such as the implant, the pill, and the male condom in health facilities in the first quarter of the year compared with 2020. The survey revealed unmet reproductive needs dropped from 32 percent to 17 percent between December 2014 and March.

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

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

The country’s volatile security situation impacted women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health needs because 12 percent of the health centers in the Nord, Sahel, and Est Regions closed due to insecurity.

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

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

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

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

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

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

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

Allegations continued of extrajudicial killings, torture, and violations of due process and basic human rights by state-sponsored militias, particularly against the Fulani community (see section 1.g.). While senior officials, including President Kabore, appeared politically committed to reinforcing respect for human rights and holding abusers accountable, the government lacked capacity to address the growing case load of such allegations.

Many observers, including the Collective against Impunity and Stigmatization of Communities, noted an ethnic dynamic underscoring the violence in the country. Armed groups often recruited from the Fulani community, while most men allegedly killed by state-sponsored militias were Fulani because of their perceived support of extremist groups.

There were reports the state-sponsored militias did not incorporate Fulani into their ranks, nor did Fulani seek to be included among the militias. This dynamic underscored the precarious situation for the Fulani, who lacked security in their community but were excluded from the state’s security effort, thereby fueling a perception of or actual experience of marginalization among the Fulani. The government conducted media campaigns to change attitudes toward the Fulani community. It sponsored several media outreach efforts and awareness campaigns against the stigmatization of ethnic groups. In what observers understood to be a reference to the Fulani, President Kabore spoke against the “stigmatization of entire communities” on several occasions.

Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous persons and their institutions sometimes participated in decisions affecting their land. Exploitation of natural resources near indigenous land endangered the welfare and livelihoods of indigenous communities. Local populations near mining sites in the Est and Centre-Nord Regions expressed their grievances to mining companies. In August youth in Fada N’Gourma denounced the nonrecruitment of local populations by Endeavour Mining. In Centre-Nord Region, populations forced the suspensions of Bissa Gold’s operations, alleging the company was noncompliant with its commitments, including construction of a village church, middle school, and housing for teachers. They called on the mining companies to respect local laws.

Children

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

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

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

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

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits forced marriage and provides for prison sentences ranging from six months to two years for offenders, and a three-year prison sentence if the survivor is younger than age 13. According to media reports, however, the traditional practice persisted of kidnapping, raping, and impregnating a girl and then forcing her family to consent to her marriage to her violator. NGOs reported that minors, especially girls, were kidnapped on their way to school or to market and forced into early marriage.

According to the family code, “marriage can only be contracted between a man older than age 20 and a woman older than 17, unless age exemption is granted for serious cause by the civil court.” Nonetheless, data from UNICEF indicated that 10 percent of women were married before age 15 and 52 percent of women before 18. While early marriage occurred throughout the country, the NGO Plan International reported that some of the highest rates of early marriage were 83 percent in the Sud-Ouest Region, 83 percent in the Centre-Nord Region, and 72 percent in the Centre-Est Region.

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

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

Displaced Children: Recurrent armed attacks displaced hundreds of thousands of children. According to the national emergency relief council, women and children accounted for 83 percent of the IDPs (see section 2.e.).

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

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

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

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

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

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

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

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

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

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

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers to form and join independent unions, except for public employees and essential workers, such as magistrates, police, military, and other security personnel. The law provides unions the right to conduct their activities without interference.

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

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

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

Employers did not always respect freedom of association and sometimes discouraged union membership. For example, workers in the mining industry were often intimidated, transferred, or fired when they chose to join a union. According to union officials, workers in the domestic service, contract worker, or informal sector who attempted to join unions lost their jobs if their employers learned of their action.

There were no reports of government restrictions on collective bargaining during the year. There was extensive collective bargaining in the formal wage sector, where workers utilized complaint processes to report worker rights violations. National unions reported that domestic workers, workers hired through employment agencies and subcontractors, and other contract workers were fired for joining unions and were unable to utilize complaint mechanisms because they were employed in the informal wage sector. No official records counted violations in the informal sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law considers forced or compulsory any labor or service provided by an individual under the threat of any type of sanction and not freely offered. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government did not have a significant, effective program in place to address or eliminate forced labor. There were no reported forced labor prosecutions or convictions. The government continued to conduct antitrafficking advocacy campaigns and operated a toll-free number for individuals to report cases of violence and trafficking. Penalties for forced labor were commensurate with those for comparable offenses, such as kidnapping.

Forced child labor occurred in the agricultural (particularly cotton), domestic labor, forced begging, and animal husbandry sectors, as well as at gold panning sites and stone quarries. Women from other West African countries were fraudulently recruited for employment and subsequently subjected to sex trafficking, forced labor in restaurants, or domestic servitude in private homes. Traffickers also exploited Burkinabe women in domestic servitude in the Middle East.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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

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

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

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, social origin, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. The government did not effectively enforce the laws and regulations. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses but were seldom applied.

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

Discrimination occurred based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, social origin, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases, or social status with respect to employment and occupation. Women were paid less than men and prohibited from holding certain positions (see section 6). Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace. The government took few actions during the year to prevent or eliminate employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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

The law mandates a standard workweek of 40 hours for nondomestic workers and a 60-hour workweek for household employees. The law provides for overtime pay, and there are regulations pertaining to rest periods, limits on hours worked, and prohibitions on excessive compulsory overtime. The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, and Social Security is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and hours of work standards.

Employers often paid less than the minimum wage. Employees usually supplemented their income through reliance on extended family, subsistence agriculture, or trading in the informal sector.

Occupational Safety and Health: Existing occupational safety and health (OSH) standards provide general, not industry-specific guidance, and do not actively identify unsafe conditions in particular industries. Although the labor law requires employers to take measures to provide for worker safety, to protect the physical and mental health of their workers, and to verify that the workplace, machinery, materials, substances, and work processes under their control do not present health or safety risks to the workers, the ILO noted in 2020 that the government had not yet formulated a national OSH policy, conducted periodic reviews, nor developed a national OSH program.

The law requires every company with 30 or more employees to have a work safety committee. The law provides that employees in such companies have the right to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardy to their employment. If an employee working for a company with fewer than 30 employees decides to remove himself or herself due to safety concerns, a court rules on whether the employee’s decision was justified.

Ministry inspectors and labor tribunals are responsible for overseeing occupational health and safety standards in the small industrial and commercial sectors, but these standards do not apply in subsistence agriculture and other informal sectors.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations were commensurate with those for comparable offenses, but the penalties were seldom applied. Inspectors lacked transport and training, and the number of inspectors was insufficient. There were no reports of effective enforcement of inspection findings during the year for wage, hour, and safety regulations. No official data was available on work-related injuries or death, but police reported in September the death of seven informal gold miners and injuries to others when the miners entered the closed Bissa gold mine in northern Bam. Mining officials noted increasing mining accidents related to illegal gold mining.

Informal Sector: The labor law applies to the informal sector, but it was seldom enforced. Workers in the informal sector represented more than 80 percent of all workers and contributed approximately 50 percent of all economic production. Almost all economic activity outside of the gold and cotton industries was small-scale and informal work. Informal-sector work included subsistence agriculture, trade, services, hotels, tourism, artisanal mining, transport, and private education. Researchers noted the strong participation of women in the informal sector, including in activities such as market trading, manufacturing millet beer (dolo), selling fruit and vegetables, sewing, hairdressing, managing kiosks, and operating restaurants. The ILO reported that informal workers were more severely impacted than formal workers by the COVID-19 pandemic, when most markets were closed for weeks and 22 percent of informal workers lost their livelihoods. Informal workers were more vulnerable to violations of wage, overtime, and OSH standards. Because they were largely self-employed and worked for their own subsistence, they could not benefit from worker protections. Safety violations were prevalent in the informal sector, especially in the mining, construction, and agricultural sectors.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic is a presidential republic. Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected president for a second five-year term in the first round during December 2020 presidential and legislative elections marred by widespread violence. In December 2020 six armed groups formerly in the peace process combined to form a new alliance, the Coalition of Patriots for Change, led by former president Francois Bozize, and called for a suspension of the electoral process and the establishment of national consultations. These groups significantly disrupted the presidential and legislative elections. More than half of the country’s polling stations were unable to return results primarily due to insecurity, and only an estimated 37 percent of all registered voters were able to cast votes for the presidential elections. As a result of election-related insecurity, President Touadera requested support from the Russian Federation government, which facilitated the deployment of a Russian private military company, Wagner Group, and Rwandan forces. Several opposition leaders denounced irregularities in the elections. International observers found the elections not to be free and fair due to an increased level of violence and intimidation by armed groups. On June 11, President Touadera appointed Henri Marie Dondra as prime minister

Police and gendarmes are responsible for enforcing law and maintaining order. The Central African Armed Forces report to the Ministry of Defense and have the primary role of maintaining internal security. The president is commander in chief of the armed forces. Police and the gendarmerie report to the Ministry of Interior and Public Security. Civilian authorities’ control over security forces continued to improve but remained weak. There were credible reports that members of the security forces, along with Russian private military company elements from the Wagner Group, engaged in active combat and committed human rights abuses at a rate comparable to armed groups.

State authority beyond the capital improved with the increased deployment of prefects and troops in provincial capitals. Armed groups, however, still controlled some portions of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing bodies in those areas, taxing local populations and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious abuses in the context of an internal conflict, including killing of civilians, enforced disappearances, torture and physical abuse or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, and other conflict-related abuses by armed groups; restrictions on free expression and media, including the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and laws criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct between adults.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute government officials for alleged human rights abuses and corruption, including in the security forces. Nevertheless, a climate of impunity and a lack of access to legal services remained obstacles to citizens’ ability to obtain formal justice.

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups continued. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during these internal conflicts. Ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property. The government stated it was investigating several high-profile cases of intercommunal violence during the year and considering charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against perpetrators. (Note: This report refers to the “ex-Seleka” for all abuses attributed to the armed factions associated with Seleka, including the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic and the Union for Peace, which were formed after Seleka was dissolved in 2013. The armed group known as “Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation” also committed serious human rights abuses during the year.)

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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 during the year. The Ministry of Justice investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and pursues prosecutions. In an August joint report by the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), covering the electoral period of July 2020 through June, the UN agencies cited 59 instances of extrajudicial killings committed by state security forces, along with “other security forces,” including Russian private military company (PMC) elements from the Wagner Group who have been engaged in active combat. Many of these killings occurred when security forces and Russian elements suspected civilians of being affiliated with armed groups. On April 30, MINUSCA shared with authorities a list of human rights abuses allegedly committed by the national defense forces and “bilaterally deployed and other” security personnel. Subsequently, in May the government announced the creation of a special commission of inquiry to shed light on alleged abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law from December 2020 to April. Government authorities investigated these incidents and released preliminary findings in an October 2 report synopsis, although as of year’s end, the official report had not been released to the public. The government report synopsis accused armed rebel groups of war crimes and crimes against humanity; additionally, it acknowledged that extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and disappearances, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, occupation of public buildings, and hindrances to humanitarian access were also committed by the Central African Army (FACA), internal security forces, and Russian “instructors.” As of year’s end there was no indication authorities had taken action to hold responsible officials accountable.

The United Nations reported that in the Ombella M’Poko Prefecture, from December 30, 2020, to January 20, 10 civilians were victims of summary and extrajudicial killings by the country’s armed forces and “other security forces,” a term that includes Russian PMC elements affiliated with the sanctioned Wagner Group. Killings by PMC elements of the Wagner Group were reported in local and international press by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies. According to local official sources, on June 12, Wagner Group elements summoned the sultan mayor of the town of Koui, Lamido Souleymane Daouda, his deputy, and his bodyguard to accompany them to seize weapons from a rebel group. Hours later the Wagner elements returned to Koui to inform Daouda’s family that he, his deputy, and his bodyguard were killed in a landmine explosion. After discussions with his family, the Wagner elements handed over the remains of all three deceased, which observers noted showed bullet wounds and no trace of explosives. The UN’s report corroborated allegations that Daouda and his entourage were killed by Wagner Group elements.

The report also stated that Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebels were responsible for approximately 61 killings targeting civilians for party affiliation or participation in the elections. On July 31, Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) rebels attacked the northwestern village of Mann near the borders of Chad and Cameroon, killing at least six civilians, according to MINUSCA sources.

b. Disappearance

There were some reports of disappearances committed by or on behalf of government authorities. According to a local news report, in December 2020 members of a government-sponsored militia commonly known as the Sharks, while disguised as presidential guards, broke into Ngaragba Prison in Bangui and abducted three individuals: army officer Bombole; Staff Sergeant Amazoude; and Corporal Ringui, alias Badboy. There has been no sign of the three since that time. On February 1, Saint Claire Danmboy Balekouzou, a FACA soldier known as “Sadam,” was also allegedly kidnapped by the Sharks. His body was later found in the bordering Bimbo district of Bangui.

In a July 7 letter to President Touadera, members of the Goula ethnic community in the central town of Bria alleged 12 Goula community members were detained by government forces during the unrest that followed December 2020 polling. The letter states there had been no further contact with the individuals after their arrest. Although a government investigation acknowledged UN reports that other disappearances were committed by government or Wagner Group elements, as of year’s end there was no indication that authorities had taken action regarding those disappearances, or those abuses cited earlier (see section 1.a.).

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

Although the law defines and specifies punishment for torture and other cruel and inhuman treatments, authorities and armed groups continued to commit abuses against the civilian population. Although sentences for such crimes range from 20 years to life in prison and forced labor, impunity persisted. In August FACA soldiers stationed at the Boing neighborhood police station reportedly extorted 146,000 Central African Francs (CFA) ($254) from timber seller Alfred Doualengue and severely beat him. The online newspaper Le Tsunami published Doualengue’s photograph, which showed scars across his buttocks. Although a government investigation acknowledged UN reports that other instances of torture were committed by government or Wagner Group elements, as of year’s end there was no indication that authorities had acted regarding those abuses (see section 1.a). Impunity for human rights abuses continued to be a significant problem throughout the country’s security forces, including the army, gendarmerie, and police. According to human rights advocates, factors that contributed to impunity included judicial backlogs and fear of retaliation. The government worked with the EU and MINUSCA to provide training on human rights for FACA and gendarme units.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the National Commission for Human Rights and local NGOs, prison conditions did not generally meet international norms and were often harsh, life-threatening, and inhuman due to gross overcrowding, food shortages, and inadequate sanitation.

Physical Conditions: According to MINUSCA, at the start of the year, the imprisoned population included 1,226 men and 65 women, three of whom were caring for infants.

The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and a women’s prison at Bimbo. In other locations, including Bossembele, Sibut, and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody at police stations and gendarmerie brigades. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded the facilities.

Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities such as food, clothing, and medicine were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors’ unofficial fees.

COVID-19 highlighted shortcomings that endangered the health and lives of detainees and prison staff. Poor hygienic detention conditions linked to overcrowding and inadequate health care increased the likelihood of infection. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, mixed juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender, as well as in smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, M’Baiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa. Detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors. There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders.

Administration: Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by international donors, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent experts on human rights in the country. In addition, state organs like the National Commission for Human Rights and the General Inspectorate of Justice were also authorized independently to visit detention centers.

In July and August the National Commission for Human Rights visited Ngaragba Prison in Bangui and M’Baiki Prison in Lobaye Prefecture and found that both had substandard roofing and lacked sufficient food for inmates. Inmates in both lived in overcrowded cells, lacked access to health care, and experienced recurrent health problems. During remarks at the opening of the judicial year in July, President Touadera noted the state only allocated 3,330,000 CFA francs ($6,060) weekly for inmates’ food at all facilities, an average of 299 CFA francs ($0.54) per inmate per day. Touadera admitted during the speech that the amount was unacceptably low.

Improvements: Forty-seven detainees, including seven women from Ngaragba and the Bimbo-based women’s detention center received training certificates in carpentry, plumbing and manufacturing solar cookers on July 21, after three months of training sponsored by MINUSCA.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detentions and lengthy pretrial detentions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law provides that persons under arrest be informed immediately of the allegations against them. Detainees must be presented before a judge within 72 hours and cannot be held longer than 144 hours without appearing before a judge. There are exceptions for those detained under national security laws and those in remote areas where there are no courts. In both cases detentions can be extended up to eight days, renewable once. Poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and an insufficient number of judges meant these requirements were not always observed. Provisional release was available for those awaiting trial, but not consistently enforced. There was a functioning bail system. Suspects were often detained incommunicado.

The law requires that defendants in felony cases involving sentences of 10 years or more be provided a lawyer. The law does not require defendants in nonfelony cases be provided a lawyer. Many felony and nonfelony defendants could not afford counsel. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 50,000 CFA francs ($91) per case, a sum low enough that it deterred many lawyers from accepting indigent defendants.

Arbitrary Arrest: Both security forces and armed groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals. Many arbitrary arrests occurred during the January counteroffensive by security forces and Wagner Group elements, according to reports in the local press and by NGOs. Security forces arbitrarily arrested at least 35 citizens during the counteroffensive, according to the August joint report by MINUSCA and the OHCHR. Thierry Savonarole Maleyombo was arrested in January in Bangui, accused of complicity in former president Francois Bozize’s attempted takeover by force. He was first detained in Ngaragba Prison, then transferred to the annex prison of Camp de Roux. At year’s end he remained in preventive detention, and no date had been given for his trial. In August the prosecutor of the Bambari Appeal Court (Ouaka Prefecture) reportedly fled the town to escape retribution by the Wagner Group, which he claimed accused him of collaborating with rebels, because he spoke out in favor of due process. According to the prosecutor, Russians in Ouaka often made arbitrary arrests to question detainees. Reports by Amnesty International, UN experts, and MINUSCA documented arbitrary arrests, looting of properties, and other abuses committed by FACA, Wagner Group elements, and rebels from the CPC.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was a serious problem, as was associated overcrowding in prisons and prolongation of trial dates. During a July speech, President Touadera estimated that as many as 75 percent of prisoners in the country were in pretrial detention. Touadera added that this rate placed the country at odds with domestic requirements and international commitments. Lengthy pretrial detentions occurred in part because of a lack of affordable legal representation and low capacity of judiciary bodies.

The law provides that preventive detention is possible if the penalty incurred exceeds one year’s imprisonment and if, for the needs of the investigation, it is essential to preserve evidence and separate parties involved. In August the National Human Rights Commission visited M’Baiki Prison in Lobaye Prefecture and noted only eight of 40 detainees had been convicted and that the remaining inmates were in preventive detention.

Although record keeping of arrests and detentions was poor, slow investigation and processing of cases was the primary cause of lengthy pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained and understaffed, resulting in very slow case-processing times. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. Judges resisted holding sessions due to security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of quality, affordable legal services, and a poorly functioning justice system. According to UN legal experts, detainees met difficulty finding adequate legal representation, since court-appointed lawyers were often less than enthusiastic about defending detainees due to being perceived as “difficult” by magistrates. Court-appointed attorneys also believed they were not paid sufficiently for defending detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political actors exerted undue influence on it. The country’s judicial system had not recovered from 2013 attacks by Seleka rebels who destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country. Despite slight improvements in the number of judges deployed outside Bangui, the overall inadequate number of justices still hindered court operations nationwide. Many judges were unwilling to conduct proceedings outside Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office space and housing. UN legal experts explained that while some “security concerns” were legitimate, others were used to avoid deployment to underdeveloped areas outside Bangui that lacked social services, housing, and other infrastructure. For judges based in Bangui, legal advocacy organizations noted performance problems and impunity for underperformance, particularly for judges in “investigative chambers.” At the end of January, 55.2 percent of judicial staff were present at their posts across the country, according to records from MINUSCA’s Justice and Corrections Division. By the end of September, this figure increased to 70.6 percent. National criminal courts of appeal operated in two (Bouar and Bangui) of the country’s three appellate districts (Bouar, Bambari, and Bangui). The Bangui military tribunal held its second hearing in July, hearing 14 cases. In late September the Court Martial held its first criminal session in Bangui. The Military Tribunal hears cases punishable by less than 10 years, whilst the Court Martial hears cases punishable by 10 years or more.

Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, shortages of trained personnel, and salary arrears. Authorities at all levels did not always respect court orders.

The Special Criminal Court (SCC) established in 2015 operates with both domestic and international participation and support. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. With the arrival of four international judges and one prosecutor between January and June, and two appellate judges from France and Germany set to arrive by the end of November, the court had its full complement of national and international judges.

In May the SCC accepted nine cases involving members of the armed group Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) who were arrested for crimes committed in the towns of Obo, Zemio, and Bambouti in the southeastern portion of the country. As of September the SCC received 122 complaints; 24 of those were in various stages of investigation. Pursuant to an SCC warrant, 15 persons were also detained and were awaiting trial at Ngaragba Prison and its annex at Camp de Roux. In September the SCC announced war crimes charges against Anti-balaka leader Eugene Barret Ngaikosset.

The country’s Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRRC), is a transitional justice body charged with establishing truth, determining nonjudicial responsibility for violations, creating a reparations fund, and promoting reconciliation. In April 2020 the National Assembly passed legislation creating the TJRRC, giving it a mandate of four years (with possible extension to five). The law charged the commission with “investigating, determining the truth, and assigning responsibly for the grave events that have marked the nation starting with the March 29, 1959, disappearance of President Barthelemy Boganda until December 31, 2019.” In July the TJRRC’s 11 commissioners, including five women, were sworn in by national authorities. Edith Douzima presided over the TJRRC. The UN Development Program and MINUSCA provided support to the TJRRC through strategic planning and training retreats in August and September.

On February 16, the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened the trial of Alfred Yekatoum and Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The prosecution began the presentation of evidence against Yekatoum and Ngaissona, both former Anti-balaka leaders. Government authorities surrendered Mahamat Said Abdelkani, a former Seleka commander, to the ICC on January 24, and his initial appearance before the court to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity took place on January 28 and 29. From October 12-14, the ICC held a hearing to confirm the charges against Abdelkani. The government referred the situation in the country to the ICC in 2014, and investigations continued during the year.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but this right was not always enforced. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty, requires trials to be public, and states that indigent felony defendants facing sentences of 10 years or more have the right to consult a court-appointed attorney. Criminal trials use professional judges and juries selected from lists generated by magistrates in courts of appeal. Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, question witnesses, and file appeals. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them (with free interpretation as needed) throughout all stages of the legal process, receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. All defendants who do not speak the country’s main languages, French and Sango, are entitled to an interpreter. If this right is not respected, defendants have the right to appeal the decision of the court. Authorities did not always respect these rights.

There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity in the criminal and civil court systems, except for a new victims’ protection program in the SCC. Witness protection was a major issue in the criminal setting. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no assurance of their safety and a credible judicial process.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in which to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. Civil courts, which are collocated with correctional courts, held regular sessions.

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

The law prohibits home searches without a warrant during preliminary investigations, except for provisions in the law that permit searches with the defendant’s consent. Once the case is under investigation by an investigating magistrate, the presence of the defendant or witnesses is sufficient. The government did not always follow this requirement. For instance, in early January former minister Thierry Savonarole Maleyombo, also a senior executive of former president Francois Bozize’s Kwa na Kwa Party, was arrested in Bangui following a search of his home. According to his lawyer, Me Crepin Mboli Goumba, Maleyombo was arrested on suspicion of sheltering pro-Bozize armed individuals in his hotel, which was being used as a rear base. According to Mboli Goumba, authorities did not present Maleyombo a warrant.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

There were numerous reports of serious human rights and international humanitarian law abuses countrywide by FACA, Wagner Group elements, and armed groups. Reports of abuses included unlawful killings, torture, disappearances, rape, forced marriage, looting, destruction of property, recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups, and disruption of humanitarian access.

Between July 2020 and June, a joint report by the UN Human Rights Office and MINUSCA recorded 526 cases of violations and abuses of human rights and of international humanitarian law across the country, impacting 1,221 victims, including 144 civilians. Armed groups affiliated with the CPC were responsible for 286 (54 percent) of the incidents, and the FACA, internal security forces, and other security personnel, including Russian elements from the Wagner Group, were responsible for 240 incidents (46 percent). Violations included summary and extrajudicial executions, acts of torture and ill treatment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, conflict-related sexual violence, and serious violations of children’s rights. The report attributed kidnappings, attacks on peacekeepers, and looting of humanitarian organizations’ premises to CPC rebels.

Killings: In June, 14 persons were killed and two badly wounded during intercommunal clashes between Peuhl herders and local farmers in the Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. The 3R rebels, Central African Patriotic Movement (MPC), UPC, Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic (FPRC), and Anti-balaka armed groups participated in killings of civilians related to armed conflict. Additionally, reports indicated that after forming the CPC in late 2020, these armed groups committed a series of attacks that resulted in civilian deaths and the looting of homes and private properties.

On September 4, the SCC confirmed the arrest of Eugene Ngaikosset, a former captain in the presidential guard accused of multiple killings of civilians from 2005 to 2007. According to Human Rights Watch, his unit was accused of burning thousands of homes in the northeast and northwest of the country in the same period, as well as other crimes as a leader of the Anti-balaka in 2015. The SCC charged him with crimes against humanity.

Abductions: On August 24, three teenagers, ages 12 to 14, were kidnapped, allegedly by 3R rebels and CPC members, in the outskirts of Bozoum, capital of the Ouham-Pende Prefecture in the northwestern part of the country. Local authorities stated the three hostages were safely released by their captors early the next morning after carrying the rebels’ luggage into the bush. They were referred to the local gendarmerie commander for investigation.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were numerous reports throughout the year that all parties to the conflict, including FACA, Wagner Group elements, and rebel armed groups mistreated, assaulted, and raped civilians with impunity.

The United Nations reported a significant increase in conflict-related sexual violence linked with the deterioration of the security situation following the elections. Between June and October, MINUSCA received allegations concerning 118 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence, most of which involved rape. Eighty percent of incidents were attributed to armed groups, while 5 percent were attributed to national defense forces, and 7 percent to “bilaterally deployed and other security personnel.” In Bangui, MINUSCA supported a safe house operated by a local NGO to provide temporary protection to survivors of sexual violence and worked with the UN Country Team to establish a working group to assist survivors in the areas of health, justice, and psychosocial and socioeconomic support. In October President Touadera named Minister Counselor of Child Protection Josiane Bemaka Soui as the country’s new focal point for sexual violence in conflict.

Military tribunals, courts martial, appeals courts, and the Court of Cassation have jurisdiction to try any violation by the military. After a decade of inactivity, military courts resumed work in July. Several officers, noncommissioned officers, and soldiers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to seven years in prison. Most were found guilty of abandoning their posts during the CPC offensive from December 2020 to January. Additionally, Arsene Laki, a divisional police commissioner, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine by the Permanent Military Tribunal for beating a woman while on duty.

MINUSCA announced in September that it would withdraw Gabon’s 450-strong peacekeeping contingent in the wake of sexual exploitation and abuse allegations against some members. The Gabonese government stated it would open its own investigation into the charges and dispatched an investigation team to the country.

Child Soldiers: Armed militias associated with Anti-balaka, ex-Seleka, the CPC, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and other armed groups forcibly recruited and used child soldiers; however, there were no verified cases of the government supporting units recruiting or using child soldiers during the year. Armed groups recruited children and used them as combatants, messengers, informants, and cooks. Girls were often forced to marry combatants or were used as sex slaves. The United Nations also documented the presence of children operating checkpoints and barricades.

Despite signing the United Nation’s Standard Operation Procedures proscribing the use of child soldiers, the MPC, FPRC, and UPC continued to use child soldiers. The FPRC and UPC issued orders barring the recruitment of children; however, NGOs reported the continued presence of children within these groups.

The country is party to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibit the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In addition, on June 15, President Touadera signed the decree enacting the Child Protection Law. The law prohibits and criminalizes the recruitment and the use of children into armed groups and their exploitation for sexual purposes; perpetrators may be sentenced up to 10 years of imprisonment to hard labor. In addition, the law establishes that a child who has served in an armed force or group is a victim and should not be subject to criminal prosecution or that service, and mandates social reintegration mechanisms for victims.

During the year the government, UNICEF, and various NGOs worked with armed groups to combat the exploitation of child soldiers. The focal point for children’s affairs in the unit in charge of the national Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation program, confirmed in August that there were still former child soldiers detained in Ngaragba Prison, because the government was unable to find alternative centers to hold and rehabilitate them.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that humanitarian organizations’ ability to access remote areas worsened because of insecurity. Beginning in December 2020, insecurity forced the closure of the country’s main road, leading to severe shortages of relief commodities. The government continued to impose restrictions on humanitarian travel due to insecurity, and operations by FACA and affiliated forces led to temporary suspensions of assistance in affected areas. Humanitarian organizations suspended activities in areas with high levels of armed group activity as a preventive measure. Additionally, the increase in the use of explosive devices along roads during the year, as well as attacks on key infrastructure such as bridges, limited relief actors’ ability to travel by road. The United Nations recorded 314 security incidents affecting humanitarian staff between January and September, leading to three deaths and 23 injuries. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also reported “a rise in the number of reports of attacks on humanitarian workers and medical services” during the year, and in its most recent appeal, the ICRC noted that health facilities were closed, operating at limited capacity, or were damaged or looted during fighting.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press, the government did not always respect these rights. The law allows criminal prosecutions for defamation of public officials (see Libel/Slander Laws below).

Freedom of Expression: Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. Public political debates known as patara were broadcast on private radio stations in Bangui and in most provincial capitals. In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, with some restrictions. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were alternatives to state-owned radio stations. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka militias, the CPC, and Wagner Group elements. International media broadcast within the country. The High Commission for Communication is the regulatory body in charge of controlling the content of information broadcast or published in media. Opposition political candidates alleged that state-owned media favored the administration during the presidential election campaign. The government monopolized domestic television and national radio station broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government opinion.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: After the January 21 decree establishing the state of emergency, on February 16, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications blocked access to two online newspapers, corbeaunews-centrafrique.com and letsunami.net. Both were accused of disseminating hate speech, disinformation, and fake news on social media. According to Reporters Without Borders, although the ministry did not cite specific reporting in its ban, both Corbeau News publisher Alain Nzilo and Le Tsunami publisher Edouard Yamalet claimed that their online publications were banned because of their coverage of abuses by Russian Wagner Group elements.

Libel/Slander Laws: On May 25, the Court of Justice of Bangui sentenced Jean Serge Wafio in absentia to four years’ imprisonment on allegations of defamation, outrage, and public insults against then prime minister Firmin Ngrebada. In addition, the Court ordered Wafio to pay five million CFA francs ($9,090) in damages to Ngrebada and 300,000 CFA francs ($545) in court costs. Wafio is president of the Central African Democratic Party and resided in France. In an April 9 statement on social media, Wafio accused then prime minister Ngrebada of attempting to kill political opponents, including Simplice Mathieu Sarandji of the United Hearts Movement (MCU), by poisoning. Sarandji was former prime minister Ngrebada’s predecessor. According to Maitre Zoumalde, Ngrebada’s lawyer, the court also issued an arrest warrant against Wafio, prohibiting him from exercising his civil and political rights, including eligibility to serve in public office for the next 10 years. Wafio is subject to enforcement of this warrant at any point he reenters the country. Many observers considered the ruling politically motivated. In another case journalist Landry Ulrich Nguema Ngokpele was arrested in June, pursuant to a complaint filed by local NGO president Harouna Douamba. The complaint cites a 2018 article by Ngokpele’s publication, Le Quotidien de Bangui, alleging that Douamba had swindled government authorities. Ngokpele was released in June after an outcry from civil society but later arrested again on national security charges for alleged connections to the CPC armed group.

Nongovernmental Impact: In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Internet Freedom

In one case the government restricted online content (see above Censorship and Content Restrictions). There were no credible reports that the government otherwise monitored or restricted private online communications.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports that the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

During the year the government denied several requests to protest from civil society groups, including E Zingo Biani, citing insecurity in Bangui, and subsequently dispersed demonstrators. The government tolerated demonstrations by groups closer to the regime. For instance, in May several thousand persons, mostly from groups associated with President Touadera’s MCU party, marched across Bangui to denounce Special Representative of the Secretary General Mankeur Ndiaye’s statements regarding the solution to the country’s crisis being primarily diplomatic, and not military, during an interview with Radio France International. Security forces did not stop them.

Freedom of Association

A law prohibiting unregistered organizations from organizing for purposes of political advocacy remained in place. All political organizations in the country must register with the Ministry of Administration.

The constitution grants the rights to freedom of association to nationals and foreigners, including the rights to establish NGOs, political parties, or religious groups. The law defines NGOs as associations having nondiscriminatory, apolitical, and nonprofit purposes, which aim to carry out activities of public interest that contribute to the achievement of development objectives. Political parties are organizations that prepare candidates to compete in elections.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government did not always respect these rights.

In-country Movement: Armed groups, criminals, and Russian elements from the Wagner Group made in-country movement extremely dangerous. Government forces, Wagner Group elements, armed groups, and criminals frequently used illegal checkpoints to extort funds. Additionally, due to the significant number of police, gendarme, customs, FACA, and armed group checkpoints, it was difficult to move freely between Bangui and provincial cities. There were reports that members of the Peuhl ethnic group were singled out for particularly abusive treatment and heightened scrutiny at many checkpoints.

Foreign Travel: Between March and May, the Bangui prosecutor issued travel bans on opposition leaders, Anicet-Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, Karim Meckassoua, and Aurelien Simplice Zingas. Border police executed the decision, preventing three from boarding flights at Bangui International Airport between March and June. Zingas challenged the decision before the Bangui Administrative Court. On May 25, in its ruling at first instance, the court ordered the lifting of the measures and restitution of his travel documents.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

As of October OCHA noted there were 722,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country due to the armed conflict. Humanitarian actors aided IDPs and returnees and promoted the safe voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of refugees. The government worked with the United Nations and the broader humanitarian community on safe, voluntary return of the country’s IDPs and refugees through a durable solutions working group. The government adopted and followed humanitarian principles for returnees. While there were no reports of forced returns, there were reports of forced evictions, such as a June eviction in Bambari (see below). There were multiple reports of instances in which government forces and Wagner Group elements also obstructed humanitarian organizations from providing services to civilians, including the displaced. Since April security incidents involving explosive devices in the western part of the country resulted in deaths of civilians and humanitarian workers and disrupted humanitarian access, prompting UN agencies and humanitarian actors to restrict movements. Even after reaching safe locations, IDPs frequently risked assault by criminals, including those associated with armed groups, when venturing outside of camps. Women and girls were often at risk of sexual violence in and outside IDP sites. In many affected areas, poor access and insecurity limited humanitarian assistance. From June to August humanitarian international NGOs had limited access to populations south of the town of Alindao due to military operations. When operations subsided in September, international NGOs were able to serve the affected populations. The presence of armed groups also delayed or obstructed humanitarian activities. OCHA reported that more than 8,500 individuals residing in an IDP site in the central town of Bambari, most of them ethnic Peuhl, were forcefully displaced by armed elements on June 4. MINUSCA’s human rights division reported that FACA and Wagner Group elements were responsible. Two days later the site was set afire in circumstances that remained to be clarified. With extremely limited capacity, the government relied on MINUSCA to provide protection and humanitarian actors to provide multisector services to IDPs. Humanitarian organizations remained concerned that armed group members continued to hide in IDP sites, carrying out recruitment activities and putting IDPs and humanitarian staff at risk. Violence increased humanitarian needs, which exceeded existing capacities. OCHA estimated that 2.8 million of the country’s approximately five million inhabitants required humanitarian assistance and protection. Security concerns related to criminality, as well as armed group, FACA, and Russian Wagner Group activity prevented aid organizations from operating in some areas, particularly in the northwest.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: Internal conflicts made it difficult for the country to routinely provide security and protection for persons within its borders. The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Individuals who had fled their countries of origin and had prior criminal records, however, were immediately repatriated.

Durable Solutions: UNHCR restarted voluntary repatriations of refugees from the country living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, many of whom fled across the Oubangui River during violence in 2013. An initial group of 250 was welcomed back at Bangui’s Port Amont during an October 22 ceremony presided over by Prime Minister Henri Dondra.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Refugees who returned to the country after voter registration was closed and the estimated 200,000 potential voters still outside the country were denied the right to participate in the December 2020 presidential and legislative elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In many areas of the country, before and during late December 2020 presidential and legislative elections, armed groups interfered with voter registration and the distribution of election materials. On election day threats and violence by armed groups prevented citizens from voting in 26 of 68 voting districts and interrupted voting in six others. It was unclear precisely how many registered voters were prevented from voting because of armed group interference with electoral processes. Most of the violence committed around the elections was committed by CPC-affiliated armed groups. There were no reports of government security actors attempting to interfere with the election or prevent individuals from voting. The government did not attempt to restrict eligible voters from registering, but armed groups interfered with registration.

International and NGO observers reported high voter turnout in Bangui. Some media reported that threats of violence suppressed turnout in many other areas. NGO observers reported some irregularities in polling places that were able to open, particularly a lack of indelible ink and legislative ballots at certain sites. They also reported that some voters who did not have voter identification cards were allowed to vote with a certificate from the National Elections Authority. Some candidates and opposition leaders, including Anicet Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, and Mahamat Kamoun, alleged there were cases of election fraud. A local elections NGO, the National Observatory of Elections, concluded that observed irregularities did not undermine the overall credibility of the elections. The African Union observation mission reported that voting in Bangui conformed to the country’s electoral code and international standards. Election results were announced in early January.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. UN Women, however, assessed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited women’s ability to participate in political life on an equal basis with men. Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons prevented them from effectively advocating for their interests in the political sphere (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). The law requires that in all public and private institutions, 35 percent of seats should be reserved for women. This provision was not observed. Seven of 32 ministers in President Touadera’s cabinet were women, a 5 percent increase over his previous cabinet, but still short of the law’s requirements. Political parties likewise did not reach 35 percent gender parity in their slates of candidates during the 2020 parliamentary elections. There were 17 women among the 133 members of the National Assembly, a 5 percent increase over the previous legislature. The law prohibits gender discrimination and provides for an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance. As of year’s end the National Observatory had not been established.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not effectively implement the law, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government. Weak government capacity further limited attempts to address fully the problem of public-sector corruption. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption and bribery remained widespread. In April, President Touadera signed a decree dismissing Regis Lionel Privat Dounda, minister of youth and sports. Dounda was allegedly implicated, according to a report by the State’s General Inspectorate, in a corruption affair with a Cameroonian oil company.

Laws and procedures for awarding natural resource extraction contracts and ensuring that information on those processes remain transparent were not followed. The Constitutional Court also asked that the government disclose mining concessions terms. The government did not respond. The government’s oversight body, the High Authority for Good Governance, is not authorized to proceed with investigations without prior authorization from the president and the prime minister.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights abuses and violations of law. Government officials were typically cooperative and responsive.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country’s independent National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties has the authority to investigate complaints, including the power to call witnesses and subpoena documents. In March the commission investigated living conditions in Ngaragba Prison and the M’Baiki Prison. The commission publicized its findings in the local press.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of physical and sexual violence, as well as sexual exploitation. The law prohibits rape of all persons regardless of gender, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual slavery of women and girls by several armed rebel groups continued to threaten security, as did the use of sexual violence as a deliberate tactic of conflict. Attackers enjoyed broad impunity.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison and prohibits all forms of violence against women. Domestic violence against women was common, including physical and verbal abuse and spousal rape. There were no reports of prosecutions during the year for domestic violence, although many courts did not operate for much of the year due to instability throughout the country. According to UNICEF’s 2006 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), nearly 45 percent of women suffered physical violence from their husbands or relatives; 52 percent suffered verbal abuse, and 32 percent were raped.

Women and girls were particularly affected by high rates of conflict-related sexual violence. Decades of unrest and harmful traditions and cultural practices in the country exacerbated gender-based violence, in particular rape, forced marriage, and domestic violence. Survivors of sexual violence were discriminated against, and the government was unable to provide adequate care, including health and social services, to survivors. Sexual violence committed by armed actors increased the risk of spreading HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. In Bangui, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) observed a significant increase in cases of conflict-related sexual violence; the number of consultations linked to such attacks in its Bangui-based Tongolo center rose from 173 in December 2020 to 421 in February. Local NGOs like the National Association for the Support of Free Women and Girls Victims of Sexual Violence in Situations of Distress, the Flamboyants, and the Nengo (“Dignity” in the country’s predominant Sango language) Project assisted victims of sexual violence.

Increased instances of sexual violence corresponded to rising armed group activity and clashes between CPC rebels and the FACA after December 2020. Between January and June, MINUSCA’s human rights office documented 131 incidents of sexual violence connected to the conflict, including 115 rapes. Of these, 19 cases involved government security forces and Wagner Group elements, while 112 involved CPC rebels. For example during the electoral period, 3R and Anti-balaka rebels seized control of Bouar town in Nana-Mambere Prefecture. MINUSCA recorded 21 cases of rape pursuant to this single incident.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls and establishes penalties of two to five years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine. When FGM/C results in the death of the victim, sentences can reach life terms with hard labor and a substantial monetary fine.

Nearly one-quarter of girls and women were subjected to FGM/C, with variations according to ethnicity and region. One percent of girls ages 10 to 14 were mutilated. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice appeared to be decreasing, according to 2018 data, the most recent available. Information on what may be causing this trend was unavailable.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government did not effectively enforce the law, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime. In August the National Assembly passed a law on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The most recent available data on reproductive health is based on 2019 surveys. According to UNICEF’s 2018-2019 MICS Findings Report, 82 percent of women, and 89 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 years did not use contraception. Individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children. The law authorizes abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape. The MICS 2010 survey indicated that the abortion rate was 7 percent among women ages 15 to 45.

The maternal mortality rate was 829 per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization. The major factor contributing to the high maternal death rate was the lack of access to adequate health care. According to 2019 data from the Ministry of Health, the most recent available, there were 873 health-care establishments in the country, of which approximately 52 were hospitals. Of these, 50 percent were small, often rural doctor’s offices, and 44 percent were clinics. Most health-care establishments received medicine, supplies, and other support from humanitarian organizations including UN organizations, the ICRC, and Doctors Without Borders.

Only 19 percent of women reported receiving prenatal care for their last pregnancy (MICS 2018-2019). The birth rate was high at 6.4 per woman (MICS 2018-2019) and 43 percent of women reported having a child before age 18 (MICS 2018-2019). Lacking sexual and reproductive education contributed to early pregnancy among girls, which was more prevalent in rural than in urban areas (MICS 2010). Only 53 percent of births in 2006 were attended by qualified health personnel (83 percent in urban areas, 35 percent in rural areas). Data from the 2018-2019 MICS survey indicated that the infant mortality rate was 100 per 1,000 live births, and 53 percent of deliveries were assisted.

The government worked closely with the International Organization for Migration and MINUSCA to train and deploy the Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Repression of Sexual Violence to Women and Children (UMIRR). UMIRR opened a new office in Bouar in September to reach victims of sexual violence in the country’s northwestern region. Emergency contraception was not widely available to women as a part of the country’s clinical management of rape. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.)

Menstrual health and hygiene issues severely impacted girls’ ability to attend school. Socioeconomic barriers, rather than explicit policies, often prevented pregnant girls from attending school.

Discrimination: The formal law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but the government did not enforce the formal law effectively, and discriminatory customary laws often prevailed. Women’s statutory inheritance rights often were not respected, particularly in rural areas. Women experienced economic and social discrimination. Customary law does not consider single, divorced, or widowed women, including those with children, to be heads of households. By law men and women are entitled to family subsidies from the government, but several women’s groups complained of lack of access to these payments for women.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Nomadic Peuhl pastoralists were often the victims of violence. Their cattle wealth made them frequent targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the northern and northwestern parts of the country. Peuhl were often perceived as foreign because of their transnational migratory patterns. They were also associated with CPC-affiliated armed groups that claimed to represent Peuhl interests. Ethnic killings often occurred in relation to transhumance movements, a major source of livelihood for Peuhl. In recent years some Peuhl pastoralists armed themselves against attacks from farmers objecting to the presence of their grazing cattle. Transhumance movements brought Muslim Fulani/Peuhl herders, Muslim, and Christian farming communities into conflict, which waned during the rainy season and increased as cattle movements resume during the dry season.

Intercommunal clashes also took place in June between Peul herders and local farmers in the Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture, in the village of Tiri, near N’dele. The government took no action to prosecute or investigate these killings and many others, in view of the ongoing conflict in the country.

Peuhl community leaders reported that FACA and Wagner Group elements indiscriminately targeted Peuhl civilians during military operations against the 3R rebels in the western part of the country. International community sources assessed that the government’s moving 8,000 majority-Peuhl IDPs from a site in Bambari in June was a case of forced displacement (see also section 1.e., Internally Displaced Persons).

Armed group conflict at times devolved into ethnic violence, such as the Goula/Rounga conflict in Birao. Throughout the year acts of violence were recorded between the Rounga and the Goula ethnic groups. Violence between the groups continued in Birao and spread to N’dele.

The government had no programs to address factors behind racial or ethnic biases.

Indigenous Peoples

Traditionally, forest dwelling Ba’Aka, including children, were often coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were used as slaves by members of other local ethnic groups. Even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far less than those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups. Some NGOs described the Ba’Aka as “second-class citizens.”

The vast majority of Ba’Aka did not have birth certificates and consequently could not register to be political candidates and vote. They often also had trouble registering for school. Ba’Aka, and Ba’Aka women in particular, frequently were exploited and coerced into servitude or working long hours for “in-kind” salaries of fabric or other household goods. Access to health care, particularly prenatal healthcare, was poor and many Ba’Aka women gave birth in the forest instead of in clinics and other medical facilities. A local Human Rights Center, cosponsored by the World Wildlife Fund employed one lawyer who assisted the Ba’Aka with legal cases. To date, three persons were found guilty of exploiting Ba’Aka labor.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration was less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately for many reasons including a registration deadline of one month, registration costs, or distances to government facilities. Many citizens’ birth certificates and civil status documents were lost during the conflict. Unregistered children were at times unable to access education and other social services. During the year NGOs assisted with documentation activities. In July the Norwegian Refugee Council held mobile hearings with courts in the town of Alindao to issue birth certificates to children in need. The initiative provided more than 3,000 children between the ages of six and 13 with identity documents.

Education: Education is compulsory from ages six to 15. Tuition is free, but students pay for books, supplies, and transportation. Few indigenous Ba’Aka children attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to increase Ba’Aka enrollment.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children younger than 15. UMIRR is the government’s entity charged with investigating abuses against women and children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. A 2018 UNICEF report indicated that 68 percent of girls in the country married before age 18 and more than one-quarter before age 15. Early marriage was more common in Muslim communities. There were reports of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka members during the year. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: In June the government enacted the Child Protection Act, which provides a lifetime sentence and significant monetary fines for trafficking in persons involving minors. The age of consent for sexual activity is 18. Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see section 1.g.). From January to June, MINUSCA documented 84 cases of conflict-related child rape. In June the deputy headmaster of the Castors Girls School in Bangui was arrested and imprisoned for having raped a girl, age 12.

Displaced Children: Conflict-related forced displacement disproportionately affected children. UNICEF estimated 168,000 children were internally displaced within the country; and approximately 70,000 of them were not able to return home. The situation of children already displaced remained extremely worrying, because many were separated from their families and were at greater risk of child rights violations, such as being abducted, threatened, or forced to join armed groups.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities faced unique challenges in accessing education, health services, public buildings, and transportation. The government did not enact programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. There are no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities. The government did not provide government information and communication in accessible formats.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities but does not specify other forms of disabilities. It requires that in any company employing 25 or more persons, at least 5 percent of staff consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities presuming that they were represented in the applicant pool. The law states that at least 10 percent of newly recruited civil service personnel should be persons with disabilities. Statistics covering implementation of these provisions were unavailable.

According to an August World Food Program report, there was a lack of data on persons with disabilities, their needs, and the barriers they face. This lack of data impacted the ability of humanitarian responders to plan, deliver, and evaluate inclusive activities. Data from 2020 collected by Humanity & Inclusion showed that 87 percent of persons with disabilities reported difficulties accessing nonfood item distributions, food, and cash. The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Protection’s (Ministry of Labor) Labor Inspectorate was responsible for protecting children with disabilities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV and AIDS were subjected to discrimination and stigma, and as a result, many individuals with HIV and AIDS did not disclose their status. Many persons living with HIV and AIDS had difficulty accessing appropriate treatment. According to a 2019 survey, HIV prevalence was 3.5 percent among adults. An August UNAIDS assessment of the gender dimensions of HIV prevalence in the country stated 56 percent of new HIV infections in the country were among women, and 60 percent of all persons living with HIV in the country were women. The prevalence of HIV among persons ages 15 to 49 years was 4.9 percent according to the 2010 MICS report; contacts at the Institute Pasteur reported the infection rate in Bangui was approximately 18 percent. MINUSCA sources assessed that the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV was the result of protracted insecurity, humanitarian crises, and retrograde social norms. The same study identified disproportionately high HIV and AIDS prevalence rates amongst other socially stigmatized populations like sex workers (15 percent) and men who have sex with men (6.5 percent).

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The penalty for conviction of “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years and a substantial monetary fine. During the year there were no reports police arrested or detained persons under these provisions.

While official discrimination based on sexual orientation occurred, there were no reports the government targeted LGBTQI+ persons. Societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons was entrenched due to a high degree of cultural stigmatization. One openly LGBTQI+ organization based in Bangui, Central African Alternative, carried out health-based advocacy for LGBTQI+ persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except for senior-level state employees, security-force members, and foreign workers in residence for less than two years, to form or join independent unions without prior authorization. The law provides for the right of workers to organize and administer trade unions without employer interference and grants trade unions full legal status. The law requires union officials be full-time, wage-earning employees in their occupation and allows them to conduct union business during working hours if the employer is informed 48 hours in advance and provides authorization. The labor code provides that unions may bargain collectively in the public and private sectors.

Workers have the right to strike in both the public and private sectors, but the law prohibits security forces, including the armed forces and gendarmes, from striking. Strikes are limited to work-related matters. Requirements for conducting a legal strike are lengthy and cumbersome. For a strike to be legal, the union must first present its demands, the employer must respond to these demands, labor and management must attend a conciliation meeting, and an arbitration council must find that the union and the employer failed to reach agreement on valid demands. The union must provide eight days’ advance written notification of a planned strike. The law states that if employers initiate a lockout that is not in accordance with the code, the employer is required to pay workers for all days of the lockout. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to establish a list of enterprises that are required by law to maintain a “compulsory minimum service” in the event of a strike. The government has the power of requisition or the authority to end strikes by invoking the public interest. The code makes no other provisions regarding sanctions on employers for acting against strikers.

The law expressly forbids antiunion discrimination. Employees may have their cases heard in labor court. The law does not state whether employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities, although the law requires employers found guilty of such discrimination to pay damages, including back pay and lost wages.

The government generally enforced applicable laws and respected laws concerning freedom of association in the formal sector. Penalties were commensurate with other violations of civil rights, but enforcement was inconsistent. Workers exercised some of these rights, but only a relatively small part of the workforce, primarily civil servants, exercised the right to join a union. While worker organizations are officially outside government or political parties, the government exerted some influence over the leadership of some organizations.

Labor unions did not report any underlying patterns of discrimination or abuse. The labor court did not hear any cases involving antiunion discrimination during the year.

Collective bargaining occurred in the private sector during the year, although the total number of collective agreements concluded was unknown. The government was not generally involved if the two parties were able to reach an agreement. Information was unavailable on the effectiveness of collective bargaining in the private sector.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The labor code specifically prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties for these crimes were commensurate with the penalties for similar crimes. The labor code’s prohibition of forced or compulsory labor also applies to children, although the code does not mention them specifically. The penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations because the government did not enforce the prohibition effectively. There were reports forced labor occurred, especially in armed conflict zones.

Employers subjected men, women, and children to forced domestic labor, agricultural work, mining, market or street vending, and restaurant labor, as well as sexual exploitation. Criminal courts sentenced convicted persons to imprisonment and forced labor, and prisoners often worked on public projects without compensation. This practice largely took place in rural areas. Ba’Aka, including children, often were coerced into labor as day laborers, farm hands, or other unskilled labor and often treated as slaves (see section 6, Children).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor code forbids some of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from performing “hazardous work,” but the term is not clearly defined and does not specify if it includes all the worst forms of child labor. The mining code specifically prohibits child or underage labor. The employment of children younger than 14 is prohibited under the law without specific authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The law, however, also provides that the minimum age for employment may be as young as 12 for some types of light work in traditional agricultural activities or home services. Additionally, since the minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, some children may be encouraged to leave school to pursue work before completion of compulsory education.

The government did not enforce child labor laws. The government trained police, military, and civilians on child rights and protection, but trainees lacked resources to conduct investigations. In previous years the government announced numerous policies related to child labor, including those to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, but there was no evidence of ongoing programs to eliminate or prevent child labor, including its worst forms. Penalties were commensurate with similar crimes but were not sufficient to enforce compliance. Government officials allegedly subjected minors to military-related labor at two checkpoints.

Child labor was common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas. Local and displaced children as young as age seven frequently performed agricultural work including harvesting peanuts and cassava and helping gather items sold at markets such as mushrooms, hay, firewood, and caterpillars. In Bangui many of the city’s street children worked as street vendors. Children often worked as domestic workers, fishermen, and in mines, frequently in dangerous conditions. For example, children were forced to work without proper protection or were forced to work long hours (i.e., 10 hours per day or longer). Children also engaged in the worst forms of child labor in diamond fields, transporting and washing gravel as well as mining gold, digging holes, and carrying heavy loads. Despite the law’s prohibition on child labor in mining, observers saw many children working in and around diamond mining fields. There were reports of one indigenous Ba’Aka minor being removed from a situation of forced domestic labor in Bangui.

Children continued to be engaged as child soldiers. There were reports of ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups recruiting child soldiers and using them as porters and assistants at illegal checkpoints during the year (see section 1.g.).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

It is illegal to discriminate in hiring or employment based on race, national or social origin, gender, opinions, or beliefs. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and discrimination occurred with respect to gender, minority status, and national origin. Penalties were commensurate with the penalties for other civil rights violations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on disability, age, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases.

Discrimination against women in employment and occupation occurred in all sectors of the economy and in rural areas, where traditional practices that favor men remained widespread. There were legal restrictions against women in employment, including limiting or prohibiting the employment of women in some tasks, jobs, and industries. Furthermore, carrying, dragging, or pushing any load is prohibited during pregnancy and within three weeks of returning to work after giving birth. Women are not allowed on the premises of businesses where employees work with certain dangerous chemicals, and women are restricted in the work they may do in other trades, including working on the manufacture of sulfuric acid, application of rubber coatings, and pickling or galvanizing of iron.

Migrant workers experienced discrimination in employment and pay.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wages and Hour Laws: The labor code states the Ministry of Labor sets minimum wages in the public sector by decree. The government, the country’s largest employer, set wages after consultation, but not negotiation, with government employee trade unions. The minimum wages in the private sector were established based on sector-specific collective conventions resulting from negotiations between employers and workers’ representatives in each sector.

The minimum wage in the private sector varied by sector and type of work. The minimum wage in all sectors was less than the World Bank standard for extreme poverty.

The law sets a standard workweek of 40 hours for government employees and most private-sector employees. Household employees may work up to 52 hours per week. The law also requires a minimum rest period of 48 hours per week for citizen, foreign, and migrant workers. Overtime policy varied according to the workplace. Violations of overtime policy may be referred to the Ministry of Labor, although it was unknown whether this occurred during the year. There is no legal prohibition on excessive or compulsory overtime. The labor code, however, states that employers must provide for the health and security of employees who are engaged in overtime work. Penalties were commensurate with other analogous crimes.

Occupational Safety and Health: There are general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but the Ministry of Labor did not precisely define them. The labor code states that a labor inspector may compel an employer to correct unsafe or unhealthy work conditions.

The law provides that workers may remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without jeopardy to their employment. In such instances the labor inspector notifies the employer and requires that conditions be addressed within four working days. The high unemployment and poverty rates deterred workers from exercising this right.

The government did not effectively enforce labor standards, and violations were common in all sectors of the economy. The Ministry of Labor has primary responsibility for managing labor standards, while enforcement falls under the Ministry of Interior and Public Safety and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The government did not have an adequate number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance with labor laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations but were seldom applied and insufficient to enforce compliance. The law applies to foreign and migrant workers as well, although foreign workers must meet residency requirements to join a union. Employers commonly violated safety and health standards in agriculture and mining.

Diamond mines, which employed an estimated 400,000 persons, were subject to standards imposed by the mining code and inspection by the Miners’ Brigade. Nevertheless, monitoring efforts were underfunded and insufficient. Despite the law requiring those working in mines to be at least 18, observers frequently saw underage diggers. Diggers often worked in open pits susceptible to collapse, working seven days a week during the peak season. Diggers were employed by larger mine operators, worked in dangerous conditions at the bottom of open pits, and lacked safety equipment.

Miners, by contrast, had a share in ownership and participated in the proceeds of diamond sales. Miners often supplemented these earnings with either illegal diamond sales or wages from other sectors of the economy.

The government did not release information on workplace injury and deaths or other occupational safety and health statistics, and officials failed to respond to direct requests for information from the International Labor Organization in previous years.

Informal Sector: A 2020 World Bank Group report stated that most economic activity in the country was informal, conducted by micro, small-, and medium-sized enterprises representing 40 to 60 percent of GDP. The minimum wage applied only to the formal sector, leaving most of the labor force of the country in the informal sector without a minimum wage. Most labor was performed outside the wage and social security system, especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector and laborers in the artisanal mining sector. While most labor protection laws applied to the informal sector, they were not enforced, and violations of wage, hour, and safety regulations were common.

Cote d’Ivoire

Executive Summary

Cote d’Ivoire is a democratic republic governed by a president. Elections in March for the 255 seats of the National Assembly, the more powerful of the country’s two legislative bodies, were considered free and fair, and all major political parties participated. The president was re-elected for a third term in October 2020 under conditions generally considered free, although some international observers questioned the fairness of the overall electoral process. Some observers found the process to be satisfactory while others concluded it did not allow for genuine competition.

The National Police, which reports to the Ministry of the Interior and Security, and the National Gendarmerie, which reports to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for domestic law enforcement. The Coordination Center for Operational Decisions, a mixed unit of police, gendarmerie, and Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire personnel, assisted police in providing security in some large cities. The Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire, which report to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for national defense. The Directorate of Territorial Surveillance, under the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection, is responsible for countering internal threats. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were reliable reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government or on behalf of government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detentions; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and/or intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation and other harmful practices; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.

Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses perpetrated by members of the security services. The government took some steps to prosecute officials in the security services, as well as elsewhere in the government, who were accused of abuses, but victims of reported abuses alleged their perpetrators were not disciplined. The government also took steps to prosecute officials who were accused of committing corrupt acts and to recover assets stolen from the state.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There was at least one report that the government or its agents committed potentially arbitrary or unlawful killings. In May media reported a late-night altercation between two gendarmes and a group of young persons in the town of Gonate, in which one of the gendarmes shot and killed Abdoulaye Fofana, age 20. Authorities arrested the two gendarmes shortly after the incident, and the commander of the National Gendarmerie stated that a military tribunal had opened an investigation into the killing. The commander also visited the victim’s family to offer condolences.

Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged abuses, including killings, perpetrated by members of the security services.

In March the government prosecuted Amade Oueremi, a militia leader during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis, for killings and other crimes allegedly committed in 2011 in the city of Duekoue. International organizations estimate that militias killed 300 to 800 persons in one day. During the crisis, Oueremi fought alongside forces loyal to President Ouattara against forces loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo. After a 20-day trial, the court convicted Oueremi of crimes against humanity, murder, looting, and rape; sentenced him to life imprisonment; and ordered he pay a substantial amount to his victims.

On June 17, former president Gbagbo returned to the country at government expense following his March 31 acquittal by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity in the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis (which resulted in approximately 3,000 deaths and 500,000 displaced persons). Gbagbo met with President Ouattara in a cordial, if symbolic, meeting on July 27. Many private citizens, members of the government, opposition leaders, and religious leaders stated Gbagbo’s return was a necessary step for national reconciliation. Groups representing victims of violence committed during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis asserted the government’s willingness to allow Gbagbo back in the country without legal accountability for his alleged role in that violence constituted acquiescence in impunity by the government.

b. Disappearance

In contrast with 2020, there were no reports of disappearances carried out by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. The government did not provide information regarding reports of abuse within prisons, or mechanisms to prevent or punish such abuses. Human rights organizations reported that detainees and prisoners were subject to violence and abuse, including beatings and extortion, by members of the security forces and prison officials and that the perpetrators of these acts went unpunished. Human rights organizations reported mistreatment of detainees between arrest and being booked into prison. Human rights organizations reported that some prisoners arrested for crimes allegedly committed during the presidential electoral period in 2020 were subject to abuse by security forces during their arrest and incarceration in 2020, including being denied medicine for chronic conditions, beatings, and electric shocks.

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

Impunity was a problem in the security forces. Military police and the military tribunal investigated and prosecuted abuses.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: The government acknowledged prison overpopulation was a problem and that existing facilities, originally built to hold no more than 8,000 prisoners, were insufficient to hold the total prison population of more than 23,000 as of mid-August. In at least one prison, the inmates reportedly slept packed head-to-toe on the floor.

Prisons generally held men and women in separate prison wings. The government reported that juveniles were generally held separately from adults, except girls were sometimes held with women due to a lack of cell space. The children of female inmates sometimes lived with their mothers in prison. Additionally, prisons sometimes held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. Human rights organizations reported that prisons did not provide special care for prisoners with disabilities. Some human rights organizations reported that prominent prisoners or those who had been politically active sometimes enjoyed slightly better living conditions than other prisoners.

Human rights organizations received reports of prisoner deaths due to malnutrition. The government reported that, as of mid-August, 156 prisoners had died in prison. The government did not provide further details on the causes of death but noted none resulted from prisoner-on-prisoner violence. A human rights organization reported that a prisoner arrested in October 2020 died in March after a severe deterioration in his health and transfer from prison to a local hospital.

Human rights organizations reported prisoners in some prisons did not get enough food to meet daily caloric needs. Human rights organizations reported that wealthier prisoners could buy food and other amenities, as well as hire staff to wash and iron their clothes, while poorer inmates did not receive sufficient food on a regular basis. Families routinely supplemented the rations of relatives in prison if they had the means. Under certain circumstances the government allowed nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide prisoners with food and nonfood items, including items to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as masks, isolation tents, and hygiene kits.

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

Human rights organizations observed that prisoners sometimes slept without mattresses. Poor ventilation and high temperatures, exacerbated by overcrowding, remained problems in some prisons. While potable water generally was available in prisons and detention centers, water shortages were common. Overcrowding and lack of personal protective equipment, such as masks, prevented prisoners from adhering to physical distancing measures to protect against COVID-19.

Within detention facilities unsanitary conditions persisted, including detainees living near toilets.

Information on conditions at detention centers operated by the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST) was not readily available.

Administration: Inmates may submit complaints of abuse to prison directors; however, the government did not provide information on such complaints. The government reported as of August no confirmed cases in which prison officials committed physical abuse against inmates under their supervision. Human rights organizations, however, reported alleged physical abuse and extortion of prisoners by prison officials and that many prison guards were poorly trained. Authorities generally permitted visitors in prisons on visiting days, although visitation restrictions and prohibitions implemented at some prisons due to COVID-19 affected this practice. Human rights organizations observed that, in detention centers operated by the DST, requests for access to prisoners by their lawyers and families were typically not formally refused but instead made virtually impossible by bureaucratic requirements.

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

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

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

Arbitrary Arrest: The law does not permit arbitrary arrest, but authorities reportedly made such arrests occasionally.

In April a group of armed individuals attacked a military post in Abidjan. The attack was repelled, and security forces killed four of the attackers. In the aftermath of the attack, authorities arrested Guei Gerard and Aka Affia, a married couple. The public prosecutor alleged the couple admitted in statements to authorities they had sheltered some of the attackers prior to the attack. Human rights organizations stated the couple was arrested on April 24, transferred to the country’s main prison on April 28, then to a military facility, and eventually back to the initial holding prison, where according to human rights organizations they remained without charge as of October.

Pretrial Detention: According to the government, more than 7,300 inmates were in pretrial detention as of mid-August, slightly more than 30 percent of the total inmate population. Prolonged pretrial detention was a major problem. In some cases, the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Inadequate staffing in the judicial ministry, judicial inefficiency, and authorities’ lack of training or knowledge of legal updates contributed to lengthy pretrial detention. There were reports of pretrial detainees receiving convictions in absentia, with judicial authorities sometimes claiming the presence of the accused at their trial was not necessary, and at other times, not providing sufficient notice and time to arrange transportation to the trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and although the judiciary generally was independent in ordinary criminal cases, the government did not always respect judicial independence. Some human rights organizations reported interference by the executive branch in the judiciary and the government’s refusal to implement several court decisions. The judiciary was subject to corruption and outside influence. Since former president Laurent Gbagbo’s return to the country in June, the government has not enforced his 2018 conviction in absentia for alleged theft of funds from a state-controlled bank during the postelectoral crisis of 2010-11. The conviction resulted in a 20-year sentence.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary sometimes did not enforce this right. Although the law provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals), the government did not always respect these requirements. The government reported standing criminal tribunals continued to significantly reduce the number of outstanding cases. Still, human rights organizations reported that a long backlog of cases remained the norm.

Although the judicial system provides for court-appointed attorneys for those who cannot afford them, only limited free legal assistance was available. The government had a small legal defense fund to pay members of the bar who agreed to represent the indigent. Nonetheless, obtaining representation in rural areas was often impractical because most lawyers were based in the country’s two largest cities. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, although the government sometimes pursued rapid trials that did not respect such rights. Defendants may present their own witnesses and evidence and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. Lack of a witness protection mechanism was a problem. Defendants cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess guilt, although there were reports they sometimes were required to do so. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, but courts may try absent defendants who do not have a valid excuse for their absence, and courts have done so occasionally in high-profile cases. Those convicted had access to appeals courts, but higher courts rarely overturned verdicts.

Military tribunals follow a different procedural code from civilian criminal courts. Human rights organizations did not report any trials of civilians by military tribunals.

The relative scarcity of trained magistrates and lawyers resulted in limited access to effective judicial proceedings, particularly outside of major cities, although the government reported an approximately 50 percent increase in the number of magistrates. In rural areas traditional institutions often administered justice at the village level, handling domestic disputes and minor land questions in accordance with customary law. Decisions made by traditional institutions were not legally binding, but they were largely adhered to, given the institutions’ credibility at the local level.

Human rights organizations and political parties asserted that the government used the judicial system to marginalize various opposition figures. In May the government prosecuted Guillaume Soro, a prominent opposition figure living abroad in self-exile, and 19 of his supporters, some abroad, for acts committed in 2019. The government contended Soro and his supporters attempted to foment a coup. Charges included conspiracy, attempted attack on the authority of the state, and disseminating false news. At the end of the 34-day trial, the court found all 20 defendants guilty. Soro and an aide received sentences of life imprisonment; two of Soro’s aides also in exile received 20-year prison sentences. The remaining defendants received lesser sentences, and three defendants were released for time served. Additionally, the court ordered the dissolution of Soro’s political movement for “subversive acts” and imposed a substantial fine on the defendants. Soro’s lawyers appealed both his sentence and the dissolution of his movement. As of late August, the appeals remained pending.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The government denied there were political prisoners, although it arrested multiple members of opposition parties at the end of 2019 and during 2020 on various criminal charges. Many of these persons were either released or prosecuted during the year. The government also released numerous persons arrested for crimes allegedly committed during the 2020 presidential electoral period. In December 2020 and in January, the government provisionally released several members of the opposition charged with sedition and terrorism in connection with their November 2020 professed establishment of a National Transitional Council (see section 3, Recent Elections). In January the government also released five members of Guillaume Soro’s political movement arrested in August 2020 in connection with protests against President Ouattara’s candidacy for a third term.

In May the public prosecutor announced that judges responsible for investigating persons detained for alleged crimes, some involving violence, committed during the presidential electoral period had ordered the provisional release of 100 of these detainees. Included in this group was Pulcherie Edith Gbalet, a civil society organization leader, and three of her colleagues, provisionally released in April. In August 2020, Gbalet and the three colleagues were arrested and charged with inciting riots in connection with their calls for demonstrations against President Ouattara’s candidacy, as well as with disturbing public order, calling for insurrection, violence and assault, and destruction of public and private property. The government cited the accused’s social media posts calling for protests, but no further evidence, to substantiate the charges. After her release, the government informed Gbalet that she would be tried, but as of October no trial date had been set. The government did not pursue charges against her three colleagues.

In early August President Ouattara announced in a televised speech the provisional release of an additional 69 persons detained for crimes allegedly committed during the presidential electoral period. He also announced the pardon of nine persons convicted of crimes committed during this period. As of late August, 37 individuals accused of committing crimes during the presidential electoral period remained in pretrial detention.

Officials reportedly granted prisoners who were members of opposition parties the same protections as other prisoners, including access by international human rights organizations. In December 2020 the government allowed one opposition member imprisoned on charges of sedition and terrorism to travel internationally for medical treatment while in pretrial detention. The opposition member was released provisionally in January.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Misuse of International Law Enforcement Tools: There were credible reports the country attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools for politically motivated purposes as a reprisal against a specific individual located outside the country.

In August, Malian authorities executed an international arrest warrant issued by an Abidjan court in November 2020 and arrested Sess Soukou Mohamed (aka Ben Souk), an Ivoirian, in Bamako. The warrant was for “subversive acts.” A member of Guillaume Soro’s political movement, Mohamed had been convicted in absentia along with Soro by a court in June for plotting a coup (see section 1.e., Denial of Fair Public Trial). As of September, Mohamed remained incarcerated in Mali.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. The law requires warrants for security personnel to conduct searches, the prosecutor’s agreement to retain any evidence seized in a search, and the presence of witnesses in a search, which may take place at any time.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, and rebellion, as well as insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government. Sometimes the government took steps to remove such content from social media. Other times the application of this law raised questions of political influence.

In December 2020, during a concert in Abidjan, two popular singers questioned the impartiality of the public prosecutor’s investigation into violence committed during the presidential election period. Authorities detained the singers, and a court convicted them the next day of propagating false information, contempt of court, and discrediting the judicial system. Both were given a one-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay a substantial fine.

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

Virtually all press outlets were government-affiliated or were owned by politicians or other wealthy individuals. Government-affiliated media frequently reflected the political views of the government. Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published editorials condemning the government. Journalistic standards were flouted by regime- and opposition-aligned media outlets, sometimes leading to allegations of defamation and subsequent claims that opposition media were more likely to be charged with that offense.

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

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

In March while covering the funeral of the recently deceased prime minister in Seguela, journalist Jonas Baikeh attended a meeting at the ruling party’s headquarters. Baikeh witnessed the head of a state-owned company fall ill and nearly collapse. Baikeh reported the event on his newspaper’s website shortly after it occurred, which angered some ruling party supporters present. The supporters threatened to kill Baikeh if he did not leave the town by 6 p.m. that evening. Baikeh left the scene and hid before returning to Abidjan. Authorities took no action against the persons who threatened Baikeh.

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by criminal prosecution. In addition to government prosecution, individuals can bring criminal defamation cases against other individuals.

In July authorities arrested Alerte Zatte, a cyberactivist, for publishing a video on social media critical of Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo. In the video, Zatte accused Simone Gbagbo of hoping for Laurent Gbagbo’s death and ordering allies to insult him on social media. Authorities detained Zatte at the airport while she was waiting to board a flight to France, where she resided. A court sentenced Zatte to six months in prison and levied a substantial fine for defamation.

Nongovernmental Impact: In June the minister of national reconciliation visited the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, one of the country’s main opposition parties, as part of a series of meetings to encourage political dialogue. In response, four to five members of the party’s youth wing knocked over microphones set up for a postmeeting press conference and demanded that journalists covering the event leave. According to media reports, the youth-wing members were protesting the party’s normalization of relations with the government while several of the party’s members remained in prison. When the journalists refused to leave, the youth-wing members attacked the journalists, injuring several and destroying some of their equipment. After the incident the party issued a statement apologizing to the journalists and the minister of national reconciliation.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

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

On June 17, former president Gbagbo flew from Brussels to Abidjan, his first time back in the country since his 2011 extradition to The Hague (see section 1.a., Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings). In anticipation of his return, hundreds of Gbagbo’s supporters amassed on the route to the airport that morning. Over the course of the day, security forces used tear gas to disperse the crowds that attempted to approach the airport and arrested some supporters. Gbagbo’s spokesperson alleged security forces prevented groups of supporters traveling by bus from reaching Abidjan. The government stated it had not banned gatherings along the airport route but that supporters’ attempts to reach the airport constituted a breach of public order.

In July security forces prevented a protest organized by local NGOs decrying the country’s high cost of living. The NGOs had announced their intent to peacefully protest several days earlier. When participants arrived at the designated protest location, security forces stated the protest could not take place because the organizers had not received government authorization. According to one of the organizers, security forces arrested several protesters.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

In-country Movement: There were reports of impediments to internal travel. Although some roadblocks set up by security forces served legitimate security purposes, extortion of bribes was sometimes reported. Civil society organizations reported instances in which members of the security forces, deployed to the north of the country to interdict criminals and violent extremists, set up unofficial checkpoints in forests and other unpopulated areas and demanded bribes for travelers to pass.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

In April international organizations and the government estimated there were 900 internally displaced persons (IDPs), down from 16,700 after the 2020 election. International organizations reported that the vast majority of IDPs who fled their homes because of feared or experienced violence associated with the 2020 presidential election had returned home voluntarily in the months following the election. The government actively coordinated with international organizations to register and deliver services to the IDPs.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: Although there is no national asylum law, the country provides for asylum or refugee status, and the government has established an administrative system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum seekers awaiting adjudication of their application enjoy a full set of basic rights, including freedom of movement, health care, and education. Asylum seekers are not entitled to work until they receive refugee status.

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

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

g. Stateless Persons

The government did not report the number of persons believed to be stateless. With birth registration a requirement for citizenship, all unregistered children were at risk of statelessness. UNHCR estimated 16,000 persons in the country were at “very high risk” of statelessness, out of an estimated 1.65 million persons living in the country without citizenship documents. This figure included an estimated 519,000 abandoned children and foundlings (i.e., abandoned children of unknown parentage), who were at risk of statelessness because they could not prove their citizenship through their parents, as required under the law. Such children were deprived of the opportunity to attend high school (which is legally compulsory until the age of 16, but also requires the presentation of identity documents as part of the enrollment process), and, as adults, would be unable to open a bank account, travel abroad freely, purchase land, gain lawful employment, or vote or exercise other political rights, such as running for office.

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

The government has policies to resolve the status of certain stateless persons. In 2020 the government formally established legal procedures for some individuals to petition the government for a formal determination of statelessness status. According to UNHCR a determination of statelessness would pave the way for an individual to receive identity documents and access to other legal processes. Also, according to UNHCR, a rejected application for stateless status means the adjudicating bodies believe the applicant is in fact entitled to a particular nationality.

In February the government inaugurated the governmental commissions tasked with adjudicating claims of statelessness and began training the adjudicators of these bodies. As of October, the commissions had not begun to adjudicate cases.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On March 6, the country held elections for the 255 seats in the National Assembly, the more powerful of the parliament’s two legislative bodies. All major political parties and some independents participated in the elections; two major opposition parties ran in a coalition. The elections resulted in a 54/46 percent split between the ruling coalition and the opposition, with the ruling party winning 137 of the 255 seats.

The period before the elections was marked by generally peaceful campaigning with both ruling party and opposition leaders enthusiastically calling on their supporters to vote. Civil society organizations and media noted sporadic minor incidents during the campaign, including vandalism of candidate campaign posters and the alleged assault of an opposition candidate by ruling party supporters.

Election day itself also unfolded in a generally peaceful manner but with minor election-related irregularities, including sporadic incidents of voter material destruction, acts of violence and intimidation against voting officials or voters, biometric tablet failures, voting officials’ refusing to admit accredited observers to polling sites, and confrontations between supporters of opposing candidates. After the vote ended, several opposition leaders suggested the possibility of fraud, but they ultimately followed the legal process for challenging contested election results. On March 9, the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) announced provisional results, which the Constitutional Council validated on March 25 in all but four races. In the four races (whose results could not have altered the balance of power), the Constitutional Council annulled the results and ordered a revote.

International and local observers considered the elections generally free, fair, and transparent. In a preliminary statement issued two days after the elections, the International Election Observation Mission of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and The Carter Center deemed the elections “an inclusive election in a generally peaceful atmosphere.” Indigo, a local NGO that deployed 500 observers across the country, described the elections as “peaceful” despite minor incidents.

The country held a presidential election in October 2020. In contrast to the March legislative elections, the period before the presidential election was marked by intense political maneuvering by the regime and opposition, acrimonious and divisive rhetoric, protests, and largely civilian-on-civilian violence.

The opposition vociferously contested President Ouattara’s decision to seek a third term following the July 2020 death of the ruling coalition’s candidate. Although the opposition argued that President Ouattara was precluded from running due to a term limit, the Constitutional Council, which the constitution empowers to validate presidential candidacies, validated Ouattara’s candidacy in September 2020 on the grounds that it would be his first term under the 2016 Constitution. The Council also validated the candidacies of three prominent opposition figures but rejected those of 40 other contenders, specifying in each case which eligibility criteria the contender failed to meet. Before and after the election, opposition leaders repeatedly alleged the Council was inherently biased toward the ruling coalition. UN, ECOWAS, and African Union officials visited the country several times during the electoral period to encourage a tension-calming dialogue between the government and the opposition but did not recommend a revision of the Council’s decision on candidacies.

Among those barred from competition were prominent opposition figures Guillaume Soro and former president Laurent Gbagbo, both rejected due to domestic criminal convictions. Following the Constitutional Council’s announcement, the ACHPR issued two separate rulings in September 2020 ordering the government to permit Soro and Gbagbo to run for election. The government did not respond directly to either ruling but indicated in public statements that it did not consider the ACHPR’s rulings binding in view of its April 2020 announcement that it was withdrawing from the optional protocol that allowed nonstate actors to petition the court.

Election-related protests and violence escalated immediately before the election, particularly in mid-October 2020 after the opposition launched a campaign of “civil disobedience” and an “active boycott” designed to prevent the election from occurring unless the government conceded to opposition demands. In addition to violent clashes between civilians, many criminal acts occurred during the campaign. Media reported multiple incidents of vandalism, including the burning of CEI field offices, theft and destruction of voter cards, and construction of crude roadblocks by opposition-aligned youth to obstruct major roads.

Scattered, disruptive, and occasionally deadly unrest continued on election day in several locations in the central and southern parts of the country. Reported incidents included theft and destruction of electoral materials, civilian-on-civilian clashes, ransacked polling stations, and roadblocks around polling stations, which suppressed voter participation. The CEI confirmed that 21 percent of polling stations were not operational on election day, October 31, due to disruptions. International election observers reported the same but also noted that, in some cases, polling sites did not open because election officials failed to deploy necessary voter equipment and materials. At polling sites that did open, voting generally took place without incident although observers noted scattered minor irregularities, such as sites opening late or closing early and election officials struggling, without apparent malicious intent, to tabulate results accurately. The government reported that between August and November 2020, 85 persons had been killed and 484 injured, including several members of the security forces, in election-related violence.

International election observers differed in their overall assessments of the election. The African Union stated the election “was held in an overall satisfactory manner.” The International Election Observation Mission of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and The Carter Center found that officials “generally adhered to voting procedures in the majority of the polling stations visited,” but criticized the political climate in which the election took place as “not allowing for a genuinely competitive election.” The Constitutional Council certified that President Ouattara had won re-election with 94.27 percent of the vote, a percentage due in part to the opposition’s boycott, and President Ouattara was sworn in for a third term in December 2020.

Earlier in November the opposition asserted that President Ouattara was no longer president and announced the establishment of a National Transitional Council. Via social media from France, Guillaume Soro claimed in his capacity as a member of the transitional council that President Ouattara no longer had the constitutional power to command the armed forces and called for them to overthrow him. The government subsequently announced charges of sedition and terrorism against 20 senior opposition figures involved in the Council’s professed creation. In mid-November 2020, the government issued an international arrest warrant for Soro and three of his aides, requesting their extradition from France.

Although the law requires the national voter registry to be updated annually, it was last revised in June and July 2020. During the 2020 registration, CEI staff generally appeared well prepared to execute that process, although some opposition parties reported their members’ difficulty obtaining documents required to prove their eligibility to vote. The government extended the registration period twice and, midway through the registration process, extended the validity of existing national identity cards so that holders could register and vote in the presidential election without having to obtain new biometric identity cards.

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

Some opposition parties reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permits.

Opposition parties frequently criticized the legality and impartiality of the CEI. In September 2020 the Ivorian Popular Front, the only party previously represented in the CEI that the broader opposition accepted as an authentic opposition party, suspended its participation due to its overall objection to the electoral process. In December 2020 the government led a round of political dialogue that led the opposition to reverse its stance and decide to compete in the legislative elections. Accordingly, in January the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, the country’s largest unified opposition party, officially took the seat that had been reserved for it on the CEI, which it had previously refused to do without reforms at the CEI.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Of 255 National Assembly members, 32 were women after the March elections, up from 29 previously. Of 99 Senate members, 19 were women, including 11 of 33 appointed by President Ouattara in 2019 and eight of 66 elected in 2018. The law requires women constitute at least 30 percent of each political party’s candidates nationwide for legislative elections, however, there are no penalties if the quota is not met. In the March national legislative elections, female candidates accounted for an average of 15 percent of candidate slates.

Members of the transgender community reported difficulty obtaining identity and voting documents. Election observers reported assistance to voters with disabilities (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged frequently in corrupt practices with impunity. Human rights organizations reported official corruption, particularly in the judiciary, police, and security forces, but they noted victims of such corruption often did not report it or assist in investigations because they believed the government would not act or they feared retaliation. Civil society groups and government officials reported the High Authority for Good Government (HABG), the government’s anticorruption authority, was not empowered to act independently or to take decisive action. The HABG can investigate alleged corruption but lacks the mandate to prosecute; it must refer cases to the public prosecutor. In July the government created a special unit within the Abidjan public prosecutor’s office dedicated to investigating complex economic and financial crimes, including those involving government officials.

Corruption: As of August, the government reported it had initiated three proceedings against magistrates for suspected influence peddling and abuse of power.

In June authorities arrested the director general of the Land Management Agency for alleged embezzlement and money laundering. In July the government announced it had launched audits of approximately 40 state-owned enterprises and suspended at least seven officials of state-owned enterprises pending the outcome of audits. Also in July the HABG announced that 473 persons were either under investigation, indicted, or sentenced for corrupt acts, such as money laundering and embezzlement of public funds. Human rights organizations reported government authorities awarded many contracts to persons or businesses without following procurement rules and often with little notice. In August 2020 the government’s public procurement regulatory authority launched an audit program to investigate more than 200 sole-source public procurements that occurred between 2014 and 2017. Although the regulatory authority completed the audits it did not release them.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights is responsible for implementing the government’s policy on human rights. The National Council for Human Rights, an advisory body that consults on, evaluates, and creates proposals to promote and defend human rights, is partially dependent on funding from the government, and human rights organizations questioned its independence and effectiveness. The human rights council had 31 regional commissions and seven thematically focused departments. The civilian-controlled Special Investigative Cell within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights investigates persons suspected of human rights abuses committed during the postelectoral crisis of 2010-11.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men and women and provides for prison terms of five to 20 years for perpetrators. The law provides for a rebuttable presumption of consent in marital rape cases. The court may impose a life sentence in cases of gang rape if the rapists are related to or hold positions of authority over the victim, or if the victim is younger than age 18. The law does not specifically address domestic violence and intimate partner violence or mandate special penalties for these acts. Authorities did not enforce these laws effectively.

Human rights organizations reported family members and community leaders often informally mediated rape accusations without victim input and dissuaded victims from reporting to police to avoid bringing shame or other negative consequences to the family, particularly if the perpetrator was related. Families often accepted payment as compensation. Police reportedly often had a blame-the-victim mentality. Media and NGOs reported that rape of schoolgirls by teachers was a problem, but the government did not provide information on charges filed.

Although rape victims were not legally required to have a certified, postrape medical examination to press charges, human rights organizations reported that the certificate and other documentation (such as a victim’s psychological evaluation or a crime scene report) were frequently treated as essential to successful prosecutions. At a cost of 50,000 CFA francs ($91), the certified examination was prohibitively expensive for most rape victims. Police often did not know to refer rape victims to a medical practitioner for an examination, while many medical practitioners were not trained how to examine victims for signs of sexual and gender-based violence or prepare the certificate. Human rights organizations reported that the only government-run victim shelter in the country (located in Abidjan) had limited beds and would not house victims for more than three days.

In April media reported on the alleged assault and rape of a woman in Abidjan. The alleged assailant and the victim initially met and corresponded online. When they met in person, police reported the accused served the victim a drugged drink, raped her, and stole her belongings. The victim was transported to a local hospital the next day where she died shortly thereafter, apparently due to an overdose from the drug the accused allegedly gave her. Authorities arrested the accused a week later and announced he had confessed to drugging and raping the victim. After the victim’s death, the case gained increasing social media attention, and at least 30 women came forward to report the accused had raped them under similar circumstances.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law specifically forbids FGM/C and provides penalties for practitioners of up to five years’ imprisonment and substantial fines. Double penalties apply to medical practitioners, including doctors, nurses, and medical technicians. Nevertheless, FGM/C remained a problem. The most recent 2016 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey indicated that the rate of FGM/C nationwide was 37 percent, with prevalence varying by region.

In June media reported on the genital cutting of eight adolescent girls in Zouan Hounien, a village in the western part of the country. Authorities arrested the alleged assailant and referred the victims to a government-run social center.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Societal violence against women included traditional practices that are illegal, such as dowry deaths (the killing of brides over dowry disputes), levirate (forcing a widow to marry her dead husband’s brother), and sororate (forcing a woman to marry her dead sister’s husband). Human rights organizations stated these cases were rare. The government did not provide information regarding the prevalence or rate of prosecution for such violence or forced activity.

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

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

As a result of FGM/C, scarring was common. Scarring could lead to obstructed labor during childbirth, an obstetric complication that was a common cause of maternal deaths, especially in the absence of Caesarean section capability (see the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C) subsection for additional information).

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2010-19, 44 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated 82 percent of all women had the autonomy to decide whether to use contraception. Barriers to modern methods of contraception included cost (the government only partially subsidized the cost of some methods of contraception), distance to points of purchase such as pharmacies and clinics, and low or unreliable stocks of certain types of contraception. Other barriers to use included misinformation, and conflicting moral and religious beliefs, including providers opposed to providing modern methods of contraception to adolescent girls.

According to the WHO, 74 percent of births in 2010-19 were attended by skilled health personnel. Barriers to births attended by skilled health personnel included distance to modern health facilities, cost of prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, and low provider capacity. Government policy required emergency health-care services to be available and free to all, but care was not available in all regions, particularly rural areas, and was often expensive. According to WHO estimates, in 2010-18, the adolescent birth rate was 123 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19.

Health services for survivors of sexual violence existed, but costs of such services were often prohibitive for victims, authorities often did not know to refer victims to medical practitioners, and many medical practitioners were not trained in treatment of survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception was not always available as part of the clinical management of rape cases.

According to the WHO, UNICEF, the UNFPA, the World Bank, and the UN Population Division, in 2017 (the latest year for which data are available), the maternal mortality rate was 617 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 658 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Factors contributing to the high maternal mortality rate chiefly related to lack of access to quality care. Additionally, local NGOs reported women often had to pay for prenatal consultations and other birth-related supplies and vaccinations, which dissuaded them from using modern facilities and increased the likelihood of maternal mortality.

Stigma surrounding menstruation and lack of access to menstruation hygiene caused some girls not to attend school during menstruation. The Ministry of Education authorized pregnant adolescent girls to attend school, but not all schools adhered to this policy. Additionally, pregnant adolescent girls faced stigma that sometimes caused them to stop their studies.

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

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law prohibits xenophobia, racism, and tribalism, including discrimination against persons based on their ethnic origin. The government effectively enforced the law.

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

Media reported on several interethnic (referred to as intercommunal in the country) conflicts during the year. In February clashes erupted between two ethnic groups, the Agnis and Malinke, in Abongoua over the planned relocation of a makeshift Malinke market by local authorities. The clashes resulted in injuries and property damage. The government reported nine interethnic conflicts involving violence in the first quarter of the year.

In May following the publication on social media of a video falsely depicting citizens being mistreated in Niger, violence broke out against Nigerien nationals in several neighborhoods in Abidjan. The government reported that attackers killed one Nigerien, wounded approximately 40 others, and looted approximately 50 businesses. According to the government, authorities arrested 38 persons in connection with the attacks, including a cyberactivist who posted the video on her social media account. Media reported a court convicted the cyberactivist of inciting unrest and calling for murder. The court sentenced her to five years in prison and a substantial fine. President Ouattara denounced the attacks and the minister of defense met with a government delegation from Niger in the aftermath of the attacks.

During the 2020 presidential election period, numerous interethnic clashes occurred, resulting in at least 25 deaths.

Children

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

The law provides parents a three-month period to register their child’s birth for a nominal fee. In some parts of the country, the three-month window conflicts with important cultural practices around the naming of children, making birth registration difficult for many families. To register births after the first three months, families must also pay a fine. For older children, authorities may require a doctor’s age assessment and other documents. The government requires health-care workers in maternity wards and at immunization sites to complete birth registration forms automatically when providing services. According to UNICEF, birth registration services were available in 89 percent of maternity hospitals and 98 percent of vaccination centers.

Education: Primary schooling is obligatory, free, and open to all. To enter secondary school, children must pass an exam for which identity documents are required. As a result, children without documents could not continue their studies after primary school (see section 2.g, Stateless Persons). Education was ostensibly free and compulsory for children ages six to 16, but families generally reported being asked to pay school fees, either to receive their children’s records or pay for school supplies. In September the government stopped requiring families to pay fees imposed by school management committees and began to pay those fees directly to schools, although some schools reported they had not received the payments promised by the government. Parents also often contributed to teachers’ salaries and living stipends, particularly in rural areas. Parents of children not in compliance with the law on mandatory education were reportedly subject to substantial fines or two to six months in jail, but this was seldom, if ever, enforced, and many children did not attend or have access to school.

Girls participated in education at lower rates than boys, particularly in rural areas. Although girls initially enrolled at a higher rate, their participation dropped below boys’ rates because of a cultural tendency to keep girls at home to care for younger siblings or do other domestic work, and due to reported sexual harassment of female students when traveling to school and, once at school, by teachers and other staff.

Child Abuse: Consensual sex with a child younger than age 15 is classified as rape. For victims between the age of 15 to 18, consent can be raised as a defense to a charge of rape. A March 2020 government study on violence against children and youth younger than age 18 found that 19 percent of girls and 11 percent of boys had been victims of sexual violence and that 47 percent of girls and 61 percent of boys had been victims of physical violence.

In May media reported on the alleged rape of an Abidjan girl, age 12, by her teacher. Shortly after media reported the incident, the minister of women, families, and children visited the alleged victim and worked with authorities to document and investigate the case. Authorities arrested the teacher and transferred him to the country’s main prison. To assist child victims of violence and abuse, the government strengthened the child protection network in areas such as case management, the implementation of evidence-based prevention programs, and data collection and analysis.

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

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

In 2017 (most recent data available) according to UNICEF, 27 percent of girls were married by age 18 and 7 percent by age 15.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the use, recruitment, or offering of minors for commercial sex or use in pornographic films, pictures, or events. The law does not specifically address grooming children for commercial sex. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law.

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

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

Displaced Children: Human rights organizations reported thousands of children countrywide were homeless and were frequently subject to harassment by authorities. The government implemented a program to reduce the number of homeless minors. Officials in the Ministry of Youth operated several centers in a few cities where at-risk youth could live and receive training. A Ministry of Justice center provided reintegration training and support for former juvenile offenders.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community numbered fewer than 150 persons, including foreign residents and local converts. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Although the constitution contains protections for them, persons with disabilities cannot easily access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Although the law requires measures to provide persons with disabilities access to transportation and buildings and designated parking spots, human rights organizations reported these provisions were frequently not implemented around the country.

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

Persons with disabilities reportedly encountered serious discrimination in employment and education. Prisons and detention centers reportedly provided no accommodations for persons with disabilities.

The government financially supported some separate schools, training programs, associations, and artisans’ cooperatives for persons with disabilities, located primarily in Abidjan, but human rights organizations reported these schools functioned primarily as literacy centers and did not offer the same educational materials and programs as other schools. It was difficult for children with disabilities to obtain an adequate education if their families did not have sufficient resources. The government took some steps to integrate children with disabilities into ordinary public schools, but these schools often lacked the resources to accommodate them. In some instances, provisions were financed by private donations. The government made efforts to recruit persons with disabilities for select government positions; however, a human rights organization reported that some governmental officials still discriminated against these persons once hired. Homelessness among persons with mental disabilities was reportedly common.

Political campaigns did not include braille or sign language, undercutting civic participation by persons with vision and hearing disabilities. The CEI did not provide any formal accommodations for persons with disabilities at polling sites for the March national legislative elections, although observers reported CEI staff and fellow voters assisting persons with disabilities during voting, including assisting them climb stairs to access polling sites.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

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

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

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

Authorities were at times slow and ineffective in their response to societal violence targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community. Further, LGBTQI+ persons often did not report violence committed or threatened against them, including assault or homicide, because they did not believe authorities would take their complaints seriously.

Homosexuality is not criminalized, but public heterosexual and same-sex intimate activity is subject to conviction as a form of public indecency that carries a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment. Human rights organizations expressed concern this law could be disproportionately applied against LGBTQI+ persons. The law provides for various political, socioeconomic, and safety protections to all citizens and prohibits discrimination based on several specific categories, but not sexual orientation.

LGBTQI+ community members reported being evicted from their homes by landlords or by their own families. Familial rejection of LGBTQI+ youth often caused them to become homeless and drop out of school. Members of the LGBTQI+ community reported discrimination in access to health care. Human rights organizations reported regular discrimination in employment, with employers refusing to hire, firing, or not promoting LGBTQI+ community members once learning of their LGBTQI+ identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

Although all workers can unionize, formal unions existed only in the formal sector. Collective bargaining agreements were negotiated only in the formal sector, and many major businesses and civil service sectors had them. Some worker organizations in the informal sector attached themselves to formal sector trade unions to better protect their rights. The law allows employers to refuse to negotiate, but there were no reports of this by unions to the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection.

The government effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. There were no complaints pending with the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection of antiunion discrimination or employer interference in union functions.

Prison guards at several of the country’s prisons went on strike for three days in August, demanding increased housing allowances, payment of clothing allowances in arrears, and a COVID-19 salary premium, among other demands. The prison workers’ union also used the strike to denounce overcrowding in the country’s prisons. Media reported prison guards at the country’s main prison threatened to release prisoners unless their demands were met. Police and gendarmes deployed to the prison to contain protesting guards, arresting several, and to prevent prisoners from using the strike to escape. Media reported the strike ended after three days when the Ministry of Justice agreed to a timeline to respond to the guard union’s demands.

Health-care workers threatened to strike several times, including in October, over the alleged nonpayment of promised COVID-19 hazard pay. Unions called off the planned October strike after productive negotiations with the government. Unions sometimes suggested, without proof, that funds set aside by the government for these payments had been embezzled. Government officials responded that any delays in payments were due to administrative procedures only.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

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

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16 years, although the minimum age for apprenticeships is 14. The minimum age for hazardous work is 18 years. Minors younger than 18 may not work at night. The Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, Ministry of Interior and Security, and Ministry of Justice are responsible for enforcing the law through inspections, investigations, penalties, and court sanctions. The National Monitoring Committee to Combat the Trafficking, Exploitation, and Labor of Children, chaired by the president’s wife, and the Interministerial Committee for the Fight against Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Labor are responsible for assessing government and donor actions on child labor.

The List of Light Work Authorized for Children between 13 and 16 Years of Age, an order issued by the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection in 2017, introduces and defines the concept of “socializing work,” unpaid work that teaches children to be productive members of the society. The list states that a child cannot perform any work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. or during regular school hours, that light work should not exceed 14 hours a week, and that it should not involve more than two hours on a school day or more than four hours a day during vacation. In late 2016 basic education became compulsory for children ages six to 16, increasing school attendance rates and reducing the number of children looking for work.

The government took steps to address the worst forms of child labor. The Department of the Fight against Child Labor within the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, along with the two antitrafficking committees, led enforcement efforts. The government continued to implement the 2019-21 National Action Plan for the Fight against the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The plan called for efforts to improve access to education and health care for children and income-generating activities for their families, as well as nationwide surveys, awareness campaigns, and other projects with local NGOs to highlight the dangers associated with child labor. The government engaged in partnerships with the International Labor Organization, UNICEF, and the International Cocoa Initiative to implement these measures. The budget for the plan, although higher than the previous plan’s, was not fully funded by the government and international partners. The government did not make available the amount of the shortfall.

The government established six special police units in 2020 across the country to investigate child labor and child trafficking cases, and these units carried out enforcement operations. Each unit had 10-20 officers with two motorcycles, a four-wheel drive vehicle, computers, and office materials.

In February media reported police arrested four alleged traffickers and rescued 19 children suspected of being transported to work on cocoa plantations. The police operation took place while the children, reportedly all Burkinabe, were being transported from the northern town of Korhogo to the southeastern town of Aboisso.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Child labor occurred, particularly in artisanal gold mines, on farms (generally small plots), and in domestic work. Periodic, standardized data collection efforts remained weak. Efforts to counter child labor in sectors besides the cocoa industry, such as palm oil, cotton, rubber, and artisanal gold mining, also remained weak. Within agriculture the worst forms of child labor were particularly prevalent in the cocoa and coffee sectors. Inspections carried out during the year did not result in fines for child labor crimes. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for comparable crimes but were seldom applied. The number of inspectors and resources for enforcement were insufficient to enforce the law.

In urban areas children often worked as vendors, vehicle windshield cleaners, and parking attendants. In rural areas children were involved in handicrafts such as cloth weaving, agriculture, artisanal gold mining, and forestry. Those who worked in the gold-mining sector often used dangerous chemicals harmful to human health. Nationally, some children worked in housing construction and carpentry, with dangerous tools. Others worked as seamstresses, tailors, hairdressers, mechanics, welders, and in local public transport as apprentices, but under informal conditions that lacked occupational safety regulations. Some girls were exploited in sex trafficking. Others worked as cleaners in local restaurants and stores and as babysitters and housekeepers in private homes. A study released in July 2020 found that child labor in the cocoa sector had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. A follow-up study released in November found child labor rates from July to September 2020 returned to pre-COVID-19 levels.

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

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

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

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

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes, but seldom applied. Human rights organizations continued to report discrimination with respect to gender, nationality, disability, and sexual orientation and gender identity (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). The government did not provide information on employment discrimination reported or actions taken to address discrimination.

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

There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in certain occupations and industries, including in mining, construction, and factories, but no known limitations on working hours based on gender. The government indicated that if a woman wanted to carry out any of the work on the “prohibited list,” she needed to contact an inspector at the Ministry of Labor.

While women in the public sector generally received the same pay and paid the same taxes as men, wage inequality remained common in the nonpublic formal sector and informal sector. Additionally, reports of a reticence to hire women persisted.

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hours: The minimum wage varied by sector but exceeded the government’s estimated poverty level in all sectors. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours. The law requires overtime pay for additional hours and provides for at least one 24-consecutive-hour rest period per week. The law provides workers the right to refuse employer requests to work overtime without threat of termination.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage and overtime laws. The Ministry of Employment and Social Protection enforced wage and hour protections only for salaried workers employed by the government or registered with the social security office. Labor unions contributed to effective implementation of the minimum salary requirements in the formal sector. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes but were seldom applied.

Sectors in which alleged violations of wage, hour, and overtime laws were common included domestic work, residential and commercial security, and day labor. Human rights organizations reported numerous complaints against employers, such as improper dismissals, excessive hours, uncertain contracts, failure to pay the minimum wage, and the failure to pay employee salaries. The failure to enroll workers in the country’s social security program and pay into it the amount the employer deducted from the worker’s salary was also a problem. Resources and inspections were not sufficient to enforce compliance. Administrative judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law establishes occupational safety and health standards that apply to both the formal and informal sector. The law provides for the establishment of committees of occupational, safety, and health representatives responsible for verifying protection and worker health at workplaces. Such committees are to be composed of union members. The chair of a committee could report unhealthy and unsafe working conditions to the labor inspector without penalty. By law all workers have the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. They may utilize the inspection system of the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection to document dangerous working conditions. Authorities effectively protected employees in this situation working in the formal sector.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance with the law, and inspectors lacked specialized training. Inspectors do have the authority to make unannounced inspections, but they are not authorized to assess penalties. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes, but labor inspectors reportedly accepted bribes to ignore violations.

Human rights organizations reported that working conditions at illegal gold-mining sites were poor and dangerous due to the unregulated use of chemicals and large detonations that can result in deadly mudslides. Other sectors in which violations and accidents were common included construction and agriculture.

Based on statistics provided by the country’s social security fund, the government reported an average 6,000 occupational accidents and five deaths annually in the private formal sector between 2017 and 2019. The government did not provide data on accidents in the public sector or the informal sector.

Informal Sector: Based on 2019 data, the government estimated 90 percent of the total labor force worked in the informal economy, in which labor standards were generally not enforced. The law does not cover several million foreign migrant workers or workers in the informal sector, who accounted for 70 percent of the nonagricultural economy. Employees in the informal manufacturing sector often worked without adequate protective gear. The government, through the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection, developed a 2019-21 strategic plan for conducting labor inspections in the informal sector. In 2020, with support from the French government and the International Labor Organization, the government piloted a program to conduct inspections in several industries in the informal sector, including building construction, carpentry, and hair.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a centralized constitutional republic. Voters popularly elect the president and the lower house of parliament (National Assembly). Following a two-year delay, presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held in December 2018. In January 2019 the National Independent Electoral Commission declared Felix Tshisekedi the winner of the 2018 presidential election. The 2018 election was marred by irregularities and criticized by some observers, including the Council of Bishops, which stated the results did not match those of their observation mission. The 2019 inauguration of President Tshisekedi was the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history.

The primary responsibility for law enforcement and public order lies with the Congolese National Police, which operates under the Ministry of the Interior. The National Intelligence Agency, overseen by the presidency, is responsible for internal and external intelligence. The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the military intelligence service operate under the control of the Ministry of Defense and are primarily responsible for external security. In reality, however, these forces focus almost exclusively on internal security. The presidency oversees the Republican Guard, and the Ministry of Interior oversees the Directorate General for Migration, which, together with the Congolese National Police, are responsible for border control. Civilian authorities exercised limited control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Conflict between government military forces and the more than 15 significant and cohesive illegal armed groups continued in the eastern provinces of the country. In response the president announced a state of siege in the Ituri and North Kivu Provinces on May 6, which parliament repeatedly extended and remained in effect at year’s end. The state of siege transfers powers from civilian to military authorities, provides for increased police powers, extends the jurisdiction of military courts to try civilian criminal offenses, restricts certain fundamental rights and freedoms, and suspends immunity from prosecution for certain elected officials (including national and provincial deputies and senators).

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in conflict, including reportedly unlawful or widespread civilian harm, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, and unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by illegal armed groups; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early, and forced marriage, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national, racial, and ethnic minority groups, and indigenous people; crimes involving violence or threat of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption, although there was impunity for many such abuses. Authorities often did not investigate, prosecute, or punish those who were responsible, particularly at higher levels. The government convicted some officials on counts of murder, rape, torture, arbitrary detention, and corruption, and sometimes punished security force officials who committed abuses.

Illegal armed groups continued to commit abuses in the eastern provinces and the Kasai region. Additionally, large-scale killings by ISIS-Democratic Republic of the Congo persisted in parts of North Kivu and Ituri. These abuses included unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, destruction of government and private property, and gender-based violence, which was widespread even in areas with no armed conflict, by both government and armed groups. Illegal armed groups also recruited, abducted, and retained child soldiers and subjected children and adults to forced labor. The government took military action against illegal armed groups and investigated and prosecuted some armed group members and the state security forces for human rights abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

The state security forces (SSF) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in operations against illegal armed groups (IAGs) in the east and in the Kasai region (see section 1.g.). According to the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO), the Forces Armees de la Republique Democratique du Congo (FARDC) committed 149 violations of the right to life. For example, UNJHRO reported that in February, a FARDC soldier with the 2103rd regiment shot and killed two girls who had allegedly just stolen from a shop. The UNJHRO also reported that in March in South Kivu province, two FARDC noncommissioned officers from the 2202nd battalion killed two men from the Banyamulenge community and injured one woman. The victims were returning from a market when the two soldiers tried to force them to stop and shot them when they refused. The UNJHRO reported that FARDC soldiers were responsible for the extrajudicial execution of nine civilians and sexual violence against five women and three children in Tanganyika Province. On June 30, approximately eight FARDC personnel raped and killed four women in Minembwe. A court convicted six FARDC personnel to life imprisonment for murder and attempted murder, while two convicted of rape were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

According to the UNJHRO, in October Congolese National Police (PNC) agents committed 56 violations of the right to life, including 47 victims of extrajudicial executions. In February for example, the UNJHRO reported that in Buvira, Nyiragongo Territory, a PNC officer shot and killed a man who was returning from field work when he failed to produce his identification card.

Military courts had primary responsibility for investigating whether security force killings were justified and for pursuing prosecutions. Although the military justice system convicted some SSF agents of human rights abuses, impunity remained a serious problem. The government maintained joint human rights committees with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and used available international resources, such as the UN-implemented technical and logistical support program for military prosecutors as well as mobile hearings supported by international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The UNJHRO continued to document appointments to command positions, including for military operations, of FARDC and PNC officers against whom there were serious allegations that they bore responsibility – direct or command responsibility – for human rights violations.

IAGs committed arbitrary and unlawful killings throughout the year (see section 1.g.). IAGs recruited and used children as soldiers and human shields and targeted the SSF, government officials, and others. In October, ISIS-Democratic Republic of the Congo (ISIS-DRC) carried out 13 attacks in the villages of Keterain and Matadi, raising the monthly death toll of ISIS-DRC attacks in Beni to 25.

On September 21, the High Military Court at Ndolo Prison in Kinshasa began hearings in the trial of the killing of Floribert Chebeya, the prominent executive director of the human rights NGO Voice of the Voiceless (VSV), and disappearance of his driver and VSV member Fidele Bazana in Kinshasa in June 2010. A new trial began for two recently arrested defendants, PNC Senior Commissioner Christian Kenga Kenga and Deputy Assistant Commissioner Jacques Mugabo, who were previously convicted and sentenced to death in absentia but acquitted on appeal in 2015. In October testimony Mugabo confessed to having participated in the murders of Chebeya and Bazana. Later in the year, the court also heard testimony implicating former PNC Inspector General John Numbi in Chebeya’s killing. In March Numbi disappeared from his Lubumbashi farm near the Zambian border and reportedly fled the country, being officially declared a deserter in June.

The International Criminal Court continued to conduct an open investigation in the country. In March the Appeals Chamber upheld the conviction and sentence of Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese warlord, on war crimes and crimes against humanity. Also in March the Trial Chamber delivered an order on reparations to victims against Ntaganda to be implemented through the Trust Fund for Victims.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances attributable to the SSF during the year. Authorities often refused to acknowledge the detention of suspects and sometimes detained suspects in unofficial facilities, including on military bases and in detention facilities operated by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR). The whereabouts of some civil society activists and civilians arrested by the SSF remained unknown for long periods. Despite the president’s promise to grant the United Nations access to all detention facilities, some ANR prisons remained hidden and impossible to access.

Amid a spate of killings of journalists in North Kivu and Ituri, journalist Pius Manzikala of Ruwenzori Voice Radio Mutwanga disappeared in December 2020. The FARDC officially confirmed Manzikala’s death, but his body had not yet been found.

IAGs kidnapped numerous persons, generally for forced labor, military service, or sexual slavery. Many of these victims disappeared (see section 1.g.).

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

The law criminalizes torture, but there were credible reports the SSF continued to abuse and torture civilians, particularly detainees and prisoners. Impunity among the FARDC for mistreatment was a problem, although the government continued to make limited progress in holding security forces accountable for human rights violations and abuses. The UNJHRO reported that during the first half of the year, 84 PNC officers, 196 FARDC soldiers, and 122 members of armed groups were convicted of acts constituting human rights violations, reflecting a significant effort by judicial authorities to combat impunity.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one open allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse by Congolese peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. Of the 32 allegations against Congolese military personnel deployed to peacekeeping missions from 2015 to the present, the United Nations repatriated six perpetrators, all of whom received prison time upon return to the country. The United Nations and the local government were conducting 27 investigations that remained pending as of September.

During the year the government acted to increase respect for human rights by the security forces. The PNC has a special Child Protection and Sexual Violence Prevention Squadron, and much police training addressed sexual and gender-based violence, such as mining police training in North and South Kivu and community policing programs in Haut-Katanga and Eastern Kasai. From January through June, the UNJHRO supported 46 capacity-building sessions on international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and the prevention of conflict-related sexual violence for a total of 1,705 participants from both the FARDC and PNC. MONUSCO also collaborated with the FARDC to screen recruits and prevent children from joining the military.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in most prisons throughout the country were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Harsher conditions prevailed in small detention centers run by the ANR, Republican Guard (RG), or other security forces, which often detained prisoners for lengthy pretrial periods without providing them access to family or legal counsel.

Physical Conditions: Serious threats to life and health were widespread and included violence (particularly rape), food shortages, and inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and medical care. Most prisons were understaffed, undersupplied, and poorly maintained, leading to corruption and poor control of the prison population, as well as prison escapes. The UNJHRO reported that detention center conditions deteriorated during the year, particularly those in western provinces, where increases in the prison population and a lack of upkeep contributed to the decay. The UNJHRO recorded a total of 154 deaths in detention through June, a 42 percent decrease from the same period in the previous year. Malnutrition, poor hygiene, lack of access to medical care, and mistreatment were the primary causes of these deaths. A human rights activist attributed the decrease in deaths to improved nutrition.

Local media reported that the Ministry of Justice, which oversees prisons, had insufficient funds to pay for food or medical care for inmates, who instead relied on relatives, NGOs, and church groups to provide them sustenance. Because funds often did not reach prisons in the provinces in a timely manner, there were gaps in food distribution. Human rights monitors reported a 15 percent mortality rate at Kongo Central prison from a lack of nourishment and sanitation.

Central prison facilities were severely overcrowded, with an estimated occupancy rate of 200 percent of capacity. For example Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa, which was constructed in 1958 to hold 1,500 prisoners, held as many as 8,200 inmates simultaneously during the year. Three prisons in the eastern provinces were more than 200 percent capacity, with another at 590 percent capacity. Prisoners were held in buildings originally built for other purposes. For example in Kanana, prisoners were living in a former school. In August the director of the Central Prison of Bunia noted in an interview with local press that the incarceration of those in preventive detention had caused a serious problem of overpopulation. Prisoners were not released due to the COVID-19 pandemic, although some human rights activists advocated for it.

Prisons rarely make accommodations for persons with disabilities. In November disability rights NGO Congo Handicap conducted missions in several prisons to assess conditions for persons with disabilities. Congo Handicap described unsanitary and life-threatening prison conditions, such as the lack of ventilation and toilets, which posed major health risks for persons with disabilities. Poor ventilation subjected detainees to extreme heat. The NGO also cited a lack of accessibility, procedures, and sign language interpreters as examples of problems that affect detained persons with disabilities.

Approximately 110 individuals escaped from correctional facilities through June, compared with 295 documented escapes for the same period in the previous year. More than 1,300 prisoners escaped in North Kivu Province when rebels released the prisoners, some of whom joined the rebels in fighting. The UNJHRO reported that police shot four inmates of Goma Prison who were trying to escape following the volcanic eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in May. In July the UNJHRO reported that 18 prisoners escaped from a hidden detention center in South Kivu.

Authorities rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. Authorities generally confined men and women in separate areas but often held juveniles with adults, especially women with female minors. Women were sometimes imprisoned with their children. International observers noted that children who had been victims of sexual violence and often separated from their families in the eastern conflict zones were sometimes detained with adults.

Violence continued to be a problem in certain prisons. According to human rights observers, prisoners themselves were sometimes given the responsibility to maintain order and mistreated others. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that in July the investigation had stalled into a group of prisoners who took over the Kasapa Prison in Lubumbashi, chased out the guards, set fire to the buildings, and attacked and raped approximately 37 women in the prison for three days before some semblance of order was restored. Many of these women never received adequate medical or psychological care. A prominent human rights observer noted that rape of new male prisoners was considered initiation in one prison.

Generally medical doctors at the prisons did not receive salaries, leading them to work elsewhere to make money. Prisons rarely had a budget for in-house pharmacies, and while prisoners sometimes obtained medication such as pain relievers, prescription medication was generally unavailable, meaning prisoners must rely on their families. Prisoners who are sick and need to be transferred must have the signatures of all designated officials for the transfer. In some cases prisoners who were refused transfer subsequently died. For example, the UNJHRO reported that in February in Tanganyika Province, a 59-year-old detainee died in the central prison from severe diarrhea after the judicial inspector rejected all transfer requests to the hospital in the absence of the prosecutor. Another detainee died in the same prison in February under similar conditions. A prominent human rights observer reported that some prisoners were refused transfers for medical care due to political reasons.

Guards, psychologists, and cooks also generally did not receive salaries, which led to a variety of buying and selling arrangements. Human rights observers reported that the salaries went to those who were retired and no longer working in the prisons. In the provinces there were reports of extortion, where families had to provide guards with food to visit detained family members. Directors and staff generally operated prisons for profit, selling sleeping arrangements to the highest bidders and requiring payment for family visits. For example, HRW reported that in April two activists from the youth civil society movement LUCHA were arrested and held at an intelligence agency detention facility for two days before being sent to a severely overcrowded prison, where they had to pay to be allowed to bring in a mattress. HRW also reported in April that another activist from LUCHA had to pay to avoid being tortured after he was arrested and spent the night in a cell at the prosecutor’s office. In February the African Association for Human Rights condemned the purchase of presidential pardons at Kinshasa Makala Prison, where administrative staff asked to be paid amounts ranging from 200,000 to 300,000 Congolese francs ($100 to $150), a sum comparable to a civil servant’s monthly salary, to add inmates to the list of recipients of the presidential pardon.

Administration: Authorities denied access to visitors for some inmates and often did not permit inmates to contact or submit complaints to judicial authorities. The UNJHRO pointed to the lack of experience of these authorities in recently created provinces as a threat to human rights in the provinces. Furthermore, the lack of resources for the judicial system, including staffing shortages and a lack of magistrates to process detainee caseloads, prevented the effective administration of justice. MONUSCO also cited outdated prison laws and poor data and records management among the prison problems.

Independent Monitoring: The government regularly allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross, MONUSCO, and NGOs access to official detention facilities maintained by the Ministry of Justice, but it sometimes denied access to facilities run by the RG, ANR, and military intelligence services. COVID-19 restrictions negatively affected monitoring efforts.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but the SSF routinely arrested or detained persons arbitrarily (see section 1.e.). IAGs also abducted and detained persons arbitrarily, often for ransom. Survivors reported to MONUSCO they were often subjected to forced labor (see section 1.g.).

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law arrests for offenses punishable if convicted by more than six months’ imprisonment require warrants. Detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours. Authorities must inform those arrested of their rights and the reason(s) for their arrest, and they may not arrest a family member in lieu of the suspected individual. Authorities must allow arrested individuals to contact their families and consult with attorneys. Security officials, however, routinely violated all these requirements.

While the law provides for a bail system, it generally did not function. Detainees who were unable to pay for a lawyer were rarely able to access legal counsel. Authorities often held suspects incommunicado, including in unofficial detention centers run by the ANR, military intelligence, and the RG and refused to acknowledge these detentions.

Prison officials often held individuals longer than their sentences due to disorganization, inadequate records, judicial inefficiency, or corruption. Prisoners unable to pay their fines often remained indefinitely in prison (see section 1.e.).

Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arrested and detained civil society activists, journalists, and opposition party members and sometimes denied them due process (see sections 1.a., 2.a., and 5). Security forces regularly held protesters and civil society activists incommunicado and without charge for extended periods. Police sometimes arbitrarily arrested and detained persons without filing charges to extort money from family members or because administrative systems were not well established. The UNJHRO reported that human rights defenders continued to be subject to arbitrary arrest and detention without a fair public trial. In January in Kasai Province, the UNJHRO reported that six PNC officers illegally detained and beat 11 men with gun butts and cords.

In March the UNJHRO reported that FARDC soldiers of the 21041st Battalion arbitrarily arrested one man and two women in Mulangabal, Kasongo Territory. The soldiers accused the arrested man, a motorbike taxi driver, of transporting two female clients on his motorbike. The soldiers then beat the driver, released him, and attempted to sexually assault the two women, who escaped. When the driver returned the following day to find the women, soldiers beat him again.

In March local human rights activists reported that the PNC rearrested a woman who at an International Women’s Day Event described the conditions she had experienced in prison.

In July local media reported that LUCHA condemned the alleged disappearance of LUCHA member Parfait Muhani, who had received a call from someone who claimed to work for the foundation of First Lady Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi and offered to discuss LUCHA’s allegations that the foundation misappropriated aid for the victims of the Mount Nyiragongo volcanic eruption. Muhani appeared the next day in police custody, where he remained as of September 16.

The UNJHRO reported that in July in North Kivu Province the territorial administrator (administrateur du territoire) ordered soldiers of the 3410th FARDC regiment to arrest and detain three members of civil society organizations for having denounced FARDC abuses during military operations against armed groups in the area. Police released one detainee that day after paying a fine, while the other two were reportedly later released.

In August Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported that a second member of LUCHA, Ghislain Muhiwa, had been arrested in Goma in connection with a July complaint regarding misappropriation of funds by the foundation of the First Lady.

In August the UNJHRO reported that FARDC soldiers arbitrarily arrested and illegally detained a human rights defender in Wamaza-centre, Kabambare Territory, for protesting soldiers’ illegal collection of money at checkpoints. After advocacy by the local Human Rights Defenders Protection Network, the commander of the FARDC unit released the victim the following day.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention, ranging from months to years, remained a problem. Those who should go before the magistrate were often detained locally in a clandestine holding facility and kept there for many months, leaving their families to presume they were dead. The Ministry of Human Rights and local human rights monitors estimated that between 70 and 80 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. Judicial inefficiency, administrative obstacles, corruption, financial constraints, and staff shortages also caused trial delays.

The state of siege hindered prison administration in the affected eastern provinces and resulted in long pretrial detention periods. The government did not provide sufficient resources to military courts and tribunals to handle criminal cases transferred from civilian courts. Consequently, the processing of cases lagged, and dozens of individuals remained in pretrial detention, without having their cases heard. Severe prison overcrowding quickly followed, which in turn led to extremely poor conditions and malnutrition in the prisons. The minister of human rights toured many of the country’s prisons in July, and his advocacy resulted in the transfer of prisoners’ files from civil to military authorities in provinces affected by the state of siege.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention; however, few were able to obtain prompt release and compensation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was corrupt and subject to influence and intimidation. Officials and other influential individuals often subjected judges to coercion.

A shortage of prosecutors and judges hindered the government’s ability to provide expeditious trials, and judges occasionally refused transfers to remote areas where shortages were most acute because the government could not sufficiently support judges in these areas. The Ministry of Human Rights reported that 90 percent of cases lacked magistrates. Authorities routinely did not respect court orders. Disciplinary boards created under the High Council of Magistrates continued to rule on cases of corruption and malpractice. Rulings included the firing, suspension, or fining of judges and magistrates.

Military magistrates are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all crimes allegedly committed by SSF members, whether committed in the line of duty or not. Civilians may be tried in military tribunals if charged with offenses involving firearms. The military justice system often succumbed to political and command interference, and security arrangements for magistrates in conflict areas were inadequate. Justice mechanisms were particularly ineffective for addressing misconduct by mid- and high-ranking officials due to a requirement the judge of a military court must have either the same or a higher rank than the defendant.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, an independent judiciary, and a presumption of innocence on the part of an accused person, but these rights were not always observed. Authorities are required to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, but this did not always occur. The public may attend trials at the discretion of the presiding judge. Defendants have the right to a trial within 15 days of being charged, but judges may extend this period to a maximum of 45 days. Authorities only occasionally abided by this requirement. The government is not required to provide counsel in most cases, excepting murder trials. While the government regularly provided free legal counsel to indigent defendants in capital cases, lawyers often did not have adequate access to their clients. Defendants have the right to be present and to have a defense attorney represent them. Authorities occasionally disregarded these rights. Authorities generally allowed adequate time to prepare a defense, although there were few resources available. The law provides for interpretation when necessary for defendants. Typically, defendants were assigned interpreters, but on occasion this delayed proceedings while the court searched for an appropriate interpreter. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present evidence and witnesses in their own defense but witnesses often were reluctant to testify due to fear of retaliation. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal, except in cases involving national security, armed robbery, and smuggling, which the Court of State Security usually adjudicates.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year, consisting primarily of individuals arrested under defamation laws for criticizing the actions of government officials.

Local press reported that Ituri provincial parliamentarian Jean-Bosco Asamba was arrested in June for criticizing President Tshisekedi for allegedly making false promises, and he was detained in Bunia Prison for two days before being released.

In July international and local media reported that the president of the youth league of the Together for the Republic party, Jacky Ndala, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for his rhetoric against a proposed bill that would restrict eligibility for senior offices, including the presidency, based on the nationality of an individual’s parents. Local press reported that Ndala was accused of inciting rebellion and civil disobedience after asking persons in eastern Kinshasa to oppose the bill. The case went to appeal, and the sentence was reduced to 22 months in prison.

While the government permitted international human rights and humanitarian organizations and MONUSCO access to some prisoners, authorities denied access to detention facilities run by the RG, military intelligence, and ANR (see section 1.c.).

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: In August HRW reported that a few days after Jean-Jacques Lumumba, a whistleblower exiled in France, spoke to a gathering of Congolese activists in Belgium about impunity and fighting corruption, his bag was stolen on his return train trip and his car was burned in its parking place on the outskirts of Paris. Police in Kinshasa also threatened his tenants with eviction if they did not provide documents containing personal information about Lumumba.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations within the civil court system. Most individuals, however, preferred to seek redress in the criminal courts. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies.

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

Although the law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, the SSF routinely ignored these provisions. The SSF harassed and robbed civilians, entered and searched homes and vehicles without warrants, and looted homes, businesses, and schools. Family members were often punished for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The SSF continued fighting IAGs in the east of the country, and conflict among armed groups resulted in significant population displacement and human rights abuses, especially in Ituri and North Kivu Provinces. Fighting among the Nyatura, Nduma Defense of Congo-Renewal (NDC-R), Mai Mazembe, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and ISIS-DRC (formerly the Allied Democratic Forces or ADF) caused significant population displacement in North Kivu Province.

There were credible reports that the IAGs and the SSF perpetrated serious human rights violations and abuses during internal conflicts. UNJHRO director Abdoul Aziz Thioye stated that state actors committed abuses under the cover of the state of siege. He attributed the majority of IAG violations to ISIS-DRC, which took advantage of historical tension to incite interethnic fighting. In the first half of the year, the UNJHRO documented a total of 3,068 human rights violations and abuses in conflict-affected provinces, including North Kivu (1,662), followed by Ituri (506), and to a lesser extent South Kivu, Tanganyika, Kasai, Kasai-Central, Kasai-Oriental, Maniema, and Bas-Uele. Conflict-affected provinces accounted for more than 93 percent of all violations and abuses throughout the country. Armed groups committed approximately 60 percent of documented cases. Combatants abducted victims for ransom, for forced labor, and in retaliation for suspected collaboration. On July 7, combatants from the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo abducted and killed a man in Masisi Territory after accusing him of collaborating with another combatant group.

There were credible reports that elements within the FARDC collaborated with some IAGs. In June the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported that soldiers of the 3404th and 3410th FARDC regiments cooperated with or participated in operations alongside the Bwira faction of the NDC-R against other IAGs.

The UNJHRO reported that assailants from the armed group Cooperative de Developpement economique du Congo (Cooperative for Economic Development of the Congo or CODECO) were responsible for 401 violations between January and June. CODECO attacks against civilians in Djugu and Irumu Territories resulted in the deaths of at least 361 individuals. Throughout October CODECO, Force Patriotique et Integrationniste du Congo (Patriotic and Integrationist Force of the Congo or FPIC), and Force de Resistance Patriotique d’Ituri (Patriotic Resistance Front of Ituri) attacked multiple villages in Ituri Province, leading to numerous reports of civilian deaths, looting, and property destruction. Additionally, more than 5,000 persons abandoned their homes after clashes between FARDC and CODECO militiamen on October 17 in North Kivu Province.

North Kivu Province saw the most abuses in internal conflict, as the UNJHRO reported ISIS-DRC combatants committed 25 abuses in the province in July. On July 15, ISIS-DRC combatants attacked civilians in Beni Territory, killing at least five civilians, including the president of a local civil society organization, a woman, and a child, and set fire to 10 houses and abducted numerous individuals. Following UNJHRO advocacy, a team of investigators from the military prosecutor’s office launched an investigation that continued in early November. According to UNJHRO, ISIS-DRC combatants committed 27 abuses in September and 33 abuses in October.

In August, HRW decried the appointment of Tommy Tambwe, a former rebel leader of a group responsible for many human rights abuses, as coordinator of the new Disarmament, Demobilization, Community Recovery, and Stabilization program in eastern Congo. According to HRW, Tambwe led major Rwandan-backed rebel groups responsible for countless human rights abuses in eastern Congo during the last 25 years. Prominent human rights groups accused Tambwe of ordering the arrest of journalists perceived as critics in 2002 when he was vice governor of South Kivu.

Operational cooperation between MONUSCO and the government continued in the east. The MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade supported FARDC troops in North Kivu and southern Ituri Provinces. MONUSCO forces deployed and conducted patrols to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs) from armed group attacks in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri Provinces.

Killings: The UNJHRO reported that 1,147 civilians were killed in conflict-affected provinces in the first six months of the year. IAG killings decreased from 1,315 in 2020 to 962, while killings of civilians by state agents in conflict-affected areas increased from 155 to 185. Approximately 209 children were killed and maimed in the North Kivu, Ituri, Tanganyika, South Kivu, Maniema, and the Kasai Provinces. IAGs, ISIS-DRC, Nyatura, and Mai Mai armed groups committed most of most of these killings and mutilations, while FARDC soldiers and PNC agents contributed to the abuses.

The UNJHRO reported that on July 1, Union des Patriotes pour la Liberation du Congo (Patriotic Union for the Liberation of Congo) Mai Mai combatants abducted, abused, and killed a member of a local civil society organization who had just left the village of Mabalako in Beni Territory. Although the local police opened an investigation, the UNJHRO noted no progress by year’s end, adding that tracking armed group members in that area was very difficult.

Abductions: UN agencies and NGOs reported IAGs abducted individuals to perform forced labor, obtain ransom, or guide them. Armed groups also utilized abductions as reprisal for a victims’ alleged collaboration with the security and defense forces or rival groups, or because of their refusal to pay illegal taxes or to participate in so-called community work. The UNJHRO reported that from January through June, a total of 204 children between ages one and 17 were abducted, most from the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, but also from Tanganyika, South Kivu, the Kasai Provinces and Maniema.

The UNJHRO reported in August that armed groups abducted at least 305 individuals, including 24 women and 27 children, in the conflict-affected provinces, a significant increase from July’s 208 victims. Of the 305 persons abducted by armed groups in August, 33 were killed and 92 were released, sometimes following the intervention of the security forces or negotiations with local community members. The whereabouts of 115 abducted persons were unknown. ISIS-DRC combatants were responsible for the abductions of 197 individuals. The UNJHRO reported that of the 208 individuals abducted by armed groups in July, 45 were released, often following FARDC intervention, while 11 were killed. The location of 94 individuals was unknown as of the end of September.

In March Radio Okapi reported that Lord’s Resistance Army militiamen released 27 hostages detained in one of their camps situated in Ango Territory, Bas-Uele. Former captives included five children younger than five years of age and six women, as well as South Sudanese, Congolese, and Central African Republic nationals.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The FARDC, PNC, ANR, IAGs, and civilians perpetrated widespread sexual violence. From January through June, the UNJHRO documented 265 cases of conflict-related sexual violence affecting 258 women and seven adult men, a significant decrease from the previous six months, when they documented 398 adult survivors. Nearly 35 percent of these violent crimes were attributable to state agents, notably FARDC soldiers and PNC agents. Most of the sexual violence attributable to state agents in these provinces was committed in Ituri.

The UNJHRO reported that in February, in Kasumbalesa, Sakania Territory, Haut-Katanga Province, the Kipushi Tribunal militaire de garnison convicted three FARDC soldiers of rape during mobile hearings supported by the UNJHRO. They were sentenced to terms of one to 10 years in prison and payment of compensation to the victims. In July in South Kivu, a military court ruled on sexual violence cases and sentenced 11 FARDC soldiers to between four to 20 years in prison and ordered the seizure of their salaries for victims’ compensation. The UNJHRO reported that through June there were 48 convictions by judicial authorities, following a legal support project that assisted 191 survivors, most of whom were girls.

The UNJHRO reported that a FARDC soldier raped a 38-year-old woman in July in South Kivu after breaking into her house and was not arrested. The UNJHRO separately reported that the special police for the protection of children and the fight against sexual violence arrested a FARDC soldier from the 31st FARDC Rapid Reaction Commando Brigade when the parents of a 12-year-old rape survivor accused him of assault.

IAGs also perpetrated numerous incidents of physical abuse and sexual violence. For example, the UNJHRO reported that combatants of NDC-R committed 10 human rights abuses in July, including the fatal shooting of a man and the rape of a 14-year-old girl.

In July local press reported that the military court of South Kivu sentenced a leader of the FDLR militia to 10 years’ imprisonment for committing crimes against humanity in the eastern regions of the country. The militia leader, Lenine Kizima Sabin, was prosecuted for rape, extortion, murder, and acts of plundering committed against more than 500 civilians between 2004 and 2006 in Shabunda Territory. A military tribunal had sentenced Kizima to life imprisonment in 2015, but his lawyers successfully appealed the conviction.

Child Soldiers: FARDC officers unlawfully used three children and continued coordinating with an armed group that recruited and used children during the reporting period.

Through June MONUSCO’s Child Protection Section documented 1,195 violations of the rights of the child in the context of armed conflict in the country, a decrease of 23 percent from the same period in 2020. Most of the violations documented the recruitment and use of children by armed groups and militias. Following a screening by the MONSCO Child Protection section, 45 children were separated from Mai Mai Biloze Bisambuke combatants.

The government continued to work with MONUSCO to engage IAGs directly to end the use of child soldiers. As of September 16, a total of 2,378 children had been voluntarily released by commanders as part of the roadmap to end the recruitment and use of children and prevent sexual violence of children. In October and November, a Canadian NGO trained FARDC officers on how to approach children and identify child soldiers in conflict zones and contact child protection officials. According to MONUSCO’s Child Protection Section, a joint MONUSCO-FARDC vetting mechanism led to the screening of 414 FARDC recruits and identification of 35 children who were separated before they received further training. Through October, MONUSCO trained 894 Congolese security forces (611 FARDC and 283 PNC) on the Children and Armed Conflict mandate including age verification methods. The government and the United Nations had a joint action plan to end the recruitment and use of children with other grave violations.

In September a military court in South Kivu handed down a life sentence to warlord Chance Mihonya. The former FARDC captain was found guilty of crimes against humanity, murder, rape, in addition to war crimes for using children as combatants.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Fighting between the FARDC and IAGs as well as among IAGs continued to displace populations and limit humanitarian access, particularly in Ituri, South Kivu, Maniema, and Tanganyika Provinces as well as in Rutshuru, Masisi, Walikale, Lubero, Beni, and Nyiragongo Territories in North Kivu Province.

In North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Kasai-Oriental, and Haut-Katanga Provinces, IAGs and elements of the FARDC continued to illegally tax, exploit, and trade natural resources for revenue and power. Clandestine trade in minerals and other natural resources facilitated the purchase of weapons and reduced government revenues. Gold, cassiterite (tin ore), coltan (tantalum ore), and wolframite (tungsten ore) were the most exploited minerals, but wildlife products, timber, charcoal, and fish were also sought after.

The illegal trade in minerals financed IAGs and individual elements of the SSF. Both elements of the SSF and certain IAGs continued to control, extort, and threaten remote mining areas in North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Maniema, and Haut Katanga Provinces and the Kasai region (see section 4).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for members of the press and other media, but the government did not always respect this right. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, or arrest. Provincial-level governments also prevented journalists from filming or covering certain protests.

The UNJHRO reported that journalists and human rights defenders were regularly targeted by arbitrary arrests. Members of the FARDC were also responsible for 18 violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and four violations of the right to peaceful assembly, according to the UNJHRO. The UNJHRO also reported that the PNC committed 19 violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, 15 violations of the right to freedom of assembly, and one violation of the right to freedom of association from January through June.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits insulting the head of state, malicious and public slander, and language presumed to threaten national security. Authorities sometimes intimidated, harassed, and detained journalists, activists, and politicians when they publicly criticized the government, president, or the SSF.

In January, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), was arrested in Lubumbashi for antagonizing tribal tensions.

According to the UNJHRO, ANR agents arrested a journalist and facilitator of the program Bosolo Na Politik in April for criticizing politicians and the COVID-19-related curfew during a broadcast. The public prosecutor of the Gombe Court of First Instance released the journalist after he paid a fine.

According to local media reports, on December 17, a military court sentenced two musicians to prison time for songs calling government officials “crooks” and allegedly inciting violence against the FARDC and their families. The musicians were charged with four offenses, including offending the president, contempt against national deputies, creating false rumors, and failing to present their songs to the National Song and Entertainment Censorship Commission; they received sentences of two to 10 years in prison. At year’s end the musicians remained in detention and their lawyers were preparing appeals.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law mandates the High Council for the Audiovisual and Communications to provide for freedom of the press and equal access to communications media and information for political parties, associations, and citizens. A large and active private press functioned in Kinshasa and in other major cities, and the government licensed many daily newspapers. Radio remained the principal medium of public information due to limited literacy and the relatively high cost of newspapers and television. The state owned three radio and three television stations, and the former president’s family owned two additional television stations. Government officials, politicians, and some church leaders, owned or operated most media outlets.

The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Broadcast media were subject to a Directorate for Administrative and Land Revenue advertisement tax. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little or no set salary, could not access government information, and exercised self-censorship due to concerns of harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

In February the National Union of the Congolese Press (UNPC) condemned the arrest of Radio Liberte Bikoro journalist Christophe Yoka Nkumu in Bikoro, Equateur Province. Reporters Without Borders reported in July that supporters of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party physically attacked Canal Kin Television presenter Dosta Lutula in the street as he attempted to interview members of the public about the government’s COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of persons allowed to travel in public buses or taxis in Kinshasa.

In mid-September Reporters Without Borders and Journaliste en Danger (JED) denounced the police for engaging in physical violence against Actu 24 CD journalist Louange Vangu and seizing his press card. According to the same report, police fired tear gas at the headquarters of RTVS1, a media outlet owned by Adophe Muzito, an opponent of the government and one of the protest organizers.

In late September the human rights organization Voice of the Voiceless issued a statement criticizing the governor of Kinshasa for banning protests on the road from Ndjili Airport to the area known as Pont Matete and in central Kinshasa, characterizing the ban as a violation of the constitution and a return to past practices of banning peaceful demonstrations. Also in late September, the chairman of the New Generation for Congo’s Emergence party, Constant Mutamba, was arrested in Kinshasa shortly after attempting to assemble with several party members to demonstrate against the government’s alleged efforts to hijack the electoral process, according to independent outlet Election-net.com.

In September RFI and local press reported the detention of journalist Sosthene Kambidi, in connection with the 2017 killings of UN experts Zaida Catalan and Michael Sharp in the Kasais. FARDC auditor general prosecutors stated that Kambidi was detained for questioning as a witness in the case of Catalan and Sharp’s deaths and was also being questioned as a suspect in the parallel investigation of the disappearance of the four Congolese nationals accompanying Catalan and Sharp. Kambidi was initially questioned in the presence of his attorney by both FARDC military prosecutors and legal personnel from the United Nations’ Follow-On Mechanism for inconsistencies in his account of how and when he obtained the video of the experts’ murders. On October 12, Kambidi was granted provisional release, and military prosecutors dropped the conspiracy, rebellion, and terrorism investigations but continued to investigate Kambidi for “culpable abstention.” Attorneys for the remaining detained witnesses began a trial boycott on October 12, demanding the release of fellow attorney and witness Prosper Kamalu as a condition of their return. Kamalu was released on October 29. The trial proceedings resumed on November 2.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to SSF intimidation and violence. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), one journalist, Joel Musavuli, was killed in the country during the year (see section 2.a, Nongovernmental Impact).

The UNJHRO reported that in January in Kasai-Central Province, five PNC agents kicked and slapped a journalist from a local television station as he was trying to cover a demonstration organized by LUCHA. Although the journalist was wearing a T-shirt of his media employer, the PNC confiscated two cell phones and a recorder while he was showing his business card. Following the intervention of a UNPC member, his equipment was returned, although PNC agents had deleted all images and videos taken during the march. The commander in charge of intelligence at the PNC station indicated an investigation was opened, but the UNJHRO reported in November that it had noted no progress in the investigation.

On February 13, Radio Liberte Lisala journalist Erick Ngunde was arrested in the station’s studio, reportedly at the behest of the interim governor of Mongala Province, Clementine Sole, according to local press. Before his arrest the reporter had hosted a program in which a close aide to the former governor of Mongala urged the population to remain “vigilant” regarding Sole’s actions.

In February JED condemned the arrest and subsequent conviction of six journalists working for a community radio station in Bumba, Mongala Province. The reporters were sentenced to three years in jail for denouncing the sexual harassment faced by some of their female colleagues and mismanagement practices at the station. They were not granted access to lawyers of their choosing.

The CPJ reported in June that at least 10 armed men, some of whom wore military uniforms, entered the home of a freelance journalist in Goma in response to his reporting on the government’s inadequate response to the Nyiragongo Volcano eruption. The armed men reportedly assaulted the journalist’s wife and aggressively questioned her regarding his whereabouts, threatened to kill him, and took a bag of his reporting equipment.

In July local press reported that JED condemned the intrusion of police officers into the facilities of Radio Sarah, in Mbandaka, Equateur Province. The police reportedly broke into the station’s studio during the broadcast of a debate on the possible removal of the governor of the province by the local parliament. Law enforcement officers reportedly destroyed the station’s generator and stole broadcasting equipment.

On September 17, PNC officers assaulted RFI correspondent Patient Ligodi while he was covering an unauthorized demonstration organized by the Lamuka coalition of political parties in Kinshasa. Ligodi was hospitalized and subsequently released. On the same day, the PNC announced the arrest of an officer for the assault.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the High Council for Audiovisual and Communications is the only institution with legal authority to restrict broadcasts, the government, including the SSF and provincial officials, also exercised this power. The National Song and Entertainment Censorship Commission, an independent body under the umbrella of the Ministry of Justice and composed of 11 members appointed by the minister, reviews content to ensure it does not “disturb public order or good morals” and does not contain racial slurs, tribal slurs, insults, slanderous language, or pornographic content. According to Article 13 of the commission’s rules, each artist must pay a tax of 630,000 to 1.2 million Congolese francs ($330 to $600) before their work can be released to the public.

On November 5, Congolese rap group Musique Populaire de la Revolution (MPR) released a new music video on their YouTube channel with lyrics and a video that referred to the hopelessness of many Congolese youth. Citing MPR’s failure to submit the song for review in advance, the National Song and Entertainment Censorship Commission banned the broadcast of the song. Two days later Minister of Justice Rose Mutombo declared the ban illegal and asked the commission to explain its decision, accusing it of acting without following its own rules to convene a quorum of its members.

Media representatives reported they were pressured by provincial government authorities not to cover events organized by the opposition or report news concerning opposition leaders. There were also reports the commission took longer to approve songs perceived as critical of the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law does not consider the veracity of reported facts in the case of a defamation complaint. Instead, the judge is to consider only the damage to the accused from revelations in a journalist’s work.

The national and provincial governments used defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. On July 6, LUCHA activist Parfait Muhani was arrested on charges of “criminal association” for allegedly “having formed an association with the aim of discrediting persons and properties” and criminal defamation for posting a tweet denouncing allegations of misappropriated funds by the foundation of First Lady Tshisekedi. According to HRW, he faced the death penalty because of the charges. Although the death penalty had not been carried out in two decades, Muhani could still receive a life sentence. Muhani was provisionally released on November 6 after four months in detention.

National Security: The national government used a law that prohibits anyone from making general defamatory accusations against the military to restrict free speech.

The CPJ reported in April that the SSF threatened staff at two radio stations in Ituri Province after they broadcast a local human rights activist’s accusations that a senior military officer had overseen the detention and torture of adults and children.

The CPJ also reported in May that two uniformed men entered the home of a community broadcaster in Ituri Province, robbed him, and threatened to kill him for reporting allegations that military personnel had looted properties. One of the men also reportedly threatened to kill the journalist’s mother as she was witnessing the attack.

Nongovernmental Impact: IAGs and their political wings regularly restricted press freedom in the areas where they operated.

In July JED reported that Thomson Undji Batangalwa, a correspondent for the South African radio station Channel Africa and a reporter for the Tanganyika radio station Espoir des opprimes based in Fizi, received a series of death threats from unknown persons claiming to belong to the Banyamulenge tribe. He reportedly broadcast a story on Channel Africa about an attack by Ngumino and Twirwaneo rebels from the Banyamulenge communities on the FARDC base near Minembwe, South Kivu. Following the broadcast, the journalist received several threatening telephone calls, including one that accused him of being a “spokesperson for the FARDC.”

On August 13, days after Joel Musavuli broadcast a radio program in which he referred to human rights violations committed by different factions under the state of siege, unidentified intruders in Mambasa Territory in the northeastern province of Ituri broke into Musavuli’s home and stabbed him to death.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were some reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but government authorities restricted this right and prevented those critical of the government from exercising their right to peaceful assembly, especially in the eastern provinces. The declaration of a state of siege since May 6 in Ituri and North Kivu Provinces resulted in further restrictions on peaceful assembly. The law requires organizers of public events to notify local authorities in advance of the event. The government sometimes used this advance notification requirement to decline to authorize public meetings or protests organized by opposition parties or civil society groups critical of the government. SSF agents reportedly also used COVID-19 restrictions to mistreat, arbitrarily arrest, or extort persons participating in peaceful gatherings.

The UNJHRO reported 271 restrictions of fundamental freedoms, a decrease from the 573 during the same period in 2020. These included restrictions on freedom of assembly, the right to liberty and security of person, and of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The UNJHRO explained this downward trend as a decrease in law enforcement activity following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

In January a military court in Beni Territory acquitted eight LUCHA members who faced 10 years in prison after being arrested in December 2020 during a march to call for peace and criticize MONUSCO. On February 15, LUCHA was denied the right to protest in Butembo. When LUCHA held a protest demanding the opening of the schools that had been closed due to COVID-19, police whipped protesters, injured 17 activists, and arrested 21 protesters, who were released three hours later.

The UNJHRO reported that in June police in Kinshasa arrested persons at a local restaurant whom they accused of violating COVID-19 protocols. Some of those arrested reported being assaulted and robbed.

On September 8, Kinshasa’s governor rejected opposition coalition Lamuka’s request for a public demonstration to be held on September 15, giving as a justification “President Felix Tshisekedi’s instructions and COVID-19 measures,” although the governor stated he would authorize the demonstration on September 17 instead. Lamuka attempted to organize the march on September 15 despite the denial, leading the PNC to break up the incipient march with tear gas and beatings.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society organizations and NGOs are required to register with the government and may receive funds only through donations; they may not generate any revenue, even if it is not at a profit. The registration process was burdensome and very slow. Some groups, particularly within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community, reported the government had denied their registration requests. Many NGOs reported that, even when carefully following the registration process, it often took years to receive certification. Many interpreted registration difficulties as intentional government obstacles to impede NGO activity.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government sometimes restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: The SSF established barriers and checkpoints on roads and at airports and markets, both for security reasons and to track movement related to the Ebola and COVID-19 outbreaks. Checkpoints were put up at the time of curfew, which varied during the year from beginning at 8 p.m. earlier in the year, to beginning at 11 p.m. and ending at 4 a.m. as of September 20. Sometimes the SSF requested travel orders at checkpoints. Travel was significantly restricted due to regulations intended to reduce the spread of the COVID-19. The SSF routinely harassed and extorted money from civilians for supposed violations, sometimes detaining them until they or a relative paid. The government required travelers to submit to control procedures at airports and ports during domestic travel and when entering and leaving towns.

IAGs engaged in similar activity in areas under their control, routinely extorting civilians at checkpoints and holding them for ransom. MONUSCO confirmed curfews were in effect in various parts of the East and that those curfews were often associated with an earlier prohibition on motorbike travel with the justification that most attacks are carried out by men on motorbikes. For example, travel by motorbike was not allowed after 7 p.m. in Goma, a restriction that continued to year’s end. Movement between cities remained problematic because of insecurity. Local authorities continued to collect illegal taxes and fees for boats to travel on many parts of the Congo River. There also were widespread reports FARDC soldiers and IAG combatants extorted fees from persons taking goods to market or traveling between towns (see section 1.g.).

The SSF sometimes required travelers to present travel orders from an employer or government official, although the law does not require such documentation. The SSF often detained and sometimes exacted bribes from individuals traveling without orders.

Foreign Travel: Due to inadequate administrative systems, passport issuance was irregular. Officials accepted bribes to expedite passport issuance, and there were reports the price of fully biometric passports varied widely.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that, including individuals displaced for longer than 12 months, there were 5.5 million IDPs in the country, more than half of whom were children. An additional 1.5 million persons were displaced during the year. The government was unable to consistently protect or assist IDPs adequately but generally allowed domestic and international humanitarian organizations to assist. The government sometimes closed IDP camps without coordinating with the international humanitarian community. In June UNHCR and other international humanitarian organizations worked to close three IDP sites in Kalemie, the capital of Tanganyika Province, by providing shelter and hygiene kits, along with transportation money and some food.

Conflict, insecurity, poor infrastructure, and a lack of funding adversely affected humanitarian efforts to assist IDPs. Insecurity and an inability to travel impeded some humanitarian access to certain zones in the eastern provinces. Intercommunal violence and fighting among armed groups in the East resulted in continued population displacement and increased humanitarian needs for IDPs and host communities.

Combatants and other civilians abused IDPs. Abuses included killings, sexual exploitation of women and children (including rape), abduction, forced conscription, looting, illegal taxation, and general harassment.

On May 22, the Nyiragongo Volcano, located about seven miles north of Goma in North Kivu Province, erupted, causing as many as 40,000 residents to flee. Thereafter, the government ordered the evacuation of one-half the city with an estimated population of nearly one million. Most of these residents later returned home, but as many as 4,000 households remained displaced as of early November. The UNJHRO reported that most of the IDPs in Goma housed in various IDP camps and private residences were asked by the local authorities to return to their places of origin without prior assessment, contrary to international principles on internal displacement.

In May the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) described the experience of four internally displaced women and two young girls who were returning from a food distribution center in Bukavu when they were attacked and gang-raped by five men.

In Ituri Province, UNHCR noted that conflict-related activities of IAGs, including CODECO, FPIC, ADF, and Mai Mai armed groups, exacerbated long-standing community conflicts and threatened the safety of IDPs. Approximately 1.7 million IDPs relocated within the province: an estimated 80 percent lived with host families and 20 percent lived in 59 IDP sites, 25 of which were coordinated by UNHCR. The state of siege and intensification of military operations against IAGs contributed to the displacement of persons and affected the situation of IDPs. Through June there were 13,509 documented violations of physical integrity of IDPs in Ituri Province, with assault and battery cases constituting 76 percent of the violations, followed by homicide at 23 percent, and torture at 1 percent. IAGs committed 97 percent of these violations, while the FARDC were responsible for the remainder.

On November 21, 44 persons were killed at Tche, an IDP site in Drodro, Ituri Province, according to local news sources. After this attack nearly 20,000 IDPs fled to Rhoe, a site close to MONUSCO’s military base, doubling the site’s size.

According to the UNJHRO, ISIS-DRC activities in Irumu and Mambasa Territories led to massive population displacement, and ISIS-DRC carried out violent ambushes against IDP sites. The UNJHRO also reported that some youths attacked the IDP accommodation camps located at Neo Apostolic Church and Mubambiro, looted their food supplies, and threatened the IDPs with abduction. This led to a shortage of food supplies and posed security problems for the displaced.

Due to the remote location, weak civilian authority, and insecurity of the Kasai region, humanitarian access was difficult, and IDPs lived in poor conditions without adequate shelter or protection. Women and girls were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, including gang rape.

Lack of shelter, low capacity for agricultural recovery, lack of basic infrastructure, and an absence of development partners all impeded the successful reintegration of IDPs. Some international relief workers warned that failure to integrate returnees and support livelihood activities and local infrastructure could lead to renewed inter-ethnic fighting over limited resources.

In an October briefing the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted that local authorities and civil society groups estimated nearly 100,000 individuals had fled Komanda, Ituri Province, and its surroundings following attacks since September 23. Among them were at least 95 percent of the 60,000 inhabitants of Komanda, Makayanga, and Mangiva and the 40,000 persons who had found refuge there in 2020 and had to flee again. The displaced had little access to food, water, shelter, and medicine.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a rudimentary system for providing protection to refugees. The law, which allows for flexibility, provides most fundamental rights to refugees and citizens on an equal basis. UNHCR worked with the government to bring its system up to international standards and increase its efficiency and effectiveness. Because the Appeals Commission had not been convened in years, rejected asylum seekers remained in limbo. UNHCR was assisting the government in scaling up its ability to undertake biometric registration of refugees and issue refugee identification cards. The government system granted refugee and asylum status and provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers with welfare and safety needs. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes by allowing their entry into the country and facilitating immigration processing. In establishing security mechanisms, government authorities did not treat refugees differently from citizens. Returns occurred at a rate lower than originally expected due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Continuing conflict in North and South Kivu, Ituri, Upper Uele, and Tanganyika Provinces subjected refugees and IDPs to attacks, often resulting in deaths and further displacement. UNHCR reported Rwandan refugees in the Masisi Territory, North Kivu, were subject to cyclical displacement as a result of FARDC and IAG operations and were forced to relocate to South Kivu Province. As a result of conflict, refugees in Masisi reported a range of human rights violations and instances of forced displacement, according to UNHCR. Because of a perception that Rwandan refugees are aligned with or support the FDLR, they were discriminated against and harassed, and subject to arbitrary detention during military operations to a greater extent than the general population.

As of August UNHCR reported there were 221,694 refugees from the Central African Republic in the country. Gender-based violence continued to be a problem for refugees arriving from the Central African Republic. Most of these refugees lived in dire conditions in border areas, near the Ubangi River, although some were relocated to more secure areas. Refugees at the river’s edge, as well as many of the December 2020 arrivals lacked shelter, access to clean water, sanitation facilities, and sufficient food. Thousands of individuals had been biometrically registered, some had received refugee cards, and a small number had received COVID-19 vaccinations.

Incursions by South Sudanese forces into areas in the northern portions of the country continued during the year, with at least a dozen incidents as of December. All incursions as of December had occurred in the Aru Territory and Ituri Province and affected security for asylum seekers, refugees, and Congolese returnees, as well as local populations.

Durable Solutions: A smaller number of Congolese refugees returned home to the country than originally expected due to COVID-19 restrictions.

UNHCR worked with the government to implement a comprehensive strategy to facilitate the repatriation of Rwandan refugees and integrate those who choose to resettle in the country. In 2016 the government through the National Commission for Refugees and UNHCR launched a biometric registration, but this process was halted due to security concerns and problems of access. Local authorities estimated that approximately 75,000 Rwandan refugees of the 215,000 residing in the country were biometrically registered and an estimated 213,000 remained in the country as of November 1.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an undetermined number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees (see section 1.g.).

g. Stateless Persons

The country has a population of de facto stateless residents and persons at risk of statelessness, including persons of Sudanese origin living in the Northeast, Mbororo pastoralists in the far North, long-term migrants, forced returnees from Angola, former Angolan refugees, mixed-race persons who are denied naturalization, and Congolese citizens without civil documentation. There were no national statistics on stateless persons because such data are linked with the general population census process, which was last completed in 1984.

The law does not discriminate in granting citizenship on the grounds of gender, religion, or disability; however, the naturalization process is cumbersome and requires parliamentary approval of individual citizenship applications. Individuals lacking documentation were often denied identity documents, political rights, and employment. Persons whose names were not spelled according to local custom were often denied citizenship, as were individuals with lighter-colored skin. Persons without national identification cards were sometimes arbitrarily arrested by the SSF.

The law allows for the acquisition of citizenship through birth and residence in the country, marriage, adoption, and naturalization. Administrative practices for acquiring nationality through marriage, adoption, or naturalization were increasingly political and put more persons at risk of statelessness. The government has ratified neither the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons nor the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Authorities do not issue national identification cards for citizens. A voter card or passport serves as an identifying document. Most citizens did not have a passport, and only citizens 18 and older are eligible for a voter registration card. The lack of identification documents could hinder the ability to register at university, obtain a passport, or gain certain employment.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held in December 2018 and drew criticism grounded in procedural transparency concerns. CENI cancelled elections in Beni and Butembo in North Kivu Province, reportedly due to health concerns generated by the Ebola crisis, and in Yumbi in Mai Ndombe Province due to insecurity. Although CENI organized legislative and provincial contests in those areas in March 2019, more than one million voters were disenfranchised from the 2018 presidential contest.

In January 2019 CENI announced opposition candidate Tshisekedi won the presidential election, and in accordance with electoral law, the Constitutional Court confirmed CENI’s results later that month. The Council of Bishops criticized the outcome, noting “the results of the presidential election as published by CENI do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission.”

Many international actors expressed concern regarding CENI’s decision to deny accreditation to several international election observers and media representatives. Some persons questioned the final election results due to press reports of unverified data leaked from unnamed sources indicating opposition candidate Martin Fayulu received the most votes. The election aftermath was calm, with most citizens accepting the outcome. In January 2019 Tshisekedi was sworn in as president, marking the first peaceful transfer of power since the country’s independence in 1960.

Tshisekedi’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress political party won 32 seats in the National Assembly, whereas the Common Front for Congo coalition won 335 seats of 500 seats total. Senatorial elections were held in March 2019 through an indirect vote by provincial assemblies.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law recognizes opposition parties and provides them with “sacred” rights and obligations. Government authorities and the SSF, however, prevented opposition parties from holding public meetings, assemblies, and peaceful protests. The government and the SSF also limited opposition leaders’ freedom of movement. The SSF used force to prevent or disrupt opposition-organized events.

State-run media, including television and radio stations, remained the largest sources of information for the public and government (see section 2.a.). There were reports of government intimidation of political opponents, such as denying opposition groups the right to assemble peacefully (see section 2.b.) and exercising political influence in the distribution of media content.

The national electoral law prohibits certain groups of citizens from voting in elections, in particular members of the armed forces and the national police.

In several districts, known as chefferies, traditional chiefs perform the role of a local government administrator. Unelected, they are selected based on local tribal customs (generally based on family inheritance) and if approved are paid by the government.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate, although some ethnic groups in the East claimed discrimination. Women held only 12 percent of the seats in parliament. The new government formed in April included several women as ministers or deputies, such as the minister of state of portfolio, the minister of relations with parliament, and the minister of mines. Approximately 27 percent of the 57 vice prime ministers, ministers, ministers of state, vice ministers, and minister delegates were women, an increase in the total number from the previous government. Of 108 senators, 23 were women. Changes to the electoral law in 2017 included the introduction of a minimum “threshold of representation,” but it disadvantaged women, partly because it favored the major parties, in which women faced challenges gaining prominent positions.

Women faced obstacles to full participation in politics and leadership positions generally. Women in leadership positions were often given portfolios focused on so-called women’s issues, such as those related to gender-based violence, cultural norms, and discrimination against women. Women generally had less access to financial resources needed to participate in politics. Furthermore, insecurity, particularly in the eastern provinces, presented a major obstacle for women who wished to run for office and campaign, because the risk of rape and other sexual violence forced them to limit activities and public exposure.

Some groups, including indigenous persons, claimed they had no representation in the Senate, National Assembly, or provincial assemblies. Discrimination against indigenous groups continued in some areas, such as Equateur, Kasai-Oriental, and Haut-Katanga Provinces, and such discrimination contributed to the lack of indigenous group political participation (see section 6).

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. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Local NGOs blamed these levels of corruption, in part, to the lack of a law providing for access to public information.

In 2020 President Tshisekedi created the Agency for the Prevention and Fight against Corruption (APLC). A special service under the Office of the President, the APLC is responsible for coordinating all government entities charged with fighting corruption and money laundering, conducting investigations with the full authority of judicial police, and overseeing transfer of public corruption cases to appropriate judicial authorities. The Platform for the Protection for Whistleblowers in Africa asserted that APLC’s record was mixed, without visible results.

Corruption: Corruption by officials at all levels as well as within state-owned enterprises continued to deprive state coffers of hundreds of millions of dollars per year. In January RFI reported the General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF) alleged that three billion Congolese francs ($1.5 million) was embezzled every month at the Ministry for Primary and Secondary Education through a scheme diverting public funds to pay thousands of fictitious teachers. RFI also noted that the director of the agency supervising the teachers’ pay process and the inspector general of the Ministry of Primary, Secondary, and Vocational Education were arrested, following the issuance of a report by the IGF. In March Radio Okapi reported that the Appellate Court of Kinshasa-Gombe sentenced the inspector general for primary, secondary, and vocational education, Michel Djamba, and the head of the Teachers’ Payroll and Control Service, Delphin Kampayi, to 20 years of hard labor for embezzling public funds.

In June independent outlet Actualite.cd quoted a public finance expert as saying that there was not adequate accounting for more than 80 percent of the country’s public spending, which potentially encourages embezzlement. A former minister of the economy said in local press that the country’s budgetary accounting system was weakened by “numerous notable deficiencies.” The head of the IGF, Jules Alingete, was quoted by independent radio station Top Congo FM as saying that at least 70 percent of public funds were routinely misappropriated. Alingete added that only one-third of the 146 billion Congolese francs ($73 million) invested in road construction work in Kinshasa was actually used to support the construction effort. Alingete also alleged that over-invoicing that occurred during the development of the Bukangalonzo agro-industrial park cost the government 400 billion Congolese francs ($200 million).

In June local media reported that a group of researchers working for the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) submitted a memorandum to President Tshisekedi alleging the embezzlement of OVG’s staff salaries since 2013, the misappropriation of funds disbursed by the government, and the “recruitment” of a plethora of fictitious employees. According to the representatives of the observatory’s staff, the government misappropriated international donations worth more than six million euros (seven million dollars).

In August local press reported that the IGF took legal action against the governor of Kongo Central Atou Matubuana for misappropriating more than six billion Congolese francs (three million dollars) earmarked to finance several “special intervention funds.” The IGF also accused Matubuana and some of his aides of embezzling more than 10 billion Congolese francs (five million dollars) earmarked for civilian and military services.

On August 27, authorities arrested and jailed former minister of health Eteni Longondo for the misappropriation of funds intended to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The IGF reported the minister failed to account for more than two billion Congolese francs (one million dollars) allocated by the World Bank.

In November Reuters reported that the Constitutional Court dismissed the case of former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo, stating that its jurisdiction only covered sitting, not former, prime ministers. According to Jeune Afrique, Ponyo was suspected of involvement in an embezzlement scheme concerning a 570 billion Congolese francs ($285 million) agrifood project, and the IGF concluded more than 90 percent of that amount was embezzled. The Sentry, an investigative and policy team that tracks war criminals’ money in Africa, published a report alleging that a brother of former president Joseph Kabila benefitted from embezzled Congolese money, using it to buy expensive properties abroad.

The law prohibits the FARDC from engaging in mineral trade, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Criminal involvement by some FARDC units and IAGs included protection rackets, extortion, and theft. The illegal trade in minerals was both a symptom and a cause of weak governance. It illegally financed IAGs and individual elements of the SSF and sometimes generated revenue for traditional authorities and local and provincial governments. A 2019 report from the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), a Belgian research group, determined that in the trading hub of Itebero, North Kivu Province, traders paid $10 per ton of coltan to the president of the local trading association, who distributed this money to the FARDC, ANR, and Directorate General for Migration. Individual FARDC commanders also sometimes appointed civilians to manage their interests at mining sites covertly.

Artisanal mining remained predominantly informal, illicit, and strongly linked to both armed groups and certain elements of the FARDC. Government officials were often complicit in the smuggling of artisanal mining products, particularly gold, into Uganda and Rwanda. A 2020 UN Group of Experts report highlighted Ituri Province as a major source of smuggled gold found in Uganda. The UN Group of Experts also reported that FARDC soldiers regularly accepted bribes from artisanal miners to access the Namoya site, which was owned by the Banro Mining Corporation. Mining experts and law enforcement officers interviewed in the report described natural resource-related crimes as “quick cash” and explained that violators often bribed law enforcement agencies to secure safe transit of illegal goods.

Between 2017 and 2020, IPIS visited 920 artisanal mine sites in the East and observed illegal interference (by either the FARDC or an IAG) at 363 sites. At 251 sites, IPIS reported FARDC interference, mostly by illegal taxation, but also by creating a trade monopoly over both mineral and nonmineral products. IPIS research noted that for armed interference, FARDC units were the main culprits at 66 percent of the affected mining sites (198 out of 265) in the 2016-18 sample, while 46 percent of the mines with armed interference were controlled or frequented by different armed groups, especially Raia Mutomboki, NDC-R, Mai Mai Yakutumba, and Mai Simba.

In conflict areas both IAGs and elements of the SSF regularly set up roadblocks and ran illegal taxation schemes. In 2019 IPIS published data showing state agents regularly sold tags meant to validate clean mineral supply chains. The validation tags, a mechanism designed to reduce corruption, labor abuses, trafficking in persons, and environmental destruction, were regularly sold to smugglers.

As in previous years, a significant portion of the country’s enacted budget included off-budget and special account allocations that were not fully published. These accounts shielded receipts and disbursements from public scrutiny. Eight parastatal organizations held special accounts and used them to circumvent the government’s tax collection authorities. “Special accounts” are, in theory, subjected to the same auditing procedures and oversight as other expenditures; however, due in large part to resource constraints, the Supreme Audit Authority did not always publish its internal audits, or in many cases published them significantly late. Under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) standard of 2016, the government is required to disclose the allocation of revenues and expenditures from extractive companies. In 2019 the EITI board noted the country had made meaningful progress in its implementation of the 2016 standard but also expressed concern regarding persistent corruption and mismanagement of funds in the extractive sector. During the year the EITI published Gecamines’ contracts with third parties but did not fully publish contract annexes containing contract values and mining royalties’ allocations.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Elements of the SSF continued to kill, harass, beat, intimidate, and arbitrarily arrest and detain domestic human rights advocates and domestic NGO workers, particularly when the NGOs reported on or supported victims of abuses by the SSF or reported on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the East. IAGs repeatedly targeted local human rights defenders for violent retribution when they spoke out against abuses. Representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the ANR met with domestic NGOs and sometimes responded to their inquiries.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated at times with investigations by the United Nations and other international bodies but was not consistent in doing so. For example, the government refused to grant the United Nations access to certain detention centers, particularly at military installations such as military intelligence headquarters. The government and military prosecutors cooperated with the UN team supporting investigations related to the 2017 killing of two UN experts, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan, in Kasai Central Province. After a four-month recess, the trial involving more than 50 witnesses and suspects resumed on November 2.

Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) published reports and made public statements on prison conditions, the Universal Periodic Review, and human rights violations during the COVID-19 state of emergency. It also held human rights training sessions for magistrates, visited detention centers, conducted professional development workshops for human rights defense networks in the interior, and followed up on complaints of human rights abuses from civilians.

Both the CNDH and the Human Rights Ministry continued to lack sufficient funding for overhead costs and full-time representation in all 26 provinces. A CNDH spokesperson reported the organization had received less funding than in previous years, hindering the implementation of programs in the provinces.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law on sexual violence criminalizes rape of all persons, but the law was not often enforced. Rape and other forms of gender-based violence were widespread throughout the country, even in areas without armed conflict. The survivors seldom reported this for cultural and social reasons, and the perpetrators were rarely punished. Rape was also common and used as a tactic in areas of armed conflict. The legal definition of rape does not include spousal rape or intimate partner rape. It also prohibits extrajudicial settlements (for example, a customary fine paid by the perpetrator to the family of the survivor), but such practices still occurred. Both international organizations and local NGOs reported that female rape survivors were sometimes forced to pay a fine to return to their families and to gain access to their children. Husbands often divorced wives who were survivors. The law also prohibits forced marriage, but it continued to take place. The law allows survivors of sexual violence to waive appearance in court and permits closed hearings to protect confidentiality. The minimum penalty prescribed for conviction of rape is a prison sentence of five years, and courts sometimes imposed such sentences in rape convictions in the infrequent instances when these crimes came to trial. Some prosecutions occurred for rape and other types of sexual violence.

IAGs frequently used rape as a tactic of conflict (see section 1.g.). The UNJHRO reported that from January through June, Nyatura combatants committed the greatest number of human rights abuses, attacking the civilian population and committing sexual violence against 39 women, one man, and 22 children. Local NGOs and international organizations reported that sexual mutilation was often used as a tactic of conflict, with rapists in conflict using weapons or sharp objects to torture women. The UNJHRO reported that in January in Kalembe, Nyatura Coalition des Mouvements pour le Changement (CMC) combatants raped two women, killed one man, and wounded another with a machete. The FARDC was also responsible for sexual violence, especially in conflict areas, where the UNJHRO documented 72 sexual violations against women.

Government agents raped and sexually abused women and girls during arrest and detention, as well as during military action, according to UNJHRO reporting (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.). While sexual violence was a problem throughout the country, most cases took place in areas affected by internal conflict. The PNC continued its nationwide campaign, with support from MONUSCO, to eliminate gender-based violence by the SSF, including through the fight against impunity and the protection of survivors and witnesses. The campaign to operationalize the national action plan to combat gender-based violence was not fully funded by October, and few activities had taken place.

In analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls, UNICEF found increased exposure to and increased incidence of sexual and gender-based violence with fewer persons on the streets after curfews. Women in Lubumbashi reported increased break-ins and sexual assaults during the COVID-19 curfew, some by armed men in uniform. Seven women told Agence France Presse in January that they had suffered a break-in and been raped during curfew hours in Lubumbashi.

As noted below, persons with disabilities faced high rates of gender-based violence and suffered health consequences as a result. LGBTQI+ persons were targeted by particular forms of gender-based violence, including “corrective” rape. Most survivors of rape did not pursue formal legal action due to insufficient resources, lack of confidence in the justice system, family pressure, and fear of subjecting themselves to humiliation, reprisal, or both.

UNFPA’s most recent statistics indicated that 37 percent of women had experienced intimate partner violence during the previous 12 months. Among the barriers to reporting for women who had been sexually abused, UNICEF noted in an April report on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) that women said they would not confide in anyone if they were sexually abused, and that they feared diminished marriage prospects and community gossip after surviving this crime.

The law does not provide any specific penalty for domestic violence despite its prevalence. Although the law considers assault a crime, police rarely intervened in perceived domestic disputes. There were no reports judicial authorities took action in cases of domestic or spousal abuse.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: UNICEF and MONUSCO attributed some abuses of children, including sexual violence against young girls, to harmful traditional and religious practices. Perpetrators allegedly targeted children because they believed harming children or having sex with virgins could protect against death in conflict or give them better luck with mining, and children often died because of these rapes.

Accusations of witchcraft often targeted women and resulted in killings, including some by burning. The NGO Association of Women in the Media said it had recorded 324 accusations of witchcraft from June through September. An administrative chief for Kabare Territory, South Kivu, said those killed were mainly women, more than 60 of whom had been designated as witches by individuals who claimed they could detect witches. A report by the Permanent Consultative Framework for Congolese Women (CAFCO) recorded more than 37 women killed by mobs following witchcraft accusations in South Kivu, Ituri, Kinshasa, and Kongo Central during the year. CAFCO called on national authorities to punish those responsible and ensure the safety of the victims.

In September the Guardian reported that eight women had been accused of witchcraft and burned to death or lynched in South Kivu during the month. An attorney quoted in the Guardian noted that a 2014 provincial law forbidding mob justice had not been applied.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment occurred throughout the country. The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a minimum sentence of one year if convicted, but there was little or no effective enforcement of the law.

In late September several international news organizations reported allegations of SEA by World Health Organization (WHO) staff members working on the Ebola efforts in the country during the 2018-20 epidemic. The United Nations reported that the perpetrators included both Congolese and foreign staff, with an investigation by a WHO commission identifying 83 persons involved in the abuse, 21 confirmed as WHO employees. A New York Times article noted that women reported being asked to provide sex in exchange for a job or even to get water. The BBC reported that local women described being ambushed in hospitals, where they were raped. A Reuters article noted 29 women reported they were raped, with some forced by their abusers to have abortions. The United Nations noted that the report described how managers refused to consider verbal reports. In late October Reuters reported that more women had reported SEA, and the WHO issued a plan to prevent such misconduct by humanitarian workers.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The law recognizes the rights of all couples and individuals of reproductive age to benefit from information and education on contraception and to have free access to reproductive health services, although many couples and individuals lacked the means and access to information.

In 2020 according to UNFPA, 28 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 obtained access to modern contraception after requesting it, while reproductive health needs for 21 percent of women were unmet. The prevalence of modern methods of contraception was approximately 12 percent.

According to the Guttmacher Institute’s selected sexual and reproductive health indicators between 2007 and 2018, 32 percent of respondents’ recent births were unplanned. According to a 2016 study by the Guttmacher Institute, there were 147 unintended pregnancies per 1,000 women ages 15 to 49 in Kinshasa in 2016. The study found that in Kinshasa, 5 percent of women seeking postabortion care after using misoprostol were discharged in good health in less than 24 hours and did not require treatment.

Problems affecting access to family planning and reproductive health services included an inadequate transportation infrastructure, funding shortfalls for procuring adequate quantities of contraceptives, and poor logistics and supply chain management leading to frequent stock shortages. Cultural norms favoring large families; misinformation surrounding contraceptive use, including fear that contraception causes infertility; and especially the population’s general inability to pay for contraceptive services were also barriers.

The adolescent birth rate was 138 per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 19. UNICEF reported that 27 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 had been pregnant. In an analysis of the impacts of COVID-19 and its impact on women and girls in the country, UNICEF reported an increase in the use of family planning services, an increase in sexual activity among adolescents, a reduction in antenatal care visits, and an increase in the number of pregnancies and women and adolescents seeking clandestine abortions.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services to survivors of gender-based violence. The provision of emergency contraception was included as part of clinical management of rape, but women could not always access them in time. The services were free and intended to provide a postexposure prophylaxis kit within 72 hours to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Prominent human rights observers reported, however, that women who went to the police to report rape were often asked to pay for actions needed to investigate and prosecute the crime. The government established mobile clinics for gender-based violence survivors in remote areas. LGBTQI+ survivors reported barriers to accessing emergency care.

According to the 2013-14 Demographic and Health Survey, the maternal mortality ratio was 846 deaths per 100,000 live births, despite sustained high usage of health facilities for deliveries, which suggested a poor quality of health services. Geographic barriers, lack of appropriate equipment, and low health professional capacity also hindered the provision of quality maternal and child health services and led to high maternal mortality and childbirth complications, such as obstetric fistula.

After analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls, UNICEF noted that school closures and financial difficulties pushed some adolescent girls to engage in transactional sexual relationships. Young women often did not have access to menstrual hygiene, which impacted their ability to attend schools, which often lacked bathrooms and running water. Furthermore, unwed girls who became pregnant were pressured to drop out of school, and young women who become mothers often faced societal stigmas.

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, but the law does not provide women the same rights as men. The law permits women to participate in economic domains without approval of male relatives, provides for maternity care, disallows inequities linked to dowries, and specifies fines and other sanctions for those who discriminate or engage in gender-based violence. Nonetheless, women experienced economic discrimination, and there were legal restrictions on women in employment, including limitations on occupations considered dangerous, but no restrictions on women’s working hours.

In an analysis of the impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls, UNICEF found that women were disproportionately affected by the health and socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 restrictions. Most women worked in the informal sector, and border and market closures limited business opportunities.

According to UNICEF many widows were unable to inherit their late husbands’ property because the law states that in event of a death in which there is no will, the husband’s children, including those born out of wedlock (provided they were officially recognized by the father), rather than the widow, have precedence with regard to inheritance. Since changes in the family law in 2017, women and men receive the same punishments for adultery of “an injurious quality,” but this change was not applied to the criminal law.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution provides that “no one could be discriminated on the basis of his race, ethnic, tribe, cultural or linguistic minority.” Ethnic Twa persons frequently faced severe societal discrimination and had little protection from government officials (see section 1.g.).

Long-standing ethnic tensions also fueled some community violence. The UNJHRO reported the resurgence of interethnic conflict between Twa and Luba communities in Tanganyika Province and noted that conflicts between the Twa and the Bantu in Monkoto, Tshuapa Province, led to violence and casualties. The UNJHRO also reported persistent ethnic conflicts and attacks by the Mai-Mai Bakata Katanga in Lualaba and Haut-Katanga Provinces between January and June. According to MONUSCO, hate speech was spreading on social media among local communities in the city of Uvira and surrounding areas.

From January through June the UNJHRO documented 278 human rights violations and abuses committed in the context of the intercommunal conflict in the Haut Plateau covering parts of the territories of Uvira, Fizi, and Mwenga. The UNJHRO reported this conflict pitted the Banyamulenge community against the Bafuliiru, Bayindu-Banyindu, and Babembe communities and was characterized by the involvement of multiple armed groups and militias organized in ethnically based alliances, notably combatants from the Ngumino armed group and the Twigwaneho and Android militias, linked to the Banyamulenge community, and Mai Mai, and Biloze Bishambuke combatants linked to the Bafuliiru, Banyindu, and Babembe communities.

In May a journalist from the magazine New Yorker reported that when he was traveling in Kolwezi, a mining town in the South, staff at a casino run by and frequented by foreigners told him that Black Africans were not allowed to gamble. The journalist further wrote that the treatment of Congolese artisanal miners by their foreign bosses in the mining areas evoked that of the colonial period.

On September 27, two lawyers from South Kivu filed a complaint with the public prosecutor and the auditor general of the FARDC alleging acts amounting to ethnic cleansing in Minembwe between 2018 and 2020. The complaint, filed on behalf of 71 Banyamulenge living in the highlands of South Kivu, alleged that armed Mai Mai militia from the Fuliiro, Bembe, and Nyindu ethnic groups killed, raped, tortured, and kidnapped Banyamulenge and also burned houses and farm buildings and looted cattle, with the indifference or complicity of the FARDC. The complaint also denounced hate speech against Banyamulenge, sometimes propagated by well-known politicians and social-media influencers.

Uvira mayor Kiza Muhato banned an anti-Banyamulenge march after it had been postponed from October 12 to October 15, leading organizers to cancel it again. The organizers planned the demonstration in support of the comments made by former minister of rural development Justin Bitakwira calling for Bafuliiro youth to take up arms to defend their ancestral land from Banyamulenge “invaders.”

On December 9, FARDC major Joseph Rugenerwa Kaminzobe was accompanying a patient in an ambulance carrying four other FARC soldiers headed to the Fizi General Referral Hospital when demonstrators in Lweba village pulled him from the ambulance, assaulted him, and burned him alive, allegedly for his Banyamulenge ethnicity. According to local sources, the demonstrators were a mix of young persons called “Bazalendo” (Swahili for “patriot”) and Mai Mai rebels protesting against the killing of three civilians during an attack by the Banyamulenge-linked Ngumino militia two days earlier. The deputy prime minister of interior and security launched an investigation and maintained the government was committed to combating hate speech. A FARDC delegation arrived in Lweba on December 11 to begin the investigation.

Indigenous Peoples

Estimates of the country’s indigenous population (Twa, Baka, Mbuti, Aka, and others believed to be the country’s original inhabitants) varied greatly, from 250,000 to two million. Societal discrimination against these groups was widespread, and the government did not effectively protect their civil and political rights. Most indigenous persons took no part in the political process, and many lived in remote areas. Fighting in the East between IAGs and the SSF, expansion by farmers, and increased trading and excavation activities caused displacement of some indigenous populations. Political, social, and economic discrimination and exclusion of Pygmy, an ethnic community locally referred to as Twa, drove conflict throughout the country, most notably in Tanganyika Province, and around Kahuzi-Biega National Park in South Kiva Province.

While the law stipulates indigenous populations receive 10 percent of the profits gained from use of their land, this provision was not enforced. In some areas surrounding tribes kidnapped and forced indigenous persons into slavery, sometimes resulting in ethnic conflict (see section 1.g.). Indigenous populations also reported high instances of rape by members of outside groups, which contributed to HIV/AIDS infections and other health complications.

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides for the acquisition of citizenship through birth within the country or from either parent being of an ethnic group documented as having been in the country in 1960. According to UNICEF, the government registered approximately 25 percent of children born in some form of medical facility, but only 14 percent children had a birth certificate. Without a birth certificate, which provides proof of where a child was born and the identity of the child’s parents, a child lacked any proof of entitlement to a nationality and was therefore left at risk of statelessness. Lack of registration rarely affected access to government services.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free and compulsory primary education. Despite President Tshisekedi’s policy to provide free primary education, the government was unable to offer it consistently in all provinces. Public schools generally expected parents to contribute to teachers’ salaries. These expenses, combined with the potential loss of income from their children’s labor while they attended class, rendered many parents unable or unwilling to enroll their children. UNICEF reported that approximately 7.6 million children ages five to 17 were out of school, and half of girls ages five to 17 did not attend school. For the vast majority of schools, the lack of funding led to decreased access and quality of learning, rendering the policy heavily politicized and at times unpopular.

Secondary school attendance rates for girls were lower than for boys due to financial, cultural, or security reasons, including early marriage and pregnancy for girls. There were reports of teachers pressuring girls for sexual favors in return for higher grades. Educational obstacles for children with disabilities included inaccessible infrastructure; exams provided in formats not accessible to everyone; and a lack of awareness among teachers, students, and staff in addition to the reluctance to include children with disabilities.

Many of the schools in the East were dilapidated and closed due to chronic insecurity. Schools were sometimes targeted in attacks by IAGs. Parents in some areas kept their children from attending school due to fear of IAG forcible recruitment and use of child soldiers. In March the Child Protection Section of MONUSCO documented one attack against a school and another against a hospital in Mabelenge, Irumu Territory, both perpetrated by ADF combatants in Ituri Province. The school was destroyed, and the hospital was looted. In April approximately 30 schools closed due to insecurity in Ikobo, North Kivu. Radio Okapi reported that most schools in Beni Territory were closed in May because of rampant insecurity and the subsequent displacement of students and teachers from troubled areas.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits all forms of child abuse, it regularly occurred. The constitution prohibits parental abandonment of children accused of sorcery. Nevertheless, parents or other care providers sometimes abandoned or abused such children, frequently invoking “witchcraft” as a rationale. The law provides for the imprisonment of parents and other adults convicted of accusing children of witchcraft. Authorities did not implement the law.

Many churches conducted exorcisms of children accused of witchcraft. These exorcisms involved isolation, beating and whipping, starvation, and forced ingestion of purgatives. According to UNICEF some communities branded children with disabilities or speech impediments as witches. This practice sometimes resulted in parents’ abandoning their children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: While the law requires consent and prohibits marriage of boys and girls younger than age 18, many marriages of underage children took place, in part due to continued social acceptance. The constitution criminalizes forced marriage. Courts may sentence parents convicted of forcing a child to marry to up to 12 years’ hard labor and a fine. The penalty doubles when the child is younger than age 15; however, enforcement was limited.

Provisions in the law do not clarify who has standing to report forced marriage as a crime or if a judge has the authority to do so. UNFPA reported that child marriage was widespread, with approximately 37 percent of girls married by age 18 and 10 percent of women ages 20 to 24 having been married before the age of 15. Dowry payments greatly incentivized underage marriage, as parents forcibly married daughters to collect dowries or to finance dowries for sons. UNFPA further reported that some parents considered child marriage a way to protect a girl from sexual violence, reasoning that her husband would be responsible for her safety.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and the law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of anyone younger than age 18. The penal code prohibits child pornography, with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years for those convicted. The law criminalizes child sex trafficking, with conviction carrying penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a heavy fine. In April UNICEF published a report on SEA that highlighted persistent social beliefs that undermine protection for child survivors. For example, UNICEF noted in the report that adolescent girls who were in exploitative relationships and received money in exchange for sex were not perceived to be children. According to the report, sexual violence against children was considered more serious and more likely to be reported than sexual violence against adults, as it was commonly believed that child victims do not bear the same stigma as adult victims.

There were also reports child soldiers, particularly girls, faced sexual exploitation (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: According to the 2007 Rapid Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning Report, the most recent data available, there were an estimated 8.2 million orphans, children with disabilities, and other vulnerable children in the country. Of these, 91 percent received no external support and only 3 percent received medical support. In 2019 the NGO Humanium estimated 70,000 children lived on the streets, with at least 35,000 in Kinshasa. The families of many of these children forced them out of their homes, accusing them of witchcraft and causing misfortune. Humanium noted that street children were unsupervised with no access to food, education, or shelter and other basic necessities, circumstances that left them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by adults and law enforcement personnel who forced them into illegal criminal activity. Law enforcement officials sometimes recruited street children to disrupt political protests and cause public disorder, making children liable for injury or death.

In February UNICEF reported that there were an estimated three million child IDPs in the country, largely as a result of violence in the east of the country (see section 2.e.).

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

Anti-Semitism

The country had a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities and requires the state to promote their participation in national, provincial, and local institutions. The constitution states all persons should have access to national education. The law prohibits private, public, and semipublic companies from discriminating against qualified candidates based on disability. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively, and persons with disabilities often found it difficult to obtain employment, education, and other government services. Many persons with disabilities, consequently, resorted to begging. Conflict in several areas of the country left many thousands of former military and civilians with significant disabilities. Disability groups reported extensive social stigmatization, including children with disabilities being expelled from their homes and accused of witchcraft. Families sometimes concealed their children with disabilities due to shame.

No legislation mandates access to government buildings or services for persons with disabilities, including access to health care, information, communication, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services. While persons with disabilities may attend public primary and secondary schools and have access to higher education, no reasonable accommodations are required of educational facilities to support their full and equal inclusion. Schools for children with hearing impairments, for example, were private and generally in poor condition. According to the Ministry of People Living with Disabilities, less than 1 percent of children with disabilities attended school. In a study done between 2019 and 2020 with support from UNESCO, the ministry reported that of 10,000 persons with disabilities in Kinshasa, only 36 percent had some primary school education and 49 percent had no formal education. The government began a program to standardize sign language throughout the provinces due to differences between the signs used in different provinces.

A local NGO Congo Handicap reported in September that women with disabilities were up to four times as likely to be survivors of domestic violence as other women and often did not report abuses due to a lack of awareness of their rights. Persons with disabilities were also frequently survivors of gender-based violence. Congo Handicap also noted in a report published in September that 1,500 women with disabilities in and near the city of Bukavu had survived rape and other forms of sexual violence. Many survivors reported unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections as a result. The NGO reported that the perpetrators were not held to account for the alleged abuses.

Violence against persons with disabilities was a serious problem. Victims often did not report abuses, and when they did, they experienced financial, social, and cultural obstacles to accountability. Often police and other officials who played a role in the judicial system asked victims for money before investigating. The family of a young autistic girl who was raped by a manual laborer in Kinshasa did not have the money to pursue justice. The family then brought the case to the attention of the minister of people living with disabilities, who described how she intervened to ensure the case was brought to trial, which resulted in a six-year prison sentence for the perpetrator.

Frontline Defenders reported that Sinzeri Nabeza Jolie, a prominent human rights defender with a physical disability, was released from detention in January due to deteriorating health after spending four days in detention without being presented to a judge. Jolie is a member of SOS HANDICAP, an organization in South Kivu created by women with disabilities to defend and protect the human rights of women and girls with disabilities. Police had arrested her following a meeting to prepare for a march protesting discrimination against women and girls with disabilities. A Congo Handicap report published in December asserted that the right to access to justice for people with disabilities was not respected. According to the report, persons with disabilities often would not lodge complaints, because their complaints were often not taken seriously and were often either dismissed or not recorded.

Persons with disabilities also encountered many challenges in exercising their rights to participate in civic life. During the 2018 election, for example, persons with visual impairments encountered difficulties trying to use voting machines. Obstacles to voting included a lack of support and information, in addition to an inaccessible physical environment. Many potential voters with physical disabilities were forced to abandon the effort to participate in elections when physical limitations did not permit them to wait in the lines. Additionally, authorities sometimes changed the location of polling places at the last minute, making it difficult for persons with disabilities to reach the new location due to limited accessible transportation.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, but social stigma continued.

The Demographic and Health Survey 2013-14 captured a proxy indicator measuring the level of tolerance of respondents towards an HIV-positive person (either family member, businessperson, or teacher) and the necessity of hiding the HIV-positive status of a family member. Of those responding, 72 percent said they were ready to take care of an HIV-positive parent, but only 47 percent expressed willingness to purchase produce from an HIV-positive seller; 49 percent would accept having an HIV-positive teacher with their children, and 26 percent said it would not be necessary to hide the HIV status of a family member.

A 2020 Ministry of Health study conducted in conjunction with WHO and other organizations surveyed those with HIV about stigmatization and discrimination towards them. Approximately 40 percent gave their HIV status as a reason to have moved during the previous 12 months. Nearly 75 percent said they had not lost a job or source of revenue during the previous 12 months due to their HIV status. Fewer than 5 percent said they had been refused health care because they were HIV positive, and 62 percent of respondents said they had read about or discussed the law providing protection for the rights of persons with HIV and AIDs.

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

While no law specifically prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, individuals engaging in public displays of consensual same-sex sexual conduct, such as kissing, were sometimes subject to prosecution under public indecency provisions, which were rarely applied to opposite-sex couples. A local NGO reported authorities rarely took steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses against LGBTQI+ persons, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.

Identifying as LGBTQI+ remained a cultural taboo. LGBTQI+ individuals were subjected to harassment, stigmatization, and violence, including “corrective” rape. Some religious leaders, radio broadcasts, and political organizations played a key role in supporting discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals.

LGBTQI+ persons in South Kivu Province reported that in 2018 a coalition of revivalist churches in Bukavu published materials characterizing LGBTQI+ persons as acting against the will of God. The publications contributed to a deteriorating environment for LGBTQI+ rights in the area. Advocates in the eastern part of the country reported arbitrary detentions, acts of physical violence, including beatings, being stripped naked, sexual abuse in public settings, and rape. In some cases LGBTQI+ persons were forced by threats of violence to withdraw from schools and other public and community institutions.

In June LGBTQI+ persons who participated in Pride Month activities were subjected to harassment, physical violence, and threats when photographs became public. An NGO supporting LGBTQI+ rights reported receiving hate mail and threats of violence. The NGO reported there was rarely condemnation when LGBTQI+ persons were attacked and that LGBTQI+ individuals faced difficulties pursuing claims of discrimination in employment.

An NGO promoting LGBTQI+ rights claimed other human rights organizations excluded and ostracized LGBTQI+ rights organizations due to their religious beliefs or belief that LGBTQI+ rights do not constitute human rights. One activist reported being explicitly excluded from other meetings of human rights organizations or women’s rights organizations due to her affiliation as an LGBTQI+ activist.

A human rights NGO reported that a gay man was severely beaten by a mob, which included several security force members, after he was lured to meet another man at a local hotel. Human rights activists alleged that some in the mob were members of the Republican Guard. The mob later attacked the man’s house and stole his money, causing the man to go into hiding and to be disowned by his family.

LGBTQI+ activists reported that there were many cases of “corrective” rape against both men and women during the year. When the survivors came to a health clinic for care, they were either rejected for being LGBTQI+ or the staff at the health clinic tried to talk them out of being LGBTQI+.

An influential church, Centre Missionnaire Philadelphie, where several high-ranking politicians attended services, held a seminar with hundreds of participants about the “causes and consequences” of being LGBTQI+, claiming it was immoral.

In July former human rights minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa, responding to a tweet, wrote that LGBTQI+ persons could “love each other privately” but claimed that representative of foreign governments “will have to walk over the dead bodies of Congolese people to impose such behavior in public or legalize it.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide all workers, including those in both the informal and formal sectors, except top government officials, judges, and SSF members, the right to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively. The law also provides for the right of most workers to conduct legal strikes. It is against the law, however, for police, army, directors of public and private enterprises, and domestic workers to strike. The law gives administrative authorities the right to dissolve, suspend, or deregister trade union organizations. It also grants unions the right to conduct activities without interference, although it does not define specific acts of interference. In the private sector, a minimum of 10 employees is required to form a union within a business, and a single business may include members of more than one union. Foreigners may not hold union office unless they have lived in the country for at least 20 years, a length of time deemed excessive by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Collective bargaining requires a minimum of 10 union committee members and one employer representative; union committee members report to the rest of the workforce. In the public sector, the government sets wages by decree after holding prior consultations with unions.

Union committees are required to notify company management of a planned strike, but they do not need authorization to strike. The law stipulates unions and employers shall adhere to lengthy compulsory arbitration and appeal procedures before unions initiate a strike. At times, however, workers strike without adhering to these lengthy compulsory arbitration and appeal procedures, thus engaging in a “wildcat” strike. Generally, the committee delivers a notice of strike to the employer. If the employer does not reply within 48 hours, the union may strike immediately. If the employer chooses to reply, negotiations, which may take up to three months, begin with a labor inspector and ultimately continue in the Peace Court. At times employees provide minimum services during negotiations, but this is not a requirement. If negotiations are taking place, public-sector workers must continue to provide “vital services.” Unless unions notify employers of a planned strike, the law prohibits striking workers from occupying the workplace during a strike, and an infraction of the rules on strikes may lead to incarceration of up to six months with compulsory prison labor. This rule was not enforced.

The law prohibits discrimination against union employees and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for union activities, but the associated penalties were not adequate to deter violations. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for other civil rights violations. Workers have access to a labor court for discrimination issues, but no cases were brought during the year. Judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. The law considers those who have worked for a minimum of three continuous months as “workers” and thereby protected by relevant labor law. Unless they are part of a union, most workers in agricultural activities and artisanal mining, domestic and migrant workers, and workers in export-processing zones were unfamiliar with their labor rights and did not often seek redress when employers breached applicable labor laws.

The government recognizes 12 private-sector and public-enterprise unions at the national level, as well as 15 unions that represented the public administration sector. The public administration sector has a history of organizing, and the government negotiates with sector representatives when they present grievances or go on strike. Of the 15 national unions that represented the public administration sector, five accounted for most workers. Several unions had strong ties to government or parties, and some reported interference with union affairs and elections.

Workers exercised their right to strike. Workers in the public and private sectors held strikes regarding unpaid salaries. In October medical doctors and nurses delivered notice prior to striking, but teachers in Catholic schools who went on strike refused to teach after the government had accepted demands to negotiate, leading some observers to call the strike illegal. Local media reported that PNC officers occasionally violently broke up these protests. In June health-care workers including hospital administrative staff went on strike to demand a salary increase.

In July local press reported that Kinshasa taxi drivers started a strike to protest harassment by local police and transport agents, with the president of the Association of DRC Drivers declaring that taxi drivers were tired of being arrested or robbed by the police. The strike lasted for one week.

Also in July, Radio Okapi reported that the physicians’ unions SYMECO, SYNAMED, and SYLIMED coordinated to launch a strike following the government’s failure to take their July 10 strike notice into account. The unions noted the authorities’ apparent unwillingness to address grievances ranging from calls for pay raises to complaints regarding physicians’ working conditions and the poor management of the country’s hospitals.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. In small and medium-sized businesses, workers could not properly exercise the right to strike. Government and employers did not respect the right of freedom of association and collective bargaining. Due to lax enforcement of labor regulations and lack of capacity for the General Labor Inspectorate, companies and shops could immediately replace any workers attempting to unionize, bargain collectively, or strike with contract workers to intimidate the workers and prevent them from exercising their rights, despite legal protections. Antiunion discrimination was widespread, particularly in foreign-owned companies. In many instances companies refused to negotiate with unions and negotiated individually with workers to undermine collective bargaining efforts. In the retail sector, strike leaders working for supermarkets were threatened with termination. Unions had an active complaint with the ILO pertaining to past allegations of government interference in union elections.

Despite collective agreements on union dues, employers often did not remit union dues or did so irregularly.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties were commensurate with the penalties for other serious crimes.

In cases of nonpayment of requisite and applicable taxes, the law allows for arrest and compulsory labor as a penalty to enforce payment of the tax debt. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, regularly occurred throughout the country (see section 7.c.). Violations included bonded labor, domestic servitude, and slavery. In the artisanal mining sector, individuals took on debt from intermediaries and dealers to acquire food, supplies, and mining equipment, often at high interest rates. Miners who failed to provide sufficient ore to pay their debt were at risk of debt bondage. The government continued to try to formalize the artisanal mining sector but did not attempt to regulate the practice.

In the East, IAGs continued to abduct and forcibly recruit men, women, and children to serve as laborers, porters, domestic laborers, and combatants (see section 1.g.). In eastern mining regions, there were reports that armed groups violently attacked mining communities and surrounding villages; held men, women, and children captive; and exploited them in forced labor and sex trafficking. In North Kivu and South Kivu Provinces, some members of FARDC units and IAGs taxed or, in some cases, controlled mining activities in gold, coltan, wolframite, and cassiterite mines. There were no reports of FARDC units forcing persons to work in mines. IAGs sometimes forced local communities to perform construction work and other labor at mine sites. The deputy administrator of Ngungu, Theophile Ndikabuze, told a local news site that the self-proclaimed General Mahachano, a Masisi rebel, continued to recruit young persons for gold trafficking. The government did not enforce laws banning this practice. In the provinces of the Katanga region, the use of force to evict artisanal diggers led to violence and casualties.

Some police arrested individuals arbitrarily to extort money from them (see section 1.d.). There were reports in North and South Kivu Provinces of police forcing those who could not pay to work until they “earned” their freedom.

The government took limited action against those who used forced labor and abducted civilians for forced labor. Following a five-month closure of courts for pandemic restrictions, civilian and military courts resumed investigations and prosecutions of multiple traffickers for cases in which victims were subjected to forced labor, sex trafficking, and domestic servitude. The prosecutions continued through the year. Little if any information existed on the removal of victims from forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum age for work at 16, and a ministerial order sets the minimum age for hazardous work at 18. The law also stipulates children may not work for more than four hours per day and restricts all minors from transporting heavy items.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. While criminal courts heard some child labor complaints, it was unclear if these resulted in sentences. Penalties were not commensurate with other serious crimes. The Ministry of Labor has responsibility for investigating child labor abuses but had no dedicated child labor inspection service. Other government agencies responsible for combating child labor include the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Children; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Social Affairs; and National Committee to Combat the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The Ministry of Mines employed mining inspectors, whose duties include inspecting for child labor at mine sites. The government did not devote adequate support to these agencies, and they conducted no inspections or specialized investigations for child labor during the year.

Child labor, including forced child labor, was prevalent throughout the country. Child labor was most common in the informal sector, including in artisanal mining and subsistence agriculture. According to the Ministry of Labor, children worked in mines and stone quarries and as child soldiers, water sellers, domestic workers, and entertainers in bars and restaurants. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6).

Children were also the victims of exploitation in the worst forms of child labor, many of them in agriculture, illicit activities, and domestic work. Children mined diamonds, gold, cobalt, coltan, wolframite, copper, and cassiterite under hazardous conditions. In the mining regions of Haut-Katanga, Kasai-Oriental, Kasai-Central, North Kivu, and South Kivu Provinces, children sifted, cleaned, sorted, transported heavy loads, and dug for minerals underground. In many areas of the country, children between ages five and 12 broke rocks to make gravel.

Parents often used children for dangerous and difficult agricultural labor. Families unable to support their children occasionally sent them to live with relatives who at times treated them as domestic slaves, subjecting them to physical and sexual abuse.

In 2016 the National Labor Committee adopted an action plan to fight the worst forms of child labor; however, as of September it had not been implemented. In 2020 the General Labor Inspectorate issued a plan to conduct a child labor survey and develop a roadmap to review and curb the use of child labor in the rice sector in Kongo Central Province, but no survey was conducted during the year.

Forced child labor was prevalent in the mining sector. The law prohibits violations of child labor laws in the mining sector and imposes fines in cases of violations. Nonetheless, various mining sites, located principally in North Kivu and Haut-Katanga Provinces, employed many child workers. The working conditions for children at these mining sites were poor. Treated as adults, children worked without breaks and without any basic protective measures. According to the civil society organization Leave Kabare to Live (MLKAV), surveys carried out in Kabare territory in South Kivu indicated that more than 70 percent of laborers in stone-mining quarries were minor children, both girls and boys, ages eight to 15.

The mining police and private security forces, including those guarding large-scale mining concessions, reportedly subjected child laborers on artisanal mining sites to extortion and physical abuse.

There was a systematic government effort in conjunction with NGOs to redirect child labor away from mines. The government and the African Development Bank continued a 160 billion Congolese francs ($80 million) project to provide alternative livelihoods for children engaged in the cobalt sector.

The Ministry of Mines prohibits artisanal mines with child labor from exporting minerals; however, the ministry had limited enforcement capacity.

In 2019 the government undertook a five billion Congolese francs ($2.5 million) project to boost the capacity of labor inspectors to prevent children younger than age 18 from engaging in hazardous work in mines. Additionally, in March the Ministry of Mines issued a decree forming an interministerial commission with the Ministry of Labor to inspect child labor in artisanal mines. As of September the commission had yet to act, due primarily to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, language, or social status. The law does not specifically protect against discrimination in respect of employment and occupation based on religion, age, political opinion, national origin, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status. Additionally, no law specifically prohibits discrimination in employment of career public-service members. The government did not effectively enforce relevant employment laws, and penalties were not commensurate with other violations of civil rights.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6). Although the labor code stipulates men and women must receive equal pay for equivalent work, the government did not enforce this provision effectively. According to the ILO, women often received less pay in the private sector than did men doing the same job and rarely occupied positions of authority or high responsibility. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous, and women were prohibited from occupying many jobs that require night work. Persons with disabilities, including albinism, and certain ethnicities such as Twa faced discrimination in hiring and access to the worksites.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The government sets regional minimum wages for all workers in private enterprise, with the highest minimum wages applied to the cities of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. The minimum wage was above the poverty line, but it did not provide a living wage for a worker and family. Most businesses were not in compliance with this minimum wage but faced few penalties.

In the public sector the government sets wages annually by decree and permits unions to act only in an advisory capacity. Certain subcategories of public employees, such as staff members of decentralized entities (towns, territories, and sectors), do not have the right under the law to participate in the wage-setting consultations.

The law defines different standard workweeks, ranging from 45 hours per week to 72 hours every two weeks, for various jobs and prescribes rest periods and premium pay for overtime. The law establishes no monitoring or enforcement mechanism, and employers in both the formal and informal sectors often did not respect these provisions. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime.

The government did not effectively enforce wage and hour regulations. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations and were seldom applied. The Ministry of Labor employed 115 labor inspectors and 71 labor controllers, which was not sufficient to enforce consistent compliance with labor regulations. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate penalties.

Occupational Safety and Health: The labor code specifies health and safety standards, but they had not been updated in many years.

The government did not effectively enforce health and safety standards in the informal sector, and enforcement was uneven in the formal sector. The Ministry of Mines validation process includes criteria on minimal safety standards. Nonetheless, the law does not allow workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations without putting their employment in jeopardy. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations.

Informal Sector: Labor laws apply to the informal sector, but they were rarely applied. Approximately 90 percent of laborers worked in the informal sector in subsistence agriculture, informal commerce or mining, or other informal pursuits, where they often faced hazardous or exploitive working conditions.

In 2015 IPIS estimated there were 300,000 artisanal miners in the 2,000 identified mine sites in the East. It was estimated there were likely an additional 1,000 mine sites that had not been identified. In October seven artisanal gold miners were reported dead and five missing in South Kivu after a landslide caused by torrential rain.

Ghana

Executive Summary

Ghana is a constitutional democracy with a strong presidency and a unicameral 275-seat parliament. Presidential and parliamentary elections conducted in December 2020 were generally peaceful, although there were isolated incidents of violence during the voting and vote count, resulting in as many as eight deaths, some by security forces. Domestic and international observers assessed the elections to be transparent, inclusive, and credible.

The Ghana Police Service, under the Ministry of the Interior, is responsible for maintaining law and order; however, the military, which reports to the Ministry of Defense, continued to participate in law enforcement activities in a support role, such as by protecting critical infrastructure and by enforcing measures to combat COVID-19. The National Intelligence Bureau handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the Ministry of National Security. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists; substantial interference with freedom of assembly; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took some steps to address corruption and human rights abuses by officials, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained a problem, however.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

On June 26, unidentified perpetrators beat #FixTheCountry movement supporter and social activist Ibrahim “Kaaka” Muhammed in Ejura, Ashanti Region. On June 28, he died in the hospital from his injuries. Muhammed, who was also a member of the Economic Fighters League (EFL), was a vocal anticorruption activist, and #FixThe Country had protested against restrictions on freedom of assembly (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly). EFL reported that Muhammed had received threats due to his activism, and police had warned him prior to his beating and death against disturbing the peace. An investigation into Muhammed’s death continued. On June 29, during protests in the wake of his death, security forces shot and killed two persons (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly).

During the 2020 election period, authorities, media, and observers reported as many as eight killings, with at least two killed by the National Elections Security Task Force (NESTF), composed of military and police units, and at least two deaths from civilian violence. Investigations continued into these deaths (see section 3, Freedom to Participate in the Political Process).

b. Disappearance

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

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

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

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one open allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Mission in South Sudan: a 2018 case involving 12 peacekeepers’ alleged transactional sex with six adults. A UN investigation substantiated some of those allegations, leading the United Nations to repatriate the alleged offenders. As of December the United Nations awaited reporting from the government regarding what actions it has taken in response to the allegations the United Nations considered to be substantiated.

Impunity remained a significant problem in the Ghana Police Service, and the investigation and complaints processes did not effectively address reports of abuses and bribery.

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: In September the Ghana Prisons Service reported prison overcrowding stood at 135 percent of capacity, with a prison population of 13,480 compared to a total prison capacity of 9,945 inmates, a 20 percent reduction in overcrowding from 2019. The Ghana Prisons Service held women separately from men. Although authorities sought to hold juveniles separately from adults, there were reports detainees younger than age 18 were held with adults. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicts but generally in separate cells, although due to overcrowding in convict blocks, Nsawam Prison held some convicts in blocks designated for pretrial detainees. The nongovernmental organization (NGO)-led Justice for All program with the support of the government continued to expedite judicial review for many pretrial (remand) prisoners, including virtually, reducing their numbers significantly. Paralegals and civil society were heavily involved in the program.

While prisoners had access to potable water, food was inadequate. Meals routinely lacked fruit, vegetables, or meat, forcing prisoners to rely on charitable donations and their families to supplement their diet. The prisons public relations officer identified feeding of inmates as a key problem. The Ghana Prisons Service facilitated farming activities for inmates to supplement their feeding. Authorities did not provide pretrial detainees food or changes of clothes. If community or family members were not able to provide them, prisons officers paid with their own funds.

Officials held much of the prison population in aging buildings or abandoned public or military buildings, which despite improvements had poor ventilation and sanitation, substandard construction, and inadequate space and light. The Ghana Prisons Service periodically fumigated and disinfected prisons. There were not enough toilets available for the number of prisoners, with as many as 100 prisoners sharing one toilet, and toilets often overflowed with excrement. There were no facilities to support intersex or transitioning persons.

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

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

Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority to respond to complaints; rather, each prison designated an officer-in-charge to receive and investigate complaints. Authorities suspended access to visitors as a COVID-19 health measure, although visitors could still bring food.

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

Improvements: The president pardoned 1,589 prisoners to mitigate the dangers to health caused by overcrowding, particularly the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic: 1,555 first-time offenders who had served half their sentences, 15 seriously ill prisoners, and 19 elderly prisoners.

As a COVID-19 mitigation strategy, the chief justice directed the judiciary to reduce sentences for a range of offenses to reduce the prison population. The chief justice also directed the justice sector to pursue alternatives to incarceration including fines and noncustodial punishment, especially for minor crimes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

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

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

Arbitrary Arrest: The general practice of holding detainees without proper warrant or charge continued (see Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees). On May 20, police arrested 21 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) activists in the city of Ho on spurious unlawful assembly charges. Authorities released the activists on June 11, and dropped the case on August 5 (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. In September the Ghana Prisons Service indicated 1,595 prisoners, approximately 12 percent of all prisoners, were in pretrial status. The government kept prisoners in extended pretrial detention due to police failure to investigate or follow up on cases, case files lost when police prosecutors rotated to other duties every three years, slow trial proceedings marked by frequent adjournments, detainees’ inability to meet bail conditions that were often set extremely high even for minor offenses, and inadequate legal representation for criminal defendants. The length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime in numerous instances.

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

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

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

Trial Procedures

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

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, with free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, but trials were often delayed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, be represented by an attorney, and have one provided at public expense if unable to pay. Most indigent accused persons, however, represented themselves in court. The Legal Aid Commission represented some defendants in criminal cases. Although the law provides for a Public Defender Division, the government did not establish it. Defendants also have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, present witnesses and evidence, and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, although generally defendants are expected to testify if the government presents sufficient preliminary evidence of guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal.

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

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

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right, although security forces committed isolated acts of violence and harassment against journalists.

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

Violence and Harassment: There were isolated attacks on journalists by members of security forces as well as by unknown assailants and occasional threats and intimidation. In April authorities arrested online news editor David Tamakloe, allegedly working on corruption stories concerning prominent members of the government. Authorities released him without charge. Media advocates characterized the arrest as a “preemptive move” and a “clear abuse of power” as no story had been published at the time of the arrest.

On May 11, Ministry of National Security officers detained and allegedly brutalized Caleb Kudah, a journalist with Omni Media Limited (OML), operator of Accra-based Citi FM radio and Citi TV. Authorities accused Kudah of filming a fleet of vehicles that had allegedly fallen into despair as a result of neglect at the Ministry of National Security facility, a restricted site. The security officers who detained Kudah reportedly beat and abused him during interrogation. On the same day, a SWAT team reportedly entered the OML offices in an attempt to arrest Zoe Abu-Baido, Kudah’s colleague. The Ministry of National Security accused Baido of possessing video files sent to her by Kudah immediately before his detention. Following public outrage the Ministry of National Security announced an internal probe into the incident which led to the suspension of the officers involved. Less than a week after his suspension, Ministry of National Security leadership re-assigned Lieutenant Colonel Acheampong, identified as the commander of the operation that apprehended and reportedly abused Kudah, to serve as commanding officer of a different unit of the Ghanaian Armed Forces.

On July 9, Assin Central Region Member of Parliament Kennedy Ohene Agyapong called for Erastus Asare Donkor, a journalist with Luv FM, to be “beaten and whipped” during a live television interview. The Media Foundation for West Africa and 642 professional journalists and supporters of press freedom presented a petition to the office of the speaker of parliament to request parliamentary debate on what they considered the deteriorating press freedom situation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides for criminal penalties for those who post false or misleading information online, with penalties of up to five years in prison and substantial fines.

On May 5, radio station Angel FM suspended popular morning show host Godsbrain Smart for allegedly slandering senior government officials, in accusing them of inaction on corruption and calling them “fools.” Media commentators and political observers suggested the station owner feared loss of nonmedia business opportunities, and the suspension contributed to a “growing culture of silence” among media outlets.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and while the government generally respected freedom of association, it restricted freedom of assembly.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The Ghana Police Service routinely impeded demonstrations. Police used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets on opposition demonstrators protesting the December 2020 election results. The demonstrators had not provided police the required five days’ notice ahead of the demonstrations. Police secured a restraining order against the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), prohibiting protests between December 20, 2020, and January 10. Authorities effectively suspended rallies and protests through May.

On June 25, authorities arrested 11 members of the #FixTheCountry movement as they protested outside the Accra High Court as it considered an application to extend indefinitely a previously approved injunction against public assembly. Authorities subsequently released them on bail. The Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the case on the grounds that the Accra High Court exceeded its jurisdiction by approving the indefinite injunction against lawful political protest and rallies.

On June 29, following the burial of Ibrahim “Kaaka” Muhammed of #FixTheCountry (see section 1.a.), protests against his killing erupted in Ejura. Police and military officers deployed and clashed with protesters. Military officers reportedly fired into the advancing crowd, shooting and killing two persons and injuring at least four. Authorities launched an investigation into the killing of the two protesters, but did not release any results. Additionally, following a directive by President Akufo-Addo, the Ministry of Interior established a three-member committee to conduct a public inquiry into the killing of Muhammed and the two protesters. Authorities did not release the results of the inquiry.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

Foreign Travel: In a stated effort to curb human trafficking the government continued its ban on labor recruitment to Gulf countries after continuing reports of abuse endured by migrant workers; the policy restricted access to safe and legal migration, subsequently increasing worker vulnerability to trafficking. Media investigations revealed some recruitment agencies continued their operations despite the ban.

Effective December 14 all citizens were required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before departing the country.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not Applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

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

There were reports of residents of Burkina Faso (called Burkinabe), who fled insecurity, continuing to settle in the Upper West Region and registering as asylum seekers. The government continued security checks of the Burkinabe before commencing the registration process. UNHCR indicated that there continued to be challenges in accessing these regions and persons of concern due to the security situation.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: UNHCR reported a few cases of gender-based violence in the refugee camps despite awareness, response, and prevention programs by UNHCR and partners. In concert with the UN Population Fund, UNHCR worked to enhance the capacity of the Department of Social Welfare and the Ghana Health Service. UNHCR reported constraints regarding legal aid for survivors, but indicated in most cases survivors received pro bono services from individual lawyers. UNHCR noted a rise in xenophobic attitudes against Burkinabe, due to concerns regarding the security situation in the Sahel, and against Liberians due to some criminal incidents linked to the former Buduburam Refugee Camp.

Durable Solutions: UNHCR assisted in the voluntary repatriation of Ivoirian refugees who originally came due to political instability at home. The government also worked with UNHCR to provide legal status for Ivoirian refugees who wished to integrate locally rather than return to Côte d’Ivoire.

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

UNHCR also worked with the government on local integration and alternative status options for long-term Togolese refugees who had largely integrated into host communities. UNHCR continued to encourage tripartite discussions on durable solutions for Togolese refugees and Ghanaian refugees in Togo.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Domestic and international observers assessed the December 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections to be transparent, inclusive, credible, and reflecting the will of the people. Some observers noted concerns regarding the misuse of incumbency, the lack of enforcement of regulations on campaign financing, and unequal access to state-owned media during the campaign. Authorities, media, and observers reported at least two killings by security forces, at least two deaths from civilian violence, as many as eight deaths in total, and several injuries in the Greater Accra, Bono East, and Northern Regions (see section 1.a.).

In separate lawsuits in August, six residents of the Techiman South constituency who suffered injuries, and a father whose son died, sued the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General, demanding $2.5 million dollars as compensation for security force violence during the 2020 elections. The six residents claimed they suffered physical injuries including gunshot wounds while they monitored the vote tabulation at the Techiman collation center. The suits also demanded an official investigation into security force killings and support for affected families. In March, two members of parliament from the NDC petitioned the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to investigate election-related deaths caused by members of the NESTF, police, and the Ghana Armed Forces teams that provided security for the elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate, although not in the same numbers as men. Three women ran for president, and there was one female vice-presidential candidate from one of the two largest parties, the NDC. Women held fewer leadership positions than men, and women in political campaigns and in elected office faced sexism, harassment, and threats of violence. Cultural and traditional factors limited women’s participation in political life. Research organizations found that insults, concerns regarding physical safety, and overall negative societal attitudes toward female politicians hindered women from entering politics. Of the 275 members of the legislature, 40 were women, 20 each from the NDC and the ruling New Patriotic Party.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption. Corruption was present in all branches of government, according to media and NGOs, including recruitment into the security services. Since the first special prosecutor took office in 2018, no corruption case undertaken by that office resulted in a conviction. When the new special prosecutor took office in August, his staff included one investigator and one prosecutor, both seconded from other offices.

The government took steps to implement laws intended to foster more transparency and accountability in public affairs. In July 2020 authorities commissioned the Right to Information (RTI) secretariat to provide support to RTI personnel in the public sector; however, some civil society organizations stated the government had not made sufficient progress implementing the law.

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

Corruption: A June report by the auditor-general revealed widespread corruption and waste of public funds remained pervasive problems. For example, the honorary consul general and the Ghanaian consulate in Washington D.C. could not account for visa fees totaling $355,000. The Free Senior High School Secretariat misspent more than $3.16 million. A former minister of tourism retained three official vehicles for personal use after leaving office. The report concluded that corrupt practices resulted in $340 million of financial mismanagement, including misapplication and misappropriation of funds, theft, and procurement mismanagement.

On August 31, the Ghana Center for Democratic Development released highlights from a survey conducted between May 23 and June 3. Less than 30 percent of respondents were optimistic regarding the government’s ability to fight corruption. Approximately one-half were confident in the government’s ability to uphold the rule of law, 53 percent believed the government did not adequately protect financial resources and 62 percent doubted government efforts to address corruption and official impunity. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer published in 2019 found 59 percent of respondents claimed there was rampant corruption in the Ghana Police Service, more so than any other government institution.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

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

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

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

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

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

In July the Koforidua Circuit Court B sentenced a man to a nine-year, five-month term of incarceration for throwing acid on his girlfriend and her mother. The survivors sustained serious injuries that required hospitalization.

In August police in the Central Region arrested 14 men in connection with the alleged shooting and rape of a girl, age 13, who required hospitalization.

The Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service worked closely with the Department of Social Welfare, the Domestic Violence Secretariat, CHRAJ, the Legal Aid Commission, the Ark Foundation, UNICEF, the UN Population Fund, the national chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, and several other human rights NGOs to address rape and domestic violence.

In 2020 there were two government-run shelters for survivors of domestic violence, the Madina Social Welfare Center and the Center for Abused Children. On June 21, DOVVSU established a third shelter, the national One-Stop Center colocated with the Criminal Investigations Department of the Ghana Police Service. This new facility hosted ancillary agencies of the DOVVSU-Legal Aid office, a shelter for survivors of domestic violence, a social welfare unit, a holding cell for suspects, an interviewing room for minors, and two courts with seconded judges and prosecutors for domestic violence cases.

DOVVSU continued to teach a course on domestic violence case management for police officers assigned to the unit. It had one clinical psychologist to assist domestic violence survivors. DOVVSU tried to reach the public through various social media accounts. DOVVSU also addressed rape through public education efforts on radio and in communities, participation in efforts to prevent child marriage and gender-based violence, expansion of its online data management system to select police divisional headquarters, and data management training.

Pervasive cultural beliefs in gender roles, as well as sociocultural norms and stereotypes, posed additional challenges to combatting domestic violence. For example, media reported in 2020 that the central regional coordinator for DOVVSU stated that “denying your spouse sex amounted to emotional abuse” and suggested that men whose wives denied them sex could report them to the DOVVSU.

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

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Several laws include provisions prohibiting FGM/C. Although rarely performed on adult women, the practice remained a serious problem for girls younger than age 18 in some regions. According to the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection, FGM/C was significantly higher in the Upper East Region with a prevalence rate of 27.8 percent, compared with the national rate of 3.8 percent. According to the 2017 to 2018 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), women in rural areas were subjected to FGM/C three times more often than women in urban areas (3.6 percent compared with 1.2 percent). Intervention programs were partially successful in reducing the prevalence of FGM/C, particularly in the northern regions.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The constitution prohibits practices that dehumanize or are injurious to the physical and mental well-being of a person. Media reported several killings and attempted killings for ritual purposes. In the Northern, North East, Upper East, and Upper West Regions, families or traditional authorities banished rural women and men suspected of “witchcraft” to “witch camps.” Most of those accused of witchcraft were older women, often widows. Some persons suspected to be witches were killed. According to a local group, there were six witch camps throughout the country, holding approximately 2,000 to 2,500 adult women and 1,000 to 1,200 children. One camp saw its numbers go down significantly due to education, support, and reintegration services provided by the Presbyterian Church. The Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection has the mandate to monitor witch camps but did not do so effectively.

The law criminalizes harmful mourning rites, but such rites continued, and authorities did not prosecute any perpetrators. In the north, especially in the Upper West and Upper East Regions, some widows were required to undergo certain rites to mourn or show devotion for a deceased spouse. The most prevalent widowhood rites included a one-year period of mourning, tying ropes and padlocks around the widow’s waist or neck, forced sitting beside the body of the deceased spouse until burial, solitary confinement, forced starvation, shaving the widow’s head, and smearing clay on the widow’s body. In the Northern and Volta Regions along the border with Togo, wife inheritance, the practice of forcing a widow to marry a male relative of her deceased husband, continued.

On April 8, police arrested two youths from Kasoa for a ritual killing. According to media reports, the youths were following instructions given to them by a “witch doctor” supposedly promoting a syncretic form of Christianity and local beliefs, using body parts of victims to bring wealth to practitioners.

Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, although authorities prosecuted some sexual harassment cases under assault and other provisions of the criminal code.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government officials.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through the National Health Insurance Scheme. This included emergency contraception as part of the clinical management of rape cases.

In 2017 the maternal mortality rate was 308 per 100,000 live births, according to the UN Trends in Maternal Mortality report. A lack of skilled birth attendance, especially in rural areas, was a major contributing factor. According to the UN Population Fund, the contraceptive prevalence rate was 27 percent for women ages 15 to 49.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men under family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. While the government generally made efforts to enforce the law, predominantly male tribal leaders and chiefs are empowered to regulate land access and usage within their tribal areas. Within these areas women were less likely than men to receive access rights to large plots of fertile land. Widows often faced expulsion from their homes by their deceased husband’s relatives, and they often lacked the awareness or means to defend property rights in court.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The law protects members of racial or ethnic minorities from violence and discrimination, but it was unclear if the government enforced them effectively.

Unlike in 2020 when municipal authorities closed more than 100 shops owned or operated by Nigerian nationals in the Ashanti Region for violation of municipal or commercial regulations, border closures due to COVID-19 prevented foreign traders from entering the country and eliminated the tension between foreign traders and local authorities.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in the country or outside if either of the child’s parents or one grandparent is a citizen. Children unregistered at birth or without identification documents may be excluded from accessing education, health care, and social security. Although having a birth certificate is required to enroll in school, authorities indicated children would not be denied access to education based on a lack of documentation. According to the MICS, birth registration increased with levels of education and wealth and was more prevalent in urban centers than in rural areas. Authorities adjudicated birth registrations in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free, compulsory, and universal basic education for all children from kindergarten through junior high school. The government continued to implement tuition-free enrollment in senior high school, including by rolling out a “double-track” system that helped increase enrollment from 800,000 in the 2016-17 school year to 1.2 million in the 2019-20 school year.

Girls in the northern regions and rural areas throughout the country were less likely to continue and complete their education due to the weak quality of educational services, inability to pay expenses related to schooling, prioritization of boys’ education over girls’, security problems related to distance between home and school, lack of dormitory facilities, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene facilities. After closures of schools over several months in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in August all public schools opened for the regular school year with in-person learning.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits sex with a child younger than age 16 with or without consent and sexual abuse of minors. There continued to be reports of male teachers sexually assaulting and harassing both female and male students. Physical abuse and corporal punishment of children were concerns. Local social workers rarely effectively monitored cases of child abuse and neglect.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage for both sexes is 18. Early and forced child marriage, while illegal, remained a problem, with 34 percent of girls living in the five northern regions of the country marrying before age 18. According to the MICS, child marriage was highest in the Northern, North East, Upper East, Savannah, and Volta Regions; it was lowest in the Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Ahafo Regions.

The Child Marriage Unit of the Domestic Violence Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection continued to lead governmental efforts to combat child marriage. The ministry’s National Strategic Framework on Ending Child Marriage in Ghana (2017-26) prioritized interventions focused on strengthening government capacity to address neglect and abuse of children, girls’ education, adolescent health, and girls’ empowerment through skills development. The National Advisory Committee to End Child Marriage and the National Stakeholders Forum, with participation from key government and civil society participants, provided strategic guidance and supported information sharing and learning on child marriage among partners in the country. The Child Marriage Unit maintained a manual with fact sheets and frequently asked questions, and used social media accounts to reach wider audiences.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, although it does not specifically mention sale, offering or use of children for commercial sex. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16, and participating in sexual activities with anyone younger than 16 is illegal. The law criminalizes the use of a computer to publish, produce, procure, or possess child pornography.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law bans infanticide, but several NGOs reported that communities in the Upper East Region killed “spirit children” born with physical disabilities who were suspected of being possessed by evil spirits. Local and traditional government entities cooperated with NGOs to raise public awareness concerning causes of and treatments for disabilities and to rescue children at risk of ritual killing. Authorities enforced governing prohibitions on infanticide.

Displaced Children: The migration of children to urban areas continued due to economic hardship in rural areas. Children often had to support themselves to survive, contributing to both child sexual exploitation and the school dropout rate. Girls living on the streets were among the most vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community has a few hundred members. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and protects the rights of persons with disabilities’ access to health services, information, communications, transportation, public spaces such as schools and public buildings, the judicial system, and other state services, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Few adults with disabilities had employment opportunities in the formal sector. In September the Ghana Federation of Disability Organizations reported there was a slight increase in the number of workers with disabilities in the local government sector.

Some children with disabilities attended specialized schools that focused on their needs. The Ghana Education Service, through its Special Education Unit, supported education for children who are deaf or hard of hearing or have vision disabilities through 14 national schools for deaf and blind students, in addition to one private school for them.

Persons with both mental and physical disabilities, including children, were frequently subjected to abuse and intolerance. Authorities did not regularly investigate and punish violence and abuses against persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities who lived at home were sometimes tied to trees or under market stalls and were caned regularly; families reportedly killed some of them.

Thousands of persons with mental disabilities, including children as young as seven, were sent to spiritual healing centers known as “prayer camps,” where mental disability was often considered a “demonic affliction.” Some residents were chained for weeks in these environments, denied food for days, and physically assaulted. Officials took few steps to implement the law that provides for monitoring of prayer camps and bars involuntary or forced treatment. International donor funding helped support office space and some operations of the Mental Health Authority.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS remained a problem. Fear of stigma, and fear that getting tested would mean immediate labeling as gay, discouraged persons from getting tested for HIV infection, and many of those who tested positive avoided seeking timely care. HIV-positive persons faced discrimination in employment and often were forced to leave their jobs or houses. The government and NGOs subsidized many centers that provided free HIV testing and treatment for citizens, although high patient volume and the physical layout of many clinics often made it difficult for the centers to protect confidentiality.

The law penalizes discrimination against a person with HIV or AIDS, although the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law contains provisions that protect and promote the rights and freedoms of persons with HIV or AIDS and those suspected of having HIV or AIDS, including the right to health, education, insurance benefits, employment, privacy and confidentiality, nondisclosure of their HIV and AIDS status without consent, and the right to hold a public or political office.

The Ghana AIDS Commission continued to raise concerns regarding how high levels of stigma and discrimination contributed to the spread of HIV in the country.

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

There were some reports of police violence against LGBTQI+ persons. LGBTQI+ persons faced police harassment and extortion attempts (see also section 1.d, Arbitrary Arrest). There were reports police were reluctant to investigate claims of assault or violence against LGBTQI+ persons. Stigma, intimidation, and the perceived negative attitude of some police toward LGBTQI+ persons were factors in preventing survivors from reporting incidents of abuse. LGBTQI+ activists also reported widespread attempts to blackmail LGBTQI+ individuals, with prosecution difficult due to police inaction. LGBTQI+ persons in prison were vulnerable to sexual and other physical abuse, which authorities generally did not investigate.

Beatings and public humiliation of LGBTQI+ persons by community members were common and growing in number. The attacks were sometimes shared on social media in an effort to further humiliate and ostracize LGBTQI+ persons. There was a notable increase in anti-LGBTQI+ statements by political, religious, and community leaders, and media coverage of these statements.

The law criminalizes the act of “unnatural carnal knowledge,” which is defined as “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.” The offense covers only persons engaged in same-sex male relationships and those in heterosexual relationships. There were no reports of adults prosecuted or convicted for consensual same-sex sexual conduct.

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTQI+ persons faced widespread discrimination in education and employment.

Activists working to promote the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons noted great difficulty in engaging officials on LGBTQI+ problems because of social and political sensitivity. Media coverage regarding homosexuality and related topics was almost always negative.

On February 2, the local NGO LGBT+ Rights Ghana inaugurated its new office space in the Ashongman area of Accra. After anti-LGBTQI+ activists complained in local media concerning the existence of the center, on February 15, police raided the center and closed it. The center remained closed at year’s end.

On March 27, police arrested 22 persons in Kwahu-Obomeng, Eastern Region, for participating in an alleged lesbian wedding. Police arrived at a popular community location in response to reports that two women planned to be married. Police justified the arrests on the grounds the venue’s owner complained participants were violating COVID-19 protocols. Authorities released them due to lack of evidence.

On May 20, police arrested 21 LGBTQI+ activists attending a conference in the city of Ho, Volta Region. On an official Twitter account, police acknowledged making the arrests because the suspects were believed to be pro-LGBTQI+. Authorities charged the “Ho 21” with unlawful assembly, conspiracy to commit a crime, and acts of “unnatural carnal knowledge.” After multiple requests, on June 11, authorities released them on bail. On August 5, a court dropped all charges for lack of evidence, and ordered the return of the defendants’ confiscated property including laptops and smart phones.

The LGBTQI+ activists reported harassment and humiliation by police during their detention. They also reported their inability to return to their previous lives, since they were suspended from work and banned from their communities after their identities were broadcast by police.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except for members of the armed forces, police, the Ghana Prisons Service, and other security and intelligence agency personnel, to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, but does not provide adequate protection against discrimination. The law requires trade unions or employers’ organizations to obtain a certificate of registration and be authorized by the chief labor officer, who is an appointed government official. Union leaders reported that fees for the annual renewal of trade union registration and collective bargaining certificates were exorbitant and possibly legally unenforceable.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but restricts that right for workers who provide “essential services.” Workers in export-processing zones are not subject to these restrictions. The minister of employment and labor relations designated a list of essential services, which included many sectors that fell outside of the essential services definition set by the International Labor Organization (ILO). The list included services carried out by utility companies (water, electricity, etc.), ports and harbors, medical centers, and the Bank of Ghana. These workers have the right to bargain collectively. In these sectors parties to any labor disputes are required to resolve their differences within 72 hours. The right to strike may also be restricted for workers in private enterprises whose services are deemed essential to the survival of the enterprise by a union and an employer. A union may call a legal strike only if the parties fail to agree to refer the dispute to voluntary arbitration or if the dispute remains unresolved at the end of arbitration proceedings.

The law provides a framework for collective bargaining. A union must obtain a collective bargaining certificate from the chief labor officer in order to engage in collective bargaining on behalf of a class of workers. In cases where there are multiple unions in an enterprise, the majority or plurality union would receive the certificate but must consult with or, where appropriate, invite other unions to participate in negotiations. The certificate holder generally includes representatives from the smaller unions. Workers in decision-making or managerial roles are not provided the right to collective bargaining under the law, but they may join unions and enter into labor negotiations with their employers.

The National Labor Commission is a government body with the mandate of requiring employers and unions to comply with labor law. It also serves as a forum for arbitration in labor disputes. The government effectively enforced applicable laws, but penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides reinstatement for workers dismissed under unfair pretenses. It protects trade union members and their officers against discrimination if they organize.

The government generally protected the right to form and join independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and workers exercised these rights. Although the law makes specified parties liable for violations, specific penalties are not set forth. An employer who resorts to an illegal lockout is required to pay the workers’ wages. Some instances of subtle employer interference in union activities occurred. Many unions did not follow approved processes for dealing with disputes, reportedly due to the perceived unfair and one-sided application of the law against the unions. The process was often long and cumbersome, with employers generally taking action when unions threatened to withdraw their services or declare a strike. The National Labor Commission faced obstacles in enforcing applicable sanctions against both unions and employers, including limited ability to enforce its mandate and insufficient oversight.

Trade unions engaged in collective bargaining for wages and benefits with both private and state-owned enterprises without government interference. No union completed the dispute resolution process involving arbitration, and there were numerous unsanctioned strikes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The penalties for forced labor were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping, but the government prosecuted and imposed penalties in some cases of labor trafficking. Human trafficking, including forced labor, persisted with insufficient investigation and prosecution. NGOs, civil society, and human rights activists reported corruption within police ranks, the justice system, and political authorities that impeded prosecution, with perpetrators accumulating significant wealth from trafficking and forced labor and senior police officers intimidating NGO staff to deter their investigations.

There were reports of forced labor affecting both children and adults in the fishing sector, as well as forced child labor in informal mining, agriculture, domestic labor, porterage, begging, herding, quarrying, and hawking (see section 7.c.).

Legal counsel encountered difficulties in investigating trafficking and gathering witnesses to testify, especially in cases perpetrated by a family member or involving victims from another country. Due to a lack of training on trafficking, officers did not classify cases as criminal, but issued warnings and freed perpetrators. Some police officers who were trained were sidelined for unknown reasons.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The government did not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum employment age at 15, or age 13 for light work unlikely to be harmful to a child or to affect the child’s attendance at school. The law prohibits night work and certain types of hazardous labor for those younger than age 18. The law allows for children age 15 and older to have an apprenticeship under which craftsmen and employers have the obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment along with training and tools. Although the government prohibits some hazardous work for children, the existing hazardous work list did not cover all occupations or activities in which child labor was known to occur, including in cocoa production.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations enforced child labor regulations. Labor inspectors conducted inspections specifically targeting child labor in the informal sector, but the inspections were insufficient to deter child labor, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The ILO, government representatives, the Trades Union Congress, media, international organizations, and NGOs continued efforts to increase institutional capacity to combat child labor.

The government continued to work closely with NGOs, labor unions, and the cocoa industry to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the industry. Through these partnerships the government created several community projects, which promoted awareness raising, monitoring, and livelihood improvement.

In 2018 the government approved the National Plan of Action Phase II on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (NPA2). While the NPA2 aimed to reduce the prevalence of the worst forms of child labor to 10 percent by the end of the year, and specifically targeted the cocoa, fishing, and mining sectors, the government of Ghana did not release any updated statistics. The government, however, continued to take action under the framework of the NPA2. The National Steering Committee on Child Labor, for example, carried out a monitoring exercise in seven districts to ascertain the impact of child labor. The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations established guidelines for Child Labor Free Zones and began pretesting the Ghana Child Labor Monitoring System.

Authorities did not enforce child labor laws effectively or consistently. Law enforcement officials, including judges, police, and labor officials, were sometimes unfamiliar with the provisions of the law that protected children.

Employers subjected children as young as age four to forced labor in the agriculture, fishing, and mining industries, including artisanal gold mines, and as domestic laborers, porters, hawkers, and quarry workers. NGOs estimated that almost one-half of child trafficking cases occurred in the Volta Region. In the fishing industry, victims engaged in hazardous work, such as diving into deep water to untangle fishing nets caught on submerged tree roots. The government did not legally recognize working underwater as a form of hazardous work. Officials from the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development received training as part of a strategy to combat child labor and trafficking in the fisheries sector.

Child labor continued to be prevalent in artisanal mining (particularly illegal small-scale gold mining), fetching firewood, bricklaying, food service and cooking, and collecting fares. Children in small-scale mining reportedly crushed rocks, dug in deep pits, carried heavy loads, operated heavy machinery, sieved stones, and amalgamated gold with mercury.

Child labor occurred in cocoa harvesting. Children engaged in cocoa harvesting often used sharp tools to clear land and collect cocoa pods, carried heavy loads, and were exposed to agrochemicals, including toxic pesticides. The government did not legally recognize this type of work in agriculture, including in cocoa, as hazardous work for children.

Employers often poorly paid and physically abused child laborers, and the children received little or no health care. According to the MICS, one in every five children between ages five and 17 engaged in hazardous working conditions, and there were no significant disparities between boys and girls.

Parents or guardians often facilitated child trafficking by selling their children to relatives or others due to poverty or unpaid debts. This was especially prevalent with girls sold into domestic service.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law stipulates that an employer may not discriminate against a person on the basis of several categories, including age, pregnancy, refugee status, gender, race, ethnic origin, religion, social or economic status, or disability, whether that person is already employed or seeking employment. The government did not effectively enforce prohibitions on discrimination. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, HIV-positive persons, and LGBTQI+ persons (see section 6). For example, reports indicated few companies offered reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities. Many companies ignored or turned down such individuals who applied for jobs. Women in urban centers and those with skills and training encountered little overt bias, but resistance persisted to women entering nontraditional fields or seeking related vocational education or training.

There were not sufficient systems in place to protect women from sexual harassment and other violence in the workplace. Employers terminated or laid off some women who resisted sexual harassment or violence under the guise of restructuring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage for some sectors of the economy. A national tripartite committee composed of representatives of the government, labor, and employers set a minimum wage. The minimum wage exceeded the government’s poverty line. There was widespread violation of the minimum wage law in the formal economy across all sectors. Many companies did not comply with the law.

The maximum workweek is 40 hours, with a break of at least 48 consecutive hours every seven days. Workers are entitled to at least 15 working days of leave with full pay in a calendar year of continuous service or after having worked at least 200 days in a particular year. These provisions, however, did not apply to piece workers, domestic workers in private homes, or others working in the informal sector. The law does not prescribe overtime rates and does not prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. Penalties for violations of minimum wage laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations was unable to enforce the wage law effectively.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government sets industry-appropriate occupational safety and health regulations. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. This legislation covers only workers in the formal sector, which employed approximately 10 percent of the labor force. Few workers believed they were free to exercise this right. Employers were fined in cases of negligence, but penalties for violations of occupational health and safety laws were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.

The government also did not effectively enforce health and safety regulations, which are set by a range of agencies in the various industries, including the Food and Drugs Authority, Ghana Roads Safety Commission, and Inspectorate Division of the Minerals Commission. The law reportedly provided inadequate coverage to workers due to its fragmentation and limited scope.

The government did not employ sufficient labor inspectors to enforce compliance. Inspectors were poorly trained and did not respond to violations effectively. Inspectors did have the authority to make unannounced inspections. Inspectors did not impose sanctions and were unable to provide data as to how many violations they addressed. In most cases inspectors gave advisory warnings to employers, with deadlines for taking corrective action. Penalties were insufficient to enforce compliance.

Accidents in the mining sector were common, often in illegal mining. In May an illegal pit mine collapsed in Upper West Denkyira killing three. The unregulated mining sector attracted Chinese nationals who collaborated with citizens to run illegal mines. In June, four Chinese nationals were deported after being convicted of using fraudulent means to acquire residence and working without a required permit. The Chinese nationals were found prospecting for gold in Obuasi, the site of a productive mine owned by AngloGold that was suspended for months following the death of a miner in an accident in May. Civil society organizations stated that corruption and lax enforcement allowed unsafe illegal mining practices to continue.

Informal Sector: Approximately 90 percent of the working population was employed in the informal sector, according to the Ghana Statistical Service’s 2015 Labor Force Report, including small to medium-scale businesses such as producers, wholesale and retail traders, and service providers made up of contributing family workers, casual wageworkers, home-based workers, and street vendors. Most of these workers were self-employed.

Authorities did not enforce the minimum wage law in the informal sector. Legislation governing working hours applies to both formal and informal sectors. Employers largely followed the law in the formal sector, but they widely flouted it in the informal sector, and the government did not enforce it.

Guinea

Executive Summary

Guinea was a constitutional democratic republic until September 5, when Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya and military special forces arrested President Alpha Conde and seized power through a coup d’etat. The country last held presidential elections in October 2020, electing President Conde to a controversial third term with 59.5 percent of the vote following a March 2020 referendum that amended the constitution to permit him to run. International and domestic observers raised concerns regarding widespread electoral violence, restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, lack of transparency in the vote tabulation, and polling station vote tally discrepancies.

The Ministry of Defense oversees the gendarmerie, and the Ministry of Security oversees the National Police. After September 5, the military junta, led by the National Committee for Reunification and Development, oversaw the entire government, while individual government ministries continued to be led by civilian appointees. The gendarmerie and National Police share responsibility for internal security, but only the gendarmerie can arrest police or military officials. The army also has some domestic security responsibilities. Until September 5, civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

On the morning of September 5, Guinean Military Special Forces Group leader Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya seized power from the government. Colonel Doumbouya declared himself head of state, dissolved the government and National Assembly, and suspended the constitution. Doumbouya announced the creation of a National Committee for Reunification and Development government comprised primarily of military officers. On September 27, Colonel Doumbouya released the Transitional Charter, which supersedes the constitution and law until a new constitution is promulgated. As of December the military government had released 364 members of the political opposition arrested by former president Conde’s administration and pardoned five others previously convicted.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; restrictions on freedom of movement and residence within the territory of a state and on the right to leave the country; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity for government officials remained a problem. The Conde government took minimal steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Offices tasked with investigating security force killings include civilian and military security services, civil and military courts, and inspectors general within the Ministry of Security and Civilian Protection.

Fighting during the September coup d’etat was limited to Conakry’s Kaloum neighborhood, with press reporting eight to 20 members of the military killed.

According to Amnesty International, in the months leading up to the 2020 presidential election, between October 2019 and July 2020, security forces killed at least 50 persons and injured more than 200. Opposition sources claimed that security forces killed 99 individuals between October and December 2020 during and after the presidential election. The government did not confirm the number of persons killed during this period.

Impunity persisted for abuses perpetrated by state actors in past years, including the 2009 Conakry stadium massacre by security forces. At least 150 opposition demonstrators were killed, and more than 100 women and girls were raped. Since 2011 the judiciary confirmed indictments against 13 individuals. Two of the alleged ringleaders of the massacre, Colonel Claude Pivi and Colonel Moussa Tiegboro Camara, served in high-level government posts during the Conde administration. Tiegboro retained his senior position within the National Committee for Reunification and Development (CNRD) at year’s end. General Mathurin Bangoura, a person of interest whose indictment was dismissed following a judicial review, remained governor of Conakry until September.

The steering committee established in 2018 to organize a future trial for the perpetrators of the 2009 stadium massacre resumed its work during the year. The body reconvened in January after holding no meetings in 2020 due to COVID-19. During the May steering committee meeting, the minister of justice outlined a roadmap for an eventual trial; however, as of September 4, no trial date had been announced. The Conde administration cited the need for training and capacity building for judges as the reason for the delayed announcement of a trial date. On November 27, an International Criminal Court delegation met with the CNRD to demand that the stadium massacre trial begin. On December 3, the Ministry of Justice met with the stadium massacre steering committee. On December 22, former 2008 coup leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who was indicted for his alleged role in the stadium massacre, returned to the country after living in self-imposed exile in Burkina Faso. In statements made to the press, Captain Camara said he was willing to stand trial. The CNRD’s December 25 transition roadmap further reiterated the transition government’s support for the trial but provided no timeline for judicial proceedings.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, human rights observers reported that government officials continued to employ such practices with impunity.

Abuse of inmates in government detention centers continued. Security officials designated as “judicial police officers” abused detainees to coerce confessions. Human rights activists noted the most egregious abuses occurred during arrests or at detention centers. Human rights associations stated that complainants often presented evidence of abuse, and wardens did not investigate these complaints. These nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also alleged that guards abused detainees, including children, and coerced some women into exchanging sex for better treatment.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one allegation submitted in July 2020 of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult. As of September the United Nations was investigating the allegation.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, particularly in the gendarmes, police, and military forces. Factors contributing to impunity included corruption, lack of training, politicization of forces, and a lack of transparency in investigations. Offices tasked with investigating abuses included civil and military courts and government inspectors general within the Ministry of Security and Civilian Protection. In September the CNRD announced a new public toll-free number for citizens to report on abuses of power by defense and security forces. By year’s end the CNRD had removed two soldiers from the armed forces for vandalism and looting based on information received from the hotline.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in civilian prisons, which are under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice, remained abusive, with poor sanitation, malnutrition, disease, and lack of medical attention pervasive throughout the prison system. Conditions were allegedly worse in gendarme and police detention facilities designed for short-term detentions.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem. According to government sources, between January and February, the Conakry Central Prison in Conakry held 1,570 prisoners in a facility designed for 300 (523 percent of total capacity); Nzerekore held 271 prisoners in a facility designed for 80 (339 percent of total capacity); and Kakan held 229 in a facility designed for 80 (286 percent of total capacity). Government-funded rehabilitation programs were underfunded and ineffective, leading some NGOs to try filling the void.

Prison officials held men and women separately. Authorities held minors in separate sections at prisons and detention facilities, where they slept on iron bunk beds with no mattresses, or on the floor because it was too hot on the upper bunks below the building’s metal roof. Prison officials did not separate pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. There were reports the government had trouble tracking the location of pretrial detainees in the justice system.

Between December 2020 and January, at least three opposition members died while in pretrial detention, reportedly due to poor prison living conditions. A fourth member died shortly after his release in December 2020. Authorities investigated none of the several reported deaths of prisoners.

Although the Ministry of Justice administered civilian prisons, prisoners allegedly controlled cell assignments and provided better conditions at some detention centers to prisoners who were able to pay. Rumors persisted that guards ignored court orders to free prisoners until bribes were paid.

A lack of health-care personnel, medicine, and medical supplies in prisons, combined with malnutrition and dehydration, sometimes made infection or illness life threatening; cases of beriberi were recorded. Only two of the 31 detention centers had a full-time doctor and medical staff. Reports of overcrowding in medical wards at detention centers were common, including at the Conakry Central Prison. Prisoners relied on family members, charities, or NGOs to bring medication, but visitors often had to pay bribes to provide the medicine to prisoners.

Mismanagement and neglect were prevalent. Toilets reportedly did not function, and prisoners often slept and ate in the same space used for sanitation purposes. Access to drinking and bathing water was inadequate. Many prisons were former warehouses with little ventilation and little access to electricity for air conditioning or other cooling techniques.

NGOs as well as the National Institution for Human Rights reported endemic malnutrition throughout the prison system. Authorities provided food at the Conakry Central Prison, but most prison directors relied on charities and NGOs to provide food for inmates. The Conakry Central Prison claimed it provided two meals a day; however, NGOs reported prisoners in Conakry and elsewhere received only one meal per day and that many relied on food from their families or other outside sources. Guards often demanded bribes for delivering food to prisoners, which they then frequently confiscated.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and NGOs noted that conditions at gendarmerie detention centers, intended to hold detainees for not more than two days while they awaited court processing, were much worse than in prisons. Such “temporary” detention could last from a few days to more than two years, and facilities had no established systems to provide meals or medical treatment. As in the case of prisons, gendarmerie facilities were dank and unsanitary.

Administration: Prison authorities did not investigate credible allegations of abuse or inhuman prison conditions. Prisoners and detainees have the right to submit complaints but seldom did due to possible reprisals from prison guards. Prisoners must use a lawyer to file a complaint, but lawyers were scarce and expensive. Prison authorities received little to no formal penal training, and prison guards received only rudimentary basic military training designed for gendarmes. The local NGO Equal Rights for All stated religious practice was restricted at prisons other than the Conakry Central Prison. Prisoners complained that they were regularly denied access to visitors, including family members. Visitors were often required to pay bribes to access prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: Local NGOs such as Equal Rights for All and the Association for the Support of Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Detainees received regular and unimpeded access to the Conakry Central Prison; authorities rarely granted access to other facilities to monitor conditions.

Military prison conditions, managed by the Ministry of Defense, could not be monitored since the government denied access to prison advocacy groups and international organizations. Although military authorities claimed they did not hold civilians at military prisons, previously reported cases contradicted this assertion. Prior to the September coup d’etat, reports indicated a prison existed at a military camp on Kassa Island, and that political prisoners were at times held at a military camp near Kankan.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The Transition Charter, previous constitution, and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions.

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but few detainees chose this option due to the difficulties they might face and fear of retribution.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Although the law requires arrest warrants, police did not always follow this protocol. The law also provides that detainees be charged within 48 hours, renewable once if authorized by a judge. In cases involving national security, the law allows the original length of detention to be increased to 96 hours, renewable once. Many detainees were held for much longer periods before being charged. Authorities held most detainees in the three main prisons indefinitely and without trial.

The law precludes the arrest of persons in their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., but arrests between those times occurred. After being charged the accused may be held until the conclusion of the case, including a period of appeal. Authorities routinely ignored the legal provision entitling defendants to an attorney and did not provide indigent defendants with an attorney at government expense.

Release on bail is at the discretion of the magistrate under whose jurisdiction the case falls. The law allows detainees prompt access to family members, but access was sometimes denied or restricted until families paid bribes to the guards at detention facilities.

Arbitrary Arrest: The CNRD arrested and arbitrarily detained former president Alpha Conde on September 5. On November 27, authorities moved former president Conde from his previous location to his wife’s house in the Dixinn neighborhood of Conakry. As of December he remained under house arrest without charge.

In February 2020 authorities arrested without charge more than 30 persons in various Conakry neighborhoods and held them for more than a month at the Soronkoni camp in Kankan, Upper Guinea. The detainees reported they were arrested by police and other security service units, were isolated, and had no contact with family. Following postelection violence in Nzerekore in March 2020, local sources reported that at least 40 persons were transferred to the same Soronkoni camp. As of September the CNRD released an additional five of these detainees. By December the CNRD released a total of 364 political prisoners. (See section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees, for details regarding the postelection situation.)

Pretrial Detention: In February pretrial detainees constituted 72 percent of the prison population. Information was not available regarding the average length of detentions, or whether detentions exceeded the maximum possible sentence.

The law states that when the prosecutor has issued an arrest warrant against an individual or an individual is questioned by an investigating judge, the individual may remain in detention for a maximum of 24 months under circumstances related to national security.

In June authorities provisionally released a boy, age 17, who spent three years in pretrial detention at the Conakry Central Prison. The boy was arrested in 2018 and charged with unauthorized gathering. According to his lawyer, he was arrested in a Conakry neighborhood near where a police officer was killed several days before. As of December authorities had not set a trial date for the case.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was plagued by corruption. The Transition Charter also states the CNRD’s commitment to an independent judiciary. The judicial process often lacked independence and impartiality. Political and social status often influenced decisions. A shortage of qualified lawyers and magistrates, outdated and restrictive laws, nepotism, and ethnic bias limited the judiciary’s effectiveness. Domestic court orders were often not enforced. For example, some prisoners ordered to be freed by courts remained in detention because they failed to pay “exit fees” to guards. On the other hand, politically connected criminals often evaded prosecution.

Many citizens, wary of judicial corruption or with no other choice, relied on traditional systems of justice at the village or urban neighborhood level. Litigants presented their civil cases before a village chief, neighborhood leader, or a council of “wise men.” The dividing line between the formal and informal justice systems was vague, and authorities sometimes referred a case from the formal to the traditional system to assure compliance by all parties. Similarly, a case not resolved to the satisfaction of all parties in the traditional system could be referred to the formal system for adjudication. In the traditional system, evidence given by women carried less weight (see section 6, Women).

Trial Procedures

The Transition Charter, previous constitution, and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary, although burdened by corruption and limited effectiveness, generally strived to enforce this right.

Trials are public and defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Trials must be timely. The prosecution prepares a case file, including testimony and other evidence, and provides a copy for the defense. Defendants have the right to confront and question prosecution witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law provides for the presumption of innocence of accused persons, the independence of judges, the equality of citizens before the law, the right of the accused to counsel (but only for major crimes), and the right to appeal a judicial decision, but these rights were not consistently observed.

Authorities must inform defendants promptly of charges. Defendants are entitled to free assistance from an interpreter, if necessary. Defendants generally had adequate time but lacked resources, such as access to a lawyer, to prepare a defense. Most cases never came to trial.

Although the government was responsible for funding legal defense costs in serious criminal cases, it rarely disbursed funds for this purpose. The attorney for the defense frequently received no payment. Authorities allowed detainees’ attorneys access to their clients, but often on condition that prison guards or gendarmes be present. The law provides that defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but torture or other harsh treatment and conditions in detention centers undermined this protection.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The previous government and CNRD arrested or summoned individuals without cause. Civil society described the actions as “political intimidation.” Local sources estimated the number of such arrestees or summoned individuals to be more than 300. The government permitted access to such persons on a regular basis by the International Committee of the Red Cross or other human rights or humanitarian organizations.

In May authorities released 40 detainees arrested following the October 2020 postelection violence. Nine of the released detainees were arrested by security forces for their proximity to the October 2020 mob attack on a freight train operated by the aluminum producer Rusal, in which according to government and press reports attackers killed four security force members.

In June President Conde pardoned four high-profile opposition members who requested clemency following their convictions. Although the four were pardoned and released, the convictions remained part of their record.

In July the government announced that four senior-level members of the opposition political party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea were conditionally released for medical reasons. The members were previously imprisoned for their alleged role in postelection violence following the 2020 October presidential election. One of them, however, was sent back to prison in August for reportedly violating the conditions of his provisional release. He also was among the 79 detainees released by the CNRD on September 7.

On September 5, Colonel Doumbouya and the CNRD announced their intention to release all political prisoners and activists imprisoned during former president Conde’s administration. The CNRD requested that the Ministries of Justice and Defense coordinate closely with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the prison administration, and lawyers to release all the detainees.

On September 7, the CNRD released 79 political detainees from the Conakry Central Prison. Many of the released were prominent opposition members such as Oumar Sylla (Fonike Mengue), Abdoulaye Bah, Etienne Soropogui, Ismael Conde, and Keamou Bogolan Haba. On September 24, the CNRD released 12 detainees, including five soldiers and two civilians held in Conakry, and five soldiers held at Camp Soronkoni. On September 28 in Kankan, the CNRD released one military detainee and Colonel Doumbouya pardoned five soldiers previously convicted and imprisoned.

Prior to the September 5 coup d’etat, in February Amnesty International reported that during the March and October 2020 elections there were “400 arbitrary arrests targeting opponents and members of civil society after the presidential election.” Lawyers for the detainees reported that authorities made many of the arrests during house-to-house searches at night in neighborhoods considered opposition strongholds. Authorities also reportedly used excessive force in the arrests. The government announced that these individuals were arrested for participating in postelection violence.

In March President Conde pardoned seven minors who were reportedly members of the opposition and were arrested immediately following the October 2020 presidential election for “illegal assembly on a public road.”

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides for a judicial procedure in civil matters, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights abuses. Individuals filed few lawsuits seeking damages for human rights abuses, in part due to public fear of suing security force members and lack of confidence in the competence and impartiality of the judiciary. Some cases were appealed to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice.

Property Seizure and Restitution

In 2019 the government forcibly evicted persons from four neighborhoods in Conakry. The government alleged the inhabitants were squatters on land long-planned as the relocation site of multiple ministries. Authorities demolished an estimated 2,500 buildings, resulting in 20,000 persons evicted, some of whom allegedly had legal ownership of their land. The victims formed a collective and appealed to the ECOWAS Court of Justice for compensation. On September 11, the victim’s association made a public statement demanding assistance and the indictment of the former minister of housing for destroying their homes. As of September 30, the ECOWAS Court of Justice suspended all existing legal proceedings with the country because of the coup d’etat. The government made no efforts to protect, assist, resettle, or integrate these displaced persons in other areas.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but police reportedly ignored legal procedures in the pursuit of criminal suspects, including when it served their personal interests. Authorities sometimes removed persons from their homes without legal authorization, stole their personal belongings, and demanded payment for the release of their belongings.

The government continued to arrest or punish family members for alleged offenses committed by relatives.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, allegations against or criticism of the Conde government could result in government reprisals, including suspensions, fines, and arrests. The CNRD reportedly engaged in reprisal against a media outlet that was affiliated with former president Conde.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of arbitrary arrests, harassment, and intimidation of journalists by Conde government officials and CNRD transition authorities.

On July 18, police arrested journalist Habib Marouane Kamara in Conakry and took him to the Office of the Director of Judicial Police where he was questioned for several hours. According to his lawyer, Kamara was sued for defamation and blackmail following a complaint by the new director of the Guinea Water Company. Kamara previously criticized the appointments of water company executives, including the CEO’s wife, on his Facebook page. The Union of Private Press Professionals denounced his arrest and the lack of a judicial summons. Authorities released Kamara after two nights in police custody.

On October 9, security forces raided the compound of Djoma Media, a private media outlet with reported ties to former president Conde. The military claimed they were searching for missing government vehicles, although they did not have a warrant to enter the compound. Gunfire erupted at the scene, reportedly injuring two persons, after Djoma Media security guards refused to grant access.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Conde government penalized media outlets and journalists who broadcasted items criticizing government officials and their actions. Some journalists accused government officials of attempting to influence the tone of their reporting.

There were also reports CNRD authorities restricted journalists from covering certain transition government meetings and froze the assets of Djoma Media, a media outlet linked to former president Conde. According to media sources, the bank accounts were frozen due to “unjustified movements of money.” Djoma Media’s founder, Kabinet Sylla (known as “Bill Gates”), was a former government official and confidant of former president Conde. At year’s end the accounts remained inaccessible.

On October 8, according to Reporters Without Borders, CNRD authorities restricted several private television stations from filming CNRD Prime Minister Mohamed Beagovui’s swearing-in ceremony. State-owned Radio Television Guinea was often the only media outlet invited to cover Conde government meetings; it remained the only platform for official CNRD announcements to the public.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel against the head of state, slander, and false reporting are criminal offenses subject to imprisonment up to five years and heavy fines. Conde government officials used these laws to harass opposition leaders and journalists. Journalists alleged the defamation lawsuits targeted persons critical of the government to silence dissent.

On February 4, a Conakry court sentenced sports journalist Ibrahima Sadio Bah to six months in prison and a monetary fine for defaming Mamadou Antonio Souare, the president of the national soccer federation.

On February 27, authorities arrested and detained sports journalist and historian Amadou Dioulde Diallo for allegedly insulting President Conde during a radio talk show. Reporters Without Borders, local press associations, and the Guinean Organization for the Defense of Human Rights expressed concern regarding the arrest and denounced his imprisonment, claiming that it was a violation of the law on freedom of the press. On May 19, a court sentenced him to a substantial fine and released him.

In January three journalists detained since 2018 from the private radio station Nostalgie FM, were prosecuted for “defamation, slanderous denunciation, and insults.” The journalists were sentenced on January 13 to two months’ imprisonment with suspended sentences and fined. During a 2018 episode of their radio show Africa 2025, a former teacher from the undergraduate school Saint Joseph de Cliny called in to denounce the working conditions at the school. In response the director of the school filed a complaint against the journalists who hosted the broadcast. The journalists’ lawyer announced they would appeal the decision. As of December the appeal was pending with the Conakry Court of Appeals. Several local press associations issued a press statement announcing their support for the journalists and advocated the cancellation of their sentence. On January 15, the Union of Private Press Professionals held a sit-in at the court to denounce the decision.

In December 2020 Minister of Technical Education and Vocational Training Zenab Nabaya Drame sued the three journalists for defamation for publishing a story implicating her in the embezzlement of approximately 219 billion Guinean Francs (GNF) ($22.3 million) in public funds as minister and in former positions as finance director in the Ministries of Health and Agriculture. The minister withdrew the suit in February after the court ruled that it could not proceed with the case while there was an ongoing investigation into the allegations of embezzlement (see section 4, Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government).

National Security: Authorities used the law to punish journalists and executives at media outlets critical of the government.

In November 2020, after being detained for three weeks, Guinean-Canadian pro-opposition blogger Mamady Conde (alias Madic 100 Frontieres) was charged with slander, threats, xenophobia, inciting a revolt, and harming the fundamental interests of the state. He was convicted on February 8 and sentenced to five years in prison and fined for “downloading and disseminating messages, photos, drawings of a racist nature, xenophobia, threat, violence and insults through a computer system.” His sentence was reduced to one year on June 10 after an appeal. Then president Conde pardoned Mamady Conde in addition to three other high-profile opposition members in July after the four wrote letters of contrition seeking clemency.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Transitional Charter and the law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, as did the constitution before it was suspended on September 5. Both the Conde government and CNRD transition authorities routinely barred public protests and assembly.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The Transitional Charter and the previous constitution provide for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, but the Conde government and CNRD restricted this right, primarily to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The law bans any meeting that has an ethnic or racial character or any gathering “whose nature threatens national unity.” Prior to September 5, the government required a 72-working-hour advance notification for public gatherings. The law permits prohibition of demonstrations or meetings if local authorities believe the event poses a threat to public order. Authorities may hold event organizers criminally liable if violence or destruction of property occurs. The law punishes anyone who hinders the right to demonstrate to a sentence of one to six months’ imprisonment and a substantial fine.

The CNRD used previous COVID-19 restrictions to limit unsanctioned public gatherings. Although the CNRD permitted celebratory marches demonstrating support for Colonel Doumbouya, on September 11, the CNRD forbade all marches and protests on public health grounds. The CNRD strongly condemned a National Front for the Defense of the Constitution (FNDC)-led march from Conakry International Airport to Bambeto Circle on September 18 welcoming the return of exiled senior FNDC leader Sekou Koundouno. No violence was reported during the march.

Prior to September 5, large demonstrations were typically met with a heavy-handed response by security forces including arbitrary arrests, tear gas, and excessive use of force. Since September 5, reported security force interactions with demonstrators was more restrained.

On December 11, supporters of former president Conde gathered in front of their party, Rally of the Guinean People Arc-en-Ciel, headquarters in Conakry to demand his release. Security forces deployed and used tear gas to disperse protesters. Media reports indicated eight activists were arrested and later released on December 13. Government officials applauded the security force response to the unsanctioned demonstration, citing adherence to established norms and no reported injuries or deaths. Civil society leaders and other political parties denounced the government’s response.

Prior to September 5, the decision to ban a meeting or demonstration could be appealed to the Court of First Instance.

Freedom of Association

The Transition Charter and previous constitution provide for freedom of association, and authorities both before and after September 5 generally respected this provision. Requirements to obtain official recognition for public, social, cultural, religious, or political associations were not cumbersome, although bureaucratic delays sometimes impeded registration. (See section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation, for further information concerning political party registrations.)

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The Transitional Charter and the constitution permit freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government sometimes restricted these rights.

In-country Movement: The government requires all citizens older than 18 to carry national identification cards, which they must present on request at security checkpoints.

Police and gendarmes regularly established random checkpoints where they routinely asked drivers to pay “tolls” or other illegal fees. Police and gendarmes occasionally robbed and beat travelers at these checkpoints and sometimes threatened them with death. In August, as a part of government measures to provide financial relief to drivers facing higher fuel prices, the minister of security announced the formal prohibition of any law enforcement officer from extorting drivers and other transporters, noting that law enforcement officers who erected unauthorized checkpoints would face sanction. The minister also announced the reduction in the total number of official checkpoints across the country.

As part of the health state of emergency, travelers were asked to present a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination certificate. Some travelers reported being forced to pay a fine or “toll” if they did not have a negative test or certificate. The health state of emergency remained in force at year’s end.

Foreign Travel: Following the September 5 coup d’etat, CNRD authorities banned former president Conde and his former cabinet officials from foreign travel. The CNRD requested the former senior government officials surrender their personal and official travel documents.

Prior to September 5, the Conde government banned numerous opposition party members and private citizens from travelling. Following the October 2020 presidential election, the Conde government prevented the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea party’s president Cellou Dalein Diallo, his wife, and party vice president Fode Oussou Fotana from leaving the country. The government also prevented several other opposition members, including Union of Republican Forces president Sidya Toure and chief of staff Mohamed Tall, and the new Generation for the Republic party president Abe Sylla, and others who spoke out against President Conde from leaving the country even in instances where travel was necessary for medical treatment.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The Transition Charter and laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law on the right of asylum and the protection of refugees has provisions to protect individuals from deportation.

Durable Solutions: Repatriation procedures existed and allowed refugees to choose a voluntary repatriation. Voluntary repatriations, previously suspended due to COVID-19, resumed. Ivorian refugees composed the majority of voluntary repatriations during the year. According to UNHCR data, as of December 7, 23 UNHCR-designated refugees were repatriated, while 8,622 returnees and other persons of concern voluntarily repatriated to their countries of origin.

g. Stateless Persons

There were a few hundred effectively stateless persons, most of whom came from Sierra Leone. These persons did not meet any of the criteria for citizenship. According to UNHCR, these persons requested neither repatriation nor local integration. The government could not provide information on stateless persons due to a lack of identification activities.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Prior to September 5, the constitution and law provided citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but both the Conde government and CNRD transition authorities abridged this right. The Transitional Charter calls for free and fair local and national elections after the creation of the National Transition Council to determine the elections timeline and draft the constitution. As of December the council had not been formed. On September 5, Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya and military special forces arrested President Alpha Conde and seized power through a coup d’etat.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Following the October 2020 presidential election, and an unsuccessful legal challenge from opposition presidential candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo, in November 2020 the Constitutional Court certified that President Conde won re-election with 59.5 percent of the vote. Diallo claimed victory and called on his supporters to protest the election results. Government security forces violently dispersed protesters and surrounded Diallo’s home.

Although election day proceeded relatively smoothly, international and domestic observers raised concerns regarding unresolved voter roll problems, widespread pre- and postelection violence, restrictions on freedom of assembly, the lack of transparency in vote tabulation, insecure ballot transportation, and inconsistencies between the announced results and tally sheet results from polling stations.

The number of persons injured and killed during the pre- and postelection violence was widely disputed between the government and opposition groups. Government officials claimed at least 50 persons were killed, while the opposition published a list of 46 killed and estimated at least 200 persons were injured during the violence. Amnesty International reported 400 arbitrary arrests targeting opponents and members of civil society after the presidential election.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no official restrictions on political party formation beyond registration requirements. Parties may not represent a single region or ethnicity. The Conde government in some cases delayed opposition party registration. As of September 5, the government continued to deny accreditation to Bloc for Change in Guinea, despite a ruling by the ECOWAS Court of Justice, and to the Liberal Democratic Movement, despite an injunction by the Supreme Court in January to accredit the party. The government was accused of conditioning both parties’ accreditation on their commitment not to oppose the government or join the political opposition.

In October 2020 the government closed the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea’s main political party office in Conakry on the grounds of COVID-19 public health measures and national security, preventing the party from using the space for meetings and assemblies. The party appealed to the courts to reopen their office, but their appeals were rejected. The CNRD reopened the premises on September 6.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were multiple allegations during the year of corrupt practices by public officials that went unpunished.

Corruption: Conde administration authorities prosecuted very few cases, and even fewer resulted in convictions. Allegations of corruption ranged from low-level functionaries and managers of state enterprises to ministers and the presidency. Officials allegedly diverted public funds for private use or for illegitimate public uses, such as buying expensive vehicles for government workers. Land sales and business contracts generally lacked transparency. Business leaders asserted regulatory procedures were opaque and facilitated corruption.

In November 2020 several local media sources published a story implicating the minister of technical education and vocational training, Zenab Nabaya Drame, in the embezzlement of approximately GNF 219 billion ($22.3 million) as minister and while serving in former positions as finance director in the Ministries of Health and Agriculture. According to media, Drame was responsible for approximately GNF 100 billion ($10.2 million) in unjustified expenses during her tenure as Ministry of Health finance director; she reportedly embezzled GNF 56 billion ($5.71 million) during her time at the Ministry of Agriculture; while as minister of technical education and vocational training she allegedly siphoned GNF 35 billion ($3.57 million) from a program to build new vocational training facilities in Upper Guinea and the Forest Region that were never built and overcharged GNF 28 billion ($2.86 million) to administer nationwide school exams. Drame sued the journalists for defamation but dropped her suit in February due to the corruption investigation, which as of December was pending (see section 2.a., Libel/Slander Laws). In January authorities announced the Kaloum Court of First Instance would hear the corruption case, but judicial proceedings did not move forward before the September 5 coup d’etat.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Some domestic and international human rights groups monitored and attempted to disseminate information on human rights abuses. They generally operated without government restriction. Government officials rarely were cooperative and responsive to their views. Since September 5, CNRD officials included human rights groups as part of the national dialogue process. NGOs are required to renew their permits with the government every three years.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Institution for Human Rights promotes human rights awareness and investigates abuses. The institution was controversial from its inception because it was set up in a manner different than prescribed by law. It remained ineffective and lacked independence under the Conde administration.

The Conde government did not establish a truth and reconciliation commission as recommended in the Commission for National Reconciliation 2016 final report. Prior to September 5, the technical committee organized within the Prime Minister’s Office to establish the commission had not finalized the draft law on its profile, mandate, and members. The CNRD did not take any steps to establish the commission.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and domestic violence, but both occurred frequently, and authorities rarely prosecuted perpetrators. The law does not address spousal rape or the gender of survivors. Rape is punishable by five to 20 years in prison. Survivors often declined to report crimes to police due to custom, fear of stigmatization, reprisal, and a lack of cooperation from investigating police or gendarmes. Studies indicated citizens also were reluctant to report crimes because they feared police would ask the survivor to pay for the investigation.

In domestic violence cases, authorities may file charges under general assault, which carries sentences of two to five years in prison and fines. Violence against a woman that causes an injury is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine. If the injury causes mutilation, amputation, or other loss of body parts, it is punishable by 20 years of imprisonment; if the victim dies, the crime is punishable by life imprisonment. Assault constitutes grounds for divorce under civil law, but police rarely intervened in domestic disputes, and courts rarely punished perpetrators.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Although the Transition Charter does not explicitly prohibit FGM/C, it grants individuals the right to their physical integrity. Prior to September 5, the constitution and laws prohibited FGM/C. The country had an extremely high FGM/C prevalence rate. According to a 2018 UNICEF survey, 94.5 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 had undergone the procedure, which was practiced throughout the country and among all religious and ethnic groups. The rate of FGM/C for girls between the ages of six and 14 dropped six percentage points since 2015.

The law specifies imprisonment of five to 20 years and a fine if the victim is severely injured or dies; if the victim dies within 40 days of the procedure the penalty is up to life in prison or death. The law provides for imprisonment of three months to two years and fines for perpetrators who do not inflict severe injury or death. These laws were not effectively or regularly enforced. In 2019 the Conde government adopted an action plan to eliminate FGM/C (2019-23) that included integrating FGM/C modules into the curriculum of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Conakry and updating the curriculum for midwifery and social work students. During the year the Conde administration continued to cooperate with NGOs and youth organizations in their efforts to eradicate FGM/C and educate health workers, government employees, and communities on the dangers of the practice.

On October 25-26, the CNRD appointed Morissanda Kouyate, a lifelong advocate for women’s rights and the eradication of FGM/C, as minister of foreign affairs, international cooperation, African integration, and Guineans abroad.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits all forms of workplace harassment, including sexual harassment; however, the Transition Charter does not explicitly mention workplace or sexual harassment. Prior to September 5, the constitution prohibited harassment based on sex, race, ethnicity, political opinions, and other grounds. The Ministry of Labor did not document any case of sexual harassment, despite its frequency. The law penalizes sexual harassment. Sentences range from three months to two years in prison and the payment of a fine, depending on the gravity of the harassment. Authorities rarely enforced the law.

According to the Union of Guinean Workers, women working in the public sector reported professional repercussions, marginalization, and threats by superiors when they did not accept their advances.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

No law adversely affected access to contraception, but low accessibility and poor quality of family planning services as well as limited contraception choices hindered access. Cultural barriers included a lack of male partner engagement or support for a woman’s decision to use family planning services; lack of decision-making power for women, as women in many cases needed approval from their husbands before using health services, including family planning; and expectations for newlywed couples to have children. Religious beliefs also hindered access. According to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey, modern contraceptive prevalence rate among women ages 15-49 who were married or in a relationship was 11 percent.

According to the 2018 Demographic and Health Survey, 55 percent of women gave birth with a skilled health-care professional present. Lack of quality health care and sociocultural barriers, such as preferring a female health attendant during pregnancy and childbirth, also affected women’s access to skilled health attendants when no midwives were available.

According to the 2016 UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, the maternal mortality rate was 550 per 100,000 live births. Lack of accessible, quality health services, discrimination, gender inequalities, early marriage, and adolescent pregnancy all contributed to the maternal death rate. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.) According to the UN Population Fund, the adolescent birth rate was 120 per 1,000 girls ages 15-19 years.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Multisectoral committees at the national, regional, and local levels addressed gender-based violence, including sexual violence. Committee participants included health professionals, police, and administrative authorities. Health professionals provided health care, including sexual and reproductive health services, to survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Emergency contraception was available at International Planned Parenthood Federation-affiliated clinics through purchases made by the UN Population Fund. Emergency contraception was also included in gender-based violence kits.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The country’s population was diverse, with three main linguistic groups and several smaller ones. While the law prohibits racial or ethnic discrimination, allegations of discrimination against members of all major ethnic groups occurred in private-sector hiring. Ethnic segregation of urban neighborhoods and ethnically divisive rhetoric during political campaigns were common. The government made little effort to address these problems.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth within the country, marriage, naturalization, or parental heritage. Authorities did not permit children without birth certificates to attend school or access health care.

Education: Government policy provides for tuition-free, compulsory primary education for all children up to age 16. While girls and boys had equal access to all levels of primary and secondary education, approximately 39 percent of girls attended primary school, compared with 52 percent of boys. Government figures indicated 13 percent of girls completed secondary school, compared with 22 percent of boys.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem, and authorities and NGOs continued to document cases. Child abuse occurred openly on the street, although families ignored most cases or addressed them at the community level. Authorities rarely prosecuted offenders.

On March 11, an updated Children’s Code first adopted in 2019 entered into force. The new code provides increased penalties for offenses that expose children to violence, sexuality, the display or dissemination of obscene images, and messages not intended for children. The new code also increases penalties relating to child labor, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children, and child pornography.

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities could in some cases access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The law prohibits the discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in education, employment, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other government services. Other elements of the law describe the rights of persons with disabilities, such as access to regular, dedicated, or subsidized private schools, government hiring quotas, priority access to government services, and access to public transportation. The government did not effectively implement the law and programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications. The government provided some information and communication in accessible formats. Colonel Doumbouya delivered the president’s end of year speech, which for the first time was accompanied by sign language simultaneous interpretation.

The law prohibits discrimination in employment against persons with disabilities. The government estimated the population of persons with disabilities to be 155,900. The Ministry of Social Action and the Promotion of Women and Children is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, but it was ineffective. The government had informal hiring programs for the hiring of persons with disabilities. The government provided no support for placing children with disabilities in regular schools.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Laws exist to protect persons with HIV and AIDS from stigmatization. The law on reproductive health provides that persons diagnosed with AIDS or HIV receive special assistance in basic care and a guarantee of confidentiality. The government relied on donor efforts to combat discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS, and government efforts were limited to paying health-care worker salaries. Most victims of stigmatization were widows abandoned by their families after their husbands died of AIDS.

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

LGBTQI+ persons faced arbitrary arrest, violence, and harassment by security forces who accused them of disrupting the social order. LGBTQI+ persons reported being stigmatized by their families and, in many cases, forced into unwanted heterosexual marriages. They were also subject to sexual assault based on their sexual orientation.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, which is punishable by three years in prison; however, there were no known prosecutions during the year. The Office for the Protection of Women, Children, and Morals (OPROGEM), a part of the Ministry of Security, includes a unit for investigating morals offenses, including same-sex sexual conduct.

Deep religious and cultural taboos exist against consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTQI+ persons. The Transitional Charter and existing laws do not protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons. The Transitional Charter describes marriage and the traditional family unit as the foundation of the country’s society. LGBTQI+ persons were subject to employment and housing discrimination. There were no official or NGO reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although societal stigma likely prevented survivors from reporting abuse or harassment. There were no publicly active LGBTQI+ organizations, although some public health organizations worked to raise sexual health and HIV and AIDS awareness, as well as prevent human rights abuses among vulnerable communities, including the LGBTQI+ community. An association supported by the National AIDS Control Committee and the Global Fund Works provided educational awareness on AIDS prevention and safe sexual practices and antiretroviral treatment distribution, and it advocated for the rights of vulnerable populations, including members of the LGBTQI+ community who continued to hide their status.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The Transition Charter and the law provides most workers the right to organize, bargain collectively, join a union, and engage in strikes. The law also places restrictions on the free exercise of these rights. The law requires unions to obtain the support of 20 percent of the workers in a company, region, or trade in order to strike. The law mandates that unions provide a 10-day notice to the Ministry of Labor before striking, although it allows work slowdowns without notice.

Strikes are permitted only for work-related topics; such permission, however, does not extend to government workers, members of the armed forces, or temporary government workers, as these categories do not have the legal right to strike. Despite lacking the right to strike, public school teachers repeatedly went on strike for better working conditions.

The law protects workers from antiunion discrimination. The law prohibits employers from taking union membership into consideration when considering decisions concerning an employee’s hiring, firing, and conduct. It also allows workers 30 days to appeal any labor decisions and provides for reinstatement of any employee fired for union activity.

The Office of the Inspector General of Labor within the Ministry of Labor manages consensus arbitration, as required by law. Employers often imposed binding arbitration, particularly in “essential services.”

Penalties for various labor violations ranged from fines to imprisonment. The law also defines labor crimes to include workers and employers who subvert national interests or steal trade secrets. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Inspections were not adequate to achieve compliance, and penalties were not enforced.

Worker organizations did not generally operate independently of government or political party interference. Differences existed among the trade unions with members accusing each other of supporting the company or government. This resulted in some unions having two leaders. Companies did not always respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

In August workers from the private transport company Albayrak organized a strike demanding better work conditions. Security forces arrested and detained 36 workers for vandalizing company buses. They were released three weeks later with eight workers given six-month suspended sentences.

Hotel workers at the Sheraton Grand Conakry achieved union recognition in February 2020 after the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers’ Associations filed a formal complaint with the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation and Dutch Development Bank for failing to maintain the International Finance Corporation’s specific performance standards. According to the international union, in October 2020 hotel management refused to engage union leadership on health-care negotiations in violation of national labor laws. The international union and local unions reported numerous violations of local labor laws, antiunion retaliation and discrimination, as well as violating internationally recognized worker standards of freedom of association and collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor and debt bondage. Prison labor, however, is legal, including for crimes related to political and religious expression. The law prescribes penalties of three to seven years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both for forced labor offenses involving an adult victim, and five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both for those involving a child victim. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes. The government did not effectively enforce the law or prosecute any cases for adult forced labor.

Traffickers exploited men, women, and children in forced labor in agriculture. Traffickers exploited boys in forced labor in begging, mining, fishing, and on coffee, cashew, and cocoa plantations. Some government entities and NGOs alleged forced labor was most prevalent in the mining sector. Women and children were the most vulnerable to trafficking (see section 7.c.). Migrant laborers represented a small proportion of forced labor victims.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits child labor in the formal sector and sets forth penalties of imprisonment and confiscation of resulting profits. While a 2020 relevant law strengthened protections for children, the law does not meet international standards. The law provides additional prohibitions against hazardous work including work at night, work with explosives or corrosives, and extraction of minerals and other materials in mines and quarries. The law does not protect children in the informal sector, and authorities were hesitant to pursue cases due to longstanding sociocultural norms. The country made minimal advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, and the law does not prohibit the practice. The law allows minors to work below the minimum age for employment, which is 16. Exceptions allow children to work at age 12 as apprentices for light work in the domestic service and agriculture sectors, and at age 14 for other work. The law does not prescribe the number of work hours per week for children, nor does it specify the conditions under which light work may be undertaken.

The Ministry of Labor maintained an outdated list of hazardous occupations or activities that may not employ children, but enforcement was limited to large firms in the formal sector. The law does not prohibit hazardous occupations and activities in all relevant child labor sectors, including agriculture. The law increases penalties for forced labor if minors are involved, but penalties did not meet international standards, and enforcement was not sufficient to deter child labor violations. Although the law provides that treaty obligations be regarded by the justice system as lawfully binding, ambiguity concerning this provision’s validity continued due to the government’s failure to pass implementing legislation.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, and it conducted occasional inspections. OPROGEM is the unit within the Ministry of Security responsible for investigating child trafficking and child labor violations. As of September OPROGEM brought three cases involving child labor exploitation to court. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and inspections were not adequate. Girls were subjected to domestic servitude domestically and abroad. Forced child labor occurred primarily in the cashew, cocoa, coffee, gold, and diamond sectors of the economy. Many children between ages five and 16 worked 10 to 15 hours a day in the diamond and gold mines for minimal compensation and little food. Child laborers extracted, transported, and cleaned the minerals. They operated in extreme conditions, lacked protective gear, did not have access to water or electricity, and faced a constant threat of disease. Many children did not attend school and could not contact their parents, which may indicate forced labor.

Many parents sent their children to live with relatives or Quranic teachers while the children attended school. Host families often required such children to perform domestic or agricultural labor, or to sell water or shine shoes on the streets. Some children were subjected to forced begging.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law includes dispositions against sexual harassment and discrimination based on race, color, national origin, citizenship, social origin, age, language, or HIV-positive status or other communicable disease status. The government took no steps to prevent discrimination in employment and occupation. Penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes.

Discrimination in employment occurred. Although the law requires equal pay for equal work, women received lower pay for similar work, and there were legal restrictions on women’s employment in some occupations (see section 6). Few persons with disabilities had access to work in the formal sector, although some worked in small family businesses; many survived by begging on the streets.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Mali

Executive Summary

Mali had a constitutional democratic system that was upended in an August 2020 military coup d’etat. The country last held presidential elections in 2018, re-electing Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in elections that met minimum acceptable standards. Following the August 2020 coup, a brief period of military rule was followed by a civilian-led transition government in September 2020. On May 24, the transition government was itself overthrown by the military. On June 7, Assimi Goita, one of the August 2020 coup leaders and the former transition vice president, was sworn in as transition president. Repeatedly delayed parliamentary elections were held in March and April of 2020, followed by manipulation of results by the Constitutional Court. Parliament was dissolved after August 2020 and replaced by an unelected National Transition Council.

The National Police report to the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection and have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in urban areas. The National Gendarmerie has responsibility in rural areas, including a specialized border security unit. The country’s defense and security forces consist of the Malian Armed Forces, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard, which all fall administratively under the Ministry of Defense. Operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection. The National Guard and the army occasionally performed law enforcement duties in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The country’s intelligence service has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general, who reports directly to the president. It usually detains persons only in terrorism and national security cases. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over civilian and military security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by both government and nonstate actors; forced disappearance by government forces; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in a conflict, including unlawful and widespread civilian harm by government forces and nonstate armed groups, as well as unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nonstate armed groups; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child, early, and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, and other harmful practices; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting national and ethnic minority groups; existence and use of de facto laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

With occasional notable exceptions, the government made little effort to investigate, prosecute, or punish government officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. The government did, however, make efforts to address corruption. Impunity for serious crimes committed in the country’s northern and central regions continued with few exceptions, in view of the government’s lack of control of 80 percent of the national territory. Cases related to massacres, forced disappearances, or other serious human rights abuses rarely moved beyond an investigative phase.

Despite signing the 2015 Algiers Accord for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali (Algiers Accord), signatory armed groups committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Ethnic militias, formed to defend one ethnic group from other ethnic groups or other armed groups, committed serious human rights abuses, including summary executions, the destruction of homes and food stores, and the burning of entire villages. Terrorist groups kidnapped and killed civilians, including humanitarian workers, and military and peacekeeping forces. Investigations and prosecutions were rare because most abuses occurred in areas that the government did not control.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see also section 1.g.). The gendarmerie is responsible for conducting initial investigations into security forces. Cases are then transferred to the Ministry of Justice for investigations into alleged police violence or to the Ministry of Defense’s military tribunal for investigations into alleged military abuses. Depending on the infraction and the capacity of the military tribunal, some cases related to military abuses may be processed by the Ministry of Justice.

In reports dated March 26, June 1, and October 1, the UN secretary-general documented that as of August 26, a total of 871 attacks against civilians resulted in the death of 484 civilians, 385 injuries, and 383 abductions. The reports also mentioned 1,556 human rights abuses, including 65 extrajudicial killings, 73 cases of torture, and 444 abductions and or involuntary or enforced disappearances. For example, the March 26 report stated that on March 18, members of the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) summarily executed two men, injured four other men, and mistreated at least 30 persons in Boni in the Douentza area.

Attacks by extremist groups and criminal elements occurred in the northern regions, in the central part of the country, and in the west. Extremist groups frequently employed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to target civilians as well as government and international security forces. IEDs were also used repeatedly to target important infrastructure, including major national roads, cutting off communities from humanitarian assistance, important trade routes, and security forces. On February 10, unidentified armed individuals used IEDs to attack a temporary base of the United Nation’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The attack seriously injured several peacekeepers. On May 31, an IED boobytrap exploded, killing at least five persons in the village of Petaka in the Douentza area. On August 15, a FAMa vehicle hit an IED in the Menaka Region, killing three FAMa soldiers.

Terrorist groups, signatory and nonsignatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord, and ethnic militias committed numerous arbitrary killings related to the internal conflict. According to the UN secretary-general’s March 26, June 1, and October 1 reports to the UN Security Council, terrorist elements were allegedly responsible for 675 human rights abuses, including killings. Signatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord, including the armed group Platform of Movements (Platform) and the armed group Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), were allegedly responsible for at least 76 human rights abuses, including killings, while nonsignatory armed groups were allegedly responsible for at least 356 human rights abuses, including killings.

On March 30, MINUSMA’s Human Rights and Protection Division (HRPD) released a report on the findings of the human rights investigation into a January 3 air strike in Bounti by French forces that killed at least 22 persons, including 19 civilians. At least eight other persons were injured by the air strike. In a March 30 communique, the French Ministry of Armed Forces expressed reservations about the methodology used by the United Nations, stated that the report was based on “unverifiable local testimonies” and “unsubstantiated hypotheses,” and maintained that the strike had targeted a terrorist group.

Following an April 2 terrorist attack against the MINUSMA base in Aguelhok, killing four peacekeepers and injuring at least 34, peacekeeping forces allegedly killed three persons in Aguelhok that same day. The local population protested, claiming the victims were civilians and demanding MINUSMA relocate its base and clarify the circumstances of the killings. MINUSMA’s HRPD noted in its August 30 report that the circumstances of the killings remained unclear.

The UN secretary-general reports also alleged that on April 27, Nigerien armed forces summarily executed at least 19 civilian men during a cross-border operation in Mali’s Menaka Region.

On July 21, a unit of the anticriminality brigade of the National Police allegedly shot and killed a boy age 17, Abdoulaye Keita, in Bamako. The incident prompted protests in the Lafiabougou neighborhood and led to the arrest of six police officers for homicide. At the end of the year, the Commune IV Tribunal of High Instance in Bamako was investigating these alleged crimes.

On September 3, authorities indicted and arrested Oumar Samake, commander of the Special Antiterrorist Force, on charges of murder and assault and battery in connection with the repression of social unrest by security forces in July 2020. After police officers protested the arrest and stormed a prison where Samake had previously been held, Samake was released. On September 6, following several meetings among Samake, police union leaders, the director general of police, and the minister of security, Samake voluntarily surrendered to the gendarmerie in Bamako. He remained in custody as of November.

According to Human Rights Watch, between October 1 and 5, members of the security forces, later identified as FAMa, arrested at least 34 men in and around the town of Sofara in Mopti Region, allegedly in response to an uptick in attacks by terrorist groups, notably an October 1 attack in nearby Marebougou. Three of the arrested men were found dead a few miles from the Sofara military camp on or around October 11, according to local witnesses. In an October 13 communique, FAMa stated that 22 “presumed terrorists” had been transferred from FAMa custody to the gendarmerie for investigation (see also sections 1.b. and 1.c.).

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of forced disappearances believed to have been carried out by extremist groups and, in some instances, by the defense and security forces (MDSF) in the central and northern regions of the country. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that the MDSF were responsible for 29 forced disappearances between January and June.

Human rights observers reported they were unable to verify the whereabouts of dozens of prisoners purportedly detained in connection with the northern conflict. The limited capacity of the Penitentiary Administration to keep accurate records made it difficult to locate individuals within the country’s penal system. Human rights organizations estimated that the General Directorate for State Security (DGSE), the intelligence agency, held at least 60 unacknowledged detainees, but these organizations noted they did not have access to the DGSE’s facilities to verify the estimates. COVID-19 pandemic restrictions prevented many organizations from visiting prisons. Despite being denied access to DGSE facilities, the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) reported improved access to detention centers and sensitive detainees.

As of mid-November, the whereabouts of seven of the individuals arrested in October by FAMa in Sofara (see also section 1.a.) remained unknown.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but reports indicated that FAMa soldiers employed these tactics against individuals with suspected links to extremist groups, including groups affiliated with Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) (see also section 1.g.). The UN secretary-general’s March 26, June 1, and October 1 reports noted 73 instances of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment committed by the MDSF, signatory armed groups, militias, violent extremists, or unidentified armed actors during the first six months of the year.

In response to a video showing mistreatment of a suspect by four uniformed men, an October 13 communique from FAMa related to October arrests in Sofara (see also section 1.a.) pledged to investigate the alleged mistreatment, noting that FAMa had imposed disciplinary actions on the officers involved and that legal proceedings pertaining to their cases were pending with the gendarmerie.

Impunity was a significant problem in the defense and security forces, including FAMa, according to allegations from Amnesty International, MINUSMA’s HRPD, and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Ministry of Defense reportedly ordered investigations into several of the allegations made against FAMa, but the government provided limited information regarding the scope, progress, or findings of these investigations. The lack of transparency in the investigative process, the extended length of time required to order and complete an investigation, the absence of security force prosecutions related to human rights abuses, and limited visibility of outcomes of the few cases carried to trial all contributed to impunity within the defense and security forces. Human rights organizations maintained that insufficient resources, insecurity, and a lack of political will were the largest obstacles to fighting impunity.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and inadequate medical care caused prison conditions to be harsh and life-threatening.

Physical Conditions: As of November Bamako Central Prison held approximately 2,920 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 400. There was also significant overcrowding at other prisons. Detainees were separated by age (adults or minors), gender, and offense type (terrorist or criminal). Detention conditions were better in Bamako’s women’s prison than in prisons for men.

By law authorities may hold arrested individuals for up to 72 hours in police stations, where there were no separate holding areas for women and children. Prison authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. As of November authorities held 200 individuals arrested on charges related to terrorism in the higher security division of Bamako Central Prison and in Koulikoro. The combination of the general security situation, population growth, and overloaded, inefficient courts worsened already poor prison conditions by increasing the number of pretrial detainees and preventing the release of prisoners who completed their sentences. Gendarmerie and police detention centers were at maximum capacity at year’s end.

As of November the prison administration reported that 17 prisoners and detainees, including three inmates detained on terrorism charges, died in custody due to heart attacks and stress. The CNDH, an independent entity that received administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice, attributed the deaths to unhealthy prison conditions. Authorities had a limited ability to control prisons, including prisoner-on-prisoner violence.

Prison food was insufficient in both quality and quantity, and prison medical facilities were inadequate. Lack of sanitation continued to pose the most significant threat to prisoners’ health. Buckets were used as toilets. Not all prisoners had access to potable water.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen. The CNDH is charged with visiting prisons and ensuring acceptable conditions. The law allows the CNDH to visit prisons without seeking prior permission from prison authorities, although its last visit to a military detention center occurred in 2012 despite several subsequent requests to visit. The government’s Penitentiary Administration also investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints, either directly through the CNDH or through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic, to judicial authorities to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Prisoners also made verbal complaints to the CNDH during prison inspections regarding their detention conditions.

Detainees were generally allowed to observe their religious practices and had reasonable access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by human rights monitors and organizations. The government required NGOs and other monitors to submit a request to the prison director, who then forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice. The Malian Association for Human Rights visited prisons in Kati, where a military detention center was located. Human rights observers with MINUSMA and the International Committee of the Red Cross regularly visited detention centers holding CMA and Platform members. International human rights and humanitarian organizations had access to most of these centers but not to detainees held in facilities operated by the DGSE.

Improvements: The government took steps to improve staff training and physical security measures. A nine-billion African Financial Community (CFA) franc ($16.4 million) prison construction project in Kenieroba, 30 miles south of Bamako, continued; the prison was partially operational. Although much of the structure was complete, the facility lacked adequate water, electricity, furnishings, and equipment. The prison was designed to hold 2,500 inmates and to meet international standards; as of September it held approximately 400 inmates.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law generally prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Nevertheless, government security forces arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained numerous individuals. Platform, CMA, and terrorist armed groups unlawfully detained individuals in connection with the continued conflict in the northern and central regions (see also section 1.g.).

The law allows detainees to challenge the legal basis or the arbitrary nature of their detention in court. Individuals are generally released promptly if their detention is determined to have been arbitrary, but the law does not provide for compensation from or recourse against the government.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires judicial warrants for arrest. It also requires police to charge suspects or release them within 48 hours of arrest. Although police usually secured warrants based on sufficient evidence and through issuance by a duly authorized official, these procedures were not always followed. The law provides for the transfer of detainees from police stations to the prosecutor’s office within 72 hours of arrest, but authorities sometimes held detainees longer in police stations. Lack of resources to conduct transfers was often cited as a contributing factor. Detainees have a limited right to bail, but authorities often granted conditional release for minor crimes and civil matters. Authorities occasionally released defendants on their own recognizance.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer of their choice or, if they cannot afford one, to a state-provided lawyer. Detainees are typically granted prompt access to their lawyers. Nevertheless, a shortage of private attorneys – particularly outside Bamako and Mopti – often prevented access to legal representation.

In many cases gendarmes detained suspects on DGSE orders and then transferred them for questioning to the DGSE, which generally held suspects for hours or days. Due to the country’s size, long travel times, poor road conditions, and inadequate personnel, however, the transfer process itself sometimes took more than a week, during which security services did not inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities did not provide released detainees with transport back to the location of their arrest, trips that often required several days of travel.

Arbitrary Arrest: Human rights organizations reported widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention by transition government security forces, armed groups, and terrorist groups. Detentions often occurred in the wake of attacks by bandits or terrorists and were targeted against members of the ethnic group suspected of carrying out the attacks.

Between September and late October, the DGSE arrested and detained six individuals (Colonel-Major Kassoum Goita, former deputy director of the DGSE; Moustapha Diakite, police commissioner and chief of the Second District of Police in the Kayes Region; FAMa officer Abdoulaye Ballo; Kalilou Doumbia, former secretary general of the presidency during the tenure of former transition president Bah N’Daw; marabout (Quranic teacher) Issa Samake; and businessman Sandi Ahmed Saloum). All were accused of plotting against the transition government. On November 5, the prosecutor of the Commune VI Tribunal of High Instance charged them with “criminal conspiracy and attempted assault and conspiracy against the government.”

According to MINUSMA, because the CMA gradually replaced the national government as a de facto authority in the north of the country, the CMA had illegally detained and pardoned individuals being held at the Kidal remand center.

Pretrial Detention: There are three categories of chargeable offenses or crimes: contraventions, misdemeanors, and felonies. The law provides for trials to occur within prescribed periods of time which vary according to possible sentences for the offense charged.

For contraventions, akin to minor misdemeanors, with a sentencing exposure of one to 10 days or a fine, there is no pretrial detention since no investigation period is necessary. For serious misdemeanors where sentencing exposure for conviction is less than two years’ incarceration, detention is limited to six months, which may be renewed once for a total legal pretrial detention period of one year. For minor felonies with a sentencing exposure ranging from two to five years’ incarceration, or serious felonies with potential sentences ranging from five years to life in prison (or the death penalty), a defendant may be detained for a year, renewable twice, for a total legal pretrial detention period of three years.

Despite these legal restrictions, pretrial detention beyond legal limits remained a problem. Judicial inefficiency, the large number of detainees, corruption, and staff shortages contributed to excessive pretrial detention. Individuals sometimes remained in prison for several years before their cases came to trial. As of November approximately 92 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair trial, but the executive branch exerted influence over the judicial system. Corruption and limited resources affected the fairness of trials. Bribery and influence-peddling were widespread in the courts, according to domestic human rights groups. There were problems enforcing court orders. In the northern and central regions, due to insecurity, judges were sometimes absent from their assigned areas for months at a time. Village chiefs and justices of the peace appointed by the government decided most disputes in rural areas. Justices of the peace had investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial functions. These traditional systems did not provide the same rights as civil and criminal courts.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally tried to enforce this right. Inadequate staffing, lack of logistical support (such as translators), poor infrastructure (insufficient number of court buildings), undigitized records and case management systems, security concerns, and political pressure sometimes interfered with or hampered trial processes. Proceedings often were delayed, and some defendants waited years for their trials to begin, in many cases beyond legal pretrial detention limits. The law presumes that defendants are innocent until declared guilty by a judge. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials generally were public, except in cases involving minors and sensitive family matters, where courtrooms were closed to protect the interests of victims or other vulnerable parties.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, or to have one provided at public expense for felony cases and cases involving minors. When a court declares a defendant indigent, it provides an attorney at public expense and the court waives all fees. Administrative backlogs and an insufficient number of private attorneys, particularly in rural areas, often prevented prompt access. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to access government-held evidence, to confront witnesses, and to present their own witnesses and evidence. The government generally respected these rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt. They may appeal decisions to the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Local human rights organizations considered the arrest and detention of Kassoum Goita and Kalilou Doumbia (see also section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest) to be politically motivated. As of November there were an estimated two political prisoners in the country. Medical treatment for political prisoners was sometimes delayed or denied. Human rights and humanitarian organizations had inconsistent access to political prisoners relative to other detainees.

Following the May 24 consolidation of military power, authorities arrested then transition president Bah N’Daw and then prime minister Moctar Ouane and detained them on a military base. Although N’Daw and Ouane were released from detention on May 27, they were subsequently placed under house arrest. On July 1, the CNDH reported it was denied access to N’Daw and Ouane during their detention under house arrest. On August 27, the transition government released N’Daw and Ouane from house arrest.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. They may appeal their cases to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In cases of hereditary slavery, there were reports that civil court orders were sometimes difficult to enforce.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The military and several armed groups committed serious human rights abuses in the northern and central parts of the country. These armed groups included former separatist forces such as the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, High Council for the Unity of Azawad, and the Arab Movement of Azawad; northern militias aligned with the government, such as the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad and the Imghad Tuareg and Allies Self-Defense Group (GATIA); and terrorist and extremist organizations such as ISIS in the Greater Sahara, JNIM, Macina Liberation Front, and al-Mourabitoun. Most human rights abuses committed by the military appeared to target Fulani, Tuareg, and Arab individuals and were believed to be either retaliation for attacks attributed to armed groups associated with those ethnicities or the result of increased counterterrorism operations.

The government failed to pursue and investigate human rights abuses in the north, which was widely controlled by the CMA. Despite international assistance with investigating some human rights cases in the central region, no cases there were prosecuted.

Killings: The military, former rebel groups, northern militias whose interests aligned with the government, and terrorist organizations unlawfully killed persons throughout the country, especially in the central and, to a lesser extent, northern regions. Terrorist groups and unidentified individuals or groups carried out many attacks resulting in the deaths of members of the security force, members of signatory armed groups, UN peacekeepers, and civilians.

Ethnic Fulani in the central Mopti and Segou Regions reported abuses by government security forces. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that on January 11, three civilians were killed by FAMa in Hombori, not far from a FAMa military base. The HRPD also reported that on January 15, five civilians from the Fulani ethnic group, including an employee of the international NGO Doctors Without Borders who was abducted in the Douentza area on January 10, were found dead near the town of Wami, not far from the Hombori FAMa military base. The HRPD further reported at least 20 civilians were killed and 18 wounded by the MDSF during military operations conducted between April and June.

According to the June report of the UN secretary-general, on March 18, the country’s armed forces unlawfully executed two individuals, injured four persons, and mistreated at least 30 others in Boni near Douentza, following the detonation of an IED in the area that injured soldiers. The UN secretary-general’s report stated as of June there were 303 conflict-related civilian deaths, including 145 from January to March and 158 from April to June, a decrease from the casualties registered during the same period in 2020. The report also stated that most conflict-related civilian deaths occurred in Mopti Region, Bandiagara, Douentza, and Segou Region.

On August 8, at least 42 civilians were killed in the villages of Ouatagouna, Karou, and Dirga in the Ansongo Circle, Gao Region, by unidentified armed individuals.

Abductions: Jihadist groups; armed groups associated with the CMA alliance; Platform-associated militias, such as GATIA; and ethnic self-defense militia groups reportedly held hostages. In the central region, the ethnic self-defense militia Dan Na Ambassagou (DNA) carried out dozens of abductions of civilians from Dogon villages that did not pay the money that DNA requested in lieu of the forced conscription of the villagers. On April 8, a French journalist, Olivier Dubois, was abducted in Gao. JNIM claimed responsibility for the abduction. Dubois remained in captivity as of November.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Human rights NGOs reported instances of conflict-related physical abuse, torture, and punishment perpetrated by the MDSF, armed groups, ethnic self-defense groups, and terrorist organizations.

Child Soldiers: The transition government’s National Directorate for the Protection of Children and Families reported that it had identified 30 cases of child soldiers during the year.

There were no known cases of FAMa using child soldiers during the year. On August 18, the militia group GATIA issued a statement expressing its commitment against use of children in armed conflict. On August 26, Platform, the armed group to which GATIA belongs, signed a UN action plan designed to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

According to two reports of the UN secretary-general to the UN Security Council covering the first nine months of the year, the United Nations documented 275 cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups. According to those reports, 199 of the children were released to civilian child-protection organizations following UN intervention. The reports stated the government inappropriately detained some of these children, and that the government held some children comingled with adults in military detention centers. At the end of November, approximately 15 children remained in detention for association with armed groups. According to MINUSMA, four boys were detained between July and September for association with armed groups; however, they were released to child protection civilian partners after one to two days. Since January UNICEF assisted 256 children who were released from armed groups.

The HRPD reported exploitation of children in the gold mines controlled by the CMA in Kidal and that within the framework of a CMA operation to strengthen security in Kidal, children were used to manage checkpoints.

The government reported no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of corrupt and complicit officials or traffickers for child-soldier offenses during the year.

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government occasionally restricted this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restrictions. In December 2020 the transition government declared a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic; the state of emergency was not renewed as of June 26. According to a letter sent from the Ministry of Territorial Administration to regional and local authorities, the state of emergency granted authorities the power to take “all necessary measures” to control the press, social media, and other media, including radio and television broadcasts. There were no reports, however, that authorities used emergency measures to control the press and media.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: There was generally good public access to private radio stations and newspapers.

Financial considerations skewed press coverage. Most media outlets had limited resources. Journalists’ salaries were extremely low, and many outlets could not pay the transportation costs for their journalists to attend media events. Journalists often asked event organizers to pay their transportation costs, and the terms “transportation money” and “per diem” were euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better-financed organizations often receiving more favorable press coverage.

Violence and Harassment: The media environment in Bamako and the rest of the south was relatively open, although there were sporadic reports of threats against journalists. Reporting on the situation in the north remained dangerous due to the presence of active armed groups (see also section 1.g., Disappearances, case of Olivier Dubois).

There were no known restrictions of online media during the year, but journalists or radio announcers were arrested in relation to their work. For example on April 29, independent journalist Malick Konate and radio announcer Issa Kaba were arrested by police in Bamako following publication of their articles denouncing an electricity shortage. They were not formally charged and were released from police custody on April 30.

In July the NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that authorities arrested former DGSE head Moussa Diwara for the 2016 abduction, illegal detention, and abuse of journalist Birama Toure.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law imposes fines and prison sentences for conviction of defamation.

On May 17, the former head of the Land and Real Estate Sales Agency, Mamadou Tieni Konate, and a radio announcer, Kassim Traore of Radio Kledu, were charged with defamation by the Bamako Commune II Tribunal for claiming Baba Maiga, a local businessman, was involved in corruption. They were convicted and in August they were each sentenced to six months imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 CFA francs ($270).

National Security: The law criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. In December 2020 five prominent figures, including popular radio presenter Ras Bath, were arrested for allegedly conspiring to destabilize the transition government. The public prosecutor’s office subsequently announced that those five individuals and a sixth (Boubou Cisse, former president Keita’s prime minister) were under investigation for “conspiracy against the government, criminal association, and insulting the head of state.” The prosecutor accused Bath of instigating public opinion against the transition government through radio broadcasts where Bath criticized transition authorities. In March the Appeals Court of Bamako ordered the dismissal of charges against the defendants, and the Supreme Court confirmed the dismissal on April 19.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this freedom.  For example, on July 16, the government refused to grant authorization to teachers’ unions to hold demonstrations.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association, but because the government considered the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community as immoral, freedom of association for members of the LGBTQI+ community remained problematic.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

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

In-country Movement: While in-country movement was not formally restricted, the military and some militias established checkpoints, ostensibly to maintain security. The unstable security situation, armed groups’ deliberate targeting of infrastructure such as bridges, and embargos by armed groups on cities such as Farabougou and Dinangourou also limited freedom of movement. The inhabitants of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, and parts of Mopti feared leaving the cities for security reasons, including the threat from IEDs (see also section 1.g., Conflict-related Abuses). MINUSMA and NGOs complained they were often hindered from conducting patrols or carrying out humanitarian missions due to impromptu checkpoints by various militias and armed groups such as DNA and the CMA.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Insecurity, banditry, ethnic conflict, and intercommunal violence in the north and central parts of the country forced many persons to flee their homes, sometimes seeking refuge outside the country. Regional insecurity, particularly in neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso, led to the return of Malian refugees. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 401,736 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country as of September 30. Approximately 115,000 IDPs were registered in the previous 12 months. According to the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, children constituted approximately 60 percent of IDPs in the country.

The Ministry of Health and Social Development registered IDPs, and the government assisted IDPs. IDPs generally lived with relatives, friends, or in rented accommodations. Most IDPs resided in urban areas and had access to food, water, and other forms of assistance. As many as one-half of all displaced families lacked the official identity documents needed to facilitate access to public services including schools, although identification was not required for humanitarian assistance. Aid groups provided humanitarian assistance to IDPs residing throughout the country, as access permitted.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian assistance, including some protection services, to refugees, returning refugees, and asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. Insecurity affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

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. A national committee in charge of refugees operated with assistance from UNHCR. UNHCR reported 47,884 refugees and asylum seekers as of August 31, most of whom arrived from neighboring Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso. UNHCR also reported 606,617 IDP returnees and 83,712 refugee returnees to the country as of September 30. This significant increase in IDP returnees and the steady increase in refugee flows strained already scarce resources dedicated to protecting and caring for refugees. Approximately 15,000 refugees registered in the country were of Afro-Mauritanian origin.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Refugees and migrants regularly transited through contested territory where there was often little government control or oversight. During September UNHCR recorded 83 incidents of physical violence towards refugees and migrants by armed groups and border authorities.

Durable Solutions: The government offered naturalization to Mauritanian refugees. During the year the government supported the voluntary repatriation of 57 Ivorian refugees to Cote d’Ivoire. The worsening security situation in the country hindered consideration of resettlement of refugees in the country.

Temporary Protection: The government’s National Directorate for Social Development was responsible for providing temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The National Commission for Refugees adjudicated refugee and asylum claims and provided temporary protection, pending a decision on whether to grant asylum.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, and citizens in the past exercised that right, but with some difficulty. The country had a military coup d’etat in August 2020, followed by a civilian-led transition government in September 2020 that was itself overthrown by the military on May 24. A new civilian-led transition government was subsequently formed; it announced plans to hold elections by February 27, 2022.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Originally scheduled for October 2018, legislative elections were held in March 2020. In April 2020 runoff elections took place. Restricted freedom of movement, logistical challenges, allegations of voter intimidation, election tampering, and financial limitations prevented many opposition candidates from campaigning in much of the central and northern parts of the country. In the months following the legislative elections, the constitutional court vacated key election results, especially in Bamako District, in favor of the then ruling party. The court’s action led to widespread civil unrest and efforts by ECOWAS to resolve the ensuing constitutional crisis.

In August 2020 military officers overthrew the elected government in a coup d’etat. The National Assembly was dissolved by then president Keita following the coup. ECOWAS swiftly imposed sanctions on the country, initially demanding an immediate return to constitutional order and eventually agreeing to an 18-month civilian transition government. In September 2020 a former minister of defense, retired colonel major Bah N’Daw, was sworn in as president of a transition government, and coup leader Colonel Assimi Goita was sworn in as transition government vice president. Later in September 2020, N’Daw named former minister of foreign affairs Moctar Ouane as prime minister of the transition government. In December 2020, 121 persons were nominated and subsequently confirmed to the National Transition Council (CNT), which played the role of the transition legislature. Goita selected the CNT’s members, the plurality of whom hailed from the MDSF.

On May 24, N’Daw and Ouane were arrested by the military, placed in detention for three days, and then placed under house arrest. On June 7, Goita became the new transition president. On June 11, a new government cabinet was formed with Choguel Kokalla Maiga as prime minister. On August 27, the transition government released N’Daw and Ouane from house arrest.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural or religious factors, however, sometimes limited women’s political participation in formal and informal roles due to a perception that it was taboo or improper to have women in such roles. The law requires that at least 30 percent of the slots on party election lists be reserved for female candidates and that 30 percent of high-level government appointees be women. Six of the 25 ministers and delegate ministers of the transition government were women.

Compliance with the law mandating female candidate participation was nearly achieved for the March and April 2020 legislative elections, with 41 seats of the 147-member National Assembly going to women, representing 28 percent of the National Assembly. The National Assembly was dissolved following the August 2020 coup.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption in all sectors of the administration was widespread. Authorities did not hold police accountable for corruption. Officials, police, and gendarmes frequently extorted bribes.

In June the general auditor released reports on government and public institution waste, fraud, and abuse. The management of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Project was investigated from February 18 to June 25 for financial verification and conformity. The investigation revealed irregularities of more than five billion CFA francs ($9.1 million). On August 26, former prime minister (2017-19) Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga and the former economy and finance minister (2013-15) Bouare Fily Sissoko, were arrested after being charged by the Supreme Court with forgery and falsification of records, misappropriation of public funds, corruption, abuse of influence, and favoritism. On September 21, four military officers were arrested and charged with misappropriation of public funds of the Ministry of Defense.

On November 15, the Appeals Court of Bamako began the second session of a Court of Assizes focusing on corruption cases. On November 17, the court heard the case of Salia Diarra, the mayor of Baguineda in the Koulikoro Region, charged with misuse of public funds totaling nearly 530 million CFA francs ($964,000). On November 19, Diarra was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. On November 22, the court heard the case of former president of the Chamber of Agriculture Bakary Togola, arrested in 2019 and charged with misuse of public funds and embezzlement totaling 9.5 billion CFA francs ($17.3 million). On November 29, Togola was acquitted of all charges.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. According to human rights organizations, government and military officials were generally not transparent, cooperative, or responsive to calls for investigations and prosecutions of allegations of human rights abuses by the MDSF.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH was an independent institution that received administrative and budgetary assistance from the Ministry of Justice. The government provided the CNDH with office space and staff. The CNDH’s membership included civil society representatives. The CNDH issued statements on several cases of human rights abuses, including the January 3 French forces’ airstrike in Bounti and the house arrest of former transition officials.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission was created in 2014 to accept evidence, hold hearings, and recommend transitional justice measures for crimes and human rights abuses stemming from the 2012 crisis when rebel and terrorist groups invaded the country and began attacking military bases and government entities. In the commission’s third public hearing in April, 14 victims testified on cases of forced disappearances. According to the UN secretary-general’s October report to the UN Security Council, as of September 6, the commission had heard testimony from 22,507 persons, up from 19,198 persons at the end of 2020.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and men, with a penalty of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. Rape was a widespread problem. Authorities prosecuted only a small percentage of rape cases. Survivors seldom reported rapes due to societal pressure, particularly because attackers were frequently close relatives, and due to fear of retaliation. No law explicitly prohibits spousal rape, but law enforcement officials stated that criminal laws against rape could apply to spousal rape. Police and judicial authorities investigated rape cases but were also willing to stop pursuing cases if parties privately reached an agreement prior to trial. This promoted an environment where survivors might be pressured by family to accept monetary compensation instead of seeking justice through the legal system.

In the June 1 report of the UN secretary-general to the UN Security Council on the situation in the country, MINUSMA documented at least two cases of conflict-related sexual violence. According to the report, the cases included the gang rape of a woman by unidentified armed individuals in the city of Menaka on March 27 and the mid-March gang rape of a Fulani woman. The latter was allegedly committed by members of the Dozo ethnic group in Niono, Segou Region.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, was prevalent. A 2012-13 gender assessment found a vast majority of women in the country suffered from domestic violence. The assessment concluded that 76 percent of women believed it was acceptable for a man to beat a woman for burning food, arguing, going out without telling the man, being negligent with children, or refusing to have sexual intercourse. The 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey concluded that 79 percent of women and 47 percent of men believed this behavior was justified. The survey found 49 percent of women experienced spousal violence (emotional, physical, or sexual), 43 percent of women ages 15 to 49 experienced physical violence, and one in every eight women experienced sexual violence. Of women who experienced domestic violence, 68 percent never sought help or told anyone.

Spousal abuse is a crime, but the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. According to human rights organizations, most cases went unreported because of cultural taboos and a lack of understanding regarding legal recourse. Conviction of assault is punishable by prison terms of one to five years and substantial fines. The sentence may be increased up to 10 years’ imprisonment if the assault is found to be premeditated. Police were often reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence. Many women were reluctant to file complaints against their husbands due to financial dependence concerns, or to avoid social stigma, retaliation, or ostracism. The Planning and Statistics Unit in the Ministry of Justice, established to track prosecutions, did not produce reliable statistics.

The United Nations reported an increase in conflict-related sexual violence attributable to extremist armed elements and signatory armed groups in the northern and central parts of the country. UNHCR and NGOs serving refugees and asylum seekers reported rising incidences of gender-based violence against refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs, attributed to the deterioration of the protective environment for women and girls. Of 3,744 cases of gender-based violence against IDPs reported between January and June, more than half were rapes and physical assaults that took place while women carried out daily activities such as collecting water or firewood and traveling locally. UNHCR reported 196 cases of gender-based violence in the refugee population as of August 31. UNICEF reported that it provided more than 108,000 women and children with access to services related to the mitigation of, prevention of, or intervention in cases of gender-based violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is legal in the country and, except in certain northern areas, all religious and ethnic groups practiced it widely, particularly in rural areas. Although FGM/C is legal, authorities prohibited the practice in government-funded health centers.

Parents generally had FGM/C performed on girls between ages six months and nine years. According to the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey, 89 percent of women ages 15 to 49 were circumcised, but this varied widely by geographic location, with rates ranging from 2 percent in Gao to more than 95 percent in Koulikoro and Sikasso. Approximately 76 percent of circumcisions occurred prior to age five, and circumcision was almost always performed by a traditional practitioner (99 percent). According to the survey, approximately 70 percent of men and 69 percent of women believed excision was required by religion and three-quarters of the population, regardless of gender, believed the practice should continue. Government information campaigns regarding the dangers of FGM/C reached citizens throughout the country where security allowed, and human rights organizations reported decreased incidence of FGM/C among children of educated parents.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, which routinely occurred, including in schools, without any government efforts to prevent it.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

While no government policy adversely affected access to contraception, women and girls faced cultural and social barriers such as needing the consent of their husbands and influential members of the household to manage their reproductive health.

Distant health-care facilities and flooded roadways during rainy season negatively affected the ability of those living in rural areas to easily access adequate health care.

In accessing information regarding their reproductive health, women with disabilities faced distinct barriers, such as physical barriers to entry into health-care facilities, communication barriers, discriminatory and disrespectful treatment from health-care providers, and the lack of reproductive health information in accessible formats.

While government sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, were available to survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, the services were rarely specialized and survivors often sought care from general health facilities. Through Spotlight, an initiative supported by the European Union, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and UN Women, the country provided specialized assistance to survivors of gender-based violence, including family planning counseling, at the referral-health-center level via 10 “one-stop centers” in Bamako, Gao, Mopti, Kayes, and Koulikoro.

The maternal mortality rate was estimated at 325 per 100,000 live births, and 67 percent of women delivered in health centers assisted by skilled health workers. The key drivers of maternal mortality included poor access to and use of quality prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care services. The primary direct obstetric causes of maternal mortality were hemorrhage (37 percent), eclampsia (11 percent), and sepsis (11 percent). FGM/C was a significant public-health problem that contributed to maternal morbidity. According to UNFPA, the adolescent birth rate was 164 births per 1,000 girls.

There are no legal barriers related to menstruation or access to menstruation hygiene. Sociocultural barriers, however, impeded equal participation of women and girls in society in certain instances. Educational materials on menstrual hygiene management were scarce, and teachers often lacked knowledge on puberty and menstrual hygiene management. In a 2020 NGO study, more than a quarter of girls reported developing a genital condition related to improper menstrual hygiene, and 14 percent of girls missed classes due to pain during a menstrual cycle. According to the same study, more than half of girls attending school had problems concentrating in class due to menstrual periods, and menstruation caused three-quarters of girls to miss school due to the need to go home to change menstrual products to avoid embarrassment.

No law impedes adolescent girls’ access to education due to pregnancy or motherhood status. The law allows for the deferment, upon request, of education in secondary school for pregnant students. Many girls and their families were not informed of their rights and social stigma still prevented pregnant girls from attending school. Additionally, a lack of childcare was a barrier to girls’ access to education due to motherhood status.

Discrimination: The law does not provide the same legal status and rights for women as for men, particularly concerning divorce and inheritance. Women are legally obligated to obey their husbands and are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. There were legal restrictions on women holding employment in the same occupations, tasks, and industries as men. Women had very limited access to legal services due to their lack of education, lack of information, and the prohibitive cost. Despite the discriminatory nature of the law, the government effectively enforced it. The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children, and the Family is responsible for providing for the legal rights of women.

While the law provides for equal property rights, traditional practices and ignorance of the law prevented women from taking full advantage of their rights. The marriage contract must specify if the couple wishes to share estate rights. If marriage certificates of Muslim couples do not specify the type of marriage, judges presume the marriage to be polygynous.

According to MINUSMA, extremist groups were responsible for intimidating and threatening women into “modesty” by forcing women in the regions of Timbuktu and Mopti to wear a veil. Reportedly, in the Dianke area of Timbuktu, several unveiled women were threatened, while in Binedama in the Mopti Region, all women were forced to wear a veil.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Societal discrimination continued against Black Tuaregs, often referred to as Bellah. Some Tuareg groups deprived Black Tuaregs of basic civil liberties due to hereditary slavery-like practices and hereditary servitude relationships.

There were continued reports of slaveholders kidnapping the children of their Bellah slaves. Slaveholders considered slaves and their children as property and reportedly took children of slaves to raise them elsewhere without permission from their parents. The antislavery organization Temedt organized workshops in Kayes Region to convince communities to abandon the practice of keeping slaves.

On August 18, at the end of a regional forum to strengthen social cohesion organized by the Kayes governor’s office and international NGO Mercy Corps, the regional government in Kayes signed a draft charter to end hereditary slavery. This draft charter was supported by NGOs and community leaders as well as the regional government.

On November 4, an investigating judge in Kayes Region ordered the arrest of 36 proslavery suspects for their alleged role in violent attacks against antislavery activists and victims of hereditary slavery in the Bafoulabe Circle that killed one person and injured 12 others on September 28 and 29. The suspects were transferred from a prison in Bafoulabe to Kayes for additional oversight. On November 11, Minister of Justice Mamoudou Kassogue instructed all public prosecutors to prosecute hereditary slavery to the fullest extent of the law.

Members of the Fulani (or Peul) ethnic group frequently clashed with members of the Dogon and, separately, with Bambara communities regarding alleged Fulani support of armed Islamists linked to al-Qa’ida. According to Human Rights Watch, this tension caused a rise in ethnic “self-defense groups” and drove thousands from their homes, diminished livelihoods, and induced widespread hunger. Groups representing these communities were reportedly involved in several communal attacks, and retaliatory attacks were common.

In the central region, violence across community lines escalated. Clashes between the Dogon and Fulani communities were exacerbated by the presence of extremist groups and resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths (see also section 1.g., Killings).

Intercommunal violence related to disputes regarding transhumant (seasonal migration) cattle grazing occurred among Dogon, Bambara, and Fulani communities in the Mopti Region, between Bambara and Fulani in the Segou Region, and among various Tuareg and Arab groups in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal.

Children

According to 2019 estimates, more than one-half of the population was younger than age 18.

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from either parent or by birth within the country. The law stipulates registration within 30 days of birth. A fine may be levied for registration occurring after the 30-day period. Girls were less likely to be registered.

The government did not register all births immediately, particularly in rural areas. Some organizations stated there were insufficient registration sites to accommodate all villages, further exacerbating the low registration rates in certain areas. According to a 2019 UNICEF report, 13 percent of children younger than five were not registered, while 22 percent of registered children did not receive birth certificates. Lack or inaccessibility of services, lack of birth registration books, and parental ignorance regarding the importance of birth certificates were among the challenges for birth registration.

According to UNICEF, the government registered nearly 90 percent of births in 2019. The government conducted an administrative census in 2014 that collected biometric data and assigned a unique identifying number to every citizen. The process allowed the registration of children not registered at birth, although the number of birth certificates assigned was unknown.

Several local NGOs worked with foreign partners to register children at birth and to educate parents regarding the benefits of registration, which was critical for access to education and government services. Birth registration also played an essential role in protecting children, as well as facilitating their release and reintegration if recruited by armed groups or detained by authorities.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free universal education, and the law provides for compulsory schooling of children ages six through 15. Nevertheless, many children did not attend school. Parents often had to pay their children’s school fees as well as provide their uniforms and supplies. Other factors affecting school enrollment included long distances to the nearest school, lack of transportation, shortages of teachers, a protracted teachers’ strike during the year, shortages of instructional materials, and lack of school feeding programs. Girls’ enrollment was lower than that of boys at all levels due to poverty, a cultural preference to educate boys, the early marriage of girls, sexual harassment of girls, lack of access to menstruation hygiene, and pregnancy and motherhood status (see also section 6, Reproductive Rights). According to the 2018 Mali Demographic and Health Survey, two-thirds of women ages 15 to 49 had no education, compared with 53 percent of men in the same age range, and only 28 percent of women were literate, compared with 47 percent of men. According to a UNICEF report in May, more than two million children ages five to 17 did not go to school and more than half of persons ages 15 to 24 were illiterate. An October UN secretary-general’s report to the UN Security Council estimated that more than 478,000 children in the country were affected by school closures during the year.

As of June 1, the conflict had caused the closure of at least 1,595 schools in the north and central regions of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou. School closures began in June in the southern regions of Koulikoro and Sikasso. Many schools were damaged or destroyed because rebels sometimes used them as bases of operations. The United Nations reported government security forces sometimes used school compounds as bases. Most closed schools were in Mopti Region.

Child Abuse: Comprehensive government statistics on child abuse did not exist, but the problem was widespread. Most child abuse cases went unreported. The United Nations documented in the March, June, and October UN secretary-general’s reports 636 cases of grave abuses (defined as recruitment or use of children as soldiers, killing and maiming of children, rape and other grave sexual violence, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, or denial of humanitarian access to children) against 467 children between January and September. Police and the social services department in the Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action investigated and intervened in some reported cases of child abuse or neglect, but the government provided few services for such children (see also section 1.g., Child Soldiers).

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age to marry without parental consent is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. A girl age 15 may marry with parental consent and with approval of a civil judge. Authorities did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in rural areas, and child, early, and forced marriage was widespread throughout the country. Girls were also forced into marriage with combatants and leaders of armed groups. According to 2017 data from UNICEF, 54 percent of women were married by age 18 and 16 percent before age 15.

In some regions, especially Kayes and Koulikoro, girls married as young as age 10. It was common practice for a girl age 14 to marry a man twice her age. According to local human rights organizations, officials frequently accepted false birth certificates or other documents claiming girls younger than age 15 were old enough to marry. NGOs implemented awareness campaigns aimed at abating child, early, and forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation. The country has a statutory rape law that defines 18 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The law, which was inconsistent with the legal minimum marriage age of 15 for girls, was not enforced. Sexual exploitation of children occurred.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The government criminalized the act of infanticide. The August Court of Assizes session heard two cases of infanticide.

Displaced Children: According to an August UNICEF report, children made up approximately 64 percent of IDPs in the country.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were fewer than 50 Jews in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities could not access education, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. Persons with disabilities had access to basic health care. The government did not regularly provide official information and communications in accessible formats. The constitution and law do not specifically protect the rights of persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in access to employment, education, air travel and other transportation, health care, the judicial system, and state services. No law mandates accessibility to public buildings. Many individuals with disabilities relied on begging.

Persons with mental disabilities faced social stigmatization in public institutions.

The Ministry of Solidarity and Humanitarian Action was responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ministry sponsored activities to promote income-earning opportunities for persons with disabilities. The ministry also worked with NGOs such as the Malian Federation of Associations for Handicapped Persons, which provided basic services. Although the government was responsible for eight schools countrywide for deaf persons, it provided almost no resources or other support for deaf persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS occurred. HIV positivity was often locally perceived to be synonymous with LGBTQI+ identity. The government implemented campaigns to increase awareness of the condition and reduce discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS.

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

According to local NGOs, LGBTQI+ individuals experienced physical, psychological, and sexual violence, which society viewed as “corrective” punishment. Police frequently refused to intervene when such violence occurred.

The law prohibits conduct pertaining to “attacks on morality,” thereby criminalizing, on a de facto basis, consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. The government actively enforced this law. Anecdotal evidence suggested LGBTQI+ individuals were at risk of violence if their status were known; their full protection remained in question.

In October the prosecutor of the Bamako Commune IV Tribunal of High Instance charged three women on the grounds of incitement to debauchery (under the same section of the law pertaining to “attacks on morality”) and violation of private communications. Two of the women were imprisoned before being granted provisional release on November 2. The third woman was charged with the same alleged crimes but fled to Cote d’Ivoire. In the same case, another woman was prosecuted but not detained. Media reports characterized the women as part of “a network of lesbians.” During the year there were no other examples of the use of this law criminalizing, on a de facto basis, consensual same-sex conduct between adults.

Most LGBTQI+ individuals isolated themselves and kept their sexual orientation or gender identity hidden. An NGO reported that LGBTQI+ individuals frequently dropped out of school, left their places of employment, and did not seek medical treatment to hide their sexual identity and avoid social stigmatization.

No laws specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Some NGOs provided medical and support services focusing specifically on men having sex with men or HIV prevention.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for workers, except members of the armed forces, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. There are restrictions which limit these rights, such as the requirement that workers must be employed in the relevant profession before they may form a union. A worker may remain a member of a trade union only for a year after leaving the relevant function or profession. Members responsible for the administration or management of a union must reside in the country and be free of any legal convictions that could suspend their right to vote in national elections. The process to register a union was cumbersome and time-consuming, and the government sometimes denied trade union registration on arbitrary or ambiguous grounds.

The minister of labor and public service has the sole authority to approve sectoral collective agreements and to decide which unions participate in sectoral collective bargaining. Employers have the discretion to refuse to bargain with representatives of trade unions. The law allows all types of strikes and prohibits retribution against strikers. Unions must exhaust the mandatory conciliation and arbitration procedures set out in the labor code before they may strike legally. Regulations require civil servants and workers in state-owned enterprises to give two weeks’ notice of a planned strike and to enter into mediation and negotiations with the employer and a third party, usually the Ministry of Labor and Public Service.

The law does not allow workers in “essential services” sectors to strike, and the minister of labor may order compulsory arbitration for such workers. The law defines “essential services” as services whose interruption would endanger the lives, personal safety, or health of persons; affect the normal operation of the national economy; or affect a vital industrial sector. For example, the law requires striking police to maintain a minimum presence in headquarters and on the street. The government, however, does not have a list of essential services.

Participation in an illegal strike is punishable by harsh penalties, including dismissal and loss of other rights except wages and leave. Civil servants exercised the right to strike. In May the large National Workers’ Union of Mali went on strike, demanding the equalization of salaries and benefits of all public workers. Teachers’ unions also went on strike in August, demanding a salary increase and calling for a boycott of end-of-year exams if the transition government failed to accede to union demands for better working and living conditions.

Although the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, the government did not effectively enforce relevant laws. Penalties for violating antiunion discrimination provisions were commensurate with penalties for comparable offenses. The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not have adequate resources to conduct inspections or perform mediation. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Authorities did not consistently respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, although workers generally exercised these rights. The government did not always respect unions’ right to conduct their activities without interference.

Although unions and worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties, they were closely aligned with various political parties or coalitions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but forced labor occurred. The law prohibits the contractual use of persons without their consent, and conviction includes fines and imprisonment with compulsory hard labor. Penalties may be doubled if a person younger than 15 is involved. Penalties were seldom enforced and therefore were not sufficient to deter these crimes. Penalties were commensurate with penalties for comparable crimes. According to NGOs, the judiciary was reluctant to act in forced labor cases. The government made little effort to prevent or eliminate forced labor, although it did allocate funding to its antitrafficking action plan. Government officials reportedly interfered in hereditary slavery cases, threatening and intimidating individuals in an effort to have charges dismissed. Prosecutors charged most hereditary slavery cases as misdemeanor offenses under discrimination, destruction of crops, or burglary statutes, which prescribed significantly lower penalties than those available under the trafficking law.

Most adult forced labor occurred in the agricultural sector, especially rice, cotton, dry cereal, and corn cultivation, and in artisanal gold mining, domestic services, and in other sectors of the informal economy. Forced child labor occurred in the same sectors. Corrupt religious teachers compelled boys into begging and other types of forced labor or service (see also section 7.c.).

The salt mines of Taoudeni in the north subjected men and boys, primarily of Songhai ethnicity, to the longstanding practice of debt bondage. Employers subjected many Black Tuaregs to forced labor and hereditary slavery, particularly in the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal (see also section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits most of the worst forms of child labor and prescribes a minimum age of employment of 15, limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions for children. No child may work more than eight hours per day under any circumstance. Girls between ages six and 18 may not work more than six hours per day. The government’s Hazardous Occupations List prohibits certain activities by children younger than 18. This law applies to all children, including those who work in the informal economy and those who are self-employed. Gaps exist in the legal framework to protect children adequately from the worst forms of child labor, and the law does not meet international standards regarding the prohibition of forced labor, the prohibition against using children in illicit activities, and the prohibition of military recruitment by nonstate armed groups.

Responsibility for enforcing child labor laws was shared among the Ministry for the Promotion of Children and Women, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Security, the National Social Security Institute through its health service, and the Ministry of Labor and Public Service. Interagency coordinating mechanisms were ineffective, inefficient, and cumbersome. Authorities often ignored child labor laws or did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were not adequate. The penalties for violations were commensurate with penalties for similar crimes but were not applied in all sectors.

Child labor, particularly in its worst forms, was a serious problem. Child labor was concentrated in the agricultural sector, especially rice and cotton production, but it was also found in domestic services, gold mining, forced begging organized by Quranic schools, and other sectors of the informal economy. Insecurity forced many schools to close, particularly in the regions of Sikasso and Mopti. Children not attending school were more vulnerable to labor exploitation, and children orphaned or separated from their families sometimes became victims of forced labor.

Approximately 25 percent of children between ages five and 14 were economically active, and employers subjected more than 40 percent of economically active children to the worst forms of child labor. Many children were engaged in hazardous activities in agriculture. Armed groups used child soldiers in the northern and central parts of the country (see also section 1.g.). Child trafficking occurred. Employers used children, especially girls, for forced domestic labor. Employers forced Black Tuareg children to work as domestic and agricultural laborers.

Traffickers targeted unaccompanied children and poor families, promising work opportunities, then selling them as laborers for farm and domestic work. Traffickers transported children across the border to Cote d’Ivoire to work on cocoa farms. In October 2020 the University of Chicago released a report showing West African child labor in cocoa production had increased 13 percent during a 10-year period, coinciding with a 62 percent growth in cocoa production. Although child labor increased, the report indicated that some interventions against hazardous child labor may have worked because there was no corresponding increase in hazardous child labor incidents in cocoa production due to using sharp tools, undertaking land clearing, working long hours or at night, and exposure to dangerous chemicals.

Child labor in artisanal gold mining was a serious problem. According to a March 2020 report from the Ministry of Environment on a 2019 action plan to reduce and eliminate the use of mercury in the artisanal mining sector, approximately 45,700 children worked under extremely harsh and hazardous conditions in artisanal gold mines and represented 9 percent of the artisanal mining workforce. Many of these children worked with mercury, a toxic substance used in separating gold from its ore.

An unknown number of primary-school-age boys throughout the country, most of them younger than 10, attended part-time Quranic schools funded by students and their parents. Some marabouts often forced their garibouts or talibes (students) to beg for money on the streets or to work as laborers in the agricultural sector. Any money earned was usually returned to their teachers. In some cases talibes worked as domestic workers without receiving compensation.

Prosecutors in Bamako had several pending investigations of potential abuse charges against marabouts who used children solely for economic purposes.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, disability, social status, HIV-positive status, and skin color. The government’s Labor Inspection Agency is responsible for investigating and preventing discrimination based on race, gender, religion, political opinion, nationality, or ethnicity, but the law was not effectively enforced.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, sexual orientation, disability, and ethnicity (see also section 6). The government was the major formal-sector employer and ostensibly paid women the same as men for similar work, but differences in job descriptions permitted pay inequality. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in dangerous occupations and tasks, and in industries such as mining, construction, and factories. Women are legally prohibited from working on the creation or sale of writing and images considered contrary to good morals. There were cases where employers from southern ethnic groups discriminated against individuals from northern ethnic groups.

Gender-based violence and sexual harassment were prevalent in the workplace. Research published by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Institute found that gender-based violence was an everyday occurrence for women and girls. The pandemic situation and growing insecurity increased the intensity and frequency of violent acts against women. The institute reported that husbands, co-wives, customary chiefs, religious leaders, and female employers of domestic workers were the main perpetrators of violence against girls and women in the central region.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage of 28,465 CFA francs per month ($52) in all sectors of the formal economy. The minimum wage is above the World Bank’s poverty line for the country. Minimum wage requirements did not apply to workers in the informal and subsistence sectors, which included most workers. In addition to setting a minimum wage, the government mandates that employers have a mandatory benefit package including social security and health care.

The legal workweek is 40 hours, except in the agricultural sector, where the legal workweek ranges from 42 to 48 hours, depending on the season. The law requires a weekly 24-hour rest period, and employers must pay workers overtime for additional hours. The law limits overtime to eight hours per week. The law applies to all workers, including migrants and domestics, but it was routinely ignored in the informal sector, which included an estimated 93 percent of workers, according to a 2018 International Labor Organization (ILO) report.

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service conducted few surprise or complaint-based inspections. Inspections conducted in August and October of oil companies Total, Oryx, and Vivo in Bamako found that salaries were below the legal minimum wage and that some workers were not registered with the national social security service. Following the inspections, the companies began implementing minimum wage policies and registered workers to receive social security benefits.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law provides for a broad range of occupational safety and health standards in the workplace. Workers have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Workers also have the right to request an investigation by the Social Security Department, which is responsible for recommending remedial action when necessary. Authorities, however, did not effectively protect employees in these situations. Workers often were reluctant to report violations of occupational safety regulations due to fear of losing their jobs.

The Ministry of Labor and Public Service did not effectively enforce these standards, did not employ enough labor inspectors, and the few inspectors it did employ lacked resources to conduct field investigations. Many employers did not comply with regulations regarding wages, hours, and social security benefits. The ministry conducted few inspections in the three northern regions where the government has suspended services since the 2012 occupation of those regions by armed groups and other organizations. No government agencies provided information on violations or penalties. Labor inspectors made unannounced visits and inspections to worksites mostly after labor unions filed complaints.

Labor organizations reported employers used cyanide and mercury in gold mines, posing a public-health risk to workers exposed to them. Inspectors lacked the resources to assemble credible data on dangerous workplaces.

The most recent report from the ILO and the World Health Organization listed 2,915 annual work-related deaths in 2016. The Ministry of Labor reported two work-related deaths during the year.

Informal Sector: Almost 93 percent of workers worked in the informal sector, according to the ILO. Informal workers were employed in almost every sector of the economy, from agriculture (growing cotton) and transportation (including taxi drivers) to financial services (door-to-door banking, informal saving associations, and money lenders). Informal workers lost more income than formal-sector workers during the COVID-19 pandemic because informal workers were overrepresented in high-risk sectors of the economy such as restaurants, markets, hotels, beauty salons, tailoring, transport, and private education, according to a study released by United Nations University.

The worst working conditions existed in private businesses and informal sectors of the economy. In small, family-based agricultural endeavors, children worked for little or no remuneration. Employers paid some domestic workers as little as 7,500 CFA francs ($14) per month, which violated minimum wage laws; employers claimed that food and shelter provided to domestic workers was part of their compensation. Violations of overtime laws were common for children working in cities and those working in artisanal gold mines or rice and cotton fields.

Workers in the informal sector are not protected by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws and inspections. Workers in the informal economy benefitted from government health insurance if they contributed periodically from their salaries; however, there was no insurance against unemployment or retirement, or other social protections for workers in the informal economy.

Mauritania

Executive Summary

Mauritania is an Islamic Republic with a president as head of state and a constitution grounded in French civil law and sharia. The National Assembly exercises legislative functions but was weak relative to the executive. Voters elect the president, deputies to the National Assembly, municipal mayors, and regional councilors. In 2019 voters elected former minister of defense Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani as president with 52 percent of the vote. The election marked the first democratic transition of power between two elected presidents since the country’s independence in 1960. United Nations and African Union observers considered the election to be relatively free and fair. In the 2018 parliamentary elections, the Union for the Republic, the political party founded by former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, won 95 of 157 seats in the National Assembly.

The National Police, which is responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order in urban areas, reports to the Ministry of Interior. The National Guard performs a limited police function in keeping with its peacetime role as the guarantor of physical security at government facilities, including prisons. The National Guard reports to the Ministry of the Interior. Regional authorities may call upon the National Guard to restore civil order during riots and other large-scale disturbances. The gendarmerie, a specialized paramilitary organization under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for maintaining civil order around metropolitan areas and providing law enforcement services in rural areas. The Ministry of Interior’s General Group for Road Safety maintains security on roads and operates checkpoints throughout the country. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminal blasphemy laws; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons, including continued existence of slavery and slavery-related practices; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of some of the worst forms of child labor.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, and punish officials who committed abuses and prosecuted some abusers, but some officials frequently acted with impunity. Civil society organizations objected to the scant number of indictments handed down by authorities. The government also continued to take steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials involved in corruption.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted in 2020 of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Both cases involved transactional sex with an adult, and as of October, investigations into both remained pending.

The National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture (MNP) is an independent governmental body charged with investigating credible allegations of torture. The MNP has not launched any investigations since its inception in 2016.

Complaints filed with the courts for allegations of torture were submitted to police for investigation. The government continued to deny the existence of “unofficial” detention centers, even though nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations pointed out their continued usage. Neither the MNP nor the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) directly addressed the existence of these locations.

Impunity was a serious problem in the security forces, particularly among the General Group for Road Safety, the National Guard, and the National Police. Politicization, widespread corruption, and ethnic tensions between the Beydane-controlled security forces and Haratine (“Black Moor” Arab slave descendants) and sub-Saharan communities were primary factors contributing to impunity. Cases of abuse were routinely handled within the security forces, but authorities took steps to refer cases to the criminal courts. For example, on February 11, authorities sentenced a police commissioner to five years in prison after he assaulted a judge.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained life threatening due to persistent food shortages, overcrowding, violence, inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of adequate medical care, and indefinite pretrial detention.

Physical Conditions: Prisons remained overcrowded. For example, the Directorate of Penal Affairs and Prison Administration (DAPAP) maintained that the country’s largest prison, Dar Naim, held approximately three times the number of inmates compared to its capacity. Authorities frequently grouped pretrial detainees with convicts who presented a danger to other prisoners. Male guards frequently monitored female inmates, a practice criticized by the CNDH.

On July 9, DAPAP announced the death of Ahmed Abdel-Rahman, a prisoner at the Aleg national prison. Although DAPAP attributed Abdel-Rahman’s death to natural causes, they noted that his frequent prison transfers may have had adverse effects on his health. DAPAP’s announcement came after prisoners in Aleg rioted to protest Abdel-Rahman’s death. There was no further investigation into the incident at year’s end.

There were two separate prisons for women, one in the capital Nouakchott and the other in the country’s second-largest city, Nouadhibou. Almost all supervisors of female inmates were male because the all-male National Guard was assigned the task of supervising prisons nationwide. The few female supervisors in prisons were not members of the National Guard, but rather members of civil protection teams (firefighters). Detention conditions for women were generally better than those for men. According to prison officials, the women’s prison in Nouakchott was less crowded than those for men.

Prison authorities held a mixed population of prisoners in prison facilities, regardless of their specific sentences. Drugs were often trafficked among prisoners, which the government acknowledged was caused by lax security procedures surrounding visitors. Prisoners sometimes rebelled and disobeyed authorities, in some cases to protest violence and inhuman treatment meted out by jailers. Poor security conditions and the indiscriminate grouping of inmates meant that prisoners often lived with the threat of violence, while some had to bribe other prisoners to avoid brutalization and harassment. Salafist prisoners jailed on terrorism-related charges alleged mistreatment at the Central Civil Prison of Nouakchott. Local NGOs reported that inmates partially managed one wing of the Dar Naim prison by themselves from January to July, a practice not uncommon in the region but with which DAPAP expressed unease. Narcotics, weapons, and cash reportedly circulated freely because staff could not effectively screen goods that entered the prison and could not safely enter some areas.

Human rights groups continued to deplore the lack of adequate sanitation and medical facilities in prisons nationwide, particularly in the Dar Naim men’s prison and at the Central Civil Prison of Nouakchott. The government allocated a budget of 50 ouguiyas ($1.35) a day for each prisoner for food and medical supplies, an amount observers deemed inadequate. Ventilation, lighting, and potable water in many cells and holding areas ranged from inadequate to nonexistent.

The Ministry of Justice operated a youth detention center in Nouakchott. The detention facility held 70 minors during the year. An Italian NGO continued to operate a separate detention center for minors, the only prison facility that came close to meeting international standards. These facilities operated in addition to youth detention centers located in police stations throughout the country.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners to file allegations of abuse with the CNDH and the MNP. Government regulations also allowed inmates to elect one representative for dealing with the prison administration, and prisoners occasionally made use of this opportunity. The government acknowledged allegations of inhuman conditions but rarely took corrective action. Authorities routinely transferred prisoners to prisons in the interior of the country to alleviate the overcrowding in Nouakchott and to allow for renovation projects in the Nouakchott prisons; however, these transfers often meant that prisoners were separated from their families and legal representatives and increased the average length of time prisoners were held in pretrial detention. There were no reports of concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding prisoners’ access to visitors or religious observance.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison and detention center visits by NGOs, diplomats, and international human rights observers. The CNDH carried out unannounced visits to these detention centers. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had unlimited access to prisons and conducted multiple visits, including visits to prisoners suspected of terrorist activities.

Improvements: International and local partners, including the ICRC, the Noura Foundation, and Caritas-Mauritania, contributed to the improvement of general hygiene and living conditions in the detention centers and prisons with the support of the government. The ICRC helped to improve infrastructure, hygiene, and health conditions in detention centers and rehabilitated the sanitation network of Dar Naim Prison. The ICRC also continued implementing a program to combat malnutrition in prisons, including the main prisons in Aleg and Dar Naim, by rehabilitating kitchen facilities and periodically providing medicines and other hygiene products.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not always observe these prohibitions and rights. A detainee has the legal right to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention under two circumstances: first, if a person remains arrested after the end of his or her legal period of detention; and second, if the detainee disagrees with his or her sentence, in which case he or she has the right to file an appeal before a court of appeal or the Supreme Court.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Authorities generally did not inform detainees of the accusations against them until the conclusion of the police investigation. With few exceptions, individuals could not be detained for more than 48 hours without evidence, and prosecutors may extend the period for an additional 48 hours in some cases. Because nonbusiness days are not counted within this 48-hour maximum period, police sometimes arrested individuals on a Wednesday or Thursday to keep them in custody for a full week. If a person is detained on terrorism charges, that individual can be held in custody for as long as 45 days. The law requires that a suspect be brought before a judicial officer and charged with a crime within 48 hours; however, authorities generally did not respect this right.

During its Universal Periodic Review of the country on January 19, the UN Human Rights Committee noted that police records of detainees in police stations were poorly maintained. Only after the prosecutor submits charges does a suspect have the right to contact an attorney. By law indigent defendants are entitled to an attorney at state expense, but legal representation was frequently either unavailable or attorneys did not speak the defendant’s language (and were not always provided interpretation services). On January 6, the government completed staffing for legal aid offices throughout the country. These legal aid offices are provided for by law, and they helped victims and defendants to access the legal resources available to them. Judges sometimes arbitrarily refused requests for bail or set inordinately high bail amounts.

Arbitrary Arrest: During the year authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained protesters, human rights activists, and journalists (see section 2.a.). On April 25, the Nouadhibou police detained four young adults (one woman and three men) who had participated in a social media program called al-Matrush. The content featured the young woman talking about gender equality, female sexuality, and premarital sex. Authorities released the four on April 28, after police allegedly made them promise to stop the program and confiscated their cell phones.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. According to DAPAP the average length for pretrial detention was six to 12 months, and approximately 40 percent of the prison population were pretrial detainees. Members of the security forces sometimes arrested demonstrators and held them longer than the legal maximum time, often due to a lack of capacity to process cases in a timely manner, and in some cases to obtain confessions. By law authorities may not hold a minor for more than six months while the detainee awaits trial. Nevertheless, there were reports of many individuals, including minors, remaining in pretrial detention for excessively long periods due to judicial inefficiency, although the length of pretrial detention rarely, if ever, equaled or exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. During the COVID-19 pandemic, most jurisdictions stopped processing cases in January and from July through September, and both the rate and length of pretrial detention increased.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government mostly respected judicial independence and impartiality. Nevertheless, the executive branch continued to exercise significant influence over the judiciary through its ability to appoint and remove judges. Authorities did not always respect or enforce court orders. Observers generally perceived judges to be corrupt, unskilled, and subject to social and tribal pressures.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The law requires that authorities inform defendants of the charges against them within 48 hours, but the government did not normally respect this provision. Defendants often did not learn of the charges against them until the police investigation was complete. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial. All defendants, including the indigent, have the right to legal counsel, but authorities generally did not respect this right. Likewise, defendants may confront or question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence in both civil and criminal cases.

Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants did not always have access to free interpretation if they could not speak or understand the language of the court. Defendants enjoy the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right of appeal. These rights extend to minorities and men but do not extend equally to women. Sharia is, in part, the basis for trial procedures. Courts generally did not treat women equally with men during these proceedings.

A special court for minors hears cases involving persons younger than age 18. Children who appeared before the court received more lenient sentences than adults, and extenuating circumstances received greater consideration. The minimum age for a child to stand trial is 12 years.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Complaints of human rights abuses fall within the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court. Individuals or organizations may appeal decisions to international and regional courts. NGO representatives stated they collaborated with the Administrative Court but added it was not impartial. There are administrative remedies through the social chambers in both the court of appeals and the Supreme Court.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, although there were numerous reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. For example, authorities often entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a.