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Brazil

Executive Summary

Brazil is a constitutional, multiparty republic governed by a democratically elected government. In 2018 voters chose the president, the vice president, and the bicameral national legislature in elections that international observers reported were free and fair.

The three national police forces – the Federal Police, Federal Highway Police, and Federal Railway Police – have domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (Ministry of Justice). There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, charged with maintaining law and order in the states and the Federal District. Despite the name, military police forces report to the Ministry of Justice, not the Ministry of Defense. The armed forces also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over 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 by police; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; violence against journalists; widespread acts of corruption by officials; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of racial minorities, human rights and environmental activists, members of racial and indigenous groups and other traditional populations, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.

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

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 state-level civil and military police committed unlawful killings. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Brazilian Public Security Forum reported that police killed 6,416 persons nationwide in 2020, compared with 6,351 persons in 2019 – only a 0.3 percent increase but the highest number of deaths ever recorded. During the year 17 of the 26 states saw increases. Experts attributed the growth in police lethality in many communities to a multitude of factors, including worsened economic conditions and high unemployment, declines in mental health, prisoner releases, rises in gun ownership, police forces heavily impacted by COVID-19 illnesses, and an increase in confrontations with organized crime. Data for the first half of the year largely indicated that numbers declined 8 percent in violent deaths in the first six months of the year, compared with the same period in 2020. Those killed included criminal suspects, civilians, and narcotics traffickers who engaged in violence against police. Accordingly, the extent of unlawful police killings was difficult to determine. The Federal Public Ministry and Federal Prosecutor’s Office, as well as state-level public ministries, investigate whether security force killings are justifiable and pursue prosecutions.

According to some civil society organizations, victims of police violence throughout the country were overwhelmingly young Afro-Brazilian men. The Brazilian Public Security Forum reported that almost 79 percent of the persons killed by police in 2020 were Black, compared with 56 percent of the country’s population that is Black.

Notably, in 2020 Rio de Janeiro State experienced a 32 percent decline in killings by police due to a June 2020 Federal Supreme Court (STF) injunction on police operations in Rio de Janeiro’s poorer communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, except in rare cases with preauthorization. Although as of August the injunction remained in effect, Rio de Janeiro saw increases in uses of lethal force by police during the first half of the year compared with 2020. In the city of Rio de Janeiro, most deaths occurred while police were conducting operations against narcotics trafficking gangs wielding military-style weapons in the more than 1,000 informal housing settlements (favelas), where an estimated 1.4 million persons lived. NGOs in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all the victims actually resisted arrest, as police had reported and alleged that police often employed unnecessary force.

According to the Public Institute of Public Security, 804 persons died in Rio de Janeiro State from police interventions in favela communities in the first six months of the year, a 3.3 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020 (778) and a 9 percent decrease compared with 2019 (885). An August study by the Center of Studies on Public Security and Citizenship revealed that Rio de Janeiro’s Civil and Military Police conducted a total of 507 operations in the first six months of the year, a 32 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020.

According to a survey carried out by researchers at Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF), at the request of the news outlet UOL, operations to combat drug trafficking (1,200), disputes between criminal groups (482), and retaliation for killing or attacking security agents (380) were the major motivators of police violence during the last 14 years. A second UFF survey assigned one of five ratings (disastrous, inefficient, slightly efficient, reasonably efficient, or efficient) by considering several factors such as the impacts of operations (e.g., dead, wounded, or imprisoned; the strategic and judicial motivations that justified them; and seizures, whether of weapons, drugs, cargo, or vehicles.) In the survey an “efficient” operation was one that took place through judicial and investigative procedures, complied with search or arrest warrants, resulted in a significant number of seizures (especially of weapons), and did not kill or injure persons. Analysis of the resulting data determined that only 1.7 percent of police operations in the slums of Rio de Janeiro from 2007 to 2020 met the criteria of “efficient,” and an additional 13 percent were rated “reasonably efficient.” Meanwhile, 40 percent were labeled “slightly efficient,” 32 percent were “inefficient,” and 12.5 percent were “disastrous.”

According to media reports and public officials, Rio de Janeiro experienced its deadliest police confrontation in the city’s history during a May 6 operation led by the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police’s Coordinator of Special Assets (CORE) and involving 200 police officers. CORE officers led an action against the criminal organization Comando Vermelho in the Jacarezinho neighborhood in the North Zone of the city when they encountered a blockade and heavy fire from armed groups. The operation resulted in the deaths of 28 individuals, including one police officer. Autopsy reports of the 27 civilians killed indicated that at least four victims were shot in the back at a distance of less than three feet, supporting local residents’ and public officials’ allegations that some of these killings were summary executions by CORE officers. Human rights advocates and some investigators assessed as credible reports that some of the criminal suspects, after being shot by police, were denied lifesaving first aid and medical care – a violation of Civil Police regulations and recognized human rights norms. The state’s Civil Police and Attorney General’s Offices were investigating the case. On October 18, a Rio de Janeiro judge accepted the criminal case against two CORE officers, Douglas de Lucena Peixoto Siquera and Anderson Silveira, for the death of Omar Pereira de Silva, who was already injured when he was killed. The officers were charged with murder and procedural fraud and fraud, respectively, after they allegedly planted weapons at the crime scene. The judge ordered the officers’ removal from CORE operations, prohibited them from carrying out police activities, and ordered that they have no contact with any witness in the case. Finally, the judge instructed that the Civil Police transfer their investigation to the state court.

The number of deaths resulting from military and civil police operations in the state of Sao Paulo from January to June decreased 33 percent, compared with the same period in 2020. According to the Sao Paulo state government, military and civil police reported 345 deaths from January to June – and 514 in the same period in 2020. Security authorities attributed the reduction in lethality in part to the use of bodycams by Military Police officers. This initiative started in the beginning of June when there were no killings reported among the battalions equipped with the technology (a total of 15 battalions of 134 plus three special units).

In March the Sao Paulo Committee for the Prevention of Homicide in Adolescence of the State Legislative Assembly, in partnership with UNICEF, released a report showing that from January 2015 to December 2020, 1,253 children and adolescents (age 19 years or younger) died as a result of police intervention in the State of Sao Paulo. Children and adolescents represented 24 percent of total victims’ deaths from police intervention.

A special report produced in April by the news agency G1 and based on the Monitor of Violence database, a collaboration between G1, the University of Sao Paulo’s Violence Study Nucleus, and the Brazilian Public Security Forum to study all types of violence in in the country, showed a 29 percent increase in the number of killings by Parana state police force operations between 2019 (289) and 2020 (373). Analysis of the first six months of 2021 showed a 14 percent increase, compared with the same period of 2020, with 210 deaths – a state record.

In the state of Santa Catarina, the number of persons killed by police forces increased 9 percent in 2020, compared with 2019, according to the Brazilian Public Security Forum data released in April.

In the state of Bahia, the use of lethal force by police increased by 47 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, but a July study by the Public Security Observatory Network showed a decline in deaths resulting from police intervention during the first five months of 2021. At the time of the study, Bahia counted 29 deaths from police intervention, a 36 percent decrease, compared with the same period in 2020.

In June, Rio de Janeiro’s Attorney General’s Office filed a criminal complaint against 13 police officers from the Battalion to Repress Conflicts (CHOQUE) on charges of altering a crime scene by removing the victims’ bodies. The charges stemmed from the investigation of a 2019 operation against drug trafficking by two military police battalions – the Police Special Operations Battalion and CHOQUE – in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro that resulted in 13 deaths. Military police reported that all the victims were criminals; however, human rights organizations claimed the victims offered no resistance and that many were shot in the back. An investigation by Rio de Janeiro’s military police concluded that evidence was insufficient to prove that any crimes were committed. In November 2019 the Civil Police Homicide Division recommended that the case be closed and that none of the investigated police officers be held accountable for killings. As of August the case remained open, but no suspects had been arrested and no trial date had been set.

In July the Sao Paulo State Military Police command asked for preventive detention of three police officers after images from a security camera contradicted their version of events concerning the death of a driver during an interaction in Sao Paulo. While the officers claimed the man was killed in a confrontation, the footage showed what appeared to be an execution, and the footage suggested police further tampered with the scene and falsely reported the location of the action. The case was pending trial as of October.

In June investigations into the killing of 14-year-old Joao Pedro Matos Pinto led to the indictment of three officers from Rio de Janeiro’s CORE. The teenager was killed in May 2020 after he sought shelter in his home in Rio de Janeiro State’s municipality of Sao Goncalo as a police helicopter circled above his neighborhood of Salgueiro searching for a suspect. According to the autopsy report and witness testimonies, police raided Joao Pedro’s home and shot him in the back dozens of times after authorities said they mistook the teenager for the suspect during the joint operation of the Federal Police and CORE. Two CORE officers were charged with manslaughter without intention to kill, and the third was charged with involuntary manslaughter, because although he fired, he did not strike the victim. As of August the defendants had not been suspended from their regular duties and were awaiting a trial date. In the same neighborhood of Sao Goncalo, on August 20, 17-year-old Joao Vitor Santiago was killed as he returned from a fishing trip with a friend in an alleged exchange of fire between Military Police from the Seventh Military Brigade in São Goncalo and drug dealers during an operation. The Homicide Police Station of Niteroi, Sao Goncalo, and Itaborai was investigating the case.

Regarding the investigation of the June 2020 Rio Grande do Sul State shooting that injured Angolan citizen Gilberto Almeida and killed his friend, Dorildes Laurindo, an internal investigation of the Military Brigade indicted the police officers for military crimes and violations of discipline under the military justice system in August 2020, and the officers were placed on administrative duty. In September 2020 the Public Ministry found no intent of killing by the police officers and transferred the case back to the military court for further investigation of a possible crime under the military justice system. As of May, however, the documentation had not been provided to the military prosecutor responsible for the investigation. The State Military Court cited limited personnel and pandemic-related delays to explain the slow progress.

On October 14, Rio de Janeiro’s Military Court of Justice sentenced eight army soldiers from Deodoro’s (a neighborhood located in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro) First Infantry Motorized Battalion to approximately 30 years in prison for the homicide of Black musician Evaldo Rosa dos Santos and Luciano Macedo, a trash collector, in April 2019. Four other soldiers involved in the operation were acquitted.

Verbal and physical attacks on politicians and candidates, including those by militias and narcotics trafficking criminal organizations, were common. According to a survey by the Center for Security and Citizenship Studies, at least 84 candidates for mayor, deputy mayor, or councilor positions were killed during the 2020 municipal campaigns between January and November 2020. An additional 80 politicians survived attacks with firearms or bladed weapons. Most of these crimes remained unsolved and their motivations unknown.

In the state of Rio de Janeiro, three Duque de Caixas city councilmen were killed in a span of 10 months. As of November 15, investigators had not established that the cases were connected or politically motivated. The killings prompted the installation of security cameras and meetings with the state government to demand the safety of council members and thorough investigations.

In August, President Jair Bolsonaro approved a law to combat political violence against women. The new law defines political violence against women to be any action, conduct, or omission with the purpose of preventing, hindering, or restricting their political rights, not only during elections, but in the exercise of any political or public function.

In July, Rio de Janeiro’s Court of Justice sentenced former military police officer Ronnie Lessa and four other persons to four years in prison for obstructing justice by tossing guns into the ocean, including the suspected murder weapon used in the 2018 killing of gay, Black Rio councilwoman and human rights activist Marielle Franco. On July 10, the lead state investigators of the Marielle Task Force, public prosecutors Simone Sibilio and Leticia Emile, resigned for unconfirmed reasons during a reported dispute over a plea agreement related to the cooperation of a key witness. On July 26, the Rio de Janeiro Attorney General’s Office appointed eight new members to the task force. As of August, Ronnie Lessa and Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, both former military police officers with long-standing ties to the militia group Escritorio do Crime (Crime Bureau), were in a federal prison awaiting a trial date.

The NGO Global Witness reported that 20 social, human rights, and environmental activists were killed in 2020, down from 23 killings in 2019. Despite the risk to activists, the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights’ Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Communicators, and Environmentalists remained underfunded. In 2020 the program, which provided protection to more than 600 individuals under threat, received only 21 percent of its projected budget. Press reports described the decrease as a “dismantling” of the program and said that individuals under the protection of the government had once again began receiving threats.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, but there were reports government officials sometimes employed such practices. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Police personnel often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.

According to the National Council of the Public Ministry, in 2019 there were 2,676 cases of guards and other personnel inflicting bodily harm on prisoners compared with 3,261 cases in 2018.

In June the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) denounced the government for physical, verbal, and psychological aggressions committed against more than 150 adolescents at state-funded Fundacao Casa, a socioeducational center for adolescents in Sao Paulo, between 2015 and 2017. The Sao Paulo Public Defender’s Office made the complaint to the commission because the government “failed to ascertain responsibilities and compensate the victims,” according to a petition sent by the institution to the IACHR. The petition’s documentation, including testimonies and photographs of injuries, narrated recurrent aggressions and torture carried out by employees against the students during the period. The alleged abuses included beatings, intimidation by employees, and isolation without mattresses or personal belongings, with the participation and consent of unit authorities, such as directors and supervisors. The Public Defender’s Office insisted that the remedial actions taken by Fundacao Casa and the state of Sao Paulo, responsible for the guardianship of assisted minors, were not sufficient.

In the city of Rio de Janeiro, six men arrested during a police operation conducted in the Jacarezinho neighborhood on May 6 reported they suffered numerous aggressions and physical assaults following their arrest. The claims included having been tortured, beaten, hit in the head with a rifle, and forced to carry bodies to a police armored vehicle at the Jacarezinho crime scene immediately following the confrontation.

In June a military prosecutor denounced two police officers to the military court in Sao Paulo, Joao Paulo Servato and Ricardo de Morais Lopes, from the 50th Sao Paulo Metropolitan Military Police Battalion, who were filmed in May 2020 holding a Black woman to the ground by stepping on her neck. The woman sustained a fractured leg injury during the incident. The two officers were accused of abuse of authority, aggravated aggression, and ideological falsehood and remained on administrative duties. As of August 1, a trial date had not been set.

On July 29, the Sao Paulo First Criminal Court accepted the case of the Public Prosecutor’s Office against 12 military police officers on charges of intentional homicide of nine young persons during a street music event in the favela of Paraisopolis in 2019.

According to the Military Police Internal Affairs Unit, the inquiry had not been completed in the case of a Rio de Janeiro State military police officer accused of rape in August 2020. As of August the defendant was on administrative duty and awaiting trial.

On June 8, a military court convicted one military police officer of conducting a libidinous act in a military environment and acquitted a second police officer on 2019 charges of rape in Praia Grande, Sao Paulo. Judge Ronaldo Roth of the First Military Audit judged the act was consensual because the victim did not resist. The judge suspended the convicted police officer’s sentence, up to one year in prison. As of September, however, the Public Ministry of Sao Paulo opened an investigation into the friendship between Judge Roth and one of the defendant’s lawyers, Jose Miguel da Silva Junior.

In March 2020 the Military Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation into the 2018 accusations of torture of seven male residents of Rio de Janeiro by federal military officers from Vila Militar’s First Army Division, detained during a 2018 drug-trafficking operation. By March 2020 all seven men had been released after one year and four months in detention. In November 2020 the Military Justice Court in Rio reinstated its ruling to detain the seven men following an appeal by the Military Public Prosecutor’s Office. In response to the claims of torture, the court affirmed there was not sufficient evidence to prove that the military officials had tortured the seven men. According to the Rio de Janeiro Public Defender’s Office, as of October none of the military officers involved in the alleged torture of the seven men had been charged or indicted.

Cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners continued. At the request of the Federal District and Territories Public Prosecutor’s Office, three prison police officers stationed in Brasilia’s Papuda Penitentiary Complex were preventively removed by the Criminal Execution Court on charges of beating two prisoners incarcerated in the Federal District I Prison. The officers also shot detainees inside a cell using a shotgun loaded with rubber bullets. The two events, recorded by security cameras, occurred on April 16. The case was being investigated by the Center for Control and Inspection of the Prison System of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

In July the Military Police carried out Operation Bronze Bull in Belo Horizonte and four other cities to execute 26 search and seizure warrants against 14 police officers to assist in the Public Ministry of Minas Gerais’ investigation into crimes of torture against prisoners at the Nelson Hungary Penitentiary in Minas Gerais in July 2020. The investigation was classified as secret, so few details were publicly available.

The state of Paraiba was ordered to pay 50,000 reais (R$) ($8,950) in compensation for moral damages in the death of an inmate inside the state prison, a victim of violence by other inmates in 2008. The conviction also provided for a monthly pension in the amount of two-thirds of the minimum wage for material damages until the date the deceased would have turned 65 years old and until the date each immediate descendant turned 21.

Impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces at all levels, but especially at the local level, was a problem, and an inefficient judicial process at times delayed justice for perpetrators as well as for victims. Examples of impunity were found in the armed forces and Federal police forces but were most common in the Military Police and Civil Police. Low pay, and the resulting endemic corruption, established an environment where individuals were not consistently held accountable. Furthermore, the overburdened judicial system limited the application of justice and encouraged corruption. The federal and state public ministries, as well as ombudsmen and ethics centers, investigated accusations of impunity. Human rights are included in security forces’ training curricula.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: According to the National Penitentiary Department, as of 2020 there were 213,022 more prisoners than the system had space to hold, causing overcrowding across the country. Although some states were more overburdened than others, during the year nationally the system was 54.9 percent over capacity, a decrease from the 67.5 percent recorded in 2020. The states of Amazonas and Mato Grosso do Sul experienced the worst overcrowding at 196 and 166 percent, respectively. During 2020, 17,141 additional places were added to increase inmate capacity. Much of the overcrowding was due to the imprisonment of pretrial detainees. According to the news portal G1 in January, 217,687 inmates, or 31.9 percent of detainees, were awaiting trial, a small increase from 31.2 percent in 2020.

In July, as a protest against overcrowding in prisons, the Santa Catarina Union of Penitentiary System Public Agents refused to receive new prisoners. For example, the Vale do Itajai Penitentiary complex, which had a designed total capacity for 1,160 inmates, held 1,523 men, and the prison, designed for 696 inmates, held 1,129. Soon afterward, a state court ordered the Prison Administration Secretariat to require the union to receive new prisoners or pay substantial fines.

Reports of abuse by prison guards continued (see Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment above). Pastoral Carceraria, a prison-monitoring NGO connected to the Catholic Church, reported that torture and prison conditions worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic when prisons closed their doors to visitors to curb the spread of the virus. Between March 15 and October 31, 2020, the organization received 90 allegations of torture within the prison system across the country, compared with 53 cases in the same period in 2019. Complaints of physical torture appeared in 53 of the 90 allegations.

General prison conditions were poor. There was a lack of potable water, inadequate nutrition, food contamination, rat and cockroach infestations, damp and dark cells, a lack of clothing and hygiene items, and poor sanitation. Prisoners also complained of poor access to personal care products and clothing. Prisoners made complaints regarding the right to health and failure to provide adequate medical assistance. General poor prison conditions were further stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but some systems attempted to provide extra support. For example, the state government of Minas Gerais hired additional doctors, nurses, and nursing technicians; by May, 237 prison employees and 200 prisoners in the state had died from COVID-19 and 20,000 employees and 57,000 inmates had been infected. These rates were lower than the general population estimates. As of August, Sao Paulo’s penitentiary system, with a population of 205,000, had experienced 78 inmate deaths from COVID-19.

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

Prisons suffered from insufficient staffing and lack of control over inmates. Violence was rampant in prison facilities. According to the National Penitentiary Department, 209 prisoners were killed while in custody in 2020. In addition to poor administration of the prison system, overcrowding, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence. Media reports indicated that incarcerated leaders of major criminal gangs continued to control their expanding transnational criminal enterprises from inside prisons.

Prison riots were common occurrences. On July 2, inmates rioted in the Romeiro Neto penitentiary in Mage, Baixada Fluminense, in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Led by members of a criminal group called Povo de Israel, the inmates set fire to mattresses and vandalized the prison facility, resulting in injuries to five prisoners. The same group instigated a second prison riot the same day in the Nelson Hungria penitentiary in Bangu, in western part of the city of Rio de Janeiro, but no injuries occurred. As of August the motivation for the two prison riots was unknown.

Administration: State-level ombudsman offices; the National Council of Justice; the National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture in the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights; and the National Penitentiary Department in the Ministry of Justice monitored prison and detention center conditions and conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams. The Pastoral Carceraria reported that all religious services remained suspended in the Sao Paulo penitentiary system due to COVID-19 restrictions, which impeded their independent monitoring of sanitary and health conditions and reporting of abuses and physical violence against inmates.

Improvements: Nationally, overcrowding decreased from 68 percent in 2020 to 55 percent, according to the Violence Monitor. Overcrowding declined in 21 states compared with 2020, and 12 states saw decreases two years in a row. Experts suggested that the decrease in the overcrowding rate could be explained by the increase in alternative sentences, noncompliance with prison terms, the increase in open prison sentences, and the opening of new prison spaces.

In July the government of Rio Grande do Sul State established a partnership with the University of Santa Cruz do Sul to offer free distance learning courses to inmates in the Santa Cruz do Sul Regional Prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

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

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

Arbitrary Arrest: On June 9, the Niteroi Court of Justice acquitted Luiz Carlos da Costa Justino of all charges brought against him for a 2017 car theft. In September 2020 civil police officers from the Rio de Janeiro 76th Police Station arrested the adolescent after, according to police, the robbery victim identified Justino from a photograph lineup in the police station. According to media outlets, Justino, who was an adolescent at the time of the robbery, did not have a criminal record and therefore police should not have had access to any photographs of him. Video evidence showed that at the time of the crime, Justino, an Afro-Brazilian musician with the Grota String Orchestra in Niteroi, was performing in an event at a bakery located four miles from the crime scene.

Pretrial Detention: According to the Ministry of Justice’s National Penitentiary Department, 32 percent of prisoners nationwide were in pretrial detention. A study conducted by the National Penitentiary Department in 2018 found more than one-half of pretrial detainees in 17 states had been held in pretrial detention for more than 90 days. The study found that 100 percent of pretrial detainees in the states of Sergipe, 91 percent in Alagoas, 84 percent in Parana, and 74 percent in Amazonas had been held for more than 90 days.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Local NGOs, however, argued that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, prevented fair trials.

Trial Procedures

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

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

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

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

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

Property Seizure and Restitution

Authorities at times evicted persons from their places of residences or seized their property without due process or adequate restitution, although this happened most frequently at the state level and with traditional communities such as quilombolas (maroons). In October the Public Ministry called on a municipal court in Barcarena, Para, to immediately reverse the eviction of a quilombola community from a territory in the municipality as well as moral and material damages and to send the process to the federal courts. The Public Ministry stated the disputed territory, of which the federal state-owned company Development Company of Barcarena claims ownership, is in a recognized quilombola area and was in the process of being titled by the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform.

The government has no laws or mechanisms in place for Holocaust restitution, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported the government had not made progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. The country endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. Persons in the federal government, the Israeli diplomatic mission to Brazil, civil society organizations, and synagogues were unaware of any laws codifying the return of Holocaust-era property to victims. Representatives of the Uniao Brasileiro-Israelita do Bem Estar Social, a nonprofit organization operating in Sao Paulo for more than 95 years, worked with survivors based in the country pursuing claims, but usually those claims were done privately without advocacy or assistance from the government. Representatives of the organization said governmental assistance was primarily of a consular nature, provided to survivors pursuing claims while in Europe.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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.

The press maintained a confrontational relationship with the Bolsonaro administration. The press regularly published highly critical reporting on the government’s actions, and President Bolsonaro and members of his administration frequently criticized the press. According to Reporters Without Borders, President Bolsonaro criticized the press 87 times in the first half of the year, verbally or via social media – a 74 percent increase compared with the second half of 2020. Reporters Without Borders included the president in its 37-member “predators of the press freedom” gallery. The organization described the president’s tactics as “predatory methods” that used insults, humiliation, and vulgar threats against primarily women journalists, political analysts, and media networks. Despite these concerns, in general the press continued to operate freely.

In March media reported that police had subpoenaed more than 200 persons to provide depositions and, in some cases, arrested individuals after criticizing the president (including some who called for his assassination) using the 1983 National Security Law that was enacted during the military dictatorship. In February, STF minister Alexandre de Moraes used the same law to order the arrest of Federal Deputy Daniel Silveira for a video Silveira released defending the closing of the STF and expressing support for Institutional Act Number 5, the harshest instrument of repression during the military dictatorship, which removed mandates of antimilitary parliamentarians and suspended constitutional guarantees that eventually resulted in the institutionalization of torture. In September the president approved with five line-item vetoes a bill revoking the National Security Law and adding a series of crimes against democracy to the penal code – criminalizing attacks on national sovereignty, executing a coup d’etat, and spreading fake news during elections.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes killed or subjected to harassment, physical attacks, and threats as a result of their reporting.

On April 4, a man riding a motorcycle fatally shot radio broadcaster Weverton Rabelo Froes in the Fazenda Guaribagion region of Planaltino, Bahia. On April 9, an unknown individual fatally shot television producer Jose Bonfim Pitangueiras in the Engenho Velho da Federacao district in Salvador, Bahia. As of October the Civil Police were investigating both crimes but had not identified a motive or suspect in either killing.

In August a journalist and a blogger were attacked in separate incidents less than one month apart in the municipality of Mage in Rio de Janeiro’s metropolitan area. In early August unidentified men set fire to blogger Eduardo César’s vehicle. Separately, on August 17, unidentified men opened fire on journalist Vinicius Lourenco’s vehicle. Neither victim was injured. Both were known for having previously exposed problems within the administration of Mage mayor Renato Cozolino.

In October the Public Ministry of Roraima State denounced state deputy Jalser Renier for eight crimes in the kidnapping of journalist Romano dos Anjos in October 2020. Renier, who was president of the Roraima state legislative assembly at the time, was charged as the mastermind of the kidnapping, for attempting to hinder the investigation, and for using his position to threaten the Roraima state governor. Eight additional military police officers and a former employee of the political party were also charged.

In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during mass demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: National laws prohibit politically motivated judicial censorship, but there were reports of judicial censorship. In 2019, drawing on previous court precedent and in coordination with the National Police, the STF began using a law against defaming institutions to investigate cases of individuals or press criticizing the court’s members. These investigations expanded to numerous cases of investigating “fake news,” and on August 4, the STF added President Jair Bolsonaro to its investigation for spreading false statements related to the electoral process and the security of electronic voting machines.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental criminal elements at times subjected journalists to violence due to their professional activities.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

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

Several news media reported a clash between protesters and military police officers during a march against President Jair Bolsonaro’s government in Sao Paulo on July 24. Six demonstrators accused of carrying dangerous objects were temporarily detained and released afterwards. Protesters accused police of using excessive force in a peaceful movement, while police accused them of vandalizing public properties.

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.

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 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 law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. By law refugees are provided official documentation, access to legal protection, and access to public services. The law codifies protections for asylum claimants and provides for a humanitarian visa and residency status that serves as an alternative to refugee claims for some categories of regional migrants, particularly from Venezuela.

As of October there were almost 273,000 Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the country who were highly vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor, many of whom arrived in the northern state of Roraima. The country had already officially recognized more than 61,000 refugees, of whom 48,800 were Venezuelans. The government continued the process of “interiorization” of Venezuelan refugees and asylum seekers, voluntarily relocating them from the border to other states to relieve pressure on the resource-strapped state of Roraima and provide increased opportunities for education and work.

In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government closed its borders, including the border with Venezuela. During the border closure, migrants who arrived irregularly were unable to receive residency paperwork, limiting their ability to access social services and find work. On June 25, the government issued an ordinance permitting Venezuelan nationals to enter Brazil and to regularize their status through applications for asylum and residence permits, including the regularization of status for those who entered irregularly in the prior 15 months. As of October 15, the government had issued 22,033 entry permits pursuant to the ordinance.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: NGOs reported that refugees were susceptible to human trafficking for the purposes of forced prostitution and forced labor.

Employment: The interiorization program provided economic opportunities for voluntarily resettled Venezuelans by placing them in economic hubs in larger cities. As of October more than 60,000 Venezuelans had been relocated to cities away from the border. Resettled Venezuelans seeking employment reported difficulty obtaining Brazilian accreditation for foreign academic degrees and professional licenses, restricting their ability to work. Civil society organizations raised concerns that business closures due to COVID-19 disproportionately affected migrants and refugees, many of whom depended on informal jobs or work in the service sector.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In national elections held in 2018, citizens chose former federal deputy Jair Bolsonaro as president and elected 54 senators and 513 federal deputies to the national legislature and 27 governors and state legislators to state governments. National observers and media considered the elections free and fair. Municipal elections in November 2020 saw record numbers of indigenous and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) candidates run and win positions across the country while women made modest gains.

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

In August 2020 the Superior Electoral Court decided that publicly provided funds for campaign financing and advertising time on radio and television must be divided proportionally between Black and white candidates in elections. The decision, scheduled to take effect in 2022, was made in response to calls from Afro-Brazilian activists.

The law requires parties and coalitions to have a minimum quota of 30 percent women on the list of candidates for congressional representatives (state and national), mayors, and city council members. By law 20 percent of the political television and radio advertising must be used to encourage female participation in politics. Parties that do not comply with this requirement may be found ineligible to contest elections. In the 2018 elections, some parties fielded the minimum number of female candidates but reportedly did not provide sufficient support for them to campaign effectively. In 2018 the Superior Electoral Court ruled parties must provide a minimum of 30 percent of campaign funds to support the election of female candidates. Women remained underrepresented in elected positions, representing only 15 percent of federal deputies and 13 percent of federal senators.

Using data from Electoral Justice, CNN reported that more than 43,400 politicians, approximately 25 percent, changed their “color/race” declaration on candidacy forms in 2020. More than 17,300 candidates changed their declaration from white to Black or brown, while approximately 14,500 changed from Black or brown to white. Political parties were pressured to include more persons of color, including the establishment of a new electoral rule to provide additional funding and awareness to campaigns of Black and brown candidates. The candidates interviewed cited different reasons for their decisions, such as to correct a previous error or to acknowledge a racial identity they now believed they were empowered to recognize.

Observers reported that militias and drug trafficking organizations interfered in electoral processes by using violence and intimidation to “corral” votes, influence candidate lists, and limit rival candidates’ ability to access and campaign in some highly populated neighborhoods. This interference was particularly significant in municipal and state elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: The investigation of the Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal (Operation Carwash or Lava Jato), which began in 2014, officially ended in February. Despite the operation’s continued popularity with the public, the investigating task force was dissolved after widespread concerns regarding the process and fairness of the prosecutions. Some prosecutors were transferred to the organized crime unit of the Federal Public Ministry to continue their work. During its seven years of existence, Operation Carwash was responsible for 295 arrests and 278 convictions and saw R$ 4.3 billion ($769.6 million) in recovered funds returned to the government.

On April 30, a Rio de Janeiro Special Tribunal voted unanimously to impeach Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel for involvement in the embezzlement scheme related to contracts for COVID-19 response, permanently removing him from office and making him ineligible for public office for five years. The impeachment followed an August 2020 decision by STF Minister Benedito Goncalves to remove Witzel from office for an initial period of 180 days on charges of corruption, money laundering, and obstruction of justice related to his role in a criminal organization that oversaw fraudulent expenditures and contracting in the state’s COVID-19 response.

On April 29, police arrested Marcus Vinicius Rebello Gomes, municipal secretary of health in Itatiaia, Rio de Janeiro State, and four other suspects for their participation in a criminal organization that oversaw fraudulent expenditures and contracting in the city’s COVID-19 response. On June 8, the state’s Court of Justice ruled that Itatiaia Mayor Imbere Moreira Alves, his chief of staff, and three municipal secretaries should be removed from office on corruption charges in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic response in the municipality

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: Some local human rights organizations were critical of the Ministry of Human Rights, stating that many positions were either unfilled or filled by individuals who did not support human rights and that the role of civil society in policy discussions had been severely reduced.

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

The government operated several interministerial councils linking civil society to decision makers in the government on a range of human rights topics. Many of their activities were interrupted by the pandemic.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. In addition, the law criminalizes physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women, as well as defamation and damage to property or finances by someone with whom the victim has a marriage, family, or intimate relationship. The law defines femicide as homicide of a woman due to her gender, including but not limited to, homicide that escalated from other forms of domestic violence, discrimination, or contempt for women. The law stipulates a sentence of 12 to 30 years. According to NGOs and official data, there were 1,350 femicides in 2020, compared with 1,326 in 2019. According to the National Council of Justice, the number of new cases involving the killing of a woman rose 39 percent in 2020 to 2,788 cases, and courts imposed sentences in 2,016 cases of femicide in 2020 – a 24 percent decrease from the 2,657 sentences in 2019, due to process difficulties in light of the pandemic. According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, in cases of femicide, the killer was a partner or former partner of the victim 81.5 percent of the time.

The state of Rio de Janeiro had a total of 42 victims of femicide in the first five months of the year according to the Institute of Public Security. The state of Bahia had 64 cases of femicide in the first six months, according to the Bahian Public Security Secretariat. The Espirito Santo Public Security Secretariat recorded 13 victims in the first five months of the year. The state of Minas Gerais recorded 67 victims of femicide from January to June and 70,450 victims of domestic violence during the same period.

On April 2, justice prosecutor Andre Luiz Garcia de Pinho killed his wife, Lorenza Maria Silva de Pinho. In July the Minas Gerais Court of Justice decided that de Pinho would be brought to trial for aggravated homicide. He remained in pretrial detention after a request for habeas corpus was denied.

NGO and public security representatives reported that, culturally, domestic violence was often viewed as a private matter and that survivors and bystanders often did not report cases of violence. On July 14, police arrested Iverson de Souza Araujo (also known as DJ Ivis), in Fortaleza after videos of assaults against his former wife, Pamella Holanda, were posted by her on her social media account. The public release of the video led to widespread public condemnation, and distribution contracts and music collaborations were cancelled.

According to NGOs and public security data, gender-based violence was widespread. According to the 15th Public Safety Yearbook released annually by the Brazilian Public Security Forum, there were 60,460 cases of rape in 2020. Due to underreporting, the actual number of cases was likely much higher. The state of Sao Paulo recorded an average of 34 cases of rape per day in the first quarter of the year, 7 percent higher than the same period of 2020, according to a survey conducted by the NGO Instituto Sou da Paz. Data showed that 75 percent of the victims were girls younger than age 14.

Each state secretariat for public security operated police stations dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. State and local governments also operated reference centers and temporary women’s shelters, and many states maintained domestic violence hotlines. In January, Rio de Janeiro State’s Civil Police announced a new hotline for victims of gender-based violence in an effort to reduce instances of feminicide. During the pandemic the court of justice in the state of Piaui invested in campaigns and online assistance to facilitate access for victims of violence. There were several ways to denounce domestic violence: through the Salve Maria application or calling the Francisca Trindade Center, Maria da Penha Patrol, Esperanca Garcia Institute, Ombudsman of the Public Ministry of Piaui, or Public Defender’s Office. In April in the state of Piaui, requests for protective measures for women victims of domestic violence increased more than 30 percent, compared with the same period in 2020.

During the first quarter of the year, the state of Rio Grande do Sul saw a 375 percent increase in preventive arrests for domestic violence, compared with the same period of 2020. A key factor contributing to this increase was the rise of information sharing with the government through electronic means, such as WhatsApp and Online Police. The state also inaugurated an additional 17 salas das margaridas, a dedicated space within police stations to receive women at risk, bringing the total in Rio Grande do Sul to 40.

In July 2020 Rio de Janeiro’s then governor Witzel signed a bill that temporarily authorized gun permit suspensions and weapons seizures in cases of domestic violence and femicide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities cited concerns that quarantine could lead to increases in domestic violence cases involving weapons. According to Rio de Janeiro’s Public Security Institute, as of June 2020 domestic violence calls to the military police aid hotline had increased by 12 percent, in comparison with the same period the previous year. In August 2020 a police operation resulted in the arrest of 57 suspects accused of domestic violence.

The law recommends health facilities contact police regarding cases in which a woman was harmed physically, sexually, or psychologically and instructs police to collect evidence and statements should the victim decide to prosecute. Despite these protections, allegations of domestic violence were not always treated as credible by police.

Sexual assault and rape of minors was widespread. In 2020, 44,400 cases of rape and rape of vulnerable minors were registered, representing 60.6 percent of the total number of rape cases. A “vulnerable” victim is defined as a person younger than age 14, or who is considered physically, mentally, and therefore legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse. According to the 15th Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security, 54 percent of these victims were 11 years old or younger.

In Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul, a group of five men (two adults and three adolescents) raped and killed an 11-year-old Kaiowa indigenous girl in August. Police arrested the perpetrators, who confessed the crimes, and indicted them on charges of rape of a vulnerable person, femicide, and aggravated homicide. One of them, the girl’s uncle, died in prison three days later, and police were investigating the case as a possible suicide.

On March 12, the STF unanimously decided to invalidate the use of the “legitimate defense of honor thesis” in cases of femicide. The 11 STF justices assessed this thesis contradicts constitutional principles of human dignity, protection of life, and gender equality and, therefore, cannot be applied in jury trials as a defense argument in cases of femicide. The legitimate defense of honor thesis was used in jury courts to largely absolve men who killed women to “protect their own honor,” for example in cases of betrayal in romantic relationships.

On July 28, the federal government approved a law that includes the crime of psychological violence against women in the penal code, assigning a punishment of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment and a fine. The text approved by Congress defines the crime as: “Causing emotional damage to women that can harm and disturb them, or their full development, or that aims to degrade or control their actions, behaviors, beliefs and decisions, through threat, embarrassment, humiliation, manipulation, isolation, blackmail, ridicule, limitation of the right to come and go, or any other means that harm their psychological health and self-determination.”

On May 10, the government of the state of Alagoas inaugurated A Casa da Mulher Alagoana. The center serves women victims of domestic violence and provides professional psychology, advocacy, and social care services. Victims may file a police report and request protective measures in-person at the facility, as well as receive temporary shelter.

In the state of Ceara, the Women’s Reference Center, which offers a psychologist, lawyer, and social worker service and partnership with the Maria da Penha Patrol, received 240 requests for assistance in 2020, but within the first four months of 2021 it responded to 142 requests. According to the center’s director, most victims were financially dependent on their partner, which deepened during the COVID pandemic.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in prison. The law includes actions performed outside the workplace. NGOs reported sexual harassment was a serious concern, and perpetrators were infrequently held accountable. A 2019 study conducted by research institutes Patricia Galvao and Locomotiva with support from Uber found that 97 percent of women had experienced sexual harassment on public transportation, in taxis, or while using a rideshare application.

On June 15, the National Council of Justice ruled that Judge Glicerio de Angiolis Silva from Rio de Janeiro’s Court of Justice should be removed from the bench for two years for morally and sexually harassing public workers and interns at the court of Miracema, in the northwestern part of the city of Rio de Janeiro, in 2015. The victims reported that the judge asked them to send him photographs of them in bikinis, asked them out, and requested them to work late with no reasonable purpose. By law the judge was still entitled to receive his salary while away from his regular duties.

In June the Rio Grande do Sul Civil Police opened an investigation into plastic surgeon Klaus Wietzke Brodbeck on suspicion of sexually abusing more than 95 women patients, including one sedated patient he allegedly raped after surgery.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraceptives and termination of pregnancy as provided for by law. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), persons in remote regions experienced difficulty accessing reproductive health services.

According to UNFPA, in 2020, 89 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods, and skilled health personnel attended to 99 percent of births from 2014 to 2019. UNFPA also reported that adolescent birth rate per 1,000 girls for those between the ages of 15 to 19 averaged 53 births for the period of 2003 to 2018. The Ministry of Health reported that the maternal mortality ratio averaged 59 deaths per 100,000 live births as of 2018 and was higher among Black women than among white women. Data published in May by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation found that the risk of death of pregnant brown and Black women from COVID-19 was almost twice that of white women and noted that Black women were less likely to have gynecological and prenatal care and travelled farthest to reach a maternity ward.

In May, UNICEF and UNFPA published a report on menstrual poverty experienced by Brazilian girls who lived in conditions of poverty and vulnerability, sometimes without access to basic sanitation services, hygiene resources, and minimal knowledge about the body. More than 700,000 girls had no access to a bathroom or shower in their homes. More than four million girls experienced at least one deprivation of hygiene in schools, including lack of access to feminine care products and basic facilities such as toilets and soap. Nearly 200,000 of these students were completely deprived of the minimum conditions to handle menstruation at school. A study from Girl Up Brazil, a network to end menstrual poverty in the country, found that one in four girls had missed school because they lacked access to feminine products.

In October, President Bolsonaro signed a law to create the Program for the Protection and Promotion of Menstrual Health, a strategy to promote health and attention to feminine hygiene and aims to combat lack of access to hygiene products related to menstruation. The president vetoed a provision contained in the measure to provide free basic hygiene products to low-income students, persons living on the streets, and prisoners because he said the legislation did not establish a funding source. In November the Foreign Trade Chamber reduced the import tax rate from 12 to 10 percent on sanitary pads and baby diapers to make the products more affordable to consumers.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all circumstances. The law does not require equal pay for equal work. According to the International Labor Organization, women not only earned less than men but also had difficulties entering the workplace: 78 percent of men held paid jobs, compared with 56 percent of women. Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal, but the law was not effectively enforced.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

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

Approximately 57 percent of the population self-identified as belonging to categories other than white. Despite this high representation within the general population, darker-skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, encountered discrimination. They experienced a higher rate of unemployment and earned average wages below those of whites in similar positions. There was also a sizeable education gap. Afro-Brazilians were disproportionately affected by crime and violence.

In November 2020 a Black man was beaten to death by security guards outside a Carrefour supermarket in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. The two guards, including an off-duty Military Police officer, were arrested for assaulting and killing Joao Alberto Silveira Freitas. The attack was filmed by witnesses and generated outcry nationally, mobilizing a series of protests across the country. Carrefour condemned the act, terminated its contract with the company that hired the guards, and promised to take measures promoting diversity and inclusion, including the creation of an “antiracist plan” to provide training and protocol for employees with an emphasis on welcoming clients, guidance for valuing human rights and diversity, and combating racism. Carrefour also committed to diversifying hiring practices and setting a requirement to hire at least 30,000 Black workers in three years. In June, Carrefour signed an agreement with the prosecutor’s offices, the public defender’s offices, Educafro, and the Santo Dias Human Rights Center and agreed to invest R$115 million ($20.6 million) in human rights organizations in payment for collective moral damages. The funds were to support undergraduate and graduate scholarships for Afrodescendant students; scholarships for language and technology courses; social inclusion and Black entrepreneurship projects; the establishment of a museum at the Valongo Wharf in Rio de Janeiro, the main gateway for enslaved Africans who arrived in the country; and public funding for justice institutions and entities.

In February, Sao Paulo Military Police Lieutenant Colonel Evanilson Correa de Souza suffered racist verbal abuse while speaking at an online international conference organized by the University of Sao Paulo. The police officer, who is Black, was speaking about the program to combat racism within police forces in Sao Paulo when one of the participants started writing insults on the shared screen. The aggressor also used pornographic images to cover the colonel’s presentation.

The law provides for quota-based affirmative action policies in higher education, government employment, and the military. Nevertheless, Afro-Brazilians were underrepresented in the government, professional positions, and middle and upper socioeconomic classes.

Many government offices created internal committees to validate the self-declared ethnicity claims of public-service job applicants by using phenotypic criteria, assessing “Blackness” to reduce abuse of affirmative action policies and related laws. University administrators regularly conducted investigations and expelled students for fraudulently claiming to be Black or brown to claim racial quota spots in universities. Statistics showed university racial-quota policies were beginning to have a positive impact on educational outcomes for Afro-Brazilians. For example, data analysis from the National Household Sample Survey showed that in 2019 Black women (28 percent of the population) made up 27 percent of students in public higher education, an increase of 8 percent since 2001.

Indigenous Peoples

According to data from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) and the 2010 census, there were approximately 896,000 indigenous persons, representing 305 distinct indigenous ethnic groups that spoke 274 distinct languages.

The constitution grants the indigenous population broad protection of their cultural patrimony and use of their territory; however, indigenous lands and all aboveground and underground minerals as well as hydroelectric power potential belong to the government. Approximately 14 percent of the country’s land area is designated as indigenous territory.

Indigenous peoples have the exclusive possession and land use rights in their traditional lands. Requests to exploit mineral and water resources, including ones with energy potential, on indigenous lands must be approved by Congress, in consultation with the indigenous communities. Despite several proposals, Congress had not approved legislation that rules and regulates these activities. The exploitation of natural resources on indigenous territory by nonindigenous persons is illegal.

Beginning in 2019, tension and provocative rhetoric increased between the Bolsonaro administration and many indigenous leaders regarding the extent of indigenous protections and rights. On June 28, in a report presented at the 47th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, special adviser for the prevention of genocide, cited Brazil as a genocide risk.

On August 9, indigenous leaders accused President Bolsonaro of genocide at the International Criminal Court in the Hague in response to the deaths of 1,162 indigenous individuals from 163 communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The leaders also argued that the dismantling of government institutions charged with social and environmental protection had triggered invasions of indigenous lands, deforestation, and fires in the biomes.

Through a series of decisions by the Ministry of Health and the STF, beginning in January, indigenous persons were prioritized for COVID-19 immunizations. The government initially focused on vaccines for indigenous persons in officially demarcated territories and later expanded preferential access to indigenous persons living in cities or other areas. By June, according to the Ministry of Health, 72 percent of the eligible indigenous population residing in indigenous areas was fully vaccinated, compared with a 39 percent fully vaccinated rate for the overall population as of September 3.

NGOs claimed the lack of regulation and attempts to create new legislation or change existing legislation to promote economic development, along with impunity in cases of illegal land invasions, resulted in the illegal exploitation of natural resources. The NGO Instituto Socioambiental reported more than 20,000 miners were illegally extracting gold from the Yanomami indigenous lands in Roraima State. According to a report during the year released by the indigenous NGO Missionary Council, there were 263 cases of illegal invasions and exploitation of natural resources on 253 indigenous territories in 19 states in 2020. A MapBiomas study released in August showed that the area of illegal mining in indigenous lands and conservation areas expanded 495 percent from 2010 to 2020. In March the Federal Police led an operation to shut down a large illegal mining camp in Yanomami lands in Roraima. Officials compared the illegal camp on Yanomami lands to a small city capable of housing more than 2,000 persons, with markets, restaurants, and a dental office.

Illegal land invasions often resulted in violence and even death. According to reporting by the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic NGO that represents rural workers on land rights, there were 1,083 cases of violence related to land disputes in 2020, impacting more than 130,000 families, compared with 1,254 incidents that affected 144,741 families in 2019. There were 178 invasions into territories in 2020, in comparison with only nine in 2019. Most of the victims of these invasions were indigenous persons (54.5 percent), while 11.8 percent of the invasions took place in quilombola communities. Among the conflicts noted in the report, there were 18 killings of indigenous persons (39 percent of the victims), and 12 of 35 victims of attempted homicide were indigenous.

In May the Hutukara Yanomami Association reported a series of attacks against the Palimiu community in Roraima by illegal miners, and media reports indicated that one indigenous person and four miners were shot and wounded. Yanomami leaders reported that two children, ages one and five, drowned during the attack. A federal court ruled on May 13 that the government should keep permanent troops in place to prevent conflict. The Federal Police and the army visited the site, conducted operations to halt mining operations, and seized equipment.

According to the Missionary Council report, there were 182 killings of indigenous persons in 2019 – a 61 percent increase, compared with 113 cases in 2018. In May 2020 the Federal Public Ministry accused two indigenous men, Nilson Carneiro Sousa Guajajara and Eduardo dos Santos Guajajara, of killing indigenous leader and environmental and human rights defender Zezico Rodrigues Guajajara in March in Arame, Maranhao State. The victim was the fifth such killing of an indigenous Guajajara in as many months. Rodrigues worked as director of the Indigenous School Education Center and fought environmental crimes. According to indigenous leaders in the region, he reportedly received death threats and formally complained to FUNAI and the Federal Police.

On February 12, state troopers shot indigenous leader Isaac Tembe in Alto Rio Guama, Para State. According to media reports, Tembe, a leader of the Tenetehara people, was hunting with community members in an area near the Alto Rio Guama when military police officers shot at them. Tembe was killed as the group tried to escape into the woods. According to the Para State Department of Public Security, police were called to investigate cattle theft in the region and, upon arrival at the scene, they heard shots and returned fire in self-defense. According to the local indigenous population, Tembe did not have a gun. The Federal Public Ministry and an internal affairs office from the military police were investigating, but the indigenous group requested the case be federalized due to potential bias by local police and courts.

As of August there were 568 areas of land claimed by indigenous peoples in different stages of the demarcation process: 441 were fully approved and officially recognized and 127 remained under review. Various indigenous groups protested the slow pace of land demarcations. As of October no indigenous lands had been approved under the Bolsonaro administration, aligning with his pledge when he entered office to not increase indigenous land designations.

Throughout the year indigenous groups protested in Brasilia and in state capitals to protect their ancestral lands. In June an estimated 500 to 850 members of indigenous groups protested in Brasilia to demand that Congress cease consideration of a bill that proposes additional requirements and barriers for demarcation of indigenous lands. Protesters broke down security barriers placed to prevent entry into the federal Chamber of Deputies due the pandemic, and chamber security forces responded with tear and pepper gas, while the protesters allegedly shot arrows at the security guards. According to the indigenous groups, security forces also fired rubber bullets, an accusation the chamber denied. Three officers and at least three protesters were wounded and referred to local hospitals. The chamber’s vote on the bill in its Constitution and Justice Committee was postponed until June 23, when it was approved. The bill requires approval in the chamber before moving on to the Senate.

As of November the STF continued to review a case that analyzes the “cutoff date for land claims” thesis, which holds that indigenous peoples can only claim lands on which they were present on October 5, 1988, the day the constitution was promulgated. The decision will set precedent, impacting already completed, ongoing, and future land demarcation processes. On August 22, 6,000 indigenous leaders and supporters camped on Brasilia’s main mall for several days to bring attention to the case and call on the STF to rule against the case. Members of Congress said they would continue with their bill seeking similar timebound requirements irrespective of the STF decision.

The quilombola population – descendants of escaped African slaves – was estimated to include 6,000 communities and five million individuals, although the government had no official statistics. The constitution recognizes quilombola land ownership rights. Nearly 3,000 communities were registered, but fewer than 140 had been granted land titles by the government.

Quilombola representatives and partner organizations reported that members of these communities suffered higher mortality rates due to COVID-19 than the rest of the country’s population. According to a partnership between the NGOs ISA and National Coordination for the Articulation of Quilombola Communities (CONAQ), the case mortality rate due to COVID-19 in quilombola communities as of August 18 was 5.3 percent. In comparison, as of August the Ministry of Health reported case mortality rates due to COVID-19 in the entire country averaging 2.8 percent and in the northern region, where most indigenous peoples lived, 2.5 percent. As of September 3, the Ministry of Health estimated that 36 percent of quilombolas had been fully vaccinated. Although the government provided quilombola individuals with priority status, in some cases local municipalities did not recognize their priority status or local vaccination sites were not certified, according to research by CONAQ.

Quilombola communities faced systemic challenges such as endemic poverty, racism, violence, threats against women, and threats against community leaders, as well as limited access to essential resources and public policies. According to CONAQ, Black populations had a higher rate of diseases that further aggravated the effects of COVID-19, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The precarious access to water in many territories was a cause for concern, as it also hindered hygiene practices. Civil society leaders also cited concerns about food insecurity in quilombola communities. The communities claimed that health officials did not conduct sufficient contact tracing or testing there, compared with the general population.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from birth in the country or from birth to a Brazilian citizen parent. Parents are required to register their newborns within 15 days of the birth or within three months if they live more than approximately 20 miles from the nearest notary. Nevertheless, many children did not have birth certificates.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse and negligence, but enforcement was often ineffective, and abuse was widespread. According to data from the National Human Rights Ombudsman, in the first six months of the year, the country registered 47,416 reports of crimes against children and adolescents, compared with 53,525 in the first half of 2020. Of these, 121 were from mistreatment, and 52 were from sexual abuse, such as rape or harassment. The total number of reports in 2020 was 124,839 – a 47 percent increase over 2019 – and experts suspected that pandemic closures resulted in significant underreporting.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 (or 16 with parental or legal representative consent). The practice of early marriage was common. A study of child marriage in the northeastern states of Bahia and Maranhao found that pregnancy was the main motivation for child marriage in 15 of 44 cases. According to a 2020 UNICEF report, 26 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married by age 18.

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

The Alagoas state government invested in campaigns to raise public awareness of the increase of sexual abuse of children and adolescents, largely within the same family, during the pandemic. From January to March, 211 cases of child sexual abuse were registered in the state, an increase from 186 during the same period in 2020.

In Maranhao State, the Department of Health Care for Children and Adolescents carried out a campaign with the theme “You report it, we take care of it” to improve assistance for victims of child sexual abuse. The state registered 99 cases of pregnant children younger than age 14 in 2019 and again in 2020.

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

The law criminalizes child pornography. The creation of child pornography carries a prison sentence of up to eight years and a fine. The penalty for possession of child pornography is up to four years in prison and a fine. In June the Ministry of Justice coordinated Brazil’s participation, carried out by state civil police forces, in an international operation to combat crimes of child sexual abuse and exploitation on the internet. The operation carried out 176 search and seizure warrants in 18 states and five countries and resulted in the arrests of 39 individuals in Brazil.

Displaced Children: According to UNICEF, in 2020 refugee support organizations identified more than 1,577 unaccompanied Venezuelan children and adolescents in Pacaraima, Roraima State, and in the first three months of the year the number reached 1,071. According to civil society contacts, some of these minors were at risk of being trafficked or sexually exploited. Local child protection services offices act as legal guardians so unaccompanied adolescents can go to school and obtain identification papers to access the public health system. In some areas, however, they could not accommodate the influx of children. State shelters in Roraima, the state where most migrants entered the country, could house a maximum of 15 adolescent boys and 13 adolescent girls. According to a 2019 Human Rights Watch report, some unaccompanied children ended up living on the streets, where they may be particularly vulnerable to abuse or recruitment by criminal gangs.

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

According to the Brazilian Israelite Federation, there were approximately 120,000 Jewish citizens in the country, of whom approximately 65,000 lived in the state of Sao Paulo and 34,000 in the state of Rio de Janeiro. By law it is a crime to manufacture, sell, distribute, or broadcast symbols, emblems, ornaments, badges, or advertising that use the swastika for purposes of publicizing Nazism, and it provides for a penalty of two to five years of imprisonment.

In 2020 the number of inquiries opened by the Federal Police to investigate pro-Nazi activity increased, with the highest growth in the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. According to press reports, in 2019 there were 69 investigations opened for the crime and 110 in 2020. In the first five months of 2021, 36 cases were opened. Federal Police data did not include the states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Rondonia, and Tocantins.

A global survey released in June 2020 by the Anti-Defamation League indicated that the percentage of Brazilians who harbored some anti-Jewish sentiment had grown from 19 percent in 2019 to 26 percent in 2020.

In June, after a six-year process, a federal court in Sao Paulo indicted a man for pro-Nazi and pro-Hitler propaganda on a Russian social network. The defendant was already serving community service sentences for two earlier crimes similar in nature.

In March the Jewish community filed a complaint against Roberto Jefferson, leader of the Brazilian Labor Party, for a social media post in which Jefferson claimed Jews sacrificed children. From 2020 to May 2021, neo-Nazi cells grew from 349 to 530, according to anthropologist Adriana Magalhaes Dias at the Sao Paulo State University of Campinas. The groups were most prevalent in the south and southeast regions of the country, with 301 and 193 groups identified, respectively. Cells were also mapped in the Midwest (18) and Northeast (13) regions.

Neo-Nazi groups maintained an active presence online. The Safernet Brasil platform, an NGO that promotes human rights on social networks and monitors radical websites, recorded an increase of complaints about content in support of Nazism on the networks. The year 2020 marked a record for new pages (1,659) of neo-Nazi content and also for the largest number of pages removed from the internet because of illegal pro-Nazi content.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, and the federal government generally enforced these provisions. While federal and state laws mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities, states did not enforce them effectively. The law requires private companies with more than 100 employees to hire 2 to 5 percent of their workforce from persons with disabilities. According to the 2010 census, only 1 percent of those with disabilities were employed.

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

The National Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the National Council for the Rights of the Elderly have primary responsibility for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. The lack of accessible infrastructure and school resources significantly limited the ability of persons with disabilities to participate in the workforce. Data released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics in August revealed that individuals with a disability were less likely to complete education at all levels. More than half of individuals with a disability, 67 percent, had no education or incomplete primary education, compared with 31 percent of those with no disability. Similarly, only 16 percent of persons with disabilities completed high school, compared with 37 percent of persons without disabilities. Five percent of the disabled population older than age 18 had a complete higher education, while 17 percent of those without disabilities did.

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

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS is punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine. Civil society organizations and the press reported discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. According to one LGBTQI+ activist, although the government provided affordable HIV treatment through the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, many HIV-positive persons did not access the service because they were unaware of its existence or did not understand the bureaucracy required to participate in the program.

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

Violence against LGBTQI+ individuals was a serious concern. While violence against LGBTQI+ individuals generally had declined yearly since 2017, violence specifically targeting transgender individuals increased. The Federal Public Ministry is responsible for registering reports of crimes committed based on gender or sexual orientation but reportedly was slow to respond. Transgender individuals were particularly at risk of being the victims of crime or committing suicide.

According to a July report by the National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals, based on reports from LGBTQI+ organizations across the country, 80 transgender individuals were killed in the first six months of the year. The largest number of cases occurred in the states of Bahia, Ceara, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. Victims were mostly Afro-Brazilians younger than age 35. In 2019 and 2020, there were 124 and 175 killings of transgender persons, respectively. According to some civil society leaders, underreporting of crimes was likely because many LGBTQI+ persons were afraid they might experience discrimination or violence while seeking services from law enforcement authorities.

On June 24, a 17-year-old youth killed Roberta Nascimento da Silva, a homeless transgender woman, in Recife – the fourth transgender woman killed in Pernambuco State within one month. The teenager threw alcohol on the woman while she slept on the street and set her on fire. Police apprehended the assailant and charged him with an “infractional act” (because the act was committed by a minor) analogous to attempted aggravated homicide. The teenager was being provisionally held in juvenile detention awaiting sentencing. Authorities did not confirm if the case would be registered as a homophobic or transphobic crime, but Recife Mayor Joao Campos expressed regret at the transgender woman’s death and stated the city would seek to expand services to the LGBTQI+ population with a new shelter to be named in Roberta’s honor.

In July, four men convicted of the murder of Emanuelle Muniz, a transgender woman, were issued prison sentences of up to 35 years for rape, murder, and robbery. The assailants, who remained in prison following their apprehensions in 2017, received substantial prison sentences, ranging from 26 to 35 years.

No specific law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in essential goods and services such as health care. In 2019, however, the STF criminalized discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Offenders face sentences of one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine, or two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine if the offender disseminates the incident via social media thereby exposing the victim. In October the Regional Federal Court of Rio de Janeiro instructed the armed forces to recognize the social name of transgender military personnel and prohibited compulsory removal of service members for “transsexualism.”

In the Northeast there was an effort to raise civil society awareness against homophobia; to train civil and military police to provide more humanized care to the victims of violence; and to implement reference centers for legal, psychological, and social assistance to the LGBTQI+ community. The Recife Municipal Reference Center offered specialized services with a qualified team of psychologists, social workers, and lawyers for LGBTQI+ individuals.

NGOs cited lack of economic opportunity for LGBTQI+ persons as a concern. According to the NGO Grupo Gay da Bahia, 33 percent of companies avoided hiring LGBTQI+ employees, and 90 percent of transgender women engaged in prostitution because they could find no employment alternative. Transgender women often paid human traffickers for protection and daily housing fees. When they were unable to pay, they were beaten, starved, and forced into commercial sex. Traffickers exploited transgender women, luring them with offers of gender reassignment surgery and later exploiting them in sex trafficking when they were unable to repay the cost of the procedure.

According to some LGBTQI+ leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited the LGBTQI+ population’s access to public health and mental health resources, and many were in abusive domestic situations with families that did not support them. According to some civil society sources, LGBTQI+ workers, who were more likely to work in the informal economy, lost their jobs at a much higher rate than the general population during the pandemic. In the states of Pernambuco, Paraiba, and Ceara, several donation campaigns were carried out to assist vulnerable LGBTQI+ populations, including donation of food baskets, hygiene kits, and clothes.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

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

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

The law stipulates that a strike may be ruled “disruptive” by the labor court, and the union may be subjected to legal penalties if the strike violates certain conditions, such as if the union fails to maintain essential services during a strike, notify employers at least 48 hours before the beginning of a walkout, or end a strike after a labor court decision. Employers may not hire substitute workers during a legal strike or fire workers for strike-related activity, provided the strike is not ruled abusive.

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

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected. Collective bargaining was widespread in establishments in the private sector. Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. In the view of expert NGOs working in this field, the government usually effectively enforced applicable laws, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

Many individuals in slave labor, as defined by the country’s law, were victims of human trafficking for the purpose of forced labor. The government took actions to enforce the law, although forced labor occurred in a number of states. Violations of forced labor laws are punishable by up to eight years in prison, but this was often not sufficient to deter violations. The law also provides penalties for various crimes related to forced labor, such as illegal recruiting or transporting workers or imposing onerous debt burdens as a condition of employment. Every six months the Ministry of Economy publishes a “dirty list” of companies found to have employed forced labor. Although fewer names were included during the year due to COVID-related processing delays, in April the updated list included 19 new companies and owners from a range of sectors such as cattle ranching and livestock, agriculture, mining, and construction; in October an additional 13 entities were added, including a retired attorney, a former mayor, and a construction service company. Public and private banks use the list to conduct risk assessments, and inclusion on the list prevents companies from receiving loans from state-owned financial institutions. The Labor Prosecutor’s Office, in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO), maintained an online platform that identified hotspots for forced labor. The Ministry of Economy’s Mobile Labor Inspection Unit teams conducted impromptu inspections of properties where forced labor was suspected or reported, using teams composed of labor inspectors, labor prosecutors from the Federal Labor Prosecutor’s Office, and Federal Police officers. Mobile teams levied fines on landowners who used forced labor and required employers to provide back pay and benefits to workers before returning the workers to their municipalities of origin. Labor inspectors and prosecutors, however, could apply only civil penalties; consequently, many cases were not criminally prosecuted.

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

Media also reported cases of forced labor of domestic workers in wealthy urban households. In November 2020 the Public Ministry rescued 48-year-old Madalena Gordiano from domestic servitude 38 years after she began working for a Minas Gerais family as a child. The victim was exploited by a university professor and his family, working from 2 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily without a salary, benefits, or days off. Later, in her twenties, she was forced to marry an elderly relative of the employer with a pension, which was taken by her employers after his death. Although the total amount due to the victim was calculated to be R$2.2 million ($394,000), at a July virtual regional labor court hearing, she accepted an offer of R$690,100 ($124,000) to be fulfilled by the transfer of the family’s apartment to her, the purchase of a new car, and an additional R$20,000 ($3,600). The victim was also to receive the monthly pension to which she is entitled through the marriage, worth R$8,400 ($1,500) per month. The agreement was the largest individual agreement made to a person rescued from slave labor. The victim filed administrative and criminal proceedings against other family members, which the Federal Public Ministry was investigating.

During the first six months of the year, labor inspectors rescued 772 victims of slave labor – 80 percent of the previous year’s total. In 2020 authorities conducted 266 labor inspections and identified 942 victims of labor exploitation, compared with 280 labor inspections and the identification of 1,130 victims of labor exploitation in 2019. According to expert NGOs working in this field, penalties for slave labor were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. A study published in 2020 by the Slave Labor and Trafficking in Persons Clinic of the Federal University of Minas Gerais showed that only 4.2 percent of those accused were held criminally responsible for the crime of subjecting workers to contemporary slavery.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The definitions of crimes involving child sex trafficking require the use of threats, violence, coercion, fraud, or abuse, which does not meet international standards. The minimum working age is 16, but apprenticeships may begin at age 14. The law bars all minors younger than 18 from work that constitutes a physical strain or occurs in unhealthy, dangerous, or morally harmful conditions. Hazardous work includes an extensive list of activities within 13 occupational categories, including domestic service, garbage scavenging, and fertilizer production. The law requires parental permission for minors to work as apprentices. The Ministry of Economy’s Special Mobile Inspection Group is responsible for inspecting worksites to enforce child labor laws. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Most inspections of children in the workplace were driven by complaints brought by workers, teachers, unions, NGOs, and media. Due to legal restrictions, labor inspectors remained unable to enter private homes and farms, where much of the child labor allegedly occurred. The government did not always effectively enforce the law.

In 2020 labor inspectors found situations of child labor during 279 investigations, involving 810 children. According to data collected by UNICEF in Sao Paulo among vulnerable families, child labor worsened during the pandemic. UNICEF conducted a survey of data on the income and work situation of 52,744 vulnerable families from different regions of Sao Paulo who received donations from the organization and its partners. The data collected from April to July 2020 identified a 26 percent increase in child labor when comparing May and July.

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

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a minimum wage. The minimum wage was greater than the official poverty income level. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, however, in 2019 approximately 60 percent of workers had incomes below the minimum wage. The Ministry of Economy verified enforcement of minimum wage laws as part of regular labor inspections. Penalties alone were not sufficient to deter violations.

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

In July a labor inspection at a coffee farm in Minas Gerais State found that farm owners were illegally deducting nearly one-third of workers’ wages to cover the cost of the machinery workers use to harvest coffee beans, which should have been provided to workers for free under the law. The farm owners signed an agreement with the Labor Prosecution Service and the Public Defender’s Office agreeing to pay the deductions back to the 19 affected workers, along with an additional R$2,000 ($350) payment to each worker for moral damages.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Economy sets occupational, health, and safety (OSH) standards that are consistent with internationally recognized norms, although unsafe working conditions were prevalent throughout the country, especially in construction. The law requires employers to establish internal committees for accident prevention in workplaces. It also provides for the protection of employees from being fired for their committee activities. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, although those in forced labor situations without access to transportation were particularly vulnerable to situations that endangered their health and safety. In the view of expert NGOs working in this field, officials enforced OSH laws. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for crimes, such as negligence. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The Ministry of Economy addressed problems related to acceptable conditions of work such as long workdays and unsafe or unhygienic work conditions. Penalties for violations include fines that vary widely depending on the nature of the violation. Fines were generally enforced and were sometimes sufficient to deter violations. The National Labor Inspection School held various virtual training sessions for labor inspectors throughout the year. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to deter violations. During the year the Ministry of Economy launched an online database to monitor workplace accidents nationwide.

Informal Sector: According to data collected by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics as a part of its August Continuous National Household Survey, 37 million Brazilians participated in the informal sector, representing 41 percent of the employed population. Although workers in the informal sector enjoyed some labor protections, including minimum wage, hour limitations, and OSH laws and workplace inspections, they lacked access to unemployment insurance and social safety nets.

Burma

Executive Summary

Burma’s military overthrew the democratically elected civilian government via a coup d’etat on February 1, declaring a state of emergency and transferring all executive, legislative, and judicial authorities to the State Administration Council, an authoritarian military-run administrative organization led by armed forces commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing. The military detained key elected civilian leaders and dissolved all national and subnational legislatures, including the Union Parliament, forcing many elected members to flee their homes and offices or face potential arrest. On February 5, elected parliamentarians from the National League for Democracy and allied political parties formed the Committee Representing the Union Parliament, which subsequently declared the regime “illegitimate” and the 2008 constitution abolished before proclaiming a “National Unity Government” on April 16.

The Myanmar Police Force is primarily responsible for internal security. The Border Guard Police is administratively part of the Myanmar Police Force but operationally distinct. Both fall under the regime’s Ministry of Home Affairs, led by an active-duty military general and itself subordinate to the military command. The armed forces under the Ministry of Defense are responsible for external security but are engaged almost exclusively in internal activities, including combat against ethnic armed groups. Members of the regime security forces continued to commit numerous gross violations of human rights.

Regime security forces arrested State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other leading members of the civilian government and National League for Democracy on February 1. Nationwide prodemocracy protests following the coup and the Civil Disobedience Movement, continuing as of November, opposed and disrupted efforts by the regime to exert full administrative control over governing institutions. The regime responded with repressive tactics such as the mass arrest of its political opponents and the use of widespread lethal violence against unarmed persons, including men, women, and children. Fighting between the military and ethnic armed organizations escalated, and the National Unity Government announced on April 16 that it would establish armed People’s Defense Force groups that would cooperate with various ethnic armed organizations.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; forced disappearances; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment and punishment by the regime; gender-based violence by the regime; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; 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 abuses in a conflict, including reportedly unlawful or widespread civilian harm, enforced disappearances or abductions, and torture and physical abuses or punishment; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, and censorship; and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; particularly severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; the inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; 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 targeting members of national and ethnic minority groups; the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although those laws were rarely enforced; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including violence and threats against labor activists; and the use of forced and child labor, including the worst forms of child labor.

There continued to be almost complete impunity for abuses by the regime security forces. There was no credible information that the regime took actions to prosecute or punish officials responsible for human rights abuses or corruption.

Some ethnic armed organizations and Peoples Defense Force groups or members committed human rights abuses, including killings, disappearances, physical abuse and degrading treatment, and failure to protect local populations in conflict zones.

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 regime security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings of civilians, prisoners, and other persons in their power. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which noted that the actual number was likely to be much higher, there were 1,300 verified reports of persons killed by the regime as of November 22. Some ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) and Peoples Defense Force (PDF) groups or members committed human rights abuses, including killings, disappearances, physical abuse and degrading treatment, and failure to protect local populations in conflict zones (see also section 1.g.). Examples include the following.

On February 9, Mya Thwate Khaing was shot in the head by police while peacefully protesting the military coup in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. She was taken to the hospital but died of her injuries several days later. Her death was widely considered the first fatality in the protest movement that began on February 2.

On February 28, regime security forces killed as many as 26 persons in eight cities and injured scores during a day of massive nationwide demonstrations against the regime. According to multiple media reports, eyewitnesses accounts, and documentary evidence, police arrested hundreds and used tear gas, flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets, and live rounds in confronting demonstrators.

On March 11, regime security forces shot and killed at least 11 persons in five cities according to multiple media reports, eyewitness accounts, and photographic evidence. Regime security forces used live rounds against unarmed demonstrators in addition to the use of tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and rubber bullets.

On March 27, a national holiday known as Armed Forces Day, regime security forces killed more than 100, including 13 children, across the country according to media reports, eyewitness accounts, and social media posts. Regime security forces met demonstrations on March 28 with further violence, killing at least 22 more individuals.

According to media reports, in April regime security forces continued to kill demonstrators and other civilians, including, on April 9, at least 28 persons in Bago Region. The killing came as regime security forces confronted demonstrators and sought to clear residents’ makeshift barricades.

In May the Chin Human Rights Organization reported that the military cremated the bodies of two civilians who were allegedly tortured to death by regime security forces in Chin State’s capital Hakha.

In July local media reported the death of 40 civilians allegedly killed by the military in Sagaing’s Kani Township. According to a local resident who spoke with the news website Irrawaddy, “Junta troops raided our villages. We fled and found corpses when we came back to the villages.”

In July local media reported the rape and killing of a 55-year-old woman by three soldiers in Kachin State. The military acknowledged the incident after the family filed a complaint, but no action was known to have been taken against the alleged perpetrators.

In September local media reported the King Cobra civilian defense group killed an alleged regime informant in Sagaing Region. King Cobra claimed its members committed 26 other killings.

AAPP alleged that at least 100 political prisoners died due to torture inflicted by authorities between February 1 and September 9. Well-known poet Khet Thi, who wrote the line, “They shoot in the head, but they don’t know the revolution is in the heart,” was reportedly tortured to death by regime security forces. The 45-year-old was detained on May 8 and died the following day in transit to the hospital in Monywa, Magway Region.

b. Disappearance

There were numerous reports of disappearances allegedly committed by the regime.

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

The law prohibits torture; however, members of regime security forces reportedly tortured and otherwise abused suspects, prisoners, detainees, and others. Such incidents occurred, for example, during interrogations and were widely documented across the country. Alleged harsh interrogation techniques were designed to intimidate and disorient and included severe beatings and deprivation of food, water, and sleep. Other reported interrogation methods described in news reports included rubbing salt into wounds and depriving individuals of oxygen until they passed out.

A 19-year-old prodemocracy supporter told local media that on April 9, he was taken to a military compound on the outskirts of Bago Township, Bago Region where “the commander tied my hands from the back and used small scissors to cut my ears, the tip of my nose, my neck and my throat.”

In April media reported regime forces struck Wai Moe Naing, a high-profile Muslim protest leader and a Muslim, with an unmarked vehicle during a motorbike demonstration in Monywa.

Transgender writer Han Nwe Oo shared on social media that while in detention she was ridiculed for being transgender, sexually assaulted, and faced “atrocious” interrogation for two days at a military camp inside Mandalay Palace, Mandalay Region in September.

According to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), women in custody were subjected to sexual assault, gender-based violence, and verbal abuse. Police in some cases verbally abused women who reported rape. Women who reported sexual assault faced further abuse by police and the possibility of being sued for impugning the dignity of the perpetrator. On July 19, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders noted “[w]omen human rights defenders are particularly at risk in remote rural areas and are often beaten and kicked before being sent to prison where they may face torture and sexual violence with no medical care provided.”

In one case in April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that security force members severely beat and sexually assaulted a female detainee accused of involvement in small-scale bomb attacks against regime targets in Rangoon. Her injuries were so severe she struggled to eat or urinate. Her cellmate reported similar treatment.

Also in April, local media reported that a high school student from Rangoon was arrested with her mother and described how she was “touched by a police officer who told me he could kill me and make me disappear.”

In Rangoon a journalist detained in March told media he witnessed police burn a detained female journalist with cigarettes and threaten to rape her if she did not provide information on her involvement in prodemocracy activities.

Impunity for rights abuses was pervasive for security force leaders and members. There was no credible evidence that the regime took action to investigate incidents or punish alleged perpetrators of abuses or to include human rights training as part of its overall training of regime security forces. The regime routinely denied responsibility for atrocities. For example, in April local media reported that the regime issued a blanket denial of abuses during a meeting with the UN special envoy for Burma, rejecting her allegations as “one-sided,” while denying it had killed children, among other atrocities.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons, labor camps, and military detention facilities were reportedly harsh and frequently life threatening due to overcrowding; degrading and abusive treatment; and inadequate access to medical care (including COVID-19 treatment) and basic needs, including food, shelter, and hygiene.

Physical Conditions: There were 48 known prisons and 50 known labor camps in 2020. Women and men were held separately. Some prisons held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. Children were sometimes held in pretrial detention with adults. More than 20,000 inmates were serving court-mandated sentences in labor camps located across the country in 2020; data were not available for the reporting year. The Associated Press reported on October 28 that the military had transformed dozens of public facilities (e.g., community halls) into interrogation centers across the country after the coup.

Several reports document poor conditions within prison facilities, including inadequate sewage systems, insufficient – and often inedible – rations, and a lack of basic necessities. Overcrowding was reportedly a serious problem in many prisons and labor camps. According to AAPP, occupancy at Insein Prison, the country’s largest, was nearly three times its intended capacity prior to the military coup.

Medical care was inadequate, and this reportedly contributed to deaths in custody. Prisons failed to adopt measures to protect prisoners from COVID-19, and there were widespread reports of COVID-19 transmission, illness, and deaths among prisoners. Despite regular regime reporting at national and subnational levels on COVID-19 cases and deaths, the regime failed to make data available on the impact of COVID-19 in prisons. According to AAPP, COVID-19 vaccinations were limited only to high-profile prisoners. In addition to COVID-19, prisoners suffered from other health problems, including malaria, heart disease, high blood pressure, tuberculosis, skin diseases, and intestinal illnesses caused or exacerbated by unhygienic conditions and spoiled food. There were also numerous reports of political prisoners being denied medical services.

Former prisoners complained of poorly maintained physical structures that provided no protection from the elements and were infested with rodents, snakes, and molds.

Conditions for women were deplorable, with a lack of access to sufficient toilets and no privacy. Prison guards denied requests for sanitary products for menstruation and other basic hygiene products. After the coup, sexual violence, gender harassment, and humiliation by officials increased.

In September human rights watchdog Just Power reported that a prominent human rights activist suffered from deteriorating health conditions as a result of her “unjust arrest and detention.” According to the report, regime security forces denied her access to health services, including to medicines provided by her family.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees could sometimes submit complaints to judicial authorities prior to the coup, but there was no clear legal or administrative protection for this right. There is no credible evidence of prisoners and detainees submitting complaints after the coup. Some prisons prevented full adherence to religiously based codes of personal conduct, ostensibly due to space restrictions and security concerns.

In April local media reported that a journalist fasting in observance of Ramadan was accused of staging a hunger strike and sent to solitary confinement at Insein Prison.

Independent Monitoring: The Department of Corrections in the Ministry of Home Affairs operated the prisons and labor camp system.

The International Committee for the Red Cross had no access to prisons, labor camps, or military detention sites during the year. After March 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs under the deposed civilian government claimed it could not allow access because of COVID-19 prevention measures. After the coup, the military continued to deny access to all prisons and detention sites.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime did not have access to prisons or labor camps and on February 1, ended cooperative capacity-building programs with the Department of Corrections. The drug and crime office continued to provide limited COVID-19-related personal protective equipment and primary basic health care assistance (e.g., infection prevention and control supplies) directly to the prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law does not prohibit arbitrary arrest. Persons held generally did not have the right to appeal the legality of their arrest or detention either administratively or before a court. The law allows authorities to order the detention without charge or trial of anyone they believe is performing or might perform any act that endangers the sovereignty and security of the state or public peace and tranquility.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Incommunicado detention was common. Since the coup, the regime detained politicians, election officials, journalists, activists, protesters, and Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) members and refused to confirm their locations in violation of international law, according to HRW. In August AAPP reported that an estimated 5,000 individuals listed by the regime as “under detention” were in unknown locations, accounting for approximately 82 percent of arrests since the coup. Even when the whereabouts of prisoners was known, prisoners were regularly denied access to lawyers and family members.

After the coup, the military regime suspended aspects of privacy protection law to legalize arrests and private property searches without a warrant.

Authorities may hold suspects in pretrial detention for two weeks (with a possible two-week extension) before bringing them before a judge or informing them of their charges. The regime is not, however, obliged to respect this provision of the law. There is a functioning bail system, although the courts regularly denied bail to prodemocracy supporters. There were numerous reports that authorities did not inform family members or attorneys of arrests in a timely manner, did not disclose their location, and regularly denied family visitations.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were numerous reports of arbitrary arrest, including detention by the regime in unknown locations. Since the coup, regime security forces have made at least 8,000 arrests and more than 6,500 of those individuals remain in some form of detention.

In May, HRW reported the arrest of a lawyer defending a deposed local political leader after a court hearing in Nay Pyi Taw and the arrest of lawyer defending a political prisoner in Ayeyarwady Region. In June, HRW reported the arrest of a lawyer defending more than 120 political prisoners in Kachin State.

In July, UN human rights experts expressed concern about the arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders, citing credible information of such treatment of human rights defenders, including labor rights and student activists.

According to AAPP, among those the regime detained as of September were more than 175 family members of prodemocracy supporters, including 15 children. In August, for example, a family member delivering food and medicine to a political prisoner was detained at Insein Prison for six days. In September regime security forces reportedly arrested the wife and young child of a human rights activist to coerce his surrender. The activist was charged under terrorism legislation for supporting the CDM. His wife and child were missing as of December.

According to the independent news service Myanmar Now, a 14-year-old boy was detained in Taungtha Township, Mandalay Region in September by the regime to coerce his father, a former local National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, to turn himself in to police. The boy’s mother told a reporter, “They came for my husband and took the kid, saying they needed him to show them where dad was.…I keep waiting for his release. I don’t want anything else; I just want my son back.”

Pretrial Detention: Prior to the coup, judges and police sometimes colluded to extend detentions. According to the Independent Lawyers’ Association in 2020, arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detentions resulted from lengthy, complicated legal procedures and widespread corruption. These problems continued following the coup, worsened by the regime’s ability to detain persons indefinitely without trial. For those facing trial, detention prior to and during trials sometimes equaled or exceeded the sentence after conviction. The regime amended the legal aid law in May, removing the right to legal aid services during pretrial detention. Additional amendments limited legal aid for stateless persons, asylum seekers, foreigners, and migrant workers.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although habeas corpus exists in national law, regime security forces violated this law by arresting and detaining individuals without following proper procedures. Arbitrary arrest or detention was drastically increased to suppress political dissent, according to AAPP and detainees had limited ability to meaningfully challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court due to its lack of judicial independence from the regime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, a protection the regime has not respected. On February 4, the regime dismissed five NLD-appointed justices of the Supreme Court and replaced them with justices who support the regime. The remaining four justices, including the chief justice, were holdovers from the previous military junta.

In February the regime declared martial law in numerous townships across the country and transferred judicial (and executive) power to regional military commanders in several cities. In martial law courts, defendants have few or no rights, including access to legal counsel and the right of appeal (except in cases involving the death penalty, which may be appealed to armed forces commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing). The hearings are abbreviated, the verdict is reached within one or two sessions, and the sentences are typically the maximum penalties allowed. According to regime public announcements, by November, 61 cases were heard in martial law courts, with 280 defendants convicted and sentenced, including at least 80 defendants sentenced to death.

Judicial corruption was a significant problem. According to NGOs, officials at all levels received illegal payments at all stages of the legal process for purposes ranging from influencing routine matters to substantive decisions, such as fixing the outcome of a case.

Trial Procedures

Although no formal changes to trial procedures in civilian courts were made following the coup, the lack of judicial independence leaves much to the interpretation of the regime. The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial but also grants broad exceptions, effectively allowing the regime to violate these rights at will. While the right to counsel remains in the law, many defense lawyers were unwilling to handle prodemocracy cases due to fear for their personal safety. According to HRW, at least six lawyers handling political cases were arrested since the coup. Defendants do not enjoy a presumption of innocence or, even when the law provides for them, the rights to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them; to be present at their trial; to free interpretation; or to receive adequate representation. There is no right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Trial procedures were also affected by COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

The regime detained and arrested politicians, election officials, journalists, activists, protesters, religious activists, and CDM members. Political prisoners were not always held separately from the prison’s general population. Many political prisoners were held incommunicado.

Many former political prisoners were subject to surveillance and restrictions following their release, including the inability to secure identity or travel documents. AAPP estimated that there were more than 6,000 political prisoners as of year’s end.

Deposed state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested on February 1 and held in an unknown location. She faced 11 separate charges for a range of offenses running from interacting with a crowd during the COVID-19 pandemic to sedition. Her trial was closed to the public and the regime placed a gag order on her attorneys so that the attorneys could not communicate with the public about her case. On December 6, she was convicted of inciting unrest and violating COVID-19 restrictions and sentenced to four years in prison. Also arrested February 1, deposed president Win Myint, was tried on the same charges and also convicted and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. Just hours after the news of guilty verdicts for Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint broke on December 6, state media announced that the regime had “reduced [their] sentences…by two years.” The regime announcement also highlighted that the two would remain detained in their unknown locations, in conditions reportedly equivalent to house arrest.

Amnesty: The regime included some political prisoners among the more than 23,000 inmates released to mark Union Day on February 12. The regime released all those who met set criteria (e.g., not charged under Section 505 of the penal code, which criminalizes disseminating information that could agitate or cause security forces or state officials to mutiny), with no specific leniency for political prisoners. According to some human rights activists, the regime used the general pardon order to make space available for more political prisoners.

Amnesty was also granted to several high-profile ethnic Rakhine politicians, including Aye Maung and writer Wai Hin Aung, sentenced to long jail sentences for high treason under the deposed NLD government. In September the regime also released controversial ultranationalist Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, charged with sedition by the deposed government for comments he made during a 2019 promilitary rally.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Bilateral Pressure: There were credible reports that the regime attempted to pressure the Thai government to impose stricter control on movement across the border with Burma to undermine the ability of prodemocracy supporters from organizations, including the National Unity Government (NUG) and the Committee Representing the Union Parliament that created it, to depart the country.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law allows complainants to use provisions of the penal code and laws of civil procedure to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses. Individuals and organizations may not appeal an adverse decision to regional human rights bodies but may make complaints to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission. After the coup, the ability of complainants to raise human rights abuses through the judicial system or the commission was limited.

Property Seizure and Restitution

Under the 2008 Constitution the state owns all land, although there is a limited amount of freehold land, and the law allows for registration and sale of private land ownership rights. Most land is held in long-term lease, meaning that while the government still owns this leasehold, private parties may lease land on a long-term basis with a general expectation that the leasehold would automatically roll over upon its expiration. The law provides for compensation when the government acquires privately held land for a public purpose; however, the postcoup situation is unclear. The government may also declare land unused or “vacant” and assign it to foreign investors or designate it for other uses. There is no judicial review of land ownership or confiscation decisions; administrative bodies subject to regime control make final decisions on land use and registration. The law does not favor recognition of traditional land tenure systems (customary tenure). There were numerous reports that the regime used its authority to seize property of prodemocracy supporters.

In March the regime reportedly seized assets worth approximately $3.8 million from staff members of a foundation accused of financially supporting the CDM.

In September the regime Anti-Terrorism Central Committee released a public notice requiring landlords to provide a list of tenants to their ward administration offices or face confiscation of the property.

As of November 15, credible media reports indicated that the regime has seized approximately 70 properties owned by NLD officials. The regime’s amendment of three laws enabled the extrajudicial seizure of property owned by defendants. The regime has also seized properties belonging to members of the Committee Representing the Union Parliament and NUG or their families.

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

The law protected privacy and the security of the home, but enforcement of these rights was limited after the coup. Unannounced nighttime household checks were common. The law does not protect the privacy of correspondence or other communications. The regime regularly monitored private electronic communications through online surveillance; there were numerous reports that the regime monitored prodemocracy supporters.

On March 1, the New York Times reported that the military employed invasive dual-use surveillance, hacking, and forensic technologies to monitor and target critics and protesters. Before the coup, the military built an “electronic warfare capability” and bought surveillance technology, including cell phone-hacking tools to monitor prodemocracy activists.

In July local news outlet Frontier Myanmar reported that the regime ordered mobile phone companies to install equipment to enable them to monitor calls, text messages, and locations of selected users, flagging each time they use words such as “protest” or “revolution.” Mention of these words may trigger heavier surveillance or be used as evidence against those being watched. The regime also monitored social media use, including data from visited websites, as well as conversations in public and private chat groups. According to the magazine Frontier Myanmar, this “cybersecurity team” was based inside the police’s Special Branch, a notorious surveillance department that heavily monitored suspected dissidents in the previous era of junta rule.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

After the coup, escalating conflict between the regime and joint EAOs-PDF groups focused on the northwest part of the country, with frequent fighting in Chin State and Sagaing and Magway Region. Conflict was also reported in Kachin, Kayah, and Karen States and in the Mandalay, Bago, and Tanintharyi Regions. Conflict between the military and the Arakan Army (AA) in Rakhine State declined following the coup because of a pre-coup de facto ceasefire. In March the regime removed the Arakan Army from its designated list of terrorist organizations; however, local media reported clashes between the AA and the military on November 9 after the military entered an AA-controlled area in the border area of Maungdaw Township.

Fighting between EAOs in Shan State continued.

Reports of killings, disappearances, excessive use of force, disregard for civilian life, sexual violence, and other abuses committed by regime security forces and some EAOs and PDF groups were common.

The NUG issued a code of conduct for PDF groups in June and included a call to respect human rights in its September 7 “people’s defensive war” declaration. No data was available to measure the impact of the NUG’s efforts to prevent human rights abuses by PDF groups.

Killings: Deliberate killings and deaths due to excessive or unjustified use of force by the regime were reported. For example:

On March 3, regime security forces killed at least 24 persons across the country in confrontations with peaceful demonstrators. In one Rangoon neighborhood alone, at least seven protesters died and 17 were critically wounded in a confrontation with regime security forces. Over the March 13-14 weekend, regime security forces shot and killed demonstrators indiscriminately across the country, killing at least 42.

In May a young mother in Magway’s Salin Township reportedly died from indiscriminate military fire during a raid. According to Myanmar Now, the raid was in response to prodemocracy graffiti.

In July, NUG-designated Minister for Human Rights Aung Myo Min reported that the military killed at least 32 civilians and displaced more than 6,000 residents from 13 villages in Sagaing’s Debeyin Township during intensified military operations targeting EAO and PDF strongholds.

In September the military was suspected of killing and mutilating five civilians in Magway’s Gangaw Township. According to the Irrawaddy, the victims were shot, and in some cases mutilated or showed signs of torture.

Also in September, the Irrawaddy reported on the killing of 18 civilians in Magway’s Yaw village perpetrated by the military. One resident recalled, “Most of them were shot in the head. Their heads were broken, and their brains spilled out like a ripe papaya that has fallen from a tree.” An 86-year-old resident was found tied up, with signs that he had been beaten to death.

In late September, according to a Radio Free Asia report, security forces responding to an attack by local defense forces in Thantlang, Chin State, shot and killed Baptist pastor Cung Biak Hum as he and others tried to extinguish fires the forces set. When his body was recovered, his ring finger was cut off and the wedding ring apparently stolen.

On December 5, regime security forces violently suppressed prodemocracy protesters in Rangoon. Tactics included, according to numerous reports, ramming a police vehicle directly into a crowd, killing five and injuring another 15. Escalating violence between the military and EAOs exposed many children to violence. AAPP reported in September that 61 children were killed in military-EAO conflicts.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were reports of such abuses by EAOs and PDF forces. In December Myanmar Now reported the targeting of alleged military informants and others seen as sympathetic to the regime. In June commanders of the Karen National Defense Army, the armed wing of the Karen National Union, confirmed Karen National Defense Army soldiers killed 25 alleged military spies and detained 22 others for approximately one week near Waw Lay, Myawaddy Township, Karen State.

Child Soldiers: The military and some EAOs (Kachin Independence Army, AA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Karen National Liberation Army, Shan State Army, and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) were listed in the UN secretary-general’s 2021 Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict as perpetrators of the unlawful recruitment and use of children. There were no data on PDF groups. Meaningful use of the National Complaint Mechanism, focused on the elimination of forced labor but which also prohibits the use and recruitment of child soldiers, was limited after the coup. There was no credible evidence that the regime or EAOs prosecuted offenders.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: According to numerous local media reports, UN counterparts, and NGOs the regime restricted the passage of relief supplies, including medical supplies, and access by international humanitarian organizations to conflict-affected areas including in Kachin, Chin, Kayah, Karen, Tanintharyi, and Shan States. HRW reported on December 13 that restrictions on humanitarian assistance imposed by the regime since the coup were creating a “nationwide humanitarian catastrophe.” The United Nations estimated that the number of persons needing assistance would go from one million before the coup to 14.4 million by 2022. On November 8, the United Nations stated, “access to many people in desperate need across the country remains extremely limited due to bureaucratic impediments put in place by the armed forces.” HRW further reported that the military has seized food deliveries meant for displaced populations and arrested individuals on “suspicion of supporting aid efforts.” Visas for aid workers have also been delayed or denied. UNICEF reported in October that “the need to procure travel authorization [from the regime] remains a major access impediment and a high constraint factor for the humanitarian partners’ capacity to reach people in need.”

The regime reportedly forced civilians to act as human shields, carry supplies, or serve in other support roles. In September the Karen National Union reported to a local media outlet that approximately 300 civilians, including a number of women and children, were forced by regime security forces to perform military support duties. In September, Democratic Voice Burma reported that more than 100 soldiers abducted five local residents to act as guides for regime security forces in Kachin State.

As of September, the World Health Organization reported 260 attacks on health-care workers since the coup, representing 39 percent of such attacks globally during the year. In a February case, a doctor was arrested in Rangoon for providing first aid to prodemocracy supporters who had been shot while peacefully protesting. In July the Irrawaddy reported that the regime arrested five volunteer doctors working on COVID-19 prevention activities after luring them to a house under false pretenses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

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

The 2008 Constitution provides that “every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of expressing and publishing freely their convictions and opinions,” but it contains the broad and ambiguous caveat that exercise of these rights must “not be contrary to the laws enacted for national security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility, or public order and morality.” The postcoup regime led a full-scale crackdown on freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was severely limited. Those who spoke openly against the regime or in favor of the NLD, NUG, or democracy more broadly risked abuse and punishment by authorities. On September 4, poet and activist Maung Saungkha was convicted under Section 19 of this law after he placed a banner over a highway during a protest marking the one-year anniversary of restrictions on mobile internet communications in parts of Rakhine and Chin States. Maung Saungkha chose to pay a fine of 30,000 kyat ($22.50) rather than serve a 15-day prison sentence.

The regime used the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of the Citizens to allow authorities to review content on individuals’ cell phones at checkpoints and during neighborhood raids. The regime reportedly employed violence and targeted killings to silence critics in civil society. Violence against persons engaged in speech deemed antiregime was allegedly used by proregime ultranationalist Buddhist groups as well as security forces and included maiming, kidnapping, and torture. The regime intimidated many prodemocracy voices among the public who previously spoke openly about politically sensitive topics. (See also “Internet Freedom,” below.)

A prodemocracy activist in Rangoon said during a media interview that regime security forces beat him as authorities transported him to a local interrogation center in February. The next morning, he was unable to eat due to injuries he had sustained during his first night in detention. He reported being tortured for days and only released after signing a statement denying the use of torture by the regime.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Prior to the coup, independent media outlets were active and able to operate despite many official and unofficial restrictions, economic hardship, and an uncertain business environment. After the coup, analysts reported the closure of 71 media outlets, ranging from well-known national, regional, and ethnic media to small Facebook pages. Regime crackdowns on media resulted in the arrest, detention, loss of work, and forced exile of more than 1,000 journalists, editors, and media staff – approximately 50 percent of pre-coup total. For example, two Kamayut Media journalists were arrested in March, one was released on June 15 and the other remained in detention at year’s end. In Mandalay the regime arrested and subsequently released freelance journalists. Eleven media and the Voice Daily self-censored and avoided criticism of the regime. The Myanmar Times and Union Daily have ceased publication, and Irrawaddy, Frontier, and Myanmar Now operated mostly in exile from outside the country.

In May the regime banned satellite dishes to restrict access to international news. The regime offered three public television channels – two controlled by the Ministry of Information and one controlled by the military. Two private companies that had strong links to the previous military regime continued to broadcast six free-to-air television channels. The regime and regime-linked businesspersons controlled eight FM radio stations. In August the NUG launched Radio NUG, a clandestine service that provided two 30-minute reports daily with prodemocracy content.

Violence and Harassment: The regime subjected journalists and other media workers to violence, harassment, detention, and intimidation for their reporting. According to AAPP, at least 95 journalists were unjustly arrested after February, and more than half of those remained in detention as of November. Among journalists detained by the regime were reporters from the Associated Press, the Ayeyarwady Times News, and many more outlets. In April the New York Times reported that many journalists stopped wearing helmets or vests marked with the word “PRESS,” did not publish under their own names, and avoided sleeping at home. On December 14, local media reported that freelance photojournalist and graphic designer Soe Naing died in regime custody after his arrest on December 10 while covering the “Silent Strike.” Soe Naing reportedly died after a violent interrogation, marking the first known death of a journalist while in regime custody since the coup.

Authorities arrested Polish photojournalist Robert Bociaga on March 11 in Shan State and deported him after he was held in detention for 13 days.

In April authorities detained Yuki Kitazumi, a Japanese freelance journalist, and accused him of supporting prodemocracy protests. Authorities released and deported Kitazumi in May.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: After the coup, the regime banned independent media outlets that did not self-censor reporting on the prodemocracy movement. The regime also banned using certain terminology in reporting, such as “junta,” “coup d’etat,” and “military council.” The Myanmar Times suspended publication on February 21 after many of its staff quit to protest the leadership’s decision to follow the regime order not to describe the military takeover as a “coup.” On March 8, the regime banned broadcast, online, and print media Mizzima, Democratic Voice Burma, Khit Thit Media, Myanmar Now, and 7Day News from broadcasting or reporting on any platform. Each of these media organizations had extensively covered the protests, including on their social media pages. The regime later revoked the licenses of three ethnic-minority-run outlets: Myitkyina News Journal from Kachin State, Tachileik News Agency from Shan State, and 74 other media outlets suspended their operations in response.

Libel/Slander Laws: Even before the coup, the military could and did use various legal provisions, such as a criminal defamation clause in the telecommunications law, to restrict freedom of expression. After the coup, the regime primarily relied on Section 505 of the penal code to prosecute journalists. Following his arrest on March 3 in Bago Region, a reporter covering prodemocracy protests from the radio and television company Democratic Voice Burma was the first after the coup to be charged under this section of the law. According to media reports, he was brutally beaten and seriously injured during his arrest. On May 3, he was sentenced to three years in prison. In June two other journalists were sentenced to two years in prison. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 24 journalists were facing charges under the broadened Section 505A that includes penalties for spreading “false news.”

National Security: Although the regime prosecuted some media critics using laws related to national security, in general the regime used other methods to pursue its critics. The regime designated the NUG and related prodemocracy groups as terrorist organizations but as of November had not arrested or tried any members of these on terrorist charges.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The regime curtailed the exercise of the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

In the initial days after the coup, hundreds of thousands of individuals took to the streets peacefully to protest the military takeover and demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. On February 8, the regime ordered curfews and restrictions on the size of gatherings that effectively banned peaceful public demonstrations across the country, although demonstrations continued, nonetheless. Regime security forces met protesters with increasing violence and lethal force. According to numerous reports in local media, small-scale prodemocracy protests continued across the country as of November despite violent intimidation and suppression by security forces.

Freedom of Association

The regime restricted the right to freedom of association. The law on registering organizations stipulates voluntary registration for local NGOs and removes punishments for noncompliance for both local and international NGOs. Prior to the coup, the government interpreted the law as requiring NGOs that received foreign funding to register with the government. After the coup, the regime required banks to report on all foreign funds received by both local and international NGOs.

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 law does not protect freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation. Local regulations limit the rights of citizens to settle and reside anywhere in the country. Authorized officials may require the registration of foreigners’ movements and require foreigners to register every change of address exceeding 24 hours.

In-country Movement: Regional and local orders, directives, and instructions restricted freedom of movement. The regime increased restrictions on freedom of movement after the coup. Numerous local media reports described regime security force roadblocks and the random searches of private cars and taxis. Nightly curfews in Rangoon and several other cities also restricted movement, as did a reinstated requirement that all visitors register with the local ward administrator. Local media reported that the regime harassed, including by seizing ambulances, health-care workers when medical emergencies required them to break curfew. Due to escalating conflict with the military, the NUG and EAOs warned civilians to travel only in case of an emergency. For example, the Thantlang Revolutionary Campaign informed residents in September not to go out after 7 p.m., not to go hunting or into the jungle unless absolutely necessary, and to take extra care when traveling. COVID-19 mitigation regulations also contributed to restriction of movement.

Limitations on freedom of movement for Rohingya in Rakhine State were unchanged. Rohingya may not move freely; they must obtain travel authorization to leave their township. In contrast to the pre-coup rule that Rohingya traveling without documentation could return to their homes without facing immigration charges, the regime’s General Administration Department issued a directive resuming legal actions against Rohingya traveling without permission in Sittwe and Kyauktaw.

Foreign Travel: The regime restricted foreign travel by prodemocracy supporters and expanded measures to increase oversight. According to an official order dated May 13, “The authorities have directed airlines that all bookings for departures from Myanmar must be made at least 10 days in advance of the intended departure and be shared with [the] Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” The regime also reportedly cancelled, or refused to issue, passports to prodemocracy supporters. The regime notified the diplomatic community in Thailand and India that it had taken this action against multiple prodemocracy leaders. Numerous prodemocracy supporters expressed concern for their security and safety if they tried to leave the country by air, and at least one person reported being denied boarding because she was related to an NLD member. COVID-19 mitigation efforts also restricted foreign travel.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 296,000 recently arrived individuals were living as internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of December 17 due to postcoup violence in Southeast Burma, Kachin and Shan States, and Northwest Burma. A total of 666,000 persons were internally displaced in the country as of December 1. Decades of conflict between the central government and ethnic communities, exacerbated by the coup and the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in large numbers of primarily ethnic-minority IDPs in ethnic-dominated parts of the country.

In June the United Nations estimated that more than 100,000 persons had fled their homes to escape conflict and risked starving in Kayah State alone. Myanmar Now reported on June 16 that the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force announced the temporary suspension of attacks on the military amid the growing crisis.

The regime has systematically obstructed humanitarian relief. In June local media reported that the military burned bags of rice, barrels of cooking oil, and other staples that locals from southern Shan State gathered to support those displaced from an escalation in fighting. In September, for example, amid an escalation in conflict, the military blocked humanitarian supply routes to 50,000 IDPs in Chin State, according to Radio Free Asia. According to local media, fighting erupted in Lay Kay Kaw Township, Karen State, the evening of December 14 between opposition forces and regime security, displacing at least 4,000 individuals including local residents and prodemocracy supporters seeking safe haven in the area. Democratic Voice Burma news reported that regime security forces continued to shoot at civilians as they fled for safety. HRW reported in December that the regime has imposed travel restrictions on humanitarian workers, blocked access roads and aid convoys, and destroyed nonmilitary supplies.

f. Protection of Refugees

The regime did not always cooperate with UNHCR or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR did not register any asylum seekers during the year.

g. Stateless Persons

The law defines a “national ethnic group” as a racial and ethnic group that can prove origins in the country dating back to 1823, a year prior to British colonization, and the regime officially recognized 135 “national ethnic groups” whose members are automatically granted full citizenship. The law also establishes two forms of citizenship short of full citizenship: associate and naturalized. Citizens in these two categories are unable to run for political office; form a political party; serve in the military, police, or public administration; inherit land or money; or pursue certain professional degrees, such as medicine and law. Only members of the third generation of associate or naturalized citizens are able to acquire full citizenship.

Rohingya, most of whom are Muslim, are not recognized as a “national ethnic group” and the vast majority are stateless as a result. Following the forced displacement of more than 740,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh in 2017, up to 600,000 Rohingya were estimated to remain in Rakhine State. Some Rohingya may be technically eligible for full citizenship. The process involves additional official scrutiny and was complicated by logistical difficulties, including travel restrictions and significant gaps in understanding the Burmese language. In practice this also required substantial bribes to regime officials, and even then, it did not result in equality with other full citizens. In particular, only Rohingya were required to go through an additional step of applying for the National Verification Card, through which they receive identity documents that describe them as “Bengali.” Regime officials treat Rohingya with the presumption of noncitizenship. This could lead to discrimination in access to public services and a wide range of societal discrimination.

There were also significant numbers of stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality, including persons of Chinese, Indian, and Nepali descent. Although these latter groups did not face the same level of official and social discrimination as Rohingya, the regime granted members of these groups only the lesser rights, and imposed the greater restrictions, of associate and naturalized citizenship. The regime did not single these groups out the same way as Rohingya when obtaining citizenship.

The law does not provide any form of citizenship (or associated rights) for children born in the country whose parents are stateless.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Prior to the coup, the constitution provided citizens a limited ability to choose their government through elections held by secret ballot. The military deposed the democratically elected parliament and dissolved the Union Election Commission (UEC), appointing a former military major general to replace the ousted UEC chairman. On July 26, the military regime UEC announced that it had annulled the results of the November 2020 general elections, which domestic and international observers assessed as largely reflective of the will of the electorate, despite some identified irregularities and local election cancellations in some ethnic areas.

On October 16, the regime UEC announced that upcoming regional elections were cancelled across most of Rakhine State and in various other ethnic areas in Kachin State, Shan State and elsewhere.

The regime used laws against terrorism to arrest and punish groups and individuals who were active in the country’s precoup political life. The regime designated the NUG, the Committee Representing the Union Parliament, and PDF groups as unlawful terrorist organizations. According to the law, anyone associated with these groups could face 10 years to life in prison, although no one had come to trial as of year’s end.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered the 2020 national elections to be generally reflective of the will of the population, notwithstanding some structural shortcomings. The NLD, chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, won more than 80 percent of the 1,150 contested seats at the state, regional, and union levels in those elections. The NLD won 396 of 476 races for national assembly seats; a military-affiliated party won 33, and various ethnic parties took 47 seats. The 2008 constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency due to her marriage to a British national.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties faced narrowing political space amid regime investigations and threats to ban them from competing in elections. Political parties not aligned with the military were denied the rights to assemble and protest peacefully. The military regime, moreover, conducted politically motivated investigations into prodemocracy political parties and their leaders, particularly the NLD. In May the UEC began investigations into the 93 registered political parties, including financial audits. In an August 27 letter, the UEC threatened that if political parties did not submit financial statements, their party registration could be suspended.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women in the political process, and they did participate in elections. Laws limiting the citizenship status of many ethnic minority groups (see “Stateless Persons” above) also limited their rights to participate in political life. Women and members of historically marginalized and minority groups were underrepresented in government prior to the coup. Some policies (as opposed to laws and regulations) limited women’s participation in practice.

In the 2020 general elections, 194 women were elected to parliament.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Since the coup, the Anti-Corruption Commission has regularly targeted deposed NLD politicians and other former civilian government leaders for prosecution under anticorruption law. As of November, the commission charged at least 45 former NLD and civilian government officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi, former president Win Myint, union-level ministers, and state and region ministers appointed by the previous government. Most observers considered these charges baseless.

Corruption was widespread in all dimensions of political life, including especially the judicial system. Petty extortion by police was paralleled by more serious graft at higher levels, such as demanding bribes from victims to conduct criminal investigations.

Corruption: Although corruption was widespread, unlike the civilian government it overthrew, the regime used corruption laws almost exclusively against opponents, as noted. Such cases, which often relied on coerced testimony, did not provide an accurate picture of actual corruption.

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

The regime did not allow domestic human rights organizations to function independently. Human rights NGOs were able to open offices and operate, but reported harassment, monitoring by authorities, and arbitrary detention. The regime, for example, sometimes pressured hotels and other venues not to host meetings organized by activists or civil society groups. Regime security forces also raided and damaged NGO offices. These restrictions went beyond standard COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The regime systematically denied attempts by the United Nations and other international organizations and NGOs to investigate human rights abuses or to access the locations of alleged abuses. Foreign human rights activists and advocates, including representatives from international NGOs, continued to be restricted to short-term visas that required them to leave the country periodically for renewal. Several international NGOs’ local partners were repeatedly asked to show financial statements and other documents that revealed their relationship with foreign funders.

The regime refused to cooperate with or grant access to the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar created by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate alleged atrocities in the country.

The regime continued to refuse entry to the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the country. While the prior civilian government permitted the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for Burma to open an office in the country in 2019, the regime denied the envoy and her staff permission to enter the country after the coup.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission has the power to conduct independent inquiries, and in some cases may call for investigations into abuses. In fact the commission had limited ability to operate as a credible, independent mechanism. Before the coup, the commission investigated some incidents of human rights abuses, but no investigations took place after February 1. The commission released photos of commission members visiting prisons, labor camps, and police detention facilities between May and June. No findings from the visits were released. The NUG established a Human Rights Ministry, which pledged to document human rights abuses committed by regime security forces. The Independent Commission of Enquiry for Rakhine State has not been active since the coup.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women and men is illegal but remained a significant problem, and the regime did not enforce the law effectively. Rape of a woman outside of marriage carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Spousal rape is not a crime unless the wife is younger than the legal age of marriage (which may vary according to ethnicity or religion), and the penalty is a maximum of two years in prison. The law prohibits committing bodily harm against another person, but there are no laws specifically against domestic violence or spousal abuse unless the wife is younger than the legal age of marriage. Overlapping and at times contradictory legal provisions complicated implementation of these limited protections.

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious problem. Abuse within families was prevalent and considered socially acceptable. Spousal abuse or domestic violence was difficult to measure because the government did not maintain comprehensive statistics and survivor typically did not report it, although the government attempted to document cases, and reported cases were on the rise.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and prescribes a maximum penalty of two years in prison if the harassment involves physical contact. Harassment is punishable by a fine or up to one year in prison. The regime did not report information on the prevalence of the problem, and many of these crimes were unreported. NGOs reported regime police investigators were not sensitive to survivors and rarely followed through with investigations or prosecutions.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The law allows the government to impose coercive birth-spacing requirements – 36 months between children – if the president or national government designates “special regions” for health care based on factors such as population, migration rate, natural resources, birth rates, and food availability. In such special regions, the government may create special health-care organizations to perform various tasks, including establishing family planning regulations. The government did not designate any such special regions.

In Rakhine State, local authorities prohibited Rohingya families from having more than two children, although some Rohingya with household registration documents reportedly circumvented the law.

The law otherwise limits the right of individuals to manage their reproductive health. Access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, for sexual violence survivors through public and private facilities was very limited and further exacerbated by the collapse of the public-health system after the coup. While September reports from Population Services International indicated that demand for oral contraceptives increased significantly in Rangoon after the coup, access to family planning was limited in rural areas. Economic hardship and security concerns in conflict-affected regions also limited access to family planning.

The Department of Social Welfare adapted gender-based violence services to COVID-19 restrictions, including expanding virtual platforms for online training.

The United Nations estimated in 2017 that the maternal mortality rate nationwide was 250 deaths per 100,000 live births. No more recent reliable data were available. The 2017 National Maternal Death Surveillance and Response Report stated that the maternal mortality ratio was highest in Shan, Chin, and Ayeyarwady States. NGOs regularly reported throughout the year that humanitarian access and movement restrictions among Rohingya limited access to health-care services and contributed to maternal mortality rates in Rakhine State being higher than the national average. Complications resulting from unsafe abortions were also a leading cause of maternal deaths.

Other major factors influencing maternal mortality included poverty; the high rate of home births (63 percent; a number that likely rose after the coup); limited availability of and access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information, including contraception, and maternal and newborn health services; low coverage of antenatal care visits; and the lack of access to services from appropriately trained and skilled birth attendants and other trained community health workers.

Discrimination: By law women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men, including property and inheritance rights and religious and personal status, but regime officials did not enforce the law. Communities around the country implemented customary law to address matters of marriage, property, and inheritance that differed from the provisions of statutory law and which was often discriminatory against women. The law requires equal pay for equal work, but the formal sector did not respect this requirement, and the regime did not actively enforce it. NGOs reported other forms of workplace discrimination were common (see also section 7.d.). The law restricts the ability of Buddhist women to marry non-Buddhist men by requiring public notification prior to any such marriage and allowing objections to the marriage to be raised in court. The law was rarely enforced. Poverty affected women disproportionately.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against members of minority groups persisted, including in areas such as education, housing, employment, and access to health services. Members of ethnic minority groups constituted 30 to 40 percent of the population. The seven ethnic minority states comprised approximately 60 percent of the national territory, and a significant number of minorities also resided in majority ethnic Burmese regions. Rohingya continued to face severe discrimination based on their ethnicity and religion, although conflict between the military and ethnic Rakhine populations de-escalated.

Children

Birth Registration: The law automatically confers full citizenship to children when both parents are from one of the 135 recognized national ethnic groups and to some children who meet other citizenship requirements. Second generation children may acquire full citizenship if at least one parent has full citizenship. Third generation children of associate or naturalized citizens may acquire full citizenship. Many long-term residents in the country, including Rohingya, are not among the recognized national ethnic groups, and thus their children are not automatically conferred citizenship (see also section 2.g.). There were significant rural-urban disparities in birth registration, with an informal or almost nonexistent process in small, rural villages. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identification card, and it can provide important protections for children, particularly against child labor, early marriage, and underage recruitment into the armed forces and ethnic armed groups.

Education: By law, education is compulsory, free, and universal through the fourth grade (up to age 10). This leaves children ages 10 through 13 vulnerable to child labor, since they are not required to attend school and are not legally permitted to work (the minimum age for work is 14). Burmese is the mandatory language of instruction in public schools. The national education plan does not allow for other languages of instruction, although some public schools taught ethnic languages as extra subjects. Schools were often unavailable in remote communities and conflict areas, and access to them for internally displaced and stateless children was also limited.

In June the regime ordered all primary and secondary schools to reopen, after closing in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Myanmar Teacher’s Federation, more than 90 percent of students did not return on June 2 as mandated. The teachers’ federation reported that almost one-third of teachers from the primary to university level were suspended for participating in the CDM. A suspended teacher from Rangoon told international media in May, “I’m not afraid of arrest and torture. I’m afraid of becoming a teacher who teaches the students propaganda.” In early July the regime ordered all primary and secondary schools closed due to the third wave of COVID-19; the schools reopened before year’s end.

UNICEF reported in July that the regime and prodemocracy groups conducted 180 attacks against schools and school personnel and that the military used education facilities for military purposes in at least 157 cases.

Child Abuse: The laws were neither adequate to deter child abuse nor enforced. The United Nations reported in July that hundreds of children were killed or maimed and approximately 1,000 arrested in postcoup demonstrations and clashes. The chairperson of the Child Rights Convention described children as “under siege” since the coup.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law stipulates different minimum ages for marriage based on religion and gender. The minimum age for Buddhists is 18, while the minimum age for non-Buddhists is 16 for boys and 15 for girls. Child marriage occurred, especially in rural areas. There were no reliable statistics on forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT), a Bangkok-based international NGO, characterized the problem of children experiencing sexual abuse and violence as “widespread,” despite the scarcity of data. Lifetime migrants constituted 20 percent of the country’s population, and the children who accompany them faced higher risks of sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and trafficking, according to UNICEF.

The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including pimping; separate provisions within the penal code prohibit sex with a minor younger than 14. The penalty for the purchase and sale of commercial sex acts from a child younger than 18 is 10 years in prison. The law prohibits child pornography and specifies a minimum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a modest fine. The law on child rights prescribes a penalty of one to seven years in prison, a substantial fine, or both, for sex trafficking and forced marriage. If a survivor is younger than 14, the law considers any sexual act to constitute statutory rape. The maximum sentence for statutory rape is two years in prison when the survivor is between ages 12 and 14, and 10 years to life in prison when the survivor is younger than 12. The law against trafficking in persons requires a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex-trafficking offense. The deposed civilian government introduced these laws. ECPAT cited a lack of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms as well as publicly available data to ascertain the effectiveness of implementation.

Displaced Children: The United Nations estimated that as of October there were more than 589,000 IDPs, approximately 37 percent of whom were children.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was one synagogue in Rangoon serving a very small and primarily expatriate Jewish population. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. While the law requires job protection, equal access to education, and access to public transportation, there was no meaningful enforcement. According to the Eden Center for Disabled Children, children with disabilities had a lower school attendance rate than their peers. COVID-19 mitigation restrictions and the coup further limited access to services, including education and programs focused on reducing stigma and discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Military veterans with disabilities in urban areas received official benefits on a priority basis, usually a civil service job at pay equivalent to rank. Official assistance to civilians with disabilities in principle included two-thirds of pay for a maximum of one year for a temporary disability and a tax-free stipend for permanent disability.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Official and societal violence and discrimination, including employment discrimination, against persons with HIV or AIDS, continued. Reports of abuse included verbal insults, harassment, threats, and physical assault. Significant legal, social, and financial barriers impeded access to services for persons with HIV or AIDS. These barriers included stigma, unhelpful gender norms, poor infrastructure, an entrenched drug trade, political instability, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Laws criminalizing behaviors that increased the risk of acquiring HIV or AIDS fueled stigma and discrimination against persons engaged in these behaviors and impeded their access to HIV prevention, treatment, and care services.

The regime paused most high-level efforts to address these matters due to political instability and reduced engagement with the regime by persons and groups concerned with them.

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

Although consensual sexual activity between men remained a criminal offense, political reforms in prior years made it easier for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community to hold public events and openly participate in society. Discrimination, stigma, and a lack of acceptance among the general population persisted. Transgender persons, for example, were subject to police harassment, and their identity was not recognized. After the coup, reported violence against LGBTQI+ persons increased. As of July the NUG minister of human rights claimed at least 12 LGBTQI+ community members died and another 73 were arrested while peacefully protesting against the regime. As of November, at least 65 LGBTQI+ community members remained in detention, and 28 were either in hiding or had fled to areas not under regime control. According to Radio Free Asia, LGBTQI+ prodemocracy supporters were targeted for humiliation by regime after arrest including sexual insults, taunts, mocking of clothing, and physical abuse.

There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment. Many LGBTQI+ individuals faced significant barriers to education and employment if they were vocal or visible about their status. LGBTQI+ persons reported facing discrimination from health-care providers, including public shaming.

A 2019 report by the British Council found mixed views on whether LGBTQI+ persons could be accepted in the culture: fifty percent of respondents rejected the idea. Overall, those polled were more willing to accept LGBTQI+ persons in the abstract but were less so when the person in question was a specific individual, such as a relative or politician.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

After the military coup on February 1, the regime committed widespread abuses against organized labor, including the unlawful detention and extrajudicial killing of labor union leaders and members for exercising their fundamental freedoms and basic human rights. After the coup, labor laws often went unenforced or were enforced primarily against organized labor and labor activists and in the interests of business owners and the regime.

The military declared at least 16 labor unions illegal and issued arrest warrants for more than 85 union leaders, including 11 of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar, and many union leaders remained in prison or missing. There were numerous reported raids of trade union offices and union leaders’ homes. More than a dozen union leaders were killed.

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. The law permits labor organizations to demand the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity, but it does not explicitly prohibit antiunion discrimination in the form of demotions or mandatory transfers, nor does it offer protection for workers seeking to form a union. The law does not provide adequate protection for workers from dismissal before a union is officially registered. The law prohibits civil servants and personnel of the security services and police from forming unions. The law permits workers to join unions only within their category of trade or activity, and the definition of trade or activity lacks clarity. Basic labor organizations must have a minimum of 30 workers and register through township registrars via the Chief Registrar’s Office of the regime Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population (Ministry of Labor). The law permits labor federations and confederations to affiliate with international union federations and confederations.

The law provides for voluntary registration for local NGOs, including labor NGOs working on labor matters, as long as they do not receive foreign funding. The military authorities interfered in the operations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) country office, including through the continued imposition of banking restrictions, the denial of visa extensions for ILO officials, and the denial of tax exemptions.

The law provides unions the right to represent workers, to negotiate and bargain collectively with employers, and to send representatives to a conciliation body or tribunal; however, there were reports that employers dismissed union leaders with impunity or with military support. The law stipulates that a management committee, including government and nongovernmental representatives, in the special economic zones be the first instance arbiter in disputes between employers and employees.

In March, however, the military took control and imposed martial law over two major industrial zones located in Hlain Thar Yar and Shwe Pyi Thar Townships, Rangoon Region, as well as other townships with a high concentration of industrial and manufacturing enterprises. Labor representatives alleged that some employers hired military-affiliated security guards to harass and intimidate workers, sometimes leading to fatal violence when disputes arose. On March 16 at Xing Jia shoe factory, the employer reportedly called in police to deal with a dispute with a group of workers seeking their pay. The police opened fire and killed at least six workers.

The law provides the right to strike in most sectors with significant requirements such as the permission of the relevant labor federations. The law prohibits strikes addressing problems not directly relevant to labor matters. The law does not permit strikes or lockouts in essential services such as water, electric, or health. Lockouts are permitted in public utility services (including transportation; cargo and freight; postal; sanitation; information, communication, and technology; energy; petroleum; and financial sectors), with a minimum of 14 days’ notice provided to the relevant labor organizations and conciliation body. Strikes in public utility services generally require the same measures as in other sectors, but seven days’ advance notice and negotiation between workers and management is required before the strike takes place in order to determine maintenance of minimum service levels.

The government did not effectively enforce labor laws related to freedom of association. Penalties for violations of related labor laws were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights; however, laws were enforced primarily against independent trade unions and not employers.

After the coup, strikes and collective worker action led to retaliation by the military, including workers forced to return to work at gunpoint. On February 19, shipping and jetty workers in Mandalay went on strike to support the CDM. There were reports that the military tried, at gun point, to force the workers back to work, but large crowds gathered to block and drive the military away. The military fired into the crowd, killing protesters. The military evicted striking railway worker and their families, forcing them to flee.

After a national work stoppage began on March 8, the military publicly stated that all public sector workers must return or face criminal charges. There were reports of at least 1,100 public-sector workers from various departments receiving some form of threat or discipline because of participation in the CDM.

Workers at some unionized factories negotiated leave agreements so they would be granted leave to attend the demonstrations. Employer refusal, in some cases, led to work stoppages. There are numerous reports of workers fired for participating in the CDM. Many reported postings at factories saying workers would be fired if they participated in the CDM.

Worker organizations reported that formal dispute settlement and court procedures were not effective at enforcing labor laws. After the coup, there were multiple reports of worker disputes handled with military interference.

Labor organizations also reported that local labor offices imposed unnecessary bureaucratic requirements for union registration that were inconsistent with the law.

The Confederation of Trade Unions in Myanmar reported the arrest and harassment of trade unionists by regime security forces after the coup, including the secretary general of Myanmar Infrastructure, Craft and Service who was detained in June when the regime raided the infrastructure, craft, and service union office in Mandalay. Labor sources reported the secretary general was not allowed to meet any visitors or access legal aid while in detention. In a separate case, regime authorities detained the director of the Solidarity Trade Union of Myanmar at his office in April. Labor sources reported the regime denied the director access to medicine and other necessary health care to manage her chronic illness while in detention. The regime released the director in October as part of a general amnesty and without pursuing formal charges. On October 12, a military tribunal also sentenced two union organizers, U Yen Tu Htauk and Ma Kyi Par Lay, to life in prison.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, although insufficient barriers exist for the use of forced labor by the military and penal institutions. The law also provides for the punishment of persons who impose forced labor on others. The law provides criminal penalties for forced labor violations; penalties differ depending on whether the military, the government, or a private citizen committed the violation. The penalties were commensurate with analogous serious crimes such as kidnapping. The regime did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the areas where significant conflict was occurring.

In early 2020 the government established a forced-labor complaints mechanism under the Ministry of Labor. There were no data available on the functioning of or the number of cases reported to or processed by the mechanism since the coup. The ILO expressed profound concern over practices of the military authorities, including the use of forced labor.

The regime threatened CDM members with criminal charges if they did not return to work (see also section 7.a.).

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, although the regime did not meaningfully enforce the law. The law sets the minimum age at 14 for work in certain sectors, including shops and factories; the law establishes special provisions for “youth employment” for those older than 14. There is, however, no minimum age for work for all sectors in which children were employed, including agriculture and informal work. The law prohibits employees younger than 16 from working in a hazardous environment, but the government did not issue a list of hazardous jobs. Some sector-specific laws identify activities that are prohibited for children younger than 18. Penalties under the Child Rights Law were analogous to other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Children worked mostly as street vendors, refuse collectors, restaurant and teashop attendants, garment workers, and domestic workers. Children often worked in the informal economy, in some instances exposing them to drugs and petty crime, risk of arrest, commercial sexual exploitation, HIV, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections (see also section 6). Children were also vulnerable to forced labor in teashops, agriculture and forestry, gem production, begging, and other fields. In rural areas children routinely worked in family agricultural activities, occasionally in situations that potentially involved forced labor. Child labor was also reported in the extraction of rubies and jade and the manufacture of rubber and bricks.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination. Restrictions against women in employment exist based on social and cultural practices and beliefs. Women remained underrepresented in most traditionally male-dominated occupations (forestry, carpentry, masonry, and fishing) and were effectively barred from them by hiring practices and cultural barriers. Women were not legally prohibited from any employment except in underground mines. The law governing hiring of civil service personnel states that nothing shall prevent the appointment of men to “positions that are suitable for men only,” with no further definition of what constitutes positions “suitable for men only.”

There were reports that government and private actors practiced discrimination that impeded Muslim-owned businesses’ operations and undercut their ability to hire and retain labor, maintain proper working standards, and secure public and private contracts. There were reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, including the denial of promotions and firing of LGBTQI+ persons. Activists reported limited job opportunities for many openly gay and lesbian persons and noted a general lack of support from society. Activists reported that in addition to general societal discrimination, persons with HIV or AIDS faced employment discrimination in both the public and private sectors, including suspensions and the loss of employment following positive results from mandatory workplace HIV testing.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The official minimum daily wage was above the poverty line. The minimum wage covers all sectors and industries and applies to all workers in the formal sector except those in businesses with fewer than 15 employees. The law requires the minimum wage to be revised every two years. The government also established tripartite committees in the Special Economic Zones responsible for setting wage levels and an inspector for each zone.

The workweek is 44 hours per week for factories. For shops and other establishments, it is 48 hours per week. Although the law in general states that overtime should not exceed 12 hours per work week, the law allows up to 16 hours of overtime when special matters require additional overtime. Overtime for factory workers is regulated under a separate directive that limits overtime to 20 hours per week. The law also stipulates that an employee’s total working hours cannot exceed 11 hours per day (including overtime and a one-hour break). Laws did not apply to those in the informal sector or self-employed.

Occupational Safety and Health: The 2019 Occupational Safety and Health law sets standards for occupational safety, health, and welfare. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to suspend businesses operating at risk to worker health and safety until risks are remediated.

Labor unions reported instances in which workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Unions reported that workers concerned about COVID-19 positive cases in factories were nonetheless required to work.

The Ministry of Labor’s Factories and General Labor Laws Inspection Department oversees labor conditions in the private sector. Inspectors were authorized to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

The regime did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for wage and hour violations were commensurate with those for similar violations, but penalties for safety and health violations were not. The number of labor law inspectors and factory inspectors was insufficient to address wage, salary, overtime, occupational safety and health standards, and other matters adequately. In some sectors other ministries regulated occupational safety and health laws (e.g., the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation).

Informal Sector: Observers agreed the great majority of the country’s workers were in the informal sector. Wage, hours and occupational safety and health laws did not apply to those in the informal sector or self-employed.

Informal workers’ jobs were less secure during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in April 2020 the Ministry of Health ordered that no more than 50 workers could be present at a construction site. One of the largest employers of informal labor was the construction sector. The postcoup regime retained the policy.

Informal-sector jobs usually lacked basic benefits such as social and legal protections. In at-risk industries – defined as having occupational hazards, volatile payment structures, and ease in exploiting labor rights – on average, one in five workers had an informal work arrangement, although the proportion was even higher in manufacturing, construction, recreation, and personal services. In addition, nearly two-thirds of the workers in medium- to high-risk industries were employed informally.

Egypt

Executive Summary

According to its constitution, Egypt is a republic governed by an elected president and bicameral legislature, with the upper house reconstituted in 2020 as the Senate after a six-year absence. Presidential elections were held in 2018. Challengers to incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi withdrew ahead of the election, citing personal decisions, political pressure, legal troubles, and unfair competition; in some cases they were arrested for alleged abuses of candidacy rules. Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on association, assembly, and expression severely constrained broad participation in the political process. A progovernment coalition won an overwhelming majority of seats in multistage, multiround elections for parliament’s reconstituted Senate and House of Representatives. Domestic and international observers said government authorities professionally administered parliamentary elections in accordance with the country’s laws and that their results were credible. Observers noted restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, political association, and expression significantly inhibited the political climate surrounding the elections.

The Interior Ministry supervises law enforcement and internal security, including the Public Security Sector Police, the Central Security Force, the National Security Sector, and the Passports, Immigration, and Nationality Administration. The Public Security Sector Police are responsible for law enforcement nationwide. The Central Security Force protects infrastructure and is responsible for crowd control. The National Security Sector is responsible for internal security threats and counterterrorism along with other security services. The armed forces report to the minister of defense and are responsible for external defense, but they also have a mandate to assist police in protecting vital infrastructure during a state of emergency. On October 25, President Sisi announced he would not renew the state of emergency that expired on October 24 and had been in place almost continuously nationwide since 2017 after terrorist attacks on Coptic churches. On November 11, President Sisi ratified legislation allowing the president to take appropriate measures, not to exceed six months, to maintain public order and security, such as curfews or evacuations of specified areas, in the event of a natural disaster or terrorism event. The amendments also authorize the military to assist local authorities in protecting critical infrastructure. Defense forces operate in North Sinai as part of a broader national counterterrorism operation with general detention authority. The Border Guard Forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for border control. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents, and by terrorist groups; forced disappearance by state security; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisals against individuals located in another country; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including reportedly enforced disappearances, abductions, physical abuses, and extrajudicial killings; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the abuse of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental and civil society organizations; restrictions on freedom of movement, including travel bans imposed on human rights defenders, journalists, and activists; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons and use of the law to arrest and prosecute arbitrarily such persons.

The government failed to consistently punish or prosecute officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, including for corruption. In most cases the government did not comprehensively investigate allegations of human rights abuses, including most incidents of violence by security forces, contributing to an environment of impunity.

Attacks by terrorist organizations caused arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life. Terrorist groups conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets. Authorities investigated terrorist attacks and prosecuted alleged perpetrators. Terrorists and other armed groups abducted and killed civilians in North Sinai. There were incidents of societal sectarian violence against Coptic Christians.

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 that occurred while making arrests or holding persons in custody or during disputes with civilians.

There were also reports of civilians killed during military operations in North Sinai.

There were reported instances of persons tortured to death and other allegations of killings in prisons and detention centers by security forces. The government charged, prosecuted, and convicted perpetrators in some cases, but lack of accountability remained a problem.

On May 25, an Italian judge ordered four senior members of the country’s security services to stand trial in Italy concerning their suspected role in the killing of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, who was found dead in Cairo in 2016 bearing what forensics officials said were signs of torture. On June 15, the prosecutor general gave the Italian ambassador a document for the Italian court outlining a lack of evidence in the case. On October 14, the Italian judge suspended the trial and sent the case back to a preliminary hearings judge to determine whether the defendants knew they had been charged. According to Italian media, a hearing before the preliminary hearings judge was scheduled for January 2022.

There were several reports of groups of suspected terrorists and other suspected criminals killed during security raids conducted by security forces. On August 5, Amnesty International called on the country’s Public Prosecution to investigate a video released on August 1 by the armed forces spokesperson allegedly showing two extrajudicial killings in North Sinai.

ISIS-Sinai Province (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) conducted deadly attacks on government, civilian, and security targets in North and South Sinai. Other terrorist groups, including Harakat al-Suwad Misr, reportedly continued to operate. There were no official, published data on the number of victims of terrorist violence during the year. A combination of local and international press reporting, government press releases, and social media accounts tracking events in Sinai suggested terrorist groups killed or wounded more than 90 civilians in 2020. Approximately 15 of these civilians were reported to have been killed by booby traps left by ISIS-Sinai Province between October and December 2020.

b. Disappearance

International and local human rights groups reported continuing large numbers of enforced disappearances, alleging authorities utilized this tactic to intimidate critics.

Authorities detained individuals without producing arrest or search warrants. According to a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), authorities detained many of these individuals in unspecified National Security Sector offices and police stations, but they were not included in official registers. Authorities held detainees incommunicado and denied their requests to contact family members and lawyers.

Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4 and held without knowledge of his whereabouts by his family or attorneys until he appeared on January 17 before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (State Security Prosecution), a branch of the Public Prosecution specialized in investigating national security threats, who ordered his detention pending investigation into charges of spreading false news, joining an unspecified banned group, and misusing social media. Journalist Ahmed Khalifa was arrested on January 6, the day after he covered a labor protest, and was held without knowledge of his whereabouts by his family or attorneys until he appeared on January 16 before the State Security Prosecution, who ordered his detention pending investigation into the same allegations as al-Zaeem. Khalifa was released in July, while Zaeem remained in pretrial detention at year’s end.

On June 25, 1,000 days after the 2018 disappearance of former parliamentarian Mustafa al-Naggar, 15 local and international organizations called on the government to investigate and disclose information on his whereabouts, as ordered by the Administrative Court in 2020.

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

The constitution states that no torture, intimidation, coercion, or physical or moral harm shall be inflicted upon a person whose movements are restricted or whom authorities have detained or arrested. The penal code forbids torture to induce a confession from a detained or arrested suspect but does not account for mental or psychological abuse against persons whom authorities have not formally accused, or for abuse occurring for reasons other than securing a confession. The penal code also forbids all public officials or civil servants from “employing cruelty” or “causing bodily harm” under any circumstances. Nonetheless, there were reports that government officials employed them.

Local rights organizations reported torture was systemic, including deaths that resulted from torture. According to domestic and international human rights organizations, police and prison guards resorted to torture to extract information from detainees, including minors. Reported techniques included beatings, electric shocks, psychological abuse, and sexual assault. On July 15, Human Rights First issued a report documenting alleged abuses, including torture, by security forces based on testimony from prisoners released between 2019 and 2021. Human Rights First characterized torture and other abuse as pervasive in prisons.

On March 1, detained activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was sentenced to five years in prison on December 20, claimed during a pretrial detention hearing that he had been subjected to incidents of intimidation after he reported hearing fellow prisoners being subjected to torture with electric shocks.

The government released journalist Solafa Magdy and her photographer husband Hossam el-Sayed on April 14 and journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah on July 18 from pretrial detention. International organizations reported that Magdy and Abdel Fattah were abused while in pretrial detention following their 2019 arrests. The abuse reportedly included beatings and suspension from a ceiling.

On September 17, a local human rights attorney said that secretary general of the Foundation for the Defense of the Oppressed, Ahmed Abd-al-Sattar Amasha, had been deprived of visits, exercise, sunlight, and access to health care for more than a year. He had been detained since his June 2020 arrest and was previously arrested in 2017, allegedly abused, and released in 2019. He joined an international campaign in 2016 urging authorities to close the maximum-security branch of Tora Prison and cofounded the League of Families of the Disappeared in 2014.

There were reports that prisoners detained on politically motivated charges were held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement. Local media reported that the state detained Strong Egypt party deputy president Mohamed el-Kassas in solitary confinement and had prevented him from exercising, reading, or listening to the radio since his initial arrest in 2018 on allegations of joining an unspecified banned group and spreading false news. El-Kassas was re-arrested in three new cases during continuous confinement without release, all on similar charges in 2019, in August 2020, and again on July 28.

According to human rights activists, impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. The Prosecutor General’s Office (for Interior Ministry actions) and the Military Prosecution (for military actions) are responsible for pursuing prosecutions and investigating whether security force actions were justifiable.

On April 4, the Court of Cassation upheld as a final verdict a 2019 acquittal of six police officers and two noncommissioned police personnel charged with torturing to death a citizen and forging official documents inside a police station in 2017. According to local media, the victim was arrested with his brother on charges of murdering and robbing their grandmother.

On April 10, a criminal court reconvicted, in absentia, two noncommissioned police personnel on charges of torturing to death Magdy Makeen, a donkey-cart driver, in a Cairo police station in 2016. In December 2020 a criminal court sentenced a police officer and eight other noncommissioned personnel to three years in prison in this case. A police corporal also charged in the case was acquitted.

On August 5, a criminal court acquitted 11 police officers in a retrial that challenged their suspended one-year prison sentences and their convictions for the killing of protesters during the January 25 revolution in 2011.

On December 28, a court ruled that the family of Khaled Said, who died of police brutality in 2010, would receive one million Egyptian pounds (EGP) ($62,500) in compensation. Two police officers were convicted of the crime in 2011.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two allegations submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). This follows one allegation of attempted transactional sex in 2020 and another of sexual assault in 2016, both of which also occurred in MINUSCA. As of September investigations into the three most recent allegations were pending. A separate investigation substantiated the 2016 allegation, leading to the repatriation and, imprisonment of the perpetrator.

Human rights organizations said the Public Prosecution continued to order forced medical exams in “family values” or “debauchery” cases. On July 5, the New York Times published testimony from women who claimed sexual abuse in detention by police, prison guards, and state-employed doctors, including forced stripping, invasive examinations, so-called virginity tests, and forced anal examinations in front of onlookers (see section 6).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to widespread overcrowding and lack of adequate access to medical care, proper sanitation and ventilation, food, and potable water.

Physical Conditions: According to domestic and international NGO observers, prison cells were overcrowded On April 11, a local human rights organization estimated the total prison population at more than 119,000 located in an estimated 78 prisons, including approximately 82,000 convicted prisoners and 37,000 pretrial detainees. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned between 20,000 and 60,000 individuals on politically motivated grounds.

Authorities did not always separate juveniles from adults and sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In a March 24 report based on research conducted between February 2020 and November 2020 from the experiences of 67 individuals (10 of whom had died in custody) in 16 prisons (three for women and 13 for men) in seven governorates, a local human rights organization reported that conditions in prisons and detention centers included medical negligence; solitary confinement; and the denial of visits, telephone calls, academic studies, and the provision of outside food, or some kinds of foods, to prisoners and detainees.

In July, Human Rights First released a report alleging recruitment by ISIS in the prison system. The report said that prisoners were more susceptible to recruitment in part because of poor prison conditions.

The large number of arrests and the use of pretrial detention during the year exacerbated harsh conditions and overcrowding, contributing to a significant number of deaths in prisons and detention centers. Human rights groups and the families of some deceased prisoners claimed that prison authorities denied prisoners access to potentially life-saving medical care and in some cases denied requests to transfer the prisoners to the hospital, leading to deaths in prison.

On January 5, an Interior Ministry security source denied social media accounts of the spread of COVID-19 among prison inmates and the deaths of several inmates from COVID-19. On May 17, the Minister of Health announced the government’s intent to give COVID-19 vaccines to prisoners across the country. On June 26, the Interior Ministry filed a court document in response to several lawsuits, stating that it had vaccinated 5,000 prison inmates, officers, and those working in prisons, according to local media. On August 23, the Administrative Court denied a request for COVID-19 vaccines for researcher Patrick Zaki, lawyer Mohamed Elbakr, and other high-profile detainees and prisoners, according to local media. Zaki was released on December 8 pending trial (see section 2.b.). At year’s end it remained unclear whether Elbakr had received the COVID-19 vaccine.

On July 24, imprisoned former presidential candidate and Strong Egypt Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh survived a “severe heart attack” but did not receive medical treatment despite calling out for help, according to statements by Aboul Fotouh’s son on social media. Aboul Fotouh’s son said that in the weeks prior to his heart attack, Aboul Fotouh had been prevented from buying anything from the prison canteen and from receiving injections for spinal pain. According to an August 18 report by four international organizations, 10 detainees died in custody between July 6 and August 11. Activist Mona Seif quoted her brother, imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, saying that one of his prison mates, Ahmad Sabir, died in prison on July 11 after Sabir became ill and his cellmates shouted to guards for medical help without any response for five hours.

Inmates often relied upon outside visitors for food and other supplies or were forced to purchase those items from the prison canteen at significantly inflated prices, according to local NGOs. In September a local human rights organization reported that skin diseases were widespread among prisoners in high security prisons due to unhygienic conditions and a lack of sunlight, and in the Qanater women’s prison due to lack of clean water and overcrowding. Provisions for temperature control and lighting generally were inadequate. Reports that guards abused prisoners, including juveniles in adult facilities, were common. Prison conditions for women were reported to be marginally better than those for men. Media reported some prisoners protested conditions by going on hunger strikes.

Local media reported that the Interior Ministry’s social protection sector sent medical providers from various specialties to eight prisons (male and female) in July and August to provide medical services to prisoners. According to reports, 55 prisoners received medical evaluations and medications at Mansoura prison and 39 prisoners received limb prostheses at the Borg al-Arab prison.

There were reports authorities sometimes segregated prisoners accused of crimes related to political or security matters from other prisoners accused of nonpolitical crimes and subjected the former to verbal or physical abuse and punitive solitary confinement. On May 11, Amnesty International called for the release of political activist Ahmed Douma after what it called a “grossly unfair and politically motivated” trial that resulted in a 15-year prison sentence in 2020. Since his arrest in 2015, Douma had been held in solitary confinement for more than 2,200 days.

The law authorizes prison officials to use force against prisoners who resist orders.

Administration: Prisoners could request investigation of alleged inhuman conditions, but NGO observers claimed prisoners were reluctant to do so due to fear of retribution from prison officials. The government did not investigate most of these allegations. As required by law, the public prosecutor inspected prisons and detention centers.

The criminal procedure code and the law regulating prisons ostensibly provide for reasonable access to prisoners, but according to NGO observers and relatives, the government regularly prevented visitors’ access to detainees. Rights groups also claimed that state security emergency court hearings and trials were not accessible to family or legal counsel and detainees lacked full access to legal counsel and documents related to their charges. Authorities cited restrictions put in place during the year as part of COVID-19 preventive measures.

Independent Monitoring: The government arranged visits between January and May for delegations of local and foreign media correspondents, representatives of human rights organizations, religious leaders, and the National Council for Human Rights to Tora Prison, Borg al-Arab Prison, El Marag General Prison, Wadi al-Natroun Prison, Fayoum Prison, and three prisons in Minya Governorate.

Improvements: In October the country opened its new Wadi al-Natroun Reform and Rehabilitation Center, which included new medical facilities, vocational training spaces, and worship areas including a mosque and a church. Officials stated inmates from 12 aging prisons planned for closure would be transferred to the new prison, and the new prison will provide improved onsite medical care, including treatment for addiction and mental health, psychological therapy and services, dialysis, dental treatment, dermatology, and computerized tomography scans.

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 but reported incidents of arbitrary arrests and detentions remained frequent, according to local and international rights groups.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

For persons other than those apprehended in the process of committing a crime, the law requires that police act based on a judicial warrant issued either under the penal code or the code of military justice, but there were numerous reports of arrests without a warrant.

Ordinary criminal courts and misdemeanor courts hear cases brought by the prosecutor general. Arrests under the penal code occurred openly and with warrants issued by a public prosecutor or judge. There was a functioning bail system, although some defendants claimed judges imposed unreasonably high bail.

Criminal defendants have the right to counsel promptly after arrest, and usually, but not always, authorities allowed access to family members. The court is obliged to provide a lawyer to indigent defendants. Nevertheless, defendants often faced administrative and, in some cases political or legal obstacles, and could not secure regular access to lawyers or family visits. A prosecutor may order four days of preventive detention for individuals suspected of committing misdemeanors or felonies. In regular criminal cases, the period of preventive detention is subject to renewal in increments of 15 days by the investigative judge up to a total of 45 days, for both misdemeanors and felonies. Before the 45th day, the prosecutor must submit the case to a misdemeanor appellate court panel of three judges, who may release the accused person or renew the detention in further increments of 45 days. In cases under the jurisdiction of the State Security Prosecution, prosecutors may renew preventive detention in increments of 15 days up to a total of 150 days, after which the prosecutor must refer the case to a criminal court panel of three judges to renew the detention in increments of 45 days.

Detention may extend from the stage of initial investigation through all stages of criminal judicial proceedings. The combined periods of prosecutor- and court-ordered detentions prior to trial may not exceed six months in cases of misdemeanors, 18 months in cases of felonies, and two years in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment. After the pretrial detention reaches its legal limit without a conviction, authorities must release the accused person immediately. Rights groups claimed accused persons may face additional charges after their detention limit was reached, thereby “recycling” the accused person into indefinite pretrial detention. Legal experts offered conflicting interpretations of the law in death penalty or life imprisonment cases once the trial has commenced, with some arguing there was no time limit on detention during the trial period, which may last several years.

Charges involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, such as joining an unspecified banned group that is claimed to undermine state institutions, sometimes were added to cases related to expression or other politically motivated cases. As a result, authorities might hold some individuals charged with nonviolent crimes by prolonging the duration of their trial or rearresting them into new cases to avoid the two-year pretrial detention limit.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arrest, search, or detention without a judicial warrant, except for those caught in the act of a crime. These rights are suspended during a state of emergency, the most recent of which expired in October. There were frequent reports of arbitrary arrest and detention. Local activists and rights groups stated that hundreds of arrests did not comply with due-process laws. For example, authorities did not charge the detainees with crimes or refer them to prosecutors and denied access to their lawyers and families (see section 1.b.).

According to a local human rights attorney, police arrested journalist Gamal el Gaml on February 22 upon his return from his “voluntary” exile since 2017 in Istanbul. Local media noted el Gaml had gained limited notoriety in 2014 when President Sisi called him directly regarding el Gaml’s assertions that the country did not provide basic services; al-Masry al-Youm newspaper halted his regular column in 2015. On July 18, el Gaml was released pending trial.

In 2019 Ramy Kamel, a Coptic Christian human rights activist, was arrested in his home in Cairo. On June 22, the Criminal Court renewed for 45 days his pretrial detention on accusations of joining an unspecified terror group and spreading false news. An international organization stated Kamel had been held in solitary confinement since his arrest. He remained in custody at year’s end.

Inmate Abdulrahman el-Showeikh’s mother, father, and sister were arrested on April 27, which international human rights organizations claimed was in retaliation for his mother’s reports in early April that el-Showeikh had been abused in Minya Prison, as well as his brother’s April 26 social media posts from Turkey condemning the alleged abuse. El-Showeikh’s father and sister were released shortly after their arrest and his mother was accused of joining a terrorist group and publishing and broadcasting false news. On December 30, a human rights organization reported that el-Showeikh’s mother remained in pretrial detention in solitary confinement without visits or medical care for certain medical problems, according to a son’s social media post. Kholoud Said, the head of the translation unit of the publication department at Bibliotheca Alexandria, was charged on January 11 in a new case with joining an unspecified terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media, the same charges as in the original case for which she had been arrested in April 2020. Despite a December 2020 order for her release in the original case, Said was not released and remained in pretrial detention. Freelance translator Marwa Arafa remained in pretrial detention after her April 2020 arrest on similar charges. Representatives of a women’s rights organization said they could not identify any apparent reason for these arrests.

On March 17, a criminal court convicted activist Sanaa Seif, sister of imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and sentenced her to 18 months in prison for broadcasting false news by making allegations the government asserted were false concerning the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, defaming and insulting a public employee, and using an electronic account to commit a crime. Seif was arrested in June 2020 outside the New Cairo Public Prosecutor’s office where her family was filing a complaint seeking to receive communications from Abdel Fattah. On December 23, Seif was released after serving the entirety of her sentence.

Pretrial Detention: The government did not provide figures on the total number of pretrial detainees. Rights groups and the quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights alleged excessive use of pretrial detention and preventive detention during trials for nonviolent crimes. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicted prisoners. Large backlogs in the criminal courts contributed to protracted periods of pretrial detention. Estimates of the number of pretrial and preventive detainees were unreliable. According to human rights organizations, the government sometimes rearrested detainees on charges filed in new cases to extend their detention beyond a two-year maximum.

Media reported that after four years of pretrial detention, al-Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein was released on February 6 with precautionary measures that required him to report to a police station two days per week. Hussein continued to face charges in several cases pending trial, including spreading false news and receiving foreign funds to defame the state’s reputation. On August 21, Reporters Without Borders called for the release of al-Jazeera journalist Rabie el Sheikh, who was arrested at Cairo International Airport on August 1, and three other al-Jazeera journalists in pretrial detention since 2019 and 2020. All were charged with spreading false news and membership in a terrorist group.

On August 23, the State Security Prosecution referred human rights lawyer and executive director of the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms Ezzat Ghoneim to trial before the Emergency State Security Criminal Court on charges including joining and financing the Muslim Brotherhood, deliberately broadcasting false news, and disturbing security. Ghoneim had been in pretrial detention since his 2018 arrest and was added to second case in May 2020 and a third case on May 29, all on similar charges.

Political activist Sameh Saudi, whom authorities arrested in 2018 and added to new cases in 2019 and 2020 remained in pretrial detention.

On November 20, the State Security Prosecution released journalist Ahmed Shaker after exceeding the maximum limit of 24 months of pretrial detention, according to local media. Security forces had arrested Shaker in 2019 and charged him with spreading false news and participating in a terrorist group.

The Public Prosecution released Ola Qaradawi on December 12, according to local media. Authorities had arrested Qaradawi and her husband, Hosam Khalaf, in 2017 on charges of communicating with and facilitating support for a terrorist group. At year’s end Khalaf remained in pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Individual courts sometimes appeared to lack impartiality and to arrive at outcomes that were politically motivated or without individual findings of guilt. The government generally respected court orders. Human rights organizations claimed the State Security Prosecution bypassed court orders to release detainees by arresting them again in a new case, in some instances on the same charges.

The law imposes penalties on individuals designated by a court as terrorists, even without criminal convictions. The government has designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group and prosecutes individuals for membership in or support for the Muslim Brotherhood group. The effects of a designation include a travel ban, asset freeze, loss of political rights, and passport cancellation. The court designation may be appealed directly to the country’s highest appeals court, and authorities do not inform most individuals of their impending designation before the court rules.

The constitution states: “Civilians may not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that represent an assault against military facilities, military barracks, facilities protected by the military, designated military or border zones; military equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, military secrets, public funds or military factories; crimes related to conscription; or crimes that represent an assault against its officers or personnel because of the performance of their duties.”

Under the state of emergency that expired on October 24, authorities regularly used military courts to try civilians accused of threatening national security. Public access to information concerning military trials was limited. Military trials were difficult to monitor because media were usually subjected to restraint orders. Rights groups and lawyers said defense attorneys in military trials had difficulty gaining access to their clients and to documentation related to the cases.

Authorities released journalist Moataz Wadnan on July 18. Police arrested Wadnan in 2018, after he conducted a press interview with the former head of the Central Audit Organization, and charged Wadnan with joining an unspecified banned group and spreading false news. Two days after a court ordered Wadnan’s release in May 2020, the State Security Prosecution added him to a new case with the additional charges of inciting terrorist crimes. Before his July 18 release, Wadnan had been in continuous pretrial detention for more than three years. Journalist Mostafa al-Asaar, who was also arrested in 2018, and lawyer Mahienour al-Masry, who was arrested in 2019 after she defended detainees arrested during street protests, were released on July 18. Police charged all three with joining a banned group and spreading false news.

Some trials involving hundreds of defendants continued, particularly in cases involving demonstrators sympathetic to former president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 and 2014.

On April 8, Mahmoud Ezzat was sentenced to life in prison for inciting violence and other terrorism-related charges, stemming from clashes outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in 2013 that resulted in the killing of nine persons and injuring of 91 others.

On June 14, the Court of Cassation issued a final ruling upholding the death penalty sentences for 12 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including three senior Brotherhood leaders: Mohamed El-Beltagy, Safwat Hegazy, and Abdel-Rahman El-Bar. The court also commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment for 31 others in the same case, the 2013 Rabaa sit-in.

On July 11, in a separate case, the Court of Cassation upheld the 2019 sentencing of 10 Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Mohamed Badie, to life imprisonment on charges of killing policemen, organizing mass jail breaks, and undermining national security by allegedly conspiring with foreign militant groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, during 2011 unrest. The Court of Cassation in the same case also overturned the convictions of eight mid-level Muslim Brotherhood members who had been sentenced in 2019 to 15 years in prison. It remained unclear at year’s end whether they were released or were held pending charges in other cases.

In an August 23 statement, a local human rights organization said the Public Prosecution refused to allow attorneys to visit blogger Mohamed Ibrahim (aka “Mohamed Oxygen”) after Ibrahim reportedly attempted suicide in pretrial detention in July. According to his attorneys, Ibrahim had been suffering mentally from mistreatment, including because of authorities depriving him family visits for a period exceeding 15 months, which the government said was due to COVID-19 preventive measures. Ibrahim had been in pretrial detention between his 2019 arrest and his December 20 conviction on allegations of joining an unspecified banned group, spreading false news, and misusing social media, after he tweeted a list of protesters and journalists detained in 2019 who had protested alleged military corruption. On October 16, the State Security Prosecution referred Ibrahim, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and human rights lawyer Mohamed Elbakr to trial before an emergency court. On December 20, an emergency court sentenced Abdel Fattah to five years in prison, and Ibrahim and Elbakr to four years in prison. Human rights groups and activists said the trial lacked due process and called for presidential commutation or pardon for all three individuals; at year’s end their sentences remained in place.

Khaled Lotfy, founder of the Tanmia bookstores and publishing house, remained in custody at year’s end. He was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to five years in prison by a military court for distributing the Arabic edition of The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, as well as charges of spreading false news and allegedly divulging military secrets.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary often failed to uphold this right.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and authorities usually inform defendants promptly of charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. Attendance is mandatory for individuals charged with felonies and optional for those charged with misdemeanors. Civilian criminal and misdemeanor trials usually are public. During the year authorities denied entrance to representatives of civil society, media, foreign embassies, and family members attempting to attend trial and pretrial detention hearings. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and the government is responsible for providing counsel if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer. Defendants have the right to free interpretation by a court-assigned interpreter from the moment charged through all appeals. The law allows defendants to question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The constitution provides for the right of an accused person to remain silent in his own trial. Defendants have the right of appeal up to the Court of Cassation. Judicial and executive review is available to individuals sentenced to the death penalty. Judges must seek the nonbinding review of the grand mufti on all death sentences, and the president must confirm all such sentences.

The law permits individual members of the public to file charges with the prosecutor general, who is charged with deciding whether the evidence justifies referring the charges for a trial. Observers reported, however, that due to unclear evidentiary standards, the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated and referred for trial most such cases, regardless of the strength of the evidence.

On June 15, President Sisi ratified law 70/2021, which criminalizes, with a fine, the filming, photographing, or recording of criminal court hearings without prior permission from the presiding judge and prosecutor general.

On November 11, the president ratified amendments to a 2015 terrorism law that ban the photography, recording, or live broadcasting of trial sessions involving any terrorism crimes without prior approval.

On May 24, an international human rights organization said there had been at least 53 mass trials since 2011, in which 2,182 persons were sentenced to death.

On August 13, Amnesty International said the government had executed at least 81 persons in 2021. On July 4, authorities executed engineering student Moataz Hassan, who was convicted of participating in the 2018 attempted assassination of Major General Mustafa al-Nimr. A human rights organization claimed security forces had coerced Hassan’s confession with torture and threats after his 2018 arrest.

Military courts are not open to the public. Defendants in military courts nominally enjoyed the same fair trial assurances as those in civilian courts, but the military judiciary has wide discretion to curtail these rights on public security grounds and regularly did so. Military courts often tried defendants in a matter of hours, frequently in groups, and sometimes without access to an attorney, leading lawyers and NGOs to assert they did not meet basic standards of due process. Consequently, the rapid rulings by military courts sometimes prevented defendants from exercising due process rights and undermined fair trial assurances. Defendants in military courts have the right to consult an attorney, but sometimes authorities denied them timely access to counsel. According to rights groups, authorities permitted defendants in military trials visits from their attorneys only once every six months, in contrast with the civilian court system, where authorities allowed defendants in detention attorney visits every 15 days.

The military judiciary law governing the military court system grants defendants in the military court system the right to appeal up to the Supreme Military Court of Appeals. The president or his delegate must certify sentences by military courts. There were limited media reports concerning the ratification of military court sentences. In 2019 local independent media reported that the military ruler ordered the retrial of one military case presented for ratification. State security emergency courts, which were activated pursuant to the nationwide state of emergency in effect between 2017 and October, had jurisdiction concerning cases related to the state of emergency, which had been broadly interpreted to include several politically motivated cases. By law verdicts in state security emergency courts have no avenue for judicial appeals and require ratification, annulment, amendment, or an order for retrial by the president or his delegate.

On June 13, the Cairo 24 private news website asked the prime minister not to ratify the June 10 state security emergency misdemeanor court’s convictions against journalists Islam Saadi and Moamen Samir for publishing and spreading false news. Local media had reported on June 12 that their arrests came after they took photographs of Saadi’s mother in a government hospital where she was being treated for COVID-19.

On June 22, the state security emergency misdemeanor court convicted Central European University researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy and sentenced him to four years in prison and a fine for joining a terrorist group and publishing false news. International and local human rights organizations condemned the action and called on the president, in the absence of the possibility for judicial appeal, to commute the sentence. At year’s end Santawy’s conviction remained subject to ratification by the president or his delegate. According to local media, Santawy was questioned in December 2020 upon his arrival in the country to visit family, regarding his research on women’s rights for his graduate studies program in Vienna. On January 23, security forces searched his family’s apartment in South Sinai and ordered Santawy to report to the National Security office in Cairo. Santawy voluntarily reported to a police station in Cairo on February 1 and appeared before the State Security Prosecution on February 6. Local human rights organizations reported that Santawy and former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy, whose five-year emergency court prison sentence on November 17 was ratified on November 24 (see section 2.a.), were physically abused in detention by security forces on May 21.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of significant numbers of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates of their total number were not available. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned between 20,000 and 60,000 persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs or activities.

Amnesty: The government periodically issued pardons of prisoners, sometimes including individuals whose cases human rights organizations considered to be politically motivated. Local press reported that the Interior Ministry Prisons Authority ordered the release of thousands of inmates based on presidential decrees in April, May, July, and October on the Eid al-Fitr, Eid El Adha, Sinai Liberation Day, and Armed Forces Day holidays.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: According to local media and international human rights organizations, on February 10, police raided a house in Luxor belonging to the family of Germany-based academic and political activist Taqadum al-Khatib, seizing personal property and documents belonging to Khatib’s parents. Khatib previously served in the National Association for Change in Egypt and had posted recollections of Mubarak’s overthrow in the weeks leading up to the Luxor raid. In February security forces raided the homes of six relatives of a prominent human rights activist based abroad. Two family members were arrested, while others were questioned regarding their contact with the activist.

On February 11, Human Rights Watch called on the government to reverse its December 2020 decree, published in the official gazette, that revoked the citizenship of Ghada Naguib, a political activist and frequent critic of the government who lived in Turkey. The government’s decision stated Naguib falsely claimed she was born in Cairo and cited Law 26 of 1975, which gives the government the power to revoke citizenship without judicial review. Naguib denied any false statements and said she was born in the country to a Syrian father.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals had access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights abuses and filed such lawsuits during the year. Nonetheless, courts often dismissed such cases or acquitted defendants claiming insufficient evidence or conflicting witness testimonies. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights (Standing Committee) and the National Council for Human Rights (National Council) released reports in April and February, in part to review grievances faced by North Sinai residents following government counterterrorism operations in 2018 that resulted in demolition of homes and commercial buildings and seizure of farmland to establish a buffer zone in North Sinai Governorate, which authorities stated was needed to interdict weapons smuggling and incursions, including to and from the Gaza Strip. The government implemented plans to expand the commercial and military capacity of the Arish Airport, south of al-Arish, which local NGOs said threatened to displace 4,000 families.

The Standing Committee reported $224 million (out of a total $260 million budgeted) in government expenditures as of April 2020 used to compensate North Sinai residents for houses or land lost or damaged in counterterrorism operations, compensation for the families of “martyrs” and injured, as well as for humanitarian and medical aid and social assistance. The Standing Committee report detailed $196 million in housing and agricultural compensation. The Ministry of Planning’s Citizen Investment Plan for North and South Sinai governorates was established to provide $548 million to further develop housing infrastructure and public services in the area.

According to the National Council, North Sinai residents complained that slow compensation distribution coincided with rising construction costs and inflation, which complicated efforts to use reimbursements to acquire a comparable house or plot of land elsewhere. Residents also complained of lack of documentation regarding ownership, maximum compensation limits, the government’s inability to conduct assessments due to security problems, and rent previously owed to the government for farming on government land.

On March 17, Human Rights Watch alleged the military’s continuing home demolitions and forced evictions during the armed conflict in North Sinai were abuses of international humanitarian law and likely amounted to war crimes.

On March 19, local media reported that police detained five residents of Tersa district in Giza during a small gathering of 30 residents to protest the February cabinet decision to demolish 27 legally registered residential buildings. According to local media, local officials tried to persuade the residents to sign eviction notices, which most refused to do without sufficient guarantees of compensation. On March 20, local media reported the administrator of a Facebook page campaigning against the government actions, also a Tersa district resident, was detained at his home.

In December a Cairo governorate source told media that the government paid 454 million EGP ($28.4 million) to residents in compensation for demolishing their homes to accommodate a highway expansion project.

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

The constitution provides for the privacy of the home, correspondence, telephone calls, and other means of communication. Nevertheless, there were reports that security agencies placed political activists, journalists, foreigners, and writers under surveillance; monitored their private communications; screened their correspondence, including email and social media accounts; examined their bank records; searched their persons and homes without judicial authorization; and confiscated personal property in an extrajudicial manner. Ahead of planned protests or demonstrations, there were reports police stopped young persons in public places and searched their mobile phones for evidence of involvement in political activities deemed antigovernment in nature.

The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The law allows the president to issue written or oral directives to monitor and intercept all forms of communication and correspondence, impose censorship prior to publication, and confiscate publications.

Surveillance was a significant concern for internet users. The constitution states that private communications “may only be confiscated, examined, or monitored by causal judicial order, for a limited period of time, and in cases specified by the law.” Judicial warrants are required for authorities to enter, search, or monitor private property such as homes. During a state of emergency, warrantless searches are allowed provided the Public Prosecution is notified within 24 hours, and police may detain suspects for up to seven days before handing them over to the prosecution. The government’s surveillance operations lacked transparency, potentially violating the constitution’s privacy protections. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority, including cyberattacks to gain access to devices and accounts belonging to critics of the government.

On February 5, the government released film director and screenwriter Moamen Hassan from detention pending trial on allegations of using social media for the purpose of “promoting a terrorist act.” Local media reported that on January 25, security forces arrested Hassan after stopping his taxi in the vicinity of Tahrir Square, searching his mobile phone, and alleging he had sent suspicious texts containing inappropriate political comments regarding the government. Hassan reportedly appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 31, and a court ordered his release on February 4.

On August 9, a local human rights organization claimed the Public Prosecution’s Communication, Guidance, and Social Media Department, established in 2019 to monitor the internet for crimes, facilitated mass surveillance without due process of law.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

The conflict in North Sinai involving government security forces, terrorist organizations, and other armed groups (including militias and criminal gangs) continued. According to press releases and international media reports, at least 135 armed forces soldiers were killed in attacks on government positions or in counterterrorist operations during the year. The government continued to impose restrictions on North Sinai residents’ travel to the country’s mainland and movement within North Sinai Governorate and severely restricted media access to North Sinai.

Killings: The government acknowledged no civilian deaths due to security force actions. Human rights organizations alleged that some persons killed by security forces were civilians. According to an international NGO, at least 26 civilian deaths, 51 security force deaths, and 31 terrorist deaths occurred in the conflict in Sinai between January and July. According to an ISIS media affiliate, ISIS-Sinai Province claimed 101 attacks resulting in 206 casualties during the year.

Terrorist and other armed groups continued to target the armed forces and civilians, using gunfire, improvised explosive devices, and other tactics.

According to another international organization’s July 31 report covering January through July, ISIS-Sinai Province killed approximately 22 civilians, including a woman and a child; kidnapped 26 civilians; and killed approximately 51 members of the armed forces, including seven from an armed group of North Sinai tribes fighting alongside the army. The same report documented four civilian deaths by security forces.

Abductions: Terrorist groups and other armed groups abducted civilians in North Sinai, almost always alleging cooperation with the government as the rationale. According to human rights groups, terrorist groups and other armed groups sometimes released abductees; some abductees were shot or beheaded. According to media and social media reports, at least 30 civilians were abducted by terrorist and militant elements in Sinai between January and August. In June, ISIS-Sinai Province reportedly abducted five construction contractors supporting a government developmental project near the al-Salam canal.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Explosions caused by hidden explosive devices killed at least two children during the year. Approximately 15 civilians died between October and December 2020 due to improvised explosive devices left behind by ISIS-Sinai Province members following an offensive in North Sinai.

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 includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right. Human rights defenders, journalists, activists, and others regularly faced criminal prosecution on charges that observers assessed were brought in response to criticism of the government. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. According to the law, newspapers are required to print their issues at licensed printing houses registered with the Supreme Council for Media Regulation; news websites must host their servers in the country; newspapers must submit 20 copies of each printed issue to the council; and news websites and television outlets must keep copies of all published or broadcast material online for one year and submit a copy of their published or broadcast material to the council every month. The law also prohibits any recording, filming, or interviews in public places with the intention of broadcasting them on a media outlet without a permit issued by the council.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government initiated investigations and prosecutions based on allegations of incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or abuse of public morals.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” Human rights observers noted that authorities regularly used the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

On January 6, the General Authority for Health Insurance banned photography inside hospitals and banned mobile phones from intensive care units. The decision reportedly came after citizens published videos from hospitals showing deaths and suffering of COVID-19 patients due to alleged shortages in the oxygen supplies. The government denied oxygen shortages had contributed to COVID-19-related deaths.

Housing rights researcher Ibrahim Ezzedine remained in pretrial detention since 2019, more than the two years permitted by law. According to a local human rights organization, he was detained after criticizing the government’s urban slums policies and appeared in 2019 before the State Security Prosecution, where he was accused of joining a banned group and spreading false news.

Between January and June, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech recorded 65 abuses of the freedoms of media and artistic and digital expression. For example, in 2019 several political figures, including former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy and journalists Hossam Moanes and Hisham Fouad, were arrested on criminal charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news after they met to form the Alliance of Hope political group to run in parliamentary elections. On July 14, they were referred to trial before a misdemeanor emergency court. On November 17, the emergency court sentenced el-Aleimy to five years in prison and a fine, and Moanes and Fouad to four years in prison and a fine, all for spreading false news inside and outside the country. On November 24, the prime minister, as President Sisi’s delegate, ratified the sentences. The defense team told local press that “many legal violations took place in this case” and claimed they were not given access to more than 1,000 prosecution documents. Local human rights lawyers said the sentences issued by the emergency court could not be appealed and that only the president or his delegate could choose to annul, amend, or not implement the sentences. At year’s end the three remained imprisoned. On July 14, the Court of Cassation upheld an April 2020 ruling to include 13 Alliance of Hope defendants on the terrorism list, including el-Aleimy and activist Ramy Shaath, for alleged collaboration with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

According to media reports, on February 22, the State Security Prosecution transferred Hazem Hosni, spokesperson for Sami Anan’s 2018 presidential campaign and Cairo University political science professor, to house arrest pending further investigations. On June 27, a human rights lawyer announced the criminal court reduced Hosni’s house arrest from seven to three days per week. Hosni had been held in pretrial detention since his 2019 arrest.

Sinai activists Ashraf al-Hefni and Ashraf Ayoub were released on May 27, according to local media. Al-Hefni, who advocated for human rights and the rights of residents of Sinai but publicly rejected “normalization” with Israel, was detained in 2019. Ayoub had been detained since August 2020.

After a criminal court ordered human rights lawyer Mohamed Ramadan’s release on June 13, Ramadan appeared on June 15, still detained, before the State Security Prosecution in a new case on allegations of joining a banned group and spreading false news. Ramadan had been arrested in 2018 for “inciting social unrest” after he posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow vest akin to those worn by political protesters in France. As of year’s end, he remained in pretrial detention.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. The constitution, penal code, and the media and publications law govern media topics. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of most newspapers, including private newspapers. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

More than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The National Press Authority held the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) occasionally broadcast and published mild criticism of government policies, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.

Police arrested several journalists during the year for covering politically sensitive topics, some of whom were released, while others remained in detention. Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4, one day after he covered worker protests at a chemical plant. Al-Zaeem appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 16, where he was detained pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to local media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Journalist Hamdy Atef Hashem Abdel Fattah was arrested on January 4, after publishing a video showing lack of oxygen for COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Gharbia Governorate. He appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 11 and was subsequently detained on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

According to a local NGO, cartoonist Ashraf Hamdy was released between August and September pending trial on allegations of misusing social media and spreading false information. He was arrested on January 25 after posting a video on the 10th anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

Business News company owner Mustafa Saqr was released on March 8. He had been held in pretrial detention on allegations of colluding with a terrorist organization, spreading false news, and misusing social media since his April 2020 arrest after publishing an article that discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. On March 8, Islam al-Kalhy, a journalist affiliated with Daarb news website, who was arrested while covering a demonstration in Monieb, Giza, in September 2020, and freelance journalist Hassan al-Qabbani, who was arrested in 2019, were also released.

On April 13, the State Security Prosecution released journalist and former al-Dostour Party leader Khaled Dawoud pending investigation of charges of colluding with a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. Dawoud had been held in pretrial detention since his arrest in 2019.

According to the organization, a plainclothes security officer arrested laborer Ahmed al-Araby on May 12 in Banha based on political social media posts he made. The organization added that during the 19 days after his arrest, al-Araby was subjected to beating and electric shocks, interrogated as to whether he had links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and forced to confess involvement in street demonstrations, which he later recanted. He remained in pretrial detention pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported 25 journalists were imprisoned in the country.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested, imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. The family of detained journalist Mohamed Salah said on social media that Salah had been subjected to severe physical assault and abuse in pretrial detention on January 9. Human rights organizations added that the abuse included stripping Salah and his cell mates of their clothes, hanging them in a hallway, and beating them with metal objects. Amnesty International reported in May that Salah was arrested in 2019, beaten at a police station in December 2020, ordered released, and rearrested in a new case without release. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The emergency law allows the president to censor information during a state of emergency.

On January 25, an administrative court ordered the Media Regulating Authority to ban YouTube channels that broadcast a film produced in 2013 regarding the Prophet Mohammed that was found to be offensive. On June 30, authorities asked al-Maraya Publishing House to not display and sell a book by imprisoned political activist Ahmed Douma at the Cairo International Book Fair, according to local media.

Media rights organizations said the government blocked thousands of websites, including 127 news websites, including Mada Masr, alManassa, and Daarb.

The law considers websites and social media accounts with at least 5,000 subscribers to be media outlets, requires them to pay a licensing fee, and grants the Supreme Council for Media Regulation broad discretion to block their content. On August 23, the council announced that it blocked some websites it said failed to apply for such a license.

The number of arrests for social media posts reportedly had a chilling effect on online speech. Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the government designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and the progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine. Online journalists were also reluctant to discuss sensitive topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: Blasphemy is a criminal offense. Local and international rights groups reported cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, targeting primarily Christians but also Muslims.

National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security.

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists. The government maintained hotlines for members of the public to call or leave text messages reporting fake news in either traditional or social media that endangers state security.

On May 29, former ambassador to Venezuela Yehia Negm was arrested on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after he posted a tweet criticizing the government’s management of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam topic.

Atef Hasballah, editor in chief of Alkarar Press website, was released during the year on precautionary measures pending trial, according to a local NGO. Hasballah was arrested in March 2020 following a post on his Facebook page questioning official statistics on the spread of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Judges may issue restraining orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. Citing safety and security measures, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.

Internet Freedom

The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.

Telecommunications services and internet service providers are regulated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority under the telecommunication regulation law. The law does not guarantee the independence of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The government centralized internet infrastructure and fiber-optic cables, allowing considerable state control over internet access, including restricting and disrupting user access and censoring online content. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.

The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period for this surveillance.

The cybercrime law states, “The relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.”

On January 12, the Cairo Economic Appeals Court annulled the two-year sentences of TikTok influencers Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm and three other defendants. The court also annulled Hossam’s fine but upheld the same fine for the other defendants. Charges included violating family values, inciting “debauchery,” publishing content deemed inappropriate, and recruiting others to commit similar crimes. On June 20, in a separate case, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Hossam in absentia to 10 years in prison and a fine, and Eladhm and three others to six years in prison and fines. All five were convicted on charges of human trafficking, running social media accounts with the aim of recruiting young women for video sharing online, and publishing video content deemed inappropriate by authorities. The objectionable content included dancing and lip-syncing, which are common on the platform. After being sentenced in absentia, Hossam posted a video on June 22 in which she asked President Sisi to order a retrial and was subsequently arrested in Cairo. On November 4, a court ordered a retrial in her case, which was scheduled for January 18, 2022. In August 2020 a criminal court upheld an administrative decision to freeze the assets of Hossam and Eladhm.

TikTok influencer Manar Samy remained imprisoned serving her September 2020 sentence of three years in prison with hard labor for “inciting debauchery and violating family values” for content she posted on social media. On July 4, the Benha Criminal Court acquitted members of Samy’s family, who had been arrested in 2020 for resisting authorities. On June 13, the Economic Misdemeanor Court of Appeals upheld the Economic Misdemeanor Court’s September 30 convictions of TikTok influencers Sherifa Rifaat, known as “Sherry Hanim,” and her daughter Zumoroda for assaulting family values and inciting prostitution, based on photographs posted to social media. The court of appeals reduced their sentences from six years in prison to five years and fined each of them.

There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines.

As part of investigations, security forces may apply for warrants from the prosecutor general to access mobile phone company databases to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which observers noted could lead to lack of online anonymity.

There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

On May 3, a local media rights organization reported that the state had blocked hundreds of websites, including 127 news websites. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared to respond to critical coverage of the government or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations.

In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review remained pending without resolution at year’s end. According to a local human rights organization, in April the Media Regulating Authority issued licenses for 40 private news websites, including Cairo 24, while not acting on the license requests of 110 other websites. This was part of a legal requirement to regulate the status of electronic press websites in the country.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The removal of references to the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curricula continued after a 2017 decree from the Ministry of Education and Technical Education. According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic matters. University faculty members and Ministry of Education employees (including teachers) needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic or professional purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also had to obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ permission to travel abroad for any reason. Some public universities restricted campus visits of foreign speakers or delegations or required a faculty chaperone for delegations of university students traveling to the United States.

In May the prosecutor general renewed University of Washington doctoral student Walid Salem’s travel ban, according to a statement by local and international human rights organizations. Their statement added that Salem was also prevented from traveling in May 2020 when authorities at Cairo International Airport confiscated his passport. Salem had been on probation since 2018 pending trial on charges of spreading false news and belonging to a terrorist group.

On July 12, authorities released Alia Mossallam, a postdoctoral fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin, on bail pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after they arrested her at the Cairo International Airport on July 11 upon her arrival from Berlin, according to a human rights lawyer. Mosallam was researching the history of the country’s social and political movements through popular memory, according to local media.

On November 17, authorities reportedly released Ayman Mansour Nada pending trial on allegations of insulting the president of Cairo University and several university officials and using social media to commit the crime. Nada, a Cairo University media professor, was arrested in September after he criticized the government-appointed president of Cairo University and government-aligned media professionals.

There was censorship of cultural events. A prime ministerial decree declares it unlawful to hold a special event or festival without “prior license from the Ministry of Culture and liaising with relevant state entities.” This requirement adds to existing regulations, under which organizations must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture’s Censorship Board, as well as permits from the Interior Ministry and the relevant artists’ union for concerts, performances, and other cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.

On June 27, the Musicians Syndicate banned five singers of Mahraganat music, a popular street-music genre, from performing in the country because they did not obtain a permit to work or belong to the syndicate. The syndicate banned nine others on November 17 for the same reasons.

On July 25, the Administrative Court ordered the Central Administration for Censorship of Audio and Audiovisual Works to grant the film The Last Days of the City, which deals with the January 25 revolution, a license to be shown inside the country. According to local media, the ruling was final and had to be implemented. The film, which was produced in 2016 and won several international film festival awards, was first denied presentation in the country at the 2016 Cairo International Film Festival.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” The demonstrations law includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. A government-imposed exclusion zone prohibits protests within 2,600 feet (790 meters) of vital governmental institutions.

The Prison Regulation Law prevents the conditional release of those convicted of assembly crimes, among other crimes.

There were protests during the year, mostly small, and some occurred without government interference. In most cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, in some instances using force, including in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.

On December 8, Patrick George Zaki, a student at the University of Bologna, was released pending trial before an emergency court. He faced charges of inciting individuals to protest in 2019, spreading false news, promoting terrorism, and harming national security. He had been held in pretrial detention since his February 2020 arrest at Cairo International Airport, after which media reported he was beaten and subjected to electric shocks.

According to a local human rights organization, thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities reportedly held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.” Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.

On June 4, security forces broke up a demonstration in the Shooting Club area in Alexandria and arrested approximately 30 residents protesting government plans to relocate them to a new location in the governorate. While most detained residents were immediately released, 13 remained in detention until June 17 on charges of inciting protests, throwing stones at security forces, and injuring security forces. The 13 were acquitted on December 29.

Since his 2018 arrest, activist Mohamed Adel remained in pretrial detention in three separate cases, related to allegations of violating the protest law, joining a banned group, and spreading false news.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right.

A 2019 law governing NGOs eliminated prison sentences as penalties and removed formal oversight roles for security and intelligence authorities. On January 14, the government published executive regulations clarifying that NGOs would have exclusive access to and control of NGO funds as well as procedural protections, such as impartial administrative and judicial appeal mechanisms. The 2019 law stipulates that NGOs are established through notification; however, the executive regulations require NGOs to provide extensive data to register with authorities, including information on founders and planned activities. All NGOs must receive the approval of the Ministry of Social Solidarity to register, receive funding, or conduct activities. Further, international NGOs are required to receive approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to register to operate. NGOs must also comply with money laundering and antiterrorism legislations.

The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” by any individual or group from states or local or international nongovernmental organizations “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Those convicted may be sentenced to life in prison (or the death penalty in the case of public officials) for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.”

At year’s end lawyer Amr Emam remained in pretrial detention pending investigations on charges of colluding with a terrorist organization, publishing false news, and misusing social media to spread false information. Emam was arrested in 2019 after he began a hunger strike and sit-in to protest the arrests, alleged abuse, and continued detention of journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and lawyer Mohamed Elbakr. Esraa Abdel Fattah was released on June 9, while Alaa Abdel Fattah and Elbakr remained imprisoned following their December 20 convictions by an emergency state security misdemeanors court, which sentenced them to five and four years, respectively (see section 1.c.). At year’s end their convictions remained subject to ratification by the president or his delegate.

Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, a human rights lawyer and founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, remained in pretrial detention since his 2017 arrest at the Cairo International Airport while traveling to Geneva to participate in the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

The government listed the Muslim Brotherhood as a designated terrorist organization. On July 28, the Court of Cassation upheld the life sentences of Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide Mohamed Badie, his deputy Khairat el-Shater, and six others who were convicted in 2019 on charges of collaborating with Hamas.

Authorities continued investigations into local NGOs that received foreign funding under Case 173, originally brought in 2011. On October 21, local media reported that 75 locally organized NGOs had charges dismissed in Case 173 to date, although at least six continued to face charges.

On January 20, the Administrative Court annulled the Cairo Governor’s 2016 decision to close the El-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture. El-Nadeem was among the local NGOs still facing charges in Case 173 of receiving foreign funds.

On January 28, the Administrative Court ordered the Ministry of Social Solidarity to approve a 1.5 million euro ($1.76 million) grant from the embassies of Germany, Switzerland, and Norway to the Sadat Association for Development and Social Care, which was headed by former member of parliament and opposition figure Mohamed Anwar Sadat. This came in response to the Sadat Association’s 2018 lawsuit challenging the ministry’s denial of the grant based on security grounds. The court ruled a rejection on security concerns, without specifics, was insufficient. The court also declared that the Sadat Association was registered under the 2002 NGO law and the donors were working legally in the country, and that denying the grant would prevent the Sadat Association from exercising its constitutional and international convention rights to operate without restrictions as long as its activities did not disrupt public peace or safety.

On July 31, the Court of Cassation turned down the prosecution’s appeal of the 2017 acquittal of spouses Aya Hijazi and Mohamed Hassanein, founders of the Belady Foundation NGO, and their codefendants of torturing children, sexual assault, forcing children to participate in illegal demonstrations, and operating a criminal group for the purposes of trafficking, among other charges.

On February 2, the NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights announced that it was forced to vacate its office after the landlord suddenly gave the lease to the parliamentary bloc of the Youth Coalition for Parties and Politicians, a body created by President Sisi in 2018. The organization added that troubles with its lease started after the November 2020 arrests and December 2020 releases of its members Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah, and Gasser Abdel Razek on charges of joining a terror group and spreading false news. The three remained subject to court-ordered travel bans and asset freezes.

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, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the treatment of potential refugees and asylum seekers.

In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai on safety grounds, which the government stated were necessary restrictions in response to long-running counterterrorism operations. According to a local human rights organization, security forces set up security checkpoints in downtown Cairo and other locations around the anniversaries of street protests and conducted searches and arrests without warrants.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.” Nonetheless, men who have not completed compulsory military service and have not obtained an exemption may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.

Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 40 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Georgia, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop the flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.

The government imposed travel bans on some human rights defenders and political activists who were under investigation or formally charged. Local human rights groups maintained that authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders. A 2018 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.” Case 173 defendants who still had travel bans or asset freezes included Hossam Bahgat, Mohamed Zarea, Bahey Eldin Hassan, Abd El Hafez Tayal, and Mostafa El Hassan. On August 24, political science professor Hassan Nafaa posted on Twitter that hours before he intended to travel abroad that day, he learned that he had been banned from traveling. Nafaa appealed to the prosecutor general to reconsider the list of those banned from traveling, claiming the ban in general had changed from a precautionary measure into punishment outside the scope of the law. In March 2020 the State Security Prosecution released Nafaa along with 14 others.

Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsi-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and stated they faced threats of prosecution.

On June 6, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not have to renew the passport of Ayman Nour, the president of the opposition New Ghad Party, who was living abroad. Nour had filed a lawsuit when the ministry refused to renew his passport at the country’s consulates in Turkey and Lebanon.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens; neither does it register or assist Palestinian refugees in the country.

According to UNHCR, as of August asylum seekers in the country came mainly from Syria, as well as from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen.

In 2013 the government began applying a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria, since the country lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR’s visit in 2017, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.

Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean by boat, had almost stopped, according to UNHCR, following enactment and enforcement of a law dramatically increasing patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast in 2016.

UNHCR had limited access to detention centers and border areas, except in cases upon approval by authorities. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed most detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally released asylum seekers registered with UNHCR but frequently did not release detained migrants, many of whom were Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali, and Sudanese, who may have had a basis for asylum claims. Authorities often held detained migrants as unregistered asylum seekers in police stations and sometimes sent them to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals or deported them.

The government did not recognize UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population. The Swiss Red Cross also provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.

Refoulement: Although the government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers, authorities reportedly sometimes encouraged unregistered detainees to choose to return to their countries of origin or a neighboring country to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. The number of these cases was unknown.

On September 10, Amnesty International called on the government to halt the threatened deportation of two Eritrean nationals to Eritrea, where they could face persecution. Local media reported the two had been detained since 2012 and 2013. At year’s end they had not been deported. The two men claimed to be Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Authorities deported eight Eritrean migrants on October 19, seven on October 31, and 24 on December 30, including several children, to Asmara, where they were detained upon arrival, according to local media and local NGOs. Despite multiple requests, UNHCR said it was not granted access to the detainees to make a refugee determination. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on November 19 “deploring” the country’s abuse of the principle of nonrefoulement.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans, faced the greatest risk of societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.

According to UNHCR and press reports, police security sweeps continued in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees at times reported authorities subjected them to verbal abuse and poor detention conditions.

Employment: No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking employment were hampered by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from Sudan and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, faced barriers to accessing some services, including health care and public education. The Interior Ministry restricted access for some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR provided some refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases that were either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.

Refugee children not enrolled in public schools mainly attended refugee-run schools or private schools, or they were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many hospitals could not do so. In some cases hospitals reportedly insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. One local refugee agency reported some refugees died due to the lack of medical care.

g. Stateless Persons

Of the eight stateless persons known to UNHCR, most were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. A majority of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.

On February 11, the Interior Ministry announced it granted citizenship to three brothers from the al-Muzaina tribe in Dahab, South Sinai. Media reported in February that some Bedouins in Sinai remained stateless after Israel handed the Sinai back to the country in 1982, and others remained stateless in disputed border areas with Sudan.

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. Constraints on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, however, limited citizens’ ability to do so.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: There were two rounds of elections in 2020 for the 200 elected seats in the re-established 300-seat upper house, called the Senate, and for the 568 elected seats of the House of Representatives. A progovernment coalition won an overwhelming majority of the Senate’s 200 elected seats; the president appointed the remaining 100 seats. Election observers documented visible judicial supervision, a tight security presence, and COVID-19 precautions in place. Local media noted higher than expected participation by women and youth voters. One political coalition alleged instances of vote rigging and bribery that advantaged an opponent political party during the House of Representatives’ elections. Some opposition parties questioned the youth turnout, especially in poorer areas, and claimed young persons were “bussed in” to vote. No significant acts of violence or disturbances to the election processes were observed.

Domestic and international organizations expressed concern that government limitations on freedoms of speech, association, and assembly severely constrained broad participation in the political process. On July 12, the Public Prosecution referred Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights executive director Hossam Bahgat to court on charges of insulting the National Elections Authority, spreading false rumors alleging electoral fraud, and using social media accounts to commit crimes, based on a tweet Bahgat posted in December 2020 criticizing the 2020 parliamentary elections as marred with widespread abuses. Bahgat was not detained in the case. In November the court found Bahgat guilty of insulting the National Elections Authority and fined him. Bahgat’s lawyers announced they planned to appeal.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution grants citizens the ability to form, register, and operate political parties. The law requires new parties to have a minimum of 5,000 members from each of at least 10 governorates. The constitution also states: “No political activity may be practiced and no political parties may be formed based on religion or discrimination based on gender, origin, or sectarian basis or geographic location. No activity that is hostile to democratic principles, secretive, or of military or quasi-military nature may be practiced. Political parties may not be dissolved except by virtue of a court judgment.”

On November 18, the Court of Cassation rejected the appeals of former presidential candidate and Strong Egypt Party leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Strong Egypt Party deputy Mohamed el-Kassas, lawyer Mohamed Elbakr, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and others challenging their placement on the terrorism list for five years. Aboul Fotouh was placed on the terrorism list. On August 31, the State Security Prosecution referred Aboul Fotouh, el-Kassas, and others to criminal trial on charges of leading a terrorist group, financing a terrorist group, possessing weapons and ammunition, promoting the ideas of a terrorist group, and deliberately broadcasting false news, statements, and rumors at home and abroad. Aboul Fotouh and el-Kassas had reportedly been held in solitary confinement in pretrial detention since their 2018 arrests.

The Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamist Building and Development Party, remained banned. Authorities did not ban other Islamist parties, including the Strong Egypt Party.

On June 19, local media reported that the Supreme Administrative Court refused to hear two lawsuits demanding the cessation of all activities of the Bread and Freedom Party and the Strong Egypt Party on the grounds that the leaders were members of banned groups.

The government does not broadcast or publish parliamentary sessions in the House of Representatives or Senate. On May 26, a local human rights organization filed a lawsuit challenging this as violating the constitution’s provisions on holding parliamentary sessions in public.

In September 2020 the National Election Authority disqualified Mohamed Anwar Sadat, head of the Reform and Development Party, from running in the 2020 House of Representatives elections, citing Sadat’s failure, as a military school graduate, to obtain approval from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to run in the election as required by law for active or retired military personnel before running in presidential, parliamentary, or local council elections. In October 2020 the Administrative Court rejected Sadat’s lawsuit to challenge the decision.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The law requires that women receive at least 10 percent of Senate seats and 25 percent of House seats. Women held 40 seats in the 300-seat Senate (13 percent) and 148 seats in the 568-seat House of Representatives (26 percent).

No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Social and cultural barriers, however, limited women’s political participation and leadership in most political parties and some government institutions.

Eight women led cabinet ministries, including one Christian woman, and two women served as deputy ministers. There were two Christians (in Ismailia and Damietta Governorates) among the appointed governors of the 27 governorates. In 2018 authorities appointed Manal Awad Michael, a Christian woman, governor of Damietta. On June 2, President Sisi announced that for the first time, women could work at the State Council and the Public Prosecution starting on October 1. On June 14, the Administrative Prosecution Authority appointed two female chief administrative prosecutors (in Menoufia and Qena Governorates), which it stated brought to 24 the number of female chief administrative prosecutors appointed since June 2020. In December 2020 a female academic was appointed as deputy to the president of the Supreme Constitutional Court. In September 2020 the General Assembly of the Cairo Economic Court appointed for the first time a female judge as the head of civil division circuit of an appellate court. In 2018 the Supreme Judiciary Council promoted 16 female judges to higher courts, including the Qena Appeals Court. Legal experts stated there were approximately 66 female judges serving in family, criminal, economic, appeals, and misdemeanor courts; that total was less than 1 percent of judges. Several senior judges were Christian.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not consistently implement the law effectively. There were reports of government corruption during the year, sometimes with impunity.

Corruption: On April 7, the Cairo Criminal Court acquitted Ahmed Shafik, former prime minister and presidential candidate, Captain Tawfiq Mohamed Assi, former chair of EgyptAir Holding Company, and Ibrahim Manaa, former civil aviation minister, of misappropriation of public funds from 2002 to 2011, according to local media.

On April 13, the Control Authority referred former member of parliament Gamal al-Showeikh and 12 other defendants, including public officials, for prosecution on charges of accepting bribes to influence a real estate project in Cairo. Al-Showeikh was originally arrested in March 2020.

On November 8, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Abdel Azim Hussein, former head of the tax authority, to 10 years in prison and a 674,000 EGP ($42,000) fine on corruption charges.

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

International and local human rights organizations stated the government continued to be uncooperative with their efforts to investigate alleged abuses of human rights. On September 11, the government launched a five-year National Human Rights Strategy that included a focus on jobs, health care, clean water, food, and affordable housing, and initiatives to enhance civil society and free expression. It also called for human rights training for police and prison officers, whistleblower protections, reforms to pretrial detention, increased government and civil society collaboration on human rights matters, and continued prison inspections by the National Council for Human Rights and civil society, to improve respect of human rights. Activists and NGOs cited a lack of details on timelines or implementation of the strategy, and a focus on quality-of-life topics and not freedom of expression and association.

The Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights, chaired by the minister of foreign affairs as an intragovernmental body, developed the strategy over 18 months of consultations with government and civil society leaders. Domestic civil society organizations acknowledged the consultations, but some criticized them as insufficient. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that with an October meeting between it and 50 NGOs led by the Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights, consultations had begun to implement the strategy and plans for the Year of Civil Society in 2022, announced concurrently with the strategy. The Awqaf and Social Solidarity Ministries created human rights units in September and November, respectively, and the Ministry of Local Development revised its human rights unit in October, all in response to the cabinet’s order that each ministry and governorate establish a human rights unit.

Extended delays in gaining government approvals and an unclear legal environment continued to limit the ability of domestic and international NGOs to operate. State-owned and independent media at times depicted NGOs, particularly international NGOs and domestic NGOs that received funding from international sources, as undertaking subversive activities. Some NGOs reported receiving visits or calls to staff, both at work and at home, from security service officers and tax officials monitoring their activities, as well as harassment.

Human rights defenders and political activists were also subjected to governmental and societal harassment and intimidation, including through travel bans (see section 2.d.).

Well established, independent domestic human rights NGOs struggled to operate as a result of pressure from security forces throughout the country. Online censorship (see section 2.a.) restricted the roles of internet activists and bloggers in publicizing information concerning human rights abuses. Authorities sometimes allowed civil society organizations not registered as NGOs to operate, but such organizations reported harassment, along with threats of government interference, investigation, asset freezes, or closure.

The government continued investigations into the receipt of foreign funding by several human rights organizations, dropping the cases against several organizations that had been charged originally while continuing cases against others (see section 2.b.). Major international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, had not maintained offices in the country since 2014 due to security restrictions and lawsuits targeting their presence in the country.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Authorities did not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisoners and detainees.

Government Human Rights Bodies: On December 29, President Sisi ratified the House of Representative’s October 4 announcement of a new 27-person National Council for Human Rights headed by Ambassador Moushira Khattab, former minister of family and population and the first woman to head the council. According to the National Council for Women (NCW), 44 percent of the new members were women. The quasi-governmental council is charged with monitoring the human rights situation, issuing reports and recommending legislation that improves human rights.

Other government human rights bodies included the Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights; Justice Ministry General Department of Human Rights; Prosecutor General Human Rights Office; State Information Service Human Rights Unit; Ministry of Foreign Affairs Human Rights and International, Social, and Humanitarian Department; Ministry of Local Development Human Rights Unit; Ministry of Social Solidarity Human Rights Unit; Awqaf Ministry Human Rights Unit; and human rights units in each of the country’s governorates.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, prescribing penalties of 15 to 25 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment for cases of rape involving armed abduction. Spousal rape is not illegal. The government improved its enforcement of the law. Civil society organizations reported instances of police pressuring survivors not to pursue charges.

On April 11, the Cairo Criminal Court convicted Ahmed Bassam Zaki and sentenced him to eight years’ total imprisonment – seven years for sexual assault on three minor girls and one year for drug use. The court acquitted Zaki of violating the privacy of survivors, threatening survivors, and abusing social media and telecommunications. The Cairo Economic Court convicted Zaki in a separate case in December 2020 for misuse of social media and sexual assault and sentenced him to three years in prison with labor. On March 15, an appeals court heard Zaki’s appeal in this separate case, but a decision had not been reported by year’s end. Zaki’s July 2020 arrest, after more than 50 women accused him online of rape, sexual assault, and harassment dating back to 2016, gave rise to what media referred to as the country’s #MeToo movement.

On May 11, the Public Prosecution announced that none of the men it ordered arrested in 2020 for allegedly gang raping a woman at the Fairmont Nile City hotel in 2014 would be tried, due to a “lack of evidence,” and that it had released the men it detained in the case. Prosecutors pointed to a six-year lag between the incident and its being reported, the difficulty in identifying individuals based on photographs made available, the inability of the prosecution to access a video clip of the rape, and inconsistent and recanted testimony as factors that impaired efforts to bring the case to trial. In a separate rape case, the North Cairo Criminal Court on November 9 sentenced two of the defendants released in the Fairmont Nile City case to life in prison and a third to 15 years in prison. On August 10, the Shubra El-Kheima Criminal Court sentenced a doctor to seven years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting a schoolteacher receiving treatment at his clinic.

Domestic violence was a significant problem. The law does not prohibit domestic violence or spousal abuse, but authorities may apply provisions relating to assault with accompanying penalties. The law requires that an assault survivor produce multiple eyewitnesses, a difficult condition for domestic abuse survivor. Police often treated domestic violence as a family matter rather than as a criminal matter.

The Interior Ministry includes a unit responsible for combating sexual and gender-based violence. The NCW was responsible for coordinating government and civil society efforts to empower women. In September the prime minister issued a decree to establish the country’s first integrated governorate-level units to serve survivors of violence. These units are mandated to coordinate and improve integrated survivor-centered services to women. An NCW study found that approximately 1.5 million women reported domestic violence each year. According to NCW and UNICEF data, the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risks of violence and economic hardships for women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, and the government strengthened legislation banning the practice, but it remained a serious problem. Although declining, FGM/C continued to be widely practiced. The prevalence, however, was reportedly much higher among older age groups. Type 3 FGM/C (infibulation) was more prevalent in the South (Aswan and Nubia), and in some cases was associated with difficulty in giving birth, obstructed labor, and higher rates of neonatal mortality. The government enlisted the support of religious leaders to combat cultural acceptance of FGM/C and encourage family planning. According to international and local observers, the government took steps to enforce the FGM/C law. In 2019 the government formed a national task force to end FGM/C, led by the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood.

On April 28, President Sisi ratified amendments to the penal code that increase FGM/C minimum sentences from one to 15 years to five to 20 years in prison, removed the “medical exception” in the law, introduced bans for medical providers and medical institutions from providing medical services for a period after involvement in the crime, and extended criminal liability to anyone supporting the crime, including family members of the survivor. On March 28, a local human rights organization said the extended criminal liability to anyone involved in the crime could inhibit some survivors and family members from reporting the crime due to fear their relatives might be arrested.

According to local media reports, authorities arrested a father and a retired nurse on February 2 after they allegedly conducted FGM/C on a 15-year-old girl at her home in a poor district in Qalyoubia Governorate. The father took his daughter, who suffered severe complications, to a nearby hospital, where the attending physician reported the incident to the Public Prosecution, resulting in the two arrests. National Council for Women head Maya Morsi praised the quick action of authorities and called on parliament to quickly pass draft legislation (formally introduced on January 24 and ratified April 28), to sharpen the FGM/C penalties.

On September 25, using the new FGM/C law, a criminal court sentenced a nurse to 10 years in prison, the longest sentence ever given in the country for FGM/C. In the same case, the court also sentenced the father to three years in prison for subjecting his eight-year-old daughter to FGM/C.

On October 13, the Public Prosecution detained a doctor who reportedly performed FGM/C operations in Beni Suef pending investigation and released the mother of an FGM/C survivor on bail.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law allows leniency towards men who kill their wives upon discovering them in an act of adultery. The law does not specifically address “honor” crimes, which authorities treated as any other crime. In January a local NGO said there were at least 14 “honor killings” in the country in 2020. In March local media reported that the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced a man to five years in prison for killing his sister because he believed she committed “inappropriate” and “suspicious” acts. On May 9, a court in Abbasiya sentenced three defendants to 10 years in prison for the death of a female doctor who was thrown to her death from the balcony in her Cairo apartment after she invited a man to her apartment. On November 17, an Assiut criminal court sentenced a man to three years in prison for killing his mother after a video reportedly showed her in an “immoral relationship” with another person.

Sexual Harassment: While the government took several steps to prevent sexual harassment, it remained a serious problem. On August 18, the president ratified amendments to the penal code that upgrade sexual harassment to a felony offense, increase minimum sentences to two to seven years in prison (up from six months to five years), increase minimum fines, and add a provision that repeat offenders may face double the prison time. On October 17, under the new amendments, a misdemeanor court sentenced a young man accused of harassing a girl at a Cairo Metro station to three years and six months in prison.

Media and NGOs reported that sexual harassment by police was also a problem and that the potential for further harassment, lengthy legal procedures, and lack of survivor protections further discouraged women from filing complaints. On November 9, the North Cairo Criminal Court sentenced physician Michael Fahmy to life imprisonment for forcibly molesting six girls inside his clinic. The court acquitted his wife. Charges against the two included the kidnapping of six girls by luring them to his residence and a private clinic and making them believe that they needed “special treatment and examination.” Some survivors spoke out regarding harassment on social media in September 2020.

On July 15, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced dentist Bassem Samir to 16 years in prison for sexual harassment and misconduct against male patients and visitors to his clinic, including actor Abbas Aboul Hassan and singer Tameem Youness.

On October 31, the Mansoura Economic Misdemeanors Court convicted two lawyers for defamation of and threats against the survivor of mass harassment in Mit Ghamr in December 2020. One lawyer was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine, and the other lawyer to six months in prison and a fine. Media reported the two lawyers published videos and personal photographs of the survivor with the aim of threatening her to change her statements against their clients, who were accused of sexual assault but acquitted by the Mansoura Criminal Court on March 21 on a procedural error. On March 23, local media quoted the survivor saying during the trial that she was threatened with murder, maiming, and rape. The prosecution appealed the verdict on May 17 that acquitted the seven defendants.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no reports regarding the ability of vulnerable populations (individuals with disabilities, members of minorities, etc.) to provide informed consent to medical treatment affecting reproductive health, including for sterilization.

The Ministry of Health and Population distributed contraception and assigned personnel to attend births, offer postpartum care to mothers and children, and provide treatment for sexually transmitted diseases at minimal or no cost. The government also did not restrict family-planning decisions. Gender norms and social, cultural, economic, and religious barriers inhibited some women’s ability to make reproductive decisions and to access contraceptives. Some women lacked access to information on reproductive health, and the limited availability of female health-care providers reduced access to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, in view of the preference many women had for female health-care providers for social and religious reasons.

There was limited information on government assistance to survivors of sexual assault, including whether emergency contraception was available as part of clinical management of rape.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for male and female citizens. While the government took steps to improve their situation, women did not enjoy the same legal rights and opportunities as men, and discrimination was widespread. Aspects of the law and traditional societal practices disadvantaged women in family, social, and economic life.

Women faced widespread societal discrimination, threats to their physical security, and workplace bias in favor of men, thus hindering women’s social and economic advancement.

Laws affecting marriage and personal status generally corresponded to an individual’s religious group. A female Muslim citizen cannot legally marry a non-Muslim man. If she were to do so, authorities could charge her with adultery and consider her children illegitimate. Under the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, any children from such a marriage could be placed in the custody of a male Muslim guardian. Khula (divorce) allows a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent, provided she forgoes all her financial rights, including alimony, dowry, and other benefits. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in rare circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion. Other Christian churches permitted divorce on a case-by-case basis.

On January 3, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the penal code unconstitutionally discriminates against women by stipulating longer prison terms for adultery for women, in hearing the appeal of a women sentenced to two years in prison for adultery.

The law follows sharia in matters of inheritance; therefore, a Muslim female heir generally receives one-half the amount of a male heir’s inheritance, and Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole Muslim female heir receives one-half her parents’ estate, and the balance goes to the siblings of the parents or the children of the siblings if the siblings are deceased. A sole male heir inherits his parents’ entire estate.

In marriage and divorce cases, a woman’s testimony must be judged credible to be admissible. Usually, the woman accomplishes credibility by conveying her testimony through an adult male relative or representative. The law assumes a man’s testimony is credible unless proven otherwise.

In a June 2 meeting with top judicial figures, President Sisi announced that for the first time in the country’s history women would be allowed to work at the State Council and the Public Prosecution, starting on October 1. He also announced that the State Lawsuits Authority would be required to state a reason for rejecting any judicial applicants, and that personnel of the same rank in the State Council, Administrative Prosecution, State Lawsuits Authority, and judiciary would receive the same financial entitlements, including equal wages. A local NGO said in a Facebook statement on August 22 that the Supreme Judicial Council approved the prosecutor general’s request to transfer 11 female judges, including one Copt, to work in the Public Prosecution for the judicial year from September until September 2022.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

The constitution states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive or other communicable disease status. The main groups facing racial or ethnic violence and discrimination included Nubians and Bedouins.

Nubians are indigenous to northern Sudan and the south of the country. Population estimates for this ethnolinguistic group ranged from 100,000, according to a government census in the early 1960s, to approximately four million in other estimates.

Although positive steps regarding compensation reportedly were made for the damage Nubians suffered because of the building of the Aswan Low Dam in 1902 and later the construction of the Aswan High Dam, completed in 1971, no land return had occurred as of year’s end.

During the year the government provided compensation to a limited number of Nubians (11,500 according to government estimates). Nubian activists complained compensation was disbursed only to those who provided documents proving their properties had been destroyed.

Conflict and war in the Sinai Peninsula over decades contributed to the disruption of the lives of Bedouin there.

The country also hosted approximately 6.3 million migrants, according to 2020 estimates from the International Organization for Migration. More than half of the migrants were from Sudan and South Sudan, where conflicts continued to displace tens of thousands of persons annually. Migrants reported incidents of racial insults and sexual harassment due to their skin color.

In October 2020 the killing of a 12-year-old Sudanese boy, Mohamed Hassan, by a local man led to large protests, which security forces dispersed using tear gas and a water cannon and reportedly arrested 70 Sudanese refugees and migrants. The local man was later arrested and convicted of murdering the boy.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through their parents. The mother or the father transmits citizenship and nationality. The government attempted to register all births soon after delivery, but some citizens in remote and tribal areas such as the Sinai Peninsula registered births late or could not document their citizenship. In some cases failure to register resulted in denial of public services, particularly in urban areas where most services required presentation of a national identification card.

On March 29, local media reported that a mother was pursuing a paternity lawsuit she filed in July 2020 to receive a birth certificate for her daughter conceived through rape. The report added that the woman needed to file a lawsuit, since the law requires the names of both biological parents and the biological father had refused to acknowledge his paternity.

On June 19, the Supreme Administrative Court in Alexandria issued a final verdict ruling that a wife has the right to obtain a birth certificate for her child without the husband’s presence if she submits an official marriage contract and her husband’s data. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by a woman whose husband claimed that evidence for the birth certificate could only come from him.

Education: Education is compulsory, free, and universal until the ninth grade. The law provides this benefit to stateless persons and refugees. Public schools enrolled Syrian, Yemeni, Sudanese, and South Sudanese refugees. Refugees of other nationalities often chose not to attend public schools because of administrative barriers, discrimination and bullying, and preferences for English-language instruction or for other curricula.

Child Abuse: The constitution stipulates the government shall protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, mistreatment, and commercial and sexual exploitation. According to a local rights group, authorities recorded hundreds of cases of alleged child abuse each month. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, which operated a telephone hotline, worked on child abuse matters, and several civil society organizations assisted runaway and abandoned children.

Rights organizations reported children faced mistreatment in detention, including torture, sharing cells with adults, denial of their right to counsel, and authorities’ failure to notify their families. Media reported that six detained children died and 19 were seriously injured in a fire that broke out on June 3 during a fight between detained minors inside a juvenile detention center in Cairo Governorate. Local media reported that on June 7, the Public Prosecution ordered the detention pending investigation of four members of the center’s management, who were later sentenced by a lower court and then acquitted by an appellate court on December 27.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18. A government study published in March 2020 reported that 2.5 percent of the population in Upper Egypt governorates were married between the ages of 15 and 17, and the percentage of girls in that age group who had previously been married exceeded that of boys. Informal marriages could lead to contested paternity and leave female minors without alimony and other claims available to women with registered marriages. Families reportedly sometimes forced adolescent girls to marry wealthy foreign men in what were known locally as “tourism” or “summer” marriages for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, or forced labor. According to the law, a foreign man who wants to marry a local woman more than 25 years younger than he must pay her 50,000 EGP ($3,030). Women’s rights organizations argued that allowing foreign men to pay a fine to marry much younger women represented a form of trafficking and encouragement of child marriage. They called on the government to eliminate the system.

The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and governorate child protection units identified several attempted child marriages. In an April 4 statement, the council said it had identified an attempt by parents to marry their daughter, age 15, in Minya Governorate based on an April 3 citizen notification to the council’s hotline. The statement added that the girl’s parents had subsequently signed an affidavit with the girl’s fiance promising to not complete the marriage until the girl was 18 and agreeing to periodic government-led counseling sessions regarding the negative effects of child marriage and verification that the marriage would not be completed before the promised date.

On May 8 and August 10, local media reported that the Dar al-Salam child protection unit in Sohag Governorate identified a total of 11 attempts by several parents to marry their minor children, several reported through the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood hotline. The reports added that the parents of the minors subsequently signed affidavits agreeing to not complete the marriages until the minors reached the age of 18.

On March 10, the child protection unit at the Akhmeem Center in Sohag announced it had stopped a marriage of a minor in the village of al-Sawamah Sharq after receiving a report that a person was preparing to marry off his 16-year-old sister.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for sentences of not less than five years’ imprisonment and fines for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. The government did not adequately enforce the law. The minimum age for consensual sex is age 18.

On May 24, the Giza Criminal Court sentenced four defendants to prison for the May 2020 sexual assault against Tik Tok influencer Menna Abdel Aziz, a minor. The first defendant was sentenced to 11 years in prison for rape under threat, kidnapping with fraud and coercion, drug use, and breaking the COVID-19 curfew. The second defendant was sentenced to nine years in prison for indecent assault by force and threat, possession of a weapon, beating the survivor, theft, drug possession, and violating the COVID-19 curfew. The third defendant was sentenced to eight years in prison for indecent assault, violating the survivor’s privacy by publishing a video without her consent, beating the survivor, theft, and drug possession. The fourth defendant was sentenced to four years in prison for theft and drug possession. On May 24, a local human rights organization said that the Public Prosecution should have protected Abdel Aziz from the beginning instead of arresting and detaining her for 114 days after the May 2020 incident, when Abdel Aziz claimed in a social media video that an acquaintance and others had sexually assaulted her.

On April 27, a Cairo criminal court sentenced a man to 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting a minor girl in Maadi. According to local media, the man lured the girl, who was selling tissues in the street in Maadi, into a residential building where he committed the crime.

Displaced Children: The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics estimated in 2014 there were 16,000 homeless children in the country living in the streets. More recent data was not available, but experts estimated that up to two million children were on the streets. The ministry offered shelters to street children, but many chose not to use them because staff reportedly treated the children as if they were criminals, according to local rights groups. According to rights groups, the incidence of violence, prostitution, and drug dealing in these shelters was high. Religious institutions and NGOs provided services for street children, including meals, clothing, and literacy classes. The Ministry of Health and Population provided mobile health clinics staffed by nurses and social workers. The Ministry of Social Solidarity also provided 17 mobile units in 10 governorates that offered emergency services, including food and health care, to street children. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood in cooperation with UN Office on Drugs and Crime implemented targeted interventions to reduce drug abuse by displaced children by training social workers and police officers on problem identification and treatment options. The program also worked to shift the perception of displaced children by authorities and service providers from criminals to survivors.

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 reportedly numbered as few as 10 individuals.

On March 9, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Ministry of Education approved a school subject that allows children to study verses from Jewish scripture.

On June 22, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said that school textbooks contained both positive and negative information regarding Jews. There were also isolated reports of anti-Semitic comments and examination questions in classrooms. The ADL also reported that a broad array of anti-Semitic books was displayed by exhibitors at the annual, state-run Cairo International Book Fair.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Organ Harvesting

The government’s interagency National Coordinating Committee for Preventing and Combating Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons reported that between April 2020 and March 31 the Interior Ministry processed eight criminal cases for organ trafficking with 29 defendants and 39 victims.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states persons with disabilities are equal without discrimination before the law. The law prohibits discrimination in education, employment, health, political activity, rehabilitation, training, and legal protection. On December 23, President Sisi ratified new amendments to the law that stipulate a prison sentence of no less than two years, a fine, or both for bullying persons with disabilities, with prison terms and fines doubled for repeat offenders. Persons with disabilities do not have access on an equal basis with others to education, health services, public buildings and transportation. The new National Human Rights Strategy included a section on the rights for persons with disabilities. The strategy calls for helping persons with disabilities enjoy all rights under the law and calls for increased medical and educational services for persons with disabilities.

The law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment. Government policy sets a quota for employing 5 percent of workers with disabilities for companies with more than 50 employees. Authorities did not enforce the quota requirement, and companies often had persons with disabilities on their payroll to meet the quota without employing them. Government-operated treatment centers for persons with disabilities, especially children, were of poor quality.

The National Council for People with Disabilities, an independent body, aimed to promote, develop, and protect the rights of persons with disabilities and their constitutional dignity. The council signed a cooperation protocol with the Justice Ministry to address the rights of persons with disabilities and to train employees in the government on how to help persons with hearing disabilities.

Persons with disabilities rode government-owned mass transit buses without charge, but the buses were not wheelchair accessible. Persons with disabilities received subsidies to purchase household products, wheelchairs, and prosthetic devices. Some children with disabilities attended schools with their nondisabled peers while others attended segregated schools. Some of the segregated institutions were informal schools run by NGOs. Some parents of children with disabilities complained on social media of the lack of experience of teacher assistants assigned to help their children.

On May 5, local media reported that EgyptAir announced a 20 percent discount for passengers with disabilities on international flights and a 10 percent discount to their flight companions.

On May 11, local media reported that the National Telecom Regulatory Authority announced a 50 percent discount for customers with disabilities on their monthly voice and internet packages.

On August 29, local media reported that the minister of social solidarity announced the addition of sign language to the state-run digital platform to raise awareness for youth regarding marriage.

On September 3 and November 16, the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders issued official statements of concern regarding the continued pretrial detention of university student Oqaba Alaa Labib Hashad, who she said was unable to walk without his prosthetic limb. The November 16 statement reported Hashad was arrested in 2019 and was allegedly subjected to physical and psychological torture, including being suspended from a ceiling and subjected to electric shocks. The statement said that a prison investigator reportedly took Hashad’s prosthetic leg in January in retaliation for a human rights report his exiled brother had published. The statement added that Hashad was held in solitary confinement without family visits for three months after he complained on March 5 of the lack of his prosthetic leg.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV-positive individuals faced significant social stigma and discrimination in society and the workplace. The health-care system provided anonymous counseling and testing for HIV, free adult and pediatric antiretroviral therapy, and support groups.

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

While the law does not explicitly criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons were arrested and prosecuted on charges such as “debauchery,” “prostitution,” and “violating family values,” for which the law provides for prison sentences of up to 10 years. According to a local rights group, there were more than 250 reports of such arrests since 2013. Rights groups and activists reported harassment by police, including physical assault and forced payment of bribes to provide information concerning other LGBTQI+ individuals or to avoid arrest. There were reports that authorities used social media, dating websites, and mobile phone apps to entrap persons they suspected of being gay or transgender, a method LGBTQI+ advocates described as especially effective since LGBTQI+-friendly public spaces had largely closed in recent years. Rights groups reported that authorities, including the Forensic Medical Authority, conducted forced anal examinations, which rights groups indicated primarily targeted LGBTQI+ individuals. The law allows for conducting forced anal exams in cases of “debauchery.”

Authorities did not use antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTQI+ individuals. Legal discrimination and social stigma impeded LGBTQI+ persons from organizing or advocating publicly in defense of their rights. Information was not available on discrimination in employment, occupation, housing, statelessness, or access to education or health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no government efforts to address potential discrimination. There were reports of arrests and harassment of LGBTQI+ individuals. Intimidation and the risk of arrest greatly restricted open reporting and contributed to self-censorship. The government has the authority to deport or bar entry to the country of LGBTQI+ foreigners.

The Egyptian Medical Syndicate allows for gender-affirming treatment with approval by a special committee composed of medical doctors and al-Azhar clergy, according to international media citing a local LGBTQI+ activist on February 6. The committee relies on a fatwa that stipulates gender affirming treatment must be “medically necessary” and justified by a “biological,” not a “mental” matter. According to Human Rights Watch, the surgery was allowed only for intersex persons, which left transgender individuals to seek treatment from unregulated and often unsafe clinics. On August 26, according to Human Rights Watch, Ezz Eldin, a 26-year-old transgender man, bled to death following surgery in an underground clinic.

On May 6, border guards prevented two transgender Israelis from entering Sinai for tourism because they did not appear to belong to the sex listed in their passports.

According to a LGBTQI+ rights organization 2020 annual report issued in January, authorities arrested 25 LGBTQI+ individuals in 2020 and conducted forced anal exams on six persons.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike, but it imposes significant restrictions. The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law prescribes union elections every four years and imposes a strict hierarchy for union formation consisting of a company-level trade union committee, a profession or industry-level general union, and a national-level union. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws or levy penalties commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. However, penalties for engaging in illegal strikes were more stringent. The law requires centralized tripartite negotiations that include workers, represented by a union affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (Union Federation), business owners, and the Ministry of Manpower overseeing and monitoring negotiations and agreements. The government seldom followed the requirement for tripartite negotiations in collective disputes, leaving workers to negotiate directly with employers, typically after resorting to a strike. In March 2020 workers from al-Masryia Company for Weaving and Textile struck for alleged unpaid raises and bonuses. Media reported in late December 2020 that management and worker representatives reached an agreement on compensation and back pay without the participation of the Ministry of Manpower.

The constitution provides for the right to “peaceful” strikes, and the law permits them but imposes significant restrictions, including prior approval by a general trade union affiliated with the Union Federation. In April the International Labor Organization (ILO) removed the country from the preliminary list of cases for discussion by the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards, which discusses discrepancies between a country’s law and practice and ILO conventions the country has ratified.

In July more than 1,200 workers at the Nile Linen Group, based in Alexandria’s special economic zone, went on strike concerning the company’s refusal to implement agreed-upon wage increases and add workers’ family members to company health insurance policies. Four days later, local media reported that the Nile Linen Group’s union committee reached an agreement with management regarding certain aspects of the wage dispute and agreed to resume negotiations on the remaining demands.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. In March the head of the union at the Alexandria Spinning and Weaving Company, Ashraf Abdel Moneim, alleged that the company had transferred seven committee members to new positions in retaliation for the workers’ refusal to implement the company’s decision to stop production and dismiss workers. According to media reports, Lord International Company terminated 84 workers in August following strikes by approximately 2,000 workers demanding that the company comply with the country’s minimum wage laws.

The Ministry of Manpower and affiliated directorates did not allow trade unions to adopt any bylaws other than those provided in the law. This position, according to local workers’ rights organizations, was contrary to the law, which states that unions may use the statutory bylaws as guidance to develop their own.

The government occasionally arrested workers who staged strikes or criticized the government, and it rarely reversed arbitrary dismissals. On January 22, local media reported that the government released two doctors arrested in 2020 for posting comments to Facebook critical of the government’s coronavirus response. Labor union activist Khalil Rizk was released on May 21 pending trial on charges of spreading false news, misuse of social media, and membership in a banned group. Authorities had first arrested Rizk in 2019 while he was advocating for workers in a pharmaceutical factory engaged in a dispute with management concerning wages.

In March the Ministry of Manpower announced, without stating when, that it had previously established a trade union grievance committee to examine complaints submitted by trade union organizations and provide unions with technical assistance in meeting regulatory requirements.

Independent unions continued to face pressure to dissolve. In many cases the Ministry of Manpower delayed responding to unions’ applications for legal status, leaving many in legal limbo. In other instances the Ministry of Manpower refused to legalize proposed unions if a Union Federation-affiliated counterpart existed.

Workers sometimes staged sit-ins on government and private property, often without obtaining the necessary permits. In July the Court of Cassation ruled that prison sentences for organizing protests without permits would apply to protest organizers and participants.

For a period of 12 months ending in August, a monthly 1 percent deduction was made from the net income of all public-sector employees and 0.5 percent of the net income of pensioners to fund efforts to address the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution states no work may be compulsory except by virtue of a law. The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government did not effectively enforce the prohibition. The government conducted awareness-raising activities for migrant laborers, and domestic workers, a population vulnerable to trafficking, and worked with NGOs to provide some assistance to survivors of human trafficking, including forced labor. Penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit or criminalize all the worst forms of child labor or provide sufficient protection for children from exploitation in the workplace, including limitations on working hours, and occupational safety and health restrictions.  Children were subjected to the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, quarrying limestone, and organized begging.  The law sets the minimum age for regular employment at age 15 and at age 13 for seasonal employment.  The constitution defines a child as anyone younger than 18.  A Ministry of Manpower decree bars children younger than 18 from 44 specific hazardous occupations, while the law prohibits employment of children younger than 18 from work that “puts the health, safety, or morals of the child into danger.”  Provincial governors, with the approval of the minister of education, may authorize seasonal work (often agricultural) for children age 13 and older, provided duties are not hazardous and do not interfere with schooling.  The law limits children’s work hours and mandates breaks.

The government did not effectively enforce child labor laws.  The maximum penalties for violating laws against child labor were fines and therefore not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.  The Ministry of Manpower, in coordination with the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Interior Ministry, enforced child labor laws in state-owned enterprises and private-sector establishments through inspections and supervision of factory management.  Labor inspectors generally operated without adequate training on child labor matters, although the Ministry of Manpower offered some child labor-specific training.  The government did not inspect noncommercial farms for child labor, and there were very limited monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for children in domestic service.  Authorities implemented several social, educational, and poverty reduction programs to reduce children’s vulnerability to exploitative labor.  The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, working with the Ministries of Education and Technical Education and of Social Solidarity, sought to provide working children with social security safeguards and to reduce school dropout rates by providing families with alternative sources of income.

Estimates on the number of child laborers varied. According to the 2012 joint International Labor Organization and Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics child labor survey, of the 1.8 million children working, 1.6 million were engaged in hazardous or unlawful forms of labor, primarily in the agricultural sector in rural areas but also in domestic work and factories in urban areas, often under hazardous conditions. Children also worked in light industry, the aluminum industry, limestone production, construction sites, brick production, and service businesses such as auto repair. According to government, NGO, and media reports, the number of street children in Cairo continued to increase due to deteriorating economic conditions. Such children were at greater risk of sexual exploitation or forced begging. In some cases employers abused or overworked children.

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 states all citizens “are equal in rights, freedoms, and general duties without discrimination based on religion, belief, gender, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographic affiliation, or any other reason.” It does not specify age, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive or other communicable disease status. The law does not specifically protect some categories of workers, including agricultural and domestic workers, and other sectors of the informal economy. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking employment were hampered by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to exploitation by employers.

Labor laws provide for equal rates of pay for equal work for men and women in the public but not the private sector. Educated women had employment opportunities, but social pressure against women pursuing a career was strong. On April 19, the Ministry of Manpower issued new labor regulations that removed gender-based restrictions preventing women from working in the evenings and performing jobs related to manufacturing spirits, fireworks, fertilizers, pesticides, asphalt, painting metals, radioactive substances, and moving machines. The new regulations require employers to provide women safe transportation and working conditions at night and grant women the right to perform any job function except in fields with chemical, physical, biological, and engineering risks during pregnancy and lactation periods.

Large sectors of the economy controlled by the military excluded women from high-level positions. While the law provides for persons with disabilities to gain access to vocational training and employment, the government did not effectively enforce prohibitions against such discrimination. Discrimination also occurred against women and migrant workers (see sections 2.d. and 6), as well as workers based on their political views.

An employee facing discrimination may file a report with the local government labor office. If the employee and the employer are unable to reach an amicable settlement, they may file their claim in administrative court, which may order the employer to redress the complaint or to pay damages or legal fees. According to local rights groups, implementation of the law was inadequate. Additionally, the lengthy and expensive litigation process could deter employees from filing claims. On January 21, the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development announced the creation of an Equal Opportunities Unit to prevent discrimination and promote gender equity and inclusiveness in the ministry. On July 3, the Supreme Administrative Court reversed a decision by the Health Insurance Board to terminate a female worker for being sexually harassed in the street. The board had previously said the employee’s termination was necessary since she would be “offensive to her colleagues” as a woman who had been sexually harassed.

Local rights groups reported several cases of employers dismissing workers or depriving them from work for expressing antigovernment opinions. On August 1, President Sisi ratified new amendments to the civil service law that authorize the government to summarily dismiss public employees who commit certain acts against the state. The minister of transportation had asked parliament to pass such a law to enable the ministry to terminate 162 employees, whom the minister claimed were members of the Muslim Brotherhood and had contributed to several railway crashes. According to progovernment media reports, the Supreme Council for Universities tasked university presidents on July 26 with compiling a list of “terrorist employees” to terminate pursuant to the new law. The law allows employees to appeal termination decisions to the Administrative Court and protects the pension and severance pay of terminated individuals.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The government sets a monthly minimum wage for government employees and public-sector workers, which is above the poverty line. The law stipulates a maximum 48-hour workweek for the public and private sectors and provides for premium pay for overtime and work on rest days and national holidays. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime. According to labor rights organizations, the government implemented the minimum wage for public-sector workers but applied it only to direct government employees and included benefits and bonuses in calculating total salaries. For government employees and public business-sector workers, the government also set a maximum wage limit per month. The government sets worker health and safety standards, for example, by prohibiting employers from maintaining hazardous working conditions. The law excludes agricultural, fisheries, and domestic workers from regulations concerning wages, hours, and working conditions.

The law does not require equal pay for equal work. Penalties for violating laws on acceptable conditions of work were not commensurate with crimes such as fraud, which are punishable by imprisonment.

Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were not always appropriate for the main industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and services. The Ministry of Manpower is responsible for enforcing labor laws and standards for working conditions. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for violations included imprisonment and fines, but they were not effectively enforced. It was unclear whether such penalties were commensurate with laws such as negligence. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to employment, although authorities did not reliably enforce this right. Little information was available on workplace fatalities and accidents. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with occupational safety and health experts and the employer and not the worker.

On November 10, the medical syndicate announced that approximately 633 doctors had died of COVID-19 since March 2020. According to media reports, laborers in some remote areas worked in extremely dangerous environments. In March, 20 persons were killed (and 24 others injured) when a fire broke out in a garment factory north of Cairo. In the following month, approximately eight individuals died (with two others injured) when a 10-story building housing a garment factory collapsed. On August 14, five persons were killed in an oil refining plant in the Abu Rawash Industrial Zone. Local media reported the arrest of the plant owners by authorities following an investigation, which revealed that the plant had been operating unlicensed and illegally for four years. In North Sinai workers’ movements were restricted by local government-established curfews and checkpoints run by both the military and nonstate armed groups in the area due to the military’s campaign against militants.

The government provided services, such as free health care, to all citizens, but the quality of services was often poor. Other benefits, such as social insurance, were available only to employees in the formal sector. Many private-sector employers reportedly required workers to sign undated resignation letters as a condition of employment, which the employers could use to terminate employees at will. On June 18, the minister of manpower utilized an emergency fund created to pay workers’ wages in the event of economic hardship to assist 257 workers of the Egyptian Company for Modern Food Industries.

Informal Sector: The Ministry of Manpower did not attempt to apply labor standards to the informal sector. Many persons throughout the country faced poor working conditions, especially in the informal economy, which employed up to 40 percent of workers, according to some estimates. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, approximately 11.9 million of the 25.7 million workers in the labor force did not have formal contracts with employers and were categorized as “informal” workers. Obstacles to improving working conditions in both the private sector and informal sector included uneven application or lack of regulations and restrictions on engaging in peaceful protests as a means of negotiating resolutions to workplace disparities. Domestic workers, agricultural workers, workers in rock quarries, and other parts of the informal sector were most likely to face hazardous or exploitative conditions. There were reports of employer abuse of citizen and undocumented foreign workers, especially domestic workers, particularly Sudanese and other sub-Saharan Africans.

Greece

Executive Summary

Greece is a constitutional republic and multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in a unicameral parliament, which approves a government headed by a prime minister. In 2019 the country held parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair. A government formed by the New Democracy Party headed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis leads the country.

Police are responsible for law enforcement, border security, and the maintenance of order. They are under the authority of the Ministry of Citizen Protection, which is also responsible for prison facilities. The Coast Guard, responsible for law and border enforcement in territorial waters, reports to the Ministry of Shipping Affairs and Island Policy. The armed forces are under the authority of the Ministry of National Defense. Police and the armed forces share law enforcement duties in certain border areas. Border protection is coordinated by a deputy minister for national defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police, Coast Guard, and armed forces, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. Members of security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of criminal suspects by police and against migrants and asylum seekers by authorities; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including criminal libel and slander laws; forced returns of asylum seekers; crimes involving violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.

The government regularly took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. There were, however, reports and complaints from nongovernmental organizations and international organizations regarding government failure to effectively investigate and punish police abuse and the lack of independent investigation of and accountability for widespread credible allegations of forced returns of asylum seekers.

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. There were reports, however, that police mistreated and abused members of racial and ethnic minority groups, undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, demonstrators, and Roma (also see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees, and section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination).

Most reports alleged abusive treatment of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in preremoval centers by law enforcement authorities, violence against migrants and asylum seekers during pushback operations at Greece-Turkey land and sea borders, and mistreatment of inmates in detention centers. There were several reported abuses similar to the following examples. According to media reports, on January 30, the Hellenic Police Internal Affairs Division launched an investigation into allegations of violence by police officers against a group of migrants held at the preremoval center in Drama. Police officers allegedly stormed into the cells of detainees, beating them with batons. The violence was reportedly prompted by a protest by some of the inmates against an extension of their detention beyond 18 months.

In a November 2020 report on its ad hoc visit to migrant detention and preremoval centers in the country, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported that, while the vast majority of migrants it interviewed had not been physically mistreated by authorities when they were apprehended and detained, the CPT’s delegation received a number of reports by migrants that they have been subjected to slaps on the head, kicks, and truncheon blows by members of the Hellenic Police and Coast Guard. For example, one person held by Hellenic Police at the former Special Missions Unit of the Hellenic Coast Guard at Samos alleged he was struck across the left side of his head with a baton by a police office after asking to be let out of the cell to go to the toilet, resulting in partial deafness.

In its November 2020 report, the CPT reported that detained migrants were sometimes confined in squalid conditions. In two cells under the authority of the Hellenic Police at the Port of Samos, for example, the CPT found 93 migrants (58 men, 15 women, three of whom were pregnant, and 20 children, 10 of whom were younger than age five) crammed into space that provided each person with less than 10 square feet of living space. Access to natural light was limited, there was no artificial light, no heating, no beds, no mattresses, and unpartitioned in-cell toilets emitted a foul stench. Women were given wet wipes but were not provided any other hygiene products. The CPT report stated, “These conditions clearly amount to inhuman and degrading treatment. The fact that authorities continued to hold this group, many of whom were clearly vulnerable, for 18 days without any efforts to lessen the harshness of their situation could be considered an inhuman punishment.”

On June 22, media outlets reported that a Georgian national arrested on suspicion of homicide stated he was interrogated and badly beaten for four days to force a confession for a crime another individual was later identified and prosecuted for committing. On March 9, the Office of the Greek Ombudsman, an independent constitutionally sanctioned authority, stated cases of police violence in 2020 increased by 75 percent and that the number recommended for investigation rose by 25 percent.

The most recent prison and detention center monitoring visit by the CPT took place in 2019. In its 2020 report on the visit, the CPT expressed deep concern that police mistreatment, especially against foreign nationals and members of the Romani community, remained a frequent practice throughout the country and that the system for investigating allegations of police mistreatment could not be considered effective. The report stated that, during the visit, the CPT received a high number of credible allegations of excessive use of force, unduly tight handcuffing, and physical and psychological mistreatment of criminal suspects during or in the context of police interviews. Alleged mistreatment consisted mainly of slaps, punches, and kicks as well as blows to the head with truncheons and metal objects. The CPT also received some allegations of blows with a stick to the soles of the feet and the application of a plastic bag over the head during police interviews, reportedly with the aim of obtaining a confession and a signed statement.

Several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international human rights organizations reiterated complaints of a lack of an independent government entity to investigate violence and other alleged abuses at the border by the Coast Guard and border patrol forces. The National Commission for Human Rights reported that in 2020 police investigated only two pushback abuse cases and no cases were prosecuted and tried. The commission recommended the establishment of “an official independent mechanism to record and monitor informal pushback complaints.”

In the report on its 2019 visit, the CPT stated that its findings “confirm that investigations are still not carried out promptly or expeditiously and often lack thoroughness. Consequently, most cases of alleged police ill-treatment are not criminally prosecuted and very few result in criminal sentences or even disciplinary sanction.” As an example, the CPT noted that none of the 21 outstanding cases of alleged serious police mistreatment made by the police Internal Affairs Directorate in April 2014 had resulted in successful prosecution.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center deficiencies included overcrowding, inadequate sanitation and access to health care, and inadequate provision of basic supplies. Inmates alleged police mistreatment and physical and verbal abuse (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

Physical Conditions: Government statistics issued in September indicated the prison population exceeded holding capacity. Nationwide, prisons were built to accommodate 10,175 inmates, but prisons held 11,131 inmates. For example, facilities in the cities of Tripoli, Ioannina, and Volos exceeded capacity by 217 percent, 198 percent, and 195 percent respectively.

Violent incidents among detainees in prison facilities continued to decline. From January to October, one death and approximately 10 injuries were recorded. Authorities conducted regular and extraordinary inspections for drugs and improvised weaponry.

Inmates continued to complain that government COVID-19 pandemic protection measures were not always sufficient, with congested conditions and a lack of access to medical care and medication. Prison authorities vaccinated inmates for COVID-19, but no data were available regarding the number vaccinated.

On April 28, Secretary General of Special Guards Stratos Mavroidakos denounced police detention center conditions across the country as “inhumane.” According to Mavroidakos, individuals were detained for as long as three months in holding cells and in basements, with a lack of basic sanitation supplies. On July 1, members of parliament (MPs) visited Patras Prison. The prison population of 700 exceeded capacity by 300 inmates. The MPs stated that the prison lacked a full-time physician, enough trained guards, and adequate kitchen facilities.

Police detained undocumented migrants and asylum seekers in reception and identification centers (RICs) on five islands (Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos) and one on the mainland in Evros until the individuals were identified and registered. Some detained migrants alleged physical abuse by members of the Hellenic Police and Coast Guard or were held in conditions that could be considered inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment (see subsection on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, above).

On June 9, General Director of the NGO Doctors Without Borders Christina Psarra described the RICs on Lesvos and Samos as “totally inadequate living spaces.” The NGO Greek Council for Refugees reported that in many cases detention conditions in the preremoval centers failed to meet adequate standards due to their prison-like design and that “police stations and other police facilities, unsuitable for detention of more than 24 hours, continued to fall short of basic standards.”

Administration: Independent authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment. The Ministry of Citizen Protection, through the Secretariat General for Anticrime Policy, published bimonthly detention-related statistics on the occupancy rate and the design capacity per prison.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent nongovernmental observers to monitor prison and detention center conditions. Authorities required NGOs, diplomatic missions, and foreign and domestic journalists to submit formal requests in advance for each visit to RICs and official migrant and asylum seeker camps. During most of the year, special COVID-19 pandemic restrictive measures prevented access to RICs and to other refugee and migrant accommodation facilities.

Improvements: Construction of two 120-cell wings in the Nigrita prison facility reduced overcrowding.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Both the constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and give any person the right to challenge the lawfulness of an arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements. The ombudsman, through the National Preventive Mechanism for the Investigation of Arbitrary Incidents, received 263 complaints in 2020, most of which related to police. According to the Office of the Greek Ombudsman, more than one-half of complaints reported abusive behavior taking place during arrests, detentions, and other police operations. In many cases victims of police abuse were minors, young persons, refugees, and foreigners. The ombudsman noted delays by law enforcement authorities in launching disciplinary investigations of police conduct and sending forensic reports and video footage for the ombudsman’s assessment; however, the ombudsman noted that in most cases authorities cooperated.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and requires judicial warrants for arrests, except during the commission of a crime. Detainees are promptly informed of the charges against them at their first court appearance. The law requires police to bring detainees before a magistrate, who must issue a detention warrant or order the detainee’s release within 24 hours. By law pretrial detention may last up to 18 months, depending on the severity of the crime, or up to 30 months in exceptional circumstances. A panel of judges may release detainees pending trial; there is a functioning bail system and other options for release pending trial. Individuals are entitled to state compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. There were no reports that police violated these laws. Detainees may contact a close relative or third party and consult with a lawyer of their choice or one provided by the state. The law provides for the latter right after a person is formally charged with a criminal offense rather than from the outset of custody. In its 2020 report on conditions of detention, the CPT reported complaints from individuals who stated they were not allowed while in custody to promptly notify a relative or a lawyer during the initial period of detention, particularly before or during questioning by police, when the risk of intimidation and mistreatment was greatest. The CPT noted that individuals who lacked financial means often met a lawyer only during their bail hearing.

Rights activists and media reported instances in which foreign detainees had limited access to court-provided interpretation or were unaware of their right to legal assistance. In a November 2020 report on detention centers for migrants, the CPT stated it received many complaints from foreign detainees that they had not been informed of their rights in a language they understood or had signed documents in the Greek language without knowing their content and without assistance from an interpreter. Indigent defendants facing felony charges received legal representation from the bar association. NGOs and international organizations provided limited legal aid to detained migrants and asylum seekers.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary or unlawful detention. For example, on July 14, Amnesty International stated law enforcement authorities arbitrarily arrested, issued unjust fines, and unlawfully used force against demonstrators (including women’s rights activists, trade unionists, members of political parties, lawyers, and others) who took part in November and December 2020 peaceful protests against a blanket ban on demonstrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amnesty International cited cases of individuals who were initially transferred to police stations for identity checks and subsequently charged with breaching public health rules (also see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Authorities respected court orders. Observers continued to track the case of Andreas Georgiou, who was the head of the Hellenic Statistical Authority during the Greek financial crisis. The Council of Appeals cleared Georgiou three times of a criminal charge that he falsified 2009 budget data to justify Greece’s first international bailout. Georgiou appealed a 2017 criminal conviction for violation of duty to the European Court of Human Rights. Separately, a government official filed a civil suit in 2014 as a private citizen against Georgiou. The official stated he was slandered by a press release issued from Georgiou’s office. Georgiou was convicted of simple slander in 2017. The Supreme Court in October granted Georgiou an injunction until January 2023, when it is scheduled to consider his appeal of the slander conviction.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the rights of defendants to: a presumption of innocence; be informed promptly of the charges; a fair, timely, and generally public trial; be present at their trial; communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; free assistance of an interpreter (for any defendant who cannot understand or speak the language used in court); confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal. Delays in trials occurred mostly due to backlogs of pending cases, understaffing, and the lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trials were public in most instances. By law a suspect or defendant has the right to seek compensation for damages resulting from public officials disrespecting the individual’s presumed innocence at any time during legal proceedings. According to the same legislation, the burden of proof of guilt lies with the court and the defendant benefits from any doubt. Some NGOs criticized the quality and lack of availability of interpretation.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The law provides citizens with the ability to sue the government for compensation for alleged violations of rights. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies, including the European Court of Human Rights.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The law addresses property restitution, and many Holocaust-era property claims have been resolved, but several matters remained open. The NGO Organization for the Relief and Rehabilitation of Jews in Greece (OPAIE) claimed more than 100 properties owned by Jews before the war were occupied as government facilities. In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of OPAIE regarding one of the property cases. Following the ruling, a committee of government appointees and representatives of the Central Jewish Council was established in 2019 to negotiate the fate of the remaining properties. The Committee has only met once, virtually, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; no decision on future steps was taken during the year.

The Jewish community of Thessaloniki had a pending case against the Russian government calling for the return of the community’s prewar archives. On several occasions throughout the year, authorities, including Alternate Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, publicly urged the return of these archives. According to the NGO Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS), on December 8, Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin informed the prime minister Russia would return the archives. Additionally, the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw held religious artifacts allegedly stolen from the Jewish community of Thessaloniki in 1941. The community continued to request return of the artifacts.

The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, is available on the Department’s website at: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that 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 members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution and law protect freedom of expression but specifically allow restrictions on speech inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups based on their race, skin color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds. On November 11, the parliament approved legislation that allowed prosecution for spreading “fake news.” The law may be invoked by authorities on suspicion that an individual intends to spread fake news regarding the national defense, the economy, and health. NGOs expressed concern the law could be used to penalize media that reported on government actions to repel migrants and asylum seekers.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government did not censor media. The government maintains an online register with the legal status of local websites, their number of employees, detailed shareholder information, and their tax office. Once registered, these websites are accredited to accept funding through state advertising, to cover official events, and to benefit from research and training programs of the National Center of Audiovisual Works. All registered websites must display their certification on their homepage. Although registering was an open and nonobligatory process, outlets failing to do so could be excluded from the accreditation benefits. A similar electronic registry is in place for regional and local press.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of defamation, including libel and slander. Individuals convicted of crimes may not claim slander for discussion of their crimes.

On February 20, Deputy Minister of State Akis Skertsos filed a slander lawsuit against journalist Yorgos Tragas for a broadcast report alleging that the deputy minister had facilitated the sexual abuse of unaccompanied minors by the director of the National Theater. On April 23, a court of appeals reversed the slander conviction of broadcast journalist Michalis Tsokanis for reporting that two police officers in Evia had close ties to far-right Golden Dawn Party members.

Nongovernmental Impact: On April 9, two unknown perpetrators shot and killed journalist George Karaivaz outside his residence in Athens. Karaivaz was covering organized crime and corruption problems. His death, reportedly related to his reporting, was condemned by the prime minister and opposition parties, as well as by the European Commission, the Council of Europe, and media freedom NGOs. Police had made no arrests by the year’s end.

Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in at least three instances. On January 10, a bomb exploded in the car of journalist George Sfakianakis outside the studios of television channel E in Athens. No injuries were reported. Police launched investigations but made no arrests. Government members and opposition parties condemned these attacks.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with restrictions due to COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government banned protest gatherings of more than 100 persons and restricted social gatherings to a maximum of nine to 12 persons. On July 14, Amnesty International published a report claiming that authorities used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to issue blanket bans on protests between November 2020 and March. According to protesters, police used water cannons and chemical irritants against peaceful protesters.

In July 2020, parliament amended legislation on public open-air gatherings. The amended law requires prior and timely notification, in writing or via email, of planned gatherings to police or Coast Guard authorities and makes protest organizers accountable in case of bodily harm or property damage. Some parliament members and analysts called the law anticonstitutional and antidemocratic, arguing it infringes the right of assembly.

Freedom of Association

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, courts continued to place legal restrictions on associations of persons who self-identify as ethnic Macedonian or associations that include the term “Turkish” as indicative of a collective ethnic identity (see also section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination). Despite the restrictions and lack of legal recognition, ethnic associations continued to operate. On June 29, the Supreme Court rejected the petition for registration filed by the Turkish Union in Xanthi. The court cited “national security and public order” as grounds for rejection. The union responded the Supreme Court ruling violated a European Court of Human Rights ruling that it should be allowed to officially register in Greece.

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, and the government generally respected these rights. Some of these freedoms were partially suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic mitigation restrictions. Internal movement was only for work, limited shopping, and doctor visits, and a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. was enforced.

In-country Movement: Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, undocumented migrants and asylum seekers arriving at Greek islands were subject to special border reception and registration procedures and were not allowed to leave registration centers for up to 25 days. After this 25-day period, undocumented migrants remaining in those facilities were generally allowed to enter and exit but were prohibited from travelling to the mainland unless they successfully filed asylum applications.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, border reception and registration procedures mandated medical tests for all newly arriving migrants and asylum seekers and required 14 days of quarantine. A law passed in 2020 states that asylum seekers deemed “vulnerable” are not eligible to receive expedited examination of their asylum claims or to be transferred to the mainland on vulnerability grounds alone. Once asylum applicants were granted refugee status, they could move off the islands. The law also established closed and partially closed facilities for the temporary reception of asylum applicants, a system NGOs and international organizations criticized as depriving asylum seekers of liberty and having become the norm for most asylum seekers.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. Authorities also worked with the European Asylum Support Office. Undocumented individuals waiting to register in the asylum system were informed of their rights and asylum procedures. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted voluntary return programs. UNHCR assisted the government with briefings and the distribution of multilingual leaflets and information packages on asylum and asylum procedures. There were reports, however, of potential asylum seekers entering from Turkey being briefly detained and then forced to return to Turkey without being allowed to apply for asylum.

Access to Asylum: The law allows for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system to protect refugees through an autonomous asylum service and an appeals authority under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum. The system includes procedural safeguards for protection and review, with generally no legal impediments for accessing the asylum process. The law provides for access to certified interpreters throughout the process, to legal assistance for appeals, and the right to remain in the country while a case is under appeal. Tight deadlines guide each step which, if missed, may result a negative decision and a deportation order. On September 4, the government amended legislation to make it easier to deport asylum seekers whose cases were denied, reducing the time for them to leave the country from 30 to 25 days.

The government did not consistently respect the law. NGOs and international organizations reported asylum cases in which authorities denied petitions without respecting the 14-day quarantine for arrivals and without allowing the presence of a lawyer during the interviews. There were reports that asylum seekers attempting to enter the country from Turkey were being repelled or detained without food and water, oftentimes ill-treated and physically abused. Many asylum seekers were reportedly forced onto rafts, which sea currents took back to Turkey.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: On June 7, a joint decree by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Migration and Asylum designated Turkey as “safe third country” for asylum seekers originating from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Somalia. The decree states that because Turkey has a functioning asylum process and does not discriminate due to a person’s race, religion, ethnicity, political beliefs, or participation in a certain social group, Turkey is a safe third country for asylum seekers. Applications for asylum filed by persons from those countries who transited Turkey before entering Greece were examined under a fast-track process and could be rejected as inadmissible. Several NGOs, including the Greek Council for Refugees and Solidarity Now, expressed concerns regarding the decree, stating that the notion of a safe third country was not compatible with the requirements set by the Geneva Convention. On August 25, the Appeals Authority in Lesvos reversed a decision by a local regional asylum office to reject the applications for international protection by an Afghan family that entered the country from Turkey and stated Turkey could not be considered a safe third country.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: There were allegations of physical abuse or violence directed at detained migrants and residents of RICs by members of the Hellenic Police and Coast Guard (see section 1.c., Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

Local and international media, human rights NGOs, and international organizations received testimonials from asylum seekers that they were physically abused and deprived of their personal belongings prior to being returned to Turkey. For example, in a July 15 report, the Greek National Commission for Human Rights stated it had received credible allegations regarding “individual or group pushbacks at Greek-Turkish borders as well as the use of life-threatening methods in the course of deterrence operations at sea.” Additionally, it cited violent fights among rival groups and incidents at the RIC in Samos of extortion, arson, rape of women and girls, and human trafficking.

The Racist Violence Recording Network reported incidents recorded in 2020 of abuse based on of ethnicity, religion, or skin color and against human rights activists due to their involvement in assisting migrant groups (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination). Authorities did not always provide adequate security or physical protection to migrants and asylum seekers, particularly those attempting to cross Greece-Turkey land and sea borders.

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers were not allowed to leave the island where they arrived until the asylum review procedure concludes. Human rights activists in Lesvos reported that some COVID-19 pandemic restrictions continued for asylum seekers after the restrictions were lifted for the general population.

Employment: Recognized refugees and holders of asylum seeker certification were entitled to work, although this right was not widely publicized or consistently enforced. There were limited options for employment, made scarcer by the COVID-19 pandemic and bureaucratic obstacles that included opening a bank account or obtaining a tax or social security registration number.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides for access to services such as shelter, health care, education, and the judiciary once the status of a refugee or asylum seeker or asylum seeker is official. Due to staff shortages, pandemic-related restrictions, gaps in the vulnerability assessment process, and other bureaucratic obstacles, asylum seekers had limited access to health, educational, legal, and other services.

Refugees reported difficulties in obtaining documents required to apply for a job or rent a house, and in obtaining the health booklet needed for medical services. Human rights activist reported that refugees granted asylum were only provided one month of subsidized housing. Some asylum seekers suffering from chronic diseases encountered problems obtaining proper medication. On July 21, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision ordering the government to provide adequate health care to three asylum seekers, an adult torture survivor and two children, suffering serious medical conditions at the Kara Tepe RIC.

On March 11, the ombudsman reported that only 178 of the 2,090 children who resided at RICs were registered to attend school. The ombudsman cited as reasons the lack of staff, facilities, transportation, and resistance by local communities. On June 9, Christina Psarra, general director of the NGO Doctors Without Borders, described the RICs on Lesvos and Samos as “totally inadequate living spaces.” During the year the Ministry for Migration and Asylum had walls built around some reception facilities, citing the need for controlled access and increased security for the residents. For example, on September 18, a 3,000-person RIC was opened on Samos with “closed and controlled access.” to hold migrants and asylum seekers. Some refugee residents and human rights NGOs stated the ministry’s motive was to isolate refugees from the rest of the society.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement, offered naturalization to refugees residing on their territory, or assisted in their voluntary return to their homes. In 2020 the number of years of residence required before a recognized refugee could apply for naturalization was increased from three to seven. The government processed family reunification applications for asylum seekers with relatives in other countries. From January to September 16, 1,720 recognized refugees, 1,603 asylum seekers, and 976 unaccompanied minors were voluntarily relocated to EU member states. The IOM assisted the voluntary return of rejected asylum seekers and those who renounced their asylum claims.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary (subsidiary) protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; no data were available on the numbers assisted.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 the country held parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair. As a result of the elections, the New Democracy Party gained a majority of the parliamentary seats and party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis became the country’s prime minister, succeeding a coalition of SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) and ANEL (independent Greeks) parties, headed by then prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of historically marginalized or minority groups from participating in political life on the same basis as men or nonminority citizens, and they did participate. In the government cabinet, 10 of 57 (approximately 18 percent) ministers and deputy ministers were women. Legislation passed in 2019 requires a minimum of 40 percent distribution of male and female candidates in local, regional, national, and European Parliament elections. During the year women held 22 percent of elected seats in the national legislature.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for officials convicted of corruption by officials, but the government did not always implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: On July 14, parliament ordered the prosecution of former minister of digital policy, telecommunications, and media Nikos Pappas on charges of “repeated and continuous breach of duty” for manipulating and orchestrating the auction of a television channel license to a businessman in return for favorable media coverage.

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 their views. COVID-19 pandemic mitigation restrictions, however, impeded access to reception and detention facilities for migrants on the islands and, in certain circumstances, to official camps on the mainland.

NGOs that reported on forcible returns to Turkey stated they faced potential intimidation by authorities. For example, 24 volunteers with the NGO Emergency Response Center International were arrested on charges of espionage and conducting a smuggling ring. According to UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor, human rights defenders were falsely accused of serious crimes and faced bureaucratic harassment for trying to help asylum seekers and refugees.

As of September 4, legislation tightened procedures for NGOs to conduct search and rescue operations in areas under Coast Guard jurisdiction. The law requires such NGOs to register, follow port authorities’ instructions, and act only when the Coast Guard is unable to intervene. Persons convicted of violating law are subject to one to three years’ imprisonment, substantial fines, or both. Human rights activists claimed the law aimed at intimidating and preventing NGOs from witnessing and recording pushbacks of asylum seekers at sea. Several NGOs, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, and opposition political parties opposed the law.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman, a state body considered independent and effective, investigated complaints of human rights abuses by individuals. Five deputy ombudsmen dealt with human rights, children’s rights, citizen-state relations, health and social welfare, and quality of life problems, respectively. The office received adequate resources to perform its functions. In its 2020 annual report, the office reported receiving 18,491 complaints, of which 81 percent were satisfactorily resolved.

The autonomous, state-funded National Commission for Human Rights advised the government on protection of human rights. It was considered independent, effective, and adequately resourced.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Conviction of rape, including spousal rape, and attempted rape is punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment, and up to life imprisonment in cases of gang rape, multiple rapes by the same perpetrator, or if the rape results in death. Charges may be pressed without the need of a survivor complaint. If the survivor does not wish to seek prosecution, the prosecutor may decide to drop charges. The law applies equally to all survivors, regardless of gender.

Penalties for domestic violence range from one to three years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of the violence. The court may impose longer prison sentences for crimes against pregnant or minor survivors. Authorities generally enforced the law effectively when the crimes were reported; however, some NGOs stated law enforcement authorities did not respond appropriately to survivors reporting domestic violence. As of December 15, police recorded 17 homicides of women by existing or former husbands or male partners. In one case a neighbor claimed to have called police to report violence 19 days before the fatal incident, but police who came to the scene left immediately without intervening.

On January 14, Olympic sailing medalist Sofia Bekatorou revealed that an official in the National Sailing Federation sexually abused her more than 20 years previously, marking the first time a prominent woman made a public revelation and sparking the country’s version of the global “Me Too” movement. Government officials expressed solidarity with Bekatorou, and prominent newspapers and broadcasters reported on the topic, which generally had been taboo in mainstream media. The Supreme Court encouraged prosecutors to prioritize responding to such claims and the government launched the metoogreece.gr website that urged survivors of gender-based violence to follow Bekatorou’s example. In response, other women, primarily from the sports, entertainment, and business arenas, shared similar experiences. Prosecutors launched investigations against alleged perpetrators, some of whom were well-known actors and directors.

Sexual Harassment: Penalties for conviction of sexual harassment are up to three years’ imprisonment and may include longer terms for perpetrators who used positions of authority or the survivor’s need for employment. In November 2020 the NGO ActionAid reported that 85 percent of women were subjected to sexual harassment. The research was based on a sample of 1,001 women from across the country and an additional 376 women working in tourism and catering. Based on the same research, only 6 percent officially denounced the incidents.

During the year parliament passed several laws that addressed sexual harassment. On June 19, parliament adopted into law the International Labor Organization Convention on Violence and Harassment. The law includes provisions that require employers to investigate and report cases of workplace harassment.

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

Some pregnant women and mothers with newborns, particularly those residing in the five reception and identification centers for asylum seekers in the Aegean islands during the COVID-19 pandemic, faced obstacles in accessing proper health care and hygiene products.

There were no legal, social, and cultural barriers to access to contraceptives. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and nationality laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing businesses or property. The government effectively enforced the laws promoting gender equality, although discrimination occurred, especially in the private sector. With the notarized consent of concerned parties, Muslim minority persons in Thrace may request the use of sharia for family and inheritance matters.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination against members of minority groups, Roma and members of other minority groups faced discrimination. There were government programs to mitigate poverty, unemployment, and societal, racial, or ethnic biases, but these programs often lacked consistency and effectiveness.

According to the NGO Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN), the pandemic contributed to a public perception of migrants and refugees as a threat to public health. In 2020 the RVRN reported 74 attacks against migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers on grounds of ethnic origin, religion, or skin color. Authorities reported 222 incidents motivated by hatred on various grounds, of which 166 were linked to nationality, ethnicity, race, and skin color; eight incidents specifically targeted Romani persons.

Local media and NGOs continued to report attacks, both verbal and physical, on migrants and individuals perceived as foreigners. For example, on August 11, seven Greek nationals reportedly used knives and crowbars to beat, rob, and shoot 15 Pakistanis in their homes in the Crete village of Agios Georgios. Five of the survivors were seriously injured. Police arrested the alleged attackers, who were charged with robbery, causing bodily harm, damaging property, and violating the law on the use of weapons. The Pakistanis received official protection as victims of racist violence. The mayor of Agios Georgios denounced the incident, noting that it caused sorrow and horror in the area. The alleged attackers were in pretrial detention at year’s end.

On June 30, the Supreme Court affirmed previous rulings that denied the registration of the Thrace-based “Turkish Union of Xanthi,” on “natural security and public order grounds.” Government officials and courts also routinely deny requests by Slavic groups to use the term Macedonian, claiming the term creates confusion because more than two million ethnically (and linguistically) Greek citizens also identify as from the region of Macedonia.

Roma continued to face widespread governmental and societal discrimination, social exclusion, and harassment, including ethnic profiling by police, alleged abuse while in police custody, discrimination in employment, limited access to education, and segregated schooling.

On October 25, police shot and killed a 20-year-old Romani man, following a car chase in Perama, in western Athens. In addition a 15-year-old Roma was injured. Seven police officers were arrested in connection with the death. Initial findings showed that police knew the perpetrators were Roma. Human rights activists criticized the officers for abusing their authority and using disproportionate measures. The incident prompted the government to announce a series of new policing measures, including the introduction of body-mounted cameras, protocols for police emergency response, a 10-month training program for frontline officers, the digitization of the Police Operations Center, and the addition of 20 dispatchers to coordinate active incidents (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).

The 2020 ombudsman report stated noninclusion of the Roma into municipal registries persisted and that there were reports of municipal authorities refusing to issue certificates attesting that the municipal taxes had been paid that Roma required to purchase property. There were reports of authorities sometimes denying registration as citizens to Roma born in the country to unregistered parents. The ombudsman stated Roma often lacked documentation necessary to meet eligibility requirements.

On April 22, the government issued a ministerial decree that opposition MPs criticized for setting income, Greek language proficiency, knowledge of Greek history and culture, and length of residency requirements to obtain naturalized citizenship that were too stringent.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents at birth; a single parent may confer citizenship on a child. Parents are obliged to register their children within 10 days of birth. The law allows delayed birth registration but imposes a fine in such cases. In February 2020 the government passed legislation allowing the birth registration process to be completed electronically to increase transparency and facilitate the cross-checking of documents and data.

Education: Education was free, compulsory, and universal through the secondary level; however, children of asylum seekers, residing mostly in RICs, generally had no access to formal education and only partial access to informal education programs. Local officials often excluded Romani pupils from schools or sent them to Roma-only segregated schools. Some members of the Muslim minority in Thrace complained the quality of minority school education was inferior, including the absence of bilingual (Greek-Turkish) middle and high schools.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits corporal punishment and child abuse, but government enforcement was generally ineffective, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Violence against children, particularly migrant, refugee, homeless, and Romani children, remained a problem. From January to June, the NGO Smile of the Child reported an 82 percent increase in the number of calls regarding abused children in need of psychological support.

The government provided treatment, prevention programs, and foster care or accommodation in shelters for abused and neglected children. Government-run institutions were understaffed, and NGOs reported insufficient space to cover all needs.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18, although a court may authorize minors who are 16 and 17 to marry. While official statistics were unavailable, NGOs reported illegal child marriage was common in Romani communities, with Romani girls often marrying between the ages of 15 and 17, or even younger, and male Roma often marrying between the ages of 15 and 20.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 15. The law criminalizes sex with children younger than 15. The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, grooming, offering, or procuring of children for commercial sexual exploitation and practices related to child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. On February 9, authorities reported receiving 300 cases of child pornography and sexual abuse of children in 2020. There were media reports of child pornography-related arrests and sexual abuse of minors by close relatives.

Displaced Children: According to National Center statistics, as of December 31, 2,225 refugee and migrant unaccompanied and separated children resided in the country. Local NGOs reported cases of minors living in unsafe accommodations who were not properly registered, lacked legal guardians, and were vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation. The government continued efforts to reduce their number, including by relocating them to other EU member states. In April the NGO METAdrasi opened the country’s first homeless shelter for minors. During the year police ended the practice of holding minors in detention centers. There were reports of the sexual abuse of minors in migrant shelters.

Institutionalized Children: Media reported that on December 23, Deputy Labor Minister Domna Michailidou announced an investigation into a complaint of sexual abuse involving five boys ages seven to 11 in an Athens orphanage. Female workers at the orphanage allegedly forced children to engage in sexual acts that they filmed. Michailidou stated authorities had removed the children from the facility, suspended government funding to the orphanage, and referred the matter for possible prosecution. The deputy minister added that the orphanage’s management board had failed to act on a complaint of abuse it received three months earlier.

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

Anti-Semitism

Local Jewish leaders estimated the Jewish population in the country consisted of approximately 5,000 individuals. Anti-Semitic rhetoric remained a problem, particularly in the extremist press, social networking sites, and certain blogs. There were at least three incidents of graffiti and vandalism.

KIS continued to express concern regarding political cartoons and images using Jewish sacred symbols and making Holocaust comparisons. On January 18, KIS issued a statement protesting a sketch of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a political cartoon used regarding opposition to a university education bill referring to it as “a hideous and vulgar instrumentalization of the Holocaust for political purposes.” On March 9, KIS issued a statement denouncing columnist Elena Akrita for comparing life in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp to life in contemporary Greece because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. KIS stated that Greek Jews “will never stop denouncing any attempt to denigrate and instrumentalize the Holocaust, which leads to the oblivion and distortion of history.”

Reports of anti-Semitic incidents of vandalism included damage to a mural honoring Holocaust victims at the Thessaloniki New Train Station and desecration of graves in the Ioannina Jewish cemetery in Epirus.

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 were unable to access education, health services, public buildings, or transportation on an equal basis with others, despite a law that prohibits discrimination. Government information and communication is not always provided in accessible formats. The government did not enforce nondiscrimination provisions effectively or with consistency, according to NGOs and organizations for disability rights.

Most children with disabilities had the choice to attend either mainstream or specialized schools for specific disabilities through secondary education, including schools for the deaf.

Persons with disabilities continued to have poor access to public buildings, transportation, and public areas, although such access is required by law. Access to buildings, ramps for sidewalks, and accessible public transportation vehicles were among the most serious deficiencies. Ramps were often too steep or uneven, and ramps on public transportation were often out of order.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

While the law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment of individuals with HIV, societal discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS remained a concern. Persons with HIV or AIDS were exempt on medical grounds from serving in the armed forces. A presidential decree authorizes the dismissal of professional military staff members if a member diagnosed with AIDS does not respond to treatment, but there were no reports of dismissals under this provision.

On May 13, main opposition party MPs criticized a decision by the National Organization for Public Health to allow the transfer to an unrelated management post of the only gynecologist-obstetrician working in a public hospital with expertise in the treatment of HIV-positive pregnant women. The 35 MPs argued that the transfer in effect eliminated the only available unit throughout the country dedicated to births of healthy infants from HIV positive mothers.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons in housing, employment, and government services such as education and health care. The government enforced antidiscrimination laws, which include sexual orientation and gender identity, as aggravating circumstances in hate crimes. Offices combatting race crimes and hate crimes include in their mandates prosecuting crimes targeting LGBTQI+ individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Societal discrimination and harassment against LGBTQI+ individuals, including LGBTQI+ refugees and migrants, remained a concern. Some violent incidents targeting LGBTQI+ individuals were reported. LGBTQI+ community members reported they continued facing hardships and domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown because they were forced to spend long periods at home with families who were not always accepting of their gender identity.

In 2020 the RVRN recorded 14 attacks based on sexual orientation, 12 based on gender identity, and four on mixed grounds. The attacks because of sexual orientation included verbal and physical assaults. In three cases the survivors were minors. Two of the survivors were targeted for a second time. The gender identity attacks included verbal insults or threats and harassment, and at times violence. The RVRN stated the incidents were unprovoked and based solely on the external appearance and features of the survivors. The RVRN also underscored the increasing number of cyberbullying attacks against LGBTQI+ students because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift from in-person to virtual classes. According to information communicated to the RVRN, police recorded 24 incidents in 2020 related to sexual orientation and eight to gender identity.

On June 27, media in Thessaloniki reported that a refugee member of the local LGBTQI+ community, received hospital treatment after a group of approximately 10 individuals physically attacked him and his friends inside a university campus. The perpetrators made homophobic and racist comments and hit them with bottles, punches, and kicks.

Members of the LGBTQI+ community continued to advocate for the right to adopt children by same-sex couples and the legal recognition of children born and raised in same-sex families. On June 28, the NGO Transgender Support Association (SYD) hailed the government’s decision to include transgender individuals as vulnerable and eligible for state budget employment subsidies. On March 16, SYD issued a statement criticizing police and the national defense general staff for barring transgender individuals from joining police academies and the armed forces. Unmarried transgender individuals older than 15 may update documents to reflect their gender identity without undergoing sex reassignment surgery. A judge must validate the change based on the individual’s external appearance. According to SYD, the hearing process does not always have the necessary privacy and dignity for the applicant.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except members of the military services, to form and join independent unions, conduct labor activities without interference, and strike. Armed forces personnel have the right to form unions but not to strike. Police have the right to organize and demonstrate but not to strike.

For a trade union to be formally established, the law requires a minimum of 20 founding members. The law generally protects the right to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Legislation also prohibits the recruitment of strikebreakers throughout the duration of a lawful strike and lockouts. The law allows company-level agreements to take precedence over sector-level collective agreements in the private sector, but in all cases, regular monthly salaries and full-time wages may not be below the statutory minimum salary wage.

Only trade unions may call strikes. Any such decision should be made by at least one-half of the union’s active registered members. On June 19, a law was passed that provides for trade unions to convene meetings in person, digitally, or both. Effective January 1, 2022, the law requires that a decision to strike may not be made if members of a union are not provided with the means digitally to take part in the discussion and vote. A strike may be considered unlawful if certain conditions and procedures are not observed, for example based on the proportionality principle, which enables courts to decide in each case whether the anticipated benefit from the strike is greater than the economic damage to the employer.

There are legal restrictions on strikes. Laws which took effect in June established a mandatory four-day notification requirement for public-utility and transportation workers and a 24-hour notification requirement for private-sector workers. The law mandates minimum staff levels during strikes affecting critical public services such as hospitals, mass transportation, and the collection of garbage. The law defines minimum staff levels as one-third of the personnel, which should be provided to the employer prior to the strike’s launching. The obligation for a skeleton staff applies to both public and private sectors. By law the union that calls for a strike “is obliged to defend the right of the employees who do not take part in the strike so they can arrive at work and depart freely without hindrance and without facing corporal or psychological violence. If this clause is violated, the strike may be suspended.”

The law gives authorities the right to commandeer services in national emergencies through civil mobilization orders. Anyone receiving a civil mobilization order is obliged to comply or face a prison sentence of at least three months. The law exempts individuals with a documented physical or mental disability from civil mobilization. The law explicitly prohibits the issuance of civil mobilization orders as a means of countering strike actions before or after their proclamation.

The government generally protected the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining and effectively enforced the law. Penalties for conviction of violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws were commensurate to those of other laws related to civil rights. Courts may declare a strike illegal for reasons such as a failure to respect internal authorization processes or to secure minimum staff levels, failure to give adequate advance notice of the strike, and introduction of additional demands during the strike. Administrative and judicial procedures to resolve labor problems were generally subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

There were no reports of antiunion discrimination. Union members protested the law that took effect June 19, arguing that it weakened the right to strike and expressing concerns that the skeleton staff requirement was too high.

On December 14, media reported that the Federation of Bank Employee Unions, the Center of Athens Labor Unions, and the Association of ACS/Postal Services Employees appealed a June 19 law requiring unions of employees and employers to be on a national register or face sanctions, including suspension of funding. Filed with the Council of State (the highest administrative court), the appeal stated the law contravened the constitution and the EU General Data Protection Regulation prohibiting unnecessary inclusion of personal data in archives.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and provides additional protections for children, limiting their work hours and their work under certain conditions. Several government entities, including the Police Antitrafficking Unit, worked to prevent and eliminate labor trafficking. There were reports of forced labor, mostly in the agricultural sector, and involving migrant workers. Forced begging mostly occurred, albeit limited due to the pandemic and the lockdown, in metropolitan areas and populous islands, focusing on popular metro stations, squares, and meeting places. The government did not always enforce effectively laws related to forced labor. Penalties for conviction of violations were commensurate to those of other serious crimes, such as kidnapping, but victims seldom reported violations.

On March 12, parliament approved legislation amending provisions for employers to invite foreign, non-EU nationals for seasonal farm industry work. Requests were filled through an electronic platform, increasing transparency, data collection, and targeted inspections. The law provides that the invited farm workers should not be above age 60, should have a minimum 30-day contract extendable to up to 90 days, should work in designated places, and should be housed properly. If charged for their accommodation by the employer, the rent should be reasonable, in accordance with the workers’ wages, based on a contract or other valid document and not automatically deductible from their wages. Alternatively, the employer is required to establish that workers have a suitable place to reside on their own means.

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 most of the worst forms of child labor. A presidential decree permits children 15 or older to engage in hazardous work in certain circumstances, such as when it is necessary as part of vocational or professional training. In such cases workers should be monitored by a safety technician or a medical doctor. Hazardous work includes work that exposes workers to toxic and cancer-producing elements, radiation, and similar conditions. The minimum age for employment, including in the industrial sector, is 15, with higher limits for some activities. The minimum age does not apply to occasional and short-term light work in family-run agricultural, forestry and livestock activities, provided that such activities are carried out during the day. Following authorization by the Labor Inspectorate services, children, above age three, are allowed to work in cultural and related activities upon conditions mostly related with maintaining their health (physical and mental) unimpacted.

The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, with penalties for conviction ranging from fines to imprisonment. The government did not always enforce effectively laws related to child labor. Penalties for violations were commensurate with other serious crimes such as kidnapping.

Younger family members often assisted families in agriculture, food service, and merchandising on at least a part-time basis. Family members compelled some children to beg, pick pockets, or sell merchandise on the street. The government and NGOs reported most offenders were indigenous Roma, Bulgarian, Romanian, or Albanian Roma. The pandemic caused fewer street children to “work” during the lockdown periods. On June 9, the NGO Association for the Support of Youth reported that 137 children were working in the streets of Thessaloniki in 2020 and during the year. There were reports unaccompanied migrant children were particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation and worked mainly in the agricultural and, to a lesser extent, manufacturing sectors.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, religion, national origin, skin color, sex (including pregnancy), ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status.

The government did not always effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties for conviction violations were commensurate with other laws related to denials of civil rights such as electoral interference. According to reports by the ombudsman and organizations such as the NGOs National Confederation of Disabled People in Greece and the Transgender Support Association, discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, sex (including pregnancy), disability, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity occurred.

The law provides for social and welfare benefits to be granted to surrogate mothers, including protection from dismissal during pregnancy and after childbirth. Women who adopt children are entitled to the same leave and benefits. In his 2020 report on equal treatment, the ombudsman reiterated previous findings regarding pregnancy and maternity being treated by the employers as problems, at times resulting in dismissals from work. According to the ombudsman, pregnant women and mothers of newborns, working in the private sector, continued being subjected to dismissal or a downgrading of their positions after they returned to work. Female civil servants continued reporting instances of sexual harassment and sexist behavior by male colleagues. There were also reports citing indirect discrimination of women interested in joining the Fire Brigade and the armed forces by requirements such as a minimum height or minimum level of professional experience. A study by the NGO ActionAid released in 2020 revealed that 85 percent of 1,300 women surveyed responded they had been subjected to sexual harassment (see section 6, Discrimination and Societal Abuses). In addition the ombudsman reported cases of interventions with employers in the state and private sectors in support of employees who faced discrimination on grounds of disability and age. The ombudsman reported that cases of age limits arbitrarily set in open calls for candidate staff at the Bank of Greece and the National School of Judges had prompted his intervention. The ombudsman also reported a successful intervention in which he prevented a private company having job applicants include their religious affiliation on the application forms.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: By ministerial decree the government sets the national minimum salary for employees in the private sector and for unspecialized workers. These wages were above the poverty income level. On July 26, the government announced its decision to increase the minimum wage by 2 percent, effective January 1, 2022.

The maximum legal workweek is 40 hours. The law provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week, mandates paid vacation of one month per year, and sets limits on the amount of overtime work which, based on conditions, may exceed eight hours in a week. The law regarding overtime work requires premium pay, and employers must submit information to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs for authorization. Premium pay ranged from an additional 20 to 100 percent of the daily wage, based on the total number of extra hours and the day (Sundays, holidays, etc.), and whether it was night service. The first five hours worked after a 40-hour work week are not considered overtime, but employers are required in such cases to pay an additional 20 percent of the hourly wage. The law also requires that for every hour of unlawful overtime work, the employer pays an additional 120 percent of the daily wage. Employers also provided compensatory time off. These provisions were not effectively enforced in all sectors, particularly in tourism, catering services, retail businesses, agriculture, the informal economy, or for domestic or migrant workers. In June the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, institutionalized a digital work card allowing authorities to monitor work and leave in real time. The same law provides fines for the offending employers of 10,500 euros ($12,100) per employee for any nonapplication of the measure and a suspension of business operation in case of recurrence.

The government also introduced amendments to law, regarding telework in both the public and private sector, including for the employees’ right to disconnect, and special leave for parents and caregivers (see also section 6, Women).

As part of the revised labor law, the Labor Inspectorate was elevated to an independent authority with no supervision by ministries, including the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for enforcement of all labor laws, including those related to wages and hours, as well as preserving its competencies and jurisdictions. The number of inspectors increased, but COVID-19 pandemic restriction measures reduced their ability to conduct physical checks to enforce compliance. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. The government did not always enforce wage and overtime laws effectively. Penalties for violations were commensurate with other similar violations such as fraud.

Unions and media alleged some private businesses forced their employees to return in cash part of their wages and mandatory seasonal bonuses after depositing them in the bank. On September 13, a court in Chania, Crete, convicted an employer of threatening his employees with dismissal or removal if they did not return, in cash, part of their salary and sentenced him to 40 months in prison. Unions and media also alleged that some employers forced employees to unlawfully work while their contracts were suspended due to the pandemic and while they were receiving subsidy allowances by the state instead of salaries paid by employers. Some employees were officially registered as part-time employees but worked additional hours without being paid. Overtime work was not always registered officially or paid accordingly. In other cases employees were paid after months of delay and oftentimes with coupons, not cash. Such violations were noted mostly in the tourism, agriculture, and housekeeping sectors.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law provides minimum standards of occupational health and safety in the main industries, placing the responsibility for identifying unsafe situations on occupational safety and health experts and not the workers. Workers have the right to file a confidential complaint with the labor inspectorate regarding hazardous working conditions and to remove themselves from such situations without jeopardizing their employment. Owners who repeatedly violate the law concerning undeclared work or safety standards could face temporary closure of their businesses. Under the same law, employers are obliged to declare in advance and digitally register their employees’ overtime work or changes in their work schedules. Courts are required to examine complaints filed by employees against their employers for delayed payment within two months of their filing, and to issue decisions within 30 days after the hearing.

The Labor Inspectorate is also responsible for all concerns regarding occupational safety and health at the national level. The Labor Inspectorate is the principal authority overseeing labor conditions in both the private and public sectors, except for mining and marine shipping (which fall under the Ministry of Environment and Energy and its Mines Inspectorate, and the Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy). Labor experts characterized health and safety laws as satisfactory but stated that enforcement by the Labor Inspectorate was inadequate. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws. Penalties for conviction of violations were commensurate to those of similar crimes.

Authorities may temporarily close businesses that hire undeclared employees and may permanently close businesses that repeatedly violate the law. Nonetheless, trade unions and media reiterated that enforcement of labor standards was inadequate in the shipping, tourism, and agriculture sectors. Enforcement was also lacking among enterprises employing 10 or fewer persons.

Media reported at least 13 workers were killed due to work accidents, six of the deaths were attributed to electrocution. Media outlets also reported at least 11 injuries of workers throughout the year. On October 25, a man was killed at the Piraeus Port container terminal after he was hit by a bridge crane. Several media reported the accident occurred after the end of the work shift when the worker returned to pick up personal items. The local union of port workers and seamen claimed the accident happened during working hours, accusing the employer of gaps in labor safety rules and procedures. The fatal accident prompted public reaction and a number of strikes called by the victim’s coworkers. On June 17, the Supreme Court ordered compensation of 300,000 euros ($345,000) to the family members of a male worker who was killed while demolishing a roof. The court found that the employer failed to provide information to the victim regarding work preceding the demolition as well as proper protection which would have saved the victim’s life.

Informal Sector: The informal sector comprised approximately 30 percent of the economy. Informal workers were not covered by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws and inspections.

Nicaragua

Executive Summary

Nicaragua has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Daniel Ortega Saavedra and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo Zambrana. Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front party exercises total control over the country’s executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral functions. President Ortega awarded himself a fourth consecutive term in November elections after arbitrarily jailing nearly 40 opposition figures, barring all credible opposition political parties from participating, blocking legitimate international observation efforts, and committing widespread electoral fraud. Independent observer groups and international organizations characterized the electoral process as seriously flawed, lacking credibility, and defined by historically low voter turnout. The 2021 elections expanded the ruling party’s supermajority in the National Assembly, which previously allowed for changes in the constitution that extended the reach of executive branch power and eliminated restrictions on re-election of executive branch officials and mayors. Observers noted serious flaws in municipal, regional, and national elections since 2008. Civil society groups, international electoral experts, business leaders, and religious leaders identified persistent flaws in the 2019 Caribbean regional and 2017 municipal elections and noted the need for comprehensive electoral reform.

The Nicaraguan National Police is responsible for internal security. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Both report directly to the president, pursuant to changes in the police and army code in 2014. Parapolice, which are nonuniformed, armed, and masked units with tactical training and organization, act in coordination with government security forces, under the direct control of the government, and report directly to the national police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and parapolice 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; forced disappearances; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by prison guards and parapolice; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detentions; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located in another country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including threats of violence, unjustified arrests, censorship, criminal libel suits against journalists; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, and operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement within the country and the right to leave the country; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious corruption; serious government restrictions on and harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting ethnic minorities and indigenous communities; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

The government did not take steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses, including those responsible for at least 355 killings and hundreds of disappearances during the prodemocracy uprising of April 2018. The government did not address instances of widespread corruption. President Ortega actively strengthened impunity for human rights abusers who were loyal to him.

Police, parapolice, and individuals linked to the Ortega regime carried out a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and violence toward perceived enemies of the regime, such as former political prisoners and their families, farmworker activists, prodemocracy opposition groups, human rights defenders, private-sector leaders, and Catholic clergy.

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. Human rights organizations and independent media alleged some killings were politically motivated, an allegation difficult to confirm because the government refused to conduct official inquiries.

Reports of killings were common in the north-central regions and the North Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACN). Human rights groups said these killings illustrated a continuation of a campaign of terror in the north-central and RACN regions, perpetrated by parapolice groups to stamp out political opposition to the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party. On March 29, unknown assailants shot Ernesto Jarquin five times in the chest in the north-central town of Mulukuku. Imprisoned in 2018 for participating in prodemocracy protests in Mulukuku, Jarquin was released with other political prisoners under a 2019 amnesty law. The Nicaraguan National Police (NNP) and official media reported Jarquin’s killing by focusing on the government’s previous allegations of Jarquin’s involvement in homicide, illegal weapons possession, collusion to commit crimes, and kidnapping in association with his participation in 2018 prodemocracy protests. As of October no arrests had been made in the case.

On August 23, land invaders linked to the ruling FSLN party killed at least 13 indigenous persons. The attack happened near Musawas, in the Sauni As territory, in a protected area of the Bosawas biosphere reserve. The attack included rape and dismemberment. On September 8, police stated the attack stemmed from a quarrel over an artisanal gold mining site and that police had identified 14 assailants and captured three. Witnesses and indigenous rights defenders disputed the findings and said police had arrested individuals other than those identified as perpetrators by the community and had failed to address the root causes that lead to such attacks.

There was no indication the government investigated crimes committed by police and parapolice groups related to the 2018 prodemocracy uprising. In April 2018 President Ortega and Vice President Murillo ordered police and parapolice forces to suppress violence peaceful protests that began over discontent with a government decision to reduce social security benefits. By late November 2018, the ensuing conflict had left at least 355 persons dead; more than 2,000 injured; thousands forced into hiding; hundreds illegally detained and tortured; and as of September, more than 130,000 in exile in neighboring countries. Beginning in August 2018, the Ortega government instituted a policy of “exile, jail, or death” for anyone perceived as opposition, amended terrorism laws to include prodemocracy activities, and used the justice system to prosecute civil society actors as terrorists, assassins, and coup mongers. Police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office detained, brought to trial, and imprisoned many members of the prodemocracy opposition. Human rights organizations documented that the investigations and prosecutions did not conform to the rule of law. The government continued to make no effort to investigate several 2017 incidents of extrajudicial killings and torture in both the North and South Caribbean Autonomous Regions. The army continued to deny its involvement in cases perceived by human rights organizations as politically motivated extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

Starting on May 28, police detained at least 40 members of the opposition and civil society leaders using a February change in the criminal procedural code that allows for a detention period of up to 90 days during the public prosecutor’s initial investigation, before presenting charges. While technically under custody of police or prison authorities, the 40 detained leaders did not have access to legal counsel or family visitations. Authorities did not reveal the location of these detainees, and judicial authorities rejected habeas corpus writs in their favor. National and international human rights organizations deemed the detention of these political prisoners effectively a form of forced disappearance. After authorities held them incommunicado for months, at least 25 of these political prisoners were formally charged in August, at which time they were allowed limited access to legal counsel and three 30-minute family visits.

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, government officials intentionally carried out acts that resulted in severe physical or mental suffering for the purposes of securing information, inflicting punishment, and psychologically deterring other citizens from reporting on the government’s actions or participating in civic actions against the government. Members of civil society and student leaders involved in the protests that began in April 2018 were more likely than members of other groups to be subjected to such treatment.

On July 6, authorities detained prodemocracy student leader Lesther Aleman Alfaro without a warrant. The Public Prosecutor’s Office later announced it had accused Aleman of treason under the Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independent Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace, or Law 1055, passed in December 2020. Prison authorities held Aleman incommunicado in solitary confinement at the El Chipote detention center, with no access to legal counsel or family visits, no access to sunlight, and with lights on 24 hours a day in his cell. He endured multiple interrogations a day. After 58 days in detention, he was briefly allowed to see a family member and a lawyer. Following Aleman’s arraignment, his lawyer said he appeared severely underweight and under deep psychological duress. Human rights groups characterized Aleman’s treatment by prison authorities as psychological torture. Other political prisoners suffered similar conditions while in detention, including several who had protective measures in place from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

Human rights organizations reported female prisoners were regularly subjected to strip searches, degrading treatment, and rape threats while in custody of parapolice forces, prison officials, and police. Prison officials forced female prisoners to squat naked and beat them on their genitals to dislodge any supposedly hidden items.

Impunity persisted among police and parapolice forces in reported cases of torture, mistreatment, or other abuses. The NNP’s Office of Internal Affairs is charged with investigating police suspected of committing a crime. The Office of the Military Prosecutor investigates crimes committed by the army, under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Military Auditor General. With complete control over the police, prison system, and judiciary branch, however, the FSLN governing apparatus made no effort to investigate allegations that regime opponents were tortured or otherwise abused.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, difficulties obtaining medical care, and violence among prisoners remained serious problems in prison facilities.

Physical Conditions: Prison conditions continued to deteriorate due to antiquated infrastructure and increasing inmate populations. Despite new temporary holding cells in the Directorate of Judicial Assistance, the rest of the prison system was in poor condition. The government reported overcrowding in five of the seven prisons for men, holding 15,333 prisoners with capacity for 12,600, or 22 percent over capacity in 2020. The government did not provide updated figures for the year. More than 1,000 of these inmates were held in the prison known as La Modelo. Human rights organizations continued to be concerned about prison overcrowding. Due to overcrowding, pretrial detainees often shared cells with convicted prisoners, and juveniles shared cells with adults.

Many prisoners suffered mistreatment from prison officials and other inmates. Human rights organizations confirmed that at least 16 men detained in the context of the 2018 protests were subjected to solitary confinement in maximum-security cells of La Modelo Prison, in some cases for months at a time. Political prisoners held since the government’s crackdown that began in May were detained in Directorate of Judicial Assistance temporary holding cells, known as El Chipote. Relatives of the prisoners reported that at least four women were held in solitary confinement in El Chipote since June.

Inmates also suffered from parasites, inadequate medical attention, frequent food shortages and food contamination, contaminated water, and inadequate sanitation. The COVID-19 pandemic compounded these conditions. The government failed to take adequate measures to protect inmates from illness. Prison authorities prohibited the delivery of health and hygiene kits provided by family members for inmates to protect themselves from COVID-19, particularly in the case of political prisoners. Human rights groups reported that prison authorities randomly fumigated prisons with inmates still inside their cells. Although sanitary conditions for female inmates were generally better than those for men, they were nevertheless unsafe and unhygienic. According to the most recently available government report, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office received five complaints related to prison conditions between January 2019 and September 2020, of which it resolved four and dismissed one as unsubstantiated. The Human Rights Office did not make updated numbers publicly available for the year.

Conditions in jails and temporary holding cells were also harsh. Most facilities were physically decrepit and infested with vermin; had inadequate ventilation, electricity, or sewage systems; and lacked potable water.

The government continued to release common criminals outside of lawfully prescribed procedures, telling them their release was “thanks to the president.” Between January and October, the government released up to 2,700 prisoners. Independent media and human rights organizations reported that following their release, some of these individuals were responsible for at least two femicides and one killing.

Administration: Although prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities often ignored or did not process complaints. The extent to which the government investigated allegations of poor prison conditions was unknown. The government ombudsman could serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees to consider such matters as informal alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, although this generally did not occur.

The government restricted political prisoners’ access to visitors, attorneys, and physicians. Staff members of human rights organizations, family members, and other interested parties were not allowed access to the prison system or to prisoners in custody.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to some prisoners but denied prison visits by local human rights groups and media outlets. The government reportedly denied the ICRC access to 40 political prisoners detained since May 28, despite ICRC requests to see those detainees. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally received complaints through family members of inmates and often were unable to follow up on cases until after the release of the prisoner due to lack of access. The government denied all requests from local human rights organizations for access to prison facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. Human rights NGOs, however, noted hundreds of cases of arbitrary arrests by police and parapolice forces, although parapolice have no authority to make arrests. Human rights organizations reported police and parapolice agents routinely detained and released government opponents within a 48-hour window, beyond which the Public Prosecutor’s Office would have to request to extend detention for up to 90 days to continue its investigation. Detentions of political opponents mostly occurred without a warrant or formal accusation and for causes outside the legal framework.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judicial authority prior to detaining a suspect and to notify family members of the detainee’s whereabouts within 24 hours, but this rarely happened in the context of arrests related to civil unrest.

Police may hold a suspect legally for 48 hours before arraignment or release; however, a February amendment to the criminal procedural code allows for the Public Prosecutor’s Office to request an extension for 15 to 90 days if a judge deems the case complex. A judge then must order the suspect released or transferred to jail for pretrial detention. The suspect is permitted family member visits after the initial 48 hours. A detainee has the right to bail unless a judge deems there is a flight risk. The criminal code lists a number of crimes that may be tried by a judge without a jury and that would not qualify for bail or house arrest during the duration of the trial. Detainees have the right to an attorney immediately following their arrest, and the state provides indigent detainees with a public defender. In several instances authorities denied having detainees under custody in a specific jail, even to their family members or legal counsel. Police routinely rejected complaints filed by prodemocracy opposition activists.

The government used money laundering laws, a foreign agents law, and a law for the defense of sovereignty against political opponents. Human rights organizations and civil society activists asserted that these laws constituted part of a larger scheme by the ruling FSLN party to exert its own concept of sovereign security, laid out in the 2015 Sovereign Security Law, which significantly broadened the definition of state sovereignty and security, as a pretext to arrest protesters and citizens it deemed in opposition to its goals.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to NGOs and other human rights groups, arbitrary arrests occurred regularly, particularly of those the government deemed active opposition members or participants in previous prodemocracy protests. The government detained several members of the opposition for extended periods using Law 1055 (Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination for Peace). The statute does not specify sentencing guidelines, and the individuals were eventually charged under other statutes.

For example, the 40 political prisoners detained between May and November were not allowed to choose their own legal counsel and were arbitrarily assigned a public defender for their initial pretrial hearings. After holding the political prisoners incommunicado for months, the government permitted most to choose their own legal counsel and allowed family visits on three occasions. The law allows for family visits ranging from every eight days to every 21 days. Family visits were restricted to once a month only to highly dangerous prisoners. Prison authorities held the political prisoners incommunicado for 50 to 80 days before allowing them to see an attorney of their choice and receive limited family visits. Their hearings were not public, and most lawyers did not receive a copy of the court records prior to the trial. In an effort to impede access to legal counsel, hearings for political prisoners were held inside the jail instead of a court of law, outside of normal working hours. Judicial officials did not record the hearings or give the defendant’s legal counsel a transcript of the hearings. Other prisoners also reported a lack of immediate access to an attorney or legal counsel and were not afforded one during their detention.

In many cases police and parapolice detained persons who had participated in prodemocracy protests in 2018 and 2019 but who were not currently participating in any activity deemed illegal or in opposition to the ruling party. Police often arrested these individuals without a warrant and occasionally entered private homes or businesses without a court order. In several cases police raided and ransacked the houses of those detained, also without court warrants. Many arrests were allegedly made without informing family members or legal counsel. Reports were common of armed, hooded men in plain clothes acting alone or together with police to arrest and detain prodemocracy protesters. In several cases groups of hooded men looted the homes of political opponents immediately after police left the scene. Human rights organizations indicated that delays in the release of prisoners after finishing prison terms led to many cases of arbitrary continuation of a state of arrest. Police also committed irregular arrests and detentions under the guise of investigations into armed opposition groups or other violent crimes in the north-central regions of the country.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. Many opposition leaders and prodemocracy protesters were detained and held with no charges and without following due process. Observers noted that in several instances lengthy pretrial detention was intentional against specific protest leaders. Observers attributed other delays to limited facilities, an overburdened judicial system, judicial inaction, and high crime rates. No information was available on the percentage of the prison population in pretrial detention or the national average length of pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: While the law provides detainees the ability to challenge the legality of their detention before a court, the government generally did not allow those arrested during protests to challenge in court the lawfulness of their arrests or detentions. In cases of political opponents, judges regularly denied or ignored constitutional protections for detainees, including habeas corpus.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the government did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. The law requires vetting of new judicial appointments by the Supreme Court of Justice, a process dominated by the government. Once appointed, most judges submitted to political pressure and economic inducements for themselves or family members that compromised their independence. The 40 political prisoners arrested between May 28 and November 10 were subjected to closed pretrial hearings without access to their own lawyers or notification of family members. The court arbitrarily assigned public defenders for these detainees. Although the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced these hearings afterwards, details were scarce. These detainees were held incommunicado for up to 80 days without access to independent private legal counsel or to family members. The justice system did not confirm the location of these detainees. The cases of these detainees did not appear in an online system for public access to legal cases. Five FSLN-aligned judges – Henry Morales, Nalia Ubeda, Abelardo Alvir, Karen Chavarria, and Gloria Saavedra – oversaw the pretrial hearings against these detainees. These judges routinely denied writs in favor of the defendants and in some cases denied defendants and their lawyers access to the accusations and other court documents before the hearings. After holding them incommunicado for months, the government permitted most political prisoners to choose their own legal counsel starting in August.

NGOs complained of delayed justice caused by judicial inaction and widespread impunity, especially regarding family and domestic violence and sexual abuse. In cases against political activists, judges at the bidding of the government handed down biased judgments, including adding charges for crimes not presented by the prosecutor’s office. Lawyers for political prisoners reported that judges routinely dismissed defendants’ evidence and accepted prosecutors’ anonymous sources as valid. In many cases trial start times were changed with no information provided to one or both sides of the trial, according to human rights organizations. Authorities occasionally failed to respect court orders.

Trial Procedures

The law provides the right to a fair and public trial. Changes to the law enacted in 2017, however, allow judges to deny jury trials in a wider range of cases, deny bail or house arrest based on unclear rules, and arbitrarily move a case from other judicial districts to Managua, to the disadvantage of defendants, their families, or their counsel. Defendants have the right to be fully and promptly informed of the charges against them and the right to a fair trial, although this was not respected. While the law establishes specific time periods for cases to come to trial, most cases encountered long delays. Trials are public, except in some cases involving minors or at the victim’s request. The law requires defendants must be present at their trial, although this was not always respected.

The hearings for many political prisoners detained between May and September did not conform to legal procedures. The defendants were detained without warrants and were not afforded legal counsel of their choice or access to their family members within 48 hours after their detention or during at least two initial hearings. Their location was not publicly disclosed, judges dismissed or ignored habeas corpus writs in their favor, hearings and trials were closed to the public and held within the detention center, and, when they finally had access to their legal counsel of choice, judicial and prison officials denied lawyers access to their clients and refused to provide lawyers with the court documents before trial, including the charges against their clients.

According to the constitution, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Observers claimed, however, that the extension of time from 48 hours to up to 90 days that a detainee can be held during a pretrial investigation posed an undue presumption of guilt on defendants. In the case of the political prisoners detained between May and November, Chief of Police Francisco Diaz told official media that police had “enough proof to ensure that these terrorists, these vandals, these coup-mongers face the consequences.” Diaz gave the interview when the defendants were still awaiting trial and before any charges were confirmed. The Public Prosecutor’s Office presented police officers as witnesses in hearings on these charges. In her daily press briefings, Vice President Murillo frequently referred to political prisoners as “terrorists” and “coup-mongers,” although the prisoners were still awaiting trial.

Migration authorities confiscated the passports of at least 30 Nicaraguans at either the international airport or at land border crossings, although the individuals had no formal charges pending against them. Officials provided no explanation other than saying authorities higher up the chain of command had ordered migratory restrictions against the individuals. Some human rights defenders saw this as a de facto presumption of guilt without a formal accusation. The government also prevented a civil society leader from returning to the country, without reason or formal charge against the individual. Under the law defendants have the right to legal counsel, and the state provides public defenders for indigent persons. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, but judges commonly failed to grant counsel’s access to the defendant. In several instances related to prodemocracy protests, defendants were not allowed to name their legal counsel, and the court appointed a public defender, which family members and human rights organizations claimed was detrimental to the defendant’s case. In many cases involving the government’s political opponents, private defense lawyers were barred from meeting with defendants and trial times were set outside of working hours in an effort to force the accused to accept a public defender appointed by a biased judiciary. Additionally, several pretrial hearings took place in detention centers rather than a courtroom, without notifying defendants’ legal counsel. In at least one instance, lawyers who entered the detention center to participate in the trial were threatened by a guard, who wondered aloud whether the lawyers would be allowed to leave the prison after the hearing. At least seven lawyers defending political prisoners were forced to flee the country due to harassment and death threats against them. Although the constitution recognizes indigenous languages, indigenous defendants were not always granted court interpreters or translators. Under the law defendants may confront and question witnesses and have the right to appeal a conviction. Defendants may present their own witnesses and evidence in their defense; however, some judges refused to admit evidence on behalf of the defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Nevertheless, many defendants continued to be interrogated by police and prison guards while their trials were in process.

Women’s rights organizations believed the court system continued to operate under unofficial orders not to impose jail time or pretrial detention in domestic violence cases. The policy reportedly applied only to domestic violence cases that authorities considered mild.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Human rights NGOs characterized as political prisoners those detained in the context of prodemocracy protests and those detained as part of the government’s crackdown on the political opposition starting in May. The government does not recognize political prisoners as an inmate category and considers all prisoners to be common criminals. According to human rights organizations, the government continued to hold more than 150 political prisoners as of September, with at least 20 of them in solitary confinement.

Political prisoners did not receive appropriate health care, including while suffering COVID-19 symptoms. Several political prisoners were severely undernourished, with no access to sunlight or appropriate health-care services. Some political prisoners were denied access to medicine and medical treatment for chronic illnesses.

Political prisoners were kept together with common criminals. Advocacy groups reported that prison authorities instigated quarrels between the general prison population and political prisoners by blaming political prisoners for any withheld privileges, often resulting in violence. Human rights organizations received several reports of political prisoners being beaten, threatened, held in solitary confinement for weeks, and suffering from poor ventilation and poisoned or contaminated food and water.

The government did not permit access to political prisoners by local human rights groups.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Groups of exiles in Costa Rica alleged political persecution by parapolice and FSLN sympathizers who crossed the border to target exiles. Family members of opposition exiles were surveilled and harassed in an attempt to force exiles to return to the country and face arrest. In at least one instance, migration authorities withheld documentation for a minor to exit the country in an effort to force the exiled father to return to Nicaragua and face arrest. The Public Prosecutor’s Office accused three exiled Nicaraguans of conspiring to undermine national integrity.

In October 2020 the National Assembly approved the politically motivated Cybercrimes Law, which establishes the government may use the international extradition system to pursue Nicaraguans abroad who commit so-called cybercrimes.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may file suit in civil courts to seek damages for alleged human rights violations, but authorities did not always respect court decisions.

The lack of an effective civil law system resulted in some civil matters being pursued as criminal cases, which were often resolved more quickly. In several instances, individuals and groups appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which passed their cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The government regularly dismissed or ignored orders from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, including orders to protect or release certain political prisoners.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The government regularly failed to take effective action with respect to seizure, restitution, or compensation of private property. These failures were exacerbated by the social upheaval in 2018, in which groups of persons, including members of the FSLN, illegally took over privately owned lands, with implicit and explicit support by municipal and national officials. Some land seizures were politically targeted and directed against specific individuals, such as business owners traditionally considered independent or against the ruling party. In August the government seized the house of independent journalist Patricia Orozco while she was in exile, and police evicted her parents from the house. On September 7, the government revoked a 2008 donation of property to the National Public Accountant’s College. The revocation happened several days after the Public Prosecutor’s Office summoned the coordinator of the college for questioning regarding the government’s politically motivated money laundering case against a foundation run by a presidential precandidate.

The Office of the Attorney General routinely either rejected requests to evict illegal occupants of real property or failed to respond to the requests altogether. National and local police also routinely refused to evict illegal occupants of real property. Police often took no action against violence perpetrated by illegal occupants, while acting swiftly against any use of force by legitimate property owners. The judicial system delayed final decisions on cases against illegal occupants. Members of the judiciary, including those at senior levels, were widely believed to be corrupt or subject to political pressure. When judges issued orders in favor of landowners, enforcement of court orders was frequently subject to nonjudicial considerations. In the face of government inaction, some landowners were forced to pay squatters to leave their real property. As of September nine NGOs still did not have a legal resolution or any type of compensation after the National Assembly annulled their legal status and the government seized their properties in 2018.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence. The government, however, failed to respect these prohibitions. In several trials against political opposition members, the Public Prosecutor’s Office presented messages, emails, and documents exchanged through private phones and computers, obtained by police through raids without judicial warrants. FSLN grassroots organizations such as the Citizen Power Councils colluded with parapolice or party loyalists to target the homes of prodemocracy protesters. Without a warrant and under no legal authority, these groups illegally raided homes and detained occupants. Police routinely stationed police vehicles and officers outside the homes of opposition members, harassing visitors and often prohibiting opposition members from leaving their houses. These actions were widespread in large cities, particularly Managua, Matagalpa, Esteli, Masaya, Rivas, Leon, and Jinotega.

The Ministry of Health continued to hold several buildings seized by the Interior Ministry in 2018 from independent television station 100% Noticias and news magazine Confidencial and nine NGOs when it annulled the legal status of the media groups and NGOs. The ministry ordered the seized assets transferred to government ownership to create a Comprehensive Attention and Reparation Fund for the Victims of Terrorism. The government carried out this de facto confiscation without following due process or providing appropriate compensation to the lawful owners. Police again raided the offices and television studio of Confidencial on May 20, acting without a judicial warrant and seizing television equipment, computers, and documents from the news outlet.

Domestic NGOs, Catholic Church representatives, journalists, and opposition members alleged the government monitored their email and telephone conversations. Church representatives also stated their sermons were monitored. As part of a continuing social media campaign against prodemocracy protests, ruling party members and supporters used social media to publish personal information of human rights defenders and civil society members. Progovernment supporters marked the houses of civil society members with derogatory slurs or threats and then published photographs of the marked houses on social media. On several occasions the markings were accompanied by or led to destruction of private property. Although the law prohibits the use of drones, some members of the opposition claimed FSLN supporters used drones to spy on their houses.

Inhabitants in northern towns, particularly in the departments of Nueva Segovia, Jinotega, and Madriz, as well as the RACN and the South Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACS), alleged repeated government interrogations and searches without cause or warrant, related to supposed support for armed groups or prodemocracy protests, while government officials claimed they were confronting common criminals. Several opposition members who were former Contras claimed they were regularly surveilled, stopped, and detained by police for questioning for several hours, usually in connection with alleged contact with rearmed groups or antigovernment protests. The individuals also said progovernment sympathizers verbally threatened them outside their homes and surveilled and defaced their houses.

The ruling party reportedly required citizens to demonstrate party membership to obtain or retain employment in the public sector and have access to public social programs.

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 expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government did not respect this right. Restrictions on press freedom, the absence of an independent judiciary, and a nondemocratic political system combined to inhibit freedom of expression, including for members of media. Although the law provides that the right to information may not be subjected to censorship, the government and actors under its control retaliated against the press and radio and television stations by blocking transmissions, impeding the import of ink and paper, and committing violence against journalists. The government sought to control information on the COVID pandemic by restricting news coverage and blocking independent media access to public health briefings, as well as using government-aligned media to publish misinformation.

Freedom of Expression: The government used reprisals and Law 1055 to restrict the ability of individuals to criticize the government. Persons who criticized the government, the ruling party, or its policies were subjected to police and parapolice surveillance, harassment, imprisonment, and abuse. Beginning in May, the government used the law as a pretext to arrest and imprison presidential candidates, independent journalists, civil society members, opposition leaders, NGO workers, student leaders, human rights defenders, farmworker advocates, and private-sector leaders who criticized the government. Progovernment supporters considered the use of the national flag and the national colors of white and blue as acts of defiance and attacked opposition activists flying the flag or national colors.

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 mainly through online venues due to the government’s restrictions and intimidation. In June and July, the government arrested five independent journalists, including three presidential precandidates, and the general manager of the country’s largest print daily newspaper on charges of “undermining national integrity.” As of October the general manager and three of the journalists were awaiting trials while in prison, and two journalists remained under house arrest. The Public Prosecutor’s Office summoned at least 32 journalists as part of an investigation into alleged money laundering against the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, an NGO that supported independent media by offering journalism training programs. In some cases the journalists had received seed funding to pursue new digital startups or other forms of independent journalism. At least 30 journalists fled into exile due to threats or summons from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which in the case of other independent journalists and political opponents resulted in imprisonment.

Independent media outlets experienced vandalism, seizure of broadcast equipment, cyberattacks, and criminal defamation charges. On August 13, after a public complaint by the newspaper La Prensa that the Customs Office had withheld its paper and printing material for months, police raided the newspaper’s headquarters and detained the general manager, preventing him from accessing legal counsel and detaining him for several weeks without bringing him before a judge. Police held La Prensa journalists and staff for hours inside the newspaper’s offices and allowed progovernment media to enter and film the police raid. Police later announced the raid was part of an investigation into the newspaper for money laundering and tax evasion. La Prensa, the last remaining daily print newspaper with national distribution, moved to online-only content and dismissed half its employees in September because of government persecution.

The government repeatedly denied broadcasting licenses and other permits for independent media. Independent news outlets faced restrictions on speech, such as not being permitted to attend official government events, being denied interviews by government officials, and receiving limited or no direct access to government information. Official media, however, were not similarly restricted. The government published false COVID-19 data that minimized the spread of the illness in the country. International reports and unpublished official documents showed the government intentionally misled the public about the severity of the pandemic to avoid an economic downturn.

Independent media faced official and unofficial restrictions, reprisals, and harassment, but they were nonetheless successful in expressing a variety of views. Journalists from many stations were threatened and harassed with the purpose of limiting their editorial independence. According to a September report by the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro foundation titled Assault on Independent Press in Nicaragua between December 2020 and June 2021, there were 1,176 assaults on journalists while they performed their duties. Of those, 426 assaults were perpetrated against female journalists and included sexual violence and threats of rape.

Significant state influence, ownership, and control over the majority of media outlets continued. National television was largely controlled either by business associates of the president or directly owned and administered by his family members. Eight of the 10 basic channels available were under direct FSLN influence or owned and controlled by persons with close ties to the government. Media stations owned by the presidential family generally limited news programming and served as outlets for progovernment or FSLN propaganda and campaign advertisements. On June 30, the governing authority for telecommunications published a decree obliging all private cable stations to lock in their broadcasts to official television and radio for emergency or special interest messaging. This decree compounded the already established obligation for open-air television and radio stations to do the same. This obligation was enforced every time the president participated in a public event, even when it was a political party event. Press and human rights organizations claimed the use of state funds for official media, as well as biased distribution of government advertising dollars, placed independent outlets at an extreme disadvantage.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subject to government violence, harassment, and death threats. Four journalists remained in prison: three after they indicated they would run as presidential candidates and one for expressing his views on social media. Two others remained under house arrest. Since May more than 30 journalists fled into exile with pending accusations against them from the Public Prosecutor’s Office. At least 90 journalists had already fled following the government’s crackdown on protesters in 2018. The Ministry of Health took possession of offices belonging to television station 100% Noticias and news magazine Confidencial, which had been closed and under police custody since a 2018 raid of those facilities.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to arbitrarily penalize those who published items counter to the ruling party’s ideology. The government restricted access to public events, obligated independent press to use official media to cover presidential activities, and actively used troll farms to amplify its own messaging or attack independent media websites. In November, Meta (Facebook’s parent company) announced the removal of troll farms operated by the government, implicating the telecommunications regulator TELCOR, the Supreme Court of Justice, and the Social Security Institute.

Restrictions in acquiring broadcast licenses and equipment prevented media from operating freely. Beginning in 2008, media outlets were unable to apply for new broadcasting licenses while the General Law (Law 200) on Telecommunications was under review in the National Assembly. The government extended the validity of existing licenses indefinitely. Human rights groups and independent media also reported that the failure to approve or deny Law 200 resulted in uncertainty surrounding the purchase and import of goods related to broadcasting. As a result, independent radio owners continued to defer long-term investments.

Some independent-media owners also alleged the government exerted pressure on private firms to limit advertising in independent media, although other observers believed the lack of advertising was the result of self-censorship by private companies or a business decision based on circulation numbers. Many journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing economic and physical repercussions for investigative reporting on crime or official corruption. In addition media outlet owners exercised self-censorship by choosing not to publish news that affected public perceptions of the government or the FSLN.

Libel/Slander Laws: In February FSLN-aligned judge Jose Ernesto Martinez found journalist David Quintana guilty on trumped-up slander charges after Quintana was accused by a staff member of an official television station in 2020. Another FSLN-aligned judge, Fatima Rosales, denied Quintana’s request for appeal in April. In June a judge denied an appeal on behalf of independent radio station director Kalua Salazar in a slander case brought against Salazar by FSLN municipal workers. Slander and libel are both punishable by fines ranging from 120 to 300 times the minimum daily wage.

National Security: Human rights NGOs and civil society organizations argued the Sovereign Security Law exemplified the government’s failure to respect civil liberties. Although not cited in specific cases, the law applies to “any other factor that creates danger to the security of the people, life, family, and community, as well as the supreme interests of the Nicaraguan nation.” The government used and threatened further use of the Cybercrimes Law, which includes as online crimes social media posts deemed dangerous by the regime and grants law enforcement access to information systems and other data. On September 7, the Public Prosecutor’s Office accused indigenous rights activist Amaru Ruiz of cybercrimes after he reported extensively on social media about the killing of 13 indigenous persons by individuals suspected by human rights groups to have ties to the government. Penalties for online crimes include prison time and hefty fines, disproportionate to the crimes as broadly defined by the law.

A police regulation restricts criticism of government policies and officials under the guise of protecting national security.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The government did not respect the legal right to public assembly, demonstration, and mobilization. Prodemocracy marches and protests continued to be banned during the year. Police and parapolice actively persecuted, harassed, and occasionally impeded private meetings of NGOs, civil society groups, and opposition political organizations. Police failed to protect peaceful protesters from attacks; they also committed attacks and provided logistical support to other attackers. Human rights organizations reported police stopped traffic for and otherwise protected progovernment demonstrations.

Police routinely surrounded, surveilled, and threatened meetings of political parties and civil society organizations. Police entered private meeting spaces to disrupt gatherings of opposition parties and civil society organizations.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for freedom of association, including the right to organize or affiliate with political parties; nevertheless, the Supreme Electoral Council and National Assembly used their accreditation powers for political purposes. National Assembly accreditation is mandatory for NGOs to receive funding, have bank accounts, or legally employ workers. The Ministry of the Interior has oversight of regulatory compliance by NGOs and provides certificates. Many NGOs that worked on topics of democracy, human rights, and women’s issues complained the ministry purposefully withheld certification to hinder their work and access to funding.

Beginning in February, the government began enforcing the 2020 Foreign Agents Law with far-reaching implications for entities and employees of entities receiving funding from outside the country. The law requires anyone receiving funding from foreign sources to register with the Ministry of the Interior and provide monthly, detailed accounts of how funds are intended to be used. Additionally, NGOs need to present their legal accreditation, subject to annual renewal by the ministry. Many NGOs complained that the ministry purposefully withheld or delayed this accreditation, which led to the loss of their legal status. Individuals who register as foreign agents cannot participate in internal politics or run for elected positions for up to one year after being removed from the registry. Failure to register can lead to fines, judicial freezing of assets, and the loss of legal status for associations or NGOs. The Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation decided to close before the deadline to register to avoid being labeled a foreign agent. The government, through the Public Prosecutor’s Office, accused the NGO, its staff, and the beneficiaries of its grants of money laundering. Up to 142 individuals, including vendors, consultants, staff, and 32 journalists, were summoned for the investigation. Some NGO staff remained imprisoned during the government’s 90-day investigation period. In June the government placed Cristiana Chamorro, the foundation’s former executive director and a leading opposition presidential precandidate, under house arrest on related accusations of money laundering.

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, but the government did not always respect these rights. On July 16, the government denied Lesther Javier Aleman entry to the country despite being a Nicaraguan citizen and showing a valid Nicaraguan passport. Aleman was ordered to fly out of the country the same day. Aleman was the father of student leader Lesther Aleman Alfaro, who was arrested on July 6 in a crackdown on the opposition. The government strictly controlled the entry of persons affiliated with some groups, specifically humanitarian and faith-based organizations. The government may prevent the departure of travelers with pending legal cases; the government used this authority against individuals involved in the political opposition and media who had not been charged with any crimes. The law requires exit visas for minors.

In-country Movement: Police consistently restricted the travel of opposition members to cities other than their hometown. In many cases police restricted the movement of political opponents outside their homes, although these individuals did not have pending charges against them or judicially imposed restrictions on their movement.

Foreign Travel: Migration authorities confiscated the passports of at least 15 Nicaraguans who were trying to leave the country. Authorities told the individuals that migration restrictions had been levied on them, although the individuals had no formal accusations or charges against them.

Citizenship: On August 6, the ruling FSLN party used its control over government agencies to revoke the Nicaraguan nationality of opposition leader Carmella Rogers Amburn (also known as Kitty Monterrey) without due process. The ruling party, however, issued citizenship to ideologically aligned foreigners fleeing corruption charges in their countries, such as former Salvadoran president Salvador Sanchez Ceren and several of his close family members, bypassing the law and procedures.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

According to contacts and local media, hundreds of participants in the 2018 prodemocracy protests and others who ran afoul of the Ortega regime remained in hiding to evade government persecution, including arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture. These individuals reported being unable to find work or study due to fear of government reprisals. As the root cause of this forced displacement, the government did not promote the safe, voluntary, dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of internally displaced persons. The government does not have policies and protections for internally displaced persons in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government does not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The government has not provided updated information on refugees or asylum seekers since 2015.

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. Only the executive branch or the country’s embassies abroad may grant asylum for political persecution. The Nicaraguan National Commission for Refugees has not met since 2015.

Durable Solutions: The government recognized 61 persons as refugees in 2015, the most recent year for which information was available. By year’s end partner agencies estimated there were more than 1,300 refugees or persons in refugee-like situations in the country.

g. Stateless Persons

Registration of births in rural areas was difficult due to structural constraints, and the government took no measures to address this, resulting in a number of de facto stateless persons in the country (see section 6, Children).

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot, the government restricted freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. Institutional fraud, among other obstacles, precluded opportunities for meaningful choice.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In November President Ortega awarded himself a fourth term in office following a deeply flawed electoral process characterized by historically low voter turnout. Ortega and his FSLN party cancelled the legal registration of all credible opposition political parties, jailed opposition presidential candidates on spurious charges, and committed blatant electoral fraud. Independent observer groups and international organizations characterized the electoral process as not credible. The government did not allow credible, independent electoral observers into the country. The 2021 elections expanded the ruling party’s supermajority in the National Assembly, which previously allowed for changes in the constitution that extended the reach of executive branch power and the elimination of restrictions on re-election for executive branch officials and mayors. On November 12, a total of 25 member states of the Organization of American States (OAS) voted in favor of a resolution declaring the elections were “not free, fair or transparent, and lack democratic legitimacy.”

The 2019 Caribbean regional and 2017 municipal elections were marred by widespread institutional fraud and heavy security force presence.

Civil society groups expressed concerns over the lack of a transparent and fair electoral process leading up to the 2021 national elections, the 2019 Caribbean regional elections, and the 2017 municipal elections. Electoral experts, business leaders, representatives of the Catholic Church, and civil society organizations reported that a lack of accredited domestic or international observation, in addition to the ruling party’s control over all aspects of the official electoral structure and all branches of government, combined to impede holding free and fair elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) announced on May 18 that it had cancelled the legal status of the opposition Democratic Restoration Party. On May 19, the CSE announced it cancelled the legal status the Conservative Party. On August 6, the CSE revoked the legal status of a third opposition party, Citizens for Liberty. The remaining political parties were controlled by the Ortega regime, paving the way for Ortega to run unopposed in the November elections. In 2020 the National Assembly passed a law that bars anyone from running for office whom the government designated as a “traitor,” defining the term so broadly that it could be applied to anyone who expressed opposition to the ruling party. In June the ruling party used this law to jail at least six individuals who had signaled they would run as opposition presidential candidates.

The government used state resources for political activities to enhance the FSLN’s electoral advantage in recent elections. Independent media, human rights groups, and opposition parties reported the government used public funds to provide subsidized food, housing, vaccinations, access to clinics, and other benefits directly through either FSLN-led “family cabinets” (community-based bodies that administer government social programs) or party-controlled Sandinista leadership committee (CLS) systems, which reportedly coerced citizens into FSLN membership while denying services to opposition members. The regime also made party membership mandatory for an increasing number of public-sector employees. Observers noted government employees continued to be pressured into affiliating with the FSLN and participating in party activities. During the year the government pressured public servants to participate in mass public gatherings including sports events, political rallies, and marches despite the dangers of spreading COVID-19 via mass gatherings.

The FSLN also used its authority to decide who could obtain national identity cards. Persons seeking to obtain or retain public-sector employment, national identity documents, or voter registration were obliged to obtain recommendation letters from CLS block captains. Those without identity cards were unable to vote and had difficulty participating in the legal economy or conducting bank transactions. Such persons also were subject to restrictions in employment, access to courts, and land ownership. Civil society organizations continued to express concern about the politicized distribution of identity cards, alleging this was one way the FSLN manipulated past elections and that the CSE failed to provide identity cards to opposition members while widely distributing them to party loyalists.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups, including persons with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; and indigenous persons, in the political process, and they did participate, although observers noted most women in elected positions at the municipal and national levels held limited power or influence in their respective bodies.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, although the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, including in the police force, the CSE, the Supreme Court, customs and tax authorities, and other government organs. The Supreme Court and lower-level courts remained particularly susceptible to bribes, manipulation, and political influence, especially by the FSLN. Companies reported that bribery of public officials, unlawful seizures, and arbitrary assessments by customs and tax authorities were common. Municipal governments and regional governments of the Caribbean Coast were also plagued by corruption. The Managua municipal government reportedly engaged in corrupt practices related to infrastructure projects.

A general state of permissiveness hindered the possibility of addressing the problem effectively. A lack of strong institutions, a weak system of checks and balances, and the regime’s absolute control of government institutions allowed for corruption to continue with impunity.

Corruption: The Office of the Comptroller, responsible for combating corruption within government agencies and offices, did not carry out a complete verification of the government’s full financial statements. For example, the comptroller maintained that Albanisa, a private company controlled by regime insiders that imported and sold Venezuelan petroleum products, as well as associated revenue under the Venezuela oil cooperation agreement, was not subject to audit because the National Assembly did not approve the agreement. The Financial Analysis Unit did not fully implement its mandate in prosecuting money laundering of government officials and focused on investigating President Ortega’s political opposition.

Executive branch officials continued to be involved in businesses financed by economic and developmental assistance funds lent by the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), all of it outside the normal budgetary process controlled by the legislature. This included the Nicaraguan Electric Transmission Enterprise, which funneled ALBA funding and other oil-based assistance into privately owned businesses. Media reported that companies linked to previous ALBA-funded contracts and with links to the president’s family were tightly controlled by members of Ortega’s inner circle, with little public oversight. Cases of mismanagement of these funds by public officials were reportedly handled personally by FSLN members and President Ortega’s immediate family, rather than by the government entities in charge of public funds.

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

The government imposed significant and increasing burdens on the limited number of human rights organizations it allowed to operate in the country. The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights remained deprived of its legal status, hindering its ability to investigate human rights abuses. The Nicaraguan Pro-Human Rights Association continued to operate from exile in Costa Rica and focused more on the Nicaraguan exile community. Other human rights organizations faced significant harassment and police surveillance. Humanitarian organizations faced obstacles to operating or denial of entry, and government officials harassed and intimidated domestic and international NGOs critical of the government or the FSLN. Some NGOs reported government intimidation created a climate of fear intended to suppress criticism.

The government continued to prevent non-FSLN-affiliated NGOs and civil society groups from participating in government social programs, such as Programa Amor, which provides social protections to children and adolescents, and Hambre Cero, a program that distributes livestock for smallholder production. The government frequently used FSLN-controlled family cabinets and party-controlled CLSs to administer these programs. Government programs purportedly created to provide support for victims of the violence since 2018 benefited only FSLN party members. Increased government restrictions on domestic NGOs’ ability to receive funding directly from international donors seriously hindered the NGOs’ ability to operate. In addition, increased control over the entry of foreign visitors or volunteer groups into the country hindered the work of humanitarian groups and human rights NGOs. The Swedish NGO We Effect discontinued its activities in the country in December after 30 years of humanitarian aid work, citing difficulties in complying with the foreign agents law. Some groups reported difficulties in moving donated goods through customs and said government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their complaints.

Several domestic NGOs reported that the Ministry of the Interior purposefully denied receipt of their compliance documentation and withheld or unduly delayed providing certifications in order to revoke the legal status of NGOs. NGOs under government investigation reported problems accessing the justice system and delays in filing petitions, as well as pressure from state authorities. Many NGOs believed comptroller and tax authorities audited their accounts as a means of intimidation. While legally permitted, spot audits were a common form of harassment and often used selectively, according to NGOs. NGOs reported difficulties in scheduling meetings with authorities and in receiving official information due to a growing culture of secrecy. Local NGOs reported having to channel requests for meetings with ministry officials and for public information through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These requests were generally not processed. NGOs also reported government hostility or aggression when questioning or speaking with officials on subjects such as corruption and the rule of law. Groups opposing the construction of a proposed interoceanic canal also reported being harassed and placed under surveillance. Three members of the Farmworker’s Movement opposing the canal were arrested, including a presidential precandidate, and many more fled into exile.

The government enforced the law that requires any citizen working for “governments, companies, foundations, or foreign organizations” to register with the Interior Ministry, report monthly their income and spending, and provide prior notice of how the foreign funds are intended to be spent. The law establishes sanctions for those who do not register.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not allow the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) or IACHR to send working groups to monitor the human rights situation in the country. The government did not cooperate with these groups, as noted in OHCHR and IACHR reports.

The government continued to block the entrance of the OAS high-level commission to help resolve the country’s sociopolitical crisis. The government did not send a representative to any of the 2021 IACHR sessions. The attorney general participated in a May IACHR hearing on protective measures awarded to the human rights NGO CENIDH. The attorney general rejected any claims of wrongdoing and stated the government was acting according to its laws. In several instances progovernment supporters detained or harassed protesters protected by IACHR precautionary measures.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights, led since 2019 by Darling Rios, a sociologist with no previous human rights experience, and Adolfo Jarquin, also with no previous human rights experience, was perceived as politicized and ineffective. In 2019 the UN Human Rights Council demoted the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights from category A to B for its lack of independence.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes all forms of rape of men or women, regardless of the relationship between the victim and the accused. Sentences for those convicted of rape range from eight to 12 years’ imprisonment. The law criminalizes domestic violence and provides prison sentences ranging from one to 12 years.

The government failed to enforce rape and domestic violence laws, leading to widespread impunity and reports of increased violence from released offenders emboldened by their release. The NGO Catholics for the Rights to Decide reported that there were 46 femicides as of July, most of them committed after the victims suffered sexual violence. The government continued to use FSLN-led family cabinets and CLSs in mediation processes in cases of domestic violence. Both processes were politicized and did not operate according to the rule of law. The government employed limited public education, shelters, hotlines, psychosocial services, and police training in nominal and unsuccessful attempts to address the problem.

Observers reported a general increase in sexual crimes and violence against women during the year; however, data were unreliable. NGOs working on women’s issues reported that violence against women remained high and that police generally understated its severity. The government did not coordinate with women’s rights NGOs and actively blocked their operations and access to funding.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and those convicted face one- to three-year sentences in prison, or three to five years if the victim is younger than 18. No information was available on government efforts to prevent or prosecute complaints of sexual harassment.

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

While there were no cultural barriers that adversely affected women’s access to health-care services, rural women’s access to health care during pregnancy and childbirth was hindered by long distances to appropriate health-care facilities in scarcely populated areas with poor transportation infrastructure. Women in some areas, such as the RACN and the RACS, lacked widespread access to medical care or programs, and maternal death affected poor rural women more than their urban counterparts. This also affected indigenous and Afro-descendant women in the RACN and the RACS more than nonindigenous women in other regions. In addition, adolescents often faced social stigma when seeking contraception methods.

The government provided limited access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. The Ministry of Health had a standing protocol for the provision of health services to survivors of sexual violence, which included the provision of emergency contraception within five days of the assault as well as treatment of HIV or sexually transmitted diseases. Women’s rights organizations, however, claimed the Ministry of Health did not always provide this treatment due to fear of subverting the government’s strict prolife policy, directed by the president and vice president. While no legal barriers impede adolescent girls’ access to education due to pregnancy or motherhood, economic hardships and a lack of social safety nets to protect young mothers often impeded continued education for pregnant girls or young mothers.

Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality in access to education, labor rights, and civil rights. Nevertheless, women often experienced discrimination in employment, obtaining credit, and receiving equal pay for similar work, as well as in owning and managing businesses. While the government enforced the law effectively in the public sector, women in positions of power faced limitations, and their authority was limited compared with that of men. For example, despite a law that requires equal participation of men and women in elected positions, male political party leaders often made decisions on public policy without internal debate or input from female political leaders. Enforcement was not effective in the private sector or the larger informal sector.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

Exclusionary treatment based on race, skin color, and ethnicity was common, especially in higher-income urban areas. Darker-skinned persons of African descent from the RACN and the RACS, along with others assumed to be from those areas, experienced discrimination, such as being subjected to extra security measures and illegal searches by police. Indigenous and other ethnic groups from the RACN and the RACS alleged that discriminatory attitudes toward ethnic and racial minorities were responsible for the lack of government resources devoted to those regions. The government focused attention and resources on maintaining political control over decision-making bodies in the regions where most indigenous groups lived.

Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous persons constituted approximately 5 percent of the population and lived primarily in the RACN and the RACS. Despite having autonomous governing bodies, decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, or the exploitation of energy, minerals, timber, and other natural resources on their lands were largely made or approved by national government authorities or by FSLN representatives. Individuals from five major indigenous groups – the Miskito, Sumo/Mayangna, Garifuna (of Afro-Amerindian origin), Creole, and Rama – the alleged government discrimination through underrepresentation in the legislative branch.

NGOs and indigenous rights groups denounced the increasing number of killings of indigenous persons at the hands of nonindigenous populations encroaching on their lands in the RACN and the RACS, and they claimed the government failed to protect the civil and political rights of indigenous communities. In August armed gold miners attacked an artisanal gold mining site and killed up to 13 indigenous persons in an effort to drive indigenous populations away from the site. The attack occurred in the Sauni As territory in the Bosawas protected biosphere. During the raid the attackers also raped two women and dismembered some of the bodies of their victims. Police announced the arrests of three of 14 individuals accused of the crime, but many observers doubted the government’s narrative, particularly because those arrested were indigenous persons, including a sibling of one of the rape victims. Some observers alleged government and FSLN involvement in the violence against Miskito populations in the RACN along the Coco River, either by failing to defend indigenous populations or as accomplices to nonindigenous groups invading indigenous lands. Indigenous groups continued to complain of rights violations in connection with government plans to build an interoceanic canal through their territory.

Indigenous persons from rural areas often lacked birth certificates, identity cards, and land titles. While the government did not deny these rights if requested, it favored FSLN party members over other constituents. Additionally, indigenous groups alleged the government provided identity cards to outsiders who encroached on indigenous lands in the RACS and the RACN, leading to overrepresentation of FSLN-aligned, nonindigenous persons in regional governing bodies. Most indigenous individuals in rural areas lacked access to public services, and deteriorating roads hindered access to health care for many.

Indigenous women faced multiple levels of discrimination based on their ethnicity, gender, and lower economic status. For example, indigenous women do not receive medical attention, education, police protection, or representation in government at the same level as nonindigenous women.

Throughout the year indigenous leaders alleged that regional and national governments granted logging and mining concessions to private firms and to government-affiliated businesses, such as ALBA-Forestal, without adequate consultation of the indigenous community, and that logging and mining continued in violation of national autonomy laws in the RACS and the RACN.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Local civil registries register births within 12 months, although many persons, especially in rural areas, lacked birth certificates. Registration in rural areas was difficult due to structural constraints, and the government took no measures to address this, resulting in a growing number of de facto stateless persons in the country. Persons without citizenship documents were unable to obtain national identity cards and consequently could not vote and had difficulty participating in the legal economy and conducting bank transactions. Such persons also were subject to restrictions in employment, access to courts, and land ownership.

Child Abuse: According to the criminal code, prison sentences for rape committed against minors range from 12 to 15 years and for child abuse from seven to 12 years. Government efforts were insufficient to combat child abuse and sexual violence against minors. High rates of sexual violence against teenage girls contributed to high rates of teenage pregnancy, according to UNICEF.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for men and women, or 16 with parental authorization. There were credible reports of forced early marriages in some rural indigenous communities. UNICEF’s 2019 State of the World’s Children, the most recent data available, reported 35 percent of women 20 to 24 years of age were married or in a union by age 18, and 10 percent were married by age 15. No information was available on government efforts to address or prevent forced and early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation in general and designates enticing children or adolescents to engage in sexual activity as an aggravating condition. The government generally did not enforce the law pertaining to child sex trafficking. Penalties include 10 to 15 years in prison for a person who entices or forces any individual to engage in sexual activity and 19 to 20 years in prison for the same acts involving children or adolescents. The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with children ages 14 or younger.

The law also prohibits child pornography, and the government generally enforced it. The penalty for inducing, facilitating, promoting, or using a minor for sexual or erotic purposes is 10 to 15 years in prison.

The country was a destination for child sex tourism. The law imposes a penalty of five to seven years in prison for those convicted of child-sex tourism.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country has a very small Jewish population. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law requires persons with disabilities to have access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation, although this did not occur in practice. Persons with disabilities faced severe problems accessing schools, public health facilities, and other institutions. with disabilities attended schools with nondisabled peers; specialized school materials were not readily available and on occasion were blocked by the Ministry of Education. Anecdotal evidence suggested that children with disabilities completed secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other children. Public schools were rarely well equipped, and teachers were poorly trained in providing appropriate attention to children with disabilities. Police stations and public health-care facilities did not have staff trained in sign language, making persons with hearing disabilities dependent on caretakers. Many voting facilities were not accessible. Advocates for persons with disabilities complained of a lack of accessible public transportation. Some persons with disabilities reported taxi drivers often refused them service due to the perceived extra burden on the driver to aid customers with disabilities. Advocates for persons with disabilities claimed interpreters for the deaf were not accessible at schools and universities, making it difficult for these persons to obtain education. Government clinics and hospitals provided care for veterans and other persons with disabilities, but the quality of care was generally poor.

Discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities was widespread, despite being prohibited by law. Laws related to persons with disabilities do not stipulate penalties for noncompliance, although penalties may be issued under the general labor inspection code. The Ministry of the Family, Ministry of Labor, and Human Rights Office are among government agencies responsible for the protection and advancement of rights of persons with disabilities. The government did not enforce the law effectively; did not mandate accessibility to buildings, information, and communications; and did not make information available on efforts to improve respect for the rights of persons with disabilities. Advocacy organizations for persons with disabilities reported persons with disabilities accounted for less than 1 percent of public-sector employees, despite the legally mandated minimum representation of 2 percent. Further reports indicated public institutions did not sufficiently coordinate with the Labor Ministry to accommodate persons with disabilities in the workplace. While there were no official reports of violence, harassment or intimidation against persons with disabilities by government officials, there were several anecdotal reports of violence and harassment. These incidents generally went unreported mainly because victims did not want to face the burdensome process of filing a complaint.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law provides specific protections for persons with HIV or AIDS against discrimination in employment and health services, but such persons continued to suffer societal discrimination. An administrative resolution issued by the Ministry of Health continued in effect, declaring that HIV/AIDS patients should not suffer discrimination and making available a complaints office.

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

LGBTQI+ groups reported discrimination, a lack of access to justice, and a lack of response from police. The government and FSLN supporters frequently targeted LGBTQI+ participants in civil protests in particular, using online smear campaigns and physical attacks in some cases. LGBTQI+ opposition members were particularly targeted with sexual violence by police, parapolice, and progovernment supporters. The Observatory for Human Rights Violations Against LGBTQI+ Persons stated there were 43 attacks against LGBTQI+ in the first six months of the year, one-half against transgender women. LGBTQI+ activists said LGBTQI+ political prisoners hid their orientation, fearing increased abuse from prison guards. Reliable data on the breadth of such discrimination were not available. No specific laws exist to punish hate crimes against LGBTQI+ persons.

Transgender women detained for participating in prodemocracy protests were particularly harassed while in custody. They were held with male inmates, forced to strip in front of their peers, and specifically harangued by guards. The law does not recognize the right to gender identity self-determination, and as such the penitentiary system is not required to separate inmates based on gender identity. Celia Cruz, a political prisoner and transgender woman, was given amnesty and released in April, although her trial continued and an appeals court ratified her guilty sentence in June.

Although it does not mention sexual orientation and gender identity specifically, the law states all persons are equal before the law and provides for the right to equal protection. No laws specifically criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. LGBTQI+ persons, however, continued to face widespread societal discrimination and abuse, particularly in housing, education, and employment. LGBTQI+ organizations continued to complain the law curtailed the rights of LGBTQI+ households by defining families as necessarily headed by a man and a woman; this definition particularly affected LGBTQI+ households’ access to social security, survivor benefits, and adoption rights.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of all workers in the public and private sectors, except for those in the military and police, to form and join independent unions of their choice without prior authorization and to bargain collectively. The government’s control of all major unions effectively nullified those rights. The ruling party used its control over major unions to harass and intimidate workers in several sectors, including education, health care, the public sector, and free trade zones. The constitution recognizes the right to strike, although it places some restrictions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not provide for measures to protect against rights violation. Burdensome and lengthy conciliation procedures and government control of all major unions impeded workers’ ability to call strikes. In smaller businesses where major unions were not present, the government created parallel labor unions to confuse and diffuse efforts to organize strikes or other labor actions. In addition, if a strike continues for 30 days without resolution, the Ministry of Labor may suspend the strike and submit the matter to arbitration.

Collective bargaining agreements last up to two years and are automatically renewed if neither party requests its revision. Collective bargaining agreements in the free trade zone regions, however, are for five-year periods. Companies in disputes with their employees must negotiate with the employees’ union if one exists. By law several unions may coexist at any one enterprise, and the law permits management to sign separate collective bargaining agreements with each union.

The government sought to foster resolution of labor conflicts through informal negotiations rather than formal administrative or judicial processes. The law does not establish specific fines for labor law violations, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Although the law establishes a labor court arbitration process, it was subject to long wait times and lengthy and complicated procedures, and many labor disputes were resolved out of court.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not respected, and the government often intervened for political reasons. The government did not effectively enforce the laws. Most labor unions were historically allied with political parties, but in recent years the government reportedly dissolved unions and fired workers not associated with the ruling FSLN. Independent labor experts reported the Ministry of Labor denied or unduly delayed providing legal recognition to unions that were not aligned with the FSLN.

Politically motivated firings continued to be a problem. Most of the doctors and university staff from the public sector fired for political reasons since 2018 had not received severance pay as of September. Labor experts highlighted similar instances of public-sector employees being fired without receiving severance pay. FSLN party affiliation or letters of recommendation from party secretaries, family cabinet coordinators, or other party officials were allegedly required from applicants seeking public-sector jobs.

The government restricted the organizing of trade unions and teachers perceived to be in opposition to the government.

There were no known documented instances of strikes being declared illegal. Under the law, during a strike employers may not hire replacement workers, but unions alleged this practice was common. Wildcat strikes – those without union authorization – were historically common.

Employers interfered in the functioning of workers’ organizations and committed other violations related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Labor leaders noted employers routinely violated collective bargaining agreements and labor laws with impunity.

Official union federations were accused of protecting employer interests by identifying and isolating workers who attempted to organize as well as frustrating such attempts through arbitrary procedural barriers that delay approval processes. Federations also permitted illegal firings of workers who tried to organize themselves; the workers faced retaliation and permanent exclusion from jobs in the free trade zones.

Many employers in the formal sector continued to blacklist or fire union members and did not reinstate them. Many of these cases did not reach the court system or a mediation process led by the Ministry of Labor. Employers often delayed severance payments to fired workers or omitted the payments altogether. Employers also avoided legal penalties by organizing employer-led unions lacking independence and by frequently using contract workers to replace striking employees. There were reports FSLN party dues were automatically deducted from paychecks.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. There was no information available regarding government enforcement of these laws. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Despite reported political will to combat human trafficking, including labor trafficking, during the year the government did not take sufficient action to address the scope of the problem and provided only limited information about its law enforcement efforts.

Observers noted reports of forced labor, including of men, women, and children in agriculture, construction, mining, street begging, and domestic servitude. Victim identification, prosecution, and conviction remained inadequate, and victims’ family members were often complicit in their exploitation. Traffickers lured residents of rural or border regions with the promise of high-paying jobs in urban and tourist areas but then subjected them to sexual exploitation and 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 law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law establishes the minimum age for employment at 14 and limits the workday for any individual between ages of 14 and 18 to six hours and the workweek to 30 hours. Those between 14 and 16 must have parental approval to work or enter into a formal labor contract. The law prohibits teenage domestic workers from sleeping in the houses of their employers. It is illegal for minors to work in places the Ministry of Labor considers harmful to their health or safety, such as mines, garbage dumps, and night entertainment venues, and to undertake certain agricultural work. The government mostly enforced the law in the formal sector, but enforcement was insufficient in the much larger informal sector, where child labor was more prevalent. Legal penalties for persons employing children in dangerous work were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government used limited resources to concentrate on child labor violations in select sectors in narrow geographic areas, such as coffee-growing regions, and gave only limited attention to the large informal sector. The government reported having separated nine children from work between January 2019 and the first semester of 2020.

The government signed thousands of cooperative agreements with employers to prevent the hiring of minors and continued Programa Amor, which aimed to eradicate child labor by reintegrating abandoned children into society. Information on the program’s activities, funding, and effectiveness was unavailable, but independent observers deemed it insufficient.

Laws to eliminate child labor were not fully implemented and lacked a consistent mechanism to coordinate efforts to address child labor. The government also divested resources from child labor prevention. Attendance in secondary schools remained much lower than in primary schools, increasing the risk of older children engaging in exploitative labor. The country made minimal advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.

Fifteen percent of children lacked birth certificates, which increased their risk for human trafficking, including for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation.

Child labor remained widespread. According to organizations that worked on children’s rights, this likely increased to almost 320,000 children working in some form of child labor. A common feature of child labor was the prevalence of unpaid family work, and the National Institute of Development Information stated 80 percent of children and adolescents were unpaid workers.

Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6). Most child labor occurred in forestry, fishing, and the informal sector, including on coffee plantations and subsistence farms. Child labor also occurred in the production of dairy products, oranges, bananas, tobacco, palm products, coffee, rice, and sugarcane; cattle raising; street sales; garbage-dump scavenging; stone crushing; gold mining and quarrying of pumice and limestone; construction; marijuana and other drug production and trafficking; street performing; domestic work; and transport. Persons with disabilities and children were subjected to forced begging, particularly in Managua and near tourist centers.

Children working in agriculture suffered from sun exposure, extreme temperatures, and dangerous pesticides and other chemicals. Children working in the fishing industry were at risk from polluted water and dangerous ocean conditions.

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 and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status. The government did not deter such discrimination because it did not effectively enforce the law and regulations. Penalties for violations were commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

Discrimination in employment took many forms. Although women generally had equal access to employment, few women had senior positions in business and worked in the informal sector in higher numbers than men; in the public sector or in elected positions, an autocratic ruling political party limited women’s independence and influence. In addition, women’s wages were generally lower when compared with those of male counterparts, even for the same position and work performed. Workplace challenges for persons with disabilities included inadequate infrastructure, lack of educational opportunities, and a generally low rate of public-services positions, despite a legal requirement that a certain percentage be available to them. LGBTQI+ organizations reported that sexual orientation and gender identity continued to be a basis for discriminatory behavior.

Workers who disagreed with government recommendations were fired, and only those with a membership card of the ruling party were hired.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law establishes a statutory minimum wage for 10 economic sectors. According to the Ministry of Labor, the average legal minimum wage covered only 35 percent of the cost of basic goods. The ministry, together with workers’ unions aligned with the ruling party, agreed to a 3 percent wage increase for the year. Public-sector employees received a 5 percent salary increase in August. Free trade zone regions had a wage increase of 8 percent, prenegotiated in a five-year agreement expected to expire in 2022. The salary increase remained unchanged despite free trade zone representatives reporting unsteady industry performance.

The minimum wage was generally enforced only in the formal sector, estimated to be 20 percent of the economy. The Ministry of Labor is the primary enforcement agency.

The standard legal workweek is a maximum of 48 hours, with one day of rest. The law dictates an obligatory year-end bonus equivalent to one month’s pay, proportional to the number of months worked. The law mandates premium pay for overtime, prohibits compulsory overtime, and sets a maximum of three hours of overtime per day not to exceed nine hours per week. Penalties for violations of minimum wage and overtime laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

According to International Labor Organization guidelines, the number of labor inspectors was insufficient for the size of the workforce, which included approximately three million workers. The law allows inspectors to conduct unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions for egregious violations.

Occupational Safety and Health: The National Council of Labor Hygiene and Safety, including its departmental committees, is responsible for implementing worker safety legislation and collaborating with other government agencies and civil society organizations in developing assistance programs and promoting training and prevention activities. According to labor contacts, the council was inactive throughout the year. The government did not allocate adequate staff or other measures to enable the Office of Hygiene and Occupational Safety to enforce occupational safety and health (OSH) provisions. Penalties for violations of OSH laws were commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence, but they were infrequently enforced and only in the formal sector.

OSH standards also were not widely enforced in an expanding large informal sector, which represented 77 percent of employment and 88 percent of businesses, according to 2016 reports from the Consultants for Business Development and the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development. Although more recent statistics on informality were not available, experts viewed this indicator as necessarily rising because of sociopolitical unrest and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. It was unclear whether authorities effectively protected employees in such cases.

Informal Sector: The informal sector included the bulk of workers in street sales, agriculture and ranching, transportation, domestic labor, fishing, and minor construction. Legal limitations on hours worked often were ignored by employers, who claimed workers readily volunteered for extra hours for additional pay. Violations of wage and hour regulations in the informal sector were common and generally not investigated, particularly in street sales, domestic work, and agriculture, where children continued to work in tobacco, banana, and coffee plantations. Compulsory overtime was reported in the private-security sector, where guards often were required to work excessive shifts without relief.

Peru

Executive Summary

Peru is a constitutional, multiparty republic. President Pedro Castillo assumed the presidency in July, succeeding President Francisco Sagasti, after winning the June 6 presidential runoff, in elections that observers characterized as free and fair. Legislative elections took place concurrently to elect the 130-member, single-chamber parliament.

The Peruvian National Police report to the Ministry of Interior and maintain internal security. The Peruvian Armed Forces, reporting to the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security in addition to some domestic security responsibilities in designated emergency areas and in exceptional circumstances. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of serious government corruption at all levels, including in the judiciary; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; and sex and labor trafficking.

The government took steps to investigate and, in some cases, prosecute or otherwise punish public officials accused of abuses and corruption, including high-level officials. Nonetheless, corruption and a perception of impunity remained prevalent and were major public concerns.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

In contrast with 2020, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On May 23, between three and five unidentified individuals shot and killed 16 persons, including two minors, in the town of San Miguel del Ene, in the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM). The Joint Command of the Armed Forces attributed the killings to the self-named Militarized Communist Party of Peru, led by remnants of the Shining Path domestic terrorist group, which was active in the VRAEM and heavily engaged in drug-trafficking activities. Press reported surviving witnesses’ testimonies that cast doubt on that official account, noting that the appearance, modus operandi, and retreat direction of the shooters did not match the usual behavior of the Militarized Communist Party of Peru. The incident, which took place two weeks before the June 6 second round of presidential elections, was under investigation by the Public Ministry as of November.

As of November the Public Ministry was investigating the killings allegedly committed by security forces of Inti Sotelo and Brian Pintado in November 2020, during protests following the congressional impeachment of former president Vizcarra. The Public Ministry was also investigating the December 2020 death of demonstrator Jorge Munoz, allegedly killed by members of the Peruvian National Police (PNP) during an agricultural workers’ strike in Chao, La Libertad.

The prosecution continued of former midlevel PNP officer Raul Prado Ravines, accused of leading an extrajudicial killing squad from 2012 to 2015. The case involved the alleged killing of more than 27 criminal suspects during at least nine separate police operations to cover up police corruption and to generate awards and promotions. As of October there were 14 police officers in preventive detention, eight in prison and six under house arrest, awaiting trial for their alleged roles in the operations. In September 2020 a judge issued a pretrial detention order against Prado Ravines, but as of November his location was unknown.

Human rights and environmental activists expressed concern for their own safety while working in areas with drug trafficking or widespread natural resource extraction, such as illegal logging and mining. Activists accused actors engaging in these activities and local authorities of harassing them, especially in areas where officials faced corruption charges and suspicion of criminal links. As of October at least four environmental rights defenders in the Peruvian Amazon, mostly indigenous leaders, had been killed defending their land. In February criminals who were reportedly engaged in drug trafficking and illegal logging allegedly killed two indigenous Kakataibo environmental activists, Herasmo Garcia and Yenes Rios, in Puerto Nuevo, Ucayali. In March suspected land traffickers killed indigenous Ashaninka leader and environmental activist Estela Casanto in Shankivironi, Junin. In July unidentified individuals shot and killed indigenous leader Mario Lopez in Puerto Bermudez, Pasco. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), fellow activists, the United Nations, and various government actors expressed concern for the increase in killings of environmental activists (four environmental activists were killed during the year and five in 2020, compared with one in 2019). Activists claimed the slow, ineffective justice process supported continued impunity.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, but there were reports that government officials employed them. Local and international NGOs stated the government did not effectively prevent these abuses or punish those who committed them. According to NGO representatives, many victims did not file formal complaints against their alleged abusers, and those who did so purportedly had difficulty obtaining judicial redress and adequate compensation.

Prosecutors continued investigations of widespread allegations that police committed abuses against protesters during the five-day presidency of Manuel Merino in November 2020. In October the attorney general requested Congress to allow a criminal accusation against Merino, his prime minister Antero Florez Araoz, and his minister of interior Gaston Rodriguez as responsible for the abuses, including two confirmed killings. On November 12, Congresswoman Susel Paredes filed a request for Congress to discuss allowing the criminal accusation against Merino, Florez, and Rodriguez.

Impunity remained a significant problem in the security forces. The lack of sanctions regarding the November 2020 alleged abuses by security forces heightened public concern regarding accountability. There is an autonomous legal system that governs the conduct of active-duty PNP and military personnel. Prosecuting high-level officials, including ministers of interior and ministers of defense, requires a formal request from prosecutors to Congress to lift officials’ immunity and congressional approval to proceed.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were generally harsh due to overcrowding, improper sanitation, inadequate nutrition, poor health care, and corruption among guards, who allegedly smuggled weapons and drugs into the prisons.

Physical Conditions: As of May the National Penitentiary Institute (INPE) reported the prison system held 86,812 prisoners in 69 facilities designed for a total of 40,137 prisoners. Of inmates, 36 percent were in pretrial detention. The population at the largest prison in the country, the Lurigancho penitentiary, was 3.7 times its prescribed capacity.

Assaults on inmates by prison guards and fellow inmates occurred. Many inmates had only intermittent access to potable water. Bathing facilities were often inadequate, kitchen facilities were unhygienic, and prisoners often slept in hallways and common areas due to a lack of cell space.

Prisoners with money, influence, or other resources had access to privileges including cell phones, illegal drugs, and better meals prepared outside the prison. In June leaked audio recordings revealed that inmate Vladimiro Montesinos, an advisor to former president Alberto Fujimori serving a sentence for human right abuses and corruption, engaged in political activities during the 2021 presidential campaign by telephone from inside a high-security prison run by the navy. In August the government transferred Montesinos to another high-security prison.

Most prisons provided limited access to medical care, which resulted in delayed diagnoses of illnesses. The COVID-19 pandemic aggravated this situation. Visitation restrictions due to COVID-19 further limited inmate access to resources, since visits by relatives were previously a frequent source of food, medicine, and clothing. Inmates complained of having to pay for medical care. A study by researchers from Pedro Ruiz Gallo University found tuberculosis, HIV, and AIDS remained at levels high enough to constitute a potential threat to the broader public health. The Ombudsman’s Office continued to report insufficient accessibility and inadequate facilities for prisoners with disabilities. Prisoners with mental disabilities usually lacked access to adequate psychological care.

Administration: Independent and government authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights and international humanitarian law observers. COVID-19 distancing restrictions halted unannounced visits to inmates by International Committee of the Red Cross officials and representatives of the Ombudsman’s Office, but the government coordinated with and received written feedback from them. The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations and UNICEF monitored and advised on policies for juvenile detention centers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. The government constitutionally suspended the right to freedom from arrest without warrant in designated emergency zones and nationwide during the continued national state of emergency for COVID-19. As of November lesser restrictions to avoid the spread of COVID-19 remained in force.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires a written judicial warrant based on sufficient evidence for an arrest unless authorities apprehended the alleged perpetrator in the actual conduct of a crime. In all other circumstances, only judges may authorize detentions. Authorities are required to arraign arrested persons within 24 hours, except in cases of suspected terrorism, drug trafficking, or espionage, for which arraignment must take place within 15 days. In remote areas, arraignment must take place as soon as practicable. Military authorities must turn over persons they detain to police within 24 hours. Police must file a report with the Public Ministry within 24 hours of an arrest. The Public Ministry, in turn, must issue its own assessment of the legality of the police action in the arrest.

The law permits detainees to have access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. Police may detain suspected terrorists incommunicado for 10 days.

Arbitrary Arrest: Prosecutors continued to investigate allegations of unlawful detentions by police forces, including plainclothes officers, that reportedly occurred during the November 2020 protests.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. According to a May report by INPE, 36 percent of prisoners were being held under pretrial detention provisions. The length of pretrial detention occasionally equaled but did not exceed the maximum sentence of an alleged crime. Delays were due mainly to judicial inefficiency, corruption, and staff shortages, and the COVID-19 pandemic. In accordance with the law, courts released prisoners held more than nine months (up to 36 months in complex cases) whom the justice system had not yet tried, convicted, and sentenced. The courts factored pretrial detention into final sentences.

Official guidelines stipulate an accused individual must meet three conditions to receive pretrial detention: there should be reasonable evidence that the subject committed the crime; the penalty for the crime must be greater than a four-year prison sentence; and the subject is a flight risk or could obstruct the justice process through undue influence over key actors, including through coercion, corruption, or intimidation. The Constitutional Tribunal may consider the guidelines for current cases of pretrial detention as they deliberate habeas corpus requests. In 2020 Congress approved legislation preventing the use of pretrial detention of police officers who kill or injure “while complying with their duties,” overriding executive opposition.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Some NGO representatives alleged the judiciary did not always operate independently, was not consistently impartial, and was sometimes subject to political influence and corruption.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right, although reports of judicial system corruption were common. In June the government completed the transition begun in 2006 from an inquisitorial to an accusatory legal system and fully applied the application of a new criminal procedure code to streamline the penal process.

The law presumes all defendants are innocent. The government must promptly inform defendants, in detail, of the charges against them and provide defendants a trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense. State-provided attorneys, however, often had poor training and excessive caseloads. Although the law grants citizens the right to a trial in their own language, interpretation and translation services for non-Spanish speakers were not always available. This deficiency primarily affected speakers of indigenous Andean and Amazonian languages.

The law provides that all defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The government cannot compel defendants to testify or confess to a crime. Defendants may appeal verdicts to a higher court and ultimately to the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Tribunal may rule on cases involving the constitutionality of laws and issues, such as habeas corpus.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Citizens may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, but court cases often take years to resolve. Press reports, NGOs, and other sources alleged that persons outside the judiciary frequently corrupted or influenced judges.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. The government’s continued declaration of emergency zones in the VRAEM and La Pampa – due to drug trafficking and terrorist activity, and illegal mining, respectively – suspended the right to home inviolability in those regions.

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, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system generally promoted freedom of expression, including for members of the media.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Several organizations, including the Institute of Press and Society (IPYS), EU Electoral Observation Mission, Ombudsman’s Office, and Ethics Tribunal of the Peruvian Press, noted biased coverage of the second-round electoral campaign by most Lima-based national press outlets. The EU report described the role of “most private media coverage” as “clearly biased in favor of Fujimori and against Castillo, without distinction between facts and opinion, undermining the right to truthful information.” The Ethics Tribunal of the Peruvian Press expressed concern for “headlines […] that did not match the facts, interested opinions disguised as impartial analysis, and an unequal coverage of presidential campaign events in time and substance,” further warning that “this behavior seriously damaged citizens’ trust in the Peruvian press.” Controversial actions included the May dismissal of leading television channel America Television’s journalism director and the resignation of the hosts and reporters who worked in its premier political weekly show. The resigning staff accused the channel of demanding they provide biased coverage in favor of candidate Keiko Fujimori.

Violence and Harassment: IPYS, the Association of Foreign Press of Peru (APEP), and the Ombudsman’s Office denounced aggression and intimidation towards journalists who covered second-round campaign events in May and June as well as postelection political rallies in June and July.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In August IPYS and APEP criticized the Castillo administration for limiting press access to official government events such as the swearing in of cabinet ministers. The Sagasti and Castillo governments limited press access to high-level events based on COVID-19 restrictions. In early December President Castillo reopened press access to the government palace.

Nongovernmental Impact: NGO representatives reported local figures linked to a wide array of political and economic interests threatened press freedom by intimidating local journalists who reported on those activities. This was particularly acute in areas with a strong presence of illegal activities.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Freedom of assembly may be suspended in areas of the VRAEM and La Pampa emergency zones, where elements of the Militarized Communist Party of Peru, drug traffickers, and illegal miners operated.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law does not require a permit for public demonstrations, but organizers must report the type of demonstration planned and coordinate its intended location with authorities. The constitution specifies the rights of freedom of unarmed assembly and association.

The government may restrict or prohibit demonstrations at specific times and places to ensure public safety and health. Police used tear gas and force occasionally to disperse protesters in various demonstrations. Although most demonstrations were peaceful, protests in some areas turned violent, resulting in one death as of November. In the context of the presidential elections in June, minor clashes between groups of protesters occurred, without evidence of improper use of force by police.

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, and the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: The government maintained emergency zones including restrictions on movement in the VRAEM due to the presence of the Militarized Communist Party of Peru, and in La Pampa, due to illegal mining activities. These illegal actors at times interrupted the free movement of persons by establishing roadblocks in sections of the VRAEM. Individuals protesting extractive industry projects also occasionally established roadblocks throughout the country.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Population’s National Registry for Displaced Persons recognized 59,846 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country, most of whom were victims of the 1980-2000 internal conflict. The registration and accreditation of IDPs provided for their protection, care, and humanitarian assistance during displacement, return, or resettlement. According to the government’s Reparations Council, some IDPs who were victims of the 1980-2000 internal conflict experienced difficulties registering for reparations due to a lack of proper identity documents.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

More than one million foreign-born persons, including immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, lived in the country as of November. Venezuelans were by far the largest nationality, numbering 1.29 million, according to government officials. On July 4, the Council of Ministers approved the implementing regulations for providing temporary status (carnet de permiso temporal, or CPP) to more than 350,000 irregular migrants of any nationality who registered with the National Migration Superintendency. The superintendency was reviewing these applications and issuing a one-year temporary migration status to the irregular migrants who applied for a CPP. Beneficiaries then had up to one year to adjust to another migration status.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for protecting refugees. The government cooperated with UNHCR and recognized the Peruvian Catholic Migration Commission as the official provider of technical assistance to refugees. The commission also advised persons who sought asylum based on a fear of persecution. The government protected refugees on a renewable, year-to-year basis in accordance with commission recommendations.

Durable Solutions: The government does not have a formalized integration program for refugees, but it received persons recognized as refugees by other nations, granted refugee status to persons who applied from within the country, and provided some administrative support toward their integration. UNHCR provided these refugees with humanitarian and emergency aid, legal assistance, documentation, and, in exceptional cases, voluntary return and family reunification.

Temporary Protection: As of June, the government had provided temporary protection to 560,000 individuals since 2017 while they awaited a decision on their refugee status. Nearly all were Venezuelans. On July 7, the government published a ministerial resolution to allow Venezuelan asylum seekers to apply for a humanitarian residency status while their asylum applications remained active with the foreign ministry. Humanitarian residency status holders may be employed or work independently. The migratory status, different from the CPP temporary residence permit, authorizes a residence of 183 days and is renewable if the conditions of vulnerability for which this residency was granted persist.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Legislative and first-round presidential elections were held in April, and in June a presidential runoff election took place. Domestic and international observers, including the Organization of American States international observation mission, declared the elections to be fair and transparent. Pedro Castillo from the Free Peru party won and assumed the presidency on July 28, with Dina Boluarte as his vice president. Runner-up Keiko Fujimori from the Popular Force party and some of the party’s political allies presented legal challenges to the second-round result, alleging fraud. Electoral authorities reviewed the challenges per the electoral rules for six weeks after the election and eventually dismissed them as unsubstantiated. Citizens elected all 130 members of the single-chamber Congress freely and fairly, according to observers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: By law groups that advocate the violent overthrow of the government and adhere to ideologies “intrinsically incompatible with democracy” cannot register as political parties.

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. For the first time, political parties’ lists of congressional candidates were required to have gender parity and alternate male and female candidate names. The law also requires gender parity and alternating male and female names on party lists for regional assemblies, regional governor and vice governors, and presidents and vice presidents. This law raised the previous quota of 30 percent of each gender on congressional lists to 50 percent. Of the 130 members of Congress elected for the 2021-26 term, an all-time high of 47 (36 percent) were women. This was in comparison with 33 congresswomen during the 2020-21 complementary term, 36 during the dissolved 2016-19 term, and 28 in the 2011-16 term.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of corruption by government officials during the year. Citizens continued to view corruption as a pervasive problem in all branches of national, regional, and local governments.

Corruption: Several high-profile political figures remained under investigation for corruption, particularly in relation to the well publicized Odebrecht corruption scandal. There were widespread allegations of corruption in public procurement and in public-private partnerships. Large transportation and energy infrastructure contracts frequently generated high-ranking political interference and corruption, including by former presidents and regional governors. Companies also reported midlevel government officials skewed tender specifications to favor bidders who paid bribes. The COVID-19 pandemic and the urgent public procurement of medical supplies exacerbated the incidence of corruption.

There was evidence of widespread corruption in the judicial system. Prosecutors continued an investigation launched following 2018 media reports of a judicial scandal involving allegations of influence peddling and graft by judges at multiple levels. Corruption was frequent at all levels of the PNP. Observers said the 2019 creation of the National Justice Commission, an independent body in charge of hiring and disciplining prosecutors and judges, was a step toward increased transparency and accountability. The commission had removed more than 100 officials for corruption as of September, including judges and prosecutors.

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 somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, and in particular the Vice Ministry of Human Rights and Access to Justice, oversaw human rights policies and issues at the national level. The Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations, and Ministry of Labor and Employment Promotion also had significant human rights roles. These government bodies were generally considered effective. The independent Ombudsman’s Office operated without government or party interference. NGOs, civil society organizations, and the public considered the Ombudsman’s Office effective.

Congressional committees overseeing human rights included Justice and Human Rights; Women and the Family; Labor and Social Security; Andean, Amazonian, Afro-Peruvian Peoples, and Environment and Ecology; Health and Population; and Social Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, including spousal rape. Penalties are a minimum of 14 years and a maximum of life in prison. Enforcement of sexual and domestic violence laws was inadequate, often at the discretion of the relevant authorities, according to gender-based violence experts. Undue dismissals of charges were allegedly also common. Nevertheless, emblematic sentences occurred, such as the November conviction of five men to 20-year prison sentences for the 2020 rape of a 21-year-old woman in Lima.

The law defines femicide as the crime of killing of a woman or girl based on expectations, assumptions, or factors distinctive to her gender. The minimum sentence for femicide is generally 20 years, or 30 years when the crime includes aggravating circumstances (e.g., crimes against minor, elderly, or pregnant victims). Police action to enforce the law was weak and slow, and prosecution of cases was often lengthy and ineffective. In August a man killed a 15-year-old girl in Jicamarca as revenge for accusing him of kidnapping her. The killer had been released in June from 15 months of preventive detention based on the kidnapping charges.

The law prohibits domestic violence; penalties generally range from one month to six years in prison. The law authorizes judges and prosecutors to prevent a convicted spouse or parent from returning to the family home. The law also authorizes the victim’s relatives and unrelated persons living in the home to file complaints of domestic violence. The law requires a police investigation of domestic violence to take place within five days of a complaint and obliges authorities to extend protection to female victims of domestic violence. Enforcement of the law was lax, according to NGOs specialized in combatting gender-based violence.

Violence against women and girls, including sexual, physical, and psychological abuse, was a serious, underreported national problem. A government health survey from 2020, published in May, stated 55 percent of women ages 15 to 49 had suffered physical (27 percent), psychological (50 percent), or sexual (6 percent) violence in the previous 12 months. The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations reported more than 57,000 cases of violence against women between January and July, including 92 femicides and 79 femicide attempts; 46 percent of reported cases included physical violence, 56 percent included psychological violence, 46 percent included physical violence, and 15 percent included sexual violence. In most cases of femicide, the killer was the victim’s partner or former partner. The Ombudsman’s Office and the vice minister of women both expressed concern because the reported yearly figures represented a 16 percent increase over the same period in 2020.

The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations operated 449 service centers for victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and other crimes including sex trafficking and their accompanying children. Some of these emergency centers provided basic short-term shelter as well as legal, psychological, and social services. NGO representatives expressed concerns regarding the quality and quantity of the program’s services, particularly in rural areas. The ministry operated a toll-free hotline and implemented projects to sensitize government employees and citizens to the problem of domestic violence. The Public Ministry operated emergency accommodation that women and children survivors of domestic violence and other crimes, such as human trafficking, could use for short-term accommodation. The government made efforts to expand temporary shelters, but NGO representatives and members of Congress stated there were not enough.

Provincial prosecutorial offices are required by law to incorporate victims of sexual violence into the national Victims and Witness Assistance Program or to request required protection measures from the court; however, one NGO reported 15 percent of criminal prosecutors did not make these requests.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was a serious problem. The law defines sexual harassment as comments, touching, or actions of a sexual nature that are unsolicited and unwanted by the victim. The penalty for sexual harassment is up to eight years in prison. Sexual harassment in the workplace is also a labor rights violation subject to administrative penalties. Government enforcement of the law was minimal, according to experts on gender-based violence.

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

Access to menstrual health remained a problem, particularly in rural and poor areas, due to lack of water and sanitation, high price of menstrual hygiene products, and a lack of information and awareness by teachers and employers.

Of births nationwide, 94 percent occurred in institutional facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, and health centers. This figure dropped to 84 percent in rural areas. Civil society organizations reported that women in rural areas, especially Quechua-speaking women, were distrustful of health-care providers, who sometimes imposed fines on indigenous women who gave birth at home. Civil society organizations that focused on sexual and reproductive health reported health-care staff at times threatened to withhold birth certificates, and indigenous women in rural areas experienced “verbal aggressions, mistreatment, the imposition of institutionalized and horizontal childbirth, and ignorance of their language and customs,” when seeking reproductive health services. Other factors, such as lack of sexual education, location of health centers, religious and social customs, and economic hardships, also contributed to the mistrust of the state health-care system among certain populations.

The law requires public health centers to provide free access to emergency contraception, which was also available at a cost in commercial pharmacies. Postsexual assault kits included emergency contraception. There were complaints of unnecessary delays in processing the kits. Health officials reported they provided a total of 1,325 kits to victims in 2020, an increase from 335 in 2019.

Both public and private health centers provided care for postabortion obstetric emergencies. Experts noted, however, that because nonaccidental abortion is criminalized, there was a risk of public health centers filing charges against the patient following the procedure. This was less of a concern at private health centers, leading to socioeconomic disparities regarding the legal implications of abortion.

Early motherhood continued to be a risk to adolescent health. The 2020 data from the Demographic and Family Health Survey reported 8 percent of female adolescents ages 15-19 had been pregnant at least once (12 percent in rural areas).

Discrimination: The law provides for equality between men and women. It prohibits gender-based discrimination between partners regarding marriage, pregnancy, pay, and property rights. Despite this, the law obliges only women to wait 300 days after widowhood or divorce to remarry. The government did not always enforce the law effectively, according to specialized NGOs.

Arbitrary dismissal of pregnant women and workplace discrimination against women were common. The law stipulates women should receive equal pay for equal work, but women often were paid less than men for the same jobs.

Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous persons remained politically, economically, and socially disadvantaged. Indigenous peoples in the Amazon region faced threats from land grabbers, narcotics traffickers, illegal miners, illegal loggers, and extractive industries that operated near or within indigenous land holdings. Indigenous persons were particularly at risk for both sex and labor trafficking. Many indigenous persons who lived in rural communities had limited access to justice, protection, or abuse prevention activities. Indigenous leaders claimed the national and regional governments did not adequately protect indigenous peoples and their property interests.

NGOs, fellow activists, the United Nations, and various government actors expressed concern regarding the increase in killings of environmental activists in the last two years (see section 1.a.). Activists claimed the slow, ineffective process for punishing harassers and killers effectively supported impunity.

Regulatory measures and protection responses were insufficient to deter threats posed to environmental rights defenders. Experts cited a need for public policy changes to provide effective protection, including a system in line with the Escazu Agreement, which deepens the linkage between human rights and environmental justice. They criticized Congress for refusing to ratify the Escazu Agreement in 2020, without further action as of November.

While the constitution recognizes that indigenous peoples have the right to own land communally, indigenous groups often lacked legal title to demarcate the boundaries of their land. Amazonian indigenous peoples continued to accuse the national government of delaying the issuance of land titles. By law indigenous communities retain the right of nonassignability, which is designed to prevent the title to indigenous lands from being reassigned to a nonindigenous person. Some indigenous community members, however, sold land to outsiders without the majority consent of their community.

The national government retains subsurface mineral rights for land nationwide. This led to disputes between local indigenous communities, the national government, regional governments, and various extractive industry interests. The law requires the government to consult with indigenous communities on proposed extractive projects or on changes to current extractive projects. The law also requires the government to produce a detailed implementation plan to facilitate government and private-sector compliance. Implementation of this law was considered by observers as somewhat effective.

The law requires the Ministry of Culture to establish a database of indigenous communities entitled to consultation. The ministry recognized 55 indigenous peoples entitled to “prior consultation” and confirmed the existence of another 14 indigenous “peoples in voluntary isolation” with very limited or no contact with the rest of the country, all of them in the Amazon rainforest. The government recognized 48 indigenous languages, including four Andean and 44 Amazonian languages. Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language, with 14 percent of citizens (4.4 million individuals) claiming it as their first language. Quechua is the co-official national language with Spanish, and access to essential public services and government action in Quechua should be available, but enforcement of this remained weak at the national level. Other significant indigenous languages include Aymara, Ashaninka, Awajun, and Shipibo.

From 2014 to 2019, the government initiated 24 prior consultations with various indigenous communities, which generated 487 agreements. Of the 24 prior consultations, 10 were concluded and 14 continued at year’s end.

NGOs, legal experts, and the Ombudsman’s Office expressed concern that indigenous communities did not have sufficient training to engage effectively in consultations with the government and extractive industries.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived either by birth within the country’s territory or from either of the parents. The state grants a national identification card and number upon birth, which is essential to access most public and many private services. More than 98 percent of resident citizens had a valid national identification card, but rural Amazonian areas had the lowest coverage, at 96 percent. Government and NGO representatives assessed that undocumented individuals were particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation, human trafficking, and other crimes.

Child Abuse: The law requires all government authorities, courts, and social service institutions to use the “best interests of the child” standard in decisions affecting abused children. The law imposes prison sentences ranging between six years and lifetime for crimes listed in the criminal code as “child abuse,” including sexual exploitation of children, abusing minors, and child trafficking, but these crimes were sometimes confused with one another by prosecutors. Police did not always collect the evidence to meet the prosecutor’s evidentiary burden, and judges regularly applied a higher evidentiary threshold than required, resulting in courts applying lesser, easier-to-prove charges, particularly in trafficking cases.

Violence against children, including sexual abuse, was a serious problem. The 2020 National Health Survey reported 9 percent of parents hit their children to punish them. At-risk children may be placed with guardians or in specialized residential facilities for different kinds of victims. Not all shelters provided psychological care, although the law requires it. In most regions residential shelters operated by provincial or district authorities were supplemented by shelters operated by schools, churches, and NGOs. As of November the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations operated six specialized shelters for female child trafficking victims that provided psychosocial, medical, and legal support.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. The law allows a civil judge to authorize minors older than 16 to marry. According to the 2017 census, there were 55,000 married teenagers, 80 percent of them girls.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits child pornography and stipulates a penalty of six to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine. The law prohibits child sex trafficking, with prescribed penalties of 12 to 20 years in prison if the victim is 14 to 17, and at least 25 years if the victim is 13 or younger. Government officials and NGOs identified numerous cases of child sex trafficking during the year, although officials continued to classify many child sex trafficking crimes as sexual exploitation, which provides fewer protections to victims. While the COVID-19 pandemic brought most tourism to a halt following its onset in 2020, the country remained a destination for child sex tourism, and NGO representatives reported an increase in online sexual exploitation of children during the pandemic.

Although the country has strong laws to protect children, it frequently had serious problems with enforcement. Media reported on the sex and labor trafficking of minor girls and women in the illicit gold-mining sites of the remote Amazonian Madre de Dios region. Law enforcement operations against illegal mining sites were not effective in identifying victims and removing them from exploitation.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 14. A conviction for rape of a child younger than 14 by an adult carries a sentence of life imprisonment. The law also prohibits adults from using deceit, abuse of power, or taking advantage of a child in a vulnerable situation to have sex with a person younger than 18.

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

Anti-Semitism

Estimates of the Jewish population ranged from 3,000 to 4,000 persons. Jewish community leaders said some individuals engaged occasionally in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on social media. The government and both private and government-run media generally did not engage in this activity.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, defined as individuals with a physical, sensory, or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities. The law establishes infractions and punishments for noncompliance. It provides for the protection, care, rehabilitation, security, and social inclusion of persons with disabilities, and it mandates that public spaces and government internet sites be accessible to them. It requires the inclusion of sign language or subtitles in all educational and cultural programs on public television and in media available in public libraries. The government did not always effectively enforce the law.

The law requires companies to have job selection processes that give persons with disabilities the opportunity to apply for jobs on equal terms with persons without disabilities. The law also requires employers to provide employees up to 56 hours of leave per year to accompany their relatives with disabilities to medical appointments.

The government failed to enforce laws protecting the rights of persons with mental disabilities. NGO representatives and government officials reported an insufficient number of medical personnel providing services in psychiatric institutions. Nevertheless, awareness of mental health issues was growing, including through public messaging from the Ministry of Health and in public remarks by the president of the council of ministers in October.

Accessibility in public transportation and streets and highways varied widely according to locality, and while accessible infrastructure exists, it was not always reliable. Local government regulations and construction licenses require public spaces and buildings to be accessible for persons with disabilities. Nevertheless, problems facing persons with disabilities continued, due to frequently inaccessible or suboptimal infrastructure. They also faced hurdles in their access to education, insufficient employment opportunities, and employment discrimination, according to government and civil society leaders. The Ombudsman’s Office reported that approximately 87 percent of children with disabilities did not attend school before the COVID-19 pandemic, and that 76 percent of persons with disabilities did not work. One government survey reported that 70 percent of employers stated they would not hire a person with a disability.

Electoral authorities took measures for accessibility in the 2021 presidential and congressional elections, including making accessible voting booths available and offering braille voting materials, among others.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV and AIDS faced widespread discrimination and harassment with respect to employment, housing, and social inclusion. The Ministry of Health implemented policies to combat such discrimination. HIV and AIDS affected transgender women and girls disproportionately, and many transgender women could not obtain health care because they lacked national identification cards reflecting their gender and appearance.

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

Discrimination, harassment, and abuse of transgender individuals, including by police and other authorities, was a serious problem. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking and largely lacked access to comprehensive protective services.

The constitution includes a broad prohibition against discrimination, and individuals may file legal claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Few national laws, however, mention sexual orientation and gender identity as explicit categories for protection from discrimination, which left room for interpretations that overlook rights for LGBTQI+ persons. Some regions and municipalities, including Piura, La Libertad, Loreto, and San Martin, had regulations that explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons and provide administrative relief but not criminal sanctions.

The law does not provide transgender persons the right to update their national identity documents to reflect their gender identity, instead requiring a long, expensive legal challenge process with unpredictable results. Transgender persons, therefore, often did not have valid national identification cards, which limited their access to government services. In September Dania Calderon became the country’s first transgender woman to change her gender marker. The case was atypical, because Calderon changed the gender on her national identity document without gender-reassignment surgery. In 2020 courts ordered the National Identity and Civil Status Registry to allow citizens to change their gender, name, and picture to reflect their current identity, but the registry had allowed only for name changes and would approve changing one’s gender on the document only after receiving proof of completed gender-reassignment surgery.

Government officials, NGO representatives, journalists, and civil society leaders reported official and societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in employment, housing, education, law enforcement, and health care based on sexual orientation and gender identity. NGO representatives reported law enforcement authorities repeatedly failed to protect and, on occasion, violated the rights of LGBTQI+ citizens.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

With certain limitations, labor laws and regulations provide for freedom of association, the right to strike, and collective bargaining. The law prohibits intimidation by employers and other forms of antiunion discrimination. It requires reinstatement or compensation of workers fired for union activity. The law allows workers to form unions without seeking prior authorization. By law at least 20 workers must join to form an enterprise-level union, and 50 workers to form a sector-wide union or federation. Some labor activists viewed this requirement as prohibitively high, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses, which represented 96.5 percent of all businesses.

Long-term employment under short-term contract schemes was widespread, including in the public sector. The use of unlimited consecutive short-term contracts made the exercise of freedom of association and collective bargaining difficult. In March Congress approved the progressive elimination of “administrative service contracts,” a hiring method of short-term contracts with diminished rights widely used in the public sector, even for de facto permanent positions.

Private-sector labor law sets out nine categories of short-term employment contracts that companies may use. The law sets time limits on contracts in each category and has a five-year overall limit on the consecutive use of short-term contracts. A sector-specific law covering parts of the textile and apparel sectors exempts employers from this five-year limit and allows employers to hire workers indefinitely on short-term contracts. Following the November-December 2020 protests against an additional exceptional arrangement to the agricultural labor law, Congress passed a revised agricultural promotion law that allows for hiring through consecutive short-term contracts, compensation, and paid-leave benefits for agricultural workers through 2031. The new law sets mechanisms to compensate ceased workers, gradually raises workers’ participation in revenue sharing (from current 5 percent to 10 percent in 2027), and sets explicit requirements for the provision of transportation, meals, sanitation services, and emergency health care. It also forbids child labor, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment.

Street-cleaning union leader Isabel Cortez was elected to Congress in April, representing Lima with the Together for Peru party, the first time a leader from this union was elected to Congress. In 2020 Cortez filed a criminal complaint of physical aggression by unidentified persons who threatened her, allegedly due to her public demands for better labor conditions. The case remained under investigation. In August Cortez was selected to chair the labor commission in Congress.

The law allows unions to declare a strike in accordance with their governing documents, with prior notice of five days for the private sector, 10 days for the public sector, and 15 days for emergency services. Essential services must also receive the approval of the Ministry of Labor to strike and provide enough workers during a strike to maintain operations. Neither private-sector nor public-sector institutions may legally dismiss workers who strike.

NGOs that specialize in labor affirmed the government did not effectively enforce the law on freedom of association, collective bargaining, or other labor laws. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. Workers faced prolonged judicial processes and lack of enforcement following dismissals for trade union activity.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not always enforce it effectively. The law prescribes penalties of eight to 15 years’ imprisonment for labor trafficking crimes committed against adults and six to 12 years’ imprisonment for exploitation crimes classified as forced labor. The government had a separate commission, interministerial protocol, and national plan for combating forced labor and child labor. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping.

Forced labor crimes continued to occur in domestic service, agriculture, forestry, gold mining and related services, factories, brick making, and organized street begging, as well as in illegal activities such as counterfeit operations. Illegal logging affected many indigenous communities, who found themselves trapped in forced labor. The self-styled drug-trafficking organization Militarized Communist Party of Peru, which authorities considered the successor of the terrorist organization Shining Path, used force and coercion to recruit children to serve as combatants or guards in the VRAEM. It also used force and coercion to subject children and adults to forced labor in agriculture, cultivation or transportation of illicit narcotics, and domestic servitude, as well as to carry out terrorist activities. In July the government approved the National Policy against Trafficking in Persons 2021-2030, which replaced the previous plan for 2017-21.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The legal minimum age for employment varies from 12 to 18 depending on the type of job, the job conditions, and the hours per day. Employment must not affect school attendance. A permit from the Labor Ministry is required for persons younger than 18 to work legally. Parents must apply for the permit, and employers must have a permit on file to hire a minor. The law forbids children younger than 18 to work in domestic service.

The Ministry of Labor and the National Labor Inspectorate are responsible for enforcing child labor laws – in coordination with police and prosecutors when forced child labor crimes are involved – but enforcement was not effective, especially in the informal sector where most child labor occurred. Labor law enforcement agencies lacked sufficient inspectors and training to adequately combat child labor, and the government did not provide complete information on labor or criminal enforcement efforts against the worst forms of child labor. Penalties were not commensurate with penalties for analogous crimes.

A government report found the prevalence of child labor was 22 percent in 2018; however, 59 percent of households in extreme poverty had a child laborer. In addition there were four times more child laborers in rural areas than in urban areas. Among the population of working children, 57 percent worked in agriculture, and 21 percent worked in small-scale or street retail.

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 law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, citizenship, social origin, disability, age, language, or social status. Nonetheless, NGOs working on labor and discrimination issues reported employment discrimination on race, skin color, national origin, social origin, disability, language, and social status continued. The law does not specifically identify discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity occurred. The law establishes the following employment quotas for persons with disabilities: 3 percent for private businesses with more than 50 employees and 5 percent for public-sector organizations. The law prohibits discrimination against domestic workers and prohibits any requirement by employers for their domestic workers to wear uniforms in public places. The National Council for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities oversees compliance with employment quotas for persons with disabilities. Compliance with quotas varied.

The government did not effectively enforce the law on discrimination. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. NGO representatives and labor rights advocates noted discrimination cases often went unreported.

The most recent Ombudsman’s Office report, issued in 2017, found that 28 percent of working-age women were not performing paid labor, instead performing unpaid domestic work such as childcare, compared with 10 percent of working-age men. The COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the gap, with a study by the Peruvian Economy Institute showing that women’s paid employment, which fell by 17 percent compared with a 10 percent drop for men’s paid employment during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, had as of July recovered only by 37 percent, compared with a 100 percent recovery of men’s paid employment.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage, which was above the official estimate for the poverty income level. The government did not effectively enforce wage laws, and penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.

The law provides for a 48-hour workweek and one day of rest for workers in the formal sector. There is no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, nor does the law limit the amount of overtime that a worker may work. The law stipulates 30 calendar days of paid annual vacation. In 2020 Congress approved legislation that aligns the labor rights of domestic workers with the rights of regular, formal-sector workers. The new law replaces previous laws that granted diminished rights to domestic workers, such as less vacation time and smaller yearly bonuses, and elevates the minimum age to perform domestic service jobs to 18.

Noncompliance with the law is punishable by fines. According to a labor NGO and labor experts, many fines went uncollected, in part because the government lacked an efficient tracking system and at times lacked political will. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions.

Occupational Safety and Health: The law has fines and criminal sanctions for occupational safety and health (OSH) violations. The government did not effectively enforce OSH laws, and penalties for these violations were not commensurate with penalties for analogous crimes such as negligence. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Criminal penalties are limited to cases where employers deliberately violated OSH laws, and where labor authorities had previously and repeatedly notified employers who subsequently did not adopt corrective measures. The law requires workers to prove an employer’s culpability before they can obtain compensation for work-related injuries.

Informal Sector: Many workers in the informal economy, approximately 70 percent of the total labor force, received less than the minimum wage. Most informal workers were self-employed. Nearly 90 percent of Venezuelan migrant workers were in the informal sector, most of them in suboptimal conditions and earning less than the minimum wage due to their lack of proper documentation and inability to validate their academic credentials. Workers in the informal economy were at increased risk of exploitation in sex or labor trafficking.

South Africa

Executive Summary

South Africa is a multiparty parliamentary democracy in which constitutional power is shared among the executive, judiciary, and parliamentary branches. In 2019 the country held a credible national election in which the ruling African National Congress won 58 percent of the vote and 230 of 400 seats in the National Assembly. In 2019 African National Congress president Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in for his first full term as president of the republic.

The South African Police Service has primary responsibility for internal security. The police commissioner has operational authority over police. The president appoints the police commissioner, but the minister of police supervises the commissioner. The South African National Defense Force, under the civilian-led Department of Defense, also has domestic security responsibilities.

In July the country witnessed violent riots and unprecedented looting, primarily in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, following the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma for contempt of the Constitutional Court. In the aftermath, then acting minister in the presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, announced the death toll related to the unrest was 337, but no deaths were attributed to authorities. The South African Human Rights Commission conducted public hearings in November and December to determine the causes of the unrest and identify failures by the government to anticipate violence and mitigate death and destruction.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary 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; serious government corruption; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Although the government investigated, prosecuted, and punished some officials who committed human rights abuses or were accused of corruption, there were numerous reports of impunity.

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. In July more than 300 persons died during riots in the provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Most of the victims died due to a stampede, but there were allegations of police brutality and intelligence failures. Authorities arrested no officials. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate investigates allegations of police brutality.

Police use of lethal and excessive force, including torture, resulted in numerous deaths and injuries, according to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), Amnesty International, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). According to Human Rights Watch, on March 10, security forces fired rubber bullets at close range into a crowd of reportedly peaceful student protesters in Johannesburg, killing Mthokozisi Ntumba, who was apparently a bystander. Authorities announced they had opened an investigation. Authorities arrested four security force members, and as of December they were out on bail. The suspects were expected back in court for pretrial hearings at a date yet to be confirmed.

Watchdog groups noted deaths in custody often resulted from physical abuse combined with a lack of subsequent medical treatment or neglect (see section 1.c.). According to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate Report 2020/2021, deaths in police custody (217 cases) decreased by 8 percent from 2019/2020. The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) 2020-21 annual report stated, “A particularly disturbing feature was a sharp rise in cases where the use of force caused the deaths of inmates.”

NGOs criticized the use of excessive force by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) to enforce lockdown measures that began in March 2020. Following 2020 rioting and clashes with police, three officers were arrested and charged with murder. All three officers were released on bail, and their trials began in October. The trial continued as of year’s end.

Courts convicted few perpetrators of political violence. In September, three women were shot and killed while participating in a community meeting to nominate a ward councilor candidate for a township of Durban. Media and NGOs claimed most killings resulted from local-level intraparty African National Congress (ANC) disputes, often in the context of competition for resources or as revenge against whistleblowers who uncovered corruption. In 2018 the Moerane Commission, which then KwaZulu-Natal Province premier Willies Mchunu established to investigate political killings, published a report that identified ANC infighting, readily available hitmen, weak leadership, and ineffective and complicit law enforcement agencies as key contributing factors to the high rate of political killings. There were numerous reported political killings at a local level such as the following example: in May, Mzwandile Shandu, an ANC ward councilor in Mkhambathini Mid Illovo in KwaZulu-Natal survived a suspected attempted killing.

In August, Babita Deokaran was killed by gunfire. A whistleblower, she worked as chief director of financial accounting and also acted as the chief financial officer in the Gauteng Department of Health, where she discovered and exposed personal protective equipment tender corruption in the Gauteng premier’s office. At year’s end six suspects were in custody pending their next bail hearing. The case launched a debate concerning inadequate protections for whistleblowers. In November a whistleblower who testified in the State Capture Commission (aka Zondo Commission) issued a highly publicized statement on his reasons for leaving the country to seek safety from threats of retribution.

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 such practices, there were reports of police and SANDF use of torture and physical abuse during house searches, arrests, interrogations, and detentions, some of which resulted in death. The NGO Sonke Gender Justice reported in 2020 that almost one-third of sex workers interviewed stated police officers had raped or sexually assaulted them. The 2020/21 IPID report cited 80 reported inmate rapes by police officers, 256 reports of torture, as well as reports of assault.

In April police reportedly assaulted and arrested several individuals for contravening COVID-19 lockdown regulations in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg.  According to the IPID, all the arrested persons were “detained with injuries.”  Later, during a cell visit, police found that one of the detainees had died.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. In June the national police commissioner admitted that SAPS needed to improve its “discipline management” for police officers accused of violence. The lack of police accountability for thousands of annually registered police-brutality complaints was documented by the police watchdog organization IPID. The factors contributing to widespread police brutality were a lack of accountability and training.

As of October 30, the United Nations reported one allegation of attempted sexual exploitation of an adult against the country’s personnel deployed to peacekeeping operations. During the year there were two allegations (for incidents occurring during the year and in 2013) against the country’s peacekeepers, down from three total allegations in 2020. According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, since 2015 there have been 39 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against 45 peacekeepers: six of the victims were children, 33 were adults. Of the 39 allegations, the government took accountability measures for 22 substantiated allegations. According to the United Nations, the country’s authorities continued to investigate the other seven open cases. In June the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations issued a statement concerning its efforts to facilitate paternity and maintenance support claims of victims of peacekeepers’ sexual abuse and exploitation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, poor sanitation, inadequate medical care, disease (particularly tuberculosis), inmate-on-inmate rape, and physical abuse, including torture.

Physical Conditions: According to civil society groups, gross overcrowding of prisons was a problem. According to the 2020/2021 Department of Correctional Services Annual Report, in March the country held 140,948 prisoners in facilities with a capacity of 110,836 persons.

SAPS made more than 3,400 arrests in connection with the civil unrest and riots in July. Almost 1,700 suspects were admitted as remand (pretrial) detainees, many of whom were granted bail but could not afford it, and already overcrowded correctional facilities were struggling to accommodate those awaiting trial.

Prisons generally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although in some large urban areas dedicated pretrial facilities were available.

There were reports of shortages of prison doctors, inadequate investigation and documentation of prisoner deaths, inadequate monitoring of the prison population, and high prisoner suicide rates. The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) required doctors to complete and sign reports of inmate deaths due to natural causes to lessen the incidence of deaths caused by neglect.

The JICS received 694 complaints relating to use of force by correctional officials on inmates between April 2020 and March, an almost 94 percent increase compared with the previous year.

Food, sanitation, and health care in prisons and detention centers were inadequate. Prisons provided inmates with potable water, but supplies and food were occasionally inadequate, and sanitation was poor. Most cells had toilets and basins but often lacked chairs, adequate light, and ventilation.

NGOs reported some inmates with mental disabilities who had committed no crime or other infraction were incarcerated rather than being cared for in a mental-health facility. Such prisoners also were often denied medical services. The JICS 2020-21 annual report also indicated patients were confined at correctional facilities because there was insufficient accommodation at mental health facilities, and that the DCS lacked sufficient mental health professionals to provide care to suicidal inmates. During the year 66 attempted suicides were reported.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government usually permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers of prison conditions, including visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the independent JICS, which was led by retired constitutional court justice Edwin Cameron.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements; however, there were numerous cases of arbitrary arrest of foreign workers, asylum seekers, and refugees.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires that a judge or magistrate issue arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence. Police must promptly inform detainees of the reasons for their detention, their right to remain silent, and the consequences of waiving that right. Police must charge detainees within 48 hours of arrest; hold them in conditions respecting human dignity; allow them to consult with legal counsel of their choice at every stage of their detention (or provide them with state-funded legal counsel); and permit them to communicate with relatives, medical practitioners, and religious counselors. The government often did not respect these rights. Police must release detainees (with or without bail) unless the interests of justice require otherwise, although bail for pretrial detainees often exceeded what suspects could pay.

Arbitrary Arrest: During the year there were numerous cases of arbitrary arrest, particularly of foreign workers, asylum seekers, and refugees. NGOs and media outlets reported security forces arbitrarily arrested migrants and asylum seekers, including those with proper documentation, often because police were unfamiliar with migrant and asylum documentation. In some cases police threatened documented migrants and asylum seekers with indefinite detention and bureaucratic hurdles unless they paid bribes. The law prohibits the detention of unaccompanied migrant children for immigration law violations, but NGOs reported the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and SAPS nevertheless detained them.

Legal aid organizations reported police frequently arrested persons for minor crimes for which the law stipulates the use of a legal summons. Arrests for offenses such as common assault, failure to provide proof of identity, or petty theft sometimes resulted in the unlawful imprisonment of ordinary citizens alongside hardened criminals, which created opportunities for physical abuse. In 2019 SAPS removed refugee and asylum seeker protesters from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR’s) Cape Town office and from the UNHCR Pretoria office, taking them to city-provided camps in Bellville and Wingfield. Approximately 180 male protesters were arrested, charged, and convicted of trespassing on the UNHCR compound, most of whom received suspended sentences and were released. Two of the protest leaders were deported in April, while the deportation case of protest leader Jean Pierre Balous remained pending as of December.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was common. According to the Department of Correctional Services 2020/21 Annual Report, the pretrial population averaged 47,882 of 140,948 detainees, 34 percent of the total inmate population. According to the DCS, detainees waited an average of 176 days before trial. Observers attributed the high rate of pretrial detention to arrests based on insufficient evidence for prosecution, overburdened courts, poor case preparation, irregular access to public defenders, and prohibitive bail amounts. Police often held detainees while prosecutors developed cases and waited for court dates. Legal scholars estimated less than 60 percent of those arrested were convicted. The law requires a review in cases of pretrial detention of more than two years’ duration. The pretrial detention frequently exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. There were numerous reports of lost trial documents, often when the accused was a government official. NGOs stated judicial corruption was a problem.

Government agencies sometimes ignored orders from provincial high courts and the Constitutional Court.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence; to be informed promptly of the charges; to a fair, timely, and public trial; to be present at their trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to free assistance of an interpreter; to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Police did not always inform detainees promptly and in detail of the charges against them, nor did they always accurately complete corresponding paperwork. Provision of free interpreter assistance depended on availability and cost. Limited access to interpreters sometimes delayed trials. According to civil society groups, interpretation standards were low and sometimes compromised the accuracy of exchanges between a defendant and officers of the court. Judges sometimes transferred cases from rural to urban areas to access interpreters more easily.

Although detainees and defendants have the right to legal counsel provided and funded by the state when “substantial injustice would otherwise result,” this right was limited due to a general lack of information regarding rights to legal representation and inadequate government funding of such legal services. There is no automatic right to appeal unless a convicted individual is younger than 16, but courts may give defendants permission to do so. Additionally, the law provides for the High Court to review magistrate court sentences exceeding six months.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through domestic courts, including equality courts designated to hear matters relating to unfair discrimination, hate speech and harassment, and the South African Human Rights Commission, but the government did not always comply with court decisions. Individuals and organizations may not appeal domestic court decisions to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, because the government does not recognize the competence of the court.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions. The NGO Freedom House reported that government agencies employed spyware, social media analytics, and surveilled journalists, usually to identify their confidential sources. Most of these activities required court orders, but it was reportedly easy for agencies to obtain court orders. On February 4, the Constitutional Court ruled the law does not allow authorities to engage in bulk interception of communications in a case brought by the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. Civil society organizations raised concerns government management of the COVID-19 pandemic employed telephonic contact tracing that violated privacy rights. In April 2020 the government issued amended disaster management regulations. While the regulations recognized the right to privacy, the government urged citizens to make concessions until pandemic emergency measures were no longer necessary.

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, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, a generally effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the press. Nevertheless, the law permits authorities to restrict reporting on security forces, prisons, and mental institutions.

Freedom of Expression: The decade-old case of journalist John Qwelane convicted of antigay hate speech for a 2008 editorial, “Call me names, but gay is not okay,” was finally settled in July when the Constitutional Court ruled that Qwelane’s article was tantamount to hate speech. This came after the Constitutional Court reviewed the lower courts’ decisions on the case and examined the constitutionality of the law defining hate speech.

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. The country’s media maintained self-regulation. The South African News Editors Forum (SANEF) encouraged accurate reporting and held outlets to account when they violated ethics norms. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) and SANEF highlighted the impact of financial pressure on newsrooms and the resulting high workload for staffs that continue to shrink. As a result, journalists and newsrooms were more susceptible to bribes, according to Kate Skinner, an independent media researcher. MMA Director William Bird also noted that smaller newsrooms spent less time fact checking stories with multiple sources, which might also impede press freedom.

Violence and Harassment: There were instances of journalists, in particular female journalists, who were subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation by authorities or political party representatives due to their reporting.

In March, Johannesburg police shot at a News24 reporter when he started to report on police firing rubber bullets to disperse a group of individuals violating lockdown regulations. SANEF reportedly filed a formal complaint regarding the incident.

Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party threatened the late journalist and broadcaster Karima Brown with rape and flaying after the party’s leader Julius Malema published her mobile number on Twitter. Similar threats targeted Daily Maverick investigative reporter Pauli Van Wyk following her report on a scandal that linked the EFF to VBS Mutual Bank. EFF supporters also reportedly attacked journalists for the private broadcaster eNCA. In March they attacked journalist Sli Masikane as she covered a protest on student debt in Durban. On June 10, demonstrators in Cape Town threatened reporter Ayesha Ismail and cameraman Mario Pedro as they attempted to cover an antiracism protest.

The trial of EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu, who was accused of assaulting a Network24 photographer in 2018 on the parliamentary precinct, was postponed to February 2022.

During civil unrest in July in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, four radio stations, Alex FM, Mams Radio, West Side FM, and Intokozo FM, were vandalized by rioters. Other journalists covering the unrest reported assaults and theft of equipment, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In October, SANEF issued a statement condemning criminal attacks and robberies on journalists, especially those attempting to provide election coverage in the lead-up to the November 1 municipal elections. SANEF’s statement declared, “South Africa is becoming a very dangerous place for journalists and apart from attacks on the field, journalists also face cyberbullying and severe attacks on social media platforms.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political officials often criticized media for lack of professionalism and reacted sharply to media criticism. Some journalists believed the government’s sensitivity to criticism resulted in a higher degree of self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law makes defamation a criminal offense, but there were no prosecutions for defamation during the year. The law also prohibits blasphemy, although reports indicated the last known prosecution for blasphemy was in 1968.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law authorizes state monitoring of telecommunication systems, however, including the internet and email, for national security reasons. The law requires all service providers to register on secure databases the identities, physical addresses, and telephone numbers of customers.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Nevertheless, NGOs reported many municipalities continued to require protest organizers to provide advance written notice before staging gatherings or demonstrations.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

In prior years protest organizers could be legally required to notify local authorities before staging gatherings or demonstrations. In 2018 the Constitutional Court ruled unanimously against this requirement. Legal experts noted the ruling did not address the question of assuring security by local authorities during protests.

Despite the court ruling, NGOs reported many municipalities continued to require protest organizers to provide advance written notice, especially in small rural communities where organizers were often unaware of their rights.  The NGO Right2Protest reported the city of Johannesburg classified protests as “special events” like marathons and thus charged protest organizers fees to cover police security expenses.  The NGO contended this practice violated the law on public gatherings.

Police on occasion used excessive force in response to demonstrations (see section 1.a.). In March police fired rubber bullets at students protesting at Wits University in Johannesburg. One bystander at close range was hit and killed. The Independent Police Investigative Directorate was sent to the scene to investigate excessive use of force. Four police officers were being tried for the killing of the bystander, Mthokozisi Ntumba.

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, and the government generally respected these rights. In March 2020 the president declared a national disaster to restrict the spread of COVID-19. Even as levels were adjusted throughout the year, most interprovincial travel was allowed along with international travel.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with 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 law provides for the granting of asylum and refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. Refugee advocacy groups criticized the government’s processes for determining refugee status, citing low approval rates, large case and appeal backlogs, a lack of timely information provided to asylum seekers on their asylum requests and status of their cases, inadequate use of country-of-origin information, an inadequate number of processing locations, and official corruption. Despite DHA anticorruption programs that punished officials found to be accepting bribes, NGOs and asylum applicants reported immigration officials sought bribes. According to civil society groups, the system lacked procedural safeguards for seeking protection and review for unaccompanied minors, trafficked victims, and victims of domestic violence. Government services strained to keep up with the caseload, and NGOs criticized the government’s implementation of the system as inadequate. In March the government signed a four-year agreement with UNHCR to address the backlog of 153,000 refugee status determination cases.

The DHA closed its offices for the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the DHA issued a blanket extension on refugee and asylum certificates, these were often not recognized. The lack of documentation had far-ranging impacts including limiting refugee travel and accessing civil registry services. As of December the DHA had not opened the Cape Town refugee reception center, closed since 2012, following a High Court order in May that it be reopened.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugee advocacy organizations stated police and immigration officials physically abused refugees and asylum seekers (see also section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest). Xenophobic violence was a continuing problem across the country, especially in Gauteng Province. Those targeted often owned or managed small, informal grocery stores in economically marginalized areas that lacked government services. Refugees, asylum seekers, and foreign-born shopkeepers alleged they were also targeted during the July riots.

Due to DHA office closures and the resulting inability to secure identification, an undocumented Somali man’s body remained in a mortuary for two months before his community could bury him, contrary to Islamic tradition.

Employment: The law permits refugees to work lawfully. Asylum seekers must obtain DHA approval to work, which was generally granted. According to NGOs, refugees regularly were denied employment due to their immigration status.

Access to Basic Services: Although the law provides for asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees to have access to basic services, including education, health, social support, police, and judicial services, NGOs reported that health-care facilities and authorities discriminated against asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees. Some refugees reported they could not access schooling for their children because schools refused to accept asylum documents as proof of residency. NGOs reported banks regularly denied services to refugees and asylum seekers if they lacked government-issued identification documents.

Durable Solutions: The government granted some refugees permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship, and, in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR, assisted others in returning voluntarily to their countries of origin.

Temporary Protection: The government offered temporary protection to some individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government allowed persons who applied for asylum to stay in the country while their claims were adjudicated and, if denied, to appeal.

g. Stateless Persons

The law extends citizenship to children born to foreign national parents who arrived in the country on or after January 1, 1995.

In October the Constitutional Court ruled that unmarried fathers may register their children under their surname without the mother’s consent. The landmark ruling is to avoid placing children at risk of statelessness if the mother is undocumented, missing, or deceased.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 the country held National Assembly, National Council of Provinces, and provincial legislature elections. The ANC won 58 percent of the vote, the leading opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) Party 21 percent, and the EFF party 11 percent. According to the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, voter turnout was 66 percent, the lowest turnout for national elections since the end of apartheid. The institute stated the elections were transparent, fair, credible, and in line with the constitutional and legal framework for elections.

The ruling ANC won 230 of 400 seats in the National Assembly, the dominant lower chamber of parliament. Election observers, including the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, characterized the elections as largely credible. The government, however, restricted diplomatic missions from assigning more than two election observers each, effectively excluding diplomatic missions from broad observation of the elections. The DA won 84 parliamentary seats, the EFF won 44 seats, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) won 14 seats, and the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) won 10 seats. The remaining 27 seats were allocated to nine other political parties based on a proportional vote-count formula. In the National Council of Provinces, the upper house of parliament, the ANC won 29 seats, the DA 13 seats, the EFF nine seats, the FF+ two seats, and the IFP one seat. ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in for his first full term as president of the republic.

In the 2019 elections the ANC won control of eight of the nine provincial legislatures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In an effort to promote transparency and accountability, President Ramaphosa signed in January a Proclamation on the Commencement of the Political Party Funding Act, which commenced April 1, regulating public and private funding of political parties. The Act establishes funds to provide political parties represented in parliament and legislatures with funding to undertake their work. It also requires that donations be disclosed by parties and donors to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). The Act prohibits donations to parties by foreign governments or agencies, foreign persons or entities, organs of state or state-owned enterprises. Parties may, however, receive funding from foreign entities for training, skills development or policy development. No member of a political party may receive a donation other than for political party purposes.

Opposition parties accused the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), the state-owned public broadcaster, of favoring the ruling party in its news coverage and advertising policies. Prior to the municipal elections, smaller political parties criticized the SABC for not covering their events. SABC regulations, however, dictate coverage should be proportional to the percentage of votes won in the previous election, and independent observers did not find the SABC violated this regulation.

Opposition parties claimed the ANC used state resources for political purposes in the provinces under its control. Prior to the 2019 national elections, the DA accused former ANC secretary general Ace Magashule of vote buying. In May the ANC sanctioned Magashule (see section 4, Corruption). ANC membership conferred advantages. Through a cadre deployment system, the ruling party controls and appoints party members to thousands of civil service positions in government ministries and in provincial and municipal governments.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Civil society reported that fewer women participated as candidates and as voters in municipal elections compared to national elections. Concerns regarding violence around municipal voting stations affected female voter turnout more than male voter turnout. A municipality in KwaZulu-Natal elected the country’s first openly gay mayor, Chris Pappas. The IEC together with the South African National Council for the Blind developed a voting aid, the Universal Ballot Template, to assist persons with disabilities and special needs to have an independent and secret vote during elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, and the government generally did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Official corruption remained a problem. The ANC sought to remove party members implicated in corruption scandals due to concern the scandals undermined public confidence in the ANC-led government. Hermione Cronje, head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s Investigating Directorate, resigned on December 3, allegedly for failing to prosecute sufficient official corruption cases. Cronje was the first person to lead the Investigating Directorate, which was established by President Ramaphosa in 2019 “as an instrument in the fight against corruption.”

At least 10 agencies, including the SAPS Special Investigation Unit, Public Service Commission, Office of the Public Prosecutor, and Office of the Auditor General, were involved in anticorruption activities. During the year the Office of the Public Protector, which is constitutionally mandated to investigate government abuse and mismanagement, investigated thousands of cases, some of which involved high-level officials.

Officially called the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, the Zondo Commission was established in 2018 to tackle corruption allegations against individuals inside and outside government. Former president Jacob Zuma steadfastly refused to appear before the commission to answer to allegations made against him. Although he was granted medical parole and only served two of his 15 months in prison, the Constitutional Court did sanction Zuma for refusing to appear before the Zondo Commission and effectively sentenced him to prison.

In October the National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole rejected calls for his suspension on corruption allegations. He was waiting for President Ramaphosa’s decision on his fitness to hold office. A year prior he had suspended his deputy national commissioner Bonang Mgwenya following allegations regarding her alleged involvement in crimes and fraudulent contracts. In December media broke the story that Deputy National Police Commissioner Sindile Mfazi may have been killed in July for his role in investigating COVID-19 personal protective equipment procurement.

In November 2020 authorities charged ANC secretary general Magashule with 21 charges of corruption, theft, fraud, and money laundering, and he was released on bail. Despite Magashule’s rejection of calls by the ANC Integrity Commission to step down, in May the ANC National Executive Committee suspended him.

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 cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Although created by the government, the constitution establishes several state institutions tasked with supporting constitutional democracy. The task of these institutions is to promote and protect those rights within the Bill of Rights and operate independently. Among these is the South African Human Rights Commission, which is responsible for promoting the observance of fundamental human rights at all levels of government and throughout the general population. The commission has the authority to conduct investigations, issue subpoenas, and take sworn testimony. Civil society groups considered the commission only moderately effective due to a large backlog of cases and the failure of government agencies to adhere to its recommendations. Between November and December, the commission held a National Investigative Hearing into the July Unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng Provinces.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes domestic violence and rape of men or women, including spousal rape, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The minimum sentence for conviction of rape is 10 years’ imprisonment. Under certain circumstances, such as second or third offenses, multiple rapes, gang rapes, or the rape of a minor or a person with disabilities, conviction requires a minimum sentence of life imprisonment, unless substantial and compelling circumstances exist to justify a lesser sentence. Perpetrators with previous rape convictions and perpetrators aware of being HIV positive at the time of the rape also face a minimum sentence of life imprisonment, unless substantial and compelling circumstances exist to justify a lesser sentence.

In most cases of rape and domestic violence, attackers were acquaintances or family members of the survivor that, together with societal attitudes, contributed to a reluctance to press charges. NGOs stated that cases were underreported, especially in rural communities, due to stigma, unfair treatment, fear, intimidation, and lack of trust in the criminal justice system. SAPS reported a decrease in the number of reported rape cases from 42,289 in 2019/20 to 36,463 in 2020/21. According to first-quarter SAPS crime statistics, 10,006 persons were raped between April and June 2021. Police Minister Bheki Cele released crime statistics that 9,556 rape cases were reported between July and September. There were numerous reports of rapes by police officers of sex workers, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, incarcerated persons, and others (see also section 1.c.).

There were numerous reported sexual assaults such as the following example. In June 2020 a woman eight months pregnant was found dead hanging from a tree in Johannesburg. She and her fetus had multiple stab wounds. Muzikayise Malephane was arrested and charged with premeditated murder. In February he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for murder, five years for defeating the ends of justice, and five years for possession of an illegal firearm and ammunition.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority 2019-2020 Annual Report, the authority achieved its highest number of successfully prosecuted sexual offense cases ever during that time period. It prosecuted 5,451 sexual offense cases and had 4,098 convictions, a 75 percent conviction rate.

The Department of Justice operated 96 dedicated sexual offenses courts throughout the country. Although judges in rape cases generally followed statutory sentencing guidelines, women’s advocacy groups criticized judges for using criteria, such as the victim’s behavior or relationship to the rapist, as a basis for imposing lighter sentences.

The government provided funding for, and the National Prosecuting Authority operated 51 rape management centers, addressing the rights and needs of survivors and vulnerable persons, including legal assistance. A key objective of the centers was prosecution of sexual, domestic violence, and child-abuse offenders. Approximately 75 percent of the cases they took to trial resulted in convictions.

Domestic violence was pervasive and included physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, as well as harassment and stalking. During the pandemic, NGOs and the government documented an escalation of gender-based violence against women and girls. The government prosecuted domestic violence cases under laws governing rape, indecent assault, damage to property, and violating a protection order. The law requires police to protect victims from domestic violence, but police commanders did not always hold officers accountable. Conviction of violating a protection order is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and up to 20 years’ imprisonment if convicted of additional criminal charges. Penalties for conviction of domestic violence include fines and sentences of between two and five years’ imprisonment.

During the year media documented a rise in teenage pregnancies particularly during the pandemic with the South African Medical Research Council attributing violence against women and girls as a contributor to these pregnancies along with difficulty faced by adolescents in obtaining contraceptives. In December the basic education minister published a new policy on prevention and management of teenage pregnancy. Under the policy, schools are mandated to report to SAPS cases of statutory rape, if a girl is younger than age 16 and the father of the unborn child is 16 or older.

The government financed shelters for abused women, but NGOs reported a shortage of such facilities, particularly in rural areas, and that women were sometimes turned away from shelters.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of girls and women, but girls in isolated zones in ethnic Venda communities in Limpopo Province were subjected to the practice. The government continued initiatives to eradicate the practice, including national research and sensitization workshops in areas where FGM/C was prevalent.

Sexual Harassment: Although prohibited by law, sexual harassment remained a widespread problem. Sexual harassment is a criminal offense for which conviction includes fines and sentences of up to five years’ imprisonment.

Enforcement against workplace harassment is initially left to employers to address as part of internal disciplinary procedures. The Department of Employment and Labour (Department of Labour) issued guidelines to employers on how to handle workplace complaints that allow for remuneration of a victim’s lost compensation plus interest, additional damages, legal fees, and dismissal of the perpetrator in some circumstances. NGOs and unions urged the government to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on the prevention of violence and harassment in the workplace. Despite presidential support, parliament had yet to ratify the convention by year’s end.

NGOs reported sexual harassment of women in the major political parties. Only two of the seven major parties had policies against sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of forced abortion on the part of government authorities; however, during the year there were reports of forced sterilizations submitted to the Commission for Gender Equality and civil society organizations.

Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children. The full range of contraception methods were available at all primary health-care clinics for free. Emergency health care was available for the treatment of complications arising from unsafe abortion.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. The country has laws and policies to respond to gender-based violence and femicide, although authorities did not fully implement these policies and enforce relevant law. The law provides for survivors of gender-based violence to receive shelter and comprehensive care, including treatment of injuries, a forensic examination, pregnancy and HIV testing, provision of postexposure prophylaxis, and counseling rehabilitation services.

According to the Saving Mothers Report 2017/2019, there has been a progressive and sustained reduction in institutional maternal mortality in the past three triennia (2010-19), from 320 per 100,000 live births to 120 per 100,000 live births. The report further identified that a significant systemic driver contributing to mortality was the length of time it took for emergency service personnel to arrive at a facility where a skilled birth attendant can deal with an emergency. Furthermore, the government developed a Framework and Guidelines for Maternal and Neonatal Care during a Crisis: COVID-19 response to strengthen Maternal, Perinatal, and Neonatal services for emergency preparedness and management.

Menstruation and access to menstruation hygiene affected girls’ attendance at school. One NGO estimated 30 percent of girls did not attend school while they menstruated, due to lack of access to sanitary products. During the year observers noted substantial increases in teenage pregnancies, which also affected girls’ attendance at school.

Discrimination: Discrimination against women remained a serious problem despite legal equality in family, labor, property, inheritance, nationality, divorce, and child custody matters. Women experienced economic discrimination in wages, extension of credit, and ownership of land.

Traditional patrilineal authorities, such as a chief or a council of elders, administered many rural areas. Some traditional authorities refused to grant land tenure to women, a precondition for access to housing subsidies. Women could challenge traditional land tenure discrimination in courts, but access to legal counsel was costly.

By law any difference in the terms or conditions of employment among employees of the same employer performing the same, substantially similar, or equal value work constitutes discrimination. The law expressly prohibits unequal pay for work of equal value and discriminatory practices, including separate pension funds for different groups in a company (see section 7.d.).

Indigenous Peoples

The NGO Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa estimated there were 7,500 indigenous San and Khoi in the country, some of whom worked as farmers or farm laborers. By law the San and Khoi have the same political and economic rights as other citizens, although the government did not always effectively protect those rights or deliver basic services to indigenous communities. Indigenous groups complained of exclusion from land restitution, housing, and affirmative action programs. They also demanded formal recognition as “first peoples” in the constitution. Their lack of recognition as first peoples excluded them from inclusion in government-recognized structures for traditional leaders. Their participation in government and the economy was limited due to fewer opportunities, lack of land and other resources, minimal access to education, and relative isolation.

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides for citizenship by birth (if at least one parent is a permanent resident or citizen), descent, and naturalization. Registration of births was inconsistent, especially in remote rural areas and by parents who were unregistered foreign nationals. Children without birth registration had no access to government services such as education or health care, and their parents had no access to financial grants for their children. Organizations such as Lawyers for Human Rights continued to draw attention to the problem of statelessness among children born in the country to both citizens and foreign nationals.

Education: Public education is compulsory and universal until age 15 or grade nine. Public education is fee based and not fully subsidized by the government. Nevertheless, the law provides that schools may not refuse admission to children due to a lack of funds; therefore, disadvantaged children, who were mainly black, were eligible for financial assistance. Even when children qualified for fee exemptions, low-income parents had difficulty paying for uniforms and supplies. In violation of law, noncitizen children were sometimes denied access to education based on their inability to produce identification documents, such as birth certificates and immunization documents.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes child abuse. Violence against children, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, remained widespread. Civil society and academics documented evidence that experiencing child maltreatment and witnessing partner abuse in the home as a child increased the risk of becoming both a perpetrator and victim of sexual and intimate partner violence as an adult, contributing to intergenerational abuse and violence.

There were reports of abuse of students by teachers and other school staff, including reports of assault and rape. The law requires schools to disclose sexual abuse to authorities, but administrators sometimes concealed sexual violence or delayed taking disciplinary action.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: By law parental or judicial consent to marry is required for individuals younger than 18. Nevertheless, ukuthwala, the practice of abducting girls as young as 14 and forcing them into marriage, occurred in remote villages in Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces. The law prohibits nonconsensual ukuthwala and classifies it as a trafficking offense, and the National Prosecuting Authority prosecuted multiple cases of forced marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, and offering or procurement of children for commercial sex and child pornography. The Film and Publications Board maintained a website and a toll-free hotline for the public to report incidents of child pornography. Online sexual exploitation of children continued in the country, potentially made worse by the pandemic and lockdown. Government authorities from the Department of Social Development and SAPS conducted educational outreach programs on the dangers of online recruitment and grooming. Media, government, and civil society reported that children were made more vulnerable to trafficking, particularly girls to sexual exploitation and trafficking, because of the pandemic’s economic impacts. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

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

Anti-Semitism

According to a 2020 study published by the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town and the UK-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research, the country’s Jewish population stood at 52,300, with the majority living in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies recorded 65 anti-Semitic incidents, consistent with the 69 incidents reported in 2020; however, the bulk of the incidents occurred in May during the conflict between Israel and Hamas. There were reports of verbal abuse and hate speech, especially in social media and radio talk shows, and attacks on Jewish persons or property.

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 access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The government provided government information and communication in accessible formats.

The law prohibits discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disability in employment or access to health care, the judicial system, and education. The law, however, prohibits persons identified by the courts as having a mental disability from voting. The Department of Transportation policies on providing services to persons with disabilities were consistent with the constitution’s prohibition on discrimination. The Department of Labour ran vocational centers at which persons with disabilities learned income-generating skills. Nevertheless, government and private-sector employment discrimination existed. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but such regulations were rarely enforced, and public awareness of them remained minimal.

The law prohibits harassment of persons with disabilities and, in conjunction with the Employment Equity Act, provides guidelines on the recruitment and selection of persons with disabilities, reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities, and guidelines on proper handling of employees’ medical information. Enforcement of this law was limited.

The 2020-2021 Annual Report of the Department of Basic Education stated there were numerous barriers to education for students with disabilities, primarily a policy of channeling students into specialized schools at the expense of inclusive education. The department’s report noted progress toward a more inclusive basic education and cited expansion of “special schools” and increased enrollment of students with disabilities in both special and public schools. Separate schools frequently charged additional fees (making them financially inaccessible), were located long distances from students’ homes, and lacked the capacity to accommodate demand. Human Rights Watch reported that children with disabilities were often denied tuition waivers or tuition reductions provided to other children. Children often were held in dormitories with few adults, many of whom had little or no training in caring for children with disabilities. When parents attempted to force mainstream schools to accept their children with disabilities – an option provided for by law – schools sometimes rejected the students outright because of their disabilities or claimed there was no room for them. Many blind and deaf children in mainstream schools received only basic care rather than education. Youth with disabilities in school faced problems of access (for example assistive equipment and technology; availability of learning materials in braille) and discriminatory attitudes that prevent their full and effective participation.

According to the Optimus Study on Child Abuse, Violence and Neglect in South Africa, children with disabilities were 78 percent more likely than children without disabilities to have experienced sexual abuse in the home. Persons with disabilities were sometimes subject to abuse and attacks, and prisoners with mental disabilities often received no psychiatric care.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV and HIV-related social stigma and discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care remained a problem, especially in rural communities.

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

Despite government policies prohibiting discrimination, there were reports of official mistreatment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, there were reports of security force members raping LGBTQI+ individuals during arrest. A 2018 University of Cape Town report underscored violence and discrimination, particularly against lesbians and transgender individuals. The report documented cases of “secondary victimization” of lesbians, including cases in which police harassed, ridiculed, and assaulted victims of sexual and gender-based violence who reported abuse. LGBTQI+ individuals were particularly vulnerable to violent crime due to anti-LGBTQI+ attitudes within the community and among police. Anti-LGBTQI+ attitudes of junior members of SAPS affected how they handled complaints by LGBTQI+ individuals. According to Mamba Online, a gay news and lifestyle website, more than 22 LGBTQI+ persons were killed since February. One NGO in Durban claimed most hate crime victims did not report their cases to police due to secondary victimization; several activists accused religious leaders of not condemning hate crimes and killings against the LGBTQI+ community.

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. In 2019 the High Court of Gauteng ruled that the Dutch Methodist Church’s ban on solemnizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows all workers, except for members of the National Intelligence Agency and the Secret Service, to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides for the right to strike, but it prohibits workers in essential services from striking, and employers are prohibited from locking out essential service providers. The government characterizes essential services as a service, the interruption of which endangers the life, personal safety, or health of the whole or part of the population; parliamentary service; and police services.

The law allows workers to strike due to matters of mutual interest, such as wages, benefits, organizational rights disputes, socioeconomic interests of workers, and similar measures. Workers may not strike because of disputes where other legal recourse exists, such as through arbitration. Labor rights NGOs operated freely.

The law protects collective bargaining and prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants based on past, present, or potential union membership or participation in lawful union activities. The law provides for automatic reinstatement of workers dismissed unfairly for conducting union activities. The law provides a code of good practices for dismissals that includes procedures for determining the “substantive fairness” and “procedural fairness” of dismissal. The law includes all groups of workers, including illegal and legally resident foreign workers.

The government respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Labor courts and labor appeals courts effectively enforced the right to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and penalties were commensurate with penalties for comparable violations of the law.

Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties, although the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country’s largest labor federation, is a member of a tripartite alliance with the governing ANC Party and the South African Communist Party. Due to the unique and often contentious relationship COSATU has with the ANC, COSATU union affiliates openly discussed whether COSATU should break its alliance with the ANC regarding concerns that the ANC has done little to advance workers’ rights and wages. During the year cash-flow problems, mounting debt, and unpaid salaries caused tensions between the ANC and their workers, exposing the depth of the financial woes the party was experiencing. ANC staff officials embarked on strikes and protests beginning in July protesting against late payment of wages and the party’s alleged failure to pay employee benefits. COSATU publicly sharply criticized the ANC for their failure to pay wages, and COSATU threw its weight behind the protesting workers.

The minister of labour has the authority to extend agreements by majority employers (one or more registered employers’ organizations that represent 50 percent plus one of workers in a sector) and labor representatives in sector-specific bargaining councils to the entire sector, even if companies or employees in the sector were not represented at negotiations. Companies not party to bargaining disputed this provision in court. Employers often filed for and received Department of Labour exemptions from collective bargaining agreements.

If not resolved through collective bargaining, independent mediation, or conciliation, disputes between workers in essential services and their employers were referred to arbitration or the labor courts.

Workers frequently exercised their right to strike. Trade unions generally followed the legal process of declaring a dispute (notifying employers) before initiating a strike. The 2020/21 striking season was heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and saw unions and business working together to salvage both jobs and industries.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor. The penalties were not commensurate with those for comparable crimes. Inspectors typically levied fines and required payment of back wages in lieu of meeting evidentiary standards of criminal prosecution.

The government did not always effectively enforce the law. Boys, particularly migrant boys, were forced to work in street vending, food services, begging, criminal activities, and agriculture (see section 7.c.). Women from Asia and neighboring African countries were recruited for legitimate work, but some were subjected to domestic servitude or forced labor in the service sector. There were also reports by NGOs of forced labor in the agricultural, mining, and fishing sectors.

Also see the Department of States 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 employment of children younger than 15. The law allows children younger than 15 to work in the performing arts if their employers receive permission from the Department of Labor and agree to follow specific guidelines. The law also prohibits children between ages 15 and 18 from work that threatens their wellbeing, education, physical or mental health, or spiritual, moral, or social development. Children may not work more than eight hours a day or before 6 a.m. or after 6 p.m. A child not enrolled in school may not work more than 40 hours in any week, and a child attending school may not work more than 20 hours in any week.

The law prohibits children from performing hazardous duties, including lifting heavy weights, meat or seafood processing, underground mining, deep-sea fishing, commercial diving, electrical work, working with hazardous chemicals or explosives, in manufacturing, rock and stone crushing, and work in gambling and alcohol-serving establishments. The Regulations on Hazardous Work by Children allow child workers not expected at school the following day to work between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. in certain businesses or in babysitting. Employers may not require a child to work in a confined space or to perform piecework and task work. Penalties for violating child labor laws were commensurate with those for comparable crimes.

The government enforced child labor law in the formal sector of the economy that strong and well organized unions monitored, but enforcement in the informal and agricultural sectors was inconsistent.

According to the department, the government made progress in eradicating the worst forms of child labor by raising awareness, instituting strict legal measures, and increasing penalties for suspected labor violators. Nevertheless, it added that more efforts to address problems of child labor in migrant communities were needed.

Children were found working as domestic laborers, street workers, and scavenging garbage for food items and recyclable items. Children engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including commercial exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking, illicit activities, including gang-related activity, and use in the production of pornography. According to the ILO, approximately 40-50 percent of the estimated 1.39 million persons forced into commercial sexual exploitation in the country were children. Boys, particularly migrant boys, were forced to work in street vending, food services, begging, criminal activities, and agriculture. Although the government did not compile comprehensive data on child labor, NGOs and labor inspectors considered its occurrence rare in the formal sectors of the economy but believed there might instances in the informal economy of child labor that were underreported due to lack of dedicated resources. Civil society and government acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact made children more vulnerable to exploitation, in particular to sex trafficking.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Employment Equity Act protects all workers against unfair discrimination based on race, age, gender, religion, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibility, ethnic or social origin, color, sexual orientation, disability, conscience, belief, political opinion, culture, language, HIV status, birth, or any other arbitrary ground. The legal standard used to judge discrimination in all cases is whether the terms and conditions of employment among employees of the same employer performing the same or substantially similar work, or work of equal value, differ directly or indirectly based on any of the grounds listed above. Employees have the burden of proving such discrimination. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable crimes. The government has a regulated code of conduct to assist employers, workers, and unions to develop and implement comprehensive, gender-sensitive, and HIV- and AIDS-compliant workplace policies and programs.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, HIV status, and country of origin (see section 6).

Discrimination cases were frequently taken to court or the Commission for Conciliation, Arbitration, and Mediation.

In its 2020-21 annual report, the Commission for Employment Equity cited data on discrimination by ethnicity, gender, age, and disability in all sectors of the economy. The report argued that White and Indian females continued to bear the brunt of discrimination, while the White and Indian population groups dominated top and senior management positions. The implementation of the Black Economic Empowerment Act, which aims to promote economic transformation and enhance participation of Blacks in the economy, continued. The public sector better reflected the country’s ethnic and gender demographics. Bias against foreign nationals was common in society and the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Wage and Hour Laws: In 2019 the country’s first national minimum wage came into effect, replacing a patchwork of sectoral minimum wages set by the Department of Labour. The minimum wage was above the official poverty line. The employment and labour minister announced an increase to 21,69 rand ($1.47) per hour for the year that went into effect on March 1. The law protects migrant workers, and they are entitled to all benefits and equal pay. The minimum wage law also established a commission to make annual recommendations to parliament for increases in the minimum wage.

The law establishes a 45-hour workweek, standardizes time-and-a-half pay for overtime, and authorizes four months of maternity leave for women. No employer may require or permit an employee to work overtime except by agreement, and employees may not work be more than 10 overtime hours a week. The law stipulates rest periods of 12 consecutive hours daily and 36 hours weekly and must include Sunday. The law allows adjustments to rest periods by mutual agreement. A ministerial determination exempted businesses employing fewer than 10 persons from certain provisions of the law concerning overtime and leave. Farmers and other employers could apply for variances from the law by showing good cause. The law applies to all workers, including workers in informal sectors, foreign nationals, and migrant workers, but the government did not prioritize labor protections for workers in the informal economy.

Occupational Safety and Health: The government set appropriate occupational health and safety (OSH) standards through the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy for the mining industry and through the Department of Labour for all other industries.

There are harsh penalties for violations of OSH laws in the mining sector. Employers are subject to heavy fines or imprisonment if convicted of responsibility for serious injury, illness, or the death of employees due to unsafe mine conditions. The law allows mine inspectors to enter any mine at any time to interview employees and audit records. The law provides for the right of mine employees to remove themselves from work deemed dangerous to health or safety. The law prohibits discrimination against a mining employee who asserts a right granted by law and requires mine owners to file annual reports providing OSH statistics for each mine, including safety incidents. Conviction of violating the mining health and safety law is punishable by two years’ imprisonment, and the law empowers the courts to determine a fine or other penalty for perjury. The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is responsible for enforcing OSH law.

Outside the mining industry, no law or regulation permits workers to remove themselves from work situations deemed dangerous to their health or safety without risking loss of employment, although the law provides that employers may not retaliate against employees who disclose dangerous workplace conditions. Employees were also able to report unsafe conditions to the Department of Labour that used employee complaints as a basis for prioritizing labor inspections. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses. The Department of Labour is responsible for enforcing safety laws outside the mining sector.

The Department of Labour is responsible for enforcing wage standards outside the mining sector, and a tripartite Mine Health and Safety Council and an Inspectorate of Mine Health and Safety enforced such standards in the mining sector. Penalties for violations of wages and workhour laws outside the mining sector were commensurate with those for comparable offenses.

The Department of Labour employed an insufficient number of labor inspectors to enforce compliance. Labor inspectors conducted routine and unannounced inspections at various workplaces that employed vulnerable workers. Labor inspectors investigated workplaces in both the formal and informal sectors. Labor inspectors and unions reported having difficulty visiting workers on private farms.

The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. OSH regulations were frequently violated in the mining sector, and compensation for injuries was erratic and slow. Penalties were commensurate with those for comparable offenses, however, not sufficient to deter violations. Unions in the agriculture sector noted their repeated attempts to have the Department of Labour fine farm owners who failed to shield workers from hazardous chemicals sprayed on crops. Although labor conditions improved on large commercial farms, COSATU and leading agricultural NGOs reported labor conditions on small farms remained harsh. Underpayment of wages and poor living conditions for workers, most of whom were Black noncitizens, were common. Many owners of small farms did not measure working hours accurately, 12-hour workdays were common during harvest time, and few farmers provided overtime benefits. Amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act attempted to address some labor abuses at farms. For example, changes prohibited farms from selling goods from farm-operated stores to farm employees on credit at inflated prices. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers cut salaries, without following the law restricting an employer’s ability to change an employee’s pay; this was especially evident with domestic workers. Most domestic workers were either subject to staying with their employers or risk losing both their income and employment.

Farm workers also reported health and sanitation concerns.

Mining accidents were common. Mine safety has steadily improved from prior decades, however. For example, 553 miners lost their lives in 1995 compared with only 60 deaths in 2020 and 51 deaths in 2019. Mining operations were scaled down significantly for much of 2020 and during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly deep-level mining. According to the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, as of December 13, there were 72 reported fatalities among workers in the mining industry.

In July 2019 the Constitutional Court ruled employees assigned to workplaces via a labor broker (“temporary employment service”) are employees of the client and entitled to wages and benefits equal to those of regular employees of the client.

Informal Sector: Economic researchers reported that approximately 30 percent of total employment was informal, with higher rates in rural areas. The informal sector included traders such as street vendors and market sellers, domestic workers, waste pickers, and agricultural workers. The Government Gazette confirmed that domestic workers are covered for injury or death under workers compensation laws and minimum wage laws. This action followed a landmark ruling by the Constitutional Court upholding the 2019 High Court of Gauteng decision expanding statutory workers’ compensation coverage to domestic workers.

South Sudan

Executive Summary

The Republic of South Sudan is a republic operating under a transitional government formed according to the terms of peace agreements signed in August 2015 and September 2018. President Salva Kiir Mayardit, whose authority derives from his 2010 election as president of what was then the semiautonomous region of Southern Sudan within the Republic of Sudan, is chief of state and head of government. International observers considered the 2011 referendum on South Sudanese self-determination, in which 98 percent of voters chose to separate from Sudan, to be free and fair. Since then all government positions have been appointed rather than elected.

The South Sudan National Police Service, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The South Sudanese People’s Defense Forces are responsible for providing security throughout the country and ostensibly operate under the Ministry of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs. The Internal Security Bureau of the National Security Service, under the Ministry of National Security, has arrest authority for cases connected to national security but operated beyond its legal authority. Numerous irregular forces, including militias operated by the National Security Service and proxy forces, operated in the country with official knowledge. Civilian authorities routinely failed to maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment by security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and ethnically based groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals in other countries, including killings, kidnappings, or violence; serious problems with judicial independence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including unlawful killing of civilians, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, mass forced displacement, widespread sexual and gender-based violence, and use of food as a weapon of war; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence against and intimidation and detention of journalists, closure of media houses, censorship, and site blocking; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on or harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Security force abuses occurred throughout the country. Despite isolated examples of prosecution for these crimes, impunity remained widespread. The government also failed to take steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who engaged in corruption.

Nongovernment armed groups, including the forces of peace agreement signatories and other opposition armed groups alike, perpetrated serious human rights abuses, which, according to the United Nations, included unlawful killings, abduction, rape, sexual slavery, and forced recruitment of children and adults into combat and noncombat roles.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

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

The United Nations, international cease-fire monitors, human rights organizations, and media reported the government, or its agents, committed numerous arbitrary or unlawful killings. Security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, and ethnically based groups were responsible for widespread extrajudicial killings. The term “unknown gunmen” was often used to describe groups affiliated with the National Security Service (NSS) or other security services. The security services investigated alleged abuses by members of their respective forces, although impunity remained a problem and prosecutions infrequent.

On March 22, the EU imposed sanctions on Major General Moses Lokujo for the abduction and execution of three opposition officers and for attacking opposition forces at a training center in Central Equatoria. The UN Panel of Experts verified forces under Lokujo’s command committed serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, including extrajudicial killings, rape, and other types of gender-based violence.

There were reports of deaths from torture at NSS facilities (see section 1.c.).

On March 27, armed gunmen believed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) to be Padang Dinka militia linked to the deputy governor of Upper Nile State, fired upon a group of largely Nuer and Shilluk civilians waiting to greet the governor in Malakal. At least 12 persons died in the attack.

In July, Human Rights Watch documented summary executions of at least eight suspected criminals, including two children, as part of an anticrime campaign led by the governor of Warrap State. Between April and June, on the governor’s orders, security forces executed at least 21 persons accused of murder, theft, and other offenses. None of the victims was formally charged or brought before a court.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Human Rights Division reported 14 incidents of extrajudicial killings in Warrap State, resulting in the execution of 29 men, including boys and elderly men. State officials in Cueibet and Rumbek East counties in Lakes State ordered the arbitrary execution of 13 persons in June and July. Local officials continued to defend extrajudicial executions as a form of deterrence in the absence of rule-of-law institutions.

In February the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported government disarmament forces, consisting of several security agencies, used heavy weaponry (machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades) against civilians, killing 85, during a dispute in Tonj East County, Warrap State, in August 2020.

b. Disappearance

Security and opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government or the opposition, and ethnically based groups abducted an unknown number of persons, including women and children (see section 1.g.).

The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Remembering the Ones We Lost documented the names of 13,000 persons missing since the conflict began in 2013, many of whom were abducted or detained by security forces. In 2020 the International Committee of the Red Cross reported 5,000 persons were missing and their whereabouts unknown since the conflict began.

The government did not comply with measures to ensure accountability for disappearances.

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

Although prohibited under law, security forces mutilated, tortured, beat, and harassed political opponents, journalists, and human rights workers (see sections 2.a. and 5). Government and opposition forces, armed militia groups affiliated with both, and warring ethnic groups committed torture and abuses in conflict zones (see section 1.g.).

According to the UN Security Council Panel of Experts and several independent human rights advocates, the NSS Operations Division maintained at least three facilities where it detained, interrogated, and sometimes tortured civilians. Several detainees died because of torture or from other conditions at NSS facilities. Most NSS facilities were not publicly known. There were numerous reported abuses at NSS-run sites, including gender-based violence, beating and torture of detainees, and harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and humanitarian workers. Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and other organizations documented cases of torture and other mistreatment during arrest and while in NSS custody. Detainees described being beaten with sticks, whips, pipes, and wires; subjected to electric shocks; burned with melted plastic; raped; and subjected to other forms of sexual violence. The Panel of Experts also alleged the existence of secret, unofficial detention centers operated by the NSS. The Panel of Experts reported allegations of torture, including electrical shocks, and beatings in these sites.

Impunity within the security services remained a serious problem. Although the NSS created an internal disciplinary tribunal to conduct internal investigations of alleged abuses by its members, the results of such investigations and any disciplinary actions taken were not made public. Members of the army and police were investigated for misconduct. Civilian courts in Warrap and Western Bahr el-Ghazal States convicted two South Sudan National Police Service (SSNPS) personnel and one South Sudan People’s Defense Forces (SSPDF) member of conflict-related sexual violence against minors (see section 1.g.).

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening. Overcrowding and inadequate medical care at times resulted in illness and death. There were reports of abuse by prison guards.

Physical Conditions: Men and women were generally held in separate areas, but male and female inmates at times mixed freely during the day due to space constraints. Due to overcrowding and a lack of facilities and staff, authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults and rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. Children, especially infants, often lived with their mothers in prison.

Nonviolent offenders were kept with violent offenders due to spatial constraints. There were no psychiatric treatment facilities in the country. Persons with mental disabilities, following referral by the court, family, or the community, were incarcerated and remained in detention without treatment for undetermined periods. In November local media reported one prisoner hacked two other prisoners to death.

Health care and sanitation were inadequate. Basic medical supplies and equipment were lacking. According to NGOs, prisoners received one meal per day of low nutritional value and relied on family or friends for additional food. Potable water was limited. In some locations prisoners slept in overcrowded open hallways and buildings lined with bunk beds. In August the national prison administration reported it held more than 8,400 detainees. There were no data on the capacity of prison facilities, although during the year Juba Central Prison held more than 1,900 detainees in a facility constructed for 400 persons. Ventilation and lighting were inadequate.

Malnutrition decreased in comparison with previous years, although access to adequate nutrition remained a concern. Prison authorities took remedial actions but did not implement sustainable solutions.

Local traditional or state authorities controlled some detention centers, and conditions in those centers were uniformly harsh and life threatening. Many facilities in rural areas consisted of uncovered spaces where authorities chained detainees to a wall, fence, or tree, often unsheltered from the sun. As with state-run prisons, sanitary and medical facilities were poor or nonexistent, and potable water was limited. Detainees usually spent days outdoors but slept inside in areas that lacked adequate ventilation and lighting. On November 1, an inmate serving a three-year jail term for murder in Twic County, Warrap State, killed two prisoners using an axe; prison guards subsequently shot and killed the inmate.

Conditions in SSPDF-run detention facilities were similar, and in some cases worse, with many detainees held outdoors with poor access to sanitary or medical facilities.

UNMISS maintained facilities at the Malakal Protection of Civilian (POC) site to hold internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were criminal suspects. Authorities did not intend the holding facilities to house IDPs for more than 72 hours, but they sometimes held IDP suspects longer due to delays in determining how to treat individual cases, due to the inability to reintroduce offenders into POC sites because of threats from their alleged victims, or due to the alleged threat the offender posed to the greater community. UNMISS observed prisoners daily and offered access to medical treatment. Prisoners received food twice a day. Some prisoners detained by UNMISS were subsequently turned over to the custody of the government following an individual risk assessment. UNMISS reported the number of admissions to the Malakal holding facility decreased during the year due to efforts to expedite the referral of serious security incidents to national authorities or community-based resolution mechanisms.

The NSS operated a detention facility in Juba that held civilian prisoners (see section 1.d.).

Administration: The SSNPS allowed prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of allegations of inhuman conditions. Prison authorities sometimes investigated such allegations, although they seldom acted on complaints. The SSNPS allowed prisoners access to visitors and permitted them to take part in religious observances, but NSS and SSPDF authorities were less likely to do so; prisoners in SSNPS custody, but originally arrested by the NSS or SSPDF, had limited access to visitors.

Independent Monitoring: The SSNPS and National Prison Service of South Sudan permitted visits to police and prison detention facilities by independent human rights observers, including UNMISS Rule of Law and human rights officers, nongovernmental observers, international organizations, and journalists. Authorities sometimes permitted monitors to visit military detention facilities operated by the SSPDF. International monitors were denied permission to visit facilities operated by the NSS, which held both military prisoners and civilians without legal authority.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The transitional constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention without charge. The government, however, arrested and detained individuals arbitrarily. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention, but there were no known cases where an appellant successfully sought compensation for wrongful detention.

On September 30, the NSS detained Oxfam International’s country director Adil al-Mahi, a Sudanese national, without charges. While detained, he was without legal counsel or consular visitation. The NSS provided him with medical care, food, and water. Several days later they released and deported him without charges or explanations for the detention. From the beginning of the civil war in 2013, there were regular reports that security forces conducted arbitrary arrests, including of journalists, civil society actors, and supposed political opponents. While not legally vested with the authority, the SSPDF often arrested or detained civilians. The NSS routinely detained civilians without warrants or court orders and held detainees for long periods without charge or access to legal counsel or visitors. Security services rarely reported such arrests to police, other civilian authorities, or, in the case of foreigners arrested, diplomatic missions. NSS detainees were rarely brought before a court to be charged. Police routinely arrested civilians based on little or no evidence prior to conducting investigations and often held them for weeks or months without charge or trial.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

While the law requires police to present arrested persons before a public prosecutor, magistrate, or court within 24 hours, judges assigned to statutory courts were not always present and poor coordination with other justice actors contributed to case backlogs. Court dockets often were overwhelmed, and cases faced long delays before coming before a judge. Police may detain individuals for 24 hours without charge. A public prosecutor may authorize an extension of up to one week, and a magistrate may authorize extensions of up to two weeks. Authorities did not always inform detainees of charges against them and regularly held them past the statutory limit without explanation. Police sometimes ignored court orders to take arrested persons before the court. Police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges were often unaware of the statutory requirement that detainees appear before a judge as quickly as possible. UNMISS reported cases taking months or even years to be brought to court. In Jonglei State, UNMISS estimated more than 3,000 civil and criminal cases were pending in courts.

Police commonly conducted arrests without warrants, and warrants were often irregular, handwritten documents. Warrants were commonly drafted in the absence of investigation or evidence. There were multiple reports of arrests, including of foreigners, in civil cases, where a complainant exerted influence upon police to arrest someone as a negotiation tactic. The government routinely failed to notify embassies when detaining citizens of other countries, even when the detainee requested a consular visit.

According to Human Rights Watch, the NSS effectively operated outside the law and without proper legal authority. Detainees were held at sites not designated as detention facilities under the law. They did not conduct arrests based on warrants or court orders and routinely held detainees for long periods without charge and without access to lawyers or visitors. Detention periods lasted from hours to years.

The law allows bail, but this provision was widely unknown or ignored by authorities, and they rarely informed detainees of this possibility. Because pretrial appearances before judges often were delayed far past statutory limits, authorities rarely had the opportunity to adjudicate bail requests before trial. Those arrested had a right to an attorney, but the country had few lawyers, and detainees were rarely informed of this right. The transitional constitution mandates access to legal representation without charge for the indigent, but defendants rarely received legal assistance if they did not pay for it. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested opposition leaders, civil society activists, businesspersons, journalists, and other civilians due to possible affiliation with opposition forces. The SSPDF and NSS often abused political opponents and others they detained without charge. Ignorance of the law and proper procedures led to many arbitrary detentions. Many justice-sector actors, including police and judges, operated under a victim-centric approach that prioritized restitution and satisfaction for victims of crime, rather than following legal procedure. This approach led to many arbitrary arrests of citizens who were simply in the vicinity when crimes occurred, were of a certain ethnicity, or were relatives of suspects. For example, there were numerous reports women were detained when their husbands, accused of having unpaid debts, could not be located.

There were numerous reported arbitrary arrests or detentions. On May 5, the NSS detained civil society leader David Garang Goch after he accused Jonglei State authorities of selling food donated to flood victims. Garang was charged with defamation and released on bail.

On August 2, Kuel Aguer Kuel, the former governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, was arrested after signing a People’s Coalition for Civil Action declaration. The group’s declaration called for protests leading to a transfer of power. As of mid-November, Kuel had not been charged and remained in NSS detention, reportedly in poor health.

Also on August 2, the NSS detained two employees of the think tank the Sudd Institute in response to the People’s Coalition for Civil Action declaration. The NSS interrogated the staff concerning the institute’s managing director who signed the declaration and went into hiding. The NSS locked the offices, although the staff were released the same day. On November 19, the government reopened the institute.

In August military intelligence arrested four men, including a local bishop, in Yei, Central Equatoria. The men were accused of treason and detained without charge until late October when they were released. Reportedly after being released, one of the four wrote a Facebook post complaining about their detention. Subsequently, military intelligence summoned him, ordered him not to leave Yei, and informed him that he would be subject to surveillance for three months. Media reported that the bishop retired from his official duties in early November.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, due largely to the lack of lawyers and judges; the difficulty of locating witnesses; misunderstanding of constitutional and legal requirements by police, prosecutors, and judges; and the absence of a strong mechanism to compel witness attendance in court. The length of pretrial detention commonly equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. Estimates of the number of pretrial detainees ranged from one-third to two-thirds of the prison population. The chronic lack of access to law enforcement officers and the judicial system became even more severe as armed conflict displaced officials (see section 1.g.).

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees had very little ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court or magistrate, despite having the right to do so under the law.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The transitional constitution provides for an independent judiciary and recognizes customary law. The government did not generally respect judicial independence and impartiality. While the law requires the government to maintain courts at federal, state, and county levels, lack of infrastructure and trained personnel made this impossible, and few statutory courts existed below the state level. The formal justice sector remained weak and concentrated in a few urban centers.

In many communities, customary courts remained the principal providers of judicial services. Customary courts maintained primary authority to adjudicate most criminal cases other than murder. Customary courts may deal with certain aspects of murder cases if judges remit the cases to them to process under traditional procedures and determine compensation according to the customs of the persons concerned. If this happens, the judge may sentence an individual convicted of murder to no more than 10 years’ imprisonment. Government courts heard cases of violent crime and acted as appellate courts for verdicts issued by customary bodies. Legal systems employed by customary courts varied, with most emphasizing restorative dispute resolution and some borrowing elements of sharia (Islamic law). Government sources estimated customary courts handled 80 percent of all cases due to the capacity limitations of statutory courts.

Between February and July, the United Nations supported joint special mobile courts with South Sudanese personnel to adjudicate serious crimes and mitigate cattle migration-related violence in Western Bahr el-Ghazal and Warrap States, and localized courts in Warrap and Lakes States. These courts often included traditional leaders and addressed compensation claims according to local customs. During the year the United Nations continued to support mobile courts, trying rape, robbery, and assault cases among others. Mobile courts deployed across the greater Equatoria and greater Upper Nile regions. Separately, UNMISS worked with the SSPDF Military Justice Directorate to deploy courts-martial and enhance the capacity of judge advocates in adjudicating cases of gender-based violence.

Political pressure, corruption, discrimination toward women, and the lack of a competent investigative police service undermined both statutory and customary courts. Patronage priorities or political allegiances of traditional elders or chiefs commonly influenced verdicts in customary courts. Despite numerous pressures, some judges appeared to operate independently on low-profile cases.

Trial Procedures

The transitional constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the government frequently did not enforce this right.

Under the transitional constitution defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary), tried fairly and publicly without undue delay, be present at any criminal trial against them, seek appeal, confront witnesses against them, present witnesses and evidence, not be compelled to incriminate themselves, and to legal counsel.

Despite these protections law enforcement officers and statutory and customary court authorities commonly presumed suspects’ guilt, and suspects faced serious infringements of their rights. Free interpretation was rarely offered, and when it was, it was of low quality. Most detainees were not promptly informed of the charges against them. Prolonged detentions often occurred, and defendants generally did not have adequate access to facilities to prepare a defense. While court dates were set without regard for providing adequate time to prepare a defense, long remands often meant detainees with access to a lawyer had sufficient time to prepare. Magistrates frequently compelled defendants to testify, and the absence of lawyers at many judicial proceedings often left defendants without recourse.

Public trials were the norm both in customary courts, which usually took place outdoors, and in statutory courts. Some high-level court officials opposed media access to courts and asserted media should not comment on pending cases. The right to be present at trial and to confront witnesses was sometimes respected, but in statutory courts, the difficulty of summoning witnesses often precluded exercise of these rights. No government legal aid structure existed.

Defendants did not necessarily have access to counsel or the right of appeal, and discrimination against women was common.

Defendants accused of crimes against the state were usually denied these rights.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were reports of political prisoners and detainees held by authorities from a few hours to a few days or weeks prior to release, usually without charge. The number of political prisoners was unknown. One notable case was that of Kuel Aguer Kuel, detained by security forces on August 1 for having signed a letter calling for peaceful protests to force President Kiir to leave office. Kuel remained in detention as of year’s end.

Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country

Extraterritorial Killing, Kidnapping, Forced Returns, or Other Violence or Threats of Violence: There were credible reports in recent years of killed, kidnapped, and forcibly returned persons in other countries for purposes of politically motivated reprisal, and individuals continued to receive threats of violence during the year. Civil society reported that South Sudanese intelligence officials were active in neighboring countries and harassed critics there.

Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion: There were credible reports the government continued to target specific individuals for politically motivated reprisal outside the country, including in Kenya and Uganda. In March the NGO Frontline Defenders documented 14 cases of South Sudanese human rights defenders in exile subject to harassment, surveillance, and intimidation, most often from the NSS.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Statutory and customary courts provided the only options for those seeking to submit civil claims to address human rights abuses, and these claims were subject to the same limitations that affected the justice sector in general.

Property Seizure and Restitution

The government rarely provided proportionate and timely restitution for the government’s confiscation of property. Human rights organizations documented instances of government forces systematically looting abandoned property in conflict areas where the population was perceived to be antigovernment.

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

The transitional constitution prohibits interference with private life, family, home, and correspondence, but the law does not provide for the right to privacy. Authorities, however, reportedly violated these prohibitions. To induce suspects to surrender, officials at times held family members in detention centers. The law gives the NSS sweeping powers outside the constitutional mandate of arrest, detention, surveillance, search, and seizure. The NSS utilized surveillance tools, at times requiring telecommunications companies to hand over user data that could be used to tap telephone numbers or make arrests. The NSS monitored social media posts. Widespread surveillance led many human rights defenders to avoid discussing sensitive topics over the telephone. A February report by Amnesty International quoted one activist saying, “In South Sudan, they know if you are a human rights person, they might not follow you today, not arrest you now, but they can be following your phone conversation, can be checking on your phone every now and then and one day they will turn against you.” The NSS carried out physical surveillance and embedded agents in organizations and media houses and at events. Some individuals were subject to physical and telephonic surveillance prior to arrest and detention without warrants, with such surveillance continuing after detainees were released.

g. Conflict-related Abuses

According to the United Nations and international NGOs, security forces, opposition forces, armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition, nonsignatories to the peace agreement, and civilians were responsible for a significant range of conflict-related abuses around the country. Government and opposition forces harassed civilians and looted and destroyed property during military operations against the National Salvation Front. Government soldiers reportedly engaged in acts of collective punishment and revenge killings against civilians assumed to be opposition supporters, often based on their ethnicity. For example, in March unknown Nuer gunmen killed two government soldiers, triggering revenge attacks in which the SSPDF attacked at least three Nuer villages and overran an opposition military base. In February 2020 the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported on a pattern of deliberately targeting civilians based on their ethnic identity, including obstruction of humanitarian aid, and concluded government forces were responsible for acts that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. This pattern continued during the year, most noticeably in Tambura, Western Equatoria State. Atrocities included unlawful killings, rape and gang rape employed as a weapon of war, arbitrary detention, torture, forced disappearances, explosive remnants of war causing further harm, forced displacement, the mass destruction of homes and personal property, widespread looting, and use of child soldiers. The UNMISS Human Rights Division documented more than 1,200 incidents of killing, injury, abduction, and conflict-related sexual violence in 2020 (see also sections 2.e., Internally Displaced Persons, and section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).

Killings: Government forces and armed militias affiliated with the government, frequently prompted by opposition ambushes of government soldiers, engaged in a pattern of collective punishment of civilians perceived to be opposition supporters, often based on ethnicity. According to the UNMISS Human Rights Division, more than 2,420 civilians were killed in 2020, usually by community militias and civilian defense groups, but in some cases by organized forces. Between December 2020 and January, fighting in Maban County, Upper Nile, between government and opposition forces (involving local civilian militias) resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians and the displacement of thousands, some of whom fled across the border to Ethiopia. In February, 3,000 Jikany Nuer militiamen with ties to the SPLM-IO attacked communities in Akoka County, Upper Nile, killed dozens of civilians, burned and looted villages, and displaced thousands.

UN agencies and international NGOs that interviewed victims reported widespread killings, mutilations, and sexual violence, disproportionately committed by government forces but also by the National Salvation Front.

Remnants of war led to the killing and maiming of civilians. Military items such as grenades were often left behind in schools used by government and opposition forces and by armed actors affiliated with both.

Abductions: The United Nations and international NGOs reported multiple accounts of government soldiers or other security service members arbitrarily detaining or arresting civilians, sometimes leading to unlawful killings. The UNMISS Human Rights Division reported an increase in abductions for the purpose of forced military recruitment or forced labor. As of mid-September, a project led by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights resulted in the release of 100 abductees.

In August and September, the United Nations and NGOs reported forced recruitment by both government and opposition forces in Rubkona and Bentiu towns in Unity State and in the Bentiu Internally Displaced Persons camp.

Armed groups and militias committed abductions for ransom, particularly in the Greater Equatoria region. In February armed men stopped a truck on the Juba-Yei Road, abducted five men and four women, and demanded a ransom of 13 million South Sudanese Pounds ($47,100).

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Government forces, opposition forces, other armed groups and armed militias affiliated with the government and the opposition tortured, raped, and otherwise abused civilians in conflict areas. Gender-based violence, including rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriage, was a common tactic of conflict employed by all parties.

Child Soldiers: The cease-fire largely held during the year and reduced the forced or voluntary recruitment of soldiers, including child soldiers. Nevertheless, there were reports government and nongovernment forces continued to recruit forcibly and use child soldiers. During 2020 the South Sudan Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting verified violations affecting 154 children. Girls younger than age 18 were recruited to wash, cook, and clean for government and opposition forces. Sudanese refugee women and girls were also forced to wash, cook, and clean for armed Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) elements who were present in refugee camps in Maban, Upper Nile State. The government, which has responsibility for the safety and security of refugee camps in its territory, failed to stop the SPLM-N’s forced conscription in Maban-based refugee camps.

In February the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported that county commissioners and local chiefs in Warrap systematically organized the recruitment and use of children for the NSS and the SSPDF through recruitment drives. In some cases commissioners extorted cattle from families who were unable to provide a fighting-age man. The commission noted a similar pattern in which SSPDF commanders and local chiefs recruited families to provide at least one family member. If no men were available, boys were sought instead.

During the year UNICEF worked with the SSPDF and opposition forces to organize the demobilization of child soldiers in several instances across the country. According to UNMISS, more than 250 child soldiers were released by armed groups in 2019. The National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Commission and its constituent members reported the release of 54 children from armed groups during the first six months of 2020.

The 2018 peace agreement mandated specialized international agencies work with all warring parties to demobilize and reintegrate child soldiers from the SSPDF, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army In-Opposition (SPLA-IO), elements of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance, the Nuer White Army, and other groups, usually those involved in community defense. There were reports of child-soldier recruitment associated with the cantonment, registration, and screening process under the peace agreement.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Throughout the year the environment for humanitarian operations remained difficult and dangerous, although the cease-fire contributed to improved access and safety in most areas. Armed actors, including government, opposition forces, and other armed groups continued to restrict the ability of the United Nations, other international organizations, and NGOs to deliver humanitarian assistance safely and effectively to populations in need. Access was impeded by direct denials, bureaucratic barriers, occupation of humanitarian spaces including education centers, and renewed fighting in areas of the country where humanitarian needs were highest. Despite repeated safety assurances, armed elements harassed and killed relief workers, looted, and destroyed humanitarian assets and facilities, and government and rebel authorities imposed bureaucratic and economic impediments on relief organizations. Government, SPLA-IO, National Salvation Front and, in areas close to the Sudanese border, SPLM-N elements continued to occupy civilian structures.

On multiple occasions fighting between government and opposition forces and subnational violence put the safety and security of humanitarian workers at risk, prevented travel, forced the evacuation of relief workers, and jeopardized humanitarian operations, including forcing organizations to suspend life-saving operations entirely in areas of active conflict. Delayed flight safety assurances, insecurity, and movement restrictions often prevented relief workers from traveling to conflict and nonconflict areas. Humanitarian personnel, independently or through the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs access working group, negotiated with government and SPLA-IO forces as well as other armed groups to address access problems; however, these negotiations were often protracted and caused significant delays in the delivery of assistance.

The humanitarian operating environment remained volatile despite improvements in some areas of the country, and the country remained very dangerous for aid workers. The most common forms of violence against humanitarian workers included robbery and looting, harassment, armed attacks, commandeering of vehicles, and physical detention. On multiple occasions insecurity prevented travel and jeopardized relief operations. In almost all cases, investigations were limited, and perpetrators were not held accountable. In June the United Nations reported that since the start of the conflict in 2013, a total of 128 humanitarian workers had been killed in the country, primarily South Sudanese nationals.

In May a South Sudanese doctor working for an international NGO was killed while on duty inside a health facility in Unity State’s Panyjiar County. As of mid-September, local authorities had made little progress in investigating and no one had been held accountable.

On June 7, gunmen ambushed a humanitarian convoy in Yirol County, Lakes State, killing two humanitarian workers. Despite public statements by Governor Rin Tueny Mabior condemning the attack, there had been no progress towards identifying or apprehending the perpetrators.

Looting of humanitarian compounds and other assets was common. According to humanitarian agencies, looting of food commodities was four times higher than in 2020. For example, in May clashes between armed Gawaar Nuer, Dinka, and Murle in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA) led to the looting and burning of a food storage unit in Gumuruk. A primary health-care unit in Gumuruk was also looted, with thousands of dollars of vital medical supplies lost.

In October the GPAA Youth Union threatened violence against humanitarian workers if NGOs operating in the GPAA did not remove all nonlocal South Sudanese staff from the area. On October 5, the United Nations and 14 NGOs complied with their demands, fearing for the safety of their South Sudanese staff who were not from the GPAA. As of November all humanitarian assistance efforts except life-saving aid remained suspended in the GPAA.

Restrictions on humanitarian operations took other forms as well. Authorities operating at Juba International Airport arbitrarily denied humanitarian workers travel permission for a variety of constantly changing reasons, including a lack of work permits, permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, travel approval from the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, or at least six blank pages in their passports. At least one international humanitarian worker was denied entry into South Sudan because the person’s COVID-19 test results did not have a stamp. These restrictions were implemented inconsistently, without notice or consultation, prompting confusion regarding the required travel procedures.

Humanitarian organizations experienced delays (some up to six months or more) and denials of tax exemptions and were forced to purchase relief supplies on the local market, raising quality concerns. Government authorities required international NGO staff to pay income taxes and threatened national staff into paying income tax at the state level.

Continuing conflict and access denial to humanitarian actors contributed to households facing acute food insecurity. It was difficult to acc