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Afghanistan

Executive Summary

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch. Based on the electoral calendar specified in the constitution, parliamentary elections were to have taken place in 2015; however, these elections were not held by year’s end.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces, although security forces occasionally acted independently.

The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial killings by security forces; disappearances, torture; arbitrary arrest; detention, including of women accused of so-called moral crimes; and sexual abuse of children by security force members. Additional problems included violence against journalists, criminalization of defamation; pervasive government corruption; and lack of accountability and investigation in cases of violence against women. Discrimination against persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities and discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation persisted with little accountability.

Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those who committed human rights abuses were serious problems. The government did not consistently or effectively prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces.

There were major attacks on civilians by armed insurgent groups and targeted assassinations by armed insurgent groups of persons affiliated with the government. The Taliban and other insurgents continued to kill security force personnel and civilians using indiscriminate tactics such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide attacks, and rocket attacks, and to commit disappearances and torture. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed 67 percent of civilian casualties (1,141 deaths and 3,574 injured) to nonstate actors. The Taliban used children as suicide bombers, soldiers, and weapons carriers. Other antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked government workers, foreigners, medical and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers, and other civilians.

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. From January 1 to June 30, UNAMA reported an overall increase in civilian deaths over the same period for 2016, from 1,637 to 1,662. The number of civilians killed by progovernment forces, however, decreased from 396 to 327. The number of civilian casualties decreased from 5,267 to 5,243.

According to UNAMA, in January Afghan National Police (ANP) in Nesh district, Kandahar Province, beat three young men to death because police believed they were supporters of antigovernment forces. There were numerous allegations of deaths resulting from torture, particularly in Kandahar Province. Although the government investigated and prosecuted some cases of extrajudicial killing, an overall lack of accountability for security force abuses remained a problem.

There were numerous reports of politically motivated killings or injuries by the Taliban, ISIS-Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), and other insurgent groups. UNAMA reported 1,141 civilian deaths due to antigovernment and terrorist forces in the first six months of the year. These groups caused 67 percent of total civilian casualties, a 12 percent increase from 2016. On May 31, antigovernment forces injured more than 500 civilians and killed an additional 150 in a vehicle-borne IED attack against civilians during rush hour on a busy street in Kabul.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances committed by security forces and antigovernment forces alike.

UNAMA, in its April 24 Report on the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees, reported multiple allegations of disappearances by the ANP in Kandahar.

On February 8, an armed group abducted two International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aid workers in Qush Tepah district, Jowzjan Province, during which six other ICRC staff were killed. In September the two aid workers were released.

In March an Australian aid worker, kidnapped in Kabul in November 2016, was released after five months in captivity. Two professors, working for the American University of Afghanistan and kidnapped by the Taliban in August 2016, were still in captivity.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were numerous reports that government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses.

NGOs reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians. On April 22, the government approved a new Anti-Torture Law, which expands the previous prohibition on torture contained in the original penal code. The new law, however, applies only to torture committed in the context of the criminal justice system and does not clearly extend to torture committed by military or other security forces.

UNAMA, in its April 24 Report on the Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees, cited multiple reports of torture and other abuse committed by security forces, most frequently after the initial arrest, during interrogation, and with the purpose of eliciting confessions. The UNAMA report noted a high concentration of torture and abuse by police in Kandahar Province. Of the 469 National Directorate for Security (NDS), ANP, and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) detainees interviewed, 39 percent reported torture or other abuse. Types of abuse included severe beatings, electric shocks, prolonged suspension by the arms, suffocation, wrenching of testicles, burns by cigarette lighters, sleep deprivation, sexual assault, and threats of execution.

In November 2016, First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum allegedly kidnapped Uzbek tribal elder and political rival Ahmad Ishchi. Before detaining Ishchi, Dostum let his bodyguards brutally beat him. After several days in detention, Ishchi alleged he was beaten, tortured, and raped by Dostum and his men. On August 14, Balkh Governor Atta Mohammed Noor allegedly attempted to arrest his political rival Asif Mohmand. The ensuing shootout resulted in three deaths and 13 persons injured. There were reports that Atta and his sons then detained and beat Mohmand and bit off a piece of his ear. The Attorney General’s Office opened investigations into both of the cases. As of September 16, there was no progress on either case, and both Dostum and Atta remained free. Dostum was no longer in the country, and he had not been allowed to exercise his duties as first vice president pending resolution of the legal charges against him.

There were numerous reports of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment by the Taliban and other antigovernment groups. In March the Taliban in northern Badakhshan Province stoned a woman to death for suspected “zina” (extramarital sex). There were other reports of the Taliban cutting off the hands and feet of suspected criminals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were difficult due to overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and limited access to medical services. The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Ministry of Interior, has responsibility for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers, including the large national prison complex at Pul-e Charkhi. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate is responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The NDS operates short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually collocated with their headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense runs the Afghan National Detention Facilities at Parwan. There were reports of private prisons run by members of the ANDSF and used for abuse of detainees.

Physical Conditions: Media and other sources continued to report inadequacies in food and water and poor sanitation facilities in prisons. Some observers, however, found food and water to be sufficient at GDPDC prisons. Nevertheless, the GDPDC’s nationwide program to feed prisoners faced a severely limited budget, and many prisoners relied on family members to provide food supplements and other necessary items.

Authorities generally lacked the facilities to separate pretrial and convicted inmates or to separate juveniles according to the seriousness of the charges against them. There were reports the Parwan detention facility held 145 children for security-related offenses separate from the general population. Local prisons and detention centers did not always have separate facilities for female prisoners.

Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem. Based on standards recommended by the ICRC, 28 of 34 provincial prisons for men were severely overcrowded. The country’s largest prison, Pul-e Charkhi, held 11,527 prisoners, detainees, and children of incarcerated mothers as of June, which was more than double the number it was designed to hold. UNAMA found no reports of torture within the Ministry of Interior prison system. In April, 500 prisoners at Pul-e Charkhi carried out a multiday hunger strike to protest the administration of their court cases and insufficient food and medical care at the prison.

Access to food, potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care in prisons varied throughout the country and was generally inadequate. In November the local NGO Integrity Watch Afghanistan reported that Wardak Prison had no guaranteed source of clean drinking water and that prisoners in Pol-e Charkhi, Baghlan, and Wardak had limited access to food, with prisoners’ families also providing food to make up the gap.

Administration: The law provides prisoners with the right to leave prison for up to 20 days for family visits. Most prisons did not implement this provision, and the law is unclear in its application to different classes of prisoners.

There were reports of abuse and mistreatment by prison officials. On August 20, Takhar prison guards and police allegedly used clubs to beat 15 female inmates during a protest where approximately 60 women protested their continued imprisonment, despite promises of amnesty made by the government. The Attorney General’s Office investigated the allegations and recommended criminal charges against three guards for the alleged beating.

Independent Monitoring: The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), UNAMA, and the ICRC monitored the NDS, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Defense detention facilities. NATO Mission Resolute Support monitored the NDS, ANP, and Defense Ministry facilities. Security constraints and obstruction by authorities occasionally prevented visits to some places of detention. UNAMA and the AIHRC reported difficulty accessing NDS places of detention when they arrived unannounced. The AIHRC reported NDS officials usually required the AIHRC to submit a formal letter requesting access at least one to two days in advance of a visit. NDS officials continued to prohibit AIHRC and UNAMA monitors from bringing cameras, mobile phones, recording devices, or computers into NDS facilities, thereby preventing AIHRC monitors from properly documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries. The NDS assigned a colonel to monitor human rights conditions in its facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both remained serious problems. Authorities detained many citizens without respecting essential procedural protections. According to NGOs, law enforcement officers continued to detain citizens arbitrarily without clear legal authority or due process. Local law enforcement officials reportedly detained persons illegally on charges not provided for in the penal code. In some cases authorities wrongfully imprisoned women because they deemed it unsafe for the women to return home or because women’s shelters were not available to provide protection in the provinces or districts at issue (see section 6, Women). The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter, but authorities generally did not observe this requirement.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Three ministries have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the NDS. The ANP, under the Interior Ministry, has primary responsibility for internal order and for the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a community-based self-defense force. The Afghan National Army, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security, but its primary activity is fighting the insurgency internally. The NDS functions as an intelligence agency and has responsibility for investigating criminal cases concerning national security. The investigative branch of the NDS operated a facility in Kabul, where it held national security prisoners awaiting trial until their cases went to prosecution. Some areas were outside of government control, and antigovernment forces, including the Taliban, oversaw their own justice and security systems.

There were reports of impunity and lack of accountability by security forces throughout the year. According to observers, ALP and ANP personnel were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law. Accountability of NDS, ANP, and ALP officials for torture and abuse was weak, not transparent, and rarely enforced. Independent judicial or external oversight of the NDS, ANP, and ALP in the investigation and prosecution of crimes or misconduct, including torture and abuse, was limited or nonexistent.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

UNAMA, the AIHRC, and other observers reported arbitrary and prolonged detention frequently occurred throughout the country. Authorities often did not inform detainees of the charges against them.

The law provides for access to legal counsel and the use of warrants, and it limits how long authorities may hold detainees without charge. Police have the right to detain a suspect for 72 hours to complete a preliminary investigation. If police decide to pursue a case, they transfer the file to the Attorney General’s Office. With court approval, the investigating prosecutor may continue to detain a suspect while continuing the investigation, with the length of continued detention depending on the severity of the offense. The investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect for a maximum of 10 additional days for a petty crime, 27 days for a misdemeanor, and 75 days for a felony. The prosecutor must file an indictment or release the suspect within those deadlines; there can be no further extension of the investigatory period if the defendant is already in detention. Prosecutors often ignored these limits. Incommunicado imprisonment remained a problem, and prompt access to a lawyer was rare. Prisoners generally were able to receive family visits.

The criminal procedure code provides for release on bail. Authorities at times continued to detain defendants who had been acquitted by the courts on the grounds that defendants who were released pending the prosecution’s appeal often disappeared. In other cases authorities did not rearrest defendants they released pending the outcome of an appeal, even after the appellate court convicted them in absentia.

According to international monitors, prosecutors filed indictments in cases transferred to them by police, even where there was a reasonable belief no crime occurred.

According to the juvenile code, the arrest of a child “should be a matter of last resort and should last for the shortest possible period.” Reports indicated children in juvenile rehabilitation centers across the country lacked access to adequate food, health care, and education. Detained children frequently did not receive the presumption of innocence, the right to know the charges against them, access to defense lawyers, and protection from self-incrimination. The law provides for the creation of special juvenile police, prosecution offices, and courts. Due to limited resources, special juvenile courts functioned in only six provinces (Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Kunduz). Elsewhere, children’s cases went to ordinary courts. The law mandates authorities handle children’s cases confidentially.

Some children in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crime. In the absence of sufficient shelters for boys, authorities detained abused boys and placed them in juvenile rehabilitation centers because they could not return to their families and shelter elsewhere was unavailable.

Police and legal officials often charged women with intent to commit zina to justify their arrest and incarceration for social offenses, such as running away from home, rejecting a spouse chosen by her family, fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping. The constitution provides that in cases not explicitly covered by the provisions of the constitution or other laws, courts may, in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence (a school of Islamic law) and within the limits set by the constitution, rule in a manner that best attains justice in the case. Although observers stated this provision was widely understood to apply only to civil cases, many judges and prosecutors applied this provision to criminal matters. Observers reported officials used this article to charge women and men with “immorality” or “running away from home,” neither of which is a crime. Police often detained women for zina at the request of family members.

Authorities imprisoned some women for reporting crimes perpetrated against them and detained some as proxies for a husband or male relative convicted of a crime on the assumption the suspect would turn himself in to free the family member.

Authorities placed some women in protective custody to prevent violence by family members. They also employed protective custody (including placement in a detention center) for women who had experienced domestic violence, if no shelters were available to protect them from further abuse. The Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) presidential decree–commonly referred to as the EVAW law–obliges police to arrest persons who abuse women. Implementation and awareness of the EVAW law was limited, however.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention remained a problem in most provinces. Observers reported some prosecutors and police detained individuals without charge for actions that were not crimes under the law, in part because the judicial system was inadequate to process detainees in a timely fashion. Observers continued to report those detained for moral crimes were almost exclusively women.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. Many detainees did not benefit from the provisions of the criminal procedure code because of a lack of resources, limited numbers of defense attorneys, unskilled legal practitioners, and corruption. The law provides that, if there is no completed investigation or filed indictment within the code’s 10-, 27-, or 75-day deadlines, the defendant must be released. Many detainees, however, were held beyond those periods, despite the lack of an indictment.

Amnesty: In September 2016 the government concluded a peace accord with the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) group, which granted its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, amnesty for past war crimes and human rights abuses. In May, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar returned to Kabul for the first time in 20 years. The deal also included the release of HIG political detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary continued to be underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.

Judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were often intimidated or corrupt. Bribery and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency impaired judicial impartiality. Most courts administered justice unevenly, employing a mixture of codified law, sharia, and local custom. Traditional justice mechanisms remained the main recourse for many, especially in rural areas. Corruption was common within the judiciary, and often criminals paid bribes to obtain their release or a reduction in sentence (see section 4).

The formal justice system was stronger in urban centers, closer to the central government, and weaker in rural areas. Courts and police forces continued to operate at less than full strength nationwide. The judicial system continued to lack the capacity to absorb and implement the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Some municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of sharia without appropriate reference to statutory law, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. The number of judges who graduated from law school continued to increase. Access to legal codes and statutes increased, but their limited availability continued to hinder some judges and prosecutors.

In March, TOLO News reported that an attorney working on the Farkhunda case called on President Ghani to review the murder case, citing failure to investigate the case properly. In March 2016 President Ghani established an investigatory committee to look into Farkhunda’s case after the Supreme Court’s decision to reduce the sentences of the perpetrators. As of year’s end, there were no results from that committee.

There was a widespread shortage of judges, primarily in insecure areas. During the year the judiciary attempted to send new female judges to insecure provinces without adequate provisions for security. The new female judges protested, and as of September 16, the judiciary relented and agreed to send the female judges to other, more secure provinces.

In major cities courts continued to decide criminal cases as mandated by law. Authorities frequently resolved civil cases using the informal system or, in some cases, through negotiations between the parties facilitated by judicial personnel or private lawyers. Because the formal legal system often was not present in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system.

In some areas the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments included execution and mutilation. On March 13, the Taliban cut off a 15-year-old’s hand and foot in the western province of Herat for the alleged theft of a motorcycle.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally uses an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and those accused have the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although the judiciary did not always respect these rights. Some provinces held public trials, but this was not the norm.

Three-judge panels decide criminal trials, and there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly or in detail of the charges brought against them. Indigent defendants have the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. The judiciary applied this right inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers. Citizens were often unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys are entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.

Criminal defense attorneys reported justice system officials slowly demonstrated increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but at times defendants’ attorneys experienced abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.

The criminal procedure code establishes time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when an accused is in custody. The code also permits temporary release of the accused on bail, but this was rarely honored. An addendum to the code provides for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the deadlines are not met, the law requires the accused be released from custody. In many cases courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.

In cases where no clearly defined legal statute applied, or where judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the statutory law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law. This practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports the government held political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Corruption and limited capacity restricted citizen access to justice for constitutional and human rights violations. Citizens submit complaints of human rights violations to the AIHRC, which reviews and submits credible complaints to the Attorney General’s Office for further investigation and prosecution.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference in matters of privacy, but authorities did not always respect its provisions. The criminal procedure code contains additional safeguards for the privacy of the home, prohibiting night arrests and strengthening requirements for body searches. The government did not always respect these prohibitions.

Government officials continued to enter homes and businesses of civilians forcibly and without legal authorization. There were reports that government officials monitored private communications, including telephone calls and other digital communications, without legal authority or judicial warrant.

Residents of Baghlan Province reported the Taliban commandeered civilian homes without permission to use as bases to plan and stage attacks against government forces.

g. Abuses in Internal Conflict

Continuing internal conflict resulted in civilian deaths, abductions, prisoner abuse, property damage, displacement of residents, and other abuses. The security situation remained a problem due to insurgent attacks. Terrorist groups caused the vast majority of civilian deaths.

Killings: During the first half of the year, UNAMA counted 1,662 civilian deaths due to conflict, an increase of 2 percent from the first half of 2016. UNAMA noted an increase of women and child deaths due to more indiscriminate IED attacks by antigovernment forces in urban centers, including the country’s capital of Kabul. UNAMA attributed 67 percent of civilian casualties to antigovernment forces, including the Taliban and ISIS, and 18 percent to progovernment forces. The AIHRC, in its annual report of civilian casualties, reported 2,823 civilians killed from March 2016 to March 2017. On August 5, ISIS-K and the Taliban attacked a Shia village in Sayyad district of Sar-e-Pul Province and killed more than 40 civilians. UNAMA noted the majority of civilian casualties resulted from deliberate attacks by antigovernment forces against civilians.

UNAMA documented an increase in attacks by antigovernment forces against religious leaders from only two incidents in 2016 to 11 in the first six months of 2017. On August 1, ISIS-K bombed a Shia mosque in Herat, killing 29 civilians, and on August 25, suicide attackers stormed a Shia mosque in Kabul during Friday Prayer, killing at least 20 individuals and injuring dozens.

The increase in complex suicide attacks was evidenced by repeated attacks in Kabul. On January 10, a Taliban suicide attack in Kabul killed more than 30 individuals and injured some 70 others, as twin blasts hit a crowded area of the city during the afternoon rush hour. On May 31, a truck bomb exploded, killing 150 and injuring 500 outside the German embassy in Kabul. While no group claimed responsibility, protesters took to the streets on June 2, accusing government officials of cooperating with terrorists. Police shot and killed five protesters, including Salem Izidyar, the eldest son of Deputy Speaker of the Senate Alam Izidyar. At Izidyar’s funeral three suicide bombers struck on foot, killing at least a dozen persons.

Antigovernment elements continued to attack religious leaders who they concluded spoke against the insurgency or the Taliban. On September 9, Taliban gunmen on motorcycles in the Kohestan district of Kapisa Province killed Mawlawi Gul Mohammad Hanifyar, head of the Kapisa Ulema Council. The Kapisa police chief reported the arrest of five suspects in the case. According to UNAMA’s statistics, this was the 12th targeted assassination of a religious leader by the Taliban or other antigovernment forces during the year, more than double the number in 2016.

Antigovernment elements also continued to target government officials and entities throughout the country. On January 10, an explosion killed 12 individuals, including Kandahar’s deputy governor, Abdul Ali Shamsi, and Afghan diplomat, Yama Quraishi, at a guesthouse on Kandahar governor Humayun Azizi’s compound. Injured in the attack were 14 individuals, including United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Afghanistan, Mohammed Abdullah al-Kaabi, who later died from his injuries.

Abductions: UNAMA documented 131 cases of conflict-related abductions and 467 abducted civilians in the first six months of the year, a decrease from more than 1,100 abducted civilians in the same period in 2016. On or around August 31, the Taliban abducted three government employees in western Herat Province, where reports noted an increase in abductions for ransom. The bodies of the three were found 20 days later.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to some reports, in February a group of Uzbek elders from Takhar Province alleged abuses of the local population by local commander and former parliamentarian Piram Qul. They claimed that in addition to having killed popular Takhar Provincial Council member Ainuddin Rustaqi in April 2016, Piram Qul’s men killed four local police officers during the year and continued to torture detainees and jail residents in extrajudicial prisons. They complained that Piram Qul received government support for his leadership of a “people’s uprising group”–a progovernment militia.

Antigovernment elements continued to punish civilians. In February, Taliban members killed four civilians at a wedding party in the Sar Hakwza district of Paktika Province, accusing them of cooperating with government officials.

Antigovernment groups regularly targeted civilian noncombatants and used indiscriminate IEDs to kill and maim civilians. Land mines, unexploded ordnance, and explosive remnants of war (ERW) continued to cause deaths and injuries. The ANP reported that unexploded ordnance (UXO) killed 140 individuals per month. Media regularly reported cases of children killed and injured after finding UXO. The Ministry of Education and NGOs continued to conduct educational programs and mine awareness campaigns throughout the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration provided mine risk education for refugee and undocumented returnees.

Between January 1 and June 30, child casualties from ERW increased by 12 percent compared with the same period in 2016, accounting for 81 percent of all civilian casualties caused by ERW in 2017. ERW caused 296 child casualties (81 deaths and 215 injured), making it the second-leading cause of child casualties in the first half of the year. In the same period, UNAMA documented 192 incidents of ERW detonation resulting in 365 civilian casualties (93 deaths and 272 injured), a 17 percent increase compared with the first half of 2015.

Child Soldiers: There were reports the ANDSF, particularly the ANP and ALP, and progovernment militias recruited children. The AIHRC reported that government security forces in Kandahar Province used child recruits. UNAMA documented the recruitment and use of 14 boys by security forces from January to June. The government continued to work towards the expansion of Child Protection Units to all 34 provinces. As of August there were 21 active units.

Under a government action plan, the ANP took steps that included training staff on age-assessment procedures, launching an awareness campaign on underage recruitment, investigating alleged cases of underage recruitment, and establishing centers in some provincial recruitment centers to document cases of attempted child enlistment. Recruits underwent an identity check, including an affidavit from at least two community elders that the recruit was at least 18 years old and eligible to join the ANDSF. The Ministries of Interior and Defense also issued directives meant to prevent the recruitment and sexual abuse of children by the ANDSF. Media reported in some cases ANDSF units used children as personal servants, support staff, or for sexual purposes.

According to AIHRC, the Taliban in Kandahar used children for front-line fighting and setting IEDs. The Ministry of Interior reported arresting 166 children for involvement in attacks against the government, with the largest contingent (28) recruited by ISIS-K in Nangarhar Province. UNAMA also documented the recruitment of 15 boys by antigovernment elements (11 by ISIS-K, three by the Taliban, and one by an unidentified armed group). In some cases the Taliban and other antigovernment elements used children as suicide bombers, human shields, and IED emplacers, particularly in southern provinces. Media, NGOs, and UN agencies reported the Taliban tricked children, promised them money, used false religious pretexts, or forced them to become suicide bombers.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: The security environment continued to have a negative effect on the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate freely in many parts of the country. Insurgents deliberately targeted government employees and aid workers. Violence and instability hampered development, relief, and reconstruction efforts. NGOs reported insurgents, powerful local individuals, and militia leaders demanded bribes to allow groups to bring relief supplies into the country and distribute them. Antigovernment elements increased their targeting of hospitals and aid workers compared with 2016. According to media reports, since the start of the year, 15 aid workers were killed and as many injured. During the first six months of 2017, UNAMA documented 32 incidents targeting health-care facilities and health-care workers, resulting in 58 civilian casualties (27 deaths and 31 injured) compared with 67 incidents during the same period in 2016 that caused 11 civilian casualties (five deaths and six injured). On March 8, ISIS-K attacked a military hospital in Kabul, killing 26 patients and hospital staff.

In the south and east, the Taliban and other antigovernment elements frequently forced local residents to provide food and shelter for their fighters. The Taliban also continued to attack schools, radio stations, and government offices. From June to August, armed groups forced dozens of health facilities to close temporarily in Laghman Province, north of Kabul, and in the western provinces of Farah and Badghis in an attempt to coerce nongovernmental organizations to improve service delivery for their combatants.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for freedom of speech, and the country has a free press. There were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the central government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial government was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Media were sometimes limited in their access to government information and often faced threats and violence from the internal conflict. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power at times threatened or harassed journalists because of their coverage. During a speech on April 30 to mark his return to the country, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar inspired protests when he publicly called the media “wicked” and told followers to censor the media.

Freedom of speech and an independent media were more constrained at the provincial level. Specific political and ethnic groups, including those led by former mujahedin leaders, owned many provincial media outlets and controlled the content. Some provinces had limited media presence.

Print media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. Still, there were concerns that violence and insecurity threatened media independence and safety. Due to high levels of illiteracy, most citizens preferred television and radio to print media. A greater percentage of the population, including those in distant provinces, had access to radio.

According to news reports, President Ghani issued a presidential decree on August 29 exempting media companies, except for television channels, from paying fines for past-due income taxes. The decree partially answered criticisms levied by press freedom groups the week prior that increased taxes and fines would hurt many independent media outlets.

Violence and Harassment: Government officials used threats, violence, and intimidation to attempt to silence opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out about impunity, war crimes, corruption, and powerful local figures. According to Reporters Without Borders, the governor of Baghlan called a journalist and two other employees of privately owned Arezo TV into his office on May 25 to make them delete news footage. The Afghan Journalist Safety Committee (AJSC) reported 10 journalists killed in the first six months of the year. For the same period, the AJSC recorded 73 cases of violence against journalists, which included killing, beating, inflicting injury and humiliation, intimidation, and detention of journalists–a 35 percent increase from the first six months of 2016. Government-affiliated individuals or security forces committed most of the violence against journalists and were responsible for 34 instances of violence, leaving 39 instances attributable to the Taliban, ISIS-K, local warlords, and individuals. According to AJSC, the Eastern zone and Kabul zone, which include provinces north of Kabul, had the most cases of violence against journalists. The Southeastern zone had the least number of cases of violence against journalists.

On May 17, ISIS-K attacked the Afghanistan National Radio and Television compound in Jalalabad and killed seven persons. The May 31 bombing, widely attributed to the antigovernment Haqqani group, killed 31 employees of the Roshan television and news media telecommunications company and caused millions of dollars of damage to the company’s headquarters. The same attack killed at least one camera operator of Tolo News and one BBC driver, injured nine employees of other media outlets, and caused extensive damage to 1TV’s headquarters.

Security conditions created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not specific targets. Media organizations and journalists operating in remote areas were more vulnerable to violence and intimidation because of increased levels of insecurity and threats from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

In August 2016 the Office of the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists. The initiative created a joint national committee in Kabul and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. Press freedom organizations reported that, although the committee met and referred cases to the Attorney General’s Office, it did not increase protection for journalists.

In March a media advocacy group reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation. According to the group, there were no female journalists in the provinces of Kunduz, Nuristan, or Panjsher because of insecurity.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. An NGO supporting media freedom surveyed journalists in 13 provinces and found 90 percent lacked access to government information. A Kabul Press Club survey showed more than half of journalists were dissatisfied with the level of access to government information.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometimes used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. Insurgent groups coerced media agencies in insecure areas to prevent them from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music, and women’s voices.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 10.6 percent of the population had internet access, mostly in urban areas, in 2016.

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, a lack of local content, and illiteracy.

On November 4, the government announced a temporary ban on two popular encrypted messaging applications–WhatsApp and Telegram–from November 1 to 20. On November 6, the government rescinded the ban.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year. Between June 2 and 12, hundreds of protesters, many from opposition political parties, installed tents and occupied major thoroughfares surrounding government buildings and foreign embassies in Kabul’s international zone to protest the government’s failure to stop the May 31 bombing. There were clashes between armed protesters and police.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right to freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. The 2009 law on political parties obliges political parties to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. In 2012 the Council of Ministers approved a regulation requiring political parties to open offices in at least 20 provinces within one year of registration. On September 14, President Ghani signed a decree prohibiting employees and officials of security and judicial institutions, specifically the Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and National Directorate of Security, from political party membership while government employees. Noncompliant employees could be fired.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. The government’s ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance.

In-country Movement: The government generally did not restrict the right to freedom of movement within the borders of the country. Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces and insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers. The greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country was the lack of security. Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without male consent or a male chaperone.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Internal population movements increased in 2016 because of armed conflict. During the year internal displacement statistics reached a record high, with approximately 661,000 persons displaced. Most IDPs left insecure rural areas and small towns seeking relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. All 34 provinces hosted IDP populations.

Limited humanitarian access caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs. IDPs continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal and physical security and shelter. Many IDPs, especially in households with a female head, faced difficulty obtaining basic services because they did not have identity documents. Many IDPs in urban areas reportedly faced discrimination, lacked adequate sanitation and other basic services, and lived in constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Women in IDP camps reported high levels of domestic violence. Limited opportunities to earn a livelihood following the initial displacement often led to secondary displacement, making tracking of vulnerable persons difficult. Even IDPs who had access to local social services sometimes had less access than their non-IDP neighbors, due to distance from the services or other factors.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: Laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees from other countries.

Durable Solutions: The government did not officially accept refugees for resettlement, offer naturalization to refugees residing on their territory, or assist in their voluntary return to their homes. Approximately 50,000 registered refugees and 174,000 undocumented Afghans voluntarily returned to the country during the year. The government established a Displacement and Returnees Executive Committee and a Policy Framework and Action Plan to promote the successful integration of returnees and IDPs.

STATELESS PERSONS

NGOs noted the lack of official birth registration for refugee children as a significant challenge and protection concern, due to the risk of statelessness and potential long-term disadvantage.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Citizens exercised this ability in the 2014 presidential and provincial elections and the 2010 parliamentary elections. Violence from the Taliban and other antigovernment groups and widespread allegations of fraud and corruption interfered with, but did not derail, the 2014 presidential elections. The constitution mandates parliamentary elections every five years, but the 2015 elections were delayed because of the government’s inability to agree on needed electoral reforms. After repeated delays, on June 22, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced parliamentary and district council elections would take place on July 7, 2018. Members of parliament remained in office past the June 2015 expiration of their five-year terms by virtue of a presidential decree.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: According to the IEC, more than 6.8 million voters cast votes in the first round of the April 2014 presidential election. Although security incidents occurred throughout the country, they reportedly had only a modest impact on turnout, and there were no mass-casualty events. Of the eight presidential candidates who competed in the first round, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai received the most votes, 45 percent and 31.6 percent, respectively. During the June 2014 runoff election, allegations of fraud led to a dispute over the accuracy of the preliminary results announced by the IEC. Those results showed Ghani leading with 56.4 percent, compared with Abdullah’s 43.5 percent. Following a protracted standoff, the two candidates agreed to a 100 percent audit of the ballot boxes and committed to forming a Government of National Unity (GNU), with the runner-up assuming a newly created chief executive officer (CEO) position in the government. According to media reporting of leaked IEC data, the audit invalidated more than 850,000 fraudulent ballots of an estimated eight million. The IEC completed the election audit and named Ghani the winner in September 2014. In accordance with the GNU agreement, Ghani then created the CEO position by presidential decree and named Abdullah to the position. Ghani and Abdullah continued to serve in these positions during the year.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Political Party Law of 2003 granted parties the right to exist as formal institutions for the first time in the country’s history. Under this law any citizen 25 years or older may establish a political party. The law requires parties to have at least 10,000 members from the country’s 34 provinces in order to register with the Ministry of Justice to conduct official party business and introduce candidates in elections. Only citizens who are 18 years or older and have the right to vote can join a political party. Certain members of the government, judiciary, military, and government-affiliated commissions are prohibited from political party membership during their tenure in office.

There were large geographic segments of the country where political parties could not operate due to insurgencies and instability. Political parties played a greater role in the 2014 presidential elections than in previous elections, and the organization, networks, and public support of the parties that supported Abdullah and Ghani contributed to their success as presidential candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. The constitution specifies a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the National Assembly), the constitution mandates that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). In the 2010 parliamentary elections, more women won seats than the minimum outlined in the constitution. The constitution also mandates one-half of presidential appointees must be women. It also sets aside 10 seats in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the Kuchi minority (nomads). In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house of the National Assembly), the president’s appointees must include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities. In practice one seat in the Meshrano Jirga is reserved for the appointment of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this is not mandated by the constitution.

Traditional societal practices continued to limit women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. These factors, in addition to an education and experience gap, likely contributed to the central government’s male-dominated composition. The 2013 electoral law reduced quotas for women on provincial councils from 25 percent to 20 percent and eliminated women’s quotas entirely for district and village councils. Neither district nor village councils had been established by year’s end.

Women active in government and politics continued to face threats and violence and were the targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. No laws prevent minorities from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained of unequal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the majority Pashtun ethnic group had more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament, but they did not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence specific societal groups were excluded. In past elections male family members could vote on behalf of the women in their families.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and there were reports officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Reports indicated corruption was endemic throughout society, and flows of money from the military, international donors, and the drug trade continued to exacerbate the problem.

The Construction Sector Transparency Initiative Afghanistan reported that during the last 15 years, many government infrastructure projects did not go through proper legal mechanisms, but instead were based on favoritism. The organization estimated total embezzlement in the billions of dollars.

According to prisoners and local NGOs, corruption was widespread across the justice system, particularly in connection with the prosecution of criminal cases and in arranging release from prison. There were also reports that officials received unauthorized payments in exchange for reducing prison sentences, halting an investigation, or dismissing charges outright.

National-level survey data offered a mixed picture of corruption in the justice sector. The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law survey found moderate improvements in perceptions of government accountability. Nonetheless, experts polled for the report cited corrupt prosecutors as the biggest problem in criminal investigative services and corruption as the largest problem in criminal courts. Respondents to the poll increasingly believed that high-ranking government officials would be investigated for embezzlement, but they also named judges, magistrates, parliamentarians, and local government officials as most likely to be involved in corrupt practices. Respondents also reported widespread bribe taking by government officials and agencies, police, and hospitals.

During the year there were reports of “land grabbing” by both private and public actors. Most commonly, businesses illegally obtained property deeds from corrupt officials and sold the deeds to unsuspecting prospective homeowners, who then were caught up in criminal prosecutions. Other reports indicated government officials confiscated land without compensation with the intent to exchange it for contracts or political favors. There were reports provincial governments illegally confiscated land without due process or compensation in order to build public facilities.

Corruption: In June 2016 the president signed a decree establishing an independent Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC) with responsibility for prosecuting high-level corruption cases. Since the ACJC’s inauguration in August 2016, it tried 21 single- and multi-defendant cases against 83 defendants, handing just under 47 billion Afghani ($67 million) in fines, recoveries, and asset seizure judgements in addition to lengthy prison sentences for those convicted. The court acquitted 11 defendants, providing initial evidence that the cases that ACJC prosecutors were sound but that the new court was a forum where a vigorous defense could lead to a speedy acquittal for the accused if the evidence was weak. Media and public observers attended the proceedings and reported the trials were procedurally fair, orderly, and professional. On March 26, the ACJC convicted four ministry of housing and urban development officials on charges of misuse of authority and embezzling more than $12.8 million. On appeal the court upheld the 20-year prison sentences on June 20 for the two ringleaders in the scheme, and the seven-year sentences for their two accomplices, but adjusted the financial penalties imposed. Ultimately, the group was ordered to pay $32.1 million in restitution and penalties. On August 15, the ACJC sentenced the chairman of Dawi Oil Company, Abdul Ghafar Dawi, to five years and nine months in prison and a $21 million fine for embezzlement of $16 million from the Kabul Bank.

According to various reports, many government positions, up to district or provincial governorships, could be suborned. Governors with reported involvement in corruption, the drug trade, or records of human rights violations reportedly continued to receive executive appointments and served with relative impunity.

There were allegations of widespread corruption, and abuse of power by officers at the Ministry of Interior. Provincial police reportedly extorted civilians at checkpoints and received kickbacks from the drug trade. Police reportedly demanded bribes from civilians to gain release from prison or avoid arrest.

Financial Disclosure: The High Office of Oversight is responsible for collecting, verifying, and publishing information from senior government officials on all sources and levels of personal income when they assume and leave office. While collection and publication occurred, some officials failed to submit the required reports, and there was only limited progress on the verification of such declarations by independent experts. The absence of legal penalties for omissions or misrepresentations tended to undermine this key tool for identifying wrongdoing.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 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. Human rights activists continued to express concern that human rights abusers remained in positions of power within the government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitutionally mandated AIHRC continued to address human rights problems, but it received minimal government funding and relied almost exclusively on international donor funds. Three Wolesi Jirga committees deal with human rights: the Gender, Civil Society, and Human Rights Committee; the Counternarcotics, Intoxicating Items, and Ethical Abuse Committee; and the Judicial, Administrative Reform, and Anticorruption Committee. In the Meshrano Jirga, the Committee for Gender and Civil Society addresses human rights concerns.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW law criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women, including rape, battery, or beating; forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance. The law provides for a sentence of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment for rape. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for the “violation of chastity of a woman…that does not result in adultery (such as sexual touching).” Under the law rape does not include spousal rape. Authorities did not always fully enforce the EVAW law.

Prosecutors and judges in remote provinces were frequently unaware of the EVAW law or received pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes, or because some religious leaders declared the law un-Islamic. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, ranging from imprisonment to extrajudicial killing. Interpretations of sharia also impeded successful prosecution of rape cases.

Forced virginity testing remained legal, and police, prosecutors, and judges continued to order virginity tests in cases of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape were often subject to virginity tests. The new penal code, signed into law by presidential decree on March 4 and scheduled to take effect in February 2018, contains language criminalizing virginity tests performed without the consent of the woman and a court order.

The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as under the beating provision in the law. According to NGO reports, hundreds of thousands of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of state, such as the police and justice systems.

The justice system’s response to domestic violence was limited, in part due to low reporting, sympathy toward perpetrators, and bribery, family, or tribal pressure.

Space at the 29 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country. Most women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or being sent back to their family or the perpetrator.

Women in need of protection often ended up in prison, either because their community lacked a protection center or based on the local interpretation of “running away” as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are criminal offenses. Running away is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office issued directives to this effect, but some local authorities continued to detain women and girls for running away from home or “attempted zina.” The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law criminalizes forced, underage, and “baad” marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse.

Under the penal code, if a man convicted of honor killing sees his wife or other close relation in the act of committing adultery and immediately kills or injures one or both parties to defend his honor, he cannot receive a prison sentence of more than two years. On March 7, the Taliban convicted and stoned to death a woman accused of adultery in Badakhshan Province.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes harassment and persecution ofwomen. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced harassment, including groping and being followed. Women with public roles occasionally received threats directed at them or their families.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: Women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the judicial system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law. Limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected women’s access to and participation in the justice system.

Prosecutors in some provinces continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW law, and judges would sometimes replace those charges with others based on the penal code.

The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupationOverall, 22 percent of civil servants and 5 percent of security forces were female, including 3,000 female police and 1,400 female soldiers.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father transmits citizenship to his child. Birth in the country or to a citizen mother alone does not transfer citizenship. Adoption is not legally recognized. For more information, see data.unicef.org .

Education: Education is mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years for primary school and three years for lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. Many children, however, did not attend school.

Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and a lack of nearby schools. An October 2017 Human Rights Watch report observed that the government provided fewer schools for girls than boys and that the lack of basic provisions in many schools for security, privacy, and hygiene, including boundary walls, toilets, and water, also disproportionately affected girls.

Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, also hindered access to education, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban and other extremists threatened and attacked school officials, teachers, and students, particularly girls, and burned both boys’ and girls’ schools. There were press reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers and school officials, particularly against boys. The government claimed families rarely pressed charges due to shame and doubt that the judicial system would respond.

Child Abuse: Police reportedly beat and sexually abused children. NGOs reported a predominantly punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools, rehabilitation centers, and other public institutions remained common.

There were reports that some members of the security forces, including members of the Afghan security forces, and progovernment groups sexually abused and exploited young girls and boys. On January 22, in Paktika Province, Afghan National Border Police reportedly sexually abused a 13-year-old boy at their check-post before shooting him. According to UNAMA, the perpetrators were serving six-year prison sentences for murder after being investigated and prosecuted by the Afghan National Police prosecution unit. There were multiple reports of “bacha bazi,” a practice in which men exploit boys for social and sexual entertainment. On March 20, a Tajik police commander in Faryab Province reportedly killed the son of another police commander, an Uzbek, for hosting a bacha bazi party with Tajik boys.

The government took steps to discourage the abuse of boys and to prosecute or punish those involved. On February 22, President Ghani signed a Law to Combat Crimes of Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants, which includes legal provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. The law criminalizes the various acts associated with bacha bazi, including not only sexual exploitation of a minor, but also forced dancing, and prescribes punishments ranging from eight to 12 years.

Early and Forced Marriage: Despite a law setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 for girls (15 with the consent of a parent or guardian and the court) and 18 for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early marriage. Under the EVAW law, those who arrange forced or underage marriages are subject to imprisonment for not less than two years, but implementation of the law was limited. During the year the government launched a five-year National Action Plan to Eliminate Early and Child Marriage.

By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is 16 years of age (or 15 with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates.

There were reports from Badakhshan Province that Taliban militants bought young women to sell into forced marriage. The UN Development Program Legal Aid Grant Facility reported women increasingly petitioned for divorce.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Although pornography is a crime, child pornography is not specified in the law. Exploitation of children for sexual purposes, often associated with bacha bazi, was widespread, although some aspects of this practice are separate crimes under the penal code.

Child Soldiers: In February 2016 the Law on Prohibition of Children’s Recruitment in the Military became effective. There were reports the ANDSF and progovernment militias recruited and used children in a limited number of cases, and the Taliban and other antigovernment elements recruited children for military purposes (see section 1.g.). Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children under 16 years of age. The Taliban and other antigovernment groups regularly recruited and trained children to conduct attacks.

Displaced Children: Returnee families and their children overwhelmed border areas, specifically Herat and Jalalabad. Although the government banned street begging in 2008, NGOs and government offices reported large numbers of children begging and living in the streets of major cities.

Institutionalized Children: Living conditions for children in orphanages were poor. NGOs reported up to 80 percent of children between ages four and 18 years in the orphanages were not orphans but came from families that could not provide food, shelter, or schooling. Children in orphanages reported mental, physical, and sexual abuse and occasionally were victims of trafficking. They did not have regular access to running water, heating in winter, indoor plumbing, health services, recreational facilities, or education. Security forces kept child detainees in juvenile detention centers run by the Ministry of Justice, except for a group of children arrested for national security violations who stayed at the detention facility in Parwan. NGOs reported these children were kept separate from the general population but still were at risk of radicalization.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination against citizens and requires the state to assist persons with disabilities and to protect their rights, including the rights to health care and financial protection. The constitution also requires the state to adopt measures to reintegrate and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The Law on the Rights and Benefits of Disabled Persons provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, such persons in society.

Disability rights activists reported that corruption prevented some persons with disabilities from receiving benefits. There were reports that government officials redirected scholarship funds for persons with disabilities to friends or family through fraud and identity theft. NGOs and government officials also reported that associations of persons with disabilities attempted to intimidate ministry employees in an effort to secure benefits such as apartments.

Lack of security remained a challenge for disability programs. Insecurity in remote areas, where a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities lived, precluded delivery of assistance in some cases. The majority of buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, prohibiting many from benefitting from education, health care, and other services.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion.

In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities. Per law, 3 percent of all government positions are reserved for persons with disabilities, but government officials admitted the law was not enforced.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic tensions between various groups continued to result in conflict and killings. Societal discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued along class, race, and religious lines in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the government frequently assigned Hazara ANP officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior. NGOs also reported Hazara ANDSF officers were more likely than non-Hazara officers to be posted to insecure areas of the country. During the year there was a marked rise in violence, principally carried out by ISIS-K, against the Hazara community. In August ISIS-K attacked Shia Hazara mosques in Herat and then Kabul, killing more than 100 persons. There were six major attacks on Shia mosques or Shia communities during the first half of the year, all attributed to ISIS-K.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs and harassment in school, as well as verbal and physical abuse in public places. According to the Sikh and Hindu Council of Afghanistan, there were approximately 900 members of the Sikh and Hindu community in the country.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and there were reports of harassment and violence by society and police. The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Homosexuality was widely seen as taboo and indecent. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community did not have access to certain health services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTI persons remained underground because they could not legally register with the government. Members of the LGBTI community reported they continued to face discrimination, assault, rape, and arrest by security forces and society at large.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV/AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to join and form independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and the government generally respected these rights, although it lacked enforcement tools. The law, however, provides no definition of a union or its relationship with employers and members, nor does it establish a legal method for union registration or penalties for violations. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Other than protecting the right to participate in a union, the law provides no other legal protection for union workers or workers seeking to unionize.

Although the law identifies the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled’s Labor High Council as the highest decision-making body on labor-related issues, the lack of implementing regulations prevented the council from performing its function. There was an inspection office within the ministry, but inspectors could only advise and make suggestions. As a result the application of labor law remained limited because of a lack of central enforcement authority, implementing regulations that describe procedures and penalties for violations, funding, personnel, and political will.

The government allowed several unions to operate without interference or political influence. Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were generally respected, but most workers were not aware of these rights. This was particularly true of workers in rural areas or the agricultural sector, who had not formed unions. In urban areas the majority of workers participated in the informal sector as day laborers in construction, where there were neither unions nor collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes penalties, including a “maximum term” of imprisonment for forced labor (between eight and 15 years). Article 515 of the penal code also could be interpreted to criminalize a “foreign party’s” coercive labor practices through fraud or deceit, with a penalty of five to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Government enforcement of the law was ineffective; resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate; and the government made minimal efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Forced labor occurred. Men, women, and children were forced into poppy cultivation, domestic work, carpet weaving, brick kiln work, organized begging, and drug trafficking. NGO reports documented the practice of bonded labor, whereby customs allow families to force men, women, and children to work as a means to pay off debt or to settle grievances. The debt can continue from generation to generation, with children forced to work to pay off their parents’ debt (see section 7.c.). Labor violations against migrant workers were common, especially the widespread practice of bonded labor in brick kiln facilities.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 18 but permits 14-year-olds to work as apprentices, allows children who are 15 and older to do “light work,” and permits children 16 and 17 to work up to 35 hours per week. The law prohibits children under age 14 from working under any circumstances. The law also bans the employment of children in work likely to threaten their health or cause disability, including mining, begging, and garbage collection; work in blast furnaces, waste-processing plants, and large slaughterhouses; work with hospital waste; drug-related work; security guard services; and work related to war.

The government lacked a specific policy on implementing the law’s provisions on child labor. Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the labor law. Deficiencies included inadequate resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations, and the government made minimal efforts to prevent child labor or remove children from exploitative labor conditions. Reports estimated that fewer than 10 percent of children had formal birth registrations, which further limited authorities’ already weak capacity to enforce laws on the minimum age of employment.

Child labor remained a pervasive problem. The Ministry of Labor declined to estimate the number of working children, citing a lack of data and deficiencies in birth registrations. Child laborers worked as domestic servants, street vendors, peddlers, and shopkeepers. There was child labor in the carpet industry, brick kilns, coalmines, and poppy fields. Children were also heavily engaged in the worst forms of child labor in mining (especially family-owned gem mines), commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), transnational drug smuggling, and organized begging rings. Some forms of child labor exposed children to land mines. Children faced numerous health and safety risks at work, and there were reports of sexual abuse of children by adult workers. There were reports of recruitment of juveniles by the ANDSF during the year. Taliban forces pressed children to take part in hostile acts (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination and notes that citizens, both “man and woman,” have equal rights and duties before the law. It expressly prohibits discrimination based on language. The constitution contains no specific provisions addressing discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, or age. The penal code prescribes a term of imprisonment of not more than two years for anyone convicted of spreading discrimination or factionalism.

Women continued to face discrimination and hardship in the workplace. Women made up only 7 percent of the workforce. According to the 2016 Asia Foundation survey, 74 percent of the population agreed that women should be allowed to work outside the home; nonetheless, only 9.4 percent of women in the survey said they were involved in any activity that involved making money. Many women faced pressure from relatives to stay at home and encountered hiring practices that favored men. Older and married women reported it was more difficult for them than for younger, single women to find jobs. Women who worked reported they encountered insults, sexual harassment, lack of transportation, and an absence of day-care facilities. Salary discrimination existed in the private sector. Female journalists, social workers, and police officers reported they were often threatened or abused.

Ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus faced discrimination in hiring and work assignments, in addition to broader social discrimination (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for permanent government workers was 6,000 Afghanis ($103) per month. There was no minimum wage for permanent workers in the private sector, but the minimum wage for workers in the nonpermanent private sector was 5,500 Afghanis ($95) per month. According to the Central Statistics Organization, 36 percent of the population earned wages below the poverty line of 1,150 Afghanis ($20) per month.

The law defines the standard workweek for both public- and private-sector employees as 40 hours: eight hours per day with one hour for lunch and noon prayers. The labor law makes no mention of day workers in the informal sector, leaving them completely unprotected. There are no occupational health and safety regulations or officially adopted standards. The law, however, provides for reduced standard workweeks for youth, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and miners and workers in other occupations that present health risks. The law provides workers with the right to receive wages, annual vacation time in addition to national holidays, compensation for on-the-job injuries, overtime pay, health insurance for the employee and immediate family members, and other incidental allowances. The law prohibits compulsory work and stipulates that overtime work be subject to the agreement of the employee. The law also requires employers to provide day care and nurseries for children.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws. The labor ministry had only 18 inspectors for 34 provinces, and the inspectors had no legal authority to enter premises or impose penalties for violations. Resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations were inadequate and insufficient to deter violations.

Employers often chose not to comply with the law or preferred to hire workers informally. Most employees worked longer than 40 hours per week, were frequently underpaid, and worked in poor conditions, particularly in the informal sector. Workers were generally unaware of the full extent of their labor rights under the law. Although comprehensive data on workplace accidents were unavailable, there were several reports of poor and dangerous working conditions. Some industries, such as brick kiln facilities, continued to use debt bondage, making it difficult for workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety.

Albania

Executive Summary

The Republic of Albania is a parliamentary democracy. The constitution vests legislative authority in the unicameral parliament (Assembly), which elects both the prime minister and the president. The prime minister heads the government, while the president has limited executive power. On June 25, the country held parliamentary elections. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported the elections respected fundamental freedoms but were negatively impacted by allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights issues included limitations on expression and the press, including self-censorship and intimidation of journalists driven by financial and political interests; and pervasive corruption in all branches of government.

Impunity remained a problem. Prosecution, and especially conviction, of officials who committed abuses was sporadic and inconsistent. Officials, politicians, judges, and those with powerful business interests often were able to avoid prosecution. Authorities took technical measures, such as electronic payment of traffic fines and body cameras, to improve police accountability and punished some lower-level officials for abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

While the constitution and law prohibit such actions, police and prison guards sometimes beat and abused suspects and prisoners. Through September the Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints received complaints of police abuse and corruption that led to both administrative sanctions and criminal prosecutions. As of July, the Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) reported one case of alleged physical violence in a police facility.

The ombudsman reported that most cases of alleged physical or psychological abuse occurred during arrest and interrogation. Through August, the ombudsman received 104 complaints from detainees. The majority of complaints concerned the quality of health care. The ombudsman did not refer any case for prosecution.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Poor physical conditions and a lack of medical treatment, particularly for mental health issues, were serious problems, as were overcrowded facilities and corruption. The AHC and the ombudsman reported that conditions in certain detention facilities were so poor as to constitute inhuman treatment. Conditions remained substandard in police detention facilities outside of Tirana and other major urban centers.

Physical Conditions: The government, the ombudsman, and the AHC reported prison overcrowding continued and that the prison population was 3-5 percent greater than the design capacity of prison facilities. Overcrowding was worse in pretrial detention centers. Conditions in prison and detention centers for women were generally better than those for men.

The majority of the 104 complaints received by the ombudsman from prisoners through August dealt with the quality of health services. Prisoners also complained about access to special leave programs, delays in the implementation of prison transfer orders, and undesirable transfers to other prisons. The AHC also reported numerous complaints about the quality of health services and transfer/nontransfer between detention facilities. In some cases, prison officials placed inmates not subject to disciplinary measures in isolation cells due to a lack of space among the general prison population. The ombudsman and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that authorities held inmates with mental disabilities in regular prisons, where access to mental health care was wholly inadequate.

Prison and detention center conditions varied significantly by age and type of facility. The ombudsman, the AHC, and the Albanian Rehabilitation Center from Trauma and Torture identified problems in both new and old structures, such as dampness in cells, poor hygiene, lack of bedding materials, and inconsistent water and electricity supply.

Conditions in facilities operated by the Ministry of Interior, such as police stations and temporary detention facilities, were inadequate, except for regional facilities in Tirana, Gjirokaster, Kukes, Fier, and Korca. Some detention facilities were unheated during the winter, and some lacked basic hygienic amenities, such as showers or sinks. Facilities were cramped, afforded limited access to toilets, and had little or no ventilation, natural light, or beds and benches. Camera monitoring systems were nonexistent or insufficient in the majority of police stations.

Administration: The Ministry of Justice managed the country’s prisons. The ombudsman reported prison and police officials generally cooperated with investigations. NGOs and the ombudsman noted inadequate recordkeeping in some institutions, particularly in small or rural police stations.

Corruption continued to be a serious problem in detention centers, particularly in connection with access to work and special release programs. NGOs reported that those involved in work programs received only 90 leks (about $0.80) per month and did not receive credit for social security. In July 2016 the deputy general director of prisons, Iljaz Labi, was arrested for his involvement in creating fake procurement documents for food-supply companies. In February police arrested on similar corruption charges former general director of prisons, Artur Zoto, who had voluntarily resigned a few days after Labi’s arrest. During the year several other senior prison staff were arrested and convicted for supplying drugs to prisoners or demanding payment for access to family visits.

The majority of prison directors in the country were fired during the year on grounds of corruption, abuse of office, and other violations of the law.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed local and international human rights groups, the media, as well as international bodies such as the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture to monitor prison conditions. The ombudsman conducted frequent unannounced inspections of detention facilities.

Improvements: The General Directorate of Prisons indicated that by July overall prison overcrowding had been reduced from 9 percent in 2016 to 3 percent. Both the ombudsman and NGOs reported a decrease in cases of physical and psychological abuse from the previous year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law and constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior oversees the Guard of the Republic and the State Police, which include the Border and Migration Police. The State Police are primarily responsible for internal security. The Guard of the Republic protects senior state officials, foreign dignitaries, and certain state properties. The Ministry of Defense oversees the armed forces, which also assist the population in times of humanitarian need. The State Intelligence Service (SIS) gathers information, carries out foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities, and is responsible to the prime minister.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over police, the Guard of the Republic, the armed forces, and the SIS, although officials periodically used state resources for personal gain and members of the security forces committed abuses.

Police did not always enforce the law equitably. Personal associations, political or criminal connections, poor infrastructure, lack of equipment, or inadequate supervision often influenced law enforcement. Poor leadership and a lack of diversity in the workforce contributed to continued corruption and unprofessional behavior. Authorities continued to made efforts to address these problems by renovating police facilities, upgrading vehicles, and publicly highlighting anticorruption measures.

Impunity remained a serious problem, although the government made greater efforts to address it, in particular by increasing the use of camera evidence to document and prosecute police misconduct.

While the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, police corruption remained a problem. The Service for Internal Affairs and Complaints received 3,811 telephone complaints via the anticorruption “green line” through July 31. The majority of the complaints involved “inaction of police officers,” “unjust fine/ticket,” or “violation of standard operating procedures.” The office filed 43 administrative violations, recommending 57 police officers for disciplinary proceedings. The cases of five officers were forwarded to the Prosecution Office. During the year the ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly concerning problems with arrests and detention.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires that, except for arrests made during the commission of a crime, police may arrest a suspect on criminal grounds only with a warrant issued by a judge and based on sufficient evidence. There were no reports of secret arrests. By law police must immediately inform the prosecutor of an arrest. The prosecutor may release the suspect or petition the court within 48 hours to hold the individual further. A court must decide within 48 hours whether to place a suspect in detention, require bail, prohibit travel, or require the defendant to report regularly to police. Prosecutors requested, and courts ordered, detention in many criminal cases, although courts sometimes denied prosecutors’ requests for detention of well-connected, high-profile defendants.

The constitution requires authorities to inform detained persons immediately of the charges against them and their rights. Law enforcement authorities did not always respect this requirement. Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) that entered into force on August 1 imposed additional obligations on law enforcement regarding the rights of defendants and detained persons. The same amendments established a new system for handling the monetary aspect of bail. Courts often ordered suspects to report to police or prosecutors on a weekly basis. While the law gives detainees the right to prompt access to an attorney, at public expense if necessary, NGOs reported interrogations often took place without the presence of a lawyer. Authorities placed many suspects under house arrest, often at their own request, because if convicted they received credit for time served.

By law police should transfer detainees to the custody of the Ministry of Justice, which has facilities more appropriate for long-term detention, if their custody will exceed 10 hours. Due to overcrowding in the penitentiary system, detainees, including juveniles, commonly remained in police detention centers for long periods.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Although the government generally observed these prohibitions, there were instances when police detained persons for questioning for inordinate lengths of time without formally arresting them.

Pretrial Detention: While the law requires completion of most pretrial investigations within three months, a prosecutor may extend this period to two years or longer. The law provides that pretrial detention should not exceed three years; the government reported five cases of pretrial detentions exceeding this limit. Extended pretrial detention often occurred due to delayed investigations, defense mistakes, or the intentional failure of defense counsel to appear. The amendments to the CPC that entered into force during the year included provisions intended to put an end to the existing inability of judges to prevent such delaying actions by holding the offending attorney in contempt of court. Limited material resources, lack of space, poor court-calendar management, insufficient staff, and failure of attorneys and witnesses to appear prevented the court system from adjudicating cases in a timely fashion. As of September, 44 percent of the prison and detention center population was in pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The CPC requires that the court examine the necessity of a detention within three days. If the detention is not revoked, the detainee may appeal up to the Supreme Court. If no decision is made within a prescribed period, the detention becomes void. The CPC also requires the prosecutor to provide the court bi-monthly updates regarding information obtained following detention. A judge may revoke detention based on new information.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political pressure, intimidation, widespread corruption, and limited resources sometimes prevented the judiciary from functioning independently and efficiently. Court hearings were often not open to the public. Court security officers frequently refused to admit observers to hearings and routinely telephoned the presiding judge to ask whether to admit an individual seeking to attend a particular hearing. Some agencies exhibited a pattern of disregard for court orders. The politicization of appointments to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of these institutions. As of October there were 10 vacancies on the Supreme Court, which faced a considerable backlog of cases.

The Ministry of Justice generally did not vigorously pursue disciplinary measures against judges. When it did so, the High Council of Justice (HCJ) was reluctant to enact those measures. During 2016 the Ministry of Justice initiated disciplinary proceedings against nine judges. During the same year, the HCJ dismissed one judge after she was convicted of corruption and transferred another to a different court. During the year the Ministry of Justice did not pursue disciplinary actions against judges due to the entry into force of new legislation on justice organization, and the HCJ did not rule on any pending requests. The HCJ ordered the suspension of a trial court judge following a decision of the First Instance (i.e., Trial) Court for Serious Crimes. The case was pending at year’s end.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law presumes defendants to be innocent until convicted. It provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, and to have a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, consult an attorney and have one provided at public expense if they cannot afford one. The law provides defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and access to interpretation free of charge. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. The government generally respected these rights, although trials were not always public and access to a lawyer was at times problematic. Following the entry into force of amendments to the CPC, the prosecutor has to apply before a preliminary hearing judge to send the case to trial. This reform was intended to be a further guarantee for the rights of defendants and their access to the evidence against them.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

While individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, courts were susceptible to corruption, inefficiency, intimidation, and political tampering. Judges held many court hearings in their offices, demonstrating a lack of professionalism and providing opportunities for corruption. These factors undermined the judiciary’s authority, contributed to controversial court decisions, and led to an inconsistent application of civil law. Despite the statutory right to free legal aid in civil cases, NGOs reported that very few individuals benefitted from this during the year.

Persons who have exhausted remedies in domestic courts could appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In many instances authorities did not enforce ECHR rulings, especially those concerning the right to a fair trial.

Persons who were political prisoners under the former communist regime continued to petition the government for compensation. On several occasions groups of former political prisoners protested the government’s failure to pay them legally mandated compensation. The government made some progress on disbursing compensation during the year. By June the government had paid the eighth and final compensation installment to the former political prisoners who were still alive. The government also agreed to include 320 former political prisoners who had not submitted their papers in time to benefit from the compensation.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved with the government’s Agency for Property Treatment. The ombudsman reported that to date the government had not yet executed 26,000 court rulings nor reviewed 11,000 claims dealing with property rights. Claimants may appeal cases to the ECHR, and during the year hundreds of cases–many of them related to property–were pending ECHR review.

Albania endorsed the Terezin Declaration in 2009 and the Guidelines and Best Practices in 2010. Albania does not have any restitution or compensation laws relating to Holocaust-era confiscations of private property. Under the law, religious communities have the same restitution and compensation rights as natural or legal persons. Since becoming a signatory to the Terezin Declaration in 2009, Albania has not passed any laws dealing with restitution of heirless property. The government reported no property claims had been submitted by victims of the Holocaust.

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

The government’s National Inspectorate for the Protection of the Territory (NIPT) demolished some homes without due legal process as part of a wider campaign to demolish illegally constructed buildings. Through July the ombudsman received seven citizen complaints against the local inspectorates and three against the NIPT, including for failure to provide sufficient warning in writing, failure to consider a homeowner’s application for legalization of a property, and lack of transparency.

Throughout the year, residents of the Himara region continued to complain of targeted heavy-handedness by the government that resulted in the partial or complete demolition of numerous houses and businesses with little warning and no legal recourse for adequate compensation. In October the government demolished several uninhabited structures in Himara as it implemented an urban development plan about which residents complained they had not been adequately consulted by municipal authorities. The demolition of a further 12 structures was halted because residents filed a court case against the authorities. Municipal authorities defended the demolitions as necessary for commercial development.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. There were reports that the government, business, and criminal groups sought to influence the media in inappropriate ways.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of viewpoints, although there were some efforts to exert direct and indirect political and economic pressure on the media, including threats and violence against journalists who tried to investigate crime and corruption stories. Political pressure, corruption, and lack of funding constrained the independent print media, and journalists reportedly practiced self-censorship. Lack of economic security reduced reporters’ independence and contributed to bias in reporting. The Albanian Journalists Union continued to report significant delays in salary payments to reporters at most media outlets. Financial problems led some journalists to rely more heavily on outside sources of income.

While dramatic growth in online media during the year added to the diversity of views, NGOs maintained that professional ethics were a low priority for such outlets, raising concerns over the spread of false news stories that benefited specific financial or political interests.

In its annual Media Sustainability Index, the International Research and Exchanges Board indicated that the county’s media environment deteriorated in several areas. Donor funding for organizations that pushed for a more independent press remained limited, and the press was vulnerable to misuse under constant political and economic pressure. According to the report, very few media outlets produced independent reports about organized crime because their journalists lacked financial and editorial independence.

The independence of the Audiovisual Media Authority, the regulator of the broadcast media market, remained questionable, and the role of the authority remained limited. Most owners of private television stations used the content of their broadcasts to influence government action toward their other businesses. Business owners also freely used media outlets to gain favor and promote their interests with political parties.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of violence and intimidation against members of the media, and political and business interests subjected journalists to pressure.

In May 2016 the Union of Albanian Journalists denounced the severe beating of sports journalist Eduard Ilnica, allegedly for reporting on the violent behavior of a coach during a soccer match. Authorities arrested the coach, who in February was convicted of assault by both the district court and appellate court but released for time served in pretrial detention.

On March 8, two unidentified persons attacked Elvi Fundo, a journalist and owner of the news portal citynews.al, with iron bars, causing serious injuries. Police investigated the attack but as of September had not identified the perpetrators. According to Fundo, his portal’s stories accusing other media owners of drug trafficking and some police of corruption were possible reasons for the attack.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists often practiced self-censorship to avoid violence and harassment and as a response to pressure from publishers and editors seeking to advance their political and economic interests. A 2015 survey by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) Albania found that large commercial companies and important advertisers were key sources of pressure.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law permits private parties to file criminal charges and obtain financial compensation for insult or deliberate publication of defamatory information. NGOs reported that the fines, which could be as much as three million leks ($26,000), were excessive and, combined with the entry of a conviction into the defendant’s criminal record, undermined freedom of expression.

On June 9, a member of the High Council of Justice, Gjin Gjoni, filed defamation lawsuits against two BIRN journalists and two journalists of the daily Shqiptarja.com for their coverage of his asset declaration, which was being investigated by prosecutors. Gjoni was seeking seven million leks ($61,000) from BIRN and four million leks ($35,000) from Shqiptarja.com, claiming the stories damaged his reputation.

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. According to March data from Internet World Stats, approximately 67 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Police allowed UNHCR to monitor the processing, detention, and deportation of some migrants.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported a few cases of police intimidation and reluctance to accept requests for asylum. On two occasions, in November 2016 and June, border authorities used force against groups of migrants who refused to be returned to Greece. Following the 2016 incident, one injured migrant was hospitalized and UNHCR filed a complaint with the border authorities.

Authorities often detained irregular migrants who entered the country. As of November authorities had detained approximately 744 migrants, mostly at the country’s southern border with Greece; those who did not request asylum were generally deported to Greece within 24 hours. Migrants detained further inland could spend several weeks at the Karrec closed migrant detention facility awaiting deportation. As of November the government reported four persons detained in the Karrec facility.

UNHCR reported that approximately 30 percent of migrants requested asylum. Some NGOs and UNHCR maintained that some migrants who requested asylum were deported as well. UNHCR made formal complaints to the government, but authorities were generally slow to address them. UNHCR reported that conditions at the Karrec center were unsuitable, particularly for children. As of September the government had referred fewer migrants to Karrec than in 2016, and only one minor–a 17-year-old boy travelling in a group–spent time there.

In-country Movement: In order to receive government services, individuals changing place of residence within the country must transfer their civil registration to their new community and prove the legality of their new domicile through property ownership, a property rental agreement, or utility bills. Many persons could not provide proof and thus lacked access to public services. Other citizens, particularly Roma and Balkan-Egyptians, lacked formal registration in the communities where they resided. The law does not prohibit their registration, but it was often difficult to complete. Many Roma and Balkan-Egyptians lacked the financial means to register, and many lacked the motivation to go through the process.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

There were credible reports from NGOs and migrants and asylum seekers that authorities did not follow due process obligations for some asylum seekers and that in other cases those seeking asylum did not have access to the system. Through November some 744 migrants–mostly Algerians, Syrians, and Libyans–entered the country, mostly via the country’s southern border with Greece. Of these, 128 requested asylum. Authorities returned those who did not request asylum to Greece, some immediately but others after weeks of detention in inadequate facilities. UNHCR was critical of the government’s migrant screening and detention procedures, particularly in view of the increased presence of children among migrants.

The law on asylum requires authorities to grant or deny asylum within 51 days of an applicant’s initial request. Under the law asylum seekers cannot face criminal charges of illegal entry if they contact authorities within 10 days of their arrival in the country. UNHCR reported that the asylum system lacked effective monitoring. In March authorities returned an Algerian woman to Greece although she had requested asylum; authorities also returned an unaccompanied Pakistani minor with no special consideration for his age. UNHCR expressed concern with the government’s mechanism for appeals of refused asylum requests since the appellate body generally lacked expertise and tended to uphold initial decisions without considering the merits of a case.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The law prohibits individuals from safe countries of origin or transit from applying for asylum or refugee status. UNHCR, however, reported that no asylum requests had been refused based on the government’s list of safe countries, which includes Greece.

Employment: The law permits refugees access to work. The limited issuance of refugee identification cards and work permits, however, meant few refugees actually worked.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees access to public services, including education, health care, housing, law enforcement, courts/judicial procedures, and legal assistance. Migrants and asylum seekers often required the intervention of UNHCR or local NGOs to secure these services.

Durable Solutions: In September 2016 the government completed the process of receiving Iranian Mujahideen-e Khalq refugees from Iraq and continued to facilitate their local integration throughout the year.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided subsidiary and temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. As of September the government had granted subsidiary protection to two persons during the year.

STATELESS PERSONS

The government had no updated information regarding the total number of persons at risk of statelessness. Using data from the cases that were resolved from 2011 to 2016 with the support of the NGO Tirana Legal Aid Society, UNHCR estimated the number to be 4,871, down from the 7,443 persons who declared themselves as unregistered during the 2011 census. Most of these were Romani or Balkan-Egyptian children. The risk of statelessness continued to exist for unregistered children born abroad to returning migrant families, although the law affords the opportunity to obtain nationality.

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: The most recent national parliamentary elections took place on June 25. The OSCE observer mission to the elections reported, “contestants were able to campaign freely and fundamental freedoms were respected.” The OSCE further noted, “Continued politicization of election-related bodies and institutions as well as widespread allegations of vote buying and pressure on voters detracted from public trust in the electoral process.” Regarding voting itself, the OSCE mission noted “an overall orderly election day” but found that “important procedures were not fully respected in a considerable number of voting centers observed.”

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and/or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. As a result of the June 25 elections, the participation of women in government increased to a record 29 percent of female Assembly members and 47 percent female ministers. The law governing the Assembly election requires that 30 percent of candidates be women and that they occupy 30 percent of appointed and elected positions. According to the OSCE preliminary report on the elections, however, the largest parties did not always respect the mandated 30 percent quota in their candidate lists. The Central Election Commission fined these parties but nonetheless accepted their lists.

Members of national minorities stood as candidates in both minority and mainstream parties, and campaigning in both Greek and Macedonian languages was observed without incident. Nevertheless, observers reported that Roma remained vulnerable to vote buying. As of September there were no Romani ministers or members of the Assembly.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The law prohibits individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions.

During the year authorities took additional steps to combat corruption. Starting in February, members of the International Monitoring Operation, composed of international judicial experts, began assisting the government in the establishment of new anticorruption institutions, and by July the Assembly had nominated all members of trial and appellate court vetting commissions, as well as the public commissioners. On October 30, the vetting commissions publicly announced the start of their work.

A number of government agencies investigated corruption cases, but limited resources, investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered investigations. In selective instances involving international actors, anticorruption agencies cooperated with civil society.

Corruption: Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government. Between January and August, the prosecutor general’s office registered 185 new corruption investigations. During the same period, 122 persons went to trial for corruption offenses and 99 were convicted. Through August, 17,752 complaints had been submitted through the online portal stopkorruption.al, approximately 8 percent of which contained information on alleged corrupt practices. In October prosecutors announced an investigation of a former interior minister for ties to organized crime and abuse of office.

While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low-level public corruption cases, including corrupt prosecutors and judges, prosecution of higher-level crimes remained elusive due to investigators’ fear of retribution, a general lack of resources, and corruption within the judiciary itself. During the 2016-17 period, the First Instance (i.e., trial) Court for Serious Crimes convicted three judges, two prosecutors, and one high-level official of corruption. The mayor of Dibra municipality, Shukri Xhelili, was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison after the broadcast of a video in which he appeared to solicit sexual favors from a woman in exchange for a job. In May the Appellate Court for Serious Crimes changed the decision, convicting Xhelili of sexual relations in abuse of official duty and reducing his sentence by one year.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to disclose their assets to the High Inspectorate for the Declaration and Audit of Assets and Conflict of Interest (HIDAACI), which monitored and verified such disclosures and made them available to the public. The law authorizes HIDAACI to fine officials who fail to comply with disclosure requirements or refer them to the prosecutor.

As of August HIDAACI had fined 426 individuals for not disclosing their assets, conflicts of interest, or violating the law on whistleblower protection. HIDAACI reported that by August it had referred 31 new cases for prosecution that involved six Assembly members, one deputy minister, one mayor, six tax inspectors, six customs officials, and 11 other government officials on charges including refusing to declare, hiding, or falsifying asset declarations, money laundering, falsification of documents, and corruption.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is the main independent institution for promoting and enforcing human rights. The ombudsman is authorized by law to monitor and report on prisons and detention centers. The office may initiate an investigation based on complaints or ex officio. Although the ombudsman lacked the power to enforce decisions, she acted as a monitor for human rights violations. The Office of the Ombudsman was underfunded and understaffed.

The Assembly has a committee on legal issues, public administration, and human rights, which reviews the annual report of the ombudsman’s office. The committee was engaged and effective in legislative matters.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime. Penalties for rape and assault depend on the age of the victim. For rape of an adult, the prison term is three to 10 years. The law includes provisions on sexual assault and sexual harassment and makes the criminalization of spousal rape explicit. The government did not enforce the law effectively. Officials did not prosecute spousal rape. The concept of spousal rape was not well understood, and authorities often did not consider it a crime.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious problem. Police often did not have the training or capacity to deal effectively with domestic violence cases. The government operated three shelters to protect survivors of domestic violence, and NGOs operated six others

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, although officials rarely enforced it. The commissioner for protection against discrimination generally handled cases of sexual harassment and may impose fines of up to 80,000 leks ($700) against individuals or 600,000 leks ($5,300) against enterprises.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women were underrepresented in many fields at the highest levels. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, although many private employers did not fully implement this provision. In many communities, women experienced societal discrimination based on traditional social norms depicting women as subordinate to men. There were reports of discrimination in employment.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the government’s statistical agency, the ratio of boys to girls at birth in 2016 was 107 to 100, which indicated that gender-biased sex selection was possibly occurring. The government did not take any steps to address the imbalance.

Children

Birth Registration: An individual acquires citizenship by birth within the country’s territory or from a citizen parent. There were no reports of discrimination in birth registration, but onerous residency and documentation requirements for registration made it more difficult for the many Romani and Balkan-Egyptian parents who lacked legally documented places of residence to register their children.

Children born to internal migrants, including some Romani families, or those returning from abroad frequently had no birth certificates or other legal documents and consequently were unable to attend school or have access to services.

Education: School attendance is mandatory through the ninth grade or until the age of 16, whichever occurs first, but many children, particularly in rural areas, left school earlier to work with their families. Parents must purchase supplies, books, uniforms, and space heaters for some classrooms; these were prohibitively expensive for many families, particularly Roma and other minorities. Many families also cited these costs as a reason for not sending girls to school.

Child Abuse: Observers believed that child abuse was increasing, especially in schools. Services for victims of abuse were not readily available.

Child protection units in municipalities reported 104 cases of physical violence against children in 2016.

Early and Forced Marriage: Although the legal minimum age for marriage is 18, authorities did not always enforce the law. Underage marriages occurred mostly in rural areas and within Romani communities. According to data released by the Albanian Institute of Statistics, the number of early marriages (under the age of 19) decreased significantly in 2016 from 2015.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of a child range from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The country has a statutory rape law, and the minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The penalty for statutory rape is a prison term of five to 15 years. In aggravated circumstances, the penalty may increase to life imprisonment. The law prohibits making or distributing child pornography; penalties are a prison sentence of three to 10 years. Possession of child pornography is illegal.

Authorities generally enforced laws against the rape and sexual exploitation of minors effectively, but NGOs reported that they rarely enforced laws prohibiting child pornography. The government reported that, as of July, six children had been sexually exploited, but there were no cases involving pornography. A total of 39 child victims of trafficking and potential victims of trafficking were identified through October.

Displaced Children: There continued to be numerous displaced and street children, particularly in the Romani community. Street children begged or did petty work. These children were at highest risk of trafficking, and some became trafficking victims. Since the law prohibits the prosecution of children under age 14 for burglary, criminal gangs at times used displaced children to burglarize homes.

The State Agency for the Protection of Children’s Rights reported that by June, authorities had assisted 441 children in a street situation. Some 64 children were referred to shelters while 15 were referred to prosecutors for having been mistreated.

Institutionalized Children: The migrant detention facility in Karrec was considered unsuitable for children. The government made efforts to avoid sending children there.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There were reportedly only a few hundred Jews living in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. Nevertheless, employers, schools, health-care providers, and providers of other state services at times engaged in discrimination. The law mandates that new public buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but the government only sporadically enforced the law. During the year the government adapted the premises of eight schools to accommodate persons with disabilities and eight others were in progress.

The government sponsored social services agencies to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but these agencies traditionally lacked funding to implement their programs. Resource constraints and lack of infrastructure made it difficult for persons with disabilities to participate fully in civic affairs. Voting centers often were located in facilities lacking accommodations for such persons.

The government opened two new development centers for persons with disabilities in Pogradec and Bulqiza, supported by the UN Development Program, and three day-care centers for children with disabilities in Pogradec, Saranda, and Bulqiza.

The ombudsman regularly inspected mental health institutions. Both the admission and release of patients at mental health institutions were problematic due to inadequate psychiatric evaluations. There was societal discrimination and stigmatization of persons with mental and other forms of disability.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were allegations of discrimination against members of the Romani and Balkan-Egyptian communities, including in housing, employment, health care, and education. Some schools resisted accepting Romani and Balkan-Egyptian students, particularly if they appeared to be poor. Many mixed schools that accepted Romani students marginalized them in the classroom, sometimes by physically setting them apart from other students.

Romani rights NGOs criticized the Tirana municipal government for delaying the building of new homes for Romani families removed from their homes in 2016. In December 2016 the municipality evicted 76 Romani families from the Bregu i Lumit neighborhood of Tirana, which is prone to flooding in the winter. Sixty of the families were moved into a temporary warehouse, where NGOs reported they lived in dire conditions without sanitation or electricity. The municipality delayed the transfer of the families to more permanent housing until the final week of December.

In October the government adopted new legislation on minorities. The law provides official minority status for nine national minorities without distinguishing between national and ethnolinguistic groups. The government defined Greeks, Macedonians, Aromanians (Vlachs), Roma, Balkan-Egyptians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, Serbs, and Bulgarians as national minorities. The new legislation provides minority language education and dual official language use for local administrative units in which minorities traditionally reside, or in which a minority makes up 20 percent of the total population. The ethnic Greek minority complained about the government’s unwillingness to recognize ethnic Greek communities outside communist-era “minority zones.”

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in employment. Enforcement of the law was generally weak.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are among the classes protected by the country’s hate-crime law. Despite the law and the government’s formal support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights public officials sometimes made homophobic statements. The NGO Streha reported that many young LGBTI individuals had experienced domestic violence upon coming out.

As of August, the Commission for Protection from Discrimination (CPD) had received three complaints alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity during the year. The CPD ruled in favor of one of the cases.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. The Albanian Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS reported that discrimination and stigmatization of persons with HIV/AIDS was widespread in the country.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Alleged incidents of societal killings, including both “blood-feud” and revenge killings, occurred during the year, but as of August authorities had reported only one case of a blood-feud killing. The ombudsman reported that authorities’ efforts to protect families or prevent blood-feud deaths were insufficient, although the government increased efforts to prosecute such crimes.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law and related regulations and statutes provide the right for most workers to form independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law prohibits members of the military and senior government officials from joining unions and requires that a trade union have at least 20 members to be registered. The law provides the right to strike for all workers except indispensable medical and hospital personnel, persons providing air traffic control and prison services, and fire brigades. Strike action is prohibited in “special cases,” such as natural catastrophe, state of war, extraordinary situations, and cases where the freedom of elections is at risk. Workers not excluded by their positions exercised their right to strike.

The law provided limited protection to domestic and migrant workers. Labor unions were generally weak and politicized. Workers who engage in illegal strikes could be compelled to pay for any damages due to the strike action.

Government enforcement of the law remained largely ineffective, in part due to the extent of informal employment. Resources for conducting inspections and remedying violations were not adequate. High fines, which under the law could reach 1.1 million leks ($9,600) or 50 times the monthly minimum wage, were rarely assessed. Fines were consequently not a sufficient deterrent to violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Arbitration procedures allowed for significant delays that limited worker protections against antiunion activity.

Civilian workers in all fields have the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively, and the law establishes procedures for the protection of workers’ rights through collective bargaining agreements. Unions representing public sector employees negotiated directly with the government. Effective collective bargaining remained difficult with employers opposed to union organizing and activities. In this environment, collective agreements, once reached, were difficult to enforce.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not always effectively enforce the law. Lack of coordination among ministries and the sporadic nature of implementation of standard operating procedures hampered enforcement. Penalties of eight to 15 years in prison were sufficiently stringent to deter violations, but they were seldom enforced. Law enforcement organizations trained their officers to adopt a victim-centered approach to human trafficking. The government continued to identify trafficking victims but prosecuted and convicted a small number of traffickers. The Office of the National Antitrafficking Coordinator increased government efforts to prevent trafficking through awareness activities.

There were instances of forced labor during the year. Children engage in gathering recyclable metals and plastic, mine work, sewing, street peddling, agriculture, and animal husbandry. Children were subjected to forced begging and criminal activity (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age of employment at 16 but allows children at the age of 15 to be employed in certain instances where the work is categorized as “light” and does not interfere with school. Children under the age of 18 may generally only work in jobs categorized as “light.” By law the State Inspectorate for Labor and Social Services (SILSS), under the Ministry of Youth and Social Welfare, is responsible for enforcing minimum age requirements through the courts, but it did not adequately enforce the law. Labor inspectors investigated the formal labor sector, whereas most child labor occurred in the informal sector. The SILSS did not carry out inspections for child labor unless there was a specific complaint. Most labor inspections occurred in shoe and textile factories, call centers, and retail enterprises; officials found some instances of child labor during their inspections. Penalties were rarely assessed and were not sufficient to deter violations.

In 2013 the government’s statistical agency and the International Labor Organization estimated that 54,000 children were engaged in forced labor domestically. An estimated 43,000 children worked in farms and fishing, 4,400 in the services sector, and 2,200 in hotels and restaurants. Nearly 5 percent of children were child laborers.

The law criminalizes exploitation of children for labor or forced services, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. The SILSS monitored for cases of child labor and other labor malpractices, but insufficient human resources limited its activities. There were reports that child laborers worked as street or shop vendors, beggars, farmers, shepherds, drug runners, vehicle washers, textile factory workers, miners, or shoeshine boys. Some of the children begging on the street were second- or third-generation beggars. Research suggested that begging started as early as the age of four or five. While the law prohibits the exploitation of children for begging, police generally did not enforce it, although they made greater efforts to do so during the year (see section 6, Displaced Children).

The Social Organization for the Support of Youth ARSIS reported that the majority of children living in street situations were boys between the ages of 10 and 17. The boys mainly collect plastic or metals for recycling, and usually work unaccompanied. World Vision also reported that children collect cans, plastic, and metal; worked in mines; sewed shoes; or worked in agriculture or animal husbandry. Young men often migrated to neighboring countries to support their families after they completed the state-mandated minimum level of education. The number of children engaged in street-related activities (such as begging or selling items) increased during the summer, particular around the touristic coastal areas.

According to the State Agency on Children’s Rights, child protection units identified 640 street children engaged in begging, selling, and informal work between July 2016 and June; 586 of these received relevant services. The State Labor Inspectorate reported two cases of child exploitation for labor and an additional 21 minors working without the required legal permission or medical approval.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws prohibit employment discrimination because of race, skin color, gender, age, physical or mental disability, political beliefs, language, nationality, religion, family, living with HIV/AIDS, and social origin. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, nationality, and ethnicity. The commissioner for protection against discrimination reported the main grounds of alleged discrimination were race, economic status, disability, political beliefs, and health status.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is national minimum wage that was higher than the national poverty threshold. The State Inspectorate for Labor and Social Services is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage. The inspectorate reported it had 96 inspectors, an insufficient number to enforce compliance.

While the law establishes a 40-hour workweek, individual or collective agreements typically set the actual workweek. The law provides for paid annual holidays, but only employees in the formal labor market had rights to paid holidays. Many persons in the private sector worked six days a week. The law requires payment of overtime and rest periods, but employers did not always observe these provisions. The law provides for premium pay for overtime. The government had no standards for a minimum number of rest periods per week and rarely enforced laws related to maximum work hours, limits on overtime, or premium pay for overtime, especially in the private sector. These laws did not apply to workers in the informal sector, such as domestic employees and migrant workers. According to the World Bank, the informal sector accounts for nearly 50 percent of all employment in the country.

The SILSS is responsible for enforcing occupational health and safety standards and regulations, and these were appropriate for the main industries in the country. Enforcement was lacking overall. Workplace conditions in the manufacturing, construction, and mining sectors frequently were poor and, in some cases, dangerous. Resources and inspections were not adequate, and penalties often did not deter violations, as law enforcement agencies lacked the tools to enforce collection and consequently rarely charged violators. There were no government programs to provide social protection for workers in the informal economy.

Violations of wage and occupational-safety standards occurred most frequently in the textile, footwear, construction, and mining industries. Workers often could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. Employers did not effectively protect employees in this sit